U.S. should reflect on its own militarization in the South China Sea

Source: XinhuaEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-02-20 19:52

BEIJING, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- China's alleged deployment of a missile system on its Yongxing Island in the South China Sea has been met with frantic overreaction from the United States, which has accused China of "militarizing" the region.

"We see no indication that [...] this militarization effort, has stopped. And it's doing nothing [...] to make the situation there more stable and more secure," U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday as commercial satellite imagery reportedly indicated the "very recent" placement of missiles on Yongxing Island.

It is no secret that the island, home to the municipal government of China's southernmost city of Sansha, has seen deployment of defence measures for decades. In fact, it is well within China's sovereignty rights, as granted by international law, and has no relation to any sort of regional "militarization."

China has repeatedly made it clear that it has no intention to militarize the region. Its island construction is mainly for maintenance purposes, improving the living conditions for stationed personnel and facilitating the movement of public goods in the region.

Then why is the U.S. stirring up this hype? Previous self-defence moves on Yongxing Island seemed to raise little U.S. interest, still less an uproar such as has been seen in recent days.

The change itself looks deliberate and questionable. Criticizing China, regardless of the circumstances, seems to be the tool that the U.S. is using to move more of its own military weight to the region. It is the U.S., rather than China, who is posing the most significant risk of militarization.

The U.S. frequently sends military vessels or planes to waters in the South China Sea to conduct reconnaissance against China. A U.S. missile destroyer and strategic bombers intruded waters and airspace adjacent to China's Nansha Islands. Not to mention the joint drills between the U.S.and its allies.

Such muscle-flexing has created heightened tension on the sea, enticing U.S. allies to take more provocative measures to press their illegitimate territorial claims.

The U.S., with a global network of military bases, has also reopened its bases in the Philippines, a move widely interpreted as stirring up tension in the region.

The U.S. has taken double standards on the militarization in the South China Sea. It automatically links Chinese defence facility deployment to militarization while selectively dodging the Philippines and Vietnam that have militarized the Chinese islands they occupy or the U.S. joint drills and patrols.

When asked if sending the large U.S. naval ships and military planes to the region is militarization at a recent press briefing, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner insisted the practice was "basically freedom of navigation."

The U.S., the self-styled guardian of freedom of navigation, rationalizes its navy and air force patrols for such purposes and says it will continue to do so. However, "freedom of navigation does not give one country's military aircraft and ships free access to another country's territorial waters and airspace," as a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson put it.

Instead of questioning China about "militarizing" the region, the U.S. should reflect on its own behavior. Stopping patrols, drills and reconnaissance will be the right way for it to serve its own interests and others.

China and other claimants of the South China Sea have the capacity to work out their disputes through dialogue and negotiation. As a non-claimant, the U.S. should make good on its repeated commitment that it does not take a position on competing territorial claims.

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