Saturday, January 17, 2015

East Sea: Are artificial islands more dangerous than oil rigs?

VietNamNet Bridge – Though it is slow and difficult to identify, China’s strategy of building artificial islands in the South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea – East Sea) is dangerous because of its strategic value and the ability to change face that benefits China once the island chain is fully developed .
The "abrasive" move and China's long-term attempt
East Sea, China, artificial islands
China conducts illegal construction activities on Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef) of the Truong Sa Archipelago (Spratly Islands) of Vietnam. Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines/BBC.
China’s East Sea policy has a clear delineation between short term and long term.
The strategy to maintain a continuous presence in the undisputed waters to gradually turn them into disputed areas has been resolutely pursued by Beijing. The 981 oil rig incident is a typical example. China used this oil rig as a "mobile sovereignty landmark " to maintain its presence in the undisputed waters, even in the areas that are completely within the exclusive economic zone of its neighboring countries.
The objective of turning from "no dispute" to "dispute", from "theirs" to "ours", have been implemented in accordance with the motto of the Chinese people, "What is mine is mine, what's yours, we can negotiate."
Along with that move, China’s strengthening and expansion of the construction of artificial islands has shown their long-term strategic calculations in the East Sea. The 981 oil rig is a pretty risky move, but it is substantially easier to manage and attract the support of the international community for a small country like Vietnam. Meanwhile, though it takes place slowly and is difficult to identify, the artificial island building strategy is more dangerous.
Another way to evaluate China’s East Sea strategy is through changes of targets in certain stages. These are intentional changes. We will see the same thing when considering China's maritime strategy from 2009 to present. For example, how could China say that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) - signed in 2002 and the guidelines for implementing the DOC signed in 2011 – would be the lodestar navigation of the parties, when the use of force is still a key tool in Beijing's policy.
Currently, what we can see most clearly in China's steps are the consistency of the overall goal to increase the ability to control the entire East Sea. What is not clear is the specific objectives and tasks that every single department of China will perform.
This is considered the main difficulty, because Vietnam in particular and more broadly, the ASEAN countries and the international community in general, will find it difficult to know in detail what the Chinese agencies in charge of the East Sea will do what, when and where.
Keep calm
Therefore, Vietnam should not be so focused on predicting the short-term and specific goals of China, but on learning about the nature and long-term strategy of China.
Vietnam should probably determine the correct perspective and develop a comprehensive strategy for the East Sea before going into each small act of China. From there, from the overall view, Vietnam can build detailed objectives and plans for each phase.
This raises the need to focus on building a long-term and overall strategy to deal with the long-term goal of China. A sound strategy with clear objectives and specific division of tasks will help ensure efficient utilization of resources within and outside the country, thereby creating advantages in the field and on the negotiating table. Without an overall strategy, Vietnam will be unable to cope with the inconsistent statements and actions of China.
Luc Minh Tuan - Vu Thanh Cong

Thursday, January 15, 2015


By By Ye Qiang and Jiang Zongqiang* / RSIS- EAURASIA 14/1/2015

China claims to South China Sea
China claims to South China Sea
The US Department of State’s Paper on China’s Maritime Claims in the South China Sea was published on 5 December 2014. It has confused China’s “dash-line” claim.

China’s controversial “nine-dash line” claim in the South China Sea has triggered long-running misunderstanding in the United States government due to its perennial anxiety and repeated cross-examinations. This misunderstanding basically originates from the different thoughts over territorial and maritime legal matters between China and the West.

This has been reflected in the recent US DoS Paper on China’s Maritime Claims in the South China Sea, put out by the Department of State, which focuses on the coordinates of the dashes, and on the terminologies regarding the maritime laws and Notes Verbales of China, and comes to confusing conclusions.
The localised dimension

However, the US government ignored the inconvenient truth that the “dash-line” should not be seen as stricto sensu – that is, in the strict sense – a frontier in the Chinese context of the 1940s. That means it would be pointless to interpret the implications of the line from the perspective of modern international law. Therefore, any research, in the first place, should be confined to the localisation context of China; and the direction of end-point should go down the path of globalisation. These are two inseparable dimensions to understand China’s “dash-line” claim.

