China's Territorial Disputes


GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes





China’s maritime disputes span centuries.

 The tug-of-war over sovereignty of the Diaoyu/Senkakus in the East China Sea can be traced to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, while Japan’s defeat in World War II and Cold War geopolitics added complexity to claims over the islands.

 The fight over overlapping exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea has an equally complex chronology of events steeped in the turmoil of Southeast Asian history.

 The U.S. pivot to Asia, involving renewed diplomatic activity and military redeployment, could signal Washington’s heightened role in the disputes, which, if not managed wisely, could turn part of Asia’s maritime regions from thriving trade channels into arenas of conflict.

Timeline of Events

Date Event







Sino-Japanese War Ends

The Sino-Japanese war ends with the signing of the Treaty of

Shimonoseki. The treaty does not mention the

Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands , which were not discussed during negotiations.

1937 Japan Invades South China Sea Islands

After claiming exclusive rights over several South China Sea archipelagos, Japan occupies the Pratas Islands on September

3, 1937. The Japanese Imperial Navy lands on the Spratlys in

December 1938 and invades Hainan Island the following


Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Come Under U.S. Control

After Tokyo’s surrender at the end of World War II, the United

States assumes control of Japan. This includes the

Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

1947 China Marks South China Sea Claims

China, under the rule of the nationalist Kuomintang party, demarcates its territorial claims in the South China Sea with an eleven-dash line on a map.

 The claim includes the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which China regained from Japan after World War II.

 In 1953, the CCP government simplifyed the border to nine dashes, which China uses as historical basis for its territorial claims in the South China Sea today

Sep 8,


Treaty of San Francisco

The United States and forty-seven other nations sign the

Treaty of Peace with Japan in San Francisco, officially ending

World War II.

 Japan renounces all claims to Korea, Formosa

(Taiwan), the Pescadores, and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Oct 1,





 The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are not explicitly mentioned in the treaty, though there is a tacit understanding that Japan will administer them as a part of Okinawa Prefecture.

 Whether the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands were considered part of Okinawa or ceded to Taiwan after the treaty remains a contentious issue in the presentday debate over sovereignty in the East China Sea.

U.S.-Japan Security Treaty

The United States and Japan sign the bilateral Treaty of

Mutual Cooperation and Security, a ten-year, renewable agreement stipulating that any attack on territories under

Japan’s administration would require action by both countries to “meet the common danger.” Washington has consistently asserted that the treaty covers the

Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, though it has refrained from explicitly endorsing Japan’s sovereignty claim over the islands.

Some analysts believe the U.S.-Japan treaty presents the biggest deterrent to a takeover of the islands by force.

Okinawa Reversion Treaty

The United States and Japan sign the Okinawa Reversion

Treaty, in which Washington effectively returns full control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands to Japan.




China Claims Paracel Islands

A year after the Paris Peace Accords, which end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Chinese forces occupy the western portion of the Paracel Islands, planting flags on several islands and seizing a South Vietnamese garrison.

Meanwhile, Beijing builds a military installation, including an airfield and artificial harbor, on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels. To this day, China maintains around one thousand troops in the Paracels .



– Mar









Sino-Vietnamese War

Roughly thirty thousand are killed in the short-lived conflict, which marks the beginning of many border disputes between

Beijing and Hanoi and bolsters Vietnam’s lingering distrust of


UNCLOS is established the third and final United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, culminates in a resolution that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of surrounding waters based on exclusive economic zones and continental shelves.

China Sinks Three Vietnamese Ships

China Passes Law on the Territorial Sea

China passes the Law on the Territorial Sea and the

Contiguous Zone, which lays claim to the entire South China

Sea based on its historical right to the area dating from the Xia dynasty.





Mischief Reef Incident

Three Chinese naval vessels fight a ninety-minute battle with a Philippine navy gunboat near Capones Island in the Mischief

Reef, part of the Spratly chain of islands claimed by Manila.

China-U.S. Military Agreement

China and the United States sign the Military Maritime

Consultative Agreement, the first bilateral military agreement between the two countries, which serves as a confidencebuilding measure after a period of frozen relations following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

However, its efficacy is questioned in April 2001, when a

Chinese F-8 interceptor and a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft collide over the South China Sea, killing a Chinese pilot.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes








ASEAN and China Code of Conduct

China and the ten ASEAN states reach an agreement in Phnom

Penh on the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of

Parties in the South China Sea, a code of conduct that seeks to ease tensions and creates guidelines for conflict resolution.

Vietnam, Malaysia Submit UN Claims

Vietnam and Malaysia file a joint submission to the UN

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend their continental shelves beyond the standard two hundred nautical miles from their coastlines, renewing friction over maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea.

China becomes the second-largest consumer and net

importer of oil heightening the strategic importance of trade routes in the East and South China Seas for tanker shipments.

Jul 23,


United States Affirms Interest in South China Sea

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton reiterates Washington’s neutrality on sovereignty in the South China Sea in a speech at an Asian regional security meeting in Hanoi, but affirms

American interests in the “open access to Asia’s maritime commons.”

Clinton’s comments are viewed as an expansion of U.S. involvement in the disputes and a boon to Vietnam

Sep 7,


Jun 1,


A Chinese fishing boat collides with two Japanese

Coast Guard vessels near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, prompting Japan to arrest the crew.

Philippines Summons Chinese Envoy

The Philippines summons a Chinese envoy to express its mounting concern about naval incursions in its claimed territory after recording at least five incursions by Chinese ships in the past year near the Spratly Islands and the Amy

Douglas Bank, off the coast of Palawan Island. Both parties


2011 declare the incident as violations of the 2002 ASEAN-China

Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and the event sets off a series of skirmishes in the region between the two countries.

