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Who is "making trouble" in the South China Sea?

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On March 1, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to the Philippines just one day after the DPRK-US Hanoi Summit between President Donald Trump and Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. In the Philippines’ capital of Manila, the US Secretary of State made several statements on the South China Sea and US - Philippine relations which attracted much interest of the public opinion and were immediately protested by China. China accused the US of trying to "make trouble" in the South China Sea. What has happened and is the US "making trouble" in the South China Sea?

During his visit to the Philippines, at the briefing with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, US Secretary of State made reference to security issues in Southeast Asia. He said: “China’s island building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the United States.” He also emphasized: “As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty.” As a matter of course, Mr. Pompeo's statements were widely spread by international media and therefore, in the afternoon of March 1, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang stated: “If countries outside the region, like the United States, really want to consider the peace, tranquility and well-being of people in the region, then they shouldn't make trouble out of nothing and incite trouble". Apparently, China was likely to play a role in protecting and maintaining peace in the region, and the US is just a "troublemaker". But the truth was not like that for the following reasons:

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Photo: Internet

First, normally, a troublemaker always has deliberate aim at a certain issue. It finds reasons to cause troublesome and complicated incidents around that issue and then take the chances to intervene into the issue. Even if no reason is found, the troublemaker will create one, make stories so that it can lay its hands on the issue. It could be said that a troublemaker carries fire in one hand and water in the other. In this interpretation, did the United States make excuses or create reasons to cause trouble in the South China Sea? Obviously not. Because, up to now, answering the question of “who cause troubles in the South China Sea”, the US will not be addressed but China will. China’s claim of the "nine-dash line" in the South China Sea violated the waters of surrounding countries, leading to troubles between China and other claimants. It is China's actions such as sea encroachment, building artificial islands, and militarizing constructed islands that have caused troubles, making the international community concerned. The "troubles" caused by China have somehow affected the US’s interests, forcing the Americans to speak and act. It is undoubtedly true.

Second, there are many kinds of relationship between countries: friends, allies, alliances, or less tight ones such as business relations, partners, or worse as rivals. It is common sense that those who are in good relationship support each other, even protect each other; and those who are rivals hate each other, bark at each other... What is the relationship between the US and the Philippines? They have been allies for decades, have been following up the Mutual Defense Treaty since 1951. Yet China has claimed sovereignty over Philippines' Scarborough Shoal; sent maritime surveillance and coast guard ships to chase Philippine's fishing vessels as well as public service vessels away the waters of Scarborough Shoal; then threatened the Philippines. So, what is the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US for? It would have been strange if the US had silently ignored China’s action because it would have been suspected of shaking hands with China under the table to abandon the Philippines. If so, the US would not have been the Philippines' ally. If a certain ally of China was bullied in the same way, would China stand still? A troublemaker cannot blame others of making troubles. Therefore, when Mr. Pompeo declared, "... any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty", international medias did not blame the United States but noted that “this is the first time any US official had publicly stated intent to defend the Philippines in the South China Sea". So, the US is doing what many think is right.

Third, the US is not easily bullied, proved by Pres. Trump's declaration "America first". That means the US’s rights and interests must be first, and must be respected. The South China Sea is obviously related to interest of vital maritime and aviation transport of the world as well as the United States, not to mention business interests with countries in the South China Sea. Yet China has on the one hand claimed that the waters within the "nine-dash line" is China's historic waters, and stated that the "four sha" including Dongsha, Zhongsha, Xisha and Nansha are in Chinese sovereignty on the other. Then it has hold military maneuvers and controlled normal operations of other countries in the region. For decades, the United States has frequently dispatched destroyers, submarines, and even aircraft carriers to patrol in the South China Sea, protecting the above mentioned traffic routes. Since early 2019, the US has sent warships to the South China Sea twice to conduct "freedom of navigation". The first patrol was on January 7 by the USS McCampbell and the second one was on February 11 by two other warships. If such actions of the US threatened the security of any country in the region, it would "make trouble" and would be condemned by the international community. Especially those having sovereignty in the South China Sea would not stay still at the US actions and would sue the US, regardless it is a great power. But for decades, not anyone but China has blamed the US of "making trouble" in the South China Sea.

To be fair, in the past, the US, as an international "gendarme" in "the cold war", did indeed make troubles to many countries. For example, the US caused the "Gulf of Tonkin" incident in the East Sea of Vietnam leading to the l bombardment of North Vietnam, expanding the war to the entire territory of Vietnam. Or, the US supported Lon Nol in the 1970 military coup against Prince Sihanouk to establish the US-backed government in Cambodia, expanding the war to the entire Indochina. It took the US a long time to get out of those troubles. Everything has changed. In February, the US President and Mr. Pompeo met North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in order to discuss peace and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Such action is hoped to bring peace to the Northeast Asia. Every flow must have its ebb!

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