The Economist is often held prisoner by its own prejudice arising from its whatever-China-does-internationally-is-wrong stance, and a recent article on the South China Sea disputes proves it. Behold the latest offering from intellectual dungeons of the The Economist: “The devil in the deep blue detail”.
The article repeatedly quotes a recent report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). And in its zeal to portray China as the aggressor clearly camouflages one aspect: The author was dying to mention a couple of proverbial incidents in the South China Sea where China “detained” or “harassed” some Vietnamese or Philippines fishing boats (which is the staple diet of every “analysis” of the South China Sea disputes), but, much to his chagrin, couldn’t, because the CNAS report also says (which he didn’t quote):
Although China’s detention of foreign fishing boats receives a great deal of media attention, confrontations involving fishing boats from other claimant states are also common. According to one Chinese source, more than 300 incidents have occurred since 1989 in which Chinese trawlers were fired upon, detained or driven away. In 2009, for example, Vietnamese vessels reportedly fired three times on Chinese boats, wounding three Chinese fishermen. That same year, 10 Chinese trawlers reportedly were seized. Similarly, Vietnam and the Philippines routinely detain fishermen from each other’s countries
Of course, it will be hearsay for The Economist to talk about the fact that smaller countries are in dispute with themselves too, and not only with China. But then, this would impede on its standard editorial stance of painting China as the bully. Hence, it does the opposite:
Of all the claimants to islands, reefs, rocks and waters there, the one with which the Philippines is in active dispute is China. That was certainly how the news was taken by China’s Global Times newspaper, which called for sanctions against the Philippines.
No, Global Times does not see it that way. That is called for sanctions against The Philippines does not mean that it thinks that the country is not in active dispute with any other nation. In fact, the claims of The Philippines overlaps with other claimants’.
Another interesting thing that many such articles harp on is that China has expressed an interest in negotiating with each country separately. This is excellent fodder for journalists, who portray this as China trying to “pick of” its rival claimants one by one. Obviously, nobody talks about the fact that the “smaller” countries are ganging up against China, or that they have disputes over the same area with each other too. This just serves to further their agenda of portraying China on one side (as the” aggressor”) and the other smaller countries on the other (as the “victims”).
The article doesn’t stop there. It goes a step further and attempts to describe China’s claims in the “complex” dispute, oblivious to the fact that it contradicts itself:
Third and most important, China’s position continues to unnerve the other claimants. It is unclear, for example, what the dotted-line claim is based on. And, refusing to countenance serious negotiations with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which four of the claimants belong, China appears to want to pick off its members one by one. Until recently, its fiercest rows were with Vietnam. That relationship seems to be going through a relatively mellow phase as it bullies the Philippines. And last July it did agree with ASEAN on “guidelines” for implementing a “declaration” on a code of conduct agreed on by the two parties back in 2002 to reduce tensions in the South China Sea.
So, presumably, the 2002 ASEAN declaration, which stated, in part, that “the parties would resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force … in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [and] to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.” was a farce. The article dismisses this as a “stalling tactic”; presumably it thinks that international disputes such as this one should be resolved in a matter of months, with a sort of fast food approach to diplomacy perhaps.
In 2003, China became the first non-ASEAN country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, signaling its nominal acceptance of ASEAN’s security norm of peaceful settlement of disputes. But this is not “serious” enough for The Economist. After all, what better proof of China’s aggressive intentions than declarations of peace?
The point here is not whether China is aggressive, but that if China is aggressive, it is given more attention in the media than if any other country displayed the same (or higher) amount of aggressiveness.
It is also not “unclear” what the dotted line is based on. It is based on historical claims dating as far back as the Han dynasty in the 2nd century BC, as a simple Google search would have revealed to the author. And like China, Vietnam’s claims are also historical, , and countries involved in the dispute have overlapping claims, which, obviously, The Economist forgot to mention. Now one is welcome to debate those claims (a task that it finds too “complex” to undertake), but claiming that it is not clear what the line is based on is not only a display of ignorance, but also of intellectual laziness. Perhaps no more than what can be expected from a publication that once dismissed the Wenzhou train crash (that caused the deaths of 40 people) with one word: “Whoops“.
