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Can US avoid acting stupid in S.China Sea?

(Global Times)    09:04, December 29, 2015

  Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The core objective of the US strategy is, in US President Barack Obama's own words, "Don't do stupid shit." But the past over 10 years have been fraught with stupid decisions made by the US.

The US intended to contain Iran; however, it relieved Teheran of regional adversaries as a byproduct of the toppling of the Afghan Taliban and Iraq's Saddam regime. The US thought the Arab Spring would offer opportunities for regime change in the Middle East, but unexpectedly it only resulted in conflicts among sects and ethnic groups, which sows the seeds of the emergence of the Islamic State. What is happening in Syria demonstrates that for the US, its enemy's enemy is not necessarily a friend.

The IS has undoubtedly become the eye of the storm. The Middle East has been dragged into a tangled fight embroiling Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The radicalization of Muslims in countries like Egypt and Tunisia is also worrying. There is no reason for the US to shirk its responsibilities for this huge humanitarian crisis. European countries have demanded Washington accept asylum seekers from Syria.

The US wishes it could release itself from the Middle East burden, including withdrawing troops there and ending the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. But the grave reality is that geopolitical transition, the spread of Islamic extremism and the deterioration of Israel's security environment will tightly enmesh the US in the Middle East.

But what's more worrying is that Washington is likely to catastrophically make the South China Sea the eye of the storm in the Asia-Pacific region. Its "freedom of navigation" operations carried out frequently near Chinese islands and reefs as well as the recent "unintended" flyover by two B-52 bombers are considered serious military provocations by Beijing. The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement that the actions by the US side "are rendering more complex and even militarizing conditions in the South China Sea." Despite being non-claimants in the South China Sea disputes, close US allies such as Australia and Japan also attempt to be part of the dangerous power game.

When visiting the US in September, Chinese President Xi Jinpingreiterated that China has no intention to militarize the South China Sea islands and reefs. His visits to Vietnam and Singapore are widely regarded as a signal from China to relax tensions with ASEAN countries. China has been reiterating that it dedicates to resolving disputes through peaceful means, sticking to which, Chinese Premier Li Keqiangat the East Asia Summit in November put forward a five-point initiative on the South China Sea issue.

Many people worry that a military conflict is likely to happen between China and the US with the US intensifying its military actions against China in the South China Sea. All regional powers except the Philippines and Japan are upset with the escalation of conflicts.

The Japanese government in 2010 mistakenly held that China would do nothing after its unilateral move of nationalizing the Diaoyu Islands. The miscalculation cost Japan dearly as China adopted a series of countermeasures including establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. The Pentagon at present seemingly believes that Beijing will remain restrained no matter how provocative it is. But don't forget the mid-air collision between a US reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter jet in China's Hainan Island airspace in 2001, during which a Chinese pilot was killed. The Chinese military dared to fight even when its military strength largely lagged behind the US.

The US overestimates its chance of winning a possible armed conflict with China. China has had highly accurate long-range anti-ship cruise missiles. Besides, it has the advantage of fighting a war at its own door while the US navy has to travel a long distance.

It is no secret that the White House and the Pentagon are divided regarding China policy. What concerns Beijing is that whether the former has full control over the latter. The paranoid Pentagon misperceives China and Russia as the biggest threats to US security. Such groundless calculations may boost the military budget, but could also likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The US should not do "stupid shit" in the South China Sea.

The author is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. [email protected]

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Liang Jun,Bianji)

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