Thursday, September 19, 2013 (8:00 AM – 2:00 PM)
Crum Auditorium, Collins Executive Building (map)
In recent months, tensions have flared over a smattering of islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Several Asian nations, including China, Japan, and Southeast Asian countries, have identified the ownership of rocky shoals in the region as matters of grave national interest to each of them. Because these uninhabited spits of rock allegedly sit astride valuable caches of oil, gas, and fishing rights, several in proximity claim ownership. Not surprisingly, these competing claims have caused these nations not only to squabble diplomatically but also to show off military might and nationalistic bravado in hopes the other interested parties will back down and change the status quo. In the East China Sea, China and Japan have nearly come to blows over islands called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China. Japan has long-governed those islands, but China claims that ownership was wrongfully established. In the South China Sea, China is arguing primacy for the ownership of the whole Spratly Islands , while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim some right to the islands.
Along with the rise of China, these rising tensions between China and many other Asian nations have potential to do significant damage in the region, from a souring of relations to prompting an arms race, from diplomatic showdowns to the potential for military conflict. While the disputes are allegedly over the oil, gas, fishing and mineral resources, in fact there is more to it. Simmering beneath the surface, there are hard feelings over past Japanese imperial conquest and fears over China’s goal to become the undisputed superpower in the area. Thus far, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have come to naught, and saber-rattling has become the preferred course of action. Although the world would like to see a China confident in its presence in international society and working with other countries to solve global problems as a responsible stakeholder, in reality the China that has caused various conflicts with the U.S. and other foreign countries is on the rise because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has found it increasingly difficult to deal with its domestic problems. As a result, China has become a “revisionist power” that challenges the status quo power balance in world politics. The recent emphasis by President Xi Jinping on the “great restoration of the Chinese race” (Zhonghua minzu de weida fuxing) has exacerbated global discomfort with the potential negative impacts of China’s rise. Moreover, the challenges that the CCP has faced, such as rural uprisings, workers’ strikes, and ethnic conflicts, seem to have enhanced the fragility of the one-party rule.
Given these significant and current challenges in the region, the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University plans to bring together a diverse group of experts—both historians as well as political scientists—who have observed the conflict and cooperation in the region, to examine the critical issues posed by the territorial disputes over these island chains, focusing on what implications China’s rise brings to these contested waters. Among the central questions that will be addressed are:
- What have the historical claims to these islands been, and how did the ownership become so contested over time?
- Do the islands matter less for the oil, gas, minerals and fish located in and around them than they do for power struggles and primacy in the region? What implications does China’s rise have on this issue?
- What are the strategic interests of the United States in these disputes, and what should the U.S. foreign policy response look like given the political issues surrounding the various claims?
- Given the rise of China, how do the conflicts over the contested waters in the East and South China Sea influence the U.S. strategic interests in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific?
Agenda & Speakers
SUN & STAR JAPAN STUDIES FUND
Keio Research Institute at SFC (KRIS)
Japan Studies Platform Laboratory