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China Daily Website

US should not send wrong message in South China Sea

Updated: 2012-08-11 10:27
By Tao Wenzhao ( chinadaily.com.cn)

The US State Department issued a statement on Aug 3 that criticized China's recent move to set up the city of Sansha and its garrison as "running counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risking further escalating tensions in the region". Of course, the China refuted the criticism.

China enjoys undisputable sovereignty over the islands and their adjacent waters in the South China Sea. This is based on historical facts as well as relevant international laws. As early as 1959, China established the special office of Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha under the Guangdong province's jurisdiction to exercise administration over the islands and their waters. Setting up the city of Sansha is just upgrading the previous administrative body to a new level.

Further, it is usual practice in China to establish a military garrison at the level of a city like Sansha. It has nothing to do with US interests, and the United States has no right to make comments like this. It cannot be viewed in China in any way other than as interference in China's domestic affairs.

In recent months, the United States was busy with its so-called pivot to Asia, taking various measures and using every opportunity. With regard to the South China Sea disputes, the US stance seems to me to be self-contradictory.

On one hand, the US has announced time and again that the US takes no position towards the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and in spite of the Philippines' repeated appeals, the US did not intervene directly in the dispute between China and the Philippines over Huangyan Island.

But on the other hand, the US has been actively engaging in "ASEANization" and internationalization of the disputes. Nevertheless, what happened at the recent ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh has already shown that the "ASEANization" of the issue gets nowhere. It can only trigger differences and splits among the ASEAN member countries. And the internationalization can only make the complicated issues even more complex. Now the US pivot strategy has already caused some confusion in the region, and the US should be very careful not to send any wrong and confusing messages in the region.

China's new military garrison does not risk escalation of tensions in the South China Sea, but US intervention does. China and the United States have extensive common interests in the region. The improvement of their relationship serves the interests of both, while degradation of their relations hurts not only both, but also the interests of the whole region. The US should weigh the gains and losses carefully and not do things as described in a Chinese saying: "to lift a rock only to hurt one's own foot".

Here I also want to say something to some ASEAN countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. China has implemented a good-neighbor policy in past decades and has been restrained and conciliatory toward some Philippines and Vietnam actions that have actually encroached upon China's sovereignty. It does not mean that China is weak. Neither does it mean that China will tolerate their unreasonable provocations indefinitely.

China cherishes her good relations with neighboring countries, and wants to have a favorable environment conducive to her modernization drive. But China is equally firm in defending her sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The disputes between China and these countries should be solved only in a peaceful way, through dialogue and consultation. The success of solving the land-border dispute between China and Vietnam and delimiting a border in Beibu Gulf has shown that they were able to solve the disputes by themselves without outside interference.

To attract or even rely on outside intervention is not a good tactic. It makes the issue more complicated, more difficult to solve. US intervention is not reliable. To build national interests by relying on US policy is a dangerous practice, as the US will not "pull chestnuts out of the fire" for anyone.

The world economic situation today is not stable. The financial crisis continues to fester. The Asia-Pacific region is relatively stable, and people throughout the world generally believe that this region is the most dynamic. To preserve peace and stability and promote common prosperity is where common interests of the United States, China and ASEAN countries lie.

To stir up the South China Sea disputes and exacerbate the situation in the region serves no one's interests. To implement a good-neighbor policy is China's fixed principle. This is a key part of China's road to peaceful development. China is making various efforts to upgrade its economic cooperation with ASEAN countries to a new level. But China alone cannot do that.

The differences between China and the Philippines, and between China and Vietnam should not become a hurdle in their bilateral relations as well as in the relations between China and ASEAN. They should learn to control and manage the differences, to lower tensions, and together work for peace and development of the region, which will eventually benefit all involved.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. (The article was originally published on chinausfocus.com.)