The tug of war over the South China Sea between the US and China continues. The US is reportedly trying to encourage partner-nations in the Asia Pacific region to strengthen their naval force in the South China Sea to support Washington’s efforts to confront and contain a belligerent China.
Warning that “the communists” intent to establish military bases in the South Pacific, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver called for the military backing of Washington’s regional allies in a recent interview with The Australian daily as cited in a Saturday report by the pro-military Star and Stripes newspaper.
According to the report, Beijing is engaged in “influence operations” in the South Pacific, “which have included donations to politicians and financing infrastructure projects in small island nations.” It further claimed that such moves have “caught the attention” of officials in Australia and New Zealand.
“I think what could potentially bring more pressure on the Chinese is other partners and allies joining in these activities [in the South China Sea],” Schriver said in the interview. “If not freedom-of-navigation operations … just joint patrols, presence operations.”
“There have been several public accounts of Australian activities in the South China Sea and some of the assertive challenges [to Australia] from China,” Schriver further asserted.
The US military official also emphasized that other US allies, including Britain, France and Canada, have heightened their military activities in the South China Sea as well. “We’ve seen a lot more activity from other interested parties because I think there is recognition that erosion of international law and norms in the South China Sea has implications globally,” he went on to claim.
The report points out, however, that unlike Western powers, Japan’s relations with China are continuing to improve, further noting that Australia and New Zealand also remain Beijing’s major trading partners and need to balance to balance their economic and military ties.
This is while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping in October to resume mutual naval visits. Moreover, local press reports recently stated that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force may join the Chinese navy’s fleet review in April.
In the past year, US warships have been involved in the so-called “freedom-of-navigation operations” aimed at challenging what they claim as Chinese territorial ambitions and build-up of military facilities on disputed islands in regional waters.
A Chinese warship almost collided with American destroyer, the USS Decatur, last August near the disputed Spratly Islands. As part of Washington’s emerging policy of confronting China in all fronts, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described China last October as the biggest national security challenge facing the US, insisting that the current administration in Washington is pushing back against China “on all fronts.”
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