Report: ‘China’s Strategic Assertiveness’ Fueling Tensions in Asia

Recent Features


Report: ‘China’s Strategic Assertiveness’ Fueling Tensions in Asia

The 2015 SIPRI Yearbook emphasizes Beijing’s critical role in aggravating tensions in East Asia.

Today, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its 2015 Yearbook on armaments, disarmament, and international security, highlighting China’s role in fueling regional confrontation in East Asia.

“A number of significant regional military–security trends emerged in East Asia during 2014. A key aspect of these trends is China’s efforts to actively shape the regional security dynamic,” the report reads.

The 2015 Yearbook emphasizes that regional tensions have been on the rise since 2008, a lot of which can be attributed to “China’s strategic assertiveness,” which manifests itself particularly in maritime territorial disputes.

Tensions in the South China Sea are ever on the rise, the publication explains, while bellicose actions and rhetoric over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea ebbed somewhat in 2014 — SIPRI singles out the reduction of Chinese Coast Guard patrols around the islands as a sign of relaxation.

Additionally, the publication says that “regional military expenditure trends show that states engaged in territorial disputes with China have launched military modernization programs.” SIPRI also notes that nations concerned over “China’s continued modernization efforts” have sought closer ties with the United States.

China appears to be slowly eroding the United States’ position as a principal arbiter regional disputes:  “Within the area of regional security, China is increasingly using its own forums to advance structures that diminish the capacity of the USA to help manage and resolve conflicts in the region.”

China is not just seeking to diminish U.S. influence on conflict resolution. “China is accelerating efforts to create economic, financial and political institutions that provide an alternative to the traditional Western-led world order,” the report says.

SIPRI also highlights the Abe administration’s efforts to “normalize” Japan’s defense policy, which has triggered severe criticism from South Korea and China and further aggravated the tense regional security environment. Other factors that contribute to the rise in tensions are the fear of a regional spillover of instability from Afghanistan and Pakistan, nuclear proliferation, and the overall military build-up in the region.

Interestingly, the publication also addresses Russia’s slow reorientation toward Northeast Asia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, laconically stating that despite the attempt to strengthen strategic relations in the region, Moscow’s “attempts to raise its profile in Northeast Asia are unlikely to have a major strategic impact.”

Overall, the SIPRI 2015 Yearbook underlines that “the positive trend toward less violence and more effective conflict management witnessed over the past decade has been broken.”