Archive | January, 2019

World War 3 WARNING: China preparing for MASSIVE conflict warns top US official |James Bickerton – Express UK

31 January 2019

CHINA could be “preparing for World War 3” over the South China Sea dispute according to Senator James Inhofe, chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Republican Congressman made the comments during a Tuesday committee hearing on security threats to the US. China claims ownership of the oil-rich South China Sea. This claim is contested by the US and several of the country’s neighbours.

According to US military newspaper Navy Times Mr Inhofe commented: “It’s like China is preparing for World War 3.

“You’re talking to our allies over there and you wonder whose side they’re going to be on.”

China has been fortifying and building bases on islands and artificial reefs in the contested ocean.

The Chinese territorial claim overlaps with rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

The US refuses to recognise the Chinese claim, and regularly conducts “freedom of navigation operations” with naval forces in the area.

World War 3 China

“It’s like China is preparing for World War 3 (Image: GETTY )

World War 3 China conflict

Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump pictured together in 2017 (Image: GETTY )

Mr Inhofe claimed the American public are underestimating the threat from China in the Pacific.

He warned: “I’m concerned our message is not getting across.

“There’s this euphoric attitude people have had since World War II that somehow we have the best of everything.”

US naval patrols in the South China Sea have led to confrontations with Chinese forces.

Source: Express UK

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Australia’s Pyne says China must act responsibly in the South China Sea | SBS News

28 January 2019

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne wants to reassure China that no country wants to hamper its growth and it should avoid isolationism.

Australia’s Defence Minister Christopher Pyne is set to call on China to act with greater responsibility in the South China Sea and avoid the “might is right” approach to diplomacy used by isolationist regimes like Russia.

Mr Pyne will also stress in a keynote address to the 2019 Fullerton Forum in Singapore on Monday that no country wants to stifle China’s growth and prosperity in the region, which is playing “host to the defining great power rivalry of our times between the United States and China”.

But he will call on it to rethink a “might is right” approach in the South China Sea as that has eroded regional confidence and increased anxiety.

“On the other hand, resolving disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law would build confidence in China’s willingness to support and champion a strategic culture that respects the rights of all states,” Mr Pyne will say.

“As the exhortation goes, “to those that much is given, much is expected”, similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea.”

Christopher Pyne calls on China to act ‘with great responsibility’ in South China Sea

While he will not directly name Russia, the minister will make a thinly-veiled swipe at its annexation of the Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014 and refer to Vladimir Putin’s government as an “oligarchy” that is threatening the international rule of law.

“It is under threat from oligarchies who think it is their birth right to simply annex their neighbour at will,” Mr Pyne will say, according to a copy of his speech.

“It is under threat from countries who treat all of cyber space like their own personal fiefdom, to do with as they will; to take what is not rightfully theirs.”

Mr Pyne will pledge Australian support for conducting multilateral activities in the South China Sea to demonstrate to China that they are international waters, if required.

“In an age of increasing interdependence, a “might is right” approach serves the long-term interests of no country,” the minister will say.

“We fall short of our economic potential when parties choose to withdraw behind walls and withdraw from mechanisms designed to make us stronger.

“Australia envisages a region that is more closely integrated and where we all collectively reject isolationism.”

Mr Pyne will also shrug off previous suggestions of a potential “cold war” between China and the US in the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s a simplistic and unsophisticated characterisation of what is a much more complex and dynamic geostrategic paradigm,” he will say.

“Any division of the region into Cold War-like blocs is doomed to failure, since it would necessitate false choices between prosperity and security.”

But Mr Pyne said the ongoing rivalry between the US and China will be a feature of the international outlook “in the foreseeable future”.

Source: AAP – SBS

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Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty review may provoke China — expert | Patricia Lourdes Viray – PhilStar

24 January 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The proposed review of the provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States may push China to become more aggressive in its actions in the South China Sea, a maritime expert said.

In this May 9, 2018 photo, American and Filipino troops participate in an amphibious landing exercise simulating a beach assault during the annual Balikatan exercises in San Antonio, Zambales.

Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said Beijing’s future actions on the disputed waterway, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, would depend on the outcome of the MDT review.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier called for a review of the decades-old treaty between the Philippines and the US due to the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

“If the Americans come forward with a statement that is, I would say, insufficiently clear it might very well provoke adventurism from Beijing testing that commitment,” Poling said during the “Asia Forecast 2019” forum in Washington earlier this week.

China has been encroaching on Philippine waters, constructing artificial islands and installing military facilities within the latter’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing continues to ignore a July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The Department of Defense wants Washington to give a definitive stand on whether it will support the Armed Forces of the Philippines in case of a confrontation with other South China Sea claimants.

