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South China Sea or South China See?

By Zhou Lei  
The recent South China Sea arbitration case has stirred China’s academic and media world into a discursive cauldron, within one week, thousands of articles from various knowledge backgrounds and disciplines dominated the news headline when China retired high-ranking official Dai Bingguo dismissed the arbitration decision as a piece of “waste paper”.
In general, China’s South China Sea specialists and public opinionators can be roughly divided into two groups: the first group tends to think the arbitration case exacerbating the already acerbic and bellicose South China Sea issues and China encountered major setback in international community as the case being “enshrined” by many countries as a “landmark” event; the second group, however, attempts to interpret the “landslide” victory of Philippines on South China Sea case as a “hollow script” concocted by a few China-bashers, accordingly, China will survive from this attack unscathed.
As a Chinese researcher, what seems to me more alarming and disturbing, is how China manages to communicate and negotiate with the international community on contingent and confrontational multilateral political issues – its morose and propagandist media campaign works underscored by hardliner military stances in real life rarely, if not never, convinced the suspicious international readers.
Upon the release of arbitration report, many unhappy Chinese citizens began to boycott KFC by blocking doors, yelling slogans and harassing consumers – construed by them as an American brand, Chinese ultra-nationalistic mass think dining in KFC equals to providing cannons and bullets to American military – in some cases, the boycott deteriorated into ugly blame games and even physical confrontations as public emotions running amok.
Akin to many international communication cases, China failed to convey a balanced, reasonable, and self-reflexive information flow to the international community and showcase to the whole world a good-mannered and matured China. Among the academic and media circles, many somber and insightful comments and analysis have not been fully translated into foreign languages for international readers.
Not only in this case, probably in many more relevant scenarios, what actually determines and defines a benign future of regional issues is always perspectival insights, and it’s especially true in such issues as South China Sea: To see the sea, as the world undergoing sea change; the sea will get bigger if your sights set on lofty goals.
As China re-emerging and re-establishing itself,as a powerful nation in Asia and beyond, the tenet that it needs to follow is not Americanized realistic jingoism diplomacy. In international relations, the power can also be secured by the vote of the mass, not by the veto of the few. China needs to overhaul its rhetoric and international communication system, by focusing on constructing a peaceful, pragmatic, and cooperative international image; China should treat every piece of information generated and disseminated by China’s media as campaign slogans for an imaginative new leadership role in global affairs.
For many Chinese fellow citizens, the quintessential information that I would like to convey through international media is state lives inside you and you are its condition. Hence, think twice before you do anything and acting responsibly as China increasingly exposed to a worldwide media web.
Concerning the South China Sea arbitration case, this event reminds me the famous sayings put by William James: Truth happens to an idea, it becomes true, is made truth by events. As in this case, the arbitration kafuffle can be used as ingredients to make some claimants’ wish come true and maybe even capable ofredefining a new re-balanced maritime landscape of South China Sea.
In this sense, if this logic is followed by all of us, all the existent countries residing this region are embattled, we don’t need to worry about the conflicts will deteriorated into a war, we are already in a war.And in the war, only warmongers can be benefited from this chaos.
(The writer is the researcher at the National South China Sea Collaborative Innovative Center)

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