Thursday, June 9, 2011

US Stirs More Storms To South China Sea Conflicts

Since March 2011, both Vietnam and the Philippines have engaged in several rounds of arguments with China over the sovereignty disputes of islands in the South China Sea. These conflicts have led to a sudden increase of tension in the South China Sea. More recently, Vietnam has even come out with official protest against China, making claim that China has dispatched its warships to interfere with a Vietnamese ship's oil exploration work in the South China Sea, cutting and damaging the ship's undersea oil probing cable.
However, the Philippines also accused China for invading the Philippines' territorial waters as many as seven times within this year. Moreover, the Manila Government also claimed that since its protest against China's invasion of its territorial waters could not be resolved, it has now decided to appeal the case to the United Nations. Yet China's response to the Philippines was that China's vessels were sailing along its own territorial waters. China claimed it did not violate any other country's territorial rights at all.
Dispute Over Sovereignty Rights
By virtue, any dispute over the sovereignty rights of islands in the South China Sea is but the dispute between 'two families' namely ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and China. In the past, when there were disputes over issues pertaining to conflicts in some of the islands in the South China Sea, the members of these two families would sit down and negotiate a way out to settle the dispute.

However, ever since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out with remarks saying that 'the United States has the obligation to ensure free and secure maritime shipping route along the South China Sea' and presented a high profile of US intention in wanting to involve in the South China Sea affairs when she attended the ASEAN Regional Forum held in Vietnam in July 2010, the United States has indeed stirred more storms to the South China Sea. The sky above the South China Sea has suddenly changed color, and the atmosphere in the South China Sea has also become increasingly tense among countries surrounding the Sea.
Expansion of China's Military Power
On 4 June, when US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Singapore attending the Tenth Asian Security Conference, Gates reiterated the US position in the South China Sea. He said the United States will maintain 'strong' military power in this region to guard its allies and to protect the Southeast Asian region's waterways and the region's maritime security. Indirectly, Gates also hinted that the expansion of China's military power has threatened Asian countries. Yet of note is that China's Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie was also among the representative attending the same Asian Security Conference held in Singapore.
From these recent incidents, it is not difficult for us to see that the US involvement in the South China Sea affairs has already disrupted the 'warm relationship' that ASEAN has all along maintained with China. It is also not difficult for us understand that of late, China's high-profiled execution of power in the protection of its maritime interest in the South China Sea is but a design for China to resist the power competition coming from the United States. Of course, the Chinese authority also knows that the reason why Vietnam and the Philippines will loudly accuse China for violating their respective maritime territorial rights is because they have received encouragement from the United States indirectly. As such, at this stage of time, the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea is no long an issue between the 'two families' namely ASEAN and China. The South China Sea issue has been internationalized. We trust that if some major happening or conflicts ever happens in the South China Sea in the coming days, the United States will definitely want to get involved in it.
Issues and Problems
Issues and problems pertaining to the South China Sea are indeed very complex because these complex issues have involved many countries. Besides China, many other countries have also claimed their rights over certain portion of the group of islands in the South China Sea. These countries have included Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. If the conflict in the South China Sea cannot be resolved in an amiable manner, it can lead to military conflicts in any minute.
In this regard, what our Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak recently said at the 10th Asian Security Conference held in Singapore should be viewed as a hint for the direction that ASEAN countries should go in order to resolve the conflicts in the South China Sea. Najib said: 'As long as we treat China positively and constructively, China will also make the same response to us. China is a country well known for returning kindness to other countries when it has received kindness from others.'

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