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China Sinks to New Depths

August 30, 2010

By Jason Miks
The Diplomat
August 28, 2010

Literally. On Thursday, China announced that it
had sent a small, manned submarine to the floor
of the South China Sea and planted a Chinese flag there.

According to Reuters, the sub achieved the feat
during one of its 17 dives between May and July,
with the craft apparently reaching a depth of
more than 12,000 feet -- a first for a Chinese submersible vehicle apparently.

Two interesting questions arise. The first is why
the government delayed announcing the dives until
a month after they were completed? The second
question is why it would try such a stunt when
tensions in the area are so high.

China was indignant when US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton said at a regional  security
forum in Hanoi last month that the United States
had an interest in seeing the various disputes
between China and other South-east Asian nations
resolved peacefully. China saw this as
interference, especially as it has laid claim to
most of the South China Sea as a 'core interest'
-- language that had been reserved for Tibet and Taiwan.

China has preferred to handle these issues
bilaterally rather than through regional
groupings such as ASEAN, as this allows it to
exert greater pressure on individual nations. But
if it's concerned by the US inserting itself into
the disuputes then it seems a little
counter-productive to pull stunts that suggest
you have no intention anyway of negotiating in good faith.

Of course by planting the flag, China isn't
making any claim it hadn't done already. But it's
an insensitive move at a delicate juncture.

I guess it must have seemed like a good idea when it was dreamt up...
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