US calls China ‘new East India Company’ at sea

Updated 15 Jul 2020

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“In all our societies, citizens deserve to know the differences between commercial enterprises and instruments of foreign state power,” Stilwell said. — Reuters/File
“In all our societies, citizens deserve to know the differences between commercial enterprises and instruments of foreign state power,” Stilwell said. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: A senior US official on Tuesday likened China’s state enterprises to Britain’s colonising East India Company as Washington takes a tougher stance against Beijing in the dispute-rife South China Sea.

A day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded most of Beijing’s claims in the sea illegal, his top aide for East Asia denounced a proliferation of rigs, survey ships and fishing boats sent by Chinese state-run companies.

Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell said that oil major CNOOC and other firms were serving as “battering rams” to intimidate other nations.

“In all our societies, citizens deserve to know the differences between commercial enterprises and instruments of foreign state power,” Stilwell said at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“These state enterprises are modern-day equivalents of the East India Company,” he said.

The British East India Company seized control of most of the Indian subcontinent in the guise of trading in tea, cotton, spices and other goods before Britain formally took charge in the mid-19th century.

The reference is especially loaded due to the East India Company’s role in smuggling opium into China, culminating in Britain’s 1843 colonisation of Hong Kong — the start of what Beijing calls a century of humiliation.

China has recently triggered international outrage by clamping down on freedoms promised to Hong Kong before Britain handed back the financial hub in 1997.

In the latest rift between the United States and China, Pompeo on Monday sided with the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations in rejecting China’s vast claims in the South China Sea.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2020