By Shiraz Paracha
US interference in the regional issue of the South China Sea has caused a stir in Beijing’s military and political circles and some in the Chinese military are prepared for a show of power with the United States.
It appears that continuous China bashing by the United States and its allies has compelled Beijing to challenge Washington’s hegemony in the Asia Pacific region. China has declared total sovereignty over the South China Sea by calling it an area of ‘core national interest’. The country is ready to defend its claim by force. In such a scenario, China can restrict US navy ships and military movement in the region that is home to thousands of US troops in the nearby countries.
Strategically, the region is extremely important for the US which has 28,500 troops in South Korea and 47,000 troops in Japan. The US Special Forces are also based in the Philippines in the name of fighting terrorism but their actual purpose seems to be the containment of China.
The South China Sea stretches from Singapore and Malacca Straits in the South to the Strait of Taiwan in the north covering an area of about 3,500,000 kilometres. The Sea links the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and it is one of the busiest routes in the world in terms of commercial traffic and military movements. The seabed of the South China Sea has vast reserves of oil and gas and countries around the Sea are heavy consumers of energy with China as the top consumer.
The South China Sea borders China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei. Since World War II under bilateral security treaties with the countries of the region, the United States maintains permanent fleets in the Pacific Ocean in South East Asia. The huge US military and navy presence in the region has helped the country to maintain its global dominance.
However, that arrangement may not last for long because as a main economic and military power, Beijing is seeking a bigger and more assertive role in the Asia Pacific region. To the United States China is a foe, not a friend. China’s amazing economic growth has forced the US to accept the country as a trading partner but both countries are not compatible. China is a Socialist country with a very strong non-Western culture, while the US is home of enterprise Capitalism and Western values.
Beijing understands the fears of its Western rivals as well as the concerns of China’s pro-Western neighbours such as Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. From the beginning of this century, China has adopted strategies of ‘peaceful rise’, and ‘peaceful development’. The Chinese leadership has been trying to ensure the world powers, particularly the United States, that China poses no threat to world order and it is pursuing an agenda of peaceful coexistence; however, Beijing seeks a multi-polar world opposed to hegemony of one state.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s address at the UN General Assembly in September was a superb display of Chinese humbleness and peaceful diplomacy. His speech was entitled “Getting to Know the Real China,” in which Prime Minister Wen told the world forum that China was a developing country where 150 million people live in poverty. He said that China would continue to achieve greater progress through education, science and technology.
Perhaps Prime Minister Wen’s aim was to convince the world that China does not have global military and political ambitions because it is still at the primary stage of development.
Nevertheless, the world’s only superpower does not appear to believe in China’s policy of peaceful coexistence. The United States is watching China’s military progress, and the drumbeaters of Chinese threat in the US military are on a mission to isolate China.
The commander of the US forces in the Pacific Ocean, Admiral Robert Willard, accused China of building the world’s first Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM). Talking to reporters in August 2010, he claimed that the Chinese 1,500-2,000 kilometre range ASBM would be able to hit and destroy US aircraft carriers located near Chinese coastal waters.
Exaggerated claims about China’s military capability can be a calculated US move to paint China as an aggressive and unreliable country to its neighbours, and to increase international pressure against China. However, contrary to US claims about Chinese military intentions, the use of military hard power has been a cornerstone of the United States foreign policy. The US has been providing military aid to China’s rival Taiwan. Earlier this year, despite Chinese protests, the United States announced that it would sell billions of dollars worth of latest weapons and military technology to Taiwan.
The United States has a history of hostility towards China. For example, for China Tibet is an internal issue but allegedly the CIA has been funding Dalai Lama and his Tibetan movement since the 1950s. Few months ago, President Barack Obama invited the Dalai Lama to the White House – the invitation, obviously, angered Beijing.
Trashing the image of rival nations and countries is a common tool of Western governments and policymakers since Cold War times. Often Western media and politicians use the beaten path of freedom of press and human rights as excuses to target non-Western cultures. In the case of China, these two issues are mentioned over and over again by the Western media and politicians. China is accused of imposing restrictions on the Internet but not many in the West praise China for launching its own Internet, independent of the US domain system. The anti-China campaign goes on and also includes violations of animal rights by Chinese firms that frequently make headlines in the Western media.
The Nobel Peace Prize is the latest tool to brand China as a cruel and repressive state. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident, who was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment by a Chinese court in 2009 for his involvement in anti-state activities. Similarly, the 2003 Nobel Peace Award was given to a pro-West Iranian woman Shirin Ebadi, who was opposed to the policies of the democratically elected Iranian government.
The actual problem is the economic slowdown of Western economies at a time when the sustained and stunning economic growth continues in China. The West knows that if Chinese growth continued at the same pace it would be impossible to stop China from becoming the world’s biggest economic superpower. The West has been pressing hard that Beijing stops controlling the Yuan – the Chinese currency. International monetary agencies and the United States have been demanding that the value of the Chinese currency must be increased. But Beijing has refused to bow to Western pressure.
Western efforts to contain Chinese growth and endless China bashing campaigns are the cause of increasing irritation in China, particularly in the country’s military circles. This is the context in which China has listed the issue of the South Asia Sea as non-negotiable like that of Tibet, Taiwan and Xingjian.
By declaring the vast China Sea as an inland sea over which China will have indisputable sovereignty, not only China has challenged the United States’ right to roam oceans and seas of East Asia, it has also asserted itself as the major power in that region, which is ready to defend its interests, even by military means.
Shiraz Paracha is an international journalist and analyst. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org