A recent opinion piece published by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mouthpiece calling for war in the South China Sea seemed strategically “unwise,” but was aimed at securing exploration of the area’s oil and gas resources, a visiting academic said in Taipei yesterday.
The CCP-run Chinese-language edition of the Global Times on Sept. 29 published a piece saying China should wage a war against Vietnam and the Philippines, two countries that have been assertive in defending their claims over the islets in the region.
Theresa Fallon, a senior associate at the European Institute of Asian Studies, a Brussels-based policy and research think tank supported by the EU, told the two-day international conference on the South China Sea issue that such saber-rattling seemed “unwise” and “counter-productive” from a strategic and military point of view.
It is likely to push Vietnam and the Philippines further toward the US, as well as toward India or Japan, to form a coalition against China, she said.
“But the op-ed may have the one more immediate goal to scare Western oil companies away from Vietnam and from the Philippines and to deter them from concluding deals with them,” she said.
Citing a cache of US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks on Sept. 1, Fallon said Chinese efforts to pressure oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron and Petronas after they made deals with Hanoi went back to at least 2006.
In a paper delivered at the conference held by the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica, Fallon said the EU did not have any clear position or strong role to play in the region.
The EU as a whole has two main foreign policy priorities: the immediate neighborhood of the EU, including a response to the Arab Spring, and relations with strategic partners, Fallon said.
“China is the EU’s most important strategic partner and trade partner in Asia. China has also been supporting some weaker EU member states during the sovereign debt crisis,” she said.
Fallon said she was told during a meeting with an official of the European External Action Service on Sept. 19 that “Europe cannot say anything because of our financial situation. If [Chinese President] Hu Jintao [(胡錦濤)] says: ‘We have confidence in the euro,’ it goes up. If China goes to Greece and says we are unhappy with what they are doing in Brussels, what do you expect the Greek prime minister to do?”
Meanwhile, Daniel Schaeffer, a retired general and a researcher at the French think tank Asie 21, delivered a paper titled The South China Sea: a piece in the global naval encirclement strategy of Taiwan by Mainland China.
Schaeffer said Taiwan’s geographical position was why China wants to reunify with Taiwan at all costs.
“Taiwan is the bolt which closes the two China seas, two semi-closed seas structurally barred by chains of islands that constitute as many obstacles for navigation and compel ships to cross passes between the islands,” he said.
If China takes over Taiwan, the Chinese navy would consequently enjoy a free passage to the Pacific Ocean through what would become its territorial waters, he said.
Schaeffer said China “has started a large-scale strategy of naval encirclement of Taiwan, a strategy in which the making of a sanctuary of the South China Sea is only one piece” on the wide board of a “game of Go ” that is aimed at making Taiwan reunify with China.
The other pieces included the aggressive Chinese behavior concerning sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan; the multifarious passage of the Chinese navy through the Japanese straits; the Chinese naval exercises conducted in waters close to Japan; and the Chinese monitoring of Japan-US naval exercises, among others, Schaeffer said.
“When we put all these Chinese naval activities together, we cannot help but determine that the general aim is to isolate Taiwan, to exert a strong indirect pressure on the island so that it finally falls into the Mainland nets without too much resistance and without suffering too much damage, if possible,” he said.
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