Chinese, Philippines Boats Collide in South China Sea

The Philippines claimed Sunday that a Chinese ship accidentally rammed a fishing boat to the north of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, according to AFP:

The fishing boat set out from the northern coastal town of Bolinao, in Pangasinan province, last Monday and was reported to have sunk two days later, Office of Civil Defence chief Benito Ramos told AFP.

“Of the eight fishermen aboard, four were plucked out of sea only yesterday, but one of them died in a hospital,” Ramos said. “Four more are still missing.”

The rescued fishermen told authorities they believed the vessel which collided with their boat was Chinese, Ramos said, though this could not be independently verified.

Chinese embassy officials were not available for comment on Sunday.

This latest spat with the Philippines comes just days after China and Vietnam traded diplomatic barbs in connection with both sides’ claims to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel islands. James Holmes writes for The Diplomat that while several speakers at a recent Naval War College strategy forum likened China’s policy in the South China Sea to the United States’ 19th century Monroe Doctrine, but such claims are misguided:

As it turns out, then, China’s policy in the near seas today bears scant resemblance to U.S. policy in the Caribbean and Gulf in the age of the Monroe Doctrine. For one thing, Washington never asserted title to the Caribbean the way Beijing claims the South China Sea. For another, America never sought to restrict naval activities in its near seas, whereas China opposes such things as routine aircraft carrier operations in the Yellow Sea. It cites the flimsy pretext that such operations place U.S. warplanes in striking range of the capital city. Beijing also wants to forbid longstanding, clearly lawful practices like aerial surveillance in international airspace. And just last week, reports Indian pundit C. Raja Mohan, a Chinese warship “escorted” an Indian Navy flotilla in international waters in the South China Sea. According to Mohan – and I agree – the message is, “nice to see you here, but you are in our territorial waters and within them there is no right to ‘freedom of navigation’ for military vessels. You are here at our sufferance.”

In effect, China has vaulted past the most bellicose, most meddlesome interpretations of the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary. Pushback from fellow regional powers is both predictable and warranted. They should push back – just as Latin Americans pushed back against the interventionism of Theodore Roosevelt’s successors, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

U.S. officials ultimately found the wisdom and flexibility to repudiate the Roosevelt Corollary, doing away with a policy that blackened America’s good name among its southern neighbors. Another President Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, replaced it with a “Good Neighbor” policy that served the U.S. and common interests far better. Popular opinion had little stake in the corollary, so any objections were muted. By contrast, Chinese leaders have depicted their policy in the near seas as a matter of sovereignty – something no nation, and certainly not one as prideful as China, lightly surrenders. In so doing, they may have painted themselves into a corner. Public sentiment will judge their deeds against their words. If they compromise now, then by the standard they have set, they will have forfeited sovereignty over waters that have belonged to China since antiquity. Would a vociferously nationalist populace tolerate such a betrayal? Doubtful.

In short, Beijing is making a mess for itself that will take a long time to clean up – and there’s no Elihu Root or FDR around to do the cleaning. In the United States, our Latin American friends still give us an earful about past interventionism from time to time. China should expect no less from its neighbors.

June 24, 2012 7:02 AM
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Categories: Politics