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Trump just approved a plan for the US Navy to check Beijing in the South China Sea – Alex Lockie | Business Insider

23 July 2017

Alex Lockie | Business Insider – President Donald Trump approved a plan to check Beijing over its continued militarization of and actions in the South China Sea, Breitbart News Kristina Wong reports.

USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.

Over the last few years, China has ambitiously built up islands on reefs and atolls in the South China Sea and militarized them with radar outposts, military-grade runways, and shelters for missile defenses.

Military analysts believe China hopes to expand its air defense and identification zone into the western Pacific and build a blue-water navy to rival the US’s, but six other countries also lay claim to parts of the region.

In 2016, an international court at The Hague deemed China’s maritime claims unlawful and excessive, but China rejected the ruling outright and has continued to build military installations and unilaterally declare no-fly and no-sail zones.

When a country makes an excessive naval claim, the US Navy challenges it by sailing its ships, usually destroyers, close to the disputed territory or through the disputed waters as a way of ensuring freedom of navigation for all. In 2016, the US challenged the excessive claims of 22 nations — China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping passes, were the most prominent.

China has responded forcefully to US incursions into the region, telling the US the moves were provocative and that they must ask permission, which doesn’t align with international law or UN conventions.

“China’s military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and regional peace and stability,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in response to US bombers flying in the region.

Photo(C)Reuters

Under former US President Barack Obama, the US suspended freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015. In 2016, the US made just three such challenges. So far, under Trump, the US has made three challenges already.

“You have a definite return to normal,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told Breitbart News.

“This administration has definitely given the authority back to the people who are in the best position to execute those authorities, so it’s a return to normal,” she said.

Freedom of navigation operations work best when they’re routine in nature and don’t make news.

They serve to help the US establish the facts in the water, but in the South China Sea, those facts all indicate Chinese control.

When Chinese military jets fly armed over head, when Chinese navy ships patrol the waters, and when Chinese construction crews lay down the framework for a network of military bases in the South China Sea, the US’s allies in the region notice.

An increased US Navy presence in the area won’t turn back time and unpave runways, but it could send a message to allies that the US has their back and won’t back away from checking Beijing.

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Chinese boats attack Vietnamese fishermen in South China Sea – Elizabeth Shim | UPI

30 June 2017

Elizabeth Shim | UPI — China may be flexing its muscle in the South China Sea with attacks on Vietnamese fishing boats.

Vietnamese boats are increasingly under attack in the South China Sea. 
Photo(C)Luong Thai Linh/EPA 

Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ reported Thursday two Chinese ships assailed a Vietnamese fishing boat near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The attack took place on June 18, according to the report.

Authorities in Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province said a similar incident occurred on June 15, also involving a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracels, known as the Xisha Islands in China and Hoàng Sa in Vietnam.

The archipelago is roughly equidistant from the Chinese and Vietnamese coastlines.

The June 18 attack took place around 7 a.m., when two small Chinese boats, manned by officers in military uniform, approached the Vietnamese boat, which was in the middle of a fishing operation.

The uniformed men proceeded to smash the fishermen’s gear and the hull of the boat, then physically assailed the boat’s captain, according to the Vietnamese press report.

The earlier attack on June 15 also involved Chinese officers climbing onto a Vietnamese boat uninvited, destroying equipment and incurring more than $6,000 worth of damages.

The newspaper quoted sources from the Vietnamese Fisheries Society, who said they have received detailed reports on the attacks, initiated by members of the Chinese coast guard.

China has been enforcing an annual ban on fishing since 1999 in international waters. The ban is enforced for three months, beginning in May, and Vietnamese fishing vessels have remained prime targets, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

The ban has at time resulted in fatalities. In November 2015, a Vietnamese fisherman was shot to death, in an incident involving armed Chinese vessels near the disputed Spratly Islands.

About 84 percent of attacks on Vietnamese boats take place near the Paracels, Vietnamese media reported.

 

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China builds new military facilities on South China Sea islands: think tank | Reuters

30 June 2017

Summary:
  • China suspected of building new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, following U.S. think tank report.
  • Satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities.
  • U.S. express concerns that this could impact trade.

DigitalGlobe | Getty Images
DigitalGlobe imagery of the Fiery Cross Reef located in the South China Sea. Fiery Cross is located in the western part of the Spratly Islands group

China has built new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, a U.S. think tank reported on Thursday, a move that could raise tensions with Washington, which has accused Beijing of militarizing the vital waterway.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said new satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities being built on the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The United States has criticized China’s build-up of military facilities on the artificial islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement through the South China Sea, an important trade route.

Last month, a U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in a so-called freedom of navigation operation, the first such challenge to Beijing’s claim to most of the waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images
Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

Trump has sought China’s help in reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and tension between Washington and Beijing over military installations in the South China Sea could complicate those efforts.

