Thursday, July 15, 2010

US-S.Korean maritime war games needlessly provocative

By Shen Dingli for Global Times

The US and South Korea are implementing joint military exercises this month in the Yellow Sea, with the possibility of deploying the US aircraft carrier George Washington.

The running of such exercises so close to China's waters has left China strongly, and rightfully, dissatisfied.

The US and South Korea may argue that the exercise is not in China's territorial waters, so China has no right to comment.

However, even if the joint exercises are not in Chinese sovereign waters, they may take place in the waters of China's interests as the international waters at Yellow Sea near China's exclusive economic zone are extremely important to China's interests.

Though there is still no final words as to where exactly the US-South Korea joint drill will take place, the issue and the tension it has aroused in Northeast Asia will continue for a long time.

Military exercises aimed at provoking other countries in the waters of important Chinese interests can only be seen as a threat, and China should strongly oppose them.

Given the sophisticated equipment it carries, the George Washington poses a real potential threat to Chinese territory.

Even if the US-South Korea military exercises are outside China's territory, the striking power of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier also poses a serious threat to neighboring countries.

China's strong reaction is also part of its defensive diplomacy, which aims at dissovling the tension before it escalates into a serious crisis.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union established nuclear missile bases on the island, the US objected to the close proximity of the Soviet weaponry even though they traveled only through international waters to reach Cuba, and the US set up a blockade to stop them being deployed.

When the US ponders the idea of deploying its nuclear aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea, very close to China, shouldn't China have the same feeling as the US did when the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba?

Historically speaking, for the Chinese public, the Yellow Sea area is also associated with a painful period in history when in 1894 China was defeated by the Japanese navy in the same waters.

Thus it is a sensitive area that could especially agitate Chinese sensitivites.

Such a provocative attitude damages US credibility in the region and its chance to build strong bilateral relations.

China may not have the military strength to forcibly prevent such exercises now, but it may do so in response to such provocative actions in the future.

The US and South Korea have said the military exercises are being held in order to deter North Korea because of the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan corvette and the death of 46 South Korean sailors.

But the case for the possible North Korean sinking of the Cheonan has not been thor-oughly established.

South Korea refused to let North Korean officials present their case against the evidence for their supposed complicity in the sinking.

When South Korea launched the so-called international survey, it refused the participation of China and other countries, which did not increase the credibility of the so-called findings.

The South Korean Defense Ministry also harassed South Korean politicians who ques-tioned the results of the investigation.

It is understandable that South Korea hopes China can help see justice done.

China has expressed its condolences to the families of Korean victims in the Cheonan incident. But in executing justice, it is not enough to listen to only one side.

When South Korea started the field investigation, it should have requested that all parties participated, rather than exclude China. The US and South Korea have leapt to conclusions too soon.

These exercises are needlessly provocative, and will eventually backfire on the US and South Korea.

The author is professor and executive dean of the Institute of International Studies and director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University. dlshen@