Archive | U-shaped line

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

12 July 2016


Comments (0)

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

Comments (0)

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

Comments (0)

Historical Fiction: China’s South China Sea Claims – by Mohan Malik | World Affairs

15 June 2013

by Mohan Malik | World Affairs - The Spratly Islands—not so long ago known primarily as a rich fishing ground—have turned into an international flashpoint as Chinese leaders insist with increasing truculence that the islands, rocks, and reefs have been, in the words of Premier Wen Jiabao, “China’s historical territory since ancient times.” Normally, the overlapping territorial claims to sovereignty and maritime boundaries ought to be resolved through a combination of customary international law, adjudication before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or arbitration under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While China has ratified UNCLOS, the treaty by and large rejects “historically based” claims, which are precisely the type Beijing periodically asserts. On September 4, 2012, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there is “plenty of historical and jurisprudence evidence to show that China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.”

Navy frigate “Yantai” of the 11th Chinese naval escort flotilla is to make a five-day first-time ever goodwill visit on August 05, 2012 in Varna, Bulgaria. (C) Pres Panayotov

As far as the “jurisprudence evidence” is concerned, the vast majority of international legal experts have concluded that China’s claim to historic title over the South China Sea, implying full sovereign authority and consent for other states to transit, is invalid. The historical evidence, if anything, is even less persuasive. There are several contradictions in China’s use of history to justify its claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea, not least of which is its polemical assertion of parallels with imperialist expansion by the United States and European powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Justifying China’s attempts to expand its maritime frontiers by claiming islands and reefs far from its shores, Jia Qingguo, professor at Beijing University’s School of International Studies, argues that China is merely following the example set by the West. “The United States has Guam in Asia which is very far away from the US and the French have islands in the South Pacific, so it is nothing new,” Jia told AFP recently.

China’s claim to the Spratlys on the basis of history runs aground on the fact that the region’s past empires did not exercise sovereignty. In pre-modern Asia, empires were characterized by undefined, unprotected, and often changing frontiers. The notion of suzerainty prevailed. Unlike a nation-state, the frontiers of Chinese empires were neither carefully drawn nor policed but were more like circles or zones, tapering off from the center of civilization to the undefined periphery of alien barbarians. More importantly, in its territorial disputes with neighboring India, Burma, and Vietnam, Beijing always took the position that its land boundaries were never defined, demarcated, and delimited. But now, when it comes to islands, shoals, and reefs in the South China Sea, Beijing claims otherwise. In other words, China’s claim that its land boundaries were historically never defined and delimited stands in sharp contrast with the stance that China’s maritime boundaries were always clearly defined and delimited. Herein lies a basic contradiction in the Chinese stand on land and maritime boundaries which is untenable. Actually, it is the mid-twentieth-century attempts to convert the undefined frontiers of ancient civilizations and kingdoms enjoying suzerainty into clearly defined, delimited, and demarcated boundaries of modern nation-states exercising sovereignty that lie at the center of China’s territorial and maritime disputes with neighboring countries. Put simply, sovereignty is a post-imperial notion ascribed to nation-states, not ancient empires.

China’s present borders largely reflect the frontiers established during the spectacular episode of eighteenth-century Qing (Manchu) expansionism, which over time hardened into fixed national boundaries following the imposition of the Westphalian nation-state system over Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Official Chinese history today often distorts this complex history, however, claiming that Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus, and Hans were all Chinese, when in fact the Great Wall was built by the Chinese dynasties to keep out the northern Mongol and Manchu tribes that repeatedly overran Han China; the wall actually represented the Han Chinese empire’s outer security perimeter. While most historians see the onslaught of the Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan in the early 1200s as an apocalyptic event that threatened the very survival of ancient civilizations in India, Persia, and other nations (China chief among them), the Chinese have consciously promoted the myth that he was actually “Chinese,” and therefore all areas that the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty) had once occupied or conquered (such as Tibet and much of Central and Inner Asia) belong to China. China’s claims on Taiwan and in the South China Sea are also based on the grounds that both were parts of the Manchu empire. (Actually, in the Manchu or Qing dynasty maps, it is Hainan Island, not the Paracel and Spratly Islands, that is depicted as China’s southern-most border.) In this version of history, any territory conquered by “Chinese” in the past remains immutably so, no matter when the conquest may have occurred.

Such writing and rewriting of history from a nationalistic perspective to promote national unity and regime legitimacy has been accorded the highest priority by China’s rulers, both Nationalists and Communists. The Chinese Communist Party leadership consciously conducts itself as the heir to China’s imperial legacy, often employing the symbolism and rhetoric of empire. From primary-school textbooks to television historical dramas, the state-controlled information system has force-fed generations of Chinese a diet of imperial China’s grandeur. As the Australian Sinologist Geremie Barmé points out, “For decades Chinese education and propaganda have emphasized the role of history in the fate of the Chinese nation-state . . . While Marxism-Leninism and Mao Thought have been abandoned in all but name, the role of history in China’s future remains steadfast.” So much so that history has been refined as an instrument of statecraft (also known as “cartographic aggression”) by state-controlled research institutions, media, and education bodies.

China uses folklore, myths, and legends, as well as history, to bolster greater territorial and maritime claims. Chinese textbooks preach the notion of the Middle Kingdom as being the oldest and most advanced civilization that was at the very center of the universe, surrounded by lesser, partially Sinicized states in East and Southeast Asia that must constantly bow and pay their respects. China’s version of history often deliberately blurs the distinction between what was no more than hegemonic influence, tributary relationships, suzerainty, and actual control. Subscribing to the notion that those who have mastered the past control their present and chart their own futures, Beijing has always placed a very high value on “the history card” (often a revisionist interpretation of history) in its diplomatic efforts to achieve foreign policy objectives, especially to extract territorial and diplomatic concessions from other countries. Almost every contiguous state has, at one time or another, felt the force of Chinese arms—Mongolia, Tibet, Burma, Korea, Russia, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan—and been a subject of China’s revisionist history. As Martin Jacques notes in When China Rules the World, “Imperial Sinocentrism shapes and underpins modern Chinese nationalism.”

 

If the idea of national sovereignty goes back to seventeenth-century Europe and the system that originated with the Treaty of Westphalia, the idea of maritime sovereignty is largely a mid-twentieth-century American concoction China has seized upon to extend its maritime frontiers. As Jacques notes, “The idea of maritime sovereignty is a relatively recent invention, dating from 1945 when the United States declared that it intended to exercise sovereignty over its territorial waters.” In fact, the UN’s Law of the Sea agreement represented the most prominent international effort to apply the land-based notion of sovereignty to the maritime domain worldwide—although, importantly, it rejects the idea of justification by historical right. Thus although Beijing claims around eighty percent of the South China Sea as its “historic waters” (and is now seeking to elevate this claim to a “core interest” akin with its claims on Taiwan and Tibet), China has, historically speaking, about as much right to claim the South China Sea as Mexico has to claim the Gulf of Mexico for its exclusive use, or Iran the Persian Gulf, or India the Indian Ocean.

