Monday, June 30, 2014

China needs to negotiate

Bangkok Post - Editorial
Published: 30/06/2014 at 12:23 AM
Newspaper section: News

The disagreements between China and several members of Asean continue to fester. For most of the past month, Beijing has deliberately stoked disputes, particularly with Vietnam. Its chief instrument in pushing the envelope is an oil rig. A drilling platform seems a strange instrument of high-stakes diplomacy on the high seas. But China is using this unique weapon to further its own goals and confront those who dispute it.

The latest chapter in the South China Sea quarrel started in May. China moved a billion-dollar deepwater drilling rig into waters claimed by Hanoi, about 240km off the Vietnamese coast. The rig dropped anchor and apparently started searching for oil. Vietnam complained China was breaking international law by drilling well inside its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and actually on Vietnam’s continental shelf.

China, as usual, had its own unique maps ready, showing the CNOOC Group rig was working well within Chinese waters. For Beijing, this is standard fare. China claims it owns — clear and above board — about 90% of the territory of the South China Sea, and everything under the sea bed. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei (and Taiwan) all dispute this.

China’s standard method of dealing with the disagreements is to simply dismiss them, refuse to discuss them and, if necessary, use force to back them up.

In the past 10 days, China has moved four more oil rigs into this unnecessary and ultimately dangerous situation. CNOOC, a true oil behemoth, announced that starting immediately, it is opening four new exploration sites in the western and eastern sectors of the South China Sea. Translation: At the orders of the Chinese government the state oil firm intends to further the regime’s territorial claims by a combination of the economic search for oil and the military presence of Chinese navy and coast guard ships to guarantee the security of the rigs.

The obvious targets of this 21st century form of gunboat diplomacy are Vietnam and the Philippines. They are by far the most active governments in confronting China’s aggressive territorial claims, and therefore the countries that will see the oil rigs searching — some say “pretending to search” — for oil under the seabed.

The danger is obvious. Early this month, anti-Chinese demonstrations got out of hand in a major industrial zone near Ho Chi Minh City. Anti-Chinese protests turned into full-scale riots, with factories burnt, and several Chinese workers killed. Beijing made a big show of withdrawing workers from the Vietnamese economic zone, clearly appealing to its own jingoists.

Vietnam last week tried to put the dampers on increasing anti-China feeling when it barred a Catholic Church “exhibition” on the South China Sea. The church said it had documents and other proof that the Paracel Islands, captured and occupied by Chinese military forces in 1974, definitely are Vietnamese territory. In the Philippines, which has freedom of speech, there is no shortage of backing for the government’s attempt to confront China over parts of the Spratly Island group.

In the recent past, there have been numerous cases of violence over this dispute. The Chinese navy has attacked and assaulted Vietnamese naval vessels recently, although so far no actual battle has broken out. A new US base in the Philippines directly faces the Spratlys, adding even more tension and potential for deadly showdowns between the Chinese and other military forces.

China needs to turn its hard-nosed oil rig diplomacy into real negotiations. By engaging in talks with Asean and its members, it could establish a more satisfactory way of settling the disputes.

Read More at: 

No comments:

Post a Comment