Wednesday, September 10, 2014


(*) Please, note that the term of "East Sea" is used in stead of  "South China Sea" by the author of this article. Thank you.   

This map describes the litoral states' territorial and marine claims basing on the Convention of Law of  the Sea 
China on its sway in the East Sea 

Recent news show Chinese forces hurriedly turning reefs and rocks in middle of the East Sea into floating islands and military bases sitting across international marine lines in and out from the Malacca Strait. China has so far proved successful with its acrobatic trick of "turning from nothing into something". With those newly built basis Chinese forces can shorten distances of only about 830 and 890 km to HCM City and Manila respectively, merely 490 km to Western Malaysia and not too far to reach Malacca Strait.

Satellite photographs show  Chinese workers, vehicles and equipment all together pushing up reclaimed lands and concrete structures at the Johson Reef  and others once belonged to Vietnam but invaded by Chinese in 1988.
Chinese medias openly advertise that Johnson Reef  used to be a small submerge rock but of an extremely important position has  now being built into a  strategic base. Reports reveal the PLA's South China Sea Fleet amphibious ships disguised as civilian vessels took 25 days to transport tanks 072 onto the Johnson Reef. The Qingdao Newspaper said that the artificial island base was blue-printed by the Planning Institute of Chinese Naval Design. China Press also pretend that once J-11 fighter jets are arranged here, the entire East Sea is within its combat. 
Chau Vien rock image taken on July 19, 2014 by  the China Observations network 

According to the Taiwan News Agency, 6 Sept.,  former Deputy Defense Minister Lin Chung Bin called the 6 "islandized" reefs in Spratlys "a dangerous move" by turning them into trump carts and significantly enhancing ability to control the entire East Sea chess-board. He said that the type of fighters in Chinese military personnel present as J-11 or J-16 are of combat radius of about 1500 km. Once they are placed at this newly built base will help the combat scope of China's military  covering  the entire Southeast Asia. On the other hand, China can fully installed radar and eavesdropping equipment in these locations that Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines are within the radar sights of China. 
a sky view image taken recently of the Johnson Reef  (Source: Internet)

The Singapore Morning Paper said that on completion of the reclamation works, Chinese Army will build it like the Woody Island base with long-range search radar, signal stations and eavesdropping radar and radio. By then, all the countries around the East Sea extending to the Straits of Malacca and Singapore are all put within their eavesdropping range radio signals and warfare. At that time the entire South China Sea will turn into a "lake of China". 

The newspaper also said that with the Johnson Reef  tuned into an artificial islands, the Chinese Navy will push its frontline bases in the East Sea southwards by 850 km, and if  the American fleets from northern Indian Ocean entering the Straits of Malacca they will be falling within the monitoring of long-range reconnaissance aircraft and radio stations  of the PLA. 

The paper also commented that Johnson Reef  of 5 km long, 0.4 km wide is relatively large enough for the Chinese to built up a 2 km long runway for heavy combat aircraft like  Su-30, J-11, J-10. This will put entire Straits of Malacca  in their combat radius, and Vietnam will lose its depth combat in this region. At the same time, northeast side of this island is good enough for building military harbors and docks capable to accommodate large frigates

Besides, think a bit to see that with the Chinese military presence there,  the Itu Aba island now  illegally  occupied by Taiwan  only 72 km away can be easily attacked and taken over by the Chinese when they need. That will certainly enhance considerably Beijing's military posture in the region. 

In stead of playing the role of a super power China chooses to play as a bullying big boy

According to the Former Deputy Minister of National Defense of Taiwan Lin Chung Bin, during a recent meeting of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping has launched a new concept: Protect high points in maritime strategic necessity, China's interests overseas  become reasonable extension . In line with this strategy of 10 "high point" in the East Sea, China (main land) has been turning the 6  reefs in the Spratlys into floating islands. 
The  Taiwan News Agency on 2 Sept. cited the editorials of the People's Daily newspaper calling  the ninth meeting of the Politburo on 29 August  the "learning phase of collective thematic focused on the military". During this session, Xi Jinping said that cultural and operational information is synthesized primarily military movements in the future, the Chinese military should focus on building real strength battle, just like new enlisted maximum external conditions. 