China has built four new missile shelters on Fiery Cross Reef to go with the eight already on the artificial island, AMTI said. Mischief and Subi each have eight shelters, the think tank said in a previous report.

In February, Reuters reported that China had nearly finished building structures to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on the three islands.

On Mischief Reef, a very large antennae array is being installed that presumably boosts Beijing’s ability to monitor the surroundings, the think tank said, adding that the installation should be of concern to the Philippines due to its proximity to an area claimed by Manila.

A large dome recently was installed on Fiery Cross and another is under construction, indicating a sizeable communications or radar system, AMTI said.

Two more domes are being built at Mischief Reef, it said.

A smaller dome has been installed near the missile shelters on Mischief, “indicating that it could be connected to radars for any missile systems that might be housed there,” AMTI said.

“Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time,” it said.

 (This article is originally published on CNBC

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[Tension] China Cancels Military Meeting With Vietnam Over Territorial Dispute – by Mike Ives | New York Times

21 June 2017

by Mike Ives | New York Times – HONG KONG — State-run newspapers in Vietnam and China reported in recent days that senior military officials from the two countries would hold a fence-mending gathering along a border where their militaries fought a brief but bloody war in 1979.

One of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. A Chinese delegation unexpectedly cut short a trip to Vietnam 
after tempers flared during a closed-door discussion on disputed territories in the region. 
Credit Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency

But Tuesday, the scheduled start of the gathering, came and went without any of the coverage in the state news media that readers in the two countries had expected. The Chinese Defense Ministry later said in a terse statement that it had canceled the event “for reasons related to working arrangements.”

Analysts, citing government sources, said that the Chinese delegation had unexpectedly cut short a trip to Vietnam after tempers flared during a closed-door discussion on disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The cancellation is highly unusual for the two Communist neighbors, and it comes as Beijing continues to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, where the Chinese seek to expand their military influence at a time of uncertainty over President Trump’s policies in the region.

“This was not what the Vietnamese expected from a polite guest,” said Alexander L. Vuving, a Vietnam specialist at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.

“You can say both sides miscalculated,” he added. But another interpretation is that both countries are “very committed to showing the other their own resolve” on matters of territorial sovereignty.

The dispute happened during a visit to Hanoi this week by Gen. Fan Changlong of China. It was unclear what precisely roiled his meeting with Vietnamese officials, much less whether the general’s actions had been planned.

Analysts said he appeared to have been angry over Vietnam’s recent efforts to promote strategic cooperation with the United States and Japan. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently visited those two countries in quick succession, and the Vietnamese and Japanese coast guards conducted joint drills in the South China Sea last week focused on preventing illegal fishing.

Another reason, analysts said, could be Vietnam’s apparent refusal to abandon oil and gas exploration in areas of the South China Sea that both it and Beijing claim.

Mr. Vuving said a specific source of the dispute may have been the so-called Blue Whale project, a gas-drilling venture in the South China Sea by Vietnam’s state oil company, PetroVietnam, and Exxon Mobil. The companies signed an agreement during a January trip to Hanoi by John Kerry, the secretary of the state at the time.

The drilling site, which is expected to produce gas for power generation by 2023, is close to the disputed Paracel Islands and near the “nine dash line” that shows expansive territorial claims on Chinese maps. Mr. Vuving said that China probably resents that Vietnam has formed a partnership with an American oil company, particularly one whose previous chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, is Mr. Trump’s secretary of state.

The project appears to set a “very damaging precedent for China’s strategy in the South China Sea,” Mr. Vuving said.

The Chinese and Vietnamese Foreign Ministries did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, and an Exxon Mobil spokeswoman in Singapore could not be reached for comment.

Other analysts said that the source of tension may have been Vietnam’s recent decision to resume oil exploration in another disputed part of the South China Sea.

Carl Thayer, a longtime analyst of the Vietnamese military and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said that if General Fan had indeed asked Vietnam to cease oil exploration in that area, Vietnam would have considered the request “inflammatory”; it would have implied Chinese territorial control in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Vietnamese coast.

“Vietnam’s leaders would have refused this request and responded by reasserting Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Mr. Thayer said in an email to reporters and diplomats.

There were unconfirmed reports on Wednesday that China had recently deployed 40 vessels and several military transport aircraft to the area. Vietnam accused Chinese ships of cutting the cables of one of its seismic survey vessels there in 2011.

Though China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and a longtime ideological ally, the neighbors have long been at odds over competing claims to rocks, islands and offshore oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

Tensions came to a head in 2014, when a state-run Chinese company towed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands and within about 120 nautical miles of Vietnam. No one was killed at sea, but a maritime standoff led to anti-China riots near foreign-invested factories in central and southern Vietnam, bringing relations between the countries to their lowest point in years.

