Reassessing U.S. Policy: Washington Should Be More Constructive In Asia | 作者: Shi Yongming | 时间: 2016-02-15 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Shi Yongming

The motives for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Asian tour in January were as nebulous as his itinerary was odd. The top U.S. diplomat’s first two stops were to countries that have had nothing to do with the South China Sea issue. Nonetheless, Kerry asked Laos and Cambodia to join the United States along with some other Southeast Asian countries that have territorial claims in the South China Sea to go against China on related disputes. Kerry subsequently flew to Beijing and asked the Chinese Government to accept the U.S. draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council designed to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea. Yet the situation on the Korean Peninsula is so complex that a peaceful settlement cannot be reached through mere sanctions. The U.S. Government should properly assess its own role in the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

Don’t pass the buck

China is categorically opposed to Pyongyang’s recent test of what it claims to be a hydrogen bomb. Both China and the United States stand on common grounds in that regard. Nevertheless, there are differences between Beijing and Washington’s responses to Pyongyang’s nuclear development program.

While the United States-proposed sanctions are aimed at damaging the livelihood of the people of North Korea and also seek for an immediate surrender by Pyongyang, such measures do not offer a constructive solution to the problem. Instead, tougher sanctions would undoubtedly force Pyongyang into a corner. Even so, Washington did not specify what it would do if Pyongyang ignores the sanctions and continues its development of nuclear weaponry. What if Pyongyang is bent on destroying the stability of the region?who would pay the price? If what has happened in Syria during the past few years is any indication, perhaps Washington doesn’t care about risking the lives of thousands of people or the creation of millions of refugees on the Korean Peninsula. In any case, it is necessary for us to ask: What are the real motives for the United States’ actions in the region?

The real divergence between China and the United States on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is in which approach should be adopted to solve the problem. China adheres to the principle of addressing the problem through peaceful overtures, inclusiveness, cooperation and the extension of mutual benefits in order to build a harmonious relationship. In contrast, the United States has stubbornly insisted on settling the matter through "aggression", in an aim to create a global U.S. hegemony. The methods that Washington employs to achieve its goals form the foundation of the current global disorder.

Actually, no matter how much Washington insists on vilifying Pyongyang, it is undeniable that the root of the decades-long imbroglio on the peninsula is due to the political confrontation between North Korea and the United States. The United States cannot deny that it once deployed nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and that its strategic nuclear weapons are targeting North Korea even now. The United States is also unable to give a reasonable explanation as to why it is still unwilling to legally end its "state of war" with North Korea.

Reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula had been on the rise after the end of the Cold War, as characterized by the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula between Pyongyang and Seoul in 1992. The situation started deteriorating after the United States refused to implement the Agreed Framework that it signed with North Korea in 1994, in which the latter agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy assistance as well as the United States’ diplomatic recognition. In 2005, North Korea, the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia made progress on an agreement for the suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Even so, shortly after the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue concluded with the September 19 Joint Statement, Washington decided to impose financial sanctions on Pyongyang--triggering North Korea’s first nuclear test.

The United States, under President Barack Obama’s administration, has adopted a more stony policy toward North Korea. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has maintained its effort to become a nuclear power. In February 2015, though, Pyongyang was the first to propose a cease in its nuclear testing in exchange for the termination of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. However, Washington flatly turned down the proposal, leaving no room for bilateral negotiations. Is it possible that the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills are more important than the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the peace in the region?

The United States’ real intentions are ambiguous as it continues to shirk its responsibilities and instead turns to China to put pressure on Pyongyang.

Maritime issues

The dispute concerning the South China Sea was the core of Kerry’s latest trip to Asia, and the message that Kerry delivered on the issue was also "aggressive." First, Kerry aimed to demonstrate America’s determination in safeguarding the contested region’s so-called freedom of navigation. Second, he asked member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take sides with the United States against China on the South China Sea issue. Therefore, it can be concluded that the main goal of Kerry’s Asian trip was to carry out the Obama administration’s pivot-to-Asia strategy. A principal proponent of the strategy would be the sowing of dissent amongst Asian countries in an attempt to consolidate the United States’ position in the region.

It was only until the end of World War II (WWII) that an international law-based order began to take shape in East Asia. Before then, the United States and Japan were imperialistic and colonial countries. China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea, but colonial powers infringed on China’s sovereign right to the region. China, with the backing of the international law, took back its jurisdiction over the islands after WWII. In 1947, the then Chinese government set the country’s maritime delimitation line in the South China Sea and made the line officially public the following year. The international community didn’t show any objection at the time. On that basis, the Treaty of Peace With Japan signed in San Francisco on September 8, 1951 required Japan to give up its rights and claims on China’s Nansha and Xisha Islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines had also delineated its own territorial boundaries at that time, which do not match boundaries around the islands that it currently holds claim to in the South China Sea. Viet Nam also presented an official note to China in the 1950s, specifying its acknowledgment of China’s sovereignty over the islands.

The real problem concerning the South China Sea disputes is that the United States has disrupted the post-WWII regional order. In 1954, the United States created the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, putting the whole South China Sea under its military control. Since China was trapped by a confrontation across the Taiwan Straits during that time, the Philippines and Viet Nam took the opportunity to grab some of the islands.

To safeguard its sovereignty, China was forced into two wars in the South China Sea, but the Chinese Government has always adhered to settling territorial disputes through peaceful negotiations. This proposition has been confirmed in a series of diplomatic documents between China and Viet Nam as well as the Philippines. In consideration of the complicated historical background and its traditional relationship with neighboring countries, China has proposed to solve the predicament on the principle of "putting aside disputes and seeking common development." To put the principle into practice, in 2005, China, the Philippines and Viet Nam signed a trilateral deal, agreeing to jointly prospect oil and gas resources in the South China Sea.

However, the United States firmly opposed the cooperative approach in settling the disputes through bilateral dialogue and insisted on resolving the problem within the framework of the ASEAN. It is obvious that the U.S. policy on the South China Sea is a way to maintain its hegemony over East Asia.

At present, the United States not only sends troops to the region itself but also encourages other countries such as Japan and Australia to be its accomplices, claiming to safeguard the so-called freedom of navigation through the use of naval and aerial power.

The foreign policy of the United States is based on total hegemony. That is also why it is unable to settle problems in a productive manner. If the United States truly desires to become a world leader, it must first learn how to resolve problems constructively in order to provide mutual benefits to all parties involved.


The author is an associate research fellow with China Institute of International Studies.



Source:, NO. 7 February 11, 2016.