Indo-Pacific countries ‘should take collective action’ to tackle China’s rise in region
31 August, 2018, 8:22 pm
TAIPEI, 31 AUGUST 2018 (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST) – A former NATO supreme allied commander has called on Indo-Pacific countries to take “collective action” to tackle China’s rising sea power and military expansion in the region.
But instead of taking a hostile approach, the action should be carried out in smart and diplomatic ways, James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral, said on Thursday.
Speaking at a Taipei forum promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region, Stavridis said China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and the militarisation of those islands had created “the biggest geostrategic challenge in the region”, and had brought the highest potential for conflict there.
“It does not mean we are destined for a war at all,” he said, adding that like-minded countries – including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France and Britain, which have exercised freedom of navigation in the waters – should take “collective action together” to form a “resolute front” in dealing with Beijing.
He said that while Washington could help to find a way through the challenges in Asia, the US should not necessarily be the one that is always at the front dealing with regional threats like North Korea’s nuclear programme and China’s military expansion in the region, especially in the South China Sea.
Giving the example of the territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku Islands in Japanese, in the East China Sea, the admiral said it had not escalated because Beijing was aware of the US and Japan’s “resolute front” on the issue.
“If we shall have a resolute [front], over time, I do believe China will be more willing to negotiate to have a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding that this would take patience and time.
He said “dialogue, diplomacy, economic instruments, private and public cooperation” were necessary to initiate conversation with China, which could help to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, while avoiding conflict.
Stavridis also praised Taiwan as a strong friend and partner of the United States, saying instead of being an American pawn in countering Beijing, as some claim, he saw Taipei as part of a US alliance in the Indo-Pacific region.
The self-ruled island, which Beijing views as a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary, does not maintain formal ties with Washington.
But the administration of US President Donald Trump has strengthened ties with the island, including encouraging official exchanges through the Taiwan Travel Act and promising military support to Taiwan – moves that have angered Beijing.
Stavridis, who was invited by the government-funded Prospect Foundation to speak at the forum, said Taiwan and the US could cooperate more on humanitarian operations, in addition to strengthening their economic ties.
He also met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who told him events like the forum were important to keep Taiwan interacting with the region. She said Taiwan would do all it could to cooperate with like-minded countries to help promote regional peace and stability.