Students vandalize the outer wall of the US embassy during a protest in Manila Monday. Photo: AFP
The US and Philippines kicked off a joint war game Monday. The annual exercise was moved to an area adjoining the Nansha Islands. The Philippines has claimed repeatedly that the exercise is not aimed at China. But the claim will not change China's assessment of the situation in the South China Sea.South China Sea Conflict
Manila has been openly seeking US naval backing in regional maritime disputes. Washington is also interested in lending its support. It is clear what the real target of the joint exercises is even if the two sides deny it.
It remains uncertain how the Washington-Manila war game will impact the South China Sea. But it still means that such interference into regional maritime disputes lacks legitimacy. ASEAN countries are also concerned by the involvement of the US in this way.
The absolute advantage of US navy in South China Sea is in question as China grows. The Philippines may also exaggerate Washington's determination to launch a military deterrent. But the US will not give up the opportunity to apply strategic ambiguity in the region, a skill at which it excels.
This concerns China's sovereignty and dignity. China may be worried about US maneuvers, but this will not affect its decisions at times of urgency. War is far from the South China Sea and China is consistent in its peaceful plans. The war game, coming shortly after a standoff near Huangyan Island between China and the Philippines, reminds China of the necessity to make long-term preparations.
The US has reiterated its pivot back to Asia is not aimed at containing China and that it intends to improve mutual trust with China. The military exercise proves these are hypocritical remarks.
Despite a cautious response from China's foreign ministry, the Chinese public is wary of Washington. Since last year, the US navy, including an aircraft carrier, has been busy participating in joint military drills near China's territory. It is clear to Chinese and the world that the US is cementing a military partnership against China.
China needs to respond firmly, for example, by initiating military exercises in the South China Sea close enough to put pressure on Manila. If China does nothing in response, it is encouraging more military drills. China has to build its anti-access naval capacity. In the long term, it needs to have a comprehensive military power on par with the US' in the Western Pacific.
Military competition between US and China, however subtle, means certain pain for the Asia-Pacific region. But the pain cannot be relieved by China alone if the US and neighboring countries are not interested in taking their responsibilities seriously.