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Asian Neighbors Push Back on China's Claims


A group of disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea (Reuters/Kyodo file photo)

A group of disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea (Reuters/Kyodo file photo)

Last week, the president of the Philippines expressed support for a plan by Japan to expand the powers of its military. His announcement was the latest action by China’s neighbors to unite against a growing Chinese presence in the East and South China Seas. Anna Matteo examines the growing diplomatic and military activity in the area.

Three East Asian countries are strengthening their diplomatic and military relationships to strongly answer Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. The three countries are Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Ely Ratner is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for New American Security, an American-based policy group. He says the three nations are ignoring historic conflicts with each other because of China’s aggressive moves.

“There’s no doubt that countries in the region are collectively spooked by what they’re seeing as an increasing pattern of Chinese assertiveness from the East China Sea down through the South China Sea.”

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel, with the disputed oil rig in the background, is seen in the South China Sea June 13, 2014.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel, with the disputed oil rig in the background, is seen in the South China Sea June 13, 2014.

The past two months have been tense. In May, China moved an oil-drilling rig into waters that Vietnam claims. A few weeks later, Vietnamese and Philippine troops spent a day together on a disputed island. Neither side made any effort to show it was in control of the island. But both were united in their resistance to China’s territorial claims.

Last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino publicly supported a plan by Japan to expand the powers of its military. Japan wants the expanded powers so the military can help allies who are attacked. On Tuesday, the cabinet agreed to ease restrictions on the military.

Separately, Japan and the United States have promised to help Vietnam and the Philippines improve their maritime patrol ships.

But China shows no signs of backing down. China’s defense minister said in May that his country wants a negotiated solution in the South China Sea.

Bonnie Glaser is an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“The Chinese believe that other nations are so economically dependent on China that these other nations will not directly confront China or not do so for a long period, and at the end of the day will accommodate to Chinese interests. So the Chinese think that they have time on their side.”

But Ely Ratner says the Chinese government may be mistaken.

“I think people often think, ‘Well, war isn’t possible in Asia or conflict isn’t possible because these economies are so interdependent.’ But when it comes to these passionate political issues and nationalism, often these considerations get thrown out the door.”

After all, he says, England and Germany were major trading partners before the start of World War I. I’m Anna Matteo.

This report was based on a story by VOA reporter Victoria Macchi.

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