Tag Archive | "China"

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

25 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Duc Truong, UGVF

© Duc Truong, UGVF

 

 © Duc Truong, UGVF

 © Hoai Tuong Nguyen, Future Institute

 

Annex 2: Videos

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Map: Scarborough Shoal

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Fishermen caught out by politics of South China Sea – by Tomas Etzler | CNN

02 March 2013





    

Luzon, Philippines (CNN) – A year ago, a fisherman Efren Forones came back from fishing trips with up to three and half tons of fish. In return he was able to buy 15 to 20 kilos of rice for his family every month and was planning to send at least one of his six children to college.

Not any more.

He now returns with just 400 kilos of catch at best, meaning he can only afford one to two kilos of rice a month, while school for his children is an expensive luxury and out of the question.

The reason? He says he can longer fish in the fertile waters around Scarborough Shoal.

A cluster of uninhabitable sand banks and small rocks set in a shallow azure water lagoon about 130 miles (200 km) west from the Philippine island of Luzon, Scarborough Shoal is one of a number of territories at the center of an international dispute in the South China Sea.

Both the Philippines and China lay claim to it.

Tense standoff

The long-term tensions between the two nations escalated last April during a one-month stand off between the two nations, after Manila accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally in the area. When a Philippines navy vessel inspected the boats it found “large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks” inside one of the boats, according to the Philippine government. Manila then reported that two Chinese surveillance ships had taken up position at the mouth of the lagoon, blocking the way to the fishing boats and “preventing the arrest” of the fishermen. The vessels stretched a cable across the mouth of the lagoon, which also prevented Filipino fishermen from going there, according to the Philippines coast guard.

Earlier this year, the Philippine government took its feud with China to a United Nations tribunal, a move that Beijing has rejected. In an article on state-run CCTV last month, China pointed to a code of conduct it signed in 2002, known as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It said the declaration expected that relevant disputes be solved through friendly talks and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.

That brings little comfort to the struggling fishermen in communities in west Luzon, the nearest region to Scarborough Shoal — also known as Panatag Shoal here or Huangyan Island to the Chinese. One of them is Masinloc, a municipality of 40,000 people, which relies on the seas for almost 80% of its income, according to the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. It says thousands of fishermen have lost their regular jobs as catches decline.

Forones is one of them.

The 52 year old has been fishing in the waters off Masinloc for 22 years. He lives with his family in a traditional bamboo house mounted on pillars above the sea. His youngest daughter is four years old. Forones does not own a boat but used to be hired as a fisherman and paid a minimum of $85 dollars for a trip. Nobody is hiring now. He has tried to rent boats on his own and fish with his neighbors, but the little catch they bring back barely covers the rental fee and fuel.

Map: Scarborough Shoal

He says the Shoal is the most important fishing ground in this region. “They (the Chinese) shoo us away, will not allow Filipinos to come near the area,” he says. “They are the only ones that can fish there, not us. We lost Scarborough and it is hard. We earn nothing.”

Beijing is unwavering in its claims. As recently as last month, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese surveillance vessels were carrying out regular missions in the South China Sea.

The Xinhua report cited Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration, as saying that China would continue the patrols “to secure the nation’s maritime rights and interests” in areas it claims as its territorial waters.

China’s claim on the area dates back to 1279 during the Yuan Dynasty, when Chinese astronomer Guo Shoujing conducted a survey. Then in 1935, China declared sovereignty over 132 islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, with the Scarborough Shoal — or Huangyan — included as a part of the Zhongsha Islands, according to Xinhua.

However, Forones is in little doubt who the lagoon, which lies within what the Philippines declares as its Exclusive Economic Zone, belongs to.

“Of course it is ours. We own Scarborough,” he insists. “But China is trying to get it from us. Our government should fix that. We should seek help from the United States if the Philippine government cannot handle it alone.”

Nowhere else to go

Forones and his wife plan to stay in Masinloc, for now. He will try to start diving for shellfish. By selling clams, mussels and oysters, they can make around $5 a day. Enough to buy rice and other basic food to feed the family. “There is no other place where we can go. I will stay here, get shells from nearby and help my husband to make living,” Forones’ wife, Gemma, says.

The situation is similar in Subic, a town 55 miles (88 km) south of Masinloc. It used to host one of the biggest American naval bases outside the United States, before it closed in 1991.

Operators of the fishing market on the outskirts of the town of 90,000 say business is down 50% since the fishermen were blocked from fishing where they wanted to at Scarborough. Many fishermen here share a similar story to their counterparts further north.

“When we went there, a Chinese vessel, the Chinese Marine Surveillance blocked our path,” says Ronnie Drio, 46-year-old father of eight children. “As we managed to get past through it, it looked like they called another one because a different ship appeared and blocked our way again.

“That’s when we got trapped. Then a Chinese man stepped out. He looked like their highest officer. He flashed a sign that we had to leave immediately. We were kicked out like pigs.”

A number of fishermen have already left Subic and Masinloc and many more are considering it. One of them, 58-year-old Tolomeo “Lomi” Forones, is Efren’s cousin. He’s been a fisherman for 30 years but now makes a living as a motorbike taxi driver. He makes around $2 on a good day.

“Our income was higher when we used to fish at Scarborough. I even used to save money. But now we earn just enough for daily consumption and sometimes what we earn is not even enough to provide food.”

Dangerous waters

He still does occasional fishing trips but against his wife’s wish. Janet Forones wants to leave Masinloc and their low income is not the only reason: “Who would not get worried when they are out there? What if they get shot?” She was referring to the presence of the Chinese boats.

