Opinion / Chen Weihua

Clear and present dangers from US' self-appointed role

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-30 07:46

Clear and present dangers from US' self-appointed role

The guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (front) conducts a trilateral naval exercise with the Turkish and South Korean Navy on May 25, 2015. [Photo/IC]

The high-profiled dispatch of a US naval ship into the South China Sea on Tuesday is not just bullying, but also ill-advised.

The message sent by the destroyer USS Lassen is that the mighty US military and navy is not to be challenged by any other country in the world.

It was just like the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996 when the then-US president Bill Clinton ordered two US aircraft carrier strike groups into the region as a show of force.

The result of that is evident: Chinese don't have short memories, and China has made a great leap forward since then in developing its anti-ship ballistic missiles and its navy.

Over the years, the United States has expressed concerns over the Chinese military modernization, but what it did on Tuesday will only propel China to speed up its military modernization so it can't be coerced by others militarily.

Nevertheless, the provocation on Tuesday came as a surprise to many since it is just a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to the US. While issues of cybersecurity and the South China Sea were not resolved during the summit, many had hoped that relations would no longer be as tense as they were before the trip.

In the past days, US officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a hearing on Tuesday, have asserted that the US military will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits. But there is no international court or law denying China's claim of sovereignty to the isles in South China Sea.

As Amitai Etzioni, a famed US intellectual and professor of George Washington University, said on Wednesday, the US has appointed itself as a "global judge" and exercises its freedom of navigation based on unilateral decisions.

There is no doubt that the US is eager to reassure its allies in the region that it is still the dominant power in the region in the wake of a fast-rising China. Yet it would be naive to think that China would drop its sovereignty claims just to satisfy Washington's will.

Washington has been skillful in using international law as a pretext because it only applies the law to others, not itself. The magistrates are free to burn down houses, but ordinary people are forbidden to light their lamps, as the Chinese saying goes.

For example, there is certainly no international law to support the US arming Syrian rebels and bombing Syria, a sovereign nation. But when Russia launched air strikes against the Islamic State group at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government, the US protested.

The same is true about the US drone strikes which have escalated dramatically under President Barack Obama in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

A report on Oct 15 by The Intercept, based on classified documents it had obtained, shows that nearly 90 percent of people killed in recent drone strikes in Afghanistan "were not the intended targets" of the attacks. And the number in Somalia and Yemen may even be worse.

And the UN human rights organization has long said the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where prisoners are held without trial, is a violation of international law.

As the world's only superpower, the US government can truly afford to be thick-skinned, such as when it was condemned on Tuesday for the 24th year in a row for its embargo on Cuba, this time by 191 of the 193-member UN General Assembly. Only the US and Israel opposed.

All these show how absurd it would be for the US to appoint itself as the global judge.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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Clear and present dangers from US' self-appointed role