The People's Daily newspaper also said that the national interest of China is constantly challenged by the United States, and even both Japan and the Philippines are invasive and therefore increasing the urgency of military reform. Xi  considered it an important development and emphasized  military creativity as well as to deal with the menace in the future. 

Also in this session, Xi Jinping introduced the new concept of "four changes" aimed at setting 4 ideological direction of the war of information and setting  ideas, views, synthetic strategies security countries. Xi also emphasized the concept of "real war" in the military establishment on the basis of ideology, "the entire army as one chess --board, the entire nation as one chess-board." 

Not arguing the validity of the new concept of leader Xi Jinping one can feel the aggressiveness  right in the above-mentioned terms that send out unhealthy signals to China's neighboring states and the world as well. 

In another noticeable event, while recently visiting Australia on 7 Sept. Foreign Minister Wang Yi  offered a new proposal called "4 respects"  urging the world to perform four respects: (1) respect history; (2) respect  international law; (3) respect direct bilateral negotiations between the parties involved; and (4) respect efforts to maintain peace and stability in the East Sea of China and ASEAN. 
Wang Yi's "4 respects" sound so hypocritical that nobody could believe him. Comparing this "4 respects" with reality one could see that it is very China who has been violating them systematically for many years now. If China truly wants the "4 respects" then there would be no problem with the East Sea. And there are contradictions right in the statements of  Mr. Wang Yi and his leader Xi Jinping's doctrine of "strategic high points"  and "overseas interest extension".  
Once again, these make people see the Chinese as real masters of the behavior of "speaking one way and doing another way". 
Let's recall that after the Vietnam War, the United States, for subjective and objective reasons, had withdrawn its forces almost entirely out of  Southeast Asia and partially from Western Pacific region. However, in stead of replacing the vaccum by peaceful means, China deliberately used force by   using "American threat" to prevent regional countries, particularly Vietnam, to improve relations with the United States. This way of  behaviour is so ridiculous, but quite effective for China's conspiracy to monopolize the East Sea. 
Without fearing  any individual regional country as well as collective ASEAN, except the United States, Beijing has been using the disguised notion of "bilateral negotiations" and "joint development" between related regional countries  in order to rule out the American role in settling the East Sea dispute . At the same time China has actively played the policy of  "divide and rule" to weaken ASEAN . Most ASEAN member countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam as two main elements also felt into this tricky trap. Vietnam in particular finds itself difficult to maintain balance between its territorial interests and political ideology, thus being repeatedly used as a card by China. 

How to cope with the aftermath? 

Perhaps ASEAN and the world, including the United States have until now realized the real intention of China using the strategic location of the Johnson Reef. But it turns out rather late now to deal with. The hesitant attitude of a divided collective ASEAN in recent years, and most recently they agreed not to discuss the American proposal to "freeze" the East Sea status just because of an unreasonable reason that ASEAN has already had DOC and  are discussing COC with the China(!). 

Remember over the past decade, ASEAN and the world have been passively  running after to  deal with tricky measures set up by Beijing itself but has never put out any collective action that can help preventing the situation getting worse and worse.  Only one instrument reached between ASEAN and China is  the DOC more than ten years ago.  But this includes merely cliché absolutely without any deterrent effect whereas serving as a good excuse for China to buy time for its territory encroaching. Series of Chinese aggressive acts, sometimes with the Philippines, sometimes with Vietnam, are mainly for the purpose of maritime encroachment, not for fishing or natural resources purposes as they pretend. After invasion and occupation of the entire Paracel in 1974, China invaded 6 rocks at the Paracel in 1988, then some positions near the eastern Philippines, including Mischief which Beijing called "Chung Sa". The most blatant action took place in 2011 when Beijing unilaterally proclaimed the so-called "Sansha City" and sice then sending  tens of thousands of ships  across the East Sea as  a kind of civilian war of aggression. This act of war happens constantly even deep inside waters of Vietnam, the Philippines and other litoral states while China unilaterally ban boats from other countries. 
The Haiyang 981 oil rigs event  in May showed China's  extravaganza, despite laws and international public opinion. But looking closely at the whole intrigue of China, one may see it only the old tactic "talk East, do West" of the ancient Chinese.  

