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China’s push for economic ties ensures tensions won’t escalate: analysts

Territorial disputes between China and its neighbours have risen to new heights in recent weeks. But analysts say China's push for stronger economic ties will ensure the tension will not escalate further.

SHANGHAI: Territorial disputes between China and its neighbours have risen to new heights in recent weeks.

But analysts say China's push for stronger economic ties will ensure the tension will not escalate further.

The anti-China riots from Shanghai have been called the most violent dispute yet between China and Vietnam.

Clashes between the two maritime neighbours over ownership of a section of the South China Sea have resulted in a capsized boat, at least two fatalities and more than 100 people injured.

The conflict started just as US President Barack Obama ended his Asian tour, which covered Japan and the Philippines -- two countries also locked in territorial friction with China.

Yang Cheng, from the School of Advanced International and Area Studies at East China Normal University, said: "Perhaps Obama put in more work on his return to Asia strategy -- especially when he visited Japan and other countries, he displayed a stronger revival which has a repressive, even counter-balancing effect on China's rise.

“So everyone connects that to why China has been more aggressive."

Yet, despite its hawkish naval maneuvers, Beijing has also been assertive on trade and economic linkages in the region.

China-led negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) -- a free trade agreement covering ASEAN and six other countries including Japan and India -- appears to be going more smoothly than its rival deal the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership, which has hit a roadblock in Washington.

China has also recently managed to convince Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries to restart talks for a free trade zone in the Asia Pacific, known as the FTAAP.

David Gosset, director of Academia Sinica Europaea at the China Europe International Business School, said: "Trade is a new factor. Let us remember that despite the rhetoric up to now, unfortunately tensions between Japan and China -- the two countries traded for more than US$300 billion.

“The fact that you have this growing interdependence between Japan and China -- this is a factor of stability and the two countries will trade more and more."

Nevertheless, the latest spate of hostilities signals the need for new ways to defuse rows in the disputed territories.

"It looks like after years of pushing for the South China Sea Code of Conduct, we haven't got any good outcome. How do we find a more opportune time to resolve these problems comprehensively through a common framework?" said Yang Cheng, from the East China Normal University.

Ministers from Japan and China will come face to face at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's expected push for a greater security role in the region is likely to do little but push the two nations further apart.

Analysts say the rise in territorial tension in the contested waters would only provide more grounds for China’s President Xi Jinping to push for further upgrades in the navy and airforce capabilities of the People's Liberation Army as part of his overall mandate to reform the military.

That move will very likely set off more unease amongst China’s neighbours -- the very same countries China needs to work with to prosper further.  


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