The answer to this question is not that simple and when it comes to deciding about the boundaries of territories it is the raw sovereign power that matters. But frankly speaking the history of colonialism can not be undone. When colonialism ended, the nations to whom Europeans transferred the sovereignties also have legitimate claims. Other than the history, demography also matters. Chinese argument against India that people of North Eastern states are Mongoloid and historically rulers in Delhi hardly ruled over the region is partly correct. British gave India a territory that it could not have won is also partly correct. But it does not mean that Indian claims over its North East are not authentic.
There will be tremendous pressure on countries like India and China; the biggest second producers, to convert their derivative and secondary powers into primary ones. The time has assumed huge non-linearity with no clues to predict the future. The world is evolving very fast. The consciousness may change within a year. One may not recognize the nations and their people after one or two decades from now on. That is the most important aspect of claiming the disputed territories: nationalism feeds and supports such claims. This is like bargaining on all issues because of the size and depth of the markets.
No nation can dream about abandoning the market of 1.4 billion people and Filipino are no match to China in Western selfish calculations. Chinese government has a tacit but undisclosed agreement with its people: in return of passiveness and no opposition to one party rule it would provide growth and stability to Chinese people. But not too many in China recognize the fact that the growth of China is led by FDI and is therefore, constrained. Chinese growth will anyway slow down because of the laws of the economics and constant expansion and seeking of other markets by the Westerners.
Doing heroic deeds by imports may also mean that China may have to import a kind of inflation. Both these factors could lead to dissent. The hawkish attitude that China shows to the external world has more to do with keeping its flock together and quenching internal dissent against the one-party rule. Also, if all non-Western nations because of their bloated nationalism and belief in make-believe theories believe in the unchecked rise of China then this is an additional factor. By this China is only going to gain. For Chinese Politburo, all of its actions are correct and should be accepted by its people. It is like a sequence of relations, conclusions and laws; if one falls or one fails all others would because of the sequential and causal relationships. The most important aspect is the psychological consequence: a kind of Butterfly effect. In this era of increased consciousness, the pressure of performance and showing to its people that it is performing is very high on the governments of any type, equally on non-elected governments. That can be one of the reasons as to why China reacts so aggressively when it comes to territorial disputes.
China can not compete with the US in a contracted world with shrunk economy. No matter how good its relationship with the Arab world or oil producers be and how strong Islamic-Sinic-Orthodox axes be, those relationships would fail in troubled times. Even Russia may abandon China in great troubles and hardship. That is why natural resources are very important and so are claims over them.
The Chinese-Filipino dispute is no new conflict but may end in benefits for both the parties if the sides show restraint. Both Chinese and the Philippines argument may be correct but the side which shows more recent claims should have more claims over the Shoal. The Chinese can not show much military strength to their East Asian neighbors because that would destroy the stability of the region and Americans will have bigger presence in the East Asia. The bottomline is clear that if China is nobody then the same is true for all BRIC nations and there is no alternative to Western dominance even in theory. It is so difficult for even Indians to believe that China has primarily derivative powers and for converting those to primary ones it requires tacit Western support.
It's emotive argument for all nationalist people in the non-Western world and there is no more viable theory in the non-West than nationalism. Thinking about the fact that the influence of China is limited or it needs to be scaled properly appears equivalent to annihilating their claims for many non-Chinese in the non-West. But from objective point of view first of all China is not that big and if it is counted that big then Americans become bigger than what they are believed to be. As long as the world does not understand the absoluteness there is no end to conflict.
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