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South China Sea confrontation reveals divergences between China, US

The latest confrontation between China and the US in the South China Sea indicates that the bilateral relations of the world’s top two economies will not be a smooth sail.
 
The US made it public before sending its warship USS Lassen to sail within 12 nautical miles of the Zhubi reefs in the Nansha islands on Tuesday without the permission of China, in a blatant attempt to challenge China’s territorial claims over the artificial islands.
 
Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai told CNN that the US operation is "a very serious provocation, politically and militarily" and China's foreign ministry summoned Max Baucus, the US ambassador to China, to express its "strong discontent" over the incursion.
 
The confrontation comes soon after President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US in September. It is also a follow-up to a September 15 incident in which two Chinese fighter-bombers made what the US Pacific Command described an unsafe interception of a surveillance plane patrolling about 80 miles (130 kilometers) off the Chinese coast.
 
China has been pushing to build a “new model of major-country relations” with the US that would steer clear of the “Thucydides’ Trap” - conflict between a rising and an established power, as Xi said that “the Pacific is big enough to accommodate China and the US.” But the US obviously doesn’t agree with it.
 
The premise of the new model of relations is that US is an established and defending power, which is a false argument to the US.
 
America is a country of religious bonds. John MacArthur once said that “God bless America.” The Westward Movement and US-Mexico wars were seen as “Manifest Destiny”. During the Second World War, Dwight Eisenhower named his campaign “Crusade in Europe”. George W. Bush also called his anti-terrorism war “crusade”. Since America was born with a sense of manifest destiny, it is obliged to promote its democracy-centered values. Americans never consider themselves as an established hegemony.
 
In Western tradition, the image of a king is a man who holds a Cross on one hand and a sword on the other. The Frankish Charlemagne and Russian Tsar are good examples. The US inherited this tradition to pursue their values by force. The US presidents have mainly been soldiers and lawyers, which is evident in the case of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Coincidentally, both involved in conflicts with China during the end of their tenures. On May 7, 1999, five US JDAM guided bombs hit the People's Republic of China embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese reporters and outraging the Chinese public.
 
The US prefers to talk of law and order because most of the international rules are written by America, which is consequently the biggest beneficiary of the global system. If some country doesn’t comply with the “rule”, the US will try to maintain the order with the use of force. However, the predominance of power lasted only a decade after the Cold War. The world today is beyond the control of the US. As a result, Obama had to shift his focus from global expansion to Asian pivot, a regional strategy focusing on containing China.
 
From Cold War till date, China has never been an ally of the US. The steady growth of China’s economy and military will keep the US containment policy at bay. The warship incursion sounded a warning to China that the bilateral trade -seen as the cornerstone of China-US ties - is nothing more than a piece of paper in blocking crossfire. The “big-enough” Pacific is, in the eyes of America, their own backyard. (America, having occupied the Philippines after the US-Spain war and taken Japan after the Second World War, sees the Pacific its internal lake.) As the “global leader” and “God’s spokesperson”, the US refuses to be an established and defending power.
 
China needs to be clear about the US motive and the nature of China-US relations. The new model of relations will not be realized relying only on China’s wishful thinking. During inevitable confrontations, the country needs to safeguard its core interests and steer clear of crisis. It can’t allow the warship incursion to hamper the rise of China.

(The article is translated by Wu Jie.)


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