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Foreign Policy

U.S. Gains and Losses of Its Operations in the South China Sea

Aug 08 , 2016
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

Since the United States started to implement its strategy of rebalance in Asia some six years ago, it has taken the South China Sea as its chief battleground in its futile attempt to hold China down. Its military operations in the South China Sea, which serve as an indirect coordinated effort, have been highly significant, and its political and diplomatic activities on the issues of China’s territorial disputes with the littoral countries of the South China Sea have been of an intensity rarely seen in recent history.

The most noticeable US effort may have been the engineering of the notorious case of the arbitration of the South China Sea dispute. Though the arbitration was nominally initiated by the Philippines alone, more detailed information disclosed after the release of the arbitration award tells the world that it was plotted behind the scenes, and manipulated by the US in collusion with Japan. The award of the arbitration reveals one of the true strategic goals and political aspiration of the US, i.e. the audacious annexation of the whole of the South China Sea of China under the US interpretation of the international law, especially of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), despite the fact that the US Congress has not ratified the Convention. Though the US officially doesn’t admit any connections with the arbitration case, nor does it acknowledge any ill will against China, more and more Chinese and justice-upholding people in the world believe that the US is the chief director of the arbitration case.

What has the US gained by taking such great pains and making so many unusual efforts? Some Chinese scholars and political analysts say that the US is “drawing water with a bamboo basket” with nothing achieved; while others say that the US is picking up a stone only to drop it on its own feet. Is it true? US hawks totally disagree with such assessments. They believe the US has gained a lot and has got an upper hand over China on the South China Sea issue. Perhaps we could get a more objective answer by taking a look at the following developments and facts.

From the perspective of the US hawks, the US has realized the goal of making the South China Sea an issue of world attention, which China initially tried to prevent. The US has managed to work, by overt means, with the Philippines and the ad hoc arbitration tribunal based in The Hague to successfully release the award before the Philippine new president could get any chance to change policy on the issue. From the Chinese perspective, however, when the South China Sea issue caught world attention and the arbitration award got the close scrutiny of the world, the whole truth has gradually come out and the uncertain US “gains” have not only started to disappear, but also become hard evidence to prove US ambitions of maritime hegemony and political conspiracy against China.

The most remarkable loss thanks to the US operations in the South China Sea is that of the declining popular support in China for America’s China policy. Soon after the release of the arbitration award of the South China Sea issue by the ad hoc Tribunal, sporadic “muddle-headed patriotic incidents” took place in China that called for boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken and other US businesses in China. Those in favor of the boycott were reminded by the US operations in the South China Sea of the invasions of China by imperialist countries before New China was born.. They are very angry at the US hawks and wanted to retaliate. They failed to understand that times have changed, and that business relations between China and the US are mutually beneficial. Both China and the US, however, should see the serious warning given by the incidents, i.e., the operations in the South China Sea planned and conducted by the US hawks should not in any way harm the beneficial cooperation between the two countries in business and other areas.

The US hawks could get nothing when China ignores the arbitration award. The notorious arbitration case will become a negative example in the history of international judicial and legal practice. China’s efforts to uphold international justice and fair world order by its firm position of non-recognition and non-acceptance of the award have been winning more and more understanding and support all over the world.  With the issuance at the China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in late July 2016 of the joint statement on fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the right track of resolving specific disputes through consultation by parties directly concerned was once again affirmed. China and ASEAN will jointly maintain stability in the South China Sea. With the successful efforts made by China to effectively safeguard its sovereignty over the South China Sea islands, the US hawks’ conspiracy to annex China’s territory in the South China Sea has gone into bankruptcy. Perhaps, they need to learn that false gains based on political conspiracy can never become true gains in the end.

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