One thing the new US policy in Asia hasn’t managed to do is reduce tensions in the waters around China. In fact, tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and between China and it’s neighbors around the South China Sea, are rising. Developing a mechanism to resolve these disputes will be on top of the agenda as Hillary Clinton joins dozens of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in Cambodia for a regional summit.In Japan, domestic opinion is becoming more nationalistic about the conflict with China over the tiny islands at the center of their dispute. The Wall Street Journal notes some disturbing overnight developments:
In the East China Sea, Chinese patrol vessels on Wednesday entered waters claimed by Japan near islands controlled by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan, setting off a confrontation with the Japanese coast guard. . . .Wednesday’s East China Sea drama started around 4 a.m. Tokyo time. A Chinese patrol vessel came within 22 kilometers (14 miles) of the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, entering what Japan considers its territorial waters. Two other Chinese vessels also appeared, with one entering the territorial waters, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.The three left within about four hours, after repeated warnings from Coast Guard officials.
Meanwhile, the struggle between the ASEAN countries and China continues over competing territorial claims to the resource rich atolls in the South China Sea. Chinese officials have repeatedly stated their reluctance to sign up to an ASEAN code of conduct to settle maritime disputes, preferring to leverage their influence in a bilateral setting where Beijing presumably believes it has an edge:
In a commentary published Wednesday by the state-run Xinhua news agency, China said ministers gathering in Phnom Penh should “be wary” of letting the South China Sea “distract” them, because Asean meetings are “not a proper platform” for discussing the issue.Rather, they should focus on building mutual trust and cooperation, it said.“Thus, it is preferable and crucial that the Phnom Penh meetings keep to their agenda and leave South China Sea issues to China and the specific Asean countries concerned,” it said.The statements came a day after similar warnings from a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman, who at a briefing described the discussions on the South China Sea as “deliberate hype” designed “to interfere with the relationship between China and Asean.”
The potential is growing for new crises that involve a full standoff between China and various U.S. friends and allies. How Washington approaches these sorts of challenges will reverberate throughout the region and may ultimately come to define the success or failure of its Asia policy.