Washington should support a sea lane security conference

21/7/110 nhận xét

[China Post] It's true that Vietnam is trying to manufacture a war scare over the Spratly Islands, a large archipelago that rides atop very rich oil reserves in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese navy has conducted a live-fire sea exercise to flex its military muscle in a show of force against the People's Republic of China. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy retaliated in kind by sending its naval flotilla to the Spratlys, whose largest and only habitable island is under the control of the Republic of China.

At least six countries — including Taiwan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines — claim sovereignty over the Spratlys, known in Chinese as Nansha Jundao (South Sand Islands). As a matter of fact, the only habitable land of the island chain was first occupied by the Japanese shortly before World War II, and what was called Nagashima (Long Island) by the Japanese was renamed Taiping (Peace) after the R.O.C. warship that delivered a small contingent of marines to the islet to take over after the war. The Japanese placed the whole group under jurisdiction of Takao-shu, which is the present-day special municipality of Kaohsiung.

Taiwan isn't much concerned, though tensions are mounting over the Spratlys. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) denied on Saturday that there is a plan to provide Hai-ou (Sea Gull) missile boats and M41A3 tanks to the coast guards contingent stationed on Taiping Island. Nor will the R.O.C. Navy stage a maneuver at the end of this month, an MND spokesman pointed out. There's no need whatsoever to take any such action, because it's just a Hanoi-fomented war scare. Taiwan withdrew marines from Taiping in 1999, and replaced them with a coast guard force.

We are positive that no armed conflict will occur over the Spratlys. Despite the hollow saber-rattling, Vietnam and the Philippines have no stomach for a war against Taiwan and China. The Vietnamese were defeated by China in 1974 and ousted from the Paracel Islands, or Xisha-jundao (West Sand Islands), which lie south of Hainan and quite near Danang in South Vietnam. A brief sea encounter took place between the two countries over the Spratlys a few years ago, and the Vietnamese were trounced. In land battles, the Vietnamese may outdo the PLA, which in fact, they did in a brief war with the PRC under Deng Xiaoping in 1989. Hanoi knows full well it's no match for the PLA Navy in sea battles.

So the Vietnamese wish to draw the United States into any possible fray with Beijing. At one time, Washington was willing to back up Hanoi. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said so, though not in as many words, at an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Hanoi earlier this year. But Uncle Sam has changed his mind. A State Department spokesman told the press not long ago that the United States did not support the Vietnamese sea maneuver, which isn't conducive to the reduction of tensions in the region.

Now that the U.S. has refused to side with Vietnam in any armed conflict with China, the only thing Hanoi can and should do is scale down its defense buildup. It's planning to buy six Kirov submarines and 12 Su-30 fighters from Russia. Israel is said to sell short-range ballistic missiles to Vietnam. There's no reason why such expensive military hardware should be acquired for a shadowboxing match with China. Instead, Hanoi should spend its hard currency on promoting economic growth to enable the Vietnamese people to live better.

But there is one thing the United States can and should do. Washington must call an international conference on the security of sea lanes in the South China Sea. Beijing is against American participation in regional meetings to hammer out plans to shelve the issue of sovereignty and jointly tap the oil resources of the Spratlys, but seems ready to support a Washington-backed conference on the security of the South China Sea. The United States should invite Taipei to take part in that meeting.
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