Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Undisputed Nonsense

undisputed (adjective):not challenged or called into question; accepted. 

From last night's ATV News: [Chinese] Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang "said the Vietnamese boat capsized after smashing into the drilling platform, which he emphasised is in undisputed Chinese territory."

This story differs from China's original account of the incident, which claimed that the sunken Vietnamese vessel collided with a Chinese fishing boat (which just happened to be in the vicinity of the contentious oil rig by chance, presumably, like the other 40-odd boats hanging around the area).  That aside, unless Qin's statement has been badly translated, what are we to make of that word "undisputed"?  The Chinese government knows very well that its claim to the area of sea in which this occurred is hotly disputed by Vietnam; and, indeed, that large parts of its other maritime claims in the South China Sea are fiercely challenged by half a dozen other nations on whose coastal waters they intrude.

Given this, Beijing is clearly well aware that the area of water in question is far from being undisputed Chinese territory.  One wonders, therefore, why its spokesman is allowed to make statements that are obviously bare-faced lies.  In what way does it strengthen China's case to talk undisputed bollocks?

Try this: ask a European to name half a dozen great European sailors and navigators from history.  He or she is likely to reel off without much difficulty such names as Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Drake, Cook, Bligh, Cabot, and so forth.  Now ask a Chinese person the same question.  Their immediate answer will be Zheng He (who was in fact more of a diplomat than the admiral he is often described as).  After that will probably come a long uncomfortable pause...

The reality is that, despite its "claims from history" to vast areas of ocean, China has never been much of a maritime power.  And while Chinese fishermen certainly roamed the South China Sea from ancient times, so did fishing folk from the other lands around it.  In an age when fish were abundant and the idea of undersea mineral extraction had not yet been conceived, it is very unlikely that any of them thought of the vast ocean as the exclusive property of any single country.

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