China and the Us do have differences on the South China sea issue but the dispute, though the Chinese don’t recognise it as a dispute, is unlikely to lead to conflict because the two sides also share common ground. Their common ground lies in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and safe-guarding freedom of navigation as defined by international law. When it is the question of protecting territorial integrity, the Chinese will never budge an inch, no matter the otherside is mighty America or militarily poor India. The Chinese think China’s development on some of the islands and reefs in Nansha is something fully within the scope of China’s sovereignty. Not that the South China sea dispute is a recent one—it dates back to pre-communist China. In truth Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomingtang government too made claims over once uninhabited specks of land and submerged reefs in the South China sea as the Kuomintang maintained the same position like the Communist China over the border dispute with India in the Himalayas.
For one thing claims by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1947, before the Chinese Revolution drove him and his Nationalist Party to refuge on Taiwan [or what was known as Formosa at that time], are the basis of the ‘‘nine-dash line’’, whose outline hugging the beaches of Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines would make the South China Sea a Chinese lake. The US, which treated the Caribbean as its own American lake as it sent troops to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Grenada over the last century, has escalated verbal warnings to China, warning them against fortifying its island constructions, and has directed military ships and planes to pass where China claims sovereignty.
The response from China has been to reassert that construction in the Spartly Islands is no different than building roads in China itself and to warn the US against military movements in the South China Sea. The Communist Party-run newspaper Global Times was far more bellicose : ‘‘If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea’’.
China has raised war threats before, for instance against Taiwan rejecting the One China policy in favour of independence. Belligerence toward Taiwan was always an empty threat as long as Taiwan was the source of much of the capital that allowed China to exploit its ever-expanding working class.
China is determined to expand its ambitious campaign of dredging, land reclamation, garrisoning troops and erecting military facilities in the Spartly Islands near Malaysia and Brunei. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have done island building on reefs they claimed but have loudly protested China’s. They fear China’s powerful military near their shores and what it claims. China’s construction activities and militarisation in the South China Sea in the last two years has dwarfed all other countries. The exchange of threats between China and America is at worst a mock fight and the Chinese are unlikely to back out under any circumstances.
Vol. 48, No. 4, Aug 2 - 8, 2015