Upping the ante, on August 12, Major Gen. Luo Yuan published a commentary in the Liberation Army Daily, a leading PLA publication, calling on Beijing to retaliate. ‘If someone doesn't hurt me, I won't hurt him; but if someone hurts me, I must hurt him.’ Rear Admiral Yang Yi, who works at China’s National Defense University, subsequently wrote another Liberation Army Daily commentary warning that the planned US-ROK exercises could undermine Beijing’s interest in assisting Washington with Pyongyang. ‘On the one hand, it wants China to play a role in regional security issues,’ Yang wrote. ‘On the other hand, it is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and constantly challenging China's core interests.’
But not every country with an interest in the South China Sea is unhappy with the US intervention.
Vietnamis the only other country to claim all the small islands, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan assert sovereignty over some of the islands in the South China Sea, which encompasses about 3.5 million square kilometres of water near the coastlines of all these countries and a few others. The Spratly and Paracel chains are the most prominent of the islands, whose small size belies the potential value of the important natural resources thought to lie underneath their surrounding waters—above all oil and natural gas. The islands are also surrounded by valuable fishing grounds and straddle vital shipping lanes. According to ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, more than 85 percent of the energy resources shipped to China, Japan and South Korea pass through the South China Sea.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In the 1990s, China declared the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters, but on November 4, 2002, in recognition of the common interest of all parties in keeping East Asian shipping lanes secure, China and the ten members of ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The signatory countries pledged to resolve their sovereignty disputes peacefully through direct negotiations.
Yet in March this year this all changed again. China declared the South China Sea a ‘core national interest,’ which in diplomatic language normally means an issue a state is willing to use military force to defend (previously Chinese leaders had only applied that term to Tibet and Taiwan).