Archive | UNCLOS

ASEAN Summits 2017: A Common Agreement Needed for South China Sea Issues? – Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | Futura Institute

11 September 2017

Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | Futura Institute – For a long time, China has used a variety of political, diplomatic, economic and commercial pressures to influence public opinion in countries to not internationalize internationalizing the South China Sea issue.[1]

For ASEAN countries that are directly involved in the South China Sea dispute, China imposes its views and attempted to drive changes in viewpoint in these countries through bilateral negotiation or avoidance of mentioning about the subject matter in ASEAN conferences and dialogs.[2] In so doing, China has indeed achieved some success evidenced by changes and adjustments in the International Relations policy of the Philippines, views of some Cambodian and Lao leaders…

The Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
took place in Manila, the Philippines. Hanoi Times

In 2017, at the Conference of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 20-21st February 2017[3], the 30th ASEAN Summit on 26-29th April[4], and the Senior Officials Meeting – ASEAN SOM on 22nd May[5], apart from talking about measures to demonstrate determination towards building a community of solidarity, ASEAN leaders also paid special attention to the South China Sea issue.

Most leaders have expressed their concerns about recent developments in the South China Sea that have caused increased tensions, directly affecting the security of the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, the need to continue to strengthen measures to alleviate tensions in the region by promoting confidence, restraint, and lack of action also complicates the situation. The point is to resolve all disputes by peaceful means, on the basis of respect for the diplomatic and legal process, not to use or threaten the use of force, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. ASEAN leaders have also stressed the importance of fully implementing the DOC Declaration, pushing the efforts of ASEAN and China to reach agreement on the COC framework for the year. 2017 proceeds to sign and put the COC into operation.

At these conferences, high ranking officials of Vietnam expressed their high consensus on the discussion topics among ASEAN countries, while highlighting the role of the Block as a whole and that of each member states in applying the basic principles and shared positions adopted at conferences to contribute to the upholding of peace, stability, security, and safety in the South China Sea.

It is expected that at ASEAN conferences from now until the end of 2017, ASEAN members and the Philippines will reach an agreement to take on the South China Sea issue in their official agenda. In particular, focus will be placed upon solutions to achieve signing and implementation of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC) with China which, according to geopolitical experts, is internationally binding and signifies an important milestone in the process of retaining peace, stability, security, and air travel and sea travel safety in the South China Sea. Without a mutual consensus of the Block on the way forward, immense challenge is still ahead.

REFERENCES:

[1] China’s Dangerous Game. The Atlantic. November 2014.

[2]China’s Curious South China Sea Negotiation Policy. The Diplomat. June 2016.

[3]Press Release by the Chairman of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat (AMM Retreat). ASEAN. February 2017.

[4]ASEAN Declaration on the Role of Civil Service as a Catalyst for Achieving the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. ASEAN. April 2017.

[5]ASEAN Regional Forum meeting discussed in SOM. Hanoi Times. May 2017.

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

31 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Fulltext] Press release (11 pages) & Award (501 pages) – PCA’s ruling on case Philippines vs China

12 July 2016


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Second test flights performed at Nansha Islands

China determined to project forces in the South China Sea – Bang Tran | Futura Institute

27 January 2016

China’s expansion in the South China Sea: From small steps to a giant leap

On January 2, 2016, a Chinese Cessna Citation Sovereign 680 landed on the airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, one of the 7 features occupied by China in Spratly Islands. On January 6, China carried out test flights of two large commercial airliners at this newly built airfield,. People cannot help but wonder how that could happen on a submerged feature by nature. Indeed, the airfield was not built in one day; eventually the work already began in 1987.

Second test flights performed at Nansha Islands

Airbus A319 (China Southern Airlines) and Boeing B737 (Hainan Airlines) on Fiery Cross Reef. Jan 6, 2016. ©Xinhua

According to IHS Jane’s report and CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, in March 1987, China agreed to build 5 weather monitoring stations, including one in the South China Sea, for an UNESCO project. China used this to justify its occupation of features in Spratly Islands. The Chinese occupation of features led to confrontations with Vietnam. The most serious incident was the March 1988 Johnson Reef skirmish where Chinese navy attacked, killed 64 Vietnamese, sunk 3 Vietnamese ships and finally occupied Johnson South Reef. Aftermath, China moved quickly to consolidate its presence. By the end of 1988, China had occupied six reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands. In 1990, China built a two-story concrete structure on Fiery Cross Reef, believed to be an observation post, and then added a helipad as well as a pier shortly. Within 14 years, China had added to the facility a soldier’s garrison, a helipad, a wharf, a greenhouse, communication equipment and coastal artillery.

August 14, 2014

Fiery Cross Reef, August 14, 2014. © CSIS

September 3, 2015

Fiery Cross Reef, September 3, 2015. © CSIS

It was the turning point in summer 2014 when China started land reclamation in all of 7 occupied features, and then accelerated with the completion of airstrips and ports. However, this went unnoticed as the world was distracted by the Hysy-981 standoff, which happened at the same time as China started to speed up work in Fiery Cross Reef as well as in other 6 features. One year later, from small military outposts, China had built bases that can be used for both civilian and military forces. In the near future, once all the facilities are installed, the artificial islands would become strategic bases for China to control and project forces to the South China Sea.

Strategic values of the artificial islands: securing China’s core interests

With all Paracel islands and the 7 artificial islands in Spratly islands, which are much larger than all the natural ones in Spratly islands, China now holds a strategic position in the South China Sea. The airstrips and ports can serve as logistics and frontier command posts for intelligence, patrol and force projection. Before the construction of airstrips and large ports, China was unable to control the South China Sea where China claims for almost all the waters despite the protest of ASEAN countries (Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei). Lacking of efficient air, navy tankers or long range systems, China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy and Air force cannot operate thousand kilometers far from its farthest southern bases in Hainan with the current combat systems. The 3110m length, 200-300m width airstrips meet the requirements to support all kinds of aircrafts, from UAVs, fighters, early warning aircrafts to medium and heavy transport aircrafts.

Furthermore, the bases provide China facilities and the real ability to control a vast area next to its border, which is vital for its economy. China, the world second largest economy, imports more and more fossil fuel and natural resources from Africa and Middle East. The lion share of China’s import and export pass through the South China Sea, Malacca strait and Indian Ocean. Without supports from coastal military bases, these sea lanes are vulnerable. Hence, China would need to secure these lanes with its navy. Analysts believe that the sea ports in Malaysia (Klang), Myanmar (Sittwe and Kyaukpyu), Bangladesh (Chittagong), Sri Lanka (Hambantota and Colombo), and Pakistan (Gwadar) could play a bigger role rather than commercial ports, especially in crisis. Those who do not believe in the “spring of pearls” strategy develop a theory saying that China is not able to build military bases in South and Southeast Asian countries, at least in short or mid-term, due to the “swing” policy of these countries. Also, as the matter of fact, China does not have sufficient experience and technology in that area. They might be right but in reality China still continues building ports wherever they can for potential military purpose. To date, China has established bases in Paracel and Spratly islands and continues to negotiate with Djibouti to set up a military base.

