China maritime patrol Hou Jiansen/ZumaPress

Il faut éviter un conflit sino-américain en mer de Chine méridionale.

OXFORD – Lorsqu'un avion d'observation P8-A de la marine américaine s'est rapproché il y a quelques jours du récif de Fiery Cross dans l’archipel des Spratleys, en mer de Chine méridionale, la marine chinoise l'a sommé à 8 reprises de quitter la zone. Le ministre chinois des Affaires étrangères, Wang Yi, a alors déclaré que "la détermination de la Chine à maintenir sa souveraineté et son intégrité territoriale est aussi solide qu'un roc". Le secrétaire américain à la Défense, Ashton Carter, a rétorqué qu'il ne fallait pas se tromper, "les USA volent, naviguent, sont présents partout où le droit international le permet, c'est ce que nous faisons dans le monde entier". Dans ces conditions, un conflit sino-américain est-il imminent ?

En 1995, alors que je travaillais au Pentagone, la Chine commençait à bâtir des structures sur le récif de Mischief qui est revendiqué par les Philippines et qui est beaucoup plus proche de leurs côtes que des côtes chinoises. Les USA ont déclaré officiellement qu'ils ne prendraient pas parti sur les revendications territoriales qui opposent la Chine et 4 autres pays quant à la souveraineté sur les quelques 750 rochers, atolls, îlots et récifs qui forment les Spratleys - un archipel qui s'étend sur une vaste zone de 425 000 km² en mer de Chine méridionale. Ils ont incité les parties concernées de résoudre leur conflit de manière pacifique.

Mais ils ont pris clairement position en affirmant que la mer de Chine méridionale - qui est survolée régulièrement par des avions civils et militaires et par laquelle passent des voies maritimes importantes pour acheminer le pétrole en provenance du Moyen-Orient et des conteneurs en provenance d'Europe - est régie par la Convention des Nations unies sur le droit de la mer (CNUDM).

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