China’s Dangerous Game

The country’s intensifying efforts to redraw maritime borders have its neighbors, and the U.S., fearing war. But does the aggression reflect a government growing in power—or one facing a crisis of legitimacy?

Brian Stauffer

In the tranquil harbors that dot the coastline of Palawan, a sword-shaped island in the western Philippines, the ferry boats are crowded with commuters traveling back and forth between sleepy townships, and with vendors bearing fresh produce. On Sundays, they fill with people dressed up for church. From nearby berths, fishermen set out to sea for days at a time aboard their bancas, the simple, low-slung catamarans they have favored for generations.

Just inland from the shore, narrow, crowded streets thrum with the put-put of motorized rickshaws. The signs on the small shops and restaurants that line them are almost as likely to be in Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese as in the Filipino language Tagalog.

The shore-hugging seas of this part of the world, from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago, have always served as a kind of open freeway for culture, trade, and ceaseless migration. In past times, historians of the region went so far as to call the long waterway that encompasses both the East China Sea and the South China Sea the Mediterranean of East Asia. But more recently, it has begun to earn more-ominous comparisons to another part of Europe, a fragmented region that was the famous trigger for the First World War: the Balkans. Continue reading


China’s Maritime Disputes

Speakers: Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director of Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
Shen Dingli, Vice Dean of the Institute of International Affairs, Fudan University
Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs
Producers: Jeremy Sherlick
Hagit Ariav
April 21, 2014

The East and South China Seas are the scene of escalating territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The tensions, shaped by China’s growing assertiveness, have fueled concerns over armed conflict and raised questions about Washington’s security commitments in its strategic rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.

“Maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas are a pressing issue for the United States, China, and much of the rest of the world,” says Elizabeth Economy, CFR’s Director for Asia Studies. The region is rich in natural resources, home to many of the world’s most dynamic economies, and an important global trade route for energy supplies and other goods. Continue reading

North Korea fires ballistic missiles into Sea of Japan

25 March 2014

North Korea is believed to have launched two No Dong ballistic missiles on 26 March. The No Dong was seen on a transport-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle with five axles at a military parade in Pyongyang in late 2010. Source: PA

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on 26 March: the latest in a series of test launches.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that two missiles were launched from the Sukchon region at 02.35 and 02.42 local time respectively. It added that the launches were in violation of “UN Security Council Resolutions [UNSCR] 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013) and 2094 (2013), which prohibit North Korea from all activities related to ballistic missile programmes.” Continue reading

Japan’s Uphill PR Battle

China and South Korea mount a vigorous campaign abroad against revisionist thinking in Japan.

Topographic map of South Korea. Created with G...

By Yo-Jung Chen March 06, 2014

Japan is involved in a worsening quarrel with its two neighbors, China and South Korea, not only concerning sovereignty over some tiny islets, but also its alleged tendency to whitewash its history of military aggression and brutal colonial rule.

One of the major points of antagonism is the issue of “comfort women” (or “sex slaves” as an angry Hillary Clinton called them), namely women in Japan-occupied Asia who were forced into prostitution serving Japanese soldiers. Despite the 1993 Kono Statement in which the Japanese government admitted that Japan’s military had coerced these women, a recent rise of nationalism has led a majority of Japanese to deny any such thing, giving rise to suspicion that Japan is again refusing to take responsibility for its war crimes.

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History Wars: A Long View of Asia’s Territorial Disputes


September 13, 2013


The Diplomat takes a look at the long and complex background to some of the region’s most intractable disputes.


Next month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will deliver its verdict in the case of Cambodia and Thailand’s territorial dispute over the Preah Vihear temple. For several months, the court has been poring over a judgment it made on the same issue fifty years earlier. That judgment was partly based on interpretations of old treaties, old maps and other fragments pertaining to the temple’s 900-year history. The whole exercise, in other words, has been as much an historical investigation as it has been a legal process.

Since neither the Thais nor the Cambodians seem inclined to accept an unfavorable verdict, the ICJ’s decision will probably go down as just another moment in the temple’s long and contested history, rather than as the end of the story so far as the dispute goes. Even so, the matter may be nearer closure than some of Asia’s other most tortuous territorial arguments.

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India, China and the Pirates

March 06, 2012  By Nitin Gokhale

An agreement between China, India and Japan to coordinate over combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden is an encouraging sign of military cooperation. But it’s no panacea.


Relations between India and China look increasingly to be running along two parallel tracks – one of cooperation, the other competition.

While New Delhi and Beijing keep a wary eye on each other’s activities along the border, there’s growing engagement at the highest political and diplomatic levels. For example, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna made a three-day visit to China last month, meeting key Chinese leaders ahead of the BRICS summit to be hosted by India in April. As The Hindu newspaper reported at the time, “China appears to have laid out the red carpet for Mr. Krishna, arranging four high-level meetings for the minister in one day – a rare occurrence, according to diplomats.”

Krishna held talks with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang and State Councillor Dai Bingguo, a meeting that followed Dai’s trip to India the previous month. Dai is China’s Special Representative on the boundary talks, and the two countries tooka major confidence building step in January, setting up an institutionalized border mechanism that “allows for real time contact between the two countries’ foreign offices in the event of a border intrusion by either side.”

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Issue Guide: Japan’s Triple Crisis

Updated: March 18, 2011

Author: Toni Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

A woman cries while in the destroyed city of Natori in northern Japan. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 11, the largest earthquake on record struck Japan and generated a thirty-foot tsunami that inundated the country’s northeast coast. The death toll is estimated in the thousands, and the country is grappling with power shortages, search and rescue efforts, and the need to provide shelter and other services for victims. The disaster also caused a set of catastrophic events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Continue reading