China’s Waxing Spheres of Influence

Most current discussions of China’s relations with the rest of Asia tend to have a primarily eastward or southward focus-eastward to Taiwan, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, or southward to the South China Sea, where China’s claims of sovereignty clash with those of several countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Such preoccupations are easily understood. China’s relations with Japan, the other giant of East Asia, will continue to have major global and regional implications. China is playing a key role in the continuing crisis on the Korean Peninsula. And Beijing’s announced determination to “reunify” the Mainland and Taiwan, and its unwillingness to renounce the possible use of force in achieving that goal, have kept alive the possibility of military conflict in the Taiwan Strait. To the south, China’s claim of sovereignty over the waters and islands of the South China Sea has inspired fears of a Chinese military offensive that would alter the balance of power in Southeast Asia and threaten the vital interest of the United States and Japan in maintaining the sea as an international waterway.

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