|Chinese 'sailors' on the 'Yongshu' Reef in the South China Sea|
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Beijing can't afford to have many enemies. When it becomes too ‘hot' on one front, it needs to make friends on another. It is making friends the way that one slowly cooks seafood to make ‘Buddha jump over the wall’
News agency Xinhua recently admitted that the ‘rift’ over the South China Sea between Beijing and Washington has heightened tensions in the region, “but dispute over this body of water is only ‘an episode’ in China-US relations, instead of a flashpoint as portrayed or feared by many”.
The Chinese news agency further commented: “At a time when the futures and fortunes of China and the United States are more closely intertwined than they have ever been, it is imperative for them to always look for the bigger picture, and prevent such solvable tensions evolving into dangerous tinderbox.”
Behind these words, it is clear that Beijing can’t afford to have too many enemies at the same time and when it becomes too ‘hot’ on one front, Beijing needs to make friends on another.
What about the Middle Kingdom’s other foes, namely, individuals or groups opposing the party within China? Beijing is trying to deal with them in a novel way, which might also apply to ‘external unfriendly’ powers.
In your opinion, what could make Buddha jump over a wall? According to a Chinese saying, it is a special stew made of seafood and poultry: It is apparently so yummy that even Buddha would jump over a wall to taste it.
Why is it so tasty? Simply, because the ingredients have slowly simmered for a long, very long time over a low flame. President Xi Jinping recently mentioned the famous dish: “Make friends, the way that one slowly cooks seafood and poultry stew to make ‘Buddha jump over the wall’,” he advised.
He was then speaking about ‘internal friends’ during a United Front Work conference. The UFW Department is a party organ which makes the link between the Chinese Communist Party and non-party organisations, including business people like Mr Jack Ma’s Alibaba, but also Tibetans, Uyghurs or ‘compatriots’ from Taiwan.
During the conference, Mr Xi explained that the UFW aims at making more friends, adding: “However, in order to make this kind of friend, you can’t hurry it as if you are cooking fast food, but rather you should put in the kind of effort as if you are slowly cooking the famous Chinese dish.”
To demonstrate his point, the Chinese President cited the case of former Premier Zhou Enlai and his ‘friendship’ with the 10th Panchen Lama: “On April 27, 1950, when the Panchen Lama arrived in Beijing for the first time: that night he was received by Premier Zhou and invited to dinner. They discussed everything from customs, traditions, and daily life to the victory of the Chinese revolution and the future of Tibet. Premier Zhou’s openness and sincerity deeply influenced the Panchen Lama.”
Mr Xi then compared the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama: “In 1956, the Indian Government invited the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to India to participate in celebrations for the 2,500th anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha achieving nirvana. The Panchen Lama fought against separatist forces and returned home on schedule, in a sharp contrast to the Dalai Lama who delayed his return.”
This example means that ‘friends’ have to obey to the party; the Dalai Lama did not. Before returning to Tibet, the Dalai Lama attended a religious function in Kalimpong and this despite the objections of Zhou Enlai who considered Kalimpong ‘a nest of spies’. The Panchen Lama ‘obeyed’ and immediately returned to Tibet.
Mr Xi’s conclusion is interesting, prospective friends “should be treated with the same effort required to make the dish, with more contacts, more close talks, more assistance and emphasising respect, equality and sincerity”. But like the Panchen Lama, they should listen to the party.
China’s ‘external’ neighbours too should ‘listen’ to Beijing, for the purpose, they may need to be ‘cooked’ over a long time. In recent months, China has been extremely aggressive in the South China Sea, extending her territorial waters by nearly 1,000 kilometers.
Beijing pretended to be furious when Washington sent a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft to monitor China’s deployments in the region; land-reclamation however relentlessly continued.
Attack being the best defence, Liang Fang, a professor at China’s National Defence University, violently accused the US ‘of launching its Asia’s repivot’ in The Global Times and “blockade China and unite with its allies Japan and the Philippines against China”, though he said that “China’s land reclamation efforts on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea will reduce the US’s projection power in the region.” He also added: “This makes the South China Sea a major strategic hotspot, which will decide the new world order.”
In other words, China is fighting a battle to dominate its close neighbours and stop the US from any interference in these designs.
In the meantime, sina.com published a sideshow with pictures taken on one of the reefs in the South China Sea. It shows good-looking female sailors (most probably models) posing on ocean breakwalls, while watering vegetable gardens, with pigs in a pen in the background. The title is “Gratifying results on China’s Yongshu Reef: Building vegetable greenhouses and growing fruit trees.”
It means that China had already succeeded in establishing its presence far away from its coastal areas; now, the next stage: To make friends, starts. General Fan Changlong, the powerful vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, visited Washington for the purpose and after a meeting with the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, he declared: “The two nations should take the higher ground to look into the far future by paying more attention to other, more important regional and international issues.”
As Xinhua nicely put it, the relationship between Beijing and Washington has matured; the news agency spoke of “a new type of major-country relations, which features mutual benefits and a win-win cooperation.” Obviously, as the Chinese girls/models show, Beijing’s work on the reefs is over.
While taking on the US in the South China Sea, Beijing has been ‘cooking’ Tokyo. Reuters reported that in July, Japan and China “will conclude an agreement to define procedures for communication between their naval vessels and military aircraft during unexpected encounters to reduce the risk of confrontation.” One way to make friends without renouncing any claims!
What about India? Here too, Beijing wants to gain time. While turning down Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to exchange maps of the Line of Actual Control, a move which seemed most reasonable, Beijing has started speaking of a new sauce, ie comprehensive measures. Mr Huang Xilian, an official in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a group of Indian journalists in Beijing: “We have to seek some kind of comprehensive measures, not only one measure to control and manage the border to ensure peace and tranquility along the border.”
But does it make sense to be cooked into becoming China’s ‘friend’, when LAC maps can’t even be exchanged?