China / Foreign Affairs / South China Sea dispute

“Big Brother, Little Brother” comment riles Vietnam in the South China Sea

“Big Brother, Little Brother” comment riles Vietnam in the South China Sea

The potential for conflict in the South China Sea is heating up.  While American forces continue to concentrate on Afghanistan and the 40 or 50 al qaeda members still left there, more ominous issues in the Pacific region are developing. 
Last week Chinese fishing boats allegedly attempted to cut the cables of Vietnamese gas and oil exploration vessels.  China lays claim to roughly 90% of the South China Sea and responds that it is simply exercising its jurisdiction despite the fact that the incident occurred within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam recognised under International Maritime Law.

China has been using these “fishing boats” on a regular basis in an attempt to enforce  its claim to a number of island chains supposedly full of untapped oil and natural gas.  Vietnam has responded by holding live fire navel maneuvers off its coast near the disputed region in an escalating show of force that is designed to highlight its view on the matter.

As various foreign affairs experts weigh in on the geo-politics of the dispute one particular comment, made by Mainland born academic Wang Hanling recently, has grabbed the headlines.  In response to Vietnam’s use of naval drills in the area he says,

 “If the big brother bullies the younger brother it is not good and is something that should not happen, [but] if the younger brother challenges or bullies the older brother, it’s just ridiculous.”

This comment demonstrates the gulf in understanding between the West and China in regards to foreign affairs.  The West wants debate on territorial disputes to center on aspects of Internationally recognized maritime law.  China in contrast tends to see its role in International relations, particularly in Asia, as a paternalistic father that  will deal favorably with its children, or in this case “little brother” provided they display proper filial piety or “proper relationship” in keeping with the Confucian view of the world.
One could only imagine what would happen if President Obama reacted to trade issues with Canada with speeches suggesting that “Little brother” Canada needed to be less belligerent to its “Big Brother” if it wanted to stay in favor within the family.  While this line of reasoning seems peculiar to Western audiences, it is a way of looking at the world held by a country that is quickly becoming a regional, if not yet a global, superpower.
This Sinocentric view of International relations held by China, while largely ignored by the West in past decades, will have to be taken more seriously as the Middle Kingdom expands economically and militarily in South-East Asia.  Long held International laws are chafed at by a China that had no say in their creation and thus feel less bound by their stipulations.

The United States needs to keep its eye on the ball.  As a global player with no territorial claims in the area its role as peace broker is needed now more than ever.  The smaller countries of the region are looking to America for leadership on the matter.  The last thing they need is an America that is war weary, debt ridden, and withdrawn. 

Leave a Reply

Related