CHINA'S LATEST BELLIGERENT POSTURING: A COMMENT
"As jingoists in China and Japan work overtime to ratchet up the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, their governments should make haste to deploy the statecraft needed to defuse tensions. The uninhabited rocks of the Senkaku are administered and controlled by Japan, whose government leases the islands from a private owner. For now, the resource bounty of the archipelago is limited to fish. But sovereign possessions of the slightest current value are made more attractive by creating claims to exclusive economic zones under the law of the sea. With China’s rise have come more forceful claims from Beijing over a long string of maritime footholds in surrounding waters, rattling nerves in neighbouring countries. For the Senkaku, a status quo that had worked well is now being disturbed by rabble-rousers on all sides. Chinese fishermen are challenging Japanese control; last year the coastguard arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel. In Japan, Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s belligerent governor, has been raising private funds to purchase the islands for commercial development under the Tokyo regional government. The damage that this freelance flag-planting could do to relations with China prompted an unheard of public rebuke from Japan’s ambassador in Beijing. The law of the sea is a means of settling territorial disputes – but it relies on sensible behaviour by states in grey areas. In other parts of the world, countries have managed to agree joint resource development without renouncing competing sovereignty claims. Beijing and Tokyo have everything to gain from following such examples – especially as they have already pledged to work together on gas exploitation elsewhere in the East China Sea. That could best have been done by leaving the existing Senkaku arrangement in place. Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s prime minister, has announced a plan for the central government to buy the islands. This change in approach is bound to anger Beijing – though it seems as much designed to foil Mr Ishihara’s more provocative intentions. If Mr Noda’s scheme secures that the islands remain undeveloped, this may be the most promising means of steering sovereignty issues back into dormancy. But Mr Noda must quickly muster some deft diplomacy so that Beijing can be persuaded to let the issue pass. For this to succeed, all governments with a stake in the island group should recall that the cost of open conflict dwarfs any value to be had from controlling it". Leader, "Save the Senkaku from from Jingoism." The Financial Times. 9 July 2012, in www.ft.com. "Beijing will establish a military garrison on a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, China's defence ministry said on Monday, a move likely to provoke further tensions with its neighbours. The troops will operate from Sansha in the Paracel Islands, one of two archipelagos in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and Vietnam. The garrison, approved by the Central Military Commission, "will be responsible for the Sansha area national defence mobilisation and reserve forces activities", the defence ministry said on its website. The ministry did not say when the garrison would be established, but the move to station troops on the Paracels is likely to provoke Hanoi's ire. Beijing's move last month to designate Sansha as its administrative centre for the Paracels and the Spratly Islands prompted a rare demonstration on Sunday in the Vietnamese capital against China's territorial assertions". The Daily Telegraph, "China plans garrison to 'defend' disputed islands." The Daily Telegraph. 23 July 2012, in www.dailytelegraph.co.uk. The announcement by the PRC is of a piece with recent Chinese foreign policy dealing with this issue: full of belligerent posturing and endeavoring to intimidate its neighbors. Per se the policy itself is probably much less than meets the eyes: it is more likelier than not to a drum banging, exercise to get domestic political attention, than something which is meant to seriously threaten its neighbors. Au fond a policy of primat der Innenpolitik, formulated no doubt to take public attention off of the Bo Xilai scandal. Albeit Peking would of course be quite content if countries like Vietnam, the Philippines or Japan were to give up opposing Peking's claims to its off-shore island shelf. The fact is though that while a potential harbinger of the future, as of to-day the PRC does not yet possess the means to seriously pursue a policy of force vis-`a-vis its neighours, much less when the latter is backed by the Americans as currently is the case. However, as a recently cogent analysis on the American online, intelligence forecasting company, Stratfor noted: "Despite the lack of clarity on its maritime policy, China has demonstrated its intent to further consolidate its claims based on the nine-dash line. Beijing recognizes that policy changes are needed, but any change has its attendant consequences. The path of transition is fraught with danger, from disgruntled domestic elements to aggressive reactions by China's neighbors. But by intent or by default, change is happening, and how the foreign policy debate plays out will have lasting consequences for China's maritime strategy and its international position as a whole1". By definition, the problems posed by the potential for conflict in the South China Sea and elsewhere is not a problem caused by 'jingoists' from all sides. There is only one country which threatens verbally if not worse, on a regular basis to employ force against its neighbors, and that is the PRC. To pretend `a la the bien pensants of the Financial Times and elsewhere that Peking is willing to return to a more rational and less aggressive policy is indeed the very mid-summer of madness 2. 1. Rodger Baker & Zhixing Zhang, "The Paradox of China's Naval Strategy." Stratfor: Strategic Forecasting. 17 July 2012, in www.stratfor.com. 2. For an example of a archetypical, bien pensant type of 'see no evil, hear no evil...', et cetera, from the equally bien pensant, American Council on Foreign Relations, see: Bonnie Glaser, "Armed Clash in the South China Sea: contingency memorandum number 14." Council on Foreign Relations. April 2012, in www.cfr.org. See also, along similar, Leibnizian & Panglossian lines is a report from that greatest of all bien pensant organizations: the International Crisis Group: "Stirring up the South China Sea II: Regional Responses." 24 July 2012, in www.crisisgroup.org.