The bellicose bluster between China and Japan continues to grow more heated, with two armed Chinese surveillance vessels circling the disputed Diaoyu islands and the Foreign Ministry in Beijing saying that “long gone are the days when the Chinese nation was subject to bullying and humiliation from others.”
On Wednesday, an editorial in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times newspaper said “Chinese anger of more than a century toward Japan was awakened on Tuesday” with the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands from a private Japanese owner. Beijing insists the sale is invalid, of course, because the islands, while they are physically controlled by Japan, are Chinese territory.
The Global Times, with several references to lingering bitterness over Japanese depredations during World War II, said it “appears inevitable the two sides will be overwhelmed by hatred again now that more conflicts can be expected.”
Images of Wednesday’s front pages from a number of Chinese newspapers have been collated (with translated headlines) by China Digital Times, with stories denouncing Japan and claiming the islands as Chinese territory. The state media, it appears, is fully on message.
Overseas Chinese are on the case, too: Anti-Japanese protests broke out Wednesday here in Hong Kong, in Bangkok and Taipei. (Taiwan also claims the islands.)
One phrase in the Global Times editorial on Wednesday stood out — the need for China to “protect its core interests as Sino-Japanese relations sour.”
The term “core interest” might sound like simple editorial boilerplate or a harmless diplomatic cliché, but it has taken on an increasing importance for Beijing since it first began appearing in official communiqués 10 years ago. Raising the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute to the level of a core interest for China — putting it on a political footing with security issues like Taiwan and Tibet — would signal another serious escalation by Beijing.
The security analyst Michael D. Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has written a clear and valuable history of Beijing’s use of the term “core interest.” The abstract of the paper is here, and the full text is here.
“Some Chinese officials and unofficial observers have apparently asserted that China’s ‘core interests’ are essentially nonnegotiable in nature, thus conveying a level of rigidity and perhaps militancy,” Mr. Swaine said, adding that “China is allegedly steadily defining more and more controversial international issues as affecting its ‘core interests.’ ”
In addition to the minuscule Diaoyu group (called the Senkakus by Japan and the United States), China lays claim to much of the South China Sea. Indeed, Beijing has already had violent, maritime run-ins with several countries in the region, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
Another worrisome escalation now — whether in connection to the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute or elsewhere — would be the arming of Chinese fishermen, a suggestion that was aired recently in the People’s Daily, the principal newspaper of the Communist Party.
“We should militarise our fishermen,” said He Jiabin, the head of the large state-owned Baoshan fishing corporation, referring to confrontations near the Spratly islands, another of Beijing’s disputes in the region. He advocated the military training of fishing crews, “creating a reserve force at sea, and using these militiamen to solve the South China Sea problem.”
There has been no noticeable, official or public endorsement of Mr. He’s baleful call to arms. Excerpts from his remarks, unedited but slightly condensed for space:
Vietnam seems like it will wage a “people’s war” in the South China Sea. Since the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnam has made all its citizens soldiers. They’re a people who make a living at sea, and so they are much tougher than those who live on land. The Chinese military doesn’t attack civilians, our navy doesn’t attack fishing boats, but this isn’t the case with Vietnam. Vietnamese fishing boats have sub-machine guns, machine guns, whereas our fishermen don’t even have knives.
At the same time, we should militarise our fishermen. We only need 5,000 Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea and 100,000 militarised fishermen, and countries around the South China Sea will be no match for China. We can use the period between May and August each year, when it’s not the fishing season, to train fishermen in survival, production and national defence skills, creating a reserve force at sea, and using these militiamen to solve the South China Sea problem.
The PLA should serve as a backup force, not its vanguard. This doesn’t only reduce the burden on the country, because if we did use our army as the vanguard, then we will have been fooled by the U.S. government.
Mr. He also suggested taking commercial control of the seas through Beijing’s granting of permits and licenses to state oil, mineral and fishing firms.
Indeed, China’s state oil company, Cnooc, has already called for exploration bids on large blocks just off the Vietnamese coast, a move assailed by Hanoi.
Wang Yilin, the chairman of the oil giant, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, called deep-water drilling rigs “our mobile national territory and a strategic weapon.”International Herald Tribune
- China sends ships to disputed Senkaku Islands (chinadailymail.com)
- China warns America not to get involved in South China Sea and other disputes (chinadailymail.com)
- China Accuses Japan of Stealing Disputed Islands (nytimes.com)
- South China Sea: Not Just About ‘Free Navigation’ – Analysis (eurasiareview.com)