By Jacob Shapiro
Every week, it seems, stories appear indicating worsening tensions and new disputes in the South China Sea. The narrative usually goes something like this: China, Asia’s rising hegemon, and its rapidly improving People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are pushing around smaller players like the Philippines and Vietnam, seizing small islands and building artificial ones for various storage depots and landing strips. Of course these smaller players are also squabbling among themselves, and all the while, loyal U.S. allies in Tokyo, Seoul and Canberra watch with concern and prepare themselves for inevitable conflict should the United States prove unwilling to sufficiently protect their interests.
In the last week alone, there have been at least four such developments that seem to confirm this narrative. On Jan. 22, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that his country would step up efforts to combat Chinese assertiveness in the region. On Jan. 26, offic