VietNamNet Bridge - To provide a multidimensional view of the current situation of the East Sea, we would like to introduce the interview with Mr. Yakov Berger, an expert of Chinese studies at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.
Mr. Yakov Berger, an expert of Chinese studies at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.
VietNamNet: Could you please tell us your assessment of China's actions on the East Sea recently?
Mr. Yakov Berger: China's increasing maritime activities, its conflict with Japan in the north and with some Southeast Asian countries in the south, in addition to the economic benefits, scrambling for natural resources, there is an underlying cause that Chinese scholars recently mentioned: "China is a lack of living space."
This idea appeared when China, after more than 30 years of successful reform, has become a really powerful country. It wants to have a larger space for freedom of action. Besides, there is transition of leadership in China between the fourth and fifth generations, in which the side that want to publicly "redistribute the world" with the United States, including the Pacific as an important front has prevailed.
There are some other causes, such as, considering the long history of China; the current period can be seen as the climax of the neo-expansion cycle. It is also possible that China thinks that in the context of legal and historical evidences that are not clear, the actual control on the field will bring great advantages in the settlement process.
What do you think about the actions of the parties involved?
For the Philippines, although it is backed by the US and there was a time the Philippines was considered the "frontier" against China in Southeast Asia, the risk of armed conflict at sea with China was almost visible, but with time and the adjustment of the U.S. policy towards Asia, the Philippines’ tactic has been changed certainly.
The Philippine’s lawsuit against China to the international court is the action expressing determination but it depends on the international court for whether it is successful or not. The UN will have to carefully consider the case because after this case, it is likely that it will have to shoulder the responsibility for handling other territory conflicts. If it does not do this case well, its role will be shaken.
Internationalization of the East Sea conflict is a good measure to attract the attention of the international community, to call for major countries to make influence on the process of dispute resolution, but it is not the primary factor to handle the problem. The evidence is the nuclear issue of Iran and North Korea, which has been settled by at least six parties for years, but it has not been handled successfully. The crisis in the Middle East and North Africa recently gained worldwide attention, but no factor could prevent instability. So, first of all, the East Sea issue is expected to be settled among the countries concerned.
For China, strengthening military power is a way to make pressure negotiations and the element to guarantee that agreements (if have) to be executed because without military power, any agreement may be unilaterally destroyed.
The concept of "benefit" is a broad category and there is no specific limit as territorial borders. Even without establishing the territorial sovereignty, China could still claim benefits. Japan has been vigilant in this matter from the outset when it claimed no dispute with China in the Senkaku Islands, meaning that there is no negotiation but only acts to defend its sovereignty.
China’s use of the new map in various forms, adding the Spratly and Paracel Islands into the passport and establishment of the so-called "Sansha" is mainly for domestic cheer. It will be difficult to get international recognition widely because other countries are very careful with sovereignty issues, and they have to review the political relations with the countries involved and take into account the bigger interests of security and peace in Asia-Pacific. Moreover, China itself does not have internal consistency in the East Sea issue.
So in your opinion, what are the ways to resolve the problem?
The actions of involved parties recently have mainly revolved around the war of information and seeking the way of playing. The issue will not be solved until they sit down at the negotiating table. From the fact of solving land disputes (China has territorial disputes with all countries sharing the borders) we can see that China's policy in common is tough at the beginning but soft later.
Typically, it is the territorial disputes with the Soviet Union. China had claimed sovereignty over the whole Tajikistan but then it accepted compromise. Solving disputes in the sea have much of the same ground with land disputes, which requires a lot of time, effort and perseverance. The land disputes between China and bordering countries took centuries for settlement.
Disputes in the East Sea, thus, cannot be solved in a short time. The most important thing now is to keep the status quo, avoiding armed conflict, waiting for new period, new conditions. The East Sea issue should be considered in the perspective of 10-20 years, when international and regional conditions have changed, when the next generation in power in China and relevant countries will certainly be aware of and have more constructive approach.