It’s somewhat surprising that the South China Sea is not on the agenda of this week’s APEC meeting given a majority of the world’s container trade passes through the disputed area. In order to re-establish some credibility and trust in the region, China could use the venue to further clarify its intent toward land reclamation in the South China Sea (if anyone is listening). As Dr. Hiep suggests, other claimant states will likely meet on the sidelines to discuss the prospects of choosing to deepen ties with the U.S. or develop strategies to balance both the U.S. and China in their foreign trade and security policies.
CSIS’s Michael Green describes the South China Sea as a “grey zone” of coercion where the U.S. and China will use the dispute to pressure claimant states into advancing their own foreign policy agendas. I would like to extend this concept of the coercive grey zones to include both the cooperative grey zones and competitive grey zones of the current U.S.-China relationship. The yearly APEC meeting is a critical venue for the identification of other cooperative or competitive grey zones where U.S. and Chinese interests overlap or clash.
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