Philippines Renames South China Sea the Philippine government begins referring to the South

China Sea as the West Philippine Sea in all official communications.

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton also begins referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea.

Apr 8,


Scarborough Shoal Incident

Diplomatic relations between Manila and Beijing decline further after the Philippines dispatches a warship to confront

Chinese fishing boats in the Scarborough Shoal, north of the

Spratlys. China subsequently dispatches its own surveillance vessels to protect its fishermen and a two-month standoff ensues.



Vietnam Passes Maritime Law

Vietnam passes a maritime law asserting its jurisdiction over the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands, demanding notification from any foreign naval ships passing through the area.

Jul 13,


ASEAN Fails to Issue Communiqué

Its ten members reach an impasse over China’s claims in the

South China Sea



Ganbare Nippon, a nationalist Japanese group, organised a visit by activists to Senkaku island. Despite being blocked by coast guards, some Japanese made it ashore and planted a

Japanese flag on the islands, drawing protests from China.



Japan Buys Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands

The government of Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


2012 signs a contract, worth two billion yen, to purchase three of the five disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from private landowner Kunioki Kurihara




China Claims Territorial Sea Baselines

In response to Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyu/Senkaku

Islands, Beijing declares territorial sea baselines around the land, announcing Chinese administration of the disputed islands and directly challenging Tokyo’s control.






Philippines Files UN Arbitration Over China’s

Sovereignty Claims to the Spratly Islands and Scarborough

Shoal originating from the April 2012 clashes, acting on decades of stalled attempts at resolution.

China Consolidates Bureaucratic Control Over

Maritime Agencies grouping them under the State Oceanic

Administration and effectively creating a unified coast guard with more concentrated capabilities. The move is part of a race to match Japan’s Coast Guard, which is the largest in the world.




China Declares East China Sea Air Defense

Identification Zone that requires all non-commercial air traffic to submit flight plans prior to entering the area, which covers most of the East China Sea and includes the

Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

US defies China to invade Senkaku Islands airspace, where

Two unarmed US military aircraft flew over Senkaku Islands without informing China



Chinese vessels reportedly blocked two earlier attempts by

Philippine ships to resupply the troops (a group of Filipino soldiers stationed on a shipwrecked craft on Second Thomas

Shoal, 200 km off the coast of Palawan)

On Mar 29, a Philippines vessel managed to squeak past a

Chinese ship in order to deliver supplies to the troops.



China has deployed a sizeable number of war ships in the disputed waters with the Philippines, which in turn filed a complaint against China for the deployment.





China concerns bring Manila, Hanoi closer

The Philippine navy will soon return to a South China Sea island it lost to Vietnam 40 years ago to drink beer and play volleyball with Vietnamese sailors, symbolising how oncesuspicious neighbours are cooperating in the face of China's assertiveness in disputed waters.



Action by China

Action by Japan

Action by Vietnam

Action by Philippines

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Maritime disputes among seven other sovereign states in the region o China o Taiwan o Philippines o Vietnam o Malaysia o Brunei o Indonesia o Japan

Islands Disputed o Spratly Islands

 China

 Taiwan

 Brunei

 Philippines

 Malaysia

 Vietnam o Paracel Islands o

 China

 Taiwan

 Vietnam

Scarborough Shoal

 China


Philippines o Senkaku Islands

 China

 Japan

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Why countries dispute over territory in the East and South China Sea?

● Natural Resources

○ During Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms of the 1980s, Chinese economic activity begins shifting to the coastal provinces, and maritime resources become increasingly prized as hydrocarbons are needed to sustain growth.

○ The Paracels and the Spratlys may have vast reserves of natural resources around them. There has been little detailed exploration of the area, so estimates are largely extrapolated from the mineral wealth of neighbouring areas.

■ Chinese officials have given the most optimistic estimates of resource wealth in the area. According to figures quoted by the US Energy Information

Administration, one Chinese estimate puts possible oil reserves as high as

213 billion barrels - 10 times the proven reserves of the US. But American scientists have estimated the amount of oil at 28 billion barrels.

■ According to the EIA, the real wealth of the area may well be natural gas reserves. Estimates say the area holds about 900 trillion cubic ft (25 trillion cubic m) - the same as the proven reserves of Qatar.

● Trade

○ The area is also one of the region's main shipping lanes, and is home to a fishing ground that supplies the livelihoods of thousands of people.

○ international shipping because one-third of the world’s shipping transits the sea on the route between Europe and the Middle East to East Asia.

● National Interests

○ Territory is a measure of a state’s sovereignty. A country who doesn’t fight for her territory may be seen as a pushover, and it may set a precedent for future territorial/ economical/ political disputes.

○ defending what is legitimately theirs

China’s Argument

● China is asserting that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea

● However, the stance clashes with claims by six other states bordering the sea – Taiwan,

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – all of which have varying legal claims to its waters, features and islands based on UNCLOS

Existing Treaties/Agreements

● US-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement


● Japan-US Security Treaty


○ If confrontation were to involve Japan in the East China Sea or the Philippines in the

South China Sea, the United States would be obligated to consider military action under defense treaties.

○ Experts note that Washington’s defense commitments to Tokyo are stronger than those to Manila. Under its treaty obligations, the United States would have to defend

Japan in the case of an armed attack; the U.S.-Philippine treaty holds both nations accountable for mutual support in the event of an “armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties.”

○ Military action would represent a last resort, and would depend on the scale and circumstances of the escalation.

