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US aircraft carriers

The US justifies its presence in the South China Sea as necessary in order to assert what it calls its “right to freedom of navigation.” In reality, what they are asserting is their “right to freedom of provocation.” China is not, and has no intention of, impeding any nation's legitimate rights to freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. They have explicitly stated that they respect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and will not disrupt it. The whole rationale for US actions, therefore, rests on the false premise that there is a Chinese threat to freedom of navigation when none exists.

The South China Sea is the main maritime conduit for Chinese trade with Oceania, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa. So if anything the Chinese want to protect their sea routes through the region, not impede them. It is the US that would gain from blocking or interdicting shipping there, not China. That is why China views the South China Sea as so vital to their core national interests, just as the US does its near territorial waters such as the Gulf of Mexico.

The Caribbean Sea has long been seen by the US as within its sphere of influence and it possesses territories within it. It is also quick to invade and install regimes it favors throughout the region in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Granada. China, on the other hand, occupies uninhabited atolls that it has claimed according to international norms since the Qing dynasty. Both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China are the inheritors of those sovereign rights and both the PRC on the mainland and the ROC on Taiwan have the same claim, so it is completely disingenuous for the US to target China while not targeting in similar fashion Taiwan. Moreover, other nations with claims to portions of the South China Sea have also engaged in land reclamation activities and established a military presence on the territory they occupy.

The US also claims that China is violating the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea by claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea. Not only has the US never ratified the treaty, so it is not a party to its deliberations, but the charge is simply not true. The ruling was made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a separate body that is sanctioned by the UN but not part of it. An arbitration board is a voluntary tribunal that both parties must agree to. China, however, did not recognize its jurisdiction in the case brought to it by the Philippines, so its ruling is null and void.

There is thus no legal case to be made against China's claims of sovereignty and US intervention in the region is totally unwarranted. There are also mechanisms in place for the concerned parties to resolve the issues associated with sovereignty and the use of the South China Sea's resources and a Code of Conduct is being negotiated between ASEAN and China.

US interference in the region serves only to exacerbate tensions and disrupt the peaceful resolution of whatever conflicts exist. The US intervention in the South China Sea is unjustified and is meant only to destabilize the region and attack China's vulnerable southern flank. It is part of the American effort to isolate and contain China and is a threat to its national security. The US would never accept such a challenge in its own backyard and neither will China.


Dennis Etler is an American political analyst who has a decades-long interest in international affairs. He’s a former professor of Anthropology at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. He has a PhD in anthropology from the University of California in Berkeley. He recorded this article for Press TV website.