Friday, April 4, 2014

Bully comradeship

For decades, China and Russia have sealed a tactical alliance as world bullies. They are linked by mutual hatred, if not envy of the United States as the superpower.

While the global community prudently waits and wishes for the time when these two would forgo aggressor tactics in favor of diplomacy and compliance with international laws, they continue to walk the path of extreme self-entitlement. So far, they seem to have gotten their way.

Bullying is unwanted, antagonistic behavior that concerns a real or perceived power imbalance. The action is recurrent, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

The Philippines and other claimants such as Vietnam and Japan have been at the receiving end of bully tactics from China over maritime and territorial disputes. The Philippines has experienced a long list of intimidation, from the banana embargo to the latest Ayungin Island incident.

Not to be outdone, Russia has its own list of transgressions, the latest of which is the unsanctioned referendum that severed Crimea from Ukraine and virtually annexed it to Russia.

In her parliamentary speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unusually critical of their valued trading partner. Germany imports over one-third of its entire oil and gas supply from Russia and supplies an almost equal volume of vehicles, machinery and chemical goods. Last year, the bilateral trade between them exceeded £63 billion ($104).

Merkel accused Russia of “stealing” Crimea and warned that the “Kremlin must not be allowed to get away with it. She added that “certain amount of toughness” was needed in dealing with Russia to defend “European values."

A statement from G7 (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States) was issued, warning of sanctions if Russia did not back down.

“The annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states. Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively,” the statement said.

For once China was unsure if it could side with its buddy-bully on the Crimea issue, as it had over Syria against the US, Britain and France, to veto or dilute resolutions threatening sanctions or outside intervention against regimes such as Bashar Assad's Syria, Gadafi's Libya or, in the 1990s, Milosevic's Serbia.

China abstained from the UN Security vote to censure Russia which was supported by 67 countries including the Philippines. Perhaps it got worried that the Crimea episode would call attention to its own sovereignty issues with Taiwan, Mongolia and other domestic disputes.

This was a slap on the face of Vladimir Putin. His foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier pronounced “Russia and China have coinciding views on the situation in Ukraine…the principle of non-interference in any country’s internal affairs and respects the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The vociferous Chinese bloggers shed more light in the uneasy association. “Crimea holds a referendum to split from Ukraine, and unbelievably there are people amongst you all cheering it on. Did you know in 1945 October, the Soviet Union also encouraged a referendum in Mongolia, with only 500,000 people participating, but was able to cut away 15% of China’s territory,” wrote Cui Chenghao on Sina Weibo.

Old wounds

They got even more riled when the Russian Embassy raised the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989.

“Western sanctions may bring Russia and China closer together,” wrote the Russian Embassy in Beijing on its official Sina Weibo account. “Some Western countries want to stop military cooperation with Russia. The current situation facing Russia is a bit similar to what China encountered after the Tiananmen Square incident. A student protest in 1989 turned into an occupation by protesters of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. That ended when Chinese troops fired on the protesters, killing an unknown number. Global leaders condemned the Chinese regime, just as they are condemning Russia now.

“Do you want to drag China into the water?” responded Xuanxuanman. ‘First return the 1.5 million square kilometers of occupied land to China to show your sincerity!”

It was not surprising when China pounced on Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for citing the parallel between Russia's behavior in Crimea and China's actions in the disputed East and South China Seas at the G7 meeting.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei launched personal invectives on Abe, reminiscent of his attack on President Aquino.

"We've long since said that this Japanese leader on the one hand hypocritically proposes improving Sino-Japan ties and on the other says bad things about China wherever he is internationally… to mislead the public with prevarication and deliberate falsehoods and blacken China's name. But this cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the international community." lambasted Hong.

But he is mistaken.

In a survey of 14,400 people in 14 countries, its own Global Times newspaper found 29% of respondents described China as "belligerent" in international affairs.

It seems that a “bully brotherhood” is an oxymoron. After all, bullying is a form of power jockeying. In the end, there can only be one super bully. - Rappler.com

Yoly Villanueva-Ong, the founder of Campaigns & Grey, is currently Group Chairperson for the Campaigns Group of companies. She writes weekly for Rappler.

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