What puzzles the fishermen here most is the speed the whole situation has changed. Although the Philippine and Chinese governments have disputed each other’s claim to the lagoon for many years, they could fish at Scarborough alongside Chinese fishermen up until a few months ago.

“I do not know why they don’t like us or why they do not want us within that area. If Americans were still in the region, the Chinese would have never came to Scarborough because they would be scared. If our government allows the U.S. to come back over here, its OK with me,” she says, referring to Washington’s commitment to its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed last year.

But the solution to the dispute is as distant as ever. Litigation at the United Nations could last years. Most of the local fishermen do not have so much time. So while the governments squabble, many of these fishermen and their families will have to leave the only life they have known and start from scratch somewhere else.

 

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

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

24 February 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Why Manila is taking China to tribunal

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Why Manila is taking China to tribunal – by Andrew Billo | CNN

28 January 2013

by Andrew Billo | CNN - Last week, the Philippines sought to increase pressure on China over its claims in the South China Sea by filing a legal claim against the country under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas. While unprecedented, the Philippines knows that it cannot afford derailing the economic relationship with its third largest trading partner, China, and a verdict – to be issued several years down the line – will ultimately be unenforceable.

Why Manila is taking China to tribunal

Why, then, would the Philippines take this action now, given the irritation it might cause China, risks to economic relations, and the likely minimal impact it will have on altering China’s behavior?

 

One overarching reason is that in Asia, international relations, at least in the political sphere, are dictated largely by domestic affairs. The legacy of colonialism, and its associated web of international alliances, means that East Asian countries often distrust their neighbors and global powers as well. Distrust has created insular and highly nationalistic policies, a convenient tool for governments wishing to pin domestic governance and economic challenges on the legacy of foreign oppression.

The South China Sea is an ideal distraction from the domestic challenges of Asian countries. The territory is believed to hold significant energy resources, but how much is unknown. At present, countries in the region are sufficiently resourced to maintain their (slowing as they may be) growth trajectories. If domestic energy sources dry up, the challenge of maintaining peace will be even greater.

But the international news media is prematurely hyping the disputes and highlighting the verbal barbs being traded between countries at all levels. It’s true, as The Economist pointed out this past week, that a clash over territory would “imperil the region’s peace and its momentous economic advances.” But this isn’t going to happen, at least not yet.

More from GPS: Why Asia is arguing over its islands

Risking a conflict over the South China Sea area – and the coinciding economic collapse – would pose a greater risk for domestic political leadership, and so naval vessels and troops remain largely stationed at home.

So while a statement released by the Philippines read, “One cannot put a price in the concerted effort of the Filipino people and government in defending our patrimony, territory, national interest and national honor,” the country would be misguided in pursuing anything more than legal action.

In the Philippines, and other countries in the region, the price for maintaining “national honor” with force is prohibitively expensive. Blustering, however, ultimately serves domestic political interests as creating a unified, national stance is quite valuable for political parties wishing to secure their futures in a tenuous political environment.

The South China Sea dispute has long evoked nationalist feelings. In 2007, protests over the South China Sea curiously materialized in Vietnam, and then quickly faded. One Sunday in front of the Chinese Embassy and Consulate in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, for example, protestors took to the street, a strange sight in Communist controlled Vietnam, where public protest is typically curtailed.

Police stood by, watching the protestors picket, then, like they had been queued to take action from the top, the police quietly shooed the protestors away. It made for a couple of nice snapshots in local and international papers, but none of the protestors objected to putting their placards away.

A week later, the protests seemed to become more organic in nature, as comments labeling China as the oppressor were bandied about the blogosphere, as well as the streets. China objected, but Vietnam’s “crackdown” on the protests seemed almost to have been staged. The protests were a reminder to the Vietnamese people – most of whom have no direct stake with respect to the dispute – about China as the historic aggressor that the Vietnamese military successfully thwarted in 1979.

Fast-forward again to 2013. In 2007, U.S. interests were squarely in the Middle East and South Asia, centered on Iraq and Afghanistan. Interest in the Asia Pacific was being curtailed. Now, the U.S. government’s return to the region further complicates the South China Sea matter, and vexes regional governments unsure of what lengths the U.S. would take in order to stand up for its regional allies. Is America willing to step up and intervene on any of the bilateral disputes, and will U.S. ships in the region act as a stabilizing force?

But ultimately it is nationalist forces within the most vociferous claimant countries of the Philippines, Vietnam and China that can be blamed most for present tensions for three reasons.

First, by asserting sovereignty – even if illegitimately – over a disputed area, a government is able to project an image of power and influence that reinforces its authority. Second, the contradictory assertions of sovereignty by the various claimants help to create an “enemy” that governments can cast as a scapegoat for certain domestic issues and deflect hostility toward. This also engenders greater appreciation for those in office, as it creates a situation that encourages citizens to rely on their governments for protection. Third, the contentious claims regarding the South China Sea shift focus in the direction of international problems and away from domestic ones.

Despite nationalism’s propensity for polarizing states, entering into sustained military conflict would undermine these governments’ ability to fulfill societal demands for economic growth, institutions, and security as described above. Protracted military conflict is unlikely owing to the financial costs and risks to property and life. For this reason, greater conflict will not emerge in the near-term.

The parties will continue to agree to disagree, but the conflict is  unlikely to escalate much further in the next decade at least.  In the meantime, it is unfortunate that opportunities to cooperate on a range of regional issues will be hampered.

CNN Editor’s note: Andrew Billo is an assistant director with the Asia Society in New York. The views expressed are his own.

