Contributed by Jim Hayes
Responding to planned American patrols in the South China Sea, Beijing has just warned Washington not to take actions that challenge China’s “sovereignty and security.”
Speaking at a news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that tensions in the waters have stabilised, due to the hard work of Beijing and Southeast Asia countries.
News of the planned new patrols appeared in a report in the Navy Times, which stated that US Navy and Pacific Command leaders were considering freedom of navigation patrols by the San Diego-based Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, citing unnamed defense officials.
A spokesman for Carrier Strike Group One, Dave Bennett, said the group does not discuss future operations of its units, but said the group is “on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment as part of the US Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of the US Third Fleet.”
“US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups have patrolled the Ind-Asia Pacific regularly and routinely for more than 70 years,” Bennett added.
The US last conducted what it call “a freedom of navigation operation” in the area was in October, when it sailed the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur near the Paracel Islands, which are under Chinese control.
Although Beijing slammed the October operation as “illegal” and “provocative,” US officials denied wrongdoing, stating that America was exercising its rights to sail through international waters. The right that is not extended to other nations nearing the United States, which enforces a 400 kilometre nautical barrier that extends to airspace.
The action of the United States is dangerously provocative, combining the maverick and unstable administration now occupying Washington, with the long running view of American right to access anywhere on the planet. Combine these two and add the notion of China as the great enemy, and the mix for scaling up conflict is in place.
For these reasons, it falls on other nations to push for greater sanity. A peaceful environment is the best way to take the heat out of a situation that has the potential to escalate into a shooting war that threatens all nations.
Scaling down aggressive behavior provides the best hope of negotiating differences. This has been going on between nations bordering the South China sea. The United States must follow this lead and stop playing the gunboat diplomacy that should have died with the end of the colonial era.
The Australian government has a responsibility to play a positive part in lessening tensions and to avoid joining in the chest beating.