 In the event of armed conflict breaking out between China and Japan, the United States could also use crisis communication mechanisms outlined in the U.S.-China Military

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Maritime Consultative Agreement to encourage a stand-down of forces and facilitate communication between Tokyo and Beijing. Verbal declarations that communicate the seriousness of the dispute and convey support for an ally, as well as offers of military assistance, can also serve as essential “coercive de-escalation” measures during a crisis.

● 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

○ In the 2002 declaration, ASEAN and China reaffirmed a commitment to international law (including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

○ All parties also agreed to “resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.”

○ Further, the parties agreed to “exercise self-restraint” in taking actions that could

“complicate or escalate disputes.”

The agreement comes after six years of negotiations. Beijing had previously insisted on bilateral negotiations with claimants; China’s signing marks the first time it accepts a multilateral approach to the issue. Though the declaration falls short of a binding code of conduct, as the Philippines had sought, it signals China’s recognition that such an agreement could work in its favor by limiting the risk of conflict in the area, which could involve the United States in the dispute.

■ Indonesia has in fact been taking its role as mediator quite seriously. In the aftermath of the failed 2012 ASEAN ministerial meeting, Indonesian Foreign

Minister Marty Natalegawa visited the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand,

Cambodia, and Singapore. His shuttle diplomacy resulted in the “Six-Point

Principles ” being issued on July 20, snatching a diplomatic victory from the ashes of the ASEAN meeting.

■ Indonesia is also responsible for a reported draft version of a possible “code of conduct.” The preliminary text from Indonesia would call for an end to military exercises in disputed waters and reaffirm total freedom of navigation in the region. The draft also reportedly set out rules to prevent accidents at sea.

Countries Involved and their responses

● General Response

○ The parties have already agreed upon multilateral risk reduction and confidencebuilding measures in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South

China Sea, but none have adhered to its provisions or implemented its trust-building proposals.

○ The other countries have pushed for international mediation while China has historically preferred to handle all disputes bilaterally

● China

○ Insisted on its rights to the islands and a bilateral approach to resolving disputes.

○ China complains that America is taking sides in the many territorial disputes in the sea. China and Taiwan both claim virtually all the sea. Vietnam claims the Paracels, from which it was evicted by China in 1974, as well as the Spratly chain further to the south. In the south both overlap extensively with the exclusive economic zone the Philippines claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea


GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


● Vietnam

○ Vietnam was one of a number of nations that refused to stamp new editions of

Chinese passports which include a map showing disputed areas of the South China

Sea as Chinese territory

○ Had been attempting to internationalize the conflict in hopes of a resolution.

○ China has responded by effectively placing the Philippines under a diplomatic siege:

In contrast to almost all East Asian countries, Philippine President Benigno Aquino

III is yet to conduct a formal, bilateral dialogue with his Chinese counterpart,

President Xi Jinping. In addition to recent maritime regulations, which impose restrictions on the entry of foreign fishing vessels into Chinese-claimed maritime territories, there are growing reports that Beijing is also planning to impose an Air

Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.

● Philippines

○ The Philippines has tried to reinforce its claims in the South China Sea by going so far as renaming the contested maritime area as the West Philippine Sea. It has also sought to legally challenge China's territorial claims in the South China Sea by filing an arbitration case with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The Philippines hopes that other Asian countries, which are locked in similar disputes with China, will follow suit.

○ Above all, Manila has been negotiating a new defense pact with Washington. The goal is to deter further Chinese para-military manoeuvres in the South China Sea by allowing the US to establish a semi-permanent military presence and lease advanced military hardware to the Philippines.

○ In the wake of a dangerous and asymmetric two-month stand-off over the disputed

Scarborough Shoal beginning in April 2012, Manila has rightly sought recourse in international law to manage the dispute through arbitration → some believe that

Beijing should follow suit as well

○ Philippines has submitted a 4000-page dossier to a U.N. tribunal calling for international arbitration with China over overlapping claims in the restive South

China Sea.

■ Archipelago nation wants the U.N. to weigh in on its contested claims with

China in the hotly contested South China Sea

○ Claims it is to protect “freedom of navigation of all nations”

○ Preserve peace in the region

■ Beijing refuses to accept international arbitration and chinese officials reiterated their long held position of refraining from resolving territorial disputes through international channels

○ A Philippines vessel managed to squeak past a Chinese ship in order to deliver supplies to a group of Filipino soldiers stationed on a shipwrecked craft on Second

Thomas Shoal, 200 km off the coast of Palawan.

○ Earlier this month, Chinese vessels reportedly blocked two earlier attempts by

Philippine ships to resupply the troops

Response from US

● The United States for the first time has explicitly rejected the U-shaped, nine-dash line that

China uses to assert sovereignty over nearly the whole South China Sea, experts say, strengthening the position of rival claimants and setting the stage for what could be an international legal showdown with Beijing.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


● U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel in effect ended the ambiguity last week when he testified before the House of Representatives

Committee on Foreign Affairs. Russel said that under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea "must be derived from land features" and that any use of the nine-dash line by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land areas "would be inconsistent with international law." The international community, he said, would welcome

China to clarify or adjust its nine-dash line claim to bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea.

(Washington has always said that it takes no position on competing territorial claims in the

South China Sea among China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei and opposes any use of force to resolve such issues)

● The United States and other maritime powers insist they are legitimate stakeholders and should be part of resolving these territorial disputes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asserted that the US has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea

Response from International Organisations

● UN


■ Best way to possibly solve the issue → reference to the ICJ in the Hague - the

UN court that deals with territorial disputes concerning the interpretation of


■ China will probably be the most reluctant party to submit to third-party proceedings given past precedents

■ Philippines, however, has submitted evidence to a UN tribunal hearing its case against the China’s territorial claims

■ UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration

■ China has refused to take part in the arbitration & warns Philippines that its move might affect bilateral ties between both countries

○ United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

■ “defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources”

■ international agreement which resulted from the third United Nations

Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III)

■ Came into effect in 1996 as a global legal regime regulating the rights and responsibilities of coastal states in the maritime domain

■ Was a finely crafted compromise between coastal states and states that used the high seas for their economic well being

● An economic zone (EEZ) is a seazone prescribed by the United

Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. It stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles from its coast.

