International opinion on the South China Sea issue
on the South China Sea Issue
TITLE PUBLISHER COUNTRY PAGE
I. Can ASEAN Respond to the Chinese
ASEAN and China tussle over how to
resolve dispute over the South China
YaleGlobal United States 3
II. Countering China in the South China
The National Interest United States 7
III. China must be diplomatic Bangkok Post Thailand 11
IV. China’s SCS claim threatens RI
The Jakarta Post Indonesia 13
V. Eyes on Crimea, China makes its move Asia Times Hong Kong 16
VI. Media and scholars in many countries
denounce China’s action in the East Sea
SouthChinaSea.com Viet Nam 23
VII. China’s “Nine-Dash Line” is Dangerous The Diplomat Japan 26
VIII. China’s Failed Effort to Export Outrage
The Wall Street
United States 29
IX. Price of passivity in Washington could
be war in Asia
The Nation Thailand 33
X. China, the Philippines, and the Makings
of a 'Munich' Moment
The Atlantic United States 38
XI. Why the suddenly aggressive behavior
Los Angeles Times United States 41
XII. Asia's Reaction to Chinese Bullying The Wall Street
United States 44
XIII. KAZIANIS: Stopping the bullies of
Reasserting U.S. Pacific interests would
check China’s expansionism
United States 47
XIV. China's bullying tactics backfire The Sydney Morning
XV. The Bullies of Beijing: China's Image
The Diplomat Japan 53
XVI. Refuting China’s nine-dash claim Eurasia review United States 57
XVII. If China bullies on the high seas, it may
need to be taught a naval lesson
The Australian United States 64
Can ASEAN Respond to the Chinese Challenge?
ASEAN and China tussle over how to resolve dispute over the South
Carlyle A. Thayer
YaleGlobal, 18 March 2014
CANBERRA: China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN,
resume consultations on the South China Sea in Singapore today.
In theory, active work on a declaration and code on conduct for the South China Sea – the
arena of conflicting territorial claims - should ease tensions, but the opposite may be true.
On March 9 China took the unilateral step of blocking Philippines ships attempting to resupply
marines on Second Thomas Shoal. Also, growing tension between China and Malaysia over
the fruitless search for missing Malaysian flight MH307, carrying 239 people, including 154
Chinese – could further sour the meeting.
The first round of consultations, in China in September, was under the umbrella of the Joint
Working Group to Implement the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,
or DOC, and the first time that the group held preliminary discussions on a Code of Conduct
in the South China Sea, or COC.
Although consultations on the DOC and COC are proceeding in parallel, China insists that
priority should be given to implementing the DOC. ASEAN would prefer separate
consultations on the DOC and COC, with the latter raised from working group to senior-
official level. ASEAN also advocates an “early harvest” approach on the COC – as soon as
agreement is reached on one issue it should be implemented immediately, not waiting for
agreement on the entire COC. ASEAN also would like the COC to be legally binding.
In private, ASEAN diplomats state they would like the COC finalized before the end of 2015
when the ASEAN Political-Security Community comes into being.
ASEAN faces at least two problems in its pursuit of a COC with China. First, although the
DOC enjoins the parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would
complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” China has continually altered
the status quo in its favor through unilateral actions.
For example, in November, China announced its prerogative to establish an Air Defense
Identification Zone over the South China Sea. Also that month, Hainan provincial authorities
announced revisions to fishing regulations covering nearly 60 percent of the South China Sea
including the exclusive economic zones of several claimant states. Under the revised
regulations, foreign boats are required to seek prior permission before fishing in this area. In
January, China commenced regular patrols to enforce these regulations; authorities report
arrests of foreign fishing boats on a weekly basis.
Chinese Coast Guard vessels took the unilateral step March 9 of blocking two Philippines
ships attempting to resupply marines on Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippines was forced
to resupply the marines by air. ASEAN diplomacy has failed to convince China to exercise
The second problem for ASEAN in attempting to secure an agreement on a binding COC with
China is maintaining unity during negotiations. Beneath ASEAN’s veneer of diplomatic unity
on South China Sea issues, individual members remain divided on how to pursue a binding
COC. For example, domestic political tensions in Phnom Penh could result in Cambodia once
again playing the spoiler role on South China Sea issues at China’s behest. The Hun Sen
government is beset by mass protests over its manipulation of national elections. China has
shown signs of distancing itself from Hun Sen. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy , perhaps
hoping to capitalize, has stated his belief that Chinese territorial claims in the South China
Sea are valid. If Sam Rainsy should take office and endorse Chinese maritime claims,
Cambodia would be the only ASEAN member country to do so.
The four ASEAN claimant states to the South China Sea hold differing views on the South
China Sea. The Philippines broke ranks with ASEAN by unilaterally filing a claim with the
United Nations asking for an Arbitral Tribunal to make a determination of its legal entitlements
under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – without prior consultation with other
ASEAN members. China privately lobbied other ASEAN members not to join the Philippines.
The Arbitral Tribunal has been set up. The Philippines must submit its full statement of claims
by March 30. Vietnam and Malaysia weighed the pros and cons of joining the Philippines,
though appear to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and would like this archipelago included
in the COC’s geographic scope. Other members of ASEAN view the Paracels as a bilateral
matter between Beijing and Hanoi. In contrast to the Philippines, Vietnam has managed to
keep the South China Sea dispute from affecting its overall bilateral relations with China.
Malaysia and Brunei, the other claimant states, have studiously adopted a low public profile
on the South China Sea. Chinese fishing boats regularly intrude into Malaysia’s EEZ.
Chinese paramilitary vessels, now rebadged as the China Coast Guard, regularly challenge
vessels operated by Petronas, the state oil company, servicing off-shore rigs in Malaysia’s
In 2013 and in January this year a People’s Liberation Army Navy flotilla has travelled to
James Shoal, 80 kilometers off the coast of East Malaysia and the southernmost point of
China’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea. Official Malaysian spokespersons
incredulously denied knowledge of these events.
Malaysian officials are aware of illegal Chinese fishing activities and other assertions of
Chinese sovereignty in the exclusive economic zone. In 2013, for example, Malaysian
diplomats privately briefed academics from an ASEAN think tank and told them that aerial
photos confirmed that PLAN flotilla near James Shoal.
This year, after Malaysian officials denied knowledge of the PLAN visit to James Shoal, the
chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces confirmed the Chinese flotilla had been monitored as it
“strayed into Malaysian waters… As long as it was an innocent passage, that is okay with
us.” Malaysian officials privately state that the “see nothing, know nothing” stance is dictated
by Prime Minister Najib Razak who controls South China Sea policy and suppresses official
statements critical of China. Yet a day after Malaysian the prime minister presented on the
search for flight MH307 at a press conference, commentary in Xinhua, March 15, noted that
the efforts were “either a dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and
The Philippines hosted the first ASEAN Claimants Working Group on February 18 in an effort
to forge consensus among the states most concerned. In a blow to ASEAN consensus,
Brunei failed to show. A month earlier, Brunei also declined to participate in a side meeting
with three other claimant states at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat in Myanmar. One
positive aspect of that meeting, according to observers, was that Malaysia played a more
engaged role than previously.
In the lead-up to the renewed ASEAN-China consultations, the United States has played a
more proactive role in pressing China to bring its maritime territorial claims into accord with
international law. The core members of ASEAN appear to be more unified than previously in
pressing China to agree to cease unilateral actions that undermine regional security.
China has already warned that no one should expect quick results. In remarks to the National
People’s Congress, Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated with respect to maritime disputes in the
South China Sea, “China would like to carry out equal-footing consultation and negotiation
and properly handle by peaceful means on the basis of respecting historical facts and
international law. There will not be any change to this position.” Wang added, “We will never
bully smaller countries, yet we will never accept unreasonable demands from smaller
Carlyle A. Thayer is emeritus professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian
Defence Force Academy, Canberra.
Countering China in the South China Sea
March 18, 2014
On March 18, officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
will meet in Singapore to discuss steps towards an elusive code of conduct in the contentious
South China Sea dispute. If the past is any indicator, China will ensure that such diplomacy
will produce little significant progress even as it continues to coercively change realities on
the ground in its favor. While cooler heads hope diplomacy will prevail, hope is not a strategy.
Southeast Asian officials and other external partners like the United States and Japan need
to use the full range of instruments at their disposal to persuade Beijing about the urgent
need for a diplomatic solution, dissuade it from undertaking further destabilizing moves, and
prepare for a range of crises in the absence of Chinese cooperation.
Since 2009, China has displayed a growing assertiveness towards ASEAN states in the
South China Sea, using a combination of diplomatic, administrative and military instruments
to impose unilateral fishing bans, harass vessels, and patrol contested waters. Despite the
so-called ‘charm offensive’ by China’s new leadership in the region in 2013, Beijing’s conduct
in the South China Sea has remained largely unchanged, with a new fishing law promulgated
in January, invasive patrols and encroachments into waters of other claimants, and foot-
dragging at talks over a code of conduct it finally agreed to discussing last year.
Meanwhile, the specter of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China
Sea also continues to loom large. Yet, as former CIA senior analyst Chris Johnson told a
forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this year, unlike most other
observers China’s leaders continue to see no contradiction between seeking better relations
with Southeast Asia and assertively defending their sovereignty claims at the expense of
other ASEAN claimants.
Given this, it is now up to ASEAN states and their partners to craft an integrated strategy in
the diplomatic, legal and security realms geared towards both steering Beijing away from its
assertiveness if possible, and preparing to counter it effectively should it continue or intensify.
