US must deny legitimacy of Beijing's nine-dash line
The United States has finally begun taking action to intervene in the simmering South China Sea disputes amid China's fast reclamation of the region. Because of the potential US-China rivalry in the region, the South China Sea has become a flashpoint most likely to trigger a third world war.
The South China Sea territorial disputes have been around for many years. Beijing claims sovereignty over 90% of the islands and surrounding waters in the region. Since last March, it has conducted land reclamation on at least seven shoals and reefs in the region, including Mischief Reef, Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, the island chain contested by no fewer than six parties.
China's land reclamation in the region has expanded to more than 800 hectares. It is also establishing military facilities on the reclaimed shoals and reefs. It is scheduled to complete construction of a 3,000-meter long airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef between 2017 and 2018. Once that airstrip is completed, it will enhance Beijing's defense and combat capabilities in the South China Sea, posing a greater threat to the US.
So far, there have been two stages in US actions in the South China Sea disputes. The first-phase moves were taken by the US government and Congress last year.
Last May, China's placement of a state-owned oil rig in the South China Sea triggered the largest anti-Chinese protests Vietnam had ever seen. The US later made a three-point proposal to all South China Sea claimants that included urging them to stop building infrastructure on the region's shoals and reefs and conducting unilateral economic actions in the region.
At the same time, the Senate also passed a resolution to support the government's policy to handle the freedom of navigation and territorial rows in the South China Sea through diplomatic resolutions, and to condemn any attempt to change the status quo in the region.
This has done little to curb China's expansion.
The second stage started earlier this month when the US dispatched littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, one of the most advanced in the US naval fleet, to conduct a patrol mission in the South China Sea since May 11. It was the first time the US had sent a ship to patrol waters surrounding the Spratly islands.
The move was apparently aimed at putting pressure on Beijing, which is likely to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, following its declaration of an ADIZ over the East China Sea, where China has a dispute with Japan, at the end of 2013.
However, the US actions in the South China Sea have so far only involved patrolling, which cannot stop China's land reclamation and military deployment.
Only when Washington starts questioning China's territorial claims, including denying the legitimacy of the U-shaped nine-dash line, the demarcation used by both Taiwan and China for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea, will it begin a series of actions to stop Beijing's expansion in the region.
When that happens, it will mean a significant change in Washington's South China Sea policy. The US, China and other South China Sea claimants, including Taiwan, should negotiate a peaceful resolution.
(Lim Chuan-tiong is an associate research fellow of Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History. Translated by Want China Times.)