According to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, the US Navy sent the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of islands built by China in the South China Sea. US officials claimed that the action is aimed at safeguarding the freedom of navigation and did not target China. The patrols could also be conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the South China Sea. According to the US side, the action has been approved by President Barack Obama, but with no notification for China.
Washington hinted long ago that it would send ships within 12 nautical miles of China’s islands, but it didn’t say explicitly what it would do. The US said the action would last several hours. According to Western media, Chinese navy ships are closely watching the Lassen. The Pentagon is obviously provoking China. It is time to test the wisdom and determination of the Chinese people.
We should stay calm. If we feel disgraced and utter some furious words, it will only make the US achieve its goal of irritating us.
We should analyze the actual condition of the US harassment. It seems that the US only wants to display its presence as it didn’t raise the imprudent demand that China stops island-building. It has no intention to launch a military clash with China. It is just the US’ political show. The UN Convention of the Law of the Sea provides three categories. The first is islands, which are naturally formed, habitable areas above water at high tide, and are therefore entitled to 12 nautical miles of territorial waters and a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The second is reefs that have portions above water at low tide, and are uninhabitable, which have territorial waters but no EEZs. Finally, completely submerged “low tide elevations” have no territorial waters.
The islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands under the control of the Chinese mainland belong to the latter two categories. China did not elaborate whether it will expand its territorial seas after land construction. This is where the ambiguity of the international law. In addition, China hasn’t announced its territorial baseline in the South China Sea, making the legal meaning of Sino-US contention in the South China Sea vague.
China and the US have no conflicting views over the international law. Instead, the two are competing with each other over the rules and orders in the South China Sea. Beijing’s construction work in the area is completely legal, and there is nothing Washington can blame it for. Yet, from Washington’s perspective, the geopolitical situation in the area will be changed following China’s island reclamation. Beijing may seize the advantage to control the Nansha Islands and their adjacent seas. The US also conjectures that China will gain strategic pivots for power projection to the south in the future. Therefore, Washington, annoyed and anxious, has taken actions in order to balance Beijing’s clout and to consolidate its dominance in the South China Sea.
It has to be noticed that China has already carried out construction work in the area. This is the concrete achievements Beijing has gained. Completing building the islands still remains as a major task for China in the future. At present, no country, the US included, is able to obstruct Beijing’s island reclamation in the region.
In face of the US harassment, Beijing should deal with Washington tactfully and prepare for the worst. This can convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.
Beijing ought to carry out anti-harassment operations. We should first track the US warships. If they, instead of passing by, stop for further actions, it is necessary for us to launch electronic interventions, and even send out warships, lock them by fire-control radar and fly over the US vessels.
Chinese should be aware that the US harassment is only a common challenge in China’s rise. We should regard it with calm and be confident of our government and troops. It is certain that the Chinese government, ordering the land reclamation, is able and determined to safeguard the islands. China is gradually recovering its justified rights in the South China Sea. China has not emphasized the “12 nautical miles.” It is the US that helps us to build and reinforce this concept. Then, it is fine for us to accept the “12 nautical miles” and we have no intention to accept 13 or more than 13 nautical miles.