Archive | Geopolitics

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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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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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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Vietnam and Russia expand joint South China Sea gas projects – TOMOYA ONISHI | Nikkei

30 November 2018

A Rosneft Vietnam worker stands on the Lan Tay gas platform in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

HANOI — Vietnam and Russia are working more closely together on gas development projects in the South China Sea as they seek to reduce their dependence on trade with China.

Locked in a bitter territorial dispute with China over islands in the area, Vietnam is trying to insulate itself from economic pressure by its giant neighbor. Russia, whose economy has been pummeled by Western sanctions, is also trying to avoid becoming too dependent on economic ties with China.

But cooperation between Vietnam and Russia to develop resources in the South China Sea could trigger a fierce backlash from Beijing.

Earlier in November, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev traveled to Hanoi for talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The two reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to joint natural gas development projects in the South China Sea and other forms of economic cooperation. They also agreed to double bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2020.

At the meeting, local media reports said Phuc took a thinly veiled swipe at China’s naval expansion in the South China Sea, saying countries should try to settle issues peacefully, while respecting international law. Medvedev was reported as supporting Phuc’s call.

Vietnam’s state-owned oil company PetroVietnam and Russian state-controlled natural gas producer Gazprom have agreed to jointly develop gas in fields on the continental shelf in the South China Sea. But the project has been on hold due to strong protests from China, which claims most of the vast body of water and has been building military facilities in the area.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, second from right, and his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, second from left, greet schoolchildren before talks in Hanoi on Nov. 19.   © AP

Russia is pursuing closer relations with Vietnam to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia. “We hope that these ties will strengthen,” Medvedev said of the cooperation between the two oil companies. “To achieve that, we will create favorable conditions for implementing joint and new projects involving Gazprom, Zarubezhneft [another Russian state-controlled oil company], PetroVietnam and other companies.”

Any projects involving the two countries are bound to irritate Beijing, which is vigorously pressing its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Russia is not a major trading partner for Vietnam, accounting for less than 1% of its total trade. But Vietnam has become increasingly uneasy about its heavy reliance on China, which is its largest trading partner. This is driving Vietnam’s move to strengthen ties with Russia and other countries.

The Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian-led political and economic grouping of former Soviet republics, signed a free trade agreement with Vietnam in 2016. The union is also looking for greater economic cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through its trade deal with Vietnam.

“Our two countries [Vietnam and Russia] will continue implementing the agreement for a free trade zone between Vietnam and the Eurasian Economic Union to maximize favorable conditions and preferences under that agreement,” Phuc said. “We will seek to achieve a breakthrough in bilateral trade and investment by increasing bilateral trade turnover to $10 billion by 2020.”

The South China Sea is rich in natural resources, such as oil and gas, and has become an arena of competition for China, Vietnam, the Philippines and others. In ASEAN, Vietnam has been the most vocal critic of China’s military muscle flexing the region.

The Russian economy has been battered by Western economic sanctions following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Moscow has tried to cushion the impact of the sanctions by strengthening ties with China, but it is wary of relying too much on its larger neighbor for its economic well-being.

During the Soviet era, Moscow had solid relations with Vietnam and other communist countries in Southeast Asia, wielding much influence. Russia is now pursuing closer ties with Vietnam and other fast-growing economies in the region to keep its options open.

In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear Russia’s ambitions to become a more active player in Southeast Asia. “We believe this is in our practical interest and represents an opportunity to strengthen our position in the region’s rapidly growing markets,” he said.

This article is originally published on Nikkei 

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Mattis pushes closer ties to Vietnam amid tension with China – Robert Burns | The Associated Press

14 October 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — By making a rare second trip this year to Vietnam, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is signaling how intensively the Trump administration is trying to counter China’s military assertiveness by cozying up to smaller nations in the region that share American wariness about Chinese intentions.

 Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich, left, review an honor guard Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP) 

The visit beginning Tuesday also shows how far U.S.-Vietnamese relations have advanced since the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War.

Mattis, a retired general who entered the Marine Corps during Vietnam but did not serve there, visited Hanoi in January. By coincidence, that stop came just days before the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Tet was a turning point when North Vietnamese fighters attacked an array of key objectives in the South, surprising Washington and feeding anti-war sentiment even though the North’s offensive turned out to be a tactical military failure.

Three months after the Mattis visit, an U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, made a port call at Da Nang. It was the first such visit since the war and a reminder to China that the U.S. is intent on strengthening partnerships in the region as a counterweight to China’s growing military might.

