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47 3 China Debates the South China Sea Dispute Mingjiang Li1 The past few years have witnessed dramatic developments in the South China Sea dispute. In 2009, submissions to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) outlining extended continental shelf claims by several of the claimant countries created a round of diplomatic tussles. In particular, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) submission of its nine-dash line map of the South China Sea in a protest note to the CLCS sparked strong opposition from the other claimants. The diplomatic contentions at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2010 in Hanoi — particularly between U.S. and Chinese officials — raised tensions to their highest level in over a decade. In the first half of 2011, a series of incidents, including Beijing’s heavyhanded actions against Philippine and Vietnamese fishery and energy exploration activities, further strained relations with Hanoi and Manila. The Sino–Philippine standoff over Scarborough Shoal in 2012 raised tensions several notches higher, and led the Philippines to pursue closer relations with the United States and Japan, while the deployment of the Chinese oil rig Hai Yang Shi You-981 (HYSY-981) into waters near the Paracel Islands in May–July 2014 created a two-month crisis between Hanoi and Beijing. As a result of the diplomatic and strategic repercussions of Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, Chinese policymakers and analysts have been forced to reassess the country’s existing policy and future options. 03 SChinaSeaDispute-4P.indd 47 9/3/16 6:09 pm 48 Mingjiang Li This chapter examines China’s South China Sea debate since 2009. It seeks to provide an analysis of three aspects of this debate: the various schools of thought that have emerged regarding what China’s response should be; policy proposals regarding how China should respond to the changing dynamics; and areas of consensus and disagreement. It places the debate within the context of China’s official position on the South China Sea. In doing so, we can derive a better understand of Beijing’s future policy in the South China Sea. Four main themes have emerged in China’s debate. First, in contrast to widespread foreign criticism of China for its growing assertiveness, the predominant view among Chinese analysts is that rising tensions are mainly attributable to collusion between the United States and certain Southeast Asian claimants, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines. Second, it has frequently been proposed that China should be more proactive in the South China Sea rather than merely reactive to the actions of the other parties. It has been suggested that China can achieve this goal by taking initiatives in three areas: accelerating exploitation of living and non-living resources; restricting U.S. involvement; and exercising more flexibility in dealing multilaterally with the other parties, especially over non-traditional security challenges in the South China Sea. Third, the majority of Chinese analysts and officials believe that the disputes have led to a deterioration in the country’s regional security environment. Fourth, it appears that there is an emerging consensus in China that the government should adopt a more balanced policy that takes into consideration the country’s regional strategic objectives, territorial sovereignty, maritime interests and domestic opinions. The debate over the South China Sea has often been framed as one between hardliners and moderates.2 This chapter contends that there is, in fact, an important middle-of-the-road school of thought that advocates tougher policies to better protect Chinese interests but which eschews confrontation with the other claimants and external powers such as the United States and Japan. Based on these findings, this chapter concludes that Beijing is likely to practise a policy of non-confrontational assertiveness in the South China Sea for the foreseeable future. Chinese Views on Rising Tensions in the South China Sea Generally speaking, there are three schools of thought regarding the reasons for rising tensions. First, numerous pundits outside of China contend that 03 SChinaSeaDispute-4P.indd 48 9/3/16 6:09 pm China Debates the South China Sea Dispute 49 it is Beijing’s reversion to a more assertive posture that has fuelled rising tensions since 2007–8.3 This view is widely accepted by the international media and many foreign observers and officials. Second, a minority group of international observers have argued that China has, in the main, simply reacted to the actions of the other claimants; actions that Beijing...

Additional Information

ISBN
9789814695565
Related ISBN
9789814695558
MARC Record
OCLC
958182698
Pages
307
Launched on MUSE
2016-09-11
Language
English
Open Access
No
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