On Nov. 2, the commanding officer of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, visited China. Although this was prearranged, the outside world still believed it to be a diplomatic attempt to calm the storm. On Oct. 27, the U.S. destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and this illegal activity has deeply infuriated all levels of Chinese society. The Chinese government has clearly stated that this sort of action by the U.S. amounts to serious political and military provocation and has raised warnings and protests. The Chinese population is overwhelmingly furious, and considers the U.S. to be rude, unreasonable, and an intolerable bully.
The U.S. is carrying out its operation under the pretext of two things. The first is that it cannot accept the current situation of the changes China is making in the South China Sea by way of building its island reefs. Its concerns here are groundless. It is a fact that the South China Sea has historically belonged to China; just take a look at maps published in any country prior to the 1970s, all atlases published in countries such as the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and other great countries including the Solomon islands, the Philippines and Vietnam; all mark the South China Sea as belonging to China on their own maps – and they call it the South China Sea. So think – does China still need to use the building of islands in a land reclamation process to obtain sovereignty in these territorial waters?
The second pretext claims that China is constructing military facilities on its newly built islands in order to threaten the "freedom of navigation in the South China Sea." This claim is really rather ridiculous. There are international experts who point out that the South China Sea covers an area of 3.5 million square km (approximately 1.4 million square miles) so with such an expanse of international water, the U.S. is abusing international law regarding "freedom of navigation." Furthermore, in the open sea, how many of these islands are suitable locations on which to build military facilities in order to threaten the freedom of navigation? What use would there be in building this? If a conflict arises between the two sides, then guided missiles would surely send them up in smoke. China’s building of military facilities on the island reefs is just a security requirement to guard against pirates and so on. In reality, what China is building on the island reefs mainly resembles a pier and lighthouse installations, etc., for use in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, and ocean research, etc. China has repeatedly stated that the facilities on the islands for civilian use can all be used by other countries as well, and many countries' ships can then benefit from this. Consequently, the most fitting theories should be: China’s extension of the island reefs is harmless and useful to the "freedom of navigation" principle.
The phrase "open secret" could be used to describe the U.S.'s actions. The aim is simply to probe China's response; it is a scheme to create a tense situation in the South China Sea, to interfere in China's development, and boost the morale of the Philippines and Vietnam, to give them a free hand to meddle with China, and to serve the U.S.'s strategy to return to the Asia Pacific.
Although the American operation has been planned in meticulous detail, it really isn't very clever. They will pay the price for it, and it only deepens Chinese belief that the U.S. breaks its promises. The U.S. has repeatedly stated that it will not take sides regarding the dispute over the islands in the South China Sea, and yet now, the U.S. is clearly not only on the side of the Philippines and Vietnam, but it is actually rushing to stand in front of them. On this, The Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that the so-called U.S. position of not taking sides is "complete sophistry," and said that the U.S. sailing within the 12 nautical mile zone "is a challenge to China's plans in the region."*
These events have consequently resulted in diminishing goodwill toward the U.S. among the Chinese public, and have fostered hostility toward the U.S. among some people. On Oct. 27, the American newspaper International Business Times published responses to the situation from Chinese Internet users: "[We] should warn America to leave immediately, if it doesn't leave then open fire [on them]"; "Attack and sink [their ships]"; "Down with American imperialism!"; and "We should restrain ourselves for another five years until we are the number one power in the world, and then once we are the biggest power in the world [we should] fight them.” Of course, this is just a few Internet users inciting anger, however, it looks like the U.S.'s reckless and unreasonable actions are planting seeds of hatred among some in the Chinese public. Naturally, this is not good for the United States.
The U.S. says that internationally, it has "unanimous support" for its actions. In actual fact, this is far from the case. Among America's allies, it is only the Philippines applauding America's behavior, and only Australia and Japan have indirectly expressed acknowledgement of U.S. actions, saying that: "Australia will not be participating in America's current operations in the South China Sea" and "Japan does not have the intention, the ability, or the desire" to get involved in the situation. Neither America's European allies, nor its other allies around the world have expressed support for its actions. A Russian scholar has given one of many reasons for this: “If the U.S. wants to normalize these patrols, then it will trigger fierce antagonism between the U.S. and China, and this antagonism will go from a regional conflict and turn into a worldwide conflict.” The U.S.'s methods are overly excessive and extremely dangerous; who would want to follow them in taking these risks? It is clearly a fact that separatist tendencies by U.S. allies are actually increasing rather than decreasing; America's ability to receive a collective, unified response to its call is already history. It seems the U.S. is still holding onto its mentality of supremacy, and it is setting itself up to pay the price for its own reckless actions.
*Editor’s note: While accurately translated as “this is complete sophistry,” from the original Chinese article, The Sydney Morning Herald version of this quote is “this is sophistry.”