“I think if we offer a quite clear clarification on MDT scope, it dissuades China because it lays down… red lines that make clear to Beijing where the trigger for US intervention would be,” Poling added.

The AMTI director also noted that freedom of navigation operations of other countries aside from the US are also factors for China’s aggression in the disputed waterway in the past year.

Poling said Beijing’s response to “multilateralization” of FONOPs in the South China Sea have been “much more aggressive” and “reckless.”

“We had the HMS Albion, the first British FONOP that was clearly a FONOP, we had increased activities by the French, the pace of Australian patrol even though they are not what we would call FONOPs had increased, the Japanese continued to operate so I think China feels that they win the South China Sea if they keep it as a bilateral Sino-US narrative,” Poling said.

It would be harder for Beijing to win the narrative if they would go against the international community, the maritime expert added.

Noting the harassment of Chinese Coast Guard personnel on Philippine troops conducting resupply missions on Ayungin Shoal last year, Poling clarified he could not predict when an incident between the two countries would escalate.

“I don’t know if it happens tomorrow, six months from now or six years from now. There will be a violent incident in the South China Sea that has a potential to escalate. They all do,” Poling said.

Source: PhilStar

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Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino slams joint deal on South China Sea | Bhavan Jaipragas – South China Morning Post

22 January 2019

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino, known for his hardline views on China, on Tuesday appeared to contradict the terms of a deal his successor Rodrigo Duterte is making with China, as he sharply criticised plans for joint energy exploration in the disputed South China Sea.

The Duterte administration has previously said it was open to cooperation on the basis of a 60/40 revenue-sharing formula skewed in its favour – yet according to Aquino, it is China that is going to get the lion’s share.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte share a toast in November. Photo: AP

“We used to have a joke in the cabinet in our administration, that China seems to be saying one thing: ‘What is ours is ours, what is yours we share’,” he said at a book launch. “When I saw the proposal to have joint exploration and … exploit the resources to the tune of 60/40, 60 for the Chinese side, I was wondering if the joke was now a reality. We will share and exploit your resources but we will gain more from this adventure.”

The former leader said it was indefensible to share “what is ours with another entity that gets an even bigger slice of the pie”.

Progress between China and the Philippines can’t guarantee peace in the South China Sea

China and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding in November on negotiating an agreement for joint energy exploration, but there has not been any official correspondence on how the revenue will be split.

There is also no consensus on who will have sovereign rights over the oil and gas that is extracted, given that both countries claim the area as their own territory.

Philippine officials, including Duterte, have said they view a 60/40 split in Manila’s favour as a fair ratio to adopt. But local researchers have noted that China is likely to want the two sides to share the costs of exploration, which goes against such a division of revenue.

Aquino was not picked up on his apparent numerical blunder at the question-and-answer session following the book launch, but he was asked about one of the landmark foreign policy moves of his administration: filing an arbitration case against Beijing in 2013 over its disputed claims in the South China Sea.

That decision, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague’s subsequent ruling in 2016 that found in Manila’s favour, is recalled in the book that was launched at the event.

At the time, China reacted furiously to the court’s pronouncement and vowed not to recognise it – capping off three years of frosty relations between the two nations that only began to thaw after Aquino left office in June that year.

As his successor, Duterte has taken a significantly softer stance on the sea dispute and sought cooperation with China in other areas, which he says as a “pragmatic” approach.

“China is already in possession of the [South China Sea]. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions?” he said last November at the sidelines of a regional summit in Singapore.

Aquino’s camp has described this position as “defeatist”, a stance the former leader reiterated on Tuesday as he questioned whether it was feasible for the two countries to have a relationship of “strategic cooperation”, using the language Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping had used when the latter visited the Philippines in November.

Bangsamoro autonomy vote in southern Philippines proves peaceful, apart from a grenade

“This strategic partner will conflict with itself if there comes a conflict between their side and our side,” he said.

“If they are not bound by a system of laws, any agreement that you enter with them might be a changing reality. The only constant would be what is in the interest of the [Chinese Communist] Party.”

Aquino (fourth from right) at the book launch. Photo: Gregorio Guinto/De La Salle University Publishing

However, the former leader counselled that the “idea of dialogue” should not be abandoned, adding that both sides could “come to an understanding”.

He suggested that the international community had leverage over Beijing because China “needs the rest of the world to grow at the pace that it has grown”.

“To be able to do that, there has to be confidence in the other trading partners that [they] will be treated right and we who belong in the same region have grounds to say you haven’t treated us right,” he said.

