On Tuesday, China unveiled a new “vertical atlas” of territorial claims, including Taiwan, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (“South Tibet”), the continental shelf extending to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islapolicies s, and almost the entirety of the South China Sea.
The old nine-dash line maps either used boxes to enlarge the Spratly and Parcel Islands, or instead cut off most of mainland China. The new ten-dash line map is elongated to show continental China and all of its territorial claims, stretching down to the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, on one map with the same scale.
This is the latest in a string of territorial altercations, which some analysts are suggesting might lead to war. While China’s territorial disputes are all long-standing, complex, and unique, they are not impossible. If China and its neighbors were interested in resolving their territorial disagreements they could do so without much ado: for instance, as China and Vietnam have done in the Gulf of Tonkin, where the two countries share fishing rights without explicit claims of sovereignty. This suggests that China—and Japan, regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands—is not only refusing to solve its territorial disputes but deliberately aggravating tensions.
The simplest explanation is that the Chinese government is invoking nationalism to: create a superficially unified public, rallying behind the government; distract from domestic problems; and to bolster support for aggressive foreign policies.
“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”
Talk by Professor Tom Berger, International Relations at the University of Boston
Open to the public, on the record (Chatham House rule not in effect)
Prof. Berger opened by stating the US-Japanese relations are having a “schizophrenic moment”—that the American pivot is sincere and it’s a productive time for trade and security, but there is a harsh ideological clash, and Abe and Obama “are not natural soul mates”. He goes on to say that a combination of geostrategical changes and geocultural changes are lend themselves to this, the ideal environment to develop the US-Japanese alliance wherein the tension commands attention but remains a manageable problem (for now).
The geostrategic situation has shifted from hegemonic American air/maritime power and Japanese isolation but potential for great power status to a new regional balance where China is rising as America declines, and where Japan no longer fears an American-led war by entrapment but where America fears being pulled into territorial squabbles.
The principle geocultural change is a “rising tide of nationalism”, though Prof. Berger was keen to point out that the “hydraulic model” employed by journalists is reductive. Abe is not an old-style (imperial) militarist, and Japan’s not too nationalistic; rather it’s not nationalistic enough. Nationalism and unity allowed Japan to rise until World War II, and its 20th century defeat was institutionalized, militarily and morally, and reinforced by the Japanese left. Since the 1950s Japan has sought to rediscover its unity: constitutional changes were made imbuing the education system with nationalism, and military policy was altered to allow Japan to become more independent (and by extension less dependent on the US). Abe’s support then comes from: perceived Chinese aggression on the Senkakus and the resulting sense of threat; and “Abenomics” (economic reform). That is, the conservatives supporting Abe are not ideological nationalists but pragmatists.
This geocultural shift toward nationalism is also present in South Korea and China, as these countries come into their increased strength. Both states have anti-Japanese sentiments and South Korea in particular can’t politically continue to ignore Japan’s imperial war crimes, but likewise both China and the ROK have set aside political concerns in favor of pragmatism, especially in trading.
During the Q&A Prof. Berger was asked about the nuclear issue, Japanese domestic politics, and the motivations behind the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. He finished by remarking that nationalism in Japan is taboo and therefore seductive, and it’s more likely to fuel anti-Korean sentiment via kimchi boycotts than militarization.
Pardoning Prof. Berger’s casual ableism (“schizophrenic moment”), the talk was compelling. Berger acknowledged the plurality of Japanese perspectives and implicitly noted that it is from plurality and competing voices that states arrive at their “national interest” which directs policy.
However it also seemed fundamentally contradictory: is Japan experiencing a “rising tide of nationalism” under Abe, reflected in the Senkaku dispute and desire to lessen security dependence on America? Or rather is Japan not nationalistic, putting aside ideology and nationalism for pragmatism?
I would suggest that Japan is in fact nationalistic in its foreign policy, especially regarding the island dispute: if Japan (and China, it takes two after all) were pragmatic instead of nationalistic, the two states would table the issue of sovereignty and agree to jointly develop the resources within the EEZ of the Senkaku/Diaoyus, much as China and Vietnam have come to a fishing agreement in the Tonkin Gulf. Instead, the two nations exploit the dispute over otherwise meaningless barren rocks for their nationalistic effect on domestic populations—if this continues, Abe might rediscover Japanese unity after all.
South Korea declared yesterday that it is expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the submerged Ieodo rock, overlapping China’s ADIZ, to take effect on 2013-12-15. The South Korean announcement comes as a reaction and condemnation of China’s ADIZ, announced last month. Beijing has expressed regret.
