It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people

The Wall Street Journal headline summarizes China’s predicament well…


The UN tribunal ruling on the South China Sea leaves the country’s leaders in an impossible situation. To bolster the regime’s legitimacy at home, they have stirred up a nationalistic public (and military) with promises of vengeance for 100 years of humiliation by evil foreigners. In order to maintain this mandate, they have no choice but to defy the ruling and be seen internationally as Official Regional Bully and law-breaker.

Maybe the WSJ errs in suggesting that the tribunal’s decision is responsible. China has painted itself into this corner. As recently as the late 2000s it was developing broadly positive and trusting relationships with most of its neighbours. See this piece for an excellent account of how it went wrong. China’s rise to regional dominance was already assured by its size and economic strength. Instead of doing it in a statesmanlike and mature way, it went for maximum arrogance and obnoxiousness, leaving it now surrounded by fearful and hostile countries, apart from a few grubby dictators whose support it can buy.

A parallel is the Communist Party’s campaign in recent years to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong and Taiwan people, especially the young. Rather than woo the ‘compatriots’ with respect or empathy, China relied on mouth-frothing, rants, threats and co-option of unpopular elites, achieving the exact opposite of what it intended.

Bloom-ChinaFacesThe South China Sea is not Beijing’s only insurmountable quandary right now. Xi Jinping and his colleagues must also choose between economic reform through shrinking the government, and keeping themselves in power by tightening their grip. Tough one.

Where the economy is concerned, Beijing’s main response is to ramp up property prices yet again. The reaction to the South China Sea ruling is to lapse into uncontrolled freaking-out tantrums and sheer fantasy, as seen in China Daily’s front-page map, showing nearly every nation in the world solidly behind the Motherland…


To paraphrase Oscar: one impossible dilemma is a misfortune, but two looks like carelessness. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the China Model? A tiny group of men wielding total power while being accountable to no-one, isolated from reality and believing their own concocted version of the truth seems to work fine, until along comes realities that they cannot control or refute – and then the old brains start exploding.


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17 Responses to It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people

  1. Chinese Netizen says:

    *pout pout* complain about “the man conspiring to keep us down” *whinge whinge* bitch about imperialist, hypocritical west *shriek shriek* table pound about the indisputable historical fact of this territory being under China control since time immemorial (conveniently leave out the fact the CCP Dynasty is only 60-some years young)
    Repeat ad nauseam…

  2. reductio says:

    Stand by for a glut of opinion pieces by assorted Senior Researchers from the Lijiang Institute of Maritime Law and Social Policy or some such. I think it’s


    Tom Plate’s badly argued article on the South China Sea will appear in:

    fewer than 2 days 1-2
    3 – 5 days 1-3
    more than 5 days 1-4
    never appear at all 1-100

    Lay your bets!

  3. Chinese Netizen says:

    In regard to the esteemed Mr Cohen’s article, it sure seemed China, in a mad dash to sign onto and ratify anything thrown its way in order to appear as a “big boy” and legit player, never anticipated another “strongman” with delusions of glory taking the reins of the party and assume total, absolute power.

    THAT is what truly bit them in the ass.

  4. Lars Ulrich says:

    Perhaps the omission of Alaska off that map means the Russians are coming. Time to watch the original Red Dawn again.

  5. Walter De Havilland says:

    Excellent summary of the situation. Your breezy assessment puts the SCMP to shame, but there again, a sixth-form newspaper would do that. Meanwhile, the vitriol spewing forth from Beijing reminds of Chris Patten’s time in Hong Kong, it’s almost nostalgic.

  6. This flatters your scorn and dislike of China and all things Chinese, except of course dog meat and child beating.

    But imagine the USA allowing Chinese warships to cruise down their coasts.

    You’d better get a folding bike now and stow it next to the white wine boxes. When the war starts, you’ll never get to the airport otherwise.

    The coming war with China. It’s next up. Obama started it, but then the most warlike presidents were always Democrats.

  7. Chris Maden says:

    @John Pilger

    Er, I thought Bush snr (Iran 1), Bush jnr (Iran 2), and Reagan (Nicaragua, etc.) were Republicans?

    But no, I can’t imagine the US allowing Chinese warships to cruise up and down its coast.

  8. Chinese Netizen says:

    And then again, there aren’t like 7 or 8 countries anywhere in the fray up and down the U.S. east and west coasts…

  9. @John Pilger (Adams) – most of the sea area China claims is a hell of a long way from its coast! Closer in fact to several other countries’ coasts, which is exactly the problem. The US may be an aggressive imperialist power, as you never cease to remind us, but that doesn’t mean China isn’t one as well.

  10. The amusing element in this situation is Taiwan – still holding exaggerated maritime claims derived from its obsolete claim to rule all of China, which it has largely abandoned in every other area of activity.

  11. Cassowary says:

    All of those schadenfreude would be amusing if, you know, the ruling didn’t have any real world consequences. Unfortunately that is not the case.

  12. Older Than Oldtimer says:

    Why is this section of the Asian map named the “South China Sea?” The name alone somehow implies that all within the bounds of this sea relate to China in one or another proprietary way. I suppose the point is that China in its own language does not call this area the South China Sea . Chinese during my lifetime have simply referred to it as the “Southern Seas,” 南洋. As long as the half dozen learned judges on the International Court of Justice were adjudicating so many points of dispute, they might as well have put all Western cartographers on notice by demanding an appropriate Confucian rectification of names.

  13. Older Than Oldtimer says:

    Sorry, left out several words: . . . referred to it as the “Southern Seas,” 南洋 or the “South Sea,” 南海.

  14. Sojourner says:

    @John Pilger’s brains have been addled by a surfeit of his superannuated namesake and the ravings of George Galloway. He has morphed in Private Eye’s Dave Spart.

    His infantile ad-hominen arguments are pretty par for the course for the lunatic fringe left.

  15. Chinese Netizen says:

    West Philippines Sea

  16. LRE says:

    @John Pilger, Chris Maden — there’s no need to imagine the US allowing Chinese warships to cruise up and down its coast — when it has actually happened.

    Ironically, the US is in a better legal position to turf out the Chinese navy than vice versa: unlike China, the US never ratified UNCLOS, so it’s not necessarily stuck with a 22km territorial water limit (although that’s what it adheres to).

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