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South China Seas: When China Perversely Does America’s Bidding

How China’s aggressiveness undermines its own long-term interests in Asia.

Credit: Jakkrit Orrasri -


  • China, with its bullying, perversely chose to do the U.S.'s bidding in the wider region.
  • China's highhandedness makes the Americans look quite sensible and sincere in contrast.
  • The images of the Vietnamese boat being pushed around show how rudely China is acting on its own continent.
  • No amount of appetite for commodities and other raw materials can justify China's claims on the high seas.
  • Chinese leadership has its hands more than full at home and doesn't need any international "diversions."
  • China can't claim that it's a market economy and then refuse to pay for the assets it wants.

U.S. foreign policy has been caught in a negative loop for a long while. The images of Abu Ghraib are not forgotten. Nor are the drone strikes, coolly delivered from air-conditioned bunkers in rural America.

Given all that negative imagery, one must indeed wonder about the strategic sense of China’s leaders.

The images caught on tape of the Vietnamese boat being pushed around on the high seas quite literally are an act of complete idiocy on China’s part.

True, the U.S. has callously started illegitimate wars, whether in Vietnam or Iraq. In view of that sobering experience, what the world has been hoping for is perhaps a kinder, gentler superpower nation.

China had a momentous opportunity to usurp just that role. Instead, with its own bullying it has perversely chosen to do the U.S.’s bidding in the wider region.

A missed opportunity

The embrace by Uncle Sam — or Uncle Barack — may be quite overbearing or overplayed, as was evident during the latter’s very carefully staged visit to Asia. It is evident to anybody with open eyes that the United States is trying to contain China as best it can.

That is a game that China ought to win. After all, the game plays out in Asia, China is an Asian nation, while the U.S. is not, no matter how hard it tries to give itself off as an armed Madame Butterfly.

But China’s highhandedness and complete diplomatic ineptness makes the Americans look quite sensible and sincere in contrast. It is stunning to see how rudely and decidedly un-Asian China is acting on its own continent.

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By that, I don’t really mean its stance toward Japan, a nation that never seems willing to learn any lessons of history. Rather, I am referring to China’s stance via-a-vis the other, “lesser” Asian nations in mind. Of course, they are quite needy and easily inclined to ask for a firmer embrace by the far-away big brother in America.

Even so, China is actively driving them into America’s arms, almost to the point that they make bygones of the U.S.’s own diplomatic clumsiness with regard to relations in the region.

History matters

The Chinese are eager students of history. They ought to know that any imperial aggressor, no matter what their temporary might, ultimately stumbles over its own weight – and eventually self-destructs.

That lesson from Europe’s history is crystal clear. It will apply in Asia as well, whether or not the continent will first have to go through a disastrous experience, as Europe did twice during the past century. (One hopes not.)

Middle Kingdom legal doctrines?

No amount of appetite for commodities and other raw materials can justify China’s claims on the high seas. It is embarrassing for China to present to the world its all-devouring “legal” claims in the region.

The legal theories it embraces only fit into a Middle Kingdom world, which is decidedly not the world we live in.

China will live to regret its international rapaciousness. Until recently, it has always wisely understood the core tenet of China’s proper governance – to focus on the domestic scenery and to shy away from marauding around internationally.

That past practice is excellent strategic advice for China’s international conduct to this day. Two questions remain: First, why change a winning formula? Second, doesn’t the Chinese leadership comprehend that it has its hands more than full at home – and that it doesn’t need any international “diversions?”

China can’t on the one hand claim that it’s a market economy – and then refuse to do what market economies do. That is to pay a fair price for the assets one wants to have, but doesn’t own. It’s really that simple.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist.

  • 20eric

    Well, in the end it will be an involuntary “choice” between the devil and the deep blue sea. Given the realities it should be America despite it’s dismal shortcomings.