China’s role in solving the South China Sea issue

By Zheng Yongnian / April 30, 2016

The South China Sea issue has become increasingly complicated and serious, typified by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter postponing his scheduled visit to China because of the issue. A statement on maritime security was issued after the Hiroshima G7 foreign ministers’ meeting. Although not explicitly mentioning China, the statement clearly criticized its conduct in the South China Sea.

U.S.-Philippine joint military drills, Japan’s involvement, Australian and other countries’ expressed concerns undoubtedly target China. It is not difficult to see that the role of the United States is of great importance. Although the Chinese government has time and again stated that the South China Sea issue involves China’s sovereign affairs, as well as a bilateral dispute between China and its neighbors, the United States adopts an interventionist policy.

Some observers detect a more united and consistent policy among countries in the region toward China. A new alliance, led by the United States targeting China, is emerging, above all seeking to force China to make concessions.

From a Chinese perspective, there’s little space to retreat. As a rising power, it has no reason to give up its identified sovereignty. In the South China Sea, just as Vietnam and the Philippines have nationalist sentiments, so does China.

So, is the pessimism of certain observers justified? Will the issue lead to open conflict?

This is a complicated issue and needs a detailed analysis. The South China Sea issue is actually comprised of three levels, namely, the relationship between China and the United States, the relationship between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the relationship between China and other national claimants.

In regard to China-U.S. relations, there are several factors behind the latter’s policy. First, the main concern of the United States is “freedom of navigation” which means it can freely go anywhere it wants. Second, the United States is wrong in its strategic judgment that China’s land reclamation and island building is “territorial expansion.” Third, the United States worries China’s “militarization” will hinder regional peace. Read more…


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