Evidence of Chinese leadership divide over South China Sea

October 19, 2011

Last month, the Global Times – an official organ of the Chinese Communist Party – published on the same day two opposing opinion pieces on the South China Sea.  Each was written pseudonymously (a common practice for that paper); the first was a belligerent take that warned Vietnam and the Philippines about possible severe military action that China was willing to take; the other was a more conciliatory take offering the possibility of collaboration.  Seemingly, a classic good cop/bad cop issue.  Or maybe not.

Today, R. S. Kahla writing for India’s Institute for Defense Studies & Analysis, dissects the two pieces.   Kahla does not see this as a good cop/bad cop scenario.  Rather, he sees it as indicative of a split within the Chinese leadership over the best direction to take toward SCS issues.    He concludes:

The dilemma for the Chinese leadership . . . remains acute. Any further bluster or threats will only further solidify the anti-Chinese stance that seems to be developing in Southeast Asia, backed from the outside by the US and Japan. The issuing of threats would leave them with few friends in Asia, with the notable exception of North Korea and Pakistan. On the other hand, vacillation or adoption of a softer approach might result in Chinese claims going up in smoke as Southeast Asian countries, with the active support of the US and Japan, seek to carve out their respective claims or come to an understanding amongst themselves without caring for the Chinese claims. A dreadful thought for an aspiring super power!

Read the whole thing.  I would also point out  that the US and Japan are not the only outside powers seeking to backstop the small ASEAN nations.  India, as evidenced by the IDSA’s own interest in the issue, is also playing a significant role in this game.

*update* Walter Russell Mead today also has a post on this general topic.  Mead is optimistic that the continued economic development of the region, plus India and Japan, diminishes the threat of conflict and makes the creation of a stable East Asian order more likely.  Possibly.  On the other hand, the presence of such a wide variety of often competing and overlapping interests might also make a serious conflict more, rather than less, likely.

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