“Their bottom line is Beijing’s 2nd Ring Road”: reactions to the Philippines Navy – Chinese fishing boat incidentPosted: October 20, 2011
[Updated October 25 – see bottom of post].
From the Global Times this morning: Philippine warship rams Chinese fishing boat in South China Sea, Filipino Dept of Defense says apology already issued to China.
An incident has occurred between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. On October 18, a Filipino gunboat rammed a large Chinese fishing boat that was towing 25 smaller boats near Liyue [Reed] Bank.
In fact, the Filipino boat didn’t ram the large Chinese fishing boat, but rather became entangled [en] in – read: deliberately cut – the ropes of the 25 small boats, and confiscated them. No one was hurt, but China is now demanding the unconditional return of the 25 boats.
The story had actually been reported yesterday evening by the GT and Phoenix on the basis of foreign agency reports, but at that point they were using the less sensational term “collide with” (pengzhuang 碰撞) rather than “ram” (zhuangji 撞击) in the headline.
A pattern seems to be emerging in the recent treatment of South China Sea-related stories. Phoenix News is again paying the most attention, currently running the incident in the #1 lead headline story position, with Netease and Sina also running it on their front pages, but much further down, among the hundreds of normal-sized links.
Netease certainly seems to be into the spirit of sensationalism, running with the juicy “Filipino patrol boat rams Chinese fishing boat” [zh] line. The story may well have been further up among the headlines earlier in the day, because it is on Netease that the biggest and most interesting discussion [zh] has taken place so far, with nearly 2000 comments and more than 65,000 participants – and the latter figure has shot up by about 15,000 in just the last hour.
This is good to see. The Philippines’ shameless-whore nature has come out – I’ll ram you on purpose, then play completely innocent. Accidental? This is a case of testing China’s bottom line – if you don’t retaliate this time, I’ll go further next time. Foreign Ministry, let’s see how you react this time, you couldn’t possibly just fart and let it go, could you? [11,020]
Do the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defense have anything to say? 
Our Foreign Ministry is currently deciding whether to express regret, condemn or strongly condemn, based on the degree of fermentation of interest from netizens . . . no, that won’t do, just send China’s magical, brave and utterly incomparable chengguan over to discuss the matter with the Philippines . . . you know 
Fuck, hurry up and denounce, I strongly demand that they be denounced to death, fuck 
[ . . . ]
Actually we could make some “tiny” incidents happen, then issue “sincere” apologies, but we don’t have the guts 
[ . . . ]
Calling ourselves a righteous country, being bullied everywhere, apologizing is just lip-service, compulsory, weak and cowardly Chinese nation, when will you step up? 
Actually, the Philippines is now denying [en] that it even apologized:
“No apologies were necessary and none was given,” the Foreign Affairs chief [Alberto del Rosario] said in a statement.
After going through the top-rated comments in the above Netease discussion, I looked at the most recent comments as they flowed in at a rate of several per minute, and in came this sardonic exchange:
Commenter 1 (Heilongjiang): The deliberate ramming just one side of things – isn’t it more important that the Philippines Navy was violating China’s territorial waters?
Commenter 2 (Sichuan): No, their [Beijing leaders’] bottom line is Beijing’s Second Ring Road.
Oh dear. I actually feel sorry for Jiang Yu and the Foreign Ministry.
UPDATE 25/10: Over the weekend NetEase managed to stir-fry the issue even further by translating a Filipino newspaper article taunting Chinese diplomacy for being a “toothless tiger” [zh], discussion of which prompted 4840 comments, with a staggering 275,000 participants weighing in. The top comments all expressed agreement with the Filipino article, along a spectrum from bitter to hearty (“The Filipino media has given voice to exactly what ordinary Chinese people are thinking”).
Although the story’s source is specified as Xinhuanet, the source link is to the page’s own URL, and I can find no trace of it on any other news sites, including Xinhua’s. This raises the question as to what hidden agendas NetEase might have for pushing the story where its competitors have not, but without in-depth research into the company’s ownership and control structure i’d be getting out of my depth there.
Today China’s major websites appear to have been instructed to prominently publicize Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin’s comment [EN] about the recent Sino-Vietnamese agreement on the South China Sea dispute having nothing to do with any other country.
