The US Senate passed an amendment to the national defence authorisation bill for 2013 on Thursday, stressing Washington's right to navigate freely in the East China Sea, which, it said, was an inalienable part of Asia's maritime interests.
The amendment, which is yet to be approved by the US House of Representatives and signed by President Barack Obama, puts China's Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkakus in Japan, under the purview of a US-Japan security treaty. Despite the US saying that it will not support either China or Japan in the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, the amendment says the US acknowledges that the islands have been under Japan's administration and unilateral action from a third party will not influence its stance. It also reaffirms Washington's security commitment to Tokyo as stipulated in the US-Japan security pact.
The passing of the amendment once again exposes the disgraceful role the US has played in escalating Sino-Japanese tensions.
The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands has pushed Sino-Japanese relations to their lowest since the normalisation of their diplomatic ties in 1972. A lingering strain in Sino-Japanese relations will not only be detrimental to the security, stability, peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia, but also hurt the global economic recovery.
Responsible countries and politicians are expected to promote reconcilliation and stability in Sino-Japanese ties. Regrettably, the US, which as the world's sole superpower has time and again told other countries to act responsibly, has done exactly the opposite by helping escalate Sino-Japanese tensions.
The move by the US Senate will inevitably embolden rightist forces in Japan to take further actions challenging China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and fan bilateral tensions, which the US thinks will help it realise its geopolitical goal of "maintaining a divided East Asia".
However, in the long run facts will prove that the US Senate has once again made a foolhardy decision. It is possible that the US' shortsighted move will exert some pressure on China, but in the end it will compromise the interests of the US.
Given the explicit support of the US, Japan is likely to maintain its offensive posture on the Diaoyu Islands. But any offensive Japanese move that compromises China's sovereignty and territorial integrity will invite some strong countermeasures from Beijing on the political, economic, diplomatic and military fronts.
China's long-cherished principle has been to not fire the first shot in a conflict. But that doesn't mean it will not retaliate or counterattack if another country tries to hijack its national interests.
An armed conflict between China and Japan, the two major East Asian powers, will not only undermine the interests of their peoples, but also drag the US deep into an abyss of suffering.
By trying to pass an amendment aimed at coercing China into making concessions on the Diaoyu Islands dispute, the US Senate has underestimated Chinese people's determination and courage to maintain the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Such a strategic misjudgement, if not corrected, could lead to the US suffering avoidable setbacks.
Unlike a century ago, China's fate no longer depends entirely on Western powers.
Promoting peace and development remains China's strategic choice and constitutes an important component of its professed road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Under such a national strategy, China's top national interest is to focus on economic and social construction aimed at building an all-round well-off society as soon as possible which will finally lead to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
However, such a strategy does not mean China will tolerate provocations and attacks just to continue enjoying strategic opportunities.
As a Chinese saying goes, the US would do better to pull back before it is too late. Hopefully, American politicians will use their wisdom, vision and strategic courage to put a brake on Washington's actions that could be detrimental to the interests of the US as well as other countries.
The author is a rear admiral and former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People's Liberation Army National Defence University.
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