The latest trading of barbs between Chinese and US diplomats over the South China Sea on Monday at a United Nations Security Council meeting on maritime security has again highlighted the lack of mutual trust amid deteriorating Sino-US ties.
Calling China out for alleged "actions to intimidate and bully other states lawfully accessing their maritime resources", United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed it's "the business, and even more the responsibility" of his and other countries to "defend" rules of the game and peacefully resolve the maritime disputes in the waters.
Dai Bing, a chargé d'affaires ad interim of China's Permanent Mission to the UN, shot back, accusing the US of "stirring up troubles out of nothing" and publicly trying to drive a wedge among regional countries and China.
He said that it is the US that is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea, noting that the UN Security Council isn't an appropriate venue for discussing the South China Sea issues.
Such clashes between ranking diplomats of the two countries has become all too familiar. And like the two sides' verbal sparring over other issues, the exchange on Monday once again highlighted the extent of their lack of mutual trust, and how challenging it will be to overcome that and set relations back on the right track.
The quarrel made it clearer than ever that the perception gap between Beijing and Washington is too wide to bridge if both parties stick to their present respective perception of the other.
From Beijing's perspective, Washington is deliberately misrepresenting the situation for its own ends, since all countries enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, and there was nothing inimical in the South China Sea until Washington began sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations and stoked the fires of the territorial disputes some countries have with China.
China and the countries concerned can resolve the disputes themselves without any intervention by actors from outside of the region. As China's UN mission representative stated, Washington is in no position to judge or participate in the process. Particularly, since its participation is intended to keep the disputes festering.
A case in point being Washington and its main allies and partners constantly hyping up the award in the Philippines-initiated 2016 arbitration case concerning its territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Beijing considers "null and void". The verdict, in Manila's favor, has consistently been condemned by Beijing as being both illicit and predeterminedly partial.
The divergent objectives of Washington and Beijing in the region — the former wanting to sow division and the latter seeking to nurture a regional community with a shared future — means they will never reach meaningful consensus, and the best that can be hoped for at present is they manage to keep a lid on their animosity.
The danger, however, lies in the real possibility that Washington's frequent stirring up of trouble in the South China Sea may finally get out of hand and destroy regional peace and stability.