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US to counter China with more patrols in disputed waters | Gordon Lubold, Jeremy Page – The Wall Street Journal

03 September 2017

Gordon Lubold, Jeremy Page The Wall Street Journal – The Pentagon for the first time has set a schedule of US naval patrols in the South China Sea in an attempt to create a more consistent posture to counter China’s maritime claims there, injecting a new complication into increasingly uneasy relations between the two powers.

Sailors conduct flight operations on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which made a scheduled deployment near East Asia earlier this year.

The US Pacific Command has developed a plan to conduct so-called freedom-of-navigation operations two to three times over the next few months, according to several US officials, reinforcing the US challenge to what it sees as excessive Chinese maritime claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing claims sovereignty over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.

The plan marks a significant departure from such military operations in the region during the Obama administration, when officials sometimes struggled with when, how and where to conduct those patrols. They were cancelled or postponed based on other political factors after what some US officials said were contentious internal debates.

The idea behind setting a schedule contrasts with the more ad hoc approach to conducting freedom-of-navigation operations, known as “fonops” in military parlance, and establish more regularity in the patrols. Doing so might help blunt Beijing’s argument that the patrols amounted to a destabilising provocation each time they occurred, US officials said.

Chinese officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest US plans. Beijing has accused the US of militarising navigation in the region by conducting military patrols. There have been three navigation patrols so far under President Donald Trump; there were four during the Obama administration, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Officials described the new plan as a more predetermined way of conducting such patrols than in the past, though not immutable. The plan is in keeping with the Trump administration’s approach to military operations, which relies on giving commanders leeway to determine the US posture. In keeping with policies against announcing military operations before they occur, officials declined to disclose where and when they would occur.

The added military pressure on China comes while the US is seeking greater co-operation from Beijing in reining in North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program. The Trump administration has complained that Beijing hasn’t done all it can to pressure its allies in Pyongyang not to develop weapons or threaten the US and its territories and allies.

In a new facet, some freedom-of-navigation patrols may be “multi-domain” patrols, using not only US Navy warships but US military aircraft as well.

Thus far, there have been three publicly disclosed freedom-of-navigation operations under the Trump administration. The last one was conducted on August 10 by the navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, which days later collided with a cargo ship, killing 10 sailors.

That patrol around Mischief Reef — one of seven fortified artificial islands that Beijing has built in the past three years in the disputed Spratlys archipelago — also included an air component.

According to US officials, two P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft flew above the McCain in a part of the operation that hadn’t been previously disclosed. More navigation patrols using warships likely now will include aircraft overhead, they said.

Pacific Command officials had no comment on the matter.

The first such patrol under Mr Trump was conducted by the destroyer USS Dewey May 24 around Mischief Reef. In July, the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem conducted a patrol near Triton Island in the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, coming to within 12 nautical miles of the island.

Together, the moves amount to a more extensive US posture in the South China Sea, where the US has attempted to counter what it sees as excessive Chinese claims around two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, where Beijing has conducted reclamation activities, building or expanding islands using sand dredged from the ocean floor to establish runways, ports, buildings and other facilities for military purposes.

Those structures worry the US and other nations, which believe China’s presence there could impede shipping lanes through which billions of dollars of cargo transit each year.

The US doesn’t make claims to any of the islands, but conducts the patrols to challenge China’s claims, which overlap with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, a US treaty ally.

Colonel Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said US forces operated throughout the Asia-Pacific region every day, including in the South China Sea. “All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

Col Manning declined to comment on the new Pacific Command plan.

Countries in the region have welcomed the more unhesitating Pentagon approach under Mr Trump, said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, and a former consultant to the Pentagon and State Department.

“I think there has already been a positive reaction from the region that we see in the aftermath of the three fonops we’ve seen so far,” Ms Glaser said.

She said the Obama administration was “too risk averse” when it came to freedom-of-navigation patrols. “We need to conduct fonops on a regular and consistent way that sends a signal about our unwillingness to accept excessive maritime claims, to challenge those claims, and to underscore that our operations in the South China Sea are no different in other parts of the globe,” she said.

A former Obama administration official said a move to increase the number of navigation patrols was a good idea, but must be accompanied by a broader strategy.

“I think regularised fonops are a good idea,” said David Shear, an assistant secretary of defence at the Pentagon under Mr Obama. “I think they should be conducted in the context of a broader South China Sea and regional strategy, and it’s not clear to me that this administration has devised a strategy for the South China Sea or the region, so I’m not sure what purpose the fonops serve outside of that context.”

The Wall Street Journal

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Vietnam challenges China at security talks | The Sun Daily

06 August 2017

The Sun Daily – MANILA: Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea on Saturday, as a tense regional security forum began with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear programme.

(L-R) Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, Myanmar’s Minister of State of Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Brunei’s Foreign Minister Lim Jock Seng, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Laos’ Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith and Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh join hands for a family photo during the opening ceremony of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Manila on Aug 5, 2017. — AFP

Ahead of the launch of the annual gathering of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Vietnam made a bold play against China with a raft of suggested changes to a planned joint communique.

It set the stage for a fiery few days of diplomacy in the Philippine capital, with the top diplomats from China, the United States, Russia and North Korea to join their Asean and other Asia-Pacific counterparts for security talks from Sunday.

The meetings will take place as the United Nations Security Council votes this weekend on a US-drafted resolution to toughen sanctions against North Korea to punish the isolated regime for its missile tests.

The United States said it would also seek to build unified pressure on the North at the Manila event – known as the Asean Regional Forum.

After their own day of meetings on Saturday, Asean foreign ministers released a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” over the North’s first two intercontinental ballistic missile tests that were conducted last month.

“These developments seriously threaten peace, security and stability in the region and the world,” the statement said.

But on the South China Sea dispute – one of Asia’s other top powder keg issues – there was far less consensus with the Philippines seeking to placate Beijing, and Vietnam leading the resistance, diplomats told AFP.

Vietnam on Friday night sought to insert tough language against China in an Asean statement that was scheduled to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.

According to a copy of a draft obtained by AFP, Vietnam lobbied for Asean to express serious concern over “construction” in the sea, a reference to China’s ramped up building of artificial islands in the disputed waters in recent years.

Vietnam also wanted Asean to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be “legally binding”, which Beijing opposes.

Malaysia also pushed for some tougher language, including with a reference to “military assets” in the contested waters, according to the draft and discussions with diplomats involved in the discussions.

Tense talks

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has in recent years expanded its presence in the sea by building the artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.

The Philippines used to be the most vocal critic of Beijing’s expansionism.

But, since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected last year, the Philippines has sought to downplay the dispute with China in return for billions of dollars in Chinese investments and aid.

China has in recent years also successfully lobbied other Asean nations, particularly Cambodia, to support its diplomatic manoeuvring in the dispute.

The joint statement that was scheduled to be released after the Asean ministers was delayed because of the dispute over the wording on the sea issue, one diplomat told AFP.

“There is no consensus yet,” the diplomat said, adding the drafting committee was tasked with continuing the negotiations on Saturday night.

Asean is on Sunday set to adopt a framework with China for a code of conduct, which is meant to pave the way for more concrete action.

But security analysts point out that the framework comes 15 years after negotiations on the issue first began, and China has used that time to cement its claims with the artificial islands.

Another pressing issue in Manila will be the growing terrorism threat in the region.

The event is taking place as Philippine security forces battle Islamic State-aligned gunmen who have since May been occupying parts of Marawi, the nation’s main Muslim city about 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the south of Manila.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also set to meet Duterte on the sidelines of the event, with those talks expected to cover the Philippine president’s controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives. — AFP

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

23 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo(C)Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images
Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (This article is originally published on CNBC

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

20 March 2017

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

Image Credit: Simon Ghesquiere/Marine Nationale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Original version is available at The Deliplomat)


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 Is Trump Headed for a War With China? – Rajan Menon | The Nation

13 February 2017

by Rajan Menon | The Nation (New York/US) The brewing conflict in the South China Sea could become the next Cuban missile crisis.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks after his swearing-in ceremony, accompanied by Donald Trump in the Oval Office, February 1, 2017. (Reuters / Carlos Barria)

Forget those “bad hombres down there” in Mexico that US troops might take out. Ignore the way National Security Adviser Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” and the new president insisted, that, when it comes to that country, “nothing is off the table.” Instead, focus for a moment on something truly scary: the possibility that Donald Trump’s Washington might slide into an actual war with the planet’s rising superpower, China. No kidding. It could really happen.

