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Interference in South China Sea Harms U.S.

Jun 11 , 2015
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s speech at the just concluded Shangri-La Dialogue had a theme of attacking China. He irresponsibly dumped blame on China for its construction activities on its own isles and reefs in the South China Sea, accusing China of sabotaging security in the Asia Pacific. He even attempted to rally some countries and orchestrate a chorus of China-bashing. His words and deeds indicated that the U.S. presence there was meant to make trouble. Of course, the attempt failed.

The South China Sea has been heating up lately. An extremely small number of countries, the Philippines in particular, have repeatedly provoked China. The U.S. Vice President openly blamed China. The U.S. has even dramatically increased in-depth close-in surveillance and reconnaissance flights against China, seriously challenging Chinese sovereignty and security. Such flights have received multiple warnings from the Chinese military and been driven away, nearly spiraling into crises.

The main cause of the tension in the South China Sea is the U.S. has unprecedentedly raised its profile in the South China Sea issue in order to contain China. From instigating Japan to patrol the South China Sea to lobbying the Association of South East Asian Nations to organize a joint fleet, from increasing arms sales to countries in conflicts with China to holding joint military drills with them near Chinese territorial waters, from consolidating military relations with allies and partners to strengthening its own military presence in the South China Sea, from escalating unwarranted criticisms against China to increasing frequency of close-in surveillance and reconnaissance flights against China, the U.S. is openly targeting China. The U.S. obviously perceives the South China Sea as the “outpost” for containing China, intentionally creating tensions in the region.

The essence of the South China Sea issue is China’s isles and reefs have been encroached upon and occupied by other countries. Ignoring this reality, the U.S. blames China for stirring up the conflicts and triggering regional tensions. It has come up with three groundless accusations against China:

1. The U.S. accuses China of “changing the status quo in the South China Sea” and “violating” other countries’ sovereignty over isles and reefs. From time immemorial, China has practiced sovereignty over the South China Sea and its islands and reefs as well as effective administration. All other South China Sea countries, as well as the international community, the U.S. included, recognize this. Those countries had not raised territorial claims until after the 1970s, when the South China Sea was found to be rich in oil and gas. They have thus illegally occupied most of the isles and reefs. Obviously it was those countries, rather than China, that have violated another country’s sovereignty and changed the status quo in the South China Sea.

2. The U.S. complains that China’s actions challenged “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. This is an accusation that is absolutely baseless. As the most important maritime passageway for world trade, the South China Sea has never witnessed any problem regarding freedom of navigation. Each year more than 40,000 commercial vessels have sailed across the South China Sea, carrying commodities worth over $4 trillion, accounting for more than half of global maritime trade. There has never been any accident because of China. By conducting in-depth close-in surveillance and reconnaissance flights against China, the U.S. has compromised Chinese sovereignty and security, and violated relevant international laws and conventions. That has nothing to do with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and logically inspires Chinese opposition.

3. The U.S. alleges that China’s construction projects on South China Sea isles and reefs are inconsistent with international law, and forcefully asks China to stop. It is within China’s sovereignty to carry out construction on its own isles and reefs that are not involved in territorial disputes. Such activities should not be interrupted by any other country. China’s activities have done harm to no country. They are logical, reasonable and legitimate. What’s more, one of the main purposes is to facilitate China’s fulfillment of its international duties and responsibilities, such as maritime search and rescue, environmental protection, and navigation safety. They have numerous benefits and do no harm. The U.S. allegations are groundless and have gone too far beyond reason.

Being thousands of miles away from the South China Sea, the U.S. is an outsider in the South China Sea issue. It should have honored its promise and maintain a policy of staying neutral, not taking sides, and not intervening. Inaction is good action in this case. But it has chosen to gang up with countries in territorial disputes with China and repeatedly create troubles. It should be aware that by interfering in the South China Sea and hence China-U.S. relations, it is turning an otherwise win-win scenario into a lose-lose one, which will in no way benefit itself.

The current state of affairs in the South China Sea is acute. Yet by and large, peace and stability remain the reality there, because of the common goal of and shared interests in peaceful development and cooperation of countries in the region. China as a main player in the issue has a crucial role to play. China’s proposal to solve the disputes through consultations and bilateral negotiations between parties in the disputes has shown the direction for peaceful resolutions. The steady and deepening ASEAN-China (10+1) partnership is the “anchor” for stability in the South China Sea. China and the U.S. are trying to build a new type of major-country relationship. They will carefully handle corresponding contradictions and disagreements, properly manage the state of affairs, and avoid face-to-face collisions. Therefore, though there will be twists and turns in the South China Sea, even further escalations, the scenario that a crisis spirals out of control is unlikely – because it is undesirable for both sides.


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