Other than territorial claim and maritime transport security, China might want to keep away threats coming from other global and regional powers such as the US and India far from its border. The bases in Paracel and Spratly islands allow China to access to the deep blue waters. 30 years on, China has been building its navy from a near shore, purely defensive force to a blue sea navy. The announcement of building indigenously a new aircraft carrier is merely the emerging part of an iceberg. China has reorganized and modernized not only the PLA structure but also its defense technology and industrial base. Without a comprehensive organization, the PLA in general and the PLA Navy in particular, does not have any chance to neither challenge the US in the Pacific and Indian oceans nor dominate the regional powers’ navies.

In the South China Sea, the 7 artificial islands occupied by China is the real game changer. Before the land reclamation in 2014, these outposts were small, isolated and ill-supplied. They could be accessed by helicopters and maritime supply ships only. Upon the completion of airfield, ports and necessary military equipment, it fully unleashes the potential of those artificial islands. In war time, especially short and local scale war, military aircrafts and warships from Fiery Cross Reef and Cuarteron Reef could deny access between the southern part and the central part of Spratly islands. And in a very short time, the bases in Subi, Hughes, Gaven, Johnson and Mischief Reefs could effectively overwhelm the much less powerful Vietnamese or Philippines outposts in the center of Spratly islands. In such scenario, if China succeeded to isolate and overwhelm parts of Spratly islands, they could rapidly take over a large number of features in Spratly islands in a considerable short time, before any agreement of ceasefire. There is a chance for such scenario given what happened in Paracels islands in 1956 and 1974, Spratly islands in 1988 and 1995, and in Scarborough Shoal in 2012, where China all gained control and access.

China’s commitment: DOC and the future of COC?

In 2002, China and ASEAN members signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). In the DOC, China and ASEAN member states declared to “reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and other universally recognized principles of international law which shall serve as the basic norms governing state-to-state relations” and “ are committed to exploring ways for building trust and confidence in accordance with the above-mentioned principles and on the basis of equality and mutual respect”. China and ASEAN also committed to “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability”. However, in reality, since 2002, China law reinforcement force and China fishing boats have rammed, harassed and sunk Vietnamese fishing boats,,, fired at fishermen, cut the cable of Vietnamese survey boat, etc. In 2014, China anchored the Hysy-981 in the EEZ of Vietnam. And the most aggressive move is the land reclamation in summer 2014 in all 7 features occupied by China.

In the declaration, ASEAN and China reaffirmed that “the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability”. Given the actual situation in the South China Sea, the future of the COC is still unknown.

Bang Tran is president of X-Vietnam (Association of Vietnamese students of Ecole Polytechnique) and Futura Institute (a Paris-based think-tank on Asia-Pacific issues). Contact: bang.tran@polytechnique.org

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China’s expansionnism protested in France: Press release | Collectif Vietnam

25 January 2016

More than 300 Vietnamese and international friends of Collectif Vietnam gathered on January 23, 2016, in front of the Wall for Peace (Paris 7th) to call the international community to strongly protest against “Chinese expansionnism” in the South China Sea (” East Sea “for Vietnam,” West Philippine Sea” for the Philippines) to protect freedom of air and maritime navigation, as well as to avoid risk of war.

The appeal says that “;China, since 1974, has been violating Vietnam’s sovereignty, undermining respect for international law, and threatening the security, peace and freedom of navigation, not only to coastal countries but also to all countries with vessels circulating this route, including France and Europe”.

This gathering is the culmination of protest of 30 Vietnamese associations in France against China’s recent installation of the drilling platform HD-981 and against China’s test flights in the disputed area, respectively in the Gulf of Tonkin and Fiery Cross Reef (Chu Thap). These acts are considered “illegal” by the organizers according to the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).

To recall, it was the fourth time since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 that the Vietnamese community and their international friends took to the streets of Paris to protest against the provocative actions of the Chinese government with the creation of the city “Tam Sa” in 2007, the violent incident between Vietnam drilling ships and those of China surveillance in 2011, the installation of China’s drilling platform in 2014 and in 2016, test flights and installation of another drilling platform. All of these incidents occurred in areas contested by several countries, especially China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

About South China Sea: The South China Sea is located in a strategic area in Southeast Asia, bringing together three main archipelagos (Paracels, Spratlys, Pratas), Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Reef. It is part of the sea routes and the busiest straits in the world. Several territorial conflicts have been observed in these areas. The Philippines has demanded for international justice at the Court of Arbitration in The Hague regarding their maritime disputes with China, challenging the legal basis of the territorial claims of China.

About Collectif Vietnam: Collectif Vietnam is a collective gathering of Vietnamese citizens or Vietnamese origin and Vietnam’s friends of all generations, living, studying and working in France, who support Vietnam.

Press Kit: https://goo.gl/Zm6wfH

Contact: Tuong Nguyen, Associate Editor, SEAS Issues (nhtuong@gmail.com)

Annex 1: Photos (cf. https://goo.gl/nWLkm5)

© Duc Truong, UGVF

© Duc Truong, UGVF

 

 © Duc Truong, UGVF

 © Hoai Tuong Nguyen, Future Institute

 

Annex 2: Videos

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In the heart of the Vietnam China standoff at sea – Eunice Yoon | CNBC

14 July 2014

 

Eunice Yoon | CNBC - It’s not often you get a chance to see one of the most dangerous flashpoints in Asia.

We went on a boat to the South China Sea to check out the latest standoff between Vietnam and China.

Hanoi believes that the waters near the Paracel Islands are part of Vietnam’s own economic zone. The Chinese, who control the Paracels, claim the waters. To make their point, in May, Chinese state oil companyCNOOC put an oil rig in the disputed waters, sparking a tense standoff.

The Vietnamese government, which is on a PR offensive against Beijing, organized the trip for a handful of other journalists. We were told it would take about one week and require that we transfer boats.

We cast off from the port city of Da Nang with the Vietnamese coast guard,traveled overnight, and by morning got a glimpse of the conflict. When we got up to the deck, we saw a Chinese warship.

As we drew nearer to the rig we switched boats. Our hosts said a bigger boat would better outrun the numerous Chinese vessels they expected we would face.

After jumping into a dingy, we sped across the open ocean to CSB-8003 – a 1,600 ton vessel – ordered by the Vietnamese authorities to patrol the area near the rig.

There, I met the crew of CSB-8003 led by Captain Hung Nguyen Van.

Every day, Captain Hung and his some 30 crewmen attempt to get their vessel close to the rig – and remind the Chinese that Vietnam still claims these waters. I was told that day the Chinese ships outmanned Vietnam’s 110 to 5 though the odds didn’t seem to deter Captain Hung.

Getty Images

“The rig is clearly inside Vietnam’s waters, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, and Vietnam’s continental shelf,” he said.

We headed towards the rig.

The HD-981 oil drilling platform is one football field long, 40 stories high and is said to be worth $1 billion according to CNOOC.

The lookout warned us that eight Chinese ships were headed towards CSB-8003.

We were eight nautical miles – 15 kilometers – from the rig when a Chinese coast guard vessel blocked our path. Another charged towards us.

The Vietnamese coast guard vessel blasted its recorded broadcast in English, Chinese and Vietnamese, warning the Chinese to cease drilling activities and leave the disputed waters. The broadcast had the opposite effect, making the Vietnamese a target.

On the horizon, Chinese reinforcements moved in. We soon found ourselves surrounded and were forced to fall back.

Close call

The next day, we watched a ceremony where the crew salutes Vietnam in front of local reporters who will broadcast the event across the country. Vietnam is facing its worst confrontation with China since the two countries went to war in 1979. Their government wants its people to know that Vietnam is prepared to stand up to China.