The most vivid expression of Chinese assertiveness is its transformation of contested islets and other features in the South China Sea into strategic military outposts. The Trump administration has sharply criticized China for deploying surface-to-air missiles and other weapons on some of these outposts. In June, Mattis said the placement of these weapons is “tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”

This time Mattis is visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s most populous city and its economic center. Known as Saigon during the period before the communists took over the Republic of South Vietnam in 1975, the city was renamed for the man who led the Vietnamese nationalist movement.

Mattis also plans to visit a Vietnamese air base, Bien Hoa, a major air station for American forces during the war, and meet with the defense minister, Ngo Xuan Lich.

The visit comes amid a leadership transition after the death in September of Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang. Earlier this month, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party nominated its general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, for the additional post of president. He is expected to be approved by the National Assembly.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, listens during talks with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP)
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, listens during talks with Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP)

Although Vietnam has become a common destination for American secretaries of defense, two visits in one year is unusual, and Ho Chi Minh City is rarely on the itinerary. The last Pentagon chief to visit Ho Chi Minh City was William Cohen in the year 2000; he was the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Vietnam since the war. Formal diplomatic relations were restored in 1995 and the U.S. lifted its war-era arms embargo in 2016.

The Mattis trip originally was to include a visit to Beijing, but that stop was canceled amid rising tensions over trade and defense issues. China recently rejected a request for a Hong Kong port visit by an American warship, and last summer Mattis disinvited China from a major maritime exercise in the Pacific. China in September scrapped a Pentagon visit by its navy chief and demanded that Washington cancel an arms sale to Taiwan.

These tensions have served to accentuate the potential for a stronger U.S. partnership with Vietnam.

Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow and Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview that Vietnam in recent years has shifted from a foreign and defense policy that carefully balanced relations with China and the United States to one that shades in the direction of Washington.

“I do see Vietnam very much aligned with some of Trump’s policies,” he said, referring to what the administration calls its “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.” It emphasizes ensuring all countries in the region are free from coercion and keeping sea lanes, especially the contested South China Sea, open for international trade.

“Vietnam, leaving aside Singapore, is the country the most skeptical of China’s Southeast Asia policy and makes the most natural partner for the U.S.,” Kurlantzick said.

Vietnam’s proximity to the South China Sea makes it an important player in disputes with China over territorial claims to islets, shoals and other small land formations in the sea. Vietnam also fought a border war with China in 1979.

Traditionally wary of its huge northern neighbor, Vietnam shares China’s system of single-party rule. Vietnam has increasingly cracked down on dissidents and corruption, with scores of high-ranking officials and executives jailed since 2016 on Trong’s watch.

Sweeping economic changes over the past 30 years have opened Vietnam to foreign investment and trade, and made it one of fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. But the Communist Party tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule. Even so, the Trump administration has made a focused effort to draw closer to Vietnam.

When he left Hanoi in January, Mattis said his visit made clear that Americans and Vietnamese have shared interests that in some cases predate the dark period of the Vietnam War.

“Neither of us liked being colonized,” he said.

This article is originally published on Military Times

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Neighbors square off with Beijing in South China Sea | Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press

27 August 2018

by Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press  (BEIJING) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

A Vietnamese protester holds up a placard and shouts slogans along with dozens during a 2014 protest rally against China outside the Chinese Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Vietnam’s government stated its concerns to Ukraine over plastic globes being sold in the country that showed the Vietnamese province of Quang Ninh as Chinese territory. (AP)


VIETNAM UPSET AT CHINESE GLOBE

Vietnam’s government stated its concerns to Ukraine over plastic globes being sold in the country that showed the Vietnamese province of Quang Ninh as Chinese territory.

The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted the Ukrainian company that sold the globes as saying they were purchased from Chinese traders in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city. It said Vietnam’s embassy in Ukraine had sent letters to the Ukrainian foreign ministry and the company involved and that sales had been discontinued.

The issue was reported in a briefing paper produced by a consultancy run by Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asia and emeritus professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales.

Quang Ninh borders China and is home to the famed Ha Long Bay scenic area.

China’s military seized islands claimed by Vietnam in the Paracels group in a bloody 1974 battle and the two continue to feud over the chain and other South China Sea territories.

In May, Vietnamese anger was sparked by a group of Chinese tourists who arrived in the country wearing T-shirts featuring the so-called “nine-dash line” demarcating Beijing South China Sea claims, many of which overlap with Vietnam’s own.