Liu was responding, mundanely, to Philippines President Aquino’s equally mundane reiteration that only multilateral negotiations can solve the dispute.
But Sina, Sohu, Netease, Phoenix and QQ all have the story on the front page of their news sites, the latter three particularly prominently. Beneath the main headline “Foreign Ministry: China and Vietnam solving their maritime disputes has nothing to do with any third country” there appear links to reports about the announcement of the joint declaration and Aquino’s protest, and this is the case on both Netease, Phoenix and QQ, a good indication that some kind of edict is governing the story’s treatment.
While evidently toeing the line and following instructions, however, Phoenix seems to have slipped a sneaky little spanner into the propaganda machine as it works to sell the government’s latest diplomatic achievement. Below the headline, Phoenix has helpfully added a third subsidiary link, to a story from 6 days ago titled, “India, Vietnam sign agreement, will exploit oil in disputed areas of the SCS”.
This story was a translated summary of AP’s report outlining Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang’s trip to New Delhi to oversee the signing of a new accord between Indian and Vietnamese state-owned oil companies’ to promote oil exploration in Vietnamese-claimed waters. President Truong’s trip took place precisely as Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was over in Beijing, signing the above-mentioned joint declaration with China – a very inconvenient dampener on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s happy tale of Sino-Vietnamese agreement.
With the stories placed alongside one another, the obvious conclusion was not lost on readers, as the top comments from the 41,000-strong Phoenix discussion indicate:
Is this diplomatic wisdom? [5597 recommends]
Sign agreements with both sides, masterstroke. 
Compare this with the so-called agreement between China and Vietnam . . . the irony is exquisite! Well done, Vietnamees! 
Following his visit to Tokyo late last month, Philippines President Aquino appears to have passed the baton of responsibility for keeping the cauldron of Chinese resentment bubbling to Japan.
Late last month, Japanese Vice Minister of Defence Kimito Nakae made the provocative comment that the relationship between Japan and ASEAN had “matured from dialogues to one where Japan plays a more specific cooperative role” regarding regional security issues.
Last week the Japanese Foreign Minister attempted to demonstrate that this was no mere empty talk. As the official China News Service reported on October 9 under the headline, “Japanese media say Japan is planning to comprehensively intervene in the SCS sovereignty issue”:
From Japanese media reports: The Japanese government is currently preparing, together with Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, to establish a coordination mechanism for sovereignty issues in the South China Sea and guaranteeing maritime security and freedom of navigation.
From October 11, Japan Foreign Minister Genba Koichiro will visit Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Japanese Foreign Ministry revealed that Genba would consult several Southeast Asian countries regarding the above-mentioned problems. Japanese media have taken this to imply that the country is preparing to comprehensively intervene in the South China Sea sovereignty issue.
The Kyodo news agency reported that Japan would do all it could to build a multilateral framework for negotiating the international disputes to deepen maritime security cooperation ahead of November’s East Asia Forum.
Discussion of this story was bound to be inflammatory, and Phoenix and NetEase appear to have hidden the story away and/or limited the discussion threads associated with it. Among the major websites the most populous discussion seems to have been on Sina, with 20,579 participants and 916 comments:
China should propose to the UN Security Council that the vanquished Japanese be investigated under suspicion of violating international law, wantonly expanding military armaments and reviving militarism from the ashes. China should demand that Japan-the-vanquished be made to respect the protocol of the defeated, truly and properly reform and start anew, and have international observers permanently dispatched to Japan to supervise. [516 supports]
Clearly state that if Japan dares to intervene in the South China Sea, we will decisively cut off all access for Japanese ships from the Taiwan Straits. If Japan dares to retaliate, decisively sink them. If Japan declares war, we should call in the debt of the 35 million lives sacrificed in WWII, have the debt of blood repaid in blood, and take revenge. 
Have you seen! Japan’s ambitions have once again started to be laid bare. The “mere narrow strip of water” [separating us – yi yi dai shui 一衣带水], the “enduring friendship” [shidai youhao], it’s all just wishful thinking by China. 
