US sea meddling makes trouble for itself

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-28 23:23:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a three-day visit to the US last week at the invitation of Secretary of State John Kerry. The South China Sea issue was high on the agenda during their meeting. This came as a result of Washington pursuing a "rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific region and interfering with the South China Sea in recent years, which, however, has not only imposed strategic pressure on China but also invited trouble for the US itself.

The South China Sea issue has been hyped since 2009, gradually escalating into a regional security hotspot and a key topic of Sino-US competition. Although an external player, the US has been playing a primary role in internationalizing the South China Sea issue.

Washington has launched a "rebalancing" policy with its "return" to Southeast Asia to further consolidate and expand its relations with countries in the region. Meanwhile, it has also kept meddling in the South China Sea disputes.

Instead of keeping a neutral position in territorial disputes, the Obama administration accuses China of worsening the scenario over the waters through political dialogues with the Philippines, Vietnam and other states who boast rival claims.

In addition, the US has carried out a series of dialogues with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expecting it to adopt a united and powerful stand in the South China Sea controversy and making it an issue between China and the whole bloc.

Manila gained the White House's support in launching the arbitration case in the South China Sea in 2013. At the two-day summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama in Sunnylands, California in early June of the same year, the South China Sea issue was put high on the agenda.

Since then, senior US government officials have blamed China for bullying smaller and weaker nations on many regional and international occasions. The US navy has conducted patrols in the waters in the name of safeguarding the freedom of navigation and over-flight.

Washington has accused Beijing of land reclamation activities outside the scope of Beijing's sovereignty, and called for it to halt the ongoing projects and stop militarizing disputed areas. Besides patrolling at the sea frequently, the US has also increased defense dialogues with Southeast Asian countries and deepened military cooperation with them.

Via these measures, Washington has turned the South China Sea into the primary ground of its "rebalancing" policy and come closer to grabbing dominant power in the region. Furthermore, it has made the South China Sea spat become a new conundrum of the China-US strategic game.

As the South China Sea row becomes a new hot potato in the structural contradictions between the two major countries, China is facing growing pressure from international public opinion and the US is drawing ruin upon itself.

It is widely known that the South China Sea issue mainly refers to the rift concerning sovereignty of some islands and maritime demarcation among China and certain Southeast Asian nations. Nonetheless, with the internationalization trend, it has become a strategic, security and diplomatic issue of unusual complexity.

Washington favors Manila, Hanoi and other Southeast Asian claimants and expects ASEAN to play a greater role in its strategy against China. But ASEAN states have all along been practicing a balancing policy between major powers, and not taking a side between Washington and Beijing is one of their basic foreign policies. Moreover, the US' dominant strategy in the South China Sea has been frustrated by ASEAN clinging to its own central position in the region. 

Consequently, the White House must render due respect and contribute more resources to ASEAN while insisting on its own principles. The US policy in the South China Sea enormously jeopardizes security in the region; it also increases the likelihood for the sea to become a powder keg in Asia, which requires the US to make more political, economic and military investment to maintain its dominant position.

Apparently, the US, a nation that aspires to defend its global leadership amid economic and strategic transformation, is unwilling to pay much of a price. Therefore, Washington is seeking trouble for itself by intervening in the South China Sea issue. And its next government will have to put in more resources to cope with this legacy of the Obama administration.

The author is a research fellow with the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.

Posted in: Viewpoint, South China Sea Focus

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