Additional reporting by Raissa Robles in Manila
Source: SCMP

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New Book: “The South China Sea Arbitration: Understanding the Awards and Debating with China,” by Dr. Alfredo C. Robles Jr. – De La Salle University

20 January 2019

On ABS-CBN News:

MANILA — A new book on the South China Sea will be launched at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila this week.

The book, entitled “The South China Sea Arbitration: Understanding the Awards and Debating with China,” is written by Dr. Alfredo C. Robles Jr. and jointly published by DLSU Publishing House and Sussex Academic Press in United Kingdom.

It will be launched on January 22, which is also the same day in 2013 when the Philippines formally transmitted to China a notification and statement of claim.

 

Among the information revealed by Robles’ book is that China has used disinformation and propaganda to undermine the Philippines’ win in the South China Sea arbitration.

In his book, Robles detailed how China attempted to influence the Tribunal without the knowledge of the Philippines, as well as dismissed the arbitration as non-binding, among other things.

“These claims were outrageous, but they could only be refuted using a scholarly approach,” Robles said.

 

Robles is a university fellow at DLSU Manila. He holds doctorate degrees in International and European Studies from Universite Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and in Political Science from Syracuse University.

 Source: ABS-CBN

On Politiko:

In a rare public engagement, Former President Benigno Aquino III will answer burning questions on the arbitration case that the Philippines won against China in 2016.

Aquino is the guest of honor at the launch of Alfredo Robles Jr.’s book called “The South China Sea Arbitration: Understanding the Awards and Debating with China” to be held on Tuesday (January 22) at the De La Salle University.

It was under Aquino’s administration that the Philippines questioned China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, which included the West Philippine Sea, before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Netherlands.

The Philippine argued that China’s sweeping claim over the South China Sea goes against the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The PCA ruled in the Philippines’ favor on July 12, 2016, shortly after Aquino’s term ended.

Source: Politiko

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ARIA Reassures Vietnam of Ongoing US FONOPS in South China Sea | James Gordon – Geopolitical Monitor

19 January 2019

Much has been written about US and Vietnam relations since the last helicopter lifted remaining American personnel from the rooftop of the US Saigon Embassy during the 1975 final evacuation, as the final curtain closed on the tragic Vietnam War. Once enemies, Washington and Hanoi are now deeply invested in friendship, mutual respect and peace, working to ensure stability and to uphold freedom of navigation and sustained commerce in the South China Sea.


Vietnam, along with other claimant nations, realize that they can no longer take on China’s advance alone. Beijing’s ambitious naval expansion, militarization of reclamations, and mega-trawler fishing operations challenge Hanoi and other regional nations in the South China Sea. Oil and gas resources, the depletion of species biodiversity, collapsing fish stocks, and overall security—all contribute to the growing importance of the SCS region.

Concerns over China’s intentions to control SCS shipping lanes, along with the creation of its military bases on seven remote Spratly Islands reefs (Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, Mischief and Subi) are alarming both regional stakeholders and Washington. Overall, China’s land reclamation has roughly tripled the size of the entire group of natural islands. While other claimant nations have reclaimed land as well, the total by China over the past several years is equivalent to 17 times of what others have done in the past 40 years.

Vietnam knows all too well the conflicts associated with Chinese measures to occupy and claim disputed islands.

January 19 marks the 45th anniversary of China seizing and and annexing the Paracel Islands, called the Xisha Islands by Beijing and the Hoang Sa Islands by Hanoi. In 1974, as US troops withdrew from Vietnam, China sent troops to the remote islands and more than 70 Vietnamese soldiers died in the resulting invasion. The two countries remain locked in a diplomatic struggle over a panoply of international law and conventions in their respective sovereignty claims.

In Ly Son Island, scores of Vietnamese fishermen commemorate the deaths of those Vietnamese who bravely defended their archipelagos against the Chinese attack. Today, China, along with Taiwan and Vietnam, still legally claim the Paracels.

For now, Vietnam should welcome Washington and the Trump administration to expand the US freedom of navigation operational patrols in the South China Sea since they contribute to peace and security. The presence of US Navy warships streaming through one of the world’s critical merchant gateways bolsters confidence that the United States has not ceded the South China Sea to China.

Hanoi reveals a new geopolitical chart as they continue to navigate a closer and more comprehensive partnership with the United States. Their charm offensive was witnessed over the past several years with White House visits by Vietnam’s former President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and Communist Party head Nguyen Phu Trong. Two years ago, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first Southeast Asian head of state, and the third from Asia (after Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping) to visit President Trump after he took office.

The cooperative ties between the U.S. and Vietnam date back to 1994, when President Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam and, soon after the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995, the two governments signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement. This has since paved the commercial road for the steady and substantial growth of trade between the two economies, with an increasingly favorable balance of trade for Vietnam.