Let’s start with silver-maned, stately Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state. Who could deny that the former ExxonMobil CEO has a foreign minister’s bearing? Trump reportedly chose him over neocon firebrand John Bolton partly for that reason. (Among other things, Bolton was mustachioed, something the new president apparently doesn’t care for.) But an august persona can only do so much; it can’t offset a lack of professional diplomatic experience.

That became all-too-apparent during Tillerson’s January 11 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was asked for his view on the military infrastructure China has been creating on various islands in the South China Sea, the ownership of which other Asian countries, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei claim as well. China’s actions, he replied, were “extremely worrisome,” likening them to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, an infraction for which Russia was slapped with economic sanctions.

The then-nominee for secretary of state—he’s since been confirmed, despite many negative votes—didn’t, however, stop there. Evidently, he wanted to communicate to the Chinese leadership in Beijing that the new administration was already irked beyond measure with them. So he added, “We’re going to have to send China’s leaders a clear signal: that, first, the island building stops and, second, your access to those islands is not going to be allowed.” Functionally, that fell little short of being an announcement of a future act of war, since not allowing “access” to those islands would clearly involve military moves. In what amounted to a there’s-a-new-sheriff-in-town warning, he then doubled down yet again, insisting, slightly incoherently (in the tradition of his new boss), that “the failure of a response has allowed them to just keep pushing the envelope on this.”

All right, so maybe a novice had a bad day. Maybe the secretary-of-state-to-be simply ad-libbed and misspoke… whatever. If so, you might have expected a later clarification from him or from someone on the Trump national-security team anyway.

That didn’t happen; instead, that team stuck to its guns. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made no effort to add nuance to, let alone walk back, Tillerson’s remarks. During his first official press briefing on January 23, Spicer declared that the United States “is going to make sure we defend our interests there”—in the South China Sea, that is—and that “if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we are going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.”

And what of Trump’s own views on the island controversy? Never one to pass up an opportunity for hyperbole, during the presidential campaign he swore that, on those tiny islands, China was building “a military fortress the likes of which the world has not seen.” As it happened, he wasn’t speaking about, say, the forces that Hitler massed for the ill-fated Operation Barbarossa, launched in June 1941 with the aim of crushing the Red Army and the Soviet Union, or those deployed for the June 1944 Normandy landing, which sealed Nazi Germany’s fate. When applied to what China has been up to in the South China Sea, his statement fell instantly into the not-yet-named category of “alternative facts.”

Candidate Trump also let it be known that he wouldn’t allow Beijing to get away with such cheekiness on his watch. Why had the Chinese engaged in military construction on the islands? Trump had a simple answer (as he invariably does): China “has no respect for our president and no respect for our country.” The implication was evident. Things would be different once he settled into the White House and made America great again. Then—it was easy enough to conclude—China had better watch out.

Standard campaign bombast? Well, Trump hasn’t changed his tune a bit since being elected. On December 4, using (of course!) his Twitter account, he blasted Beijing for having built “a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.” And it’s safe to assume that he signed off on Spicer’s combative comments as well.

In short, his administration has already drawn a red line—but in the way a petulant child might with a crayon. During and after the campaign he made much of his determination to regain the respect he claims the United States has lost in the world, notably from adversaries like China. The danger here is that, in dealing with that country, Trump could, as is typical, make it all about himself, all about “winning,” one of his most beloved words, and disaster might follow.

WHOSE ISLANDS?

A military clash between Trump-led America and a China led by President Xi Jinping? Understanding how it might happen requires a brief detour to the place where it’s most likely to occur: the South China Sea. Our first task: to understand China’s position on that body of water and the islands it contains, as well as the nature of Beijing’s military projects there. So brace yourself for some necessary detail.

As Marina Tsirbas, a former diplomat now at the Australian National University’s National Security College, explains, Beijing’s written and verbal statements on the South China Sea lend themselves to two different interpretations. The Chinese government’s position boils down to something like this: “We own everything—the waters, islands and reefs, marine resources, and energy and mineral deposits—within the Nine-Dash Line.” That demarcation line, which incidentally has had 10 dashes, and sometimes 11, originally appeared in 1947 maps of the Republic of China, the Nationalist government that would soon flee to the island of Taiwan leaving the Chinese Communists in charge of the mainland. When Mao Ze Dong and his associates established the People’s Republic, they retained that Nationalist map and the demarcation line that went with it, which just happened to enclose virtually all of the South China Sea, claiming sovereign rights.

This stance—think of it as Beijing’s hard line on the subject—raises instant questions about other countries’ navigation and overflight rights through that much-used region. In essence, do they have any and, if so, will Beijing alone be the one to define what those are? And will those definitions start to change as China becomes ever more powerful? These are hardly trivial concerns, given that about $5 trillion worth of goods pass through the South China Sea annually.

Then there’s what might be called Beijing’s softer line, based on rights accorded by the legal concepts of the territorial sea and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which took effect in 1994 and has been signed by 167 states (including China but not the United States), a country has sovereign control within 12 nautical miles of its coast as well as of land formations in that perimeter visible at high tide. But other countries have the right of “innocent passage.” The EEZ goes further. It provides a rightful claimant control over access to fishing, as well as seabed and subsoil natural resources, within “an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea” extending 200 nautical miles, while ensuring other states’ freedom of passage by air and sea. UNCLOS also gives a state with an EEZ control over “the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures” within that zone—an important provision at our present moment.

What makes all of this so much more complicated is that many of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea that provide the basis for defining China’s EEZ are also claimed by other countries under the terms of UNCLOS. That, of course, immediately raises questions about the legality of Beijing’s military construction projects in that watery expanse on islands, atolls, and strips of land it’s dredging into existence, as well as its claims to seabed energy resources, fishing rights, and land reclamation rights there—to say nothing about its willingness to seize some of them by force, rival claims be damned.

Moreover, figuring out which of these two positions—hard or soft—China embraces at any moment is tricky indeed. Beijing, for instance, insists that it upholds freedom of navigation and overflight rights in the Sea, but it has also said that these rights don’t apply to warships and military aircraft. In recent years its warplanes have intercepted, and at close quarters, American military aircraft flying outside Chinese territorial waters in the same region. Similarly, in 2015, Chinese aircraft and ships followed and issued warnings to an American warship off Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, which both China and Vietnam claim in their entirety. This past December, its Navy seized, but later returned, an underwater drone the American naval ship Bowditch had been operating near the coast of the Philippines.

There were similar incidents in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2013, and 2014. In the second of these episodes, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane, which had a crew of 24 on board, less than 70 miles off Hainan island, forcing it to make an emergency landing in China and creating a tense standoff between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese detained the crew for 11 days. They disassembled the EP-3, returning it three months later in pieces.

Such muscle flexing in the South China Sea isn’t new. China has long been tough on its weaker neighbors in those waters. Back in 1974, for instance, its forces ejected South Vietnamese troops from parts of the Paracel/Xisha islands that Beijing claimed but did not yet control. China has also backed up its claim to the Spratly/Nansha islands (which Taiwan, Vietnam, and other regional countries reject) with air and naval patrols, tough talk, and more. In 1988, it forcibly occupied the Vietnamese-controlled Johnson Reef, securing control over the first of what would eventually become seven possessions in the Spratlys.

Vietnam has not been the only Southeast Asian country to receive such rough treatment. China and the Philippines both claim ownership of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal/Huangyang Island, located 124 nautical miles off Luzon Island in the Philippines. In 2012, Beijing simply seized it, having already ejected Manila from Panganiban Reef (aka Mischief Reef), about 129 nautical miles from the Philippines’ Palawan Island, in 1995. In 2016, when an international arbitration tribunal upheld Manila’s position on Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sniffedthat “the decision is invalid and has no binding force.” Chinese president Xi Jinping added for good measure that China’s claims to the South China Sea stretched back to “ancient times.”

Then there’s China’s military construction work in the area, which includes the building of full-scale artificial islands, as well as harbors, military airfields, storage facilities, and hangars reinforced to protect military aircraft. In addition, the Chinese have installed radar systems, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-missile defense systems on some of these islands.