A few days before General Fan’s Hanoi visit, Mr. Vuving said, China moved the same oil rig to a position in the South China Sea that is near the midway point between the Chinese and Vietnamese coasts, apparently seeking to pressure Vietnam to cease oil and gas exploration in disputed waters. Data from myship.com, a website affiliated with the Chinese Transport Ministry, showed that the rig has been about 70 nautical miles south of China and 120 nautical miles northeast of Vietnam over the past week.

The first fence-mending gathering, called the Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange Program, took place in 2014 and was intended to promote bilateral trust. The meeting this week was expected to include a drill on fighting cross-border crime.

Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who specializes in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, said that the countries were expected to disagree over territorial claims in the South China Sea. But they have established frameworks to defuse disagreements through government channels as well as through the two countries’ Communist parties, he added.

In the end, the two countries “will come out and resolve this problem since both want stability,” Mr. Xu said.

Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, agreed with that conclusion, but warned that new tensions could emerge in the short term. China appears increasingly eager to stop Vietnam from growing too close to Japan and the United States, he said.

“As Vietnam tries to achieve its economic growth targets, it is planning to exploit more oil from the South China Sea,” Mr. Hiep wrote in an email. “As such, the chance for confrontation at sea may also increase.”

(This article is originally published at The New York Times)

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US taking stronger stance in South China Sea – Vietnamese expert – by Niña P. Calleja | Inquirer Global Nation

06 June 2017

Niña P. Calleja | Inquirer Global Nation – HO CHI MINH CITY — The United States seems to be taking a stronger stance against China’s activities in the South China Sea, according to Dr. Ha Anh Tuan, director of the Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies (IFPSS) of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.

Mischief Reef. (Photo from the Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Among the indications this, Ha pointed out, are the recently implemented Freedom of Investigation Operation (Fonop) implemented by the United States and the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on May 31.

On May 25, the USS Dewey, a guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, sailed within 12 nautical miles (22.22 kilometers) of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in the Spratly Islands, where China has built one of its man-made islands. The reef is being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.

Fonop is meant to counter China’s assertion of de facto control over the South China China, where it has nearly finished building artificial islands and military bases.

“In the first month since Trump came into office, the US strategy towards the South China Sea was not clear,” Ha said in an email interview with the Inquirer. “The latest US Freedom of Navigation Operation campaign in May 2017, however, suggests that Trump’s position towards the South China Sea could be even stronger than the one adopted by Obama administration.”

Ha said the delivery of the six coastal patrol vessels to Vietnam, followed by the meeting between Trump and Nguyen on May 31, showed a stronger support of the US against China’s occupation in the South China Sea.

“All are signs of a US commitment, which Vietnam had feared was waning under President Donald Trump,” he said.

Nguyen went to the US for a three-day official visit from May 29 to May 31, which culminated in his first meeting with Trump at the White House. He is the first head of state in Southeast Asia to meet Trump since the latter’s inauguration this year.

Visiting to the US on Trump’s official invitation, the Vietnamese leader also hoped to boost relationship with the US, Vietnam’s top trading partner despite its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, the trade treaty which an export-oriented Vietnam would have likely benefited from.

Since diplomatic ties between Vietnam and US normalized 20 years ago, bilateral trade has flourished – reaching $36.3 billion in 2014 and $45 billion in 2016.

But the South China Sea was also on the Southeast Asian leader’s agenda. In a joint statement issued after their meeting, Nguyen and Trump called on all parties to “refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, such as the militarization of disputed features.”

In the same statement, Trump assured Vietnam that US  would continue to “fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Ha noted that the land reclamation of China in the South China Sea was completed well before Trump’s presidency. This, he said, left the the US with “virtually no option to change that reality.”

China, meanwhile, condemned the US operation, saying the US ship did not ask permission to enter what it claimed to be its territorial waters.

But other claimants in the South China Sea, like Vietnam, were hoping to see more of the US presence in the region “as a way to maintain regional peace, stability and security,” Ha said.

Vietnam and the Philippines, along Malaysia and Brunei, have competing claims with China over the South China Sea.

After his US trip, the Vietnamese prime minister would go next to Japan for an official visit from June 4 to 8 at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Trump is also in the offing, as the US president had invited the Philippine leader to visit the White House.

Trump is also expected to visit Vietnam in November for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held there in Danang.

 (This article is originally published at Inquirer Global Nation)


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Southeast Asia tends to defenses in South China Sea – by Atsushi Tomiyama | Nikkei Asian Review

02 June 2017

by Atsushi Tomiyama | Nikkei Asian Review – HANOI — With Vietnam welcoming foreign warships to a key port and the Philippines building on a disputed island, Southeast Asian nations are working to reinforce their South China Sea claims in the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Japan’s Izumo destroyer at Cam Ranh Bay on May 20. © Kyodo

Japan’s Izumo helicopter carrier — one of the country’s largest naval ships — made port in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay for the first time May 20 as part of the Pacific Partnership annual humanitarian mission by such countries as Japan and the U.S. A state-affiliated newspaper expressed Hanoi’s hope for Japanese involvement in the region.

