On the 61st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), China’s borders appear to be under more pressure than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This is not because of external threats to China, but due to greater Chinese assertiveness in various territorial disputes. Consequently, as the dust settles from the recent Sino-Japanese confrontation over the Senkakus islands, decision-makers throughout Asia are assessing prospects for the future.
For both China’s Asian neighbors and the United States, this pricklier and more aggressive approach to border disputes is troubling. Chinese decision makers appear to have concluded that its combination of greater economic wherewithal and growing military capability allow Beijing to dictate the resolution of border disputes in its own favor.
This Chinese approach clearly ignores the equities of its neighbors. Just as important given the array of U.S. alliances in the region, it raises the potential for U.S.-Chinese confrontation—Note the various U.S. declarations of support for Japan in the Senkakus dispute.
The United States is therefore confronted with the unenviable task of signaling to Beijing that its widening territorial claims are destabilizing, while still maintaining good relations with the PRC. This entails balancing the demands of reassuring allies, maintaining regional stability, and preserving a working relationship with China. Through it all, the U.S. must remain consistent, committed, and clear in our policies.
One can only hope that all the region’s leaders are successful in peaceably resolving these knotty problems, lest the Senkakus and the Spratlys be associated in future years with other historic flashpoints such as the Sudetenland or Strasbourg.