One Chinese journalist mentioned that 60 countries are now siding with China. However, a group that monitors such maritime issues counted only nine countries publicly supporting China. These are: Afghanistan, Kenya, Gambia, Lesotho, Liberia, Niger, Sudan, Vanuatu and Togo.
International relations specialist Dr. Alfredo C. Robles, Jr. told me that while Togo did issue a statement of support, he wondered whether the Chinese spokesperson had bothered reading the comments following Togo’s press release.
Because one of the comments criticized China for trying to bully small countries.
Robles – yes, he’s my brother-in-law who speaks and reads several languages – translated the comments for me since my French is only good for shopping, and wrote the following short article about it.
Oops, did the Chinese spokesman read the comments to Togo’s press release backing China’s South China Sea stance?
By Alfredo C. Robles, Jr.
In the last week or so, several African countries have expressed their support for the Chinese position on the South China Sea dispute.
Burundi in Central Africa;
Mozambique in East Africa (here’s the link to Burundi and Mozambique’s expression of support for China entitled La Chine salue le soutien mozambicain, burundais et slovène sur la question de la mer de Chine méridionale);
Niger in the Sahel, the semiarid region of western and north-central Africa extending from Senegal eastward to the Sudan (here’s the link to its expression of support for China entitled Communiqué de presse du Ministère en charge des Affaires Etrangères, relatif au différend entre la République Populaire de Chine et les Philippines en Mer de Chine Méridionale : Le Gouvernement de la République du Niger a pris note de l’existence d’u); and
Togo in West Africa.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not fail to report the support of Niger and of Togo in the May 18, 2016 press conference of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperon Hong Lei.
Here is a link to the press conference and below is the relevant extract regarding the Togolese position from the press conference of Mr. Hong Lei on 18 May:
Q: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration of the Republic of Togo issued a communiqué on the South China Sea. Do you have any comment on that?
A: We have noted the communiqué issued by the government of Togo, which calls on all parties concerned to peacefully resolve differences through dialogue and consultation in accordance with relevant international law such as Article 298 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and reaffirms support for countries in the region to build up mutual trust and enhance cooperation through negotiation. It recognizes direct dialogue and negotiation between parties concerned as the only way to achieve fair and equitable settlement of the South China Sea issue and asks all parties concerned to maintain peace and security in the sensitive areas of the South China Sea with joint efforts.
The position held by Togo conforms to the basic fact and the bilateral and regional consensus reached between China and relevant countries on resolving disputes through consultation. It is also in line with international law and universal practice, and reflects the international community’s objective and fair opinion on this issue. We commend Togo for safeguarding international fairness and justice on the issue of the South China Sea.
I wonder if Mr. Hong Lei had the time to read the two comments posted by readers following the Togolese statement, published on what appears to be an official Togolese website. See link. Below you will find the comments in the original French, for the benefit of International Studies majors who are studying French, and their translations into English:
Vous avez raison cher compatriote togo98. La chine [sic] apprécie la position de la diplomatie togolaise fondée sur le dialogue. Mais se conformera-t-elle réellement à cette règle ou tentera-t-elle de résoudre le problème par la force militaire comme elle en a l’habitude? La Chine est coutumière de ce fait, autrement dit, des épreuves de force. Une chose est d’apprécier les conseils de ses pays amis comme le Togo, autre chose est de les mettre effectivement en pratique.
(You are right, my dear fellow citizen togo98. China appreciates the position of Togolese diplomacy, based on dialogue. But will it really comply with this rule or will it attempt to resolve the problem by military force, as is its habit? This is China’s common practice, in other words, trials of strength. It is one thing to appreciate the advice of friendly countries like Togo, but it is another thing to actually implement it in practice.)
Je n’ai rien contre la chine. Mais je trouve que la chine [sic] exagère. Elle veut brimer les petits pays de l’asie [sic] pour tout prendre et là ce n’est pas normal. heureusement qu’il y a l’amérique [sic] pour arrêter ça.
Accepteriez vous qu’une ile située par example à 5 km des côtes togolaises soit reclamée par le Nigeria par example ou la Côte d’ivoire?
Regardez la carte de la mer du sud de chine et vous verrez que la chine veut tout prendre. Ce n’est pas normal. Développement ne signifie pas brimer les autres.
(I have nothing against China, but I believe that it is going too far. It wants to bully small Asian countries in order to take everything, and that is not right. Fortunately America is there to stop that.
Would you accept a claim by Nigeria, for example, or the Côte d’Ivoire on an island situated, for example, 5 km from the Togolese coast?
Look at the map of the South China Sea and you will see that China wants to take everything. That is not right. Development does not mean bullying others.)
These two comments reflect, in uncanny fashion, very widely held feelings in the Philippines on Chinese policy. To convince public opinion, and not just governments, of its good intentions, China might have to make extra efforts, at least in Togo.
(Dr. Robles is a retired Professor of International Studies from De la Salle University. He holds two doctorates – a Ph.D. in International and European Studies from the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Syracuse University. He wrote last year Victory in Round 1 on the South China Sea arbitration, but not really a knockout.)