● Parts of Spratlys lie within Philippines’, Brunei’s Exclusive Economic


■ Limitations

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


● UNCLOS does not address sovereignty issues related to the South and East China Seas, and its vague wording has prevented it from serving as a credible body of law in resolving territorial disputes.

■ Although the United States recognizes UNCLOS as customary international law, it has yet to ratify the treaty—a move that would give Washington a greater platform from which it could advance its economic and strategic interests.


○ ASEAN officials say that they will meet with Chinese representatives in Singapore beginning March 18 to try and make some progress on talks to establish a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea. China agreed to discuss a South China Sea code of conduct at the ASEAN forum last July, a move that was widely applauded in the region. The first round of meetings was held in Beijing in September, and concluded with an agreement to seek “gradual progress and consensus through consultations.”

■ Ultimately Beijing has the most to lose from a code of conduct. Such an agreement would limit its activities in waters that China claims and de facto controls (such as the Paracel Islands and, increasingly, the Scarborough

Shoal), while also hampering China’s strategy to increase its area of de facto control through maritime patrols.

■ Countries don’t generally give up national advantages (perceived or real) in exchange for the stability provided by international law — the U.S., for example, still has not acceded to UNCLOS.

Influencing Factors

● Globalisation

○ Globalization—including extensive free trade pacts between claimants—and recent developments like the U.S. “pivot” to Asia have further connected the disputes.

○ For Vietnam:

■ Vietnam’s strategies are shaped by its history, economy and geographical proximity with China. Vietnam’s economy is highly reliant on its trade and investments with China and this dependency limits Vietnam’s actions

○ For China (Impact on Trading):

■ China is emerging as a major trading nation & partner to many other countries

■ dependent on international shipping routes routes that extend from the waters of East Asia to the Middle East

■ China, once self-sufficient in energy resources, now imports oil and its dependency on imports of natural gas will grow markedly over the next two decades

● Growing power of China in Asia-Pacific

○ Strong economic growth in the past decade

■ In 2013, China boosted spending by 10.7 per cent year-on-year and experts are expecting a similar rise this year.

○ Stepped up on improving their technology and military defence

■ China is the world’s second largest defence spender behind the US, according to IHS Defence, a consultancy.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


■ China’s growing military capabilities have created unease among its neighbours and in Washington, particularly because of the increasingly strident stance that Beijing is taking in enforcing its vast maritime claims

○ Seen as a superpower with strong hard power

○ Improved diplomatic relations with various countries (contributed to high trade)

○ China’s economic ascent facilitates growing military capabilities and assertiveness in both seas

(other regional players are also experiencing their own rise in nationalism and military capability, and have exhibited greater willingness to stake territorial claims.)

● Scarce resources

○ Resource Sharing

■ Claimants in both the South China Sea and East China Sea could cooperate on the development of resources, including fisheries, petroleum, and gas. A resource-sharing agreement could include bilateral patrolling mechanisms, which would deter potential sources of conflict like illegal fishing and skirmishes arising from oil and gas exploration. More collaborations in the mold of joint fishery deals like those between China and Vietnam and Japan and Taiwan could mitigate risk by sharing economic benefits.

Influencing Events

● MH370

○ India rejects China’s request to search territorial waters for MH370

■ Chinese military vessels already are a regular presence in the Indian Ocean’s international waters. Indian military observers have in the past raised concerns over Chinese encroachment in India’s regional sphere of influence.

■ In early 2014, China’s largest amphibious landing ship, the Changbaishan, and two destroyers conducted an exercise focused on anti-piracy in the

Indian Ocean.

■ “We don’t want Chinese warships sniffing around in the area on the pretext of hunting for the missing jetliner or anti-piracy patrols.” Unnamed Indian

Military Official

○ China’s dominance over the South China Sea

■ China used the opportunity to show geopolitical dominance in the region

■ China’s national military and political leadership and command in the South

China Sea during the recovery efforts have affirmed for many Chinese that the area needs to be controlled by a nation with sufficient resources and political clout

■ Exerting military power and general understanding of the area during the search has been beneficial for Beijing twofold — casting doubt on the abilities of Malaysia’s government and, in turn, many of the other nations in the region while simultaneously boosting public opinion of China’s strength in various South China Sea territorial disputes.

● Crimean Crisis

○ Positive impact

■ Recent sanctions imposed by the US and EU on Russia should have “a chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


● a chilling effect is the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights by the threat of legal sanction

○ Concern:

■ As the United States and the European Union struggle to find a diplomatic resolution to the Ukrainian crisis, with Russia accused of de facto annexing

Ukraine's south-eastern region of Crimea, many in Asia are increasingly worried about a similar flashpoint in the South China Sea.

■ In the Philippines, for instance, many are wondering whether the West will come to the country's rescue if an armed conflict with China erupts in the

South China Sea.

■ Across Southeast Asia, there is palpable curiosity over the extent to which

Washington and other Western powers are willing to come to the aid of

Ukraine amid Moscow's push to consolidate its sphere of influence in the

Black Sea.

○ Causes of concern:

■ Russia’s bold move has shown that resorting to international law to contain a great power’s resolve is not always effective.

