The Philippines last week lodged a complaint after two Chinese vessels ordered its oil exploration boat to leave waters near the disputed Spratly islands, and Vietnam has protested against Chinese military exercises nearby.China has for some time been pushing claims further out into trade route waters, and tends toward a nationalist tack in pressing its claims. Its economy certainly exerts a great pull, and although its navy still doesn't come close to matching the force-projection of its American counterpart, its military is generally poised to back up Chinese claims.
"China holds indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
But all of this serves to undercut the country's soft-power influence in the region, alienating those who might otherwise be more cooperative. India is expanding its influence exactly at the cost of China's lack of soft power:
As the Philippines protests the latest Chinese military action in disputed areas of the South China Sea, India is ramping up its charm offensive in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pushing for close economic cooperation with the 10-member regional grouping.
"The shift of power to Asia in this century is almost a cliché now," Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said here last week at the two-day Delhi Dialogue III. "We are committed to deepening our engagement with the countries of ASEAN."
Krishna pushed for the construction of "an inter-connected economic bloc" between India and ASEAN. This would revive ancient economic and cultural ties.
"India and ASEAN are natural partners," said ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan. "Together we are a formidable force."