US-China rivalry

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Last of three parts

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THE South China Sea is now regarded by China as one of its “core national interest,” making it at par with Taiwan and Tibet. In view of this, China will never consent to a multilateral approach, especially one brokered by the US. Beijing is very sensitive about national sovereignty. It has been avoiding negotiations with Asean for the crafting of a legally-binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The Asean Declaration on the South China Sea issued in 1992 and the Declaration on the Conduct of Pasties in the South China Sea of 2002 are both obsolescent. But in a body that makes decisions by consensus and where sovereign will adheres closely to national interest, a common stand by Asean or solidarity in forging a binding Code of Conduct with China is difficult to achieve. This matter has been pending for over a decade now.

The American “pivot” policy has caused deep concern in Beijing where it is viewed as a form of encirclement or a new containment scheme.

Thus, China is trying to create an exclusive Asian security cooperation framework, hoping to supplant the regional security order that has been dominated by the US. In May 2014, at a conference in Shanghai, Pres. Xi expressed the need to “let Asians deal with matters in Asia” and voiced a wish to form a new Asian order led by China. In the same month, China and Russia conducted joint military drills in the East China Sea with Pres. Xi and Pres. Vladimir Putin attending the opening ceremony. It appeared to be a move to convey a message against America’s joint exercises with Japan and South Korea.

In Brisbane, Australia, on November 15, 2014, Pres. Obama, on the margins of the G-20
Leaders Summit, insisted that the “pivot” policy was real and here to stay. He warned about the danger of conflict arising from China’s competing territorial claims against its rivals in Asia. The following day, Obama, Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a joint statement urging “freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law.”

They also said that they were committed to deepening their already strong security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, in obvious reference to China’s increasingly assertive expansion in the region.

Not to be outdone, Pres. Xi, in addressing the Australian parliament the day after, expressed China’s “unshakeable resolve to pursue peaceful development. Neither turbulence nor war serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people.” This was a rehash of what Xi said on 12 July 2014 at a conference in Beijing marking the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. He stated: “Hegemony or militarism is not in the genes of the Chinese.” Xi’s statement in Sydney was also in reaction to Obama’s call in Brisbane for China to act as a responsible actor on the world stage.

It will be noted from this article that both the US and China had used grandiose terms, semantics and jargon to project their aims and objectives.

They know only too well that international politics thrives in the use of “word politics”. It’s either you take them at face value or dismiss them as plain gobbledygook. What matters is the resolve of the parties involved.

Now, who is winning the battle for the heart and mind of the people in Asia? An 11-nation survey of influential but non-governmental experts conducted by the Washington – based Center for Strategic and International Studies found that elites largely expected China’s clout to keep growing but are more receptive to US leadership and robust role in the region.

A China expert at the Center said Southeast Asian nations preferred a “quiet, persistent presence by the United States.” The survey was released in June 2014.

TIME magazine said only North Korea, Russia and Pakistan are widely acknowledged as close allies of China.

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