A discussion of tensions in East Asia, and some possible solutions
By Emanuel Pastreich
December 03, 2015
What do you see as the underlying sources for the tensions between China and the United States today?
The tensions between the United States and other ASEAN nations with China over the South China Sea today are extremely serious. The South China Sea and the tensions with Russia over Ukraine are the two greatest sources of possible conflict today and I believe that either problem could lead to war if not properly handled.
The problem is in part one resulting from an American drive to confront China, but it is exacerbated, almost daily, because the Chinese leadership has discovered that nationalism serves as a great replacement for the void in ideology that the death of communism has produced. I fear that as growth slows below 7 percent, the Chinese government will increasingly feel a need to throw nationalist red meat to the Chinese people. I fear that the speculation about a possible military conflict could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I suggest that America and China, and other nations, take concrete steps to reduce the tension and create a broad dialogue. The United States or China could end up in a situation in which both parties, to avoid a loss of face, are forced to do what they said they would do. In the South China Sea – and in particular around the Spratly Islands – we see the greatest risk of a major confrontation.
All sides should recognize that we have a dangerous situation. Such confrontation is not in the interest of the United States, China or the region.
I am not interested in defending China regarding the South China Sea, but there are those who have argued that although some see Chinese activities in the South China Sea as excessive, or arrogant, China’s actions are certainly not worse than American interference in South America in the 1960s and 1970s and that there is no justification for the United States to get involved in what is essentially a regional problem. What are your thoughts?
The argument regarding the United States’ meddling is a fair one to make. I would rather want to focus on the need to start a broader and more level-headed discussion about territory in the South China Sea that moves beyond an emotional and nationalist fight between the claimants such as Vietnam and the Philippines, and China. Let us also bring in countries like Indonesia who have a stake in the region. I think the best way to address what I personally think is a mistake on the Chinese part is to have other voices say, “Listen China, these claims are causing an unnecessary problem. You are making claims that are far beyond what any international law would codify and approve.”
There are laws and processes that can be invoked to deal with these claims without escalating military tensions. The United States should pull back and not try to make itself the center of attention.
The United States could say, but currently is not saying, “Let’s resolve this dispute in a way that benefits everyone and sets a positive precedent for the future.” Read more of this post