 

A Taiwan Coast Guard ship, left, and cargo ship take part in a search-and-rescue exercise off of Taiping island in the South China Sea as part of Taiwan's efforts to cement its claim to a key island in the strategically vital waterway in 2016. Taiwan’s coast guard said annual live-fire exercises conducted at Taiping island in the Spratly island group were routine and didn’t endanger shipping. Neighboring countries were informed in advance of the exercises carried out on last week, the coast guard said. (Johnson Lai/AP)

 

 

A Taiwan Coast Guard ship, left, and cargo ship take part in a search-and-rescue exercise off of Taiping island in the South China Sea as part of Taiwan’s efforts to cement its claim to a key island in the strategically vital waterway in 2016. Taiwan’s coast guard said annual live-fire exercises conducted at Taiping island in the Spratly island group were routine and didn’t endanger shipping. Neighboring countries were informed in advance of the exercises carried out on last week, the coast guard said. (Johnson Lai/AP)
 

TAIWAN REASSURES OVER DRILLS

Taiwan’s coast guard said annual live-fire exercises conducted at Taiping island in the Spratly island group were routine and didn’t endanger shipping.

Neighboring countries were informed in advance of the exercises carried out on last week, the coast guard said.

Taiping island, also known internationally as Itu Aba, is Taiwan’s sole possession in the highly contested Spratly chain. It is the largest naturally occurring islet in the group but has been dwarfed by China’s construction in the area of seven man-made islands atop coral reefs equipped with airstrips and other military infrastructure.

China, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim Taiping, and Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Tra last week had said her country “resolutely opposed” the drill. Tra said the exercises violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and posed a threat to navigation and aviation security in the region, Vietnam’s official news agency reported.

Taiwan’s formal claim to virtually the entire South China Sea mirrors that of China’s, but it has limited its activities to Taiping and the Pratas group to the north.

 

Taiwan's Ministry of Defense shows an aerial view of Taiwan's Taiping island, also known as Itu Aba, in the Spratly archipelago, roughly 1,000 miles south of Taiwan in 2016. Taiwan’s coast guard said annual live-fire exercises conducted at Taiping island in the Spratly island group were routine and didn’t endanger shipping. Neighboring countries were informed in advance of the exercises carried out on last week, the coast guard said. (Taiwan's Ministry of Defense via AP)

 

 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense shows an aerial view of Taiwan’s Taiping island, also known as Itu Aba, in the Spratly archipelago, roughly 1,000 miles south of Taiwan in 2016. Taiwan’s coast guard said annual live-fire exercises conducted at Taiping island in the Spratly island group were routine and didn’t endanger shipping. Neighboring countries were informed in advance of the exercises carried out on last week, the coast guard said. (Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense via AP)
 

PHILIPPINES CONCERNED ABOUT DEPLOYMENTS

The Philippines says it is concerned about possible Chinese nuclear deployments in the South China Sea following the issuing of a Pentagon report warning Beijing could use nuclear energy to provide power to man-made islands.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said last week that Manila was “concerned about the entry of any and all nuclear weapons into the Philippine territory because our constitution provides that we are a nuclear-free zone.”

Roque also cited an Association of Southeast Asian Nations treaty designating the entire region a nuclear-free zone.

“We are concerned about the possibility that any foreign power, be it American, Russian, Chinese may bring nuclear warheads into our territory and into ASEAN,” Roque said.

In its 2018 annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving China, the Pentagon said China’s plans to use floating nuclear power plants to power its islands “may add a nuclear element to the territorial dispute.

“In 2017, China indicated development plans may be underway to power islands and reefs in the typhoon-prone South China Sea with floating nuclear power stations; development reportedly is to begin prior to 2020.”

The report said nothing about the possibility of China deploying nuclear weapons in the South China Sea.

MALAYSIA CANCELS CHINESE PROJECTS

Malaysia has suspended a multibillion-dollar raft of construction projects financed by Chinese loans, possibly stymieing Beijing’s drive to strengthen its hold over Southeast Asia’s economy.

China has sought to downplay the move announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the final day of a visit to Beijing on Aug. 20, but it is still seen as a blow to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road” initiative.

Mahathir said he was seeking support from China’s leaders over Malaysia’s situation as it deals with a mass of debt and other economic problems created under previous administrations.

Mahathir is a vocal critic of large-scale investment in his country backed by loans from Beijing and has tested Malaysia’s ties with China by suspending Chinese-financed infrastructure projects. The suspended projects comprise a Chinese-backed $20 billion East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines worth $2.3 billion.

Malaysia has claims to territory in the South China Sea that overlap with those of China, but under Mahathir’s predecessors, took a low-key approach to asserting those in deference to strongly positive ties with Beijing.

Mahathir is seen as possibly taking a firmer approach.

Associated Press writer Tran Van Minh contributed to this report from Hanoi, Vietnam.

This article is originally published on Navy Times

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