The Other Dangerous China Policy

Posted on August 29, 2012


As Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin has discussedChina Daily­ yesterday published an editorial commentary condemning Mitt Romney’s China policy. The commentary accused Romney of a “Cold War mentality” – by now a common trope in the Chinese government and media – and claimed his policies would “only lead to head-on confrontation between the two countries.”

Rogin’s reporting on the event logically included a brief mention of the recently leaked draft of the official GOP national convention platform for foreign policy. However, upon closer inspection, that platform is worse than even the most cynical observer might expect. By combining factual errors with extremely confrontational and escalatory policies, the platform suggests a fundamentally dangerous course for Sino-American relations.

If there is any doubt about the China Daily commentary in regards to Romney’s positions on China, that doubt is removed entirely if applied to the RNC’s prospective platform.

Taiwan Trouble

During  Ma Ying-Jeou’s Administration, cross-Strait relations  have warmed considerably since the instable years presided over by former President Chen Shui-Bian. This has led some commentators to observe that the cross-Strait outlook “appears more stable than they have been in more than sixty years.”

Yet, the draft RNC platform proposes to replace stability with political-military escalation, committing major factual errors in the process.

At the core of the trouble is that the document claims the United States is legally obligated to defend Taiwan, saying that “if China were to violate those principles [of peacefully settling the dispute of Taiwan’s status], the U.S., in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself.” But, in fact, the Taiwan Relations Act makes no such obligation regarding US defense of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression — it obligates the US only to sell the Island defensive arms and makes no reference to American responsibilities in the event of a cross-Strait war whatsoever.

Furthermore, committing the United States to defend Taiwan with force would reverse the longstanding policy of ‘strategic ambiguity.’ According to strategic ambiguity, the United States has implied it may defend Taiwan – as was strongly communicated by the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the Strait during the 1996 Crisis – without definitely committing itself to what would increasingly be a devastating war for American forces, not to mention the global economy.  This ambiguity allows the United States to tread lightly on Taiwan — historically the most severe point of tension between Washington and Beijing — while still deterring Chinese attack. From the Chinese perspective, parting ways with strategic ambiguity would undoubtedly signal that the US is no longer interested in self-restraint while dealing with Chinese “core interests” and is no longer concerned with developing a relationship based on mutual respect of those interests – a principle that both sides have declared essential to maintaining constructive relations.The Wrong Move on the South China Sea

Just as troublingly, the RNC platform “condemn[s]” Beijing’s “destabilizing claims in the South China Sea.” This, too, would break with longstanding policy. Historically, Washington has prioritized moderation over confrontation and taken no positions on maritime or territorial disputes in the region. Instead, the position has been on the conduct of those disputes, which the United States asserts should be restrained and peaceful.

From moving America’s role from moderator to enforcer, any position which “condemns” or rejects Chinese claims in the South China Sea would invite disastrous consequences. Most immediately, Washington would involve itself in the intensely nationalistic nature of the disputes, attracting greater ire by growing Chinese nationalism, thereby increasing pressure on Chinese elites to take more aggressive action vis-à-vis  the United States that would otherwise be eschewed. In general terms, this would undermine the rational basis of Sino-American relations. The risks of such a move are pronounced. For example, in the ongoing dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Chinese nationalist demonstrations called for using military force against Japan. Some signs read, “Even if China is covered with graves, we must kill all Japanese!” While the Diayu/Senkaku Islands are located in the East China Sea, the point regarding Chinese nationalism and maritime disputes is clear: as a rule, the coupling of the Sino-American relationship with Chinese nationalism is to be avoided, not encouraged.

The higher order effects of opposing Chinese claims directly would likewise be considerable.  Such a policy may undermine the credibility that Washington will require if it is to help reduce the possibility of conflict during  future flare ups, undermine the American ability to support long-term solutions to maritime disputes in the region – including US support of the Code of Conduct – and may set a precedent for taking positions on the overlapping claims of other states in the South China Sea, all of whom are growing American partners. The latter is especially the case  regarding Taiwan, whose claims form the basis of those made by Beijing and would therefore likewise require “condemnation” if intellectual consistency is to be applied.

The PLA Problem

In particular, the RNC’s policy proposals involving Taiwan and the South China Sea would risk dramatically escalating Sino-US military tensions. Yet, the document appears blind to these this risk because it fails to apprehend some of the basic motivations behind Chinese security policy when it   “condemn[s] …China’s pursuit of advanced military capability without any apparent need.” While the modernization of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) poses a robust security challenge, addressing that challenge requires a serious look at Chinese calculus, not denying that calculus.

While the growing strength of the PLA is understandably unappealing to an American audience, the buildup is nonetheless rationally driven by Chinese security perceptions and policy. The Pentagon’s 2010 report on Chinese military power lists some of the factors and interests which contribute to that policy. These include nationalism, access to markets and resources, domestic politics, cross-Strait dynamics, and regional concerns, including the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. In service of these security interests, the operational thinking of the PLA – and hence an important guide to its modernization – is driven by the perceived need to conduct “counter intervention” operations against advanced militaries who would use force to violate Chinese interests.