International roles are needed for settlement of the East Sea disputes 

ASEAN has so far proved far from a matching rival of China and  not an appropriate mechanism to deal with the East Sea dispute in a fair, equitable with China. If anything, it needs more participation from outside of the region, particularly the role of international institutions including international courts and UN. 
However, it is regrettable that so far the world has proved powerless against China as the second super power allowing itself to violate many international laws, including the Law of the Sea, the rules of marine ecological environment, the right to livelihood of fishermen, the use of force, etc... 

As for the East Sea dispute,  China has come up from having no position in the East Sea to having a "city" and military bases across the East Sea. This outcome seems surprising and difficult to deal with not only for Vietnam, the Philippines and ASEAN but also for the world when the Chinese fox has already put not only its feet but also its whole body into the the blanket of East Sea. Whether someone has enough power and capacity to force or request Beijing to back off or maintain the status quo in the East Sea? Probably not. Perhaps hopes may come from some factors outside the region. Beside the United States with its "axis rotation", other  medium power states  having direct interests in the East Sea like Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, ect ... will come up to cooperate with ASEAN in specific practical measures  to protect freedom of navigation in the East Sea . This is the most modest goals may be. 
The "cow tongue" dotted lines printed on pages of China's new Passport (Source: Internet)

Perhaps, when a super power refusing to play by the rules,  collective pressure of the international community can take more effect. Let's hope the world waking up to deal with the sleeping lion that has now wakened up and posing serious thread in monopolising the entire East Sea. Would the world accept one day people or boats and aircraft when came in and out of this sea will have to wait for Chinese visa? Ofcourse not!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hanoi playing risky game between US, China

By Zhou Fangyin Source:Global Times Published: 2014-9-2 19:38:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
In mid-August, Martin Dempsey became the first US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit Vietnam since 1971. This four-day visit by the US top military officer bore symbolic significance for the growing defense and security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington.

Many analysts deem this visit as a major step forward for both countries to reinforce their military ties.

After Dempsey's visit, another diplomatic move by Vietnam captured headlines. Le Hong Anh, a special envoy of the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, and also a politburo member, paid a visit to Beijing on Friday, an ice-breaking one since the oil rig crisis in May.

It is interesting to compare the two trips. Dempsey's visit has sent a signal that Vietnam and the US are looking forward to closer cooperation on security, including the possibility of Washington easing its sanctions on arms exports to Vietnam. This might boost Hanoi's confidence in tackling Beijing.

But Le's visit has sent a different signal that Hanoi still wants to value a stable and positively interactive relationship with Beijing, despite the fact that both sides have been at daggers drawn in the past few months.

The two signals may contradict each other. A stronger Vietnam-US military relationship will raise Beijing's suspicion about Hanoi's honesty in mending its ways.

Meanwhile, the special envoy's visit to China will also make Washington realize that Hanoi will not pick sides and seek an alliance with the US, even if Washington tries to draw Hanoi over to its side by offering military assistance.

This kind of "middle way" has disappointed both China and the US to some extent. It seems that Vietnam is trying to employ this self-contradictory approach to align its own national interests.

On the one hand, Hanoi needs Washington's backup, but cannot be truly dependent on Washington.

The mayhem in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine and Washington's feeble countermeasures have shown the high risks that any country has to take if it places all its bets on the US in the face of crisis.

Washington is taking a much prudent attitude toward its security promises to other nations.

Considering the simmering South China Sea disputes, there are very few benefits Washington can earn from giving Vietnam security promises. On the contrary, it has to bear great risks and costs if it has to fulfill them.

What's more, a historical grudge still haunts Vietnam and the US, and it won't be easy to turn over a new leaf.

As a result, even if the military and national security cooperation between Vietnam and the US can improve, the momentum will still be checked.

On the other hand, Vietnam knows that it cannot challenge China in the South China Sea at the cost of leading the bilateral relationship into a deadlock.

Hanoi can choose its friends but not its neighbors. Small and medium-sized nations won't engage in full-scale confrontations with their neighboring major powers, unless they have no alternative.

