Home Politics South China Sea Tension: U.S. And China Exchange Words

South China Sea Tension: U.S. And China Exchange Words

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Beijing has urged Washington to reduce its naval and air activities in the disputed South China Sea, while encouraging further military cooperation.

Chinese officials also urged the U.S. to maintain its policy of not taking sides regarding ongoing territorial disputes in the region. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, visited the Pentagon on Thursday for talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, according to Tasnim News Agency.

High-level delegation addresses flashpoint in South China Sea

Fan reiterated that China was committed to stability in the region, and asked for U.S. cooperation in maintaining peace. Fan urged the U.S. not to place too much importance on the issues that have arisen in the South China Sea, and said that there are more important regional and international issues which deserve attention.

The Chinese general is currently on a week-long visit to the U.S., and addressed territorial disputes in the region. Fan said that the South China islands and their waters have been part of Chinese territory for hundreds of years.

China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres of land from the sea, and turned what were previously small islands and reefs into fully-functioning military bases. However Chinese newspaper Xinhua reported that the construction work was largely aimed at improving the living and working conditions of the Chinese residents that live there.

Defense secretary criticizes land reclamation

Carter repeated a previous U.S. call to China and rival claimants to stop land reclamation in the area. He urged China to halt the building of military installations in disputed areas and cooperate in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution which obeyed international law. Fan was keen to stress the point that China maintained the right to build military bases on its own territories.

The aim of his visit is to induce further progress in cooperation between the Chinese and U.S. military forces, an idea that was agreed by President Barack Obama and his opposite number Xi Jinping.

The Chinese general hailed recent progress in building a new major-power relationship, and attributed the positive developments to personal efforts undertaken by the two leaders.

Both sides reiterate desire to build stronger military ties

Military-to-military relations have been steadily improving, as evidenced by the agreement of two mutual trust mechanisms, progress in exchanging high-level visits, implementing institutionalized consultations and dialogues, and carrying out military drills and training in conjunction with each other, said Fan.

Fan believes that China and the U.S. are capable of creating a novel military relationship based on “mutual trust, cooperation, non-conflict and sustainability.” The general is hopeful that further cooperation will lead to better contacts, deeper mutual trust, stronger practical cooperation and the mitigation of crises and risk factors.

He later addressed the issue of Taiwan, asking the U.S. to follow the one-China policy and be careful not to encourage independence.

Defense secretary Carter said that he agreed with the idea of building a new kind of military-to-relationship. Carter claimed that officials are excited by the prospect of Xi’s visit in September, and predicts that a sustainable relationship can be forged between the armed forces of the two nations.

Areas of mutual concern on the agenda

During the visit, the two officials discussed military cooperation, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula. On Friday the China-US Army-to-Army Dialogue Mechanism will be signed at the National Defense University. The event is expected to be attended by Fan and US Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno,

According to the Pentagon, the Mechanism will provide another way in which leaders can “raise and discuss issues of mutual concern such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response practices.”

Further talks between the general and senior U.S. officials are expected to take place this Friday at the White House and the State Department.

The South China Sea has become an area of increasing tension as China seeks to challenge U.S. primacy in the region. Commentators are unsure as to how long Beijing will continue to call Washington’s bluff over the construction of military bases in disputed territories, and some are worried about a possible escalation in the area.

The continuation of high-level cooperation and the implementation of new mechanisms should go some way to reducing these tensions, but so far U.S. officials are struggling to exert any influence over Chinese policy in the South China Sea. A recent flyover by a U.S. military surveillance plane was met by an aggressive warning to leave the area from local Chinese navy units, which have become increasingly emboldened as construction progresses.

Signing agreements and promising future cooperation may appear to signify that progress is being made, but it seems unlikely that the situation on the ground will change drastically.

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Brendan Byrne

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