By: Leo Schenk, Columnist, Junior
China has become one of the world’s great economic and military powers. This newfound influence grants them the confidence to take action on land claims they have had for many years. China claims that land in almost 20 different countries is rightfully theirs, often due to disputable documents dating back to before the fall of the Qing empire. Many of these islands are uninhabited dots of sand, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the Chinese mainland. Two of their largest international disputes are the Senkaku Islands, disputed by Japan and Taiwan and the entirety of the South China Sea, with the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, to name a few.
These disputes are newly revived, primarily for two reasons. One is the recent discovery of large oil deposits around many of the islands in these regions, and the other is the fact that China believes that they can now force their way into these territories with little resistance. With their burgeoning, industrializing economy, they need any source of energy they can find, so they are going around the United States (which is trying to act as mediator) and claiming these lands.
China is literally making land for the ability to claim it. On April 8, The New York Times reported that clusters of reefs (conveniently called “mischief reef” in English) just north of the Philippines have grown dramatically in sand deposits since January. Chinese amphibious warships patrol the southern entrance to these new islands, and there are now buildings on them. Dredging ships surround them, pulling up enormous amounts of sand to place on these islands for China to claim.
This is how China is getting around the U.S. attempts to mediate these longstanding territorial claims: by ignoring the American seventh fleet stationed in the region and simply building land, which they can then claim hundreds of miles from their coast.
President Barack Obama, when asked about Chinese expansionism says, “Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions.” China is just one of a continuing trend of countries around the world challenging the hegemony of the United States.
The more countries that industrialize and have rapidly expanding populations, the more countries will attempt to challenge the world order established by the U.S. and maintained by the world institutions organized by the West. China claims to have “indisputable rights” to these islands and is intentionally aggressing the world order in the hopes that they can move the world into a more multipolar system, with a series of spheres of influence instead of the U.S as undisputed champion.
The real question is what is an appropriate reaction for America to take? Direct conflict is not an option, as it would merely hurt every party involved. Economic sanctions would be impossible with the level of cooperation between the two nations’ economies; should the world’s two largest economies sanction each other, they would divide the world into blocs.
The fact is that there are few methods to effectively dissuade an aggressive power. America needs to decide on the best way to aid its allies in the western Pacific Ocean in protecting their internationally guaranteed territorial waters. Certainly, abandoning the Pacific sphere to Chinese hegemony would not benefit America or our allies.