China has a rather inimitable style of irritating its neighbours. They brush you by the side and then glance sideways as if nothing really happened. You stare back at them and they turn around to scowl.
It seems to be a 21st century country stuck in an 18th or 19th century mentality –browbeating its neighbours. One can never know the tricks that China has up its sleeves.
China’s territorial ambitions are suspect and grossly detrimental for peaceful coexistence. Its economic power and military might is not something that countries – those unfortunate neighbours – cannot just wish away.
The most recent of China’s maverick ploy has been to issue new electronic chip enabled passports to its citizens with a watermarked map. It looks an aesthetic design just that it has not gone down too well among the neighbours for the map shows disputed territories as part of China.
China’s sore eye, Taiwan called it a “total ignorance of reality” and termed is as an action that “only provokes disputes.”
Apart from Taiwan, China has raging territorial disputes with India, Vietnam, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. It has been China’s long-standing strategy to annex and absorb territories – Tibet enduring struggle against Chinese rule is a vindication of this inherent tendency.
All the countries have been infuriated by the Chinese action. Strangely it erupted close on the heels of ASEAN’s failure to present a united front against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea region.
History of Conflict
With India, China has disputes over Aksai Chin and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh which it claims as its territory.
With Japan, China has a long simmering contention over Japanese sovereignty over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. Japan controls the five islets and some nearby rocks, which it calls the Senkakus and China knows as the Diaoyu. Taiwan also has claims on what it says are the Tiaoyutai Islands in the South China Sea.
China is also in contention with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan over a number of islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea. The complex dispute is over sovereignty in the 1.2m square miles of sea that has been simmering for over two decades, but has grown increasingly fractious in the past few years.
Not to forget the issue of Tibet that continues to be a sore point and China’s attitude toward Taiwan.
Chinese conduct in all these cases has been to sidestep the issues when they come up for multi-lateral discussions – as in the recent case of ASEAN. On the other hand, it continues to rake them up at regular intervals at bilateral levels. Thus when the Indian Prime Minister undertakes and official visit to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, China shows its indignation. As in this case China prefers to speak individually with countries which in often cases range from false assurances to stark intimidation.
With the map imprint in its new passport, China has again, and plausible so, on purpose, sought to rake up its territorial contentions. Each country having territorial disputes with China reacted and responded to express disaffection and displeasure at Chinese actions.
However, the Chinese government was quick with a quintessential response. It pointed out that China was “not targeting a specific country” and that it was “willing to communicate with relevant countries and continue to promote contacts.”
Affirmative Action of Western Involvement?
It may be time for countries particularly those in the region to take affirmative action. However, as ASEAN Summit 2012 showed, countries in the region may still be far away from being able to forge a united front against China. Making it difficult is the mutual territorial conflicts they have. Now does that call for western involvement?