Raising sea tensions serves Pentagon’s ends

By Zhang Junshe Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-11 22:53:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter embarked on an Asia trip to India and the Philippines on Sunday before he heads to the Middle East with stops in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Last November Carter accepted an invitation to visit China this year and said that he looked forward to a visit this spring. That his travel itinerary doesn't include China this time has been reported by some US media, giving rise to speculations whether the Pentagon is sending a message to Beijing amid simmering tensions in the South China Sea.

The reports about Beijing's absence in Carter's trip are obviously targeted at exerting pressure on China. However, whether China is included in Carter's itinerary won't have much impact on the whole picture of the Sino-US relations and it's questionable if it could create pressure for Beijing. According to Chinese Ministry of National Defense, Carter's China visit is a part of this year's plan for bilateral military exchanges. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Carter still expects to visit China later this year.

China will not waver in its resolution in safeguarding its territory and sovereignty no matter how the outsiders try to pressure it. The US is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes. It should respect China's legitimate rights to construct the Nansha islands and reefs within China's sovereignty. The two countries shouldn't let the disputes affect overall bilateral ties.

However, a tendency that deserves our attention is that the Pentagon has some divergences with the White House over the South China Sea disputes. It was recently reported by the Navy Times that Harry Harris, the US military's top commander in the Pacific, has been arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to dealing with China in the South China Sea, although he was resisted by the White House at nearly every turn. Confrontational elements in the Pentagon like Harris are proposing the US to take more aggressive measures under the excuse of ensuring "freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea. Apparently, the US military is making an issue of the South China Sea disputes for purpose of wooing domestic support for a larger military budget.

As a matter of fact, China and the ASEAN have been striving to resolve the South China Sea disputes through negotiations in order to maintain regional peace and stability. The past several months have seen claimants behaving in a relatively restrained way. However, it's the US that has kept raising tensions in the region by sailing its destroyers into 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands and reefs.

The US is actually seeking to justify and expand its military presence in the Asia-Pacific through stirring up tensions in the South China Sea. It also aims to pursue maritime hegemony in the name of "freedom of navigation" and contain a rising China.

In the foreseeable future, the US is unlikely to stop creating tensions. The aggressive Pentagon elements are also wracking their brains to manufacture hyperbole about China's island construction activities. The US will take further steps to rope in countries, the Philippines, Vietnam and India in particular, to provoke China in the disputed waters.

Carter is visiting India and will head for the Philippines soon. In an interview with the PTI on the eve of his visit, Carter spoke highly of India as "a very influential and powerful force in the whole Indo Asia Pacific region," making it clear that the US hopes to forge closer ties with India, especially in countering China's moves. However, given India sticks to non-alignment as a pillar of its foreign policy, it's unlikely that New Delhi will jump onto the chariot of the US as the Philippines has. The Philippines is easily incited to confront China. But it should understand that serving the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific as a pawn means it could be sacrificed by Washington to maintain US hegemony.

China will be persistent in safeguarding its sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea as usual. The facilities China has constructed on its Nansha Islands and reefs are primarily for civilian use, offering more public goods to the international community.

Given heightening tensions between China and the US over the South China Sea disputes, the two militaries should strengthen engagement, take divergences under control and keep the healthy bilateral relations on track.

The author is a research fellow at the China Naval Research Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus