Opinion / Editorials

'Sledgehammer' speech to crack US intransigence

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-07 07:07

'Sledgehammer' speech to crack US intransigence

Former State councilor Dai Bingguo delivers a speech at China-US Dialogue on South China Sea between Chinese and US think tanks on July 5 in Washington. Photo by Ji Tao/China Daily

Former Chinese State councilor Dai Bingguo's recent speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace touched a raw nerve in Washington D.C.

Taken out of context, some lines, such as his comment that the upcoming ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague "amounts to nothing more than a piece of paper", may be considered handy footnotes to China's alleged "assertiveness" in the South China Sea, or its supposed ambition to challenge US dominance.

"Sledgehammer-subtle PR" or not, unpleasant as they were to the ear, his blunt remarks were the former top diplomat's own way of delivering a message China has oft-repeated: Beijing will disregard the ruling and Washington's current approach to the South China Sea issue will not work.

If those remarks were "provocative", they were only meant to provoke deeper thought and reflection.

For Dai's core message was: Take a fair look at the South China Sea, and at China; stop judging China from the traditional Western perspective of big-power dueling. Indiscriminately applying traditional Western theories to present-day China is not only misleading, it could also lead to damaging geopolitical outcomes.

A historically introvert nation, China has seldom been good at explaining itself. That did not matter much when the country was less connected with the rest of the world. But it is proving to be a handicap these days.

What in Chinese eyes is safeguarding the country's historical rights and interests is now evidence of a rising China bullying its smaller and weaker neighbors. But one key truth that has been neglected is that, unlike other claimants, in all the active disputes, in both the East and South China seas, China has never gone beyond what it has persistently historically claimed.

Dai's speech was constructive in seeking to distinguish what is happening now in the South China Sea, as well as between China and the United States, from what happened in the past between traditional powers.

But he was correct in proposing that the temperature must be cooled down in the South China Sea, and the US must tune down its forcible intervention.

"We in China will not be intimidated by the US, not even if the US sends all 10 aircraft carrier battle groups to the South China Sea," Dai warned.

However, rather than a last-minute show of defiance before The Hague tribunal ruling, Dai's speech was an overture for more, in-depth communication.

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