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China Annoying Its Neighbors, Still

passportHere’s a sign that China’s assertive policy in the South China Sea is not paying any dividends: even countries otherwise predisposed to not rock the boat are speaking up. As of November of last year, newly issued Chinese passports feature a provocative watermark map that clearly depicts various disputed territories as China’s. Vietnam and the Philippines officially protested, and India took the extra step of stamping Chinese passports with a map that “corrected” the territorial claims to India’s liking. Now, in an interview with the FT, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is admitting his country doesn’t much care for China’s passports either:

“We said that usage of that passport should not be inferred as being a recognition of that claim,” he said. “We exercised nice low key diplomacy but getting our point across.”

Indonesia has long tried to play down its territorial dispute with Beijing for fear of upsetting relations with an ever more assertive China, which is a key trade and investment partner.[…]

Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, a maritime security analyst at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said that Indonesia is reluctant to increase tensions with China for fear of inflaming public opinion and risking a damaging economic backlash from Beijing.

But he argued that, as China’s navy continues to grow at a much faster rate than Indonesia’s already inferior maritime forces, there is “an increasing risk that Indonesia will be drawn into the fray.”

It’s noteworthy that the Foreign Minister’s complaints were seemingly unprompted. Though President Xi’s latest moves may signal that he is trying to lessen tensions with Japan, China’s recent assertiveness elsewhere along its periphery suggest instead that, especially where energy is concerned, China is conceding nothing. This posture is giving China’s periphery every excuse to band together and push back.

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