Are We Looking at the End of China’s Peaceful Rise?

Number of conflicts by decade in the South China Sea and East China Sea:

1. 1950s – 1
2. 1960s – 0
3. 1970s – 4
4. 1980s – 4
5. 1990s – 19
6. 2000s – 16
7. 2010s – 28 (2010, 2011 and part of 2012)

When China was relatively weak there wasn’t a problem. Once China’s economy started to change in the 1980s and with that the slow modernization of military, then trouble began. The explosion of incidents in the last few years suggests that China’s peaceful rise is probably at a transition point. Meaning we are going to see a less peaceful China in the future – the end of China’s peaceful rise.

There is a heavy feedback loop in this region that could easily cause an incident to escalate. However, one shouldn’t worry so much about just any incident blowing up. A more likely scenario involves a strategic feedback loop that evently pushes China to implement a policy of armed aggression. So tension does not incrementally increase. Instead, tension is raised a couple of levels at a time by strategic policy changes for individual countries.

The biggest problem is concerning the East China Sea and the Senkaku Islands. If China attempts armed aggression against Japanese ships, then that could represent a serious problem. Chinese citizens seem to support military action over these island:

Poll: 90% of Chinese Support Military Action Over Senkaku Islands | Japan Probe

One issue seeming to point the region into more conflict is that China’s military is playing a bigger role in foreign policy:

The forthcoming white paper on defense warns that China’s military is playing a stronger role in decision-making in Chinese foreign policy due to changes in its relationship to the Communist Party in recent years, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

White paper rings alarm over China : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri)

Here we see the Communist party getting worried over the influence of the military

“Party authorities have come to realize that the military is encroaching on political affairs,” said one political scientist with high-level party ties. …

China’s Military Seeks More Sway, Worrying Communist Party – NYTimes.com

Military involvement in foreign policy affairs suggests that China could get even more aggressive in the future, which again implies that China’s peaceful rise is nearing an end.

A Map of Conflicts in the South and East China Seas | Foreign Affairs

In July 2010, at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States believes that all maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved multilaterally and in accordance with international law. It is a policy that she repeated at the deadlocked 2012 ARF in Cambodia. For its part, China objected to the “multilateralization” of maritime disputes then and continues to do so now. Beijing believes that it is more likely to make gains if it strikes individual bargains with weaker powers, including Manila and Hanoi. The other capitals realize this, which is why they welcomed Clinton’s commitment to multilateralism.

A Map of Conflicts in the South and East China Seas | Foreign Affairs

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The South China Sea: Troubled waters | The Economist

LONG a zone of contention among a number of littoral states, the South China Sea is fast becoming the focus of one of the most serious bilateral disputes between America and China. Over the weekend China’s foreign ministry summoned an American diplomat to express “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to a statement issued by the state department on August 3rd. 

Tensions in the sea have mounted this year, especially between China and the Philippines on the one hand, and between China and the Vietnam on the other. Although there has not been a serious armed clash in the sea since 1988, and none is likely now, there are worries that in the current climate some low-level confrontation might escalate by accident. 

The South China Sea: Troubled waters | The Economist

The end of China’s peaceful rise | China Economic Review

So what has changed over the past two years to alter perceptions of China’s “peaceful rise”?

The first reason is that China is now seen not merely as an upcoming Asian power but as a global power, second only to the US. …

Next is the rapid growth of China’s military power, particularly its naval capability. …

Last but by no means least is the impact of China’s domestic politics on its foreign and military policies. Will China become more nationalist? More inward-looking? More plural? More or less interested in the ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asia? The number of variables makes prediction impossible other than to say that the stronger China becomes, the more interest other players will have in trying to set limits to it.

The end of China’s peaceful rise | China Economic Review

Not so peaceful coping with China’s strategic rise – The Nation

The South China Sea dispute has brewed for many years, but several things have become clear: Beijing has become more assertive about its territorial claims in recent years, with a coherent strategy to pursue such claims. Most importantly, it can afford to bide its time.

According to Associate Professor Robert Beckman, director of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, Beijing is becoming more assertive with regard to its South China Sea claims.

Late last month, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) said it would open nine blocks in the South China Sea for joint exploration with foreign firms. All the blocks lie within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. A few days later, Beijing said it would launch “combat-ready” patrols in the South China Sea.

Beckman said the CNOOC announcement might be a “significant turning point”.

“It seems to confirm the suspicion that although China is only claiming ‘sovereignty’ over the islands and their adjacent waters, it is also claiming ‘rights and jurisdiction’ to the resources in and under the waters within the nine-dashed lines. “If so, this puts China on a legal collision course with the Asean claimants,” he adds.

Not so peaceful coping with China’s strategic rise – The Nation