Contested Terrain: China’s Periphery and International Relations in Asia,Panel: China and Its Great Power Neighbors

Sheila A. Smith

Council on Foreign Relations -

John Garver

Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology -

Gilbert Rozman

Senior Fellow, FPRI -
Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars -

Ashley J. Tellis

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -

Jacques deLisle

Director, FPRI Asia Program -
University of Pennsylvania Law School -

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China’s long-term rise and its recent international assertiveness have made long-standing and recently emerging issues of relations along China’s periphery matters of pressing international concern. The rapid development that has provided the material underpinnings for China’s rapid rise as a regional power has been fueled partly by economic integration along China’s periphery. Foreign investment flows, integration in a regional supply chain that feeds global markets and burgeoning intraregional trade have made Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and other states in East Asia key participants in China’s rise and eroded the economic significance of political borders in the region.

At the same time, along China’s periphery, political and security frictions abound:

  • In littoral Northeast and Southeast Asia, some —areas variously claimed by China, Japan, several ASEAN states and Taiwan have been a recurrent focus of tension among the claimants (including among U.S. friends and allies). The often cooperation-inducing prospect of economic gain through agreements for shared or collaborative exploitation of natural resources has had little impact.
  • China’s maritime claims—specifically territorial and more broadly of “interests”—also are a source of friction with the United States, despite the two major powers’ shared interest in open sea lanes of communication.
  • The question of sovereignty over Taiwan remains unresolved and likely unsusceptible to progress toward resolution, even in an era of striking advances in cross-Strait economic relations.
  • Recurrently and increasingly provocative moves by North Korea, growing alarm in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, and looming leadership transition in Pyongyang raise the prospects of instability, regime collapse and a disruptive (and, from Beijing’s perspective, threatening) form of reunification on the peninsula.
  • Long-fraught relations between continental Asia’s two giant states face old and new challenges, stemming from still-unsettled territorial boundaries, the lingering scars of a decades-old border clash, and Beijing’s resentment of India’s support for the Dalai Lama in an era of increasing restiveness in Tibet. Additional sources of tension lie in China’s suspicion of deepening U.S.-India ties, and New Delhi’s evolving security policy that increasingly focuses on countering China’s rising power and that can draw upon the resources generated by India’s economic boom.
  • In recent years, within and along the PRC’s western borders, Tibetans and Uighurs have grown restive. These conflicts have brought new international attention to issues of human rights, self-determination and territorial sovereignty in those regions. Beijing has reacted with charges of foreign interference and meddling from across China’s borders in south and central Asia and, in turn, raised the prospect of new sources of conflict in China’s relations with its inland neighbors.
  • In addition, the protracted and likely long-ongoing presence of U.S. military forces near China’s western fringe has added an inland territorial dimension to China’s suspicion that the United States seeks to contain China’s rise. Much the same can be said of the consequences of reaffirmed, reinvigorated or emerging security cooperation between the United States and those along China’s maritime periphery (including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore) who seek to hedge against a rising China.

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Contested Terrain: China’s Periphery and International Relations in Asia