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article imageOp-Ed: China’s parallel reality

By Kenneth Szabo     Apr 7, 2016 in Politics
Washington D.c. - While Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China may have visited Washington earlier this month to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit, nobody seemed to care too much about nuclear disarmament.
Not even the petulant Kim Jong-Un and his gung-ho nuke-fuelled fiesta managed to raise the stakes for nuclear cooperation between world powers. Instead, China’s bullish attempts to commandeer the seas were all the rage in the media.
Indeed, pushing back against increasingly aggressive Chinese moves has been a common theme in recent months. For example, international unease was cranked up a notch after China deployed The People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s YJ62 anti-ship cruise missile to Woody Island in the South China Sea and firmly opposed proposals to install a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, saying that it would undermine China’s strategic interests and endanger global strategic stability. China’s determination to implement its so-called Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) was forcefully rebuffed by US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, who declared that his nation did not recognize the exclusion zone and American assets would continue to “fly, sail and go wherever international law allows.”
Beijing is even trying to set up a parallel legal framework to settle maritime disputes. Indeed, China hopes to set up an “international maritime judicial center” to protect the country’s “national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests," despite the fact that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has already established the rules of the game that most nations in the world are following. What China wants, however, is a body that will quite literally ensure that Chinese words and whims are law.
But what has all this bellicose rhetoric helped Beijing achieve? In truth, not much. Worse, the Middle Kingdom is actually hemorrhaging friends.
To begin with, the U.S. isn’t wavering. It is as about as likely to recognize the ADIZ as it is to scale down its own “freedom of navigation operations” or FONOPS — in other words, only if hell froze over. Another blow to China is set to come from The Hague, where it is widely expected that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) will rule in favor of the Philippines in their bid to prove that China’s attempts to declare maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea are illegal. The case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, contends that China’s Spratly Island activities violate the UNCLOS. The Philippines maintains that Beijing has been building in and extracting resources from the Manila’s exclusive economic zone, making spurious claims to water and airspace, and rubbishes China’s “historical” claims to waters within the nine-dash line. Not only is it thought that China will ignore any ruling against it, many international commentators also suspect that it may defiantly flout the rules by further stepping up its military efforts at sea.
These aren’t the only stand-offs that Chinese posturing has provoked however. Other countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are also adopting more aggressive policies than ever before.
The Philippines has offered the US the use of eight bases, and has deployed its deploy F-16 fighter jets to Natuna islands in the South China Sea following clashes with Chinese fishing boats. Even Vietnam has cast aside its old grudges against the US and has enthusiastically joined the ranks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after China illegally installed an oil rig off Vietnam’s coast last year.
Malaysia too is set to cool ties with China. Last month, the country’s defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that if China pushed it, it would be forced to push back. While a majority-Muslim nation and the US may seem like unlikely bedfellows, Malaysia has become a key partner of the US in the fight against ISIS in the region, joining the US-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and has already made good progress with the launch of its online counter-messaging center, whose purpose is to stem digital radicalization. So warm are relations between the two nations, that Awang Adek Hussin, the outgoing Malaysian ambassador in Washington DC commented last month that US-Malaysia bilateral relations “could not have been better.” The same cannot be said about relations between Malaysia and China. Last month, Malaysia summoned the Chinese ambassador to register its concerns over what its government said was an encroachment of its water by around 100 Chinese fishing boats.
Chinese policymakers seem to live in a parallel reality, best exemplified by their desire to snub the international order and create one with “Chinese characteristics.” However, not many are eager to embrace this brave new Chinese order and the diplomatic blowback has been painful for Beijing. So who will they preside over when their aggressive moves have succeed alienating almost all their allies? A king with no servants is no king at all.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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