Located 550km from both the Spratly and Paracel islands, Cam Ranh Bay is a key stronghold in the South China Sea. Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships first entered the port in April 2016, followed by American and Chinese vessels in October, as the Vietnamese government seeks to strike a diplomatic balance between various countries.

The U.S. granted six patrol ships to Vietnam on May 22. Two days later, America conducted its first freedom-of-navigation operation — a sail-by through disputed waters — in the South China Sea since President Donald Trump took office.

Trump “stressed that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows” in a Wednesday meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the White House said in a statement.

Vietnam knows that even as Washington seeks cooperation with the Chinese on North Korea, it is still working to curb Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea. U.S. Sen. John McCain met with Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich here shortly before the summit. McCain requested that more American vessels be allowed to enter Cam Ranh Bay, according to Vietnamese sources.

Foothold in the Spratlys

The Philippines is cementing its control over an island in the disputed Spratly group, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China. Manila abruptly resumed efforts to build coastal facilities and repair the runway at Pag-asa Island, which had been delayed for several years, when its military started transporting cement and wood there early last month. The project is expected to cost a total of 1.6 billion pesos ($32.1 million).

Pag-asa is home to 100-plus Filipinos and a Philippine military presence. By building there, the Philippines is demonstrating its claim of sovereignty over the island, which lies within China’s “nine-dash line” claim over most of the South China Sea.

Duterte said at one point that he would visit Pag-asa to raise the Philippine flag. He later changed his mind in a likely effort to secure economic aid from China but is expected to maintain his country’s claim over the island.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is believed to have deployed five F-16 fighters and three to five naval frigates to its Natuna Islands. The country is building up a base there, with plans to finish a runway and expand a military port by the end of the year. Indonesia is also considering deploying submarines and buying additional fighters from Russia.

Beijing is steadily expanding its area of effective control in the South China Sea, taking such steps as installing air defense systems on seven artificial islands in the Spratlys. With both Washington and Manila warming up to Beijing, little progress was made on a legally binding code of conduct in the waters at a May meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian security summit starting in Singapore on Friday, will likely focus on North Korea’s continued missile tests. Group of Seven leaders expressed concern over the maritime disputes in May — provoking a rebuke from Beijing. This time, most countries are expected to shy away from antagonizing China, given its role in restraining Pyongyang.

 (This article is originally published at Nikkei Asian Review)


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South China Sea disputes: A review of ASEAN’s critical roles – Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | SEAS Issues

31 May 2017

Editorial Board: After years of efforts, May 18, China and ASEAN annonced an agreement on a draft framework for the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea disputes. Experts observed the limited basic elements of the COC without any constraint-based rules in this draft. SEAS Issues presents a review by Prof. Khuong Nguyen and Dr. Tri Vo on ASEAN’s roles in the dispute settlement.

by Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | SEAS Issues – The South China Sea (Bien Dong or East Sea in Vietnamese/Western Sea in the Philippines) is situated in the Pacific Ocean, covering an area of 3,448,000 square kilometres. It is surrounded by 9 countries (including China, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam) and a territory (Taiwan). The South China Sea has an important geopolitical location, and carries strategic importance in terms of politics, economics, maritime transport, environment, national security and defence not only for the contiguous nations in the Asia-Pacific but also for the rest of the world. The South China Sea has rich and diverse natural resources, enabling life activities and economic development, especially fishery resources, mineral resources and tourism potential. The South China Sea lies on the arterial route linking the Pacific Ocean – the Indian Ocean – Europe – Asia – the Middle East. Cargo traffic through the South China Sea accounts for 45% of the total value of shipping worldwide. In accordance with international law, the South China Sea is part of the national defence strategy of a number of coastal nations in particular and of ASEAN, with an aim to avoid acts that threaten security and ensure the general stability in the region and worldwide.

In order to ensure harmonization of interests and build a united, solidary group promoting regional development programs, ASEAN has been taking steps to play a role in solving disagreements among nations in the South China Sea.

The first official declaration by ASEAN on the South China Sea issue entitled “1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea” was a milestone marking ASEAN’s interest. Since then, the South China Sea issue has become a central theme in ASEAN’s agenda, such as the development of values and customs, maritime security, defence cooperation and conflict prevention. The South China Sea is a key topic for ASEAN to engage in regional security dialogues with other countries such as the United States, Japan and India, and key terms such as “maritime security” and “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS) has been appeared several times in related official statements.

