Globalization has also played a vital role in integrating the world and economic dependence of countries. For instance, in case of Sino-US they are dependent upon each other in economic sector. They avoid direct confrontation with each other. They have experienced period of good and bad relations and the distrust is major cause of conflict between the two parties. The high diplomatic visits in 1960s reduced the tension between Sino-US relations and marked beginning of new chapter of good relations. US is not ignorant about the growing role of China in global politics especially within in Asia-Pacific region. This research focuses on Sino-US rivalry over South China Sea; the comparison of strategies of both and how they have developed overlapping interests in Asia-pacific region. Usually states have good or bad relations with each other, but in this case what is unique to note is that they (Sino-China relations) had phases of cordial and strained relations. As a consequence, they keep check on each other power to safeguard their area of influence in the world by using military, economic and political means.
This paper is divided into five main parts. The first one deals with the historical background of conflictual relations between US and China. Second section concerns with the significance of South China Sea in Asia Pacific Region. Third section is about Chinese strategies over South China Sea. Fourth section explains the strategies of USA in the Asia Pacific region. Fifth section is mainly a comparative analysis of their strategies which seems to be influenced or derived from offensive and defensive realism. Last and sixth section deals with conclusion and recommendation to resolve this conflict in an effective manner.
It is believed that the rivalry between US and China is not a current phenomenon. It has its roots that can be traced back since the inception of PRC. The US initial reluctance to recognize the communist China is often quoted as one of the major impediment that laid the very foundation of strained relations from the beginning. Furthermore, China remained suspicious of US true intentions as they have been deceptive in their policies especially towards China and their increasing economic growth. Similarly, US support for nationalist against PRC proved to be another obstacle that tarnished the relations between China and US until Nixon came to power in US during 1960s; this paved the path in normalizing relation with China in form of various confidence building measures.
Open policy towards rest of world can be safely called as one of the most defining moment for the future of China that was envisaged by Deng Xiaoping. Basically, Deng’s policy involved a drastic shift from an Isolationist policy of Communist China to more of an open system that embraced the changes of the modern world. The policy of openness has helped to change the fate of China from an internally conservative and weak state to a leading economic power of the Asia Pacific region.
Significance of South China Sea
South China Sea basically consists of four groups of islands. First, the Pratas Islands are (located 200 miles to southwest of Hong Kong) claimed by both China and Taiwan. Second, although the Parcels Islands are located in the northern part of the South China Sea and near from the coastlines of Vietnam and China (Hainan), however, these islands are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. On the other hand, China took control of Paracels in 1974, by using the means of force from South Vietnamese troops. It is a main reason of conflict between China and Vietnam. Fourth, Saparatly Islands (are located in the centre of the South China Sea. to the north of the island of Borneo [which comprises Brunei Darussalam and the east Malaysian States of Sarawak and Sabah]. The east of Viet Nam, and west of the Philippines and south of Hainan) are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while some islands and other features are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. Brunei has established a maritime zone that overlaps a southern reef, but it has not made any formal claim. Therefore, the intense competition among states has become a main source of concern and even potential conflict as it consists of cluster of small islands that have distributed claims by almost all ASEAN states.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
UNCLOS provided a framework in 1982 on how to use oceans that came into force on 1994. It was ratified by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei except for Taiwan as it was not recognized as a state. It is a convention related to laws of sea, navigation, fishery and using natural resources for energy production in form of hydrocarbons.
(UNCLOS) establishes a legal framework to govern all uses of the oceans. UNCLOS was adopted in 1982 after nine years of negotiations. It entered into force in 1994 and has been almost universally accepted. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei are all parties are signatory of UNCLOS. Taiwan is not able to ratify UNCLOS because it is not recognized as a state by the United Nations, but it has taken steps to bring its domestic legislation into conformity with UNCLOS.
Chinese Strategies for South China Sea
In Deng view, China always pursued a policy of delay to respond to any foreign stimulus. The application of this policy can also be seen in implementation processes of the final choices or decision. Since the policy of delay is all about concealment of China’s true intentions to prevent any kind of escalation and stresses the maintenance of a cooperative policy with rest of the world. As a result, it helps to accelerate the development and prosperity of China in term of utilizing economic means to the fullest.
Politics of claims and counter claims
South China Sea had been one of the most contentious areas of world. Most of the states involved in this area claim certain area, while rest declares their open claims on the other part in Asia –Pacific region. The policy of claims and counter claims is the main source of conflict. Despite many efforts of ASEAN and regional players, the South China region continues to be matter of contention and a major impediment in bringing peace and stability in the region.
