China must insist on island-building
During the just-concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, military representatives from China and the US did not engage in the bitter brawling predicted by the media. Both sides have reaffirmed their own stance. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter asked all claimants, especially China, to cease island-building in the South China Sea, and by cautiously skirting around the question of how the US will respond if China continues its construction activities, Carter didn’t issue further threats against China.
But the US is still able to launch more provocations in this region, perhaps by sending surveillance planes and warships to the periphery of 12 nautical miles from China-controlled islands.
No matter how disturbing the US can be, China must not stop its construction, which is in line with China’s sovereign integrity. If Beijing backs off due to Washington’s threats and some Western countries’ protests, this will create a horrific precedent, which will embolden US-led forces to set tougher positions against China. China should try its best to inject prosperity into the South China Sea, promoting regional economic development and enhancing its disaster resistance ability. Only in this way will the ongoing quarrels calm down.
If China can play its cards right, these expanded islands will not only prevent the South China Sea situation from becoming intensified, but initiate a new constructive thinking for regional development. China’s construction activities will offer an opportunity to break the vicious circle that has been haunting the South China Sea for decades.
These expanded islands will allow China to acquire more initiative to carry out its South China Sea policies. For now, it is China that values regional peace more than any other state, because the stability of the South China Sea is a prerequisite for China to make use of this important period of strategic opportunities.
As of now, military confrontation is still the last choice for all stakeholders in the South China Sea. However, different desires and expectations have caused the complexity in the South China Sea issues. When China can set a firm foothold in the area, it will bring along more elements that can drive peace and stability.
China needs to make broad plans including countermeasures against more US intrusions. Beijing should be fully prepared, both mentally and physically, for possible military conflicts with the US. China needs to clearly express its unwillingness as well as fearlessness to fight. The more prepared China can be, the lower the possibility of military conflict.
This round of contest in the South China Sea is more like a strategic dialogue, through which China and the US can come up with a set of models and principles under which they can show mutual respect around China’s offshore areas.
If China insists on its island construction, publicizes its peaceful purposes, and avoids making these expanded islands a focal point of Sino-US military competition, we believe it will be eventually accepted by the widest number of parties concerned. – Global Times