Many countries with coastlines along the South China Sea fear that as China gets wealthier and more powerful, the fight will become more unequal. They worry China wants to dominate the sea, its rich fishing, shipping lanes and potential energy resources. So they are all willing players in the endless cat and mouse game at sea.

Minutes later, duty calls and our vessel headed back to the rig.

A Chinese coast guard boat came hurtling towards us. The Vietnamese counted that it was one of nine Chinese ships suddenly on our tail. It was agile and moving fast – ready to collide at any moment. It got about 100 meters behind us before drifting back the further we sped away.

The smaller fishing surveillance ships are particularly vulnerable to ramming and water cannons, I was told.

One of the crew members, Colonel Tran Van Hau, told me that in early June, the Chinese attacked a ship he was on.

“At first, there was only one Chinese ship chasing after us, then there were two more ships on both sides of our boat. One Chinese ship accelerated with very high speed and hit the right side of the back of our boat directly. Then it sped up again and kept ramming our boat leaving four holes,” he explained.

But, to the Chinese, there is no question who the aggressor is at sea.

 

The view from China

Only a short flight from Vietnam, I find people in China have a completely different view of the standoff.

On Hainan Island, Chinese fishing communities thrive. The southern island is a launch pad for seafarers and naval forces heading into the South China Sea.

Veteran maritime scholar Dr. Wu Shicun of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies took me into the archives to show me numerous maps including a collection with U-shaped lines – often referred to as a “nine-dash line” – which Beijing believes outlines China’s territory in the South China Sea.

Dr. Wu said this is why China feels it has the right to place its oil rig close to the Paracels Islands and why they’re so angry Vietnam’s vessels have rammed their ships, they claim, more than one thousand times.

“What China is doing is to react to the ramming activities conducted by the Vietnamese,” he said. “What China is doing is to protect our oil rig.”

Currently the Paracels are in Chinese hands. China gained full control after defeating what was then South Vietnam in a battle in 1974. However, Vietnam, now unified, still claims the islands. And both countries have competing evidence to support their arguments.

Wu said Beijing believes the current standoff is Hanoi’s attempt at a land grab – by seeking sympathy from an international community adjusting to a rising China.

“The fact is that China now is becoming an influential power,” he said. “So China has [its] own interest to safeguard.”

Beijing sounds in

Over in Beijing, one of the government’s top maritime authorities said China feels it’s the victim. In a rare interview, a senior China diplomat on maritime affairs, Yi Xianliang, told us, China has been taken aback by Vietnam.

Beijing blames the U.S. for stirring up trouble at sea with its pivot to Asia – by emboldening neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam to stand up to China.

Yi says Washington isn’t playing by the rules of an honest broker.

“The U.S. would like to be coach for some countries. [On] the other side, the U.S. would like to be a referee or a judge and sometimes the U.S. [is] like a sportsman or a player. So this gives us some confusion,” Yi said.

The U.S. has called on China to remove the rig and for all countries to withdraw their drops and resolve the tensions diplomatically.

Yi insists China will keep the rig where it is but hopes to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

“Of course, we will not push our Vietnam friends in the corner because this is not China’s style,” Yi said.

(Original version is available at CNBC)

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China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea.

The Return of China’s Small-Stick Diplomacy in South China Sea – by James R. Holmes | The Diplomat

09 January 2014

by James R. Holmes | The Diplomat. With a new directive China has appointed itself the sheriff over most of the South China Sea. 

Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen chooses his words well in a story on China’s latest bid to rule offshore waters. Beijing, he writes, is augmenting its “police powers” in the South China Sea. That’s legalese for enforcing domestic law within certain lines inscribed on the map, or in this case nautical chart.


China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea.

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Source: The Washington Free Beacon


The Hainan provincial legislature, that is, issued a directive last November requiring foreign fishermen to obtain permission before plying their trade within some two-thirds of the sea. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon supplies a map depicting the affected zone. It’s worth pointing out that the zone doesn’t span the entirewaterspace within the nine-dashed line, where Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty.”

A few quick thoughts as this story develops. One, regional and extraregional observers shouldn’t be too shocked at this turn of events. China’s claims to the South China Sea reach back decades. The map bearing the nine-dashed line, for instance, predates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It may go back a century. Nor are these idle fancies. Chinese forces pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the Paracels in 1974. Sporadic encounters with neighboring maritime forces — sometime violent, more often not — have continued to this day. (See Shoal, Scarborough.) Only the pace has quickened.

Henry Kissinger notes that custodians and beneficiaries of the status quo find it hard to believe that revolutionaries really want what they say they want. Memo to Manila, Hanoi & Co.: Beijing really wants what it says it wants.

Two, Bodeen’s police-powers terminology is apt. Lawyers define the police power as a twofold thing. It means enforcing order on national territory, in the usual sense of the word police. And it means helping provide for the health, welfare, and morals of the people. The new rules fall into the former category. China is trying to enforce its laws in waters and islands over which it asserts sovereignty, as though the question of sovereignty is a done deal. And it is using non-military assets, not the PLA, to punctuate its message that there are no legitimate challenges to Chinese jurisdiction.

This is what I’ve been calling “small-stick diplomacy” for the past couple of years. China’s small stick — the China Coast Guard and other law-enforcement instruments — outmatches Southeast Asian militaries by most measures. So why not police contested sea areas with inoffensive-seeming vessels while holding the big stick, the PLA, in reserve should things go wrong? If no one pushes back effectively, you create a new normal over time.

Three, in all likelihood Hainan lawmakers’ diktat presages no challenge to freedom of navigation, the stated U.S. interest in the region. Chinese spokesmen take pains to disavow any such challenge. But for them, navigation means navigation and nothing more. Barring foreign fishing vessels from select areas means compelling their home governments to accept Chinese domestic law in waters under dispute. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? In effect Beijing wants foreign shipping, private and publicly owned, to obey the same rules the law of the sea ordains for the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. That’s the offshore belt where the coastal state’s laws and regulations apply with the same force they do ashore. This adds up to selective access denial. China, that is, will make the rules governing access to seas it deems its own — and others will comply.

But four, the South China Sea is a huge waterspace for any force to police. Bodeen estimates the area covered by the new rules at 1.35 million square miles. That’s five times the land area of Texas. And everything’s big in Texas, as denizens of that state will tell you (over and over again). Readers of these pixels are familiar with J. C. Wylie’s axiom that the man on the scene with a gun — Wylie’s metaphor for armed assets of various types — is the true guarantor of control over a given territory. Does China boast enough seagoing policemen to monitor what’s happening throughout two-thirds of the South China Sea, and shoo away or apprehend those who defy Chinese law? Color me skeptical.

Which means enforcement efforts may be scattershot, PLA assets may have to pick up the slack for law-enforcement services, or both. Deploying military assets to police supposedly sovereign islands and waters would crimp the narrative that China exercises indisputable sovereignty there. So would widespread disobedience.

It’s hard to envision Southeast Asian governments — heck, any government with a stake in the maritime order — accepting what Beijing is pushing. What if China passed a law and no one obeyed? We may see.

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Philippines South China Sea legal case against China gathers pace – by Greg Torode | Reuters

28 September 2013

by Greg Torode | Reuters - The Philippines’ legal challenge againstChina‘s claims in the South China Sea is gathering pace, emerging as a “proxy battle” over Beijing’s territorial reach.