The South China Sea theme has become an important part of the dialogues and consultations between ASEAN and China. In 1996, ASEAN issued a communiqué endorsed “a regional code of conduct in the South China Sea which will lay the foundation for lone term stability in the area and foster understanding among claimant countries”. But China refused a such legal-based document with the reason that China and ASEAN has signed already “ASEAN-China Cooperation Towards the 21st Century“. In 2002, with determination and effort between ASEAN and China, the two sides agreed to sign the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea”, abbreviated as the DOC. This was the most significant agreement that ASEAN and China have reached regarding the South China Sea, and it is considered as a breakthrough in ASEAN-China relations which contributes significantly to the maintenance of peace and stability in the area.

In 2010, as a rotating Chairman of ASEAN, a country with direct disputes in the South China Sea, Vietnam and other countries issued a joint declaration containing 56 points on all areas of cooperation, which mentioned the declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

In 2012, ASEAN made its own declaration on 6 points about the South China Sea issue: (i) Fully implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea; (ii) Propose guidelines for the implementation of the DOC 2011; (iii) Soon achieve the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea – COC; (iv) Fully respect the fundamental principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); (v) All parties continue to control themselves and not to use violence; (vi) Peacefully settle disputes on the basis of the fundamental principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2015, at the annual ASEAN Summit in Malaysia, in addition to the dialogues and regional cooperation centred on ASEAN, the South China Sea issue was also a subject that ASEAN Ministers of Foreign Affairs paid special attention to. In 2017 in the Philippines, the issue of the South China Sea was mentioned in a joint announcement in view of the militarization and development in the area. At the same time, the Philippine ASEAN Chairman pledged that maritime disputes, the drafting of the Code of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea (COC), would be discussed at the ASEAN summit and between ASEAN and China.

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Heads of the delegations to the 16th ASEAN Summit, opened in Hà Nội on April 8, 2010, stand for a group photo – Photo: VGP/Nhật Bắc

Regarding the South China Sea and China – the South East Asia countries Relations: Disputes over sovereignty over the South China Sea, including disputes over the islands and waters, occurred after World War II. Initially, countries disputed over the strategic position of the South China Sea. After the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 provided for “Special Economic Zones”, the importance of resource extraction, particularly fishing and oil and gas extraction became additional reasons for disputes over sovereignty.

The South China Sea dispute critically escalated when China brought the HD-981 rig and more than 80 escorts into Vietnam’s Special Economic Zone in May 2014. Since then, China has stepped up its activities, expressing the desire to dominate almost the entire South China Sea. This is shown by the fact that China has declared the ownership of the “Nine Dash Line” which claims almost 80% of the South China Sea area, built and renovated islands, including submerged islands, floating islands, built infrastructures, airport runway, seaports for Chinese fishing vessels, formed the administrative unit of the so-called “Sansha city”, organized tourism activities to visit the illegally occupied islands, regulated the area fishery ban on other countries, and has been ready to confront, pick fight with other fishing vessels in the area. The acts of China have created tension throughout the region, with strong backlashes from the countries that are directly in disputes and the international community.

The northern section of China’s outpost on Cuarteron Reef, as of January 24, 2016 (Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, https://amti.csis.org/another-piece-of-the-puzzle/)

In relations with ASEAN, China has sought to put pressure on ASEAN to avoid the regional cooperation against them. In fact, in recent years, China has stepped up its policy of improving bilateral relations with ASEAN countries to ease tensions in the South China Sea. At the same time, it used its economic power by committing major economic investment and projects to exert pressure on the countries with less benefits in the South China Sea, to cause conflicts between internal ASEAN members on the issue of the South China Sea, as well as to avoid mentioning the South China Sea issue in ASEAN’s annual statement.

In the face of escalating tensions, the disputed Southeast Asian nations have relied on ASEAN as a mediator to resolve disputes between China and its member countries. The agreements between ASEAN and China include the commitments to inform each other of any military action in the disputed area, and to avoid building new infrastructures on the islands. China and ASEAN also conducted negotiations to create a code of conduct with an aim to ease tensions over the disputed islands, and to unite the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). ASEAN and China has been made joint efforts to formulate a framework for the Code of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea (COC).

Despite its efforts, the role of ASEAN in addressing the South China Sea issue seems limited, with the lack of unity between some countries on viewpoints as well actions due to differing national interests. Nevertheless, over the past years, ASEAN has been actively participating in addressing the tensions in the South China Sea, contributing to safeguard the overall interests of the region, building solidarity and strengthening mutual trust in ASEAN.

Khuong Nguyen and Tri Vo are members of the Association of Vietnamese Scientists and Experts (AVSE) and BDTP research group, which are both non-for-profit organizations. The ideas expressed in this article are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliated organizations.

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France to Dispatch Mistral Amphibious Assault Ship for Exercise in Western Pacific – Ankit Panda | The Diplomat

20 March 2017

by Ankit Panda | The Diplomat, France will send one its Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to the Western Pacific later this year for military drills with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, and the U.S. Navy.

Image Credit: Simon Ghesquiere/Marine Nationale

According to a source who spoke to Reuters about the drills, the “amphibious exercise will send a clear message to China.”