Hanoi resorting to provocations when dealing with China is an unwise strategy. Vietnam should employ more flexible approaches when its relationship with China turns sour, because elasticity is badly needed for both sides to achieve compromise at certain times.

The ideal scenario for Hanoi is that it can have wider access to Washington's support in terms of politics, national security and diplomacy amid escalating tensions with China. And meanwhile, it can be more capable of taking advantage of this support, though much limited, to make a fuss in the South China Sea.

This ideal scenario can only be acquired on the condition that Hanoi is able to maintain the stability and balance of a triangular relationship with Washington and Beijing.

However, it is not just Vietnam that makes the call. Vietnam is taking risks by gaining advantage from both the US and China. China, has been exercising restraint. But the situation may go out of control if Vietnam keeps being provocative.

Having things both ways between China and the US is a dangerous game for Vietnam. Hanoi should stop swaying and hold a fixed position on the South China Sea issue. Hanoi needs greater strategic wisdom, rather than just some contingent, opportunist moves.

The author is a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

China expands runway, harbour at Woody Island

James Hardy, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

29 August 2014
Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows land reclamation, harbour modifications and other ongoing construction at Yongxing Dao, also known as Woody Island: part of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. (CNES 2014, Distribution Airbus DS/Spot Image/IHS)
China continues to expand Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Satellite imagery shows that since October 2013 China has undertaken substantial land reclamation, harbour redevelopment and other infrastructure construction on the island, which is known as Yongxing Dao by China and Phu Lam Island by Vietnam.
China has occupied Woody Island since 1956 and, since then, has established a military garrison, coastal defensive positions, the runway, four large aircraft hangars, communications facilities, and a municipal headquarters. Vietnam claims the Paracels, as does Taiwan.
Previous satellite imagery analysis by IHS Jane's shows that between 2005 and 2011 authorities constructed a new harbour on the west side of the island; since October 2013 a breakwater immediately south of that harbour has been removed and more dredging work has been carried out.
The land reclamation is occurring at two areas in particular: at either end of the island's 2,400 m-long runway, and to fill in the gap between Woody Island and the causeway to Shi Dao (Rocky Island): a small outcrop that is believed to house a secure communications facility.
The dredgers are depositing sand onto an area on the southwest end of the runway; spoil is also being deposited on the runway's northeast end. If all of this new land is used for the runway, then the strip will increase from 2,400 m to 2,700-2,800 m. This increases the safety envelope for PLA Air Force bombers like the H-6 and strategic transport aircraft such as the Ilyushin Il-76.
IHS Maritime has used AISLive data to identify one of the dredgers being used as Xin Hai Tun , a cutter suction dredger built by Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard and operated by SDC Orient Dredging and Engineering. Other dredgers operating in the area appear to be barges fitted with clamshell dredgers. Alongside are a number of container ships, including one called Xing He Yuan 1 , which is owned by Taizhou Xinghe Shipping Co Ltd. The company's website highlights its expertise in dyke and pier construction.


Along with the Spratly Islands, the Paracels are at the heart of the continuing South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Whereas the Spratlys' location in the southern part of the SCS has previously limited Chinese activities there, the Paracels' proximity to Hainan island has meant Beijing has been able to expand its jurisdiction and administration of them. Woody Island has been a particular focus and, in July 2012, was designated the capital of Sansha Prefecture, which is part of Hainan province.
The moves to extend the runway and rebuild the harbour on the west side of the island will enhance Woody Island's utility as a military base from which to project power in the SCS. The Paracels' strategic location close to the centre of the SCS also means China can use them as a base for constabulary operations, whether that is enforcing fishing regulations unilaterally imposed by Beijing or to potentially interdict shipping traversing the region, where Beijing move to do this as part of a wider sea control strategy.
In the short to medium term, it is unlikely that China would move to do so, as the sea lanes in this part of the SCS serve its ports - such as Hong Kong and Shanghai - and as such freedom of passage is in China's interest.
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Beijing continues pressing Hanoi

Most recently soon after Vietnam Communist Party Politburo's Special Envoy Le Hong Anh's visit to Beijing the Global Times on its issue dated August 27, 2014 published an article containing hostile arrogant attitudes towards Vietnam. More than any words this article once more  shows clearly Chinese leaders's double-faced scheme  in dealing with its Southern "brother of ideology".  Hereunder is the article.  

