China will not back down in the South China Sea. As tensions between China and countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam continue to escalate, China’s top military officer brought a simple message of defiance to a Defense Department press conference in Washington. General Fang Fenghui, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said China will not sacrifice or lose an inch of territory it claims as its own.
Chinese expansion in the South China Sea has created tensions in the region. Without naming the Philippines or Vietnam, General Fang accused certain countries of thinking the Chinese only focus on domestic issues. Such countries have wanted to assert their authority against China with provocative behavior. China has not sought to create trouble. It refuses to back away from matters concerning Chinese sovereignty. Territory passed down by previous Chinese generations to the present one will not be forgotten or sacrificed. As for its policy in the South China Sea is concerned, China maintains to claim to the area.
At the Pentagon press conference with General Fang was the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. He spoke with General Fang and told him discussed the Chinese use of military assets to resolve disputes could lead to a war in the region. Their discussion focused on the current status quo in the South China Sea and which country had recently sought to change it.
China sovereignty claims to over South China Sea conflicts with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan who also have claims to the area believe to contain oil and mineral reserves. China is also disputing ownership of islands in the East China Sea that the Japanese claim.
The US has indicated it wants to stay neutral on specific disputes. The Chinese have been reminded of American treaty obligations to Japan and the Philippines should the Chinese refuse to back down in the South China Sea.
There have been a series of standoffs in the area. On May 1 st, the Chinese sent an oil rig to disputed waters it calls Xisha. The rest of the world calls it the Paracel islands. The Vietnamese dispatched ships to prevent the rig’s deployment. A collision occurred between the two navies. Both have blamed the other for the incident.
In Vietnam, people took to the streets targeting what they believed to be Chinese businesses. Most were owned by Taiwanese of Chinese descent. One Chinese worker was killed and others injured in the riot.
China’s Foreign Minster Wang Yi contacted Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh. Minister Wang told him the Vietnamese bear responsibility for the violent attacks against Chinese companies and nationals.
Minister Minh reiterated his country’s belief that China bringing an oil rig into the South China Sea was illegal. It was only natural for the Vietnamese to protest. As a show of good faith, Vietnam’s communist authorities announced hundreds of arrests. All levels of government were tasked with preventing further riots and punishing those responsible.
China has also challenged the Philippines by establishing a base on the Johnson South Reef. There is a Chinese building on the 74 acre island that the Philippines claim. The Chinese have also attempted to block the resupplying for the half sunken Sierra Madre. Eight Filipino marines guard a rusting World War II vessel that was intentionally scuttled by the Philippine navy in 1999.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario is also attempting to form a coalition with Vietnam and Malaysia to check Chinese expansion. What is missing is a commitment from the US. Without it, the Chinese believe they have a free hand in the region and no reason to back down from expanding in the South China Sea.
By Brian T. Yates