By 2006, the US Congress accorded Vietnam permanent normal trade relations status, which represented the completion of full normalization of economic ties and allowed Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization(WTO) in 2007 as its 150th member. While the Trump administration’s protectionist roadmap offers Hanoi some trade impediments, including the discriminatory anti-dumping treatment, policy experts remain bullish and optimistic about Vietnam’s progressive strides toward transforming into a market economy. Economists are quick to acknowledge that globalization has ushered in increased foreign investment in manufacturing plants like Nike in Vietnam, which employees over 400,000 young women.

The tide of foreign direct investment pouring into the country has yielded many dividends including a dramatic decline in Vietnam’s poverty, improved living standards and increased life expectancy. Hanoi’s cautious and sequential adoption of market institutions have yielded two decades of impressive economic performance. “Nike and Coca-Cola triumphed where American bombs failed. They made Vietnam capitalist,” claims Johan Norberg, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington.

It was encouraging news for Hanoi when last month the US Congress approved the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on December 31. The Act affirms and advances the US National Security Strategy to “develop a long-term strategic vision and comprehensive, multifaceted and principled US policy for the Indo-Pacific region.” A few of the key articles that bolsters confidence in SCS claimant nations, especially Vietnam, are the following:

  • Improves the defense capacity and resiliency of partner nations to resist coercion and deter and defend against security threats, including foreign military financing;
  • Offers mechanism to conduct bilateral and multilateral engagements, particularly with the United States’ most highly capable allies and partners, to meet strategic challenges, including (destabilizing activities by China and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs);
  • Increases maritime domain awareness programs in South Asia and Southeast Asia;
  • Encourages responsible natural resource management in partner countries, which is closely associated with economic growth;

 

Defense Cooperation Sends Message to China

Renewed Vietnam-US military cooperation is best symbolized by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson’s arrival in Da Nang last year, marking the first time such a ship has docked in the country since the Vietnam War. The Nimitz-class supercarrier with its 6,000 crew members, anchored off the coast of Da Nang and marked the largest US military presence in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

This display of military cooperation and reception was also highlighted in 2016, when former President Obama lifted a decades-old ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam.

The US-Vietnam defense relationship has included regular Naval Engagement Activities (NEA) over the past decade primarily to curb China’s assertiveness in the contested South China Sea.

Furthermore, in 2017, the U.S. also transferred the decommissioned Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau to Vietnam’s Coast Guard, and signed a three-year plan for defense cooperation. In addition, the US Pacific Partnership has made regular humanitarian relief exercises with its fast transport ships to the coastal city of Nha Trang to provide humanitarian and disaster relief. Vietnam’s leadership does believe that both a symbolic and cooperative defense relationship with the U.S. promotes regional and global peace and security.

Finally, the U.S. should consider the benefits associated with the US Congress ratification of U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It was adopted in 1982 and one hundred and sixty-two countries, including China and Russia, are signatories to the treaty that governs the world’s oceans. The U.S. has yet to adopt it.

While the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet continues to reinforce freedom in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, the treaty formally defines the limits of a country’s territorial sea, establishing clear rules for transit through “international straits,” and “exclusive economic zones (EEZs).” In short, it would allow the US military complete freedom of action.

With ratification, the United States would have legal standing to bring any complaints to an international dispute resolution body and thus avoid possible confrontation with Chinese naval forces and paramilitary fishing trawlers in the Spratly Islands.

Furthermore, the treaty allows for formal cooperation with other countries, because almost all of Washington’s allies, neighbors, and friends are party to the Convention. The geopolitical message is simple: America requires maximum freedom both for naval and commercial vessels to navigate and to operate off foreign coasts without interference. Vietnam and other South China Sea claimant nations urge the U.S. to abide by UNCLOS’s provisions and for the US Congress to ratify it.

At this moment, it’s possible that China is merely banking on the US government’s political impotence – now on display in the shutdown – to translate into its regional ambitions going unchallenged.

 

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the authors are theirs alone and don’t reflect the official position of Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any other institution.

 

This article is originally published at Geopolitical Monitor.

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Is Vietnam adopting a tough South China Sea posture? | Xuan Loc Doan – Asia Times

18 January 2019

Over the past month, some international news outlets have reported that Vietnam is pursuing a strong stance on the South China Sea. Yet a closer look at Hanoi’s overall position – as well as those of other countries and international entities – vis-à-vis the maritime issue shows that is not the case.

