US should be constructive
Updated: 2012-10-23 08:06
By Wu Zhenglong (China Daily)
By exploiting territorial disputes among eastern Asian nations, Washington is exacerbating tensions rather than easing them
Almost all countries in East Asia, big or small, have become involved in territorial disputes. None of these disputes will be easy to settle, as none of the disputing parties will make easy concessions or readily come to an accommodation. How to handle these disputes is a major challenge to all countries in eastern Asia.
However, experience shows this challenge can be overcome if the countries involved work together. When China and Japan restored diplomatic ties in 1972, they agreed to leave their dispute over the Diaoyu Islands for settlement at a later date, a decision that has maintained stability in Northeast Asia for 40 years. Today, however, Japan has unilaterally breached this agreement, triggering hostility between the two countries and plunging Northeast Asia into uncertainty.
As a solution to the South China Sea issue, China and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations worked out the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, setting the right direction for settling their disputes in the South China Sea. However, some of the parties to the declaration have chosen to ignore it and made big inroads into the South China Sea.
Vietnam is the most noticeable example. In 2004 and 2005, it built airports on two of the larger Nansha Islands, and has used them to transport personnel, equipment and ammunition to the Nansha Islands, also known as the Spratlys in the West. Since 1978, it has concluded exploration and development contracts with scores of oil companies from Japan, Russia, the United States, France, Britain, India and elsewhere, "offering" more than 120 exploration blocks in Chinese territorial waters around the Nansha and Xisha islands and turning oil and gas exploitation into a pillar of its economy. Other countries such as the Philippines have also made inroads into China's territorial waters.
The territorial disputes between East Asian countries, in particular, have been exploited by the United States as a major tool to tighten ties with its allies and weave a network of military partnerships aimed at containing China.
While claiming it does not take sides in the dispute between China and Japan over sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus in Japan, it has declared that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan covers the islands. Obviously, the US is trying to bolster and support Japan's attempts to appropriate the Diaoyu Islands.
Since the fallout between China and Japan over territorial issues, the US has not only tilted toward Japan in words, but also stepped up its "security cooperation" maneuvers and shows of force in the East China Sea. Its Marine Corps, for instance, has staged a joint month-long exercise of island-targeted operations with the Japanese Self-Defense Force in the East China Sea, a first in their joint exercises.
The US is not only supporting Japan, it is also providing backing to the Philippines and Vietnam in their disputes with China. It pretends it hasn't taken sides, but it has stepped up cooperation with the Philippines in joint military exercises designed to "react against marine threats". And when the Vietnamese parliament passed the Maritime Law of Vietnam in June this year to bring China's Xisha and Nansha islands under its jurisdiction, China reacted by announcing the establishment of the city of Sansha to strengthen its control, development and protection of its islands, reefs and territorial waters in the South China Sea. The US denounced China for this, but did not utter a single word about the Vietnamese act, fully revealing it is siding with Vietnam.
Needless to say, it is the US that has fueled the current intensification of territorial disputes in East Asia. As well as taking sides with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and others, the US has also provided these countries with advanced weaponry or joined forces with them to conduct military exercises targeting China. It is because they have the support of the US that these countries have taken steps to intensify the already tense situation in the region, with some stepping up arms procurement and war preparations to support their strategy of inch-by-inch encroachment.
China respects the justified presence of the US in this region, and welcomes any constructive contribution from it, but so far its presence has been anything but constructive.
When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Indonesia, she brazenly tried to fix a timetable for the finalization of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, saying that she hoped to see some substantial progress from China and the ASEAN before the East Asian summit in November. She was trying to order the East Asian nations about as if she was their supreme commander.
What would be a constructive contribution? So far as territorial disputes are concerned, the US should return to the principle of evenhandedness, as Douglas H. Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has pointed out.
To win respect from the world, the US should make efforts to bring lasting peace and prosperity to eastern Asia, instead of intensifying and perpetuating the tensions.
The author is a research fellow of the China Foundation For International Studies. www.chinausfocus.com
(China Daily 10/23/2012 page8)