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2014年6月 1日 (日)

(社説)南シナ海対立 憂慮される中国の行動

May 30, 2014
EDITORIAL: China should stop its aggressive behavior in South China Sea
(社説)南シナ海対立 憂慮される中国の行動

Nearly a month has passed since a Chinese state-owned enterprise started drilling for oil in waters close to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

China National Offshore Oil Corp. is showing no signs of ceasing the operation of the oil rig, and China has dispatched a large fleet of government vessels to the area to intimidate Vietnam.

It is natural that China’s strong-arm actions are stirring criticism from the international community. China should give some serious thought to how it should behave as a responsible major power.

On May 3, China informed Vietnam of its plan to start oil drilling in the disputed waters off Vietnam. Since then, Chinese and Vietnamese ships have been in a dangerous face-off in the area around the oil rig, with tensions further heightened by some collisions.

The rig had finished the first phase of its drilling operation and had been moved to another nearby location. It is reported that the operation will continue until mid-August. China, which effectively controls the Paracel Islands, claims there is no problem with the oil drilling in waters close to these islands.
But this argument is clearly unacceptable to Vietnam, which regards the area as part of its exclusive economic zone.

News reports about the confrontation between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have described how the situation is fraught with tension. Which side is taking a more aggressive attitude?
The two countries have given widely different accounts of what has been happening. The Chinese patrol boats not only outnumber their Vietnamese counterparts but are also far larger and better equipped. There have also been reports about the deployment of Chinese warships to the area.

There is no doubt that China is much more responsible for the escalation of tension.

Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation and made remarks critical of China’s behavior.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official countered, saying their remarks were not based on facts. “They want to fish in the troubled waters and achieve their ulterior motives,” the official said.

Although many bitter diplomatic disputes exist between Japan and China, such language was too violent for a person who officially represents the Chinese government to the rest of the world. It is only natural that the government of Japan, China’s neighbor, should urge Beijing to avoid heightening tension in Asia.

Even more worrisome are remarks recently made by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin about the country’s interests in the South China Sea. According to news reports, Liu said, “Being the lifeline for China, the South China Sea is far more important to China than to other countries.”

All countries have equal rights to safe and free navigation in the South China Sea. China’s claim that it has priority rights over other countries will never be convincing.

China has been inconsistent in its territorial disputes in the South China Sea. It has adopted a hard-line stance on some occasions and made attempts at rapprochement at other times.

It seems a group of hard-liners and a group of moderates exist within the current administration of President Xi Jinping. And the former appears to be gaining greater political clout.

In a meeting to discuss its foreign policy toward neighboring countries last autumn, the Chinese government pledged to seek a good-neighbor and friendship diplomacy based on cooperation for mutual benefits. Beijing had earlier agreed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to work out a code of conduct for activities within the South China Sea.

China should return to the commitment to peaceful coexistence it demonstrated in these moves. That would serve China’s own national interests.

China cannot earn the respect of any other country by trying to push through its own claims in an oppressive attitude.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 30


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