Sunday, August 17, 2014
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Beijing wants to assert its preeminence in Asia. But not so strongly as to push its neighbors into the arms of the United States.
BEIJING — It is typhoon season in the South China Sea. But more dangerous than the physical winds tearing down homes and trees is a brewing political storm that threatens the peace in one of the world’s most strategic flash points.
Over the past several months China has set itself on a collision course with its Southeast Asian neighbors, taking a series of forceful steps to assert territorial claims over potentially valuable rocks, reefs, and waters that other nations claim, too.
Some of them, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, are alarmed enough to have voiced their anger publicly. Others, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, have been more cautious.
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Their collective disquiet has drawn in the United States. Senior US diplomats and defense officials have bluntly accused China of fomenting instability in the region and intimidating its neighbors.
China’s oft-repeated pledge of “peaceful development” and its offer of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness” to Southeast Asia are looking threadbare. Adding to the uncertainty is the lack of clarity surroundingBeijing’s goals.
They may not be clear even to Beijing, where more dovish and more hawkish factions appear to be debating the wisdom of China’s recent moves. If Beijing’s abrasive attitude pushes its neighbors to seek help from Washington, some analysts here are warning, it will mean only trouble for China.
Instead of ending up as the naturally dominant power surrounded by economically dependent smaller neighbors, China would find itself strategically isolated in the region and facing off directly with the US.
“There are some inside the system who are wondering ... whether or not this is all going to backfire,” Christopher Johnson, a China analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, told those at a recent conference on China’s intentions.
At the same time, he added, there is “a possibility that they [the Chinese government] are not scoring ‘own goals,’ that they know exactly what they are doing with this strategy because they think it will be effective” in intimidating China’s neighbors into submission to Beijing’s regional domination.
There is less ambiguity about what China has actually done in the South China Sea this year.
On Jan. 1, it imposed rules demanding that anyone fishing in waters it claims, which make up nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea, should get prior permission from the Chinese authorities.
In March a Chinese Coast Guard vessel prevented the Philippine Army from resupplying its soldiers based on a rusting ship grounded on the Second Thomas Reef in the Spratly Islands, which Beijing and Manila both claim.
Over the past few months, a Chinese dredging vessel has been creating an artificial island on the previously submerged Johnson South Reef, which the Philippines also claims. The company doing the work has published computer mock-up images of an airstrip it says is planned.
In May the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation moved an oil drilling rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims. A Chinese barge accompanying the rig rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat during clashes.
All these moves appeared to violate an agreement that China signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 12 years ago in which both sides pledged to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
“China has been very opportunistic, pushing and pushing to see what they can get ... and taking as much as they can,” says David Arase, who teaches international politics at the Johns Hopkins University campus in Nanjing, China.
By taking small steps to avoid provoking Washington to act in support of its regional allies, China is trying to “dishearten” rival claimants and “resign them to the fact that they have to give up their rights,” Professor Arase says.
“They are continuing with their salami slicing, reef by reef, step by step,” said Tran Truong Thuy, an analyst at Vietnam’s Institute for East Sea Studies, at a recent CSIS conference. “In reality they want to change ... the South China Sea into a Chinese lake.”
Are China's claims legitimate?
China insists its actions are legitimate since, in an oft-repeated official phrase, Beijing enjoys “indisputable sovereignty” over all the islands in the South China Sea and “their adjacent waters” on historical grounds, no matter how far they are from the mainland or how close to other countries’ coastlines.
That is debatable, say international law experts. Chinese maps show what it calls a “nine-dashed line” around the edge of the South China Sea, shaped in the form of a lolling cow’s tongue, cutting through several neighboring countries’ 200-mile exclusive economic zones and their continental shelves. But Beijing has never clearly explained just what this line signifies.