Ancient empires either won control over territories through aggression, annexation, or assimilation or lost them to rivals who possessed superior firepower or statecraft. Territorial expansion and contraction was the norm, determined by the strength or weakness of a kingdom or empire. The very idea of “sacred lands” is ahistorical because control of territory was based on who grabbed or stole what last from whom. The frontiers of the Qin, Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties waxed and waned throughout history. A strong and powerful imperial China, much like czarist Russia, was expansionist in Inner Asia and Indochina as opportunity arose and strength allowed. The gradual expansion over the centuries under the non-Chinese Mongol and Manchu dynasties extended imperial China’s control over Tibet and parts of Central Asia (now Xinjiang), Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Modern China is, in fact, an “empire-state” masquerading as a nation-state.

If China’s claims are justified on the basis of history, then so are the historical claims of Vietnamese and Filipinos based on their histories. Students of Asian history know, for instance, that Malay peoples related to today’s Filipinos have a better claim to Taiwan than Beijing does. Taiwan was originally settled by people of Malay-Polynesian descent—ancestors of the present-day aborigine groups—who populated the low-lying coastal plains. In the words of noted Asia-watcher Philip Bowring, writing last year in the South China Morning Post, “The fact that China has a long record of written history does not invalidate other nations’ histories as illustrated by artifacts, language, lineage and genetic affinities, the evidence of trade and travel.” Unless one subscribes to the notion of Chinese exceptionalism, imperial China’s “historical claims” are as valid as those of other kingdoms and empires in Southeast and South Asia. China laying claim to the Mongol and Manchu empires’ colonial possessions would be equivalent to India laying claim to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia (Srivijaya), Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka on the grounds that they were all parts of either the Maurya, Chola, or the Moghul and the British Indian empires.

China’s claims in the South China Sea are also a major shift from its longstanding geopolitical orientation to continental power. In claiming a strong maritime tradition, China makes much of the early-fifteenth-century expeditions of Zheng He to the Indian Ocean and Africa. But, as Bowring points out, “Chinese were actually latecomers to navigation beyond coastal waters. For centuries, the masters of the oceans were the Malayo-Polynesian peoples who colonized much of the world, from Taiwan to New Zealand and Hawaii to the south and east, and to Madagascar in the west. Bronze vessels were being traded with Palawan, just south of Scarborough, at the time of Confucius. When Chinese Buddhist pilgrims like Faxian went to Sri Lanka and India in the fifth century, they went in ships owned and operated by Malay peoples. Ships from what is now the Philippines traded with Funan, a state in what is now southern Vietnam, a thousand years before the Yuan dynasty.”

And finally, China’s so-called “historic claims” to the South China Sea are actually not “centuries old.” They only go back to 1947, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government drew the so-called “eleven-dash line” on Chinese maps of the South China Sea, enclosing the Spratly Islands and other chains that the ruling Kuomintang party declared were now under Chinese sovereignty. Chiang himself, saying he saw German fascism as a model for China, was fascinated by the Nazi concept of an expandedLebensraum (“living space”) for the Chinese nation. He did not have the opportunity to be expansionist himself because the Japanese put him on the defensive, but cartographers of the nationalist regime drew the U-shape of eleven dashes in an attempt to enlarge China’s “living space” in the South China Sea. Following the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war in 1949, the People’s Republic of China adopted this cartographic coup, revising Chiang’s notion into a “nine-dash line” after erasing two dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1953.

 

Since the end of the Second World War, China has been redrawing its maps, redefining borders, manufacturing historical evidence, using force to create new territorial realities, renaming islands, and seeking to impose its version of history on the waters of the region. The passage of domestic legislation in 1992, “Law on the Territorial Waters and Their Contiguous Areas,” which claimed four-fifths of the South China Sea, was followed by armed skirmishes with the Philippines and Vietnamese navies throughout the 1990s. More recently, the dispatch of large numbers of Chinese fishing boats and maritime surveillance vessels to the disputed waters in what is tantamount to a “people’s war on the high seas” has further heightened tensions. To quote commentator Sujit Dutta, “China’s unmitigated irredentism [is] based on the . . . theory that the periphery must be occupied in order to secure the core. [This] is an essentially imperial notion that was internalized by the Chinese nationalists—both Kuomintang and Communist. The [current] regime’s attempts to reach its imagined geographical frontiers often with little historical basis have had and continue to have highly destabilizing strategic consequences.”

One reason Southeast Asians find it difficult to accept Chinese territorial claims is that they carry with them an assertion of Han racial superiority over other Asian races and empires. Says Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines law school: “Intuitively, acceptance of the nine-dash line is a corresponding denial of the very identity and history of the ancestors of the Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Malays; it is practically a modern revival of China’s denigration of non-Chinese as ‘barbarians’ not entitled to equal respect and dignity as peoples.”

Empires and kingdoms never exercised sovereignty. If historical claims had any validity then Mongolia could claim all of Asia simply because it once conquered the lands of the continent. There is absolutely no historical basis to support either of the dash-line claims, especially considering that the territories of Chinese empires were never as carefully delimited as nation-states, but rather existed as zones of influence tapering away from a civilized center. This is the position contemporary China took starting in the 1960s, while negotiating its land boundaries with several of its neighboring countries. But this is not the position it takes today in the cartographic, diplomatic, and low-intensity military skirmishes to define its maritime borders. The continued reinterpretation of history to advance contemporary political, territorial, and maritime claims, coupled with the Communist leadership’s ability to turn “nationalistic eruptions” on and off like a tap during moments of tension with the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines, makes it difficult for Beijing to reassure neighbors that its “peaceful rise” is wholly peaceful. Since there are six claimants to various atolls, islands, rocks, and oil deposits in the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands disputes are, by definition, multilateral disputes requiring international arbitration. But Beijing has insisted that these disputes are bilateral in order to place its opponents between the anvil of its revisionist history and the hammer of its growing military power.

Mohan Malik is a professor in Asian security at Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, in Honolulu. The views expressed are his own. His most recent book is China and India: Great Power Rivals. He wishes to thank Drs. Justin Nankivell, Carlyle Thayer, Denny Roy, and David Fouse for their comments on this article.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , ,

Unhappy Neighbors – by Ngo Vinh Long | The Cairo Review

10 February 2013

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

 

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

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

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

The U-Shape Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China and Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nixon in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning up the Neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Original version is available at The Cairo Review)

Comments (1)

An aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain. Photo: AFP

Tags: , , , , ,

How a non-existent island became China’s southernmost territory – by Bill Hayton | The South China Morning Post

09 February 2013

Bill Hayton says records show that a translation error some 80 years ago may be to blame.

- by Bill Hayton | The South China Morning Post - Where is the “southernmost point of Chinese territory”? It’s a controversial question and the least controversial answer might be Hainan Island . More controversial options would be the Paracel (Xisha) islands or the Spratlys (Nansha). But officially the southernmost point is even further south – as far south as the James Shoal, about 100 kilometres from the coast of Borneo. What’s more surprising is that this piece of the motherland is actually invisible. There’s nothing there to see, unless you have diving equipment.

An aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain. Photo: AFP

An aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain. Photo: AFP

The James Shoal lies 22 metres below sea. Yet this inconvenience doesn’t prevent PLA Navy ships visiting the shoal from time to time to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty over it. This ritual involves heaving a large piece of engraved stone over the side of the ship. There is now a small collection of Chinese stelae gathering organic encrustations on the sea floor, more than 1,000 kilometres from Hainan.

