World View: South China Sea: China’s List of Supporters Found to Be Delusional

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • China claims that 60 countries support its South China Sea policy
  • China cites UNCLOS in disagreement with Japan
  • South China Sea: Which countries are on China’s side?
  • Cognitive dissonance and doubling down in China

China claims that 60 countries support its South China Sea policy

China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hua Chunying
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hua Chunying

Any day now, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a United Nations international court in the Hague, is supposed to issue a ruling on a case brought by the Philippines against China on the merits of China’s claims to the entire South China Sea. The case is brought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China claims does not apply to them.

China always says that its claims “are indisputable,” and this is clearly a lie, since the claims are widely disputed. In fact, China’s claims are at least delusional, and may even be fabricated, as we reported a few days ago. ( “22-Jun-16 World View — China’s ‘ironclad proof’ of South China Sea claims revealed as hoax”)

Not only is China delusional about some of their evidence, it now appears that they are also delusional about the kind of support they are getting from the international community.

Even though the Court’s ruling would be little more than symbolic, and even though there would be no way to enforce the Court’s ruling against China, and even though China has already said that it will ignore any ruling, and even though China has bitterly complained about and even threatened the Philippines for even going to the Court in the first place, it is clear that Chinese officials are close to a state of panic over a possible ruling against them.

Out of anxiety, China is resorting to a full-court press in the propaganda realm, and are doing everything they can to convince other countries to endorse their position. In particular, China is targeting many distant countries and land-locked countries, with no direct interest in the South China Sea.

Last week, at China’s regular Foreign Ministry press conference, the following bizarre exchange took place:

Q: We notice that the governments of Sierra Leone and Kenya have recently joined in the chorus supporting China’s South China Sea position. Nearly 60 countries have publicly endorsed China’s stance, and more and more countries have shown their support to China. Is the Chinese government behind this? Is the Chinese government trying to extend its “circle of friends” on the South China Sea issue?

A: The South China Sea issue is supposed to be an issue between China and a few littoral countries of the South China Sea. … [Further comments evading the question]

Q: First question, how many countries have publicly endorsed China’s position on the South China Sea issue up to now? The previous press conference mentioned 40, but just now a journalist said nearly 60. …

A: On your first question, a journalist just mentioned that nearly 60 countries support China. Compared with seven or eight countries that hold the opposite position, I think the figure itself speaks volumes.

According to the first questioner, unnamed but presumably from Chinese media, Sierra Leone and Kenya support China, as if it matters whether two African country are for or against China.

In the second answer, the Foreign Ministry spokesman makes official China’s belief that it is supported by 60 countries, with only seven or eight opposed. As we’ll see below, these claims are delusional.

Why are these numbers even relevant? There is some suggestion that China is trying to line up countries on its side, so that if the Court rules against China, then China can go to the United Nations General Assembly and try to get a vote rejecting the Court’s decision. If successful, China could then claim that the United Nations itself has rejected the decision of a United Nations court.

Anything is possible, but I would be surprised if anything like a majority of the United Nations members voted to reject the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS is a part of international law that has been used to settle many disputes and keep the peace since the end of World War II, and if UNCLOS is rejected in this case, then it will open up many disputes that were previously thought to be settled. South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and China’s Foreign Ministry (14-Jun)

China cites UNCLOS in disagreement with Japan

China claims to completely reject the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and has said that this international law may not apply to China’s claims in the South China Sea.

And yet, in a completely different dispute, China’s Foreign Ministry cited UNCLOS in support of its view on the status of Okinotori Islands in relation to a disagreement between Taiwan and Japan. The details of the dispute are not important to us, but here’s the beginning of the quote from the Foreign Ministry spokesman:

Q: On May 23, the Taiwan authority said that “it does not take a particular stance in legal terms” on whether Okinotori is an island or a reef. It is commented that the new Taiwan administration has gone backwards on the issue of Okinotori, undermining the rights and interests of Taiwan fishermen. How do you comment?

A: Okinotori is an isolated reef in the west Pacific distant from the Japanese soil. Pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Okinotori cannot have the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. Waters off 12 nautical miles of it are high seas, where all countries are entitled to freedoms on the high seas such as fishing and so forth. On April 2012, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) adopted the recommendations in regard to the submission made by Japan on the outer limits of its continental shelf, rebuffing Japan’s illegal claims based on Okinotori.

It’s striking that China is appealing to UNCLOS when it’s convenient, just a few weeks before a Court decision that it has already rejected, along with UNCLOS. If, as suggested above, China goes ahead with a plan to try to get the UN General Assembly to strike down UNCLOS, you can be certain that the debate will mention China’s position on Okinotori.

This just adds to a growing picture that Chinese officials are delusional regarding their claims to the South China Sea. China’s Foreign Ministry (24-May) and The Diplomat

South China Sea: Which countries are on China’s side?

China is claiming that 60 countries are on China’s side, with only seven or eight opposed. However, an analysis by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has done the actual research on this issue. AMTI has searched publicly available, official statements in an effort to determine the real positions taken by countries.

What does it mean to be “on China’s side”? What AMTI was looking for was not whether countries take one side or the other on China’s claims in the South China Sea, but whether countries take one side or the other on whether the Court’s ruling will be binding.

