Opinion: US provocation in South China Sea a dangerous game of brinkmanship
Updated: 2015-10-27 19:00
BEIJING -- A US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands in South China Sea on Tuesday in a flagrant -- and baseless -- provocation against China's legitimate rights in the body of water.
The USS Lassen's operation, carried out in the name of freedom of navigation, was nothing but a willful and harmful game of brinkmanship mounted to flex US muscles at China's doormat and reassert Washington's dominant presence in the region -- at the cost of injecting more uncertainty into regional stability.
On the one hand, the pretext for the provocative voyage does not hold water whatsoever, for at least three reasons.
First, Beijing holds no "excessive claim" of sovereignty in South China Sea. Its entitlement to relevant South China Sea islands and reefs is well documented and validated in history. Those US officials who dispute that either need to make up missed history lessons or choose to ignore historical facts.
Second, the freedom of navigation and overflight has never been jeopardized, despite the complicated territorial rows between China and some of its neighbors. That is in large part due to the shared resolve of relevant parties to keep the sea peaceful, and in no smaller part thanks to China's restraint.
Third, China does not seek to militarize the Nansha Islands in South China Sea, and its construction activities there do not target any other country and will not hinder the international passages all countries are entitled to under international law. As Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently reaffirmed, Beijing will never be the party to stir up chaos.
With trillions of dollars' worth of goods traversing the patch of water every year, South China Sea is vital both to global trade and to China's development. Beijing has no reason to make trouble that might block one of its own arteries of trade.
On the other hand, such aggressive behavior is highly irresponsible and dangerous. First of all, it breaches Washington's pledge of not taking sides in the South China Sea disputes.
Gimmicks like conducting patrols around South China Sea features built up by Vietnam and the Philippines -- which have illegally occupied some of China's islands -- cannot conceal to which side the United States is tilted.
In parallel, it runs counter to the consensus Xi and US President Barack Obama has built on fostering a new model of major-country relations between the two global giants characterized by no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
Such provocations threaten to worsen the already gaping deficit of mutual trust between Beijing and Washington, which stems partly from the latter's frequent close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China.
Also, it is poised to further muddy the waters and undermine rational endeavors in seeking a peaceful and early settlement of the chronic South China Sea rows and thus eliminating the root causes of tensions and troubles for good.
Apparently instigated by Washington's expanding military presence in the region under the umbrella strategy of "rebalancing" to the Asia-Pacific, some claimants have already become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea disputes. More US provocations against China would only further embolden them.
Given the importance of South China Sea to world trade, it is high time that Washington heeded Beijing's appeals and warnings and stopped making waves in the busy body of water and making trouble out of nothing.