Wednesday, May 11, 2016

U.S. misjudgment on South China Sea will be costly

The United States has misjudged China, its intention and its role in relation to the South China Sea issue, Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute, the National University of Singapore.

"It based its judgment on its own historical experience as an expansionist empire and its deeply rooted great-power ideology, and not on China's diplomatic performance in the region," he said.


Zheng, a well-known scholar on China studies, said that China, unlike the United States, "does not have a missionary culture or missionary diplomatic policies."

While heavy U.S. presence in the region is regarded by some in China as a threat, China does not have its own version of the Monroe Doctrine to drive U.S. influence out of the region, he said.

U.S. concerns about the freedom of navigation are not justified, either. China wants to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea more than any others as it depends heavily on the important sea routes there.

Generally, China and the United States do not have direct geopolitical conflict in the South China Sea, Zheng said.

"A misjudged strategy will be costly to America," he said.

China has said it welcomes the United States to play a positive role in regional peace and stability, like contributing to maritime security.

China has voiced support for a dual-track approach on the South China Sea issue. It advocates common efforts by regional countries to safeguard regional peace and stability and insists that the South China Sea disputes should be dealt with through peaceful bilateral channels between countries directly involved in the disputes.


The U.S. has repeatedly emphasized that the South China Sea issue "must be resolved peacefully without a big nation presiding over smaller neighbors." But Zheng said the implied accusation that China is a bully is essentially biased.

The U.S.-backed approach of internationalizing the disputes is simply not helpful, as territorial disputes often leave no room for the claimant states to back down, and any efforts to create a hype will only escalate tension, he said.

Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, admired worldwide as a great leader and known for his pragmatism, recognized that the South China Sea disputes could be resolved and therefore proposed joint development.

The approach advocated by Deng is better because it suits the complicated historical context. China and its neighbors in the South China Sea region had co-existed for thousands of years before the creation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China has also proved that it deals with its smaller neighbors with due respect and treats them as equals. China and Vietnam, for instance, solved their land border dispute long ago through bilateral negotiations, with China making quite a few concessions.

"This case proved that it is unfair to call China a big bully to smaller nations," Zheng said.

In Zheng's opinion, China has tried to avoid creating a hype over the South China Sea issue. It is not the first country to carry out reclamation and building projects on the islands and reefs as countries like the Philippines and Vietnam had long been doing this.

Even in the face of U.S. interference, China has not wavered in its pursuit of regional peace and stability.


The U.S.-backed approach of making the South China Sea disputes an international and increasingly complicated geopolitical issue will be costly to all parties concerned, Zheng said.

While it is not in the interests of China to see a hype over the South China Sea issue, China will have to respond to provocations. It absolutely has the capacity to resist U.S.-backed provocative acts if necessary.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) faces a dilemma as some of its members try to impose their disputes with China onto the ASEAN platform against the will of other members.

Zheng said the region has been less stable since the United States interfered with its policy of "pivot to Asia."

Moreover, it is not necessarily in the interests of even the claimant states to internationalize the South China Sea disputes.

"Some of the politicians are doing it out of political considerations with no regard for their national interests," Zheng said.

The U.S. interference is a strategic miscalculation and carries a cost for the United States.

The interests of the regional countries and those of the United States are not always the same. "While there is national interests convergence between the United States and these (claimant) states in some areas, the maximization of national interests of these states is not necessarily in the interests of the United States," Zheng said.

"It benefits the United States little with its interference; its intervention has only brought forward a lose-lose situation for all concerned," he added.

Zheng said China has shown unwavering strength in face of pressure on the South China Sea issue.

"China needs to be patient, as rationality is borne from patience," he said. by Xinhua writer Chen Jipeng

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