Why Chinese State Media Blames America for Just About Everything

News flash for Beijing: Washington isn't the puppet master you seem to think.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. (Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's swing through Asia has been marked by a revelation in Beijing: the source of all China's problems with its neighbors is the United States. A Xinhua editorial paints the United States as a "sneaky trouble maker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings." In the Global Times, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Ni Feng states that the U.S. pivot is "stirring up tensions between China and its neighbors"; while Renmin University scholar Jin Canrong argues that Washington aims to "dominate the region's political agenda, and build a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China, as well as further consolidate its military edge."

Fortunately, these same media and analysts have a relatively simple answer to the problem: the "U.S. owes China convincing explanation of true intentions of its Asia Pivot policy"; the United States needs to prove that it is "returning to Asia as a peacemaker, instead of a troublemaker"; and a real zinger from the Global Times, "We hope Clinton can reflect upon the deep harm she is bringing to the Sino-U.S. relationship in the last few months before she leaves office and try to make up for it."

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, when the problem is misstated, the solution is likely to be as well. China's problems in the region do not originate with the United States but with China's own interactions with its neighbors. Some context might help:

First, take the South China Sea, perhaps the source of Beijing's greatest concern at the moment. Tensions in the region--particularly between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines--have been heightened over the past year. However, conflict between China and its neighbors (as well as among the neighbors themselves) in the South China Sea has been a fact of life for almost forty years. The year-old U.S. pivot did not create the problem nor did it exacerbate it. U.S. policy has been consistent. In 1995, Washington explicitly supported the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea, as well as any diplomatic effort to resolve competing claims peacefully. More than 15 years later, Secretary of State Clinton articulated U.S. policy as follows: "The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims ... but we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force. That is why we encourage ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a comprehensive code of conduct in order to establish rules of the road and clear procedures for peacefully addressing disagreements."

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Elizabeth Economy is a senior fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and blogs for "Asia Unbound."

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