Hanoi's deeds matter more than words    

Vietnam's Communist Party Politburo's Le Hong Anh arrived in Beijing Tuesday for a two-day visit, as a special envoy of the Secretary General of the Communist Party of VietnamNguyen Phu Trong. Several analysts hold that Anh's China trip is aimed at easing thetensions between the two countries. Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binhsaid on Monday that Vietnam regrets the damage to foreign-invested companies and thedeaths and injuries of Chinese workers in the riots during May and that it has madecompensation to affected companies and intends to provide more.
HoweverVietnam is not a country that always walks the talkso we have to wait to see itsdeeds.
Vietnam is a highly diversified country among China's neighborsAnd now it is difficult tosay which nation displays more interest in developing the bilateral tiesWith a brewingterritorial disputethe two neighbors have suffered several battles since China adopted thepolicy of reform and opening up in 1978. Similar political systems facilitate the two sides tocommunicate with each other but play a quite limited role in eliminating the differences.
Both China and Vietnam have advantages in this simmering rowBeijing has a strategicedge and a powerful resolvewhile Hanoi has a geographical advantage as it is locatednearer to the South China Sea.
FurthermoreChina's policy must remain consistent with its global strategic interests.
Plusthe US' "pivot to Asiastrategy provides Vietnam with an opportunity to involve thegreatest power in the contentionAlthough Washington and Hanoi are not military allies,they can still support each other to gain benefit.
MeanwhileJapan and the Philippines have also been stirring up provocations in the SouthChina SeaAll these elements have endowed Hanoi with capital to contend with China.
It should be noted that this is a normal state of the South China Sea but Beijing will be thedeciding force once the Sino-Vietnamese contradiction flares upChina is capable oftemporarily laying aside other strategic endeavors to concentrate on dealing with anyprovocateur in its peripheryThis circumstanceonce happeningwill incur more losses toHanoi than to Beijing.
Vietnam lacks the impetus to improve relations with ChinaThis also explains why Hanoi israther to play Taichi with ChinaAs socialist nationsboth of them have borne politicalpressure from the West.
Whether the incumbent Vietnamese government expects to mend fences with China is upto its domestic political stability.
A fundamental solution to the intractable issue between China and Vietnam calls for afavorable regional environmentBeijing can't afford to allow the bilateral conundrum todrag on.
We must learn to care for the interests in different directions and adopt a positive andstaunch attitude toward this issueWe should let Vietnam realize that siding withWashington to contain Beijing will cost it more than taking a China-friendly policy as anational strategy.
(Editor:Liang Jun、Huang Jin)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is China’s Charm Offensive Dead?

