x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chinese media lashes out at US plans to bolster military in Asia Pacific

While the media railed against what they saw as continued efforts by the US to limit China's influence, moderate voices caution against overreacting.

BEIJING // China should not back down in the face of a greater US military presence in the Asia Pacific, Chinese media said yesterday.

The strong words came a day after the US president, Barack Obama, announced Washington would step up defence commitments in the region while cutting the overall size of American forces as the country leaves conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Global Times said "the US cannot stop the rise of China" and insisted Beijing must not "give up its peripheral security".

"Dealing with the US containment attempts should be one of China's diplomatic strategic goals," the newspaper said in an editorial.

The paper has said often that the US is trying to limit China militarily and economically.

The newspaper, linked to the Communist Party's People's Daily, said China had "become a firm strategic target of the US" as the two countries were "carrying out competition unprecedented in history".

Washington's renewed interest in the region became evident in November when the US pressed ahead with plans with eight other nations to set up a pan-Pacific trade pact, an agreement leaders hope to finalise this year.

Also that month, Washington announced a security agreement with Canberra for warships, aircraft and up to 2,500 marines to be stationed in northern Australia over the coming years.

At the time, Mr Obama stressed the US, which is maintaining bases in South Korea and Japan, was not looking to encircle China, yet the Chinese news agency Xinhua branded the move "aggressive".

The Chinese military has enjoyed double-digit increases in defence spending almost every year for the past two decades, and these have funded ambitious warship-building programmes and the strengthening of missile capabilities. The Pentagon document highlighted concerns over this expansion.

"The growth of China's military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions to avoid causing friction in the region," the Pentagon said in its strategic review released on Thursday.

Over the past two years there has been a perception among some countries in the Asia Pacific that China has become more assertive, highlighted by spats with Japan over the East China Sea, and Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

China's claims over the South China Sea conflict with those of five other nations, some of which have pressed ahead with oil and gas exploration in the area.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has previously angered Beijing by insisting the US has a key strategic interest in the South China Sea, through which a third of seaborne trade and half the world's oil and gas traffic passes.

While Chinese media yesterday railed against what they saw as continued efforts by the United States to limit China's influence, moderate voices cautioned against overreacting to Washington's defence realignment.

Jia Qingguo, a professor in Peking University's school of international studies, said the US tilt towards the Asia Pacific had been exaggerated, since it was coming in the context of a wider aim by Washington to limit defence spending.

"Certainly the US has been attaching more importance to the Asia Pacific, but how much does that amount to a strategy to contain China? That's a question mark," he said.

"Of course the relationship between China and the US is ... a bit more uncertain than a couple of years ago, but there are many ways in which the countries are still co-operating. I don't think they are giving up on each other in terms of cooperation."

Analysts say there have recently been signs China is trying to lower the temperature. The City University of Hong Kong regional political analyst Joseph Cheng said Beijing was keeping a "lower profile" and avoiding further tensions, after its maritime disputes caused concerns to increase among its neighbours and the US.

"China understands that, yes, it would like to be able to eventually catch up with the US, but this will take a long, long time. China will certainly like to maintain a lower profile to avoid provoking the US."

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae