In his latest column in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman makes the claim that the Asian countries have been acting extra-cozy with President Obama during his visits because China has been flexing its muscles in several regional disputes.
Read the column here
Currently traveling in Hong Kong, I can say that China has made it quite clear in recent years to step on the pedal and expand its domestic economy as well as its international prominence. Having hosted the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing and the World Expo in Shanghai this year, China has dramatically improved its public infrastructure and its citizens are slowly recognizing their statuses in the world.
As such, the Chinese government has ridden on this wave of economic progress to use its military to assert its dominance in the Southeast Asian region.
I can’t say much about the dispute over South China Sea, which Friedman mentions in the column, except that it’s no surprise that China would be aggressive over anything that has to do with oil because it needs to sustain 1.5 billion people.
Friedman also brings up the dispute that happened near The East China Sea, called the Senkaku Islands, of which Japanese Coast Guard vessels were hit by a Chinese fishing boat. The Chinese (and Hong Kong’s) media has reported this story as if it was totally the Japanese’s fault, because Chinese has claim to the Islands, and should release the captain of the fishing boat.
I for one thought that something was up when the matter escalated to an international dispute, one in which even U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had to comment on. I thought, “why are these two countries, which boasts two of the largest economies in the world, trading harsh words and threatening more serious actions over a bunch of tiny islands in the middle of nowhere?” I really didn’t think that the Chinese cares that much about the islands, and neither does Japan. The islands serve no strategic purpose; it’s only disputed because it lies on contested waters between the two countries.
An article from Hong Kong Magazine, an English weekly leisure magazine, echoes my sentiment, but with an environmental twist. The article claims that the Hong Kong media, as well as its people, are prioritizing the wrong things to discuss, in that we seem to be all chatting about a bunch of islands that don’t matter at all while not doing anything to solve the city’s garbage disposal problem (Hong Kong is one of the biggest trash-producing cities in the world, and it is struggling to find disposal spaces).
My point is this, the Chinese government have used the Senkaku Islands incident as a tool to pursue its sort-of imperialistic agendas. By labeling it as a matter of national pride (which, again, it really isn’t. Because who really cares about a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere?), China has the support of its people to hit Japan hard with an economic maneuver, thus demonstrating its ability to dominate the region.
Although I don’t necessarily think that the rest of Asia are now scrambling to find an ally just in case China gets to greedy in its territorial (and therefore natural resource) claims, I do think that more attention would be paid to China’s every move from now on to see if it continues to make its presence felt.