Peter Yu. Samoylenko

Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok Russian Society of Political Scientists, Moscow    

Abstract:The article deals with the problems of maritime territorial disputes in Northeast Asia and their impact on the information agenda in the Asia-Pacific region. The author considers such aspects as the so-called “Problem of Northern Territories” and the situation around the sovereignty of Taiwan. These two problems existed in international politics in the Asia-Pacific region for decades, have been actively developed in 2022 affecting the state of bilateral relations (Russia and Japan, China and Taiwan, respectively) As well, they have become an independent information source to increase conflict potential and a threat to the overall security architecture in Asia-Pacific. Both problems, according to the author, have common and unique features and, in general, are currently used actively for information wars and propaganda in international processes.Keywords: “Pivot to the East” policy, Russian Far East, Asia-Pacific region, Northeast Asia, sanctions, maritime territorial disputes, information wars, international security, security architecture, Northern Territories problem, Taiwan

Specifics of maritime conflicts in Northeast Asia Northeast Asia as one of sub-regions in the Asia-Pacific contains a large number of political and military-political contradictions including in the form of maritime territorial disputes [20, p.43]. At the same time, it should be taken into account that a number of them exist for decades, can be considered as a factor of destabilization in bilateral and multilateral relations, and, in some cases, as a factor of destabilization for the overall security architecture in the region. On the the  mainland  there are not so much territorial disputes, but conflicts and tensions associated with island territories and archipelagos are a quite a real challenge for the region. [6, p. 13].

Maritime international disputes in NEA, in addition to direct territorial claims and the corresponding threats to international relations, include a number of features that distinguish them from others and give them a certain regional identity. That is, they show features that are predominantly unique to them, and not all of these features are directly related to aspects of political or military security, the territorial integrity of states and border conflicts [4, p. 245].

The most prominent regional territorial disputes are: Senkaku (Diaoyudyao) Islands, the Taiwan problem and the Japanese claims on the Russian Kurile Islands, called in Japan “Northern Territories” [18].

Above mentioned maritime territorial disputes have common trends:

– Maritime territorial disputes remain a factor of constant tension in bilateral relations,  influence on their content and the specifics of relations between states;

– Initially, the territorial problems were considered as the basis mutual territorial claims, and now they are often discussed in terms of economic potential and possible impact on a particular state’s economy or on the economy of entire region [2];

In the most cases, territorial disputes are not the reason for military clashes, but are used actively in “cold” confrontation between the Armed forces of respective countries, for Naval exercises and other demonstrations of power [3];

– Because of maritime territorial disputes the opponents constantly build-up the military potential, primarily such components as the Navy, aviation and land,sea and air-based guided missiles [5]; 

– The factor of maritime territorial disputes affects significantly on the domestic policy of respective states, is used to increase national patriotism, for political  campaigns in elections, when the “image of external enemy” can be used to reach political goals [8].  

– Maritime territorial disputes in Northeast Asia have a high information potential in world politics [7]. In other words, they are considered traditionally in the region as a propaganda and PR tools in international relations. At the same time, the activity of such information flows is not the same, depends on the moment’s specifics and changes according to situation’s aggravation, or easing of international tension. Quite traditionally, such “points of conflict” are also the subject of accusations against one or another participant of regional relations. All above mentioned items show the importance and effectiveness of such “news presentation manner” on the regional information agenda. 

Throughout 2022 and in early 2023, the issue of maritime territorial disputes in Northeast Asia has passed through certain changes. Specifically speaking, the dispute over Russian South Kurile Islands (“Northern Territories” in Japan) and the “Taiwan problem” have clearly aggravated, and the processes associated with them have gone far beyond the boundaries of inter-state territorial disputes, have affected a large number of international policy aspects. Another characteristic feature of these problems and the aspects, associated with them, is their informational significance in world politics, that is, they began to be used actively by interested participants in international PR and even in modern information wars.

Taiwan Knot

The crisis between China and Taiwan in 2022, but in fact the conflict between China and the United States, (also unofficially called the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis) – aggravation of relations between China and Taiwan in July and August 2022, caused by the visit of the then speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan [13]. The Chinese authorities reacted very negatively to the very possibility of such trip. Right before and during this period, China executed military exercises with live firing in the waters of Fujian province, which has a maritime border with Taiwan. The US have also increased its naval presence in the region.

An assistant of US Defense Secretary Eli Ratner said at the beginning of December 2022 that “2023 is likely to become a year of most significant “transformations” in the deployment of American forces in the Indo-Pacific region during the life of the last generation” [14].  However, a number of American lawmakers and experts believe that Washington is already too late with this task – it failed to achieve such level of military power in the region to convince China not to attack Taiwan.

In support of this, there are opinions in certain expert circles about the rapid development of Chinese Navy, as well as about the fact that multi-billion dollar supplies of American weapons to Taiwan are delayed due to problems based on  logistics, COVID-19 and  Ukrainian conflict. In connection with this, Alexander Gray, an  employee of the administration of former US President Donald Trump, said that confronting “the military threat of China will require a more serious structure of Naval forces than the United States may have in the foreseeable future” [11].

Meanwhile, Beijing signaled on Wednesday that it would not deviate from its course towards reunification with Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the process of Chinese reunification as “the common aspiration of all Chinese people and an irresistible historical trend” and  stressed that “China’s unification is of paramount importance, and the efforts of Taiwan’s separatist forces are futile.” The then Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the  successful fight against the US hegemony was one of Beijing’s key diplomatic achievements in 2022. “We fearlessly resisted the policy of force, dealing a powerful blow to the arrogance of the US anti-Chinese elements and the separatists who advocate the so-called independence of Taiwan,” he continued. At the same time, the PRC authorities emphasize that any attempts of the Taiwanese authorities to seek support abroad are doomed to failure.

The PRC has also called on Japan to break official ties with Taiwan. Above mentioned Wang Wenbin noted that Tokyo should should “stop sending false signals to the separatist forces in Taiwan.”  Obviously, he meant a new national security strategy adopted in Japan, which was welcomed in Taiwan. In addition, as it became known, Japan is considering the possibility of deploying missile systems, including anti-aircraft ones, on the island of Yonaguni, located 110 kilometers from Taiwan. This is part of a plan to strengthen Japan’s external borders in the case  of  aggravation of the situation in the Taiwan Strait [12].  The media publications clearly emphasize the possibility of military clash between the US and China. For example, Chinese newspaper “Global Times” admitted the possibility of such scenario and noted that by provoking Beijing, the US authorities underestimate its determination on Taiwan.    (End of introductory fragment)