WORLD VIEW: Trump bolsters pressure on Beijing to halt militarization of S. China Sea

By The Japan News

It can be said that the United States has sent a message calling for China to stop its militarization of the South China Sea.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has withdrawn an invitation for China to take part in a multinational naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, set for this summer.

Washington called for the removal of military facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea, stating that China has been destabilizing the region by heightening tensions there.

The U.S. Navy has also carried out its Freedom of Navigation Operation as a check on China by having its missile destroyers and other warships navigate around the man-made islands. The United States needs to continue its stance of not allowing China to change the status quo by force through its concrete actions.

RimPac is one of the world’s largest multinational naval exercises, hosted by the United States every two years off Hawaii. The 2016 RimPac was participated in by 26 countries, including Japan, Britain and Australia.

The Chinese Navy was invited to RimPac for the first time in 2014. It took part also in the previous RimPac held two years ago. The administration of then U.S. President Barack Obama aimed to encourage China to improve its compliance with international rules and transparency of military matters through its participation in the multinational naval exercise.

It is hard to say that these objectives have been achieved. During the exercises, China collected military information of the participating countries by dispatching a spy ship to areas around the waters where the exercise was conducted while only partially complying with disclosure of information on its own warships.

Confidence-building vital

China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has denounced the United States withdrawal of the invitation as a “very nonconstructive move.” Wang also said China has been building necessary defense facilities on its own islands. This can only be called a self-centered assertion.

China has deployed anti-ship and ground-to-air missiles plus radio-jamming apparatus on the Spratly Islands. It has been revealed that China conducted for the first time takeoff and landing practice for its mainstay strategic bombers on Woody Island in the Paracels.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that China will not “militarize” the South China Sea. China’s territorial claim has been totally rejected by the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It cannot be overlooked that China has not stopped its hegemonic activities in the South China Sea.

The Trump administration had every reason to re-examine the conciliatory stance pursued by the previous U.S. administration toward Beijing. Under the new U.S. National Security Strategy, China along with Russia is regarded as a “revisionist power” that is challenging the United Sates. The strategy declares that the United States will outcompete these two countries.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and China have been vying with each other in exerting military influence. If tensions between the two countries are heightened excessively, it will unavoidably have an adverse effect on the stability of Japan and the world.

While trying to avoid unexpected clashes, Washington and Beijing should make steady efforts to promote confidence-building through such occasions as mutual visits by high-ranking military officers and warships.