Rising Tensions in East Asia

by Thomas Schaeubli

Tensions in East Asia are rising, and increasingly so. Unfortunately, the topic does not get enough attention in Europe.

East Asia

Just a few days ago, the Chinese government decided to cancel all meetings with Japanese officials. In the old days, this might well have been a declaration of war. Today, it is not relatedly that grave, but still a serious issue.

The Chinese and the Japanese currently clash because Japanese patrol officers arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel that rammed two Japanese boats. While the crew has meanwhile been sent home to China, the captain remains in Japanese custody. Head over to CNN and the New York Times for more information.

The incident is not really grave. The most important thing to take with you at this point is thus that tensions between China and Japan are big enough to inflate an accident as meaningless as this one. The Chinese escalate the incident to test their position: Will the Japanese cooperate? How will the United States react in all of this? How far can we go? What is really happening, thus, is the visualization of the power transitions that are ongoing in the international system.

The Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea

This power transition is also visible in the South China Sea. There, China clashes with a couple of Southeast Asian nations over the resource-rich and strategically important Spratly and Paracel Islands.

In the South China Sea, the United States took position with the Southeast Asian nations by proclaiming that the United States will take sides for a solution based on international law. This directly flies in China’s face, because it sees these waters as its territory, and thus as domestic affairs.

With regard to Japan, it is clear to most observers that the recent events will lead Japan to seek a much closer security cooperation with the United States. I have argued for such a coalition already some time ago.

South and North Korea are yet two other points of friction. North Korea, closely allied with China, is notoriously unstable, und armed to the teeth. South Korea, having a fair share of animosities with both China and North Korea, is heavily supported by the United States

It does not take much to conclude that East Asia is the most important region to future security considerations. The focal point in all of this has to lie on shifting capabilities. Contrary to what many believed, rising China more and more alienates its neighbors, and increasingly so, the more powerful it becomes. Since more recently, after its more or less successful “charm offensive”, China additionally does its part in actively transporting a picture of it being a security threat. As some have predicted, its rising capabilities and interests simply leave it no other choice. Rising powers provoke balancing behavior, not bandwagoning behavior, as the specialists say.

What this also means is that there is a unique opportunity for the United States to strengthen its position towards China. It has taken this opportunity in Southeast Asia, now it remains to see how it reacts with regard to Japan.

The Asian press has understood these developments. Articles on rising and falling powers and shifting power balances are now commonplace. Have a look at some of the articles in the Asia Sentinel, which is an accessible online source worth reading. In Europe, however, it seems as if we feel a bit too comfortable about international security to even take note of all these developments.

This entry was posted in English, Sicherheitspolitik, Thomas Schaeubli.

4 Responses to Rising Tensions in East Asia

  1. This is totally illegal, unreasonable and has already caused much suffering to the family of the captain… If Japan clings to its course, China will take further action. — Wen Jiabao, chinesischer Ministerpräsident zitiert in Joshua Keating, “Morning Brief: Chinese premier threatens action against Japan“, Foreign Policy, 22.09.2010.

  2. China geht einen Schritt weiter auf der Eskalationsleiter und sperrt die Ausfuhr von Metallen der Seltenen Erden nach Japan. Auch wenn “Seltene Erden” nicht wirklich selten sind, ist deren Abbau kostenintensiv und deren Verwendung in vielen Schlüsseltechnologien nicht mehr wegzudenken. Gemäss “Rare Earths“, U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2010, p. 129 produzierte China 2009 120’000 Tonnen dieser Metallkategorie (Weltproduktion geschätzte 124’000 Tonnen) und verfügt über nicht ganz 1/3 der Weltreserve. Die Importe der “Seltenen Erden” in die USA stammen mit 91% aus China, was insbesondere das Pentagon etwas nervös macht. Das US-Verteidigungsministerium erstellt momentan eine Studie, ob die USA wieder zunehmend selber “Seltene Erden” abbauen sollte. Diese Metalle werden beispielsweise auch in Entfernungsmessern und Sonar Systemen eingesetzt. Bereits nächsten Donnerstag, 05.10.2010 wird das US-amerikanische House Committee on Science and Technology über eine Gesetzesvorlage zur Subventionierung der US-amerikanischen Industrie, welche auf Metallen der Seltenen Erden basieren, beraten. Eine Mine in Mountain Pass, Kalifornien schloss 2002 – es bestehen jedoch Bestrebungen sie 2011 zu reaktivieren.

    Da China schon länger den Export von Gelbem Phosphor und “Seltenen Erden” drosselt, könnte Japan bei einer Klage bei der Welthandelsorganisation (WTO) womöglich Unterstützung von der EU, Mexiko und den USA erhalten.

    Quelle: Keith Bradsher, “Amid Tension, China Blocks Vital Exports to Japan“, The New York Times, 22.09.2010.

  3. Japan gibt klein bei und den chinesischen Kapitän frei. Zwei Stunden später verliess der er in Begleitung hochrangiger chinesischer Regierungsbeamter japanischen Boden. Über eine mögliche Anklage hat die Staatsanwaltschaft noch nicht entschieden.

    Quelle:Japan lässt chinesischen Kapitän frei“, Spiegel, 24.09.2010.

  4. Pingback: Chinese Nuclear Accident Alleged | Ample Warnings

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