As China inches closer to imposing a de facto exclusion zone across the South China Sea, it has sought to box the United States out of Southeast Asia.

Having deployed state-of-the-art weapons systems to artificially created islands in the area, a Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone is more a matter of “when” than “if.”

The Asian powerhouse has forged ahead with negotiating a Code of Conduct (COC) in the contested areas that could, first, consolidate its gains on the ground and, more importantly, drive a wedge between Southeast Asian countries and Washington.

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