Category Archives: Chinese foreign policy

“A New Map in Chinese Passports Stirs Anger Across the Region”

China’s quest to make all of her neighbors angry is starting to get make some serious progress (via Mark MacDonald):

China’s new passports — embossed with a map showing disputed territories as belonging solely to the mainland — are causing quite the diplomatic furor in Asia.

India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have all objected to the new map, which puts a number of island chains and border areas under Beijing’s sovereignty.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Beijing was “not targeting a specific country” with the revised passport map, noting that “China is willing to communicate with the relevant countries.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said in The Financial Times that the new map could “demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more problematic and there is already more than enough trouble” over territorial disputes.

“We are not prepared to accept it,” said Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister. “We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way.”

India, meanwhile, has come up with its own map, which it is stamping into the passports of Chinese citizens seeking Indian visas.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that Vietnamese border officials — not wanting to appear to validate the new Chinese map — were refusing to stamp visas into the passports of Chinese visitors.

Instead, Vietnam was issuing visas on separate pieces of paper that are inserted into the passports.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario sent a verbal note to China’s embassy in Manila saying that “the Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash line in the e-passport as such image covers an area clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain.”

The Chinese passport map includes the popular Taiwanese tourist sites of Sun Moon Lake and Cingshui Cliffs. That did not sit well with President Ma Ying-jeou, who said in a statement that Beijing should not “unilaterally damage the status quo of the hard-fought stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said: “China has ignored the truth and sparked disputes by including pictures of our territory and landscape in its new Chinese passports. It should put aside disputes and face up to reality.”

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, India, South China Sea, Taiwan, Vietnam

“The Dangerous Math of Chinese Island Disputes”

M. Taylor Fravel with a reasonably controversial claim that China may actually be willing to use force to consolidate its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands:

Since 1949, China has been involved in 23 territorial disputes with its neighbors on land and at sea. Seventeen of them have been settled, usually through compromise agreements. Nevertheless, China has used force, often more than once, in six of these disputes. And it’s these cases that most closely parallel the Senkaku impasse.

To start, China has usually only used force in territorial disputes with its most militarily capable neighbors. These include wars or major clashes with India, Russia and Vietnam (several times), as well as crises involving Taiwan. These states have had the greatest ability to check China’s territorial ambitions. In disputes with weaker states, such as Mongolia or Nepal, Beijing has eschewed force because it could negotiate from a position of strength. Japan is now China’s most powerful maritime neighbor, with a modern navy and a large coast guard.

China has also used force most frequently in disputes over offshore islands such as the Senkakus. Along its land border, China has used force only in about one-fifth of 16 disputes. By contrast, China has used force in half of its four island disputes. Islands are seen as possessing much more strategic, military and economic value because they influence sea-lane security and may hold vast stocks of hydrocarbons and fish.

In addition, China has mostly used force to strengthen its position in disputes where it has occupied little or none of the land that it claims. In 1988, for example, China clashed with Vietnam as it occupied six coral reefs that are part of the Spratly Islands. China had claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys for decades—but had not controlled any part of them before this occupation.

The final destabilizing factor in the Senkaku standoff is that both sides are simultaneously engaged in other island disputes. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently broke with tradition and became the first Seoul leader to visit the disputed Dokdo (Takeshima) Islands, which are occupied by the Koreans but also claimed by Japan. Meanwhile, China has been dueling with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Tokyo and Beijing may both conclude that whoever prevails in the Senkakus will have a better chance at prevailing in these other disputes.

History is not destiny. China has not used force in a territorial dispute for more than 20 years. Escalation over the Senkakus may be avoided. Nevertheless, the current situation is fraught with danger. Should a fatal incident occur involving government ships from either country, a real crisis may begin whose end cannot be foretold.

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The Diaoyu Powderkeg: Primed and Ready

A sampling of the coverage from the last two days about the Diaoyu Island protests, in which the Chinese fenqing are at once unleashed and corralled by the Party. First, from Peking Duck, where Richard calls the dispute a tinder box:

This so reminds me of the simmering hatred of Japan that surged to the top back in 2005 with all the controversy over the Yasukuni shrine. There, too, the police facilitated the protestors, some officers handing them eggs to throw. They take a more active role in curtailing the demonstrations after protestors become too violent, hurling rocks at the embassy. We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.

It will end when the government thinks there’s been enough and then starts to crack down, just like in 2005. Protesting against perceived injustices is something I encourage. Allowing emotions to take over and becoming enveloped in pure white-hot rage is dangerous. In this zombie-like state people can be manipulated to do the government’s dirty work. It does not reflect well on China when Japanese businesses and citizens are attacked. It does not reflect well on China to be seen as hysterics with no iota of self control.

From Reuters, a description of some of the actions some officials are taking to curb the protests:

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.

A six-deep cordon of anti-riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Beijing as demonstrators resumed their protest on Sunday, screaming slogans and insults as they passed by and throwing plastic bottles full of water.

