Introduction: Beijing's power and China's borders
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A virtual avalanche of books has been published in recent years proclaiming China to be the world’s newest superpower. Some even argue that China will soon catch up to, and then surpass, the United States. But few discuss the limits to China’s great power ambitions. The majority of the 20 countries neighboring on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have had a long history of border conflicts with China both on land and, increasingly, at sea.
The PRC has undoubtedly made significant, and arguably remarkable, progress over the past two decades and more in terms of both transforming its bilateral relationships with its neighbors and formally settling its international boundaries. From being a supporter of fraternal communist movements and insurgencies beyond its borders, and thus a direct threat to the stability of numerous of its neighboring states, China has established diplomatic relations and represents a major and increasingly important economic partner for many if not all of its neighbors. Despite this substantial progress in enhancing transboundary ties and settling salient territorial problems, however, many of China’s neighbors have yet to settle completely their mutual international boundaries with the Beijing government. Further, the vast majority of its potential maritime boundaries remain unsettled.