That is, PLA modernization is driven by the prospect of confronting a hostile US military in the Western Pacific, especially in contingencies involving Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Thus, the same modernization of the PLA which the RNC platform ‘condemns’ is driven in large part by the disputes that the same platform calls to escalate.  With this in mind, moving towards a hard, confrontational approach on Taiwan and the South China Sea can engender no response other than an a more aggressive PLA buildup than would have otherwise been the case. In this way, not only do the RNC policy proposals demonstrate a lack of understanding of the world’s most formidable foreign military, but also of the outcomes that its own proposals invite.

Bill R. French

Right stance in sea disputes

As an outsider, the United States has pressured China from time to time to negotiate with some Association of Southeast Asian Nations members on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea. This month, the US even issued a press statement criticizing China for upgrading the administrative level of Sansha city.

Besides, the US has urged countries involved in the South China Sea disputes to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which it has mistaken as panacea for maritime disputes.

The China-ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea clearly states that sovereign states should resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations.

Whether we see it from the perspective of the Bangkok Declaration, ASEAN’s founding document, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia or any other universally recognized principle of international law, the fact remains that countries should try to resolve the South China Sea disputes while respecting each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. So the US has no right to issue commands in this matter.

The opinions that challenge China’s stance on the South China Sea disputes and accuse it of violating UNCLOS do not hold water. China bases its claim on abundant historical facts and legal factors that are recognized by other countries, either publicly or tacitly.

China discovered and named the islands in the South China Sea, and has the longest historical record of jurisdiction over them. China officially named the islands during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and published their full list in 1909, 1935, 1947 and 1983, establishing its jurisdiction over the islands and the surrounding waters.

The U-shaped line on its maps is another concrete proof of its sovereignty over the islands. Historical documents show that by 1914 the dotted line, appeared on privately published maps in China. It officially confirmed the dotted line in 1947 and marked it on official maps published in 1948. After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the dotted line was basically maintained the way it had been. The line was even marked on the maps published by other countries such as Vietnam.

The U-shaped line came into being long before UNCLOS was signed in 1982 and took effect in 1994. How can other countries seek the help of UNCLOS to overturn the historical facts substantiating China’s claim?

From the legal perspective, the settlement of the South China Sea disputes cannot be based only on UNCLOS. With due regard for the sovereignty of all countries, UNCLOS has established a legal order for the seas and oceans, which will facilitate international communication and promote the peaceful use of the seas and oceans. It facilitates the equitable and efficient use of marine resources, as well as helps protect and preserve marine ecology. But it is widely acknowledged that though UNCLOS is used to address maritime disputes, it cannot be used to resolve disputes over territorial sovereignty.

UNCLOS cannot directly address maritime disputes either. It just clarifies principles and procedures for settling disputes. For disputes on exclusive economic zones and continental shelves, it stipulates that the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone between countries with opposite or adjacent coasts shall be effected by agreement on the basis of international law to achieve an equitable solution. If no agreement is reached within a reasonable period of time, countries concerned should seek the help of the procedures in Part XV.

Furthermore, UNCLOS forms only a part of international law. It affirms that matters not regulated by the convention continue to be governed by the rules and principles of general international law. In this sense, UNCLOS can by no means replace international law in resolving the South China Sea disputes.

Historical facts and legal bases are two decisive factors in the resolution of the South China Sea disputes, and they go beyond the scope of UNCLOS. Those who cling to UNCLOS as the only solution either misinterpret the convention or are deliberately trying to mislead public opinion.

The South China Sea was never meant to be troubled waters. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at the 2010 ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting marked the beginning of Washington’s intervention in the South China Sea disputes. The Philippines is playing its part, too, by colluding with Vietnam to escalate regional tension so that the US can find an excuse to muddy the waters.

In stark contrast, China has always insisted on resolving the disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations based on historical facts and international law. It has made relentless efforts to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and has been working closely with other countries to fight non-traditional security challenges.

Nevertheless, China’s efforts alone are far from enough to resolve the disputes. Therefore, all concerned parties should understand that any attempt to distort history and misinterpret the principles of international law will further delay the settlement of the South China Sea disputes and compromise long-term regional stability.

Zhang Haiwen

China opens 26 new blocks in South China Sea for exploration

China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) today said it has opened 26 new offshore blocks for cooperation with foreign companies.

BEIJING: China’s largest state-run oil firm has opened 26 new offshore blocks for cooperation with foreign companies, which included those in South China Sea, where the country is locked in a dispute with Vietnamover sovereignty.

China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) today said it has opened 26 new offshore blocks for cooperation with foreign companies.

The blocks were the second batch made available by CNOOC for cooperation, with one block located in Bohai Bay, three in the east China Sea and another 22 in the South China Sea, official Xinhua news agency reported quoting a statement from CNOOC.

The 26 blocks cover a total area of 73,754 square km, the statement said.

It also said that foreign companies may access data concerning the blocks after applying. Data will be available for viewing until November 30.

In June, CNOOC opened a total area of 160,124 square km as its first batch of offshore blocks in the South China Sea for cooperation.

