- - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Chinese government reacted strongly recently to U.S. government efforts to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), calling the move a dangerous U.S. military plot to interfere further in Asia’s regional affairs.

“It is dangerous that some U.S. politicians are expanding U.S. claims and raising its degree of interference. This will aggravate regional tensions and is not conducive to resolving issues,” said an article published Saturday by the official Xinhua News Agency and headlined, “Kerry statement exposes U.S. designs on South China Sea,” .

The article was referring to Sen. John F. Kerry’s May 23 statement at a Senate hearing on the UNCLOS. Mr. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remarked at the hearing that China and other countries are “staking out illegal claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.”

The Xinhua report said Mr. Kerry’s statement “exposed the [U.S.]’s selfish intention for the South China Sea.”

But the report said China sees something more sinister than “selfishness” in Mr. Kerry’s remarks.

Jin Canrong, an expert on international relations and a vice dean at the People’s University in Beijing, told the official military newspaper PLA Daily on Sunday that the joint State Department and Pentagon push for Senate approval of the UNCLOS treaty is linked directly to the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. “The fact that the U.S. defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both attended the hearing indicates their desire to use the UNCLOS to serve their needs for a global and regional security strategy,” Mr. Jin said.

The Xinhua article continued: “The reason why the U.S. once refused to sign the treaty is that the treaty’s provisions will limit the free navigational rights of U.S. warships in other countries’ exclusive economic zones. However, the U.S. attitude toward the convention is now changing.”

The Xinhua report concluded that “as the United States turns its national security focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, its willingness to join the convention is a means to find a legal framework for the country to interfere with issues in the South China Sea and elsewhere, as well as maximize its strategic interests in political, economic and military fields around the world.”

CHINA TO BAN GOVERNMENT BUY OF IMPORTS

China’s Ministry of Finance issued a new regulation May 22 that bans imported goods for the vast Chinese government bureaucracy that is operating within the financial perimeter of the state budget, according to the official People’s Daily.

Government purchases in China are a major point of social resentment, as officials spend large amounts of public funds to buy some of the world’s most expensive cars, such as Audis, BMWs and Lexuses, as government vehicles. For example, largely because of government acquisitions, sales of BMWs in China have skyrocketed in recent years. According to Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chairman, 234,000 BMWs were sold in China in 2011, a 37.7 percent increase from the previous year. In fact, China has become the German automaker’s largest market, surpassing Germany and the United States.

In March, during the annual rubber-stamp national legislative session, a few daring “people’s delegates” made a rare break in official silence on the issue by openly accusing the Chinese government at all levels of recklessly spending vast amounts of public funds on expensive goods for party officials’ personal use. They cited official statistics from reports by the international, authoritative luxury goods consumer associations showing 28 percent of the world’s luxury goods are bought by the Chinese, although the average income of the typical Chinese is just $4,500 per year. These delegates urged the Chinese central government to enact enforceable budgetary rules and regulations to curb what they said is rampant corruption.

Ten years ago, China began implementing a law called the Government Acquisition Act. However, China’s notoriously porous financial accountability system is never seriously challenged, and governmental spending on office and “administrative” items, including government vehicles, and “executive travel” to foreign countries keeps rising at a rate of 10 percent per year. In 2011, Chinese bureaucrats spent 1,000 billion yuan, or $160 billion, one-third more than China’s publicly announced defense budget.

The new ban is widely viewed in China as window dressing on the problem because the root cause of rampant official misuse of public funds remains unchecked by such regulations.

Miles Yu’s columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.