● In recent days, neither international law nor European pressure have proved of much value in the face of Russian resolve. Illegal in many respects, the Crimean referendum was still deemed valid in

Moscow, which subsequently annexed the region. The Ukrainian military bases in Crimea were rapidly overwhelmed by pro-Russian forces as the last vestiges of political control from Kiev were swept aside, making a return to status quo ante increasingly remote. Russia clearly has the upper hand in Crimea. It successfully promoted its interests through a combination of intimidation and crawling assertiveness while answering European and American criticisms by pointing to Western interventions in Kosovo and Libya. → This demonstration of how, in certain situations, force prevails over diplomacy, a notion long fought by the European Union, has opened a new Pandora’s box.

■ Confronted with a complex and contradictory China, Southeast Asian countries may derive a sense of urgency from developments in the Crimea.

For ASEAN and its members, the crucial question may well be whether they can succeed in convincing China of the long-term benefits of diplomacy over force and fait accompli.

○ Similarities:

■ Quite similar to Ukraine, Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam have found themselves squeezed between two superpowers, the US and China.

With Beijing asserting its "historical" claims to a significant portion of the

South China Sea - akin to Russia's expressed commitment to retain its influence in post-Soviet territories such as Crimea - Manila and Hanoi are staking their hopes in the US' wherewithal to push back against China.

■ While Russia's resurgence, under President Vladimir Putin, has become a major source of concern among many European countries, the rapid emergence of China as an East Asian powerhouse, in turn, has rattled many

Asian neighbours.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


■ The complexity of managing—let alone solving—territorial disputes, especially when dealing with an evolving power.

■ Both cases stress the necessity but limited efficacy of diplomacy.

○ Responses:

■ For sure, the Chinese leadership is also closely following the Ukrainian crisis in an attempt to anticipate possible responses to its own territorial manoeuvring in the Western Pacific, which have come under heavy criticism by Washington.

■ Accustomed to an American-centric order in the Pacific theatre since the end of World War II, some Asian countries have welcomed a greater US strategic footprint in the region to constrain Beijing's perceived territorial expansionism. Thus, leaders in Tokyo, Manila, and Hanoi have largely celebrated the Obama administration's so-called "Pivot to Asia"(P2A) policy.

Key Issues


Vested self-interests of sovereign states


Ownership over natural resources

The area in the South China Sea is potentially rich in oil and natural gas deposits.

 The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People's Republic of

China estimate that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons).

 The same EIA report also points to the wide variety of natural gas resource estimations, ranging from 900 trillion cubic feet to 2 quadrillion cubic feet

 China did not initially care much about the legitimacy of claims over the Senkaku Islands, but became adamant in acquiring them after a study done in 1968 that pointed out potential oil reserves in the sea below the islands

 The abundant fishing opportunities within the region are another motivation for the claim.

 In 1988, the South China Sea is believed to have accounted for 8% of world fishing catches, a figure that has grown since then.

 The area is also one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

 In the 1980s, at least 270 merchant ships used the route each day.

Currently, more than half the tonnage of oil transported by sea passes through it, a figure rising steadily with the growth of Chinese consumption of oil. This traffic is three times greater than that passing through the Suez Canal and five times more than the Panama Canal.


Economic Interests

 May be harmed:

Despite extensive trade ties, the parties to the dispute could respond to a rise in tensions by imposing economic sanctions. In response to a Chinese action, for instance, Washington could sanction financial transactions, the movement of some goods and services, and even travel between China and the United States.

In retaliation, Beijing could bar U.S. exports and cut back on its extensive

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes



purchases of U.S. Treasuries. Claimants could also manipulate exports and relaunch boycotts of goods. Some signals of such a response have already been seen: in 2012 Chinese protesters launched a wave of boycotts of Japanesebranded products. Japan also accused China of halting exports of rare earth minerals after a territorial spat in 2010—a charge Beijing denied—causing a commodities crisis for resource-dependent Japan.



Nationalism is a belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one's nation.


The scale and intensity of the Chinese anti-Japanese demonstrations in

August and September 2012 are a reflection of the extent of nationalist sentiments among the Chinese public.

 Chinese protestors marched down the streets chanting slogans such as “Defend the Diaoyu Islands” and “Smash Japanese Imperialism.”

They called for the boycott of Japanese goods and for the government to retake the islands. Japanese flags were defaced,

Japanese cars were smashed, and shops selling Japanese goods were vandalized.


In Japan, extremist nationalist groups like Ganbare Nippon have, on their own accord, committed provocative acts like the planting of the Japanese flag on Senkaku Islands.

 The fact that these disputes have resulted in the widespread protests and xenophobic sentiments demonstrates that there is a broad

 popular support for aggressive and confrontational government policies on these territorial disputes.

Such disputes are also inflamed by historical baggage, eg. invasion of

China by Japan during WWII.


Power and Politics o What defines power for a country, in terms of both hard and soft power? o Is China abusing its power? Is this due to its growing power? o Does it mean it has the right to abuse its power?


Display of Hard Power

 South China Sea disputes have been a permanent feature of regional affairs for some decades, recent years have been particularly disconcerting.

 Since 2009, China has stepped up its para-military patrols in the area, with growing reports of Chinese surveillance vessels "harassing", among others,

Filipino as well as Vietnamese ships and fishermen.

 In mid-2012 , the Philippines and China came dangerously close to an armed conflict over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Equipped with

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes

14S03D superior military hardware, and backed by intensive diplomatic pressure, China eventually managed to outmanoeuvre the Philippines by effectively gaining control of the disputed shoal.

 By mid-2013, China pushed the envelope even further, with Chinese paramilitary vessels allegedly aiming to overrun Philippine military fortifications in the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, which is eerily close to the hydrocarbon-rich areas off the coast of the Philippine province of Palawan.