Manila has assembled a crack international legal team to fight its unprecedented arbitration case under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea – ignoring growing pressure from Beijing to scrap the action.

China’s claims and EEZ under UNCLOS. Source: China Daily Mail

Any result will be unenforceable, legal experts say, but will carry considerable moral and political weight.

The Philippines has invested a “huge amount of political capital in this legal gambit and it wants to ensure success regardless of the cost,” said security scholar Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies.

“If the Philippine team submits a less than convincing case…this would be very embarrassing for Manila and put it right back to square one in its dispute with China.

“Beijing would also be emboldened to pursue its claims even more assertively than it has been doing over the past few years.”

Beyond the legal questions, the case carries political and diplomatic risks and is being closely watched by Japan and Vietnam, locked in their own disputes with China over sea territory, officials from both countries say.

The United States, which is deepening military ties with the Philippines, a longstanding treaty ally, is also watching.

The legal battle mirrors tensions at sea, where China and the Philippines eye each other over rival occupations of the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals.

Chinese vessels occupied Scarborough after a tense two-month standoff between rival vessels last year – a move some regional analysts have described as an effective annexation by Beijing.

The Philippines accused China of further encroachment when a naval frigate and two other ships steamed within five nautical miles of a dilapidated transport ship that Manila ran aground on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to mark its territory.

One Asian envoy from a non-claimant country said: “We are watching and worrying about an accident or miscalculation sparking an armed confrontation. So in some ways this growing legal fight looks like the proxy battle, you could say.”

Overlapping claims in the South China Sea – traversed by half the world’s shipping tonnage – are one of the region’s biggest flashpoints amid China’s military build-up and the U.S. strategic “pivot” back to Asia.

The claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are bisected by China’s “nine-dash line” – the historic claim that reaches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

European states, Russia, India and South Korea are also monitoring events, given the sea’s shipping lanes and potential oil and gas resources, diplomats and military officials say.

MANILA’S FRUSTRATIONS

Frustrated by slow progress by the Association of South East Asian Nations in easing tensions and fearing its sovereignty was threatened, Philippines officials said they had no alternative.

Unable to contest actual sovereignty in international courts without China’s consent, Manila instead launched its arbitration in January – despite formal objections from Beijing.

Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez told Reuters this week that Manila remained positive that the action would clarify the claims and entitlements of claimants to “benefit the region and the international community as a whole”.

Manila’s team is preparing arguments to show that the nine-dash line claim is invalid under of the Law of the Sea. They are also seeking clarifications of the territorial limits, under the law, of rocks and shoals such as Scarborough – all part of a bid to confirm the Philippines’ rights within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Philippines’ lead counsel Paul Reichler, a Washington-based lawyer with Foley Hoag, told Reuters that his five-strong team included British law professors Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle as well as Bernard Oxman from the University of Miami’s law school.

Independent legal experts have described the team, managed by the Philippines’ Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, as “formidable”, with deep experience of the arcane world of the Law of the Sea, a landmark document approved in the early 1980s.

CHINA’S ANGER

China has refused to participate, saying the case has “no legal grounds”, and is widely expected to reject any outcome its does not agree with.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China views the move as a breach of a 2002 declaration between China and ASEAN.

“The Philippines has illegally occupied the reefs and islands in the South China Sea that belong to China…China has consistently advocated for resolution to the dispute at hand through bilateral dialogue,” he said.

Behind the scenes, Chinese diplomats are telling the Philippines’ ASEAN peers that the case has no merit, according to diplomats from the 10-nation grouping.

Philippines Foreign Ministry officials said Beijing demanded that Manila scrap the case as a condition for a long-planned trip by President Benigno Aquino to a regional trade show in southern China this month. Chinese officials said no invitation was ever offered. The trip never happened.

The Philippines’ effort, however, was recently given a boost by a decision from an arbitration panel created to hear the case under the U.N.’s International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.

The five international judges said the Philippines had until March 30, 2014 to produce written arguments about the case’s admissibility and merits. China is a member of the tribunal but has forgone its right to select one of the judges to the panel.

Maritime scholar Clive Schofield said the request for the Philippines to provide arguments was potentially favourable. It also meant the case might take less than the three to four years anticipated by Manila when it was launched in January.

“It suggests that the Philippines will be able to present its arguments on the merits of the case as soon as the jurisdictional hurdle is overcome…If I was sitting the Philippines’ chair right now I would be happier than sitting in China’s,” said Schofield, a professor at the University of Wollongong inAustralia.

Schofield described the panel as “irreproachable. These guys are at the very top of their game and I expect it would be very unlikely they would be swayed by political issues.”

He said that it appeared the panel would not be hostile to China even though it was not contesting the arbitration.

Ultimately, the Philippines was anticipating a “good return” on its investment, said Storey, the Singapore-based expert. A favourable ruling would give Manila confidence in developing oil and gas reserves in disputed areas such as the Reed Bank.

“Foreign energy companies would also feel more comfortable about investing in areas…that lie within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco in Manila and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing. Editing by Ron Popeski)

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France supports Vietnam’s policy of settling disputes in the South China Sea – by Editorial Board | Thanh Nien News

27 September 2013

by Editorial Board | Thanh Nien News - Vietnam and France upgraded their ties to a strategic partnership during Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s three-day visit to Paris which concluded Thursday,Vietnam News Agency reported.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L) with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault in Paris September 25, 2013 (Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Agency)

Dung and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault Wednesday signed a joint statement on the strategic partnership, which seeks to enhance cooperation in politics and diplomacy, defense and security, economy, trade and investment, culture, education and training, scientific research, and law and justice.

They also witnessed the signing of a series of deals in banking, healthcare, oil and gas, aviation, and transport.

During talks before the signing, Dung reiterated Vietnam’s policy of attaching importance to its relations with France, adding the strategic partnership is not a destination but a new starting point.

He sought favorable conditions for Vietnamese goods to enter the French market and asked France prioritize financial assistance for urban infrastructure, clean energy, vocational training, agriculture, biodiversity, and environmental protection in Vietnam.  

Ayrault said France would help Vietnam in boosting ties with the EU, especially economic and trade ties.

On the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea, the French side supported Vietnam’s policy of settling disputes through peaceful means on the basis of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and strictly implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea, and quickly creating a Code of Conduct in the East Sea.

Dung also met President Francois Hollande and the president of the Senate, Jean-Pierre Bel.

He received French Communist Party National Secretary Pierre Laurent and met with representatives of France’s leading companies.

 

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Unhappy Neighbors – by Ngo Vinh Long | The Cairo Review

10 February 2013

by Ngo Vinh Long | The Cairo Review - Speaking to diplomats, businessmen and journalists at the British Foreign Office in November, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia emphasized the need for “norms and principles” in resolving disputes in the South China Sea. Why did PresidentYudhoyono, who was spending a week in London at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II as the first leader to visit Britain during the year of her Diamond Jubilee, feel that he had to bring up the South China Sea disputes at such a time?

 

Chinese marines in the South China Sea, near Nansha Islands, April 10, 2010. Zha Chunming/ Xinhua Press/Corbis

After a member of the audience asked what Indonesia, the leading nation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could do if China did not share his views, President Yudhoyono recalled what he had said to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a summit conference in Bali and again to Chinese President Hu Jintao at a meeting in Beijing: without forward movement on a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the South China Sea, the whole region could “easily become a flashpoint.” He added that the two Chinese leaders had concurred with his assessment.

