America’s ‘Biggest Interest’ Must Circumvent China’s ‘Core Interest’



In Beijing on July 18, Chinese Navy Commander Wu Shengli met with Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson. Admiral Wu made the conversation public, showing that both sides were there to discuss their biggest points of divergence. Wu stated, “China will not stop construction along the South China Sea reefs and will not lessen its vigilant military fortifications because defense installations completely rely on how many threats we receive.”

Wu delivered a clear message to the U.S. that construction along the South China Sea will continue and military installations will be created there, both of which the U.S. is violently opposed to. Wu also said, “We are not afraid of military provocation and the Chinese Navy is fully prepared to respond to any such provocations or infringements.”

At the same time as the newspaper deadline last night, Admiral Richardson said something to Admiral Wu that the American media has yet to report on. This is the first time the Chinese attitude has emerged so forthrightly. This kind of situation is very rare. This firm attitude must be because of the issue in the South China Sea.

China’s sovereignty and interests in the South China Sea have been made the nation’s “core interests,” while the U.S. makes the South China Sea topic its “biggest interest.” “Core interests” and “biggest interests” do not give a lot of space to maneuver. The concern all along has been that the South China Sea will be the place of origin of Sino-American military conflict.

After the South China Sea “arbitration results” were published, several international law violations have occurred. China has made two test flights from Mischief Reef and Subi Reef airports and the People’s Liberation Army has recently announced that it is conducting bomber patrols over the Huangyan Islands. Both of these show a lot of contempt for the arbitration. Taiwan has also sent warships to the Spratly Islands. We treat the arbitration results as just a “piece of paper.”

The U.S. simply cannot interfere with China’s construction in the Spratly Island reefs. Even if its warship again declares “freedom of navigation,” they are just flaunting their military strength. For us (Chinese), it is a highly embellished and ineffectual performance, which will not have any result.

Washington continues to promote the South China Sea arbitration, not only to discredit China but also the Chinese military. China, however, is determined not to take that and America is conversely feeling the pain. America has to take one of two options: “Quit while they’re ahead” and call it a day, or take it a step further and throw down the stakes by increasing military pressure on China. Victory is China’s ultimate concession.

In any case, will China and the U.S. have the determination to take the next steps and cross swords? The South China Sea dispute is up against extreme odds and can potentially endanger regional security as well as Sino-American relations. China has now made it known that regardless of the risk we will not yield. If the U.S. doubts the firmness of China’s attitude, then their need to continue this is just as dangerous a move. The battle of wills between two powers is beginning and it will likely not be one or two days or even one or two rounds; it will likely be protracted. During this period, China and the U.S. must pay attention to crisis management so they can make this trial of strength dignified and practical.

In that time, American aircraft carriers will have come and gone in a very superficial display. The Chinese refer to aircraft carriers as an effective tool and in the hand of the American military it is “a straight flush.” Chinese DF-41 guided missiles will be the next step toward the future of the military. They are also in the process of upgrading their nuclear-powered submarines and submarine strategic missiles, both of which have combat-ready capabilities. They are the source of China’s resolute will to protect its nation’s sovereignty and will allow the country such concessions on territory disputes, which is nothing more than an international studies of war joke.

Since it is a joke, America simply cannot put out all its cards. The South China Sea is America’s “biggest interest” and must circumvent China’s “core interest,” and cannot vainly hope to overwhelm the latter. China is unlikely to provoke the U.S. and both sides need to become more flexible. Otherwise, the U.S. president should ask his people: Are they ready to follow him to the South China Sea and assume such a real risk?

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