While the West is pummeled by China’s rising economy, neighbors fear possible Beijing territorial claims.
The dazzling rise of the Chinese economy over the last decade has been the 21st century’s greatest economic success story. While Western economies find their indigenous manufacturing industries being gutted by massive floods of cheap Chinese imports, China’s neighbors are looking worryingly at the possibility that Beijing might flex its growing military strength in contests over bilateral territorial disputes, which exist with nearly all of its neighbors, encompassing both land and maritime issues.
The list of disagreements is extensive.
Top of Beijing’s list is reincorporating renegade Taiwan.
With India and Pakistan, Beijing contests territorial issues in Kashmir, with portions under the de facto administration of China (Aksai Chin), India (Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas).
China has yet to resolve questions regarding the sovereignty of India's Arunachal Pradesh, most of which is claimed by Beijing.
Most recently, China’s disputes with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over the Spratly islands’ 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays has garnered media attention. Chinese maps show an international boundary symbol off the coasts of the littoral states of the South China Seas, despite the 2002 "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," which eased tensions in the Spratlys.
Other maritime disputes - China occupies some of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan and China and Taiwan both continue to reject Japan's claims to the uninhabited islands of Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) and Japan's unilaterally declared equidistance line in the East China Sea.
China even has disagreements with North Korea over several islands in the Yalu and Tumen rivers, while China and Russia have only recently demarcated the once disputed islands in the Amur and Ussuri rivers, over which they fought a brief but vicious border war in 1969.
China has been more successful in its territorial disputes with the former Central Asian nations of the USSR, making significant concessions to its Central Asian neighbors. China has kept 20 percent of the land disputed with Kazakhstan and the two countries are working to demarcate their large open borders to control population migration, drug smuggling and trade. In its unresolved territorial claims with Kyrgyzstan, China has retained about 30 percent of the contested areas, while it has dropped most of its claims to Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains. In 2002, China signed boundary delimitation agreements whereby Tajikistan ceded 386 square miles of the Pamir mountain range to China in return for China's relinquishing claims to 10,810 square miles and China and Tajikistan have begun demarcating the revised boundary.
While predicting future Chinese actions is difficult, it would seem that China is willing to modify its historic claims in return for increased access to indigenous energy reserves. Energy security is now the driving force behind much of Beijing's foreign policy, much to the consternation of its energy-poor neighbors.
If diplomacy fails however, there is always the military stick. China's first aircraft carrier, a renovated Soviet vessel, has begun sea trials. The 990-foot-long former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, originally called the Varyag and now renamed the Shi Lang, was completely overhauled and is currently based in China’s northeast Dalian port. It is perhaps not coincidental that "Shi Lang" was a famous 17th century Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan.
In contrast, the U.S. maintains 12 nuclear-powered carrier task forces.
That said, virtually none of China’s potential naval adversaries over maritime disputes – Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have any maritime airpower at all, so a single carrier could do quite nicely, thank you.
Under the leadership of Chairman Mao Tse Tung, the People’s Republic of China fought two brief but savage border wars with both India (1962) and Vietnam (1979.) While China has prospered mightily since that time by expanding its economy, the 64,000 yuan question remains of what action Beijing might take if its border disputes are not resolved to its satisfaction. Given that China has territorial squabbles with virtually all of its neighbors on both land and sea and that many of the areas in contention contain significant energy resources, it is a question well worth pondering.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com