South China Sea should not be Kerry's major topic

cctv | 作者: Teng Jianqun | 时间: 2015-05-20 | 责编: 李敏捷
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US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing last weekend. In Beijing he met China’s foreign minister, the State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs and also military leaders. Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping also met Kerry. Kerry was said to have three main tasks for this trip covering 10 topics and among them, the South China Sea issue was the greatest concern.


That the South China Sea has become an unavoidable issue on the agenda of Kerry’s Beijing trip, closely related to recent speculation about South China Sea affairs within the US.


Certain Pentagon officials claimed that the US will dispatch naval vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea and move them within 12 nautical miles of Chinese reefs.


Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, David Shear proclaimed that the US Defense Department would ensure that the US continues to be the most powerful, most striking presence in the region and would ensure the US takes any necessary action.


US State Department officials even asserted that China’s construction projects in Nansha area were not conducive to South China Sea “feng shui.”


Assistant Secretary Daniel Russell testified in Congress that all the policies and actions by the US were to protect the rule of law. The US was committed to deterring what it calls “aggression” and preventing coercion. He stressed the US gave priority to diplomacy in dealing with the South China Sea issue and did not support any parties’ land reclamation in disputed waters.


Some American scholars unreasonably clamored that because of the South China Sea issue, it was unnecessary for the US to hesitate if the US needed to give China a punch on the nose.


In the US view, the South China Sea issue has escalated through China’s land reclamation on the reefs around the Nansha Islands. Not to mention whether the construction is damaging to the “feng shui” of the South China Sea or that it’s normal for China to conduct construction on its own territory, the relevant organizations under the United Nations have already published official documents that agree to China building related facilities in the South China Sea. The US, the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries all voted for the construction of these facilities by China.


During March 7-April 1, 1987, the 14th meeting of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission was held in Paris, France. More than 300 representatives from 87 countries and 18 international organizations participated in the meeting.


The meeting adopted a global sea level observation plan, which specified the site, number and country of sovereignty of the 200 globally joint marine observation stations. The plan also mapped out operational standards, legal norms and rights and obligations of the observation network. The plan entrusted China to construct and manage five of those 200 marine observation stations, including three along the Chinese coast, one in the Xisha Islands and one in the Nansha Islands.


While the meeting discussed and adopted the legal documents of the global sea level observation plan, representatives not only from participating coastal countries but also international organizations agreed unanimously that the five observation stations belonged to China: Even representatives of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries had no objection to China’s No.74 Nansha station and No. 76 Xisha station. The meeting unanimously adopted these arrangements. What’s worth mentioning is that the then-president who hosted the meeting was the head of the Philippines delegation.


After the observation stations were completed, China began to continuously provide more than 20 types of observational data including wind direction, wind speed, air temperature, humidity, evaporation, cloudiness, thunderstorms, visibility, water temperature, tide, waves and sea-salt levels to the World Meteorological Organization. China provided monthly measurements of the average tide level and real-time tidal data every five minutes.


For the last 27 years, a total of more than 5 million pieces of hydrometeorological data were provided by the No.74 Nansha station to the organization. Most importantly, the South China Sea marine observation stations carried out the hydrometeorological security work for passing ships.


It should be noted that after building the South China Sea observation stations, the Chinese government has earnestly fulfilled its commitments and provided large amounts of data essential in guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea rather than hinder or undermine the freedom of navigation in the area.


However, countries including the US ignore this contribution and instead criticize China for its construction projects that improve the living conditions of the South China Sea observatory stations. There are many reasons:


First, as the election season approaches, various interest groups in the US are trying to win power for their own interests. The tough stance by the US Defense Department is related to confronting military spending cuts.


Second, the US would like to reassure and pacify its so-called allies including the Philippines to make good on its promises. Criticizing China then becomes a handy choice.


Third, the South China Sea issue is the starting point for the US "pivot to Asia” policy. A troubled South China Sea benefits the US.


Without strong support in spirit or in the law, Kerry obviously lacks confidence in talking about the South China Sea issue. And it’s not surprising that he was snubbed on this issue.


The above-mentioned resolution unanimously adopted by UNESCO in 1987 alone is sufficient to prove that the Xisha and Nansha Islands belong to China. So it’s only harmful to the US reputation to lambaste China’s construction projects in the South China Sea.


Both China and the US today have realized the importance of building a new type of major power relations. If the US side continues to entangle itself in the South China Sea issue ignoring the historical and legal evidence, a question would inevitably arises: What is the real purpose of the US?

The author is the  director of the department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies

(Source:, May 19, 2015)