In the diplomatic domain, ASEAN states and other parties should continue to consistently
emphasize the cardinal principle that all countries – including China – need to resolve their
disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law. The principal means to
reach this objective is a legally binding code of conduct. In spite of Chinese stalling, ASEAN
states should remain united in insisting on both its speedy conclusion and meaningful
content, including key mechanisms like a crisis management hotline.
While all ASEAN countries ought to be united in pursuit of a code of conduct, the four ASEAN
states that have claims in the South China Sea – namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines
and Vietnam – should also take additional steps together given their greater stake in the
issue at hand. The main objective would be to thwart China’s efforts to divide the ASEAN
claimants (most clearly by isolating the Philippines) by banding together in spite of certain
differences in their positions. Greater coordination looks more promising now than it did in the
past, with the recent hardening of Malaysia’s stance along with the birth of the ASEAN
Claimants Working Group Meeting held in the Philippines last month. Additionally, external
actors beyond just the United States, including the European Union and Australia, need to do
their part by speaking out against Chinese transgressions to raise the cost of noncompliance.
A rules-based approach to resolving the disputes ought to be a shared global interest, and a
greater coalition explicitly calling for this will help increase the pressure on Beijing without it
being framed as just a U.S.-China issue.
Even if a code of conduct does come to pass, it will at best be a diplomatic tool to manage
tensions in the South China Sea. The sustainable path to actually resolving them lies in the
legal realm, with all parties codifying their claims in line with international law which could
then open the door to shelving sovereignty disputes and initiating joint resource development.
The burden here rests largely with China, whose deliberate ambiguity on the basis for its
indefensible nine-dash-line claim submitted to the United Nations in 2009, which covers up to
90 percent of the entire South China Sea, is inconsistent with the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by any stretch of the imagination.
However, Southeast Asian states and the international community have roles to play as well.
ASEAN countries should continue challenging China’s nine-dash line claim in legal circles to
expose its egregiousness, as thePhilippines is now doing via the International Tribunal of the
Law of the Sea (ITLOS). To add weight to such initiatives in the Chinese mind, other ASEAN
members and external actors should support them either through direct participation or strong
public statements, which can be done carefully without explicitly taking sides on sovereignty
questions. Finally, the four ASEAN claimant states should also continue to codify the
specifics of their own claims in multilateral fora as well as domestic legislation. Greater clarity
among ASEAN claimants could both reveal greater congruence in certain areas as well as
further expose Beijing’s deliberate ambiguity.
But ASEAN countries and their external partners should not just continue to hope that their
efforts will change China’s ambivalence on the code of conduct or its blatant disregard for
international law in the South China Sea. They also need to think critically about how to
manage tensions if Beijing’s assertiveness continues unabated or grows over time and spills
over into other issue areas as well. While the specific decisions eventually made will depend
on each individual country, in general ASEAN claimants and other willing Southeast Asian
and external states should prioritize increasing coordination, cooperation and crisis
management at the domestic, regional and international levels in three specific ways.
First, ASEAN claimants need to redouble efforts to foster greater coordination between the
various military and civilian government agencies considered maritime stakeholders. This is
crucial not only to promote interagency cooperation in the complex domain of maritime
security that touches several areas from fisheries to immigration, but to formulate an
integrated approach to rival China’s adroit strategy of using a variety of nonmilitary
instruments to enforce its claims in a calibrated way, including coast-guard vessels. Efforts by
the Philippines and Brunei to establish national coast-surveillance programs are a useful
step, as are more collective endeavors like a seminar on interagency coordination held in
October 2013 between Vietnam the United States.
Greater integration at the national level should also be supplemented by more cooperation at
the regional and global realms to at least mitigate the asymmetry in capabilities between
China and individual ASEAN states. This is particularly necessary with respect to crisis-
management mechanisms and scenario-planning. For instance, bilateral-security hotlines can
be one useful instrument in managing crises if they are properly resourced, structured and
utilized. While discussions have already begun at the regional level, they will likely take time
to advance and this should not prevent countries from establishing security hotlines on a
bilateral basis, as Malaysia and the Philippines are now reportedly considering.
ASEAN claimant states should also intensify contingency planning related to the South China
Sea both nationally and in concert with relevant partners. Broader initiatives are already
underway with several countries, including further acquisitions and coast guard cooperation
with Japan and increased maritime security cooperation with the United States. But additional
focus should be placed on planning for specific crisis scenarios ranging from rogue fishermen
who may provoke an unintended bilateral crisis all the way up to potential Chinese economic
coercion or blockades. These plans ought to reflect the sophistication of China’s strategy in
the South China Sea in terms of the various instruments used and the different levels of
military and non-military coercion employed. They should also incorporate current Chinese
thinking. For example, one China expert recently told a conference at the Center for New
American Security that China is working on a concept called ‘extended coercive diplomacy’
focused on how to coerce an adversary that is aligned with a great power, with U.S. allies
Japan and the Philippines being case studies.
Critics will claim that elements of this overall strategy make little sense because it is too risky
for weaker ASEAN states to antagonize a much more capable China. But the evidence
suggests that is precisely what China is banking on – that the glaring asymmetry in
capabilities, coupled with its rising regional influence, will make ASEAN states think twice
before risking rupture in relations as long as Beijing’s assertiveness is calibrated to both
divide various claimants and avoid drawing in other external players. It is up to Southeast
Asian states and other interested actors like the United States and Japan to now think
critically about how to counter the full spectrum of Chinese assertiveness proportionately and
to do what is necessary make clear what their red lines are. Because in getting Beijing to
commit to a peaceful, lawful resolution on the South China Sea disputes, to paraphrase
Winston Churchill, it is not enough that all parties do their best; but that they do what is
Prashanth Parameswaran is a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,
Tufts University and a Pacific Forum CSIS non-resident fellow now based in Washington,
D.C. He has previously worked on Southeast Asia at several think tanks including the Center
for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). You can follow him on Twitter
China must be diplomatic
Published: 18/03/2014 at 12:24 AM
Newspaper section: News
The latest spat in the battle over South China Sea territory pits Beijing against Manila in a
remarkably specious dispute. Briefly, the Philippines has placed several soldiers on a
grounded Philippines naval vessel at Second Thomas Shoal, claimed also by China.
Philippine navy and civilian ships tried to carry food and supplies to the islet. The Chinese
Coast Guard blocked them. It's a tiny event on a flyspeck shoal, but all the more important for
the huge over-reaction.
No matter what all the countries involved say, the dispute-plagued China Sea, from Japan to
Malaysia, is a complicated issue. Between two and six countries claim islands, shoals and
seabeds in almost the entire arc. In some cases, the disputes have caused deadly sea
battles. Countries involved have shown both good and bad faith. All involved say the issue is
simple. It is not.
In this current case of Second Thomas Shoal, however, China should show better faith. The
Philippines calls it Ayungin Shoal; China calls it Ren'ai Reef. By any name, the tiny piece of
land is the current property of a few Filipinos. China, at tremendous expense in equipment
and personnel, encircles and attempts to harass the shoal's inhabitants on a 24-hour basis.
Now, purely for that same unique purpose of vexation, it has imposed a blockade.
A more diplomatic and acceptable answer from China should be to allow the resupply. If
necessary, Beijing should even allow the small detachment on the shoal to construct shelters.
This would not affect China's claim to the territory. It would merely show a kinder, gentler side
of a Chinese territorial claim that far too often is loud, aggressive and unpleasant.
The Philippines also has the right to expect diplomatic backing in this dispute from all its
Asean neighbours. Asean need only state it favours allowing supplies to reach those at
Second Thomas Shoal as needed. The group can continue its long-running diplomatic
attempt to establish a lasting compromise to all the South China Sea disputes. And Beijing
can continue to press its claims of ownership, while simultaneously gaining credit for a
simple, clear gesture of allowing proper food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos.
In pursuing its territorial claims, China is often seen as too aggressive. China's cavalier and
unceasing criticism of Malaysia over the vanished Flight MH370 is also offensive to many.
Chinese officials have unleashed official and Communist Party media like Xinhua and the
Global Times in strong condemnation of Kuala Lumpur. It is therefore notable that China,
working from the same data as Malaysia and a dozen other countries, has found no
In a hugely confusing and costly error it refuses to explain, China released official
government satellite photos it said might show airliner wreckage. One expects both more
patience and openness than Beijing demonstrates. Xinhua ironically could have been
speaking of China's government and its useless satellite photos when it supposedly criticised
Malaysia by saying, "Given today's technology, it smacks of either dereliction of duty or
reluctance to share information".
A little more diplomacy would be appreciated. Everyone knows and respects China's size and
might. There are times, however, when China seems unwilling to display its centuries of
experience in negotiation and compromise. Disputes over land and territorial waters are not,
as China too often intimates, important only to Beijing. Seven countries have arguments with
China over territorial rights in the China Sea. Beijing will attract both respect and courtesy for
its claims if it discusses, rather than demands.
China’s SCS claim threatens RI sovereignty
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, March 17 2014, 11:00 AM
Has China abandoned its policy of resolving the contentious South China Sea (SCS) issue
through peaceful means? China’s recent big brother behavior and unilateral military
measures like naval blockades and xenophobic rhetoric have all given the impression that
overconfident China is increasingly shedding its soft-power image in resolving both the East
China Sea and SCS disputes.
China — the world’s second largest economy — has already aroused deep suspicions
among its neighbors by increasing its defense budget in 2014 by 12 percent to US$132
billion, making it second in the world only to the US’s defense spending of $528 billion.
