© Associated Press
The United States' attempts to stir trouble in the South China Sea and denigrate China raise doubts on whether the self-proclaimed global peacekeeper is really so keen on quiet waters.

Speaking on his way to Singapore to attend the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday called for an end to island-building in the South China Sea, urging China and other countries involved to stop militarizing disputes and find a peaceful solution in their competing claims to sovereignty in the area.

Though the land being reclaimed by China is within its sovereign territory, the move is "out of step" with the regional consensus, Carter said. Beijing has repeatedly asserted that China's work on the islands mostly serves civil purposes as well as meeting the needs of military defense.

This is not the first time the United States has made a fuss over a legitimate sovereign issue within China's territory.

Washington has never missed an opportunity to talk about the "China threat" when it comes to the South China Sea disputes between countries including China, the Philippines and Vietnam. It tries to pit other countries in the region against China.

Addressing U.S. Navy Academy cadets last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said China is a destabilizing factor in the South China Sea and the United States should keep peace in the region "as it has for the past 60 years".

Such remarks -- particularly hypocritical given a U.S. anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft's fly-over of waters off the Nansha Islands last week -- are inconducive to ensuring peace and stability in the busy body of water vital to international trade.

Outside meddling on the South China Sea issue will do nothing but sow discord, stoke tension and thus hinder the search for a peaceful solution to the disputes.

Overlooking China's commitment to peaceful development, the U.S. strategic rebalance toward the Asia Pacific -- a euphemism for containing rising powers such as China -- only serves Washington's own agenda of expanding its political and military presence in the region.

In particular, Washington is emboldening Hanoi and Manila, among others, to take a hardline stance against China, putting an amicable solution further beyond reach.

For sure, touting "China fear" in Beijing's neighborhood suits Washington.

Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam are increasingly looking to the United States for support when confronting China in their territorial claims, although they tend to skip the fact that the United States is not even a relevant party in the South China Sea. Nor do they recall past tranquility in the region, before Washington embarked on its "Pivot to Asia".

But the United States will not necessarily gain from the disputes.

For one thing, it risks poisoning its ties with China, the world's second-largest economy and its second-largest trade partner.

Despite some fundamental differences, Beijing and Washington share considerable interests on many major challenges, such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

There is more -- one does not need to be reminded of the benefits of a peaceful neighborhood to any country.

For both China and the United States, stability and security in their vicinity translate to stronger economic and trade links with neighbors, and more cultural and people-to-people exchanges -- all of which vital to their economy.

China needs peace and stability in the South China Sea more than any other country. As the country embarks on building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the trade and infrastructure network that will connect China with Southeast Asian nations, Africa and Europe, it is more than willing to turn the South China Sea into a platform for cooperation.

A peaceful region is imperative to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative.

In its own interests and in the interests of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Washington needs to tread carefully on the South China Sea issue, and stop stirring up trouble.

The best way to iron out differences is to let the countries involved solve the disputes on their own, rather than hear proposals by an outside interested party, who claims neutrality but often adopts double standards.