A Vietnamese naval soldier stands quard at Thuyen Chai island in the Spratly archipelago in a file photo. Photo: Reuters/Quang Le

On December 30, Reuters reported that Vietnam was pushing for tough provisions in the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that Southeast Asian nations and China are negotiating. More precisely, according to this report, Vietnam wants the pact to outlaw Beijing’s controversial actions in the disputed area in recent years, including the building of artificial islands and military activities such as missile deployments.

It also pushes for a ban on any new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that China unilaterally announced over the East China Sea in 2013. It equally demands that disputing states clarify their maritime claims as per international law.

A day later, the South China Morning Post also claimed that Vietnam “takes [a] hard line” by making such demands. It described Hanoi’s request that “states clarify their maritime claims according to international law” as “an apparent attempt to shatter Beijing’s ‘nine-dash line,’ by which China claims and patrols much of the South China Sea.”

Last Friday, the Hong Kong-based newspaper ran an article headlined“Vietnam risks Beijing’s ire as it uses US freedom-of-navigation exercise to stake its claim in South China Sea.” That article referred to a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) by USS McCampbell near the Paracel Islands on January 7 and remarks by a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman about it two days later.

Asked for her comments about the US guided-missile destroyer’s passage in a press briefing on January 9, Le Thi Thu Hang said Vietnam “has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence testifying its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa [Paracel] and Trưong Sa [Spratly] archipelagoes in conformity with international law.”

She also stressed that as a member of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a coastal state in the East Sea (Vietnamese name for the South China Sea), her country always respects the right to freedom of navigation and aviation in the area of other states in line with international law, especially the UNCLOS.

It could be that, as the SCMP’s article said, Beijing, which was angry about the USS McCampbell’s FONOP, was not pleased with the Vietnamese spokeswoman’s remarks and that Hanoi used the US military’s move to reaffirm its territorial claims in the area.

But Vietnam’s demands that states clarify their maritime claims, resolve their disputes and operate in the area in line with international law, notably UNCLOS, are not new.

In its own statements, joint declarations with its main partners – such as the United States, IndiaJapanAustraliaSouth KoreaIndonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France – as well as talks with China, Vietnam has long and consistently maintained an international-law-based approach to the South China Sea issue.

For instance, in his keynote speech at the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s then prime minister, urged China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “double efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UNCLOS.” He also said: “As a coastal state, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.”

Similarly, in a speech at the 38th Singapore Lecture three years later, Tran Dai Quang, its then president, who died a few months ago, clearly and firmly stated Vietnam’s “consistent position” vis-à-vis the South China Sea – that is “to remain resolute and persistent in the defense of national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity” and “to settle disputes by peaceful means through the political, diplomatic and legal process on the basis of international law, including [UNCLOS].”

In line with what Quang said in that lecture, in a Vietnam-Singapore joint statement issued at the end of his official visit to the city-state, both sides “emphasized the importance of resolving disputes peacefully, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with international law, including as reflected in the 1982 [UNCLOS].”

Vietnam’s joint statements with the US in 201320152016 and 2017 stated, more or less, the same posture. For instance, in the 2017 statement issued during US President Donald Trump’s Vietnam visit, the leaders of the two countries “underscored the strategic importance to the international community of free and open access to the South China Sea” and “the need to respect freedom of navigation and over-flight, and other lawful uses of the sea.”

They also “reaffirmed their shared commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.”

In his talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing in early 2017, Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, also clearly “asserted Vietnam’s consistent stance of persistently dealing with the dispute in the East Sea by peaceful measures in compliance with international law, including the 1982 [UNCLOS], and with respect to diplomatic and legal processes.”

Such an approach is also supported by other countries and international bodies, such as the Group of Seven advanced economies, which repeatedly says its members “are committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in the [UNCLOS].”

Of Vietnam’s demands reported by Reuters, the stress that disputing states “clarify their maritime claims in according to international law” is, without doubt, the most fundamental one. All nations, strong and weak alike, should, if not must, make their claims, resolve their disputes and act in accordance with international law.

In his remarks at the G7 summit in Canada last June, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, urged the member states (namely France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the US, Canada and Japan) to “demonstrate unity regarding the ongoing land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea, as the international law must apply to all countries, big and small, on land and at sea.”

In this sense, Vietnam’s South China Sea posture is not tough at all. On the contrary, it’s very sensible, advisable and, as such, widely supported.

Yet for China, the provisions that its communist neighbor wants the COC to include – notably that “states clarify their maritime claims” in the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea “according to international law” – are tough.

As the December 31 SCMP article said, they are “likely to prove unpalatable to Beijing.” This is because such propositions would invalidate the Asian giant’s controversial, if not illegal, claims and actions in the resources-rich and strategically vital waters.

