http://www.heritage.org/Research/Rep...y-on-East-Asia What Should the U.S. Do? The U.S. should continue to look out for its interests and those of its allies in East Asia independent of its involvement with ASEAN. Protect freedom of the seas. Americaâ€™s principal interest in the South China Sea is freedom of navigation, and its most effective instrument in this regard is the U.S. Navy. Under its Freedom of Navigation Program, the United States regularly asserts its rights in international waters. It also carries out necessary exercises, military survey activities, and intelligence gathering in waters seaward of Chinaâ€™s 12-mile territorial limit. It should continue to do so, undeterred by complaints and threats from the Chinese. It should also bear in mind that several members of ASEAN and India are officially sympathetic to Chinaâ€™s legal position on military activities in nearby waters. Protect allies. The U.S. has one treaty ally involved in this dispute: The Republic of the Philippines. The U.S. may very well find itself in a position where it cares more about the security of the Philippines than ASEAN. As chair of ASEAN in 2010, Vietnam stiffened ASEANâ€™s spine. The discomfort some members exhibited over its assertiveness, however, does not bode well for the organizationâ€™s staying power with regard to the Philippines, especially as the ASEAN chair is due to rotate through a number of cautious and/or China-deferential countries, such as Cambodia, Brunei, Burma, and Laos. Strengthen and create partnerships. America should keep its alliance network front and center, help provide the Philippines the military wherewithal to withstand PRC pressure, and continue to look for ways to expand bilateral strategic partnerships, with Vietnam and India in particular. Recent events obscure the fact that ASEAN is deeply ambivalent about Chinaâ€™s rise. Its consensus-based diplomatic culture means that the members most averse to offending China discourage bold initiative. Any time real action is required, the U.S. must rely, as it has for decades, directly on its hub-and-spokes system of allies and partnerships.