China's helicopter-equipped Haixun-31 sets off at the Gaolan port in Zhuhai, south China's Guangdong Province to patrol the South China Sea waters. Pic: AP.

As the New Year rolls in, tensions in the South China Sea remain as high as ever, writes Asia Sentinel’s Khanh Vu Duc

A little more than two weeks into 2013, eyes remain on the South China Sea and the maritime disputes, and the Western Pacific.

The disputes remain fluid and the region dynamic. It is far too early into the year to discuss developments in the South China Sea disputes, although one can assume that a new calendar year is unlikely to influence the position of those claimant states involved. Unfortunately, politics and hubris appear to be driving the debate rather than real interests. It has been reported that the winner of any disputes is unlikely to gain enough energy to make any significant difference to any of the claimants’ growing energy needs. This is particularly true in regard to China.

Still, China and Southeast Asia remain as dynamic as ever, their future fairly bright. While hope and optimism continue to hold in the region, much less can be said in the United States, where economic recovery is slow and the future still uncertain.

House of Out of Order
The New Year in the United States was ushered in under a cloud of uncertainty as Congress struggled to find a solution to the fiscal cliff, which would have seen tax increases and spending reductions that could have sent the country spiraling into another recession. However, a last minute deal staved off disaster, at least for now.

Rather than breathe a sigh of relief, although some did just that, pundits and the American public were again treated to the dysfunctional happenings of their Congress. This was partisan politics at its worst, with liberals blaming President Obama for conceding to Republicans, while Speaker Boehner was criticized by conservatives for conceding to the President and Democrats. What resulted from the eleventh hour deal was the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, a Band-Aid solution to the nation’s economic difficulties that satisfied no one.

The next four years may prove to be the most challenging for President Obama, requiring him (at least until midterm elections) to deal with a difficult House of Representatives. That expression of ‘Get your house in order’ has never been more appropriate.

For all the drama that preceded the midnight deal between the President and House Speaker over the fiscal cliff, another challenge looms on the horizon – or two months, to be specific – the debt ceiling and sequestration. In what will be more senseless political procrastination and last minute handwringing by Congress and the White House, in which the American public are held hostage (not the first time this should happen, and surely not the last), one can begin to understand the immediate priorities of Americans.

No Love for Foreign Policy 
Domestic issues such as the economy and jobs stand at the forefront of American concerns. For the average American citizen, paying off debts, saving for retirement and seeing their children through college are likely to rate greater attention than some islands in dispute on the other side the world. The South China Sea is sufficiently far away that is out of sight and out of mind.

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