Is China Losing the Diplomatic Plot?

Posted on July 26, 2012


SINGAPORE – In 2016, China’s share of the global economy will be larger than America’s in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China’s share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.

China’s leaders would be naïve and foolish to bank on their country’s peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment.

Similarly, after North Korean shells killed innocent South Korean civilians in November 2010, China remained essentially silent. In a carefully calibrated response, South Korea sent its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo in December 2010.

China has also ruffled many Indian feathers by arbitrarily denying visas to senior officials. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao subsequently calmed the waters in meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but such unnecessary provocations left a residue of mistrust in India.

But all of these mistakes pale in comparison with what China did to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in July. For the first time in 45 years, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) failed to agree to a joint communiqué, ostensibly because ASEAN’s current chair, Cambodia, did not want the communiqué to refer to bilateral disputes in the South China Sea. But the whole world, including most ASEAN countries, perceived Cambodia’s stance as the result of enormous Chinese pressure.

China’s victory proved to be Pyrrhic. It won the battle of the comminiqué, but it may have lost 20 years of painstakingly accumulated goodwill, the result of efforts such as the ASEAN-China free-trade agreement, signed in November 2002. More importantly, China’s previous leaders had calculated that a strong and unified ASEAN provided a valuable buffer against any possible US containment strategy. Now, by dividing ASEAN, China has provided America with its best possible geopolitical opportunity in the region. If Deng Xiaoping were alive, he would be deeply concerned.

It may be unfair to blame China’s leaders for the ASEAN debacle. More likely than not, over-zealous junior officials pushed a hard line on the South China Sea, whereas no Chinese leader, if given the choice, would have opted to wreck the AMM Communiqué. But the fact that it happened reveals the scope of China’s recent poor decision-making.

The “nine-dotted line” that China has drawn over the South China Sea may prove to be nothing but a big geopolitical millstone around China’s neck. It was unwise to attach the map in a note verbale responding to a joint submission by Vietnam and Malaysia to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009. This was the first time that China had included the map in an official communication to the UN, and it caused great concern among some ASEAN members.

The geopolitical opportunity implied by inclusion of the map has not been lost on America, which is why the US, somewhat unusually, has made another effort to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. Having tabled the nine-dotted line at the UN, China walked into a no-win situation, owing to the difficulty of defending the map under international law. Indeed, as the eminent historian Wang Gungwu has pointed out, the first maps to claim the South China Sea were Japanese, and were inherited by Nationalist China.

Domestically, too, the nine-dotted line may cause problems for the government by presenting critics with a useful weapon. Any hint of compromise will expose officials politically. In other words, a few rocks in the South China Sea have put China between a rock and a hard place.

There is no doubt that China will have to find a way to compromise over the nine-dotted line. In private, it has begun to do so. Even though the line covers the waters northeast of the Indonesian-owned Natuna Islands, the Chinese government has given Indonesia categorical assurances that China does not claim the Natuna Islands or their Exclusive Economic Zone.

These private assurances calmed relations with Indonesia. So why not make similar overtures to other ASEAN states?

The legacies of Deng and his predecessor, Mao Zedong, are very different. But the People’s Republic’s two most important leaders did agree in one area: both bent over backwards to make territorial concessions to resolve border disputes. This explains why China was so generous to Russia, for example, in its border settlements.

Mao and Deng could do this because both provided China with strong leadership. The challenge for the world now is that China has become politically pluralistic: no leader is strong enough to make wise unilateral concessions.

Nothing will happen in China until the leadership transition is completed in November. The new administration of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will need some time to settle in. But America is waking up. So, too, will the rest of the world in 2016. The big question then will be: Is China as geopolitically competent as number one as it was when it was number two?

Kishore Mahbubani

A global boycott for China to act like a civilized nation

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could be charged with treason for consorting with China when she entered into a controversial secret agreement allowing Chinese research vessels to extensively explore Philippine waters for oil and natural gas.

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now charged with plunder, election malfeasance and other high crimes – opened the door for the fox to enter the chicken coop when she entered into a controversial secret agreement allowing Chinese research vessels to extensively explore Philippine waters for oil and natural gas.

Having confirmed that the territorial waters of the Philippines hold vast deposits of energy resources, China’s officials, like those in the Japanese and German governments in World War II – have decided on a similar reckless immoral condemnable course of action: They seek to invade the territories of smaller helpless countries and take over their resources.