China’s recent measures such as new fisheries laws, the establishment of an air defense
identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and, most recently, a naval blockade around
Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Ren’ai Reef and in the Philippines as Ayungin
— which is in the SCS — have aggravated the fears.
In the past, China has resorted to military options to occupy territories that were claimed by
other countries. In the second week of March 1988, China deployed its troops to seize the
reefs of Co Lin (Collins), Len Dao (Lansdowne) and Gac Ma (Johnson South) in the Spratly
archipelago — also known as Truong Sa in Vietnamese — from Vietnam. China refers to
Johnson South Reef as Chiguajiao, which is now under the control of Beijing.
Will China now resort to military options again to pursue its unilateral claim of the SCS?
Nobody in Asia wants a war but China’s recent words and deeds are not only alarming but
are moving in that direction.
“On issues of territory and sovereignty, China’s position is very firm and clear. There is no
room for compromise,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the media earlier this month.
“We will not take anything that is not ours, but we will defend every inch of territory that
belongs to us.”
But the main problem with China is that it claims almost all of the SCS as its own, based on a
vague U-shaped line known as the nine-dash line, an assertion that is fiercely contested by
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Indonesia, which is not a claimant country, is now more worried about China’s unilateral
claims and its assertiveness, which could threaten peace and stability in Southeast Asia as
well as the unity of ASEAN.
More alarmingly, China, according to an Indonesian defense official, has now included part of
Natuna Islands waters — within Indonesia’s Riau Islands province — in its territorial map
based on the nine-dash line, which could be a serious threat to Indonesia’s territorial integrity
“China has claimed Natuna waters as its territorial waters. This arbitrary claim is related to
the dispute over the Spratly and Paracel Islands between China and the Philippines. This
dispute will have a large impact on the security of Natuna waters,” said Commodore Fahru
Zaini, the assistant deputy (defense strategic doctrine) to the Coordinating Political, Legal
and Security Affairs Minister on Wednesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.
The new map, according to Fahru, has even been included in the new passports of Chinese
“What China has done is related to the territorial zone of the Unitary [State of the] Republic of
Indonesia. Therefore, we have come to Natuna to see the concrete strategies of the main
component of our defense, namely the Indonesian Military [TNI],” Fahru added.
The SCS — known in China as the South Sea, in Vietnam as the East Sea and in the
Philippines as the West Philippines Sea — is a region rich in fisheries and hydrocarbon
reserves, which also provides the shortest route between the Indian and western Pacific
oceans. Around $6 trillion worth of global trade flows through this region.
The SCS has four main island groupings: the Paracel Islands (claimed by Vietnam and
Taiwan but occupied by China), the Pratas Islands (claimed by China but occupied by
Taiwan), the Spratly Islands (claimed in their entirety by Vietnam, China and Taiwan and
claimed partially by Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei but partly occupied by China,
Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines) and the Macclesfield Bank/Scarborough Reef
(both of which are claimed by China and Taiwan, while just Scarborough Reef is claimed by
the Philippines and both are unoccupied).
The problem with the claims of China and Taiwan — both of which are based on the
countries’ so-called “indisputable sovereignty” according to the 1947 nine-dash line map — is
that the claims are not clear, and the countries also never clarified with other claimant
countries what that sovereignty covers. The legality and the precise locations indicated by the
nine dashes are not clear.
“Both Beijing and Taipei have declined to explain what the nine bars signify, whether they are
meant to claim sovereignty or some kind of maritime jurisdiction over the entire expanse of
water that the lines encompass or only over the land features within the interrupted line,”
Rodolfo C. Severino, an expert on ASEAN affairs, wrote in a newly published book titled
Entering Uncharted Waters? ASEAN and the South China Sea.
Indonesian maritime expert Prof. Hasyim Djalal echoed a similar view. “There was no
definition of that dashed line, nor were there any coordinates stated. If you have any historical
evidence [regarding the claim], please show us,” Hasyim said recently in Jakarta.
Given the tense situation and lack of convincing evidence from both China and other claimant
countries, it would be better if all parties involved adhered to the path of a peaceful resolution
to the SCS conflict.
For the time being, until a final solution to the impasse is reached (which is unlikely for a long
time), there is a need for a mechanism to prevent conflict and promote cooperation among
disagreeing parties. Dialogue is still the best way to solve this long maritime dispute.
Eyes on Crimea, China makes its move
By Donald K Emmerson
March 17, 2014
While much of the world was busy watching Russia swallow Crimea, few realized that an also
dangerous territorial tit-for-tat had begun to unfold earlier this month more than 5,000 miles
away in the South China Sea.
At Second Thomas Shoal, a handful of Philippine marines have long been stationed and re-
provisioned on the rusting deck of the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval ship half-sunk
into the reef in 1999. Ever since, the vessel and the marines have served to embody Manila's
claim of sovereignty over the shoal. More recently, China has tried to raise the salience of its
own claim by intensively patrolling the area.
On March 9, 2014, China made a move to end the status quo at the shoal. For the first time
in 15 years, Beijing stopped Manila from delivering supplies to the Sierra Madre. The Chinese
Coast Guard forced two Philippine ships to turn away. Manila answered the blockade by
successfully dropping food and water to the marines by air. It was then up to Manila whether
to send in another supply ship or plane, and up to Beijing whether to leave it alone, chase it
away, sink it, or shoot it down.
China claims that the Philippine ships were "loaded with construction materials" to build up
Manila's position. Manila says the ships were merely trying to re-provision the marines "to
improve the conditions there," not "to expand or build permanent structures on the shoal."
Dominance and declaration
A dozen years ago China and the 10 states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), including the Philippines, signed a "2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in
the South China Sea," or DoC. The signers undertook "to resolve their territorial and
jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force."
China's threat of force against the Philippine supply ships at Second Thomas Shoal on March
9 violated the DoC.
The DoC's signers also agreed "to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that
would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability." Insofar as the
Philippine resupply effort on March 9 was designed to continue years of seaborne
provisioning that had maintained the status quo at Second Thomas Shoal since 1999, it did
not innovate a complication and was not an escalation.
The states that negotiated the DoC in 2002 agreed not to inhabit "the presently uninhabited"
land features in the South China Sea. But Second Thomas Shoal was inhabited in 2002.
Manila had been rotating its marines through the Sierra Madre and thereby occupying the
shoal for three years before the DoC was signed. Nor did China's blockade of the Philippine
ships earlier this month keep the signers' promise "to handle their differences in a
The United States, which shares a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, voiced concern
about China's action at Second Thomas Shoal. "This is a provocative move that raises
tensions," said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "Pending resolution of
competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of
claimants to maintain the status quo."
It is too early to know the outcome of China's latest escalation. But it is not premature to
place the move in historical context. Consider this incomplete listing of incidents involving
unilateral Chinese behavior in the area over the past decade:
China's occupation of Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal; its repeated
harassment of Vietnamese and Philippine ships; the assertive moves of its warships around
James Shoal, which Malaysia claims, including firing weapons into the air; its announcement
that any non-Chinese citizens or vessels must first ask China's permission to fish in a zone
that covers more than half of the South China Sea; its refusal to clarify the meaning of the
wide-reaching U-shaped line on the maps that it uses to warrant its sovereignty over the
sea's waters and/or land features; its refusal publicly to assuage Jakarta regarding the part of
Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone east of Natuna that the U-shaped line cuts off; and
now its expulsion of Philippine supply vessels from Second Thomas Shoal.
The long and ongoing record of unilateral Chinese assertions or aggressions in the South
and East China Sea no longer leaves room for doubt as to Beijing's intention. China wants
and is trying to achieve dominance over the waters behind what it calls the "first island chain."
The Southeast Asian portion of that chain runs from Taiwan and the Philippines southwest
along the Borneo coast to Indonesia's Natuna and Anambas Islands, turns north to parallel
the Malayan peninsula, crosses the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand, and continues northward,
skirting Vietnam, to China's own island of Hainan east of the Tonkin Gulf-precisely the land
features that fringe the u-shaped line.
For at least three reasons, China's leaders should not be upset if observers conclude that
they have eventual dominance in mind. First, dominance in practice can have hard or soft
edges; its injuriousness can vary. Second, why would Beijing avow such sweeping
pretensions with such vehemence if it did not sincerely want its desire for primacy in the
South China Sea to be acknowledged rather than doubted? Third, if its claims to sovereignty
are fairly assessed and found valid, how is the mantle of dominance not deserved?
China is not alone. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have laid down
markers of their own. All six claimants are responsible, in different ways and to varying
degrees, for the volatile imbroglio that persists in the South China Sea. None of these
contenders, however, has used force or threatened force more often in furthering its claim
than China has.
Beijing's argument for historically based rights cannot be dismissed in advance. If it were ever
fully clarified and impartially appraised, China's case might even hold more water, as it were,
than the arguments of China's rivals. No equitable and lasting solution to the problem can
ignore Beijing's position, however presumptuous it may be. In the meantime, by unilaterally
creating facts on the sea, China is trying to implement its dominance as a "new normal" to
which all of the other claimants, and outsiders including the United States, must defer.
What will ASEAN do?
The question is not "What does China intend?" The answer - dominance of some kind and
degree - is known. The question is "What, if anything, is anyone else prepared to do?"
Neither the US nor Japan is about to go to war over competing claims in the South China
Sea. Washington is now preoccupied with Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea-not to
mention Secretary of State John Kerry's relentless yet (so far) fruitless diplomacy on Iran,
Israel-Palestine, and Syria. The mysterious fate of Malaysia Airlines' Flight 370 has absorbed
any leftover bandwidth of global attention. Given these distractions, China could hardly have
chosen a better time to blockade the Philippine ships.