(Original version is available at CNN)

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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)

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China fears UNCLOS, think-tank says – by Jojo Malig | ABS-CBN News

05 December 2012

by Jojo Malig | ABS-CBN News - MANILA, Philippines China does not want to bring the dispute over the ownership of Scarborough Shoal to international bodies because it fears losing the case, a think-tank said.

Beijing is concerned that its claims on the Spratly Islands and Scarborough would be junked by dispute settlement mechanisms under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even if China ratified the agreement in 1996, according the International Crisis Group.

The Philippines has been urging China to bring the 2 nations’ dispute to the International Tribunal on Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for arbitration, but China has been refusing the offer.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press conference in Beijing that international arbitration is “weird.”

“Isn’t it a weird thing in international affairs to submit a sovereign country’s territory to international arbitration? What a chaos the world will be in if this happens?”  he said.

“Whatever the Philippines do (sic) or say (sic) regarding the sovereignty of the Island cannot alter the fact that the Island belongs to China,” Hong added.

The International Crisis Group, however, said in an April 2012 paper “Stirring up the South China Sea” that China’s leaders would have difficulty explaining to its citizens why it must accept a negative decision rendered under a perceived “Western-dominated” system.

UNCLOS requires countries to surrender the majority of their historical maritime claims in favor of the maritime zones awarded under the convention.

Claims to islands and other geographical features are not affected by the treaty, but any claim to sovereignty over maritime areas must fall within either the territorial waters or exclusive economic zones awarded to those features by UNCLOS, according to the think-tank.

China has been claiming ownership of all the Spratly Islands and Scarborough shoal in the West Philippine Sea, with its claim based on alleged historical records.

The International Crisis Group revealed that under UNCLOS, China is not likely to get all of the territory it is claiming.

“Beijing has insisted that its historic ‘nine-dashed line’ map is a valid territorial claim. But its contours are vague, and the chart, which encompasses almost all of the South China Sea, is not recognised under international law,” it said.

The Philippines is insisting that Scarborough Shoal is within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) based on UNCLOS.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said bringing the issue to ITLOS will “ascertain which of us has sovereign rights over the waters surrounding the Scarborough Shoal,” which is also known locally as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.

China’s internal power struggles

The International Crisis Group believes that power struggles within China may have caused Beijing’s recent aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.

“China is one of its own worst enemies in the South China Sea, as its local governments and agencies struggle for power and money, inflaming tensions with its neighbours, illustrated by Beijing’s latest standoff with the Philippines,” it said.

Its report revealed the domestic political and economic contradictions undermining China’s efforts to restore relations with its neighboring countries.

It said that eleven ministerial-level agencies, and particularly law enforcement bodies, should have a single coherent maritime policy and must address  confusion over what constitutes Chinese territorial waters.

“Some agencies are acting assertively to compete for a slice of the budget pie, while others such as local governments are focused on economic growth, leading them to expand their activities into disputed waters,” says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Director. “Their motivations are domestic in nature, but the impact of their actions is increasingly international.”

“The Chinese navy has steered clear of the disputes over the last several years, but is using the tensions to justify its modernisation, which is contributing to a regional military build-up,” it added.

Citing the Scarborough standoff, the International Crisis Group said Chinese foreign ministry should be the primary policy-coordinating body in the sea but its role has been usurped by law enforcement and paramilitary ships that are independently plying the disputed waters.

“The ministry lacks the power and authority to control the agencies, including five law enforcement bodies, local governments and private sector actors,” it revealed.

“Escalating tensions since 2009 have dealt a severe blow to China’s relations with its South East Asian neighbours and significantly tarnished its image,” sad Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program director.

“The [area] will remain volatile unless China’s internal coordination problems and the legal confusion surrounding its maritime territorial claims are addressed.”

Jojo Malig is Editor at ABS-CBNnews.com

(Original version is available at ABS-CBN News)

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Dangerous waters: Behind the islands dispute – by Kevin Voigt | CNN

24 September 2012

by Kevin Voigt | CNN - Hong Kong – When Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping called Tokyo’s territorial claims on a group of East China Seas island “a farce,” he echoed national sentiment of protesters who took to the streets in anti-Japan protests in recent weeks.


Islands’ former owner comments on furor par CNN_International

“Japan should rein in its behavior, not utter any words and prevent any acts that undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Xi — who is expected to become China’s new president next month — at a Wednesday meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, state media reported.

As Beijing’s presumptive new leader wades into the Japan-China dispute, analysts say the stakes are being raised in a dispute that is largely being led by nationalist fervor rather than government policy or underlining economic interests. And the détente that usually follows these territorial disputes is muddied by the leadership change in Beijing expected next month.

“This is where it’s becoming dangerous,” said Alan DuPont, defense expert at the University of New South Wales. “No incoming Chinese leader can be perceived to be weak on territorial claims.”

On Monday, the Japan Coast Guard said two Chinese surveillance ships entered its territorial waters, while 10 other Chinese ships patrolled nearby. Meanwhile, China announced Sunday it was postponing planned celebrations later this month marking the 40th anniversary of normalization of relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

The bellicose rhetoric also charts the rise of an assertive China and a sea change in the forces shaping Pacific politics that are writ small in the battle over the uninhabited island chain, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

“China’s feeling more confident both in its position and in its right to the area both legally and politically,” Mark Valencia, a fellow at the National Asia Research Program and expert on the South China Sea dispute. “And nationalism in China has gained strength and influencing the government.”

