The Philippines on Thursday warned that territorial rows in Asia are “causing considerable tension that could lead to conflict” as several countries face off with China over island claims.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, speaking at a Tokyo business conference, said China’s “nine-dash line claim encompassing almost the entire South China Sea” is “excessive.”
“In addition to the South China Sea, we have in Northeast Asia, home to Asia’s biggest economic powerhouses, several disputes that have adversely affected relations between and among Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.
“The competing territorial and maritime disputes are causing considerable tension that could lead to conflict,” he warned.
Tag Archives: South China Sea
Amidst all the regional concerns about North Korea, the Senkaku dispute between China and Japan has continued to fester. This past week, the situation has escalated, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry specifically stating that the Senkakus are a “core interest.” General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the Chinese had used this term in his discussions with them as well.
China has since dispatched a naval task force to South China Sea waters around Jones Reef, claimed by Malaysia. This marks a major escalation in Chinese activity. Not only is this the first use of Chinese naval forces (rather than civilian law-enforcement vessels) but it is also the first major move against Malaysia, which has generally adopted a low-key approach to the South China Sea claims. At the same time, China has rejected an attempt by the Philippines to submit their dispute to arbitration under the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).
Chinese government statements that the Senkakus are a Chinese core interest are part of a general hardening of China’s position on territorial disputes. Whereas it had been more flexible in the late 1990s and early 2000s with its Russian and Central Asian neighbors, today’s China is far less willing to compromise, and is staking out positions that are increasingly difficult to back away from. What Beijing fails to recognize is that its single-minded pursuit of its territorial claims risks running afoul of the core interests of its neighbors, whose own national sovereignty, national security, and territorial integrity are being jeopardized as a result.
Where is China headed as it hardens its position concerning surrounding territories? It is increasingly coming into conflict with many of its neighbors. It has adopted a strategy that it is incapable of backing away from. If it can’t go back, then it must move forward. China’s neighbors are watching it with alarm and building up their militaries. The US has also been building up in Asia, much to China’s displeasure.
The current direction of China appears to run it right into the US. Even if China gets all the territory it wants, that still won’t be enough. It will eventually shut down freedom of passage through the South China Sea. Foreign military vessels will be restricted, and all vessels will be subject to boarding. Is that going to be tolerable to India, Japan and the US?
China is not likely to get what it wants due to resistance from all countries involved. China sees the US behind this resistance and the main sources of its problems. One Chinese general sees war with the US as imminent. However, I think imminent just means China has reached a tipping point and war is a real possibility. China can remain in this state for quite some time, until it has a good excuse.
Inside China: PLA says war with U.S. imminent – Washington Times [June 27, 2012]
A Chinese general recently offered an alarming assessment that a future conflict with the United States is coming as a result of U.S. “containment” policies.
“The United States has been exhausting all its resources to establish a strategic containment system specifically targeting China,” Gen. Peng said.”The contradictions between China and the United States are structural, not to be changed by any individual, whether it is G.H.W. Bush, G.W. Bush or Barack Obama, it will not make a difference to these contradictions.”
China’s stance has everything to do with its growing ambitions in the Asia-Pacific. As authors Sarah Raine and Christian Le Miere conclude in their new book “Regional Disorder,” China “is almost singlehandedly driving” the growing conflict with Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia over the energy and mineral resources of this huge area. China now claims all of the islands therein, and 80 percent of the maritime area.
China’s play is more than merely economic, however. In addition to securing oil and gas resources for its energy-starved economy, it also would control the South China Sea, and the strategic waterway known as the Malacca Strait, through which flows 70 percent of the crude oil used by the economies of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. But for China to acquire this coveted hegemony, U.S. military capabilities in the region will need to be severely cut.
It is commonly acknowledged that a single blunder or incident now could further incite either China or the coalition of Asian states that oppose it to declare war on one another. However, the strange thing is that this is without a doubt the opposite of what is in their collective interests. China’s booming economy is largely a result of trade relations with the greater South East Asian region, and the various nations that fall within that area rely greatly upon their business with China to keep them going. Above all, the flourishing shipping routes that criss-cross the South China Sea bring wealth to everyone in the region, and they must not be disturbed. A war would endanger regional wealth and prosperity and leads many to wonder why China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan or the Philippines would risk it.
When one looks carefully at these several claims, reviewing their historical bases, and examining the assorted strategies that are being used to bolster these claims, one thing leaps out: China is almost single-handedly driving this conflict.
I say not just because of the size of China’s claim, but because of its sheer ambiguity. Beijing balks at delimiting its claim, other than to draw a dashed line around the South China Sea that appears to run less than 50 miles from the coast of the countries — Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines — that actually surround the sea. It is difficult, if not impossible, to enter into negotiations with a country that simply refuses to precisely state its claims.
Moreover, according to the authors, the Chinese claim has shallow roots, dating back only to a map that was drawn up in 1947. By way of comparison, they note, there are official records of Nguyen Dynasty Emperor Minh Mang ordering the construction of a temple and stele on the Paracel Islands in 1835. Yet, apparently acting on the principle that possession is nine-tenths of the law, China took the Paracels from Vietnam by force in 1974 and continues to hold the islands today against all comers.
