China’s bottom line in South China Sea - no Japan

With Sino-US tensions escalating in South China Sea, the two countries have gradually reached a tacit agreement and somewhat stabilized the situation in the region. But while China tacitly agrees America’s navigation in this region, it will never allow Japan to step in and once Japan comes here, China will take strong action.  

America will keep navigating in South China Sea, but since China and the US have reached a tacit agreement, China will not counter the US directly. As the two countries have closed bargains on a series of interchangeable systems in terms of some key military actions, plus South China Sea is an international navigational route, the two countries will not initiate a head-on confrontation.

But such a policy only applies to America. In September this year, Japan said during its defense minister’s visit to America that it would upgrade its actions in the South China Sea region, which include joint cruises in the region with the US army, bilateral or multilateral military exercises with the US or other Southeast Asian countries, as well as helping Southeast Asian countries strengthen their military forces. China will spare no effort to oppose Japan’s intervention in this region.

As Japan’s South China Sea plan became a subject of public discussion, people began to speculate about the possibility of a military friction between the two nations in this region. Personally, I think China would take strong actions once Japan comes to this region, and there would be huge friction between the two nations. Preventing Japan’s involvement in this region is China’s bottom line in South China Sea. Japan used to be an invader, and is now an isolated island country. Everybody knows its intention to step into this region, and there would be only two results from the China side once that happens: whether to intercept it or fight against it.

However, there is also a question mark over whether the US would assist Japan once there is a confrontation between China and Japan. I think Americans will also worry about it when things come to this point. But still, China should stick to its principle that the US can have a presence in this region, but Japan cannot.  

On the other hand, the US is also sounding China out about its bottom line, as a regional war does matter to its own interest. Therefore, it is important for China to develop a sense of propriety when playing the game of power politics.  

Yuan Zheng is a researcher of Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(Opinions expressed in the article don't represent those of the

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