Peaceful rise?

Published: 25/06/2011 05:00


China, circa 21st century, likes to portray itself as a
“soft power” whose “peaceful rise” should not threaten the world.

China, circa 21st century, likes to portray itself as a
“soft power” whose “peaceful rise” should not threaten the world.

That portrayal becomes suspect each time Chinese military activities in the East
Sea raise the hackles of its neighbors with claims over some of the areas.

Earlier this week Beijing reassured the world that it did not intend to use
force in staking its territorial claim. What the other claimants see, however,
is not so much force but stealth, with facilities being constructed and markers
installed on disputed territory when the Chinese think no one is looking, and
with the activities occasionally backed by military power.

What happened to maintaining the status quo under the Code of Conduct in the
South China Sea?

Several Chinese journalists and foreign observers in China have told me that
Beijing’s diplomatic and military objectives are not always in sync.

With the approaching leadership change in China, its military is flexing its
muscles, in the process undoing much of the country’s diplomatic gains in recent

During their 60th National Day celebrations, Chinese officials in Beijing
emphasized that they were not interested in becoming a superpower and that their
military capability was way behind that of the Americans.

They stressed that theirs is still a developing country with millions of poor
people, and where there is a widening gap that must be narrowed between urban
and rural incomes. So they would rather pour much-needed resources into economic
development and poverty alleviation.

Any military upgrading they were undertaking, they said, was one that would make
their defense capability commensurate to the requirements of what at the time
was the world’s third largest economy.

Now that China has become the second largest economy, it is trying to develop
the J-20 aircraft with stealth capability and preparing to deploy within the
year its first aircraft carrier.

Acquired from the Ukraine and refurbished, the ship is no USS Carl Vinson. But
an aircraft carrier would considerably raise China’s naval presence in its own

Compared with the world’s major oceans, the South China Sea is a pretty small
backyard. But Chinese behavior in the region is being closely watched by
countries outside Asia for hints of whether the economic powerhouse would be a
responsible member of the community of nations.

Chinese activities are making countries in the region reinforce alliances with
the United States. In a recent visit to Singapore, outgoing US Defense Secretary
Robert Gates promised that his government would guard shipping lanes in the
region, deploy high-tech surveillance gadgets and weaponry, and generally expand
its military presence to protect its Asian allies even in cyberspace. New
littoral combat ships or LCS, light enough to patrol shallow coastal waters,
will soon be deployed in the region.

If China wants to project soft power, it cannot afford to be seen as the
neighborhood bully.

The “domestic flight routing map” of China Southern Airlines, the mainland’s
largest carrier, features a map of China plus an inset of “islands in the East

The dots of land are enclosed by a demarcation line, drawn along the contours of
the coastlines of China’s neighbors in the region, leaving each neighbor only a
narrow strip of territorial waters on the map.

A diplomat from a country with a keen interest in the region told me that China
has made no formal claim over those islands in the South China Sea, unlike the
other claimant countries (us included) that have filed claims with the United

Chinese officials have said they need not file a claim over what has always been
their territory. Where that territorial claim is based is murky.

If Beijing is invoking prehistoric land bridges that once connected China to
much of the rest of Asia, it should also be claiming the Philippines as part of
Chinese territory. But Portuguese explorers and Spanish conquistadors beat the
Chinese in staking a claim over our archipelago. In the annals of foreign
conquest, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Claims over those spits of coral and rock dotting the East Sea should also be
laid down in detail. As the foreign diplomat pointed out to me, one tiny reef
that is recognized as part of a particular country’s territory has its own
200-mile exclusive economic zone. What happens when this encroaches into another
country’s EEZ?

The provision on the EEZ is laid down under the UN Convention on the Law of the
Sea (UNCLOS). China is a signatory, and laying claim over the entire Spratly
island chain can give it an EEZ encompassing the entire South China Sea.

The United States has not ratified the UNCLOS, apparently fearing that the
treaty could hamper its freedom of navigation in international waters. But US
Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked
their Senate to ratify the UNCLOS within the year.

The foreign diplomat told me that for clarity, it must be emphasized that a
country’s territorial waters extend only 12 miles from shore.

What the EEZ grants countries with a shoreline, the diplomat explained, is
exclusive jurisdiction over the extraction and utilization of natural resources
within that zone.

When rival claimants such as the Philippines protest Chinese activities in
disputed areas, China’s initial reaction seems to be, “Make us.”

It’s not the proper reaction from a soft power, and it does not support avowals
of a nation’s peaceful rise.

Ana Marie Pamintuan (Philstar)

Provide by Vietnam Travel

Peaceful rise? - Politics - News |  vietnam travel company

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