Thesethen, are the projects that the Trump administration says it will stop. But China’s conduct in the South China Sea leaves little doubt about its determination to hold onto what it has and continue its activities. The Chinese leadership has made this clear since Donald Trump’s election, and the state-run press has struck a similarly defiant note, drawing crude red lines of its own. For example, the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper, mocked Trump’s pretensions and issued a doomsday warning: “The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”

Were the administration to follow its threatening talk with military action, the Global Times added ominously, “The two sides had better prepare for a military clash.” Although the Chinese leadership hasn’t been anywhere near as bombastic, top officials have made it clear that they won’t yield an inch on the South China Sea, that disputes over territories are matters for China and its neighbors to settle, and that Washington had best butt out.

True, as the acolytes of a “unipolar” world remind us, China’s military spending amounts to barely more than a quarter of Washington’s and US naval and air forces are far more advanced and lethal than their Chinese equivalents. However, although there certainly is a debate about the legal validity and historical accuracy of China’s territorial claims, given the increasingly acrimonious relationship between Washington and Beijing the more strategically salient point may be that these territories, thousands of miles from the US mainland, mean so much more to China than they do to the United States. By now, they are inextricably bound up with its national identity and pride, and with powerful historical and nationalistic memories—with, that is, a sense that, after nearly two centuries of humiliation at the hands of the West, China is now a rising global power that can no longer be pushed around.

Behind such sentiments lies steel. By buying some $30 billion in advanced Russian armaments since the early 1990s and developing the capacity to build advanced weaponry of its own, China has methodically acquired the military means, and devised a strategy, to inflict serious losses on the American navy in any clash in the South China Sea, where geography serves as its ally. Beijing may, in the end, lose a showdown there, but rest assured that it would exact a heavy price before that. What sort of “victory” would that be?

If the fighting starts, it will be tough for the presidents of either country to back down. Xi Jinping, like Trump, presents himself as a tough guy, sure to trounce his enemies at home and abroad. Retaining that image requires that he not bend when it comes to defending China’s land and honor. He faces another problem as well. Nationalism long ago sidelined Maoism in his country. As a result, were he and his colleagues to appear pusillanimous in the face of a Trumpian challenge, they would risk losing their legitimacy and potentially bringing their people onto the streets (something that can happen quickly in the age of social media). That’s a particularly forbidding thought in what is arguably the most rebellious land in the historical record. In such circumstances, the leadership’s abiding conviction that it can calibrate the public’s nationalism to serve the Communist Party’s purposes without letting it get out of hand may prove delusional.

Certainly, the Party understands the danger that runaway nationalism could pose to its authority. Its paper, the People’s Daily, condemned the “irrational patriotism” that manifested itself in social media forums and street protests after the recent international tribunal’s verdict favoring the Philippines. And that’s hardly the first time a foreign-policy fracas has excited public passions. Think, for example, of the anti-Japanese demonstrations that swept the country in 2005, provoked by Japanese school textbooks that sanitized that country’s World War II–era atrocities in China. Those protests spread to many cities, and the numbers were sizeable with more than 10,000 angry demonstrators on the streets of Shanghai alone. At first, the leadership encouraged the rallies, but it got nervous as things started to spin out of control.

“WE’RE GOING TO WAR IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA…”

Facing off against China, President Trump could find himself in a similar predicament, having so emphasized his toughness, his determination to regain America’s lost respect and make the country great again. The bigger problem, however, will undoubtedly be his own narcissism and his obsession with winning, not to mention his inability to resist sending incendiary messages via Twitter. Just try to imagine for a moment how a president who blows his stack during a getting-to-know-you phone call with the prime minister of Australia, a close ally, is likely to conduct himself in a confrontation with a country he’s labeled a prime adversary.

In the event of a military crisis between China and the United States, neither side may want an escalation, to say nothing of a nuclear war. Yet Trump’s threats to impose 45 percent tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States and his repeated condemnation of China as a “currency manipulator” and stealer of American jobs have already produced a poisonous atmosphere between the world’s two most powerful countries. And it was made worse by his December phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, which created doubts about his commitment to the One China policy the United States has adhered to since 1972. The Chinese authorities apparently made it clear to the White House that there couldn’t even be a first-time phone call to Xi unless the new president agreed to stick with that policy. During a conversation with the Chinese president on February 9, Trump reportedly provided that essential assurance. Given the new American president’s volatility, however, Beijing will be playing close attention to his words and actions, even his symbolic ones, related to Taiwan.

Sooner or later, if Trump doesn’t also dial down the rest of his rhetoric on China, its leaders will surely ratchet up theirs, thereby aggravating the situation further. So far, they’ve restrained themselves in order to figure Trump out—not an easy task even for Americans—and in hopes that his present way of dealing with the world might be replaced with something more conventional and recognizable. Hope, as they say, springs eternal, but as of now, in repeatedly insisting that China must do as he says, Trump and his surrogates have inserted themselves and the country into a complicated territorial dispute far from America’s shores. Washington’s hubris in acting as the keeper of world order but regularly breaking the rules as it wishes, whether by invading Iraq in 2003 or making open use of torture and a global network of secret prisons, is an aspect of American behavior long obvious to foreign powers. It looks to be the essence of Trumpism, too, even if its roots are old indeed.

Don’t dismiss the importance of heated exchanges between Washington and Beijing in the wake of Trump’s election. The political atmosphere between rival powers, especially those with massive arsenals, can matter a great deal when they face off in a crisis. Pernicious stereotypes and mutual mistrust only increase the odds that crucial information will be misinterpreted in the heat of the moment because of entrenched beliefs that are immune to contrary evidence, misperceptions, worst-case calculations, and up-the-ante reactions. In academic jargon, these constitute the ingredients for a classic conflict spiral. In such a situation, events take control of leaders, producing outcomes that none of them sought. Not for nothing during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 did President John Kennedy look to Barbara Tuchman’s book, Guns of August—a gripping account of how Europe slipped and slid into a disastrous world war in 1914.

There has been lots of anxiety about the malign effects that Donald Trump’s temperament and beliefs could have domestically, and for good reason. But in domestic politics, institutions and laws, civic organizations, the press, and public protests can serve, however imperfectly, as countervailing forces. In international politics, crises can erupt suddenly and unfold rapidly—and the checks on rash behavior by American presidents are much weaker. They have considerable leeway to use military force (having repeatedly circumvented the War Powers Act). They can manipulate public opinion from the bully pulpit and shape the flow of information. (Think back to the Iraq war.) Congress typically rallies reflexively around the flag during international crises. In such moments, citizens’ criticism or mass protest invites charges of disloyalty.

This is why the brewing conflict in the South China Sea and rising animosities on both sides could produce something resembling a Cuban missile crisis–style situation—with the United States lacking the geographical advantage this time around. If you think that a war between China and the United States couldn’t possibly happen, you might have a point in ordinary times, which these distinctly aren’t.

Take the latest news on Stephen Bannon, formerly the executive chairman of the alt-right publication Breitbart News and now President Trump’s chief political strategist. He has even been granted the right to sit in on every meeting of the National Security Council and its Principals Committee, the highest inter-agency forum for day-to-day national security deliberations. He will be privy to meetings that, according to a directive signed by Trump, even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence may not join unless “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise will be discussed.” Calling this a break with past practice would be an understatement of the first order.

So Bannon’s views, once of interest only to a fringe group of Americans, now matter greatly. Here’s what he said last March about China in a radio interview: “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren’t we? There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face—and you understand how important face is—and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.”

Think of this as Bannon’s version of apocalyptic prophecy. Then consider the volatility of the new president he advises. Then focus on the larger message: These are not ordinary times. Most Americans probably don’t even know that there is a South China Sea. Count on one thing, though: They will soon.

(Original version is available at The Nation)

 

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China’s accelerated militarisation in the South China Sea – by Choe Nam-suk – Korea IT Times

03 April 2016

Korea IT Times - Right on the threshold of the US-ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands on February 15 and 16, where US President Barack Obama raised concerns about China flouting international law in the East Sea with its militarising activities, China did challenge public opinion by deploying HQ-9 missiles on Phu Lam (Woody Island) in Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago.

