China-US-South China Sea: The Chinese government reacted angrily on Monday to the announcement by US Secretary of State Clinton that Washington might step into a long-simmering territorial dispute between China and its smaller neighbors over sovereign rights to the South China Sea.
Speaking Friday at a forum of Southeast Asian countries in Vietnam, Clinton apparently surprised the Chinese by saying the United States had a “national interest” in seeking to mediate the dispute, which involves roughly 200 islands, islets and coral outcroppings and the seabed that are claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. China claims all the South China Sea as its territorial waters.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China warned the United States against “wading into” the dispute. “What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one?” he asked in remarks published on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site. “It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult.”
The state-run news media were far less diplomatic. “America hopes to contain a China with growing military capabilities,” ran an editorial Monday in the Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper.
Global Times, an English-language tabloid published by People’s Daily, said, “China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means.”
NIGHTWATCH Comment: The overlapping claims in the South China Sea date to the end of the Chinese empire, complicated by those of the colonial powers, including the US. For most of the post World War II era, China refrained from asserting its sweeping claims from the shores of Vietnam to the Philippines and from Hainan to Borneo. But it never abandoned any claims to any territory of the Empire, such as Macao or Hong Kong.
This always was a subterfuge so as not to alarm the Southeast Asian states until Communist China was ready and able to defend its claim as successor to the interests of the last emperor of China. Since the end of the Vietnam War and especially as the Chinese navy has expanded in size and capability, China has become more aggressive in claiming sovereign rights to the entire South China Sea, though all the claimants, including Taiwan, actually station forces on the islands they claim.
Lately China has been describing the South China Sea in the same terms of sovereignty it uses to describe Tibet and Taiwan, as a core area or core interest. The return of Hong Kong is an excellent example of how long China will take and how much energy it will commit to recover its core interests.
Secretary Clinton has done good service in challenging the Chinese on behalf of the Southeast Asians, Japan, South Korea as well as the US. US interests include freedom of navigation for the US Navy as well as oil supplies for Japan. The sea area covers 1.2 million square miles. A third of the world’s maritime trade transits the Sea. Just as compelling are deposits of oil and natural gas thought to be under the seabed.
Phi Beta Iota: The South China Sea is to China as Palestine is to the Palestinians. Hillary Clinton is just another “gerbil on a wheel” and going through motions suggested by a policy non-process that is so corrupt as to be worthy of overthrow by the public. The colonial powers did a great deal of good, and a great deal of evil, the time has come to separate the good from the evil and move on. The US Navy is delusional and incompetent because it has no sense of history or geography or purpose–it is guilty of what is called “strategic decrepitude,” fighting for operational (financial) budget share instead of actually contributing to a larger strategic whole that does not exist because the US Government is itself stupid and corrupt. Philip Allott, in his extraordinary book, Review: The Health of Nations–Society and Law beyond the State appears to be the only scholar that has it right–we need to overturn the past, restore borders devised over centuries of tribal and regional accommodation, and stop trying to do the wrong things righter. Viet-Nam was a wrong term. Being stupid about the South China Sea is right up there with Viet-Nam as strategic idiocy.