Academic journal article China Perspectives


Academic journal article China Perspectives


Article excerpt

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The multiple tensions that have existed in the China Seas since the late 2000s, manifested in the inflexibility of narratives relating to sovereign rights or in provocations and skirmishes at sea, have made it necessary to analyse more thoroughly the maritime and foreign policies of the states involved. These analyses are even more important now that power relations are being expressed with more force in the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea in recent years. This is borne out by the firmer action taken by states, such as China's construction of civilian and military infrastructure in the Spratlys, Japan's nationalisation of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in September 2012, and the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines in January 2013. More recently, between October 2015 and May 2016, the United States held three Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP), indicating that apart from territorial disputes between neighbouring countries, the geopolitical situation in the China Seas is primarily the result of the Sino-American strategic rivalry.

Without aiming to be comprehensive, this special feature studies some aspects of China's policy towards the China Seas.(1) It complements an already rich literature that is difficult to summarise here due to the multisectoral and multidisciplinary nature of the analysed theme. This special feature, consisting of this introduction and four articles by Mathieu Duch?tel, Shinji Yamaguchi, Beno?t de Tr?glod?, and Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix, attempts to explain the main recent developments in China's policy toward the China Seas, to identify its goals, and to understand its determinants.

The Chinese policy toward the China Seas fits within the dual context of a more ambitious foreign policy seeking to influence the world order through the transformation of some norms and the creation of new institutions,(2) and of a domestic policy aimed at building a genuine maritime power. Gestating since the 1990s, this objective to assert China's power on the seas, either through the modernisation of the Navy or the development of the marine economy, was presented as a priority at the launch of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November 2012.

China's overall policy toward the China Seas is a complex policy with four main objectives: the first is to claim islands and maritime areas; the second is to strengthen its control over the China Seas in order to more effectively defend its coasts and maritime routes; the third is to assert its power in the context of its strategic rivalry with Japan and the United States; and the fourth is to develop the exploitation of natural resources to meet the needs of its population and its economy. These multiple objectives give free rein to the various and sometimes contradictory initiatives oscillating between firmness, provocation, dialogue, and cooperation, a range that also is explained by the many factors relating to the geography of the China Seas, historical heritages, and the evolution of external and internal policies in China, in neighbouring countries, and in the United States.

Domination or sharing?

Analysis of China's policy toward the China Seas begins with the consideration of geography. Unlike the United States, bordered by two vast oceans, China is riparian to three semi-enclosed seas: theYellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, beyond which lies a peninsular and island arc shared by nine states (see Map 1). This geography is important, because combined with the current US military presence in South Korea, Japan, and the Pacific, and various strategic partnerships forged by Washington with Taiwan, the Philippines, and Singapore, this deepens China's sense of ?encirclement,? the reality of which is not really in doubt: firstly because it is a device largely inherited from the Cold War; and secondly because one of the main objectives of the United States since the end of the Cold War has been to counter China's ambitions in the China Seas and beyond. …

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