Monday, August 8, 2011

US Interference in South China Sea

In the five-day ASEAN meetings held in Bali, Indonesia, starting 19 July, as expected, the issue of the sovereignty dispute over the South China Sea has become the center of attention. On 20 July, senior officials from both China and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries agreed to formulate the guidelines for the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. This is one step towards a legally-binding ‘code of conduct’. If both sides could reach an agreement in this regard, they would be able to make ‘the rules of the game’ in the South China Sea clearer.
Recent Series of Controversies
On the first day of the meetings, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia -- the current ASEAN chair and organizer of the meetings -- had expressed his impatience on the slow progress of the matter. ASEAN and China signed the non-legally-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. Nine years have passed with no progress. The recent series of controversies surrounding the South China Sea have manifested the insignificance of this declaration. Nevertheless, it is still a foundation laid down after many years of negotiation between China and ASEAN. As the situation changes, it is more pressing now for China and ASEAN to seek breakthrough based on this foundation. Perhaps now we can look forward more optimistically to the endorsement of China and ASEAN to the ‘implementation guidelines’ reached between their senior officials. We also look forward to the official legal documents that put the spirit of the declaration into practice and set the standards for the conduct of parties in the South China Sea from now on.
Uncompromising Confrontation
Undeniably, such progress would only mitigate the tension of the uncompromising confrontation, the conflicts over sovereign rights and territorial claims will persist.
In the past one month, tension arises in the relations between China and several ASEAN countries while the South China Sea is surrounded with more excitement. The United States, Japan, and Australia conducted their first joint military exercise in the waters of Brunei. In addition, the United States also conducted its joint naval exercises with Vietnam and the Philippines separately. Against the backdrop of the current state of affairs, in the eyes of China, the joint military exercises conducted by the United States with countries in this region in the South China Sea were certainly meant to target at China. Among others, China had strongly opposed to the US-Vietnam joint military exercise. Although the United States and Vietnam claimed that the exercise was scheduled before the conflicts between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea, China insisted that ‘the timing was inappropriate’ and the United States and Vietnam should cancel their pointed naval exercise.
At the same time, various parties have also resorted to diplomatic approach. For instance, in the visit of the Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to China, both he and the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stressed after their meeting that the bilateral relations between the two countries would not be affected by the sovereignty dispute. Both sides agreed to safeguard peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea.
Establishment of Power and Influence
The interference of the United States into the sovereignty row over the South China Sea is an inevitable development. The United States has established its power and influence in this region since long ago. When small countries in this region face territorial conflicts with China, they will naturally turn to the United States for support. This is a fact that China has to accept, although it has insisted that the sovereignty dispute is a bilateral issue and refused to internationalize the issue. As the situation in the South China Sea is full of variables, we must not overlook the interaction b etween China and the United States as well.
In return to the visit of Chen Bingde, Chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China, to the United States in May this year, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, recently paid a four-day official visit to China. In his program in places like Shandong and Zhejiang, Mullen visited the army, air force, and navy of the PLA. This was the first time a top rank US military leader had ever surveyed China's military strength in such ‘close distance’. In particular, China had for the first time shown to an outsider the military equipment of the Second Artillery Force, a force equipped with possesses nuclear missiles and conventional operational-tactical missiles. From China's perspective, this was an action to ‘show friendliness’ to the United States.
After its further interference into the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea, the United States has more obligation and responsibility to prevent the conflicts between any of the ASEAN countries and China from going out of control. Otherwise, the United States would have to face the risk of a direct armed conflict with China, which is not in line with the interests of the country.

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