News / Asia

Analysts: China Growing Increasingly Assertive Along Its Coast

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In recent months, China has taken an increasingly aggressive stance along its coastal borders from the Yellow Sea in the north to the hotly disputed South China Sea. Regional security analysts say this increased assertiveness highlights China's growing economic might and its desire to project its military might beyond its borders.

Tensions rose with the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, followed by the U.S., South Korea and other nations blaming North Korea for the incident. China did not.

Then the U.S. and South Korea announced plans to hold military exercises in the Yellow Sea.

China protested. And later, it called a U.S. offer to mediate claims in the South China Sea an attack on China.

Michael Mazza, an Asia analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says "We have two issues that it is very difficult to find common ground on, and at the moment there is not a really obvious way to move forward on either one."

Sino-Japanese relations also are strained. In early September, a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese coast guard boats collided near disputed islands south of Japan.

Japan arrested the fishing boat captain on possible legal charges. China responded by severing high-level government contacts.      

Dean Cheng, an Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation, says "What we're seeing are two things - one, China is going to become more of a maritime power because it will depend on the seas for its prosperity but also its security. And second of all, China is becoming ever more assertive in establishing, or in claiming, its interests."

Analysts say China's rise is a natural outcome of its economic development. What is harder to understand, they say, are China's military ambitions.

Abe Denmark, an Asia security analyst at the Center for a New American Security, says "No one really knows how China is going to influence the world and the region with its new found power. Naval issues are really where that is first coming to a head. It's where China's interests are most directly most easily recognizable come into conflict with either the United States or its neighbors."

A recent U.S. Defense Department report highlights China's efforts to build a submarine base on Hainan island and its first aircraft carrier. It also notes China's development of anti-ship ballistic missiles.

Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute says China apparently wants to push U.S. forces farther from Asia's mainland, and eventually patrol the region itself.

"U.S. forces are increasingly vulnerable. They [China] are developing what has been in the news lately is an anti-ship ballistic missile, which is a ballistic missile that if it is successful will be able to attack aircraft carriers and other ships at sea. This is not something that we've ever faced before really," he said.

Abe Denmark says the recent rise in tensions could also be attributed to warming ties between China and Taiwan and government military budgets.

"There are some in the West who feel that China's recently aggressive naval behavior is in part a play by the [Chinese] navy to justify continued or increased budgets now that [the] Taiwan [issue] has gone away," said Denmark.

Analysts say that given the current climate, and upcoming changes in Chinese leadership, there is a risk that the U.S. and China are on a collision course, and greater chance that aggressive behavior could lead to accidental incidents.

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