How did the Chinese state come to regard this obscure feature, so far from home, as its southernmost point? I’ve been researching the question for some time while writing a book on the South China Sea. The most likely answer seems to be that it was probably the result of a translation error.

In the 1930s, China was engulfed in waves of nationalist anxiety. The predation of the Western powers and imperial Japan, and the inability of the Republic of China to do anything meaningful to stop them, caused anger both in the streets and the corridors of power. In 1933, the republic created the “Inspection Committee for Land and Water Maps” to formally list, describe and map every part of Chinese territory. It was an attempt to assert sovereignty over the republic’s vast territory.

The major problem facing the committee, at least in the South China Sea, was that it had no means of actually surveying any of the features it wanted to claim. Instead, the committee simply copied the existing British charts and changed the names of the islands to make them sound Chinese. We know they did this because the committee’s map included about 20 mistakes that appeared on the British map – features that in later, better surveys were found not to actually exist.

The committee gave some of the Spratly islands Chinese names. North Danger Reef became Beixian (the Chinese translation of “north danger”), Antelope Reef became Lingyang (the Chinese word for antelope). Other names were just transliterated so, for example, Spratly Island became Sipulateli and James Shoal became Zengmu. And this seems to be where the mistakes crept in.

But how to translate “shoal”? It’s a nautical word meaning an area of shallow sea where waves “shoal” up. Sailors would see a strange area of choppy water in the middle of the ocean and know the area was shallow and therefore dangerous. James Shoal is one of many similar features in the Spratlys.

But the committee didn’t seem to understand this obscure English term because they translated “shoal” as “ tan” – the Chinese word for beach or sandbank – a feature which is usually above water. The committee, never having visited the area, seems to have declared James Shoal/Zengmu Tan to be a piece of land and therefore a piece of China.

In 1947, the republic’s cartographers revisited the question of China’s ocean frontier, drawing up what would become known as the “;U-shaped line”. It seems that they looked at the list of Chinese names, assumed that Zengmu Tan was above water and included it within the line. A non-existent island became the country’s southernmost territory.

But in a parallel process around the same time, the republic government gave new names to many of the sea features. Spratly Islands became Nanwei (the noble south), for example, and James Shoal was changed from a sandbank ( tan) into a reef ( ansha). Perhaps, by this time, the authorities had realised their mistake. Nonetheless Zengmu Ansha retained its official southernmost status.

By now, the translation error had become a fact, setting the region on course for conflict 80 years later.

This is more than a piece of historical trivia; James Shoal is a test of whether Beijing really is committed to the rule of international law in the South China Sea. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, no state can claim sovereignty over an underwater feature unless it lies within 12 nautical miles of its land. James Shoal is over 1,000 kilometres from undisputed Chinese territory.

Last month, the Philippines government announced it would seek a ruling from an international tribunal about whether China’s claims in the sea were compatible with the UN convention. James Shoal would be a clear example of a claim that is not compatible. Perhaps this might be a good moment for Beijing to review how it came to claim this obscure piece of submarine territory in the first place.

Bill Hayton is writing a book on the South China Sea for publication later this year

(This article was originally published at The South China Morning Post)

Comments (0)

Drawing a Line in the South China Sea: Why Beijing Needs to Show Restraint – by Nguyen Manh Hung | Global Asia

02 January 2013

by Nguyen Manh Hung | Global Asia - Beijing’s more aggressive stance on maritime disputes in the South China Sea in recent years may signal the first stages of China’s effort to wrest hegemony of the Asia-Pacific region from the US. 


For the disputes to be resolved peacefully and for the US and China to avoid conflict, ASEAN must remain united, while the US must remain committed, writes Nguyen Manh Hung

Maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been a major topic of discussion at scores of official and academic conferences over the last three years. The topic is closely related to freedom of navigation, maritime security and conflicting territorial claims among China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The conflict is being driven by China’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea and its aggressive attempts to enforce those claims. All other concerned nations see China’s actions as excessive and not in conformity with international law.

The conflict in the South China Sea may be seen from several perspectives. At the regional level, it is a conflict of territorial claims among various coastal nations. At the international level, it is a conflict of interests between China, a rising regional power that wants to establish its dominance in the South China Sea, and other major powers — the United States, Japan and India — that are concerned about freedom of navigation in a major sea-lane. At the systemic level, it is an issue of power transition and/or adjustment and accommodation between a rising power, China, and a status quo power, the United States.

The Regional Conflict

The territorial disputes involve two chains of islands: the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. Conflict over the Paracel Islands involves only China and Vietnam. Each country controlled part of the islands until 1974, just prior to the end of the Indochina War, when China took over the remaining islands from the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) after a brief naval engagement. The RVN, which was better known as South Vietnam, immediately protested China’s aggression, vowing to defend its sovereignty and calling on “all justice and peace-loving peoples” in the world to denounce “China’s blatant use of force against an independent and sovereign nation.”1 After the end of the war in 1975, the winning side, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), continued to dispute China’s occupation and vowed never to accept the takeover as a fait accompli.

Conflict over the Spratly Islands involves China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. While Brunei stakes a claim on one reef (Louisa Reef), Malaysia occupies or controls four islands, and the Philippines eight. China and Vietnam, meanwhile, claim sovereignty over all islands, islets, reefs and atolls in the Spratlys.

China had no presence in the Spratly Islands until 1988, when it took military action to force Vietnam from Johnson South Reef, resulting in the deaths of 64 Vietnamese soldiers. In 1995, China effectively established its control over Mischief Reef in the face of protests from the Philippines. Thus began the process of China extending its control over the Spratly Islands and more of the South China Sea.

 

The current concerns over maritime security and freedom of navigation are centered on the conflicting claims over the Spratlys. That conflict flared up in 2009 when China officially presented to the United Nations a map containing its infamous nine-dashed line — or “cow’s tongue” line — claiming sovereignty over 80 percent of the South China Sea (see Figure 1 on opposite page) and began asserting its claim by imposing unilateral fishing bans, seizing Vietnamese fishing boats and equipment, arresting and mistreating fishermen, demanding hefty fines from Vietnamese fishermen before releasing them, threatening oil companies that signed contracts to explore in disputed sea areas and harassing American ships beyond the 12-mile territorial limit. If China succeeds in asserting its claims, the South China Sea will become a Chinese lake, and freedom of navigation could be severely impaired.

Vietnam and the Philippines have been the two most vocal protesters of China’s assertiveness. A recent stand-off between several Philippine boats and a much larger number of Chinese vessels over the Scarborough Shoal — which lies 123 miles from Subic Bay, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone,and 500 miles from China’s Hainan Island, but within China’s nine-dashed line — led the Philippines to resort to diplomatic action, to bringing the issue to the attention of the United Nations, and to invoking the United States-Philippines Mutual Alliance Treaty for protection.2

For Vietnam, total Chinese control of the South China Sea is unacceptable. For centuries, Vietnamese have taken pride in their country’s geographical location as a “balcony looking into the Pacific Ocean.” Losing control of the islands would effectively situate Vietnam on the shores of a Chinese lake, curtail its growth potential and condemn it to live perpetually under China’s shadow.3 In an indication of how volatile the situation is, Vietnamese leaders have vowed to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty at all costs. The most recent attempt to encroach upon Vietnam’s territorial integrity was manifested by China’s invitation to foreign oil companies to explore nine oil and gas blocks within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (see Figure 2on opposite page).