“Even in China there are different ideas” on the subject, says Xue Li, head of the international strategy department at the China Academy of Social Sciences. Members of the military insist the line marks China’s national boundary; others suggest it encloses China’s historical waters; some scholars say it merely demarcates the land features over which China claims sovereignty.
The Philippines is challenging the legality of the “nine-dashed line” in a case it has brought before a tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. China has refused to participate in the case, and few foreign legal experts say Beijing could win it.
China might, however, try to defend the line anyway by altering facts on the ground. Nationalist sentiment is strong in China: President Xi Jinping has shown himself readier to take risks than his predecessor, and territorial assertion could prove an attractive way to illustrate the “national rejuvenation” he has promised as China takes its rightful place in the world.
Xi ‘does not want to look like a chicken’
“Domestic opinion is very important to Xi Jinping,” says Zhu Feng, the head of the recently created Collaborative Innovation Center for South China Sea Studies at Nanjing University, a think tank to coordinate South China Sea studies. “He does not want to look like a chicken.”
At the same time, suggests Mr. Johnson of CSIS, Mr. Xi may believe he can get away with current policy because “ultimately, ASEAN countries will stand aside because of their interest and dependence on China’s economic prospects.”
But the costs of appearing to neighbors like an arrogant bully are not negligible. The recent row with Vietnam over the oil rig “completely turned around relations with Vietnam,” says Carl Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asia at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The Vietnamese prime minister threatened to follow the Philippines to an international court and “the idea of getting out of China’s orbit has gone viral in Vietnamese public opinion.”
China withdrew the rig a month ahead of schedule, perhaps to cool the crisis, but not before it had drawn heavy international criticism and further stoked regional fears.
A survey published in July by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of people in eight of 10 countries neighboring China are worried that the Asian giant’s territorial ambitions could lead to military conflict.
Chinese analysts insist that Beijing’s traditional aim of maintaining a peaceful international environment to favor its economic development has not changed fundamentally, nor has its declared policy of shelving territorial disputes and jointly developing energy and other resources.
The challenge, says Lou Chunhao, an analyst at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security, is “how to achieve a balance ... between protecting Chinese rights and sovereignty in the South China Sea and maintaining a benign environment.”
China’s rivals see safety in numbers
China’s ASEAN rivals in territorial disputes are not reassured by Beijing’s insistence that they resolve their differences one-on-one; they see safety in numbers. Nor have any of them yet voiced any enthusiasm for Xi’s call for a new Chinacentric security system in the region to replace the US-dominated arrangements that have held for the past 70 years.
“In the final analysis, it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia,” Xi told an international conference in Shanghai, China, last May.
China’s top long-term goals in the ocean it claims, says Rory Medcalf, head of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney, Australia, is “to ensure that nothing happens in the South China Sea without Chinese blessing” and “maximum freedom of maneuver for its Navy ... to be the dominant military player in those waters.”
An increasingly vocal band of government policy advisers in Beijing are suggesting that those goals would be easier to achieve if China’s neighbors trusted it more; they are urging a reset in China’s neighborhood diplomacy.
“China’s Navy could already beat all the ASEAN navies. The question is whether it would be worth it,” Mr. Xue argues. “We would pick up a sesame seed and throw away a watermelon,” he says, referring to the manifold economic benefits that closer ties with Southeast Asia would bring.
“The South China Sea could be a real battlefield, and that would be very harmful to China’s future,” adds Professor Zhu. “We need to find a way to settle [the disputes] piece by piece.”
Given China’s geographic position and its economic and political strength, “it is quite normal that China should be the dominant power in the South China Sea,” Xue says. “And just because of that, maybe we need to make compromises with our neighbors.”
