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China’s Jekyll and Hyde syndrome

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In the 1886 novel, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about strange occurrences between Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde.  As the story goes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were two personalities within one person or commonly known as “split personality.” 

In recent years, China – or her government – manifested a “Jekyll and Hyde” behavior in dealing with other countries particularly some of the neighbors with whom she was involved in territorial disputes in the Spratly archipelago, Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.  

It is not uncommon to see China pursuing diplomatic and peaceful resolution of territorial issues with five other claimants of disputed territories one day and coerce or bully them the next day.  But of the claimants, it is the Philippines and Vietnam who are getting the brunt of China’s aggression. 

On January 19, 1974, China and South Vietnam fought over control of the uninhabited Paracel Islands, which both countries claimed.  In a naval battle, China defeated the Vietnamese forces.  As a result, China gained control over all of the Paracel Islands including Woody Island, which is the largest island in the Paracels and Spratlys.

Gunboat diplomacy

In my article, “China’s gunboat diplomacy” (July 19, 2012), I wrote: “China’s intrusive and aggressive behavior during the past two decades attests to her determination to annex the entire West Philippine Sea and exercise total military and economic control over this mineral-rich region.

“It is interesting to note that in 1994, two years after the Philippine Senate evicted American military bases from the country; China started her ‘creeping invasion’ of Philippine territory in the disputed Spratly archipelago.  While the Philippine Navy was not patrolling the area around the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, 130 miles away from Palawan, due to the monsoon season, Chinese troops occupied the reef and initially built structures on stilts.  But other than lodging diplomatic protests against the incursion, the Philippine government couldn’t do much.  Today, the Panganiban Reef is fortified with permanent buildings and naval guns.  China also delineated a prohibited area within 60 miles of the reef.

“Last June, after more than two months of standoff, Chinese gunboats effectively took de facto possession of the Panatag Shoal when they prevented a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and fishing boats from entering the lagoon inside the shoal.

“Several weeks ago, China demanded that the Philippine government dismantle an elementary school on Pagasa Island in the Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratly archipelago.”

Sansha City

On July 24, 2012, in her boldest move to date, China established the prefecture-level government in Sansha City located in Woody Island, which will administer all of the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, and Macclesfield Bank.  Woody Island -- which was uninhabited when China took it 38 years ago -- is now populated with more than 1,000 Chinese civilians with roads, a bank, a post office, a supermarket, and a hospital.  Interestingly, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city by both population and land area (13 square kilometers or five square miles) but the largest by water area with a claimed two million square kilometers (772,000 square miles).  In addition to the city government, China is also going to establish a military garrison in Sansha to protect her territory and sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

Vietnam and the Philippines immediately protested China’s action.  In response, China warned them against meddling in her internal affairs.

The United States was not pleased in the sudden turn of events in the disputed area.  The U.S. spokesman said that China’s action runs counter to “collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region.”

Jekyll and Hyde

In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, through the official news agency Xinhua, reiterated that the establishment of the city of Sansha was “an issue within China’s sovereignty.”  However, it said that China would “continue to be committed to seeking appropriate solutions through bilateral negotiations and consultations with the parties directly involved in the concerned disputes.”  

But a few days later, on the eve of the 85th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s tone dramatically changed.  At a press conference during a reception in Beijing attended by -- in a rare appearance -- all of the nine members of the Political Bureau (Politburo) Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, a Defense Ministry spokesman said, “The system was established to maintain the country's territorial sovereignty and safeguard its maritime rights, and it is not targeting any other country or specific goals.”  When asked on the possibility of conflict, the spokesman replied, “China has indisputable sovereign rights over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, and the military opposes any outside military intervention in this area.”

The disparate responses of China’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry reveal the “Jekyll and Hyde” syndrome that pervades in the way China deals with other countries.  

In recent years, China started using “soft power” as a way of winning the confidence of other nations of her peaceful intention – of showing the whole world that she is no longer the “Red Menace” that tried to export the Maoist brand of communism to third world countries. 

The big beneficiaries of China’s “soft power” are countries in Africa where China is pouring money in various infrastructures, economic, and cultural projects.  But China has a selfish motive: to protect her foothold in Africa where 15% of her oil comes from.  That’s her Dr. Jekyll personality.

But China’s use of brute force and bullying tactics in taking the whole South China Sea shows an aggressive personality.  Her refusal to bring the territorial disputes for arbitration in the United Nations is causing tension to rise among her neighbors.  She’d tell them that she’s ready to go to war to protect her sovereignty over the South China Sea, which she claims as non-negotiable “core national interest.”   That’s her Mr. Hyde personality.

War with the U.S.

Indeed, the PLA has been preparing to go to war with the United States.  Charles Smith, a noted investigative journalist, wrote in his article, “China threatens to nuke America” (March 4, 2000):  “A recently-declassified Chinese military document states communist China will first conduct a ‘Vietnam’-like conventional war against American forces, and then eventually fight a nuclear war against the U.S. homeland.

“According to the August 1999 policy document published by the People’s Liberation Army Office of the Central Military Command, China is ‘willing to sustain major losses of our armed forces’ in exchange for large losses of U.S. military personnel. The Central Military Command is the party command structure of the People’s Liberation Army — that is, the people who make policy for the Chinese military.

“ ‘If the U.S. forces lose thousands or hundreds of men under our powerful strikes, the anti-war sentiment within their country will force the U.S. government to take the same path as they did in Viet Nam,’ states the Chinese army document.”

Since then, China has changed direction; however, she didn’t lose sight of her objective.  She is now balancing her act between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  But make no mistake; it’s her dangerous Mr. Hyde personality that should be watched closely.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

By Perry Diaz




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