When China's Neighbours Shudder

SCMP September 26 2010


It was ironic that Beijing wheeled out former
chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to
use a dinner party to warn the US not to
send an aircraft carrier into the Yellow
Sea. As a former shipping executive,
Tung is surely aware of the principles of international
waters – not to mention South
Korea’s right to US help to defend itself
against China’s unpredictable, nucleararmed
ally North Korea. But blood is thicker
than water.

This episode is yet another example of
China’s rise appearing increasingly less
peaceful as it aims to upset the status quo on
several fronts. There is an arrogance that reminds
one of the behaviour of the US when
Messrs Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. were
running policy, oblivious to the limits of US
military power and economic strength.

Now we have yet another high-profile
row with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku
islets. I take no sides on the historical and
geographical claims made by China or Japan
but merely note that, apart from the interlude
of US occupation of the Ryukyus
from 1945 to 1972, Japan has controlled the
islands, once part of the Ryukyu kingdom,
since 1895. So even assuming that right is on
China’s side, it is the one trying to upset the
status quo.

As for the US sending warships into the
Yellow Sea, which borders the Koreas as
much as China, that would be nothing compared
with China’s April exercise – sending a
10-vessel fleet through the Miyako channel
between Okinawa and Miyako island, a
channel only fractionally wide enough to
count as international waters.

All this may appeal to a growing sense of
nationalism among the populace as well as
China’s leaders. But it is no way to win
friends and influence people in Asia. A year
ago, the end of Liberal Democratic Party
rule in Japan seemed to herald a new era of
reduced dependence on the US alliance.
But actions by China and North Korea have
not only caused a shift in sentiment but a
shift in Japanese defence priorities to its
southern waters.

Likewise, South Korea’s
once rapidly warming relations with China
have been set back first by the Cheonan
sinking and now by this dispute over USKorea
naval exercises, plus two recent visits
to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
– an apparent reaffirmation of ties.

As for Southeast Asia, Vietnam has led
the way in pushing back against reinvigorated
Chinese claims that reach almost to the
shores of the other littoral states – Vietnam,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei – and
overlap with Indonesia’s exclusive economic
zone. This issue is now back on the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ and
international agendas.

As if these exercises in wannabe
hegemonism were not enough, China has
also riled India not only by reasserting its
claims to much of the Indian state of Arunachal
Pradesh and part of Kashmir, but using
its muscle to stop international funding for
projects there and refusing visas for Indian
officials based in Kashmir.

On the other side of the ledger, all of Asia
is grateful for China’s economic growth,
which has spurred the industrial export
economies of Japan and South Korea and
the commodity exporters of Southeast Asia.
Chinese tourists and capital are welcomed.

But all these countries quietly shudder
when they hear words such as those of the
People’s Liberation Army Major General
Luo Yuan , writing in Global Times.
Threatening retaliation for Yellow Sea exercises,
he warned: “Imagine what the consequences
will be if China’s biggest debtor
nation challenges its creditor nation.”

other words: become economically dependent
on us and we will translate that into
political power. It might work with the
smaller states of Asia. But perhaps it is time
for Beijing to imagine the consequences of
the US reneging on its debt to China, banning
technology exports or closing its market
to Chinese manufactures. Two can play
the nationalist game.




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