China's recent withdrawal of two law enforcement vessels from Huangyan Island proves once again that China is de-escalating rather than escalating the situation. Only time will tell whether this is the best approach.
Strategically, I feel that instead of withdrawing, China should have taken the opportunity presented by the situation to strengthen its claims to Huangyan Island by raising the Chinese flag or establishing a military or fishing base.
It was the Philippines that initiated the current standoff in the South China Sea; therefore it is important that China demonstrates its determination to safeguard its national sovereignty and security.
However, it is necessary to correct some misunderstandings regarding China's stance and philosophy.
"Peaceful rise" and "period of strategic opportunity" preclude war
It is incorrect to assume that China will completely rule out military action in any event during this "period of strategic opportunity". The period of strategic opportunity refers to both economic and national defense development. And the substantial development of China's national defense capability shows that we have remained strategically proactive, and our willingness and capability to safeguard national sovereignty cannot be underestimated.
The assumption that China will abandon the notion of war at all costs due to its "peaceful rise" philosophy is also incorrect. The major difference between "peaceful rise" and "non-peaceful rise" lies in the motive for war as opposed to whether or not to start one. To safeguard our sovereign and territory rights, we will never hesitate to face up to any military challenge.
"Shelving disputes" means relinquishing sovereignty
This is a grievous misunderstanding. As Deng Xiaoping said, "we should always put national sovereignty and security first", and this is at the core of the supremacy of sovereignty. China is committed to resolving international disputes through dialogue and diplomacy, but the problem in the dispute with the Philippines is that Manila is unwilling to enter dialogue. As the situation has become urgent, I suggest amending China's existing diplomat policy regarding the South China Sea from "shelve disputes and carry out joint development" to "proactively resolve disputes and jointly develop in line with China's priorities."
He who fires last will lose
This assumption is also incorrect. It is the Philippians that violated China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island by forcing an inspection of a Chinese fishing vessel. Therefore, action was required in order to respond to this unnecessary provocation to let both the Philippines and any potential future provocateur know that such actions will not be tolerated.
The Huangyan Island issue provides China with an opportunity to demonstrate its sovereignty over the island in a just, well-grounded and reasonably restrained manner.
Allowing the public to view the three treaties which determine the territorial extent of the Philippine archipelago, which showed that Huangyan Island never belonged to the Philippines. Also, considering the relative military strengths of China and the Philippines, the Filipino people can judge for themselves the wisdom or otherwise of their government's decision to take this stand against China.
Bearing all of this in mind, I believe that as China is acting solely in order to safeguard the sovereignty of its territory, the international community will back China's reasonable action.
The author is a Major General and Vice Secretary-general of China Association for Military Science.
(This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Guo Jiali.)
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