 The balance of forces on the ground has rapidly shifted in China's favour.

Thanks to its relatively resilient economy, China has effortlessly accelerated its military spending, with a greater focus on its naval capabilities. The ultimate aim, many analysts claim, is to make China a pre-eminent naval power in Asia - eventually, challenging the US naval hegemony in the Pacific theatre.

In response, Southeast Asian states have accelerated their efforts at establishing a legally-binding Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea, hoping to dissuade

China from reinforcing its para-military fortifications and surveillance patrols across the contested areas. There have also been parallel efforts by the Philippines,

Vietnam, and Singapore to increase American military presence in Southeast Asia to hedge against China's territorial assertiveness.


International image and power projection (Territorial sovereignty)

 As the world second largest economy and a rising military power, China’s increased assertiveness over its territorial claims may be an attempt to exert control over the region and entrench the South China sea firmly within its growing sphere of influence.

 Japan too is demonstrating that it will no longer be shackled by the strict pacifism imposed on it by the US-written postwar constitution, and that it is serious about building military capabilities to defend its sovereignty




 The EU has played a proactive role in resolving most pressing international security issues such as the Syrian civil war and the Iranian nuclear conundrum.

 And as the Asia-Pacific region emerges as the geopolitical pivot of history, where booming consumer markets increasingly serve as the engine of the world economy, the international community has a stake in ensuring stability and the

US: unimpeded flow of trade and investment across the region.

 British Foreign Secretary William Hague was extremely cautious with reiterating Britain's commitment to democracy and stability in Asia, without necessarily irking the most important economy in the region,


 Given Britain's close ties to Washington and relatively modest economic stakes in China -- although bilateral trade hit a record high in 2013 -- many in Manila believe that it's far from unrealistic to seek strategic sympathy from European powers such as London.

 Other leading European countries such as Germany and France, which have developed massive investment and trade relations with China in recent decades, have displayed considerable sensitivity to Beijing's geopolitical interests.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


 A South China Sea free to access is in the U.S.'s economic and geopolitical interests.

 Although the U.S. is not a party to the dispute, should China achieve exclusive rights to the sea, the U.S. will have to base access to the waterways on the willingness of permission of China, not UNCLOS.

 Given U.S. desire to maintain its position as a top Asia-Pacific power, succumbing to Chinese pressure is an undesirable position.


Government Mismanagement



 For the mounting tensions between China and Japan since the middle of 2010, the Japanese government’s miscalculation and mismanagement were a big part of the problem e.g. with their handling of the fishing boat incident in 2010

(where they arrested the people on board in an act to provoke the Chinese government) and the nationalization of the disputed islands in 2012 (when

Anti-Japanese sentiments peaked in China due to the Japanese’s actions of

“buying sacred territory” that belonged to China)

 Hatoyama sought to build an East Asian community that did not include the

United States.



 did not reciprocate when both Prime Minister Hatoyama and President

Obama were so positive toward Beijing (circa 2009-2010), instead choosing to remain hostile in diplomatic relations, denying any chances of reconciliation.

 More broadly, when the Chinese government acts, it is often over the top

(e.g. how they immediately imposed an unofficial embargo on rare earth minerals in response to the arrest of their fishermen by the Japanese in 2010 and in turn ALSO arrested Japanese in China). It is counterproductive.


International relations


Philippines and its Allies

 The Philippines' emergence as a leading emerging market in Southeast Asia has generated additional confidence over its (presumed) importance to

Western powers.

 Although lacking even a minimum deterrence capability against China, which is expected to outspend the combined military expenditures of

Europe's leading powers next year, the Philippines is relying on increased strategic commitment from two key actors: Tokyo and Washington. And to be fair, there are signs that the Aquino administration could benefit from such gamble.

 The Shinzo Abe administration, which enjoys considerable legislative support in the Japanese parliament, is pushing for the revision of Japan's pacifist constitution, paving the way for a fullblown military alliance between Manila and Tokyo.

 The U.S., meanwhile, is finally signaling its support for the

Philippines in an event of war in the Western Pacific, with a new bilateral defense pact entering the final phase of negotiations.


Military-to-Military communications

 Increased dialogue between military forces has the potential to reduce the risk of conflict escalation. Communication mechanisms like military hotlines

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes

14S03D to manage maritime emergencies, similar to the one set up by China and

Japan and the one that China and Vietnam agreed to institute in June 2013, could be established among all claimants. These hotline systems would connect leaders in the event of a crisis that could arise from such mishaps as naval maneuvers misinterpreted by captains of merchant vessels or fishermen. Lastly, joint naval exercises could support greater military transparency and help develop shared rules of the road.


Poor cooperation between neighbouring nations

 But far from united on the issue, many members of the Association of

Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been reluctant to openly criticise

China over the South China Sea disputes. As the ASEAN's largest trading partner, and Asia's biggest economy, China has astutely leveraged its economic prowess vis-a-vis many Southeast Asian states.

 As a result, the ASEAN has failed to establish an effective and coherent policy on the South China Sea disputes. The negotiations over a CoC have largely stalled, forcing the Philippines and Vietnam to (a) seek greater strategic assistance from the US and Japan and (b) more directly confront China on the territorial disputes.

 The Philippines has tried to reinforce its claims in the South China Sea by going so far as renaming the contested maritime area as the West Philippine

Sea. It has also sought to legally challenge China's territorial claims in the

South China Sea by filing an arbitration case with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The Philippines hopes that other Asian countries, which are locked in similar disputes with China, will follow suit.

 Above all, Manila has been negotiating a new defense pact with Washington.