Last year, at the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defense minister, offered a strongly worded statement of France’s interests in the Asia-Pacific and specifically the South China Sea, where China has come under scrutiny in recent years for constructing artificial islands and protesting the free navigation of military vessels under international law.

“If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right, and defend it ourselves,” Le Drian noted then, referring to the freedom of the seas. “Several times per year, French navy ships cross the waters of this region, and they’ll continue to do it,” Le Drian added.

“This is a message that France will continue to be present at international forums,” Le Drian had said. “It’s also a message that France will continue to act upon, by sailing its ships and flying its planes wherever international law will allow, and wherever operational needs request that we do so.”

Le Drian did not name China specifically in his speech last year.

Thus, France’s intention to send a Mistral to the Western Pacific in a move intended to be seen by China represents a follow-up on existing French policy for the region. French interests in the Asia-Pacific are underpinned by a range of territories under its control, ranging from French Polynesia to New Caledonia.

Moreover, France has strongly supported international freedom of the seas in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas as the country has the world’s second largest exclusive economic zone after the United States.

The 21,300 tonne Mistral-class ships, which are also helicopter carriers and succeed the Foudre-class, are among the French Navy’s most powerful and modern assets. The ships can carry up to four amphibious landing craft and 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters.

(Original version is available at The Deliplomat)


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How America Can Take Control in the South China Sea – by Alexander L. Vuving | Foreign Policy

13 February 2017

by Alexander L. Vuving | Foreign Policy – A simple playbook to prove China is all bark and no bite over its disputed islands. 

Photo Credit: TED ALJIBE/ Staff

Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief who just became the new U.S. secretary of state, might not be causing the same level of global disruption as his boss, President Donald Trump. But in his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, he sent shockwaves through the China-watching community, vowing: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

These remarks instantly gave rise to a global consensus that spanned hawks in China to doves in the West. An editorial in the Global Times, a prominent mouthpiece for Chinese nationalists, warned: “Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating also reacted angrily, saying: “When the U.S. secretary of state-designate threatens to involve Australia in war with China, the Australian people need to take note. That is the only way Rex Tillerson’s testimony that a ‘signal’ should be sent to China that ‘access to these islands is not going to be allowed’ and that U.S. allies in the region should be there ‘to show backup’ can be read.” From Beijing to Sydney, a consensus formed — Tillerson’s position has no basis in international law, is tantamount to an act of war, and does not make strategic sense. In short, opponents argue, the posture the new U.S. secretary of state proposed is legally baseless, politically dangerous, and practically ineffectual.

This consensus rests on the belief that China is both willing and able to go to war over serious provocation. But this misreads Tillerson’s proposal and misunderstands the complex realities of the South China Sea. A naval blockade is not the only way to achieve Tillerson’s objectives, and China has a large stake in avoiding war with the United States in the region.

To see this, we need to use a “whole of capabilities” lens that is less U.S.-centric. From this perspective, Tillerson’s suggestion would not boil down to a military blockade as most commentators assume. Instead, the United States and its partners potentially have at their disposal a full spectrum of actions including diplomatic negotiations and economic sanctions and kinetic constraints that, directly or indirectly, can prevent further island building and Chinese militarization of those islands.

One such action is targeted sanctions against individuals and companies that support, facilitate, or participate in Beijing’s illegitimate operations in the South China Sea. The bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio last December exemplifies this approach. It would impose asset freezes and travel bans on people and entities who “contribute to construction or development projects” in the contested areas and those who “threaten the peace, security or stability” of the South China Sea or East China Sea. It would also prohibit actions that may imply American recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the contested areas in these seas and restrict foreign assistance to countries that recognize China’s sovereignty there. These primary sanctions could be augmented by secondary sanctions against those who do business with the offenders. The Rubio bill may or may not be adopted, but targeted sanctions remain an important tool to indirectly cause changes in China’s behavior.

A more direct option would be for the United States and its partners to borrow a page from China’s own playbook and emulate its “cabbage” tactic in denying Beijing’s access to the South China Sea islands. The cabbage tactic consists of wrapping contested islands in multiple layers of Chinese military and paramilitary power. Like the Chinese cabbage, the anti-China cabbage would also have three layers, surrounding the targeted islands with private civilian boats in the inner circle, followed by law enforcement vessels in the outer circle, all protected by warships over the horizon.

The anti-China coalition couldn’t match China’s use of paramilitary maritime militias in such operations. But it could invite civilian volunteers to man the first line of defense. Rather than shooting down Chinese aircraft and mining Chinese ports, the coalition can use drones — both unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles — launched from civilian and coast guard ships to seal off the entry to China’s airstrips and harbors on the fake islands.