President Yudhoyono added, however, that he had become quite concerned after ASEAN foreign ministers failed to reach a CoC agreement at a meeting in Cambodia in July 2012. He did not mention the role played by China in getting the Cambodian government to sabotage the pact. He only said that since then, Indonesia has done its utmost to bring about a consensus among ASEAN nations on the issue. He also did not mention the fact that at an international conference on “Peace and Stability in the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific Region” held in Jakarta in September, most of the participants expressed pessimism as long as China continued to exert military and economic power in area within the U-shape line demarcating its self-declared zone of sovereignty.

The U-Shape Line

What is the U-shape line and why is it seen as such a threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea area and the Asia Pacific Region?

On May 7, 2009, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) officially submitted—in two separate letters—to the secretary general of the United Nations a map with a nine-dotted, U-shape line with the following identical words: “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof.”

This was the first time China sent the map, without any coordinates, to an intergovernmental body, principally in response to the Vietnamese-Malayan joint submission and Vietnamese individual submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) of the United Nations. Under the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the littoral states of Southeast Asia are entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in waters up to 200 nautical miles from their coastlines. In order for coastal states to expand the outer limit up to 350 nautical miles, they have to obtain approval from the CLCS.

The origin of the U-shape line can be traced to a map published by the Department of the Interior of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1946. The map included a U-shape line consisting of eleven intermittent dashes enclosing most of the South China Sea, supposedly because Chinese had discovered the area during the Han Dynasty. Even though the dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin were erased from the map presented to the UN in 2009, partly because a bilateral agreement between China and Vietnam on the demarcation of the area had been reached, the U-shape in the latest map still cut deeply into the EEZs of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines responded with their own notes to the CLCS to reject China’s claim and its map. Vietnam’s note maintained that China’s claim as represented by the U-shape line “has no legal, historical, or factual basis, therefore is null and void.” Indonesia’s note said that the map “clearly lacks international legal basis” and is tantamount to upsetting the UNCLOS. The Philippines’ note said that China’s claim to most of the South China Sea “would have no basis under international law, specifically UNCLOS.”

Under UNCLOS, the South China Sea is divided into three areas:

—The 200 nautical mile EEZs stretching out from the coastal lines of Vietnam, Chinese Hainan Island/Province, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

—The islands, islets, rocks, and reefs in the Paracels and the Spratlys. According to Article 121 of UNCLOS: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” And islands cannot have maritime space beyond twelve nautical miles.

—The international waters area outside of the EEZs, the Paracels, and the Spratlys. Many of the islands, islets, rocks, and reefs in the Spratlys are actually situated inside the EEZs of the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 1974, China used force to take over the entire Paracels, which at that time was under the administration of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), killing at least fifty-three Vietnamese sailors. Again, in 1988, China took possession of the Johnson Reef in the Spratlys from the Vietnamese. Chinese gunboats sank Vietnamese transport ships supporting a landing party of Vietnamese soldiers, killing sixty-four Vietnamese soldiers and injuring many others. In 1995, China also took over the Mischief Reef, which is 150 miles west of the Palawan, the Philippines’s nearest land mass, and proceeded immediately with the construction of military structures on the reef.

It is seemingly based on these and other occupations that China claims “indisputable” sovereignty over all the island groupings in the South China Sea and uses them to justify attempts to control maritime space 200 nautical miles beyond them. For example, in response to an official protest by the Philippines following China’s assertive activities in the region, especially in the Spratlys (called the Nansha Islands by China), China sent a note to the United Nations on April 14, 2011, that asserted: “China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zones, and Continental Shelf.”

In June 2012, China’s State Council announced the establishment of the City of Sansha (Three Sands), a prefectural-level city to be headquartered on Woody Island in the disputed Paracels, to directly administer “the Xisha, Nansha, Zhongsha Islands and their adjacent islets and waters.” Xisha (Western Sands), Nansha (Southern Sands), and Zhongsha (Middle Sands) are Chinese names of three disputed archipelagos—otherwise known as the Paracels, the Spratlys, and the Macclesfield Banks—respectively. On July 24, 2012, Sansha officially announced that it had established a prefectural government; and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also said that it would soon establish a military garrison there to serve as the command headquarters for military units operating in the South China Sea area. The headquarters of China’s Southern Fleet—the most powerful of China’s three naval fleets—and China’s entire marine force with some 20,000 soldiers, are presently stationed on Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province.

Many countries in Southeast Asia—among them the Philippines and Vietnam—protested China’s provocative actions, especially the establishment of the new military garrison. In August, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that the move risked raising tensions and was “counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences.” On the same day, the Chinese foreign ministry called in a senior U.S. diplomat to protest the State Department’s remarks. Chinese Foreign Ministry
Spokesman Qin Gang also issued a statement, which repeated China’s contention that it has absolute sovereignty over the sea and islands in the South China Sea, and so has the right to set up a city to administer the region. In September, the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, declared flatly during a four-hour appearance with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square that “China has sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea and the adjacent waters. There is plentiful historical and jurisprudential evidence for that.”

Even if China could rightfully claim sovereignty over the disputed islands in the South China Sea and exclusive zones as well as continental shelf rights around them, this would still not justify the U-shape line given that it cuts deeply into the EEZs and undisputed territories of other countries. Thus, China’s actions raise the question of whether its real intention is to turn undisputed territories into disputed ones in order to flex its muscles and force other countries to yield to its demands, and not only in the South China Sea but also in other domains.

In 2011, for example, Chinese ships twice cut the cables of oil exploration vessels well within Vietnam’s EEZ and drove off an oil exploration vessel in Philippine waters. Then in late June 2012 China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) issued nine exploration leases in blocks that fall entirely within Vietnam’s EEZ. CNOOC executives and officials at China’s Ministry of Land and Resources have given estimates that there are approximately 40 billion tons of oil equivalent in the South China Sea, most of which is believed to be natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, one Chinese estimate puts the sea’s gas reserves at 2,000 trillion cubic feet. That would be enough to meet China’s gas needs for more than 400 years based on 2011 consumption levels. According to a May 2012 statement by Zhong Hua, CNOOC chief financial officer, the company aims to produce 500 million barrels of oil equivalent a day from the deepwater of the South China Sea by 2020—up from nothing today.

Oil is but one factor in China’s strategy of roiling the troubled waters. Since 2009, China has also enforced an annual unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea, confiscating fishing boats from other countries—mostly from Vietnam—as well as arresting and injuring many fishermen. In April 2012, when the Philippine navy prepared to arrest Chinese fishermen who were operating illegally in the Scarborough Shoal, China Marine Surveillance (CMS) vessels arrived on the scene and blocked the entrance to the lagoon thus preventing the arrest of the Chinese illegal fishing boats. During a two-month stand-off, China dispatched nearly one hundred fishing craft to occupy the shoal. In June, the Philippines announced that an agreement had been reached with China for a mutual withdrawal of ships. Later, however, Chinese ships returned and have maintained effective control of the shoal and the waters around it ever since. In addition to the occupation of the shoal, China also applied economic sanctions on the Philippines by banning the import of bananas and cancelling tourist charter flights.

