Part 1: Weak arguments, forceful actions
VietNamNet Bridge – Seen in the context of its actions over the past half century, there is nothing surprising about China’s recent deployment of an illegal drilling rig in Vietnam’s waters. This is just one more notch in the ratchet Beijing has long wielded to "monopolize the East Sea". The strategy was hatched by the Middle Kingdom long ago and the country has continuously found ways to implement it without regard for international law or its commitments to the world community.
|China’s U-shaped line covers over 80% of the East Sea.|
China self-draws the so-called “nine-dotted line”China is the country that is most vociferous about raising claims in the East Sea, but it wasn’t until 1951 that Beijing issued its first statement on the matter. At the San Francisco Conference, Premier Zhou Enlai said that Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands), Truong Sa (Spratly Island) and Pratas Islands “were and always had been” part of Chinese territory.
The claims were then pushed to a higher level in 1997, when the Chinese Foreign Minister said that China’s sovereignty over the East Sea China was "nonnegotiable", although the claims reached the southern tip of the Reed Bank, close to the Borneo territories of Malaysia. However, when it came to justifying such claims, only vague assertions were made, with the general argument that China had "useful evidence" on the issue of its sovereignty.
The so-called "historical evidence" was ultimately revealed by China in May of 2009, a day after Malaysia and Vietnam filed their joint report registering the extended continental shelf in the south of East Sea to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). China responded with a diplomatic note to the UN Secretary-General to object, and included an attached "9-dotted line" map, which asserts Chinese sovereignty over more than 80% of the East Sea and the entire Spratly and Paracel archipelagos of Vietnam.
In fact, this is the "11-dotted line" map, made by the Chiang Kai-shek government of the Republic of China in 1947, with two lines extending into the Gulf of Tonkin, which were removed in 1953. Even Chinese researchers have had to acknowledge the legal weakness of the so-called "9-dotted line” sovereignty.
Not only raising the 9-dotted line claims, China also claims the East Sea a "core interest" – a concept that Beijing uses to refer to "hot spot" issues concerning national sovereignty. Other Chinese “hot spots” include Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. These are issues over which China says it will not compromise, and will resort to force "if necessary".
Chinese officials and Chinese media have repeatedly underscored this point. A Xinhua article published in August 2011 asserted that China has "indisputable sovereignty" over three million square kilometers of East Sea waters, and that these waters are part of the "core interests" of China.
All of the above statements reveal a single intention: China resolves to monopolize the East Sea and turn it into its own pond.
The steps to monopolize the East Sea
To fulfill its ambition of coopting the East Sea, China has continuously taken acts that lead to instability in the region, focusing on the following measures:
“Legalizing sovereignty": This is a series of continuous steps, under the first phase of the road map to "control, master and monopolize" the East Sea, aiming to mold public opinion at home and abroad. In 1996, shortly after the signing the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China immediately approved an agreement ratifying this Convention, with the reserved clause “historical rights” belonging to China before the provisions of UNCLOS. China has also inculcated its children with its supposed East Sea sovereignty, promoting the "nine-dotted line" in school textbooks.
In 2012, "legitimizing sovereignty" escalated to a new level, when China announced its establishment of the so-called Sansha City on Phu Lam Island of the Paracel archipelago of Vietnam, which China claims has the authority to administer both the Paracel and Spratly Islands of Vietnam. Six months later, China placed the 9-dotted line in electronic passports – a wrongful act in international relations that was many countries objected to.
Invasion through economic activities: This is the act of mastering the East Sea step by step, based on arguments that, where maritime economic activities are conducted, sovereignty is established. Along with strong investment in law enforcement forces at sea such as the Coast Guard, the Fisheries Administration and the Marine Patrol forces, China has encouraged Chinese fishermen to ply their trade in the remote fishing grounds in the overlapped areas or even in the waters of other countries.
In addition, the Hainan provincial government, with the consent of the central government, annually issues a "fishing ban" over the East Sea.
And, as evidenced in recent days, China has urged its national petroleum corporations to extend their activities to the East Sea. In June of 2012, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) invited international bidding for nine oil blocks with a total area of over 160,000 km2, located deep in the continental shelf of Vietnam. On May 1, 2014, CNOOC illegally deployed the HD-981 oil rig in Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone, evoking strong opposition from regional and international communities.
"Breaking the status quo": A systematic process to assert sovereignty in the step-by-step manner of "silkworms eating mulberry". China ultimately expects countries in the region to resign themselves to its claims of sovereignty as a fait accompli.
Even the use of force is treated as just another tool that the Middle Kingdom is ready to wield in furthering its insatiable ambitions. In 1956 China invaded a part of the Paracels and in 1974 completed its occupation of the entire archipelago. In 1988, Chinese troops invaded Gac Ma Island of Vietnam’s Spratlys.
In a similar scenario, China sent seven boats in 1995 to occupy Vanh Khan Island of the Spratly archipelago. In early 2013, the Beijing government illegal occupied Scarborough Shoal/ Huangyan, over which the Philippines claims sovereignty, and has maintained a permanent presence of ships around this shoal in order to, again, “change the status quo”. The deployment of the HD-981 rig in Vietnam's waters is just another step in “status quo transformation”.
Enhancing naval power: The goal is to create "military deterrence", to apply further pressure on regional countries to resign themselves to Chinese claims of sovereignty. Thanks to its rapid economic growth, China has strengthened its military capabilities, especially naval power, and especially in the East Sea. Once the weakling of China’s naval forces, the South Sea Fleet has been heavily upgraded to become the pride of the Chinese navy, with the biggest and most modern warships. Along with that, the Sanya/Hainan naval base is being continuously expanded to receive nuclear submarines and even aircraft carriers.