Illustration: Liu Rui
After cooperating with Vietnam, the US conduced military exercises again in the South China Sea between October 17 to 28, this time with the Phillipines. As usual, the two countries announced that the exercises weren't aimed at China. I think this kind of military exercise is meaningless, as the small countries are just being over-confident in their ability to provoke China and the US ultimately has no courage to stir up military conflict with China in the South China Sea.
The strategic goal of the US in the South China Sea is maintaining a situation of no war and no peace. The US has no direct concerns in Asian ocean disputes. So why does it take such a strong role in the dispute? This is part of the global strategy of the US, balancing powers in different regions, as it has done in the past. It also interferes in the Taiwan Strait and causes tension on the Korean Peninsula. However, the US feels that this is not enough to disturb China's development, and now it's trying to stir up Southeast Asia to make trouble for China.
From the South China Sea to the whole of Asia, the US expects no war and no peace between the disputing countries. The US can benefit when countries involved seek help from it. The US worries most about the moment it must choose a side to support when the dangerous balance is broken, as it must pay the price no matter which side it chooses.
So, in the South China Sea, the US challenges China's strategic bottom line cautiously, as if walking on a minefield. If China does not show off its strength, the US will push the small countries to test the bottom line. Once China has a drastic reaction, the US will stop its provocation. The US will not allow the provocations of small countries to result in a war.
The US also has no energy to start a new war. A decade of continuous wars preceded the financial crisis in the US. During the Libyan war at the start of this year, the US seemed tired. It tried to hand over the leadership of the war to Europe, not because Obama loves peace, but because the US is stuck in a bad situation.
The US hasn't tackled the financial crisis well, and the outbreak of the debt crisis in Europe makes it difficult for the US to recover anytime soon. Without money, the US army will crash and burn. The emerging Occupy Wall Street movements have spread to the whole country, which makes the White House more cautious about starting a new war.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, presented "America's Pacific Century" recently, saying that Sino-US relations cannot fail, which means that the US and China cannot have a military confrontation. Otherwise, the global ambitions of the US will fail. The Korean War brought benefits to Japan. If war happens in the South China Sea, Russia will become the winner.
During the Cold War, the US always played this kind of psychological game, forcing other countries make concessions to avoid direct conflict with the US. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union gave in. After that, the US constantly reaped benefits from its stick-and-carrot policy. Now, the US instigates China's neighbors to play such tricks. China should show its determination to tell US that its balancing policy won't work in the South China Sea.
China insists on peace. However, the US and other countries make use of this insistence as a tool to press China now. We should stop insisting on sticking to peace when other countries are challenging our bottom line again and again.
As long as China becomes strong and powerful in right way, the countries that pay most attention to their own security interests will stop their defiance and get back to the friendship and partnership with neighboring countries.
The author is a strategic analyst of the Energy Fund Committee. firstname.lastname@example.org