Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

South China Sea 

Lots of talk about the growing military strength of China, and China's approach to disputed claims in the South China Sea. An editorial in the China Daily today gives the arguments for China's claim to the Spratly Islands (called "Nansha" by China).

In my opinion, the most important fact relative to the conflict (the islands are claimed by several countries), is the potential of large petroleum reserves in the area of the islands. This is true not only of the Spratly Islands, but the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyutai by China) now governed by Japan. So, again, we have a group of islands that no one seemed to want until it was discovered that they may contain sizable oil reserves, after which everyone wanted them.

I don't know enough about the history to have a strong opinion about which country should be considered the rightful owner in this latest dispute. What is more interesting to me, is the way China comes out looking like the bully regardless of the situation. After all, China is not wrong about everything. But China comes out looking wrong even when her case is strong. A classic example of this is the case of the American spy plane that collided with a PLA fighter plane and was forced to land on Hainan Island.

I have often said that China should bring Kissinger over here and have him teach them a thing or two about how to do diplomacy. Diplomacy is something the Chinese do not do very well. Over and over again, their actions produce results that are quite clearly the opposite of what they attended. In 1996, when the KMT on Taiwan was facing a serious challenge from a party that openly advocated Taiwan independence, the Chinese fired a missile over Taiwan just before the election as a "warning." Not surprisingly, the pro-independence candidate was elected. China's behaviour was pure gold as far as he was concerned.

In 2001, a US spy plane collided with a Chinese air force plane that, according to the Americans, had been harassing the large spy plane, trying to drive it away. The Chinese pilot's actions were very risky and dangerous, and ultimately resulted in a collision, and his death. The Chinese came out with a statement that the spy plane had veered toward the Chinese plane, The pilot of the American spy plane insisted that the spy plane was on auto pilot at the time of the collision. The American pilot's statement was confirmed by all available evidence. The Chinese statement looked for all the world like a classic Chinese denial, and the collision took place in international air space. China clearly lost the PR war. But James McGregor (One Billion Customers) says that a senior government official who had spent time both in the State Department and the Defense Department told him that what the Americans were actually doing was to violate Chinese air space deliberately at key points to test the Chinese air defense system. Basically, they were looking for blank spots that could be used in the event of a war with China.

What is the appropriate response when an enemy spy plane has invaded your air space? You call them up and say, "We really want to get along with you guys, but if you enter our air space again, we're going to take you out of the sky." If China had done that, and then shot down the plane, there would have been an uproar (of course), and China would look like a monster. At first. Eventually, though, the ensuing investigation would reveal the truth, and the detail just mentioned, which is now known by very few people, would be known by everyone, and Donald Rumsfeld would have taken the hit instead of China. As I said, China doesn't know how to do diplomacy.

China's "petulant child" approach to diplomacy has meant that even as she is building up her military and becoming more powerful, the military alliances lining up against her are also increasing. It's not a good formula for peace.

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