That threatening behavior was officially condemned by Vietnam and the US. Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to protest China’s violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago. At the same time it proposed that the UN circulate the diplomatic note among diplomatic missions at its agencies.

On February 23, Reuters carried a story saying that recent satellite images showed that China may be installing a high-frequency radar system in Chau Vien (Cuarteron) Reef, one of the seven entities in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago that were illegally occupied by China in 1988 and 1995. Two radar towers may have been built by China in the northern and southern portions of Chau Vien Reef. High-frequency radar installations would enable China to bolster its ability to illegally monitor air and marine traffic and activities from the Malacca Strait to the East Sea. Similar radar systems, together with helicopter pads and gun emplacements, may have been installed in Ga Ven (Gaven Reef), Tu Nghia (Hughes Reef), and Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef).

The information came a day before Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in the US. Meanwhile, the Chinese People’s Daily was equivocal about the possibility of its country’s deployment of four SU-35s, the first batch purchased from Russia, to “patrol the East Sea”.

All these moves are trampling on international law, including the UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.

1. How did China spark tensions in the East Sea?

In 1947, the Chinese administration drew the so-called “dot-line”, claiming its “sovereignty” over more than 80 percent of the East Sea. This claim is also called the “U-shaped” or the “cow-tongue” line.

The “cow-tongue” line includes Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, sovereignty over whom was established and exercised in an uninterrupted, peaceful and legitimate manner by the Vietnamese State from the 17th century, when they were not subject to any public or individual ownership. The line also encompasses the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves belonging to Vietnam as well as other littoral countries in the East Sea as prescribed in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, to which China is a signatory country.

 

The introduction of the “cow-tongue” line formed part of China’s attempts to expand its boundaries with the use of force. Earlier, China launched bloody naval attacks to invade the western portion of Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago in 1974 after illegally occupying a cluster of islands in the eastern area of the archipelago in 1956.

In March 1988, China dispatched troops to invade six entities belonging to Vietnam’s Truong Sa archipelago. The move came amid China’s war on Vietnam’s northern border, which started on February 17, 1979, still not ended.

The two fierce naval fights claimed the lives of 74 Vietnamese in Hoang Sa in 1974 and 64 others in Truong Sa in 1988. Today, similar actions are likely to be repeated as China is pursuing a scheme to scale up militarisation in the East Sea.

In 2014, China’s illegal placement of its oilrig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in Vietnam’s legitimate exclusive economic zone and continental shelf triggered a terrible crisis in the two countries’ relationship. The action, however, created a diversion, allowing Chinese vessels to sail to the seven entities China illegally acquired in 1988 and 1995 in Vietnam’s Truong Sa archipelago and conduct a massive land reclamation to develop man-made islands.

2. China has been unilaterally occupying the East Sea using force and threats:

The use of force and threats to use force are the main paths China has taken to actualise its scheme to control the East Sea.

China deployed forces three times in invading Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago:

- In 1909, China launched a force-backed blitz on several islands in Hoang Sa archipelago for the first time, debuting its involvement in a dispute over the sovereignty of this archipelago with Vietnam;

- In 1956, the People’s Republic of China took advantage of the transitional time for territorial management rights under the Geneva Accord to dispatch a military force to secretly take up the eastern portion of Hoang Sa archipelago;

- In 1974, when the US troops were forced to leave Vietnam and the US-backed army of the Republic of Vietnam was weakened, China acquired the western part of Hoang Sa archipelago with military force.

For Truong Sa archipelago:

- In 1946, when Japan disarmed its military as ordered by the US and other allied forces, the Chinese administration took advantage of the situation and sent a fleet, commanded by Admiral Lin Zun, to Truong Sa archipelago to take over a number of islands, including Ba Binh (Itu Aba Island). The event marked China’s initiation of a sovereignty claim with Vietnam over Truong Sa archipelago;

- In 1988, the People’s Republic of China used force to seize six shoals and reefs, which almost were submerged, in the northwestern area of Truong Sa;

- In 1995, the People’s Republic of China dispatched forces to occupy Vanh Khan (Mischief  Reef), which was held by the Philippines then, in the northern portion of Truong Sa.

Immediately after taking over Hoang Sa and part of Truong Sa, irrespective of responses from Vietnam and regional and international communities, China has continually embarked on construction and expansion on occupied features to turn them into offensive military bases providing services for attacks to be launched from Hainan to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. With these activities, China aimed to develop these occupied entities in the two archipelagoes into unsinkable “aircraft carriers” in the East Sea. Recent reclamation work to create islands and turn shoals in Truong Sa into man-made islands, and build airstrips, port wharfs, outposts and trenches there has bred concern from the public. Other activities undertaken by China that are worrying the public are the deployment of more soldiers, weapons and vehicles in key positions in the two archipelagoes – in particular the installation of modern surface-to-air missiles in Hoang Sa and high-frequency radar in Chau Vien. These moves unveiled a scheme to militarise the East Sea, which China has long sought to conceal from the international public through excuses and promises.  It even tried to implicate other countries in that scheme. The above-said activities have definitely served China’s attempt to monopolise the East Sea by force and by threats of force. With these activities, China aims to use the East Sea as a springboard to achieve its dream to replace the US as a world superpower.

With these moves, China has showed that it has always used force or threatened to use force to monopolise the East Sea. In the coming time, if responses and policies by regional and international countries see no progress, China will make other moves, including dispatching more military forces and war vehicles to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. In the short run, China will demonstrate its strength to scare weaker countries in the region if the superpower countries maintain their might in a balanced manner. This is meant to challenge concerned countries like the US, Japan and Australia. China could use its power to expand the area it illegally occupied in Truong Sa or acquire a number of shoals in the East Sea where military forces are absent; monitor and control air and marine traffic in the East Sea; hinder law-abiding oil and gas production, and fishing operations conducted by regional countries; and continue conducting natural resource research activities. It’s likely that China will carry out oil and gas exploitation in several oil blocks lying within the continental shelves of Vietnam or other countries bordering the East Sea.

Regarding diplomacy and communication, China keeps applying the “stick and carrot” tactic, as well as making more promises to please the public. It will use political and economic relations to buy, divide and pressure the public so it can easily implement the motto “peaceful rise”.

3. What is the purpose of China’s recent activities?

3.1. A current priority that China is pursuing is to take control of all international air and marine activities through the East Sea as soon as possible. In the meantime, public opinion is divided on whether China will establish the “Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ) in the East Sea or not.

China has explained that it applied the ADIZ for the East China Sea with the aim to control and prevent international surface and marine crossing in the sea and considered it a military measure taken to win a territorial claim in the East China Sea. If the zone is applied for the East Sea, it will serve China’s ambitious “cow-tongue” claim in the waters. From what happened in the East China Sea, China realised that if it announces the ADIZ for the East Sea now, it will be strongly protested by the international community. However, there is a possibility that when it finds the time and conditions are ripe, China will ignore public opinion as it did recently in the East Sea and debut the ADIZ in the area, likely for Hoang Sa archipelago first.

3.2. The fresh deployment of the surface-to-air missile system in Phu Lam island of Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago is one of the military escalations thoughtfully calculated and taken by China in a well-designed scenario to monopolise the East Sea, which could enable it to rise and take over the US’s role as the world superpower. Public opinion is hardly alien to the military moves that China had taken or is taking in the East Sea. Of course, there are also those who are “thoughtless”, intentionally turning a blind eye, supporting and extolling the move in exchange for economic and political gain. At present, though, militarisation has triggered worries and disagreement, and a number of countries have promptly voiced their condemnation for the following reasons:

China has deployed the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile in Phu Lam Island of Hoang Sa archipelago

- It is a continuous, serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago, defying international law and disrespecting political commitments reached between the two countries, aside from Chinese leaders’ commitments to the regional and international communities that “China is not militarising the East Sea and pledges to work together with the ASEAN community to create a Code of Conduct soon”. This has again helped the public realize that what China has done is not what China said it would do. It clearly showed that China is inconsistent in its attitude in international relations, not to say irresponsible, as it is in its role as one of the most powerful countries in the world. Complications are taking place and people are on the brink of war due to disputes pertaining to borders; territory; religion; race; and geo-political, geo-economic and strategically geographical interests between countries, especially super powers, and the fight for interests among international arms traders.