While both Vietnam and the Philippines prefer to resolve the disputes through multilateral negotiation and have tried to enlist support from ASEAN and the international community, China insists on bilateral negotiations and has resorted to a divide-and-conquer approach to weaken ASEAN solidarity.

 

The International Conflict

By 2009-2010, the heightened tension between China and the ASEAN claimants over the contested islands led to an internationalization of the conflict, with the US and other powers beginning to express a view on the disputes. That’s understandable, given that the South China Sea is the world’s second-busiest sea-lane, with more than half of the world’s super tankers and $5.3 trillion in annual trade passing through the area (US trade alone accounts for $1.2 trillion of that figure). The concern over China’s claims and assertive behavior, coupled with China’s lack of transparency in its military modernization program, have created an arms race in Southeast Asia and elicited strong reactions from major powers worried about the situation. India and Japan, for their part, are also concerned over freedom of navigation. Both countries have advocated peaceful resolution of the disputes, but have also increased their diplomatic, economic and naval presence in the area. The US, meanwhile, is in the midst of a policy pivot to the Asia-Pacific, committing 60 percent of its naval assets to the Pacific Ocean, and taking actions to strengthen and modernize “historic alliances” with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as building “robust partnerships” throughout the region.4 Russia has also begun to voice its concern over the issue of freedom of navigation and “outside meddling” in the South China Sea.

In May 2009, as the deadline for claims based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) approached, China was forced to put its cards on the table and Beijing officially presented its nine-dashed-line map, claiming control over 80 percent of the South China Sea and encroaching on territories claimed by other Southeast Asian countries. Almost immediately, the US Senate held a hearing on the South China Sea and in June unanimously passed a resolution “deploring China’s use of force in the South China Sea and supporting the continuation of operations by US armed forces in support of freedom of navigation rights in international water and air space in the South China Sea.”

In June 2010, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, heated exchanges over the South China Sea took place between China and the US, joined by other ASEAN countries. A month earlier, at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the US and China in Beijing, Chinese officials, in a move viewed as raising the stakes in the conflict, declared the country’s claims in the South China Sea to be a “core interest.”5 Influential elites in China view the South China Sea as “blue territory” — that is, as much a part of China’s sovereign territory as Tibet, Xinjiang or Taiwan.6 The US response came in the form of a speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi in July, in which she made it clear that “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” Significantly, American and Chinese understandings of “freedom of navigation” differ. The US believes it includes the right to conduct military exercises and collect intelligence and militarily useful data, while China wants foreign naval ships and aircraft to seek China’s permission before entering its “internal waters” in the South China Sea.7

Since conflicts of national interests between major world powers can easily lead to friction and war, the escalating tensions between China and the US over these maritime disputes should be a serious cause for concern.

The Systemic Conflict

From a systemic perspective, the US-China conflict over the South China Sea may be seen as conflict between a rising power and a status quo power. For decades the US, through its Seventh Fleet and its Pacific Command, was the undisputed naval power in the Pacific. The American defeat in Vietnam in the 1970s and its later involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the situation. While the US reduced its military presence in Asia and got bogged down in two costly and draining wars, China’s economy was growing and its military modernization program was gaining momentum; Beijing, as a result, has become a dominant regional power economically, politically and militarily. Chinese leaders departed from Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum to “hide your intention, bide for time,” and began to flex China’s muscles, particularly over the South China Sea.

China’s assertion of its “historical right” to claim the sea is weak and doesn’t conform to either UNCLOS or customary international law. What China has been doing represents nothing less than an attempt to rewrite international law and impose its will on the region, shape global political realities and influence the “rules of the road” for the international order.8 The US, in both words and deeds, has signaled that it does not accept this. It has strengthened its military presence in Asia, revitalized its strategic relations with old allies and helped improve the defense capabilities of small countries in the region. In July 2012, when China created a prefectural-level city at Sansha, a small island in the South China Sea, and established a military garrison there to “exercise sovereignty over all land features inside the South China Sea,” the US State Department reacted by publicly denouncing China’s action as “counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risks further escalating tensions in the region,” while Congressman Howard Berman, a leading member of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, confirmed that the administration of US President Barack Obama had “repeatedly made clear to Beijing that the US will not allow China to assert hegemony over the region.”9

Conflicts of interests between rising powers and status quo powers have in the past accelerated arms races and led to war. The key questions are, can such a collision course be altered, and can the core conflicts between the two powers be resolved?

Possible End Games

There are a number of possible scenarios for resolving the South China Sea disputes. The first is that China moderates its excessive claims and strikes a deal with other coastal nations, with third-party arbitration or adjudication if necessary, based on recognized international law on territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. Before adopting its nine-dashed line, China had drawn an eleven-dashed line map, two lines of which were in the Gulf of Tonkin.10 This, however, did not prevent China and Vietnam from achieving an agreement on the demarcation of sea borders in that gulf. Moreover, Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that China has officially declared the South China Sea its “core interest,” leaving open the possibility of coming to an understanding regarding conflicting claims. Some Chinese scholars and experts working in government think tanks have privately acknowledged “the problematic nature of China’s policy in the South China Sea,” particularly with regard to “the status of the nine-dotted line.” These analysts and strategic thinkers have expressed concern that the tense situation in the South China Sea could sidetrack China’s “course of reform.”11 This leaves the door open for discussion and provides the space in which China might entertain possible concessions that would avoid embroiling China and its Southeast Asian neighbors in a long argument over China’s excessive claims.

The second scenario is one in which China, taking advantage of the differential in power between it and other rival claimants, relies on a combination of unilateral actions, brinkmanship, piecemeal advances and divide-and-conquer tactics to gradually and steadily establish actual control of the sea area within the nine-dashed line. The standoff between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal was a perfect example of how this possible scenario might unfold.

The Scarborough Shoal standoff began in May 2012 when a Philippine Navy frigate was sent to investigate the area and boarded Chinese fishing boats in an area it claimed belonged to the Philippines’ EEZ. China responded by sending two unarmed China Maritime Surveillance vessels to interpose themselves between the frigate and the fishing boats and let them escape. Both sides sent in reinforcements. At the height of the standoff, there were a handful of Philippine boats facing almost 100 Chinese vessels. Faced with the overwhelming number of Chinese ships and without international support, the Philippine had to cut a deal in which both sides withdrew their ships. But after all the Philippine boats had withdrawn, China roped off the entrance to the shoal, effectively establishing its de facto control over the contested area. With that fait accompli, a new status quo in favor of China was established. This tactic of resorting to low-grade pressure to create a series of new “facts” may lead to what Toshi Yoshihara termed “strategic fatigue,” which could, in the long run, weaken resistance by rival claimants and lead to a grudging acceptance by the US of China’s claims.12 With this achieved, China would have effective control of navigation in the South China Sea and could dictate the use of that important sea-lane of communication.

This approach is being resisted by ASEAN claimants and by other major powers that share the Pacific Ocean. Its success or failure will depend on two things: 1) whether China succeeds in its “divide-and-conquer” approach to ASEAN; and 2) whether ASEAN can summon the determination and capacity to act with a united front to resist China’s pressure and involve other major powers, especially the US.

