China has long had territorial maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors, but over the past year tensions over its claims in the East and South China Sea have seen a dramatic uptick. Beijing is using everything from establishing a new city in the South China Sea to weather reports to take a more assertive stance.
As a rising maritime power, China is using a wide range of measures to shore up its territorial claims.
In July, Beijing established a new city and military garrison on the island of Sansha, extending its reach further into the South China Sea. Next month, police on Hainan island will begin to search and board foreign ships that enter its claimed territory.
Some say this will just add to already growing tensions. But Zhang Jie, an Asia Pacific security analyst says it is more about defending China’s rights than taking a more aggressive stance.
“There has always been a lack of clear provisions to implement or legal basis on matters of the administrative management sea in China, so for example in Xisha or in Zhongsha if the Philippines or Vietnam infringes on the rights of fishermen or if they drill for oil or gas, then what kind of measures should China take? Well, now we have provisions to regulate that,” Zhang explained.
When a dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea flared in September, people took to the streets and the government launched measures to assert its sovereignty, ranging from submitting its oceanic claims to the United Nations to broadcasting the weather for the uninhabited islands.
This tougher approach is in sharp contrast to China’s posture in the 1990s, when it was more willing to negotiate and make concessions, says China security analyst Bonnie Glaser. "I think that today Beijing is using sticks in addition to carrots, teaching lessons to those neighbors that misbehave and feel that they can tolerate a degree of tensions and friction with their neighbors for a period of time," Glaser stated.
This approach resonates with the public in China and many are finding ways to show their support for its territorial claims.
“This says Protect and Defend the Diaoyu Islands, Do Not Give up Even One Inch of Land” If the country needs me to become a soldier then I would go,” said Xu.
“As the public’s knowledge increases and incomes grow, people are becoming more patriotic and care more about the country's affairs. But this at times can link up with dissatisfaction the public may have about other social and political issues and that can lead to increased criticism and pressure toward the government,” Zhang said.
Analysts say that if China does not handle its territorial disputes well, it not only could face trouble in the region but at home as well.