The small armies of the Philippines and surrounding smaller countries are boy scouts compared to China’s formidable 2.3 million strong army with its considerable arsenal of war ships, jet planes, conventional and nuclear weapons. Given this disparity, China flaunts its military muscles and in true bully fashion shows little respect for the territorial and property rights of its smaller neighbors.

In World War II, the bad guys in the Japanese and German governments caused enormous pain and suffering to millions of people including their own – with their bullying territory grabbing ways leading America and its allies to eventually declare war on the two villain countries. China is now risking a similar situation with its invading actions in the Philippines.

Adding insult to injury, China’s officials have invented a convenient fiction to justify their continuous escalating intrusion into Philippine territory.

They claim that everything under or above the waters of the entire South China Sea also known as West Philippine Sea – belongs to them – that supposedly a 2000 year old Han Dynasty map indicates that all these territories were once part of the Chinese empire and that therefore, it is theirs.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence recognizes the absurdity of this argument. It is doubtful that such a map exists but even if for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it does, did the people in these territories recognize the legitimacy of the Han Dynasty’s rule over their waters and land 2000 years ago?

And even if we assume that they did, China’s argument is about as ludicrous as the Italian government claiming that the whole of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia belong to them because these were once a part of the Roman Empire. The pygmy Aetas, who arrived and settled in the Philippines some 40,000 years ago from the Andaman Islands would then have a more legitimate claim if this first in time arguments are seriously considered.

Over time, governments rise and fall, new countries are formed and national boundaries shift. Of course, China’s officials are aware of these realities. And never mind that they are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which declares that anything within two hundred miles from a country’s baseline belongs to that country and is part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

And so what if the Philippines and other smaller nations files a complaint to the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) which has jurisdiction over disputes concerning the (UNCLOS). China’s officialdom indicates that it is not interested in involving ITLOS.

The hungry dragon’s thinking goes this way: ”We need a continuous supply of energy to sustain our fabulous economic growth. We import 70% of our energy supplies from Russia. The Philippines and other smaller countries have tremendous unexploited reserves of oil and naturals gas. Their pathetic armies are no match for ours. Let’s invent a reason on why it is justifiable for us to invade and take their resources – and then let’s just do it. Who can stop us.”

In line with their scheme, they insist on a bilateral resolution of the marine territorial dispute that they instigated – not involving ITLOS but only a one on one resolution as say, between China and the Philippines or China and Vietnam. Under such a negotiation environment, the Philippines, Vietnam or other small countries do not have the leverage to bargain.

With a mighty army, big guns, economic power and goon mentality, China’s officials will make an offer that the Philippines or another small country cannot possibly refuse.

The United States knows China’s game plan and the unequal bargaining power involved in a one on one bilateral negotiation arrangement. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Philippines maintain that a multilateral resolution involving other nations should be the proper way to resolve territorial disputes between China and smaller nations.

Playing mind games, and in line with their grand scheme to possess the Philippines’ energy resources, it is now China’s officials accusing Filipino fishermen of trespassing when they fish in their traditional fishing spots which are well within the Philippines’ 200 mile EEZ.

Escalating their presence in Philippine territory, China has engaged in defiant activities meant to test the Philippines’ resolve in defending against China’s intrusion and also to elicit a test reaction from its giant ally, the United States.

Fleets of Chinese fishing vessels escorted by gun boats now blatantly enter into Philippine waters taking rare turtles, lobsters, fishes and live corral. The Philippines cannot stop them because it has no matching gunboats of its own.

A few weeks ago, the Philippine government reported that “a small Philippine fishing boat was accidentally rammed by a Chinese transport vessel which according to a Philippine government report resulted in one fisherman dead and four missing.”

Understandably, avoiding a one sided military confrontation, the incident was downplayed by the Philippine government. The fact is that it is practically impossible for two boats to collide in the wide open sea, especially so because Chinese transport vessels are equipped with modern sonar navigational equipment which can easily detect nearby boats.

The Chinese boat also did not stop to help the fishermen which suggests that this incident was not accidental. The four missing Filipino fishermen were never found. That means not one dead fisherman but five.

China also has recently unilaterally established “Three Sands City” and announced that Panatag or Scarborough Shoals are part of this city’s territory which it will manage.

