Flag of the People’s Republic of China

China may have strategic and psychological reasons behind its claims for much of the South China Sea. When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was inaugurated in 1949, Chairman Mao proudly announced that China has risen; that it has risen  from the shame of colonial subjugation and defeat in war.  China was carved into separate spheres of influence by the Euopean powers and the US in the 19th century.  Its 1911 Revolution failed to improve the national condition.

Since 1949, it has transformed itself into an industrial and nuclear during Mao’s lifetime. While Mao’s rigid doctrines were rejected after his death, the pragmatic policies of his successors were intended to strengthen the country through the so-called Four Modernizations–including that of the economy and the military. The new Chinese leaders invited foreign investors and opened industrial zones and the country’s economy grew spectacularly through exports. China is now the second largest economy of the world.

Chairman Mao Zedong

Now that its economy has grown, China is now poised to project power commensurate to its prosperity. Its immediate objective is to secure its immediate periphery. Since Japan has invaded and conquered parts of China during the Second World War it seeks to pursue disputes in the East China Sea (ECS).

Together with Taiwan, both countries are in dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Lest we forget, China also claims Taiwan as its province. And of course, we are aware of Chinese claims over the Spratly Islands, Paracels and the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea that are disputed by a number of Southeast Asian states and Taiwan. These Chinese claims intrude into or overlap with exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other states.

Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyu islands

Disputed areas in the South China Sea

Apart from economic reasons, the Chinese claims should be seen as extensions of their defense lines. If they can indeed establish ownership over SCS waters, they can control important sea lanes of communication and interdict passage of warships. The SCS will be domestic waters which the PLA Navy can freely cruise. The United States is the power that will be most affected by this Chinese aggressive confidence. China is the reason behind the US pivot to Asia–the deployment of 60% of American military assets in Asia. If China owned Scarborough Shoal, its warships will be in a better position to take out a radar facility to be built by the US in the Philippines. To summarize, China’s territorial assertiveness is fueled by pride and strategic considerations and is based on a strong economy.
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