As ruled by a UNCLOS tribunal in 2016, if it is based on international law, notably the 1982 Convention, China’s “nine-dash-line” claim would be unlawful. And as that infamous line was already declared illegal by the international tribunal, many, if not most, of China’s contentious actions within it, including its recent land reclamation and military buildup or a future ADIZ declaration, are illegal.

That said, it may be true that Vietnam is adopting a tougher posture than it was, and that would be understandable.

A few years ago, the Philippines and Vietnam were the two regional countries that were mostly critical of China’s behavior in the area. But since Rodrigo Duterte became the Philippines’ president in 2016, Manila has pursued an accommodating, if not defeatist, attitude toward Beijing.

The maverick leader is now seen as “China’s voice in ASEAN.” It’s no coincidence that China, which was previously very reluctant to negotiate the COC, has recently vowed to conclude it before 2021. Both the Duterte presidency and the Philippines’ term as the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue end in that year.

Against this backdrop, Hanoi needs to voice its position robustly if it wants to “remain resolute and persistent in the defense of [Vietnam’s] national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity.” An effective – if not, the most plausible – way to achieve that goal is to internationalize the issue and call for an international-law-based approach to it, because international law and many other countries are on its side.

By calling claimant parties as well as other interested countries to act according to international law in the South China Sea, Hanoi is, intentionally or not, urging China to practice what Xi Jinping, its core leader, repeatedly and, indeed, beautifully, preaches on the world stage.

For instance, addressing the United Nations Office in Geneva in 2017, the Chinese president quoted “an ancient Chinese philosopher [that] said, ‘Law is the very foundation of governance’” and then lectured that all countries should “uphold the authority of the international rule of law … ensure equal and uniform application of international law and reject double standards and the practice of applying international law in a selective way.”

In that speech, titled “Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” Xi also vowed, “No matter how strong its economy grows, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence.”

Should Beijing apply all this to the South China Sea, the intractable maritime disputes would be easily and peacefully resolved.

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This article is originally published at Asia Times

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Vietnam Gains Bargaining Power Over China in Conduct at Sea Talks | Ralph Jennings – VOA News

18 January 2019

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Vietnam’s tough stance against China over sovereignty of the South China Sea will put Beijing on the defensive during regional talks on easing the regional maritime dispute, people who follow the process say.

 

FILE – People take part in an anti-China protest to mark the 43rd anniversary of the China’s occupation of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 19, 2017.

 

Officials in Hanoi have suggested establishing a code of conduct that, among other things, would bar construction on artificial islands in the South China Sea and ban militarizing disputed features, said Carl Thayer, a University of New South Wales emeritus professor, in an online commentary about a preview of a draft code text written last year. Vietnam, he added, wants to ban any blockades of vessels and nix the possibility of any single country’s air defense identification zone.

Vietnam also would deem “unacceptable” any agreement excluding the sea’s Paracel Islands, which it claims but China effectively controls, according to a report posted by Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative think tank project in the United States.

 

 

 

 

FILE – Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy.

 

 

China’s island building

Analysts say China has landfilled and militarized more of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea than any of the other five claimants. It will oppose the Vietnamese agenda, further setting back the 23-year-old code of conduct process but keep it at the bargaining table to show it’s a good neighbor, they expect.

“Chinese hegemony of the South China Sea is not accepted by any of the states within the region,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate politics and international studies professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.

“The problem is, their asymmetric capabilities basically mean that they can’t push back,” he said. “The only way they can push back is to try to forge consensus on code of conduct or at least raising awareness that these issues still remain a core challenge to security and territorial sovereignty within the region.”

 

 

 

ASEAN leaders and delegates pose for a photo during a working lunch on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore, Nov. 14, 2018.
 

Code of conduct

After 23 years of on-again, off-again efforts, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China decided in 2017 to restart talks on a code of conduct aimed at preventing accidents while leaving sovereignty issues aside. China has said a final code should be signed by 2021.

Four association countries and Taiwan dispute China’s claims to about 90 percent of the sea. China and Vietnam have gotten into three clashes there since the 1970s.

Vietnam’s suggestions for the code, if they carry forward, would affect China the most because of its reach over the sea valued for fisheries, shipping lanes and energy reserves. China has reclaimed about 1,200 hectares of land to build out tiny islets and placed military hardware such as aircraft on some, maritime scholars believe.

The wording from Hanoi would spotlight China’s expansion at sea, a trend Beijing seldom publicizes. It might also serve as a bargaining chip during later stages of talks about the code of conduct, they say.

“Vietnam is in a difficult position as perhaps the country that is pushing back most vociferously against the gradual expansion of Chinese control over the South China Sea,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at Honolulu-based research organization the East-West Center.

