By Bloomberg News
(Adds analyst comment starting in sixth paragraph.)
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) — Asian countries should be on guard against the “danger” of feeling they can “do whatever they want” because of the U.S. military presence in the region, the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily said in a commentary.
The opinion piece said it was understandable that some Asian countries may be uncomfortable with China’s rise and emphasized that the government in Beijing was working for “peaceful solutions” to conflicts such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The commentary comes as countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam are increasingly voicing concerns over China’s claims to the waters.
“Asia remains a fertile ground for a Cold War mentality,” the commentary said. “Asia is advancing, will never return to the Cold War, and China must have an important role in the future of Asian security.”
Competing claims to the South China Sea threaten to sour ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia as the countries compete over oil, gas and fisheries resources. China, citing historical evidence such as pottery shards, claims a tongue-shaped swath of the sea demarked by nine dashes that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island to the equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo.
The U.S. set off China’s ire in 2010 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a regional summit in Hanoi, called resolving the competing claims to the sea “a leading diplomatic priority.” That drew a rebuke from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said internationalizing the incident with U.S. involvement “can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve.”
Huang Jing, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said the commentary may offer a hint that China is actually willing to compromise with southeast Asian nations on the South China Sea in a bid to stave off deeper U.S. involvement.
One compromise could be giving up a claim to the entire sea demarcated by the nine-dash line, Huang said. Instead, China would focus its claims on the waters surrounding the reefs and shoals, which may placate Malaysia and the Philippines, he said.
“China knows it doesn’t have any ground to claim the nine- dash line,” Huang said. “If China doesn’t clarify its position it gives America more of an excuse or more justification to intervene.”
Today’s commentary was attributed to Zhong Sheng, a play on words that sounds like “voice of China.” Commentaries on topics that take a nationalist line, including one on Sept. 23 criticizing the U.S. decision to sell arms to Taiwan, often carry the same name. Zhong Sheng likely represents a group of “hardliners,” Huang said.