The goal is to deter further Chinese para-military manoeuvres in the South

China Sea by allowing the US to establish a semi-permanent military presence and lease advanced military hardware to the Philippines.


Diplomacy between China and the rest of the world

 Last November, China angered the US, Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region by unilaterally announcing the creation of an “air defence identification zone” in the East China Sea.

 While the establishment of the ADIZ did not constitute a territorial claim, the move was construed as an aggressive step because of the tense situation between China and Japan over the islands in those waters.

 During a recent visit to Beijing, John Kerry, US secretary of state, warned China not to establish a similar zone in the South China Sea.

The US also recently said for the first time that it did not accept

China’s “nine-dash line”, a demarcation on Chinese maps that Beijing uses to justify its claim to most of the South China Sea.

 U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned China’s Minister of

Defense Chang Wanquan against unilateral moves that could escalate tension in the Asia Pacific, amid an ongoing dispute between Beijing and Japan over a group of uninhibited islands that both countries claim.




Definition: the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country's representatives abroad.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


 Diplomacy is largely, yet not exclusively, undertaken under the particular framework of one international institution (the EU or ASEAN) engaging one great power (Russia or China). Facilitating discussions is the fact that in both situations, stakeholders are connected through a series of strong economic, political and institutional interests.


In the South China Sea

 Many talks have been conducted and negotiations made to settle the conflict peacefully, however, most talks have ended abruptly with escalating tension.

 2010 - After the fishing boat incident, China refused a meeting between then premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese prime minister

Naoto Kan at the UN General Assembly.

 2012 - China announces to the UN that “the moves taken by Japan are totally illegal and invalid. They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole Diaoyu and its affiliated islands from

China and the fact that China has territorial sovereignty over them”.

China also maintains their stand that Japan tricked China into signing a treaty ceding the islands in 1895.



 the channel through which the different stakeholders can showcase and explain their diverging perceptions and interests, communicate, negotiate, and ultimately create a path to de-escalation and stabilization for future common benefit.



 it is largely dependent on power configurations and functions under a series of conventions and norms that can either facilitate or constrain discussions

 The networks of strong economic, political and institutional interests, through which the stakeholders are connected, look rather fragile when history becomes a self-asserted, and emotional, argument.

 Escalatory actions would likely trigger ramped up diplomacy. The United

States could initially serve in a mediation role in the event of crisis erupting in either sea. In the South China Sea, mediation could also come from ASEAN or a trusted, neutral actor within the region like Singapore. Parties could also call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to negotiate a cease-fire, although China’s seat on the council could limit the effectiveness of this option. In the East China Sea, bilateral management of the dispute is the likely first option, with Beijing and Tokyo sitting down to negotiate a common guideline for handling the conflict and preventing its escalation


Small-Stick Diplomacy

 China has brandished a small stick in recent months, using unarmed ships from nonmilitary government agencies like China Marine Surveillance as its political implement of choice in the Scarborough Shoal imbroglio with the

Philippines, and in its war of words with Vietnam over oil and gas exploration rights within Vietnam’s offshore exclusive economic zone

 By relying on law-enforcement ships, Beijing creates the appearance of matter-of-factly enforcing Chinese law in places that have belonged to China since antiquity.

 China’s combination of fishing boats, unarmed law-enforcement ships, and military power allows Beijing to act as a provocateur – and to use small stick diplomacy.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


 How it works

 A country whose armed forces decisively outmatch a competitor’s can afford not to openly display those forces in international controversies.

 It can make the weak an offer they can’t refuse, and they have little recourse.

 It can hope to win without fighting—and get its way without even looking like an aggressor before the court of world opinion. Why unlimber the big stick when virtual coercion or deterrence promises the same results?

 Involves communication as well as power


International Law


United National Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS): defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.


Freedom of navigation (FON): a principle of customary international law that, apart from the exceptions provided for in international law, ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states.

 In 2010, at a regional conference in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that "The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea".


China’s Maritime Claims

 "Any Chinese claim to maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law," Danny Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said on

February 5 before the US Congress.

 "China could highlight its respect for international law by clarifying or adjusting its claim to bring it into accordance with international law of the sea," he said, citing Beijing's restrictions on access to the contested

Scarborough Shoal, pressure on the Philippines' longstanding presence at the Second Thomas Shoal and the new Hainan fishing regulations.

 According to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, "China’s 9-dash line territorial claim over the entire South China Sea is against international laws, particularly the United National Convention of the Laws of the Sea


 Vietnam also rejected the 9-dotted line claim, citing that it is baseless and against the UNCLOS.

 British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s endorsement of international law as a basis for ensuring regional peace and security could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of the Philippines' legal challenge to China's notorious 9-dashline doctrine, which, many neighboring countries contend, contravenes the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes



Deterrence by military prowess

 1938 - The Japanese Imperial Navy landed on the Spratlys invaded Hainan

Island the next year

 1988 - The Chinese navy sank 3 Vietnamese vessels, killing 74 sailors in one of the most serious military confrontations in the South China Sea. In response, the Vietnam military occupied several reefs to monitor China’s moves.

 2012 - The Philippines dispatched a warship to confront Chinese fishing boats in the Scarborough Shoal, north of the Spratlys, leading to a 2-month standoff between the military forces of both countries

 2013 - Two US military aircraft flew over Senkaku Islands without informing

China (Note: US and Japan are long-term allies, hence this move is seen as the US backing Japan)


International Arbitration


Definition: International arbitration is a creation of contract, i.e., the parties' decision to submit disputes to binding resolution by one or more arbitrators selected by or on behalf of the parties and applying adjudicatory procedures, usually by including a provision for the arbitration of future disputes in their contract

 Bringing territorial disputes to an international legal body presents another means of conflict mitigation. The International Court of Justice and the

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea are two forums where claimants can file submissions for settlement.