Contrary to common belief, these actions can be fully consistent with international law. If China does not recognize your rights to freedom of the seas, you have the right to restrict China’s freedom in return. The Permanent Court of Arbitration award from last July, which is now an integral part of international law despite Chinese rejection, has ruled as illegitimate China’s “nine-dash line” claims in the South China Sea, its occupation of Mischief Reef, its denial of access to Scarborough Shoal, its island building in the Spratlys, and its harassment of others in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

But the court does not possess the tools to enforce its rulings, so it’s up to the members of the international community to act on behalf of the common interest and to induce China to comply with its obligations. Fortunately, international law allows countries to conduct countermeasures against wrongful acts. As James Kraska, a professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College, has argued, challenging China’s rights to access its artificial islands is consistent with international law. After all, it’s fair game to do to China what China has done to others.

Many are concerned that regardless of its legality, blocking China’s access to its occupied islands would amount to an act of war and risk armed conflict as a response. This fear is overblown, however. When China blocked others’ access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal, nobody called it an act of war and no armed conflict ensued. Taking a leaf from China’s own book, the cabbage tactic of access denial would mute the casus belli and discourage Beijing from going to war.

Still, there is concern that, driven by the pressure of nationalist public opinion and in an effort to maintain national image and domestic legitimacy, Chinese leaders may escalate the conflict and engage in war with the United States. But as Jessica Weiss, a leading expert of Chinese nationalism, found in her study of China’s nationalist protests, nationalist public opinion is more of a tool in the government’s hands to signal resolve than a driving force of Beijing’s assertive foreign policy. A more recent analysis by Alastair Iain Johnston, a professor of Chinese foreign policy at Harvard University, also comes to a similar conclusion, showing a decline of nationalism among ordinary citizens since 2009.

As the weaker party and the party that depends far more on traffic in the South China Sea, China actually has a larger stake in avoiding war in this region than the United States does. Indeed, avoiding large-scale conflict is one of the imperatives of China’s long-term strategy in the South China Sea. China has become more aggressive in recent years because of a U.S. deterrence deficit in the gray areas between war and peace. Beijing’s preference for gray-zone activities is also a testament to the working of nuclear and conventional deterrence. The trick of avoiding war while getting China to comply with international law lies in a two-pronged approach that skillfully combines the strengths of sticks with those of carrots while neutralizing their weaknesses.

In considering conflict over the islands, we don’t have to imagine China and the U.S. military as the only parties involved; a full range of actions and players exists, including sanctions, negotiations, regional countries, and international civil society. It might be tricky in the current diplomatic climate, but in the best possible world, the combined effect of actions on this full spectrum has a good chance of persuading China to comply with international law, especially if it involves a concerted effort of the United States, major powers such as Japan and India, and regional states such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

Commenting on Tillerson’s remarks, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said: “If [the United States] wants to do that, they have the force to do so, let them do it.” A cabbage approach to deny China’s access to Scarborough Shoal or Mischief Reef would be more legitimate and effective if it involved the Philippine Coast Guard and civilian volunteers from the Philippines and other countries. Southeast Asian states often hedge between America and China with a tilt toward the one that is more powerful and more committed to them. If the Trump administration increases U.S. presence in the South China Sea, is committed to defending the Philippines as much as Japan and South Korea, and refrains from criticizing Manila’s domestic agenda, it could sway the pragmatic President Rodrigo Duterte to back the United States.

Targeted sanctions against Chinese persons and companies involved in projects in the South China Sea would also be much more effective if they were supported not only by the United States but also by other major economies and regional states. With its large state sector, China is particularly vulnerable to targeted sanctions. Its construction and development projects in the South China Sea have involved several large state-owned companies that are eager to make profit abroad. If designed cleverly, sanctions could hit hard big companies such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which moved a giant oil rig to drill in the Vietnamese EEZ in 2014; China Southern and Hainan airlines, which fly planes to the artificial islands; China Mobile, China Telecom, and China United Telecom, which operate communication networks on the disputed islands; and China Communications Construction Company, which dredged sand to build artificial islands in the Spratlys — thereby creating an incentive inside China to drop its illegitimate claims in the South China Sea.

Signaling a readiness to prevent Chinese island building and restrict China’s access to the fake islands is the logical response if the United States really wants to restore deterrence in the South China Sea. Part of the failure to put a limit on China’s expansion lies in the myth of an ever-looming war with China, which makes the use of logical deterrents unthinkable. This creates a self-restraint that is not only unnecessary but also strategically disastrous.

 Alexander L. Vuving is a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the U.S. government or any U.S. government agencies.

 (This article is originally published at Foreign Policy)


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The South China Sea Is Not China’s – Gareth Evans | Project Syndicate

28 July 2016

(MELBOURNE – Gareth Evans | Project Syndicate) – To no one’s surprise, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has upheld all the key arguments of the Philippines in its case against China on the application of theUnited Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China Sea. In its ruling, which employed even tougher language than most expected, the tribunal cut the legal heart out of China’s claim that the sea is, in effect, a Chinese lake.