And to top it all off, the article, which started with petulance, ends with a joke, and a rather prissy one at that: “[America has] an abiding interest in the freedom of navigation and commerce”. What nobody mentions is that the US has not ratified the The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It supports “freedom of navigation” only because supporting a free for all is always in favor of the stronger party. It’s basic common sense – If I am stronger than you (and if we both know this), it is in my interest that you are transparent, and in your interest (and against mine) that you are opaque. It is always in the interest of the weaker party to hide the true extent of its strength (or weakness). This is why the US is asking China to be more transparent with regards to its military. America, with its greater clout and lobbying power, pushes through self-serving and favorable laws in international organizations such as the UN. Of course, it routinely breaks them with equal ease when it serves its own interest.
The newspaper recently announced a new section dedicated solely to China, only the second country to receive the honour (such as it is) after the US did in 1942. And like this particular article, that section also started with a self-contradictory analysis. The apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree, and The Economist certainly has a proclivity for barking up the wrong one.
(originally published at India’s China Blog)
About Action & Reaction….
I was lucky to be able to follow up this matter everyday during the last 3 years and as far as I can judge this was THE geostrategic issue during this time period.
Thanks to a daily follow up there remains a chronology in your head preventing confusion between causes and consequences.
That the US (in competition with the UK) is the king of imperialism is indisputable.
Also clear is that the US is in Asia to pursue its imperialist interests.
In my narrative I would bring everything under the denominator of; “China’s inexperience made that the roast chickens flew spontaneously in the mouth of the US.”
Or like a Chinese academician stated in more diplomatic terms:
“If the Chinese government is clever, it would do well to think about the reason why the U.S. is suddenly so popular in the region, “said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at the Renmin University in Beijing. “Is it because China has not been good enough when it comes to diplomacy with its neighboring countries?”
Thankfully I do not fall under the CCP censorship so I can drop the question mark without hesitation.
What I remember is a three year long course on : “how to make enemies of my friends ” …
We start eg. with the Varyag, bought in 1998 by a private person as scrap from the Ukraine. When it was allowed in the Bosphorus after more than one year it was presented to Turkey as a floating casino and now it’s the masterpiece of the PLAN …
Of course all the neigbours are pleased with such a floating casino in their little backyard!
The territorial disputes with Japan and South Korea are still fresh in my memory following the accompanying incidents, but these are rarely placed against an economic background: China has the largest fishing fleet in the world, its own waters are virtually depleted of fish and then the waters of the neighbors are fished. In 2011 Korea arrested more than 500 Chinese fisherman boats …
Following this, Japan has completely revised its defence strategy and increased its defence budget, just like South Korea …
That China has a territorial dispute with the Philippines is correct, but also with Viet Nam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Burnei.
But what has now suddenly changed is that China’s “core intrests” are no longer limited to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet but include also an “ox tongue” through a “9 dots card” up to the front door of Singapore, enclosing almost the entire Viet Namese coastline …
It is the knowledge that China has a very flexible interpretation of its “core intrests” that is so troubling for its neighbours. There is an overt discussion going on on how to handle this “Ox tongue”claim as one school of tought find it to early to make public this “core intrest” because China’s military is not yet able to enforce this claim…
It is no wonder that Lee Kuan Yew was the first to summon the US not to pull back further from Southeast Asia …
But the country with the most perseverance in this matter is Viet Nam. And they call not only on the US for protection but also on India.
Beeing not amused with this Indian-Vietnamese cooperation is one thing, but seizure an Indian Navy ship that was on a State visit in Vietnamese territorial waters is of another magnitude…
And actually we would need to analyse in extenso China’s relations with any Asian country but as the place is missing here …
It is easier is to fall back on China’s approach to the Asean countries in general:
“Foreign Minister Yang reacted by leaving the meeting for an hour. When he returned, he gave a rambling 30-minute response in which he accused the United States of plotting against China on this issue, seemed to poke fun at Vietnam’s socialist credentials and apparently threatened U.S. and Asian Singapore, according to officials in the room. “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact,” he said, staring directly at Singapore’s foreign minister, George Yeo, according to several participants at the meeting. ”
A textbook example of how to overplay your hand!
