Archive | Geopolitics

Vietnam, China embroiled in South China Sea standoff | James Pearson, Khanh Vu – Reuters

17 July 2019

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been embroiled in a weeks-long standoff near an offshore oil block in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, two Washington-based think-tanks said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (2nd L, front) and Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh (2nd R, front) speaks with sailors of Coast Guard Force on field via video call during their visit to Coast Guard Command in Hanoi, Vietnam July 11, 2019. Thong Nhat/VNA via REUTERS.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a ship operated by the China Geological Survey, on Monday completed a 12-day survey of waters near the disputed Spratly Islands, according to separate reports by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS)

One of the oil blocks it surveyed is licensed by Vietnam to Spanish energy firm Repsol (REP.MC), which was forced last year and in 2017 to cease operations in Vietnamese waters because of pressure from China.

As the Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducted its survey, nine Vietnamese vessels closely followed it. The Chinese ship was escorted by three China Coast Guard vessels, according to data from Winward Maritime, compiled by C4ADS.

In a separate incident days earlier, the China Coast Guard ship Haijing 35111 maneuvered in what CSIS described as a “threatening manner” toward Vietnamese vessels servicing a Japanese-owned oil rig, the Hakuryu-5, leased by Russian state oil firm Rosneft (ROSN.MM) in Vietnam’s Block 06.1, 370 km (230 miles) southeast of Vietnam.

That block is within the area outlined by China’s “nine-dash line”. A series of dashes on Chinese maps, the line is not continuous, making China’s claims often ambiguous.

Last year, Reuters exclusively reported that Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of Rosneft, was concerned that its drilling in Block 06.1 would upset China.

“On July 2 the vessels were leaving the Hakuryu-5 when the 35111 maneuvered between them at high speed, passing within 100 meters of each ship and less than half a nautical mile from the rig,” CSIS said in its report.

It was not clear on Wednesday if any Chinese ships were still challenging the Rosneft rig.

In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China rose to its highest levels in decades when a Chinese oil rig started drilling in Vietnamese waters. The incident triggered boat rammings by both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam.


In response to reports of this month’s standoff, which first emerged on social media, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on July 12 that China’s position on the South China Sea was “clear and consistent”.

“China resolutely safeguards its sovereignty in the South China Sea and maritime rights, and at the same time upholds controlling disputes with relevant countries via negotiations and consultations,” Geng said, without elaborating.

On Tuesday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry released a statement in response to unspecified “recent developments” in the South China Sea.

“Without Vietnam’s permission, all actions undertaken by foreign parties in Vietnamese waters have no legal effect, and constitute encroachments in Vietnamese waters, and violations of international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.

Neither statements confirmed or elaborated on the standoff.

Neither Rosneft nor Repsol immediately responded to an emailed request from Reuters for comment.

In a new statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng acknowledged that there had been an incident with Vietnam.

“We hope the Vietnam side can earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, rights, and jurisdiction over the relevant waters, and not take any actions that could complicate the situation,” Geng told a regular news conference.

On July 11, as China was conducting its survey of the blocks, Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, visited the headquarters of the Vietnam Coast Guard in Hanoi.

State media did not mention the incident, but showed Phuc speaking to sailors on board vessels via a video link.

Phuc told the sailors to “stay vigilant and ready to fight” and to be aware of “unpredictable developments”, the Vietnam Coast Guard said in a statement on its website.

On the same day, Vietnam’s national assembly chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, met her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhanshu, in Beijing, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

The two officials agreed to “jointly safeguard peace and stability at sea”, Xinhua said.

Reporting by James Pearson and Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel

Source: Reuters

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Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

Sinking captured fishing boats is deterrent, not retaliation, Indonesia says after South China Sea clash with Vietnam | Aloysius Unditu – South China Morning Post

02 May 2019

  • Fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti says move is continuation of long-standing policy laid out by President Joko Widodo
  • On Monday Indonesia accused a Vietnamese coastguard patrol boat of ramming into one of its navy vessels
Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

When Indonesia begins sinking 51 captured fishing vessels – mostly from Vietnam – this Saturday, it will not be punishment for the recent clash at sea between the countries, but a continuation of its policy to deter illegal fishing, according to fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti.On Monday, Indonesia accused a Vietnamese coastguard patrol boat of ramming into one of its navy vessels at the southern edge of the South China Sea, which it considers its exclusive economic zone. The Indonesian navy was trying to stop a Vietnamese fishing boat from entering the area, as Jakarta says it has the sole right to exploit resources there.