Rising tensions in China waters

The East China Sea isn’t the only flashpoint for territorial tensions among China and its neighbors. The South China Sea is dotted with hundreds of largely uninhabited islands and coral atolls, many of which have competing claims from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Just like the friction with Japan, there have been increasing incidents of tension between China and its South China Sea neighbors over island claims.

In 2011, Vietnam claimed that Chinese patrol boats cut cables from PetroVietnam boats during oil and gas surveys in disputed waters. Beijing said that Vietnamese vessels have been illegally surveying in Chinese waters and harassing Chinese fishing boats. The same year Philippines also reported boats cutting cables of a survey ship and threatening to ram its boats.

“A lot of this wouldn’t be happening if China wasn’t becoming more assertive and being more confident, and that’s one important issue why all these issues are becoming more salient,” DuPont said.

The difference in the East China Sea is the collective might of China and Japan, the second and third largest economies in the world, respectively. “When you have two major nation states involved, it’s more dangerous than the (South China Sea),” DuPont said.

A nationalist wave

The often violent protests that broke out in dozens of Chinese cities — from Guangzhou in the south to Qingdao in the north — came to a head after the Japanese government bought the disputed islands from the Japanese family that have privately owned the islands on September 11 for 2.05 billion yen (US$26.2 million).

Dozens of Japanese factories and businesses temporarily shut their doors in the wake of the violence as angry crowds overturned Japanese brand cars and looted Japanese stores in some areas. The island dispute, which traces back centuries, have reached diplomatic boiling points in 1996, 2005 and most recently in 2010, when a Chinese boat allegedly rammed a Japanese patrol boat, resulting in the arrest of the Chinese sailors.

“I don’t think anyone thought the Chinese reaction would have been as strong as it was, and I don’t think anyone expected the level of violence that we saw, especially looking at past incidents,” said James Manicom, an expert on maritime disputes at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.

The “nationalization” of the islands infuriated Chinese, although analysts say Tokyo’s move was an effort to wrest the issue away from Japanese nationalists, led by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara who launched an online appeal to buy the islands. Donations poured in, prompting a sharp rebuke from China and forcing the Japanese government to wade into the dispute with its own offer for the contested land.

“If you’re interested in stability, the Japanese government is better than owning the islands than a group of nationalists, because who knows how they might raise tensions,” Manicom said. “(Prime Minister) Noda’s calculation is, this is going to explode in the short-run, in the long run it’s better.”

Economic interests

Although nationalistic ardor on both sides of the dispute have brought the current situation to a boil, national interest in the territory can be traced to a 1969 United Nations geological survey that contains this tantalizing line: “A high probability exists that the continental shelf between Taiwan and Japan may be one of the most prolific oil reserves in the world.”

Also under its South China Sea lie potentially huge reserves of natural gas and oil. A Chinese estimate suggests as much as 213 billion barrels of oil lie untapped in the South China Sea – which, if true, would make it the largest oil reserves outside of Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At the heart of all these island disputes in China Seas is a term of international maritime law known as “;Exclusive Economic Zone,” where nations are allowed sole rights to fish and develop resources within 200 nautical miles of a country’s shores. That has created interest in nation’s grabbing uninhabited islands – often little more than rocky atolls – to thereby extend their zone.

“The area is starting to look a little bit like Alaska, at first looked worthless, now may not be worthless,” Valencia said. “The East China Sea is virtually all continental shelf, which means it’s all relatively easy digging except in typhoon season.”

But the likelihood the areas will be developed dwindles as the political storm brews between China and Japan. If this fracas follows past contretemps, the two sides will cool for a few months before rapprochement from high-level officials on both sides. But with the leadership change coming in China, and leadership elections imminent in Japan’s two major parties, the likelihood is tensions will remain high. “No one wants to be perceived as soft on China,” Manicom said.

Meanwhile, as historic enmities over Japan’s war past inflame tensions in China, public sentiment is changing in Japan toward China.

“The result is the average Japanese person views China with more suspicion than the past,” Manicom said. “You can now be anti-China in Japan and not be conservative, which is a development that I think took Beijing by surprise.”

(Orginal version is available at CNN)

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The EU & The South China Sea: A Role to Play? – by Peter Solomon | The Risky Shift

07 August 2012

by Peter Solomon | The Risky Shift - The European Union has established a gateway into East Asia’s vast markets through the South China Sea and has developed a role as a player in security issues, albeit minimal. Despite the EU’s current internal focus, the European Union cannot forget about its strategic partnership with Japan and South Korea.

USS Abraham Lincoln South China Sea

he South China Sea contains the second busiest trading route in the world: the Straight of Malacca. Vital to meeting the energy demand of China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, the supply flow through this region is comprised mainly of crude oil, liquefied natural gas, coal, and iron ore. On account of the territorial claim disputes that afflict the South China Sea, several militaries have begun the process of military modernization, namely China, the Philippines and Malaysia. Overall, six nations claim partial or entire territorial rights over the region: China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei. To put in perspective what is at stake for states in the region, a 2006 estimate by the United States Energy Information Administration revealed the South China Sea has proven reserves of 26.7 billion barrels of oil (about the same quantity as Oman, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen’s oil reserves combined) and proven reserves of natural gas amounting to 7.9 trillion cubic meters (about the same quantity as Saudi Arabia or the United States’ reserves). Due to the considerable value of the oil and natural gas, the potential for disagreement is exceptionally high and, therefore, the possibility of conflict over territory in the South China Sea cannot be understated.