And why is China right now losing its diplomatic temper; because it sees that all its economic power and influence provides them nearly no political influence in all these countries … This is in big contrast with what they were expecting, from Australia (who is acting in economic symbiosis China) to countries so diverse as Singapore or Burma….
I understand that it must be very frustrating to see that the US has only to accept those requests…
That was not according to the plan!
Namely because unnoticed (at least for the Chinese diplomacy) the US has flipped the tables: where in the past, China as the underdog, stimulated all multilateral initiatives against the US (and the URSS) to its surprise it turns out that nowadays it is the US that supports every multilateral initiative of the Asian countries and shows those countries that they can count on the US to give them the necessary backing when necessary…
To avoid a conflict I would ask every party to use the different international institutions competent for solving territorial claims and certainly make no historical claims. As I remember that the last man in Europe who made historical claims for the expansion of his country was a certain A. Hitler….
In other news today:
Singapore warns US on anti-China rhetoric
“It is quite untenable to speak in terms of the ‘containment’ of China… (China) is determined to progress in all fields and take its rightful place in the community of nations,” he said, adding that American policy makers need to “accept and understand” this.
I think the U.S. is genuinely trying to draw down troops and cut cost in military. Eisenhower’s warning of the military industrial complex is alive (and maybe not so well).
But, in order to achieve that, the U.S. government has to find a way to position that trimming down. That coupled with growing resentment within South Korea and Japan (namely Okinawa) for U.S. troop presence, the U.S. has to find a way. Resentment rises over time (should U.S. keep troops there for 100 years? 1000 years?) and as U.S. push them to pay ‘hosting’ expenses.
So, a shifting of some troops away from South Korea and Japan can be argued on the idea of a destabilized South China Sea. This is why the U.S. media is hyping up threats there.
Domestically, the Obama administration doesn’t appear weak – rather it appears the U.S. is flexing her muscles against China with the Asia ‘pivot.’
Vietnam and Philippines certainly want more FDI from the U.S.. It’s a messy web of interests at play.
the US is attempting to position itself to acquire the most leverage against the largest economy and rival superpower on the planet, and nothing spells leverage like gunboat diplomacy with missile bases just within range of your major metropolitan/commerical areas.
This is in spite of official and non official motions and statements by Beijing about their peaceful intentions, demonstrated by their white paper last yr, as pepe escobar says (btw pepe escobar is one of the more humorous and level headed journalists imho, he tells it like it is):
but Washington aint listening, as shown by the glaring lack of coverage by the establishment’s media coverage (as someone on the boards said before, the stances of major media stations convey a nations’ official stance).
so as i’ve said before, you can’t reason with a brutish nation that only understands force-indeed in the history of the West, all western nations only ever learnt to respect power and intimidation-thusly, China must compel the West to behave via superior technology, firepower and soft power.
Washington wants to set up a base within range of Beijing? not a problem, simply set up a major military base in Mexico or eastern Canada or even Western Africa, enabling the Chinese military to raze an American city to ashes should the Pentagon wish to take that particular path.
A choice no country should have to make
Since the 1980s, experts have predicted that the 21st century is the Asian century and China would emerge to take the lead. As the G2 was proposed during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the dream of “Asia first and the world second” seemed almost within reach.
China currently holds more than 3 trillion U.S. dollars in foreign reserves, while the U.S. economy remains sluggish.
As a leading creditor, China should be more courageous and confident in dealing with the U.S., but in contrast it has acted passively on many occasions. When the U.S. proclaimed its high-profile return to the Asia-Pacific region, old and new friends embraced America’s action. In contrast, the climate surrounding China’s dealings with countries in its own backyard has been increasingly unfavorable.
At present, China’s relations with Japan, India and ASEAN countries are slightly tense. At the same time, former close allies like the North Korea, Myanmar and Pakistan are opening up to the West.