China and Vietnam

For Vietnam, pressures from China have been multi-faceted and more heavy-handed than those applied on the Philippines and other countries in the region. And because of historical, ideological, geopolitical, economic, and cultural considerations, reactions from Vietnam have also been much more circumscribed compared to those from the Philippines. Here it is useful to consider some of the key periods in the history of Chinese-Vietnamese relations since the establishment of the Chinese Communist regime in 1949.

The Vietnamese resistance to the French colonial re-conquest of Vietnam after the Second World War had consistently been interpreted by the U.S. State Department as a case of “nationalist groundswell” under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. But after the Communist victory in China, it came to be seen by top U.S. leaders as a Communist threat that had to be destroyed. Secretary of State Dean Acheson commented: “The question of whether Ho is as much a nationalist as a Communist is irrelevant.” Consequently, Acheson argued in 1949 that “no effort should be spared” to assure the success of a pro-French Vietnamese government. On the eve of the Korean War in March 1950, Acheson observed that French military success “depends, in the end, on overcoming [the] opposition of indigenous population” and that the U.S. must help the French protect Indochina from communist encroachment. Thereafter, the United States supplied the French with some 80 percent of the total cost of its colonial re-conquest.

In late 1950, Chinese economic and military aid also began to enter Vietnam. Though much more limited in scope than U.S. support for France, Chinese aid enabled China to increasingly exert influence and dictate demands on the anti-colonial front—the Vietnamese League for Independence, or Viet Minh—and provoke factional disputes among its leadership.

French military setbacks by the Viet Minh, such as the humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, led to the Geneva Conference (held from May 8 to July 21 in that year) to provide France with a face-saving means of disengagement. On her part, France did not want anything more than a graceful exit from Indochina. But, after the United States attempted to sabotage the negotiations and create an opportunity for direct intervention in Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union forced the Hanoi delegation to make repeated and significant compromises so that a peaceful settlement could be concluded quickly. These powers were uneasy over the possibility that the United States might intervene massively, with consequences that would extend beyond Indochina. The Chinese and Russian leaders were also afraid that once the United States intervened, nuclear warfare that had begun in one corner of Asia would not be confined there. China’s leaders also wished to avoid giving the U.S. any pretext for introducing forces on her southern flank, especially after as many as one million Chinese “volunteers” had lost their lives in Korea.

As a result of the significant concessions made by Hanoi, the Geneva agreements on Vietnam were reached on July 20 and 21: the bilateral armistice agreement between France and the Viet Minh was signed on July 20, and the multilateral final declaration was signed by all participants—except the United States—the following day. Secretary of States John Foster Dulles had said however, two days before the signing of the agreement by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and France, that the United States “will not do anything to upset any reasonable accord sought by the French.” This promise was no doubt quite instrumental in encouraging the DRV delegation to make its final concessions in reaching the accords. Both accords spelled out in detail a temporary partition of the country, at the 17th Parallel, into “two military regroupment zones” with military forces of the Viet Minh regrouped to the north of those of the French to the south of the line. National elections under international supervision were to be held in two years to reunify the country.

Undersecretary of State Walter Bedell Smith, head of the American delegation, read an official unilateral declaration from the United States saying that it would not do anything to threaten the stipulations of the agreements and that it specifically endorsed the call for elections to reunify the country. In spite of the public promise, the United States immediately went about violating the agreements and promoted the country’s division into so-called “North Vietnam” and “South Vietnam” until 1975. The Second Indochina War fought over this decision would cost more than two million Vietnamese and 58,000 American lives. In a meeting with a group of U.S. scholars in 1971, Premier Zhou Enlai, the head of the Chinese delegation at Geneva, admitted that his “mistake and inexperience” at Geneva had contributed to the Vietnam tragedy.

In the meantime, however, China was able to use the northern half of Vietnam as a buffer zone to protect its territorial integrity from possible U.S. encroachments. Furthermore, in order to secure its “lips-and-teeth” relationship with the Hanoi leadership, China pushed its Maoist model on the northern regime with disastrous consequences for the economic, social, and political structures of the region. As a result, again, many innocent Vietnamese lives were lost.

The most grievous destruction during the mid-1950s was the land reform program carried out simultaneously with the rectification program applied against so-called rightists within the Vietnamese Workers Party and the state bureaucracy. Of course, this was done in the name of building socialism and creating a solid base for resisting imperialist aggression in the south. A report by the politburo to the tenth plenary session of the central committee of the party in October 1956 stated that thousands of lives had been lost as a result of the land reform program, and that “the land reform machine, in fact, became the institution that was placed both above the party and the government.”

The politburo report said that 2,876 village party branches or cells (out of 3,777) were subjected to the rectification program. These branches represented 150,000 out of the total of 178,000 party members. Of the party members who were forced to go through rectification, 84,000 (or 47.1 percent of the total number of party members) were purged. Many village party branches were summarily disbanded, and many good party members were arrested and executed.

The report went on to say that often the best village party branches and the best local cadres were the ones who were most severely punished. Many village party branches that made the biggest contributions during the resistance war against the French were regarded as reactionary and hence their party members and party secretaries were either jailed or killed. One of the aims of the rectification program was to replace party members with those with “property-less peasant background.” As a result, the percentage of members with this background in the village party branches rose to 97 percent.

The rectification program was also applied against sixty-six district party branches and seven provincial branches with similar damaging results. Yet, the land reform and rectification programs enabled China to exert increasing control over the economic, social, and political structures in the northern half of Vietnam. Partly because of their realization of China’s influence over Vietnam and of the China-Soviet split, President Richard M. Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, began to play the “China card” in the early 1970s to get China to apply pressures on Vietnam in favor of American objectives.

Nixon in China

In 1972, President Nixon undertook his historic trip to China, which to the Vietnamese conveyed the implication that the Vietnam question could be settled not via representatives of the Vietnamese people, but between these two great powers. In response to this, Nhan Dan (The People’s Daily), the central organ of the Vietnam Workers’ Party, wrote: “Nixon is heading in the wrong direction. The way out is open, yet he rushes headlong into a blind alley. The time when the great powers could decide the fate of small nations is past and gone.”

Although China was not able to force Vietnam to end the war on Washington’s terms, after the signing of the Paris agreement in late January of 1973 China began cutting all military aid and most economic aid to Hanoi while the United States gave the Saigon regime more than $1 billion a year from 1973 to 1975. After the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the United States immediately imposed the strictest possible trade embargo under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Partly because Hanoi refused to heed China’s advice in sparing Saigon from a military takeover as suggested by France and some other countries, China lost face and decided to cut off all aid to Vietnam. Furthermore, while China began to mass several hundred thousand troops along Vietnam’s northern border, it increased both economic and military aid significantly to the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which also started to build up its forces along Vietnam’s southern border provinces. According to the scholar Damodar Sardesai, “between 1975 and 1978, China supplied Cambodia with 130-mm mortars, 107-mm bazookas, automatic rifles, transport vehicles, gasoline, and various small weapons, enough to equip thirty to forty regiments totaling about 200,000 troops… An estimated 10,000 Chinese military and technical personnel were sent to Cambodia to improve its military preparedness.” Beginning in January 1977, Khmer Rouge forces attacked civilian settlements in six out of seven of Vietnam’s border provinces. Khmer Rouge troops brutally murdered about 30,000 Vietnamese civilians during attacks in 1977 and 1978, and forced tens of thousands to flee the border provinces. Several hundred thousand Cambodian refugees also fled to Vietnam during those years.