Poll to change the South China Sea name to Southeast Asia Sea (C) Change.org

The PCA ruled that China’s “nine-dash line,” a 1940s-era delineation that implies ownership by China of 80% of the South China Sea, is legally meaningless. It also made clear that China’s recent land-reclamation activity, turning submerged or otherwise uninhabitable reefs into artificial islands with airstrips or other facilities, confers no new rights to the surrounding waters or any authority to exclude others from sailing or
flying nearby.

Official Chinese statements on the nine-dash line have never stated precisely what it is intended to encompass. Some refer to “historic rights,” others to “traditional Chinese fishing grounds,” while still others suggest that it is merely shorthand for describing all the land features in the South China Sea over which China claims sovereignty. But every variation has provoked others in the region, by signaling China’s willingness to encroach on perceived fishing rights (as with Indonesia), rights to exploit resources (as with Vietnam), or their own rights to the land-features in question

The PCA’s decision punctures any notion that international law now recognizes “traditional” or “historic” maritime claims not directly associated with recognized sovereign ownership of relevant types of land. Recognized ownership of a habitable island, as with mainland territory, includes a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone or EEZ and rights over any associated continental shelf (subject to any overlapping rights of others).

Recognized ownership of an uninhabitable rock or permanently protruding reef includes the surrounding 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. Nothing more. Without land, a state cannot claim rights to the sea.

China can and will continue to claim that, despite competing claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, and others to the land features in question, it is the sovereign owner of habitable islands and permanently protruding rocks or reefs in the Spratly and Paracel Island groups and elsewhere. In making its case, it can invoke accepted legal criteria like effective occupation or acquiescence. When added to its own coastal entitlements, China might well end up with a sizeable and entirely defensible set of rights in the South China Sea.

But the PCA addressed none of these underlying sovereignty issues in the Philippines case. And, crucially, even if all of China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea were one day accepted – whether through negotiation, arbitration, or adjudication – the total area, including territorial sea, EEZs, and continental-shelf rights, would still not approach the size of the vast zone encompassed by the nine-dash line.

The PCA’s decision also rules out China’s claim to an unlimited right to pursue and stare down any close surveillance of its massive reclamation activity and construction of military-grade airstrips, supply platforms, communications facilities, and in some cases gun emplacements. Such construction has occurred on seven previously unoccupied locations in the Spratlys: Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, Gaven Reef, and Hughes Reef (all previously submerged at high tide), and Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef (all previously part-exposed at high tide, but uninhabitable).

Under UNCLOS, states may construct artificial islands and installations within their own EEZs, and also on the high seas (but only for peaceful purposes). In neither case can this have the legal effect of turning a previously submerged reef into a “rock” (which might allow a 12-mile territorial sea to be claimed), or an uninhabitable rock into an “island” (which might allow for a 200-mile EEZ as well). The Philippines case confirmed these basic principles.

In doing so, the PCA also made clear that China had no right whatsoever – at least in the case of the previously submerged Mischief Reef – to engage in any construction activity, as the territory it claims is within the Philippines’ EEZ.

China seems unlikely to abandon occupancy of any island, reef, or rock where it currently has a toehold, or to stop insisting on its sovereign ownership of most of the South China Sea’s land features. But everyone with an interest in ensuring regional stability should encourage China to take several steps that would not cause it to lose face.

These steps include a halt to overtly military construction on its seven new artificial islands in the Spratlys; not starting any new reclamation activity on contested features like the Scarborough Shoal; ceasing to refer to the “nine-dash line” as anything other than a rough guide to the land features over which it continues to claim sovereignty; submitting these claims at least to genuine give-and-take negotiation, and preferably to arbitration or adjudication; advancing negotiations with ASEAN on a code of conduct for all parties in the South China Sea; and an end to dividing and destabilizing ASEAN by putting pressure on its weakest links, Cambodia and Laos, on this issue.

The alternative course, already being promoted by hotheads in the People’s Liberation Army, is to take a dramatically harder line by, say, renouncing UNCLOS altogether and declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over most of the South China Sea. Declaring an ADIZ, which the United States would certainly ignore, would sharply increase the likelihood of military incidents, with wholly unforeseeable consequences.

Walking away from UNCLOS would also be wrongheaded. China would still be effectively bound by its terms, now almost universally recognized as customary international law, irrespective of who adheres to it. The gesture of defiance would damage both its reputation and other territorial interests, not least its claims against Japan in the East China Sea, which rely on UNCLOS’s continental-shelf provisions.

If China takes a hardline path, or fails to moderate its behavior significantly in the months ahead, the case for further international pushback by countries like mine – including freedom-of-navigation voyages within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef and other artificial islands in that category – will become compelling. But right now it is in everyone’s interest to give China some space to adjust course and to reduce, rather than escalate, regional tensions.

This article is originally published on Project Syndicate.

 

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