The Chinese ADIZ is remarkable not because there is no precedent for zones of this nature, but because it effectively claims the need to be informed of any aircraft flying within the zone, which includes international airspace (as do other ADIZs) and, more controversially, it overlaps neighboring ADIZs. The entire purpose of an ADIZ is to eliminate confusion about nearby aircraft and to intercept enemy aircraft before it gets too close to sovereign airspace; but because China’s and South Korea’s ADIZs overlap with each other (and Japan’s), they are likely to cause rather than reduce confusion. Aircraft flying near Ieodo or the disputed island territories may face conflicting communications orders from multiple states, and potentially multiple attempts at interception. ADIZs are not explicitly included in international law and states are not obligated to abide by them, though they generally do in the spirit of collective security and in the interest of avoiding accidents.
Needless to say, Japan, South Korea and the US are not on board with China’s ADIZ declaration, rightly worrying that it lends to instability in the region.
In defiance of China’s announcement, South Korea conducted an air and sea exercises near South Korea’s Ieodo rock, which sits squarely within China’s ADIZ. The exercise included 2 P-3C patrol boats and 1 of South Korea’s 3 Aegis destroyers.
Japan also demonstrated noncompliance, scrambling 2 fighter jets against Chinese reconnaissance aircraft on the day of the announcement. South Korean and Japanese ADIZs immediately border each other but do not overlap.
Last week 2 American B-52 bombers entered China’s recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without notifying Beijing beforehand. The mission, an allegedly routine exercise called “Coral Lightning”, flew over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on 2013-11-25. Secretary Hagel called China’s ADIZ “destabilizing”, further noting that “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” The Chinese Defense Ministry claimed, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” yet the Pentagon said the exercise occurred “without incident“.
Military confrontation appears unlikely. Beijing is facing embarrassment, but beyond that consequences will be benign. It is probably too much to hope for a cooperative international effort to regulate ADIZs so as to avoid similar political disputes in the future.
This afternoon the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) held a panel discussion on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The panel was held in the Ascham Room in Bloomsbury House, a large open space on the 2nd floor with views of tall leafy trees, with US Naval War College Professor Peter Dutton and Australian National University Associate Professor Katherine Morton, Chaired by IISS Senior Fellow Christian Le Mière.
The main debates which emerged focused on different methods of dispute resolution in the SCS, China’s adherence (or selective lack thereof) to international law, the influence of the US in the region, and the domestic tension in Chinese politics regarding territorial claims. Both panelists argued that China will not use military power to defend its disputed territories, but rather a blend of economic and diplomatic pressure, which should also be viewed as an exercise of power.
M. Dutton explained the preferred methods of dispute resolution for the involved states: regarding diplomacy, China prefers bilateral resolutions; “others” (presumably ASEAN members) prefer multilateral negotiations; and the Philippines has launched an arbitration case to be resolved by an international tribunal. Non-diplomatic methods were universally deemed power-based, either through armed conflict or non-militarized coercion (economic and political). M. Dutton argued that China won’t use armed conflict as a dispute resolution technique because it might clash with US interests (Taiwan and the Philippines are American allies), and because China wants to adhere to international norms in its so-called peaceful rise to power.
Dr. Morton opened by remarking that China is and will remain a conservative stakeholder of international law and that the motivation for China to become a maritime power is historical. China rejects the UNCLOS on the basis of historical entitlement, and Beijing sees international pressure for multilateral negotiation as an excuse for foreign intervention. Dr. Morton suggested that there is a “rightful” and “limited” Chinese maritime perspective: the former argues that China deserves maritime power and jurisdiction based on historical presence, and will be bullied by other major powers if it doesn’t aggressively seize maritime opportunities; and the latter posits that China should not defend its disputed territories militarily because it is in China’s interests to focus on economic opportunities instead. She concluded that China has adapted to the “ASEAN way”, and now we shall see if ASEAN will adapt to the Chinese way.
The audience in attendance was a half-full room of middle-aged men with a few middle-aged women, plus me. All the questions were taken from men in the front row; as always with these events, there is only ever time for about 3 and the rest are relegated to the dustbin.
In the end we were left with lingering questions: Will the Philippine arbitration move China to more meaningful negotiations? Is the US neutral? (Answer: No.) How will the US presence in the region influence the outcomes of these disputes? How are tensions between law and policy generally resolved, and how does that apply to the SCS?
As an IR theorist my main frustration is the continued obsession with “balancing” of state power. I would have preferred an analysis of the geography of the SCS (continental shelves, resource distribution, naval traffic), the subtle ways in which states utilize language in their diplomatic negotiations, or a challenge to the assumption that China makes territorial claims based entirely on nationalism. If you’re going to focus on states and power, at least give us a detailed overview of the naval hardware.