News / Asia

Beijing Advisers Respond to Clinton with Tough Talk on Islands Dispute

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton
Stephanie Ho

Chinese foreign policy analysts are rejecting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to support the Philippines, amid rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes involving China and other claimants in the South China Sea. 

Qu Xing is the president of the China Institute of International Studies, which advises Beijing on foreign policy issues.

He used very strong language when asked about Secretary Clinton’s comments that the United States is committed to the Philippines by a mutual defense treaty.

Qu says he thinks the premise of Secretary Clinton’s statement is that China is going to invade the Philippines - a notion he calls “totally groundless.”

Beijing Advisers Respond to Clinton with Tough Talk on Islands Dispute
Beijing Advisers Respond to Clinton with Tough Talk on Islands Dispute

The Spratly Islands are the main focus of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.  China shares claims over the potentially oil rich islands with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Chinese analyst says Beijing is committed to a peaceful resolution of the overlapping claims, but only on a bilateral basis.  He says the U.S. actions are “not conducive” to dialogue and negotiations.

The Spratlys also lie near important shipping routes, and Washington has expressed concern that U.S. ships will no longer be able to freely navigate in the South China Sea.

Former Chinese Ambassador to Britain Ma Zhengang also advises Beijing on foreign policy matters.  He said he does not see any problem with free navigation in the area and accuses the United States of linking two different issues.

Ma said he has read articles alleging that the United States is using the South China Sea issue as an excuse to return to Asia.  He added that other countries involved in the territorial disputes are hoping that with Washington’s involvement, they can have more strength in confronting China.

He compared current events to Vietnam’s reassertion of its Spratly claims in the 1970’s.  He said Hanoi at the time had the backing of the former Soviet Union, and so acted “tougher” against China.  

He said China has been committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and has, up until now, constrained its actions there.

Meanwhile, how China handles the Spratly issue also has implications for the country’s other territorial disputes. Amer Latif, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says officials in India are closely watching developments in the South China Sea.

“I think that India is concerned Chinese behavior in the South China Sea may be an indicator of how China will act towards it in the settlement of Sino-Indian border disputes," Latif said. "If we see China is flouting international norms and is antagonizing its neighbors, I think that would be a bad sign for New Delhi in how China might act towards it in its bilateral border discussions.”

China and India fought a brief, but bitter, border war in 1962.  The two countries are in talks to resolve the issue, but a solution appears far off amidst reports that both countries have recently increased military presence on both sides of the border.

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