The localisation context refers to the Chinese traditional territorial and maritime legal thought in and before the 1930s and 1940s. In traditional Chinese thought, oceans cannot be monopolised by anyone and are open to all countries and peoples. Before the 20th century, China had never claimed any maritime sovereignty. This was unlike what the West did.

From the 13th century onwards, European countries have been embroiled in an increasingly fierce race for influence at sea. These countries imposed taxes and levies, and prohibited foreigners from fishing and sailing in the maritime zones they controlled, which broke the established maritime order. This situation was obviously not conducive to the interests of the Dutch, which was a maritime trading power at that time.

As a result, the Dutch jurist Grotius published The Mare Liberum in 1609, proposing the famous notion of the freedom of the seas. But Grotius was refuted and attacked by many British scholars headed by John Selden, who published The Mare Clausum in a bid to defend maritime sovereignty. Selden’s ideas prevailed in the 17th century, and European countries actively embarked on the policy of maritime sovereignty.

In the centuries-long debate about oceans, China has always maintained an open maritime policy. For the last thousands of years, China has been conducting economic activities, such as fishing, in the South China Sea, and has been living in peace with neighbouring countries in the process of developing and utilising oceans.

More than two thousand years ago, China opened up a maritime silk road and shared the prosperity of maritime trade with West Asian and European countries. Even in the Ming Dynasty, when Zheng He’s fleet pushed China’s navigation achievement to the peak, China never controlled sea lanes or impaired the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
What did the “dash-line” of the 1940s enclose?

In the second half of the 17th century, the principle of freedom of the seas was generally espoused, which was actually inseparable from the need of European countries to expand global trade and open up overseas market. When the vessels of all countries enjoyed the freedom of navigation across the world’s high seas, China still viewed land as the pillar of its economy and coastal defence remained lacking. Since the late Qing Dynasty, China has always been a victim in terms of the idea of territorial sovereignty, including the insular features.

After the middle of the 20th century, China gradually achieved national liberation and independence, and was able to take part in the international affairs as an equal actor. After the Second World War, China gradually recovered the lost sovereign rights and maintained its jurisdiction over major insular features in the South China Sea.

Therefore, it is easy to understand that, in February 1948, the Chinese government released a Map of the Location of South China Sea Islands, with the main purpose of clarifying China’s inherent territorial sovereignty under the post-war international order. Therefore, when publicising the map with the “dash-line”, China claimed the sovereignty over all the insular features rather than the maritime jurisdiction.
The globalisation dimension

The path of globalisation indicates that, according to modern law of the sea, China is entitled to maritime jurisdiction in certain maritime zones in light of Chinese sovereignty. That is the reason why China claims “sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters” and “sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof” in the 2009 Notes Verbales.

Ironically, these maritime rights and jurisdictions are not created by China. These new concepts originate from Western-dominated law of the sea. China has claimed and exercised maritime jurisdiction in light of the four conventions established in 1958 during the first United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea and the 1982 UNCLOS. The maritime jurisdiction currently claimed by China follows the claims and practice of the international community, especially Western countries, and has never gone beyond the mainstream of the international community.

In addition, it refers to the development and evolution of the principles and rules of modern law of the sea. For example, the free sea is a relative idea. Along with the progress of the times, acts at sea are bound to meet with more and more regulations. This helps to promote maritime safety and sustainable development, conforms to the principle of balance between generations, and serves the common interests of mankind. This is especially true in the enclosed and semi-enclosed seas.

Therefore, China believes, on the one hand, that it enjoys all kinds of rights provided for in the Law of the Sea Convention as well as the customary international law within the “dash-line” other than the territorial sovereignty over insular features. On the other hand, it has been carefully evaluating whether or not to exercise each specific right, and the scope of the rights as well as the manner to exercise.

These are the reasons why China has not yet clarified the title of rights within the “dash-line”, and has not yet claimed specific maritime rights through an accurate frontier composed of coordinate points.

* Ye Qiang and Jiang Zong-qiang are Research Fellows at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, China. They contributed this specially to RSIS Commentary.