 In July 2013, a UN tribunal was convened in The Hague to discuss an arbitration case filed by the Philippine government contesting the legality of

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. An outside organization or mediator could also to be called upon to resolve the disagreement, although the prospect for success in these cases is slim given China’s likely opposition to such options.


International peace


Thousands of vessels ply the East and South China Sea waters, from fishing boats to coastal patrols and naval ships. Increasingly frequent clashes between China and its neighbors heighten the risk that miscalculations by sea captains or political leaders could trigger an armed conflict, which the United States could be drawn into through military commitments to allies Japan and the Philippines. Policy experts believe that a crisis management system for the region is crucial.


Crisis Management

 sbY

Other Territorial Disputes

● Pedra- Branca

○ The overlapping claims over Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Putih including neighboring Middle Rocks by both Singapore and Malaysia were settled in 2008 by the International Court of Justice, awarding Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh to

Singapore and Middle Rocks to Malaysia.

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Questions to ponder

● What interests do US have?

○ US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea” and that America seeks “a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion.”

● Why is the US involved?

○ The United States is bound, by treaty, to come to Japan's defense in the event the latter is attacked

○ In the long term, the crisis may just be a prelude to what is likely to be the dominant issue of American foreign policy in the coming decades: China's growing challenge to American hegemony in the Western Pacific.

■ US’s involvement in Asia is an exemplification of its hegemonic position in the world, allowing Washington to wander all over the world telling others what it thinks they should do

■ China’s insistence on territorial disputes can be seen as a challenge to

Western supremacy in the region (as US is bound by treaty to Japan), in an attempt to spread it’s own regional influence and flex its muscles internationally

○ Thus the disputes can also be viewed as Beijing’s challenge to Western supremacy, and a growing China that is able to assert its own power and influence in the region

● Is US an effective mediator in these disputes?

○ While the US is keen on safeguarding its commercial and military interests by keeping routes passing through these areas open, China believes it to be interference in the sense that America is not a party to these longstanding territorial disputes. To curry favour, the US also portrays itself to ASEAN members as being willing to bring up the matter in multilateral forums and to check China’s tendency to negotiate individually with weaker Southeast Asian states. Although mainstream media often portrays Secretary Clinton speaking up as evidence of renewed US engagement in the region, there are reasons to put these claims in doubt.

○ The real story behind the South China Sea Dispute thchinaseadispute.pdf

● Is ASEAN an effective mediator?

● What renders international response ineffective?

China and the other nations involved in the disputes have signed UNCLOS. However, there is a provision in UNCLOS that allows for the choice of which clauses in UNCLOS the states agree to, and would ultimately sign.

○ China has not signed the boundary delimitation clause. This would imply that ITLOS would not be able to rule over the new boundaries that should be drawn up, or the allocation of the various territories in the disputes that China is involved in.

○ Moreover, although the rulings for ITLOS are binding, there is no enforcement mechanism in place. This would seemingly imply that the decisions that are made would not carry any gravitas. However, the political repercussions for flouting the

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes

14S03D rulings that are made are significant. These political costs would include the ability to appeal to the UN for sanctions to be imposed on the state that flouts the rulings.

○ Despite this, no sanctions have been practically imposed, nor is it going to be conceivably significant in current day. America has constantly urged China to become moderate using threats of sanctions, but have not taken any action

○ Furthermore, even if China is found flouting the rulings of International Tribunals, it would not be very concerned with this. It would not succumb to the pressures of the international community since it would rather feed the nationalistic sentiment of its citizens, by showing that it is unwilling to concede on issues pertaining to national pride.

○ The rulings of the ICJ are binding, but since China is one of the 5 permanent members of the UN SC, it is able to veto the enforcement of them. Since China has its personal interests at stake, it would be highly likely that in the event that the ruling of the court is unfavourable to China,it would exercise its veto power, and in turn nullify the enforcement of the ruling.

Bilateral negotiations VS Settlements by international courts

○ Rulings by International Tribunals are always bipartisan, with winners and losers.

Compromises cannot be reached, and flexible deals that appease all parties through means such as alternative dispute resolution cannot be reached.

■ Countries by in large prefer bilateral negotiations, as with Japan’s Shinzo

Abe and China’s Wen Jia Bao

■ International courts and institutions are generally mistrusted by China, as exemplified by their rejection of the 2013 UNCLOS arbitration

○ However, what exactly is a compromise that all parties can accept?

■ Claims to territory are often absolute, and it is almost impossible to draft a compromise that will leave all parties satisfied

● To what extent does a superpower influence international agreements? Does an international organisation have power over a superpower?

GP T2W4: China’s Territorial Disputes


Useful Links

China’s Maritime Disputes!/

The South China: Troubled Waters

Q&A: South China Sea Dispute

South China Sea disputes: the gloves are off


US Draws Own Line over South China Sea dispute

Crimea and South China Sea Diplomacy

Why China isn’t Interested in a South China Sea Code of Conduct?

The real story behind the South China Sea dispute ute.pdf

East Asia I: Geopolitics of the South China Sea


Philippines files case to UN in South China Sea Dispute

South China Sea: A commons for china only?

Why Beijing should let international law reign in South China Sea


China Exercises Political And Military Dominance In South China Sea Amid Search For Flight MH370

Small-stick diplomacy

● America’s small-stick diplomacy

● Small-Stick diplomacy in the South China Sea

● China’s Small-stick diplomacy

● The Return of China’s Small-stick diplomacy in South China Sea