- It can be said that this action manifested China’s military threat that targeted ASEAN countries at a time when inter-bloc relations and the relations between ASEAN and the US are enjoying gains, especially after the ASEAN-US Leaders’ Summit. These gains are not welcomed by China, as they will likely hinder China’s efforts to implement its ambitious “China dream”.

- It can be said that with this adventurous military action, China challenged and sent a warning to countries outside the region, especially the US, Japan, India and Australia, which are making efforts to counter China’s attempts to control and prevent international surface and marine operations through the East Sea by sending warships and surveillance crafts to operate in the radius of 12 nautical miles surrounding the submerged shoals and reefs currently occupied by China.

- The above-mentioned move clearly constitutes a new military escalation of extreme danger, disclosing the East Sea militarisation strategy that China has endeavored to hide. This poses a real danger to defense and security of the East Sea-shared countries, directly that of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, and threatens marine and aviation security and safety in the East Sea. That situation would definitely lead to a new arms race, in which countries will purchase more arms equipment and vehicles to fortify their defense capacity to protect their rights and interests. And that situation will trigger possible clashes and conflicts in the East Sea.

As analysed above, this action has clearly posed a serious threat to sovereignty and interests of countries surrounding the East Sea – especially Vietnam, a country with sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago, which is illegally being occupied by China and where China is brazenly positioning its war vehicles. This move infringed on Vietnam’s sovereignty, put the country’s defense and security under threat, hampered the traffic and natural resource exploitation being undertaken by Vietnam in its legally recognised waters, and threatened the life and assets of Vietnamese fishermen.

4. What should Vietnam and other countries do to deal with that situation?

4.1. Before this action, we couldn’t do anything but voice our strong and clear opposition through the highest diplomatic channels. Vietnam should send a diplomatic note to the UN requesting it to intervene and take tough measures against China. It’s time for the UN to join in protecting its Charter and international law in the East Sea. Under the light of international conventions, especially the UN Charter, the 1974 Hoang Sa and 1988 Gac Ma events featured serious violations of international law, especially as China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

More dangerous was the likely repetition of the use of force and the threat to use force in the East Sea. That could harm not just Vietnam, but also the entire Southeast Asia and many other countries around the world who rely on the maritime route through the East Sea.

The UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) have never been brazenly challenged and trampled as China has done in the East Sea, regardless of protests from concerned parties.

Even international tribunals like the one established under UNCLOS 1982’s appendix VII, which is processing the Philippines’s lawsuit against China in the East Sea, are being disrespected and opposed by China.

If we let China continue taking aggressive action in the East Sea that threaten other countries and disregard international law built to protect peace worldwide, it is likely that Beijing will throw basic principles and universal values of humankind, as well as the UN Charter, into the rubbish bin.

It’s time for concerned parties like Vietnam, the US, the Philippines and Japan to raise their voices at UN forums to deter destructive consequences of escalating tensions in the East Sea and protect laws and justice, especially concerning the UN court that is handling the Philippines’ lawsuit against China in the East Sea.

I believe that the Barack Obama administration would consider taking the East Sea issue to the UN Security Council and other forums. Justice and public opinion are as important and efficient as the weapons China has positioned in the East Sea, but the remaining issues are to have unanimity, unity and joint action.

4.2. Vietnam should step up communication campaigns in and beyond its borders to help the public grasp a thorough understanding of China’s militarising operations in the East Sea. It should point out that these actions violate international law, and threaten security, peace, and marine and air freedom in the East Sea. It should also confirm Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. This would garner international friends’ support and create an internal consensus in the fight to defend the country’s sea and island sovereignty, and promote the peace-loving spirit. On the other hand, we should be prepared and remain ready, even with our forces, for the worst circumstances that could arise.

4.3. Vietnam needs to reinforce cooperation and push ASEAN member countries to build and implement measures to build trust. It should deliver initiatives to maintain the status quo, hinder conflicts, and maintain peace, stability, and aviation and maritime freedom in the East Sea.

4.4. Vietnam also needs to rally the nation’s strength for the protection of the country’s sea and island sovereignty, along with reinforcing its defenses, boosting the defensive capacity of its forces, and increasing the legal fight through diplomatic channels and proper international arbitrators to protect its legitimate sovereignty and interests in the East Sea against China’s unilateral actions infringing its national interests and sovereignty in the waters. These are strategic and decisive solutions.

This article is originally published  at Korea IT Times

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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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Changing Geopolitical Landscape In The South China Sea | Anup Singh (Retd), SEAS Issues

16 February 2015

by Anup Singh (Retd), Former Vice Admiral at Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam

Preamble

Geopolitics. In its simplest meaning, geopolitics involves an assessment of the effects of geography on politics, and relations between nations. When one talks of ‘effects of geography’, the influence of a country’s physical location, size, technological progress, demography, topography, climate, and most importantly natural resources, make the difference between the big, and the not-so-big in terms of power and ‘stakes’ in power play. Significantly, geopolitics studies the links between political power and geographic space, and examines strategic prescriptions based on the relative importance of land power and sea power.

Two watershed events have changed the world. One, the fall of the Berlin Wall circa 1989; and two: the tragic fall of the World Trade Towers on 9/11. If one were to look at the difference between conflict and peace in temporal terms, it would be quite apparent that the template of peace changed forever with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It actually feels as if the Balance of Power theorem kept peace in this world during the cold war! But after that event which was immediately followed by the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the proverbial dominos of peace have been falling one after the other in various theatres of the globe. In sum, the non-traditional amongst threats and challenges have now replaced traditional conflict. If terrorism, piracy, drug and gun running, were already keeping nations fully engaged in security management, the current paradigm has a new trigger for infusing tension amongst nations – through intimidation and aggressive posturing in some regions.

Southeast Asian Military Modernization. (C) The Asian Forum

The Indo-Pacific Region

Till the middle of the last decade, the Indian and Pacific Oceans were never thought of as a contiguous domain. The clear linkage of economic activity that spans across the trade and energy routes from the Suez and Hormuz on the one end, to the Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok Straits, leading into the South China Sea on the other, and the attendant security threats in the maritime environment, have left no doubt in any one’s mind about the necessity of the region being seen as a continuum. Hence the term: Indo-Pacific. This is the region where all activity economic, as well as military, has been concentrated over the past decade. The rise of China – as an economic giant and a reckonable military power – also influences the treatment of the region as a geographic continuum. China’s growing maritime capabilities, increased interaction in the Indian Ocean, economic interests in both oceans, and territorial/ maritime boundary claims against its neighbours in both oceans, have created a greater sense of insecurity throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Without doubt, this region is now a conspicuously significant strategic space.

The global economy too has witnessed a huge shift from its post-colonial residence in the Western Hemisphere, to the East – where all money has suddenly gravitated over the last decade and a half. That has meant a shift of focus for the world to an area that is being called the Indo-Pacific. It is now the most watched theatre of competition, rivalry, and power play. Few regions of the world have changed as rapidly, after World War II, as the Indo-Pacific region. New powers – based on economic surge – have risen to claim their dominion within what is being seen as the most important geostrategic arena of maximum global attention. The Indian Ocean which was considered a ‘placid lake’, as distinct from the Pacific, till only a couple of years ago, is now being called the crucible of new challenges – both, traditional, and non-traditional. The two oceans are decidedly linked to each other, for all aspects of geography, economy, and indeed strategy! The centrality of the Indo-Pacific region lies in trade, density and concentration of shipping lanes, energy and other mineral resources. One common thread that has united most stakeholder states in the Indo-Pacific is maritime security – which can no longer be defined by threat to seaborne commerce alone. It includes all the elements of traditional and non-traditional challenges, the latter including maritime terrorism, piracy, gun running, drug running, poaching, natural and man-made disasters, and effects of climate change. The overall security scenario of the Indo-Pacific therefore, goes beyond a mere assessment of the balance of power equation or the political equation. Recent developments have shown that the geopolitical canvas of the Indo-Pacific has altered the very nature of interaction between states. The convergence of value inputs in terms of trade, resources, and energy makes this new geographic construct a region of acute vulnerability to peace, and stability. The sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that pass through the region – including those passing through the Red Sea; Persian Gulf; Malacca Strait, and particularly the South China Sea – are some of the most critical trade routes of the world as they carry almost 2/3rd of the world’s energy; half of global containerized cargo; and a third of the world’s bulk cargo[i]. This is one factor of politico-economic dimension that hugely impacts the geopolitical canvas of the region.