It was during these two years that officials from Vietnam and the United States met to negotiate the normalization of relations between the two countries. In meetings between Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 1978, the two agreed on normalization without any preconditions. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s memoirs, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent a report on the details of the agreement to President Jimmy Carter and recommended that normalization should proceed immediately after the Congressional elections in early November. But Brzezinski succeeded in persuading Carter against it.

Fearing that the negative position of the United States would encourage Cambodia and China to stage a pincer attack on Vietnam, in November 1978 Vietnam signed a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance with the Soviet Union. On December 15, the United States announced the normalization of relations with China. On December 25, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in order to preempt a pincer attack, publicly saying, however, that it went into Cambodia to save the Cambodian people from the genocidal Pol Pot regime. In January 1979 China’s top leader, Deng Xiaoping, visiting the United States, announced that China would “teach Vietnam a lesson,” and asked President Carter for “moral support” for the forthcoming Chinese punitive war against Vietnam.

In February 1979, with the blessing of the United States, China launched its invasion of Vietnam, laying waste to six northern provinces and killing an estimated 30,000 Vietnamese (Chinese sources have claimed from 60
70,000 Vietnamese were killed.) Brzezinski called this a “proxy war” against the Soviet Union and was satisfied that it imposed “major costs on [the Vietnamese], produced a great deal of devastation, and above all, showed the limits of their reliance on the Soviets.”

For the next ten years, China and the United States exerted maximum economic and diplomatic pressures on Vietnam. China rejected all proposals by Vietnam Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach for a peaceful settlement to the Cambodian conflict under the auspices of the United Nations. The Tiananmen Square crisis of 1989 and Vietnam’s withdrawal of all its troops from Cambodia by September of the same year should have led to favorable international support for such a settlement.

Then came the collapse of communism in Europe. Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh had gone to East Germany to attend the fortieth anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Germany in early October 1989 just before the Eastern European communist regimes began to collapse one after another. Vietnamese Communist officials rushed to reestablish relations with China at all cost in order to defend socialism under the leadership of China. Linh even went so far as apologizing to Chinese leaders for all the mistakes that Vietnam had made in its the relations with China, while proposing a solution to the Cambodian situation that only involved the remaining communist countries in the region (known as the “Red Solution”).

In 1991, Nguyen Co Thach, the foreign minister who had pushed for a multilateral settlement to the Cambodian conflict, was evicted from the Vietnamese central committee and politburo. Later that year, Vietnam signed the UN-sponsored settlement for Cambodia, which represented the positions of China and the United States. In 1992, China and Vietnam established full diplomatic relations and the policy of cooperating closely with China for ideological reasons and for regime maintenance has been reinforced ever since between top Chinese and Vietnamese leaders.

For example, a joint declaration between Vietnamese General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008 spelled out the details of “total and effective cooperation” between central committee organizations of the two parties to “promote the mechanisms between the agencies of foreign relations, defense, public security, national security, and to expand practical cooperation in the economic, trade, scientific, technological, cultural, educational and other fields.”

It is difficult to know the real extent of Chinese-Vietnamese cooperation. But even official information publicly given by the two countries has shown that Chinese penetration in many sectors has been quite deep and detrimental to Vietnam’s interests. For example, although bilateral trade between the two countries has increased rapidly since 2000, Vietnam’s trade deficits with China have also accumulated to unprecedented levels. In fact, Vietnam’s trade deficits in the last decade have been principally with China. In 2011, Chinese and Vietnamese governments reported in glowing terms expanding bilateral trade of some $40 billion. This represented a 30 percent increase over the 2010 figure of $27 billion. But Vietnam’s trade deficits with China also grew significantly to over $11 billion in 2009 and $14 billion in 2011. In the first seven months of 2012, Vietnam’s trade deficit with China was over $8 billion. According to both governments, this bilateral trade will increase to $60 billion in 2015 when the ASEAN-China trade agreement goes into effect. This is when Vietnam will have to discard trade barriers over almost all items imported from China.

China’s trade surplus with Vietnam will certainly grow significantly after this date. Already, there are three principal reasons for China’s rapid increase in trade surplus with Vietnam in the last decade: 1) most of Chinese exports to Vietnam are manufactured goods while most of its imports from Vietnam have been agricultural products and raw materials; 2) China subsidizes its producers, manufacturers, and traders at all levels and hence the cost of products exported to Vietnam have been much lower than the production costs of most items produced in Vietnam; 3) Chinese exporters resort to a wide variety of questionable means including outright bribery—which are often reported even in the highly-censored Vietnamese press—to penetrate the Vietnamese market.

Bribery has also enabled Chinese corporations to win most of the bids for significant projects in Vietnam. According to many estimates, more than 50 percent of the total value of the all the contracts during the last ten years have been won by Chinese companies. In particular Chinese companies have won 90 percent of all the contracts in the sectors of electricity, oil and gas, telecommunications, metallurgy, machine tools, and chemicals and 100 percent of all contracts in the mining sector. Many of the contracts are worth several billion dollars each.

Vietnamese press reports have also disclosed that Chinese companies, armed with insider information, often tendered bids lower than those by Vietnam or other foreign countries, in order the win contracts. But after they have won the contracts, the companies jack up prices to levels much higher even than those tendered by Western companies whose technology and equipment are much more modern. The Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology disclosed this year that many “turn-key” projects with outdated technology and equipment have been imported from 1,800 dismantled Chinese industrial plants. The ministry added that it has come up with a policy to limit this kind of practice.

It remains to be seen how the ministry will be able to minimize these problems that will certainly grow by leaps and bounds. According to current plans, government outlays for infrastructure alone will be $117 billion by 2025 and many Vietnamese have wondered aloud how much of this money will again end up in Chinese hands. In the meantime, however, implementation of the projects that are already under contract with Chinese companies have been mostly been prolonged because of all kinds of excuses, causing huge cost overruns that the Vietnamese side has had to pay. Completed projects also have to depend on these Chinese contractors for maintenance and spare parts. In addition, tens of thousands of Chinese workers have been brought to projects in Vietnam and have, according to frequent reports in the Vietnamese press, caused many security problems in the surrounding areas.

Partly as a result of the outlays for such projects, the Vietnamese government budget deficit increased 31 percent in 2007, increased 29 percent in 2008, and 46 percent in 2009. Government borrowing from China increased tenfold during those years. In 2009 alone, official borrowing from China was $1.4 billion. Worse, the bad debts to Vietnamese banks from state sectors are threatening a series of bank collapses. According to sources in the financial sector and reports by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Vietnamese press, the 2011 figures for the overall debt of the state sector is $52.2 billion, about 43 percent of GDP. The state sector debts to Vietnamese banks run to $24.5 billion, 47 percent of which is considered bad debt.

Both the IMF and the ADB have issued warnings to Vietnam about the danger of the collapse of its banking system. The IMF also stated in September 2012 that it might have to provide bail-out supports for Vietnam. However, Prime Minister Nguyen Tien Dung announced after a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Xi Jinping in September 2012 that “we will not have to resort to help from the IMF.” Sources close to the prime minister have gloated that this was a meeting between bosom friends and that Chinese leaders were prepared to loan the Vietnamese government $10 billion to shore up its banking system should the crisis worsen.

