• Sun
  • Oct 26, 2014
  • Updated: 5:53pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 10:05am

China announces arrival as superpower

Greg Torode says China's confident exertion of pressure on Japan clearly announces the arrival of a superpower, with no ifs and buts

BIO

Chief Asia correspondent Greg Torode is one of the most experienced reporters in the region. In his 20 years at the SCMP, Torode has spent 15 years as a correspondent, travelling extensively to report political, strategic and security developments. The way the region is adapting to China’s rise has formed a key part of his work. His exclusive stories and analyses are widely followed by regional and international media.
 

Superpowers are not like other countries. For starters, their sheer size and clout grants them the prerogative of "do as I say, not as I do" diplomacy. Smaller nations may burn with frustration when they encounter the contradictions, but quickly find themselves crumbling in the face of raw power.

China is often described as a budding, emerging or potential superpower but, as it starts to exercise its heft, it is clear it has graduated beyond such qualifiers. It is showing itself quite capable of bludgeoning diplomatic rivals with its own version of "do as I say, not as I do".

The fresh tensions over the Diaoyu Islands are one example. It is hard to imagine Beijing tolerating in neighbouring countries the kind of sustained anti-Japanese protests witnessed last week across dozens of mainland cities. Far smaller demonstrations in the Philippines and Vietnam over disputes with China in the South China Sea have been met with considerable diplomatic wrath from Beijing.

Then, of course, there have been the controversial responses to claimed "provocations" from both Manila and Hanoi over the dispute. The creation of a civilian presence and a possible divisional-strength military garrison across what has been formalised as Sansha city has delivered the bluntest of messages. You mess with Beijing at your peril.

This brings us back to the Diaoyus, known as the Senkakus in Japanese. Japan has long insisted, as occupiers and administrators, that there is nothing to discuss; the islands are not in dispute. It is a mirror of China's position in the Paracels - now headquarters of Sansha - which are also claimed by Vietnam.

For how long will Tokyo be able to sustain this position? The whole region is watching.

"If China can break Japan over this, they can break anybody," said one veteran Southeast Asian envoy. "Beijing is really showing its new power. The old rules of tit for tat no longer count … We can see it bending the region to its will."

Another echoed the view. The status quo that has loosely governed the islands' dispute in recent years could be ending, he warned. "I fear China is exploiting a provocation to change the whole scenario … so who knows how this is going to end?"

One sign to look for, beyond China's formal demarcation of territorial baselines around the islands, is some kind of permanent seaborne presence, perhaps fishing fleets and/or surveillance craft. "Then it will be clear just how far things have changed," one envoy said.

In different ways, of course, the US has long proved a master of "do as I say, not as I do". Just think of the many small emerging nations dragged towards free-trade deals only to find themselves victims of US protectionist manoeuvres, or the refusal of the US Congress to adopt the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Or, appallingly, the human rights abuses manifest in the "war on terror".

When confronted with Washington in such a mode, smaller Asian nations can console themselves that the US is long way away. With the Chinese superpower, they have no such luxury.

Greg Torode is the Post's chief Asia correspondent. greg.torode@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

chaz_hen
Yes, yes, they can finally proudly (or arrogantly) say "We are a superpower...kowtow to us." but in this day and age of globalization, mass and instant communications, intertwined financial markets and more educated/exposed citizens, is it not the wrong attitude at the wrong time?
After all, it was only a mere 30 years ago China was only just digging itself out of the hole of the Mao years to enter the community of nations. All the CCP's talk and bellicose chest thumping about the years of shame and disgrace do not effect them, in reality right? China as we know it is only a mere 63 years old.
SpeakFreely
If you are a true superpower then my question is if somebody staying in your house without your permission, would you just keep saying it is illegal to do so but not rather send someone over to take over to live there to show that you really own that house?
pat7wan
For the study of the history of Senkakus/Diaoyu one can have a look at this webpage ****tw.myblog.yahoo.com .
TigerJ
An article with so little insight into China could have been written by any average US-based journalist. I would have expected a better understanding of the history behind these islands, from the premier newspaper in HK.
 
 
 
 
 

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