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On China

2:44 PM, Jul 29, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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AEI's Dan Blumenthal delivered the following remarks at a staff briefing for congressional China caucus on Capitol Hill: 

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I want to begin by thanking Congressman Forbes and Congresswoman Bordallo for their leadership, it is my honor to appear before you here today. They have been among the very few political leaders in the nation to carefully track a growing menace to U.S. security interests – China’s military build-up and threat to the Asian order.   I direct Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and I am a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The foregoing analysis and recommendations are my own.

We are here today because tensions in the South China Sea have been on the rise following a number of incidents at sea and tough rhetoric among the claimants to the sea’s waters and islands.   Notable incidents include the following:

·      The most famous is the reckless collision of a Chinese fighter with a U.S. EP-3 plane in 2001, which led to the death of the Chinese pilot and the EP-3’s emergency landing on Hainan Island.

·      More recently, in 2009 Chinese naval and maritime security vessels harassed unarmed U.S. surveillance ships in international waters in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea.

·      In February of this year, a Chinese frigate fired warning shots at Filipino fishing boats near the Jackson Atoll off the Philippines’ Palawan Island just off the disputed Spratly islands.

·      In May, China unilaterally announced a fishing ban, to last until August, in the northern part of the South China Sea.

·      Two allegedly Chinese, though unidentified, fighter jets were spotted near Palawan Island in May.

·      Three Chinese Ocean Marine Surveillance ships harassed a PetroVietnam vessel, cutting its towed survey cable, within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone in May. Less than three weeks later, a Chinese fishing boat rammed another PetroVietnam ship, also within Vietnam’s EEZ.

China’s economic success and growing military might are emboldening it to press its maritime territorial claims and carve out a maritime sphere of influence in the Western Pacific that would restrict U.S. military access to the region. Recognizing this, countries like Vietnam and the Philippines—perhaps to Beijing’s surprise—have decided that now is the time to take a firm stand.  And while Chinese aggression has mostly been directed at Southeast Asian countries, vital U.S. national interests are at stake in the South China Sea as well.

Let’s examine the strategic goals China seems to be advancing:

First, China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea and the islets within them as its sovereign territory.  While its claims on the Parcel and Spratly islands and on Scarborough Reef are well known, China has also produced a “nine-dotted line” map, which it has shown to its Southeast Asian neighbors and has submitted to the United Nations.

On this map, China outlines its claims with a series of dashes, starting between Hainan Island and Vietnam, stretching south and then west towards Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, southeast nearly to Borneo’s shores, and then northeast to Taiwan. Beijing’s claims are based upon a dubious reading of history and a misguided interpretation of international law.    To punctuate its point China has at various times told U.S. diplomats that it has a “core interest” in the South China Sea. For China, a core interest means an interest it would fight for – akin to Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. 

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