Neighbors threaten China’s peace (China daily)
China has been dedicated to a peaceful external environment so that it can concentrate on domestic agendas, bring more welfare to the world’s biggest population and remain committed to world and regional peace and stability.
Contrary to its desire, a spate of escalations in tensions at its doorsteps is constantly challenging its role as a low-key, broad-minded power. The latest round of tensions has stemmed from maritime disputes with countries in the region including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam and fueled by outside forces such as the United States.
The current skirmishes between China and Japan over the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea have been Tokyo’s making. To reinforce the country’s unreasonable claim on the islands, some Japanese fishing boats, orchestrated by the country’s right-wing groups, deliberately went fishing in the adjacent waters on July 3. In the face of China’s protest, the instigators had to leave in disgrace.
This is not the end of Japanese provocation. On July 4, Japan’s air self-defense force sent F-15 fighters to intercept two Chinese military aircraft, which were flying in China’s airspace some 60 kilometers away from the Diaoyu Islands. Statistics from Japan’s ministry of defense indicate that from May to December last year Japan conducted 48 similar interceptions against China. In the first three months this year, Japanese interceptions had increased to almost 60 times.
If Tokyo does not refrain from staging such dangerous scenarios, a mid-air clash between the two militaries in the East China Sea can occur any time. If this were the case, it would change the nature of the Diaoyu Islands dispute and escalate it into a major conflict between Beijing and Tokyo. Beijing would be compelled to react strongly. Sino-Japanese ties would be seriously derailed. Such a result will serve neither country’s interest, especially those of Japan’s as the country is seeking Chinese support for its post-disaster rebuilding.
While a storm is simmering in the East China Sea, another has already gathered in the South China Sea. Before their foreign ministers flew to Beijing for consultations to defuse the tensions, both Vietnam and the Philippines had resorted to drastic moves in different forms to provoke China over the issue.
After their government pledged to solve the disputes with Beijing peacefully, Vietnamese protesters continued to stage demonstrations outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi. Anti-China sentiments are the highest in years in Vietnam at the moment. The country is scheduled to hold a joint military drill with the United States today. The two already held one last month amid tensions in the South China Sea.
For the Philippines’ part, it seems ready for both negotiations and military confrontation. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario wound up a three-day visit to Beijing on Saturday. A joint statement released by the two governments on Friday said China and the Philippines would not allow rising tensions over conflicting claims in the South China Sea to hamper bilateral relations.
The agreement marks a welcoming sign in easing tensions. However, Manila needs to match its words with concrete deeds. There is ample evidence for Beijing to gauge that Manila intends to play the card of diplomacy and confrontation at the same time.
While the country’s top diplomat arrived in Beijing on Thursday, Manila was engaged in an 11-day joint drill with the US starting June 28. This saber-rattling is not only a show of US-Philippine alliance but also targets China. Before his Beijing trip, Rosario went to Washington last month to seek more US military support. Upon his request, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was prompted to pledge that the US will provide “affordable material and equipment that will assist the Philippines military to take the steps necessary to defend itself.”
All these indicate Manila is gathering chips for a military confrontation with China over the South China Sea issue. But, does Manila have the competence to do so? Will a showdown with Beijing serve its own interests?
The answers to both questions are negative.
On the one hand, the island country’s military muscle is no match for China’s. On the other hand, Manila enjoys surplus in its trade with Beijing. Bilateral trade volume has a chance to reach $30 billion this year. A full-blown conflict with Beijing over maritime territory dispute would easily squander the rosy prospect of bilateral trade. This apparently is not in the interests of Manila.
It is believed Rosario’s China visit is paving the way for Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s visit to China, which is likely to take place in late August or early September. Aquino needs to take concrete moves before Beijing can be convinced of his country’s sincerity in solving the disputes peacefully.
The South China Sea disputes did not break out until the late 1970s, when the waters of 3.5 million sq km were believed to have vast deposits of oil and natural gas. Since then, countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam have competed with one another to seize isles and reefs and illegally tap the resources. Today, not one of the oil wells in the disputed waters belongs to China. Instead, Chinese fishermen legally operating on Chinese maritime territory have been harassed from time to time by the Philippines and Vietnam.
As a country holding historical proof of its sovereignty over the waters, China has so far exercised utmost restraint. It does not lack the means and resources to act more assertively in defense of territorial integrity. As a responsible country, it always opts for peaceful solutions to settle disputes with its neighbors.
However, some countries in the region have taken advantage of China’s restraint. To grab more benefits from the South China Sea, they have instigated the latest outbreak of disputes and vilified China as a bully in the international community.
The US strategy to seek a bigger role in the region has obviously fueled those countries’ ambitions. One day before Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Beijing for a four-day visit, the US, Japan and Australia held naval drills in the South China Sea. The first of its kind since 2007, the show of force by the three outside forces clearly aims to contain China.
The US has orchestrated several military drills in the past month with countries in maritime territorial disputes with China. It has turned the South China Sea into the US playground to project its power in Asia.
The US meddling has aroused indignation from China. In a joint news conference with Mullen on Monday in Beijing, Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, criticized the US for masterminding the series of military drills at China’s doorsteps and said the timing was very inappropriate.
The US military presence in the region should contribute to peace, not bring displeasure to the region, Chen warned.
For the South China Sea issue, claimant countries should understand that peaceful consultation is the only way to resolve the disputes. Washington’s support would not come to them as a free lunch.
The US needs to perceive the rise of China as a chance for win-win cooperation on the regional and global stage. Treating China as a threat and containing it in the South China Sea issue would be a bad judgment benefiting neither country’s interests. If Washington continues to go along the wrong direction, it should prepare for the severe consequences.