Friday, August 8, 2014
-(Vietnamnet 8/8) Vietnam decries China’s illegal activities on Paracel islands: Vietnam has repeatedly asserted its undisputable sovereignty over the two archipelagoes- Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly). –(VOV 8/8) ASEAN to deliberate maritime security and safety in East Sea
-(Reuters 8/8) U.S. to press South China Sea freeze despite China rejection: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at a meeting with Southeast Asian nations this weekend, will press for a voluntary freeze on actions aggravating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, in spite of Beijing's rejection of the idea. –(Vietnamplus 7/8) ASEAN senior officials agree on AMM-47 agenda
-(Kyodo News 7/8) ASEAN to call for action to reduce tension in the South China Sea: Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will call for "determined actions" to reduce the mounting tensions in the South China Sea, saying recent incidents have strained relations among countries, increased levels of mistrust, and heightened the dangers of unintended conflict in the region, ASEAN diplomats said here Thursday.
-(The Wall Street Journal 6/8) Indian Warship Visiting Vietnam on 'Goodwill Trip’: An Indian warship is to take part in exercises with the Vietnamese navy this week in the tense waters of the South China Sea, where maritime disputes between China and its neighbors have intensified.
-(PhilStar 6/8) Japan: China to be more aggressive in South China Sea: China is likely to further expand intensify its presence in disputed areas of the East China and South China seas as well as the Pacific Ocean, Japan believes.
-(Vietnamplus 6/8) Scholars raise eyebrow over China’s South China Sea ambition: Officials and scholars spoke out against China’s ambition to occupy the entire South China Sea via its groundless “nine-dash line” claim at a workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on August 5.
-(VOA News 5/8) ASEAN ministers to discuss South China Sea, other issues: Foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries, as well as those from the U.S., China and other nations, are gathering in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw this week for two key meetings, including the 27-member regional security forum. -(Reuters 5/8) U.S. to press South China Sea freeze despite China rejection
-(Reuters 5/8) Philippines sentences 12 Chinese fishermen to jail: A Philippine court on Tuesday found 12 Chinese fishermen guilty of illegal fishing in Philippine waters, sending them to jail for six to 12 years, the first convictions since tension between the neighbors flared over rival claims in the South China Sea.
-(Malay Mail Online 5/8) Japan warns China over ‘dangerous acts’ in South China Sea: Japan warned today that China’s “dangerous acts” over territorial claims in the East China Sea could lead to “unintended consequences” in the region, as fears grow of a potential military clash.
-(Global Post 5/8) Taiwan's Ma urges peaceful resolution to East, South China sea disputes: Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou urged all parties concerned Tuesday to peacefully resolve territorial disputes in the East and South China seas in marking the second anniversary of the East China Sea Peace Initiative he proposed two years ago.
-(National Interest 5/8) China’s Epic Fail in the South China Sea: Whatever Beijing hoped to achieve with the deployment of HS-981—oil, territorial advantage or long-term strategic gain—didn’t work out.
-(Reuters 4/8) China says can build what it wants on South China Sea isles: China can build whatever it wants on its islands in the South China Sea, a senior Chinese official said on Monday, rejecting proposals ahead of a key regional meeting to freeze any activity that may raise tensions in disputed waters there.
-(Channel NewsAsia 4/8) Philippines says China sea action plan gaining support: The Philippines said Monday (August 4) it has won support from Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei for a plan to ease tensions in the South China Sea which it intends to present at a regional meeting this week.
-(Foreign Policy 4/8) It's Not About the Oil -- It's About the Tiny Rocks: What everyone gets wrong about Beijing's bullying in the South China Sea.
-(Tuoitre 2/8) Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Force vessels to be equipped with weapons: All ships under the management of the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Force will be equipped with weapons starting September 15, according to a newly-issued government decree. –(Vietnamplus 2/8) Quang Nam fishermen equipped with communication devices
-(Global Research 2/8) Influential Washington Think Tank Pushes US War Drive in the South China Sea: In the new report, the CSIS is laying out an even more aggressive agenda for Washington, with two basic thrusts: establishing the legal pretext for rejecting Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, and escalating the US military presence in the region.
