In late July, Chinese President Xi Jinping shared his views on sea power and maritime territorial disputes. Beijing is amenable to “shelving disputes and carrying out joint development” in waters such as the South China Sea, where, according to the official line, it enjoys “indisputable sovereignty.” It will employ “peaceful means and negotiations to settle disputes and strive to safeguard peace and stability,” but it won’t “abandon its legitimate rights and interests.” Beijing asserts sovereignty over the waters, islands, and atolls within what it calls the “nine-dashed line,” a line that encloses the vast majority of the South China Sea, including huge swaths of the exclusive economic zones belonging to Southeast Asian states.Sponsored Ads
Xi appears to be saying that China is prepared to postpone resolution of these disputes for the sake of working alongside Southeast Asians to tap the region’s natural resources, and that it is willing to negotiate. That sounds reasonable. But he also seems to be saying that China has ruled out compromise and will continue building up its maritime strength to enforce its will. If Xi is sincere in all these statements, then the only real question left is when Asian powers will acquiesce meekly. In other words, China’s neighbors need not formally surrender control of the waters and features within the nine-dashed line yet — but in the end Beijing will give no ground. I suppose making Asians an offer they can’t refuse is one way of getting to yes.
Where does China think this is going?
Washington has made clear that the U.S.-Japan security alliance applies to all territory administered by Japan. Japan does not even acknowledge the Senkakus/Diaoyu is disputed territory.
What Would Sun Tzu think?
It’s not the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, but these sorts of accumulating altercations and rival nationalisms bumping up against each other that start wars. The timing of China’s assertiveness is particularly puzzling. Beijing’s new leadership under Xi Jinping faces daunting domestic challenges: environmental disaster, growing wealth inequality, an aging population and an economic growth model that no longer works. China’s political elite is well aware of all this and is trying to fashion sweeping economic reforms to move from investment-led, export-growth to consumer-led growth, expansion of services and more innovation. This is the principal challenge that will consume China over the coming decade.
Another article hinting at the possibility of war involving China and probably at some point the US. Each individual article might not mean much but the accumulation of articles incorporating the issue of war is looking more and more like a bad sign.
History and politics are coming together in a potentially toxic fashion in the East China Sea as China, motivated by memories of Japanese wartime atrocities, agitates for dominance in the region.
The foreign ministry archives in Beijing have been hard to gain access to this summer. For some years, documents stored there have been the source of some of the most exciting new research about diplomatic relations in Mao’s China. But recently the flow of papers has diminished to a trickle. Rumours suggest that a researcher found a document from the Mao era that failed to back up Chinese claims to sovereignty over the barren islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and the Senkaku to the Japanese. This evidence is unlikely to make a public appearance any time soon. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry has all but closed its records as archivists hunt for other politically embarrassing papers.
If this were merely a dispute about scholarly access to dusty files, it would be of rather limited interest. However, the event is just one part of a much wider shift in the relationships between China, Japan and the west. The unfinished business of 1945 in east Asia is coming back to haunt the region.
China’s furtive, incremental encroachments into neighboring countries’ borderlands — propelled by its relative power advantage — have emerged as a key destabilizing element in the Asian security landscape. While China’s navy and a part of its air force focus on asserting revanchist territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China seas, its army has been active in the mountainous borderlands with India, trying to alter the line of control bit by bit.
Beijing’s favored frontier strategy to change the territorial and maritime status quo is apparently anchored in “salami slicing.” This centers on a steady progression of small actions, none of which serves as a casus belli by itself, yet which over time lead cumulatively to a strategic transformation in China’s favor.
As far as dark days go, July 24, 2012, is akin historically to Feb. 18, 1932, when Japan proclaimed the state of Manchukuo as the governing body for the region of Manchuria, which Japan had invaded and detached from China.
This July 24 marks the first anniversary of China’s creation of the “Sansha City” prefecture to “oversee and administer” the one million square mile South China Sea, vesting it with the power, effective Jan. 1, 2013, “to board, seize and expel foreign ships” within its jurisdiction.
Beijing’s creation of Sansha City was preceded by a series of provocative Chinese moves against the Philippines, including the 2012 occupation of the Scarborough Shoal by 90 Chinese ships, an increased Chinese military presence at Ayungin Reef, and a Chinese general’s boastful exposition of China’s “cabbage strategy.”
China really ought to have more people like Xu Zhiyong. A law professor, legislator, and civil activist, Xu has worked tirelessly over the past decade in ensuring that China lives up to its constitutional ideals. Writing in The New Yorker in 2009, Evan Osnos described Xu as someone “as close to China gets to a public-interest icon.” He even received recognition in the Chinese press for his efforts.But in May, things took a dark turn for Xu. He sent an open letter to authorities calling for the release of 10 people who had been arrested for publicly demonstrating against corruption. Like the activists, and several others who had been similarly detained, Xu advocated that public officials disclose their financial assets in an effort to improve government transparency.On Tuesday, Chinese officials arrested Xu in his Beijing apartment, seizing his computers and cell phone in the process. His current whereabouts are unknown.
If we look at how well Western firms have fared in China once they have gained significant market share, we may detect a worrisome pattern. They face unfair scrutiny from Chinese authorities and are often penalized for the same infractions for which their Chinese competitors suffer no consequences.
The most recent example of this pattern is the Chinese government’s anti-trust investigation of Western baby formula makers like Wyeth and Nestle in China. Tainted baby formula made by Chinese dairy firms has destroyed these Chinese company’s brands and sales, allowing Western baby formula makers to claim a huge market share. What’s the reaction of Beijing? Instead of enforcing tighter food safety rules on Chinese baby formula makers, they are attempting to hurt Western firms. The victims will be Chinese babies denied safe nutrition.
A U.S. intelligence-gathering ship was harassed by a Chinese security ship last month in an incident that say indicates Beijing is stepping up aggressive maritime encounters toward the U.S. Navy in the Asia-Pacific.
A Chinese website, Sinocism, posted photographs of what it described as a “fierce confrontation” between the USNS Impeccable, an electronic spy ship, and a China Maritime Surveillance ship.
The Web posting said the Chinese ship videotaped the encounter and posted it online as a way to “expose the activity.” Photos of the Impeccable indicate they were taken on June 21.
The Chinese ship also warned the Navy vessel it was operating “illegally” despite being in undisclosed international waters. The Chinese also said the ship was not a “noncombatant” ship.
My overall take: Beijing has grown impatient to settle matters on its terms, to the extent of junking the leisurely, relatively low-key “small-stick” approach that held such promise.
The leadership now appears ready to accept the diplomatic blowback that may come from deploying fighting ships alongside the unarmed maritime-surveillance vessels that execute small-stick diplomacy. The Philippine press reports, for instance, that a PLA Navy frigate has joined the bevy of law-enforcement ships at Scarborough Shoal. This hybrid force has enclosed the atoll in a “cabbage” of steel hulls, denying Philippine mariners entry.
Could World War Three start with the click of a mouse in a bedroom in Kabul or an anonymous office block in Beijing?
That is the terrifying question faced by the West’s intelligence agencies every day, and it was thrown into sharp relief by yesterday’s revelation that Islamist terrorists attempted a cyber attack on the London Olympics.
They planned to disrupt the opening ceremony and possibly scupper the entire event by tampering with the electrical power systems at various stadiums. Luckily, they were thwarted by the UK’s increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced cyber security effort at GCHQ.
A blacked-out Olympics would have been embarrassing and annoying rather than catastrophic but it gives an insight into the power of cyber warfare and the ambition of some of its would-be practitioners.