18 September 2014

Territorial Disputes — Dignity Or Economics

At the official opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Expo in China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reportedly said that disputes and occasional friction between China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries should not eclipse the benefits that come from having good relations and economic cooperation between the superpower and the regional bloc (PM: Don't Let Rows Overshadow Good ASEAN-China Ties TODAY 17 Sep 2014).

Trade between ASEAN and China has grown. Economic growth created jobs, raised workers’ incomes and improved standards of living in Asia.

Mr Lee said, "I hope we can keep the momentum on regional integration up, even as we manage friction and issues that arise from time to time. We should keep difficult problems in perspective and not let disputes overshadow the positives of ASEAN-China cooperation."

That's easy for Mr Lee to say.
Singapore does not have any outstanding territorial disputes with China or her neighbours.
The dispute over Pedra Branca was resolved amicably when post-Mahathir Malaysia agreed to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice (probably because Singapore was sitting on the rocks and they did not represent any significant foreseeable economic benefits).
But that's not how China wants to resolve its territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines and Vietnam are  no match for China militarily, and have been made to eat the humble pie by China's territorial ambitions. A suggestion to cease perceived provocative acts was rejected by China.

Japan, supported by the United States (in theory, at least and for now), has stood firm on the Senkaku Islands despite the prolonged negative impact on diplomatic and business ties with China.

It is one thing not to confront a super power militarily, but it is quite another to conduct business as usual when a country's rightful territorial claims are trampled over.

Important though it is, money (i.e., the economy) is not everything.

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