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Chinese Scholars on South China Sea Strategies

{Editor’s Note: The International Herald Leader recently published an exclusive report covering the "South China Sea Situation and the Media’s Responsibility Forum," a July 13 event jointly hosted by Yunnan Provincial Television and the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [1] The Chinese scholars invited to speak at the forum suggested strategies for multiple ways that China could use to deal with its South China Sea disputes with other countries: taking a hard diplomatic position with military backup, guiding international public opinion to favor China, and using "marauding pirates" as grounds to enter the disputed waters and assert China’s leadership. The following are excerpts from the article.]

Making Concessions to Alleviate the Disputes Is Undesirable
– Zhou Fangyin, Chief Editor of Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies, a publication of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

We should absolutely not give Vietnam and the Philippines the impression that they can gain benefits whenever they make some noise. We should adhere to our principles. We should not be vague at all. If we stand firm, we may be criticized and incur some losses in the short-term, but in the long run, it is better for our interests.

Safeguarding Our Rights over the Sea Should Continue for the Long-Term
– Li Jinming, Professor of South Pacific Studies, Institute of International Relations, Xiamen University

First, we should strengthen our propaganda on the South China Sea issue. We need to publish as many articles as possible in foreign journals to establish our view. In addition, at an appropriate time, we should consider holding international academic conferences on the issue of the South China Sea to gain the initiative over international public opinion. Vietnam has already held two such international conferences.

On the issue of oil exploration in the South China Sea, we should actively prevent foreign companies from intervening. To circumvent foreign companies from getting involved in South China Sea oil exploration, we should do our own exploration there by fully utilizing our own deep-sea oil exploration technology.

We should persist in safeguarding our rights in the South China Sea. Our marine inspection boats and fishery administration boats now patrol the South China Sea regularly. These regular patrols should be standardized and institutionalized to have an actual legal impact.

We strongly oppose expanding the South China Sea issue or solving it internationally or multilaterally. The relationship between ASEAN countries is not monolithic. We should work with each country to prevent all ASEAN members from developing a united front against China on the South China Sea issue.

Making Necessary Military Preparations
– Li Guoqiang, Researcher and Deputy Director of the Borderland History and Geography Research Center, Academy of Social Sciences

There are only three ways to solve the South China Sea issue, namely, via diplomacy, via the military, or via the law. However, diplomacy alone is not enough. The likelihood of a serious military clash in the South China Sea is decreasing, but that does not rule out the possibility of regional conflict. Therefore, while seeking a political solution to this dispute, we should also make timely preparations to re-take the occupied islands and reefs (by force). In my opinion, we should have diplomatic discussions, because it will gain us better economic development opportunities and keep other factors from interfering. However, at the same time, we must be ready with military preparations.

In addition, we should use a variety of tactics to restrict U.S. involvement in the area. For example, if U.S. oil companies participate in South China Sea oil development with other countries, (we will make) their interests and businesses in China face major losses or even sanctions.

Avoiding Taking the Issue to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
– Yin Zhuo, Navy Admiral

We agree to solve the issue via legal means, but we do not agree to take the South China Sea dispute to the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). ITLOS primarily uses the “United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea” as its foundation. The Convention does not address the problem of territorial demarcation; it just addresses issues of maritime divisions after the territorial demarcation. The current key issue over the South China Sea is territorial demarcation, that is, the ownership of islands and reefs. The core of the Convention is “land claiming waters” (the surrounding waters belong to whoever owns the land), which means that territorial waters and exclusive economic zones will be claimed after the claims of sovereignty are made over the islands and reefs. With no territory, there is no exclusive economic zone. (Editor’s Note: Since other countries have taken most of the islands, the Tribunal’s decision on territorial waters would not favor China.)

Being More Proactive in the Battlefield of Public Opinion
– Ye Hailin, Commentator, and Chief Editor of South Asian Studies, the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science

In addition to strengthening their debate abilities against foreign media, our media should cover more about what China should do as the next step in the South China Sea crisis. We cannot rely on the political and academic communities alone to resolve the dispute. We also need the media’s broad participation and the public should be mobilized.

Not only should the media participate in the discussion of solutions, they should also prepare the public psychologically for solving the South China Sea issue. Ultimately, there is no solution without cost. A peaceful solution would compromise our nation’s interests. No compromise will result in a 100 percent profit for China. A military solution will also cost-diplomatically, economically, and militarily. There will be no success without losses. Without a full discussion, no matter what approach (China) takes in the future, the negative effects will be magnified or even become a long-term risk if the public is not mentally prepared for it.

Using “Marauding Pirates” as a New Entry Point
– Xu Ke, Associate Professor of South Pacific Studies, Institute of International Relations, Xiamen University

Right now, we don’t have any good initiatives on the South China Sea issue. China can use “cracking down on South China Sea pirates” as an entry point and lead the anti-piracy activities in Asia. In 2010, piracy cases in the South China Sea increased substantially, to more than 30 cases. Five Chinese vessels were attacked, including two Taiwanese vessels and two vessels from Hong Kong. Using “marauding pirates” as the grounds, China can lead the cooperation on maritime security among all Asian countries or an even broader region. In the meantime, this will strengthen our presence in the South China Sea. This is consistent with our short-term and long-term strategies and will improve our law enforcement in and control over the South China Sea.

[1] International Herald Leader, “South China Sea Strategies for China: Do Not Retreat on the Diplomatic Front; Mobilize Media to Support,” July 25, 2011.