United States, China and the World’s Second Middle East

A recent commentary on China's Xinhua news site provides us with an interesting glimpse into China's current mindset regarding the United States and its global hegemony.  Lest you think that Xinhua is just another independent foreign media outlet offering a commentary on the relationship between the United States and China, such is not the case.  The Xinhua News Agency, formerly known as the Red China News Agency, was founded in 1931 and functions as the official state news agency of the People's Republic of China and operates under the control of China's central government.  Xinhua's news releases and commentaries reflect the official policies of the Chinese Communist Party and the agency is used as a means for China's government to wield "soft power abroad".   With that background, let's take a look at the commentary in question about the relationship between China and the United States.
 
Here are some key quotes from the commentary:
 
"The United States, the world's sole superpower and largest economy, should play a constructive but not a hegemonic role in the Asia-Pacific region, home to the South China Sea that is witnessing rising tensions fueled by U.S. activity.
 
The United States and the Philippines on Friday announced a deal allowing for a rotating U.S. military presence at five Philippine bases, including one close to the Nansha Islands of China in the South China Sea.
 
The deal, reached under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries, aims to expand U.S. military presence in its former colony through rotation of ships and aircraft for "humanitarian and maritime" security operations.
 
Such military cooperation is within the framework of bilateral arrangement between the United States and the Philippines. It is welcome that the United States, an important stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific, cooperates with regional countries.
 
However, any form of alliance or cooperation should not be built at the expense of sovereign interests of a third party.
 
In fact, like in other parts of the world, Washington has spared no efforts to flex its muscle in the Asia-Pacific, in a bid to show its global hegemony that is already waning nowadays.
 
On the South China Sea territorial disputes, despite its promise to stay neutral, the United States has actually taken a clearly lopsided approach favoring China's rival claimants and even staged various military maneuvers that infringed upon China's sovereignty.
 
Washington has sent its warships and warplanes to waters and airspace near China's territory in the South China Sea in recent years." (my bold)
 
Here is a map showing the disputed region in the South China Sea:
 
You will notice that the Philippines is claiming ownership of a region to the west of the nation, covering part of the very large geographic claim that China has on the South China Sea.  Back in 2012, there was a standoff between the People's Republic of China and the Philippines over the Philippine Navy's apprehension of eight Chinese fishing vessels located near the disputed Scarborough Shoal.  Unfortunately for the underwhelming Philippine Navy, there were also Chinese maritime-surveillance vessels in the area.  China escalated the dispute by sending additional maritime vessels into the region, outnumbering the Philippine vessels, going so far as to erect a rope across the reef lagoon, trapping Filipino fishermen inside.  After ten weeks, on June 15, 2012, the Philippines withdrew its vessels from the Scarborough Shoal.  As it stands now, the Philippines have turned to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which was ratified in 1984 by the Philippines and 2006 by China; this law grants each maritime nation an exclusive economic zone within 200 miles of its shoreline.  The Philippines has appealed to the Arbital Tribunal in the Hague to determine whether China's vast territorial claims in the South China Sea violate international law.
 
Let's go back to the subject of this posting.  The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which is mentioned in the Xinhua commentary is an agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the United States Government which was signed in April 2014.  After it was signed, the EDCA was challenged on the grounds that allowing U.S. troops on Filipino soil was against the constitution, however, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the agreement in January 2016.  The EDCA allows U.S. forces to access agreed upon locations in the Philippines for "enhanced defense co-operation" (i.e. boosting the military capabilities of the Armeed Forces of the Philippines).  What this means is that the United States is swinging its military focus from the Afghanistan-Iraq theatre and its anti-terrorist focus to the Far East where China's growing military power has been essentially unchecked.
 
Here are the first three pages of the agreement:
 

Notice under section 3 of Article I that "…the Parties agreed that the United States may undertake the following types of activities; security cooperation exercises, joint and combined training activities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities and such other activities as may be agreed upon by the Parties."  One would have to assume that "other activities may include intervention in the South China Sea territorial dispute where and when required, keeping in mind what happened on the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.  Obviously, the EDCA has the Chinese government concerned since hostilities could ramp up very quickly with the world's sole superpower enhancing its presence in the region.
 
Let's close this posting with an additional quote from the Xinhua commentary, showing how clearly China's government is trying to send a message to the United States about their respective roles in the region:
 
"It is advisable that Washington refrain from taking sides on the South China Sea issue and let concerned parties solve the issue through negotiations in accordance with international law.
Muddying waters in the South China Sea and making the Asia-Pacific a second Middle East will do no good to the United States.
 
China and the United States share broad common interests in Asia-Pacific affairs. If the two world powers continue to respect each other and boost cooperation, the region and the rest of the world will enjoy long-lasting peace, stability and prosperity." (my bold)
 
Chilling, isn't it?  Let's hope that cooler heads prevail in the Pentagon, Congress and the White Housebefore we end up in another world war.
 
Click HERE to read more of Glen Asher's columns

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