After backing down on initial plans to operate George Washington in the Yellow Sea as part of the initial round of US-RoK exercises in response to the sinking of the Cheonan, State and Defense seem to have come back with a counterpunch that will no doubt knock policymakers in Beijing off balance.
Opening a new source of potential friction with China, the Obama administration said Friday that it would step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically significant islands in the South China Sea.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at an Asian regional security meeting in Vietnam, stressed that the United States remained neutral on which regional countries had stronger territorial claims to the islands. But she said that the United States had an interest in preserving free shipping in the area and that it would be willing to facilitate multilateral talks on the issue.
Though presented as an offer to help ease tensions, the stance amounts to a sharp rebuke to China.
You can say that again. In all, this is an excellent move and should help disabuse any notion in Chinese planning circles that they have the initiative in this dispute. The big question is, however, will Washington keep the press on, or is this just a one time poke to get Mr. Hu’s attention? I would bet most of the Asia-Pacific hopes we keep pressing.
[Update] No surprise, China’s government is up and spinning on the governor:
The Chinese government reacted angrily on Monday to an announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Washington might step into a long-simmering territorial dispute between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China warned the United States against wading into the conflict, saying it would increase regional tensions.
“What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one?” he asked in remarks published on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site. “It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult.”
The state-run news media were far less diplomatic, describing Mrs. Clinton’s speech as “an attack” and a cynical effort to suppress China’s aspirations — and its expanding might.
“America hopes to contain a China with growing military capabilities,” ran an editorial Monday in the Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper.
Global Times, an English-language tabloid published by People’s Daily, said, “China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means.”
Chris van Avery is a Military Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The views represented herein are his own.