tv Great Decisions in Foreign Policy PBS January 10, 2018 6:30pm-7:01pm PST
(upbeat music) - [narrator] china is building up its maritime presence. it's undertaken a massive investment in its navy, and is ambitiously advancing its territorial claims to the disputed spratly and senkaku islands chains in the south and east china seas. is this maritime expansion an effort to project power and deny access to what were once international waters, or a reasonable assertion of china's expanding capabilities? china, next on great decisions. (upbeat music) great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association in association with thomson reuters. funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhousecoopers llp. (rhythmic ethnic music)
it's an undertaking as massive as china itself. beijing is boldly extending claims to the south china sea. it's doing so through an enormous land reclamation project, dredging the sea floor to build islands. - it's very difficult for any foreign policy analyst to get to the core of what drives current chinese behavior. i think number one is this, the chinese have long held a view that this is part of their sovereign territory in territorial seas, goes back not just decades but centuries. - let me make this clear. the south china sea islands have been china's territory since ancient times. it is the bounds of duty of the chinese government to uphold china's territorial sovereignty and legitimate maritime rights and interests.
- this is the rejuvenation of the chinese nation, and getting back what has been stolen from china, i believe, is part of realizing that dream. - they've been methodically re-acquiring china, tibet, macau, hong kong, taiwan waiting, and this can be seen as part of what they regard as a legitimate acquisition of territory and seas that were taken from them illegally and immorally. - [narrator] it was in 1947 that china advanced what's called the nine-dash line, marking its claims to sovereignty over parts of the east china, south china, and yellow seas. - they conducted fishing activities long time ago in this area, but based on the contemporary
international law, people may argue saying that conducting fishing activities doesn't really qualify of making this kind of territory claims. - the nine-dash line, when you see it on a map, is like a great loop, it's been called the cow's tongue, because a tongue hanging out and curving at the bottom, and it essentially is china's historic, not legal, but historic claim to most of the south china sea. - [narrator] china lays claim to the paracel islands, and to the north, the senkaku or diaoyu islands in the east china sea. - china's principal sovereignty claim is to taiwan, which is just across the taiwan straits, and that is a sovereignty claim that it's held since the chinese civil war in 1949.
- china, early on, signalled that the paracel islands, which are the islands between hainan island, the southern island of china, and vietnam, had to be controlled by china. so back in the 1970s, they used force to expel the south vietnamese from the islands. and later, they had naval clashes with the socialist republic of vietnam to prevent them from trying to re-establish their position on those islands. (exploding) - [narrator] to the south, the tiny islands of the spratly archipelago are located in the south china sea, where china has manufactured seven islands to support its expanded naval presence and lay claim to disputed territory.
- when you look at the south china sea, it's an entirely different lens. there is no historical japanese presence. instead, it's actually a dispute involving six political entities, if you include taiwan as well as vietnam, the philippines, malaysia, indonesia, and depending on the way it's cut, brunei as well. - china began to build artificial islands in the south china sea in december 2013. this was a plan that was put forward by the chinese navy, and it was approved by chinese president and party secretary general xi jinping, probably in the fall of 2013. and so we began to see some of the signs of dredging of sand and expansion of these very tiny reefs into bigger islands in the first six months of 2014. - over the past three years,
china has built out 17 times more territory in this region than all of the other claimants combined over the previous 40 years. so 95% of the built-up land in the south china sea has been built by china. - [narrator] beijing's moves may be an assertion of power directed at neighboring vietnam, japan, the philippines, malaysia, and brunei. and beyond that, at the united states. - this is really about china presenting its face to the world in the way that it thinks appropriate and commensurate to its status as one of the greatest powers on earth. - well, it signals to everybody else in the region that china is just going to move in and take over territory which is subject to multiple claims because it can. - this is also the chinese communist party telling a story about chinese power to the chinese people,
and this is perhaps more important. this is about the legitimacy of the communist party. - the comment is actually and a great pressure from people at home. they support the government to be more aggressive, to be more assertive, so they make the south china sea issues not really just a conflict over resources, it's actually a conflict over identity. - [narrator] tensions caused by china's territorial claims have at times boiled over. - in the spratly islands, so far, shots have not been fired, but there has been elbowing by fishing boats and maritime units that have generally not been naval vessels. (siren wailing) - there was ramming that took place between the vietnamese boats and the chinese boats, so there was quite a backlash inside vietnam. there's been a growing sense of anti-chinese feeling
and there were a lot of demonstrations. - in vietnam, china decided to send an oil exploration rig into a part of the paracel islands 'cause this is the south of china and to the east of vietnam, an area that's claimed by both countries. there were widespread protests. - the philippines, every year, we can say that there's anti-china protests. and in vietnam, there's a huge anti-china demonstration, and there's many people being injured and death because of the riots. in 2012, over 100 chinese cities, there were anti-japan protests. almost each of china's cities with population over one million, there were protests.
