India joins the South China Sea party

The news that the Indian Navy ship Airavat had been told over radio that it was “entering Chinese waters” while sailing in the South China Sea on a “goodwill visit” to Vietnam may have marked the start of a new era in the South China Sea dispute.

Soon after, last Thursday, September 15, the Global Times reported that India plans to develop oil and gas, claims to already have “Vietnamese approval”. The report said India’s foreign ministry had expressed disregard for Chinese objections, saying that “China’s opposition has no legal basis”.

This story was of potentially great gravity, especially given China and Vietnam’s recent official talk of South Sea cooperation. It may have been given publicity on the command or at least coordination of high-level political figures, because it was released on the major web portals at precisely the same time – 13:58. However, it happened to appear on the same day as CCTV host Rui Chenggang’s latest episode stole the headlines (this time Rui asked US Ambassador Gary Locke whether he took economy class because of America’s debt – he was promptly set upon by China’s “netizenry”, among whom Locke is becoming popular for his down-to-earth attitude, activities and travel methods, which contrast starkly with those of Chinese officials). Probably as a result of Rui’s antics, this initial news of India’s foray into the South China Sea dispute provoked only a relatively modest 22,000-strong discussion on Phoenix, but this nonetheless included a couple of sarcastic gems, such as:

Relax, India, go ahead and extract, China will at most protest! It’s really alright, your disregard is correct! [3853 recommends]

[. . .]

I welcome India’s exploitation of South Sea oil, afterwards it can be smuggled in and sold cheaply, enriching the common Chinese people! If we let our SOEs do it the price will be even higher, emptying our pockets, and high officials will squander all the profits with the rest going to overseas investors – the state won’t see any advantage, neither the people, so what’s the need? [1197]

Most interesting was the following comment, which was attracting the third-most “recommends” as of Thursday, but which has since been harmonized:

I now wonder whether this South Sea is China’s? If it is ours why not simply take it back? If it’s not, just calm down and stop railing on about it cos there’s no point. [775]

It is perfectly permissible, it seems, to criticize the central government’s weakness and inaction in the boldest of terms, as almost every entry on this blog has documented. But to actually question whether China’s claims are valid probably crosses the line into the disharmonious, at least this time and on Phoenix (an earlier post on NetEase asked a similar question but remains unharmonized).

On Sunday September 18, the Beijing News, one of the two papers in the capital that were recently taken over by the Beijing Municipal Propaganda Department, reported:

India “determined” to gain foothold in South China Sea oil exploitation

On September 16th, the Indian and Vietnamese governments announced they would step up cooperation in the areas of military affairs, trade and investment, and culture and education.

At a meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers in Hanoi, Vietnam declared “full support” for an Indian company’s plans to exploit oil and gas resources in the South China Sea.

If drawing public attention to this new and profound development was indeed the objective, the Beijing propaganda chiefs succeeded where the Global Times had failed just three days before. At Phoenix, the story attracted more than 2.8 million hits in just over 24 hours, and provoked a discussion involving 1,155 comments and a staggering 136,214 participants:

Extracting oil in China’s Paracels, we must surely make sure India’s OVL [a state-owned enterprise] gets no return for its efforts. Lay down some rules for everyone to follow!!! [14,094 recommends]

Do whatever you need to do with peace of mind, India, according to convention China will at most feel regret, it’s nothing you should worry about. [9733]

The bloody era of Chairman Mao is past [8843]

Shelve disputes and jointly develop? Vietnam and India jointly develop. China jointly makes speeches. [5972]

This bullying is seriously unbearable – even if the world would be destroyed, we must strike! If you agree then hit recommend! [2683]

On the South Sea issue it’s hard to put down those little countries. Now that India’s coming, it’s time to grab the turban heads and wield the ax, then clean up the mess together. [2541]

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