The United States Factor in the South China Sea

For the country’s domestic and strategic interests, the United States is definitely poking its nose into the South China Sea territorial dispute.

On the June 13, Vietnam ignored the objections and warnings of many related countries, including the U.S., and held live-fire military exercises on South China Sea islands. Their intention to conduct military drills is obvious. They showed it to China as military provocation, and also showed it to the international community to demonstrate their determination to defend their rightful ownership of the South China Sea. The international community has sensed the heated tensions in the disputed water, which could turn out to be a hot spot for war.

It cannot be denied that that the tension in the South China Sea disputes, to a large extent, is caused by the intervention of the U.S. In recent years, China has emerged in terms of its economy and armed forces, which pose a great threat to the declining U.S. The U.S. worries the rise of China will threaten its position as a world leader and strategic interests, especially in Asia, where China might sideline it and replace the U.S.’s leading position.

In order to secure its position as world leader, The U.S. understands that it has to suppress China from becoming the leader, since it could not stop China from becoming the second strongest. This is an inevitable strategy to maintain its dominant position. And now, the U.S. is freed from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which have almost come to an end. At the same time, China’s territorial dispute with its neighboring countries gives the U.S. a perfect opportunity. Hence, the U.S. is using the excuse of maintaining navigational freedom in the South China Sea, to protect the safety of its allies and to ensure peace and stability in Asia, to make a high-profile return to Asia and interfere in the water dispute directly. It provokes the relationship between China and its neighboring countries in order to isolate China, exacerbates China’s territorial disputes with neighboring countries to restrain China and plots to take charge in the multilateral talks of the South China Sea issue to set China in a passive position.

Frankly speaking, it was never the U.S.’s intention to bring down China along with Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India and other countries in Asia. This is because it understands that it could never bring down China and might eventually be affected. Even with the help of NATO, the U.S. could not do anything to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries. It is therefore unlikely to bring down China, the world’s second largest economic entity, with the biggest foreign exchange reserve, some 1.3 billion people and the world’s third largest state in land area. Secondly, the mutual reliance between the U.S, the world’s largest economic entity, and China is deemed highest in the world. The U.S. needs cheap goods from China to meet the demands of Americans; it also needs China, its largest creditor, to continue to buy and own treasury securities to support the U.S. economy. It also needs to work with China to face various problems regionally and internationally. Based on its reliance on China economically and politically, the U.S. dares not and does not want to bring down China. It does not want to confront China on the South China Sea issue; most importantly, it does not want to have any military confrontation with China.

The U.S.’s strategy is only to suppress China from becoming the strongest country in the world, especially in armed forces — it will never allow China to overtake it.

The U.S.’s interference in the South China Sea dispute by holding inaugural joint military drills with Vietnam had made Vietnam proudly think that it had the support of the U.S.; Vietnam continues to confront China gradually. Is the U.S. really supporting Vietnam in confronting China? Obviously not. In view of strategic importance globally, in Asia and toward China, a developing poor Vietnam versus an emerging huge China, it is obvious who is more important. How could the U.S. sacrifice its interest to risk offending China just because of Vietnam? Furthermore, the U.S. is wary of its old rival Vietnam’s ambition in Southeast Asia. In order to safeguard the its strategic interest in Southeast Asia, the U.S. has to stop Vietnam from dominating there and definitely would not help Vietnam become king in the region.

There is a need to re-study U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement on its policy on the South China Sea dispute. In July of last year, Hillary announced in the Hanoi meeting that the peace and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea were the country’s national interest. She said that the territorial dispute would jeopardize the safety and stability in the area, urged China and other neighboring counties to settle the dispute in a collaborative diplomatic process without coercion and said that the U.S. was willing to facilitate negotiations. China was shocked by Clinton’s statement; Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jie Chi quickly opposed it, as China has always proposed a multilateral talk between all claimants to compromise in the dispute instead of internationalizing the dispute. It has been a year: The South China water dispute is getting more complicated, more tense and even bigger, and it will eventually trigger military confrontation or war. It can be sure that this is not what the U.S. or China wants to see, but it might be what the misguided Vietnam has wished for.

No matter how much the U.S. wants to control China and provoke neighboring countries to isolate China, it cannot get involved in the dispute militarily. The U.S. has openly said that it will not support its ally the Philippines in a military confrontation with China; it is impossible that it would support its old rival Vietnam. Should the South China Sea dispute worsen to military confrontation or war, the U.S. will still remain neutral. This is the U.S.’s policy on the South China Sea dispute and a bottom line they have to oblige. No matter what reason made the U.S. interfere with the South China Sea military confrontation, having a war with China will imply a complete confrontation militarily, politically and economically; it will only destroy both countries, prevent the global economy from recovering and affect the stability in the Asia Pacific region. This is what the U.S. and China must avoid.

In conclusion, the U.S.’s high profile return to Asia, moving its global strategy to the East and direct interference in the South China Sea dispute indicate clearly that they want to interfere and facilitate negotiations to solve the water dispute. China, on the other hand, has objected to that. Nevertheless, despite China’s disagreement, the U.S. will definitely interfere in the dispute for its own interests. China needs to adjust its strategy in view of the current situation and take the initiative to enhance communication and negotiation with the U.S.; this is the key to balancing both countries’ interests and solving the problem to China’s benefit. It can be said that China-U.S. cooperation and compromise is crucial to solving the dispute and to maintaining peace in the area. Hence, the Chinese government has to change its mindset and pay attention to this.

Wenweipo, China

By 蒯轍元

 

Translated By NG AI FERN

18 June 2011

Edited by Gillian Palmer
China – Wenweipo – Original Article (Chinese )

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