Repulsive Little Japan, so arrogant. But even more lamentable is that many Chinese people buy loads of Japanese goods, and jump at the chance to go there and spend up, helping the Japanese economy and allowing Little Japan to support ASEAN countries opposing China, even as Little Japan discriminates against Chinese (making special demands that Chinese people have however-much money in the bank before they can go to Japan). It’s really tragic, alas! 
Japan’s strategy of comprehensively opposing China’s “peaceful rise” has been completely exposed. The country’s decision-makers should lose their delusions, abandon Mr Dongguo-type thinking.* It’s time take some active steps to deal with this. 
Japan, this country, history shows that if you don’t strike it you’re finished. 
Japan is the evil wolf by our side, from the Japanese pirates [wokou 倭寇] along China’s coast in ancient times, to the early-modern invasion of China, this evil wolf has constantly been disturbing our Chinese nation’s peaceful life, we can never treat this evil wolf lightly. 
Until Japan is exterminated, China will never have a peaceful day. 
The comments in this discussion, especially the first three, are a timely reminder that China’s strong antipathy towards Japan is often not simply the result of aggressive and bellicose “Chinese nationalist” longings for international recognition, but rather of visceral and historically-grounded fear of what Japan might do if it regained significant military power.
The visit to Beijing last Tuesday (October 11) by Vietnam’s paramount Nguyen Phu Trong, and the signing of an “agreement on the basic principles” on the South China Sea dispute, including a commitment to a bilateral rather than multilateral solution as per China’s preference, was probably a timely piece of good news from the CCP’s perspective. Certainly this caught the attention of readers at NetEase, with more than 82,000 participating in the comments-thread discussion there, though the top comments of course were hardly to the Party’s liking:
[We] sign it, [they] violate it, sit and wait for the next one. [14,256 recommends]
On territorial issues there is no negotiation, only war. 
The South Sea can be renamed the Sea of Cooperation. 
[Deng] Xiaoping said, we don’t negotiate on territorial issues. 
“What do we do if the negotiations fail?” - Carry on negotiating. Successful negotiations aren’t the aim, playing for time is the aim. 
That last comment is perhaps the most encouraging, both for the immediate prospects for peace and for the Chinese government itself. It is notable for actually showing some understanding of the Chinese government’s overall strategy in the South China Sea. But of course, public opinion (online or otherwise) is much more likely to become a factor in a time of crisis in the wake of some incident, not during happy little interludes like this one.
And sure enough, the happy interlude was quickly cut short. According to the Beijing News, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Genba Koichiro specifically raised the issue of the South China Sea when he met with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta last Friday, October 14. The report relayed the Japanese Kyodo story that said both sides had agreed on the need to develop a multilateral framework.
In an ominous sign for the recently-inked Sino-Vietnamese bilateral agreement, the article concluded:
Besides “tightening relations” with Indonesia, ASEAN’s great power, Japan is also strengthening exchanges with Vietnam. Japanese Defence Minister Ichikawa Yasuo announced on October 14 that Vietnamese Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh would visit Japan from the 23rd to the 28th of October and that the two sides would discuss how to respond to “China’s expansion in the South China Sea”.
On Sina the story about Genba’s visit to Indonesia “Japan’s forced entry into the South China Sea issue, claims to be constructing multilateral framework solution”, and another recent South Sea story, “Philippine President protests China and Vietnam’s agreement on the South China Sea” both provoked well below-average levels of discussion – partially due to the timing, being reported on a Sunday, partially due to the horrific Foshan toddler case, but also quite possibly because of some instruction that it be downplayed. Equally likely to have been a factor is readers simply being tired of hearing about other countries intervening in the South China Sea. The last word must go to a couple of commenters who stood out for their ironical dreams of Chinese intervention in other countries disputes:
Resolutely intervene in the Russia-Japan dispute over the Kuril Islands, and construct a framework for resolving it!
We shouldn’t negotiate with the Philippines over the South China Sea. The Philippines should be negotiating with Japan and the US over the Hawaiian Islands issue, and the Chinese government should pay close attention to the trilateral discussion, insisting that Chinese interests be upheld, while not ruling out the possibility of intervention, including military intervention.
