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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

U.S. moves to counter Chinese influence in East Asia

July 27, 2010

Mark MacKinnon
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
July 26, 2010

Beijing -- After years of watching apprehensively
as China expands its influence in East Asia, the
region’s "old power," the United States, is now
pushing firmly back, drawing Beijing’s ire by
asserting itself in two separate disputes on China’s periphery.

Despite protests from Beijing over its deployment
so close to Chinese waters, the USS George
Washington -- a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
and one of the largest ships in the U.S. fleet –
led joint naval and air exercises with South
Korea that began Sunday off the east coast of the
Korean Peninsula. An armada of 20 warships took
part, backed by some 8,000 U.S. and South Korean soldiers and 200 aircraft.

The massive war games, which will continue for
weeks, are meant to intimidate North Korea -- a
close Chinese ally -- following the sinking of a
South Korean warship earlier this year in an
incident that an international investigation has
blamed on Pyongyang. The show of force began days
after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
angered Beijing by declaring that disputes
between China and its neighbours over
international boundaries in the strategically
important South China Sea are a U.S. "national interest."

Codenamed "Invincible Spirit," the joint
U.S.-South Korean exercise is the largest in
years and was portrayed as a response to the
March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean
corvette that evidence shows was struck by a
North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang has denied
involvement in the incident, which left 46 South Korean sailors dead.

China -- which received North Korean leader Kim
Jong-il with full honours in Beijing shortly
after the Cheonan was sunk -- has rejected the
results of the investigation that found Pyongyang
responsible, and repeatedly warned against the
George Washington’s participation in Invincible
Spirit. In apparent deference to China, Sunday’s
initial drills were conducted in the East Sea
(also known as the Sea of Japan), though U.S. and
South Korean commanders suggested that exercises
in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of the
Korean Peninsula and close to Chinese territorial waters, would follow.

While U.S. aircraft carriers have operated in the
Yellow Sea in the past, China has been more
outspoken than usual in its opposition to the
George Washington’s participation in the naval
exercise, and conducted naval and air drills of
its own in the Yellow Sea last week.

"Washington might not have realized that today's
East Asia is so much different from that of the
last century. -- Aggressive show of force only
creates enemies, and the U.S. will risk getting
mired in the abyss of a Cold War again,” read an
editorial headlined “U.S. must rethink East Asia
strategy” that ran last week in the Global Times,
a newspaper viewed as a mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party.

North Korea also loudly railed against the war
games, warning on Saturday via its official news
agency that it would respond "with our powerful
nuclear deterrent" if Invincible Spirit went
ahead. North Korea, which regularly threatens
war, has carried out two nuclear tests since 2006.

The naval exercises began two days after Ms.
Clinton reportedly clashed behind closed doors at
a summit of Southeast Asian countries with
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi over a U.S.
proposal to establish an international mechanism
that would mediate overlapping claims of
sovereignty in the South China Sea, a body of
water on which China, Taiwan, the Philippines,
Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia all have coasts.

"The United States has a national interest in
freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s
maritime commons and respect for international
law in the South China Sea,” Ms. Clinton declared
last week at the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations summit in Hanoi. Washington is believed
to have waded diplomatically into the issue at
the urging of Vietnam, Malaysia and the
Philippines, who have all raised concerns over
China’s growing naval capabilities and the
possibility that Beijing could use force to
dominate the hydrocarbon-rich waters, which also
contain some of the world’s busiest commercial shipping routes.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that China’s navy
has recently been taking "a much more aggressive
approach" in the South China Sea and other waters
in which Beijing claims a strategic or economic
interest. Following a rapid buildup in recent
years, Adm. Mullen said he had moved from “being
curious about where China is headed [militarily] to being concerned about it.”

Beijing, which characterized Ms. Clinton's
intervention as an "attack," recently claimed the
South China Sea as its own "core interest,"
elevating it to the same status as Tibet and
Taiwan, two issues on which Chinese policy – that
both are integral parts of the People’s Republic
– is absolute and unbending. “The U.S. shouldn’t
internationalize the South China Sea issue, which
could only make matters worse and complicate the
situation," Mr. Yang said in a statement
published Sunday on the website of China’s Foreign Ministry.

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