Speaking at the US Department of State's Annual South China Sea Conference on Friday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Michael Fuchs said the claimants to territorial rights in the region should "freeze" provocative actions and "could recommit not to establish new outposts" as agreed in the Declaration of Conduct (DoC) signed between ASEAN countries and China in 2002. These suggestions appear to be fair, but even Western media has opined that this is aimed at deterring China. Only the day before, the US Senate had accused China of aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and urged China for restraint.
If the US called for a "freeze" right after the DoC was signed, that would be all to the good. But Vietnam and the Philippines have since then been exploiting oil and gas within the nine-dash line. The US came up with such views just as China started its own oil explorations. Its partiality is more than obvious.
It's worth pointing out that the US is not a claimant to territorial rights in the South China Sea or a stakeholder in solving territorial disputes. It is a principle that the disputes should be solved by the parties involved.
Yet the US is a superpower which believes every international or regional affair has something to do with it. The Philippines and Vietnam want to draw support from the US to confront China. But the US needs to know that its interference has no basis in international law. If the US is sincere in making a contribution to peace in the South China Sea, it should take into consideration the interests and demands of all parties, including China.
But we doubt Washington's intentions. So far, its moves regarding the South China Sea are like the extension of its pivot to Asia strategy. Many Chinese people feel that the US is making trouble through intervention.
Washington's latest suggestions are a trap for Beijing. This timing is not beneficial for China. If China refuses to accept the suggestions, it can hardly convince the world. This is a farce initiated by the US which wants China to suffer the consequences.
Therefore, China should think about how to mediate with the US to prevent it from irritating us while reaping the gain. China should let the US eat some unexpected bitterness.
Western opinion will quibble about the South China Sea issue for a long time, which will be a challenge for China's diplomacy in Southeast Asia. Safeguarding sovereignty and maintaining a peripheral strategic environment are both important for China. China should try to make a balance.
China must be confident and stick to the following principles: It has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war. China is a regional power that has the initiative to control the conflict. Meanwhile, any country that confronts China has to bear the consequences. Finally, China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.