China's tangle of territorial disputes
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Sept 23, 2010
China, which has a tangle of territorial disputes with a number of its Asian neighbours, has been asserting its claims more aggressively in recent months.
Here are details on some of the more troublesome conflicting claims, which range from stretches of the frozen Himalayan border to tiny islets and rocks in the resource-rich South China Sea.
South China Sea -- Paracel and Spratly Islands
China claims all of the South China Sea, including hundreds of islets, rocks and reefs mostly located in the Paracel and Spratly island chains which straddle busy shipping lanes.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines each lay claim to all or part of the islands, most of which are unsuitable for human habitation and little more than shipping hazards.
Although together they make up just a few square kilometres of land, their true value lies in unexploited oil and gas deposits believed to lie under the seabed.
The area also has a strategic role as a shipping route linking East Asia with Europe and the Middle East.
Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have established themselves on some of the formations, but China has the biggest presence and other countries, including the US, are concerned over a looming threat to free navigation.
Vietnam fought a brief 1998 naval battle with China on one of the reefs, leaving 50 Vietnamese sailors dead. Chinese naval vessels have in the past also fired on Vietnamese fishing boats in the area.
Hanoi normally treads carefully in its relations with China, its ideological ally, but the regional ambitions of its large neighbour have stoked a degree of apprehension.
The maritime dispute has stirred strong nationalistic sentiments in Vietnam, sparking rare mass street protests in 2007.
The Philippines, which occupies nine of the Spratly islands and reefs, is the other regional nation to have felt the sharp end of China's territorial ambitions.
In 1995, China began building structures on the aptly named Mischief Reef, which lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, drawing complaints from Manila and denials from Beijing which said they were fishermen's shelters.
However the structures were steadily upgraded into secure, fixed outposts with many communications antennas visible.
The Philippines raised the issue in various Asian gatherings, prompting ASEAN to take a more unified position on the South China Sea.
Unlike Vietnam, it does not have the firepower to stand up to Chinese expansion of facilities in the Spratlys and one Southeast Asian diplomat said "they can only make noise".
"To enforce a claim on one shoal they just ran aground an old rusting naval landing ship, so they could say they had a structure there and could lay claim on it," said another diplomat.
The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and Okinotorishima
The Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu to the Chinese, which lie in the East China Sea were the flashpoint for this month's incident in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese coast guard ships.
Like the Spratlys, the unremarkable islets are valued for the potentially vast untapped mineral resources lying under the ocean floor, as well as the rich fishing grounds that surround them.
The dispute comes as Asia's two biggest economies and resource competitors are scrambling to secure supplies of everything from oil and gas to rare metals.
China does not dispute Japan's sovereignty over Okinotorishima, a rocky atoll reinforced with concrete which lies some 1,700 kilometres (1,100 miles) south of Tokyo.
However, it insists the outcrop is not significant enough to support Japan's claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around it.
The EEZs claimed by China and Japan overlap in wide areas of the East China Sea, including gas fields called Shirakaba by Japan and Chunxiao by China that became an irritant against last week when Tokyo said Beijing had unilaterally resumed work in the area.
China and India have three separate disputes, including the icy Aksai Chin plateau along the western stretch of the Himalayan border where India says China is occupying some 38,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles).
China also lays claim to around 90,000 square kilometres of land on the eastern sector of the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh.
And in a third case, India says Beijing is illegally occupying around 5,180 square kilometres of northern Kashmir ceded to it by Pakistan under a 1963 agreement known as the Sino-Pakistan Frontier Agreement.
The agreement stipulates that after settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, "the sovereign authority concerned" will reopen negotiations with China on the boundary. The area of northern Kashmir, the Trans-Karakoram Tract, also goes by the name of Shaksgam.
The border disputes, as well as a short war in 1962, have contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion between the Asian giants, whose relationship has long been hobbled by tension and mistrust.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said earlier this month that China was seeking to expand its influence in South Asia and gain a "foothold" in the region.
As well as the territorial claims, India is watchful of China's large investments in ports being built in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, part of its ambitions for a bluewater naval fleet.
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