South China Sea: dangerous maneuvers of Beijing and Washington
This post was published in Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
MOSCOW, (BM) – China criticizes the United States for “militaristic manners” in the South China Sea, calling American exercises a threat to peace in the region and rejecting accusations of destabilizing actions.
A series of almost simultaneous maneuvers in a number of disputed islands increases tension between the parties. However, the US’s special attention to the pain points of the PRC — Hong Kong, India, and Taiwan — further worsens the situation.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang criticized the Pentagon’s statement that the Navy of the People’s Republic of China is carrying out a number of destabilizing actions in the South China Sea. According to him, Beijing expresses strong protest to Washington against the background of such accusations.
“The US Department of Defense neglects the facts and slanders [China], inciting a conflict between the countries of the region, trying to benefit from it. We express categorical discontent about this. China, together with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, made joint efforts to stabilize the situation in the region,” said Guoqiang.
The United States is sending modern ships and combat aircraft to the South China Sea to demonstrate its military strength, the spokesman for the PRC is convinced that Washington is acting for the “hegemony in shipping,” thereby threatening stable peace in the region.
“The militaristic manners of the United States absolutely do not correspond to the interests of states in the waters of the South China Sea. We hope that the US side will rethink what has happened and refrain from provocations, stop slandering the PRC and create a tense situation,” Ren Guoqiang emphasized.
The Chinese army conducts exercises in the South China Sea regularly, in order to increase its combat effectiveness, the representative of the Ministry of Defense summarized. Its main tasks include protecting national interests and ensuring stability in the region.
Recently, the situation in the South China Sea has been quite tense just because of a series of maneuvers of the PRC and the USA. In early July, the Chinese military conducted exercises near the Paracel Islands – the disputed territories between Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
Washington expressed concern about the actions of Beijing and responded with its own maneuvers, for the first time in six years involving two aircraft carriers Nimitz and Ronald Reagan in conjunction with the B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber.
As they said at the Pentagon, the main task of the maneuvers was to demonstrate the commitment of the Indo-Pacific Command to security and stability in the region.
However, in Beijing, the exercises were seen as an attempt to militarize the South China Sea, and also accused the United States of wanting to quarrel China with neighboring countries.
At the same time, Washington openly stated that it was the Chinese exercises that threatened stability in the South China Sea, probably not considering their own maneuvers in this vein.
The confrontation between the parties in the region has been going on for several years, the United States and China are everywhere conducting various maneuvers accusing each other of creating a threat to peace in the region. Not only exercises are worsening the situation, but also the successive passage of American warships through the South China Sea – from the point of view of Beijing, violating international law and undermining the sovereignty of China. Washington does not see any problems in this and is not going to abandon such practices.
The presence of US ships partly makes adjustments to the situation in the region, adversely affecting territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Debate arises around a number of islands adjacent to the hydrocarbon-rich shelf – primarily the Sisha archipelago (Paracel Islands), Nansha (Spratly) and Huangyan (Scarborough Reef) islands.
In disputes over these territories, in addition to China, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines are involved.
The struggle for the islands has been waged for more than a decade, and the confrontation could not do without armed conflicts. The main argument for the PRC is the “historical affiliation” of these territories, which the other states involved do not agree with. An international tribunal established through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague four years ago confirmed the absence of any rights from Beijing, but the PRC did not recognize this decision.
The United States, in this story, acts as the main critic of China’s actions. In particular, Washington accuses Beijing of militarizing the territory and creating artificial islands in the disputed archipelagos. The PRC considers the islands to be its territory and believes that they are subject to the rule of the 12-mile zone into which foreigners cannot enter. However, Washington does not recognize this, ostentatiously swimming as close to Chinese sites as possible.
In addition, Washington has recently become quite close to the participants in the territorial dispute, especially with Vietnam, which creates additional problems for China when trying to resolve the situation.