“If Japan does not back down we must go to war. The Chinese people are not afraid,” said 19-year-old-student Shao Jingru.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who walked by Sunday’s protest in Beijing, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.

“Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land,” Ai said. “In China, there are no protests organized by the people.”

On the other hand, ChinaGeeks describes some of the ways in which the government has facilitated these protests, beyond the obvious factors like using decades of indoctrination in schools and the media to rile up anti-Japanese sentiment:

Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

Can you imagine Tibetans protesting in 40+ cities without massive police intervention, gunfire, and months of crackdowns and disappearances after? Because that happened in 2008, and the region is still under lockdown today. Obviously this isn’t going to happen to Han protesters who are mad about Japan, though.

SinoStand has a first-hand description of one of the protests:

In the middle of the street there was a partition with police directing people to parade around it in long circles. People had huge Chinese flags and banners saying things like “Fuck little Japan.” What I was most surprised by were the number of Chairman Mao posters floating around. I asked a few people about this and the consensus was “Mao would never let Japan get away with this.”

As the crowds paraded around, they sang patriotic songs, chanted “Little Japan, fuck your mother,” “Chairman Mao 10,000 years,” “China 10,000 years” and most significantly “Communist Party 10,000 years.” (“10,000 years” basically means “Long live…”)

This mass outpouring obviously had official sanction. The police’s presence was to direct the protests rather than try to hamper them in any way.

Later things started to get a bit more intense. While the crowds circled around they were allowed to stop briefly in front of the Japanese embassy itself. It was guarded by hundreds of riot police with helmets and shields. At first protestors threw water bottles and eggs at the embassy, which police made no attempt to stop. But gradually rocks and (I assume Japanese) cell phones started to be thrown. Many of them hit the Chinese police, who were covering themselves with shields.

And finally, a good one from Rectified.Name:

Today was one of those perfect Beijing fall days, sunny, reasonably clear air and just the right temperature for a day-long hike of the Great Wall at Jinshanling… or for burning and pillaging your local Chinese-owned and operated Japanese restaurant. Whatever.

In fact, combining the best of both fun activities, three separate groups of young Chinese marched along the wall today waving flags demanding the protection of the Diaoyu Islands from the dastardly Japanese. One group was in yellow and waved a yellow flag. Another was in red and held a red flag. A third group split the difference and went with an all-orange look that confused a few Dutch hikers into thinking a football match was about to break out at the next guard tower.

On their way up, each group stopped to pay homage to a statue of Ming general Qi Jiguang. General Qi is something of a patron saint around Jinshanling. He’s credited with organizing the construction of this section of the wall in the mid-16th century. But before that, Qi Jiguang was best known for his battles against Japanese ‘pirates’ along China’s coast, and so is now the patron saint of seriously deluded Chinese nationalists out for blood over a chain of rocks inhabited by a herd of confused goats and an endangered species of mole. Seriously.

Frankly, every time I hear the phrase “history says…” I want to try and remove my own corneas with a shrimp fork. History “says” a lot of things. For example, China has never ever invaded another country. The PLA did not invade Tibet in 1951 because Tibet has been part of China since at least the time of the Yuan which was not a Mongolian Empire but a Chinese Dynasty. And China didn’t try to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 because that was Kublai Khan who was, you know, a Mongol and not Chinese.

History is especially tricky when you take relatively recent concepts and constructions like the nation state and national sovereignty and apply them retroactively.

Of more contemporary concern though is the way the CCP, through the educational system and the official media, has made defending China’s ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ such an important and highly visible pillar of their legitimacy. That leaves precious little room for negotiation or compromise in situations like the current stand-off with Japan.

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“Mural draws fire from China”

Watch and marvel as the mayor of Corvallis displays more courage in defense of freedom of expression than plenty of national-level executives from around the world:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

In a response dated Aug. 20, Manning expressed regret that the mural had caused concern but noted that local government has no authority to regulate art.

“As you are aware,” Manning’s letter reads, ‘the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in this country, and this includes freedom of artistic expression.”

Two Chinese officials, Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan, flew to Oregon this week to make their case in person. The two men met Tuesday in Corvallis with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson.

“They expressed their concern and the concern of the Chinese government about the mural on Mr. Lin’s building,” Patterson said. “They viewed the message as political propaganda.”

Patterson said he and Manning agreed to convey those concerns to Lin but made it clear to the consular officials that the city could not and would not order the painting’s removal.

“We also had a conversation with them about the U.S. Constitution,” Patterson added.

President Obama avoided the Dalai Lama the first time he visited Washington during the Obama administration, and gave him a low-key meet the second time. Mayor Manning politely listened to Chinese complaints, then explained the US Constitution and sent the Chinese consuls packing. Wow.