Due to the magnitude of trade and investment between the European Union with Japan and South Korea and the great prospects for enhancing the economic relations the EU has a great stake in the security of East Asia. Currently, East Asia is a region home to instability for a host of reasons including a surge in states acquirement of military arms, the looming dissidence between China and Taiwan, and North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons. To put the EU’s economic stake in this region into perspective, about 18.1% (251.5 bn. Euros) of the EU’s exports are destined for East Asia, compared to just 21.4% for Asia as a whole. Additionally, the EU imports about 30.1% (452 bn. Euros) of its goods from East Asia compared to just 34.3% for Asia. It is easy to see that the EU’s mutual reliance on trade with East Asia creates great opportunities, but this reliance also comes with great risk. Therefore, one of the EU’s foreign policy security goals is to promote peace and stability in East Asia.

Currently, China is in the process of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in order to exert Chinese influence in the region. It is no secret that China is building up its power projection capabilities to counter-balance the presence of the United States defense forces in the Western Pacific. Due to Japan and South Korea’s geographical location, any conflict or disruption to stability in East Asia would clearly cause grave concern. The EU’s concern, however, would be in regards to the Europe’s economic stake in the region and the EU’s identity as a normative power. Despite the EU’s promotion of peace and stability in East Asia, the EU’s ability to intervene in security issues in this region is questionable due to the institution’s lack of power projection capabilities in the region. In spite of this, any confrontation in East Asia would have calamitous effects for the EU because of the 27 member state’s economic stake in the region, which consists of about 18.1% (251.5 bn. Euros) of EU exports and 30.1% (452 bn. Euros) of EU imports.

Although a European Union led military exercise would be unlikely in the Western Pacific, the security of the region is critical to Europe’s economy and also the world. Therefore, if a conflict were to occur in the South China Sea it is possible European states would act independently to maintain law and order or to preserve maritime safety in order to safeguard their commercial interests in the region. At the same time it is entirely possible that the EU would engage the region through the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). Nevertheless, Great Britain and France can still act on their own if it is in their best interests. The British and French both maintain competent navies with power projection capabilities, which includes the ability for Britain and France to deploy their own aircraft carriers.

In the case of a South China Sea conflict, Japan would be directly involved as its tankers transport 70% of Japan’s oil through this region. A confrontation would force Japan’s oil tankers to circumvent a conflict in the South China Sea by navigating around Indonesia into the Pacific Ocean. However, this option would be both expensive and laborious. Additionally, two-thirds of South Korean natural gas is shipped through the South China Sea on its way to the Korean peninsula. In regards to the European Union’s economic interests in East Asia, maritime security is crucial for Europe.

Currently, EU military capabilities consist of 13 Battlegroups, which are “rapid response units” that consist of 1,500 troops each. EU member states rotate the responsibility of provisioning these battalion groups, two of which have always been on stand by since 2007. However, this force has never been deployed and it is difficult to say how the debt crisis will affect the EU’s research and development into new military capabilities. Given the budget cuts and focus on internal issues, the EU will likely continue to place the burden on the United States to maintain the status quo in the Western Pacific region. Additionally, it is important to add that the EU, Japanese, and South Korean goal of promoting peace and maintaining stability in East Asia differs from China’s view of peace and stability. However, with the establishment of a status quo among the EU, Japan, and South Korea it is evidenced that the three countries have a similar foreign policy vision in regards to security.

Whether or not the EU will cooperate in joint military expeditions with Japan or South Korea in the future is unknown. With regard to economics, the EU-Japan and EU-South Korea economic ties are substantial, and significant cooperation in both relationships has led to the emergence of global economic partnerships via Free Trade Agreements with both nations. Through Japan and South Korea, the European Union has established a gateway into East Asia’s vast markets and developed a role as a player in security issues, albeit a minimal role for the time being. Despite the EU’s current internal focus, the European Union cannot forget about strategic partnership with Japan and South Korea.

 

 (Original version is available at The Risky Shift)

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The South China Sea Is The Future Of Conflict – by Robert Kaplan | The CNAS

15 August 2011

by Robert Kaplan | The CNAS — Europe is a landscape; East Asia a seascape. Therein lies a crucial difference between the 20th and 21st centuries. The most contested areas of the globe in the last century lay on dry land in Europe, particularly in the flat expanse that rendered the eastern and western borders of Germany artificial and exposed to the inexorable march of armies. But over the span of the decades, the demographic and economic axis of the Earth has shifted measurably to the opposite end of Eurasia, where the spaces between major population centers are overwhelmingly maritime. 

Because of the way geography illuminates and sets priorities, these physical contours of East Asia augur a naval century — naval being defined here in the broad sense to include both sea and air battle formations now that they have become increasingly inextricable. Why? China, which, especially now that its land borders are more secure than at any time since the height of the Qing dynasty at the end of the 18th century, is engaged in an undeniable naval expansion. It is through sea power that China will psychologically erase two centuries of foreign transgressions on its territory — forcing every country around it to react.

Military engagements on land and at sea are vastly different, with major implications for the grand strategies needed to win — or avoid — them. Those on land enmesh civilian populations, in effect making human rights a signal element of war studies. Those at sea approach conflict as a clinical and technocratic affair, in effect reducing war to math, in marked contrast with the intellectual battles that helped define previous conflicts.

