As part of its Asia pivot, the Obama Administration focused a significant amount of tension on the Pacific. In the South China Sea, the Pentagon has conducted aggressive patrols near China’s land reclamation projects in the Spratly archipelago. On the Korean Peninsula, the US plans to install a new THAAD missile defense system, angering both China and North Korea.
According to US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the US plans to follow through with these plans despite complaints from Beijing and increased skepticism from the Philippines, a key US ally.
In the South China Sea region, Washington relies on the cooperation of Manila, routinely launching aerial surveillance missions out of the Philippines as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). But new Philippine leadership has expressed less interest in supporting US military endeavors.
"Our plans for EDCA implementation are on track; we haven’t changed our plans at all," Carter assured reporters on Tuesday. "We look forward to working with the new Philippine government, as we always do [with] a new government in a democratic ally."
A highly-contested region through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, the South China Sea is claimed largely by China, but there are overlapping claims by Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
While Beijing maintains that it has the right to build within its own territory and that its artificial islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes, it has, in recent days, suggested that it would establish an air defense identification zone in response to American aggression.
On the Korean peninsula, the Pentagon maintains that its THAAD system is necessary to protect South Korea, given the DPRK’s recent nuclear and long-range missile tests.
"We have elements of cooperation, strong elements of cooperation, with China, even as we have some elements of competition," Carter said. "Now, I don’t want to speak for the Chinese, but I think everybody’s very frustrated at North Korean behavior."
Beijing, however, has argued the location of the system also threatens Chinese airspace. The Pentagon appears unwilling to consider these concerns.
"This is an alliance decision, a decision of the United States and the Republic of Korea which is about protecting us both from North Korean missile attack," he said. "It’s an alliance decision, [and] the implementation of it will be a series of decisions that we take together."