The rise of China has been the source of much analysis and debate, primarily about whether its rise is disruptive to the security and stability of East Asia. As if in tandem with one another, the rise of tensions in the East and South China Seas have been capturing headlines since 2009. There are many commonalities, notably: (i) that China is a competing claimant; (ii) that there are similar issues of international law that are raised; (iii) that hydrocarbons and fish are contested natural resources within the region; and (iv) that both sets of disputes involve U.S. treaty allies. However, the differences are striking: (i) that some of the legal issues in the South China Sea dispute have been submitted to international adjudication; (ii) that the South China Sea disputes are much more multilateral in nature than the East China Sea disputes; and (iii) that Japan is a much more formidable military opponent to China than either Vietnam or the Philippines. The commonalities and differences between these two regional disputes reveal much about which dispute is more likely to erupt into conflict and if conflict were to erupt, which dispute would prove more catastrophic. The presence of an intense anti-Japan nationalism in China points to the East China Sea being more likely to erupt into conflict than the South China Sea disputes. But despite this, Japan’s comparative military prowess, coupled with its solid security alliance with the United States, imposes a sobriety on China’s decision-makers, making that region less likely to erupt into conflict than the South China Sea dispute. The only true resolution to these disputes is formal adjudication of maritime and sovereignty rights, but such a resolution is exceedingly unlikely. Despite this, all parties involved can take steps to prevent conflict, and if conflict erupts, to mitigate it.
About the Author
Dr Ian Forsyth is a Visiting Fellow with the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California and a JD from Syracuse University. He works as an analyst at the United States Pacific Command in Hawaii, USA. His views are his alone.
Conflict and Stability / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Maritime Security / Policy Reports / Southeast Asia and ASEAN
Last updated on 06/02/2015