Although the nature of warfare has changed to a large extent, however, the significance of military means cannot be denied in contemporary world. For instance, the defense budget of countries has increased from 1980s to 1990s in accordance with the technological advances and revolutionaries in weapons. The military agreements between US and Taiwan and US and Japan in Guam is another example that established military buildup against Chinese expansion in the region to secure an array of states from any potential Chinese attack. According to Andrew Erickson, China is also increasing its defense budget to secure its territory of East and South China seas and their airspace above this area. This implies that the reliance of states on traditional means or military continues to play an important role in providing security to states.
US Strategies for South China Sea
The term pivot was coined by Leon Panetta, who is US secretary of defense. He had used the term to explain the adversarial interactions between rising and falling power. In this context, a rising power refers to a potential power that is China in this paper and falling power is an entity that confronts challenges to maintain its power. So, US can safely be claimed as a state falling in the latter category. Theoretically speaking, offensive realism most appropriately explains the US policy behavior in South China Sea, their attempts to undermine the Chinese potential hegemonic power in the Asia-Pacific is a proof of that. As per offensive realism, a hegemonic power cannot stand any rising power. It further explains the inevitability for two hegemonic powers to co-exist with each other that can be seen in case of US and China rivalry over South China Sea. Although offensive realism is presented by John Mearsheimer, but contribution of Organski and Gilpin cannot be ignored. Similarly, Chinese strategy can be understood with the help of defensive realism that concerns with increase of power to secure the interests from any threat or foreign intervention that is often taken as offence by US. Consequently, it results in security dilemma that leads to a never ending game of power politics
Generally speaking, USA National Strategy for South China Sea consists of five main points. First deals with their official stance over South China Sea. Second one is about legality of the nine-dash line claim of China. Third one concerns with freedom of navigation in South China Sea and fifth deals with supporting Philippines in their arbitration case against China. The United States developed a policy document—a National Strategy for the South China Sea (NSSCS)—that contains:
An official position regarding the nature of the disputed land features in the SCS;
A legal memorandum concerning U.S. military activities in the SCS, including military surveys;
An opinion on the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim;
An affirmation of U.S. “freedom of navigation” operations in the SCS; and
A statement of support for the Philippines in its arbitration case against China
In 2010, the Obama administration declared what was then referred to as the “US pivot to Asia,” that consists of multi-faceted strategy of US policy in the Asia pacific region. It includes shift of 60% of the United States naval assets to the pacific region reversing a policy that had been exercised in Europe since the Second World War. In November 2011, US president Barrack Obama announced in his speech to the rotational stationing in the Australian city of Darwin in front of 2,000 marines. The strategy was supposed to go beyond the military means. The Obama administration began to define its non-military aspects. These included an emphasis on the trans-pacific partnership (TPP), a club of high-performing economies in the region intended to push economic agenda beyond the pace set by the Asia pacific economic cooperation (APEC).
Support of Arbitration cases against China
The United States reluctance to remain merely an observer in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China is evident and a matter of their interest. Since arbitration in favor of the Philippines can play a vital role in discrediting the nine-dash line that is of utmost significance to China. Similarly, US pressurize other states in South East Asia, for example, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia to support Philippines arbitration request against China. The main purpose of this pressure is to undermine the power of China as per UNCLOS that encourages states to resolve disputes by peaceful means and prohibits use of force.
The United States Official Stance in 2011
In 2011, Hilary Clinton believed that US policy towards South East Asia is not limited, but it is multifaceted policy that includes six main issue areas namely; bilateral security alliances, involving international organizations, expanding trade, providing military assistance, promoting human rights and democratic values. According to my understanding initially US used the pretext of war on terrorism to shift their attention towards Asia-Pacific region by announcing and diverting all their efforts and resources to secure South East Asia from potential threat of terrorism and providing security to region. Alongside they made military agreements with countries especially with Taiwan and Japan .US attempts to exploit the grievances of countries against China for the sake of undermining Chinese power within the region cannot be denied either. The security umbrella to weak states against any potential attack from China is one of the many examples; however, the shift of policy towards efficient utilization of both means (force and flexible measures) to accommodate the concern of china is evident in American policy.
