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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How tiny islands loom large for the next president

How tiny islands loom large for the next president

               Kenneth M. Quinn May 27, 2016

On Oct. 7, 1960, there was a significant moment in the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate about whether the United States should militarily defend Quemoy and Matsu, two little-known, tiny islands off the coast of China, then occupied by the Taiwan military. Should they be attacked by the mainland Communist forces, Vice President Richard Nixon replied yes, America should respond; Sen. John F. Kennedy said no. It was a seen as a defining moment that helped differentiate the candidates in a close campaign.
Fast forward to Sept. 14, 2012, when, while being interviewed on Iowa Press right before another presidential debate, I was asked by Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson to identify “hot spots” to which Americans should pay closer attention. My immediate response was not North Korea or Iran, but rather I noted the “disputed islands” in the South China Sea, which could provide a “trigger point” leading to escalating tensions and possible big power confrontation.
Now four years later, observing President Barack Obama’s official visit to Vietnam last week, I cannot help but worry that we might face another Quemoy-Matsu-like decision point in the not-too-distant future, given the increasingly intense situation surrounding the Spratly and Paracel islands, which are claimed in part or in whole by China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. With their potential impact on international shipping lanes and the free movement of U.S. naval vessels, these conflicting claims have made the South China Sea one of the more dangerous areas on the globe.

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