Po­lit­i­cal mo­tives be­hind US oper­a­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

TheUnited States be­gan flex­ing its mil­i­tary mus­cles in the South China Sea last year as part of its po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic ma­neu­vers in the re­gion. TheUS knows bet­ter than any other coun­try that it can­not di­rectly pre­vent China’s sov­er­eign ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea. So it has at­tempted to do the next best thing, that is, make it more costly for China to safe­guard its sovereignty through mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal, diplo­matic and me­dia tools. It is thus clear that theUS’ aim is to put China in an em­bar­rass­ing diplo­matic po­si­tion.

De­spite the China-US fric­tion in the South China Sea, how­ever, a di­rect con­flict be­tween the two coun­tries is not im­mi­nent. TheUS mil­i­tary’s moves in the South China Sea may ap­par­ently be aimed at de­ter­ring China from ex­pand­ing its in­flu­ence, but they are pri­mar­ily meant to serve as tools for ac­com­plish­ingWash­ing­ton’s po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic goals.

On “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion oper­a­tions” in the South China Sea, theUS has al­ways said they are no dif­fer­ent from such prac­tices in other parts of the world. Some Chi­nese me­dia out­lets and ex­perts seemed to have bought the US ar­gu­ment and said theUS’ aim is to chal­lenge China’s “ex­ces­sive mar­itime claims”.

But the re­cen­tUS mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the South China Sea have been ex­tra­or­di­nary. True, theUS con­ducts dozens of such oper­a­tions each year across the world, but they are usu­ally car­ried out in a quiet and low-key man­ner, and their de­tails are al­ways kept se­cret. By de­ploy­ing ad­vanced weaponry, cou­pled with ex­ten­sive me­dia cov­er­age, how­ever, theUS mil­i­tary seems to prove aHol­ly­wood block­buster-like point.

TheUS mil­i­tary’s oper­a­tions have drawn­the at­ten­tion of the pub­lic and politi­cians both in the US and China, es­pe­cially be­cause they have evolved into a po­lit­i­cal is­sue across the Pa­cific. Be­sides, the White­House has tried to cre­ate a crisis at­mos­phere by trum­pet­ing the “China threat” and por­tray­ing theUS mil­i­tary as a strong de­fender of na­tional in­ter­ests.

As for Bei­jing, Wash­ing­ton could, by sway­ing Chi­nese peo­ple’s opin­ion, ex­ert in­flu­ence on China’s do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal process. Wash­ing­ton in­tends to in­volve a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese to de­bate Bei­jing’s pol­icy on the South China Sea is­sue, and pre­vent Chi­nese elites from reach­ing a con­sen­sus on the is­sue. TheUS mil­i­tary’s “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion oper­a­tions”, viewed by many in China as an in­sult, were also meant to un­der­mine the au­thor­ity of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and cre­ate more dif­fi­cul­ties for it.

For theUS, such oper­a­tions are use­ful diplo­matic tools, used to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they could ex­ert pres­sure on China. On the other, they could help ap­peaseUS al­lies and part­ners such as the Philip­pines and Viet­nam in the re­gion.

By politi­ciz­ing its oper­a­tions in the South China Sea, theUS also in­tends to test China’s poli­cies. Wash­ing­ton of­ten blames Bei­jing for con­duct­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that it claims threaten peace, and for ex­pand­ing the gray ar­eas be­tween peace and war. But such state­ments can be used to de­scribe the US mil­i­tary’s South China Sea pol­icy. USNavy ves­sels first en­tered the wa­ters off China’sNan­sha Is­lands and then sailed close to Xisha Is­lands. Af­ter that theUS Navy con­ducted “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion oper­a­tions” in undis­puted ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters off some is­lands in the South China Sea.

In car­ry­ing out such oper­a­tions, theUS clearly fol­lowed a cau­tious ap­proach of tak­ing one step first to test the re­sponse from China be­fore mak­ing the next move. In other words, its strat­egy has been clear: test­ing China’s re­sponse and pol­icy bot­tom line.

In the face ofUS mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the South China Sea, China has no choice but to be pre­pared mil­i­tar­ily. Due to the com­plex­ity and politi­ciza­tion of US mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, China should look be­yond the “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion oper­a­tions”, and re­al­ize the po­lit­i­cal mo­tives and im­pact of theUS mil­i­tary’s oper­a­tions. More im­por­tantly, China should use all op­tions to counter and ex­pose the traps set by theUS.

The au­thor is a re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute of Ocean Re­search of Pek­ing Univer­sity. Cour­tesy: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

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