Monday, December 15, 2014

PLA deploys frigate to S China Sea

  • China's Want staff reporter  2014-12-13 09:41 (GMT+8)
The photo of the confrontation between the Cangzhou, left and the Dinh Tien Hoang on the Johnson South Reef released on the Chinese website. (Internet photo)
The photo of the confrontation between the Cangzhou, left and the Dinh Tien Hoang on the Johnson South Reef released on the Chinese website. (Internet photo)

The map of disputed islands over South China Sea. (File photo/CNA)
A Type 053 guided-missile frigate missile was deployed to the waters of Johnson South Reef last month to defend China's land reclamation project in the area from Vietnamese warships according to our sister newspaper Want Daily, citing a photo recently released on a Chinese internet forum.
The Forum of South China Sea Studies, an online message board based in mainland China released a photo on Dec. 11 which shows the standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese warships near the Johnson South Reef. Apparently, the Chinese warship in the picture is the Cangzhou, a Type 053 guided missile frigate. It was sent to the disputed waters to confront the Dinh Tien Hoang, a Vietnamese Gepard-class stealth frigate in the waters of Johnson South Reef.
The Dinh Tien Hoang and its sister ship, the Ly Thai To had just completed their visit to Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. Under the leadership of Nguyen Van Kiem, the deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese navy, both Gepard-class stealth frigates arrived at the Southwest Cay of the Spratly islands currently under Vietnamese control to entertain the troops on the islet. Officials from the Vietnamese government said that the visit was not aimed to provoke China.
However, the picture released by the Forum of South China Sea Studies suggests that the Dinh Tien Hoang was sent to the waters of Johnson South Reef to monitor the Chinese land reclamation program in the area. The Cangzhou was apparently sent to Johnson South Reef to defend its workers there according to Want Daily. Once China constructs a 2,000-kilometer runway on the Johnson South Reef, its fighters such as the Su-30, the J-10 and the J-11 can attack all targets in the region of the Strait of Malacca.
When China completes its land reclamation programs on Gaven Reef, Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Hughes Reef, a new forward operation base will allow the People's Liberation Army to project its power into the region. This new base is 830 km from Ho Chi Minh City, 890 km from Manila, 490 km from Western Malaysia, 1,500 km from Kuala Lumpur and 1,500 km from the Strait of Malacca.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Vietnam Launches Legal Challenge Against China’s South China Sea Claims

Vietnam lodges a submission at The Hague and rejects Chinese position paper on the South China Sea.

The Diplomat, December 12, 2014

Vietnam and China moved their saber-rattling over the South China Sea into the legal arena this week as Hanoi lodged a submission with an arbitral tribunal at The Hague and rejected a Chinese position paper. Beijing swiftly dismissed Vietnam’s challenge.
In a statement on Thursday, the Vietnamese foreign ministry rejected China’s December 7 position paper, which laid out Beijing’s legal objections to an arbitration case that the Philippines had filed against it.
“Vietnam’s established position is to resolutely object to China’s claims over Hoang Sa, Truong Sa islands and adjacent waters,” Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said, using the Vietnamese names for the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
Binh also suggested that Hanoi had sent a statement to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, which is currently examining the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea disputes.
According to the South China Morning Post, Vietnam’s statement to the PCA, submitted last Friday, made three main claims in opposition to China’s stand. First, it recognized the court’s jurisdiction over the case submitted by the Philippines, which Beijing does not. Second, it requested that the court give “due regard” to Vietnam’s own legal rights and interests in the Spratlys, Paracels, and in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf while deliberating on the case. Third and lastly, it rejected China’s infamous nine-dash line – which lays claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea – as being “without legal basis.”
Hanoi’s actions are part of a concerted effort to respond to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, which has continued in 2014. In May, a Chinese state-owned oil company dispatched a deep sea drilling rig off the coast of Vietnam in disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, which led to deadly boat clashes and anti-Chinese violence and plunged diplomatic relations to an all-time low. In response, Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung had said that Hanoi was “considering various actions, including legal actions in accordance with international law.”
By lodging a statement with the court – as opposed to directly joining the Philippines in its case – Vietnam has found a way to make its views heard but not alienate Beijing, which has warned Hanoi against joining Manila’s legal challenge. Beyond the legal realm, Vietnam has also taken a number of other actions, including slowly moving towards closer ties with the United States – made easier by the partial lifting of a U.S. lethal weapons embargo – and making its first-ever port call to the Philippines last month.
Predictably, China dismissed Vietnam’s sovereignty claims in its foreign ministry statement, labeling them “illegal and invalid” and emphasizing that “China will never accept such a claim.”
“China urges Vietnam to earnestly respect our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and resolve relevant disputes regarding Nansha with China on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law so as to jointly maintain peace and stability on the South China Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.
The legal tussle between Beijing and Hanoi comes as the December 15 deadline nears for China to submit its defense in the arbitration case brought about by the Philippines. China is not expected to submit anything in response to the tribunal’s deadline, having already declared in its position paper that it would “neither accept nor participate in the arbitration.”
Two days before China released its position paper, the U.S. State Department published a study that questioned the validity of Beijing’s nine-dash line. China dismissed the study, claiming that it ignored basic facts and legal principles and was unhelpful in resolving the South China Sea issue.

