Friday 30 September 2011

Crossing The Nine-Dotted Line

The logic of editorials in the Global Times is often easily attacked. Take this latest excrescence - an article entitled "Time to teach those around South China Sea a lesson" from an anonymous author writing under the pen-name "Long Tao":

No South China Sea issue existed before the 1970s. The problems only occurred after North and South Vietnam were reunified in 1976 and China’s Nansha and Xisha Islands then became the new country’s target.

Unfortunately, though hammered by China in the 1974 Xisha Island Battle and later the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, Vietnam’s insults in the South China Sea remained unpunished today. It encouraged nearby countries to try their hands in the “disputed” area and attracted the attention of the US so that a regional conflict gradually turned international.

Right. Apparently there was no problem until Vietnamese reunification in 1976 (or 1975?), even though a battle was fought other the Paracel Islands between South Vietnamese defenders and an attacking Chinese force in 1974.

What exactly Vietnam's activities were that caused other countries to "try their hands" in the area is something of a mystery. Whilst Vietnam was behind the call for co-operation with the Philippines and Malaysia in asserting their claims in the late 80's, the claims were in play long before that.

Philippine claims in the area stem from 1956, although they were not asserted until 1978 in response to the growing tensions. Similarly, Malaysian claims over its continental shelf, which extends into the South China seas and encompasses several islands there were defined in 1966 , although it was not until 1979 that a map specifically claiming the islands was produced.

However, the illogic of this article takes second place to the sheer irresponsibility of what it suggests:

"We shouldn’t waste the opportunity to launch some tiny-scale battles that could deter provocateurs from going further.

By the way, I think it’s necessary to figure out who is really afraid of being involved in military activities. There are more than 1,000 oil and gas wells plus four airports and numerous other facilities in the area but none of them is built by China.

Everything will be burned to the ground should a military conflict break out. Who’ll suffer most when Western oil giants withdraw?"

And this from someone who is, according to the Global Times, "a strategic analyst of China Energy Fund Committee". Just what exactly he think the positive consequences of launching battles with the Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Malaysians, whose "provocation" appears to be attempts to exploit the resources of the areas they claim, is quite unclear. Judging by the preceding paragraphs he thinks it will unwind a tense military situation, although this is such a moronic viewpoint as to beggar belief.

Suppose the PLA does engage in "tiny-scale battles" in the area, or even goes all-out and enforces PRC sovereignty over the entire area defined by the "Nine-Dotted Line" - what happens then? The answer is that the countries in the China's littoral area would inevitably grow closer and strengthen their co-operation with Japan and India to defend themselves against the PRC's growing might.

Japan at least, and probably India also, would be willing to lend such support out of fear that their own disputed borders with China would be next to receive the "tiny-scale battle" treatment. That would be good news for the Taiwanese, but definitely bad news for Beijing.

Cynical minds will be inclined to think that, as with past tiffs with Japan, France, and the United States, this is an engineered attempt to rally people to the flag following what has not been a great year for the Chinese government in terms of public relations. Bearing in mind that General Galtieri's disastrous attack on the Falkland Islands was similarly motivated, let's hope that nothing more comes of it than a few bellicose editorials.

[Picture: China's "Nine-Dotted Line" claim in the South China sea]


justrecently said...

Nice cartoon there on the GT: those mangy imperialist streetcats around the happily south chinese sea and the happy fish within (as happy as Taiwan would like to become at an earlier date).

That "time-to-teach-a-lesson" theme seems to be a quote from the good old days when Deng Xiaoping advocated the same approach, in 1979, and apparently during a visit to America.

The kid to be taught a lesson then was, of course, Vietnam, just as well. Nothing serves a new friendship (U.S.-China then) better than to bash a third party jointly.

Btw, I've observed for some time that the GT's English and Chinese editions seem to converge to quite a degree. That stuff in English is much closer to the Chinese original, than what it would have been five years ago.

Maybe China Daily and CRI will follow this trend, too?

Rand(45) said...

This is a good example of what peaceful rise of China means - total dominance of China, to achieve harmony with Chinese characteristics in the world.

Gilman Grundy said...

@JR - Yeah, the cartoon is another thing that doesn't make much sense. I mean, are they really saying that Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines are predatory animals whilst China is a defenceless fish? On the same page as an article urging that China attack them?

Oh, and yes, despite the unwarranted optimism of some who were part of the launch of the English edition of GT, it has never really deviated from the agit-prop that its Chinese-language stable-mate puts out.

justrecently said...

I think that there is still one difference (besides the efforts to write things foreigners care about) between the English-language GT, and its Chinese sister paper. The English edition tried (and still tries) to be somewhat dialog. The Chinese edition is simply nationalist.

That said, articles like the one you are discussing here suggest that the difference between the two becomes smaller.

justrecently said...

If the Taipei Times is right, Long Tao is a strategic analyst at the non-governmental China Energy Fund Committee and also at Zhejiang University’s Non-Traditional Security and Peace Development Research Center.

justrecently said...

Some context - it seems Long Tao built his position in a debate with former diplomat Wu Jianmin. Huanqiu Shibao, the GT's Chinese-language sister paper, has turned the exchanges between the two, and some more authors, into a collection of three categories - "to strike is no option" / "strike if the occasion arises" / "the best time to strike is now".