What is the US responsibility in South China Sea?

12/7/110 nhận xét

Mike Mullen. Photo: EPA
[VoR] The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who is retiring from this position in September, is completing his four-day visit to China.

The visit is officially regarded as a new step in the thaw in US – China military relations. They were suspended early in 2010 when China protested against massive US arms sales to Taiwan, but were resumed a year later with the “ice-breaking” visit of the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to China.

Since then, the exchange of high ranking military delegations has become regular. In May, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army General Chen Bingde paid a visit to the US. Admiral Mullen’s visit to China is a reciprocal one at the invitation of his colleague, General Chen.

All this is meant to signal that, as “China Daily” has put it, “China-US military relations are gaining a healthy development momentum” and “the visit of… Mike Mullen… will further add to the normalization of bilateral military exchanges.”

But in fact the situation is not so rosy, and the too chiefs of staff did not even try to conceal it.

Days before Admiral Mullen’s visit, the US conducted joint military exercises with Japan and Australia, and also with the Philippines in the waters close to the South China Sea. Similar drills with Vietnam are scheduled for some time later this month.

Now, it should be noted that the South China Sea is a zone where almost all adjacent countries have territorial and maritime claims. China regards most of the sea and the Paracel and Spratly island groups as its historical heritage – the claim vehemently rejected by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Malaysia and Brunei also have maritime claims in the region.

The dispute has been going on for decades, and all this is happening far from the US borders. Nevertheless, by conducting military drills with China’s rivals the US has clearly demonstrated on whose side it is. The fact did not avoid the attention of General Chen who said, "On various occasions, the US has expressed that it does not intend to intervene in South China Sea disputes. The US is actually sending out the opposite signal." General Chen also added that the timing for joint exercises with the Philippines and Vietnam was “extremely inappropriate".

Admiral Mullen rebuffed the criticism and insisted that the US would continue exercises with its regional allies. Addressing Renmin University students in Beijing, he said: “The United States is deepening its commitment to this region and the alliances and partnerships that define our presence there. We are, and will remain, a Pacific power, just as China is a Pacific power.”

On another occasion, Admiral Mullen told the journalists, “We have an enduring presence here, we have an enduring responsibility,” just stopping short of saying something about “enduring freedom” which is a code name for a part of US anti-terrorist campaign, most commonly referred to the war in Afghanistan, but encompassing much larger areas of the world.

In fact, what this exchange of harsh words points to, is the fact that the US, while trying to avoid a direct confrontation with China, is using asymmetrical tools in order to limit the rise of Chinese power in the region as well as globally. Instead of one major rival – the US – it is trying to surround China with a number of smaller rivals, none of which can compete with China on their own, but by combining their efforts orchestrated from Washington DC, they can disperse China’s attention and avert it from the real competitor.

In the Pacific area this role is assigned primarily to Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Vietnam (forgetting the devastating war of 1960s – 1970s). On the Western borders of China the US is actively courting India trying to bring it together to this informal anti-Chinese block.

Therefore, despite all talks of “strategic trust”, no one should expect that in any foreseeable future the US will directly or indirectly abandon the South China Sea which is crucial to its strategic interests.
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