One of the hottest topics in Asian maritime security relate to the territorial tensions between China and its Asian neighbors due to overlapping claims on disputed waters. Over the last years, we have seen tense confrontations between navies, coast guards and fishermen; we have seen aggressive actions and condemnations on all sides; and international courts and the media have been flooded with claims, complaints and rebuttals from the likes of China, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Kemplon Engineering takes a closer look at the most recent developments.
The East and South China Seas play host to overlapping territorial claims from six countries. In several cases, like that between China and Japan over the Daiaoyu / Senkaku Islands, these disputes have been going on for over a century.
What’s at stake aren’t just minor waterways and a smattering of tiny islands. The disputed areas are rich in natural resources like seafood, hydrocarbons and gas, for one, not to mention sites of valuable shipping routes pivotal to world trade. Also at stake? A wealthy and assertive China is trying to find a balance between flexing its hard-won muscle and showing the world it can play “nice” as a fair and aspirational regional leader, while the United States struggles with the possibility of losing a strategic foothold on a region where they have long played an influential role. Furthermore, with tensions high and confrontations increasing, any miscalculation may lead to a larger, possibly armed conflict that would involve not just the disputing countries but also the United States, which is bound by military commitments to Japan and the Philippines.
Aggressive Reclamation Projects
Early this April, many countries watched with mounting concern as surveillance photographs revealed China’s aggressive reclamation and building of structures like ports, depots and possibly even airstrips on the Spratly Islands, to which the Philippines also lays claim. According to China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, these are for shelter, meteorological forecasting, scientific research, environmental protection, fishery services, search and rescue and navigation – builds that are “within the scope of China’s sovereignty.”
Despite the “civilian” reasons, however, the move has been criticized as threatening to other nations, and described by a US State Department spokesman as potentially “destabilizing.” President Barack Obama had also expressed concerns on China’s strength pushing other claimants into “subordinate positions.”
Territorial claims, especially ones that are centuries’ old, linked to ideas of sovereignty and nationalism, and with stakes as high as they are in these particular cases, are always complex. We at Kemplon Engineering hope that the parties can somehow come to mutually beneficial and peaceful solutions that can finally bring these tensions to rest.
^ “Beijing’s South China Sea projects ‘highly disruptive’ to local ecosystems.” Deutsche Welle, 16 Apr 2015. Web. 17 Apr 2015. http://www.dw.de/beijings-south-china-sea-projects-highly-disruptive-to-local-ecosystems/a-18387012
^ “China ‘building runway in disputed South China Sea island’.” BBC, 17 Apr 2015. Web. 17 Apr 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32331964
^ “China’s Maritime Disputes.” Council on Foreign Relations. Web. Accessed 17 Apr 2015. http://www.cfr.org/asia-and-pacific/chinas-maritime-disputes/p31345#!/?cid=otr-marketing_use-china_sea_InfoGuide
^ “China’s Reclamation: Coast Guard, Cruise Ships, Airstrips.” The Maritime Executive, 10 Apr 2015. Web. 17 Apr 2015. http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/chinas-reclamation-coast-guard-cruise-ships-airstrips
^ “[Updated] China Defends South China Sea Reclamation.” The Maritime Executive, 09 Apr 2015. Web. 17 Apr 2015. http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/china-defends-south-china-sea-reclamation
^ Wee, Sui-Lee and Ben Blanchard. “China mounts detailed defense of sea reclamation.” CNN Philippines, 09 Apr 2015. Web. 17 Apr 2015. http://cnnphilippines.com/world/2015/04/09/China-on-Mischief-structure.html