The South China Sea is one of the most important bodies of water in the world, strategically, economically and in China, as the content of this blog often suggests, politically.
The aim is to provide a window into the conversations taking place within China regarding the country’s South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes with its six co-claimants – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia – plus the U.S., India and any other foreign power that weighs in.
The author is Andrew Chubb, a
PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Western Australia postdoctoral fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, studying the relationship between Chinese public opinion and PRC foreign policy on territorial disputes, and its implications for international politics in East Asia. My project was prompted by the rising claims of “rising” nationalism as an influence on the Chinese party state’s behaviour, which my PhD thesis (downloadable here) put to the test on the South China Sea issue.
Research questions that guided the blog’s content included:
- What is the nature of Chinese public opinion on different territorial issues, and how is the party-state shaping its development in the era of the Chinese internet?
- How do different foreign policy actors within the party-state make use of public opinion (or the appearance thereof) for their own purposes, and to what policy effect?
- When do the PRC’s actions actually accord with hawkish or nationalistic strains of Chinese public opinion?
- When does Chinese foreign policy defy nationalistic trends in public opinion, and how does the party-state handle the issue domestically?
If you have knowledge of or interest in these issues, please get in touch, either by leaving a comment or by sending an email to achubb ~at~ gmail ~dot~ com.
Regarding translations of comment threads, note that while i try to focus on the comment threads with large numbers of ‘participants’, there is no implication that these conversations are representative of any significant proportion of the PRC population. One percent = roughly 13 million people. 0.1% = 1.3 million.
As a non-native reader of Chinese, i especially welcome clarifications, corrections and comments.
Political beliefs and biases after the jump. It find it helpful to state them, both as a disclosure for others and to keep track of them myself, but it’s largely off-topic. I’ll try to frequently update it…
Political beliefs and biases disclosure:
Although i don’t imagine too many people will be interested, since I am dealing with political topics I should declare my major political beliefs and biases as far as i understand them. As someone who has grown up in a world of western culture, I am likely to hold a range of unconscious biases towards western ways and ideas. I try wherever possible to counteract them with critical balance, but of course would appreciate readers who notice something to let me know.
Who do i think those islands in the South China Sea belong to? No one. No state exercised anything resembling exclusive 排他性 “sovereignty” over the disputed islands until the 20th century. What these remote atolls have been since ancient times is a haven for adventurous fisherfolk (and pirates) from all the present-day claimant states and beyond. They have not been exclusively controlled by one state authority to the exclusion of others. That means the disputes are ultimately a legacy of the arrival of western imperialism. If Asia’s post-(semi-)colonial states could work out their own concept of island sovereignty, one that reflects historical reality by being shared rather than exclusive 排他性, then the dispute would perhaps not be so intractable.
The East China Sea dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is equally indeterminate, in my view. China may have the stronger historical records, but Japan has the stronger modern claim because it was the first to exercise something resembling sovereignty. On the other hand, Japan arguably acquired that sovereignty as part of the spoils of war. So no clear answer on that question either.
At the risk of stating the obvious, i do believe international law is an appropriate way of dealing with the maritime rights issue. International law is of course manipulable, not neutral, but from a human standpoint it is vastly preferable that states compete in that way rather than through violence and brinkmanship.
Techniques of mass persuasion – “propaganda” or “publicity” – are another important but contentious object of my studies. I consider that these can be used for both positive and negative purposes, especially on the issues of international disputes where nationalist sentiments maintained and stimulated through state propaganda often require reining in through those same channels. In this regard the Chinese term xuanchuan 宣传 (“proclamation-transmission”), might be more precise than the English word, propaganda.
I love a lot about China, the place, the people, the ideas, though as a believer in the essential dignity of all people and popular self-determination, i can’t say i agree with the CCP’s self-assigned right to choose 1.3 billion people’s political destiny for them in perpetuity. I acknowledge the CCP deserves some of the credit for the huge material benefits that have accrued to the Chinese people while it has ruled (though i tend to think the hard work and ingenuity of everyday people deserves a little more of the credit).
Certainly not anti-American, but i do try to maintain critical distance due to the above-mentioned western bias. The US can be, and is, a force for good in the world in various ways, but has also been a major source of catastrophic, destructive and unnecessary wars. I disagree with many current US policies, such as support for Israeli settlement building and drone strikes in tribal areas of Pakistan. I am also thankful that Assange, Manning and Snowden have made the world much more informed about the reach of US surveillance. I look forward to their Chinese counterparts one day emerging. . .
