By Arthur I. Cyr
Current maritime conflicts echo earlier wars, launched over history to control commerce and coveted territory. On April 19, China authorities impounded the Baosteel Emotion, a freighter of Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. The move is part of commercial claims resulting from World War II. Relations between the two great powers of Asia have been steadily deteriorating. Beijing is concerned about rising nationalism in Japan, while Tokyo regards China’s expanding military capabilities as a threat.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on April 22 in the first stop of a four-nation Asia trip that also includes Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea, but not China. China and Japan are also in conflict regarding jurisdiction over the Senkaku Islands. The United States government states the islands are now administered by Japan and fall within the Japan-U.S. security treaty. Maritime conflicts now pervade Asia. In May 2013, Vietnam charged that a China vessel invading “exclusive territorial waters” rammed a ship, endangering 15 Vietnamese fishermen. Two months earlier, Vietnam accused China of shooting at a fishing boat and causing a fire. That same month, Pres. Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines issued a formal public apology for killing of an unarmed Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters. An initial expression of regret was rejected by Taipei. Both Taipei and Beijing joined in condemning the killing. In June 2012, a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal threatened to become violent before both sides disengaged. Both nations claim jurisdiction of the South China Sea, including Scarborough, termed Huangyan Island by China.
China steadily expands in international power and influence, including rapid construction of enormous new strategic naval capacities. Traditionally, this nation has been cautious in using military force for aggressive moves, but that may be changing. The Obama administration has announced that greater strategic priority would be devoted to the Pacific. Actually, since World War II the bulk of the U.S. Navy’s ships have been committed to this vast region. American forces have fought major wars in Korea and Vietnam.