AGI Top 12 in 2012: Safeguarding ASEAN: China, Japan and Philippines Clash Over Islands and Sea

AGI recaps the highlights of 2012, which we think made an impact and will continue to drive change in the coming years. These highlights and events are picked by AGI editorial team from fields of business, politics and culture across Asia.

In the tenth ASEAN Summit in 2012, the chair of ASEAN, Cambodia seemed be safeguarding the interest of ASEAN and keeping the clash of China and Philippines dispute out of the conference, which however, seemed inevitable.

The Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan islands in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines, were at the centre of a stand-off between China and the Philippines earlier this year.US say that they would not take sides in the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes. On the other hand, the tit for tat demonstrations by Chinese and Japanese activists in 2012 over the ongoing sovereignty dispute of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islandsare representative of a deeper historical and ideological divide between the two states.

The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands issue is not simply a territorial dispute for either country. Large concessions have been made by the Chinese government over territorial issues before; similar disputes have been resolved in recent decades between China and Russia, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian states. For China it is a matter of national pride, and is symbolic of China’s emergence from the ‘century of humiliation’, which saw, the state fractured and exploited by a variety of foreign powers. For Japan, the dispute speaks to a fear of relative decline.

The idea that any Japanese relinquishing of territory will result in a slippery slope of future concessions, to Chinese power in particular but also in similar ongoing disputes with South Korea and Russia, gradually dissipating Japanese territorialholdings outside of the home islands. As the Chinese Communist Party, in favor of pro-market economic reforms, has abandoned Maoist ideology outward focused nationalism has increasingly underpinned Chinese political cohesion and domestic stability. Japanese historical revisionism regarding its occupation of China, as represented by the regular pilgrimage of high level government officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, provides fodder for this nationalism.

While the Chinese government is pressured by its outraged constituents to take a tough stance towards Japan on this issue it will, lest that anger be directed inward. The Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute will not be resolved without violence while the historical dispute embodied by the Yasukuni controversy continues.

By Stu Rollo

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