The ‘business’ of growing commerce in the Indo-Pacific involves and affects nearly half the globe’s population residing here. Today’s rising economic powers such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and Australia, are principal constituents of this newly defined region. Without doubt, economy is one of the important factors that influence regional politics in an area that has generally been identified by interstate cooperation, healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) competition, rivalry in business and politics, and even some incidence of conflict. However, despite impressive figures of economic growth in the region, one factor of burden that looms large on most of the region is poverty. This factor stems from a lack of employment opportunities in many countries. This is a huge handicap, as it bears the risk of instability, turmoil, and if unchecked, widens the disparity between the rich and poor. The root causes include decades of developmental challenges, followed by recent phenomenon of weak industrial output due to trends of recession/low demand. This scenario calls for regional actors to ‘manage the change’ in terms of the altered dynamics of trade, manufacturing, expanding maritime infrastructure, and of course, security of sea lanes and ports – to minimize risks against progression.

One has to keep in mind that the common thread keeping the Indo-Pacific’s integrity as a geographic region is the sea. The ocean has been responsible for binding the littorals and peoples of different locales, and spurred them on to making economic progress through competition. The Indo-Pacific is decidedly the new locus of all important economic activity. It is also being seen as the new centre of gravity for strategic competition of the world.

The South China Sea

At 3.6 million square kilometers, the South China Sea is one of the largest semi-enclosed seas. It is bounded by ten maritime states, has many groups of islands including the Spratlys and Paracels, and is home to two prominent underwater plateaus – the Macclesfield Bank, and the Scarborough Shoal. Almost half of the mercantile fleet of the world passes through the South China Sea. Six of the ten littoral states in this sea claim parts of it. Some of these are overlapping claims, and are therefore considered conflict-prone disputes. Amidst the very dynamic flurry of activity in this region, the one episode that has challenged the status quo in the geopolitical scenario of the Indo-Pacific in general, and the South China Sea in particular, is the gridlock of territorial and maritime zone claims in the South China Sea. Fuelled by disputes due to the so called “Nine Dash Line”, it has burned bridges amongst neighbours, and promises to keep the sea lines of communication under threat of ‘restriction’ rather than under ‘freedom of navigation’ due to what is being projected as the only claim of ‘ownership’ of a large part of the sea!

China’s Claims

The South China Sea dispute is a case of overlapping and conflicting claims over territory and sovereignty in the Paracel and Spratly island chains, as well as over large areas in the open sea, claimed wholly or in part by China and some others. Alongside the full-fledged islands, there are dozens of uninhabited rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough shoal[ii]. China claims almost the entire water body enclosed within the Nine Dash Line – accounting for 90% of the total area of the South China Sea. China claims its ownership based on 2,000 years of history, and says that the Paracels and Spratlys were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation[iii]. China says it issued a map in 1947, detailing these claims (originally with eleven instead of the nine dashes). Taiwan (as the Republic of China) stakes its own claim to the original map. China has ‘forcefully’ occupied certain islands, and has now started reclaiming land around some reefs and rocks as well. And even before arguments on the basis of the Nine Dash Line were over, China has produced a tenth dash! In June 2014, China published a new official map of its territory that went a step ahead of its map-on-passport act two years ago: the new map now introduces a tenth dash! The expansion is akin to a rich man getting greedier by the day, and staking claims even on the “commons” around his estate.

The Beginning

It was in 1974 that the South China Sea first saw the ugly face of annexation by force. That episode involved China sinking a Vietnamese naval vessel, damaging a couple of others, with some 50 casualties on the Vietnamese side. The ‘one way’ battle was designed to outmaneuver Vietnam by use of force – without provocation – to wrest control. Vietnam has always claimed that it exercised sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys, since the 17th Century – following from occupation by the Nguyen dynasty, then by France during its colonization. This was followed by the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) controlling the Western part of the Paracels, while China took control of the Eastern part. In the Spratlys, Itu Aba was occupied by Taiwanese troops, while some other features came under control of South Vietnam. The Phillipines and Malaysia entered some features in the Spratlys – for the first time – in the 70s, and 80s, respectively. Finally, China entered the Spratlys for the first time in 1988, once again through use of force against Vietnamese Transport vessels[iv].

The Guiding Principles

The Law is clear on the award of title for a territory. The principle of “effectiveness”, enunciated in Roman law in the 19th Century, refers to a mode of acquisition of a title founded on the “continuous and peaceful exercise” of state authority[v]. Only by such method of acquisition, can a state lay claim and exercise sovereignty over hitherto unclaimed and abandoned territories, and not by use of force. Therefore, all territories within the two groups of islands that have been occupied by use of force are – on first principles – invalid as to Title. Secondly, the Chinese claim of ownership of these groups for more than 2000 years is not borne out by any historical evidence. It is settled law that the “principle of effectiveness” has been the only basis to recognize sovereignty over hitherto unoccupied territory. Effectiveness refers to a mode of acquisition of a title “founded on the peaceful and continuous display of State authority over the territory”[vi]. Further, a state can become a title holder of ‘terra res nullius’ through effective occupation, and continuous and peaceful exercise of such State authority. It follows then, that forcible occupation cannot be accepted – unless authorized by International Law – for occupation of territory and consequent accord of ‘Title’. Therefore, the two incidents of use of military force by China in 1974, and 1988, do not qualify under the effective occupation principle for ownership.

The Method

Some analysts have recently pointed out that China’s actions are a case of emulation from a chapter of contemporary history – dealing with the Monroe Doctrine. Two centuries ago, US President James Monroe, and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, invoked a new foreign policy doctrine that forbade foreign (intended against European) powers from colonizing, or interfering in Latin America any further. Monroe said this sphere constituted a “core interest” of the United States. However, while the original purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent any further colonization of Latin America, or conflict with existing colonies (seeking independence) by European powers, its use over the later decades of the 19th century – in annexation, or intervention, is what has made that doctrine somewhat controversial. So, while the world acquiesced to the United States’ sermon in that era (despite some rumblings in Europe), that was “then” – when a powerful “initiator” was unchallengeable, since there were no ‘rules of the road’ in the maritime domain. But enough water has flown since, and with institutions and treaties having civilized the the post-1945 world, “might” cannot be granted (the) “right” in this respect, today. If China is trying to replicate (its own) interpretation of that doctrine, it is obviously misinterpreting the real purpose of the original doctrine. Secondly, in this day and age – of codified laws – no nation can arrogate to itself, a chunk of ocean space, claiming it as its own. The guiding principle in this respect is that propounded by UNCLOS III. It clearly specifies maritime zones entitled to a maritime state; and calls the sea area beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone as the “High Seas” – which in effect is the common heritage of mankind. How then, can lines be drawn over the ocean, claiming open areas or areas conflicting with other states’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), as one’s own?

The sea is the most important of our ‘commons’. It enables the transportation of goods and people, and is the primary enabler for driving the global economy. That is why the phrase “freedom of navigation” is invoked so frequently, by all nations – rich and poor – to secure the path to economic progression. If one were to just look at the sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific, one would realize that almost all commerce destined to or from the Western, or North-Eastern Pacific, converges on the Malacca Strait, and 95% of this traffic passes through the South China Sea. It has no alternative. The traffic coming or going in to the Suez Canal, coupled with the energy and other cargo from or to the Persian Gulf, passes through the Malacca Strait. This traffic is carried by almost 60,000 large merchant ships annually. In monetary terms, the amount of trade that passes through the South China Sea annually grosses close to 5.3 Trillion US Dollars[vii]. Over one fourth of this belongs to the United States. A chunk of the balance is shared between China, and Japan. Even India uses these sea lanes for passage of 55% of its trade – amounting to 400 Billion US Dollars. In such a scenario, it would be evident, that any threat, or intimidation on ‘jurisdiction’ of common space, is bound to raise the cost of peace in multiple ways, in the region. First amongst the victims is the expenditure on Defence. As a mirror image of the situation during the cold war, as well as the one prevailing after the first Gulf War, most countries in the region have started building their defences in all three dimensions. This is a huge burden in economic terms, as well as on developmental resources within the affected countries in the region. The second victim is an alteration in the alliance system of the world. If the US and Japan had a security treaty signed in 1951, both countries are now revisiting its contents – to reinforce Japan’s interests, and integrity. The issue of “collective security” is on the table, unlike Japanese views just a decade ago. And in quick time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ensured ‘reinterpretation’ of Article 9 through a Cabinet decision – bypassing any strings attached to Japan’s Parliament, or the need of a referendum[viii]. Japan’s Self Defence Forces will no longer be tethered to restrictive provisions of the post war constitution. That nation will be able to take action against other countries that attack Japan’s sovereignty, or interests. And all this is not just because of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, it has also stemmed from the threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the threat to curb freedom of air passage through overlapping air defence identification zones (ADIZ), and deliberate intrusion into Japanese waters by PLA(N) submarines. Actions to rewrite security pacts or military assistance are also being contemplated by other stake holders in the South China Sea, like the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Probable Reasons