The North Korea is the county which China assists the most. However, it no longer treats China as a close friend. Instead, it wants to build direct relations with the U.S. The two countries have signed a mutual non-aggression treaty and established trade connections.
Compared with China, no other big country spends so much on its allies but gains so little reward or respect. China has mediated and promoted talks between the North Korea and the U.S., but neither of the two nations has embraced these efforts. As Kim Jong-Un becomes the country’s new leader, how much the DPRK will respect China has yet to be seen.
A former staunch ally to China, Myanmar has also changed its attitude towards the U.S. Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Myanmar and has promised a “small gift” of 1.2 million dollars to support Burmese reform.
Since then, U.S.-Myanmar relations have developed at an amazing speed – the two countries restored respective diplomatic missions at the beginning of 2012.
It’s a natural move for Myanmar and the U.S. to approach each other. Before that, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released in November 13, 2011. Myanmar’s military government lifted controls on foreign websites and dissident radio stations and engaged in talks with Aung San Suu Kyi. Later, the Myanmar government stopped China from investing in its Myitsone hydropower project.
If this trend continues, Myanmar will finally sink into the West’s arms and become an important pawn for the U.S.’s deployment to China’s borders. China has been pursuing opportunities to build railways, gas and oil pipes in Myanmar. If Myanmar cozies up to the U.S., it will be a setback for China’s energy strategy. Energy development in Myanmar remains the best solution for China to avoid conflict with the U.S. in Malacca.
There’s no doubt that Pakistan is China’s best friend. For this reason, Pakistan has also become a focal point for the U.S. defense strategy. Last December, NATO aircraft and helicopter gunships attacked two Pakistani border posts. Some believe the attack served as warning to China’s neighbor countries to remind them who they should be friends with.
Claiming to be “Asia first”, Japan increased investment in ASEAN countries but also has tried to contain China by strengthening the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Recently, to better monitor and take stricter precautions against China, it announced military plans involving Yonaguni.
India, another big country in Asia, hasn’t backed down in the dragon and elephant fight. Border negotiations with China have carried on for many years without any compromise.
Furthermore, in late 2011, the Indian media reported that the Indian government plans to recruit nearly 100,000 soldiers and deploy them to the Chinese border in the next five years.
Fear of China’s rise among ASEAN countries continues to grow, and tension has been evident in recent friction with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. A growing unity against China among ASEAN nations has become increasingly evident.
Although China’s tremendous economic growth has given it a comparative advantage over other Asian nations, it hasn’t achieved the level of political influence Chinese leaders have hoped for. A Gallup poll suggested that although China achieved rapid development during the global economic slump, the U.S. remains a strong influence in Asia.
Last November, the U.S. announced its high-profile “Return to Asia” plan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Asia-Pacific region will be the center of gravity of the U.S. diplomatic strategy in the future and the Asia-Pacific will become the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity in the 21st century. U.S. President Barack Obama also said the U.S. will strengthen and maintain its long-term military presence in Asia-Pacific region.
One of the strategies for the U.S.’s return to Asia is to increase economic integration. For this reason, it re-introduced the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) to counter China’s influence. In 2010, the GDP of TPP member countries accounted for 27.2 percent of the world. If Japan and Korea join the TPP, the area will become the world’s largest free trade zone. With increased economic and trade cooperation, the U.S.’s influence in Southeast Asia will further develop into strategic cooperation. At that time, it will be able to affect the global political and military balance, thus strengthening U.S. influence in Asia.
Furthermore, the U.S. is carrying out its “Return to Asia” strategy in the military arena. It announced a new military strategy at the beginning of 2012 which aims to enhance its military presence in Asia, and counter “China’s dominance in international waters in the South China Sea.”
It’s no longer a secret that the U.S. plans to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. intended to carry out the plan as early as the beginning of the 21st century; however it shifted gears following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Now seeing its largest competitor more powerful than a decade ago, it is trying to make up for its former lack of presence in Asia.
