Posted on 28-09-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A bunch of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea seem unlikely candidates for a diplomatic showdown between China and Japan.  But the combustible mix of oil and natural gas reserves and aggressive nationalism egged on by Beijing to hide the regime’s ideological bankruptcy gives you a diplomatic explosion.  It also causes sleepless nights in Washington and other capitals concerned with managing the rise of China.  While this current spat seems to have been resolved, China’s aggressive adoption of imperial hauteur is ringing alarm bells across the Pacific Rim.

This blog has (before its unexpectedly long summer hiatus) noted China’s tensions with India.  China has also made (sometimes tenuous) claims to a bunch of islands in the South China Sea (which contain oil reserves) leading to tensions with Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.  This summer it essentially claimed exclusive rights to the Yellow Sea by objecting to a joint US-South Korean naval exercise aimed at North Korea.  Seoul is already peeved with China giving the rogue regime in Pyongyang diplomatic cover.  The recent saber rattling adds to the general alarm.

The last 20 years have seen the spectacular rise of China, largely by avoiding the type of spats that epitomized its foreign policy in the 60s and 70s.  But the result of its abandonment of Deng’s cautious foreign policy has been to force the Asian countries into Uncle Sam’s far more benign embrace.  So while China asks outsiders (i.e. Washington) not to meddle and tries to take down the Asian minnows one by one, America is reengaging in a region it had ignored amidst the distractions of Iraq and Afghanistan and so far has ignored Beijing’s bluster.  With North Korea in the midst of another dynastic succession and behaving more erratically than ever it is about time.

The effects of China’s policy also highlight the lack of wisdom in the muscular unilateral foreign policy that the neo-cons advocated during George Bush’s first term.  A great power that throws its weight around on every single issue soon finds that it is left with few friends.  While Beijing has cultivated clients among the world’s rogue gallery, it finds itself with very few friends in its backyard (other than the millstones North Korea and Pakistan).

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