WASHINGTON — This month’s planned joint naval exercise between the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the Yellow Sea, aimed at preventing further provocation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) following the deadly sinking of an ROK warship in March, has irritated neighboring China and put the Sino-US bilateral relations at stake.
It is reported the US will deploy about 20 warships, including the USS George Washington, a 97,000-ton nuclear-powered carrier, an Aegis destroyer and a nuclear-powered submarine of the US 7th Fleet, to the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.
The presence of the USS George Washington in the Yellow Sea will put major Chinese cities, including Beijing, and coastline under its combat scope.
Earlier this month, a senior Chinese People’s Liberation official criticized the joint drill. General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the PLA, said the location of the exercise is very close to Chinese’s sea area, and China strongly opposed it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said repeatedly that Beijing is seriously concerned about the US-ROK exercise.
The just concluded six-day, live ammunition drill, by the PLA in the East China Sea is regarded by many analysts as a response to the US-ROK military exercises.
A public poll conducted by some Chinese media showed that 92 percent of interviewees believe the presence of the US carrier in the Yellow Sea is a threat to China’s national security.
In response to China’s strong opposition, the ROK and the US seem to take the joint drill more cautiously.
Soon after the ROK announced the plan on May 24, the anti-submarine drill was delayed to July, said an ROK official, to ensure the US attendance.
On July 6, the ROK said the drill will take place after the UN Security Council takes action on sinking of its naval ship Cheonan and denied media reports the drill will be canceled due to external pressure.
But the outlook of the Security Council’s action against Pyongyang is unclear and the result will not come out in near future. The council has yet to reach any conclusion on the sinking and China and Russia, the two veto-wielding permanent members, have yet to say whether they believe the DPRK was responsible.
So far, no details about the timing and the scale of the US-ROK exercise have emerged.
Scott Snyder, director of the Center for US-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, told China Daily the US and ROK should clarify their purpose to Chinese officials to avoid agitating Beijing.
“The US and the ROK are within their rights to conduct an anti-submarine warfare drill in waters near the west coast of the ROK,” he said. “It would be provocative if the exercises were conducted close to China’s territorial waters.
“But since this has not been contemplated and the exercises are designed to send a clear message that the US and the ROK are able to defend against any future efforts to attack ROK vessels, the US and the ROK should clarify the purpose of the exercise to Chinese officials and proceed with these plans.
“Otherwise, the DPRK may feel that they are able to continue this sort of provocation.”
But there is deep distrust in the military-to-military relations between China and the US, despite the two major powers’ broad range of cooperation in many other areas in recent years.
China cut off military exchanges with the US in response to the Pentagon’s decision in January to sell nearly $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ visit to China this year was shelved after that.
Ma Xiaotian, the PLA’s deputy chief of staff, recently said that one of the main obstacles in China-US military relations is the “high-intensity surveillance of US warships and planes in the South China Sea and East China Sea”.
“Both sides tend to use military surveillance as a way of expressing displeasure,” Dean Cheng, research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, told China Daily.
“This produces instability in this aspect of Sino-American relations, discourages longer-term initiatives, and heightens mutual suspicion in the military arena.
“This is, in my opinion, very unhealthy for both sides.”
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