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Watch out for China-US tension at sea|
Source: Global Times [02:02 July 12 2010]
The eventuality that Beijing has to prepare for is close at hand. The delayed US-South Korean naval exercise in the Yellow Sea is now slated for mid-July. According to media reports, a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier has left its Japanese base and is headed for the drill area.
In their recent responses, several high-ranking Chinese navy officials have made it plain that China will not stay in "hands-off" mode as the drill gets underway. For that will make the US believe that China's defense circle on the sea is small, and, therefore, US fleets will be able to freely cruise over the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea in the future.
Military experts have warned that if the joint drill really takes place off the western coast of South Korea, Chinese airplanes and warships will very likely go all the way out to closely watch the war game maneuvers. Within such proximity on not-so-clearly-marked international waters, any move that is considered hostile to the other side can willy-nilly trigger a rash reaction, which might escalate into the unexpected or the unforeseen.
One false move, one wrong interpretation, is all it would take for the best-planned exercises to go awry.
Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, says he is most worried about another collision crisis like the one over the South China Sea in 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet crashed into a US spy plane.
The impact of a crisis on that scale would be tremendous, making any dispute over trade or the yuan's value between the two in recent years pale in comparison. Anti-US sentiment will be re-ignited among Chinese people despite the recent affirmations of warmth in the relationship, and a significant fan following in China for the charismatic US president Barack Obama.
With the growth of China's economic power, the country will definitely extend its defense capability to the high seas. The US, far from trying to contain this assertiveness, should face up to the reality, and facilitate the Chinese navy to be peacefully integrated into the international system. This is China's legitimate due, which it cannot be denied for long.
By the same token, China needs to be patient. The island chains in the western Pacific cannot block China from entering the open waters. But the country should move forward one step at a time, to show its confidence and to emphasize its goal of keeping peace.
The US has long been a naval superpower, and will be understandably uneasy about accepting the fact that China is a growing power and can no longer keep silent when US warships enter China's sphere of influence.
Since both sides lack experience of contact over the seas, the two countries should learn to get along with each other. First, the US must allow China space to explore. Second, the two navies need to increase exchanges to prevent further misunderstanding.
Tension is mounting over the US-South Korean joint exercise. Beijing and Washington still have time, and leeway, to desist from moving toward a possible conflict on the Yellow Sea.