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Beijing Leadership Adopts Hard Line on South China Sea

At a handsome new building on Hainan Island, the headquarters of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a video is played to visitors. As Jane Perlez writes for the NYT:

The video says that China enjoys maritime rights over “a vast area” of the South China Sea, though it does not specify how much. The 1.4 million square miles of the sea are “crucial to the future of China as a growing maritime nation,” since the sea is a trade conduit between China and the United States, Africa and Europe, the video says.

This view that the South China Sea is “crucial” for China’s security and economy is becoming common not only in the talking points of a few hardliners but also at the highest levels of China’s political and military leadership. As the country prepares for a leadership change later this year, it is vital for Chinese elites not to be seen as weak on matters of such importance.

At stake are oil reserves believed to be almost equal to Saudi Arabia’s. Already China, the Philippines, and Vietnam are selling territorial blocks to international oil companies like Exxon Mobil for exploration even though ownership over those areas is undetermined.

New and bigger ships are patrolling disputed waters, running into the neighbors, setting up governance outposts, airstrips, and military patrols on tiny islets. The language of top security and policy officials is hardening:

The sustained attention to the South China Sea has been almost certainly coordinated from the senior ranks of the central government, Chinese analysts and Asian diplomats said. “Suddenly, the top leaders have taken a more hard-line policy,” said Shi Yinhong, a foreign policy adviser to the State Council, China’s equivalent to the cabinet.

Perhaps all this posturing is intended to put China’s leadership in a strong position on national security prior to changes later this year, and to smooth the transition. All signals say otherwise, however. China and its neighbors have fought over the islands a number of times in the past, and there is little hope for a regional agreement at present. As Andrew Nathan of Columbia University told Bloomberg: “There is no advantage for China to back down or enter negotiations. China won’t calm down, and the current posture reflects a long-established strategy to reassert its claims steadily over time without ceding an inch.”

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  • Luke Lea

    I Googled the term “bureaucratic infighting” and got these results:

    I was struck by how many of the top hits involved foreign affairs, America’s in particular. You don’t suppose similar things go on in China do you?

    Not that there is anything reassuring about that.

  • Luke Lea

    From an interview with Roderick (“Rod”) MacFarquhar:

    “HAQ: A lot of Western scholars think the private sector entrepreneurs will be another pro-democracy force in China.

    RMF: That’s a line that’s being purveyed – peddled, I would say – by a number of people: by politicians wishing to justify their relations with China; by businessmen wishing to do business with China; and some scholars. The fact is that there is no indication that Chinese businessmen have any interest in having a democratic system until their own interests are at stake. And on the whole, businessmen are competitive, so they will very rarely come together to demand anything. You have to have a highly developed system, with people knowing each other for many years – as for instance in Wall Street, where these people banded together to defend themselves because they were all under attack. But the Chinese communist government has a very cozy relationship with businessmen. It supports them and allows them into the Party, which gives them more access to power. So I don’t think there is any indication that private enterprise leads to democracy, which is a fallacy that has been used as an excuse for not criticizing China and just going out and having relations [with it].

    I think the United States and the West in general should have relations with China, and they should be as good as possible. There should be interaction and a conjunction of interests, especially between the United States and China. But I don’t think it should mean that the US government should abandon its own values. It must continue this apparently fruitless human rights dialogue, at which they talk past each other once every one or two years. I think there should be a relationship but it should be a critical relationship on both sides. If China has no hesitation about criticizing the United States, why should the United States have any hesitation about criticizing China?”

    Read the whole thing here:

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Let’s give war a chance. America can use Chinese belligerence to bring all of China’s neighbors into closer association with the US, where they can be influenced into adopting more American Culture.

    America’s strategy has always been to make them more like us, and this should be seen as an opportunity to advance our strategy.

  • Kris

    “The video says that China enjoys maritime rights over ‘a vast area’ of the South China Sea, though it does not specify how much.”

    [mob film]

    “How much?”

    [Knees him in the groin.]

    This much. Any other questions? I didn’t think so.”

    [/mob film]

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