World War II was a moral struggle against fascism, the ideology responsible for the murder of tens of millions of noncombatants. The Cold War was a moral struggle against communism, an equally oppressive ideology by which the vast territories captured by the Red Army were ruled. The immediate post-Cold War period became a moral struggle against genocide in the Balkans and Central Africa, two places where ground warfare and crimes against humanity could not be separated. More recently, a moral struggle against radical Islam has drawn the United States deep into the mountainous confines of Afghanistan, where the humane treatment of millions of civilians is critical to the war’s success. In all these efforts, war and foreign policy have become subjects not only for soldiers and diplomats, but for humanists and intellectuals. Indeed, counterinsurgency represents a culmination of sorts of the union between uniformed officers and human rights experts. This is the upshot of ground war evolving into total war in the modern age.

East Asia, or more precisely the Western Pacific, which is quickly becoming the world’s new center of naval activity, presages a fundamentally different dynamic. It will likely produce relatively few moral dilemmas of the kind we have been used to in the 20th and early 21st centuries, with the remote possibility of land warfare on the Korean Peninsula as the striking exception. The Western Pacific will return military affairs to the narrow realm of defense experts. This is not merely because we are dealing with a naval realm, in which civilians are not present. It is also because of the nature of the states themselves in East Asia, which, like China, may be strongly authoritarian but in most cases are not tyrannical or deeply inhumane.

The struggle for primacy in the Western Pacific will not necessarily involve combat; much of what takes place will happen quietly and over the horizon in blank sea space, at a glacial tempo befitting the slow, steady accommodation to superior economic and military power that states have made throughout history. War is far from inevitable even if competition is a given. And if China and the United States manage the coming handoff successfully, Asia, and the world, will be a more secure, prosperous place. What could be more moral than that? Remember: It is realism in the service of the national interest — whose goal is the avoidance of war — that has saved lives over the span of history far more than humanitarian interventionism.

EAST ASIA IS A VAST, YAWNING EXPANSE stretching nearly from the Arctic to Antarctic — from the Kuril Islands southward to New Zealand — and characterized by a shattered array of isolated coastlines and far-flung archipelagos. Even accounting for how dramatically technology has compressed distance, the sea itself still acts as a barrier to aggression, at least to a degree that dry land does not. The sea, unlike land, creates clearly defined borders, giving it the potential to reduce conflict. Then there is speed to consider. Even the fastest warships travel comparatively slowly, 35 knots, say, reducing the chance of miscalculations and giving diplomats more hours — days, even — to reconsider decisions. Navies and air forces simply do not occupy territory the way that armies do. It is because of the seas around East Asia — the center of global manufacturing as well as rising military purchases — that the 21st century has a better chance than the 20th of avoiding great military conflagrations.

Of course, East Asia saw great military conflagrations in the 20th century, which the seas did not prevent: the Russo-Japanese War; the almost half-century of civil war in China that came with the slow collapse of the Qing dynasty; the various conquests of imperial Japan, followed by World War II in the Pacific; the Korean War; the wars in Cambodia and Laos; and the two in Vietnam involving the French and the Americans. The fact that the geography of East Asia is primarily maritime had little impact on such wars, which at their core were conflicts of national consolidation or liberation. But that age for the most part lies behind us. East Asian militaries, rather than focusing inward with low-tech armies, are focusing outward with high-tech navies and air forces.

As for the comparison between China today and Germany on the eve of World War I that many make, it is flawed: Whereas Germany was primarily a land power, owing to the geography of Europe, China will be primarily a naval power, owing to the geography of East Asia.

East Asia can be divided into two general areas: Northeast Asia, dominated by the Korean Peninsula, and Southeast Asia, dominated by the South China Sea. Northeast Asia pivots on the destiny of North Korea, an isolated, totalitarian state with dim prospects in a world governed by capitalism and electronic communication. Were North Korea to implode, Chinese, U.S., and South Korean ground forces might meet up on the peninsula’s northern half in the mother of all humanitarian interventions, even as they carve out spheres of influence for themselves. Naval issues would be secondary. But an eventual reunification of Korea would soon bring naval issues to the fore, with a Greater Korea, China, and Japan in delicate equipoise, separated by the Sea of Japan and the Yellow and Bohai seas. Yet because North Korea still exists, the Cold War phase of Northeast Asian history is not entirely over, and land power may well come to dominate the news there before sea power will.

Southeast Asia, by contrast, is already deep into the post-Cold War phase of history. Vietnam, which dominates the western shore of the South China Sea, is a capitalist juggernaut despite its political system, seeking closer military ties to the United States. China, consolidated as a dynastic state by Mao Zedong after decades of chaos and made into the world’s most dynamic economy by the liberalizations of Deng Xiaoping, is pressing outward with its navy to what it calls the “first island chain” in the Western Pacific. The Muslim behemoth of Indonesia, having endured and finally ended decades of military rule, is poised to emerge as a second India: a vibrant and stable democracy with the potential to project power by way of its growing economy. Singapore and Malaysia are also surging forward economically, in devotion to the city-state-cum-trading-state model and through varying blends of democracy and authoritarianism. The composite picture is of a cluster of states, which, with problems of domestic legitimacy and state-building behind them, are ready to advance their perceived territorial rights beyond their own shores. This outward collective push is located in the demographic cockpit of the globe, for it is in Southeast Asia, with its 615 million people, where China’s 1.3 billion people converge with the Indian subcontinent’s 1.5 billion people. And the geographical meeting place of these states, and their militaries, is maritime: the South China Sea.

The South China Sea joins the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. Here is the center of maritime Eurasia, punctuated by the straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar. More than half the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and about 80 percent of China’s crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea. What’s more, the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 7 billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a potentially huge bounty.

