China and the ‘barbarians’

“With ‘carrier killers’ in its order-of-battle and the economic mess in Washington DC, one should not expect China to kowtow to the barbarians; certainly, not in the South China Sea where it has established a formidable naval presence.”

The Sun Daily is a Malaysian newspaper. The writer of the article below refers to Americans as ‘barbarians’, which is a term the Chinese have used for many hundreds of years to refer to anyone who is not like them. “Here be dragons” more-or-less translates into “Here be barbarians” in Chinese cartography. 

Malaysia has a dispute with China over the Nansha Islands. It will be interesting to see how the sizeable Chinese Malaysian population will react if the missiles start to fly. 

Beyond that, this article provides an interesting look into the U.S. – China standoff as seen by others.

Jeff Goodall.

China will not kowtow to US

The Sun Daily

Ba Hamzah: August 29th, 2011

THE South China Sea is hogging the headlines again. An Australian think-tank has warned that China’s assertiveness in Asia-Pacific waters, for example, could lead to conflicts involving the US and other powers. In its 2011 report, the Sydney- based Lowy Institute blames China for the tension in East Asia Sea and by extension the South China Sea.

The report has cited tensions between China and Japan in 2010 off Okinawa, including Japan’s arrest of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that reportedly tried to ram its coast guard vessel.

The United States has blamed China for raising the political temperature in the South China Sea. Faulting China for everything that goes awry with the maritime security in the South China Sea does not give the whole picture. China is not the only guilty party that upsets the strategic balance in the South China Sea. The US and claimant parties are also guilty of raising tensions.

However, the US policy to reassert itself in China’s backyard is, in my opinion, the primary cause of the instability; China’s recent assertiveness is largely a response to US “return” policy under Obama. Admittedly, from 1974 to 2010, China was the most aggressive party in the South China Sea.

Henry Kissinger in his book on “China” examines with disdain the ancient Chinese practice of kowtow. The act of kowtow before the emperor, according to Kissinger, involves “prostration, with the forehead touching the ground three times”. More than two hundred year later, the world’s sole military superpower expects China, in a role reversal, to kowtow to them. Call it vengeance, humiliation or retribution, a China that “can say no” to America, has fought back on all fronts.

On Taiwan and Tibet, China has issued strong words against US policy of interference and intimidation. In the South China Sea, the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (Navy) has taken the US Navy to task on numerous occasions. In 2009, for example, China’s naval vessels chased the USNS Impeccable and USNS Victorious out of its waters for violating its national legislation on foreign military activities in its exclusive economic zone.

Mainstream western media often portray China as the villain in the South China Sea. The media talks of the dangers of a rising China and the perception that its assertiveness can undermine the regional maritime security. While the media is probably right about Chinese ambitions to become more than a regional power, as it claims a rightful place in the world, it tells only one side of the story.

Many factors have contributed to the maritime security dilemma in the South China Sea. Topping the list is of course the US-Sino rivalry and intra-claimant disputes over the Spratlys and in the north, Vietnam has contested China’s occupation of the Paracels.

After June 2010, the US began to reassert itself in the South China Sea; Beijing accuses the US of courting some claimants in the South China Sea to tighten a noose around its neck. Beijing views US naval exercises with Vietnam and lately with the Philippines as intimidating and threatening.

While it remains vigilant of any surprise move, China is evidently apprehensive of US attempts to curb its dominant presence in the South China Sea that it claims. In 1947, China formalised its paper claim vide (? -JG) a contested nine-dash-line map.

On the economic front, the world’s second largest economy has just rebuked Washington for living beyond its means. According to Xinhua news agency, China as the largest creditor of world’s sole superpower has every right to demand that Washington address its burgeoning structural debt problem. By Xinhua’s estimates, the US debt, as of this month, is about US$55 trillion, US$14 trillion in US Treasury bonds. It calculates that the US national debt amounts to US$176,000 per person, or US$670,000 per household.

The US may be a military superpower and the largest economy; it is also the most indebted nation in the world. As if to add salt to injury, within days of rebuking Washington for its economic mess, China sent out its first aircraft carrier, the former Varyag, for sea trials.

Although the locally refitted ex-Ukraine vessel is no match to seven US nuclear powered aircraft carriers, the unnamed Chinese vessel is a force multiplier to reckon with, especially in the South China Sea where Beijing has been flexing its naval muscles.

Apparently, China is refitting three more aircraft carriers in its shipyards. Coupled with the deployment of the anti-ship ballistic missiles and the Houbei fast attack craft complete with YJ-83 missiles and the presence of an aircraft carrier, China will not be a pushover in the South China Sea.

With “carrier killers” in its order-of-battle and the economic mess in Washington DC, one should not expect China to kowtow to the barbarians; certainly, not in the South China Sea where it has established a formidable naval presence.

Moreover, in the South China Sea, in terms of military deployment capability, China has geography on its side. Hawaii, the home port of the US Seventh Fleet, is 8,000 miles away. By comparison, the distance between Sanya at Hainan where the Chinese Navy has a base, to the Spratlys is less than 200 miles. In times of crisis, distance can make a critical difference.

A country that can scold a superpower and lend it money deserves more respect from the United States. China will not kowtow to the US in the South China Sea.

Ba Hamzah is a student of politics, international law and education. Comments:

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See my ‘U.S. – China’ category archive here.