Publication: China Brief Volume: 14 Issue: 15

July 31, 2014 10:17 AM Age: 28 days

A series of seemingly unprovoked actions in the South and East China Sea has been described as an abandonment of the “second charm offensive” launched last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, China has continued to pursue economic and diplomatic cooperation with its Southeast Asian neighbors even as it contests territory with them at sea. Rather than choosing between two different approaches to “periphery diplomacy,” Xi is attempting to unite them in a single, “proactive” strategy that advances Chinese interests.
Less than a year after Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a diplomatic strategy focused on building good relationships with China’s neighbors, China appears to have soured relations with almost every country in East and Southeast Asia. From early May to mid-July, Vietnam and China were locked in confrontation over China’s deployment of drilling platform HYSY 981 in disputed waters. The Philippines, still pursuing an international arbitration in which China refuses to participate, filed a diplomatic protest accusing China of land reclamation activities on Johnson South Reef, one of five outcrops in the Spratly Islands where the Chinese are allegedly transforming reefs into islands (The Philippine Star, June 13). After two near misses in the airspace over the East China Sea between Japanese and Chinese aircraft in May and June, Japan warned of the danger of a serious accident, prompting China to accuse the Japanese aircraft of carrying out “threatening moves.” Indonesia and Malaysia, usually reluctant to offend Beijing, have also felt the need to respond to Chinese actions, the former naming China as a potential target of military exercises and the latter joining the United States in criticizing Beijing in a joint statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Najib (The Jakarta Post, April 1; The White House, “Joint Statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia,” April 27).
The situation is a far cry from the same time last year. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang spent the better part of their first year at the helm travelling around China’s immediate neighborhood, including Southeast Asia, where they promised increased trade, signed business agreements, promoted schemes to enhance ASEAN connectivity, proposed the formation of an Asian infrastructure development bank and reassured the region that China’s rise would bring prosperity to its neighbors. At the time, many observers described their sojourns as China’s “second charm offensive” (for example, see Phuong Nguyen, CSIS, October 17, 2013). The first charm offensive followed a decade beginning in the late 1980s marked by Chinese seizure of disputed land features in the South China Sea and passage of a Territorial Sea Law. It was launched in 1997 when Beijing declared during the Asian financial crisis that it would not devalue the RMB and was reinforced a few years later when China proposed a China-ASEAN free trade agreement, and lasted approximately 10 years.
Another sign suggesting a second wave of China’s charm offensive was the convening of a much publicized two-day foreign policy work conference last October, with Xi Jinping presiding. It was the first such conference since 2006, and the first ever focused on China’s foreign policy toward its periphery. Xi put forward the diplomatic concept of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.” To emphasize his vision of shared prosperity for the region, Xi also introduced the notion of a “viewpoint of values and interests” (yiliguan), which claims that China will not forget justice and morals in the pursuit of its interests (see also China Brief, November 2, 2013).  Nations in the region and the United States heaved sighs of relief as they concluded prematurely that Beijing recognized it had overreached and was correcting its policy missteps.
Rather than laying low, however, China has taken a series of assertive actions in the past year that have led to increasing mistrust even from countries previously on good terms with Beijing, seemingly undermining its own charm offensive and driving its neighbors into closer security cooperation with the United States. Is Xi Jinping’s “periphery diplomacy initiative” dead within a year of its unveiling?
End of Periphery Diplomacy?
At the conference last fall, in the presence of the entire Standing Committee of the Politburo, various organs of the Central Committee, State Counselors, members of the Central Leading Small Group with responsibility for foreign affairs and Chinese ambassadors to important countries, Xi exhorted his countrymen to “advance diplomacy with neighboring countries, strive to win a sound surrounding environment for China’s development and enable neighboring countries to benefit more from China’s development for the purpose of common development” (Xinhua, October 25, 2013). At the same time, however, he emphasized a key strategic goal of Chinese diplomacy: China, Xi said, “needs to protect and make the best use of the strategic opportunity period [extending to 2020] to safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
While outsiders may consider promoting a sound surrounding environment and defending territorial claims to be contradictory goals, in the minds of the Chinese leadership, they are not. Beijing does not believe that its present actions amount to abandoning the “second charm offensive.” It is still committed to sharing the fruits of its economic success with its neighbors; promises made in the run up to the periphery diplomacy initiative continue to be in force. The “Maritime Silk Road,” an ambitious plan to build ports and boost maritime connectivity with Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean littoral countries that Xi advanced while addressing the Indonesian parliament is being funded and actively promoted (Washington Post, October 9, 2013). Preparations are underway to launch the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with capital of $50 billion, paid for by its members.