- [narrator] in the summer of 2016, the permanent court of arbitration in the hague ruled against china's claims in the spratly archipelago at the south china sea. but it is unlikely china will abide by their judgment. - the court struck down china's nine-dash line as a claim to any type of historical rights in the south china sea. it basically said, "you cannot claim fishing rights "or the ability to extract natural resources "on the basis of this completely (mumbles) line." the second thing that the court ruled very decisively was that all of the features in the spratly islands were legally defined as rocks and reefs, as opposed to full-fledged islands. - now importantly, the tribunal did not rule on sovereignty over these islands or rocks 'cause it doesn't have the right to. and so china can't continue to claim sovereignty over every single land feature.
- i've recently been in china. the internal commentary on the decision by the court in the hague is that it's a political setup job. that's the way which it's been run domestically within the chinese media, and they point to the political nature of the jurisdiction. - so what will the do now, and i think the answer is they'll go on behaving the way they have. i would be surprised if they escalate but they'll go on until they are faced with a penalty for their behavior. - [emcee] ladies and gentlemen, please welcome his excellency, the president of the people's republic of china, mr. hu jintao. (applause) - [narrator] in 2012, president hu jintao declared china's intentions to be a maritime power. current leader xi jinping has continued that policy. - ever since that, the entire chinese system has been advancing and developing their capabilities
so that china can protect its maritime rights and interests. - in the most recent military strategy statement that appeared in may of last year, they made a very (mumbles) statement. they said that in the past, china had tended to emphasize the land and to give less importance to the water, and we need to change that. so china has a long-term strategy of wanting to turn itself into a global maritime power. - [narrator] china's navy is undergoing a transformation of historic proportions, receiving a significant percentage of the national military budget at a cost to the army. - we don't even really know how much they spend on their military. it is clear they are putting more money into their navy, and they are very rapidly turning out very large ships in their navy,
more frigates and destroyers, submarines, we see them spending a great deal but we still do not know how much money they are spending on their navy or how that allocation has changed. - it's already affecting the composition of the central military commission. what it basically means is that the navy, the rocket forces, and the air force are going to get increasing weight in china's military posture. - china is now widely believed to be building its own indigenous aircraft carrier, and china has a record of scaling up and of learning from their scaling up very rapidly, so we should expect a fairly large fleet of chinese aircraft carriers, complete battle groups over the next decades. - they only have one diesel-powered aircraft carrier at the moment, so in terms of materiel and the actual assets of firepower, china is still extremely weak.
- [narrator] there may be a limit to china's ambitions. beijing's military spending remains a fraction of what the u.s. spends. analysts question whether it has the economic strength to transform its navy, while the chinese economy attempts to transition away from it manufacturing base. - they've been increasing that budget by about 10% per year. as their economy has contracted, we have for the first time seen the rate of these increases slow. - china's economy is going to slow down. its growth is going to slow down, not because china is going to collapse. this is actually planned transition to slower, more high-quality, more sustainable economic development. china will still be able to put a higher percentage of its budget at the service of strategic goals. - xi jinping is trying to keep his right secure
and keep his base happy, and so when you have economic troubles at home, one often sees a flexing of military muscle, and i see china's projection, or the attended projection of power in the south china sea as directly related to china's weakness, economically. - for the moment, they have the economy to support it. they do not have the geography to support it. and unfortunately, countries can't escape their geography, so china's problem is it doesn't have untrammeled, unconstricted access to the open ocean. (mellow piano music) - [narrator] the united states has defense agreements with many of the countries that contest china's claims in the east and south china seas. - we have a big alliance system there. we have treaty allies with japan, south korea and australia. we have defense agreements with thailand
and the philippines. we have new security partnerships with vietnam and malaysia, and singapore, and indonesia, and india, so we are very present in asia. - well, the united states does not take a position on the legal aspects, on sovereignty in the china seas, but we do take a very strong position against unilateral action and provocative action as we've seen from china, the building of military facilities on an island jeopardizing the safety of fishermen. what china has done has been very provocative and against, we believe, international law, so we stand by the right of navigation
and the use of the rule of law to determine these disputes, and that is our position. - [narrator] with japan a major u.s. ally, the dispute over the senkaku or diaoyu islands is colored by a complicated history and lingering historic animosity dating back to world war ii. - the one i've always thought, frankly, is the most dangerous has been senkaku diaoyu dao because you have two strong states with two highly-developed naval capabilities, which irrespective of what the united states might choose to do or not do at a particular time, may find themselves in uncontrolled firefight. i think we became perilously close to that in the events of 2014. - and let me reiterate that our treaty commitment to japan's security is absolute, and article v covers all territories under japan's administration, including the senkaku islands.
- [narrator] chinese officials dispute the notion they are acting in an aggressive manner. they draw a parallel between their actions and the u.s. influence in the caribbean. - china genuinely does not see its activities in the east or south china sea as aggressive. it does not see itself as acting inimical to the rule of law. it claims frequently that the united states
or the united states and its allies are the ones who are militarizing the south china sea when we conduct freedom of navigation operations. - the chinese see it as "well, you americans, "after consolidating your continental land mass "at the end of the 19th century, "went on to strategically dominate the caribbean, "the greater caribbean, so these seas are our caribbean. "why should we be any different than you?" - when china is told that it has been aggressive, its answer is that, no, china has showed extraordinary restraint. - now one thing that i know will contribute to maintaining regional peace and stability is a constructive relationship between the united states and china. - [narrator] in 2011, president obama announced the pivot to asia, a re-allocation of diplomatic and military resources to the region.