China’s current aggressive approach has caused friction and tension and, if unrestrained, may lead to military conflicts.13 In the long run, it will push many Asian countries closer to the US and may lead to a new kind of Cold War and containment, pitting a bloc of countries supporting the American vision of an Asian regional order against a group supporting the Chinese vision of an Asian regional order. This scenario is a nightmare for Southeast Asian countries that have worked so hard to strengthen ASEAN solidarity and promote the concept of ASEAN centrality, in order to avoid being caught up in the rivalry between the US and China.

The third scenario is that China reaches an accommodation with the US, based on American recognition of China as an undisputed leader in the South China Sea, and a peaceful transition of leadership in the Asia-Pacific area from the US to China occurs. If this were to happen, it would unsettle all other Asian nations, big and small, but once the US began the accommodation process, other countries would simply have to fall in line. This process, however, would be dangerous globally and regionally.

Where Would China Stop?

There is no guarantee, however, that if China were to dominate Asia, she would stop there. In response to the reality of a spectacularly rising China and an America burdened with economic problems and a dysfunctional government, scholars such as Adam Quinn have focused on the beginning of a power transition from the US, a declining power, to China, a rising power.14 Chinese strategic thinkers have not missed the possibility that the current contest over the South China Sea may represent the first steps toward this transition. Ding Gang, a senior editor at the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, commented: “It’s still unknown if the US plans to input equally massive manpower and financial resources as China has injected into this region. It’s very likely that the US lacks the motivation to do this in the long run. And China may become the strongest economic, political and military power in Asia.”15

The problem with this scenario is that it neglects the extent to which the two key players involved in this transition — China and the US — are regimes that represent incompatible visions of the future of the region and the world. A peaceful transition of power took place from the British Empire to the American Empire, largely because it was a case of one democracy replacing another, trading roles as the sentinels of shared regional interests. The British were willing to relinquish their dominance and were assured that, with another democracy taking the helm, its security and wellbeing were not threatened. But the clash between undemocratic revisionist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and democratic powers in the 1930s led to the Second World War.

Regionally, this scenario would be most undesirable for smaller ASEAN countries and is unlikely to occur so long as the US has the capacity and the determination to maintain its supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region, a determination that has been strongly restated by US leaders, from the president to the secretaries of defense and state as well as by leading members of Congress.16 Aaron Friedberg points out that the ideological gap between China and the US is too great and the level of trust too low to facilitate an accommodation. He makes the case that China’s ultimate goal of regional hegemony would run counter to the US “grand strategy, which has remained constant for decades: to prevent the domination of either end of the Eurasian landmass by one or more potentially hostile powers.”17

Finding a Fair and Lasting Solution

Any realistic solution to the South China Sea conflict must take into account three major factors: 1) China’s determination to be a dominant, if not the dominant, player in Asia; 2) America’s determination to maintain naval supremacy and its system of security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region; and 3) most, if not all, smaller countries in Asia do not wish to live under a Chinese regional order, nor do they want to be forced to take sides in a rivalry between China and the US.

While it will take years or even generations to reach a final solution to the conflict in the South China Sea, there is an immediate need to defuse tension and prevent the conflict from leading to military confrontation. In this direction, ASEAN has pushed, with not much success, for a rules-based system built around strict adherence to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), adopted in 2002, and the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2011-2015), agreed upon in 2010. After the spectacular failure of the July 2012 ASEAN Summit to come up with a joint communiqué that included mention of the Scarborough Shoal incident, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa traveled to several capitals to persuade his colleagues to agree on a face-saving solution. His efforts were rewarded with an agreement on six principles of “ASEAN’s Common Position” on the South China Sea. ASEAN, however, is still working to arrive at an agreement with China on a more binding Code of Conduct.

Since neither ASEAN nor the US accepts China’s excessive maritime claims, an equitable, long-term solution to the South China Sea conflict must begin with China backing off from its nine-dashed-line claim and showing its willingness to abide by international law. The solution must be the result of multilateral diplomacy that recognizes a major role for China, while at the same time protecting the legitimate rights and interests of smaller nations supported by a balance of power in the South China Sea that does not favor the Chinese vision of an Asian regional order.

An equitable and durable solution to the conflict in the South China Sea rests on three mutually reinforcing and mutually dependent factors: Chinese restraint, ASEAN solidarity, and American commitment. A strong and united ASEAN is the most important component in this equation. ASEAN solidarity empowers the countries in the region and offers them the advantage of collective bargaining power. It can help deter aggressive Chinese behavior and encourage continued US involvement as a stabilizing factor.

But the failure of ASEAN to support the Philippines in the Scarborough incident last May, its dramatic failure at the July 2012 ASEAN Summit to agree on a joint communiqué and the feeble attempt to form a common ASEAN front as well as the near-impossibility of coming up with a feasible code of conduct in the South China Sea seriously weakens the prospects of ASEAN becoming a much-needed buffer between the US and China. It also magnifies the likelihood of direct conflict between China’s “core interests” and America’s “national interests” in the South China Sea.

Cold War Worries 

During Secretary Clinton’s visit to China in September 2012, Chinese leaders insisted that the US respect its expanded concept of “territorial integrity” and stop interfering in the South China Sea dispute. This was tantamount to demanding that the US abandon its role as the dominant player in the South China Sea. If the US backs off, ASEAN will be forced to accommodate China, and US influence and credibility in the region will be greatly diminished.

The US is unlikely to agree to play second fiddle to China in the Asia-Pacific region. If ASEAN fails to unite and force an equitable solution on China, the US will have no alternative but containment. China’s effort to weaken ASEAN cohesion in order to push the US out may have the unintended consequence of isolating China and triggering Cold War-style containment.

The new Cold War, if it occurs, will not be as tense and potentially apocalyptic as the period that was characterized, for example, by the Cuban missile crisis. It will be more like the period of détente between the US and the former Soviet Union, when both confrontation/competition and co-operation took place between the two major protagonists in the context of economic globalization and interdependence. But it could still lead to a face-off between opposing military alliances, a struggle to define spheres of influence and military realignments in Asia, all of which would be an unpleasant reality for smaller ASEAN countries.

The sooner this danger of a new Cold War is recognized and acted upon, the better the chance of avoiding it. If the US wants to preserve its influence and credibility in Asia and does not want to be pushed out of the South China Sea, it must stand firm and find ways to help ASEAN stop further Chinese-orchestrated faits accomplis. If the ASEAN countries do not want to get caught up in the rivalry between the US and China, they must act together as a united group, and fast. If China does not want to be isolated and contained, it must modify its excessive demands and contribute seriously to the peaceful management of the South China Sea conflict.

Nguyen Manh Hung is associate professor of government and international politics, and faculty associate of the Center of Global Studies, George Mason University. He wishes to thank Dr. Lew Stern, James Madison University, for his valuable comments and critique. The author, however, is solely responsible for the facts and judgments presented in this article. 

