By Li Hongmei
BEIJING, Sept. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- New waves set up in the South China Sea will definitely further complicate the situation and again touch a raw nerve of both China and other claimants. This time, the clamor seems not merely made by those in sovereignty disputes over the Sea, India and Japan have also stepped into the simmering feud.
It is, as it were, these countries are moving together to counterbalance China and trying to achieve their goals through some “bundling strategy”, albeit each sticking only to its own interests.
As for the common concerns, they are facing the same challenge -- an increasingly assertive China. India has been busy negotiating with Vietnam over a deal to jointly explore oil and gas in the already burning sea.
Chinese newspaper People’s Daily published a signed article on Sep.20 releasing a survey of authoritative organizations, which says two blocks in the South China Sea over which Vietnam awards oil and gas exploration bids to India's ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) both come within the Chinese jurisdiction. Therefore India's oil exploration cooperation with Vietnam in the South China Sea, an issue warily watched by the region, is a blunt trampling upon China’s sovereignty.
Regardless, India resolves to go ahead with the “Delhi meddling” in South China Sea. One reason might lie in the fact that India’s strategic planners cannot help but believe China, with the so-called 'String of Pearls' strategy in the Indian Ocean, will eventually venture into India’s neighborhood. Indian military planners have been correspondingly and quietly boosting alliances in Asia.
Not few experts both within China and from the outside also echo the above analysis. A companion article in the Economic Times cited Chinese experts as saying that India's moves in the South China Sea are meant to counter China's moves in the Indian Ocean.
Some analysts have projected the Indian move as a retaliatory response to Chinese moving into the Kashmir area under Pakistani control to assist Pakistan in the development of its infrastructure in the area.
No matter what it is, India’s aggressive move in South China Sea will complicate the regional situation, strain the testy Sino-Indian ties and will eventually bode ill for its own interests.
Another non-claimant but an active player is none other than Japan. Immediately after brawling with China over Diaoyu islands in East China Sea, it is ready to take a chance to wade into the unfolded South China Sea tussle targeting China as a tit-for-tat response. Not being a party to the conflicting claims in the sea, Japan’s entry into the dispute is much likely to enrage Beijing and test the relationship between China and its newly elected government.
Japan has just held discussions with Philippine diplomats on “resolving South China Sea territorial disputes.” A Japanese diplomat said afterwards that Japan has an interest in ensuring the vast ocean “remains safe and open to commerce.”
When it comes to smaller neighbors who are involved in the claim disputes with China over South China Sea, Vietnam and the Philippines would come to the fore.
Vietnam has long called for foreign involvement to resolve the dispute. China is keen to avoid other countries wading in on the territorial disputes, preferring to deal with disputants on bilateral terms. But its neighbors worry China has significant leverage over them in both economic and military terms. That explains why Vietnam bets on India for rallying support. But India’s plan for exploration projects with Vietnam is a meddling hand where it isn’t wanted.
In addition, perching on the edge of South-east Asia, Vietnam is ideally situated to help counter China in the South China Sea. With this in mind, India also casts its eyes on Vietnam in an attempt to deny China supremacy in the Sea. Some analysts say it is also New Delhi's counter-strategy to “checkmate the possible forays made by China into its neighborhood.”
In comparison, the Philippines seems to seek after a so-called “balance diplomacy”, a pragmatic approach to unraveling the South China Sea knot. Strengthening the bilateral ties, Philippine president Benigno Aquino paid his first state visit to China early the month, stressing his commitment to a peaceful dialogue with China to address the sea dispute, and brought back US$ 13 billion worth of Chinese investment plus a RMB20 million-yuan package of technical assistance.
But almost simultaneously, the Philippine Navy is to get two more Hamilton-class cutters from the U.S., with the first of the two to arrive early next year, and it declared the ship would be deployed to “protect the country's exclusive economic zone and its oil and gas exploration activities in the South China Sea.” Meanwhile, the Philippine Air Force also expects to spend US$ 117 million on the purchase of six jets from the U.S.
“Bundling strategy” as it is, even the countries aforementioned cannot really be “bundled up” due to their discord in vested interests, political calculations and potential economic gains.
Even if the Philippines reaches out to Japan, and Vietnam tries to draw India to its side, the so-called “third party” invited to the South China Sea disputes can hardly match China in the regional strength and influence, let alone counterbalance and contain China as they expected. After all, China’s smaller neighbors need to maintain trade relations with it, and therefrom they profit.
In actuality, on the chessboard of East Asia, the crucial players are still China and the U.S., who play a decisive role in the relations between East Asian countries, and define the basic formula for these countries’ political and economic development.
Whether it be Vietnam or the Philippines, its plan to invite other parties to act in concert to challenge China proves a futile effort, and nothing but a showcase of bargaining chip in diplomacy. Entering into some alliance to target China is no more than an illusion.