China appears to be arrogantly thumbing its nose at the United Nations and the world by ignoring international law and instead has simply decided to play by its own rules based on Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book philosophy of “Power comes from the barrel of the gun.”

China’s officials are leading the good Chinese people towards a very dangerous course of action. Other countries of the world are beginning to be aware of, concerned and angered by China’s war baiting and energy resource grabbing actions. In June 2011, The United States Senate passed a resolution condemning China’s use of force against smaller nations in the West Philippine Sea and affirmed the use of its military might against Chinese aggression.

Aside from the United States, the rest of the world including influential countries such as Russia, France, UK, Italy, Brazil, Japan, India, , Israel, the Middle East nations, etc. – will soon realize that it serves their interests and the interest of the world – to restrain China from its blatant abuse of power.

Her rapid rise to become the second largest economy in the world is the result of international corporations successfully outsourcing their manufacturing activities to China. By doing so, companies simplify their operations, avoid labor problems and lower overhead costs. They are then able to focus on marketing activities.

While this overall business model has resulted in tremendous profits for many companies, it has also resulted in massive layoffs in their home countries. The United States and other industrialized countries are now faced with hundreds of thousands of jobless people who are dependent on welfare payments for their survival. This situation cannot and should not be allowed to continue.

Well-meaning citizens of the world should rightly be happy about the new found prosperity of the Chinese people. For so long, they have wallowed in poverty.

However, China’s government must recognize that with great power and wealth comes the responsibility of dealing fairly and in a friendly manner with other nations – including smaller countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. If it is to gain the respect and friendship of other nations – China should not act like a neighborhood bully using goon tactics stealing property that belongs to others.

But militarist elements within China’s government are intent on rattling their sabers – amassing war ships, equipment and armaments with their new wealth. They are also calling to “punish the Philippines militarily” for daring to challenge China’s territorial claim on the whole South China Sea.

Resorting to a military might based policy meant to coerce and intimidate less powerful nations and forcing them to give up their valuable resources – which is the policy now being used by China on the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and other surrounding countries – is now building up so much global antipathy and anger against China. Justifiably so.

Shortsighted military minded Chinese leaders who think that oppressing smaller nations and stealing their resources – will not have serious long term consequences – should learn from the lessons of history. By continuing with this irresponsible reckless policy, China is surely channeling itself towards an inevitable deadly confrontation with a powerful grouping of nations including the United States and its powerful allies.

China’s government’s best move to serve the interest of its people is to behave like a civilized nation: Stop bullying smaller nations. Honor international laws. Respect territorial and property rights. Help poorer nations, promote world peace and help create a better world. If she does all these, then China will truly become a great nation – honored and respected by the citizens of the world.

Meanwhile, while she is still in a grab and take mode, in self-defense, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and other smaller bullied countries – must ask for help from the world’s community of nations.

In his State of the Nation, President Simeon Benigno Aquino in no uncertain terms – condemned China’s blatant intrusion in Philippine territory. He affirmed the resolve of Filipinos to fight for what is theirs. However, he gave no indication of what specific actions must be undertaken to stop the hungry dragon from devouring the Philippines’ marine and energy resources. He stated that it was a difficult problem and his government is looking for solutions.

What should smaller nations do against China’ bullying grab of its marine territories and energy resources?

Here’s my take on this:

1. The governments of these small countries must reach out towards one another and together file in the ITLOS complaints against China’s intrusion into its territories. China may refuse to submit itself to the ITLOS’ jurisdiction but that by itself is an admission to the world that it is engaged in wrongful intrusion and resource grabbing actions. World opinion will turn against China leading to serious sanctions from the global community.

2. These smaller countries should be aggressively involved in lobbying with the different countries of the world through its ambassadors and through state visits in condemning China’s actions and not be shy in asking for some financial or military equipment aid – to defend against China’s aggression.

3. Support the worldwide boycott China products campaign endorsed by environmentalists, peace advocates, food safety adherents, labor unions and other groups – which will put pressure on China to stop bullying and claiming other nation’s resources.

A boycott by the Philippines alone or by smaller countries will hardly dent China’s economic armor. But if the world is made aware of its immoral bullying ways and how massive outsourcing of corporate manufacturing operations has led to the starvation of families of millions of workers all over the world – well-meaning citizens of the world will support this important campaign.

