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The People’s Republic of China: Many neighbors, many disputes
August 5, 2020

If your country is near the People’s Republic of China, there’s a good chance you have a territorial dispute with the PRC.

In recent months, the PRC has attacked and killed Indian troops along the countries’ border, harassed Japanese vessels in the East China Sea, and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea.

The PRC’s so-called “Nine Dash Line” claims jurisdiction over waters in the South China Sea that actually lie closer to other regional states. Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for this claim it formally announced in 2009, U.S. officials say.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo told reporters July 8 that Beijing appears to have more maritime and territorial disputes than any other country in the world.

“From the mountain ranges of the Himalayas to the waters of Vietnam’s Exclusive Zone, to the Senkaku Islands, and beyond, Beijing has a pattern of instigating territorial disputes,” Pompeo said. “The world shouldn’t allow this bullying to take place, nor should it permit it to continue.”

China’s neighbors can have little confidence that the PRC will respect their national sovereignty, he added.

Here are some of the PRC’s most recent aggressions against its neighbors.

On land

India: On June 15, PRC troops instigated a deadly confrontation with India that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, the worst clash between the two countries in 45 years, the Associated Press reported.

The Mekong region: In 2019, dams built along the Mekong River in China worsened drought conditions in downstream countries, such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, despite higher than average water levels upstream, Reuters has reported, citing a study based on satellite imagery.

At Sea

Vietnam: On April 3, China’s Coast Guard rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, the latest in a string of PRC actions to assert unlawful claims in the South China Sea since 2009. Since December 2019, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia have each publicly protested China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Japan: May 8–10, Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and harassed Japanese fishing boats. The Japanese Coast Guard ordered the Chinese ships to leave, according to news reports.

In June, Japan also reported that a Chinese submarine had entered waters near the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but also claimed by China.

Malaysia: In December and January, China’s Coast Guard harassed and interfered with Malaysian energy exploration at two offshore oil and gas fields, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Philippines: Since December 2018, the PRC’s maritime militia has harassed Philippine outposts in the South China Sea, hampering efforts to upgrade facilities on Thitu Island.

Helicopters and planes flying near aircraft carrier and ship (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Olivia Banmally Nichols)
The USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Force, seen in the South China Sea July 6, conducted exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean in July. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Olivia Banmally Nichols)

The United States is committed to working with partners and allies to stand up to China’s aggression.

Pompeo said the U.S. will partner with allies to respond to China’s aggression as appropriate. In a July 13 policy statement, the U.S. formally backed an international tribunal’s unanimous July 12, 2016, decision finding China’s claims in the South China Sea have no basis in international law.