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Chinese suspicious of US criticism of South China Sea dispute

By Chen Weihua | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-06-02 11:14

When senior US officials point fingers at China over maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea - more recently at China's land-reclamation activities there - many Chinese see the criticism as having an ulterior motivation.

In a town-hall discussion on Monday at the White House with a group of young leaders from Southeast Asian nations, President Barack Obama said: "China is going to be successful. It's big. It's powerful, its people are talented, and they work hard. And it may be some of their claims are legitimate.

"But they shouldn't just try to establish that based on throwing elbows and pushing people out of the way," Obama said.

Obama's words coincided with Defense Secretary Ash Carter traveling around Southeast Asia, publicly scolding China for tensions in the sea, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Many Chinese see such behavior as a US attempt to gang up on China.

While the Chinese experts on international relations have long criticized US rhetoric on the sea as a smear campaign against China at a time when the US desperately wants to push its rebalance-to-Asia strategy, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai rebuked the US in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on May 29.

"It was very surprising to us that the United States has overreacted to the situation and is escalating the situation," Cui said. "The US is sending military reconnaissance planes to the region and with reporters on board - which is clearly an attempt to provoke and escalate the situation," Cui said, referring to a CNN crew on a US spy plane in the South China Sea.

"And the US is also making a lot of statements - making false accusations against China and taking sides in the territorial disputes in the region," he said. "That would really make the situation in the region less stable. So we are worried about such overreaction from the United States," the ambassador told Adam Horvath, world editor of The Wall Street Journal.

The US has never publicly criticized other countries in the regions, especially its own allies, for land reclamation or provocative actions.

Cui has dismissed the concern frequently expressed by the US over freedom of navigation in the region, saying China is more concerned than anyone about safe passage in the region.

"We have such a huge volume of import and export going through South China Sea," he said. "So, stability is very much of our interest." China is the world's largest trading nation in the world.

While US officials have negatively portrayed China's relations with its neighbors, Cui said China's relations with other Asian countries on the whole are quite good.

In the past six weeks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a successful visit to China, while Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Indonesia. Xi also met a 3,000-strong Japanese delegation and reiterated the importance of friendship between the two nations, a message that has been well received by the Japanese public and news media.

Cui, who was a former vice-foreign minister, warned of the implications of US actions on the regional and on global stability. "If we let this Cold War mentality continue to play out, then there might be a replay of the Cold War in Asia. There might be confronting military blocs," he said.

"Will that serve the interest of anybody: China, the United States, Asians? I don't think so, because if regional stability is disrupted, if the good momentum of economic growth is weakened, if the good prospect of regional economic cooperation is diminished, everybody will be hurt. Those are the consequences. I don't know if people in Washington, DC, have ever given serious thought to such consequences," he said.

Many Chinese have seen the US intervention in the South China Sea issue as complicating rather than helping the situation.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed deep concern last week over the narrative between China and the US over the sea, saying that "if the present dynamic continues, it must lead to more tensions and bad outcomes".

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