All Vietnam wants is bargaining chips

The question of how China should react to the provocation of Vietnam, which seems to switch from escalation to moderation, then back again, has aroused a heated debate in China.

Some of the commentators think that China and Vietnam should show restraint over the South China Sea issue to avoid any conflict. They suggest the Chinese government should adhere to the foreign policies of the Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zhemin administrations — “shelving the disputes and joint development” — in response to Vietnam’s provocation.   

The other opinion is that China is a great power in Asia and has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea. They insist that the image of China as a great power will be damaged if the government is tolerant when continually confronted by the unreasonable claims of Vietnam and the Philippines. In their opinion, China should respond to the Vietnam’s provocation by using military force.

But it seems neither side has truly considered exactly why Vietnam prefers to risk testing China’s tolerance.

Vietnam is highly vulnerable compared with China, no matter whether it is military might or economic capacity or comprehensive national strength. China has the strongest military force in Asia besides Russia, its GDP is now the second largest in the world and its total trade volume in 2010 was $30.94 billion.

Some suggest that Vietnam has the backing of the United States, which balances the power of China. But the decision-makers of Vietnam should be clear that if there is a war between China and Vietnam the US will probably not participate with Vietnam because of the economic situation and national interests of the US.

So what is Vietnam really trying to achieve by its policy of brinkmanship?

In fact, Vietnam is using territorial disputes as a means of leveraging more from the negotiations on joint development. Vietnam is clear that joint development is the only way to solve the dispute with China, and indeed Vietnam doesn’t have the capability to exploit the disputed areas by itself.

The Chinese government, public and the enterprises that want to exploit the South China Sea should not act hastily and should try and protect our economic interests as well as the regional peace.

The author Yang Jingmin is an editor of M4.cn. She can be reached at jingmin_yang@yahoo.cn.

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