Japan-ASEAN Meeting With China As A Looming Spectre

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Dec. 13 – The Japan-ASEAN summit takes place today in Tokyo, with China – who is not attending – likely to be playing the role of the bogeyman at the meetings. China is involved with serious diplomatic and political tensions with both Japan and several ASEAN members, with the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam in particular very concerned about the rise in China’s claims to long disputed territories.

China imposed a new air defense zone that encompasses the disputed Senkaku Islands, which have been under Japanese administration for decades. The Philippines has recently taken China to a UN-led Maritime arbitration court to protect its coastline after China made claims to parts of the South China Sea within a few miles of the Philippines coast. China has refused to acknowledge the court. Vietnam has also had recent disputes with China over the Spratly Islands.

“The claims and rising military tensions are not what they appear,” says Chris Devonshire-Ellis, founding partner of Dezan Shira & Associates. “Although they appear aimed at their neighbors, in reality, China’s goal is far more subtle. These disputes are aimed at forcing the United States out of East Asian waters. If that happens, China is more easily able to harass other nations with oil rich waters, and potentially control the Straits of Malacca, through which much of the world’s oil and gas supplies pass. China would effectively control the energy supplies to the entire South and East Asian region including Japan and South Korea.”

The China problems aside, trade will still be discussed at the summit. ASEAN is expected to provide the Philippines with a US$97 million loan to help clear up damage after the recent typhoon, while expanded currency swap deals, and possibly other free trade agreements, may be part of the discussions. In the meantime, China’s spectre will loom large.

Disputed Territory

China has multiple border disputes, some of which are dormant, but to which no long lasting agreements have been reached – meaning China can turn them on at any time. These include:

  • Bhutan: Four disputed enclaves along the 470km border all currently administered by Bhutan. None have ever been under CCP control.
  • Brunei: The Nine-Dotted Line, which represents the Chinese government’s territorial claim in the South China Sea, passes within 50 km of the Brunei coastline. Brunei is oil rich.
  • India: Multiple disputes, including Chinese claims to all the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh (never under CCP control), Aksai Chin (Kashmir) and China’s recognition of parts of Kashmir as belonging to Pakistan.
  • Japan: The Senkaku Islands dispute and the new Chinese air defense zone. The latter extends way out into the East China Sea and runs as close to a 20 minute onward flight to Nagasaki.
  • Malaysia: The Nine-Dotted Line passes within 100 km of the Malaysian coastline.
  • North Korea: Changbai Shan (Mount Paektu) – which is currently half in China and half in the DPRK. China claims it in full.
  • Philippines: Multiple flash points along the Nine-Dotted Line, which passes within 50 km of several thousand km of west Philippines coastline, including Manila.
  • Vietnam: Serious and multiple disputes in the South China Sea. The Nine-Dotted Line passes within 100 km of the entire east Vietnamese coastline and finishes right on the Vietnam-Sino border.

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