“Ours before, still today, more so in the future”: who is claiming the whole South China Sea…and why?Posted: March 8, 2012
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has attracted some heat from the hot heads of China’s internet population, for daring to state [zh] that “no country, including China, has laid claim to the entire South China Sea”.
Apparently seizing upon this domestic criticism of Hong Lei, the Global Times’ English edition has published a piece positing that “public will” is increasingly influencing foreign policy on the sea disputes. While Vietnam and the Philippines have tried to “woo the public” with hawkish stances,
China uses less public will to press other countries and does not seek to present a hard stance to win people over, despite paying the price of occasional fierce criticism.
On the South China Sea issue, I think China’s claims are misunderstood by media employees, many alleged experts and, perhaps most significantly, ordinary people inside China. While opinion-page pundits like Pan Guoping may claim the entire sea for China, and international media can sneer at the outrageous ambiguity of the famous nine-dash line, the PRC’s claim has actually been quite clear for some years. As expressed ad nauseum in official statements and UN submissions over the past few years,
China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters
The islands . . . and the adjacent waters. China, pretty unambiguously, does not claim the whole South China Sea, and the attachment of the above map to diplomatic notes to the UN in 2009 and 2011 indicates further that the nine-dash line does not depict China’s claimed maritime boundaries. The BBC misrepresents the PRC’s position in every report it makes on the South China Sea, to which it attaches this map:
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!