The Obama administration has warned Beijing not to use force or coercive tactics to pursue its territorial claims in Asia, saying that sanctions placed on Russia for annexing Crimea should have a “chilling effect” on any such plans in China.
Daniel Russel, the top east Asia official at the state department, on Thursday said China’s neighbours, particularly in southeast Asia, had heightened concerns about the “possibility of China increasingly threatening force or other forms of coercion to advance their territorial interests” following Russia’s actions in Crimea.
“The tolerance in the region for steps by China that appear to presage a more muscular approach has gone down, as their alarm over Russian action and annexation of Crimea has increased,” Mr Russel told a Senate committee.
He said China was “thinking hard” about the international response to Russia’s move partly because of its economic linkages with the US and its neighbours.
“The prospect of the kind of incremental retaliatory steps that are gradually being imposed on Russia in terms of its banks, in terms of cronies and other areas should have a chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model,” said Mr Russel.
China is embroiled in multiple territorial disputes with its neighbours, particularly with the Philippines over contested waters in the South China Sea, and with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Last week, Beijing reacted angrily when Manila pushed ahead with an international arbitration case over the dispute.
Mr Russel said Manila’s decision to forge ahead with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea case, was “perhaps the approximate reason why the Chinese are expressing their anger and discontent on the sea through what to us appears to be intimidating steps”.
His comments come just weeks before President Barack Obama is expected to travel to Asia with stops in the Philippines, Manila, South Korea and Japan. As China expands its naval capabilities in the Pacific, the US is trying to convince its allies in the region that its “pivot” to Asia has teeth, amid regional concerns that Washington has delivered more rhetoric than action.
In recent months, the US appears to have taken a more aggressive rhetorical stance over disputes in the South China Sea. In congressional testimony, Mr Russel voiced more support for the Philippines case than the Obama administration has done in the past.
He also asked China to clarify the “nine-dash line”, a demarcation on Chinese maps that Beijing uses to justify its claim to almost the entire South China Sea, and which is central to the Unclos tribunal.
China has refused to participate in the arbitration, saying that the dispute over the South China Sea is not covered by Unclos, because of an exception that was included when China ratified the treaty.
In the latest example of South China Sea tensions, Chinese coastguard ships have tried to block Philippine vessels from resupplying a second world war vessel called the Sierra Madre. The boat was grounded in 1999 on the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands but is still manned by a few Philippine military personnel.
Following a successful attempt by China to block a supply mission earlier in March, the Philippines on Monday managed to outmanoeuvre the Chinese coastguard and deliver supplies to the Sierra Madre.
罗素表示，菲律宾决定把问题提交《联合国海洋法公约》(UN Convention on the Law of the Sea)的决定，“也许是中国在海上通过在我们看来是恐吓的举措表达其愤怒与不满的原因”。
在南中国海最近一起紧张事态中，中国海监船试图阻止菲律宾舰艇为一艘名为马德雷山号(Sierra Madre)的军舰提供补给。1999年，这艘二战时期的军舰搁浅于斯普拉特利群岛(Spratly Islands,中国称南沙群岛)的第二托马斯礁(Second Thomas Shoal，中国称仁爱礁)，目前该舰上仍驻有菲律宾几名军方人员。