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China's Big Course Correction in the South China Sea?

July 25, 2014 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

After many months of taking increasingly bold actions at the expense of its neighbors in East Asia, there are recent indications that Beijing may be adopting more conciliatory policies. China has unexpectedly removed a controversial oil-drilling rig that it had deployed in waters near Vietnam. In late June, Chinese president Xi Jinping conducted a high-profile summit meeting with South Korean president Park Geun-hye, seeking to improve relations with that country following last year’s tensions over Beijing’s proclamation of a new air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. Even the tone of China’s boilerplate warnings to the United States to stay out of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea has become somewhat more muted. Instead of shrill accusations of U.S. meddling, Chinese officials now urge Washington to be “fair” in its assessment of the issues at stake.

It is possible that the emergence of a more conciliatory stance may only be a temporary, purely tactical shift. But there is also a more encouraging alternative explanation. Beijing may finally have realized that it overreached in pressing its claims in the region, and that its behavior was provoking its neighbors to become more receptive to a U.S.-orchestrated containment policy directed against China. Given its own multitude of geostrategic headaches elsewhere in the world, Washington should at least explore whether a serious rapprochement with China can be pursued.

Washington should at least explore whether a serious rapprochement with China can be pursued.”

There is certainly enough evidence of rising anger among East Asian countries regarding China’s conduct over the past three or four years, and only the most obtuse Chinese officials could be unaware of the warning signs. The most obvious, and from Beijing’s standpoint, the most worrisome, development has been Japan’s growing assertiveness on security issues. Tokyo’s “reinterpretation” of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to allow the country’s participation in collective-defense measures is a watershed event, but there have been other, more subtle changes. In June, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that his government would support Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China. A few months earlier, Japan had joined with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to explore efforts to better secure navigation rights—a clear slap at China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Japan’s new approach clearly envisions a growing array of security partnerships.<a target=_blank href="http://www.news.com.au/national/australia-to-sign-new-submarines-deal-with-japan-as-prime-minister-shinzo-abe-visits-tony-abbott-in-canberra/story-fncynjr2-1226980720135%20" …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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