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China's maritime strategy could threaten regional stability

Publication Date : 05-02-2013

 

China's expansion of its maritime interests has been heightening tensions with neighbouring countries. All possible measures must be taken to ensure Japan does not crack under coercive Chinese pressure.

The Chinese government led by Xi Jinping has set this year as the first year in China's bid to become a strong maritime power. As China's military might grows, its expansionist strategy calls for enclosing the East China Sea and the South China Sea and making it a "China Sea."

China has set the goal of doubling the value of its maritime-related sectors such as seabed resources development and fisheries, which will be calculated in its gross domestic product, in 2020 compared with 2010 levels. China probably intends to accelerate the development and expansion of offshore natural gas fields and fishing grounds.

Its friction with Vietnam and the Philippines over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands will unavoidably intensify.

The director of China's State Oceanic Administration declared early last month that Beijing will repel any attempt to infringe on its interests, and mentioned Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan by name. China reportedly will continue its demonstrative activities around the Senkaku Islands.

Specter of patriotism

China's self-righteous behaviour flies in the face of efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region. The Japanese government must strongly call on Beijing to exercise self-restraint while persistently informing the international community about China's misdeeds.

Of further concern is that the Xi administration has laid out a policy of bolstering patriotic education in connection with the protection of maritime interests.

Based on the lessons of modern history in which China was pushed around after the 19th-century Opium Wars by Japan and West European nations, whose maritime forces were superior to China's, Beijing has justified the augmentation of its navy and is attempting to enhance its national prestige. TV programmes aimed at arousing patriotic sentiment among Chinese will undoubtedly increase.

China's patriotic education of the 1990s planted distorted anti-Japan feelings among young Chinese that eventually led to the spread of anti-Japan rallies and rioting. The "maritime version of patriotic education" will likely be a spiritual prop when the Chinese government and military take a hard line toward neighboring countries in connection with maritime interests.

Cool heads needed

There appears to be no end in sight to intrusions into Japanese territorial waters by Chinese government ships.

Japan must respond calmly. At the same time, the Japan Coast Guard's structure must be bolstered to deter attempts to infringe on this country's sovereignty.

The core of these efforts is a plan to establish a special force tasked with patrols and surveillance around the Senkakus. The plan calls for deploying 12 large patrol boats within three years.

As things stand, the JCG has no alternative but to operate in turn patrol boats deployed from across the country to strengthen its protection of waters around the Senkakus. Setting up this special task force will not obstruct the JCG's regular operations such as maritime rescues, and would be significant in contributing to maintaining a long-term patrol system.

Japan needs to keep order on the seas in cooperation with the United States and other nations on the assumption that China will intensify its maritime strategy.

 

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