China’s aggressive move may exacerbate maritime conflicts

By Arthur I. Cyr

China has made an ominous move in claiming sovereignty over the air, and the Obama administration has appropriately responded with B-52 bombers. The unfolding conflict highlights the dark side of the Beijing regime, and reminds us all that growth of investment and trade has not removed political conflicts and military dangers. On Nov. 23, Beijing arbitrarily announced a new defense zone encompassing the Senkaku Islands. These small land areas are occupied by Japan but now claimed by China.

The announcement stipulated that any aircraft entering the zone are subject to challenge. This includes planes only transiting the zone and not intending to enter China’s national airspace, a departure from current international practice. On Nov. 26, the U.S. bombers flew through the zone, without incident. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel both have condemned Beijing’s threat to use force over the disputed islands, and the former also mentioned the wider threat to freedom of navigation essential to international peace. Today there is a range of serious maritime and related territorial disputes, concentrated in Asia but with broad international implications. Argentina, Britain, Brunei, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and other nations are involved, and the United States is increasingly engaged. Vietnam charges that in May a Chinese vessel invaded “exclusive territorial waters” and rammed a ship, endangering fifteen Vietnamese fishermen aboard. Earlier in March, Vietnam accused China of shooting at a fishing boat and causing a fire. In mid-May, President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines issued a formal public apology for the killing of an unarmed Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters. Tensions have been escalating for months. In June 2012, a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal threatened to become violent before both sides disengaged.