The South China Sea is the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. No set of countries is more
directly - adjacently - impacted by what China does there. The question raised by China's
blockade is: What will ASEAN do? Will it continue to ignore China's moves? Or will it,
however politely, resist them?
On March 18, ASEAN officials and their Chinese counterparts will meet in Singapore at the
10th session of a Joint Working Group on the implementation of the DoC. The group has
been convened periodically since 2005 to no meaningful avail. China in particular has
preferred to operate on two tracks at once: engaging ASEAN in operationally futile
discussions while changing, fact by fact, conditions on the water in the South China Sea.
The ASEAN states and China alike have continued to talk of someday moving from a mere
DoC to a CoC - an actual Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. But implementing the
DoC, let alone transitioning to a CoC, has proven chimerical. Again, China is not the sole
cause of delay; ASEAN is divided as to what, if anything, to do. But China's strategy is clear:
to use fruitless diplomacy to buy time for factual primacy, thereby ensuring that future
negotiations will serve Chinese ends.
Chinese authorities should at least be credited for their candor in conveying their desire to
delay progress on the diplomatic track. At a press conference in Beijing on March 7, a
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman answered a question about the upcoming Joint Working
Group meeting in Singapore by saying "China and ASEAN countries" gathered in Singapore
would "continue to exchange views" on "implementing the DoC" and to "hold consultations"
on a CoC "under the framework of implementing the DoC."
China was "ready to work with ASEAN countries to stay committed" to "implementing the
DoC and steadily pressing ahead with consultation" on a CoC "during the process", he said.
The spokesman also hoped for an "atmosphere" and "conditions" favorable to "the above
These official remarks showed little urgency or interest in arriving at an agreement. They
were focused not on product but on process, on continuing to talk, on creating an ambiance
that would in turn favor an exchange of views. China was "ready to work," but not, he implied,
to actually implement the DoC or negotiate a CoC. China was merely prepared (a) to work
with unspecified ASEAN countries (b) toward staying committed (c) to the process of talking
about (d) eventually, perhaps, getting something done. Two days later, China halted the
Philippine ships at Second Thomas Shoal.
The most likely outcome of the meeting in Singapore is another restatement of faith in a
double mirage on an ever-receding time horizon: eventual compliance with the DoC and the
eventual existence of a CoC. That said, however, some recent if modest changes in ASEAN's
rhetoric are intriguing.
In November 2013 China's Ministry of National Defense announced in threatening language
its unilateral creation of an "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone." The zone's
reference to sea as well as air appeared to jeopardize both freedom of navigation (FON) in
and freedom of overflight (FOO) above Northeast Asian waters.
One would have expected ASEAN not to comment on China's announcement, so as not to
anger Beijing and not to seem biased in favor of Tokyo or Washington, who both rejected the
zone. Yet, largely unnoticed, an ASEAN-Japan summit in Tokyo on December 14 released a
Joint Statement that did include a section on "free and safe maritime navigation and
The eleven leaders specifically "agreed to enhance cooperation in ensuring the freedom of
overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the universally recognized principles of
international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, and the relevant standards and recommended
practices by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)." These were barely veiled
references to China's efforts to appropriate the Pinnacle (Senkaku/Diaoyu) Islands and to
control air traffic above the East China Sea.
Phnom Penh, Bagan and beyond
In July 2012 in Phnom Penh, at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, Cambodian Prime
Minister Hun Sen did China's bidding by canceling the joint communique traditionally issued
at the end of such events. He did this against the wishes of Manila and Hanoi that the
communiqu? acknowledge, even if only obliquely, the disputes in the South China Sea. In
December 2014 in Tokyo, in contrast, he stood aside and let the implicit critique of his
Chinese patron stand.
One could dismiss what happened at the Tokyo summit as nothing more than a one-off sop
to Japan, offered pro forma to their host by polite guests. Yet barely a month later that view
was challenged by what ASEAN thought fit to say on its own account, without foreigners
present. It happened at an ASEAN foreign ministers' retreat held in Bagan on January 17,
2014, the first ASEAN function hosted by Myanmar since taking over as the group's chair
earlier that month.
The meeting was informal; no joint statement was released. But according to the official
summary of the event on the websites of the ASEAN Secretariat and Myanmar's Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, the ministers "expressed their concerns on the recent developments in the
South China Sea. They further reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability,
maritime security, [and] freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea."
They were also said to have "urged continued self-restraint in the conduct of activities." And
these stands were all taken at a meeting unattended by Tokyo or any other foreign power.
The Philippines has already vowed to send more ships to resupply the Sierra Madre. Perhaps
that recalcitrant stance will allow the Joint Working Group publicly to urge "self-restraint" after
private assurances to Beijing that the criticism is really meant for Manila. Perhaps a lively
discussion of the South China Sea will take place in Singapore once China is assured that
whatever is said in the room will stay in the room.
The ASEAN states might even risk Chinese umbrage by reporting, in a summary of the event
on the ASEAN Secretariat's website, unattributed expressions of concern for unnamed risks
to FON and FOO. That said, breaths should not be held. Even if ASEAN does not censor
itself, constructive words alone will not prevent incautious actions, whether by China, the
Philippines, or anyone else.
Has Beijing bullied itself into a box? Will China's leaders find themselves caught in a
dilemma-unable to stop blocking Philippine ships and planes for fear of appearing weak in the
eyes of ultranationalists at home, yet also unable to imprison Manila's marines in an invisible
sea-air cell maintained by Chinese arms without further alienating Beijing's Southeast Asian
Or perhaps ASEAN will turn a blind eye, let the Filipinos fend for themselves, and thus, in its
own low-key, consensual "ASEAN Way," facilitate Chinese dominance of the South China
Sea. There are surely some in Southeast Asia for whom that ultimate result is already a
Donald K Emmerson heads the Southeast Asia Forum in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific
Research Center at Stanford University.
Media and scholars in many countries
denounce China’s action in the East Sea
Monday, 10 March 2014 03:04
SCSC - From Jan. 01, 2014 on, the amended measures set forth by the Hainan
authorities to enforce "the fishing law of the People's Republic of China" would take
effect. This new action taken by China has deeply concerned international opinion and
has been covered rapidly and widely by the press of various countries.
Most of the coverage has criticized China's action, considering China’s maneuver as a new
escalation, causing greater tensions in the East Sea.
Several U.S. newspapers have released articles criticizing this unilateral effort to impose
rules on fishing vessels in the East Sea. The magazine, "American Interest ", dated Jan. 8,
2014 in an article titled "China's determination to suppress foreign fishing vessels in the
South China Sea”, said that China was taking steps to strengthen its control over the
disputed area of the East Sea. The article stated that, as a result of this effort to threaten
foreign fishing vessels in the East Sea which is seen by China as its “backyard”, the ongoing
and widespread naval arms race in the area would continue and the risk of confrontation
would continue to escalate.
America's Wall Street Journal, dated Jan. 9, 2014 said that China was striving to promote the
legal basis for the country’s maritime security forces operating in the East Sea, threatening to
further complicate her already tense relationship with the neighboring countries in the East
The New York Times, on Jan 10, 2014 reported that these new regulations on fishing
imposed by the Hainan provincial authorities have caused concern for the U.S., and once
again attracted international attention focused on the complex issue of territorial disputes and
raised the questions on what type of power China would like to become. The article pointed
out that though for a long time the U.S. has repeatedly urged the parties having disputed
sovereignty in the East Sea to agree on a Code of Conduct designed to reduce the risk of
confrontation, it still believed that the attainment of such code still cannot resolve sovereignty
claims. This newspaper emphasized the fact that up to now China has not yet provided any
legal basis for her "nine - dotted line" claim in the East Sea in accordance with international
The Los Angeles Times dated Jan.10, 2014 contained an analysis by Gary Schmitt, the
Director of the Marilyn Ware Research Center at the American Enterprise Institute. The
author questioned why China recently unexpectedly behaves so aggressively. Schmitt
maintained that the reason for China’s warlike conduct is due to the weakened status of the
U.S. However, the U.S.’ weakening status is not the main cause. The main cause obviously
lies in China's own ambitions. The Chinese leaders want their country to become a great
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, dated January 11, 2014 emphasized that the Chinese effort to
implement new regulations once again exposes China’s intention to control the sea and the
air in and over the East China Sea and the East Sea. The Sankei, dated Jan. 10, 2014,
quoted a statement made by the spokesman of the U.S. State Department, which stressed
that this behavior was to make known China’s real enforcement of the “nine - dotted line”. In
fact, China has never given any explanation or ground based on international law for this
wide ranging maritime claim.
Japan’s Akahata, dated Jan.11, 2014, published an article titled "China's unilateral fishing
regulations”, in which the author quoted the report that China’s supervisory fishing ships had
tried to intercept, pursue and arrest certain ordinary Vietnamese fishing boats in the area of
the Paracel Islands on Jan. 2 - 3, 2014.
Russian media also issued reports on the views of a number of countries. The Russian wrote,
"China’s foreign policy is to make changes and to strengthen its might". The Itar - Tass wrote,
"Beijing offered her new regulations for fishing vessels in the East Sea and Hanoi refused to
recognize this new regulation”, The Port news stated, "the U.S. State Department said that
with an attempt to limit the foreign boats’ ability to fish in the East Sea, Beijing's action
constitutes a provocation, the U.S. therefore opposes China’s "privatization" effort in the East
Several foreign scholars have condemned Beijing’s action. An expert on China, John Tkacik,
a former State Department official, said that the new decision of the Hainan provincial
authorities is part of the strategy to gradually tighten China’s control over the East Sea. The
precursor is obviously the publication of the "nine - dotted line" map which is legally
ambiguous. This decision is designed to test the international and regional response. He
additionally stated, "With this announcement, it is clear that China is despising the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982” (UNCLOS).
