Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How Historical 'Humiliation' Drives China's Maritime Claims


Image from entry, with caption: A Chinese base built in 1995 stands in Mischief Reef of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea


In coming weeks, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague is expected to deliver its decision in a case brought by the Philippines to settle contested island claims with China. The case comes as China has taken increasingly bold actions in recent years to assert maritime claims in the South China Sea disputed by Southeast Asian nations — actions including the construction of island bases for military purposes, and confronting foreign ships and aircraft that travel in the region.
China’s claims reach deep into the South China Sea. On maps of the area, Beijing has demarcated what’s known as the “nine-dash line” (pictured in green in the below map), a boundary that brushes up near the Vietnamese, Philippine, Bruneian, and Malaysian coasts. China hasn’t specified exactly what privileges it’s entitled to under the nine-dash line, but asserts “historic rights” over the area. This position has encountered stern opposition from rival claimants and the United States for violating freedom of navigation tenets outlined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China and all other parties (but not the U.S.) are signatories. China has expressed that it will not abide by the outcome of the Hague arbitration case.
In 2014, BBC journalist Bill Hayton, formerly based in Southeast Asia, published the book The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, which gives historical and contemporary context to the disputes in the region. In an interview with Asia Blog, Hayton discussed the thinking behind China’s claims, and how Beijing might be rethinking part of its strategy in enforcing them. ...

Recently at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo said in reference to South China Sea disputes: “We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of trouble.” Do you think that second part is true? Is China really prepared to engage in armed conflict over these islands?
I see these rather hawkish statements as a return to that kind of "public diplomacy" that we saw two to three years ago when you had pundits on TV and uniformed political commissars from the army saying blood-curdling things about "killing the chicken to scare the monkey" or "when those oil fields are towers of flame, who will be sorry?" and "The South China Sea will resound to the sound of cannon shots." All of these bellicose statements were coming out, but they seem to be clearly intended to intimidate and give the impression that China is prepared to use force, when I don't think it was ever intending to actually do that. It was a way of trying to scare people.
I would put the admiral's comments in the same category — he's trying to indicate resolve to the U.S. and he's trying to suggest that China can impose costs on the U.S. It's the classic phrase: "To win without fighting." But I don't think it's going to be taken seriously because I imagine the U.S. navy still thinks it can impose severe costs on the Chinese navy if it ever came to something. But it's in no one's interests to actually stir up a fight. The consequences would be so awful. ...

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