Saturday, January 19, 2013

China's maritime disputes

In light of the recent entry by Galrahn on the issue of China's expanded map, I want to just put my thoughts on this.  I was originally thinking of writing a separate entry on the dramatic expansion of China's maritime surveillance agencies of CMS and FLEC, but I want to spend a little time just looking at the non-military part of this.

The main point I want to make here is that China's border dispute with entirely different than its border dispute with India and the countries around South China Sea.  We often read about China's recent actions have made neighbouring countries feel uneasy and have pushed them toward America.  While I do agree the other countries reactions have been similar, it's important to note that these are different issues for Chinese people.

And this has everything to do with the historical relationship of the two countries.  It starts from 1895 when China was badly defeated by Japan, who it had always looked upon as a vassal nation.  The unfair treaty which resulted in war reparation in addition to annexation of Taiwan was followed up by the brutal Russo-Japanese war of 1905 which was fought over Chinese soil and resulted in the Japanese control of Lushun (Port Arthur).  Of course, all of this was small compared to the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and second Sino-Japanese War between 1937 and 1945.  The Chinese side has claimed that around 20 million civilians were killed during this conflict.  If that's true, it would in effect be the equivalent of 3 holocausts.  I do not know how accurate these numbers are, but I did hear a story (growing up) where my friend's ancestor was tortured to death by Japanese soldiers.  And my opinion is that most people born in my generation or prior in China probably have heard of such stories from their family or friends.  When I visited Nanjing in 2006, I was told by locals that the only place not pillaged during the Nanking massacre was the Sun Yat-Sen memorial.  Even by then, Japanese business was not allowed on the city's premise.  There has been a lot of anger within China toward Japan in the past 10 years due to the visits by Koizumi/Abe of the Yasukuni Shrine and the denials of wartime atrocities by some Japanese Nationalists.  While I do not think that the Japanese government is denying th war atrocities, I do think a lot of people in China would feel better toward Japanese if the Japanese government adopt the same attitude toward this subject as Germany has adopted toward the Holocaust.  When something like the recent Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute came up, it came across as another reminder of Japanese aggression for Chinese people.  Back when the two countries normalized relations in 1978, Deng Xiaoping made a strategic decision to not overly press Japan over this issue in exchange of money and technology to help with the Chinese economy.  And I think while China was still economically weak and needing Japan, this was something it was willing to do (not overly voicing past grievances).  However with China's growing power in the past 10 years, this is no longer the case, so the current generation of Chinese population and officials do not see the need to hold pacifying attitude toward Japan.  With the Koizumi/Abe visits, all of these anger/grievances from the past 60 years flared up and it is tough for me to see how relations between China/Japan will get better.

The difference between the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute and the South China Sea dispute is that the entire Chinese population is invested in this issue.  It's not just the PLA or a group of nationalist cranks on the internet forums that are passionate about this, it's the ordinary people.  You've seen that with the wide spread boycotting of Japanese business in the past few months due to the outrage in China over the entire Diaoyu/Senkaku issues.  This is not just a couple of islands.  This is 70 years of grievances.  It's also seen in the expansion of civilian maritime patrol fleet.  In the past few months, 11 ships from PLAN have been sent to the shipyards to be retrofitted and removed of weaponry so that they can join the CMS fleet and patrol the disputed regions with Japan.  And I think that until the Japanese government adopts an attitude toward its World War II crimes toward China (and South Korea) as Germany has toward Israel, there will always be that underlying tension that makes all border disputes even worse.  I think that the relationship between the two countries have gotten so bad that it may be more likely a conflict will break out between China and Japan rather than China and Taiwan in the next 10 years.  That's really unfortunate, because the two countries have so much to gain in this economically unstable period if they can somehow move past this issue and resolve past grievances.

As a last point, it really bugs me that Japan is often put in the same category as Vietnam/Philippines with regards to needing American help to defend itself against the big bad Chinese.  Even with the rise of PLAN, JMSDF is still clearly the stronger force at this time.  The Japanese civilian patrol fleet is also a very powerful fleet, so it is not going to be scared away by the presence of a few 1500 ton CMS cutters.  In fact, CMS has this huge build up just so that it can get somewhat close to the size of its Japanese counterpart.

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