Monday, December 8, 2014

How to steal the Sea, Chinese style

By Lieveillyn King, December 1, 2014 – 5:02 pm 

In history, countries have sought to increase their territory by bribery, chicanery, coercion and outright force of arms. But while many have sought to dominate the seas, from the Greek city states to the mighty British Empire, none has ever, in effect, tried to take over an ocean or a sea as its own. 
But that is what China is actively doing in the ocean south of the mainland: the South China Sea. Bit by bit, it is establishing hegemony over this most important sea where the littoral states — China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam — have territorial claims. 
The importance of the South China Sea is hard to overestimate. Some of the most vital international sea lanes traverse it; it is one of the great fishing areas; and the ocean bed, near land, has large reserves of oil and gas. No wonder everyone wants a piece of it — and China wants all of it. 
Historically China has laid claim to a majority of the sea and adheres to a map or line — known as the nine-dash map, the U-shape line or the nine-dotted line — that cedes most of the ocean area and all of the island land to it. The nine-dash map is a provocation at best and a blueprint for annexation at worst. 
The mechanism for China’s filching of one of the great seas of the world is control of the three island archipelagos, the Paracel, Spratly and Pratas islands, and several other smaller outcroppings, as well as the seamounts, called the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. Between them, they consist of about 250 small islands, atolls, keys, shoals, sandbars and reefs. Very few of these are habitable or have indigenous people. Some are permanently submerged, and many are only exposed at low tide. 
Yet if China can claim title to them, it can use them to extend its hegemony into the area around them. First, it can claim the standard 12 miles of territorial waters around each land mass and it also can claim an economic zone of influence of 200 miles from the most dubious “island.” Ergo, China can connect the dots and grab a large chunk of the South China Sea. 
China is reclaiming land – actually building a new artificial island — in the disputed Spratly Islands. The two-mile-long island will have an airfield that, China's foreign ministry claims, will be used for air-sea operations. The other claimants, think otherwise, especially Vietnam. The United States has called for China to halt the island project. 
China has been both stealthy and obvious about its strategy. It has increased its trade with the claimants; and in some cases has made generous contributions to their infrastructure development, but not in the South China Sea. In its maritime provocations, China has been careful to use its coast guard, not its navy, as it extends its grasp on the archipelagos, and inches forward to total domination of anything that looks like land in the waters off its southern coast. 
The Philippines has sought international legal redress under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty which the United States has not ratified, limiting its legal maneuvering, according to Barry Nolan of the Boston Forum, a policy analysis group that has studied the South China Sea crisis this year. China denies the legitimacy of international law in what is says is an internal matter. 
To my mind, we are seeing is a new kind of imperialism from China, a gradual annexation of whatever it wants; quiet aggression, just short of war but relentless. This is China's modus operandi in Southeast Asia, Africa and other places. It squeezes gently and then with greater strength, like a lethal constrictor snake. 
Southeast Asian countries are arming, but China’s naval forces are growing faster. Also, it has the cash and the people to do what it wants. The U.S. “pivot to Asia” has done little to reassure China’s neighbors. Their nervousness is compounded by the ease with which Russia was able to annex Crimea and is proceeding into Eastern Ukraine unchecked. What’s to stop China grabbing some useless islands, and then a whole sea? 

The ancient concept of oceans as commons is under threat. The Chinese dragon walks and swims. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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