One of the primary reasons for China’s assertiveness (and eagerness) to lay claims to such a large portion of the South China Sea through the Nine Dash Line is the attractive riches within the South China Sea. Amongst all the mineral resources, oil and gas are thought to be the most lucrative – because of their assessed quantity. Three years ago, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), published data claiming almost 125 Billion Barrels of oil, and 500 trillion cubic feet of gas as probable reserves in the South China Sea. Even if these estimates are inflated, and not truly “probable”, the US’ Energy Information Agency (EIA) has estimated that this water body contains approximately 11 Billion Barrels of oil, and 190 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas in undiscovered reserves[ix]. These numbers represent both proved and probable reserves. Due to prevailing disputes and under-exploration in contested areas, however, it has been difficult to determine the actual amount of reserves in the entire sea. EIA’s estimates can therefore be easily considered ‘conservative’ on possibilities. The untapped energy in this sea is what is keenly eyed by China, whose consumption-demand growth curve is becoming steeper by the day. The second reason is the fish/sea food resources in the South China Sea. The impressive harvest (catch figure) of 8 Million tons per annum which account for 10% of the world catch[x], itself reveals a conspicuous reason behind China’s craving for including most of this sea within ‘dashes’. Amongst all littorals of the South China Sea, sea food accounts for over 25% of the essential protein intake. In China’s case, it is ‘volumes’ (due to population density), instead of just percentages, that the country worries about.

Apart from these two ingredients of material necessity, it is also apparent that China views the entire region of the South China Sea as a lucrative domain from the point of view of strategic heft, and therefore wishes to leave no stone unturned in claiming the sea itself (no matter how ludicrous the claim over “common” waters).

Alfred Thayer Mahan – the great naval strategist, and author – emphasized that national greatness could come only to nations that have a connection with the sea, and correctly predicted that sea powers were absorbed in the commercial use of the sea in peace time, and control of the seas in war. That theory rings in a feeling of its application in reverse – when one looks at the South China Sea’s Nine Dash Line. One wonders if old philosophies are being applied – only to thrust down “greatness” through proclamation of ownership of a large chunk of the “free seas”! And as Hans Morgenthau had remarked in his seminal work, Politics Among Nations, “the realist believes that Politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature.”[xi] After all, it has been a proven fact that nations behave somewhat like human beings when it comes to lust, and international relations.

And What Does International Law Say?

International Law or the Law of nations is the name for the body of customary and conventional rules which are considered legally binding by civilized states in their intercourse, with each other. As a set of rules, International Law has existed (at least) since the Middle Ages. And it owes its existence, as a systematized body of rules to the Dutch Jurist and statesman Hugo Grotius, whose work “De Jure Belli ac paci libri III” in 1625 became the foundation of all development on International Law[xii].

International Maritime Law – in particular that branch which deals with the Law of the Sea – is a much more recent phenomenon, and was comprehensively codified only in the later part of the last century, through the Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS III). By happy coincidence, though, much credit for its founding principle on the “Free Seas” – goes once again to the same author, Hugo Grotius!

The Law of the Sea is very clear on jurisdiction of sea space. Since UNCOS III, the entitlement of maritime zones has been very clearly defined. Other than a Territorial Sea, a Contiguous Zone, and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the law does not provide for any ocean space as an entitlement to a coastal state. This goes without exception, and forbids any area of the high seas to be arrogated to any country. One of the guiding principles of International Law has been that territory has meaning and ownership only on land. Unlike land, the ocean is not “territorial”, and therefore cannot be claimed as one’s own possession.

The other aspect of law (post UNCLOS III) is, that no matter how old one’s claims over ocean space on the map, legitimate jurisdictions entitled through maritime zones of other states cannot be overlapped by one’s own. Acts of unilateral carving of zones over others’ zones, would be considered illegal, and without regard to civilized behavior. So, lines drawn over the sea have no basis in law, and unilateral usurping of others’ maritime zones must not be accepted by the international community. Therefore, the “Nine (or Ten!) Dash Line” has no legitimacy and must not be allowed to represent ownership of water, or jurisdiction by a state.

Entitlement of Sovereignty

Lassa Openheimer, the teacher of modern International Law, once said about sovereignty: “There exists perhaps no conception the meaning of which is more controversial than that of sovereignty. It is an indisputable fact that this conception, from the moment it was introduced into political science until the present day, has never had a meaning which was universally agreed upon.” China seems to be taking undue advantage of that quote. It forgets that sovereignty stems from territorial right that must be acquired through legitimate ownership, and not forceful acquisition.

A few facts of applicable international conventions need reiterating here. First, it must be remembered that maritime jurisdiction can only derive from land features, and not by drawing lines over sea areas. Secondly, rocks that cannot sustain human life or economic activity of their own do not enjoy the privilege of an EEZ, or a Continental Shelf.

In the case of the Paracels or the Spratlys, even if China had laid claim to just the larger of the islands (which permit an EEZ in accordance with Article 121 of UNCLOS), it still cannot unilaterally carry out exploration or exploitation activity. This is because it is an accepted practice for maritime areas in dispute, to be kept untouched till resolution through agreement or arbitration. The whole idea is to avoid tension, disharmony, and use of force. China’s actions in unilaterally moving a deep sea oil rig to assert its claims on the Paracels, was a bad example of becoming a ‘law unto itself’. The world knows that China had evicted a Vietnamese contingent from the Paracels, by use of force in 1974. The Vietnamese have claimed these islands since the 17th Century. Vietnam did not withdraw its claims after the 1974 incident. Therefore, the status of these islands continues to be “in dispute”. Moreover, there are other countries that have laid claims to the Paracels. This situation only complicates the ownership tangle, and was bound to provoke protests the way they happened in Vietnam, as well as the stand-off at sea. China had, however miscalculated the initial move, thinking that Vietnam will at best acquiesce to the changed situation; and in the worst case post only diplomatic protests. It had perhaps forgotten that nations react as per their ‘personalities’ which are analogical to human personalities. Over the last decade, China has been over-confident in its posturing. It feels that the world fears its economic prowess and military might, and therefore it can do what (and how) it wants to act! But in less than five weeks it had to retract the rig under the garb of impending bad weather – through upcoming typhoons. This was seen by the world as a face saving mechanism. Everyone knows that the region gets affected by typhoons between May and December, and the peak season is July and August!

In the matter of international relations, it takes a lot to make and keep good relations; but requires only a small, silly move to damage trust and friendship. Relations between Vietnam and China were generally good over the year gone by. But China’s announcement, and subsequent deployment of the “HYSY 981” oil rig approximately 20 miles South of Triton Island in the Paracels in May this year, reignited old tensions, and has made way for an uneasy calm. This altered state of geopolitics has furthered tension and worry amongst other claimants as well.

Everyone understands that China is acting in this manner – only on the basis of over confidence stemming from its economic and military might. In other words, the balance of power has lost equilibrium in a region that claims to host half of global shipping, a majority of industrial raw materials and energy inputs, and many of the promising economies. Acts of acquisition (of rights) must follow legitimate ownership. Otherwise, disputes give rise to disharmony, protest, and unseemly public spat. These become recipe for spoilt relations, changing the fabric of peaceful living.

