Border Disputes Come To Define China’s Relations With Its Neighbors
With tensions between China and Japan already heightened due to an ongoing territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, this week China opened up another front when it questioned Tokyo’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa.
Earlier this month, the People’s Daily, China’s communist party newspaper, featured an article in which two Chinese academics cast doubt on Japan’s claims over the Ryukyu chain of islands.
Territorial Dispute With India Temporarily Resolved
When Chinese troops crossed the de facto border with India, it revived longstanding border tensions over the Ladakh region. China and India went to war in 1962 over the disputed border territory and Beijing still claims around 35,000 square miles of land in the northeast of India.
“The Chinese withdrawal only occurred after India hardened its position on the impending visit of Indian foreign Minister Salman Kurshid to Beijing on 9 May and the reciprocal visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi on 20 May. The Indian government was forced to harden its position by the strong public reaction to what was perceived to be its weak-kneed response to the Chinese ‘incursions’.
A disturbing feature of the incident was the way it was politicised on both sides, thus risking the protagonists being ‘locked in’ to their respective positions,” writes Sandy Gordon is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.
Prior to the visit to India by China’s Premier Li Keqiang, Beijing downplayed the importance of the recent tensions and chose to stress their “mutual interests and cooperation.”
Should The US Encourage China to Become More Engaged?
Conventional wisdom posits that an emboldened and more assertive China is at the root of the various crises which have over the last year created tension in the Asian peninsula. But Yukon Huang of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently actually believes the opposite to be true and suggests the US and the West should encourage China to become more, not less engaged on the world stage.
Huang views China “a reactive player” that has only responded to what it “perceives as the provocations of others (a category that includes everything from Japanese nationalization of disputed islands to sanctions against Pyongyang).”
China’s Focus On The Long-Term Is Short-Sighted
While the US foreign policy tends to be driven by short-term considerations, China takes a longer-term strategy. Ironically, this strategy will hurt China in the long-term because it often leads to the view of China as unwilling to cooperate with the international community.
“Beijing’s wait-and-see approach fails in practice because events often force China to react before it would have preferred. Beijing’s response to maritime disputes, for instance, is not a product of grand strategy. Rather, it is largely a knee-jerk reaction to what China sees as rising nationalism among its neighbors coupled with a containment strategy led by the U.S. This reactive stance has been self-defeating as others come to regard China as deliberately uncooperative,” Huang says, adding that China will not change its current course unless the US and the international community take the first step by drawing China back onto the world stage.