Monday, July 25, 2016

Europe Can't Save the South China Sea...

Europe Can't Save the South China Sea


Emanuele Scimia

Security, Asia

The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle underway in 2009. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

America is on its own.

The United States and European Union reacted quite differently to the recent South China Sea arbitration ruling, with the European bloc distancing itself from the transatlantic ally’s sharpest approach to the issue. Washington bluntly called on Beijing to respect the legal decision handed out by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12, as Brussels loosely backed the arbitrators’ work and urged all parties involved to act with restrain and according to the international law.

Beijing refused the arbitration court’s verdict, which had rejected Chinese claims over vast parts of the South China Sea. China’s territorial demands to the region are disputed by the Philippines—which brought the case to the court in The Hague in 2013—and other Southeast Asian nations.

Some in the U.S. foreign-policy community do advocate transatlantic moves to push China to comply with the arbitration court ruling and assert freedom of navigation and overflight in the area. However, pressed by the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, and seriously underfunded, NATO appears to be in no position to challenge China in East Asia. Regarding the Western Pacific region, in the final communiqué adopted at the Warsaw summit in July 8–9, NATO’s leaders only expressed generic concerns about the nuclear threat coming from North Korea, with no hint of the South China Sea problem.

The EU Commission and the EU External Service, in a June 22 joint document for a new European strategy on China, actually proposed that cooperation between Brussels and Washington in the South China Sea was “reinforced.” But the EU is divided on how handle the matter, as it covertly emerged by the words of EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Council president Donald Tusk in the wake of the recent EU-China summit and Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM).

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