“Hanoi must draw the attention for playing the role of standing up to China,” Roy said. “Otherwise China will meet less resistance from ASEAN. In that sense Vietnamese pushback might make a difference.”

Hanoi lost control of the Paracel chain of some 130 islets to China in the 1970s. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam vie with China sovereignty in the Spratly Island chain.

Chinese reaction

China would oppose Vietnam’s ideas for the code, experts say. Beijing is unlikely to show foreign policy “weakness” this year before celebrations of its 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

“I expect if the Vietnamese government continues to insist (on) putting language that the Chinese cannot tolerate, it would be more like a kind of bargaining chip,” he said. “It’s going to touch the nerve of the central leadership.” 

 

 

South China Sea Territorial Claims
 

China bases its maritime claims on fishing records it says date back some 2,000 years.

But China will keep negotiating the code of conduct because it’s under “tremendous pressure” to reduce tensions in Southeast Asia so it can focus instead on ties with the United States, Nagy said. The U.S. government helps train troops in the Philippines and periodically passes ships through the sea to show it’s open to all.

Despite historical jousting between China and Taiwan over territory, the two countries’ communist parties regularly discuss maritime issues. They have agreed the Paracel dispute should stay between them, said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Vietnam’s conditions for the code would delay code negotiations, he said.

“I think it will be slow, because the Chinese side already said three years’ time frame, so they will just go through the motions of having meetings,” Chalermpalanupap said.

This article is originally published at VOA News

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How Brexit Is Helping Vietnam in the South China Sea | Du Nhat Dang – The Diplomat

17 January 2019

China offered to bail out Malaysia’s controversial 1MDB fund, according to an investigation made by the Wall Street Journal.

How Brexit Is Helping Vietnam in the South China Sea
Image Credit: Pixab

The report has Vietnam worried, since it reveals that in 2016, China tried to pour money into Malaysia through infrastructure deals after a discussion on September 22, 2016. In return, that explains why Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Najib Razak supported Beijing’s stance on the South China Sea during the 28th and 29th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits in Laos the same year.

This kind of offer reflects exactly what many fears about Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – that China is buying the world. And Vietnam is concerned that it is surrounded by leaders willing to sell. Hanoi, the most active protester to China’s claims over the South China Sea, is facing the prospect of being isolated by Beijing’s money.

But there is good news, too. In parallel with the chance to host the second Trump-Kim Summit, Hanoi sees opportunities to widen its support on foreign affairs. Brexit could work to Vietnam’s advantage in this regard.

Mark Field, the minister of state for Asia and the Pacific at the U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office visited Vietnam earlier this month. Along with his visit, he contributed an article for Tuoi Tre News, one of the leading media outlets in the Southeast Asian country. The article, given the title “UK to strengthen relationship with Vietnam after Brexit,” was the latest positive signal for Vietnam-U.K. relations as the two celebrate the 45th anniversary of their ties.

Earlier, on October 10, Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, paid a visit to the U.K., which ended in a noteworthy joint statement with U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In the statement, both sides agreed to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The U.K. and Vietnam also noted the growing importance of collaboration in the United Nations on peacekeeping, global security, international law, and the illegal wildlife trade. Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration has asked for Vietnam’s commitment to the United Nation sanctions regime to encourage North Korea to take steps to denuclearize fully and verifiably as well as maintaining the ban on the use of chemical weapons globally. Beyond that, public opinion tends to focus on trade and security issues in the relationship.

Vietnam, as well as ASEAN in general, has been considered one of the best options for the U.K. after Brexit. Post-Brexit trade deals are important for Downing Street, especially in the worst-case scenario of a “hard Brexit” – something that became more likely this week with the empathic parliamentary rejection of the U.K. government’s proposed Brexit deal.

That is why the U.K., a strong advocate for free trade in Europe and Asia, is looking forward to ensuring “continuity for business” with Vietnam by “transitioning the prospective EU Vietnam Free Trade agreement during the Brexit transition,” as the joint statement put it. Further more, Pham and Hunt also agreed to consult on the prospects of the U.K. joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), sometimes called the TPP-11.

Free trade agreements beyond ASEAN that involve Southeast Asian states (like CPTPP), bilateral free trade deals with selected ASEAN member states (such as Vietnam) and an ASEAN-U.K. free trade agreement are three possible opportunities for a post-Brexit U.K., according to a report by the U.K.-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC) and the London School of Economics’ Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Center (LSE SEAC). The report, “Future Options for the UK-ASEAN Economic Relationship,” points out the U.K.’s longstanding and deep historical relations with Southeast Asia. In terms of trade, U.K. exports to ASEAN are higher than exports to Japan, India, and South Korea. In 2016, two-way trade between the U.K. and Southeast Asia amounted to 32.4 billion British pounds — a 9.1 percent increase from 2015. Vietnam is now the U.K.’s third largest trade partner in ASEAN, accounting for 14.9 percent of total trade with the bloc.