AMTI has identified 57 countries that appear to be China’s supporters. Of those, 8 have publicly confirmed their support, 4 have denied Beijing’s claim of support, and 45 have remained publicly silent or have issued statements that are considerably vaguer than indicated by China. In contrast, 11 countries plus the European Union have said that the arbitral award will be legally binding and have called on both China and the Philippines to respect it.

The AMTI has divided these countries into four groups:

  • Publicly supporting China’s position that arbitral tribunal is illegitimate:Afghanistan, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Niger, Sudan, Togo, Vanuatu
  • Has not publicly confirmed China’s claim of support (Countries marked with an asterisk are members of the Arab League, for which no statement of support is publicly available, but from which China claims support):Algeria*, Bahrain*, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros*, Djibouti*, Egypt*, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Iraq*, Jordan*, Kuwait*, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon*, Libya*, Malawi, Mauritania*, Morocco*, Mozambique, Pakistan, Palestine*, Qatar*, Russia, Saudi Arabia*, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Somalia*, Sri Lanka, Syria*, Tanzania, Tunisia*, Uganda, United Arab Emirates*, Venezuela, Yemen*, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • Publicly denied china’s claim of support:Cambodia, Fiji, Poland, Slovenia
  • Publicly supporting outcome of arbitral proceeding as binding (Countries marked with an asterisk are members of the European Union who have not issued independent statements supporting the arbitration, but whose support is based upon EU statements presented as the position of all members):Albania, Australia, Austria*, Belgium, Bosnia&Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria*, Canada, Croatia*, Cyprus, Czech Republic*, Denmark*, Estonia*, Finland, France, Germany, Greece*, Hungary*, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia*, Liechtenstein, Lithuania*, Luxembourg, Malta, Oman*, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands*, New Zealand, Poland*, Portugal*, Romania*, Slovakia*, Slovenia*, Spain*, Sweden*, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam

So China’s Foreign Ministry has it backwards: Lots of nations provide no support for China, while only seven are supporting China.

Two of these nations, Afghanistan and Lesotho, are landlocked. Four of them, The Gambia, Kenya, Niger and Sudan, are far away in Africa. Vanuatu is a South Pacific island, once again far from the South China Sea. Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and The Diplomat

Cognitive dissonance and doubling down in China

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, cognitive dissonance explains many of history’s greatest disasters.

The term “cognitive dissonance” refers to the mental problems that occur when deeply held beliefs are contradicted by real life events. The literature contains numerous examples of what happens. Some of the most dramatic examples are those who believe that God end the world on a specific day, and only true believers will be saved. In many cases, people quit their jobs, sell all their belongings and settle all their affairs, and then wait for the named day.

When the world doesn’t end, they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. According to psychologist Leon Festinger’s 1957 book “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,” there are two kinds of behaviors that are common. Some admit they were wrong and devote themselves to returning to their previous lives.

Others “double down.” They say that they were right all along, but that God decided to give the world one more chance. They then devote their entire lives to proselytizing. It’s possible that several religions began this way.

China’s cognitive dissonance is an extremely dangerous situation. China’s population apparently widely believes that China’s South China Sea claims are “indisputable.” This is already clearly wrong, and will be publicly proven wrong if, as expected, the Court rules against China. As we described a few days ago, China has put forward “ironclad proof” in the form of evidence that’s at best delusional and at worst fabricated. And China’s rejection of UNCLOS is, in my opinion, not going to be widely supported, especially after China itself has cited UNCLOS when convenient.

A commenter to my last article wrote the following:

Since Sun Tzu introduced his Art of War in the 5th century BC, making false claims, as a form of deceiving an opponent to gain advantage, has been prevalent in China since his time. In particular, to eliminate the influence of Indian Buddhism in China in the Three Kingdom Period (220-280), Chinese historian Yu Huan stated in his work ‘Weilue’ (lit: ‘A Brief History of Wei’): ‘The Buddhist Sutra are on the whole similar to the Canon of Lao-tzu in content. That is because when Lao-tzu left the passes in the west, he traversed the Western Regions and reached India, where he converted the barbarians into Buddhists’ (see Kenneth Ch’en’s ‘Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey’ published by Princeton University Press (1964, page 51). In this context, China’s “Ironclad Proof” is no exception. However, it is a clear indication that Beijing has been so desperate to use whatever it could imagine to support for its nine-dash line claim.

This commenter confirms what we’ve already known: China is doing everything to prepare for war, and probably already considers itself to be at war.

There is no chance at all that Chinese officials will admit that they’ve been wrong, or that its population will change its opinions. China is already heavily militarizing the South China Sea, and is already attacking Vietnam’s and Philippines’ ship with its military. China will react to its cognitive dissonance by doubling down. At best, this will mean a great deal vitriolic anger on the part of Chinese officials. Eventually, it will mean an irreversible military action that will spiral into full-scale war. Wired (Aug 2010)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, South China Sea, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Philippines, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, Japan, Taiwan, Okinotori Islands, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, AMTI, Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, Sun Tzu, Art of War
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