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Photo: ASEAN foreign ministers, Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Aug. 9, 2014 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

To Ease Tensions, U.S. Must Back Up South China Sea ‘Freeze’ With Enforcement

Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

Last month, amid the latest round of Asian regional summits in Myanmar, the United States called for a freeze in provocative acts in disputed areas in the South China Sea. While the move signaled Washington’s willingness to counter China’s growing maritime assertiveness, U.S. policy faces several structural challenges that could undermine the effectiveness of easing tensions in the South China Sea.

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put it at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Naypyitaw on Aug. 9, the freeze’s main objective is to manage competing territorial claims in the South China Sea by encouraging the six claimant states—Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam—to resolve their disputes “peacefully” and “on the basis of international law.” Although the freeze applies to all actors, the Obama administration is especially concerned about China’s provocations in the South China Sea since Beijing submitted its so-called nine-dotted line map to the United Nations in 2009, laying claim to almost the entire sea. In the first half of 2014 alone, Beijing has parked an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam, harassed Philippine vessels and encroached on Malaysian waters. ...

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