Professor Carl Thayer assessed Beijing's latest move on the air defense identification zone
for the East China Sea and the "Amendments Measures 2013" as unilateral actions aimed at
increasing the legal basis for her sovereignty claims in the East Sea and East China Sea.
Thayer emphasized that China’s actions are “ challenging the sovereignty of neighboring
states and having the ability to increase the tension, as well as the possibility of armed
conflict outbreaks”. Thayer stated that "all the vessels including research - and - survey ones
in the region have the right to navigate freely in international waters. Any action to prevent
these vessels should be seen as an act of state piracy. This could lead to the international
action taken against China’s ships”. He called China's action "state piracy”.
China’s new escalation demonstrates her new leadership’s intention to use tough ocean
policy in its effort to change the present situation of the East Sea. The opinions expressed by
the press and scholars make clear the concerns of the international community over Beijing’s
China’s “Nine-Dash Line” is Dangerous
The principle behind China’s “nine-dash line” threatens the
stability of far more than the South China Sea.
By Zachary Keck
February 19, 2014
As noted last week, the U.S. has lodged its objection to China’s “nine-dash-line” claim to the
South China Sea. It is right to do so for two reasons.
First, in contrast to what China claims, the U.S. clearly stating its position on the conflict will
reduce the chance that the U.S. and China will come to blows over the South China Sea.
From The Pacific Realist’s perch in Washington, DC, it always seemed obvious that the U.S.
would not tolerate Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea, at least under the
prevailing power dynamics in the region. Still, it’s easy to imagine how some in Beijing—
particularly those most eager to enforce China’s gigantic claims—could come to a different
conclusion on the matter. After all, Washington has stood by as the People’s Liberation Army
has pushed the Philippines out of the Scarborough Shoal and continues to threaten the
Second Thomas Shoal. It therefore doesn’t seem too far-fetched to believe that some in
China would calculate that the U.S. will not stand up to Beijing in the South China Sea.
Directly challenging the legitimacy of China’s “nine-dash line” does carry some risks. In
particular, although it’s likely to give China greater pause in pushing its claims in the South
China Sea, it also puts the U.S. in a tough spot if China does decide to ignore America’s
warning. That being said, the Obama administration has taken adequate measures to
minimize this danger by stating that it would strengthen the U.S. military presence in Asia
should Beijing cross certain red lines. Thus, while the U.S. has hardened its position, it has
not put itself on a collision course with China.
The second and more important reason the U.S. is right in challenging China’s “nine-dash
line” in the South China Sea is that Beijing’s claim is inherently destabilizing and not just for
the Asia. China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea is rooted primarily in the notion
that past Chinese rulers have at times maintained sovereignty over the various islands and
reefs in the waters. As a senior Chinese diplomat explained to U.S. officials back in 2008,
“The dotted line of the South China Sea indicates the sovereignty of China over the islands in
the South China Sea since ancient times.”
Allowing China to establish the principle that states can claim territory based on what their
country has at times controlled would be disastrous for the simple reason that borders have
been fluid throughout history. As a result, there would be a never-ending series of
overlapping claims of sovereignty that would place countless states on a path to conflict.
Consider Europe, for example. The Ottoman Empire controlled large parts of Europe at
various times, giving modern day Turkey the right to claim sovereignty over the continent.
France and Germany could each claim sovereignty over most of Western and parts of
Eastern Europe owing to the Napoleonic and Nazi Germany eras. The U.S. and England
could claim much of Western Europe owing to the last few years of WWII. And Russia, of
course, could demand that others recognize its dominance over all of Eastern Europe
because of the Soviet Union’s borders. European states, in turn, could lay claim to much of
the world thanks to the colonial era.
Ironically, few states would fare worse than China should its “nine-dash line” principle be
upheld given how often parts of China have been invaded and occupied by outsiders. There
is of course the 19th
and early 20th
century European colonial period when countries like
Germany, France, and Great Britain laid claims to parts of China. Imperial Japan also
controlled large sways of China giving Shinzo Abe the right to claim sovereignty over those
parts of China. Even Mongolia could demand that its claim to sovereignty over China in its
entirety be upheld because of the Mongol invasion and occupation of China in the
Century. Furthermore, much of modern day China has fallen outside the command of
Chinese dynasties at various moments in time. For example, the Turkish people of Xinjiang
province could claim that part of the People’s Republic of China on the grounds that it was
part of Turkestan before the Qing Dynasty recaptured it.
All of this is to say that the principle behind China’s “nine-dash line” is dangerous for the
general maintenance of peace and stability in the global system. The United States in
particular, but all nations including China, would be derelict in their duties as nation-states to
allow it to stand.
China’s Failed Effort to Export Outrage Over
By Ying Ma
February 14, 2014
With Secretary of State John Kerry visiting Beijing this week, China would like to see the
United States express indignation over Japan’s efforts to whitewash its history from World
War II. In service of that goal, Chinese diplomats have launched an unprecedented public
relations blitz, arguing in dozens of op-eds and television interviews that Japan needs to be
made to account for its past aggression.
On the issue of history, China’s diplomats have been convincing. Yet their message has
largely fallen on deaf ears in the U.S., particularly in Congress. The lack of moral outrage in
the U.S. on China’s behalf illustrates just how difficult a task the world’s most populous
country faces in overcoming American fears over its growing assertiveness.
Chinese tourists view the names of victims of Japanese war crimes at the Nanjing Massacre
Memorial Museum in Nanjing on February 12, 2014.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Beijing’s complaints about Japan are valid. It would be unthinkable for Chancellor Angela
Merkel of Germany to downplay the Holocaust, or for a U.S. politician to describe female
slaves who had been coerced into having sex with their masters as whores. Yet prominent
Japanese politicians have made equivalent statements on multiple occasions in the recent
Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to walk back a previous apology issued by
Japan for its World War II aggression by saying the definitions of “aggression” and
“invasion” were not clear. He has claimed that there is no evidence that so-called “comfort
women” – some 200,000 sex slaves, many from China and Korea, made to serve Japanese
soldiers during the war – were coerced. Those who were kidnapped to serve as sex slaves
dispute the Prime Minister’s claim.
Meanwhile, other politicians in Japan have tried to argue that the 1937 “Rape of Nanking” —
during which Japanese soldiers raped, tortured and massacred Chinese civilians — never
Prof. Xu Xin of Cornell University, a specialist in East Asian international
relations, recently describes Japanese citizens’ emotions about their country’s participation in
World War II as “complex.” “I would say the nationalist sentiment [in Japan] is pretty
strong….They seem to think they are different from Germany in many ways” Xu said.
China’s problem: U.S. policymakers have been preoccupied with figuring out how best to
respond to China’s expansive territorial ambitions in the context of its growing economic,
political and military influence.
Washington was alarmed when China established a new air defense zone in the East China
Sea in November. U.S. policymakers have also been troubled by China’s expansive territorial
claims in the South China Sea—Beijing claims almost all of it – which have impacted
everything from fishing to regional stability to archaeological research.
Rhetoric out of Washington illustrates the hard attitudes China’s recent moves have
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who was then Chair of the
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated in September 2012 that China plays “the role of
a schoolyard bully towards its maritime neighbors. From one end to the other of the South
China Sea, Beijing has increased both in belligerence and bellicosity.”
“I believe we must be one hundred percent intolerant of China’s territorial claims and its
continued resort to forms of military coercion to alter the status quo of the [Asia] region,”
declared Virginia GOP congressman Randy Forbes, Chairman of the House Armed Services
Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, at a congressional hearing in January.
While largely ignoring China’s complaints about Japan, Congress has been much more
sensitive to lobbying from Korean-American groups and frequent condemnations by Seoul of
Japan’s historical amnesia. In January, Congress inserted language into the omnibus
spending bill signed by President Barack Obama urging Secretary of State John Kerry to
raise the issue of “comfort women” with Japan. Democratic congressman Mike Honda of
California subsequently sent a letter to Kerry pointing out that Prime Minister Abe had once
considered the “comfort women” as mere “prostitutes.”
Other members of Congress have also chimed in. “It might be useful,” said Congressman
Gerald Connolly, the Virginia Democrat, at a congressional hearing in January, “if Mr. Abe
wishes to really exercise moral, not just political, leadership in the region—if he were to
acknowledge the sins of Japan, especially with respect to Korea from the recent
unpleasantness known as World War II.”
The emphasis on Korea’s suffering has helped attract attention to Japanese revisionism, but
it also highlights China’s public relations challenge in Washington. China’s sufferings during
World War II were immense, and it has as much a right as South Korea to decry Japan’s
reluctance to take full ownership of its war-time wrongdoing. Yet China’s efforts to cultivate
sympathy on that point have been undermined by the blunt way it has presented its territorial
moves and by its longstanding image in Washington as a country that abuses human rights,
manipulates its currency, steals U.S. intellectual property and conducts cyber espionage
It has not helped that China has dismissed U.S. concerns over the air defense zone and
Chinese activities in the South China Sea almost out of hand. Following testimony earlier this
month by Danny Russel, the State Department’s top official on East Asia, that questioned the
legality of China’s South China Sea claims, China’s foreign ministry issued a terse
response calling the comments “irresponsible” and saying China had a right to take “any
measures it sees fit” to defend national security.
