NEW DELHI: US President Barack Obama has said China has tended to behave as “the biggest kids around here” in its maritime disputes with other nations over the South China Sea.
In an interview recorded during his just-concluded tour of Germany, and aired Tuesday morning, Obama said that “with respect to the South China Sea, rather than operate under international norms and rules, their (China’s) attitude is, ‘We’re the biggest kids around here. And we’re gonna push aside the Philippines or the Vietnamese.’ “
In the same interview, Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “not entirely persuaded” on the need for European unity, and he tended to view NATO, EU and trans-Atlantic unity as a “threat to Russian power.”
But the President, who has eight more months left in office, was scathing in his criticism of China over a dispute that has been a cause of some tension between the two countries. And it won’t go unnoticed in Beijing, which is ever so prickly about real and perceived slights.
New Delhi will be tuning in too on this, as an occasional target of China’s kids-like behavior over the South China Sea, where tensions have risen over seven man-made islands built by Beijing in the Spratly Islands.
Both India and the US have denied reports of plans for joint naval patrol in the deputed region, but continue to engage closely on the issue at high-level bilateral meetings.
Obama’s remarks came in response to a question if he worries that China’s aggression on the issue may someday make it “cross some line,” which may force the US to respond more aggressively.
The American president said he believes a “productive, candid relationship” between the US and China is good not only for the two countries but also for the world.
But the Chinese tended to look at it as a zero-sum game, he said. “What is true, though, is that they have a tendency to view some of the immediate regional issues or disputes as a zero-sum game.”
Then he accused Beijing of childlike aggression – “biggest kids here.” But, he added, “It doesn’t mean that we’re trying to act against China. We just want them to be partners with us. And where they break out of international rules and norms, we’re going to hold them to account.”
US air force jets flew over the islands in May 2015 and a navy destroyer sailed within 12-nautical of one of artificial islands in October on what were called “freedom of navigation” missions.