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Filed under art, censorship, Chinese foreign policy

“Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China”

Reuters reports that refugees from the fighting in northern Myanmar are spilling into Yunnan:

Up to 10,000 refugees have fled to an area in southwestern Yunnan province, driven by fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s most powerful rebel groups, five aid groups told Reuters. Many of the refugeees are women, children and elderly people.

Fighting erupted after a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down last June, sending ethnic Kachins fleeing to the border area.

Although the intensity of the fighting has eased, aid groups fear that more people will flee and exacerbate dire conditions. The Chinese government tolerates the camps, but does not officially recognise their existence.

The risk of fighting spreading across the highly militarised border region and of the arrival of new waves of refugees are particular worries for China’s stability-obsessed rulers.

Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the country. It has brushed off Western sanctions to build infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs and avoid the Malacca Strait shipping bottleneck.

Yunnan provincial authorities have told the refugees to leave, but have not threatened force or sealed the border, aid groups said.

“It poses a dilemma for the Chinese; it could cause strained relations with the Burmese government if they are seen as being supportive of the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, and by extension the refugees,” Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert, said in emailed comments.

“On the other hand, they can’t be too hostile to the Kachins, and the Kachin refugees, either.”

“At the moment, what we know is that there is no such situation,” Li Hui, director of the Yunnan information office, told Reuters. “Everything is normal on the China-Myanmar border.”

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“Why Beijing Votes With Moscow”

Much has been made of the joint Russian-Chinese UN veto to protect Assad, and now Minxin Pei has given the clearest explanation yet for why China would make that vote despite the consequences for its relationship with the US, EU, and Arab League:

In fact, the most important factor in China’s decision had little to do with Beijing-Damascus ties, and everything to do with its diplomatic cooperation with Moscow.

Since it returned to the United Nations in 1971, China has been sparing in its use of the veto in the Security Council. It often chose to abstain in votes it did not support. Whenever it did use its veto — it has done so eight times — the issues were usually of importance to Chinese national interests.

In the eyes of the pragmatic Chinese, the Assad regime is not worth a veto. But the Russians, motivated by their economic and security interests in Syria, opposed the resolution, and China apparently decided it was better not to jeopardize relations with the Russians and risk losing Russian support when Beijing might need it in the future.

The Russia-China axis of obstruction at the Security Council has now become a critical variable in the council’s decision-making process. The two countries seem to have reached a strategic understanding: they will act defy the West together, so that neither might look isolated. China will defer to Russia on matters more critical to Moscow (such as Syria) while Russia will do the same on issues China cares about (such as Zimbabwe or Burma).

Another factor that apparently tipped the scale in Beijing in favor of using the veto is the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological hostility to democratic transitions.

Ever since the Arab Spring brought down long-ruling dictatorships in the Middle East, the party’s propaganda machine has spared no effort in portraying the events in the region in the most negative light. Fearing a similar upheaval in China, the party has tightened its censorship and intensified persecution of dissidents. The overthrow of the Assad regime, especially should it happen as a result of Security Council action, would inspire the pro-democracy opposition — in Beijing and in Moscow.

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, United Nations

“Have Chinese Had Enough?”

Jonathan Holslag, a research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, has written another piece that should be added to the growing pile of Year of the Dragon predictive pieces:

It’s this diplomatic claustrophobia that explains why Chinese leaders have been so eager to promote the idea of a harmonious world. What sounds like a fuzzy slogan, therefore, is actually seen by China as a diplomatic necessity.

And Beijing hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful in promoting these ideas. Asians, Africans, Americans, and Europeans have all echoed the need for closer relations. There has been the promise of trade, which China has carefully cultivated by stressing that an open economic order would bring about a beneficial division of labor. Cooperation through international organizations, which China eagerly joined, was supposed to help settle disputes.

Beijing believes that it has to stick to a bold industrial policy to keep its people at work, but struggling markets elsewhere are becoming fed up with what is perceived as unfair competition. Meanwhile, this Chinese brand of mercantilism breeds bubbles everywhere, placing the architects in Zhongnanhai under pressure from even more conservative comrades. The result is that China doesn’t feel confident at all, and in private, decision makers concede that some serious turbulence is in the offing.

But that isn’t necessarily how others perceive it. Neighbors are calling upon Washington to balance China’s growing military prowess. Countries that initially bought into free trade agreements with China complain that it is becoming too influential. Resistance is mounting, and it is this confluence of events that makes diplomacy tense.

“Look at Russia,” a student uttered during a heated debate at one university in Beijing, “When did Europe and America bully it? When it did not dare to clench a fist. Only with a strong leader, it got respected.”

That strongman in Moscow might have lost his prestige, but statements like these illustrate how China’s next generation of leaders is expected to play hardball in the international arena. With China’s economic future looking grim, those expectations could offer Party bosses like Xi Jinping a new opportunity to shore up their esteem with a much more troublesome brand of nationalism. And with thorny issues like Taiwan, the South China Sea, the disputed border with India, and various trade disputes moving again to the forefront, the Year of the Dragon could be a major turning point in China’s rise.

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