It is not only location and energy reserves that promise to give the South China Sea critical geostrategic importance, but also the coldblooded territorial disputes that have long surrounded these waters. Several disputes concern the Spratly Islands, a mini-archipelago in the South China Sea’s southeastern part. Vietnam, Taiwan, and China each claim all or most of the South China Sea, as well as all of the Spratly and Paracel island groups. In particular, Beijing asserts a historical line: It lays claim to the heart of the South China Sea in a grand loop (widely known as the “cow’s tongue”) from China’s Hainan Island at the South China Sea’s northern end all the way south 1,200 miles to near Singapore and Malaysia.

The result is that all nine states that touch the South China Sea are more or less arrayed against China and therefore dependent on the United States for diplomatic and military support. These conflicting claims are likely to become even more acute as Asia’s spiraling energy demands — energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half that growth — make the South China Sea the ever more central guarantor of the region’s economic strength. Already, the South China Sea has increasingly become an armed camp, as the claimants build up and modernize their navies, even as the scramble for islands and reefs in recent decades is mostly over. China has so far confiscated 12 geographical features, Taiwan one, Vietnam 25, the Philippines eight, and Malaysia five.

China’s very geography orients it in the direction of the South China Sea. China looks south toward a basin of water formed, in clockwise direction, by Taiwan, the Philippines, the island of Borneo split between Malaysia and Indonesia (as well as tiny Brunei), the Malay Peninsula divided between Malaysia and Thailand, and the long snaking coastline of Vietnam: weak states all, compared with China. Like the Caribbean Sea, punctuated as it is by small island states and enveloped by a continental-sized United States, the South China Sea is an obvious arena for the projection of Chinese power.

Indeed, China’s position here is in many ways akin to America’s position vis-à-vis the similar-sized Caribbean in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The United States recognized the presence and claims of European powers in the Caribbean, but sought to dominate the region nevertheless. It was the 1898 Spanish-American War and the digging of the Panama Canal from 1904 to 1914 that signified the United States’ arrival as a world power. Domination of the greater Caribbean Basin, moreover, gave the United States effective control of the Western Hemisphere, which allowed it to affect the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. And today China finds itself in a similar situation in the South China Sea, an antechamber of the Indian Ocean, where China also desires a naval presence to protect its Middle Eastern energy supplies.

Yet something deeper and more emotional than geography propels China forward into the South China Sea and out into the Pacific: that is, China’s own partial breakup by the Western powers in the relatively recent past, after having been for millennia a great power and world civilization.

In the 19th century, as the Qing dynasty became the sick man of East Asia, China lost much of its territory to Britain, France, Japan, and Russia. In the 20th century came the bloody Japanese takeovers of the Shandong Peninsula and Manchuria. This all came atop the humiliations forced on China by the extraterritoriality agreements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, whereby Western countries wrested control of parts of Chinese cities — the so-called “treaty ports.” By 1938, as Yale University historian Jonathan D. Spence tells us in The Search for Modern China, because of these depredations as well as the Chinese Civil War, there was even a latent fear that “China wasabout to be dismembered, that it would cease to exist as a nation, and that the four thousand years of its recorded history would come to a jolting end.” China’s urge for expansion is a declaration that it never again intends to let foreigners take advantage of it.

JUST AS GERMAN SOIL constituted the military front line of the Cold War, the waters of the South China Sea may constitute the military front line of the coming decades. As China’s navy becomes stronger and as China’s claim on the South China Sea contradicts those of other littoral states, these other states will be forced to further develop their naval capacities. They will also balance against China by relying increasingly on the U.S. Navy, whose strength has probably peaked in relative terms, even as it must divert considerable resources to the Middle East. Worldwide multipolarity is already a feature of diplomacy and economics, but the South China Sea could show us what multipolarity in a military sense actually looks like.

There is nothing romantic about this new front, void as it is of moral struggles. In naval conflicts, unless there is shelling onshore, there are no victims per se; nor is there a philosophical enemy to confront. Nothing on the scale of ethnic cleansing is likely to occur in this new central theater of conflict. China, its suffering dissidents notwithstanding, simply does not measure up as an object of moral fury. The Chinese regime demonstrates only a low-calorie version of authoritarianism, with a capitalist economy and little governing ideology to speak of. Moreover, China is likely to become more open rather than closed as a society in future years. Instead of fascism or militarism, China, along with other states in East Asia, is increasingly defined by the persistence of old-fashioned nationalism: an idea, certainly, but not one that since the mid-19th century has been attractive to intellectuals. And even if China does become more democratic, its nationalism is likely only to increase, as even a casual survey of the views of its relatively freewheeling netizens makes clear.

We often think of nationalism as a reactionary sentiment, a relic of the 19th century. Yet it is traditional nationalism that mainly drives politics in Asia, and will continue to do so. That nationalism is leading unapologetically to the growth of militaries in the region — navies and air forces especially — to defend sovereignty and make claims for disputed natural resources. There is no philosophical allure here. It is all about the cold logic of the balance of power. To the degree that unsentimental realism, which is allied with nationalism, has a geographical home, it is the South China Sea.

Whatever moral drama does occur in East Asia will thus take the form of austere power politics of the sort that leaves many intellectuals and journalists numb. As Thucydides put it so memorably in his telling of the ancient Athenians’ subjugation of the island of Melos, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” In the 21st-century retelling, with China in Athens’s role as the preeminent regional sea power, the weak will still submit — but that’s it. This will be China’s undeclared strategy, and the smaller countries of Southeast Asia may well bandwagon with the United States to avoid the Melians’ fate. But slaughter there will be not.

