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As the US Presidential election draws closer, a UK-based maritime risk management company considers the strategic and security implications of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump policies towards one of the world’s greatest maritime areas; the hotly disputed region of the South China Sea.
This area demands the attention of the next President, says MAST. China is the largest naval builder in the world and a third of world trade flows through the South China Sea.
If Hillary Clinton were to win the Presidential election we are likely to see a continuation of President Obama’s political and military ‘pivot’ towards Asia, announced during Clinton’s role as Secretary of State in 2011 when the US declared the shift, the firm suggests. Yet this strategy will most likely be anything but plain sailing.
A President Trump might also maintain the emphasis afforded to Asia through the ‘pivot’ plan. However, the firm adds, one might also expect him to be more assertive than a President Clinton in, for example, the conduct of US Freedom of Navigation patrols in the South China Sea. Patrols could be conducted more frequently; more (and larger) warships could take part in the patrols; responses to engagements with Chinese warships might become more robust. This could increase the potential for a strategic miscalculation in the region.
Another consideration is how either candidate would respond to very recent issues such as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent political shift away from the US towards China – only a few months after the International Court of Arbitration upheld a Philippines’ complaint against China concerning China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Rear Admiral Anthony Rix, Business Development and Board advisor at MAST, said: “The outcome of the US Presidential election has people fixated across the world. Whoever wins will need to quickly set out their foreign policy towards China and South East Asia as this is will be one of many crucial issues for them to address. The South China Sea is one of the most important trade routes in the world and recent moves by China to exert their dominance there have concerned local and international leaders alike. It is likely that Hillary Clinton would been keen for the status quo to remain, whereas Donald Trump might be more forward in challenging Chinese territorial claims and not shy away from a show of force. How China would respond to that would be interesting.
“South East Asian countries need good navies and coast guards to maintain their, sometimes disputed, Territorial Seas and EEZs. Other issues such as piracy, illegal fishing, petty crime, the possibility that Oil and Gas exist under the South China Sea and the risk of terrorism call for comprehensive maritime security strategies, including at the regional level. These are ongoing issues that need addressing, irrespective of which candidate wins.”