 

NOTES
1 In addition to a statement on Feb. 14,1974 vowing to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity against the “illegal occupation of China” of the Paracel Islands, the Republic of Vietnam issued a White Paper on the Paracel and Spratly Islands in 1975 laying out in full the legal foundations for its sovereignty on the two chains.
2 For an analysis, see Nguyen Manh Hung, “ASEAN’s Scarborough Failure?” The Diplomat, June 16, 2012, http://thediplomat.com/asean-beat/2012/06/16/aseans-scarborough-failure/
3 Viet Nam Minh Chau Troi Dong (Vietnam the Jewel of the East), a popular song among Vietnamese youth in the early 1940s, contains two lines that reflect this national aspiration: “Our damask-like land rules powerfully over a corner of the world, building its shining glory on one side of the Pacific.” (Translation courtesy of Nguyen Ngoc Bich.)
4 US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the US Naval Academy Commencement, May 29, 2012
5 Despite China’s repeated claims that it has not made this assertion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed in an interview with reporter Greg Sheridan that the Chinese did tell that to her during a Strategic and Economic Dialogue in China (The Australian, November 9, 2010), www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/china-actions-meant-as-test-hillary-clinton-says/story-fn59niix-1225949666285. Recently, during her visit to China in September 2012, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi told her bluntly, “China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters.” http://blogs.voanews.com/state-department-news/2012/09/06/china-says-no-questioning-its-sovereignty-over-south-china-sea/
6 Michael Wesley, “What’s at Stake in the South China Sea,” Strategic Snapshots, Lowy Institute for International Policy, July 2012. www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/whats-stake-south-china-sea
7 Ibid.
8 Senator John McCain, in his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Conference on Maritime Security in the South China Sea, June 20, 2011, maintained that certain Chinese interpretations of international law would erode the long-standing principle of freedom of navigation, twisting it from a concept of inclusion that fosters open access to a concept of exclusion that would restrict access. Some in China are even referring to this doctrine as ”legal warfare.”
9 “US Lawmakers accuse China of bullying its maritime neighbors,” The Washington Post, Sept. 12, 2012
10 According to Lin Jinming and Li Dexia, the 11-dotted line was first published by the Republic of China in 1947, and it was “not until 1953, after Premier Zhou Enlai’s approval, that the two-dotted line portion in the Gulf of Tonkin was deleted.” See “The Dotted Line on the Chinese Map of the South China Sea: A Note,” Ocean Development and International Law. July 2003, Vol. 34, Issue 3-4, p. 290.
11 See Yun Sun, “Study the South China Sea: The Chinese Perspective,” Center for a New American Century, Bulletin, Jan. 9, 2012. www.cnas.org/files/documents/flashpoints/CNAS_ESCS_bulletin1.pdf. On June 16, 2012, Chinese scholars and experts met at the Tianze Economic Research Institute in Beijing to discuss “The South China Sea Dispute: National Sovereignty and International Rules.” Many questioned the wisdom of China’s position. Li Ling Hua predicted that the “imagined nine-dotted lines will have to be redrawn.” Shang Hui Ping warned that “the risky use of force can obstruct the rise and long-term development of China,” while whipping up nationalism “could lead to disaster.” Xu Chang Yun suggested that the key issue was not the role of China in the South China Sea but US-China relations; improving these would make it easy to resolve the sea issue. Zhang Qian Fan counseled, “The South China Sea is a small issue. If we let this situation continue, it may sidetrack our course of reform.” China must behave as “a responsible major power” and thus “respect international rules.” See http://xiaozu.renren.com/xiaozu/238288/thread/357158101, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_628b23d201013gi5.html?tj=1 and www.sinonet.org/news/military/2012-06-22/210140.html
12 Toshi Yoshihara, “War by Other Means: China’s Political Uses of Sea Power,” The Diplomat, Sept. 26, 2012.
13 Warning by Vietnam’s Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh at ADMM-6 in Phnom Penh, May 29, 2012, www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/vietnam/2012/05/120530_phungquangthanh_admm.shtml
14 Adam Quinn, “The Art of Declining Politely: Obama’s Prudent Presidency and the Waning of American Power,” International Affairs, Vol. 87, No 4, July 2011.
15 “Vietnam needs strong ASEAN to play pivot,” Global Times, Aug. 1, 2012, www.globaltimes.cn/content/724648.shtml.
16 In November 2011, in an article in Foreign Policy, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of “America’s Pacific Century,” and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in an address to the graduating class at the US Naval Academy on May 29, 2012, spoke of a “resurgence of America’s enduring maritime presence and power” and the challenge of ensuring the “peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region for the 21st century.” At a stop in Manila on their way to Vietnam, both Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman declared that while the US did not want a confrontation with China, “we will do everything possible to protect the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” and that “we cannot permit any nation, in this case China, to illegally control access to sea lanes of communication.” BBC, Jan. 18, 2012 www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/vietnam/2012/01/120118_us_viet_senators.shtml.
17 Aaron Friedberg, “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative US China Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Sept-Oct 2012, p.50

(Original version is available at Global Asia)

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trouble outside the Gulf of Tonkin – by Huy Duong and Van Pham | CSIS Blog

14 December 2012

by Huy Duong and Van Pham | CSIS Blog – On November 30, 2012, two Chinese trawlers operating just outside the Gulf of Tonkin ran across the seismic cable being towed by a Vietnamese survey ship and severed it. Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to China’s embassy in Hanoi to protest. In response, China claimed that this concerns an area of overlapping claims and demanded that Vietnam stop unilateral oil and gas activities.

This incident took place at 17º26’N, 108º02’E—roughly 43 nautical miles from Vietnam’s Con Co Island, 54 nautical miles from Vietnam’s mainland coast, and 75 miles from China’s Hainan Island. It was 210 miles from the disputed Paracel Islands, and is therefore unrelated to the dispute over that archipelago.

Although China and Vietnam agreed to a boundary between their waters inside the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000, the two countries are still negotiating a boundary for the area outside its entrance.

If international law or international practice of maritime delimitation is applied, there is little doubt that the negotiated boundary will be at approximately equal distance from China’s Hainan Island and Vietnam’s mainland coast and coastal islands.

If the boundary were drawn in a way that is most favorable to Vietnam (i.e., halfway between Con Co Island and Hainan), then the location of this incident would be 13.5 nautical miles nearer to the Vietnamese mainland coast than this boundary.

Conversely, if the boundary were drawn in a way that is most favorable to China (i.e., halfway between Vietnam’s mainland coast and Hainan, disregarding Vietnam’s Con Co Island), then the location of this incident would still be 10.5 nautical miles nearer to the Vietnamese mainland coast than this boundary.

A reasonable compromise would be for the boundary to lie exactly between the two above-mentioned positions. The location of the cable-cutting incident is 12 nautical miles nearer to Vietnam than this compromise boundary.

In claiming that the cable-cutting incident had taken place in an area of overlapping claims, China is claiming at least 12 nautical miles past the compromise boundary above, and 10.5 nautical miles past even the boundary that is most favorable to itself.

Thus far, China has not indicated the basis for this claim, but it would be difficult to find a legal justification for why a maritime area 75 nautical miles from Hainan and 54 nautical miles from Vietnam’s mainland coast should belong to China. It is apparent that China is seeking to treat an area that it cannot reasonably dispute as a disputed area, and there are three possible explanations for this.

It might be China’s negotiating tactic to claim far beyond all possible equidistance lines, so that when a compromise is reached it will still end up with a part of the area beyond those lines.

