Nazi Germany has no place in South China Sea debate

opinion February 07, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Comparing China to the Third Reich for its aggression over disputed sea territory will backfire on other claimants

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has dragged Nazi Germany into the debate on China’s disturbing efforts to claim disputed territory in the South China Sea. 
As expected, China responded strongly to Aquino’s statement. North Korea, meanwhile, took gleeful advantage of the situation and compared Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Adolf Hitler. 
Needless to say, bringing such sensationalist analogies into this already tense debate serves no one, especially the issue itself.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Aquino said: “At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it – remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”
Aquino was referring to Western nations’ failure to put a stop to Hitler’s aggression that ended in Germany occupying much of Europe just ahead of World War II. 
“Philippine President Benigno S Aquino III, who has taken an inflammatory approach on the maritime disputes with China, has never been a great candidate for a wise statesman in the region,” stated a commentary piece by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. “But his latest reported attack against China, in which he senselessly compared his northern neighbour to Nazi Germany, exposed his true colours as an amateurish politician who is ignorant both of history and reality.”
Aquino’s statement came just days after Prime Minister Abe made a comment comparing current Sino-Japan relations to the rivalry between Germany and Britain leading up to World War I. 
Whether the Philippine prime minister was trying to build on Abe’s comment is anybody’s guess. But he should know that comparing China to Nazi Germany serves no one. If anything, the comparison has diverted attention from the real issue, which is the disturbing strategy that Beijing has chosen in dealing with this important matter.
North Korea’s two-bit’s worth was to be expected, and no one in the international community takes Pyongyang seriously after years of irresponsible behaviour and erratic diplomacy.
China and Japan, Asia’s economic powerhouses, are also at loggerheads over disputed islands in the East China Sea, where Beijing has unilaterally imposed an “air-defence zone”. There are concerns that this bickering could pave the way to military confrontation. 
The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important waterways, with a huge volume of traffic. 
Territory disputed there is believed to be sitting on top of potentially lucrative deposits of oil and gas.
Besides the Philippines, fellow Asean members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims on some of this territory, with Taiwan also involved in the dispute. 
Beijing has been doing its utmost – with some success – to prevent Asean from taking up this issue as a bloc. Beijing would rather deal separately with each of the region’s countries. Given its superior military and economic might, it is understandable that China would prefer this approach. 
What is disturbing is that, over recent years, China has been increasing its military presence in the area in a bid to strengthen its claim to the disputed territory. At the same time it has been ratcheting up tension on the diplomatic front. 
Manila has taken its territorial claim to the United Nations, but Beijing is not in the mood to participate in international arbitration. What Beijing must understand is that military might does not give it the right to unilateral action in claiming the maritime territory in dispute.
Aquino has the right to ask the international community for help in this dispute. However, hysterical comparisons to the Nazis damage the debate and do no justice to the real issue, which is nothing less than China’s bullying tactics.