Published on May 26th The National Interest.
There is little doubt now that China has been assertive in the South China Sea for some time, particularly with regard to its ongoing reclamation projects. The biggest question that is being asked now is: what is the nature of China’s assertiveness? Is it reactive? Or is it expansionist?
The answer to this critical question will determine the likely strategy of the United States and its allies in Asia. If it is the former, then a peaceful resolution can be found to satisfy all sides’ concerns. If it is latter, then a serious confrontation between the United States and China seems almost inevitable.
To be sure, China’s ongoing island reclamation projects do not necessarily violate international law, as even Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has noted. After all, all other countries have been doing exactly that for years now; and China is playing a “catching up” game here. Vietnam and the Philippines already possess airfields on islands under their control, and China soon will have its own airfield. It is a fair game.
Moreover, as one Filipino expert admitted, China’s ongoing reclamation projects are a response to the Philippines’ early confrontational approach toward China by filing an arbitration case against China. If there was any agreement and trust between China and the Philippines before that move, nothing was left after that provocative action. Hence China’s reactive assertiveness in the South China Sea.
China’s message seems clear. Given its power advantages, China is in no hurry to exert real control over the disputed islands. Negotiations and dialogues eventually will solve the disputes; and some will favor China while others will favor other claimants. After all, China has successfully settled territorial disputes with other countries in the last three decades, and in many cases China was satisfied with a second-best outcome.（欢迎关注人大重阳新浪微博：@人大重阳，微信公众号：rdcy2013）
Key Words： 陈定定 中国 南海问题 岛屿争端