China’s current behaviour vis-à-vis its South China Sea neighbours is aggressive, arrogant and smacks of Han chauvinism and ethnocentrism. Far from being an expression of national pride, it is giving patriotism a bad name. Patriotic Hongkongers should recognise it for what it is: a dangerous ploy.
Not only has Beijing bared expansionist teeth to Vietnam and the Philippines, it has now succeeded in shifting Indonesia from a position of trying to act as a moderator between China and the other South China Sea states to opponent. Twice in recent months, Indonesia has accused China of claiming part of its Natuna island archipelago. So much for a “peaceful rise” when you rile neighbours with populations of more than 400 million, who you assume to be weak.
All China’s sea claims are wrapped up in that nine-dash line which extends more than 1,000 nautical miles from the coasts of Guangdong and Hainan to close to Borneo, the island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and includes almost all the sea between Vietnam and the Philippines. This claim encompasses more than 90 per cent of the sea, even though China (including Taiwan) has only about 20 per cent of the coastline.
All this on the basis of claims to history that conveniently ignore the very existence of other peoples and their histories of seafaring and trading going back 2,000 years, and pre-dating China’s ventures in the south sea and beyond. Indonesians got to Africa and colonised Madagascar more than 500 years before Zheng He. In turn, the peoples of Southeast Asia absorbed more from India and the Islamic world than China.
In the case of the current issue with Vietnam, brought about by China’s movement of a drillship into waters due east of Danang, China has a small case, in that it does now own the Paracel Islands, which are closer to the drill location than to Vietnam. But the islands themselves have long been in dispute between the two, a matter settled for now by China’s unprovoked invasion of them in 1974.