It also reflects in President Obama’s long-held view, expressed even before his election, that the “center of gravity in this world is shifting Towards Asia,” requiring the U.S. to “look east” and “take a more active role,” as well as his identity as “America’s first Pacific president.” Obama in his election campaign expressed that attention of world is diverting to Asia-Pacific region.
Pentagon has adopted an Air-Sea Battle (ASB) strategy. Its main purpose was to restore the ability of the US to provide security to its allies in the region and to the international order (including freedom of navigation), and maintenance of status as the world power. ASB explains that, in case of conflict with China. American forces will attack on the Chinese mainland to neutralize the A2/AD weapon systems that is, an escalation to total war. It involves a coordinated attack using bombing, missile and cyber-attacks, and space weapons among others.
On the contrary, skeptics are of the view that use of force in form of ASB strategy (Air-Sea Battle), support of allies in region by US and counter attacks against Chinese aggressive policies over South China on the principle of collective security would be a mistake, because both states (US and China) are nuclear and any miscalculation or overestimation could lead to escalation or war in the worst case scenario. Therefore, there is a need to exhaust diplomatic means to resolve matters related to South China Sea and myriad of other issues between two states.
Overview of US policy
In my understanding, US is pursuing a policy of ‘smart diplomacy’. In simple words, smart diplomacy entails the effective utilization or use of force along with economic means to keep a firm check on Chinese potentials capability to challenge United States hegemony in three main aspects; economic, military and political spheres. Although China and US are economically depended upon each other, both continues to have a clash over the South China Sea.
The two main questions that emerge from this research are; can the rivalry between US and China continue and can it transform in a beginning of a new cold war? Can China rise peacefully without any conflict with US? First off, it would be implausible to say that it is a start of new cold war as the conditions and scenarios ware quite different during cold war between USA and Soviet Union. They were not economically integrated as US and China is in the contemporary times. Second, cold war was more of power rivalry that had not much to do with economic ties. During cold war, USA and Soviet Union were two states having different ideologies. US were a capitalist state that believed in free trade. On the hand USSR was a socialist state that advocated nationalist economy under the government control. One can say it was clash of ideologies between two powers. It was more about acquiring more territory to increase their sphere of influence in global politics and becoming sole power of world. On the other hand, the conflict between China and US cannot be equated to cold war between US and USSR. Since the rise of USSR was not peaceful, it was attained by Stalin expansionist policies; whereas China’s rise was not only peaceful, but it took time to become a potential power of the world.
According to offensive realism, states acquire hegemony to dominate the rest of world and prevent the emergence of any potential power to share their superiority in the world politics. Defensive realist assert that a state cannot lead to conflict as state try to increase power to provide or ensure security to state instead of dominating the world or becoming a hegemon.
According defensive realist, states try to maintain status quo and ensure their security instead of direct confrontation that would make them vulnerable and expose their weaknesses. In case of Sino- US conflict, China pursues a policy of non- confrontation, but it is often considered to be an offence by others states in the region. In this paper, Chinese defensive policies are taken as offensive by US and they try to limit their power in region and at global level. US on the other hand, pursues a policy of an offensive realist that curtails a rising power from emerging in terms of any compromise or tolerance to competition or sharing of the power as it would undermine their hegemony and their status of sole power in global politics.
According to offensive realist, the conflict between US and China would eventually lead to a complex scenario as hegemonic power cannot co-exist peacefully together. The aim of hegemonic power is to curtail potential power from rising by use of economic, military and all available or possible means. Therefore, it would be safe to claim that US is following a policy of offensive realism to suppress China’s growing power in form of exploiting the countries in Asia Pacific who have resentment and envious attitude against China. This implies that the main aim of American policies is to limit Chinese ever increasing power especially their economic growth.
On the other hand, China is hesitating to declare its policy for coming years over South China Sea and in Asia-Pacific region. In my understanding, it is yet to be seen if or whether China employs military means or force to tackle the issues with other states within region, especially, with Taiwan and Japan or to predict the future of Asia-pacific region and outcome of the conflict between US and China.
1-Global institutions can help them to bridge the gap between US and China by promoting cooperation
2-Engagement in a dialogue process can help to reduce the tension between the two states (US and China)
4-Chinese perspective should be projected equally in global arena.
5-US should not involve herself in to the regional politics, rather china should be given adequate time to sort out their issues themselves.
6-In case of war like situation, US should encourage the role of global institutions rather than indulging into conflict unilaterally.
7-China should focus on building and strengthening good relations with its neighbors and with international community to minimize chances of conflict or escalation of conflict in the region or at the global level.