Time for China to go it alone? Coun­try will no longer al­low its le­git­i­mate rights to be wan­tonly en­croached upon by some of its neigh­bors

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

In re­cent days, Viet­nam has been dis­turb­ing China’s rou­tine drilling op­er­a­tions in the wa­ters off Zhongjian Is­land, part of China’s Xisha Is­lands. In a move to at­tract the world’s at­ten­tion, Viet­nam also in­vited some in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists to the op­er­at­ing site.

Sur­pris­ingly, the Viet­namese govern­ment also en­cour­aged anti-China demon­stra­tions and even ac­qui­esced in the ri­ots against for­eign en­ter­prises, mostly Chi­nese in­vest­ments in the coun­try, which re­sulted in the loss of in­no­cent lives and huge dam­age to property. The Viet­namese move, which fi­nally turned out to be a farce against it­self, only proved the govern­ment’s lack of deep think­ing about the sit­u­a­tion. Af­ter all, the drilling site is just 17 nau­ti­cal miles from China’s Zhongjian Is­land, yet 150 nau­ti­cal miles from Viet­namese coast­line. As pointed out by Chi­nese of­fi­cials time and again, Viet­namese ves­sels have to sail a long way across the stormy sea to dis­turb the nor­mal op­er­a­tions of the Chi­nese com­pany on the doorstep of China.

Mean­while, there has also been much spec­u­la­tion about the tim­ing of China’s drilling op­er­a­tions and the real in­ten­tion be­hind it. Some say the drilling op­er­a­tions be­gan just days af­ter the visit ofUS Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to Asia, and that by start­ing the drilling, China is flex­ing its mus­cles to neu­tral­ize the in­flu­ence of the United States in the re­gion. Oth­ers have taken it as re­sponse to Viet­nam’s re­cent pur­chase of a pa­trol ves­sel from Ja­pan. There are even those who say that China is re­solved to act on its own wishes and will in the South China Sea, in which the drilling op­er­a­tions are just a starter on China’s set menu.

How­ever, people will not un­der­stand China cor­rectly if they do not look at a longer time frame. No one can deny the fact that un­der the lead­er­ship of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, Chi­nese for­eign pol­icy has been very sta­ble and con­sis­tent over the years. Al­though there have been many mod­i­fi­ca­tions and ad­just­ments, the fun­da­men­tals have re­mained un­changed over the years af­ter open­ing-up to the out­side world. There­fore, to un­der­stand what China is do­ing to­day, we have to re­viewwhat China has done in the past.

It is now 20 years since the for­mer Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing put for­ward the con­struc­tive ini­tia­tive of shelv­ing dis­putes and seek­ing joint de­vel­op­ment at the Third Ple­naryMeet­ing of the Cen­tral Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee in Oc­to­ber 1984. Over the past 20 years China has up­held this ini­tia­tive and made un­remit­ting ef­forts to pro­mote it, in the hope that some day it would be made a re­al­ity and put into prac­tice.

To demon­strate its good will, China em­barked on ne­go­ti­a­tions with the mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east AsianNa­tions coun­tries to drawup a Code of Con­duct in the South China Sea. These ne­go­ti­a­tions fi­nally led to the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea in 2002, which has con­trib­uted a lot to the peace and sta­bil­ity of the South China Sea. China has made ev­ery ef­fort to push for the full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the DOC.

But when the Guide­lines for the Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea were even­tu­ally agreed by the con­tract­ing par­ties it was al­ready 2011, nine years had passed. De­spite all the ef­forts, the co­op­er­a­tion stip­u­lated in the DOC and the Guide­lines has not been re­ally started yet. Pre­dictably the low-sen­si­tiv­ity fields, as clearly listed in the DOC, have not been se­ri­ously taken by some sig­na­to­ries; let alone the joint de­vel­op­ment pro­moted by China.

There was a glim­mer of hope in 2005 when state oil com­pa­nies of China, Viet­nam and the Philip­pines signed an agree­ment on joint seis­mic re­search in some ar­eas of the South China Sea. This agree­ment, which can be seen as a step to­ward joint de­vel­op­ment, was ac­tu­ally an ex­per­i­ment in low-sen­si­tiv­ity co­op­er­a­tion. But de­spite the strong fea­si­bil­ity of putting the agree­ment into prac­tice, the co­op­er­a­tion was halted abruptly when the new­gov­ern­ment of the Philip­pines re­fused to ac­cept the for­mer govern­ment’s deal with other na­tions. Later on many other ini­tia­tives were put for­ward by China, but fe­wof them have re­ceived a pos­i­tive re­sponse.

To get the whole pic­ture of the sit­u­a­tion, we also need to look at what other lit­toral states have done at sea in the past 20-plus years. Viet­nam and some other coun­tries have uni­lat­er­ally con­cluded many con­tracts with­Western com­pa­nies and drilled many wells in the south­ern ar­eas of the South China Sea, many of which are in ar­eas that China also has le­git­i­mate claims to. Tak­ing Viet­nam as an ex­am­ple, more than 50 oil wells op­er­ated by Viet­nam fall within wa­ters that are dis­puted with China.

China lodged diplo­matic protests in the face of these in­fringe­ments upon its le­git­i­mate rights, but did not take any forcible mea­sures to stop them. As pointed out by an China For­eignMin­istry of­fi­cial, it is not that China did not have the abil­ity to stop the en­croach­ing, but China val­ues the peace and sta­bil­ity in the South China Sea more highly and was will­ing to show self-re­straint.

Many eq­ui­table and fea­si­ble sce­nar­ios for joint de­vel­op­ment have been laid out and pro­moted by China and widely ac­knowl­edged by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, some­times in­clud­ing theUS.

NowChina might have had enough, it will not al­low its le­git­i­mate rights to be wan­tonly en­croached upon by some of its neigh­bors any more. Viet­nam’s reck­less move of forcibly dis­turb­ing the nor­mal op­er­a­tions of a Chi­nese com­pany in ar­eas with­out any dis­pute is likely to trig­ger new­think­ing from China about ex­ploit­ing the re­sources in the South China Sea. In the com­ing years if Viet­nam continues its trou­ble­mak­ing, China will prob­a­bly have no op­tion but to weigh the pos­si­bil­ity of blaz­ing a trail and drilling alone in some sea ar­eas where dis­putes ex­ist be­tween China and Viet­nam.

The au­thor is a Bei­jing-based scholar.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.