With regard to the contradictions in the South China Sea, the United States and China pursue various strategic interests. As stated in a conversation with “Gazeta.Ru” the head of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies IMEMO RAS Alexander Lomanov,
China’s presence in the region is becoming increasingly noticeable, because unlike the United States, they are present only at their borders – their ships do not sail around the world.
“On the one hand, Washington has some incentive to begin to deter and discard China at the very first stage of its naval naval advancement. Secondly, this is the problem of disputed reefs and islands, where the PRC is also building bulk objects,” the expert notes.
In this matter, China adheres to the so-called nine-point line, it appeared before the communists came to power and denotes Beijing’s territorial claims in the region, continued Lomanov. Although the neighbors of the PRC also claim them, only the PRC has the necessary resources to develop these islands – to make them convenient sea objects and build airfields on them.
Regarding the situation around the disputed islands of the South China Sea as a whole, there are several different points of view. Firstly, the popular position among the opponents of Beijing on the militarization of these islands – bulk structures provide the Chinese with constant monitoring of the situation and patrolling. In this case, US ships interfere with China’s foothold in the region.
And there is also a Chinese position – anchoring on the islands is necessary to ensure security in the South China Sea and does not pose any threat. The main unit on the islands will be a variety of maritime services capable of supporting ships in distress and generally prepared for emergency situations.
“The confrontation between the United States and China in the region is very dangerous because the PRC is becoming stronger militarily. When Americans try to put pressure on Beijing, the likelihood of misunderstanding and clash only increases. Disputes over the South China Sea need to be resolved in jewelry, as Beijing has historically considered its territories,” Lomanov said.
In general, US actions in the region can be seen as part of the White House’s overall anti-Chinese campaign. Washington is actively trying to set other states against Beijing on a number of different issues, using all the controversial issues in China’s politics.
Formally, the American side is trying to hold China responsible for starting the coronavirus pandemic, accusing Beijing of involvement in the virus and pressure on the World Health Organization, which the US has already exponentially left.
To this are added the trade disputes of the parties and Washington’s special attention to China’s pain points.
First, the United States has long criticized the PRC for actions against Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet. Officially, Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Taipei, which China considers its region, but provides military support to it. At the same time, a number of areas of Tibet, the United States consider the “occupied territory”, in accordance with the law on the activities of the State Department of 1991.
If we talk about US actions in Hong Kong, then Washington actually officially supported last year’s anti-government demonstrations, and since 2020, it has threatened China with sanctions for adopting a law on national security in a special region. According to the American side, the initiative allegedly deprives the region of autonomous status.
Secondly, Washington is closely monitoring the situation on the border of China and India, where for two months there were several clashes between border guards, one of which led to casualties among the military. The parties are actively trying to resolve the conflict caused by a long-standing territorial dispute. The USA, however, is demonstratively taking the side of India, accusing the PRC of “incredible aggression” and noting the natural reaction of New Delhi.
Together, all of these factors in one way or another cause China’s anger.
Beijing has repeatedly expressed strong opposition to Washington for interfering in the country’s internal affairs, and has also promised to retaliate against US sanctions on Hong Kong. At the same time, China is not limited to criticism and threats; Chinese military exercises play their role here.
In addition to maneuvers near the disputed islands in the South China Sea, which caused US discontent, the PRC conducted exercises in the eastern part of the Tibetan military district, as well as off the coast of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“China and the United States have entered a phase of prolonged and debilitating confrontation. Washington has already proclaimed that the era of Beijing’s involvement is over – now the era of containment is beginning. It will pass along all conceivable lines, the South China Sea is no exception here,” Alexander Lomanov is confident.
As for mutual demonstrative actions, here China is afraid that the United States so shows its willingness to intervene in the situation around Taiwan, the expert pointed out that this prospect makes them very nervous, so they strongly demonstrate their willingness to take counter actions.
“The US armed intervention on the islands in the South China Sea is not so great, but in the case of a sharp aggravation of the tone of relations between Beijing and Taipei, the probability of American intervention is much higher and its consequences will be much more serious. Therefore, China, through its maneuvers, is trying to show the Americans that it is ready to oppose them,” Lomanov summed up.
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