Southeast Asian nations are like ‘mosquitoes’ that need to be taught a lesson, according to the Global Times, which is published by the official Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily.
‘The Philippines, pretending to be weak and innocent, declared that mosquitoes are not wary of the power of the Chinese elephant,’ a writer using the pseudonym Long Tao (meaning ‘way of the dragon’) says. ‘The elephant should stay restrained if mosquitoes behave themselves well. But it seems like we have a completely different story now given the mosquitoes even invited an eagle (the United States) to come to their ambitious party. I believe the constant military drill and infringement provide no better excuse for China to strike back.’
The warning comes as tensions have increased over the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which China, the Philippines, Vietnam and others claim parts of. This summer, Vietnam and the Philippines both called for outside assistance in the face of what they argued was increasing Chinese aggression, including harassment of its fishing vessels and the alleged deliberate cutting of cables in the waters that belong to PetroVietnam.
‘It’s very amusing to see some of the countries vow to threaten or even confront China with force just because the US announced that it has “returned to Asia,”’ Long wrote. ‘The tension of war is escalating second by second but the initiative is not in our hand. China should take part in the exploitation of oil and gas in South China Sea…For those who infringe upon our sovereignty to steal the oil, we need to warn them politely, and then take action if they don’t respond.’
The last statement could also be taken to mean India. New Delhi isn’t a claimanent of territory in the South China Sea, but has announced it intends to jointly develop oil and gas in the resource rich region with Vietnam.
According to June Teufel Dreyer, a professor at the University of Miami and a China specialist, the article is significant not just because of what it says about China’s intentions in the South China Sea, but also the indications over top-level politics in China.
‘The author’s pseudonym comes from the Six Secret Military Teachings,’ she says. ‘I’ve been told that one of them is that he who wishes to establish military predominance must kill top-level dissenters.
‘I’m assuming Long Tao’s message is metaphorical: dump the people who insist on the “peaceful” part of “peaceful rise.” That he feels that the time has come for China to stop hiding its assets, as Deng Xiaoping advised, and to assert itself internationally. This would seem to have direct relevance to the leadership succession question now playing itself out in Beijing.’
‘The sentence about “the right time for us to…strike first before things gradually get out of hand” reminded me eerily of Mao’s “east wind prevailing over the west wind” with the message that if we don’t seize the moment, the winds may change against us,’ she adds.
Asked what will likely happen next, Dreyer says she expects the next few days will see an official-level effort to soothe the situation, such as a placatory statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry to the effect that China has always and continues to wish to settle disputes peacefully, although there may also be a show of force in the form of patrol vessels in the area.
‘I doubt that the Vietnamese will take any action, and I’m positive that the only thing Manila will do is complain to the US,’ she says.
But could China be shooting itself in the foot with such talk?
‘The risk for China in continued strident pronouncements – and as you know, many others have been from high-ranking people including PLA flag officers – is that several members of ASEAN may seek closer defense ties with India and Japan. The Vietnamese and Indonesian militaries are large and quite well-equipped. As is the Indian military, which is very worried about China.’