-(Manila Bulletin 2/8) PH to tackle 3-point action plan on sea dispute: The Philippines will formally discuss with fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states its proposal that it hopes will address the escalating tensions in the South China Sea during meetings of the regional block this month in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. -(People’s Daily 2/8) China Should Uphold International Law to Win Support from Regional States
-(The Wall Street Journal 1/8) China Expands Offshore Oil Fleet for Contested Waters: China is accelerating the expansion of its offshore oil fleet—and adding coast guard vessels to protect it—as it ventures farther into the sea for energy resources, threatening more altercations with neighbors.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
By MICHAELA DEL CALLAR July 11, 2014 4:06pm
Just off Malaysia, Chinese maritime personnel execute a snappy salute in a Chinese flag-raising ceremony on a ship deck to signify Beijing's control over the disputed James Shoal, about 80 kilometers from the nearest Malaysian coast. In a more dangerous development, a Chinese surveillance ship rams a smaller Vietnamese vessel in contested waters.
The gripping video scenes, including footage never before seen by many people, are culled from an eight-part TV documentary entitled “Journey on the South China Sea” that was aired in China by state-run network CCTV 4 from December 24 to 31 last year. With Chinese narration and English subtitles, the documentary has also been posted on CCTV's website for worldwide viewing.
In a communist Asian nation steeped in secrecy, the three-hour plus documentary provides a rare peek into how China works in the shadows to consolidate its territorial claims in strategic waters, spy on rival claimants, and gradually build an armed presence to thwart opponents who challenge its ancient claims and current expansion.
The whole story is told from the eyes of CCTV journalists, who separately accompanied Chinese surveillance personnel, maritime patrols, law enforcers, fishermen and marine experts in journeys across the troubled waters.
‘A chilling message’
Carl Thayer, a prominent expert on the South China Sea disputes, said the video was intended for multiple audiences. The fact that it is in Chinese, with English subtitles, indicates its primary audience was domestic, but that it was also meant to serve as a warning to rival governments, he said.
"The video is a form of reassurance that the Chinese government is at the forefront in defending China's territorial claims in the South China Sea," Thayer told GMA News Online.
The video, he added, is also "a chilling message to claimant states that China will use physical force such as ramming to enforce its 'sovereign rights.'"
"Since this video, evidence is emerging that the Chinese Coast Guard has introduced ship-to-ship ramming into its tactical repertoire," Thayer said.
Accompanied by soft piano music, the long documentary features panoramic scenes of the turquoise waters which it says harbors hydrocarbon resources and lush marine life, and faraway islands and islets with white powdery-sand beaches. The documentary was obviously designed to foster nationalism among Chinese viewers and drive home the urgency of defending the vast off-shore territory that lies beyond China's southernmost Hainan Island.
It's instilled with patriotism and emotions.
A Chinese soldier clad in camouflage uniform on a remote reef says he has been guarding that patch of contested territory in the middle of nowhere for 16 years. His extraordinary assignment was coming to an end, he says, and he breaks into tears.
"After this mission is finished, I might not have another chance to come to Nansha," the forlorn soldier says, using the Chinese name for what is internationally known as the Spratly Islands.
The string of mostly barren island, islets, reefs and atolls are disputed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. They're believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits and lie near major international sea lanes.
"I work hard to the very last second I guess. I came here when I was 18, an entire youth. After we leave this place, only this 16 years will be worth remembering," he says, explaining that his sacrifices were a way of showing love for country.
"Money is useless here. Relationships are simple. Your motive for coming here is simple too. It was just to give back."
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a footage dated April 13, 2013, is shown welcoming a boatload of tired-looking fishermen in Hainan's Tanmen coastal community after a long fishing expedition. "Congratulations on your safe return!" Xi says, smiling.
"I wish you a harvest every time you fish in the sea," he says, and later posed with the sunburned men for a souvenir picture. Then as if on cue, the Chinese leader and the fishermen applauded exactly at the same time before the camera to cap the upbeat scene.
