An apocryphal quote attributed to Chinese Premier Chou En Lai when asked about the French Revolution was, "It is too soon to say." Those seeking further advice from Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s closest adviser would do well to heed his comment, “China is an attractive piece of meat coveted by all … but very tough, and for years no one has been able to bite into it.”
Chinese gristle has decided to contest sovereignty issues in the South China Seas with its neighbors and Kremlinologists turned into Forbidden City analysts ought to pay attention to a recently published article in “Zhongguo Qingnian Bao,” which “warns” against misunderstanding China’s “peaceful” positions on its disputes with its South China Sea neighbors, even though the outcome “is too soon to say.”
As Zhongguo Qingnian Bao is a daily newspaper sponsored by the Communist Youth League of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, its comments can be regarded as high level policy.
The Zhongguo Qingnian Bao article begins by noting, “For some time, with the intensification of the international energy crisis, countries around the South China Sea have taken more initiative regarding sovereignty over the South China Sea, with the involvement of some powers that have ulterior motives, which has made the situation in the South China Sea more turbulent. It is the Chinese who first discovered and developed the islands in the South China Sea. In terms of history and jurisprudence, China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea. As early as the Qin and Han Dynasties, our Chinese ancestors carried out shipping and fishing in the South China Sea.”
Romping through subsequent centuries, the article fast forwards to the 20th century and notes, “The Statement on the Territorial Seas by China in 1958, the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial Seas and the Contiguous Zone in 1992, and the relevant diplomatic proclamation that ‘China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands and the adjacent waters’ have provided the legal basis for ownership of the islands in the South China Sea. What is more, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, China possesses the sovereign right and exclusive jurisdiction of the 200-nautical-mile economic zone and maximum 350-nautical-mile continental shelf extended from the territorial sea baseline along the land and the territorial sea baseline of the eligible islands within the 9-dotted line.”
So, who is inflaming the issue?
Why, the United States of course.
Never mind that fact that China is in dispute with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over the Spratly islands’ various 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays and their vast oil and natural gas reserves.
Zhongguo Qingnian Bao notes, “In recent years, attempts by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to internationalize the South China Sea issue have catered to Western countries' desire to contain China, especially the United States. U.S. officials have professed many times that China's claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea was ‘the root of the Nansha (Spratly) disputes,’ and the United States cannot allow China to achieve ‘strategic dominance’ in the South China Sea, and will work with the ASEAN countries ‘to put joint pressure on China’ so as to negotiate and solve the South China Sea issue.”
What’s at stake for these god-forsaken coral outcroppings?
Fishing and oil exploration rights.
The article concludes, “The South China Sea issue has existed for a long time and cannot be solved overnight. Its settlement really needs communication and consultation among all parties, with cooperative attitudes. Only when all the relevant parties are truly committed to maintaining the stability and prosperity of the South China Sea can it become the sea of peace in the real sense.”
There is no acknowledgment of possible Filipino, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian or Brunei’s claims here in Beijing’s idyllic “sea of peace” as elaborate in the Zhongguo Qingnian Bao article. Apparently all ought to acknowledge the righteousness of the claims of Beijing’s Red Mandarins without complaint.
And if diplomacy fails there is always the military stick. China's first aircraft carrier, the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, now renamed the Shi Lang, began its sea trials in August. It is perhaps not coincidental that "Shi Lang" was a famous 17th century Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan, nor the fact that the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei between them have not a single carrier.
Lacking same, it will be interesting to see how the ASEAN members intend to defend their claims in China’s “sea of peace.”
But remember – it’s all Washington’s fault.
B y. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com