US an annoying outsider in South China Sea affairs

By Li Kaisheng Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/6 19:13:40

Xisha Islands in the South China Sea Photo: VCG

By The US has been waging an all-out campaign against China in an attempt to maintain its hegemony. It won't miss any chance to use the South China Sea issue as leverage. Against this backdrop, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July said China's maritime claims in the South China Sea were "completely unlawful." People familiar with rhetoric on international politics are clearly aware that Pompeo's words deliver a message that the US is bolstering Southeast Asian claimants to take measures against China.

However, the US has not ushered in positive responses from these Southeast Asian countries. Take Vietnam. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang in July said Vietnam hopes all countries will make efforts to contribute to and maintain peace. It hopes for full cooperation in the South China Sea and to "settle disputes through dialogues and other peaceful measures, in accordance with international law and for the common interest." Her words sound prudent and cautious.

It is normal that China and Vietnam have diverse positions over the South China Sea. What's important is that the Vietnam expressed its will to proactively develop its ties with China and work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the region. It is evident that Pompeo's attempt to sow discord fails to lure Vietnam in.

Vietnam used to follow the US' suit in regard to South China Sea issues. Why didn't Hanoi go along this time? 

Fundamentally, it is because Hanoi has properly recognized the profound changes in geopolitical and economic situations taking place in the past few years. As a response, Vietnam has adjusted its policies accordingly.

With China's rise, it is increasingly unrealistic for Vietnam to take sides with the US. Although China has slowed down its pace of economic development, its gap with the US has been gradually narrowing. In this context, even though the US has ramped up its diplomatic containment against China, it makes sense that many countries around the South China Sea insist on not taking sides between the two giants.

Besides, a regional community with shared future, rather than ties with a faraway US, is becoming the foundation on which the ASEAN depends. Amid the new trend of de-globalization, especially as the US has broken up a bunch of international rules to maintain its interests, regional solidarity has become an optimal choice for ASEAN members. In the first half of 2020, ASEAN became China's largest trading partner. In the face of COVID-19, China and ASEAN have assisted each other in fighting the virus. They have conveyed a new annotation of community with shared future. If the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will be signed within this year under joint effort of China and ASEAN, the advantage of a regional community with shared future will be further embodied.

China and Vietnam both have strong bonds defending their socialist systems. This is where the two countries' core interests lie. They need to support each other in this regard, especially given that the US has never abandoned the aim to subvert socialist countries, including Vietnam. Pompeo's speech on July 23 discriminated against socialist ideology - this has inevitably rung alarms for Vietnam.

Last but not least, the prior struggles between the claimant countries over the South China Sea reveal that all stand to lose from conflicts and that the China-proposed dual track approach is the right way for bridging regional differences. If the claimants persist to initiate conflicts, only those non-regional forces that do not want to see peace and stability in the South China Sea will benefit.

The US will continue to stir up South China Sea affairs. It may act offensively to set an example for ASEAN members to follow up. It will also take advantage of political changes within claimant countries to alienate China's relations with them. 

However, as long as the above-mentioned elements do not change, ASEAN members, including Vietnam, will not gang up with the US. If China and ASEAN can smoothly promote the signing of the South China Sea Code of Conduct, no matter how hard Washington tries to sow discord, the US will ultimately become nothing but an annoying outsider who cannot impact well-managed, peaceful development in the region.

The author is research fellow and deputy director at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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