Friday, June 3, 2016

Dialogue of the deaf - As China and America continue to talk past each other, Asia frets

IN EAST ASIA, relations between China and America make the strategic weather. “When they are stable, the region is calm; when they are roiled, the region is uneasy,” noted Bilahari Kausikan, a Singaporean diplomat, in a recent lecture. In truth, ever since Richard Nixon went to China in 1972 and opened the modern era in Sino-American relations, the sky has rarely been entirely clear; but nor has it often been clouded by so many disparate disagreements as now. As the two countries’ bureaucrats from a range of ministries gather in Beijing on June 5th for their eighth annual mass date, the “Strategic and Economic Dialogue” (S&ED), rivalry is trumping co-operation. The best that can be expected this year is that the dialogue helps stem a slide into something more dangerous.

An implicit challenge by China to the American-led world order has become explicit, as will be apparent at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual high-level powwow on regional security to be held in Singapore from June 3rd to 5th. The venue China has chosen for this contest is the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam (and are mirrored by those of Taiwan). That is where it has been throwing its weight around most alarmingly.   

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