They will look to buy locally made or equivalent products from other countries. The less the world buys from China, the less funds it has to build up and maintain its army. The less effective it can be in carrying out its aggressive militarist tendencies.

The world’s corporations must bear their heavy responsibility to humanity of looking out for our future and not be governed solely by the profit motive. More than any other factor, their outsourcing strategy is responsible for China’s rapid rise as an economic and military power. They must now play an important role in influencing the future of the world and humanity by removing their manufacturing operations in China and returning these to their home countries or relocating elsewhere.

China’s militaristic elements are a danger not only to the Philippines and other smaller countries but also to the whole world – and a danger to its own good people.

The citizens of the world love so many things Chinese including its great food, its marvelous art and its great philosophers like Lao Tzu, Confucius and others. They also love the Chinese people. It is China’s nationalistic military oriented officials who espouse policies based on conquering other nations by force and grabbing valuable resources – that ought to be condemned. These are the blood thirsty cold hearted types – Chinese or otherwise – who bring so much suffering to the world and to their own people.

(Note: The author is a human rights and immigration lawyer in the United States. He is the Spokesperson and Legal Counsel for the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), an influential organization of Filipino Americans composed of doctors, lawyers, academicians, businesspersons and other professionals. USP4GG has recently launched the worldwide Boycott China Products Initiative in the United States which was received with enthusiasm in various sectors and has now gained much momentum. “Any global citizen who supports the boycott China products campaign is an automatic member. No dues or registration are required. This is a people’s campaign. Just stop buying products from China and tell people why this is necessary for the good of all.”

China Now Claims Japan’s Okinawa

The Global Times, the newspaper run by China’s Communist Party, ran an editorial this month suggesting that Beijing challenge Japan’s control of Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu island chain.

Why would China want to start a fight over Okinawa? At the moment, China, Taiwan, and Japan are engaged in a particularly nasty sovereignty dispute in the East China Sea over five islands and three barren rocks called the Senkakus by the Japanese and the Diaoyus by the other claimants. The disputed chain is north of the southern end of the Ryukyus and about midway between Taiwan and Okinawa.

The Senkakus are administered by Japan, which appears to have a stronger legal claim to the chain than the other two nations. The United States, which takes no position on the sovereignty issue, returned the islands to Tokyo at the same time it gave back Okinawa in 1972. The People’s Republic of China made no formal claim to the Senkakus until 1971. Until then, Chinese maps showed the islands as Japan’s.

Beijing claims the Senkakus were part of China since Ming dynasty times, at least since the 16th century. Therefore, Japan’s occupation of the chain is, in Chinese eyes, a historical injustice. “For every step that Japan takes forward, we will take one step and a half and even two steps to make Japan realize its provocation will bring serious consequences,” the Global Times editorialized, as it suggested Beijing go after Okinawa as a means of bolstering its Senkaku claim.

“China should not be afraid of engaging with Japan in a mutual undermining of territorial integrity,” the Global Times also stated. That, unfortunately, is a recipe for disaster. “Using the Ryukyu sovereignty issue to resolve the Diaoyu dispute would destroy the basis of China-Japan relations,” Zhou Yongsheng of China Foreign Affairs University told the Financial Times. “If this was considered, it would basically be the prelude to military action.”

And not just in the East China Sea. China’s claim to Okinawa, if raised, would partially rest on the fact Ryukyu’s kings paid tribute to China even after the Japanese conquered the islands in 1609. “Once you start arguing that a tributary relationship at some point in history is the basis for a sovereignty claim in the 20th century, you start worrying a lot of people,” notes the renowned June Teufel Dreyer, of the University of Miami. “Many, many countries had tributary relationships with China.” Moreover, many Chinese believe they have, based on history, the right to take, among other things, Mongolia and the Russian Far East.

So where will China’s expansionism end? Some feeble American analysts want to abandon Taiwan because they believe that will soothe relations with Beijing. That’s hardly a good tactic to use against an aggressive power looking to expand, and it undoubtedly will not work with the People’s Republic. Beijing’s defenders often complain of comparisons of China with other regimes, but we are seeing in that country a dynamic exhibited in the most dangerous states, a growing desire for territory controlled by others.

Gordon G. Chang

Posted in: Politics