The United States should play a constructive and positive role in the South China Sea issue, instead of picking sides or attempting to internationalize the maritime disputes between regional powers, said experts attending a Singapore-based seminar on South China Sea and regional cooperation on Monday.
The July 12 ruling on the arbitration case brought by the Philippines is on shaky legal ground and will not go anywhere, said Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at National University of Singapore. "Deeming almost all islands in the South China Sea as reefs is only in the interest of the U.S. and Japan."
"The sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea are complex with direct claimant states and other regional and non-regional powers involved. They have become a strategically competitive ground between China and the U.S.," said Vannarith Chheang, Chairman at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies.
His comment was echoed by Fan Jishe, a researcher of U.S. strategies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who believes that ASEAN nations may be forced to "pick sides" between Beijing and Washington, due to the latter's intervention fueled by residual Cold War mentality.
"Washington has played a complicated, even negative role in Manila's arbitration," said Fan. "Its active interference in the Asia-Pacific, following the so-called pivot to Asia strategy endorsed by the U.S. President Barack Obama, has intensified regional situation," he added.
But today's China-U.S. relations are "radically different" from the ties between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, said Zheng. "The latter were basically about confrontations, while Beijing and Washington have become the two pillars of international system. The U.S. cannot afford to lose China and China has no intention of pushing the U.S. out of Asia," he added.
A war between them over the South China Sea disputes is unlikely to happen, as Washington lacks the incentive and capability to do challenge Beijing, Zheng said. "The 'pivot to Asia' policy does not top the U.S. government's agenda, and both countries should work together to provide public goods to the world," he added.