Vietnam, which claims sovereignty in the same area of the South China Sea has already termed CNOOC’s action as illegal when the oil company has announced for the first time its plans to allot some blocks forexploration in June.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said the move was “illegal” and a serious “violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty” adding that the oil blocks were “deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and not a contested area”.

Earlier China had protested to India over ONGC taking up oil exploration in the blocks claimed by Vietnam. India, however, said it is a commercial deal.

According to CNOOC report the company is aiming to meet a production target of between 330 million and 340 million barrels of oil equivalent this year.

Production in the first half totalled 160.9 million barrels, down 4.6 per cent year on year, it said.

China Slams Romney for ‘Pugnacious’ Policies

HONG KONG — The Republican Party was still battening down its hatches against Tropical Storm Isaac when Hurricane China began to lash Mitt Romney and the party’s proposed policies on Asia.

The principal attack came through an editorial on Monday in China Daily, the state-run newspaper, which called Mr. Romney’s policies “an outdated manifestation of a Cold War mentality” that “endorses the ‘China threat’ theory and focuses on containing China’s rise.”

The editorial said the Romney policies, as stated on his campaign Web site, were “worrying” and “more pugnacious” than the approach of the Obama administration.

The 2012 Republican Party platform says the United States should bolster its naval presence in the region while “assisting partners that require help to enhance their defensive capabilities.”

“In the face of China’s accelerated military build-up, the United States and our allies must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors,” the platform said.

But the China Daily editorial warned Mr. Romney that U.S. support of other Asian countries in their disputes with China over islands in the South China Sea “will only lead to head-on confrontation between the two countries.”

“The Department of Defense should reconsider recent decisions not to sell top-of-the-line equipment to our closest Asian allies,” the G.O.P. platform states. “We should be coordinating with Taiwan to determine its military needs and supplying them with adequate aircraft and other military platforms.”

Any mention of Taiwan was bound to get China’s attention, and China Daily said:

As to Romney’s suggestion that the US step up arms sales to Taiwan, it lays bare his ignorance of the fundamentals of Sino-US ties, as this is the most sensitive issue between the two countries. US arms sales to Taiwan have thrown bilateral ties off balance several times in the past. It requires political vision as well as profound knowledge of Sino-US relations as a whole, to make sensible policy recommendations about what are widely recognized as the most important bilateral ties in the world. Romney apparently lacks both.

Mr. Romney said pressing China on human rights would be a centerpiece of his administration’s policy. From his campaign site:

If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China’s leaders. We certainly should not have relegated the future of freedom to second or third place, as Secretary of State Clinton did in 2009 when she publicly declared that the Obama administration would not let U.S. concerns about China’s human rights record interfere with cooperation “on the global economic crisis [and] the global climate change crisis.”

Free and fair trade is another key part of the G.O.P. platform, and Mr. Romney and the party said they would allow China into a proposed free-trading “Reagan Economic Zone” that “could knit together the whole region.”

But the party also singles out China as the principal foreign thief of American patents, brands, technology and intellectual property. From its platform:

The chief offender is China, which has built up its economy in part by piggybacking onto Western technological advances, manipulates its currency to the disadvantage of American exporters, excludes American products from government purchases, subsidizes Chinese companies to give them a commercial advantage, and invents regulations and standards designed to keep out foreign competition. The current Administration’s way of dealing with all these violations of world trade standards has been a virtual surrender.

The platform also threatens to invoke “countervailing duties if China fails to amend its currency policies,” and “punitive measures will be imposed on foreign firms that misappropriate American technology and intellectual property.” If China fails to abide by W.T.O. protocols, the platform says, “the United States government will end procurement of Chinese goods and services.”

Another China Daily commentary said this kind of tough talk is being employed “to differentiate his China policies from Obama’s and curry favor with hard right-wing elements in the Republican Party.” The commentary acknowledged Mr. Romney’s promise to brand China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, but said China is “inured to such campaign talk from American politicians.”

Evan A. Feigenbaum, an Asia-Pacific co-chair on the Romney foreign policy advisory team, said in a November interview with the Council on Foreign Relations that countries in Asia are now so deeply integrated with China that their growth is virtually dependent on Beijing.

“But China scares them silly,” Mr. Feigenbaum said, “so those [same] countries are tacking toward the United States for closer security partnerships.”

He downplayed the so-called “pivot” of U.S. military assets toward the Asia-Pacific region. American diplomats have more recently spurned “pivot” for the term “rebalancing.” An excerpt from Mr. Feigenbaum’s C.F.R. interview with Bernard Gwertzman:

There’s no question that the United States is paying a lot of attention to what’s happening in Asia, but this notion of some gigantic pivot obscures the degree to which there are some really central pillars of American policy in the Pacific that have roots that go back decades.

It isn’t as if the United States suddenly woke up in the last year or two and discovered that it ought to play an important role in security in Asia. The notion of some gigantic pivot isn’t helpful because it suggests that the United States is kind of a herky-jerky super power that swings wildly from focusing on one thing to focusing on another thing.

Firstly, that doesn’t really describe reality, and second, it’s not very reassuring to Asian countries and particularly to U.S. allies to see the United States described that way.

Mark McDonald

Posted in: Economy, Politics