Beijing’s proactive economic diplomacy is part of a larger strategy aimed at binding its neighbors in a web of incentives that increase their reliance on China and raise the cost to them of adopting a confrontational policy towards Beijing on territorial disputes. At the same time, China continues to engage in a steady progression of small steps, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in its favor. In the near term, China’s leaders anticipate some resistance. Over time, however, they calculate that their growing leverage will be sufficient to persuade their weaker and vulnerable neighbors to accede to Chinese territorial demands.
Continuities and Discontinuities
China’s uncompromising stance on issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty is hardly new. Hu Jintao’s political report delivered to the 17th Party Congress in 2007 noted that “We are determined to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and help maintain world peace.” Five years later, the political report to the 18th Party Congress, which had Xi Jinping’s stamp of approval, used somewhat tougher language, saying “We are firm in our resolve to uphold China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and will never yield to any outside pressure.”
In between the two Party Congresses, Beijing authoritatively defined Chinese core interests as including sovereignty and territorial integrity. In his closing remarks at the July 2009 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, listed and ranked China’s core interests as upholding our basic systems, our national security; sovereignty and territorial integrity; and economic and social sustained development (U.S. Department of State, “Closing Remarks for U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue,” July 28, 2009). A similar list was included in a White Paper on Peaceful Development issued by China’s State Council in 2011 (Chinese Government’s Official Web Portal, “Full Text: China’s Peaceful Development,” September, 2011).
After taking power, Xi Jinping forcefully articulated China’s resolve to defend Chinese sovereignty and territory. As early as July 2013, Xi Jinping told the 25-member Politburo that “No country should presume that we will trade our core interests or that we will allow harm to be done to our sovereignty, security or development interests,” even as he reaffirmed China’s offer, first put forward by Deng Xiaoping, to shelve disputes and carry out joint development (Beijing Review, August 29, 2013). At the October 2013 periphery diplomacy conference, Xi twice referred to the need to safeguard the country’s sovereignty as part of its diplomacy in areas along its borders (Xinhua, October 25, 2013).
Although China’s renewed assertiveness on territorial matters began under Hu Jintao, Xi has advanced Chinese policy to include not only reactive, but also proactive assertiveness. In June 2012, Beijing took advantage of Manila’s initial mistake of dispatching a warship to arrest Chinese fishermen at Scarborough Shoal to seize control of the reef and its surrounding waters. China viewed this episode as a great victory, with lessons on applying a combination of diplomatic pressure, economic coercion and paramilitary intimidation during periods of confrontation. When the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands from a private Japanese owner in September 2012, Beijing began conducting regular patrols in the islands’ 12-nautical mile territorial waters in a bid to challenge Tokyo’s administrative control over them.
Yet, when China announced the establishment of a new air defense identification zone in the East China Sea in November 2013 that overlapped with similar zones set up decades earlier by Japan, South Korean and Taiwan, there was no immediate provocation. Similarly, in the recent stand-off with Vietnam, there was no proximate instigation that led to the deployment of the oil rig. On the contrary, Chinese companies financed the operations themselves, ostensibly under orders from Beijing (see also China BriefJune 19). The rig operated in a block owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).  Another state-owned firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), financed the project through its subsidiary China Oilfield Services Limited (COSL), which owns the rig.  
Whereas China’s approach to handling territorial disputes with its neighbors under prior leaders was characterized by alternating periods of coercion and charm offensive, Xi is clearly comfortable pursuing both simultaneously. He is convinced that China can preserve good relations with its neighbors at the same time that it attempts to change the status quo in China’s favor in the East and South China Seas.
Prior Chinese leaders consciously avoided excessive strains with too many neighbors at the same time and sought to keep relations with the United States on a positive, stable footing. Xi Jinping is evidently willing to tolerate a relatively high level of tensions with numerous countries over territorial issues. This includes ties with the United States, which have become increasingly contentious as the Obama administration has sharply condemned Beijing’s use of coercion and intimidation against nations on its periphery (U.S. Department of State, “Maritime Disputes in East Asia,” February 5).
Promoting Proactive Diplomacy
Beijing has quietly discarded Deng Xiaoping’s guideline to “observe calmly, secure our position, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile and never claim leadership.”  Chinese sources reveal that Deng’s directive—known in shorthand as the taoguang yanghui strategy—is no longer referenced in internal meetings and party documents. While no new guideline has yet appeared in its place, potential successor formulations all advance a more proactive diplomacy.
