China, Japan and the South China Sea Dispute: Pursuing Strategic Goals Through Economic and Institutional Means

AuthorHidetaka Yoshimatsu
DOI10.1177/2347797017733821
Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
China, Japan and the
South China Sea Dispute:
Pursuing Strategic Goals
Through Economic and
Institutional Means
Hidetaka Yoshimatsu1
Abstract
This article examines the strategies employed by China and Japan in advancing
their national interests in the South China Sea dispute. It argues that both China
and Japan have increasingly taken advantage of economic means and formal insti-
tutions to pursue political-security goals in relation to maritime disputes in the
South China Sea. While China has employed economic means as ‘carrot and stick’
to influence the diplomatic stance of Southeast Asian states, Japan has utilized
foreign economic aid for strategic objectives, even revising the basic principles of
its development assistance policy. Moreover, China has strengthened institutional
ties with ASEAN members by focusing on infrastructure development, whereas
Japan has intensified the formation of multilateral institutions by expanding the
scope from maritime safety to maritime security targeting China.
Keywords
Southeast Asia, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), maritime
security, institution, foreign economic aid
Introduction
East Asia has exhibited ambivalent developments in regional economic links and
political relations. On the one hand, the states in the region have deepened trade
and investment links and developed multilateral institutions to manage common
challenges and advance collective interests. On the other hand, East Asia remains
trapped with serious political and security tensions in some parts of the region.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
4(3) 294–315
2017 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2347797017733821
http://aia.sagepub.com
1
Professor of Politics and International Relations, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan; Visiting
Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, Australia.
Corresponding author:
Hidetaka Yoshimatsu, Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University,
1-1 Jumonjibaru, Beppu Oita, 874-8577, Japan.
E-mail: yoshih@apu.ac.jp
Article
Yoshimatsu 295
The South China Sea dispute, one of such tensions, has illustrated complicated
inter-state relations with overlapping assertions among various claimants and the
involvement of extra-regional great powers.
As tensions in the South China Sea escalated after 2010, a great number of scholars
have focused on this crucial maritime security issue. Quite a few scholars have
explored geopolitical nature of the South China Sea dispute, examining strategic envi-
ronments and motivations pertinent to China’s assertive diplomacy and behaviour
towards the South China Sea (Ji, 2017; Ju, 2015; Kim, 2016; Yahuda, 2013). Others
have analysed the motivations, involvements and influences of other great powers
such as the USA, Japan and India (McDevitt, 2013; Roy, 2016; Sato, 2016; Scott,
2013; Storey, 2013). More specifically, De Castro (2013) investigated geo-strategic
rivalry between China and Japan and its influence on their positions and actions on
the South China Sea dispute, asserting that this geo-strategic hostility strains their
bilateral relations and even undermines delicate balance of power that the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has tried to sustain since the 1990s.
The past studies’ interest in geopolitical aspects in the South China Sea dispute
is reasonable given that the core of the dispute lies in the question of sovereignty,
seeking to gain exclusive jurisdictional rights over the surrounding waters and
seabed, as well as the South China Sea’s importance for the states’ national inter-
ests as sea lines of communications (SLOCs) (Emmers, 2014, pp. 61–77). However,
the South China Sea dispute has developed in the milieu when the parties involved
have deepened interconnected relationships through growing economic inter-
dependence and the development of regional institutions. These environments
should have significant impacts on relevant parties’ behaviour to attain diplomatic
objectives and the employment of multilateral institutions to compete for an
advantageous position in the dispute.
This article seeks to deepen the understanding of the South China Sea dispute by
focusing on economic means and institutional links employed by two great powers
in East Asia: China and Japan. This article makes three arguments. First, both China
and Japan have increasingly taken advantage of economic means and formal institu-
tions to pursue political-security goals in relation to maritime disputes in the South
China Sea. Second, while China has employed economic means as ‘carrot and stick’
to influence the position of Southeast Asian states, Japan has intensified
economic aid, even revising the basic principles of its development assistance policy.
Third, China has strengthened institutional ties with ASEAN members by focusing
on infrastructure development, whereas Japan has intensified the formation of multi-
lateral institutions by expanding the scope from maritime safety to maritime security
targeting China. Before delving into China and Japan’s use of economic means and
institutional links for attaining maritime security goals in the South China Sea
tension, I delineate the theoretical position and implication of this article.
Interdependence, Institution and Strategic Goal
The main interest of this article is to analyse China and Japan’s policies towards
the South China Sea dispute, which constitutes one of the most crucial secu-
rity concerns in East Asia. It pays attention to interactions between economic

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