China wants 'meddlesome' US out of region

China's first White Paper on its policies on security co-operation in the Asia-Pacific not only signals its readiness to play a larger role in the region.

It also shows a desire to "squeeze out" what the Chinese see as an "overly meddlesome" United States from the East and South China seas, said Professor Shi Yinhong, who heads the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University.

China on Wednesday put out the document titled China's Policies On Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation, which set out its vision for maintaining peace and stability in the region through dialogue and co-operation.

But the paper also hit out at other nations, saying "some countries are increasing their military deployment in the region" and that a "certain country seeks to shake off military constraints". The US has said it will send more warships to East Asia while Japan seeks to revise its pacifist Constitution to allow its self-defence forces to act more like a conventional army.

The paper also said China "resolutely opposes certain countries' provocations of regional disputes for their selfish interests", mentioning that the country "is forced to make necessary responses to the provocative actions which infringe on China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea".

While the paper did not specify a country, China's officials have slammed what they see as US interference in the region's territorial disputes.

The Chinese ambassador to ASEAN in an article in The Straits Times last year accused the US of acting "as a main driving force behind the tension in the South China Sea".

Apart from conducting freedom of navigation and overflight operations close to reefs claimed by the Chinese in the South China Sea, the US has also beefed up its security alliances in the region.

China's claims to nearly the entire waterway overlap with those of Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It has been increasingly assertive in its claims, building artificial islands on reefs it occupies and placing military installations on them.

Other Chinese scholars commenting on the White Paper said it showed China's ability and will to proactively safeguard the security of the Asia-Pacific region.

It shows "China's determination to safeguard regional peace... and make the outside world understand China's position on security co-operation in the Asia-Pacific", helping to stabilise the region and boost confidence, Professor Wei Ling of the China Foreign Affairs University was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying.

However, Professor Su Hao, also of the China Foreign Affairs University, said the paper also drew China's red line for some sensitive areas such as the South China Sea territorial disputes and the deployment of the Thaad anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea, which China feels is a threat to its security.

With US President-elect Donald Trump's Asia-Pacific policy still unclear, the White Paper is both to declare China's sincerity in wanting to co-operate with Washington and to show its bottom line, he told China News Service.

"If Trump, like (current President Barack) Obama with his rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, causes disorder to the region, then he will bring trouble upon himself," he said.

However, Mr Trump's team has shown that it will be no pushover.

On the same day that the White Paper was published, Mr Trump's nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Washington in reference to China's island-building: "We're going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed."

With China also unlikely to bend - its response to Mr Tillerson's comments was that its right to carry out "normal activities" in its sovereign territory is "indisputable" - the region is in for a period of volatility.

This article was first published on Jan 13, 2017.
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