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US ship’s visit to South China Sea is show of muscle before Obama’s visit to region

October 27, 2015, 16:46 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

MOSCOW, October 27. /TASS/. Guided missile destroyer USS Lassen’s arrival in the South China Sea is another show of muscle by the "world policeman" and Washington’s clear message to its allies in the Asia-Pacific Region the "big brother" is ready to take care of their interests, polled experts have told TASS. The ship’s visit to the region was timed for US President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to the Philippines and Malaysia.

The USS Lassen on Monday started patrolling the 12-mile zone of artificial islands China has built in the South China Sea, the Pentagon said. Maritime reconnaissance planes P-8A and P3 will escort the destroyer. Washington earlier said it would frustrate Beijing’s attempts to declare the area around the artificial islands as its territorial waters. The Chinese foreign minister on Tuesday cautioned the United States against taking reckless steps and creating incidents out of nowhere. In turn, Tokyo said the Japanese government was in tight coordination with the US Administration in connection with the latter’s decision to dispatch the USS Lassen to the South China Sea.

Earlier, Beijing declared it would soon be through with earthmoving work at several reefs of the Spratly (Nansha) Archipelago. Some countries in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have been asserting their own sovereignty over these territories. Also, they criticize China for pushing ahead with construction work, which, in their opinion, pursues the aim of creating military infrastructures there.

The deputy chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house of parliament), Andrei Klimov, likened the USS Lassen’s visit to the South China Sea to "playing with fire." "Russia objects in principle to any display of military initiatives in areas of high tensions, in particular, without consent from the specific country these initiatives are addressed to. This by no means helps ease the tensions, but sends them to new highs," Klimov told TASS.

"US sabre rattling near the borders of China - a permanent member of the UN Security Council - is likely to draw questions from another UN SC member, Russia. Nobody should feel free to make voyages there without an invitation," Klimov said.

The deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of US and Canada Studies, Viktor Kremenyuk, is somewhat ironic about the White House’s demarche. "A destroyer is not an aircraft carrier. The Pentagon might have dispatched to China’s shores some of its torpedo boats or a fishing ship just as easily. The issue isn’t worth a dime. It is not in the United States’ interests to foment the risk of an armed confrontation with its largest trading and economic partner. A war with China? Such a scenario is absolutely ruled out, in particular, in the wake of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s successful visit to Washington in September and the multi-billion contract signed," Kremenyuk told TASS.

He believes that by sending the USS Lassen to the 12-mile zone around the disputed islands Washington demonstrates support for its allies in the Asia-Pacific Region. "Washington makes it pretty clear to its allies in the Asia-Pacific Region that the White House is by no means flirting with China for the sake of beneficial cooperation and that it remains a firm safeguard of their interests. The US 7th Fleet, based in the Pacific and Indian oceans, will remain a guarantee of that," Kremenyuk said.

"Surely, China is not going to suspend its reclamation work at the controversial islands, whether some may like it or not. Beijing will thereby demonstrate its firmness and independent position. The United States is perfectly aware of that. There is no way of forcing Beijing to backtrack without triggering an internal political crisis in China, accusations against Xi he has surrendered to Washington and an upsurge in anti-American sentiment. The White House is by no means interested in all that," he said.

"The United States is deliberately pouring fuel onto the conflict in the South China Sea in accordance with the old-time crisis management theory. Washington is provoking China into a certain response. It would like to see in what way China might react. In the end the United States and China will sooner or later come to terms to defuse the crisis. After all, they will surely not dare put at risk a plethora of their trading and economic interests. That’s how the complex modern world is arranged. Rationalism prevails," Kremenyuk stated.

And the head of the Centre for International Security under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Aleksei Arbatov, believes that the US naval ship’s visit to the South China Sea is a warning gesture addressed to Beijing, expected to dissuade it from declaring a 12-mile zone around the artificial islands as a zone closed to free shipping.

"But a gesture will remain a gesture, as long as the ships' guns stay quiet. There still remains the possibility Beijing will send its naval force to the disputed area. Neither the United States nor China will go as far as full-scale military confrontation. After some muscle flexing they will turn away and leave for home," Arbatov said.

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