Come back onto fair track

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

US SEC­RE­TARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY WILL find him­self more than wel­come in Bei­jing if he is here to con­vey Wash­ing­ton’s com­mit­ment to a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship, as the US Depart­ment of State put it.

Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton need to com­pare notes on their rhetoric about a “new type of ma­jor-coun­try re­la­tion­ship”, and ex­plore ways to nav­i­gate the so­called “Thucy­dides’ trap”. For the well-be­ing of both coun­tries and the world at large, their re­la­tion­ship has to be pos­i­tive.

He will also be wel­come if he has fea­si­ble sug­ges­tions “for re­duc­ing the re­gional ac­ri­mony over com­pet­ing claims in the East and South China seas”. Bei­jing, too, is con­cerned about the haz­ardous po­ten­tials of such flash­points and seeks cri­sis preven­tion.

But be­fore ask­ing Bei­jing to clar­ify its in­ten­tions, Kerry should sort out for his hosts those of Wash­ing­ton’s. While his role on this spe­cific trip looks like that of a fire­fighter, his lat­est re­marks, how­ever, sounded the very op­po­site. His vow of pro­tec­tion for Ja­pan in an an­tic­i­pated con­flict be­tween Ja­pan and China in the East China Sea, for in­stance, was noth­ing short of the United States’ seal of ap­proval for Shinzo Abe’s brinks­man­ship.

Un­less he can con­vinc­ingly per­suade his hosts that this is not the US’ true think­ing re­gard­ing the re­gion’s cur­rent im­passe, Kerry should not ex­pect a sub­stan­tial out­come.

Wash­ing­ton’s ap­proach to the sovereignty dis­putes has been char­ac­ter­ized by a faulty premise and a wrong con­clu­sion.

From the very be­gin­ning, Wash­ing­ton’s nar­ra­tive has put China the role of the bad guy, la­bel­ing it as a bully, or a “desta­bi­liz­ing” char­ac­ter, in the neigh­bor­hood.

In both the East and South China seas, Bei­jing has been in a de­fen­sive role, re­spond­ing pas­sively to for­eign provo­ca­tions. Blind­ing it­self to this es­sen­tial truth, and en­cour­ag­ing the per­pe­tra­tors, Wash­ing­ton has in­stead ac­cused Bei­jing, the real vic­tim, of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions.

While no­body ex­pects Wash­ing­ton to play the im­par­tial me­di­a­tor, that does not mean it has the li­cense to add fuel to the fire.

The dead­locks in the East and South China seas have no so­lu­tions un­less Wash­ing­ton moves to rein in Ja­pan and the Philip­pines and stops them from push­ing the en­ve­lope too far. What it has said and done to date, how­ever, in­di­cates the con­trary.

The only chance for Kerry to make his hosts in Bei­jing com­mit to any new ini­tia­tive in con­flict res­o­lu­tion is to as­sure them of a se­ri­ous US com­mit­ment to the same.

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