South China Sea: an Introduction (by Huanqiu, Wu Jianmin, Long Tao)

Huanqiu: "To Strike or not to Strike"

Huanqiu: To Strike or not to Strike

The following is a translation of an article by Wu Jianmin (吴建民, a former Chinese diplomat – further details at the end of this post), with a prior introduction to a whole set of opinions, by the publishing paper, Huanqiu Shibao. I’ll confine myself to translating the Introduction, and Wu’s opinion.

Wu’s article was the first in the Huanqiu series, dated June 22, and subscribes to the idea that “striking” at China’s neighbors in the South China Sea dispute is no option. This article belongs to the first section and also contains an interview with Wu, of September 13. The China Media Project (CMP), Hong Kong, translated portions of it into English. (They refer to a QQ re-publication of September 14, but it is the same interview.) The third article within that first – comparatively “dovish”  – section is by Sun Peisong (孙培松), an academic from Wu Jianmin’s native Jiangsu Province.

The second section contains two opinions which subscribe to a position where “action” would be an option if the occasion arose, but keeping to the traditional “principles” (坚持原则,伺机行事) otherwise. One of those opinions was written by Long Tao (龙韬, further details at the end of this post), on June 27, as an answer to Wu Jianmin’s opinion.

The third section contains three opinions, and belongs to the category “Now is the best time for striking” (现在是动武的最好时机). Interestingly, it contains another article by Long Tao, of September 27, three months after his previous one.

Huanqiu arranged the topical collection some time after publishing the initial, or all of the opinions.


Huanqiu’s Introduction

Introduction: The South China Sea issue isn’t complicated at all. Before the United Nations announced that the South China Sea was rich with oil, it was calm and tranquil. Bordering countries recognized China’s sovereignty over it. But afterwards, neighboring countries claimed sovereignty in droves. According to a “China Youth Daily” report in July, Vietnam has occupied 29 of the islands and reefs, basically controlling the western Nansha waters; the Philippines occupied ten islands or reefs; Malaysia occupied three, and Indonesia announced that it had “sovereignty” over more than 80,000 square kilometers of traditional Chinese coastal and territorial waters. Only nine are controlled by our country: nine by the mainland, and one by Taiwan.

导语:南海问题并不复杂。早在1968年联合国宣称南海拥有丰富石油资源之前,南海一直“风平浪静”,周边各国承认南 海主权属于中国。但在此之后,南海周边国家纷纷提出对南海岛屿的主权要求。据《中国青年报》7月份报道,从上世纪70年代至今,越南占领了南沙29个岛 礁,基本上控制了南沙西部海域;菲律宾侵占了10个岛礁;马来西亚占领了3个岛礁;印度尼西亚宣布对8万多平方公里的中国传统海疆享有“主权”。而我国目 前实际控制岛礁仅9个:大陆8个,台湾1个。

As for the South China Sea disputes, Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s, put forward the principle of  “sovereignty being ours, putting disputes aside, common exploitation, and China maintaining its peaceful rise”. But Vietnam, the Philippines and others time and again attacked China’s base line. Especially since this year, Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighboring countries kept taking a mile for being given an inch, India, Japan etc. also huddled into the act, made explorations, military exercises with growing arrogance. The situation is growing ever more serious.


Various voices have emerged in our country, concerning this issue. There are scholars who advocate a continuation of the “peaceful rise”, determined not to strike. But other scholars advocate a resort to armed force, determined to strike back. To strike or not to strike? Let’s see what the scholars say.



Wu Jianmin: Chinese Self-Restraint is a Kind of Self-Confidence


The Chinese government has shown restraint, and some people are dissatisfied with that. They find this too soft, unfulfilled, and believe that a harder stance should be adopted. Some people even think that [military] strikes were in order. In my opinion, the self-restraint the Chinese government has shown is a kind of self-confidence.