I luckily happen to be Australian, but i refute any claim that Australian people are somehow more deserving of benefit, or entitled to more of the world’s resources (including greenhouse gas emissions) than the rest of the world’s people. I cannot see any intellectually defensible argument for regarding one country’s national interest above another’s, let alone those of humanity as a whole. Nor is “my” country always right; i opposed “our” invasions of other countries like Iraq, support East Timor in its maritime resource dispute with Australia over the Timor Gap, and deplore the Australian government’s repeated and systematic violations of the UN Refugee Convention. Australia’s presence on the UN Human Rights Council is a disgrace.
My home country badly needs a treaty with its first nations. It also desperately needs to find a date other than January 26 for its national day. I find it staggering that in the 21st century Australians are meant to celebrate colonial invasion as a national day of unity. Not only is January 26, 1788 “invasion day” to the surviving original peoples of the country, it’s not even the date on which the unified “nation” of Australia was born — that is January 1, 1901. Many things about Australia today are great. But not its dark history of invasion, dispossession, genocides, more attempted genocides, racism and its ongoing legacies in the form of high rates of incarceration, illiteracy, disadvantage and death for the first Australians. January 26 should be commemorated, not celebrated.
Australia is an incredibly good place to live and, as an immigrant myself, i hope as many people as possible can do so too. My view is that many more refugees should be let into Australia. Boats are a dangerous form of transport to use, but if a refugee decides to travel that way to flee from danger (including arbitrary detention in countries that haven’t signed the UN Refugee Convention) they are not committing any crime. By contrast, it is clearly illegal to detain people indefinitely for doing so.
I also don’t oppose economic migration; Australia’s economic situation is, in any case, one of the reasons refugees from around the world attempt to come here. What Australia should do to discourage dangerous boat journeys is increase its orderly intake of refugees. Not only would needy people benefit from living here, i believe they would bring an injection of vitality and aspiration, not to mention labour and skills. Sadly, Australian refugee advocates have lost the national debate on this topic, and they have lost badly. By concentrating almost exclusively on the (completely valid) moral objections to Canberra’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers, refugee advocates have neglected the most powerful pragmatic national interest and national-identity based arguments, which actually stand a chance of resonating with a fearful and nationalistic general public.
Regarding China and the world, i believe cooperation is generally more rational than conflict, and that many if not most human conflicts involve misperceptions and misunderstandings. Therefore, the more the different states and the peoples who live with (and within) them understand about each other, the better. I started an Australia-China Youth Association at my university because i want Chinese and local young people to get to know each other better.
In my view adding a permanent US Marines presence in Australia in 2011 was an example of an unnecessary provocation that fed the PRC narrative that China is being “contained”. Hedge, by all means. All countries including China hedge, and many countries in our region hedge against the possibility of an aggressive China. But hedging needs to be subtle, rather than loud.
Loud hedging against China feeds ill-will, and associated promotion of China-phobia, which has an unfortunately rich history in Australia and other places. The People’s Republic of China is quite reasonably seen as a direct security threat when viewed from the perspective of Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, or Taiwan. But at present China is not a military threat to the US, Australia or “the West” as a whole, let alone the world, though it might become one in the future depending on a myriad of factors, including how it is treated by foreign countries.
China’s increasingly energetic political activities, including United Front Work, needs to be handled calmly and firmly through laws and regulations, especially regarding academic conduct. And while exposés and scrutiny are essential, it is critical to avoid panic and alarmism, which risk abrogating the very freedoms of speech (which should extend to pro-China and pro-CCP speech) that they ostensibly aim to exercise and defend. As democratic societies respond to the CCP’s intensified efforts to use their openness for its own selfish purposes, they need to actively make clear that Chinese people are still welcomed and respected like any other people, regardless of political proclivities. My views on why Australia should show Chinese people and even their government, greater formal respect are argued in an article here.
In cricket i am usually proud to support whoever is opposing Australia, who were way too dominant for too long. I say “usually” because England have been very annoying of late.
In Australian football I support Melbourne, and in the statistics-based fantasy football league “KFL”, I am
spokesman CHAIRMAN of Team CHINA.
Whatever other serious biases or dogmatic positions you notice, please point them out.