The Beijing-based Global Times would like to know if Washington is going to keep up its provocative actions in the South China Sea. The newspaper, which often expresses the views of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), posed the question at the end of an editorial on Wednesday, offering its take on the eighth China-US Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Beijing that ended the previous day.
At the start of the S&ED, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed China over its recent actions in the South China Sea, while U.S. Trade Secretary Jack Lew urged China to stop dumping foreign markets with excess steel.
“The United States will make it clear that we are looking for a peaceful resolution to … the disputes of the South China Sea,” Kerry said in opening remarks.
“Let’s not resolve this by unilateral action; let’s resolve this through rule of law, through diplomacy, through negotiation. And we urge all nations to find a diplomatic solution, rooted in international standards and rule of law,” he said.
In essence, the U.S. and rival South China Sea claimants, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have been and are continually asking China if it will stop land reclamation activities and artificial island building in the South China Sea, flagrantly disregarding international law that China previously agreed to. To date, China simply refuses.
Actually, whether the U.S. will restrain its “provocative” South China Sea activities is a fair question to ask if you adhere to China’s historical claim over the body of water.
The problem is that China’s historical claim is as dubious as it is fictitious. Recently, more maps were discovered (once again) laying doubt to China’s claims. Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, a Vietnamese historian and deputy director at the Da Nang Institute for Socio-Economic Development, found two map collections which sketched China’s territory during the Qing dynasty in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The first collection, around 200 maps, named Qianlong’s Map in Thirteen Rows, is dated 1760.
The second collection that Dr. Son found was the Atlas von China (The Atlas of China). It consists of two parts published in 1885 by Dietrich Reimer publishing house, a Berlin-based publisher.
Both series of maps specified that the southernmost point of China’s territory during this time was Hainan Island, China’s southernmost land.
Dr. Son said that “it is observable that Chinese maps in official atlases released during the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China period all specified that the southernmost point of China is Hainan Island.”
The Chinese Way
Even if China could prove historical rights, which it can not, it still signed off on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. Yet, in the ensuing decades Beijing has simply changed its mind – it’s geopolitical expediency at its best, or in this case at its worst.
Beijing’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea is unparalleled and has set off an arms race in the Asia-Pacific region that many in the U.S. fail to appreciate.
BBC journalist Bill Hayton in his 2014 tome The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, surmises the situation well. He writes, “… the weight of nationalistic sentiment, however, prevents Beijing from making a sensible retreat from this nonsensical position.
China invents claims on a map [its nine-dash U-shaped line comprising more than 80% of the South China Sea] ties it into nationalism (a century of humiliation) and inhabits said claims as ancient Chinese sovereign territory…
In a nut shell, Beijing rejects international law on the matter, and insists on might makes right or possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
However, China is not asking the right question. The right question is: What new South China Sea policy will usher forth in January from either a newly-elected President Donald J. Trump or President Hillary Clinton?
Both candidates have said and will no doubt take a tougher stance with China in the South China Sea, and other areas as well.
If the new president heeds the advice of four-star Adm. Harry Harris, Commander U.S. Pacific Command (who wants a more confrontational approach in response to China’s South China Sea activities, but has been muzzled by the White House) China could have to make good on its public relations spin that it can handle anything the U.S. Navy has to offer in the South China Sea or have to negotiate or even retreat – all unpalatable options for Beijing.
How the South China Sea geopolitical drama will turn out is up to China. Events in the troubled body of water instead of cooling down, are about to get dicey indeed.
This article was written by Tim Daiss from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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