The back and forth between the US and China continues, as US defense secretary Ash Carter said today at the 15th Asia Security Summit in Singapore that China risks isolating itself with its actions in the South China Sea.
"The United States welcomes the emergence of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in the principled security network. We know China's inclusion makes for a stronger network, and a more stable, secure, and prosperous region. Unfortunately there's growing anxiety in this region, and in this room, about China's activities on the seas, in cyberspace, and in the regions air space. Indeed in the South China Sea, China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions that have generated concerns about China's strategic intentions. Countries across the region have been taking action and voicing concerns, publicly and privately at the highest levels of regional meetings. As a result China's actions in the South China Sea are isolating it, at a time when the entire region is coming together and networking. Unfortunately if these actions continue, China could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation"
Although Carter said the US would welcome China's participation in a "principled security network" for Asia, the defense secretary went on to say very directly that China might as well play ball, because the US is going to continue to trot out warships and spy planes as it plays top cop in the region.
“The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come, and there should be no doubt about that.”
If China were to decide to continue and claim further parts of the disputed South China Sea, Carter said there would be consequences.
"I hope that this development doesn't occur, because it will result in actions being taken by the both United States and by others in the region which would have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating China,"
The real reason that China and the US will continue to be at an impasse as it relates to the South China Sea is simple: Trillions of dollars of trade a year passes through the South China Sea, which is also home to rich oil, gas and fishing resources as Reuters reports. This is key to remember as China continues to position itself in the region. Cheaper protein for its citizens is something that China is very sensitive to in order to avoid further social unrest, and fishing resources will provide some relief in that effort - oil and gas resources are not lost on Chinese officials either of course. From the US side of things, while pretending to care about the other countries in the region, its eye is solely on the commerce element. The US simply isn't going to go away and allow China to control everything in the region.
Carter revealed as much when he said the US wouldn't withdraw because "this region, which is home to nearly half the world's population and nearly half the global economy, remains the most consequential for America's own security and prosperity."
In response, China said that now is a time of cooperation and not to immediately take sides as the US is doing, furthermore, that the US shouldn't be making remarks about territorial sovereignty issues within a region that it isn't even a part of.
China's foreign ministry said in a statement that "Countries outside the region should stick to their promises and not make thoughtless remarks about issues of territorial sovereignty."
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It's clear that neither nation is going to budge in this standoff, and we can expect tensions to remain very high in the region for quite some time. With every military drill that the US performs in the region, and with every spy plane it flies, the likelihood of an international incident occurring increases, and if such an incident occurs, that could drag the entire world into another great war.