However valid China’s grievances about history may be, one major factor that prevents the
United States from showering on Japan the censure that China advocates is the widespread
perception that China is an authoritarian regime that bullies its neighbors and presents a
serious challenge to America’s leadership of the Asia-Pacific region.
This perception is one that no amount of Japanese penitence can erase.
Ying Ma is the author of “Chinese Girl in the Ghetto” and the host of “China Takes Over the
World” on RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcast station. Follow her on Twitter @gztoghetto.
Price of passivity in Washington could be
war in Asia
Elbridge Colby, Ely Ratner
Washington February 13, 2014 1:00 am
Filipino and US Marines take part in a joint military exercise in Ulugan Bay, facing the South China
Sea, in Palawan province, western Philippines.//EPA/DENNIS M. SABANGAN
The US must use tougher military and diplomatic pressure against China's
Although officials on both sides of the Pacific are publicly loath to add fuel to the fire, it is
increasingly clear that China's recent regional provocations are the result of more than just
knee-jerk reactions or bureaucratic malfunctions over arcane historical ownership. Beijing's
far-reaching claims in the East and South China seas - and coercive efforts to intimidate
neighbours - have unsettled countries from Vietnam to the Philippines to Japan because they
amount to an expansionist strategy, with profound implications for US power and regional
China's latest act of revisionism, in late November, was to declare an air defence
identification zone (ADIZ) across large swaths of the East China Sea, including over the
disputed Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu by the Chinese). America's response was
twofold: The White House indicated it would not officially honour the ADIZ designation (a
message delivered by sending unarmed B-52 bombers through the zone), but it initially
encouraged commercial airliners to comply with Beijing's request to identify themselves.
Meanwhile, it dispatched high-level officials to calm the waters: When Vice President Joe
Biden met with Chinese leaders in early December, his mission, according to one senior
administration official, was to push for "crisis management mechanisms and confidence-
building measures to lower tensions and reduce risk of escalation or miscalculation".
This effort to play the role of regional peacemaker echoes the Obama administration's
approach in 2012 during the Scarborough Shoal stand-off between China and the
Philippines, as well as during the row between Tokyo and Beijing after Japan nationalised the
Senkaku Islands. But if China's ends haven't changed, its means have - in the past years,
Beijing has stepped up efforts to achieve its long-held territorial aims. As a former Chinese
ambassador told us in December, her country's position in the world is like that of "a new
student that jumped many grades". Maybe so, but Beijing's behaviour since 2009 is more
akin to that of a brash adolescent both unaware and blithe to the potential consequences of
US officials have been careful to avoid provoking a China that appears increasingly willing to
flex its new-found military muscle. Perhaps that's why Biden invoked his father's advice in
warning on the eve of his Beijing visit that "the only conflict that is worse than one that is
intended is one that is unintended". But an overemphasis on stability can be dangerous.
While preventing inadvertent war in Asia is obviously a worthy goal, it is just as important to
discourage China from believing that it can employ economic, military and diplomatic
coercion to settle international disagreements without triggering a serious response. Making
the risk of escalation too low will at some point start running counter to US interests.
Why? Because China is taking advantage of Washington's risk aversion by rocking the boat,
seeing what it can extract in the process, and letting the United States worry about righting it.
Beijing's playbook of tailored coercion relies in part on China's confidence that it can weather
ephemeral international outrage while Washington takes responsibility for ensuring the
situation doesn't get out of control. This means that reducing the likelihood of escalation
through high-level strategic dialogues and military-to-military hotlines, however important, is
in and of itself insufficient to curb Chinese assertiveness.
History has demonstrated the perils of focusing too much on stability at the expense of
deterrence. The Cuban missile crisis, the modern world's closest brush with the apocalypse,
was precipitated by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's perception that the United States,
especially president John F Kennedy, was overly concerned about stability and cooling
tensions between the superpowers. Khrushchev's sense that America could be pushed was
formed by Kennedy's cautious reactions to assertive Soviet moves toward Berlin, as well as
Khrushchev's measure of Kennedy at the 1961 Vienna superpower summit as "weak" and
Over the following year and a half, Khrushchev sought to exploit what he perceived to be
shaky American resolve, pressing in Berlin, where East Germany built a wall closing off the
free part of the city, and secretly deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba. Only through a
demonstrated willingness on the part of Kennedy to go to the nuclear brink - with US nuclear
forces on high alert and US naval forces prepared to forcibly halt Soviet ships attempting to
run the blockade (accompanied by a US concession on missile deployments in Turkey) - was
the United States able to get Moscow to back down.
Of course, China is not the Soviet Union. And 2014 is not 1962. The point is simply that a
country with the power of the USSR or China, unsatisfied with features of the existing order,
motivated to do something to change it, and sceptical of the resolve of the United States,
could well pursue a policy of coercion and brinkmanship, even under the shadow of nuclear
weapons. As historian Francis Gavin has argued, the whole history of the Cold War shows
that countries like China - and, at times, the United States - can bluff, coerce and threaten
their way to geopolitical gain.
The worst way to deal with such a power is to leave it with the impression that these
Taking a cue from history, the United States needs to inject a healthy degree of risk into
Beijing's calculus, even as it searches for ways to cooperate with China.
To make this work, the United States should pursue policies that actually elevate the risks -
political, economic or otherwise - to Beijing of acting assertively. On the high seas, the focal
point for the region's territorial disputes, China has bullied its neighbours by relying on non-
military vessels. China is using its rapidly expanding coast guard to assert its expansive
sovereignty claims by harassing non-Chinese fishermen, oil companies and military vessels
that pass through contested waters in the East and South China seas. This has the benefit of
exploiting China's dominant numerical advantage while keeping the US Navy on the
Washington should blur the false distinction between non-military and military ships by stating
that it will respond to physical coercion and the use of force as deemed appropriate -
regardless of whether the perpetrator is a white- or grey-hulled ship. Exercises that practice
US naval operations against aggressive non-military vessels would be a start. So would
calling on China to end its illegal occupation of the Scarborough Shoal off the Philippine
The Chinese PLA Navy, for its part, hasn't been shy to test the waters. In early December,
the US Pacific Fleet revealed that the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens, while shadowing
China's new aircraft carrier on a routine mission in international seas, was forced to take
evasive action when a PLA Navy warship attached to the carrier group approached on a
collision course, literally forcing the cruiser into a game of chicken. "The Chinese knew what
they were doing," a military official told CNN.
Leaders throughout Asia will be watching. Too much caution, especially if China is clearly the
initiator, may be read as US weakness, thereby perpetuating rather than diminishing China's
incentives toward adventurism.
The United States can further raise the stakes by deepening its military ties with Japan. This
year, the two countries will rewrite the guidelines that govern the roles and responsibilities of
their partnership. The result could be major steps forward in joint military planning and
interoperability. Washington can also play a key role in mending fences between Tokyo and
Seoul, renewing trilateral cooperation to address the many interests - and common threats -
that the three countries share.
Beyond America's traditional alliances in Northeast Asia, the Obama administration must
demonstrate a concrete, long-lasting commitment to Australia, the Philippines and Singapore
in order to provide the United States with a more diversified set of partners and forward-
operating locations in Asia, as well as broader political legitimacy.
Beijing's planners worry about America's burgeoning military alliances and partnerships in
Asia. Good. That means they'll be more reluctant to start a fight if doing so means China
could end up facing a multitude of the region's powerhouses. The point, of course, is not to
increase the likelihood of conflict between the United States and China. Rather, the goal is to
cultivate real, long-term stability in Asia that doesn't give China a licence to push, prod and
Critics might assert that taking these steps will invite precisely the kind of Cold War-like
competition that will make conflict, if not outright war, most likely. This is a real possibility, and
US policymakers will have to carefully balance deterrence with engagement. But those who
are reluctant to push back need to ask themselves whether China's top leaders currently see
a sufficient downside in acting assertively. Clearly, they do not.
Elbridge Colby is a fellow with the Centre for a New American Security and co-editor of the
book "Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations. Ely Ratner is deputy director of the Asia-
Pacific Security Programme at the centre.
China, the Philippines, and the Makings of a 'Munich'
FEB 6 2014, 5:09 PM ET
From left to right, Italy's Benito Mussolini, Germany's Adolf Hitler, translator Paul-Otto Schmidt, and
Britain's Neville Chamberlain at the Munich Conference, in 1938. (Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia
This week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III did something I’ve rarely heard before: He
compared a contemporary international situation to “Munich” without sounding absurd.
For more than half a century, “Munich” has been the most abused analogy in American
foreign policy. The actual Munich agreement, signed in late September 1938 by Germany,
Britain, France, and Italy, gave the largely German-speaking Sudeten region of
Czechoslovakia to Germany despite Czech warnings that it would leave the country
defenseless and whet Hitler’s appetite for further conquest, which it did.
Since then, “Munich” has become code for a diplomatic concession that emboldens future
aggression. And in American foreign policy debates, it’s become a constant refrain. In 1951,
when Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur rather than wage war with China to reunite
Korea under Western control, Joseph McCarthy labeled it a “super-Munich.” In 1965, when
Lyndon Johnson announced that America would send 125,000 combat troops to Vietnam, he
warned that “surrender in Vietnam [would not] bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at
Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression.” In 1991, in urging support for the
rebellions against Saddam Hussein that followed the Gulf War, Al Gore urged George H.W.
