Chinese state media accuse the United States of inflaming tensions in the South China Sea as Secretary of State John Kerry wraps up his trip to the region during which the U.S. and China exhanged verbal blows over the resource-rich waterway.
Both countries have lodged accusations over actions in the South China Sea, which is contested by China and several other Asian nations. China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper said the United States was emboldening its Asian neighbors in claims to the water way, which is rich in natural resources and one of the busiest shipping routes in Asia.
The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said “the U.S. position is making the Philippines confident of winning the South China Sea dispute.” The China Daily newspaper said “the United States is fishing in troubled waters” and encouraging “countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam to take blatant moves.”
Rhetoric heats up
Xiaohe Cheng, a Professor of International Relations at Renmin University, said the South China Sea dispute is testing relations between China and the United States.
"That’s the bad signs of China and U.S. relations, particularly when two countries try hard to build a so-called new model of country relations, and the rhetoric in Washington and Beijing against each other is heating up,” he noted.
This week Washington accused Beijing of fomenting instability in Asia through its aggressive actions and proposed a voluntary freeze on provocations in the region.
China refused to abide by the freeze and said the United States’ pivot to Asia is sowing instability. More than 1,000 U.S. Marines are stationed in Australia, and that number is expected to grow to 2,500 by 2017. Xiaohe Cheng explained how China views the U.S. actions.
“The United States just inked new security deals with Australia, and the U.S. is attempting to establish a permanent military base in Australia. And all of these words and acts have been perceived by Chinese as some kind of move to contain China,” Xiaohe Cheng said.
But China’s growing influence in the region has sparked tensions with its neighbors, prompting prominent members of the Communist Party of Vietnam to write a letter to Vietnamese leaders calling for reforms to diminish the country’s reliance on China. Earlier this year the deployment of a billion-dollar Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, in waters claimed by both countries, sparked violent protests in Vietnam.
Xiaohe Cheng said tensions still remain. “I think it’s probably too early to say the nightmare is over between China and Vietnam,” he said.
The State Department said it is calling for a de-escalation of tensions and the timely negotiation of a meaningful Code of Conduct for countries’ actions in the South China Sea. China and ASEAN have been working on a Code of Conduct for more than a decade.