US must make right choice in South China Sea

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

Afew­days ago, USS De­catur, a guided mis­sile de­stroyer of theUS Navy, in­truded into the ter­ri­to­rial sea of China’s Xisha Is­lands (Para­cel Is­lands). China re­sponded by dis­patch­ing two ships and a JH-7 fighter-bomber to ex­pel theUS ves­sel from the waters.

Why did theUnited States’ mil­i­tary ves­sel en­ter the South China Sea?

TheUS’ in­ten­tion was to chal­lenge China’s mar­itime claims in the South China Sea, as it claimed the base­lines of Chi­nese ter­ri­to­rial sea were un­law­ful. TheUS claim is base­less.

More that 20 years ago, Bei­jing is­sued the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Base­line of the Ter­ri­to­rial Sea of China, mark­ing the base points and base­lines of the Xisha Is­lands and the scope of China’s ter­ri­to­rial sea, which con­formed to the cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional lawand in­ter­na­tional prac­tice. This has been rec­og­nized by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

There were two rea­sons be­hind the US’ ac­tion. The first was to cast a shadow over the Chi­naPhilip­pines rap­proche­ment. The US ship en­tered the Xisha Is­lands waters at a time when Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte was pay­ing a state visit to China, which most ob­servers be­lieved would im­prove Bei­jingManila re­la­tions, es­pe­cially be­cause the two sides an­nounced they would re­solve their dis­pute in the South China Sea through peace­ful di­a­logue.

The US in­tru­sion came when the “break­ing up” ofWash­ing­ton-Manila re­la­tions was grab­bing the head­lines. Manila had de­cided to stop act­ing asWash­ing­ton’s pawn, mak­ing the US “ner­vous”. The so-called free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion op­er­a­tion by the US was thus aimed at pre­vent­ing any im­prove­ment in Bei­jing-Manila ties.

The sec­ond rea­son was to check the mo­men­tum of di­a­logue and con­sul­ta­tion among the par­ties to the dis­putes in the South China Sea. China and ASEAN mem­ber states have made good progress on the ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of the Par­ties in the South China Sea (DOC) and ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Code of Con­duct for the South China Sea (COC).

TheUS is per­turbed by these de­vel­op­ments. Its ac­tion has made peo­ple re­al­ize that de­spite its claims of sup­port­ing a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion to the South China Sea dis­putes, theUS is keen on stir­ring up more trou­ble in the re­gion.

Con­trary to what theUS ex­pected, the so-called rul­ing of the ar­bi­tral tri­bunal on the South China Sea dis­pute be­tween China and the Philip­pines has not height­ened the ten­sions in the re­gion. In fact, di­a­logue is fa­vored by the dis­put­ing par­ties to re­solve the dis­putes.

Un­able to ac­cept this, theUS— and its ally Ja­pan— has been flex­ing its mus­cles in the South China Sea and thus re­sort­ing to “mil­i­ta­riza­tion” in the re­gion.

TheUS pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is just a week away, and en­sur­ing a sta­ble tran­si­tion of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions is the top pri­or­ity for both Bei­jing andWash­ing­ton, for which de­fus­ing the ten­sions in the South China Sea is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion. In nearly eight years of the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, thanks to the joint ef­forts of both sides, China-US re­la­tions have made a lot of progress, which should not be a sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of nar­row gains.

The last few­months of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should not be marked by height­ened ten­sions be­tween Bei­jing andWash­ing­ton in the South China Sea, be­cause that can harm bi­lat­eral ties. Ac­cord­ing to an old Chi­nese say­ing, wise men ride with the tides, while the fool row against the flow. Weigh­ing the im­por­tance of long-term China-US re­la­tions, Wash­ing­ton there­fore could and should make the right choice. The author is a Bei­jing-based ob­server on in­ter­na­tional is­sues.

SONG CHEN / CHINA DAILY

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