Conclusion

In the rhetoric of International Politics, attempts to discipline the mighty amongst “sea lawyers” are sometimes dictated by realpolitik when nations that project power on the back of their successful economies and powerful militaries tend to call the shots. Is it really true that “might is right”? Well, these are perceptional issues. The actor which intimidates others, based on its country/population size, and economic/military prowess, assumes that all others will acquiesce to, and accept the boot.

The geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea has for sure changed – for the worse – over the last five years. If China continues to be assertive on its claims, and aggressive in its posture, tensions amongst its neighbours will lead to further disharmony, fear, and frustration. Fear is already rife that China is on its way to becoming a revisionist power. That is why it has embarked upon a campaign to modernize and expand its force levels. Signs of a fresh arms race are becoming conspicuous. It will also lead to more nations seeking legal recourse. It will lead to a reorientation of alliances, and a greater urge for ‘unhealthy’ competition at sea. In sum, the balance of power has been disturbed. To invite equilibrium, all other affected states are bound to be happy with the induction of US forces – aligned with the rebalancing to the East.

In such a scenario, the best concurrent course of action for all actors would be to seek redressal through the International Court of Justice, or the Permanent Court of Arbitration, since all avenues of multi-lateral resolution within claimants have been unsuccessful. There is also need for the international community to raise their voice against threats to freedom of the seas, and to the world economy.



[i] UNCTAD sources

[ii] BBC Asia Q&A downloaded at www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-13748349, on 23 Oct 2014.

[iii] ibid

[iv] Hong Thao Nguyen, “Vietnam’s Position on the Sovereignty over the Paracels & the Spratlys: Its Maritime Claims”, V JEAIL (2012), downloaded from http://ssm.com /abstract=2123861, on 30 OCT 2014.

[v] ibid

[vi] Island of Palmas Case (Neth. v. U.S.), 2 R.I.A.A. 845-846 (Perm. Ct. Arb. 1928); Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, 2001 I.C.J. (Mar. 16), cf. Separate Opinion of Torres Bernardez, 73 & 76, available at http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/87/7047.pdf (last visited on Mar. 30, 2012).

[vii] From UNCTAD data.

[viii] Norihoro Kato, “Japan’s Break with Peace”, NY Times Op-ed, July 16, 2014.

[ix] US Energy Information Agency South China sea Report (last updated Feb 07, 2013)

 

[x] Timo Kivimaki “War or Peace in the South China Sea” Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2002; pp43

[xi] Politics Among Nations, 4th ed., 1967, p ix

[xii] Openheim L “International Law, a Treatise” Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905

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Fishermen are silhouetted against the early morning light as they return from fishing in Karachi

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Tensions rapidly escalating around South China Sea – by Joel Brinkley | Politico

24 February 2013

by Joel Brinkley  | Politico - China’s assertion that almost all of the South China Sea and adjacent waters are part of its territory seems to be growing more dangerous with each passing week.

Fishermen are silhouetted against the early morning light as they return from fishing in Karachi's China Creek. | Reuters

China’s territorial assertions have alienated almost everyone in its neighborhood. | Reuters

China and Japan are scrambling fighter jets in their faceoff over disputed islands. Last month, China “painted” a Japanese military helicopter and destroyer with weapons-lock radar — bringing harsh criticism from Japanese and American military officials.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and several other states are responding angrily to their own territorial disputes with China, so that a common refrain among analysts and observers has become “one stupid mistake could start a war.” Already, Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, has told the state’s military to “prepare for war.”

But as this crisis continues and worsens month after month, the one player seldom heard from is the United States. And China is making it plain that Beijing is little worried about America.

“From a Chinese perspective, 2013 appears to bear similarities to 1913,” Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, the Foreign Ministry’s official think tank, said last month at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.

One century ago “marked the rise of the West,” he intoned. But today, “the opposite is happening with money, power and influence flowing away from America and the West into Asia.

“It’s déjà vu all over again” — except in reverse, he said.

Ruan, like many other Chinese, also blames the United States military’s “pivot” to Asia for stirring trouble in the region. But in fact, China’s aggressive expansionism began even before that — born of two domestic political needs.

Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Peking University, noted in an interview that a few years ago some in the military were growing restless and wanted to start some kind of military conflict with Japan, China’s longtime adversary, to regain their relevance. President Hu Jintao was unwilling to go along with that.

But as China’s social and economic situation continued to deteriorate, Xia and others said, in the spring of 2009 another opportunity arose for re-establishing military relevance — while also distracting disgruntled Chinese with a new foreign conflict. That’s when most nations had to file papers with the United Nations stating their offshore jurisdictions as part of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Much earlier, in 1946, pushed by the West to clarify its maritime position, the Republic of China had issued an official map showing its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea. Few paid attention then because a few years later the Chinese Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang and seized control of the country.

But in 2009, when it came time for each nation to give the United Nations documentation of its claim to maritime territory, the Chinese government officially submitted that 1946 map. Since then, it has repeatedly asserted that nearly the entire sea and adjacent waters are “an inherent part of Chinese territory.”

“This was the first time China had brought this up since 1946,” Yann-huei Song, a research fellow at the Institute of European and American studies in Taipei, Taiwan, said in an interview.

So China’s claim that U.S. provocation is responsible for the South China Sea dispute is wrong. President Barack Obama didn’t first raise his notion of the pivot from the Middle East to Asia until late in 2011. And since then, the State Department has repeatedly said it would not take sides in the debate — even after China changed the map of its territory printed in Chinese passports to include 80 percent of the South China Sea. (Vietnam refuses to stamp those new passports. Instead, it stamps a piece of paper and inserts that into the passport.)

Visiting the region last fall, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Asian states to draw up a code of conduct for the nations bordering the South China Sea but added: “The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims or land features” — even though the farthest point China now claims is more than 1,200 miles away from the Chinese mainland. (One reason the U.S. may be deferring is that Congress never ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty. Republicans blocked ratification once again last year. )

That’s just fine with Beijing. “China doesn’t want the U.S. involved in any way,” said Jose Cuisia Jr., the Philippines’ ambassador to the United States, at a Stanford University conference.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and several other states are responding angrily to their own territorial disputes with China, so that a common refrain among analysts and observers has become “one stupid mistake could start a war.” Already, Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, has told the state’s military to “prepare for war.”

But as this crisis continues and worsens month after month, the one player seldom heard from is the United States. And China is making it plain that Beijing is little worried about America.

“From a Chinese perspective, 2013 appears to bear similarities to 1913,” Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, the Foreign Ministry’s official think tank, said last month at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.

One century ago “marked the rise of the West,” he intoned. But today, “the opposite is happening with money, power and influence flowing away from America and the West into Asia.

“It’s déjà vu all over again” — except in reverse, he said.

Ruan, like many other Chinese, also blames the United States military’s “pivot” to Asia for stirring trouble in the region. But in fact, China’s aggressive expansionism began even before that — born of two domestic political needs.

Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Peking University, noted in an interview that a few years ago some in the military were growing restless and wanted to start some kind of military conflict with Japan, China’s longtime adversary, to regain their relevance. President Hu Jintao was unwilling to go along with that.

But as China’s social and economic situation continued to deteriorate, Xia and others said, in the spring of 2009 another opportunity arose for re-establishing military relevance — while also distracting disgruntled Chinese with a new foreign conflict. That’s when most nations had to file papers with the United Nations stating their offshore jurisdictions as part of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Much earlier, in 1946, pushed by the West to clarify its maritime position, the Republic of China had issued an official map showing its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea. Few paid attention then because a few years later the Chinese Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang and seized control of the country.

But in 2009, when it came time for each nation to give the United Nations documentation of its claim to maritime territory, the Chinese government officially submitted that 1946 map. Since then, it has repeatedly asserted that nearly the entire sea and adjacent waters are “an inherent part of Chinese territory.”

“This was the first time China had brought this up since 1946,” Yann-huei Song, a research fellow at the Institute of European and American studies in Taipei, Taiwan, said in an interview.

So China’s claim that U.S. provocation is responsible for the South China Sea dispute is wrong. President Barack Obama didn’t first raise his notion of the pivot from the Middle East to Asia until late in 2011. And since then, the State Department has repeatedly said it would not take sides in the debate — even after China changed the map of its territory printed in Chinese passports to include 80 percent of the South China Sea. (Vietnam refuses to stamp those new passports. Instead, it stamps a piece of paper and inserts that into the passport.)

 

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