Saturday, September 15, 2012

‘East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’? - China, Japan and the spat over East (China) Sea

Territorial borders on South and East China Sea are as good as line drawn in water. Too many claims, for this stretch of water body which assumed to have riches, in the form of oil and gas, under her seabed - too valuable for many to drop the claims.

China, Japan and ASEAN

Countries which have powerful navies can assert their arguments by constant patrolling, initiating oil and gas drilling etc in disputed areas; but difficult to assert full control as there are too much things on stake. It is difficult for ASEAN countries, individually or combined, to move against China - whose economic and military strength are still on the assent. After all, many ASEAN countries need Chinese investment. For China, it may be easy to handle ASEAN members one by one, but as a block it’s difficult; especially, when it is clear that both ‘US’ and ‘Japan’ will support ASEAN.

Even though historic rivals, there are a lot of dependency between China and Japan. In terms of power as well as influence in the neighbourhood, there is not much difference between China and Japan.

So anyone can claim a lot of areas, but difficult to change already established claims. Any such action from Chinese end will political isolate her in international arena, and escalate Chinafobia which is already on rise.

In East China Sea

There are a group of islands in East China Sea, called 'Senkaku' by Japanese and 'Diaoyu' by Chinese. Recently, Japanese government bought three of these islands, located between Okinawa and China, from a Japanese family. After this incident, six Chinese maritime patrol vessels entered Japanese controlled waters near the islands in Friday morning, even after the warning issued by Japanese Coast Guard. All ships left the area after spending half a day.

Unlike in the case of standoff with Philippines, this time unarmed Chinese vessels entered the area. Probably to show that, the island is still a contested territory and they are not accepting its nationalization. At the same time Japanese didn't try to stop the vessels, probably to avoid an escalation of tensions.

It may be easier to accept these actions as a measure of protest at the government level, but difficult to sell the points to citizens. For Chinese, it is like Japan occupied their territory; for Japanese, China violated their sovereignty. Apart from this, the entrance of Chinese vessels, even though unarmed (according to New York Times report), to Japanese controlled waters will raise the temperature in the region.


When global economy is slowly recovering, when peace is a rare commodity, there is little stomach for others to digest another spat between China and her neighbours. Claiming an area is one thing, but sending naval assets to show the strength is altogether a different game. If something went wrong, even though accidently, it may assume gigantic proportions and may go out of hand.


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