5: The South China Sea
Also in the South China Sea, the conflicts are about sovereignty requirements that can provide access to promising gas and oil deposits and rich fishing. Here the controversy is first and foremost about the dominion over the Spratly Islands . China claims almost the entire area, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim rights to parts of the archipelago. Taiwan claims sovereignty over some islands, but does not appear to have as extensive requirements as China here. In the East China Sea, Taiwan and China have the same position.
China’s position on the Diaoyu / Senkaku issue can probably be justified in the law of the sea, especially since the archipelago is so close to Taiwan. On the other hand, China’s demands in the South China Sea are extreme. In part, they extend up into the “spring rocks” of some Southeast Asian countries, according to softwareleverage.org. Again, China invokes “historical rights” as a basis for its views. Among other things, the country has announced a “nine-point limit” that will mark where the dividing lines in the Chinese view should go. Both China and some of the Asian competitors have at the same time secured a foothold on one or more islets and reefs in the Spratly Island group. This further intensifies the tension and leads to constant confrontations.
In addition, there are some other archipelagos that are disputed. China and the Philippines have long been fighting for dominance over the Scarborough reef, which is almost just a collection of reefs and cliffs in the northern part of the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the Western Philippines. For several months, there have been clashes in an ocean area which, according to Manila, is well within the Philippine economic zone and 1200 km from the nearest Chinese land area.
Vietnam and its old allies from the Vietnam War China has several territorial conflicts going on with several serious episodes in recent times. In silence, the two countries still seem to be working towards a solution to the dispute over the 1400 km. long common land border. In principle, they agree to draw the dividing line for the continental shelf in the Gulf of Tonkin according to the center line principle . But when it comes to the Spratly Islands and the bilateral battle for the so-called Paracel Islands , the conflict is acute .
In addition to repeated episodes , both states have introduced legal regimes that make matters worse. Vietnam has introduced a national maritime law that includes the country’s territorial requirements for the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos. The position is supported by regular fighter aircraft patrols. China, for its part, has established a new administrative “city” that will govern both archipelagos and is now taking steps to strengthen its military presence.
At least as provocative is the fact that the state oil giant, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, has announced that it is ready to receive tenders for test blocks near Vietnam. Some of the blocks are leased by Hanoi to international companies. Finally, Japan and South Korea are arguing over the Takeshima / Dokdo archipelago . This conflict is also so intense that an icy diplomatic climate has been created between them. The United States, which is a close ally of both and has large military forces stationed in the countries, is trying to calm the mood – so far without much success. The bitterness of the conflict is exacerbated by Japan’s prolonged occupation of South Korea and the gross abuses it entailed.
In the conflicts over the archipelagos in the South China Sea, the ASEAN countries and China agreed in 2002 to negotiate a treaty on the “Code of Conduct” (the Association of Southeast Asian States). This will prevent, among other things, dangerous and violent clashes on and around the islands. ASEAN countries have recently been pushing for speed in these negotiations, but China is still unresponsive. In fact , China wants to negotiate bilaterally with the individual East Asian countries for the sovereignty of these islands. In such negotiations, China, by virtue of its size, will stand with superior strength.
6: Where are the peace brokers?
So are there no peace brokers to call on? In Asia, there is no collective security system as we find it in Europe. The security interests of the individual countries are safeguarded through a network of bilateral agreements, guarantees and alliances . There is the United States most often leading the way. It is currently being heavily upgraded in Asia, and by the end of the year, defense spending in Asia will surpass that of Europe.
As early as 2005, China surpassed Japan in the size of its defense budget in Asia. And the growth in military spending has been formidable since then. At the same time, China’s growing power and influence has made Asian neighbors anxious about the future. Increasingly, they therefore want American political and military counterweight again. Therefore, the United States met with support when the country recently announced that Asia and the Pacific will be the central continent for US military presence in the years to come . ASEAN is first and foremost a facilitator of diplomatic meetings and initiatives, but has no real collective power .
In addition, some of the member countries disagree both on specific sovereignty requirements in the South China Sea and on relations with China. That is why the Southeast Asian countries have also invested in large-scale military rearmament. This means an overall increase in defense spending of 42 percent since 2002 and until 2011. Although it is the fear of China that has led them, it is their strong economic growth that has allowed such an increase in spending.
The United States, for its part, is diplomatically trying to quell the conflict despite its own complicated relationship with China. But in sum, there is still no reason to believe that any saving “angel of peace” will appear and resolve the many conflicts that are currently plaguing Asia. It is therefore still up to the individual parties to prevent war from breaking out.