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Inside China

- - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CHINA CLAIMS SEA

"There is no international water within the South [China] Sea." So stated the official news outlets of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, the People's Daily and its subsidiary the Global Times on Monday. The article was written by Pan Guoping, a law professor at China's Southwest University of Law and Politics.

Publication of the article appeared timed to coincide with a dramatic strategic shift by the United States toward a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, to deal with an increasingly militant Chinese military presence.

The Chinese are citing what they call the "nine dotted line" theory as the legal basis for claiming the vast majority of the South China Sea as its own maritime area.

According to this theory, which first appeared in vague references in the late 1940s and was reiterated sporadically by the communist government since 1949, nine disconnected dots form a U-shaped area that includes the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea that China now says are its sovereign waters. No international organization or countries on the outer edge of this U-shaped area recognize the nine-dotted line.

China has put forth similar claims in the past, especially in recent years, with increasing inflexibility and bluntness. In response to China's ambitious claim, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton officially stated in remarks in Hanoi in 2010 that "The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea."

Monday's official-sounding article vehemently countered the secretary's assertion. "The United States is only a passer-by in the South [China] Sea," Mr. Pan wrote. "As a country that has no sea coast in the region, does the United States have freedom of navigation and flight in the South [China] Sea?"

"The answer is no! There is no international water in the South [China] Sea!"

What should China do to counter the hegemonic passer-by in its own backyard? The author doesn't blink: "China should act with stronger force ... to resolutely repel [America's] interference, defend China's nine-dotted line area that history has bestowed to us."

The comment was the clearest statement to date indicating the official Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces are specifically denying international freedom of navigation in one of the world's busiest and most crucial waterways that China claims as its exclusive sovereign water.

NEW PLA PLANNING SHOP

On Tuesday, key military leaders in China, including Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who is also the chairman of the party's powerful Central Military Commission, attended a well-planned ceremony in Beijing to officially launch an important command within the high echelons of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Dubbed the PLA Strategic Planning Department, the office will serve as an interservice agency to exert command powers over key aspects of the PLA's activities. Its announced mission is to "study important strategic issues; organize and produce military development and reform plans; advise on acquisition and distribution of strategic materiel, and provide macromanagement suggestions; coordinate and solve interservice and interdepartmental issues; inspect and assess the implementations of military development plans."

The announcement follows the dramatic U.S. strategic shift in reasserting America's leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region. In response, China's sense of military exigency quietly shot up in recent weeks.

The Chinese military has had a meteoric rise in the past two decades. Yet its interservice coordination and joint war-fighting capabilities remain insufficient for large-scale modern warfare. The new command is expected to serve as a superagency within the PLA to dramatically strengthen vertical command authority and function as an important command center directly under the Communist Party's Central Military Commission.

Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.