How China Can Avoid Next Conflict
Image Credit: Uniphoto Press

How China Can Avoid Next Conflict


The escalating dispute between China and Vietnam over contested waters in the South China Sea couldn’t have come at a worse time for Beijing. Less than a year ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put China on notice by declaring that the peace and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is in the US national interest, and she not too subtly called on China to resolve its territorial disputes with its neighbours through peaceful means and according to international laws. 

As we now know, Clinton’s remarks in Hanoi in July 2010 marked a watershed in two important aspects. It decisively shifted the perception of the balance of power in the region. Prior to the Clinton statement, China was thought to have gained the upper hand in the region through years of painstakingly pursuing a ‘charm offensive.’ After the Clinton shock, which all Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries secretly cheered, China appeared to have been isolated on the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In addition, China’s clumsy response, consisting of thinly veiled threats to its neighbours, only added to the series of diplomatic blunders that made 2010 the worst year in Chinese foreign policy since 1989.

To regain its diplomatic initiative and repair self-inflicted damage, China has recently embarked on another charm offensive that has yielded some encouraging results. Ties with the United States have stabilized since Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Washington in January.  US-China military-to-military dialogue has resumed. Even relations with Japan have improved considerably in recent months.

So at this stage, an ugly and potentially dangerous clash with Vietnam is the last thing China wants.

But at the same time, Beijing also needs to show that it won’t compromise on territorial disputes. Unfortunately, in Vietnam, China now encounters an equally tough and uncompromising contestant.

Of all the territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Sino-Vietnamese dispute is the most likely to lead to armed conflict. First, both countries have engaged in naval skirmishes in the South China Sea before. In 1974, the Chinese navy gained complete control of the Paracel islands after routing the South Vietnamese navy. In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle in the Spratlys. Second, Chinese claims in the Spratlys are generally considered weak under international law because, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, China would have difficulty proving the reefs it currently occupies meet the standards of self-sustaining and inhabitable islands (which then will have a 200 miles exclusive economic zone, or EEZ). But that isn’t the case with the Paracels, which China has effective control over, but which Vietnam continues to claim. The 200-mile EEZ of the Paracels and the 200-mile EEZ extending from Vietnam’s coastal line overlap. According to reports, the incident in which a Chinese patrol boat severed the multi-million dollar seismic survey cable operated by a PetroVietnam research vessel took place in this disputed zone.

July 3, 2011 at 01:47

China has no solid historical evidences on the Paracels and no ground on the UNCLOS 82 principle, that is why China acting pirate-like activities on the South China Sea.

Look at China economy and military nowadays, no nation within ASEAN would dare to uptake its legal territories. Only China is doing the other way around.

July 3, 2011 at 01:29

It’s not the problem of brave or coward. It’s problem of right or wrong. You can’t just storm in your neibour’s house and take every thing and call yourself brave yet. Right!.

July 3, 2011 at 01:29

The basis you mentioned should put in reverse, the claims from China are all facetious and essentially absurd instead. China invaded and occupies Paracels and part of Spratlys till now. China has no solid historical evidences what so ever, that is why it tries to avoid multi-lateral dialogues and does not want to take up the issues to UN.

In reality, China is acting cowardly instead as it’s not weak compare to ASEAN’s countries. In term of generosity, what have China done to help the world so far?

June 30, 2011 at 21:13

We don’t cae who you are but at least get your facts straight.

Vietnam was invaded and colonized many times by the invading hordes from China for several thousands year yet still managed to beat back those barbarians.

Hopefully, Chinese won’t die because of China leaders with inferior complex.

Do tell us how well China fought with competent military forces such as Mongolia, Britain, Japan, even with little Vietnam? What were the result?

June 30, 2011 at 21:08

@ Liang1a – you said “China has sovereignty over the disputed areas. This is established fact for hundreds if not thousands of years.”

LOL, so you and your Chinese propaganda mouthpieces say so and it is fact? Let see those “establish facts” and “historic evidences”. Let see some articles and stories from independence sources to back up your statements.

Oh, China also has about 135 million of its own people that live in extreme poverty. That is more than the population of Philippines or Vietnam.

FACTS: China NEVER has any sovereignty in South China Sea by any standards.

FACTS: China WAS/IS/WILL be the invader and bully of Vietnam for several thousands years.

Get your stories straight and then get back here and debate.

June 30, 2011 at 16:57

He’s a Chinese Vietnamese, indeed!

June 30, 2011 at 16:53

The big problem with china is it has NO domestic consumption market! china must rely completely on the US & EU markets for its exports! Without these markets, china’s ecomomy will collapse immediately! That’s the point! Don’t you know that?!

June 30, 2011 at 15:02

China has sovereignty over the disputed areas. This is established fact for hundreds if not thousands of years. Obviously Vietnam can benefit from the oil money. But it cannot take what rightfully belongs to China no matter how much Vietnam needs it.

China and Vietnam have a common culture for thousands of years. Unfortunately, many Vietnamese have some kind of hatred for the Chinese which I cannot understand especially since China had helped Vietnam so much during its war against the US.