But with ASEAN divided by national interests, not least because of economic inducements from China, the ASEAN-U.K. free trade agreement seems uncertain. Bilateral free trade deals with selected ASEAN member states can be crucial in the short term, at least.

“I am confident that when the UK leave the EU that we will be ready to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Vietnam, which will be good for both sides,” Gareth Ward, the U.K. ambassador to Vietnam, told me on the sidelines of a business reception in Ho Chi Minh City in December. He added:

Also in the future, the UK is considering whether we will make the application to join CPTPP. We know from our discussion with members of CPTPP, including Vietnam, that there is a lot of interest among the members for working with the U.K.. So the U.K. and Vietnam are both strong supporters of free trade, and that means we will find the way to make sure trade is maintained smoothly.

The U.K. is also accelerating toward the Vietnamese market in order to keep on track as “the only [EU] country to maintain market share” in the country last year, according to the UKABC/LSE SEAC report.

As part of its efforts to approach Vietnam, the U.K. is playing its role an issue of core interest: The South China Sea. The joint statement of Pham and Hunt noted included a nod to a 2016 international tribunal’s ruling, which favored the Philippines over China’s claims on the South China Sea:

They agree that adherence to international law is the foundation for peace and stability and renew their commitment to upholding existing Arbitrations and to freedom of navigation and overflight. They hold the view that countries should resolve all disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with international law and through existing legal mechanisms.

There are signals proving that the U.K. is taking the South China Sea seriously. In addition to port calls — for instance, the visit of HMS Albion to Vietnam in September — Britain is acting in line with its “Look East” strategy.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Telegraph, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed plans to build a permanent naval base in Southeast Asia, possibly in Singapore or Brunei. This almost immediately caused protests from China.

To put it into context, there are suggestions that the U.K. is pursuing an idea similar to the previous U.S. administration’s strategy of pivoting to Asia, in which the rules-based trading order would be protected by a military presence close to China.

While flirting with Vietnam, the U.K. wants to make sure that those efforts contribute to its global strategy in general.

Du Nhat Dang is a Vietnamese reporter who works for Tuoi Tre newspaper in Vietnam. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism and Communication, University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. He is a fellow at the Reporting ASEAN program, which supports articles about ASEAN.

Source: The Diplomat

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South China Sea: Vietnam Dares What Philippines Didn’t | Panos Mourdoukoutas – Forbes

02 January 2019

AP Photo/Kin Cheung – ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the South China Sea disputes, Vietnam dares to do what the Philippines didn’t: challenge China’s mission to turn the vast waterway into its own sea.

That’s according to a recent Reuters report, which claims that Vietnam is pushing for a pact that will outlaw many of China’s ongoing activities in the South China Sea.  Like the building of artificial islands, blockades and offensive weaponry such as missile deployments; and the Air Defence Identification Zone—a conduct code China initiated back in 2013.

This isn’t the first time Hanoi is challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea. Back in July of 2017, Vietnam granted Indian oil firm ONGC Videsh a two-year extension to explore oil block 128, according to another Reuters report.

And that’s something Beijing loudly opposed.

In recent years, China has considered the South China Sea its own. All of it, including the artificial islands Beijing has been building in disputed waters, and the economic resources that are hidden below the vast sea area. And it is determined to use its old and new naval powers to make sure that no other country reaches for these resources without its permission.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte understands Beijing’s determination very well. Back in April of 2018 he reversed his earlier decision to raise the Philippine flag in disputed islands, following Beijing’s “friendly” advice.

A year before that incident, the Philippines and its close ally, the U.S., won an international arbitration ruling that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea. Yet Duterte didn’t dare enforce it. Instead, he sided with Beijing on the dispute, and sought a “divorce” from the U.S. 

Duterte’s flip-flops saved peace in the South China Sea by changing the rules of the game for China and the US, at least according to his own wisdom.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Vietnam– which also claims parts of the waterway.

And it has a strong ally on its side: the US, which has been trying to enforce the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and save peace, too!

So far, financial markets in the region do not seem that concerned, at least for now. Instead, they have been focusing on the economic fundamentals rather than the geopolitics of the region; and on the rising interest rates in the US.

China, Vietnam, and Philippines Shares (KOYFIN)

But things may change in the future, as an escalation of South China Sea disputes could add to investor anxieties fueled by the US-China trade war.

Source: Forbes

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