At the periphery diplomacy conference last October, Xi advocated that China be “more proactive in promoting periphery diplomacy.” He used the phrase fenfa youwei, which is often translated as enthusiastic, but suggests a more assertive approach. In the same speech Xi also used at least two other terms in the same speech—gengjia jiji, meaning “more active” and gengjia zhudong meaning “take greater initiative,” on both occasions referring to China’s relations with its neighbors. Since the periphery diplomacy conference, various Chinese phrases have been used by senior officials to promote a more “proactive” foreign policy. Asked to describe the most salient characteristic of Chinese policy toward other countries in 2013 at the National People’s Congress press conference, Foreign Minister Wang Yi used the term “proactive” (zhudong jinqu). In his remarks about Chinese foreign policy going forward, he also used several other terms that connote a more active foreign policy (jiji jinqujiji zuowei and jiji waijiao). While none of these terms has been officially sanctioned as a new guideline for Chinese foreign policy, they may be trial balloons for potential replacements. The common thread among them is a rejection of the cautious, reactive approach of the past in favor or a more proactive stance. On maritime territorial disputes, this means taking and making opportunities to change the status quo in China’s favor.
Explaining the Shift
China’s new strategy can be attributed to a number of factors, most importantly, its comfort in playing a decades-long game in the South China Sea. Despite a slowing economy, China is certain that its regional clout is only going to increase, albeit at a slower pace than before. In a speech to the World Peace Forum in June, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stated:
By being the largest trading partner, the largest export market and a major source of investment for many Asian countries, China has accounted for 50 percent of Asia’s total economic growth. China’s continuous growth will present even more development opportunities to Asia (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China [FMPRC], “Join Hands in Working for Peace and Security in Asia and the World,” June 21).
Beijing is therefore banking on the fact that over time, none of China’s neighbors will be willing to challenge an economically strong China, as the economic cost will be simply too high. This expectation was suggested by Wu Shicun of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies expounded after the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore—“[China’s neighbors] worry that when China becomes strong one day, and is able to define the nine-dash line as it wishes, they are powerless to do anything about it” (Straits Times, June 2).
China is also betting that the Obama administration, with its hands full with more pressing international issues, will not intervene militarily to help countries in East Asia defend rocks and reefs and their associated maritime claims. By sowing doubts about U.S. reliability in the minds of China’s neighbors, Beijing seeks to send a message that compromise with China is inevitable.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely a factor guiding certain elements of Xi’s approach to the region. Though the exact nature of the relationship between China’s new leadership and the military is sketchy at best from the outside, Xi’s gestures to the military are evident. Frequent visits to military commands, calls to the PLA to be prepared to “fight and win wars” and increased budgets for the forces signal Xi’s need and even desire to maintain support from the military. Insiders confirm that Xi has been under pressure from the PLA (as well as other groups) to be uncompromising on territorial issues. One knowledgeable source revealed privately that Hu Jintao resisted pressure from the PLA to announce the East China Sea ADIZ in his final year in power. Xi opted to approve it after only one year at the helm.
China may also be reacting to the U.S. “rebalance to Asia.” Despite repeated assurances by the U.S. to the contrary, China still believes that the rebalance is a ploy to contain and encircle it. It views the strategy as the source of tensions between China and its neighbors. The involvement of external powers in the region is seen as unhelpful and destabilizing. Xi has expressed this view multiple times—most recently in May at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai, where he promoted building an Asia security structure in which Asian problems are solved by Asians themselves (FMPRC, “New Asian Security Concept For New Progress in Security Cooperation,” May 21). In the same speech, he warned against the strengthening of military alliances with third countries, a bald criticism of the U.S. rebalance to Asia strategy.
It is also possible that China’s more assertive strategy in the region is an attempt to shore up party legitimacy at home at a time of growing domestic stress. A related argument suggests that Xi needs to be tough on foreign policy in order to push through controversial economic reforms at home. If either of these explanations of Chinese behavior is valid, then Xi’s hawkish foreign policy stance will likely continue for some time and may be relatively impervious to external influences, including a backlash from China’s neighbors.
Will China’s Strategy Succeed?
China has not abandoned its charm offensive toward its neighbors, but securing good relations with the region is not China’s only goal. Xi Jinping is seeking to simultaneously assert Chinese territorial claims. To pull this off successfully, however, Beijing will have to persuade the region that confronting China is too costly and there is more to gain by accommodation. So far, the record is mixed.  Despite persistent pressure from China, Japan has refused to budge from its stance that no dispute exists over the islands that Beijing lays claim to in the East China Sea.  Vietnam and the Philippines are directly challenging China over territorial matters, though both nations hope to resolve their disputes without undermining overall amicable relations with Beijing.  So far, countries in the region remain hesitant to band together to put greater pressure on China. At present, Beijing appears confident that it has time on its side.


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