Recent incidents involving Chinese ships in Southeast Asian waters are testing regional faith in Beijing’s sincerity about maritime peace, and aiding a renewed U.S. push to build alliances with countries unnerved by China’s assertiveness. Chinese manoeuvring in energy-rich stretches of the South China Sea, including a standoff in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone, will figure on Friday when top diplomats of Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN attend a security gathering with world powers.
Among those is a United States that has laid out an “Indo-Pacific Strategy” challenging Chinese maritime hegemony and seeking stronger ties with nations pushing back against Beijing. Vietnam has done just that, demanding earlier this month that China remove a survey ship and escorts from its waters near an offshore oil block. Within hours, the U.S. State Department rebuked China for “bullying behaviour” and “provocative and destabilising activity”.