This self-confidence stems from the way the world is changing, above all. The changing times have led to a new situation in international relations. The function of force in solving international disputes has declined. The three wars that began this century – in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, America leading the two former two, [are wars in which] America and western countries have absolute military superiority, and the countries they strike are poor and small countries. The result of these strikes is that America and other countries have gotten into predicaments never seen before. The current Libya war will also confirm this. The South China Sea is an issue inherited from history, and to talk war easily is not advisable. China’s leaders have emphasized that our country upholds the banner of peace, development and cooperation in international relations. This is very reasonable.


China’s self-confidence is also based on having held clear policies and guidelines on the South China Sea issue early on. In the 1980s, the guideline Comrade Deng Xiaoping gave us was “putting disputes aside, common exploitation”. The establishment of this guideline took the changing times into account, and was in accordance with the tidal current. It also took into account our fundamental common interests with our bordering neighbors. Despite the difficulties which have emerged in its implementation, history will prove this guideline to be the most sensible one.


Our self-confidence also stems from the bigger picture. There are big and small truths in world affairs, and the small ones need to obey to the big ones. These so-called big truths set out from mankind’s overall interests, and the long-term and fundamental interests of the people in the region. The East Asian region is the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic one. While the developed countries’ economies see a weak recovery, East Asian economic growth maintains vigorous momentum. This doesn’t only matter to the region, but to the world, as well. Also, even as we have these and those kinds of differences between the East Asian countries, the fact that we have common interests which are far greater than our differences must not be overlooked. Our relations with Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries are just like that. In 2010, trade between China and Vietnam amounted to 26 billion US dollars, there were more than 600 Chinese direct investment projects in Vietnam, investment amounts agreed to reached more than two billion US dollars, and more than 2.5 million people crossed the border, either way. In 2010, China’s bilateral trade with the Philippines amounted to 27.7 billion US dollars, financial investment from Chinese companies in the Philippines was at 86 million US dollars. Behind these numbers stand the enormous common interests of  both sides, and these interests continue to grow.


With China’s rise, we will see all kinds of problems and challenges arise. This is inevitable and was to be expected. Facing these challenges, we must observe them calmly, and consider them comprehensively. Our feelings must not sway us, or make us act rashly. We must not deal with today’s issues by using the old days’ ideas of war and revolution. By doing so, we would commit an epochal mistake.


China must maintain the momentum of its development; this is what we have accumulated in a struggle of more than one-hundred years. It will take another thirty or fifty years for China to rise to her feet. This is the Chinese people’s greatest interest in the twenty-first century. To maintain the momentum of development requires us to maintain external cooperation.


In short, we must include the momentum of cooperation with neighboring countries. The self-restraint shown by the Chinese government is in line with the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and the people in the region, with the global tidal currents, and absolutely tenable.


(The author is a member of the European Academy of Sciences, the European and Asian Academy of Science, and chairman of the Shanghai Center for International Studies.)


Wu Jianmin also served as China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva,  and to France. At least one Huanqiu reader remembers the station in his career as the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman: Ma opposes, Wu, too. In September, Huanqiu Shibao published an interview with Wu, which engendered no friendly reception from Huanqiu’s (frequently nationalist) commenters. Portions of the interview were translated into English by the China Media Project (CMP), Hong Kong, as mentioned above.

Wu’s article had been published by Huanqiu on June 22. On June 27, Long Tao (龙韬), a strategist with the China Energy Fund Committee (中华能源基金委员会战略分析师), wrote a reply to the contrary. I’m not going to translate it, but there is an article in English by Long Tao on the Global Times which is to some extent a re-hash of his earlier answer to Wu Jianmin, titled “Time to Teach those around China Sea a Lesson” (September 29).

If someone else translates Long Tao’s reply to Wu Jianmin (or any other of the opinions in the collection), drop me  a line, and I will link to your translations.



» Strategic Partnership with Vietnam (soundfile), All India Radio, September 19, 2011
» In Tune with the Current Era, June 8, 2011
» 35,000 Yuan for an Obedient Wife, January 30, 2010


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