Sun, Aug 26, 2018 - Page 6 News List

China might be juggling too much

By Sushil Seth

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, is reportedly of the view that the 21st century belongs to China, considering that its economic output is projected to far outstrip that of the US by about 2030 at US$42 trillion for China to US$24 trillion for the US.

Whether or not this will eventuate is difficult to say, as there are a number of variables.

However, there is no doubt that under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who has been anointed the country’s supreme leader for an indefinite period, China has decided to march forward to what it might consider is its destiny as the old Middle Kingdom.

Its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative appears to interconnect the world with and from China in all directions, while Beijing has virtually served notice that the South China Sea is its own private lake.

It is true that the US is challenging this by occasional naval and aerial patrols, but China is in actual control of the sea, with a wide array of military facilities and weaponry.

Some countries with their own sovereignty claims over some of the South China Sea islands even seem to be adjusting to the realities of the situation, but are not happy with the situation.

Malaysia, under its new government, is a case in point. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has sought to express this by dissociating himself from his predecessor, who cozied up to China. He has done this on two levels.

First, he has suspended multibillion-US dollar projects to be built with Chinese assistance, apparently as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The projects included two energy pipelines and a rail project along the peninsula of Malaysia’s east coast.

Malaysia is not keen to get into a debt trap.

At another level, Mahathir has urged Beijing to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea and has cautioned against further militarizing the contested waters.

“We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here [in the South China Sea],” Mahathir said. “It is a warning to everyone. Don’t create tension unnecessarily.”

Mahathir is not alone. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, under whom the country has made peace with China by going quiet on its sovereignty claims despite a ruling in its favor by an international tribunal, has also expressed concerns about Beijing’s activities.

In a recent speech he reportedly said that China’s claim to airspace above newly built islands and surrounding waters in the disputed South China Sea “is wrong.”

“They [China] have to rethink that, because that would be a flashpoint some day — you cannot create an island, it’s man made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours,” Duterte said.

“That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea [where] the right of innocent passage is guaranteed,” he added. “It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas.”

He said he hoped that “China would temper … its behavior” lest “one of these days a hothead commander there will just press a trigger.”

Mahathir and Duterte have been careful not to confront China. Indeed, both have sought economic cooperation with China. Duterte has praised China for its readiness to provide help, apparently referring to economic assistance. Mahathir has been visiting China to explore avenues for economic cooperation.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top