My recommendation to the Vietnamese is to get out of the sovereign territories of China immediately. Then we can talk about help for the development of Vietnam. The Vietnamese people must remember that Singapore, Taiwan, S. Korea and Japan all have little or no oil or any other resources. Yet they are among the richest countries in the world. So Vietnam does not need oil to prosper. What it needs is peace and help from China to develop its own internal economy through education and increases of productivity of its workers. Even if Vietnam can get $100 billion of oil money per year that is only $1,000 per Vietnamese per year. And then oil will run out in 30 years or so and then there is nothing left. If Vietnam hasn’t developed then it will sink back to poverty again. On the other hand if Vietnam develops its internal economy to the same level as Singapore or Taiwan then it could continue to give its people $20,000 to $30,000 per year forever. And $1,000 per year of oil money does not make much difference to incomes of $30,000.

June 30, 2011 at 08:54

Thanks for thinking that I am a Vietnamese. Actually, there is not that much of difference between Vietnamese and Chinese. Vietnam was part of China. All these problems are caused by the separation of Vietnam from the motherland.

I am sure there will be somebody in Vietnam may be my relatives, although I do not know their names and where they live.

I hope nobody dies because of the stupidity of Vietnam Communists.

VietCom will get all the people in Vietnam killed.

June 30, 2011 at 06:38

The basis for Vietnam and the Philippines to claim sovereignty over Nansha Islands are all facetious and essentially absurd. It demeans China to dignify them with any kind of serious answer. It is a clear sign of animosity for Japan and the West to support the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines when they are clearly totally without credibility. China must stop allowing itself to be manipulated. It should act with dignity and honor and courageously take back what is rightfully its. China has made a very sincere effort to share its oil wealth with Vietnam and the Philippines when it has absolutely no obligation to do so. Unfortunately, China’s effort at generosity has emboldened Vietnam and the Philippines to think China is weak and cowardly. They had spurned China’s generous offer of joint development. Therefore, it is time for China to rescind its offer of joint development and move resolutely and expeditiously to take back what are rightfully its own sovereign territories.

June 29, 2011 at 18:09

The presumption of the world is still that China needs the West and Japan. But that is no longer true. Japan is economically dead and the US is teetering. China on the other hand can sustainably grow for the next 30 years until it is fully developed by developing its own internal economy. China can develop an economy of 200,000 yuan per capita GNP which would amount to 300 trillion yuan based on a population of 1.5 billion. At 3 yuan per dollar in PPP valuation, China’s GNP would be equivalent to $100 trillion. Which is bigger than 5 times of the US economy and twice as big as the economies of the US, Eu, and Japan combined. China’s economy can develop by advancing its indigenous technologies and the urbanization of the farmers and thereby grow sustainably without doing much foreign trade. At the same time China needs to shift its foreign trade to exporting high tech products to and import raw materials from developing countries. Therefore, China no longer needs to trade with Japan and the West. China’s supercomputers are superior to Japan’s and the West’s. China’s high speed trains are superior to Japan’s and the West’s. And as more Chinese scientist and engineers start to do R&D for China’s technological advancement its indigenous high technologies will undoubtedly advance by leaps and bounds and overtake the Japanese and the Western technologies. I’m sure this is very threatening to Japan and the West. But time has changed and they should just get used to it. After all they are only feeling what the Chinese had felt for the last couple hundred of years.

As to the S. China Sea dispute, it is China who has the sovereignty over the disputed areas in Nansha Archipelago and Xisha A. Vietnam’s claim is that it had “discovered” Nansha A. in 17th Century and also it had received it from France through succession. This is nonsense because China had discovered S. China Sea islands as long ago as the 3rd Century B.C. And France never had sovereignty since China had sovereignty ever since the Tang Dynasty.

And Philippines’ basis for its claim of sovereignty is that a Filipino by the name of Tomas Cloma discovered Nansha A. in 1956 and took possession of the islands therein. If anybody thought this is credible basis then China would be foolish to try to convince them and seek their support.

Of course, Japan and the West and other enemies of China will support Vietnam and the Philippines But who cares? In the end there is really no point for China to be nice to its enemies. The “friendship” had been maintained by China kowtowing to its enemies and give them free gifts in the form of cheap exports. But China should now throw them off its shoulders and stop carrying them.

June 29, 2011 at 10:48

You must be a Vietnamese because you seem to know the Vietnam history well. How can you say that to your own country. If Chinese goes to war with Vietnam, I hope your relatives in Vietnam die first.

June 29, 2011 at 02:22

Thank you for a civilized comment. I haven’t seen this type of comment for a long time. No more wars please.

the southeastasian
June 28, 2011 at 20:31

Very good comments! ” Historic evidences” haven been shown that the most peaceful way to improve the robots like John Chan, Frank would be the Culture Revolution II.

June 28, 2011 at 08:24

Breaking news!..
The news just in, China was successfully invented a new kind of weapons, programmed robots that can blog, chat online. Unfortunately the programmed robots are not advanced enough yet. Right now robots seems not able to know/undestand what is right from wrong, just one way thinking and often due to glitches they can say things that we are not sure if it is stupid or crazy. But “historical evidences” show that the chinese will imrpove their programmed robots in a peaceful way..

June 28, 2011 at 07:26

Communist Vietnam occupied Cambodia’s Phu Quoc Island. China should help Cambodia to get island back.

Communist Vietnam also occupied the homeland of Hmong (Miao) people. China should also help Hmong to get their land back.

Other than arms race, China should be actively seeking ways to destroy Vietnam without a direct war.

June 24, 2011 at 12:07

I do like your comment, Frank! As long as Vietnam is a communist state it would be easily to be destroy by China. Since the communist party took the advantages over the national movement to win the war against France and US, it now became the worst terant against it’s own people. China can not harm Vietnam as much as the vietnamese communist party itself.

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