Recently, South China Sea territorial disputes seem to heat up in the Media

China is once again, accused of notching up aggression because of its increase might

A good time to examine the truths in the disputes, and the media coverage of the issue.

Huffington Re-Post covered 1 side of the issue via an analysis done by a consultant and a lawy professor from Philippines (needless to say which side the analysis is taking, needless to attribute bias purely on that basis), but let’s discuss some of the point of that analysis.

(1) the title blasts China’s “preimperial overstretch”.  Yet, admittedly it is an old territorial dispute.  In that, it’s not a new issue.

(2) “China has become a master at pushing right up to the boundary of internationally acceptable behavior, then briefly crossing over the line, retreating, and doing the same again, until it establishes a ‘new normal’ for what is deemed to be acceptable.”

Yet, in the same article, the author minimizes China’s claim by saying, “It was only in 1992 when China first attempted to occupy one of the eight islands in the Spratlys”, while Philippines dates its claim back to “OCCUPATION” back in the 1947.

So, China was not aggressive up to 1992, therefore, it has no claim, whereas Philippines has valid claim, because it was aggressively occupying the Spratlys since 1947?

Hey, let’s compare “aggressiveness”.  Here is a map of Spratlys in 1995, marking various countries’ occupation posts.

Count the markers.  I counted 8 post markers for China, 2 for ROC, and 10 for Philippines.  Vietnam actually had the most markers in the Spratlys.

So, it’s OK for Philippines and Vietnam to build up outposts on the islands and patrol the oceans, but not China?

(3) “Liu Jianchao, the Chinese Ambassador in Manila, called upon the Philippines to halt all oil exploration without Beijing’s prior consent.”

While the authors of the article points this as aggressive posturing from China, the fact is, the Chinese Ambassedor is actually pointing out a law from UNCLOS (UN Convention on Laws of Sea), which Philippines has “demanded” that China follow.

Part III, Section 2, Article 40 of UNCLOS states, “During transit passage, foreign ships, including marine scientific research and hydrographic survey ships, may not carry out any research or survey activities without the prior authorization of the States bordering straits.”

Philippines, Vietnam and China (and other nations) dispute each other’s claim on Spratly.  It is only to follow UNCLOS to consult each other prior to exploration and survey activities.


Western Media, (and others) have been jumping overall to cry the big bad wolf of China coming to swallow up the South China Sea with gun boats.  But neglects to mention that Vietnam and Philippines have made the “normality” of building outposts and patrols and unilateral surveying missions in the South China Sea, in the last 60 years, in the mad dash to stake out their own territorial claims.

China is actually the late comer, now playing the game the same way Philippines and Vietnam have been playing in South China Sea.  (Also the same way that Japan has played in the disputed island area of Diaoyutai/Senkaku).

If China is wrong to send patrol boats to disputed areas, or building outposts in those areas, Why are there also patrol boats from Vietnam and Philippines, and more outposts from Vietnam and Philippines?

Reality is, this is how territorial disputes escalates.  Each side aggressively stake out their own claims, trying to beat the others to it.  And if you don’t assert your claims, you essentially abandoned your claims.  (For example, the Authors of the articles essentially dismissed China’s claim by saying China was not aggressive enough or early enough to occupy the Spratlys prior to 1947).

Is it that abnormal to expect China to play the game the same way?  Obviously not.

It is potentially dangerous, but one could hardly expect China to simply give up its claims.

*Philippines and Vietnam have resorted to crying for help from US.

Philippines has attempted to invoke a mutual defense treaty with US.  Vietnam has hinted to offer to base US naval ships in South Vietnam.

I have no complaints about geopolitical plays and stratagems, each nation has their own interests to protect.

But I simply warn, such plays are also altering the rules of the game, and escalating it beyond merely disputes over who can patrol and build outposts where.  Which will only cause China and other nations to respond in kind and play by the new rules.

If Vietnam and Philippines are using “geopolitical ties” to buttress their own hands, then one should realize that China has no shortage of “geopolitical” influences either.

Vietnam may think to play US against China, but it should realize, China is an economic backer of Vietnamese government, and US is out to “reform” Vietnamese political system.  US has no reservations about imposing a “democracy” on Vietnam if it is convenient, and make a DEAL with China to do it.  (Just remember Vietnam War, and how US made a deal with China to bring Vietnam to negotiation table.)

Philippines should realize that China is also an economic backer of Philippines.  While China generally trade without bringing political issues, MAJOR political issues will impact trade relations, certainly if it goes into border war mode (as cried about by Philippines.

Before crying wolf, nations should realize that it is not to their advantage to play the game this way.  China is not going to be forced back away from its claims, and its behaviors are predicated by the behaviors of others in the same game, nothing more, nothing less.

By raventhorn2000 (Hidden Harmonies China Blog)

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