China has slammed the “Pivot to Asia” doctrine of the United States for the growing tensions the South China Sea, where a trilateral exercise involving New Delhi, Washington, and Tokyo is scheduled later this year.
On Friday, the war of words between China and the U.S. escalated when Fu Ying, the spokesperson for the National People’s Conference (NPC) countered the U.S. assertion that China was responsible for the militarisation of the South China Sea. She pointed out that instead, it was Washington’s naval build up under the “Pivot to Asia” doctrine, which was the root cause of tensions in the Asia-Pacific.
“Talking about militarisation, if we look at those advance ships and aircraft exiting from and entering into the South China Sea aren’t the majority of them from the United States?” Ms. Fu queried. The Chinese official stressed, that the “US ‘Pivot to Asia’ was an important decision,” which enabled Washington to deploy “as many as 70 per cent of its naval force in the Asia-Pacific”.
China claims sovereignty over most of South China Sea, a position that is contested by several countries including Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan. It has recently accelerated conversion of some of the disputed reefs into artificial islands, and positioned surface- to-air missiles at Woody Island in the Paracel island chain.
In her lengthy riposte, Ms. Fu stressed that a big question mark has now arisen over the U.S. motives in the South China Sea. “The U.S. has claimed that it takes no position on the dispute on the disputes of the Nansha (Spratly) islands. But what it is doing and saying now makes us feel that it is provoking tensions and so we have a big question mark on the motives of the U.S. side.”
The spokesperson stressed that China was ready to play the role of a regional security provider—an aspiration that clashes with Washington’s post-war role as the principal hegemon in the Asia-Pacific region. Ms. Fu said that China was ready to seek joint development of the Nansha islands, “but that is on the prerequisite of not giving up our sovereignty”. She added: “The Chinese people will not agree if we allow further impairment of our sovereign rights and maritime rights and interests. By developing these islands and reefs, we will help better protect China’s own interests, make China better provide public services to this region and to uphold peace and stability in this region.”
Ms. Fu’s remarks follow assertions by –Admiral Harry B. Harris during the course of the Raisina dialogue in New Delhi, where, in a veiled reference to China, he asserted that, “While some countries seek to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, I note with admiration India's example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbours in the waters of the Indian Ocean.”
The U.S. Admiral also revealed that that the forthcoming Malabar naval exercise comprising India, U.S. and Japan would be held in the north Philippine Sea, not far from the South China Sea. Besides, he called for Washington’s inclusion in a strategic dialogue, which has so far been held among in India, Japan and Australia.
In Beijing, China addressed Admiral Harris’ assertions with restraint: “We have no objection to relevant countries’ normal cooperation, but we believe that relevant cooperation should not be targeted at a third party,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei observed. He added: "We hope that cooperation among relevant countries will contribute to regional peace, stability and security, and no harm shall be done to the interests of third parties."
A write-up on Friday, related to the proposed Malabar exercise, in the state-run Global Times quoted a South China Sea expert as saying that by participating in the exercise, Japan would like “to relieve the pressure from disputes with China in the East China Sea,” while India’s takeaway was its interest in raising its profile in Southeast Asia.