The second hypothesis is that China does not accept the use of equidistance lines for drawing the boundary for this area. In pursuing its various claims around the “U-shaped line”, China has been referring to “historic waters” and “historic rights”. It is possible that China wishes to apply these arguments to the demarcation of this area.

The third hypothesis is that China does not want to demarcate this area at all, preferring instead to “set aside the dispute and pursue joint development” even in an area where it does not have a reasonable claim.

Due to the asymmetry of power between the two countries, a negotiated boundary based on the use of equidistance lines, as per legal and international norms for the demarcation of similar areas, will best protect Vietnam’s rights. Joint development might be a temporary solution or might operate in conjunction with this boundary, but cannot be a viable long term substitute for it. Unfortunately, this asymmetry also means that Vietnam’s options might be limited should China choose one or a combination of the three above-mentioned scenarios.

Mr. Huy Duong contributes articles on the South China Sea to several news outlets including the BBC and Vietnam’s online publication VietNamNet. Ms. Van Pham contributes articles on the South China Sea disputes to the BBC.

(Original version is available at CSIS Blog)

Comments (0)

© Getty Images

Tags: , , , ,

China’s passport move stokes South China Sea dispute | by IISS Editorial Board

12 December 2012

by IISS Editorial Board - A new row over the South China Sea has erupted following Beijing’s issue of biometric passports containing a map showing the so-called ‘nine-dashed line’ that China has used to assert its sovereignty over disputed islands. By printing the passports, and inviting other states to stamp their visas in them, Beijing is attempting to gain recognition for its claims to sovereignty.

© Getty Images

A protest in the Philippines against China’s latest attempt at ‘administrative diplomacy’, 29 November 2012.

States in contention with China over territory have not responded kindly. Vietnam and the Philippines have issued separate visa forms rather than stamping the Chinese passports. Since the map also shows Chinese dominion over territories disputed with India, the Indian government has issued visas to Chinese citizens with its own map of the Sino-Indian border embossed on them. Taiwan has also objected to the new passports, which depict it as part of the People’s Republic and feature images of Taiwanese scenic spots.

The spat has highlighted China’s recent bolstering of its tactic of ‘administrative diplomacy’ in the complex South China Sea disputes, as it seeks to exert de facto sovereignty. However, recent events have also underlined the continued intransigence of all parties to the dispute, even while work is under way to establish a code of conduct intended to bind them to resolve the dispute peacefully.

Long-running arguments
Beijing’s administrative diplomacy is the latest in a series of increasingly bold actions and reactions by claimants over the past four years. The South China Sea dispute has existed for decades, with China and Taiwan having the most expansive claims over the waters. The area included within the nine-dashed line overlaps with exclusive economic zones, islands and territorial waters claimed by five other states: Vietnam, which claims sovereignty over all of the Paracel and Spratly islands; the Philippines, which claims a large area of the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Reef; Malaysia and Brunei, which claim a smaller area of the southern Spratlys; and Indonesia, which claims none of the disputed islands but whose exclusive economic zone overlaps the nine-dashed line.

There were bloody clashes between China and Vietnam in 1974, when China ousted the Vietnamese from half of the Paracel Islands so that it controlled the entire archipelago, and in 1988, when China for the first time established a physical presence in the Spratlys after watching other claimant states do the same. There was a period of relative calm between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, when diplomacy came to the fore and the newly expanded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) managed to draw up a Declaration of Conduct in 2002 to manage tensions. However, since 2008 the disputes have come to be characterised by increasingly hostile rhetoric, maritime paramilitary deployments and perceptions of China’s growing assertiveness.

While Beijing would claim that it was simply reacting to the more aggressive and unilateral hydrocarbon exploration by claimant states such as Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, China has undoubtedly become more confident in the power of its own diplomacy and is more willing to use various forms of coercion, whether economic, paramilitary or proxy diplomacy.

Stop and search
The nine-dashed line, which has been used occasionally by China to assert its claims to the South China Sea, was drawn by the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1946 and first published in early 1947. The line then had 11 dashes, but in 1953 China – by then the People’s Republic following the communist takeover– removed two dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin without explanation. Since then, the only use of the nine-dashed line in official communication was in 2009, when the map was submitted as an attachment to aNote Verbale presented to the UN. The note suggested that China had ‘indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and adjacent waters’.

The recent passport issuance, therefore, seems to represent a solidification of China’s nine-dashed line claim. This was done despite the fact that Beijing had agreed in the 2002 Declaration of Conduct to attempt to resolve the disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The nine-dashed line map, which was first published 35 years before the current UNCLOS was finalised, would be unlikely to stand up to scrutiny under international law.

The passports are not the only form of administrative diplomacy that China has undertaken in recent times. In July 2012, Beijing upgraded the county-level status of Sansha, on Hainan Island, to a prefecture-level city, with administrative responsibility for the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands, as well as Scarborough Reef and Macclesfield Bank. While the move was largely symbolic, it allowed the creation of a local government and military garrison. State-run media noted that the city would administer just 13 square kilometres of land but a total of more than two million square kilometres of maritime waters, without clarifying exactly which islands were included.

In a further step, Hainan’s People’s Congress, a provincial-level legislature in the southern island, stated on 29 November that revised regulations would come into effect on 1 January 2013 allowing Hainanese border police to board and search vessels ‘illegally entering’ Chinese territorial waters. Given that the Spratly and Paracel islands are, in China’s view, under the jurisdiction of Hainan (through the Sansha city administration), vessels passing within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands in the sea could be subject to inspections by Hainanese police. The Congress also specifically emphasised that patrols in the water around Sansha City should be strengthened and coordinated with the activities of China’s maritime paramilitaries.

It is unclear whether such constabulary activity will actually be undertaken near the disputed islands, as the seagoing capabilities of the Hainan border police are limited. Moreover, little international shipping passes so close to the shallow and treacherous waters of the Spratly Islands. Nonetheless, any such stop-and-search operation would be a significant escalation in enforcement activities undertaken by China and would increase the possibility of a stand-off or even limited clash between rival paramilitary or military forces.

Attempts by Chinese law-enforcement agencies to harass shipping would inevitably encourage other claimant states to respond by deploying their own constabulary forces, risking a repeat of the impasse over Scarborough Reef in April–May 2012, when a tense stand-off developed between Chinese and Philippine paramilitary vessels. Such incidents are relatively containable as they usually involve unarmed vessels, but aggressive manoeuvres by any of the ships involved, which would augment the probability of injury or death to sailors, might create tensions from which governments would find it hard to retreat without significant loss of face.

Moves to disrupt shipping would greatly concern the United States, which has stated that it has a ‘national interest’ in ensuring freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, and is engaged in a military and diplomatic ‘rebalance’ towards Asia. While Washington has said that it maintains an impartial view of the disputes (even though it is now engaged directly in the modernisation of the Philippine navy through the donation of former coast guard vessels, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the mutual defence treaty while in Manila in May this year), the principle of freedom of navigation is prized highly in the US.

ASEAN splits
Beijing’s latest attempts to demonstrate de facto sovereignty over the South China Sea are reinforced by regular patrols by China’s maritime paramilitary vessels through the region, as well as the annual and unilateral fishing ban China has enforced since 1999. In addition, Beijing has been attempting to scupper attempts by Southeast Asian countries to forge a unified diplomatic approach to the dispute.