- we've always been interested in asia. we've always had a strong relationship with asia. i think the rebalance has been an effort by the administration to say, "look, we're gonna put our focus on asia. "asia's become more important, "and that we need to put more resources in asia." - it's the u.s. presence in the western pacific that enables china to rise peacefully without destabilizing the region, and that's why i think the balance in strategies is actually a good policy. - the pivot to asia was actually supposed to happen 25 years ago. - our two nations have a special role to play in the world, and a special relationship. we've got great responsibilities and also great possibilities. and my administration hopes to work with you to build this potential into a greater reality that will help make this world a safer, more peaceful, more prosperous place for us all, for today and for generations to come.
- after the berlin wall collapsed, there was a call we need to focus now on asia. but remember then that saddam hussein invaded kuwait soon after, and then you had 9-11, invasion of afghanistan, of iraq, so this is a long time coming. it's very natural policy evolution. after all, asia is the organizing principle of the world economy, to a large extent. - china has certainly reacted to the pivot to asia fairly negatively. china is inclined to see any number of u.s. initiatives not limited to the pivot to asia as efforts to encircle china and to contain its power. - [narrator] the u.s. has begun to flex its muscles by conducting freedom of navigation exercises. china has condemned those moves as cold war thinking. - we don't wanna go to war with china. i don't think we are gonna go to war with china.
but then again, we have to push back enough politically, and through freedom of navigation exercises by sailing our military vessels through clearly international waters, but waters that china may claim, but clearly international to show to the chinese that we're not gonna be intimidated by this excessive use of chinese military power in both the south and east china sea. - the united states is now responding with military deployments to the region. we don't have a lot of coastguard ships that are facing that part of the world. we don't have a lot of commercial vessels. we do have very strong air and naval forces. - but going forward, are americans willing to fight and to suffer casualties for an idea as abstract as maintaining american dominance in the western pacific? so what's needed is a serious self-audit on our part.
- [narrator] observers are urging all nations involved in the region to take steps to diffuse potential conflicts before they begin. - we should welcome india, myanmar, vietnam, philippines, all these nations having strong relationships with china on their own terms, as well as having strong relations with us. that is a moderating influence on this us-china potential clash. we often make the mistake in talking about us-china relations of speaking as though these are the only two countries in the world. and when you focus in that way, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we're headed for conflict. it's multilateralism that saves us.
- the best option to reduce tension in the china seas is to use the rule of law to determine disputes. - so if we're truly concerned about china's action in the south china sea, for example, the senate should help strengthen our case by approving the law of the sea convention as our military leaders have urged. - it's in our interest, our security interest, in our commercial interest, for us to ratify the treaty. - [narrator] improved communications between militaries could help prevent confrontations at sea from erupting into hostilities. - entities in china have concluded several confidence-building measures through which they create protocols for ship-to-ship encounters or air-to-air encounters, and these types of agreements are good ideas because they'll at least reduce the risk of miscalculation or inadvertent conflict. - i sort of think that military-to-military activities
are overrated in terms of being able to bring peaceful situations themselves. military forces basically obey the policies of the countries so if the united states forces are ordered to stop chinese aggression, they're going to fight the chinese no matter if they've had a cocktail party with them in hong kong (laughs) two weeks before or not. - if we talk about the tension, i think many people, especially people in the united states, maybe say this is pointless for two major country to fight for several rocks or islands in the south china sea. but unfortunately, now it's already development into a kind of test of will. - i view the south china sea dispute as a litmus test of how china is going to rise as a great power. is it going to be able to peacefully resolve differences with its neighbors? - [narrator] for the moment, it appears china's peaceful rise will not come without friction.
we can only hope that diplomacy will prevail and incidents will not escalate into greater conflict as china asserts its growing power over its neighbors. (upbeat music) great decisions is america's largest discussion program on global affairs. discussion groups meet in community centers, libraries, places of worship, and homes across the country to discuss global issues with their community. participants read the eight-topic briefing book, meet to discuss each topic, and complete a ballot which shares their views with congress. to start or join a discussion group in your community, visit greatdecisions.org, or call 1-800-477-5836. great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association in association with thomson reuters.
funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhousecoopers llp. next time on great decisions, saudi arabia is a nation in transition. as aging rulers give way to a new generation, the political, social, and economic status quo is beginning to shift. many question whether the alliance between an ultra-conservative islamic monarchy and a secular democratic republic is coming under new strains. saudi arabia, next time on great decisions. (upbeat music) (mellow music)
welcome to nhk "newsline." it's noon on thursday in tokyo. i'm miki yamamoto. first a look at the headlines. possible talks. the u.s. president says he's open to the idea of dialogue with north korea under the right circumstances. admitting wrongdoing. myanmar's military acknowledges its security forces killed ten captured rohingya muslims last september. and music. a band in turkey is holding cots
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