Skip to main content

China's 'Expanding Core' squeezes

Beijing's muscle flexing and territorial claims in the South China Sea, along with its mushrooming military budget and gloomy human rights record, are ringing alarm bells in the region 

China is now engaged in bitter disputes with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, both located far beyond China's 320km-wide territorial waters in the South China Sea. Indeed, so expansive are China's claims nowadays that many Asians are wondering what will satisfy China's desire to secure its ''core interests''. Are there no limits, or does today's China conceive of itself as a restored Middle Kingdom, to whom the entire world must kowtow?

So far, China has formally referred to Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang province as ''core interests'', a phrase that connotes an assertion of national sovereignty and territorial integrity that will brook no compromise. Now China is attempting to apply the same term to the Senkaku Islands in its dispute with Japan, and is perilously close to making the same claim for the entire South China Sea; indeed, some Chinese military officers already have.

The Senkaku Islands, located to the west of Okinawa in the East China Sea and currently uninhabited, were incorporated into Japan by the Meiji government in 1895. At one time, there were regular residents working at a bonito-drying facility. In 1969, the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East completed a seabed survey of the East China Sea, and reported the possible presence of vast underground mineral resources, including abundant oil and natural gas reserves near the Senkakus. Two years passed before Taiwan and China claimed sovereignty over the islands, in 1971, but the Japanese government's stance has always been that Japan's sovereignty is not in question.

In April, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, a famous and articulate patriot, announced that the metropolitan government that he leads plans to acquire four of the Senkaku Islands, which are currently privately owned by Japanese citizens. Donations for the purchase from the people of Japan now exceed 700 million yen (278.6 million baht).

China reacted to Mr Ishihara's proposal with its usual sensitivity: it refused to receive the scheduled visit of his son, who is secretary-general of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, the country's main opposition party.

Moreover, at a meeting in Beijing earlier this month between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a trilateral summit with South Korea, Mr Wen mentioned the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Senkaku Islands in the same breath. ''It is important to respect China's core interests and issues of major concern,'' he emphasised.

Until that moment, the Chinese government had never applied the term ''core interest'' to the Senkaku Islands. Following Mr Wen's statement, the trilateral summit deteriorated. While South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held bilateral talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, talks between Mr Noda and Mr Hu, and a scheduled meeting between Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, were also cancelled. The joint declaration issued at the summit was delayed a day, and omitted all references to North Korea _ a prime concern of both Japan and South Korea.

China's brusque treatment of Japan's leaders probably was intended as a rebuke not only over the Senkaku Islands issue, but also for hosting the Fourth General Meeting of the World Uyghur Congress in Tokyo in May. Previously, such meetings had been held in Germany and the United States, and this one, which stressed the importance of protecting human rights and preserving the traditions, culture, and language of the Uyghur people, received no official sanction or endorsement from the Japanese government.

If gruff diplomacy was the only manifestation of China's expansive territorial claims, Asian leaders could sleep more peacefully. But the fact is that China's navy is becoming increasingly active in the South China Sea, at the Senkaku Islands and Scarborough Shoal in particular, but also around the Spratly Islands claimed by Vietnam. Given China's mushrooming military budget, that assertiveness has set off alarm bells among the other countries bordering the South China Sea.

Moreover, China's bullying of the Philippines included not only the dispatch of warships to Scarborough Shoals, but also the sudden imposition of import restrictions on Filipino produce. And China's reactions toward Japan are far more paranoid since a non-LDP government took power.

The struggles for power within China's ruling Communist Party over the purge of Bo Xilai, and the blind activist Chen Guangcheng's escape from detention during economic talks with the US, have made Chinese leaders nationalist assertions even more strident than usual. No official wants to appear soft where China's supposed ''core interests'' are concerned.

So far, China has not unleashed the sort of mass demonstrations against Japan and others that it has used in the past, but that probably reflects the fact that China's leaders cannot guarantee such a demonstration would not turn into an anti-government protest.

China's real core interests are not in territorial expansion and hegemony over its neighbours, but in upholding human rights and improving the welfare of its own citizens, which is the world's core interest in China. But until China accepts that its territorial claims in the South China Sea must be discussed multilaterally, so that smaller countries like the Philippines and Vietnam do not feel threatened, China's ever expanding ''core interests'' will be the root of instability in East Asia.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yuriko Koike | Bangkok Post | May 27, 2012 | Article Link

Yuriko Koike is Japan's former minister of defence and national security adviser.

 

Comments

More Philippine Defense News

DND wants frigate with 'surface-to-air' missile power

MANILA, Philippines - Defense spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez announced on Friday that one of the frigates to be acquired by the Philippines will have "surface-to-air" capabilities. That is, the ship will have the capability to fire missiles, guided by radar or heat sensors, at airborne targets.
"Aside from this, our latest frigate will have heavier gun armament and other equipment that will make it very effective in patrolling and securing the country's waters," Galvez said in Filipino.
He declined to state the particular country the Philippines will acquire this ship but stressed that acquisition will be done through a government-to-government transaction.
The Philippines has taken on a new sense of urgency to upgrade its naval capabilities as tensions continue to rise around the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). US President Barack Obama's announced "pivot" for America towards the Pacific has stirred greater naval activity on the p…

No reduction in AFP manpower size

THERE will be no reduction in the number of soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when it implements the streamlining of commands by 2013, a senior officer told the Manila Standard in an exclusive interview.
“Under the Force Structure Review, there will be streamlining of units but this does not mean reduction in terms of the number of soldiers. In fact, the FSR calls for more recruits in the future,” the source, who requested anonymity, said.
At present, the military has a total of 125,000 soldiers, of which almost 85,000 are in the Army and the rest in the Navy-Marines and Air Force.
The FSR calls for an in-depth study of the AFP history in reference to pertinent laws of the land in conjunction with the challenges of internal and external defense.
The study also calls for the establishment of a strategic command that will focus on external defense where the main force would be the Air Force and Navy.
On instructions of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, former military ch…

Philippine Armored Vehicles with ad-hoc wood slat armor

While searching for Philippine armored vehicles for the updates being done for both the blog and the Facebook page I chanced upon images of Philippine Army and Marine armor assets covered with thick wood planks as slat armor for protection from rocket propelled grenades. This caught the eyes of Popular Mechanics who published an article last June 8th just for this subject.


According to the article,
Wood armor on armored vehicles won't save them from ISIS rockets. Not sure, I'll leave that to the actual reports from the Philippine Military in using wood as an ad hoc protection for rpg's, but yes this is only during emergencies. The Philippine Army and Philippine Marines should employ or use the real add-on armors currently in the market for armored vehicle protection. Or they could just simply buy new thicker-armored vehicles to be used for front-line operations and have the old vehicles to be used in secondary missions or as support vehicles.



Nonetheless the fast-thinkin…