Twelve of the 14 fishermen were apprehended and the boat sank, the authorities said, leading Vietnam’s foreign ministry to demand their return as well as compensation for the sunken vessel.

Susi, a straight-talking minister who has authorised the seizure, sinking and blowing up of hundreds of vessels from different countries for fishing illegally in Indonesia’s waters, said 38 of the boats to be sunk starting on Saturday had Vietnamese flags.

SCMP Graphics

The rest were from Malaysia, China and the Philippines or registered to Indonesian companies in a bid to disguise their true origins.SUBSCRIBE TO THIS WEEK IN ASIAGet updates direct to your inboxSUBMITBy registering for these newsletters you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

“It’s not retaliation,” Susi said on Tuesday after visiting sites in Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Batam in the Riau Islands where several boats were being held.

“It has been a policy by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to sink the ships. It is aimed at creating a deterrent effect.”

Jokowi asks Indonesians: If not Jakarta, where should new capital be?

The boats would be sunk in batches, she said, starting with those in Pontianak. She also praised the navy for protecting the North Natuna Sea, a name Indonesia gave the waters two years ago to demonstrate its sovereignty over the area.

Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, where China and several other Asian countries including Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims.

But Jakarta and Hanoi are stuck in a long-running discussion over the boundaries of their overlapping exclusive economic zones.

Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Photo: Reuters

Indonesia’s Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Photo: ReutersShare:

In a statement on Tuesday, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the government had issued a diplomatic note to the Indonesian embassy in Hanoi. The boat and fishermen were taken away “while operating within Vietnam’s waters, in an area where Vietnam and Indonesia are delimiting our exclusive economic zones”, it said, according to news site VNExpress International.Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to explain the incident, which it described as one that “endangered the lives of officers from both countries and is not in accordance with international law or the spirit of Asean[Association of Southeast Asian Nations]”.

Vietnam wants a South China Sea dispute resolution pact with teeth

A video released by the Indonesian navy on social media purportedly showed the Vietnamese patrol boat ramming into the naval ship, as crewmen armed with rifles shouted expletives at the aggressor.

Rear Admiral Yudo Margono, the commander of the Indonesian navy’s first fleet, said the crewmen were taken to the Ranai naval base on Natuna island and “would face legal process”.

International law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said Hanoi and Jakarta needed to create rules of engagement so both sides would know how to deal with incidents of “physical contact” in the area with overlapping claims.

An Indonesian Navy officer targets a seized Vietnamese boat fishing to sink in 2014. Photo: AFP

An Indonesian Navy officer targets a seized Vietnamese boat fishing to sink in 2014. Photo: AFPS

Le Hong Hiep, a researcher from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the Indonesia’s arrest of Vietnamese fishermen was the latest in a series of similar incidents over the years.

“This time around it was more dramatic because there was an intervention … the incident obviously created an impression that there are growing maritime tensions between Vietnam and Indonesia over the South China Sea, but the problem mainly boils down to the overlapping of the two countries’ EEZs,” he said.

He suggested both nations accelerate negotiations on the zones and for Vietnam to persuade its fishermen not to venture into Indonesian waters.

Vietnam protests China’s sinking of boat in South China Sea

“Increasing tensions between the two countries over fishing rights will undermine their relations and Asean unity, and may pose further challenges to the ongoing negotiation of the Asean-China code of conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.

Between October 2014 and August 2018, Indonesia sunk 488 foreign and domestic ships that had conducted illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. They included 272 Vietnamese-flagged boats, 90 Philippine-flagged ships, 73 with Malaysian flags, 25 from Indonesia and 23 with Thai flags, according to data from the fisheries ministry.

This year alone, Indonesia has detained 33 ships from Vietnam and 16 from Malaysia, according to Lilly Aprilya Pregiwati, head of communication at Indonesia’s fisheries ministry.

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Vietnam protests to China over South China Sea boat sinking – Channel NewsAsia

23 March 2019

China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea, despite claims from Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines AFP/TED ALJIBE

HANOI: Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat which was being chased by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel in the disputed South China Sea, Vietnam said late on Thursday (Mar 21).

Vietnam and China have for years long been embroiled in a dispute over the potentially energy-rich stretch of waters, called the East Sea by Vietnam.

