Cui Tiankai on South China Sea: Keep it Simple

Chinese news articles about the South China Sea1) insist that territorial disputes should be negotiated one-on-one – China plus one opposing claimant at a time -, and should not be “internationalized”. In an international press review2), Huanqiu Shibao, on Friday, also seemed to depict America’s more recent involvement in the South China Sea dispute as something Vietnam, the Philippines, and other claimants should not rely on, as both America and China were playing a bigger game.

I have read similar Chinese arguments several times this or last week, which seemed to suggest that America and China were the players, and the smaller countries bordering on the South China Sea were more like chess pieces (without necessarily using the derogatory term – it is usually reserved to describe the way America itself interacts with Vietnam).

Huanqiu also refers to statements made by Chinese deputy foreign minister Cui Tiankai (崔天凯). Ahead of US-Sino consultations in Honolulu, Cui said in Beijing that that China had not stirred up trouble (挑起事端, tiǎo qǐ shìduān) concerning the South China Sea issue, but that some countries were currently playing with fire (一些国家正在玩火). China hoped that America wouldn’t burn itself (希望美国不要引火上身).

Much of Chinese media coverage on Friday seems to depend on Huanqiu’s press review. However, in a short notice, Caijing quotes Phoenix TV (凤凰卫视, Hong Kong)3):

According to Phoenix Satellite TV, Chinese deputy foreign minister Cui Tiankai said that the South China Sea sovereignty dispute should be solved by the involved parties themselves, and American involvement would only make matters more complex. Cui said on that day in an interview with several foreign media that China hadn’t stirred up trouble concerning the South China Sea, but paid much attention to frequent provocations (对其他各方频繁挑衅非常关注, duì qítā gè fāng pínfán tiǎoxìn). He said that America wasn’t one of the countries [a party] to the South China Sea sovereignty dispute and would best not get involved, and let the issue be resolved by the countries involved. Using an analogy, Cui said that a few (个别) countries were playing with fire, and he hoped that America wouldn’t burn itself.

The New York Times‘ translation of 希望美国不要引火上身 is “I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States”. “To be honest with you, the Chinese public is following very closely whether the United States will adopt a just and objective position on matters like these”, the NYT quotes Cui.

The US-China consultations are to begin on Saturday.

Three months ago, Huy Duong, in an article for The Diplomat, pointed out a number of strategic mistakes that had been made by the Philippines since 2004, and recommends a common approach to the dispute by Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Also in an article for The Diplomat, some two weeks ago, he wrote that during the latest Sino-Vietnamese tensions,

China failed to state its claim in terms of UNCLOS maritime zones. Nor did it specify any limit or cite international law to support its claim.



1) The South China Sea is referred to as the South Sea (南海) in Chinese. It may also be noteworthy that the waters aren’t referred to as 中国南海 (which would be “China South Sea”. “China” is frequently added to Tibet, Xinjiang, or Taiwan to express or claim sovereignty on such core interests.

2) Such press reviews are frequently selective, if not distortive – hence no mention of the foreign sources here, unless verified.

3) Besides “quoting” the foreign press, referring to Hong Kong media is also a frequent approach by mainland Chinese media.



» Deng Xiaoping and a FEW words about History, December 18, 2008
» United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Wikipedia


11 Responses to “Cui Tiankai on South China Sea: Keep it Simple”

  1. Timely piece. When you a being bullied by the local monster, what do you do? Ingratiate yourself with an even larger schoolyard tough.

    Old site now has my new wordpress address. And it wasnt so stresfull, but still a lot of work to do.

    The Chinese naval folk have been reading Mahan’s sea power theories of that I’m certain.


  2. Mahan was referred to by late admiralLiu Huaqing time and again, and must not miss in any comment by any Chinese armchair strategist of today.

    Indeed – a visit of Vietnamese dignitary to USS George Washington some time ago looked pretty much like a tributary mission. That said, if countries in the region really want to gang up with America against their rightful hegemon, they will need to beef up their own military clout, too – and they will need to be more willing to cooperate with each other, as pointed out by Huy Duong. The US is no universal remedy – it’s a country with interests of its own, just as any country.

    Re still a lot of work to do on your site, I think a link to your blogpost posts is a must on your new platform, too – to the top right, I’d recommend. That’s where ppl usually look first. Glad to see you’ve moved.


  3. One more thing, maybe you could put your new blog url right behind your gravatar. Most ppl don’t like to click twice to get to the heart of the matter. 😉

    Re visit of Vietnamese dignitaries to USS George Washington, here’s a link – and yes, you’ll need to click twice to get to the US Navy’s youtube video.


  4. JR. Have to think thru the keyboard work to put your advice into practice and a bit at sea about it all. Decided to leave the old site where it is and not transfer it all….simply too complex. Simply use back links where needed. Also got related gravator issues which are simply unsolvable. Ah, the weekend.



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