SETTLING TERRITORIAL DISPUTES IN THE REGION
The East Asia region, due to historical legacies and geographical make up, has multiple territorial disputes brewing over the region. Inline with the recent tension, it is crucial and timely to discuss resolution for the issue.
China has long been involved in territorial disputes with its neighbouring countries, whether it is the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with Japan, Scarborough Shoals with the Philippines, and South China Sea with the Southeast Asian countries. The resurfacing of arguments about these territorial disputes is coincidental with the recent change in China’s leadership, which prompted many questions as to how China’s new leadership would treat the issues. However, there is no certain answer to these questions, due to the discreet way in which the Chinese government is expressing their stand towards these issues. What we can, and should be asking, when talking about China’s territorial disputes with other nations, is the reason for the surfacing of these issues now, and what the resurfacing of these questions will mean for the future. In simple terms – instead of asking ‘will China’s new leadership take a more firm stance in dealing with territorial disputes’ – we should be asking, has China’s new leadership, based on our examination of the few things we know and have learned about them so far, taken a more firm stance in dealing with territorial disputes, and if so, what is the reason for this sudden rise in interest on this issue today, and what will happen tomorrow?
The correlation between bilateral tension and the rise of nationalism, where main features of this issue would be the role of protests, citizens, and prominent individuals in spurring a renewed sense of nationalism. In light of this topic, we can consider, too, the fact that ASEAN nations who are implicated in these issues are not seen as exhibiting as much passion towards these issues. On the other hand, the recent conflicts between leaders at the East Asian Summit and the ASEAN Summit can possibly be viewed as the start of ASEAN’s response towards these issues.
It would be interesting to hear the opinions of other countries, particularly the ASEAN countries involved, of where they stand regarding these territorial disputes. The questions raised in the first paragraph were focused from the Chinese viewpoint. The recent conflicts between leaders at the East Asian Summit and the ASEAN Summit was due to their division as to whether a code of conduct should be implemented when dealing with claims in disputed waters. As of January 2013, the new chair of ASEAN, the Sultanate of Brunei, has stated that it is keen to pursue the implementation of a code of conduct. The questions we should be asking therefore is, to what extent will this code of conduct, when it is implemented, affect China’s claims over the disputed waters? We can then extend the question and perhaps also ask, to what extent will these codes of conduct, which unites ASEAN countries but alienates China, affect China’s influence over East Asian countries as a whole?