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China's Territorial Disputes Heat Up

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china artificial islands

By Dr. Terry Simmons and Madison O Day
In Homeland Security

As the People’s Republic of China enters a new era of nationalistic imperialism under the present calcified Communist Party headed by President Xi Jinping, perennial political issues remain: claims of sovereignty over Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The territorial disputes involving claims in the South China Sea have only become more explosive as Chinese economic domination has paved the way for an increasingly influential global image. Issues which have remained relatively stable and dormant appear to be flaring back into international crises, all due to a deliberate attempt to wield foreign policy to bolster an image of irrefutability as China reclaims an imperial past.

China’s Artificial Islands

China’s territorial aggression is hardly a recent development in Asian geostrategic maneuvering. However, insistence that the Spratley Islands are now in serious contention has Western leaders on edge. As China becomes more aggressive in her claims, the construction of artificial islands will continue to serve as a flashpoint for President Jinping’s administration to justify new military activities for the purpose of enhancing their claims of indigenous sovereignty in the region.

The Obama administration has challenged the Chinese government, charging the military and administration with imperial aggression. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been particularly explicit in his condemnation of the “militarization” of China’s territorial disputes, and use of artificial islands to project power in a move perceived by regional players as nothing short of imperialistic bullying. Secretary Carter’s South Korean counterparts are incensed by China’s apparent perception that smaller nations can be shouldered aside in the modern era of a decades-long dispute.

However, China’s territorial ambitions are becoming significantly more sophisticated. Recent revelations from the security firm FireEye indicate that Chinese-sponsored hackers have systematically compromised the servers and networks of governments involved in territorial disputes, with the apparent intention of spying upon nations with a stake in the conflict. The illicit cyber activity continued for years without being detected and demonstrates an unprecedented level of coordination, suggesting that the intelligence gained from it has been an importance piece of strategic decision making. Thirty nations from Southeast Asia and India were compromised, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The nature of the game may be evolving more quickly than the Western world realizes. President Jinping’s repeated call for Chinese civilian and military actors to build the expertise and resources necessary for a higher form of information warfare indicate that Asian territorial disputes and power projection may be taking on a new face – a technological face.

Shinzo Abe’s Efforts

Regardless of speculation regarding information war, however, it is clear that the possibility of kinetic conflict in the South China Sea is growing, as Chinese fears of an American intervention increase. The United States has justified the decision to “pivot” American naval forces to the area in support of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s concerted efforts to support the American pivot by reorienting Japanese strategic military forces from the traditional Japanese defensive posture to new offensive capabilities in concert with President Obama’s Far East Initiative designed to quell the imperial rise of China, especially in the littoral South China Sea.

As increasingly aggressive Chinese naval patrols precipitate near-kinetic confrontations almost daily with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, the South China Sea tinder box shows signs of looming flammability. Beijing has used stern language to protest the decision of two US F18s to execute an emergency landing on a Taipei airstrip. The coincidental and unexpected landing, which would be inconsequential to international relations in almost any other part of the world, sparked an angry Chinese response – and is laughably small in comparison to the continued aggressions of Jinping’s administration.

Egregiously flagrant violations of international airspace are concurrently taking place with open seas violations by China in an obvious provocation to make explicitly clear that the PRC is aggressively seeking reclamation of the former possessions at the height of their historical imperial dynasty.

As Vladimir Putin has asserted the Russian Federation’s right to reclaim its traditional Near Abroad in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine, China appears to be using the same geopolitical revanchist tactic to re-establish the Chinese Littoral Near Abroad in the South China Sea.

Though there is no declared coordination with Putin, it might not be a stretch to observe that China’s territorial ambitions appear oriented to the same geopolitical objectives. As Russia turns east to offset the American Pivot in coordination with Beijing’s neo-imperialism, the strategic co-ordination of the Asiatic giants through the Shanghai Cooperation Council takes on more plausibility.

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