US must restrain from militarizing sea

By Li Kaisheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-22 19:08:01

After the US media reported that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles on Yongxing Island in the South China Sea, in recent days the US government has been accusing China of militarizing the South China Sea and a Philippine military official exaggeratingly worried that the missiles may be a threat to civilian aircraft.

It may be time to well define "militarization." Right before criticizing China for missile deployment, the US sent military vessels and planes loaded with cutting-edge weaponry near islands in the South China Sea or over the waters. Is this a militarizing action? While the US claims that it wants to defend the "freedom of navigation," China can surely say that it is exercising the rights of self-defense.

The South China Sea shouldn't be excessively militarized. But to this end, firstly the US has to exercise self-restraint and refrain from protecting the freedom of navigation, which goes unobstructed, by flexing military muscles. The US is the initiator of militarizing the South China Sea and many international political tragedies are the consequences of an action-reaction spiral.

Unfortunately, the US may want to only strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea to safeguard the outcomes of its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, a more serious form of militarizing the South China Sea. Hence the US needs to exaggerate the so-called militarization by China.

Compared with other regions, East Asia has enjoyed precious stability and peace, which derives in part from China's restraint. In East Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, contests of great powers have escalated to armed conflicts in recent years. Though often criticized, China's rights protection efforts have always stayed peaceful. Yet as a world leader, the US doesn't put its focus on the war-torn land but deploys 60 percent of its overseas military forces to the peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific region. What does the US want?

This is obvious to counter China's rise. China has shown no intention to challenge the US by force, but to protect its hegemony, the sensitive and suspicious US has set aside its responsibility to safeguard world peace and painstakingly dealt with possible challenges brought by China's emergence.

In this sense, any situation in the South China Sea and Korean Peninsula can be utilized by Washington to account for its strengthening military presence.

Washington gives some consideration to regional peace and stability, but this has to be subject to the US need to safeguard its hegemony and interests.

China needs to stay composed against US accusations. What China needs to reflect upon is not the supposed militarization, but why a normal action is distorted by the US.

The US is good at setting the diplomatic agenda. In the contest the US takes the initiative in setting topics and guiding public opinion, and hence firmly safeguards its interests in the South China Sea. What falls victim in this process is truth, fairness and China's legitimate interests.

China's diplomacy still follows the stimulation-response model and is not skilled in guiding topics. The US quickly makes gains and shows them off while China, so honest, suffers losses but can't voice it.

Besides, the US criticism has been echoed by some of China's neighboring countries partly because the latter have been used to China's low profile over the South China Sea. They become unsettled once China started construction work on the islands. This indicates that one's legitimate interests need to be safeguarded in a timely and effective manner.

While China won't infringe upon rights and interests of others, protecting its own rights should become a "new normal."

China also has to figure out more measures to provide public goods for the region. As a great power, China's obligations will unlikely to be equal to those of smaller countries around. In the 1990s, China's pledges to not devalue the yuan and its assistance to neighbors in financial crisis earned widespread praise. Today, China has to provide similar public goods in political and security domain to safeguard its own legitimate interests and meanwhile make other countries benefit from regional peace and stability. 

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: South China Sea Focus

blog comments powered by Disqus