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Can the United States Keep China at Bay?

Southeast Asians want the United States active and engaged in the region, and the U.S. is clearly trying to deliver. But Southeast Asian countries cannot hope to receive full U.S. support in the South China Sea until they resolve ongoing disputes among themselves.

This burst of U.S. activity in Southeast Asia is, in part, a response to China’s recent assertiveness, particularly in the maritime space (more on that here). Southeast Asians hope drawing the United States more deeply into the region can help balance China’s heft in multilateral organizations and deter China from using force to resolve territorial disputes, even as Southeast Asians beef up their own defense capabilities.

Map of the South China Sea (1988). (Source: University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

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U.S. Policy »

The President Needs to Make a Public Case for Engagement With Asia

The world as seen from Washington, DC.*

The fact that President Obama canceled yet another trip to Asia (after having canceled his March trip and deciding to skip Indonesia in November) is disappointing. This makes sense from the narrow American political perspective; Obama is afraid the Gulf oil spill could become his “Hurricane Katrina” incident, exposing the U.S. government as aloof and unable to respond to crises.

But the message sent to the Asia-Pacific region is not a good one.

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