Ever since the Roman Empire, superpowers have tried to undermine potential competitors. In the face of these strategy adjustments, China should keep its cool.
China and the U.S. remain interdependent. Their relations are both competitive and cooperative in political and economic aspects. In terms of military power, China still lags far behind America.
In addition to hard power, soft power also matters. The U.S. is able to use its universal values like freedom and democracy and Hollywood blockbusters to spread its influence abroad. It is able to use products like the iPad to make money. China has no such “Sunday punch.” Nowadays, Asian countries have neither respect for Chinese culture nor recognition of Chinese values. Previously, they have engaged China mainly to look for trade opportunities. Once China’s economic development slows, its attraction will disappear unless China is able to successfully win hearts through the purveyance of soft power.
The U.S. is never going to leave Asia. China and the U.S. must learn to live with each other at peace in the region. Meanwhile, China needs to find more ways to attract neighboring countries rather than simply trying to persuade its neighbors to weaken their ties to the U.S.
By Wang Chong, China.org.cn Feb. 12, 2012
Let’s think for a moment here and let’s assume that China is finally subdued by the encirclement of ASEAN countries led by US. What will happen next? My 2-cent take is Japan will assume the top dog role as it always wants to, but Korea (let’s also assume they unite after the collapse of China, NK is simply awaken to the fact) will not be contented to take the second post, they are not going to look up to the Japanese as the big brother. Then you have an array of others who think that they should be treated with the most favorable term with the US: India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia… but let’s not forget that each of these countries doesn’t trust each other to begin with especially now that their common enemy- China- has been wiped out. So what we will have is a forever chaotic, fragmented Asia much like the Middle East is today; a Balkanized Asia will be the playground for US and Australia to play up each of these ASEAN countries against each other until finally there is not a single Asian country can dictate terms in the region. Asia then become subject of one true global empire: the USA.
That is my Sunday morning after coffee thought.
“Asian countries have neither respect for Chinese culture nor recognition of Chinese values.”
Ahem, do a bit more research please. In Vietnam, the craze is for television blockbusters from the mainland – yes, the government is a tad worried. The Hallyu wave from Korea is peaking, and other cultural fads from Asia will fill the vacuum in Asia.
Chinese is now officially recognized as an Indonesian minority; culture, customs, media are again flourishing. Despite ethnic tensions, the Chinese community – and Chinese culture -is strongly entrenched in Malaysia, and the Chinese business community is a major bridge between the two countries.
As for Thailand, Thaksin – or least his sister – is back in the driver’s seat. If you know enough Thai people, you will hear the opinion that Thaksin is China’s preferred choice, as he is of the broader masses.
Don’t hold too much hope that Myanmar will become a Western whore, either. The person who understands Southeast Asian history will know that the triangulated relationship of Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar – with Kampuchea and Laos somewhere in there – hangs carefully by a political thread. You cultivate one too closely at the expense of the others, and will drive them back into China’s arms.
Chinese businesses from the mainland and Southeast Asia are already first off the blocks into Myanmar anyways. One of the US objectives in its so-called “return to Asia” – was it ever part of Asia, apart from seizing Philippines by force and murdering close to a million, and annexing Hawaii – is to provoke China into an arms race.
But, as Maitreya posted elsewhere, the Chinese army admits it falls far short in technology. BUT: China has acquired, and will continue to build, defensive and strike power to guard its sovereignty and take down American minions in any war. Having seen the collapse of USSR partly caused by the weapons race with the World’s Most Evil Nation, China is unlikely to be tricked into a similar situation.
The Internet is a strange place where you can sometimes run into opinions that are vastly different from yours. Personally often find allowing these opinions to challenge your core believes can be quite intellectually rewarding. However, after carefully reading what you had to say, I just shook my head… The key first is knowing the facts, and nothing but the facts; only then you can even start to form cohesive ideas, project the future and hopefully profit from it.
The FACT is, in both the nominal yen term and the real yen term, the Japanese military budget had actually declined not increased. In 2005 the Japanese core defense budget was 4.9 trillion yen, and in 2011 it was 4.8 trillion yen.