The South China Sea presages a different form of conflict than the ones to which we have become accustomed. Since the beginning of the 20th century, we have been traumatized by massive, conventional land engagements on the one hand, and dirty, irregular small wars on the other. Because both kinds of war produced massive civilian casualties, war has been a subject for humanists as well as generals. But in the future we just might see a purer form of conflict, limited to the naval realm. This is a positive scenario. Conflict cannot be eliminated from the human condition altogether. A theme in Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is that conflict, properly controlled, is more likely than rigid stability to lead to human progress. A sea crowded with warships does not contradict an era of great promise for Asia. Insecurity often breeds dynamism.

But can conflict in the South China Sea be properly controlled? My argument thus far presupposes that major warfare will not break out in the area and that instead countries will be content to jockey for position with their warships on the high seas, while making competing claims for natural resources and perhaps even agreeing to a fair distribution of them. But what if China were, against all evidential trends, to invade Taiwan? What if China and Vietnam, whose intense rivalry reaches far back into history, go to war as they did in 1979, with more lethal weaponry this time? For it isn’t just China that is dramatically building its military; Southeast Asian countries are as well. Their defense budgets have increased by about a third in the past decade, even as European defense budgets have declined. Arms imports to Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia have gone up 84 percent, 146 percent, and 722 percent, respectively, since 2000. The spending is on naval and air platforms: surface warships, submarines with advanced missile systems, and long-range fighter jets. Vietnam recently spent $2 billion on six state-of-the-art Kilo-class Russian submarines and $1 billion on Russian fighter jets. Malaysia just opened a submarine base on Borneo. While the United States has been distracted by land wars in the greater Middle East, military power has been quietly shifting from Europe to Asia.

The United States presently guarantees the uneasy status quo in the South China Sea, limiting China’s aggression mainly to its maps and serving as a check on China’s diplomats and navy (though this is not to say that America is pure in its actions and China automatically the villain). What the United States provides to the countries of the South China Sea region is less the fact of its democratic virtue than the fact of its raw muscle. It is the very balance of power between the United States and China that ultimately keeps Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia free, able to play one great power off against the other. And within that space of freedom, regionalism can emerge as a power in its own right, in the form of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yet, such freedom cannot be taken for granted. For the tense, ongoing standoff between the United States and China — which extends to a complex array of topics from trade to currency reform to cybersecurity to intelligence surveillance — threatens eventually to shift in China’s favor in East Asia, largely due to China’s geographical centrality to the region.

THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE SUMMATION of the new Asian geopolitical landscape has come not from Washington or Beijing, but from Canberra. In a 74-page article published last year, “Power Shift: Australia’s Future Between Washington and Beijing,” Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, describes his country as the quintessential “status quo” power — one that desperately wants the situation in Asia to remain exactly as it is, with China continuing to grow so that Australia can trade more and more with it, while America remains “the strongest power in Asia,” so as to be Australia’s “ultimate protector.” But as White writes, the problem is that both of these things cannot go on. Asia cannot continue to change economically without changing politically and strategically; a Chinese economic behemoth naturally will not be content with American military primacy in Asia.

What does China want? White posits that the Chinese may desire in Asia the kind of new-style empire that the United States engineered in the Western Hemisphere once Washington had secured dominance over the Caribbean Basin (as Beijing hopes it will over the South China Sea). This new-style empire, in White’s words, meant America’s neighbors were “more or less free to run their own countries,” even as Washington insisted that its views be given “full consideration” and take precedence over those of outside powers. The problem with this model is Japan, which would probably not accept Chinese hegemony, however soft. That leaves the Concert of Europe model, in which China, India, Japan, the United States, and perhaps one or two others would sit down at the table of Asian power as equals. But would the United States accept such a modest role, since it has associated Asian prosperity and stability with its own primacy? White suggests that in the face of rising Chinese power, American dominance might henceforth mean instability for Asia.

American dominance is predicated on the notion that because China is authoritarian at home, it will act “unacceptably abroad.” But that may not be so, White argues. China’s conception of itself is that of a benign, non-hegemonic power, one that does not interfere in the domestic philosophies of other states in the way the United States — with its busybody morality — does. Because China sees itself as the Middle Kingdom, its basis of dominance is its own inherent centrality to world history, rather than any system it seeks to export.

In other words, the United States, not China, might be the problem in the future. We may actually care too much about the internal nature of the Chinese regime and seek to limit China’s power abroad because we do not like its domestic policies. Instead, America’s aim in Asia should be balance, not dominance. It is precisely because hard power is still the key to international relations that we must make room for a rising China. The United States need not increase its naval power in the Western Pacific, but it cannot afford to substantially decrease it.

The loss of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group in the Western Pacific due to budget cuts or a redeployment to the Middle East could cause intense discussions in the region about American decline and the consequent need to make amends and side deals with Beijing. The optimal situation is a U.S. air and naval presence at more or less the current level, even as the United States does all in its power to forge cordial and predictable ties with China. That way America can adjust over time to a Chinese blue-water navy. In international affairs, behind all questions of morality lie questions of power. Humanitarian intervention in the Balkans was possible only because the Serbian regime was weak, unlike the Russian regime, which was committing atrocities of a similar scale in Chechnya while the West did nothing. In the Western Pacific in the coming decades, morality may mean giving up some of our most cherished ideals for the sake of stability. How else are we to make room for a quasi-authoritarian China as its military expands? The balance of power itself, even more than the democratic values of the West, is often the best safeguard of freedom. That, too, will be a lesson of the South China Sea in the 21st century — another one that idealists do not want to hear.

 

(Original version is available at The CNAS)

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