Criticized by the United States and its western and Asian allies for territorial aggression, China used the documentary to air its side to the world.
"Since the Western Han Dynasty, basically, the areas of the South China Sea has been a part of China's territory," a Chinese map specialist tells CCTV.
Ancient Chinese maps are flashed on the screen, with a narrator saying that the South China Sea has always been part of all the territorial demarcations "with no exception."
"Based on a large number of historical documents as well as lots of serious and rigorous textual researches, South China Sea islands belong to China. Undeniably, it is a fundamental historical fact," a Chinese analyst says.
In a bid to project that it has political and administrative control over the disputed territories, the Chinese documentary highlights the emergence of Sansha City, which was established in 2012 with its main base in the Paracel Islands, or Xisha in Chinese. Although controlled by China, the cluster of island, islets and reefs are contested by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Xisha's largest territory, Yongxing Island (Woody Island), is depicted as the most developed piece of real estate in the contested region, resembling a small city.
It has a supermarket, a bank, a post office, a desalination facility for drinking water, low-slung buildings, and a main thoroughfare called the Beijing Road. There are mobile phones, Internet connection, cable TV with 52 channels, and a radio station called "Voice of the South China Sea" that continuously airs weather bulletins to fishermen. An aerial shot shows Yongxing's long airstrip.
On Xisha's Yagong Island, about 70 Chinese fishermen receive 500 yuan in monthly subsidy.
People's Liberation Army forces are shown brandishing rifles and conducting combat drills in Yongxing but overall security of the disputed region has been delegated to a police force called the Qionghai Public Security Frontier Detachment. The Qionghai detachment oversees 110 "alarm service platforms" to monitor and respond to distressed fishermen anywhere in the region.
With the developments in Sansha, more young Chinese professionals and graduates are arriving to live and work in the city despite the great distance. Chinese tourists have also begun to visit, according to CCTV.
Battle for South China Sea control
The documentary tackles China's efforts to strengthen its grip across the vast sea where it says Beijing has lost 42 islands to rival claimant countries. A system of patrols and surveillance has been put in place across the South China Sea and forward-deployed bases have been established to defend Chinese sovereignty.
In a show of firepower, CCTV shows Chinese maritime surveillance personnel on the deck of a ship, pointing their assault rifles toward an imaginary target in a combat drill. There is no massive show of military force though, reflecting China's strategy of frontlining civilian paramilitary forces instead of its monstrous People Liberation Army, to avoid giving the US military and its allied forces justification to intervene militarily in the region.
While projecting its firepower capability, China dispels fears, often voiced by Washington, that its increasing presence would eventually threaten freedom of navigation in the region. It says its huge economy thrives in the open waterways where 60 percent of China's foreign traded goods and 80 percent of its imported oil pass through.
Instead of a threat, China is portrayed as the "guardian angel" of the disputed waters, where it has staged rescue missions even of foreign sailors. From 2007 to 2012, Chinese patrols have reportedly saved 18,000 people.
But the documentary sends a clear message that China would not hesitate to act when its interests are threatened.
In a footage of a 2007 clash in the Paracels, a Chinese maritime law enforcement ship was ordered to ram a smaller Vietnamese vessel accused of trying to sabotage a Beijing oil survey.
"We are relentless towards the vessels of any other party engaged in the acts of deliberate sabotage. As long as the commander gives an order, be it hitting, ramming or crashing, we will perform our duty resolutely," says Capt. Yong Zhong of the Haijian 84, which was involved in that face-off with Vietnam.
The documentary also cited a 1974 clash with Vietnam that killed 18 Chinese sailors.
Just off Malaysia, Chinese maritime personnel were shown in a video holding a flag-raising ceremony on April 23, 2013 to symbolically assert China's ownership and control over James Shoal. Malaysian officials have been angered by China's actions and have since deployed navy ships to guard James Shoal from what they call Chinese intrusions into the contested area very close to their coastline.
