Irredentism and Chinese Foreign Policy with regard to East and South China Sea

Dr. Swatilekha Bhattacharya

The paper talks about two central questions. Firstly, to what extent changing the territorial status quo has been one of the important principles of Chinese Foreign Policy? Secondly, why is Chinese irredentism different from other cases of irredentist claims? Much has been talked about the claims of China over the East and South China Sea. China has maintained that it had ‘claim’ over the maritime region owing to its past linkages with the same. The hyper nationalist rhetoric has found its way into its foreign policy doctrines as well as official proclamations. The rhetoric is often repeated and has garnered much attention among and support from its own people. Irredentism is a part of the literature on national pride and prestige of any country. The maritime irredentism with regard to East and South China Sea that China display deserves mention. The islands around the region are not inhabited by Chinese citizens, nor is the lack of control of any direct consequence to either national or territorial integrity of China. Yet the fervor of the citizens as well as the successive Chinese governments is perplexing. People’s Republic of China set out to forcibly absorb the sprawling Xinjiang and Tibetan plateau — actions that increased the landmass of China by 44 percent. China then went on to seize the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin plateau of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the 1950s, the Johnson South Reef in 1988, the Mischief Reef in 1995 and, most recently, the Scarborough Shoal (2012) and the Second Thomas Shoal (2013). Propelled by its growing military might, China is still working to redraw political boundaries. China has also increased the frequencies of incursions into the territorial waters and the adjoining islands. It has established in the East China Sea a so-called air defense identification zone that encompasses Japanese-controlled islands. The paper seeks to show how China’s tactics and strategy in the garb of irredentism pose an increasing challenge to its neighbors by taking into account the historical account of Chinese policies towards this region.