How President Trump helped China win the South China Sea has been a struggle between China and the United States for years. The way of China is to follow the ancient art of war, "to fight without fighting." The Chinese have always taken a small step at a time: to reclaim an island, build an airstrip there, temporarily deploy an oil rig in disputed waters, set up an administrative region, etc. Each step is designed to form a "small reality" without triggering any other military reaction.
Given that China's geopolitical goals are fair and reasonable, its policies are entirely reasonable. Beijing's current practice in the South China Sea is similar to that of the Caribbean in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the United States sought to establish strategic dominance in the surrounding waters. Effective control of the South China Sea will allow China to freely enter and exit the wider Pacific Ocean and further "soften" Taiwan. Most importantly, it is making China a "two oceans" naval power. In fact, the South China Sea is the gateway to the Indian Ocean, a vital area of water in the 21st century, equivalent to the global energy "interstate highway" between the Middle East oil fields and the major cities of East Asia. China's actions in the South China Sea are inextricably linked to the creation of a "commercial empire" from the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal and the Eastern Mediterranean.
From a Chinese perspective, the United States is a belligerent hegemonic country. The U.S. Navy sailed from distant North America into the South China Sea, which, like the Caribbean Sea to the United States, is China's "backyard waters." The United States must confront an important reality: the Western Pacific is no longer the sole "lake" of the U.S. Navy, and China's re-establishment as a great power will inevitably lead to a more complex multipolar situation. The United States must at least make room for China's air and naval forces in the Indo-Pacific region, and the key question is how much space is made available.
Bear in mind that Vietnam and the Philippines, America's main allies around the South China Sea, have no choice but to live in harmony with China, which is large, economically dominant and geographically closer. These countries need the United States to play a role of balancing China, rather than being an enemy of China. They are well aware that America's strong military presence in Asia is ultimately optional, so China is the central consideration in acting in the region. Trump has sent more uncertainty to Asian allies. This may force these countries to decide to reach an understanding with China alone. Such processes will be carried out quietly, and are rarely recognized. But one day, we (the United States) will be awakened and realize that irreversible changes have taken place in Asia.
In fact, the US Defense Secretary's South China Sea security strategy is being eroded by Trump's trade policy. Don't believe that the U.S. can use trade as a lever against China in the South China Sea, and that's not the case for a moment. Beijing in the South China Sea has a long-term grand strategy, not Trump's fickle whims. Strength is not just about military and economic matters. Unless the United States wants to wage a real war in the South China Sea, the only way Washington can resist China's "nibble" policy is to maintain the free trade system and build a democratic union. Trump's aggressive economic nationalism is directly against the promise of "defending the South China Sea" by the United States. The South China Sea is not the United States but China's "backyard waters". (Robert Kaplan, a senior researcher at the new US security center in the US think tank, translated by Wang Huicong)
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