Your future projection:
This will be a much longer discussion. But let’s focus on one angle: money. In 2011, Japan’s tax revenue was projected to be 41 trillion yen, which the latest indicators showed that it would be somewhat short. The social security expenditure alone was projected to be 29 trillion yen. To compare to China whose social security contribution and expenditure are not a part of the tax base, the non-social security tax revenue base of Japan in 2011 was a dismal 12 trillion yen, less than 1/10 of China’s. Granted, Japan issues a load more bonds and squeezes every yen it can out of its state-owned or partially state-owned entities, and spends as if it has a lot more money. But the reckoning will far more likely be the opposite of what you believe.
The only problem is in FACT it didn’t happen. When the Indian naval ship INS Airavat paid a visit to Vietnam a few months ago, according to the Indian press it received a notice on an open radio channel that it entered the Chinese water, and not quite heartening to the Indians, the Indian ship couldn’t see any Chinese ship visually or on its radar.
You have some conjectures on North Korea and Myanmar ranging from remote possibility to outright nuts. This nugget:
Pakistan has been friendly toward China for a very long time, why only now? Worse yet, it can’t be good while the Pakistani logistic support is still quite crucial during the war in Afghanistan. The question is, if a message is so cryptic that the intended recipients likely couldn’t understand it, is it still a message? Some of your logic is so tortuous, maybe they are not fact-based but rather driven by your anti-China slant? Just some food for thought — you are welcome.
Another food for thought: among major ASEAN nations, the better the local ethnic Chinese are treated, the higher the living standard is. Why is that?
jxie, to be fair, what dan had stated on #6 was not really his opinion. Instead, he had lifted an entire article off China.org.cn on the Feb. 12, 2012, which was written by Wang Chong. Your objections should be directed towards Wang.
Well as I said in the post, there have been cases of other countries aggressively pursuing their claims too, but they are not reported in the media. But when a Chinese ship cut a couple of cables, there is a furore.
As to your other points, I agree with most of jxie’s reply.
And for your idea of a balkanised Asia, well, It’s never to early to predict these matters isn’t it? 😉
The US will of course do whatever it can to hinder peace in the region. The most important point that must be realized here is that Vietnam and the Philippines (and Japan too) have not reacted encouragingly to China’s offer of joint exploration.
Uh, guys, this is dan#6, not the same dan as #5. just to be clear.. 🙂
Oh yeah, I meant the quote “dan” made in #5. Now that the original (non China-bashing) dan has appeared, things appear much clearer. No wonder there is an alternation of tone and alignment between a single person. There is one more “dan” with a more hostile stance towards China. But since now that it seems there will complications resulting from the presence of 2 dans, we have to find a way to clearly differentiate the two. I hope the moderators can help in this aspect.
This is dan, as you said, the original, non-China bashing one. I have raised my concern to admin weeks ago. I trust that they are working tirelessly to solve this problem? 🙂
dan – at the moment, we allow anyone to post comments, so they could specify whatever they want for their name. Generally this hasn’t been a problem – though on occasion we get duplicates like your case.
Only way for us to solve this problem is to force everyone to register before they are allowed to comment. That way, all usernames will be unique. But we are not doing that for now.
For now, continue posting under dan and people will realize when it is not you. Or pick another handle.
YinYang, Thank for the response.
I am not going to change my handle. May I make a suggestion: perhaps each commenter should be required to show his/her location. For example: dan – Mars, dan – Venus, etc. (Just like NYT). It is simple and still allows anonymity.
Just a thought. 🙂
dan – thanks for the suggestion. There is a WP plug-in to show country flags next to commenter names. However, it’s incompatible with the recent comments feature we have. We show most recent posts with new comments – as a way to keep as many thread conversation going as possible. Haven’t found a way to get the flag to show up there yet.
We’ll tinker some more – or may just end up waiting for the feature to show up with an SW upgrade for the blog down the road. So, please bear with the inconvenience for now.
BTW, I was talking about the dan that wrote the first comment in my comment here 😉