Bush not to “repeat the mistake that was made at Munich.” Last September, John Kerry
called America’s response to Syrian chemical weapons use “our Munich moment.” And two
months later, when the Obama administration signed an interim nuclear deal with Iran, Wall
Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens dubbed it, “worse than Munich.”
This is awful history. The actual Munich agreement featured Germany, the most powerful
country in Europe. When American politicians and pundits invoke Munich, by contrast, they’re
usually referring to adversaries that are far too weak to dominate their region, let alone the
world. Even if the United States had handed South Vietnam over to Hanoi without a fight, for
instance, or utterly capitulated to Iran’s desire for a nuclear bomb, those concessions still
wouldn’t be comparable to Munich, because neither North Vietnam nor Iran enjoys remotely
the relative power that Nazi Germany enjoyed in 1938. In fact, there’s only one rising power
in today’s world with the economic and military might to intimidate its neighbors into territorial
concessions and then use those concessions to dominate a strategically important region of
the world, and that’s China.
Which is what makes Aquino’s analogy interesting. The Philippine leader fears that if the
world grants China’s vast claims in the South China Sea, it will embolden Beijing to take even
more belligerent action toward its neighbors. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’?”
he told The New York Times. “Well, the world has to say it—remember that the Sudetenland
was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”
Aquino’s analogy is far from perfect. Although it’s often forgotten, Germany framed its claim
to the Sudetenland in the language of self-determination (a claim that enjoyed superficial
plausibility given that many German-speakers in the region did indeed want to join Germany).
The disputes in the South China Sea, by contrast, are over sparsely populated islands, and
China bases its demands on historical claims, not ethnic affinity. More importantly, it’s
impossible to know how, or even if, capitulation to China’s demands would embolden it to act
more aggressively. By late 1938, Hitler, to the dismay of some of his generals, was eager for
war. Beijing’s leaders, while clearly nationalistic, have not shown themselves to be nearly as
Still, compared to the way American politicians and pundits usually invoke Munich, Aquino’s
reasoning has some merit. The South China Sea, like the Sudetenland, is strategically
valuable. The latter boasted heavy industry that proved vital to Germany’s war effort; the
former contains large deposits of oil and natural gas. The Philippines enjoys a defense treaty
with the United States, as Czechoslovakia did with France. Yet there’s good reason to
believe that the war-weary Washington of 2014—like the war-weary Paris of 1938—would
rather see Manila capitulate than risk world war. Above all, China today—like Germany in the
1930s—is a country converting its tremendous economic vitality into military might. It’s a
country with a strong sense of historical grievance that wants to assert what it considers its
natural role as the dominant power in its region. And it’s a country whose leaders are
increasingly confident that the distant, status-quo powers that once held it in check can no
longer do so.
At a time when the Middle East still dominates American foreign-policy discussion, the United
States badly needs a serious public debate about our interests in the Pacific, and what we’ll
risk to protect them. Aquino’s analogy may be flawed, but unlike most Munich references, it at
least recognizes the magnitude of the stakes.
Peter Beinart is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and National Journal, an associate
professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, and a senior
fellow at the New America Foundation.
Why the suddenly aggressive behavior by China?
Beijing is shedding its low profile — and causing regional waves.
January 10, 2014|By Gary Schmitt
It would be difficult to believe that China's leaders didn't expect a negative reaction from its
neighbors and the United States when it announced the creation of an expansive air defense
identification zone over the East China Sea in late November. But that raises the question of
why those leaders are behaving the way they are when China has so many domestic
problems that need urgent attention, and when China's continued growth and ability to deal
with those problems depends on a stable international order. Why pick fights now?
Indeed, for many years, the public rhetoric from Beijing was centered on China's "Peaceful
Rise." Unlike the emergence of other great powers, China's move to the front ranks of nation-
states would not, the Chinese argued, be accompanied by a militancy aimed at displacing
China would not, its interlocutors with the West said, follow in the footsteps of Wilhelmine
Germany, Imperial Japan or, for that matter, 1890s America. Chinese behavior was to be
governed by former leader Deng Xiaoping's admonition that it would "not seek leadership"
and would "maintain a low profile." Until China could exercise preeminence, it was best, Deng
advised, to "hide our capacities and bide our time."
With good reason. China's remarkable leap from impoverished nation to the second-largest
economy in the world has been made possible by an international economic order that it has
taken full advantage of. Beijing has every reason not to kill the golden goose of globalization
by turning the attention of the region's other powers from trade and business to matters of
security and armaments. Nor would one think that China would want to challenge the United
States now since, arguably, it is American power and leadership that has largely kept the
world's trading system humming by keeping both the great commons free and cataclysmic
wars among the great powers from happening.
So, again, why the aggressive behavior now?
One answer Sinologists give is bureaucratic: The military made me do it. The argument here
is that China's civilian leaders, who are always looking for ways to increase their own support
within the competing factions of the Communist Party, will accordingly give the military more
resources and more leeway to garner that support.
But there is no solid evidence to support this thesis, and it runs counter to what we know
about how one-party states operate. Keeping the folks with the guns and the tanks under the
party leadership's control is a ruling axiom that no senior Chinese Communist Party official
would intentionally ignore. And since taking over the party's reins in November 2012,
President Xi Jinping has left little doubt as to who is in charge of military and security affairs.
The other argument offered to explain recent Chinese behavior is linked to American
weakness. In 2009, with the great recession underway, the Obama administration's grand
strategic outreach to Beijing was seen by the Chinese as a sign of U.S. retreat. Talk at the
time from senior American officials of a possible G-2 and President Obama's statement that
"the relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century," making "it
as important as any bilateral relationship in the world" appeared to convince that Chinese that
its rise to the top might be occurring faster than anticipated because of a more precipitous
This narrative has only increased as the administration's planned "pivot" to Asia has been
undercut by declining defense budgets and doubt that the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-
trade agreement will be concluded anytime soon.
However, perceived U.S. weakness cannot be the whole story, even if it's an important part.
What are also at play are Chinese ambitions. China's leaders want their nation to be a great
power; they want China, as in its imperial past, to have a predominant say in the region. Xi's
earliest speeches and appearances were to stoke the "Chinese Dream," and it was on his
watch that Chinese passports were issued with watermark maps that included territories
claimed by Japan, Vietnam the Philippines and India.
From Beijing's perspective, the United States is the region's interloper and the principal
obstacle to obtaining that goal of predominance. And, like individuals, nations can be envious
and resentful of those they perceive as standing in the way, even when economic and trade
ties are substantial. One has only to remember the dynamic between Wilhelmine Germany
and Britain in the years leading up to World War I to appreciate the need to design policies
that face up to this reality so as to avoid a similar disaster.
When Deng spoke of China maintaining a low profile, it was, after all, only until it was safe to
exercise its power openly. One can certainly question whether China has reached that point.
But that is the problem with grand ambitions; they are difficult to stifle or retreat from.
If one had to predict, dealing with Beijing in the year ahead is not likely to get any easier — if
anything, it may be even more difficult.
Gary Schmitt is director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American
Asia's Reaction to Chinese Bullying
East Asia lines up with the U.S. and Japan to resist Beijing.
Updated Dec. 18, 2013 9:12 p.m. ET
REVIEW & OUTLOOK (ASIA)
The consequences of Beijing's saber-rattling are emerging in quick succession around East
Asia. One can only hope they convince Chinese leaders that bullying the neighbors was a
On Tuesday Tokyo unveiled a new national security strategy and a plan to develop its military
over the next five years, both aimed in large part at deterring China's aggressive moves in the
East China Sea. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Vietnam Monday and
the Philippines Tuesday offering $156 million in aid over the next two years to help grateful
Southeast Asian nations defend their maritime territory against Chinese encroachment.
The Japanese documents signal a shift in resources toward defending Japan's southern flank
against China. While the total number of military personnel will not increase, more of them
will be trained, equipped and based to respond to challenges around Okinawa and the
disputed Senkaku Islands. Japan will create an amphibious force comparable to the U.S.
Marines, armed with drones, amphibious vehicles and vertical take-off aircraft.
An Osprey aircraft departs Iwakuni Air Base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi prefecture, southern
Japan Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Associated Press
Japan will also spend about 5% more on defense over the next five years, or $12 billion. That
is a tiny amount compared to China's annual military spending, which may be as high as
$200 billion. China's official military budget, which is about one-half to two-thirds of its real
spending, has grown at more than 10% per year since 2000, meaning it has more than
quadrupled. Over that same period Japan's annual spending has held almost unchanged at
less than five trillion yen, or $46 billion.
Japan has the capacity to spend much more if it needs to, which should give Beijing pause.
Tokyo in the past adopted 1% of GDP as an unofficial limit for government spending, much
lower than the U.S., which has historically spent around 4%. China's economy may have
overtaken Japan's as the world's second largest, but Tokyo can call on deep reserves of
technological know-how and manufacturing capacity.
Instead of trying to reassure Japan that it is not an enemy, Beijing continues to use the threat
of force to coerce Tokyo into relinquishing disputed territory. The recent declaration of an air-
defense identification zone over the Senkaku Islands has galvanized Japanese public opinion
in favor of beefing up the military. Yet a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman put the blame
on resurgent Japanese militarism Tuesday, saying "Asian countries and the international
community, including China, cannot but pay high attention and stay on high alert to Japan's
The rest of Asia seems to be lining up with Japan despite memories of World War II. Even
South Korea, often prickly toward its former colonizer, conducted joint exercises with Japan
last week inside China's new air-defense zone. At a summit in Tokyo, Japan and the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations released a joint statement on Saturday affirming the
importance of freedom of navigation.
