Slowly and gingerly, the United States is rebuilding its military presence in the Asian Pacific, and in two cases doing so at the invitation — though cloaked in diplomatic double talk — of the Philippines and Vietnam.
In 2012, the Philippines reopened to the U.S. Navy Subic Bay, a onetime major American naval base dating to the end of the Spanish-American War. That same year Vietnam reopened the huge and largely abandoned naval base at Cam Ranh Bay with the caveat that it was to be used by U.S. noncombat vessels.
The Navy pulled out of Cam Ranh Bay at the end of the Vietnam War and was more or less forced out of Subic Bay by the Philippine government in 1991.
Meanwhile, Japan, undoubtedly with tacit U.S. approval, is abandoning a ban that has stood since the end of World War II on the export of weapons and military materiel.
The related events are, as The Associated Press put it, part of an Obama administration policy of “reasserting the U.S. role as a Pacific power after a decade of war elsewhere.” It is also a clear and growing reaction to the Chinese military buildup and China’s growing aggressiveness in asserting jurisdiction over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The islands are largely uninhabited, but they give the possessor a claim on fishing rights and what are believed to be extensive oil and gas deposits. They are claimed not only by China but variously by Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Speaking Monday in Manila, where he signed a 10-year agreement providing U.S. access to Philippine military bases, President Barack Obama said, “Our goal is not to counter China. … Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of international disputes.”
Even so, if building up an arc of military treaties and basing-rights agreements around the South China Sea has the presumably unintended consequence of countering China, no one in Washington, Tokyo, Manila, Hanoi or Seoul will be the slightest bit dismayed.
— The Commercial Appeal, Memphis,