Rising tensions in South China Sea behind Indo-US affair?

November 10, 2010

A SERIES of recent aggressive actions by China were designed to test other nations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared.

These included claiming sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea and demanding the US not send an aircraft carrier to military exercises near South Korea.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian yesterday, Mrs Clinton said the US was determined, along with other nations, to ensure that China abided by international law. She also reaffirmed the US commitment to remain militarily paramount in the Asia-Pacific.

Mrs Clinton’s comments came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US intended to stay in Afghanistan for the long term, exerting an influence on the country long after the combat troops leave.

Their remarks were made during a three-day visit to Melbourne for the annual Ausmin talks with their Australian counterparts, Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith.

US military ties

Mrs Clinton was asked yesterday about China’s blanket claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea, its furious reaction to Japan arresting a Chinese fishing captain who rammed a Japanese naval vessel, its demand that the US not send an aircraft carrier to exercise in the Yellow Sea near South Korea and a series of other aggressive actions from Beijing.

“We think it is part of the testing process that countries go through,” the Secretary of State said.

Mrs Clinton earned Beijing’s ire earlier this year when she opposed its South China Sea claim, most of which is distant from China, abuts other Southeast Asian nations and is routinely used by the US and many other nations for international trade.

Mrs Clinton reiterated her strong opposition to the way China had pursued the sovereignty claim.

“When the Chinese first told us at a meeting (in China) of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that they view the South China Sea as a core interest, I immediately responded and said, ‘We don’t agree with that’.”

By elevating the issue to a core interest, the Chinese raised it to the level of Taiwan and Tibet, over which China has said it would go to war. This alarmed Southeast Asian nations.

“So they (the Chinese) were on notice that if they were in the process of extending their efforts to claim and control to the detriment of international law, freedom of navigation, maritime security, and the claims of their neighbours, that was a concerning matter,” Mrs Clinton said.

“So we worked with a lot of the ASEAN countries who are directly impacted and 12 of us raised it at the ASEAN regional forum in July to make it clear that issues like that have to be resolved in accordance with the rule of law.”

This episode is widely seen as one in which Washington stared down aggressive behaviour from Beijing.

Mrs Clinton emphasised that the US had a balanced approach to China.

“I think you just have to be constantly making it clear that, speaking for the US, we support the peaceful rise and the economic success of China, but in doing so we expect China to be a responsible member of the international community whose actions are in accordance with their size and stature and the rules of the road,” she said.

Mrs Clinton believes that China’s actions themselves may be forcing others to take hedging actions. Earlier this year, the Japanese government claimed that Beijing put a temporary ban on the exports of rare earth minerals, which are vital in many hi-tech products, after a maritime clash.

“The Chinese claim they did not in any way interfere with the delivery or continuing export of rare earth minerals,” Mrs Clinton said.

“Whether or not their motivation was as they describe it, or as the Japanese fear it, the fact is they (Beijing) control the vast majority of this supply. That’s not healthy.

“In effect, the Chinese action was a wake-up call to the rest of the world.”

Now, she said, Japan, Vietnam, the US and Australia were looking at finding alternative sources of rare earth minerals.

“I think that’s a good outcome of what may have been an effort to send a message to Japan,” Mrs Clinton said.

Mrs Clinton also pledged the US would maintain its military resources in the Pacific so that it could continue to carry out the security balancing role that had been central to the region’s stability for 65 years.

“Our role in stabilising and providing the context for peace and stability may not look exactly the same as it did for the last 60 years because the threats have evolved and the needs have altered, but we will be here and we will be very active,” she said.

Her commitment was echoed by Mr Gates, who denied that budget constraints would limit the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Gates is leading a cost-cutting effort at the Pentagon designed to reduce overheads within a defence budget that is increasing only slowly. The process is not designed to reduce US military capability.

“As I look at cutting overheads, we may look at providing more ships and planes and this region would be a beneficiary of this,” Mr Gates said. China actions meant as test, Hillary Clinton says
Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor From:The Australian November 09


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