At that same meeting, Tokyo pledged $19.2 billion in aid to the region over the next five
years, including patrol boats for Vietnam and the Philippines. That dovetails with Mr. Kerry's
offers over the last few days.
Beijing continued to signal its intent to restrict freedom of navigation when one of its naval
ships last week stopped abruptly ahead of the cruiser USS Cowpens, nearly causing a
collision. The incident occurred in the South China Sea, the same area where Chinese militia
boats challenged the USNS Impeccable in 2009 and a Chinese jet fighter collided with an
unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane in 2001.
The emergence of a great power is always fraught with danger, as the world learned with
Germany in the years before World War I. The new generation of Chinese leadership seems
dangerously ignorant of this history and lacks self-awareness of how its aggressive moves
could cause neighbors to band together against it. They had better catch on soon.
KAZIANIS: Stopping the bullies of Beijing
Reasserting U.S. Pacific interests would check China’s
By Harry J. Kazianis
December 16, 2013
Recent events in the Asia-Pacific reveal the United States has no strategy when it comes to
dealing with what is quickly becoming a neighborhood bully, increasingly armed with the
some of the planet’s most sophisticated weaponry; namely, the People's Republic of China.
Beijing’s new leadership has demonstrated clearly to the world an aversion to the status quo
— an international system that has provided the peace and security needed since the late
1970s for Beijing to morph into the world’s second-largest economy and a regional
powerhouse. For the past several years, China has abandoned a foreign-policy orientation of
a “peaceful rise” to an outlook that seeks to aggressively assert its claims economically,
politically, militarily and now geographically.
While it is certainly natural for an increasingly rich and powerful nation to seek a larger role in
global affairs and especially in its own neighborhood, Chinese actions when summed up over
the past several years place at risk the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific — one of the
most economically dynamic regions on the planet. From Beijing’s recent declarations of an
Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea with veiled hints of more to come, while
at the same time confronting a U.S naval vessel in international waters, tensions in Asia
between China and its neighbors and the United States are growing. Instead of working with
neighbors to find common ground over contested islands, natural resources or parts of the
maritime commons, Beijing has increasingly used its growing military and economic might to
achieve its aims. This is not the sophisticated foreign policy one would expect of a mature
stakeholder in an international order that has only served to make it rich — but more like a
schoolyard bully pushing around its weight to achieve its aims.
For its part, Washington has done little in Asia to halt Beijing’s policy of confrontation. In fact,
American strategy over the past several years is largely to blame. After much fanfare
declaring a “pivot,” in which Washington would make Asia the center of its foreign policy,
such a strategy has been watered down to what has been respun as a “rebalance” — more
an afterthought as America lurches from crisis to crisis in the Middle East. As the Obama
administration refuses to lead in Asia, Washington sows the seeds of an eventual crisis that
would dwarf anything that has been seen since World War II — a tragedy clearly in its power
to stop from ever coming to fruition.
Considering recent events, one thing is crystal clear: The United States must begin to
develop a grand strategy when it comes to the rise of China. Such a strategy need not adopt
the same bullying or confrontational tone that Beijing has employed, but rather a show of
strength to halt Chinese attempts to alter the status quo and to ensure regional stability of our
allies in the region.
A first step in such a strategy would be for Washington to not only renounce China’s recent
Air Defense Identification Zone declaration, but insist on its rollback. Such a deceleration
would send a strong signal to Beijing that we do not endorse such moves, and they will be
met with the strongest of resistance.
A second part of such a strategy must put in place military assets in the region as a signal
to China that even though its buildup is formidable, it is no match against American air and
naval power. Leaders in Washington should consider, for example, increasing from the
current total of 60 percent of U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines in the Pacific to as
high as 75 percent. Considering the advantages America’s underseas fleet would have
against a Chinese military that has unproven anti-submarine warfare capabilities, U.S.
military forces would be able to leverage a key advantage in any possible confrontation.
The United States must also begin to work with allies in a much more robust manner when it
comes to helping arm them with the finest military equipment, as well as training to use such
equipment. Washington should step up arms sales to nations such as Taiwan, the Philippines
and South Korea, as well as joint training.
Finally, Washington must also invest much-needed time and energy to bring together Japan
and South Korea, two important allies that history and past tensions have driven apart.
Considering both nations face challenges from China, as well as from North Korea, there is
an obvious incentive to work together instead of allowing the past to harm their shared
In the end, only U.S. leadership can ensure tensions in Asia do not spiral out of control. It is
time Washington develops a comprehensive strategy that reinforces the idea that China’s rise
is a welcomed one in which the entire world can benefit — but not at the expense of voiding
the current international order in Asia.
Harry J. Kazianis is managing editor for the National Interest and a nonresident fellow of the
Center of Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed here are his own.
China's bullying tactics backfire
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD POLITICAL AND INTERNATIONAL EDITOR
June 25, 2013
Illustration: John Shakespeare
China's new leader, Xi Jinping, has revived Chairman Mao's doctrine of the "mass line". The
founder of modern China didn't want the masses to have a vote, but he did think that it was
vitally important to understand their views.
The "mass line" in Australia today contains an important message to Canberra, and to
Beijing. More than a message to Beijing, it's a challenge.
It's contained in an opinion poll published on Monday by the Lowy Institute and it says three
things very clearly.
First, the Australian people fully understand the historic scale and power of China's rise.
Three-quarters of people polled said the most important economy to Australia is China's.
And the people know that, eventually, this means China will overtake America to become the
world's leading superpower. Six in 10 Australians foresee this.
Second, this does not make the people starry-eyed about China. Rather, Australians are
increasingly wary of your country, Comrade Jinping. Nearly six in 10 - 57 per cent - think the
federal government allows too much Chinese investment. And while most don't think China is
likely to be a military threat, a solid proportion of 41 per cent think it will be.And the level of
reassurance is falling. A year ago 58 per cent saw China as an unlikely military threat,
whereas today that's slipped to 54 per cent.
The overall measure of Australians' "warmth" towards China is captured in the Lowy
Institute's "thermometer," a gauge measuring how positively people feel towards a range of
countries. Last year China was ranked eighth with a warmth of 59 degrees out of a possible
100, just under Malaysia and just above India. This year it comes in equal 13th with 54, below
India and equal with Sri Lanka. But hold on - isn't that just a result of the pernicious influence
of the Australian media and Barnaby Joyce-style populism? Perhaps.
But there must be something else going on because the people's impression of China has
slipped in some other countries over the past year too, as measured by a poll for the BBC
World Service released last month.
The annual BBC poll asked people whether China's influence on the world was "mostly
positive" or "mostly negative". Of 25 countries ranked in the poll, China fell from fifth place
last year to ninth this year. It was China's lowest ranking in the eight years of the poll's life.
It not only found that China slipped in the eyes of people in countries including France, Spain,
India, Japan, the US and South Africa, it's also fallen in China itself, by 8 percentage points.
A minority of the Chinese people themselves consider their country to be a positive influence
in the world.
Professor Qiao Mu, of Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the BBC poll rating had put
China in an "embarrassing" position.
"It seems China is getting rich fast but its influence ranking is dropping dramatically," he told
the South China Morning Post. "China is drawing more attention globally, for its increasing
foreign aid and participation in international affairs, but now it turns out that the values and
the political system China holds are not accepted by the world.''
He misses the obvious point. China's values and political system had not changed from the
year before. The new development was Beijing's increasingly muscular stance in territorial
disputes with its neighbours, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Like the people of other countries, Australians understand China's rising power and are
apprehensive of its intentions. That, apparently, leads to the third conclusion from the Lowy
poll - Australians are seeking reassurance from their alliance with the US.
Overwhelming approval for Australia's US alliance continues, much as it has for 50 years,
with 82 per cent in support. This is as close as you get to consensus on any matter.
And while that's down by 5 points over the year, support for the most recent intensification of
the alliance is up; public approval for the deployment of US Marines to the Northern Territory
strengthened by 6 percentage points to 61. The number opposed fell by 9 points to 34 per
The Obama administration's "Asia pivot" is designed to offer reassurance to the Asia-Pacific
as anxiety about China rises. Last week the new top US official for East Asia, Danny Russel,
said that there's no place for "coercion and bullying" in the region's seas.
He rejected China's policy of refusing to deal with the 10 nations of ASEAN collectively in
crafting a code of conduct for disputes - Beijing prefers to deal one-on-one to intimidate the
Russel described this as "unacceptable". In this he has the support of almost every country in
the entire Asia-Pacific, with the possible exception of China's vassal state of Cambodia.
Australians are realistic enough to see that they don't need to choose between the current
superpower and the future one, or, at least, not now. Asked whether it's possible for Australia
to have a good relationship with the US and China at the same time, 87 per cent said yes.
This is a contrast to the near-panic on this question in elite circles. The public attitude is
relaxed and demonstrably correct.
Because while Australia has embraced the US Marine deployment, it's also signed up to an
annual leaders-level meeting with Beijing and hosts more Chinese foreign investment than
any other country on Earth. But if the people are forced to choose, the Lowy poll tells us
which way they'd jump. Asked which relationship is more important to Australia overall, 37
per cent nominated the China partnership and 48 per cent the American.
So the challenge to you, Comrade Jinping, is clear if you are going to take the "mass line"
seriously. The assertiveness of your regime is backfiring. It is not awing the Australian people
with China's greatness; it is driving the Australian people closer to your competitor, the US.
And if you force the Australian people to choose, you will not like their decision.