China sullies its image and pushes the South China Sea countries toward the US

082986f0-7c68-11e9-8126-9d0e63452fe9 image hires 180704As the most populated country, the second largest economy in the world and one of the P5, China should act responsibly in accordance with its status of a big power. However, by encroaching in the South China Sea, violating Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, ignoring international laws and disregarding public criticism, the leaders in Beijing are smearing themselves in front of the international community.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 is regarded as a Constitution for the world’s seas and oceans. China signed and ratified the Convention but has not complied with its obligations. On July 12, 2016, in the Philippines vs. China case, the Arbitral Tribunal Court rejected Beijing’s unreasonable claims over the South China Sea. However, China has completely disregarded the ruling. Thus, the government in Beijing paid no attention to either international law or justice but its ambition to fortify China’s strength, power, and dominance.

Notably, China took aggressive acts against not only Vietnam but also the Philippines and Malaysia. According to a report by the China Maritime Studies Institute of the US Naval War College, China sent two survey ships, Zhanjian and Dong Fang Hong 3 to the Philippines's EEZ, forcing the Philippines to speak up and deliver diplomatic note in protest. Moreover, Beijing was also accused of disrupting Malaysian oil and gas exploration vessels.

It was not something new but a regular Chinese behavior aiming at making constant pressure and harassment on countries in the South China Sea in one form or the other with escalating seriousness.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia share a common interest of maintaining peace, stability and ensuring rules-based maritime freedom, safety and security in the South China Sea, However, as they have not yet acted coordinately, China continues to push on. Each country could hardly opposes China alone and may fall into China’s “trap” of “divide and rule”, but the unity of all the three   will make Beijing hesitant.

In response to China’s coercion, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia need to create a united front against China's aggression, and at the same time, take advantage of the international support, especially from the US, in the confrontation with China. First, the three countries need to join hands in exposing China's aggressive behaviors in the South China Sea so the world can see the true color of the leaders in Beijing.

As the US has national strategic interest in the South China Sea, it does not accept China's attempt to get ahead the region. Aware of China's ambition to "dominate", the US has attempted many policy shifts, in a more determined way, to address China's aggressive acts in the South China Sea. One of Washington's top priorities is to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. This is an advantage for small coastal countries in the South China Sea such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

China is getting stronger and will be more so in the future. Beijing continues to pursue its the hegemonic ambition to realize the "Chinese Dream", in total disregard of the US’ and other countries’ interests. In that context, the US hopes to join force with other regional countries to persuade and press China to respect other countries and comply with international law. Respecting each other's interests in international relations is the right path in the development process. This is what the administration in Beijing always speak loud of to defend China's "peaceful development”. In practice, they never act as such as such.

In the context of China’s increasingly stronger rise that threatens regional peace and stability, Washington realizes the importance of cooperation with other countries including Vietnam to come up with appropriate measures to cope with Beijing. Along with strengthening relations with traditional allies, the US also wants to cooperate with regional countries to gain greater strength, preventing China's intention and its possible capability of becoming a hegemon. .

In response to China's misconducts in the South China Sea, the US has provided much support to its allies, such as the Philippines. Of the means to support the Philippines, the US helped it improve its military and defense capabilities to counter China's disruptive behaviors and at the same time, declared to protect the Philippines’ vessels in the South China Sea under their bilateral security agreement.

In so far as Vietnam is concerned, the US seemed to take Vietnam’s side in the issue of China’s recent incursions. On August 22, 2019, the US Department of State criticized China of continuing to interfere in Vietnam’s oil and gas activities. On August 26, 2019, the US Department of Defense said in a statement: “Recently, China resumed its coercive interference in Vietnam's long-standing oil and gas activities in the South China Sea, directly contradicting Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe's pledge at the Shangri-La Dialogue that China would stick to the path of peaceful development. China’s actions stand in contrast to the US’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secured in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms”. This is a rare occasion that the Pentagon directly protested China’s aggressive behavior against Vietnam.

Beijing is implementing the "salami slicing" strategy, also known as "the silkworms devour mulberry leaves" tactics, on Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia in the South China Sea. China is seeking to control the South China Sea through man-made features, which the US cannot accept. The US always emphasizes "not to take side in the South China Sea dispute"; nonetheless, its official statements regarding China’s incursions in Vietnam's continental shelf and economic exclusive zones (EEZ) show that it clearly stood on Vietnam’s side.

On the US Department of Defense's Statement on August 26, 2019, on August 27, 2019, Beijing spokesperson said that China “has always been staunchly upholding and practicing international law and order,” “has been exercising its legitimate rights under international law in the region and safeguarding regional peace, stability and order,” and urged the United State to “play a positive and constructive role in regional and international affairs.”

The above statement by China’s Spokesperson further tarnishes China’s image in the international arena as it is trying to "turn white into black". China’s actions seriously violated the provisions of international law and the 1982United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Its claims were already rejected by the Arbitration Tribunal. It is China who is acting regardless of international law.

In contrast, the US Department of Defense's constructive statement supports Vietnam’s legitimacy, defends justice and promotes international law enforcement in the South China Sea. If the leaders in Beijing do not adjust their behaviors and continue to blatantly distort the truth, they will not only damage their own images, embarrass all Chinese citizens but also push regional countries, including Vietnam, increasingly closer to the US. Perhaps China must understand that "good wine needs no bush".