Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hegemony in the Offing by Erick San Juan

 Hegemony in the Offing by Erick San Juan

Despite many Chinese diplomatic assurances to the contrary, Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea is an attempt to re-establish traditional Chinese hegemony in the region.

As of January 1, 2014 China's Hainan province required all foreign fishing vessels to ask permission to enter more than half of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea. The new regulations adopted by China's Hainan Province on implementing the country's fishing law replaced the previous regulations that went into effect in 1993.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said there was nothing unusual about the new restrictions."As a maritime nation it is normal and routine for China to make rules to regulate the conservation and management of maritime biological resources," said Hua. "According to international laws, universal practice and domestic laws, the Chinese government bears the right and obligation to manage the biological and non-biological resources on relevant islands, reefs and in relevant waters.... If someone asserts that the technical amendments on a provincial fishing regulation which has been implemented for years will pose a threat to regional peace and stability, it's either due to lack of common sense or out of hidden intent".

But the United States says Chinese moves to restrict fishing in contested waters of the South China Sea are a "potentially dangerous" escalation in the maritime dispute. Chinese authorities say the rules are well within their sovereign rights.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the new restrictions run counter to efforts to resolve the disputes multilaterally.

"The passing of these restrictions on other countries' fishing activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea is a provocative and potentially dangerous act," said Psaki. (voanews.com) Even geopolitical analysts in the region believe that the absence of crisis settlement methods between China and neighboring Asian nation-states and the probability of conflict situation emerging in the region will increase not excluding the possibility of armed confrontation.

So the question asked by Elfren Cruz in his column in the Philippine Star – “How is it that the province of Hainan can claim jurisdiction over most of China’s claims of islets and atolls in the West Philippine Sea? Is this not the responsibility alone of the central government? Is it mere coincidence that Hainan province is also where a major Chinese naval base is located? This is the location of a dock for China’s only aircraft carrier and also the base for attack submarines.”

Hainan province is the second largest province of China which explains why their major naval base is located (if one will look into the map closely, it is very near Luzon.) Quite obviously, aside from the South China Sea’s untapped oil and gas reserves, the area is very rich with marine life including wide varieties of edible fish.
That is why the predominantly privately owned fishing companies based in China are hard to control by Beijing’s central government even if these companies are already engaged in overfishing.

Actually as China look for more fishing grounds, near or distant, collisions with neighboring countries happen more often especially with Vietnam and the Philippines.  Sadly, our experience with such maritime accident made our overseas workers victims whether they like it or not.

Protests from country claimants in the South China Sea about this latest fishing regulations has been sent and it is for Beijing government to take action and instruct Hainan province to ease the tensions created by such act. But back to the nagging question - why this regulation by a China’s province being imposed ‘provocatively’ in the contested area?

To shed light to this question, from Foreign Affairs, Professor David Lampton wrote an article entitled “ How China is Ruled: Why It’s Getting Harder for Beijing to Govern.” According to him, this difficulty arises from the fact that China’s central government is operating in an environment radically different from the one that existed at the beginning of Deng’s tenure. He writes that these are the primary reasons governing has become more difficult than in the past:

“First, individual Chinese leaders have become progressively weaker in relation to both one another and the rest of society. Second, Chinese society, as well as the economy and the bureaucracy has fractured, multiplying the number of constituencies. Third, China’s leadership must now confront a population with more resources, in terms of money, talent, and information than ever before.”

However, today: “The combination of more densely packed urban population, rapidly rising aspirations and the spread of knowledge, and the greater ease of coordinating social action means that China’s leaders will find it progressively more challenging to govern.”

The leadership style of Xi Jingping is also being closely observed to see how he will deal with this changing environment. It is, of course, too early to determine what his path will be. He is presently still trying to consolidate his power over Communist Party political machinery, and even more critical, over the People’s Liberation Army. (Elfren Cruz)

With China’s rising hegemony in the region and the assertiveness of its citizenry in imposing regulations that involves foreign fishing vessels, there will always be incidents that might trigger a regional conflict in the process especially with the United States who always advocates freedom of navigation in the area.

Remember that “throughout history, relations between dominant and rising states have been uneasy—and often violent. Established powers tend to regard themselves as the defenders of an international order that they helped to create and from which they continue to benefit; rising powers feel constrained, even cheated, by the status quo and struggle against it to take what they think is rightfully theirs.” (Aaron L. Friedberg, the national interest online)

 So who will blink first? The US is known for it's 'first strike policy' or doing preemptive strikes to neutralize the enemy. But China seems to do the same. China's action is now being perceived as a violator of international laws and an open threat to regional security and stability. Multilateral discussion on this issue must be addressed by the ASEAN and by the UN as soon as possible to avoid the 'inevitable' which the 'hidden hands' behind the scene are fanning to create a situation to justify such wars in the offing.

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