South China Sea power play shows national self-interest, not racism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:49am

Your columnist Philip Bowring says that China's behaviour vis-à-vis the South China Sea smacks of Han chauvinism and ethnocentrism ("Peril of pride and prejudice", May 18).

He links China's foreign policy in this regard with racism, saying it has a long history of assuming superiority, "most especially over those with darker skins". These are unsubstantiated and misguided assertions.

There are various overlapping claims in the South China Sea. For example, the Spratly Islands are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

In this area, China has militarily occupied seven geographical sites, Taiwan one, Vietnam 21, Malaysia five and the Philippines nine. But all these actions are driven by national self-interest, not racism.

The South China Sea is of crucial geopolitical importance. It is the connection between the Western Pacific and Indian oceans, through which more than half the world's trade tonnage passes each year. The majority of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan's energy supplies, together with over 80 per cent of China's crude oil imports, come through the South China Sea. Also, it has significant proven oil and gas reserves. Some scientists believe it contains more oil than anywhere in the world except Saudi Arabia.

Every country is acting in its national self-interest. This is the nature of realpolitik and race has nothing to do with it. China asserts its claims in the South China Sea just as it does with the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku) versus Japan.

Skin colour is irrelevant. China hopes to become the dominant power in the eastern hemisphere just as the US did in the western hemisphere when it effectively took control of the Greater Caribbean Sea in the early 20th century.

There are racist Han Chinese, who to a greater or lesser extent have deplorable views stemming from ignorance and a closed society. But casual racism exists worldwide, just look at the recent case of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And China has less history of race-based slavery, apartheid and marginalisation of indigenous tribes than many Western countries.

I make no judgment about the merits of any country's claims in the South China Sea. The point is that this is about foreign policy, not race; geostrategic realism, not humanism. Mr Bowring attempts to inject a race-based angle to this debate, but it is neither accurate nor helpful.

Steven Pang, Sai Kung