The latest manifestation of this occurred in mid-November at ASEAN’s annual heads of state summit that took place in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. At an ASEAN–Japan meeting, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III directly and vocally contradicted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who claimed there was an ASEAN consensus to retain negotiations over the South China Sea within an ‘ASEAN–China framework’. At the ASEAN–US meeting, Aquino more clearly elucidated Philippine support for US engagement in regional security issues.

The Philippine–Cambodian spat recalled a diplomatic deadlock that had occurred in July at an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting which, for the first time in the organisation’s 45-year history, ended without a final communiqué being agreed (although frantic Indonesian diplomacy subsequently resulted in an ex post facto statement being drawn up). Cambodia, holding the ASEAN chairmanship for 2012, was adamant that Vietnamese and Philippine desires to have the South China Sea dispute – including the recent Scarborough Reef incident – mentioned in any joint statement could not be fulfilled.

The actions of Cambodia have raised serious concerns among other ASEAN members that Phnom Penh is essentially doing the bidding of its close ally, China, despite the negative consequences for Southeast Asian unity. Beijing is eager to prevent the internationalisation of the South China Sea dispute and prefers to deal with the disagreements on a bilateral rather than multilateral basis. As if to confirm China’s influence over its Southeast Asian ally, Cambodian Secretary of State for Finance Aun Porn Moniroth stated while visiting Beijing in September that: ‘The Chinese government also voiced high appreciation for the part played by Cambodia as the chair of ASEAN to maintain good co-operation between China and ASEAN.’ During that visit, Beijing agreed on soft loans worth $500m and a gift worth $24m for Cambodia.

The splits at the ASEAN summits have highlighted differences of opinion among member states as to how to proceed in negotiations over the South China Sea. Some states, such as Cambodia and Laos, which have a closer relationship with China and no overlapping exclusive economic zone claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, naturally have a different outlook from those littoral states in more direct competition with Beijing over maritime territory, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. The facade of unity within ASEAN has, therefore, fractured somewhat, just as some members of the organisation (particularly, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia) are eager to press for a legally binding code of conduct for the South China Sea to be drawn up between China and ASEAN. (The 2002 Declaration of Conduct is a political rather than a legal instrument.)

Intractable dispute
The situation may change in 2013 as Brunei assumes the ASEAN chair. Although a disputant in the South China Sea and therefore eager to pursue diplomatic solutions, Brunei is less forthright in its claims than the Philippines and Vietnam. (Taiwan is stymied in its vocal claims by international isolation, and Malaysia and China have something of an unwritten understanding not to escalate the issue).

However, recent quarrels have underlined the challenge facing ASEAN not only in producing a united front towards China, but also in agreeing on the terms of a code of conduct even among its own members. The recent attempts by China to enforce its administration on the region are further evidence of the intractability of the dispute.

China is not the only party to pursue such a route: both Vietnam and the Philippines have delegated the administration of the disputed islands to the closest provinces. Vietnam has encouraged tourism to the Spratly Islands, something China is replicating with a leisure cruise to the Paracels that began operating in October. Yet, given China’s resources, its control over the Paracel Islands and the fact that its size means its actions often have greater effects, China’s administrative measures arguably carry greater weight.

Taken together with its posture in the South China Sea, China’s activities in its dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands indicate growing confidence in its maritime diplomacy. Since September, when Tokyo nationalised three of the disputed islands by purchasing them from a Japanese civilian, China has maintained near-constant deployments of unarmed maritime paramilitary vessels near the island group. Beijing alsoupdated its baselines – the lines drawn around a coast or island from which territorial or exclusive economic zones are measured – submitted to the UN to include the disputed islands for the first time. Both measures indicate the administrative diplomacy China is using to fulfil its goals in maritime disputes: by deploying regular paramilitary patrols and using legal recourse to reinforce its claim, Beijing is attempting to demonstrate de facto sovereignty over the islands.

This bodes ill for the prospects of resolving the disagreements. During his speech to the Chinese Communist Party National Party Congress in November, out-going President Hu Jintao noted his desire to ‘resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests’. While there is great uncertainty over the likely direction of foreign policy under the fifth generation of leaders set to take power under Xi Jinping, Hu’s language did not suggest much value was placed in the possibility of compromise over maritime disputes.

Discussions between China and ASEAN are likely to continue in 2013, but the result may not be the substantive code of conduct necessary to alleviate concerns over the effects of China’s rise and the possibility of a negotiated solution. The waters in the South China Sea are not likely to be calmed for some time.

 

(Original version is available at IISS Editorial Board)

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

European experts suggest international arbitration for East Sea dispute – by Editorial Board | Thanh Nien News

24 October 2012

 by Editorial Board | Thanh Nien NewsPanelists at a recent conference on the East Sea held in Paris said China has no legal claim to sovereignty over large parts of the sea, and Vietnam and other countries involved should take it to an international court.

European experts discuss the East Sea disputes in Paris October 16

Conflicts over the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea, should not be considered just a regional issue, Tuoi Tre quoted them as saying.

Christian Lechervy, special advisor to the French President on foreign affairs, said the issue is not only about Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands that Vietnam and China are fighting over, but also includes the disputed Pratas Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and other islands and straits.

The conference on October 16 was organized by the Institute for International and Strategic Relations and the Gabriel Péri Foundation.

Conflicts over the waters have become more intense since 2009 when reserves of oil and gas, rare earths and other minerals, and seafood were found even as resources in most countries were running out.

Cyrille P. Coutansais, a maritime law officer in the French Navy, said international laws and regulations should be enforced so that this area is not appropriated by force.

Only international rules such as the 1982 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the latter giving each country a 200-sea-mile economic zone, can resolve the matter fairly, he said.

China has been acting like the waters are its own, but without basis in international law or treaties it has signed, the experts said.

Patrice Jorland, a French journalist, said the name South China Sea, given by marine traders and European cartographers centuries ago, is no longer suitable in the current political situation since it make its sound like the waters belong to China.

China has refused to accept this, and in 2009 presented to the UN a U-shaped line – including 80 percent of the waters and most islands — as demarcating Chinese territory.

The UN’s International Hydrographic Organization decided that the U-shaped line is vague and technically inaccurate and thus cannot be admitted as legal evidence.

But China showed little cooperation to clarify the matter, legal experts said at the conference.

David Scott of Britain said China has refused to clarify how the line was created technically.

Professor Monique Chemillier-Gendreau of France also recalled an experience in Beijing three years ago when high-ranking Chinese officials had said the waters were theirs and they had no responsibility to provide any evidence or go to any court, she said.

It has documents about the waters since 1930, while Vietnam has some papers dating back to the 17th century, she said.

The panelists said instead of going in for international arbitration, China is using bilateral dialogue as a secret weapon.

China’s strategy is to financially exhaust each country involved in the dispute by forcing them to militarize, until they no longer care and would sign agreements in favor of China, they said.

They encouraged Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries caught in the dispute to deal with China multilaterally, bringing it to the Hague, warning otherwise they would lose everything.

Coutansais said Vietnam and the Philippines do not have to get China’s agreement to find an international referee. If both of them take China to court, China would have to go, he said.

 

(Original version is available at Thanh Nien News)

Comments (0)