US efforts to counter Chinese military expansionism and political influence in the Indo-Pacific took another significant step forward last week with an agreement to deepen defence andsecurity ties with the Philippines. Yet US president Joe Biden’s success in developing bilateral and multilateral alliances may have more to do with growing wariness across the region about Beijing than a sudden desire for closer partnership with Washington.
Many people in smaller, traditionally non-aligned countries, worried about getting caught in the middle, would probably prefer their governments not to take sides at all. This rerun battle for the Pacific looks disturbingly like the warm-up for a second cold war. China’s often harshly enforced claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea has alienated neighbours, provoking numerous confrontations over freedom of navigation, disputed islands and energy resources.
Beijing’s unceasing intimidation of Taiwan, huge military buildup, unhelpful response to the pandemic and backing for Russia’s war in Ukraine fit a broader pattern of off-putting arrogance and domineering behaviour.