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China’s self-serving behaviour fuels territorial conflict in South China Sea

Publication Date : 21-05-2014

 

The latest conflict between China and Vietnam has developed into a situation in which anti-China protests in Vietnam left some Chinese nationals dead and many others injured. There are fears the situation may deteriorate further.

Such bilateral antagonism was triggered when China unilaterally deployed an oil rig earlier this month near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, over which Vietnam and China have contesting claims.

In waters near the oil rig, vessels from both countries even rammed into each other. They remain locked in a standoff close to the oil rig.

The Vietnamese, who have historically harboured anti-Chinese sentiment, probably exploded with rage over the latest self-centered behavior of China. Anti-Chinese protests have occurred in many places, with some protesters attacking factories believed to be run by Chinese companies, resulting in the death of two Chinese nationals. Plants owned by Japanese companies were also damaged, apparently mistaken for plants owned by Chinese companies.

It is true that the anti-China protests have gone too far. The Chinese government is demanding that Vietnam compensate the Chinese companies and nationals that suffered damage inflicted by the protesters.

When anti-Japan protests occurred in 2005 and 2012 in China, the Chinese authorities sanctioned many illegal actions by local rioters who, under the slogan that a patriotic act should not constitute a crime, were involved in property destruction and plunder. There was hardly any compensation given to the plants and business establishments owned by Japanese companies that were damaged in the riots.

Unfriendly neighbours

Also, the Chinese government announced that it would temporarily suspend an exchange programme with Vietnam.

It is clear that Beijing is trying to constrain Vietnam by taking advantage of the anti-China protests, and its demand for compensation is similarly motivated.

Vietnamese authorities shifted their stance of sanctioning the riots and launched a crackdown on them instead. China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and the source of about 30 per cent of its imports. Hanoi has apparently taken action to control the protests and prevent them from slowing down its economy.

Even if anti-China protests ease off in Vietnam, there will be no solution to the fundamental problem unless China removes the oil rig.

China’s self-serving acts undermine the stability of Asia and the Pacific region, a concern shared by both Japan and the United States.

China is also said to have been unilaterally reclaiming land and building an airstrip on a reef in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by Manila. This is extremely provocative behavior.

The Philippines and the United States inked a military accord last month, paving the way for US forces to be redeployed in the Philippines. Aiming for control of the South China Sea and the skies above it, China is believed to be attempting to accumulate a number of faits accomplis while gauging Washington’s reactions.

Meantime, it is noted that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations presented a united front and expressed “serious concerns” over worsening territorial disputes in the South China Sea in the chairman’s statement issued following its foreign ministerial meeting and summit talks earlier this month.

Both Japan and the United States, which face pressure from China in the East China Sea, declare that freedom of navigation in the Asian seas must be maintained. The two countries should further reinforce their cooperation with Asean member countries that share the same concern.

 

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