In the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), which China calls Huangyan Island, the CCTV crew filmed how they hoisted China's flag atop a coral outcrop in November 2012. "We had a sign here," says a Chinese law enforcement officer. "The Philippines blew it up. They put a sign and we blew it up." A past standoff in the shoal was also depicted, showing a Chinese law enforcement ship protecting Chinese fishermen from a "foreign" frigate.
China also revealed a "top secret" operation it staged in August 1994 to erect structures in the Mischief Reef. Contrary to Chinese assurances at the time that they were just building fishermen's shelters, China admitted in the documentary that the structures were meant to serve as a depot for supplies and is now a military outpost equipped with satellite dishes and functions as a Chinese military forward base in the Spratlys.
China's patrols in the disputed areas have three objectives: Show the flag for deterrence, carry out surveillance on other claimant countries, and assert China's territorial control, according to Chen Huabei, deputy director general of the South China Sea sub-bureau of state oceanic administration.
"Only through our law enforcement making its appearance by patroling in the waters we ascertain jurisdiction can we best declare our sovereignty over the waters," Chen said.
Chinese patrol ships are shown spying on military outposts of Vietnam and the Philippines in the Spratlys last year.
Off a Vietnamese-occupied island in the Spratlys, a Chinese surveillance personnel took note of enhancements and new constructions made by Vietnam. They also watched Filipino soldiers in Flat Shoal, called Patag by the Philippines.
"This man is fetching water," a Chinese officer says, pointing to a Filipino soldier on a surveillance monitor. "The man just arrived by a small boat," adds a second officer.
"Take a look at the national flag. It's the flag of the Philippines," the first officer butts in. "What a mess of a house," his companion quips, looking at the dilapidated shacks of Filipino troops.
At the Second Thomas Shoal, called Ayungin by the Philippines and Re'nai by China, a Chinese officer noticed what looked like a new piece of wall on the side of the long-grounded Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre which hosts a small number of Filipino marines.
"This was built after the ship ran aground," a Chinese officer says. "It's like their living quarters," adds another surveillance officer.
The logic of it all: Oil, gas, resources, territory and China's security
The documentary describes the disputed waters as China's largest body of water crucial to its security and a key frontier for fuel and food.
It discloses that China has embarked on major oil and gas explorations but did not say where. Instead, it showed two developed offshore oil fields equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.
China estimates that some 23 to 30 billion barrels of oil and large volumes of natural gas lie beneath the South China Sea. Tens of thousands of tons of precious metals and minerals have been discovered, including manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt. Additionally, large amounts of what it calls "combustible ice" have been found and can be developed by China as an alternative energy source.
At least 1,500 species of fish and marine life are found in the contested waters, including giant manta ray, giant turtles, parrot fish, and flying fish. The waters teem with an estimated 2.81 million tons of fish, including 500,000 tons in the Spratlys.
China began its first scientific studies on potential oil and gas reserves in the Spratlys in 1984, covering 38 reefs, in a study called the Nansha Integrated Scientific Investigation. After it became apparent that the vast waters may be harboring huge oil and gas deposits, rival countries began grabbing Chinese territories, sparking conflicts, according to the documentary.
With all that gold, China has and will use its might to assert control over the contested region, analysts say.
"I think China's actions show that it is committed to utilizing the resources of the South China Sea, irrespective of the legal disputes," Singapore-based analyst Parag Khanna, professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School, told GMA News Online.
Six months after the Chinese documentary was made public, the response from the international community "has been a resounding silence," reflecting many countries' reluctance to take on China, analyst Thayer said. But the whole region, not only China's current territorial foes, must take heed of the red flags in the video, Thayer warned.
"Privately, the video must be viewed as disturbing not only to the main claimant states, Vietnam and the Philippines, but to other maritime states in Southeast Asia," he said. —KG/RSJ, GMA News