United States determination to keep its South China Sea territorial disputes with China going rests heavily on having nations with active claims in the sea as US client states, particularly those with claims that conflict with China’s. That used to be, with several nations having such claims.
But the US is struggling to keep those nations exclusively buying US arms. Today’s big loss was from Malaysia, which has announced they intend to buy littoral mission ships from China, instead of the United States. Details on the decision-making process are unclear, but the US problems with their own littoral combat ships breaking down, so that might’ve hurt their chances.
It’s a comparatively small deal, but part of a growing trend. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been making headlines for weeks with his interest in ending long-standing reliance on the US. While this has grown into complaints about general US-Philippines relations, one of the early grievances was his not liking the US dictating arms sales, and expressing interest in buying from China and Russia instead.
If these countries start buying their arms from China, they’ll have a strong incentive to resolve maritime disputes with China diplomatically, which could severely limit their interest in having warships patrolling through the area to “confront” China.