Cleaning up the Neighborhood

Reporting on the meeting between the Chinese vice premier and the Vietnamese prime minister on September 20, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Xi Jinping as saying that the South China Sea issue will have a negative impact on bilateral relations if not handled properly. The Xinhua report also disclosed that the two sides reaffirmed the agreement reached between President Hu Jintao and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in mid-October of the previous year on “finding solutions to maritime disputes based on negotiations and dialogues.”

The Vietnam News Agency’s report of the same meeting quoted Dung as saying that “the two sides need to properly implement the general understandings of the top leaders of the two countries and seriously abide by the agreements on the fundamental principles directing efforts at solving maritime issues and disputes… through friendly negotiations based on international laws, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, as well as on the spirit of the Declaration of Conduct in order to move forward to an effective Code of Conduct (CoC).”

The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in 2002 by ASEAN countries and China, and committed them to respect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with international laws and UNCLOS, and to resolve their disputes through peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force. The parties must also exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability in the region. But the declaration was non-binding, thus enabling activities that have heightened tensions and instability for the entire region. Hence, in 2009 the ASEAN countries decided to come up the idea of the Code of Conduct to create a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the conduct of the parties in the South China Sea. The aim of the CoC is to dampen conflicts and manage disputes, not to solve them. Even so, China has put up obstacles to such an agreement, including providing aid and loans to some ASEAN countries in order to get them to sabotage such an agreement.

A gathering of ASEAN and Chinese officials to discuss the CoC was held in October 2012 in Pattaya, Thailand, to work out the final details of the document so that it could be presented to the ASEAN summit meeting in November for ratification. On October 31, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stated that ASEAN countries had already reached a consensus of the basic points of a CoC. After the meeting in Pattaya, however, First Deputy Foreign Minister Nopadol Gunavibool of Thailand, the coordinator of meetings between ASEAN and China, said that he did not have much hope for the passage of a CoC at the ASEAN. Then the spokesperson of the Cambodian foreign ministry announced flatly on November 3 that the CoC would not be adopted in 2012.

Recently, China made further moves that alarmed its neighbors. Perhaps the most serious was the announcement in late November by Hainan Province, which administers China’s South China Sea claims, that starting January 1, 2013, Chinese police and coast guard will board ships entering what China considers its territory in the South China Sea. According to a report by Jane Perlez of the New York Times on December 1, the announcement was made by Wu Shicun, the director general of the foreign affairs office of Hainan Province. The article stated: “Mr. Wu said the new regulations applied to all of the hundreds of islands scattered across the sea, and their surrounding waters. That includes islands claimed by several other countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines… The Chinese foreign ministry said last week that China was within its rights to allow the coast guard to board vessels in the South China Sea.”

On January 22, Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that his country had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of maritime disputes with China and that his government would take the South China Sea issue to an UNCLOS tribunal. That was a direct challenge to China, whose deputy foreign minister, Fu Yuing, had asked del Rosario not to internationalize their dispute by going to the United Nations, raising it with third parties including allies or holding high-profile press conferences.

China has annexed Scarborough Shoal by maintaining a continuous deployment of surveillance ships there. If the Philippines took no action, it would appear to be acquiescing to the enforcement of Chinese jurisdiction by its civilian surveillance ships. The Philippines is trying to get a ruling on international law on specific matters involving maritime jurisdiction under UNCLOS. The Philippines is making four claims: 1) China’s U-shape line is illegal under international law; 2) China has occupied and built structures on submerged banks, reefs and low-tide elevations in the South China Sea and illegally claims that these are Chinese islands under international law: 3) China has illegally interfered with the Philippines’ exercise of sovereign jurisdiction within legal maritime zones; and 4) the Philippines is seeking a judgment in international law on matters that China has not excluded from consideration in its 2006 declaration exempting itself from compulsory arbitration by UNCLOS.

Although the Philippines has chosen to focus on highly specific legal aspects in its case, any favorable ruling would not only undermine China’s U-shape claim but would also represent a breakthrough for a peaceful resolution to the maritime disputes in the region.

China’s stonewalling and resistance with respect to addressing South China Sea issues come from the confidence that in bilateral negotiations with each of the far less powerful ASEAN countries she can impose her will on them. Vietnam is the most vulnerable to China’s pressures in part because Vietnam has the longest coastline in the region and has had the most maritime territories taken over by force by China. Hence compromises by the Vietnamese government in the face of further Chinese assertiveness inside Vietnam’s EEZs and around the areas of disputed islands would certainly invite further pressures from China as well as strong reactions from Vietnamese citizens.

In 2007, protests against China’s arrest and maltreatment of Vietnamese fishermen erupted at the PRC’s embassy and consulates in Vietnam, but were quashed by the Vietnamese government. In 2011, after Chinese Maritime Administration ships cut the sonar cables of Vietnamese oil prospecting boats, protest rallies were staged again, in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City simultaneously, every Sunday for nearly two months. But arrests and violence against the protestors by security forces again put an end to the rallies.

In September, before going to Nanning to meet with Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Dung ordered a crackdown on blogs that have attacked his leadership and opposed China. Subsequently at least five bloggers were put on trial, resulting in jail terms of up to thirteen years. One of the bloggers had composed a song in which he urged the citizens to rise up against invaders and “cowards who sell the country.” On October 14, ten policemen stormed into the dorm room of the female student, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, at the Ho Chi Minh City Food and Technology University and put her in a jail in Long An province. An open letter for her release, signed by her classmates and addressed to President Truong Tan Sang, stated that she had been arrested because she had been suspected of participating in anti-China activities and joining anti-corruption campaigns.

The Vietnamese government’s repressive activities in the face of pressures from China have exacerbated tensions with its own citizens and eroded its legitimacy. Furthermore, these activities might have soiled the Vietnamese government’s image regionally and internationally and hence weakened its effectiveness in dealing with China’s increasing assertive activities in a region through which 60 percent of the entire global sea-borne trade moves each year.

In order to promote peace and stability in the region, all countries that utilize the South China Sea for trade and other reasons should unambiguously support efforts to settle the disputes.

A Proposal

In the interest of regional peace and global development, this writer made the following proposal based on UNCLOS’s definition of three South China Sea areas at an international conference attended by specialists and officials from most Asian countries, the United States, and many European nations. The conference, “The South China Sea: Cooperation for Regional Security and Development,” was held in Ho Chi Minh City in November. The main idea of the proposal is to open up areas for cooperation among all parties involved:

1. Reaffirm the EEZ of each individual country and negotiate all overlapping claims. Form an international consensus on getting China to abandon its U-shape line.

2. Rally international support to bring all disputed claims in the island areas (islands, islets, rocks, and so on) to an international court for judgment if solutions could not be agreed upon by the claimants. In the meantime, occupants of undisputed areas should be willing to declare publicly that no island should have more than twelve nautical miles of territorial waters around it.

3. In the international area beyond the EEZs and the territorial waters of the islands all resources extracted therein (such as oil, gas, seafood) should be divided to each country in the region, after extractive expenses have been deducted, according to a formula to be negotiated.

Ngo Vinh Long is a professor of history at the University of Maine, where he has taught for more than twenty-five years. He is also a research associate at Duy Tan University, Da Nang City, Vietnam. He has contributed to the Journal of Contemporary Asia, American Historical Review, and other publications. He is a frequent commentator on Asian affairs on the Vietnamese-language broadcasts of Radio France Internationale, the BBC, and Radio Free Asia.

 

(Original version is available at The Cairo Review)

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