China, Japan and Senkaku Islands; Conflict in the East China Sea Amid An American Shadow by Monika Chansoria; Published by Knowledge World, Delhi; Pages 266; INR 980. Hardbound
By Sudip Talukdar
The pattern of Chinese actions on the global stage demonstrates that it lives by the credo of might is right, a potent tool in its armoury for the pursuit of aggressive designs. China seeks to subdue countries considered inimical either by flexing its enormous military muscle or buying them over with its unlimited financial munificence. These moves are driven by an insatiable appetite for scarce resources and expansionist designs.
Having annexed a resource rich Tibet and helping itself to the mineral wealth of Balochistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the entity is now eyeing the South China Seas, with plenty of saber rattling, after challenging India its own immediate neighbourhood, by upping the stakes in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Monika Chansoria, senior fellow heading the China programme at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Delhi, sheds enough light on the genesis of the dispute over the Japanese controlled Senkaku Islands. In her well researched, timely and scholarly book: “China, Japan and Senkaku Islands,” Chansoria places the current dispute in the context of resurging nationalism in China and Japan, mired in a long history of rivalry, but which is solely being driven by Beijing.
The author, with her impeccable analytical approach and meticulous attention to details, has tracked and exposed the Chinese strategy in all its sinister ramifications. She also points out how in India’s own backyard, Sri Lanka is fast emerging as the pivot of rising Chinese naval presence in Indian Ocean, because of its strategic location. For instance, a Chinese conventional and a nuclear submarine docked at Colombo’s South Container Terminal, operated by a Chinese front, rather than at the Sri Lanka Port Authority, mandated to accommodate foreign military vessels.
Senkaku islands lay in relative obscurity until the discovery of oil in 1969, impacting roughly 72,000 square kms of marine space and its vast mineral riches, which underlines the current dispute. According to an estimate by Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1994, oil and natural gas deposits of the Japanese side of the East China Sea, amounted to a half billion kilolitres of crude volume.
Similarly Chinese estimates of gas reserves in the entire shelf ranged between 175 and 210 trillion cubic feet, far dwarfing Saudi’s own gas reserves of 21.8 trillion cubic feet. “Other estimates,” writes the author, “placed potential oil reserves on the shelf to be as high as 100 billion barrels, as against Saudi’s 261.7 billion barrels.
The development follows a predictable geo-strategic pattern. China begins by chipping away at a nation’s self esteem and a gradual escalation of stakes, just short of provoking a conflict. Behind the mask of impassivity, China does not act impulsively, but prefers to wait, watch and wear down opposition through cat and mouse games, as part of its well crafted psychological warfare, steeped in the precepts of Sun Tzu.
Prof Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst, in his foreword to Chansoria’s book, pertinently points out that Beijing’s muscle flexing and repeated violations of Japanese air space “have accomplished the opposite—shaken Japan out of its complacency and diffidence and set in motion Japan’s political resurrection.” Accordingly, “Japan has also strengthened its alliance with the US and forged new strategic ties with India and some other Asian states,” including Vietnam.
Chansoira argues that the Senkaku crisis has hit the Japanese economy hard, fuelled by a partial boycott of its cars sales in China and dwindling number of Chinese tourists. She attributes it to China’s coercive drive, which boils down to compelling Tokyo to fall in line over disputed issues. “A militarily expansionist China is seemingly biding its time until its force modernisation stands complete.” It is likely to begin yielding results from 2020 onwards. The timing is significant. The year 2021 coincides with a century of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, adds the author.
Even though Japan-US ties remain the “lynchpin of Tokyo’s foreign and security strategy,” Beijing’s military modernization could erode core US military advantages, warns the author. On November 23, 2013, China unilaterally announced the formation of Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). It covers Senkaku islands and a greater part of East-China Sea. Beijing acted if the Senkaku were already part of its territory.
Chansoria warns that the sea lanes in the South China Sea, through which more than Pound 3.3 trillion worth of trade passes annually, is likely to become more vulnerable if these islands are converted in to military bases. The PLA Navy has expanded to more than 300 ships, submarines, amphibious vessels and patrol craft, besides possessing five nuclear powered attack submarines and four JIN Class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. The author quotes Toshi Yoshihara, professor at the US Naval War College as saying how “from a military perspective, Tokyo is becoming the weaker party in the Sino-Japanese rivalry.”
Japan comprises roughly 6,800 islands scattered across the sea which also includes the world’s sixth largest exclusive economic zone. China’s deployment as far afield as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and the Atlantic, magnifies China’s growing geo-political clout. “These developments significantly are in sync with China’s hyped up Maritime Silk Route strategy.”
“China will continue to press its claims to Taiwan, in the East and South China Seas, and over disputed territory with India, and it will use diplomatic, paramilitary and coercive military tactics to do so,” the author concludes. These portents are dangerous for world peace and would curtail free movement of shipping and trade.
(Sudip Talukdar is a senior journalist, author and strategic affairs columnist. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: firstname.lastname@example.org)