* Mr Dongguo was a Ming-era character who invited calamity with his do-goody-goody kindness to a wolf.
Early last month, President Aquino returned from his state visit to China with a swag of new Chinese investment deals and promptly set about consolidating the Philippines’ presence in the South China Sea with a new radar station and patrol boats. (Regarding the reaction in China’s media and internet, see here.)
Late last month the Philippines followed up by staging a couple of serious diplomatic moves. The first of these was arranging a meeting in Manila of legal experts from ASEAN countries to discuss a proposal to clearly demarcate what areas are in dispute and what aren’t. From China’s perspective, this meant a proposal to clearly divide the South China Sea among ASEAN countries, in addition to forming a united front against China.*
The AFP called it the Philippines’ “plan to blunt China’s claims” (“to blunt China” in the headline).
MANILA — The Philippines on Thursday sought backing from its Southeast Asian neighbours for its plan to blunt China’s claims over disputed areas of the South China Sea and ease tensions.
Vice President Jejomar Binay made the appeal at a meeting of maritime law experts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where he alleged foreign intrusions continued in Philippine seawaters.
The meeting did rate a mention on the ASEAN calendar so it was to some extent officially endorsed, but it was buried among dozens of other events and there was no ASEAN news announcement. The VOA loved it (though fairly of course). But no-one seems to have considered it a big deal besides the Philippines and the Western media. Oh, yes, and the Chinese media. . .
The Global Times reported the AFP story the following day, probably as quickly as a translation of a foreign news story could pass the censors, and it quickly became the lead international story on the radio news updates from CNR’s huanqiu zixun and was reprinted on websites and in newspapers around the country.
The 56,000-strong comments thread in response to the GT story on Phoenix was, as might be expected, entertainingly sardonic:
Summon the President and give him some more money. [12,083]
Where are our forceful evict-and-demolish teams [qiang chai bu, gangs of thugs hired by property developers]? This is their chance to repay the country!!!!!!! 
Where have China’s “urban management” officers [the widely-feared chengguan], police†, officials, law enforcement agencies gone? 
Why don’t we study Russia? Use airplanes and big artillery to drive away the occupiers 
Tell him off. Tell him off fiercely. 
When it comes to issues of national territory, you want to use warnings, not protests. And clearly explain that there will only be one warning. 
Top comments on Sina, meanwhile, referenced the “need” for a Mao Zedong, and the UK’s example in the 1982 Falklands War.
Next, Aquino travelled to Tokyo and put out a joint communique with Japan’s PM Yoshihiko Noda, announcing that relations had moved from friendship to “strategic partnership”, with extra defence collaboration on “regional and global issues of mutual concern and interest”. It was then that Long Tao busted out with his latest hit Global Times article calling for war in the South China Sea.
Immediately afterwards, a meeting was held between Japanese defence officials and representatives from ASEAN. Once again, it may have been overplayed by the media and the host nation, but it was notable for Japanese Vice Minister of Defense Kimito Nakae’s comment that the Japan-ASEAN relationship had “matured from dialogues to one where Japan plays a more specific cooperative role” regarding regional security issues. The People’s Daily’s Tokyo Bureau picked up on this very quickly, and on September 28 major Chinese media ran the story that Vice Minister Kimito Nakae had claimed the meeting of Japanese and ASEAN defence officials had reached a consensus on increased Japanese participation in the South China Sea and had specifically talked about measures to deal with China’s “increasingly energetic activities”. Somehow, there were only 3 comments on Phoenix and 2 on NetEase – which can only mean two things: either comments were deliberately switched off, or no-one on China’s most popular websites was the slightest bit interested in a story titled “Japan and ASEAN reach agreement to strengthen cooperation in the South China Sea”….
* Presumably no “experts” from China were invited to the “ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting”. China opposes multilateral negotiations and doesn’t want to talk about sovereignty because as far as it is concerned nothing is in dispute because everything belongs to it. But China likes to keep things ambiguous, if not for cultural reasons (as Kissinger would claim), then at least because time is on its side. If that wasn’t the case, it would at the very least clarify the exact course of the 9-dashed line.
† Very surprising to see this escape the censors and become one of the top comments.