Amazon.com: Regional Disorder: The South China Sea Disputes
China’s rise casts a vast and uncertain shadow over the regional balance of power in the Asia Pacific, and nowhere is this clearer than in the South China Sea. The significance of the fraught territorial disputes in this potentially resource-rich sea extends far beyond the small groupings of islands that are at their heart, and into the world of great-power politics. As the struggle for hegemony between the US and China intersects with the overlapping aspirations of emerging, smaller nations, the risk of escalation to regional conflict is real.
Christian Le Mière and Sarah Raine cut through the complexities of these disputes with a clear-sighted, and much-needed, analysis of the assorted strategies deployed in support of the multiple and competing claims in the SCS. They make a compelling case that the course of these disputes will determine whether the regional order in Southeast Asia is one of cooperation, or one of competition and even conflict.
As it pursues its territorial ambitions, China is following an increasingly belligerent course that could easily tip into war with its neighbours.
In the last few days, elements of the People’s Liberation Army have aggressively intruded into the territory of both Japan and India.
At the same time, China has ratcheted up its rhetoric with Vietnam and the Philippines as those countries attempt to assert their sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters that the Senkakus are one of the country’s “core interests,” a phrase it usually reserves for issues which Beijing considers nonnegotiable and over which it is prepared to go to war.
The “core interests” phrase is also applied by Beijing to its claim to the island nation of Taiwan, and to almost the entire South China Sea as far south as the territorial waters of Indonesia.
Beijing’s long-standing border dispute with India in the Himalayas, which spawned a brief but intense war in 1962, comes from China’s occupation of India’s northern neighbour, Tibet.
The Philippines on Friday accused Beijing of engaging in the “de facto occupation” of a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, following a face-off that began last year.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said three Chinese government ships remained in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, scaring off local fishermen.
“The Chinese have tried to establish a de facto occupation,” he told reporters.
The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognised by international law.
This raises the question of why Beijing keeps acting this way. Doesn’t it realize that forcing Southeast Asian countries to choose between China and ASEAN is a losing battle? Isn’t its illegal occupation of Scarborough Shoal a daily reminder of China’s willingness to bully the states that claim disputed territory in the South China Sea? And how should Vietnam or the Philippines interpret Beijing’s recent decision to make incursions into Japanese-administered airspace over the Senkaku Islands for the first time in 55 years?
It was previously thought that bureaucratic politics were to blame for Chinese adventurism.
While Chinese foreign policy is undoubtedly growing more pluralistic, bureaucratic explanations are less convincing now given significant efforts to better coordinate China’s actions in its near seas. President Xi Jinping himself leads China’s new maritime policymaking body. Rogue ship captains can always create incidents and accidents, but patterns of incrementally assertive behavior would not be occurring today without top-level guidance.
More insidious explanations remain. One is that a noxious combination of economic growth, military modernization, rising nationalism, and China’s perseverance through the global financial crisis has created a sense of outsized triumphalism.
The most likely — and worrisome — explanation is that domestic priorities drive China’s foreign policies, which are therefore often formulated at the expense of strategic and diplomatic considerations. And while the implications of coercing neighbors and illegally seizing territory are not necessarily desirable, they pale in comparison to the consequences of failing to confront the regime’s existential domestic challenges: economic slowdown, energy insecurity, and the growing political instabilities associated with dead pigs floating in rivers, a potential nationwide outbreak of avian flu, terrible traffic jams, sky-high real estate prices, and unbreathable air. No wonder the Chinese Communist Party works hard to keep populist foreign-policy issues in the headlines.
China is ripe for a revolution. The communist party is no longer legitimate. An aggressive foreign policy may be one of the last tricks in its bag to hold onto power.
Is China Ripe for a Revolution? – NYTimes.com
China academics warn of “violent revolution” if no political reform – Yahoo! News
The possibility of China facing a revolution in 2013 is pretty big
The Coming Collapse: Authoritarians in China and Russia Face an Endgame
As U.S. Navy Capt. James Fanell observed in the Times article, “Chinese maritime surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims.” They have cut cables towing Vietnamese sonar arrays, arrested and intimidated Southeast Asian fishermen, harassed U.S. naval vessels and, in one case, erected a barrier to establish China’s exclusive control. These non-naval Chinese vessels are not equipped with military weapons, but demonstrate prowess with water cannons and grappling hooks—sparking frustration and a sense of helplessness among China’s neighboring countries.
China may have shot itself in the foot strategically, but not at the tactical level. Southeast Asian countries lack the capability to match the Chinese on or over the water with military or coast guard assets, a gap in capabilities growing monthly. Bluntly put, Chinese maritime enforcement agencies can muscle other Southeast Asians aside at will—with Vietnamese military outposts being the principle possible exception.
North Asia looks like the world’s most volatile region at the moment. An assertive China is working to push America aside, grab territory from an arc of nations from India in the south to South Korea in the north, and close off the South China Sea so that it becomes an internal Chinese lake. Last month, while Chinese leaders talked about enhancing cooperation in the region, two Chinese vessels attacked a Vietnamese fishing boat, setting it on fire.
There are many reasons for Beijing new assertiveness, but one stands out: slowing GDP growth, evident since the early summer of 2011. The economic problems in particular have created a dangerous dynamic, trapping China in a self-reinforcing—and self-defeating—loop. In this loop, the slumping economy is leading to a crisis of legitimacy, the legitimacy crisis is causing Beijing to fall back on nationalism and increase friction with its neighbors, and the increased friction is aggravating the country’s economic difficulties.