Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#295】China Fears Asian Unity

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2015.04.23 (Thu)

April 20, 2015

     China's responses to other South China Sea littoral countries' arrest and indictment of Chinese fishermen operating in their exclusive economic zones have become more restrained than ever. These responses are far different from China's strong protests and retaliations against Japan's arrest of a Chinese captain of a fishing boat that collided with Japan Coast Guard patrol ships intentionally near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in 2010. The recent responses to Southeast Asian countries are less threatening and more moderate in tone.

China eyeing control by financial power
     But it is premature to interpret the change as indicating China has shelved its hard-line foreign policy. Rather, we should view the change as suggesting that a fierce animal aiming at a prey has revised tactics, being surrounded by grass-eating animals. China has been required to change its course since Japan and the United States criticized China for attempting to change the status quo by force and led Southeast Asian countries to be united against China last year. It would be a nightmare for China if Japan and the United States join hands with other Asian littoral countries to surround China.
     China has been secretly reclaiming land on Spratly reefs to turn them into artificial islands. It is building a heliport on Hughes Reef and a runway on Fiery Cross Reef. China attempts to accomplish facts before the international community begins to complain against these Chinese actions. It may be following late U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt's approach: "Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far."
     China has been wooing Southeast Asian countries to join the planned Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It is switching from "control by force" to "control by financial power." In an unexpected development, China has won the participation in the AIIB by four major European countries -- Britain, France, Germany and Italy. British magazine The Economist accurately described the Chinese approach as buying friendship with money.

U.S. to enhance seapower
     The four European countries' participation in the AIIB has been viewed as indicating disarray among the Group of Seven industrial countries. But Japan and the United States won the G7 Foreign Ministers' Declaration on Maritime Security in mid-April, saying, "We strongly oppose any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force (in the East and South China Seas)." This demonstrates that some G7 members' participation in the AIIB has not weakened the G7 unity.
     In the Republican-led U.S. Congress, leading lawmakers urged the secretaries of state and defense in letters in March to offer a comprehensive strategy against China's territorial expansion in the South and East China Seas. Also in the month, the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard released their first strategy report in seven years, titled "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower." The report criticized China by name and reaffirmed a policy of enhancing seapower to counter A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) threats to U.S. warships.
     The U.S. report also came up with a new regional concept of the "Indo-Asia-Pacific region" and called for developing a network of allies and friends including New Zealand and India as well as Japan, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. It indicated that China's "use of force" would be a threat to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and a challenge to the postwar international order. Even if the fierce animal of China approaches its prey silently, we will be able to deter the approach by demonstrating our unity.

Hiroshi Yuasa is columnist for the Sankei Shimbun and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.