Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 6 News List

China-US confrontation inevitable

By Sushil Seth

The diplomatic option, sought to be exercised by the Philippines, has apparently failed, as China does not accept The Hague court’s authority and writ. In any case, China’s position is clear that it has sovereignty over the islands and over much of the South China Sea.

The only way to confront China would be to team up with the US. Washington is trying to rally regional countries to exercise their right to freedom of navigation through Chinese-claimed waters and islands, which the US has done on a few occasions and is determined to continue doing.

China has said that it might declare an air defense identification zone, requiring aircraft passing through the area to identify themselves. However, the US and its allies — Australia, for instance — might ignore this, potentially leading to a military confrontation.

Beijing believes that the US is creating trouble in China’s backyard. It regards the US as an outside power that should stay out of regional affairs. However, in Beijing’s view, if not for US “interference,” the region would be peaceful based on China’s “historical” sovereignty over the South China Sea.

The US rejects China’s contention that it is an outside power seeking to stir up trouble, citing its large Pacific coast and vital economic, strategic and political interests.

During a recent visit to Australia, US Vice President Joe Biden was adamant that the US would remain a Pacific power.

As if addressing China and regional doubters about the US’ stamina and determination, he said in Sydney: “We are not going anywhere, and that is vital because our presence in the region ... is essential to maintaining peace and stability, without which economic growth and prosperity, I believe, would falter.”

“America is the linchpin, and we want to ensure the sea lanes are secure, the skies remain open. That is how to maintain the free flow of commerce, that is the life blood of this region,” he added.

To fortify the US’ resolve, Biden went on to say: “We have the most capable ground forces in the world and unmatched ability to project naval and air power to any and every corner of the globe, and simultaneously.”

Talking specifically of US commitment to the Pacific region, Biden said: “And we’ve committed to put over 60 percent of our fleet and our most advanced military capabilities in the Pacific by 2020.”

Biden’s choice of Australia to reiterate this commitment is interesting, as it was there that US President Barack Obama had announced the US “pivot” to Asia in 2011. In a sense, it is designed to bolster the flagging confidence of regional countries that are not keen to confront China, unsure of the US’ resolve and staying power.

There is a sense, rightly or wrongly, that the US is a declining power and that it is overstretched, while China is ascending.

As if to calm some of the frayed nerves in Australia about US politics due to Donald Trump being the US Republican presidential nominee, Biden said: “Don’t worry about our election. The better angels in America will prevail.”

However, that was more of a prayer than a policy prescription.

The point is that both China and the US are committed to their respective positions: China has sovereignty over the South China Sea and will defend it with all its power, while the US is determined to challenge that assertion by exercising the right to freedom of navigation through Chinese-claimed South China Sea waters.

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