The fishing vessel was moored near Da Loi island in the Paracel archipelago on Mar 6 when a China Maritime Surveillance Vessel chased it and fired water cannon at it, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The boat sank after hitting rocks while it was being chased. All five fishermen on board were rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat, the ministry said.

A Vietnamese rescue agency said earlier that the Chinese vessel rammed the fishing boat.

“The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago, threatened the lives and damaged the properties and the legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” the ministry said in the statement, referring to the Paracel islands by their Vietnamese name.

Vietnam had lodged a protest with China’s embassy in Hanoi and demanded that China deal strictly with its Maritime Surveillance agency to prevent similar incidents and to compensate fairly the fishermen for their losses.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Paracel Islands were China’s and Vietnam must immediately stop illegal fishing activities in the vicinity.

The fishing boat had already struck a reef and sunk before the Chinese vessel arrived, he added.

“We hope the Vietnamese side can stop making things up.”

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, where it has steadily expanded military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs, unnerving the region and angering Washington.

In addition to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea.

Separately, the Vietnamese government on Friday denounced Taiwan’s military drills on and around Itu Aba, an island in the South China Sea, that Vietnam calls Ba Binh.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the drills were “a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the (Spratly) archipelago, threatening peace, stability, and maritime safety and security, stressing and complicating the situation in the East Sea.”

“Vietnam resolutely opposes (the drills) and demands that Taiwan not repeat similar actions,” Hang said in a statement on the government website.Source: Reuters/nc/ec

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South China Sea tensions at new high after Vietnamese boat rammed and sunk

08 March 2019

China has dramatically escalated tensions in one of the most hotly disputed places on the planet, reportedly sinking a vessel.

A 2015 aerial photo showing land reclamation works in the South China Sea. Picture: AFP/Ritchie B. TongoSource:AFP

Chinese Military Might

Hanoi Vietnam’s government claims that a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The fishing boat was around 370 kilometres off Da Nang near Discovery Reef in the Paracel island chain on Wednesday when it was rammed by a Chinese vessel, the National Committee for Incident, Natural Disaster Response and Search and Rescue said in a statement.

The five Vietnamese men on board the fishing boat clung on to the sinking bow until they were rescued, the statement said.

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Vietnam’s government and state media have previously accused Chinese vessels of attacking Vietnamese fishing boats.

In April and May, more than 10 Vietnamese fishing boats were allegedly hit and robbed while fishing in the South China Sea, according to Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre newspaper.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters internationally recognised as Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone where Vietnam has sole fishing rights.

Greg Poling, a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, slammed China over the incident.

“A Chinese ship reportedly rams and sinks a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracels (again),” he said on Twitter.

“China’s neighbors have become so numb to the constant exercise of low-intensity violence and intimidation that it will warrant barely a mention in regional press.”

A photograph taken from the International Space Station appears to show China building on the reef in the Paracel Islands NASA

A photograph taken from the International Space Station appears to show China building on the reef in the Paracel Islands NASASource:Supplied

The incident came as Vietnam jailed 15 people for “causing public disorder” during anti-China protests.

Scores have been jailed in the wake of rare nationwide demonstrations in June 2018 that quickly turned violent in some areas as police struggled to quell the unrest.

On Thursday, 15 people were sentenced to between two and 3.5 years in jail by a court in southern Binh Thuan province, where police stations were ransacked and security vehicles destroyed.

State-run Vietnam News Agency said “the 15 defendants were shouting, instigating the crowd” and blocked traffic on a major highway for 15 hours, citing the official indictment.

“The jury board concluded that the defendants’ behaviour undermined security, order and social safety… so they need to be seriously punished,” VNA reported.

A court official confirmed the sentences and said several others are currently under investigation on similar charges, he told AFP, refusing to be named.

Last year’s unrest was sparked by a proposal by the government to establish several economic zones with 99-year leases in the country that protesters said were designed to cater to Chinese investors.

The draft bill made no mention of China – and the government backed off the lengthy lease terms – but it was not enough to prevent the demonstrations in several cities, including Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

The bill has been shelved for now and officials have not said whether it may be revived.

The investment zones were aimed at attracting foreign cash to the fast-growing, export-oriented economy.

The one-party state has clocked glittering growth in the past decade, while maintaining a firm grip on power.


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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.

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“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 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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