News

Report Says China Worsening Tensions in S. China Sea

Photographed through the window of a closed aircraft, an aerial view shows Pagasa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines Wednesday July 20, 2011.
Photographed through the window of a closed aircraft, an aerial view shows Pagasa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines Wednesday July 20, 2011.
Shannon Sant

A new report from a Brussels-based think tank says Chinese government agencies are exacerbating tensions in the South China Sea.

As relations worsen between China and its South China Sea neighbors, some analysts say Beijing governmental agencies with little experience in foreign affairs are jockeying for influence, presenting inconsistent policies across the disputed region.

The International Crisis Group (IGC) says Beijing's highlighting of historical claims to the territory is also stoking nationalist sentiments.

Graphic of South China Seas

Stephanie Kleine Ahlbrandt, the China and Northeast Asia Policy Director for the ICG in Beijing, says the growing U.S. military presence in the area is also upsetting the balance of power among the neighboring countries.

“This raises the stakes in the entire region," says Ahlbrandt. "It’s beyond the South China Seas, in places like Myanmar, in places like India, and this profoundly disturbs China because China feels like [the region belongs to it], and they’ve responded by engaging in more military build up, which is sort of a circle whereby these countries feel more afraid and then they ask the U.S. to come in.”

The United States has long held annual military exercises with countries in the region, but escalating tensions have brought those efforts under new scrutiny.

The U.S. and Philippines held annual naval drills earlier this month, and China and Russia have begun their own joint military exercises in the region.

Two Spheres of Influence
“We have two centers: China as an economic center, the United States and her allies as a security center," says Huang Jing, director of the Center on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore. "As a result, all the countries are caught in this dilemma. Economically they have no choice but to go with China because China has become the largest trade partner to every country in this region -- even Japan and South Korea who are American allies. On the other hand, they know that the United States still holds supreme power in terms of military capability.”

Asian countries have been buying arms at a record pace in recent years, causing some to worry about a military buildup. But so far, confrontations have mainly involved civilian vessels and fishing fleets.

Overcrowded Fishing Grounds
According to Ahlbrandt, civilian vessels and fishing fleets are easier to deploy, making confrontations and skirmishes among the vessels more common.

“So what you have is kind of a quasi Coast Guard arms race going on, and that’s dangerous because navies are generally more threatening but harder to deploy,” she says.

Thousands of fishermen earn their livelihoods on the South China Sea, but because of overfishing, pollution, and the race to feed Asia’s growing populations, fishermen are increasingly pushing farther out from coastal areas and into internationally disputed waters.

While China’s growing economic and military power may lead it to stake out territorial claims, Ahlbrandt says other countries, such as Vietnam, are also showing increased commercial and territorial assertiveness in the region.

“I think it should also be noted that China’s behavior in the South China Seas is largely reactionary because other claimants, [who] are driven by similar factors, are also stepping up their territorial claims and economic activities in disputed waters,” she says.

Need for Compromise
South China Sea countries have tried to resolve disputes via arbitration, and agreeing on a regional code of conduct has long been a goal of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But efforts have largely been fruitless.

“Any negotiation over territorial issues will have to involve compromise," says Ahlbrandt. "It’s just that these actors, including the Philippines and Vietnam, will have a difficult time explaining to their public -- who have been imbued for decadees with some of the sense that some of these maritime areas are theirs -- that the government has to compromise on these things.”

This month China and the Philippines are engaged in a standoff near Scarborough Shoal -- an area both claim as their own. One Chinese newspaper has warned of small scale war over the waterway, but Huang says this tough talk is driven by China’s domestic political dynamics.

“As China is getting into this leadership transition period, all of the ruling elite members are geared up for this transition," he says. "So as a result, few of them can afford to appear soft in terms of national interests such as in the South China seas."

With China's National Party Congress schedule for this fall, harsh rhetoric and aggressive comments over the region are likely to continue.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
May 18, 2012 10:17 AM
Once again the PRC thinks it is the Middle Kingdom again & can order other Asian nations around to pay tribute. Now the PRC claims sovereignty over the entire S. China Sea. This is an example of Chinese hegemony. It's time Asian nations stooop up to the PRC & say they will no longer kowtow to the PRC Empire.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs