Washington adds to Sino-US security dilemma

By Zhao Minghao
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Global Times, July 27, 2016
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The final award of the South China Sea arbitration made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has some serious deficiencies, including its practice of law and identification of facts, especially the conclusion that Taiping Island is a "rock." Institutions like the International Court of Justice and the UN have disassociated themselves from the arbitral tribunal. China will neither accept nor implement the award. However, certain countries such as the US and the Philippines will keep utilizing the award as leverage in their games against China. Disputes in the South China Sea will be more complicated, and no one will benefit from the deteriorating situation.

Over the years, Washington has been ramping up its efforts to contain Beijing in the South China Sea with cost-imposing strategies. On the one hand, the US wants to avoid an outbreak of direct, large-scale military conflict with China in the waters.

On the other, the White House is raising the cost of Beijing promoting its South China Sea policy, including an impaired national reputation, through diplomatic, military and public opinion warfare, in order to offset or even deny China's political gains in the waters.

US cost-imposing strategy includes both military and non-military measures. Militarily, the White House is focusing on enhancing its military deployment, increasing military actions, and boosting its allies' as well as security partners' military capacity.

The US has already carried out the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), which was announced by Ashton Carter, US secretary of defense in 2015. The idea of the initiative is to help the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, possibly along with Brunei, Singapore and Taiwan in the future, to better respond to maritime challenges.

The total budget of the five-year program is $425 million. Such an initiative will enhance security coordination between the US and certain nations in Southeast Asia, which will be a threat to China.

However, a more complex challenge that confronts Beijing is the non-military part of the cost-imposing strategy, such as public opinion and diplomatic wars and legal battles, through which Washington has been piling increasing pressure on China. In early June, US Senator John McCain claimed that if China opted to ignore the award of the PCA, then it chose to disrupt "rules-based order."

Obviously, US politicians are hoping to portray China as a wrecker of rules, despite the fact that Washington has already paid high price for its black-and-white logic which made itself a number of enemies.

The country has refused to approve the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for decades, it has fallen behind on huge due payments for the UN, and once withdrew from the Kyoto Protocols, a legally binding agreement to fight climate change. Facing the global rules, it is no surprise when Washington adopts a double standard. Thus the country was never a good example in terms of abiding by rules-based order.

For the US, the final award of the arbitration will provide more "legitimacy" for its own provocations in the South China Sea, including sending more warships and jet fighters to the region to conduct "freedom of navigation" exercises. It is also encouraging more claimant countries like Vietnam to file arbitration claims, which will keep making Beijing a defendant.

Yet Washington will have to pay the cost. Along with the deepening security dilemma between the US and China in the waters, the ties between the two might end up derailing one day. As David Lampton, director of SAIS-China and China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, once warned, the South China Sea will speed up the Sino-US strategic drift.

According to reports, China and the Philippines conducted consultations before the arbitration result was released. Their efforts to prevent the situation from worsening serve the interest of both sides. After his recent meeting with commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy Wu Shengli, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said they held frank and substantive conversations and he was supportive of a continued and deepening navy-to-navy relationship.

Democratic Representative Brad Sherman of California accused the White House of exaggerating the importance of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. Democrat Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters recently that he doesn't think China wants a confrontation with the US.

China and the US indeed have large space to avoid confrontation and expand cooperation, but this depends on high-quality strategic communication. Now it is a critical juncture where Beijing and Washington must show strategic restraint to each other.

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