Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chinese Premier Li Warns Southeast Asia Nations Against 'Provocations

The Wall Street Journal Friday, 11 April 2014-  Premier Li Keqiang delivered a warning to Southeast Asian countries with whom China is embroiled in territorial disputes, saying that China will "respond firmly to provocations."
His remarks, in a speech also peppered with calls for regional cooperation, follow a move by the Philippines last month to challenge China's claims to almost the entire South China Sea at a United Nations arbitration panel in The Hague, a legal gambit that has enraged China.
They also come U.S. officials harden their rhetoric against China's increasing assertiveness in the region. This week, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that this behavior risked conflict.
In a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, Mr. Li combined a strong message regarding China's sovereignty claims with soothing words aimed at reassuring a region that is growing nervous about China's military intentions.
"I wish to emphasize that China is committed to peaceful development," he told delegates to the forum on Hainan, a southern island province through which China asserts sweeping administrative control over large tracts of the South China Sea.
"We will give full support to initiatives that help strengthen maritime cooperation," he said.
"On the other hand, we will respond firmly to provocations that undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea." He added: "We Chinese believe in repaying kindness with kindness and meeting wrongdoing with justice."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reassurance needed, unlikely over the Nine-Dash Line

By Duong Danh Huy
What would reassure neighbouring nations is for China to bring their claims into the realm of international law and reasonableness. China should be prepared to negotiate in good faith the limits of the disputed area.
In recent years China's claims in the South China Sea have provoked much regional tension with the Philippines and Vietnam, although while the Philippines and Vietnam also have conflicting claims between each other over most of the Spratly Islands, there has not been much tension between these two nations. Malaysia and Brunei, despite being also parties to the Spratlys dispute, have been keeping a low profile.
This tension, the expansiveness of China's claims and the imbalance of power between China and the other claimants have resulted in these claims being the center of regional and worldwide concern. At the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Third Annual Conference on the South China Sea Disputes, 5-6 June, there were again calls for China to clarify its claims to the waters of the South China Sea.
China's claim is clear – it claims sovereignty over all the islands and rocks of the Paracels, Spratlys and Scarborough Reef, and says there is nothing extraordinary about this claim. What China has not stated are the extent its claims to the waters and the nature and basis of these claims, and it is these claims that are extraordinary, for they seem to cover most of the waters.
While China refuses to be candid, in 2009 it sent the UN's Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf a map of the South China Sea with the infamous U-shaped line drawn with the same marking as that of national borders, albeit without stating whether that line demarcates a claim to the islands only, or a claim to both islands and waters.
China's deliberate ambiguity and increasing assertive actions have further consolidated fears in the other littoral nations of the South China Sea that when the time is right it might declare that it has been claiming all the waters within the U-shaped line all along. Thus these nations, and other nations that have an interest in the stability of the region, consider it imperative that China clarify its maritime claims.
In response to these concerns, Chinese scholars and some international ones, have suggested that China could reassure its South China Sea neighbors and the world by issuing statements along the following line, but without reducing the extent of its maritime claims.
First, China's claims to the waters of the South China Sea are consistent with UNCLOS according an EEZ of 200 nautical miles to the islands that it claims.
Second, the U-shaped line dates back to 1947 and to the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek that preceded the current one, before the advent of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and therefore accords to China historical rights over the waters within that line that date back and are not superseded by UNCLOS.
Third, the areas of overlap between China's maritime claims and those of the other claimants constitute disputed areas, and the relevant parties to the disputes should put aside the disputes and pursue joint development.
Fourth, China respects the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The first statement is a selective citing of international law in that it cites UNCLOS giving an entitlement of a 200 nautical mil exclusive economic zone to islands, but ignores state practice and jurisprudence on maritime delimitation. According to the latter, in the presence of overlapping entitlements with the surrounding territories, the Paracels and Spratlys would not be allocated EEZs that extend the full 200 nautical miles, nor to anywhere near the U-shaped line.
In fact, if UNCLOS, state practice and jurisprudence in maritime delimitation, such as the recent International Court of Justice judgment on the Colombia vs Nicaragua dispute, are all considered, the Paracels and Spratlys are likely to be allocated EEZs that extend not much more than 12 nautical miles, possibly to a quarter of the distance to other territories, which is a long way short of the U-shaped line.
By cherry-picking, China can get international law to say anything it wants, but that will reassure nobody. Good faith requires the opposite of what China is doing and not doing: that China takes to be international law in its totality, and if there are irreconcilable difference with other nations in the interpretation then China be prepared to let an international court or tribunal settle that difference.
The second statement is fallacious. So far China has never declared that it claims all the waters within the U-shaped line, therefore no rights over those waters could ever have emanated from that line. If today China declares for the first time that it claims all these waters, the earliest date for that claim is today. The fact that the U-shaped line was drawn in 1947 does not mean the claim goes back to 1947, and does not mean China has rights that go back to 1947 over the waters within that line.
Furthermore, supposing hypothetically that China had declared in 1947 that it claimed all the waters within the U-shaped line, that declaration would have been illegal, null and void, because at that time international law did not recognize claims that extended so far out to sea. Nations cannot simply take a dusty map out of a cupboard with some line on it and say that that line was a claim to maritime space dating back to the time it was drawn.
On the surface, the third statement sounds like a reasonable and pragmatic way to manage the South China Sea disputes. On closer inspection, it is the opposite. Nations cannot make arbitrary, expansive claims to create arbitrary areas of overlapping claims and then demand that other nations share resources with them in those areas. If that is accepted then the more expansive an unreasonable a claim is, the more the nation that makes it is rewarded in terms of the sharing of resources.
The fourth statement is designed to assuage the US, which has a strong interest in the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. However, it is simply rhetoric that means little in practice. All it means is that China respects freedom of navigation according to its definition for "the freedom of navigation," which is different from that of the US and most nations.
The US and the majority of nations understand the freedom of navigation for military vessels and aircraft in the EEZ to be similar to that on the high seas, with some additional constraints to safeguard the economic, environmental and marine scientific research rights of the coastal nation in its EEZ. China and a minority of countries want to restrict this freedom.
The idea that the littoral nations of the South China Sea can be reassured by China's rhetoric, while China still maintains its claims to most of the waters, is simply wishful thinking. Nations are reassured by the reasonable stance and behavior of others, not rhetoric. And laying claims to most of the waters of a common sea and attempting to coerce others into acquiescence is not a reasonable stance or behavior.
Furthermore, closer analysis shows that the proposed reassurances are either very skewed use of or a minority interpretation of international law.
At the heart of the concerns from China's South China Sea neighbors and nations beyond are China's expansive and ambiguous claims to maritime space. Rhetoric and cherry picking international law will not address the problems that are giving rise to these concerns and will not allay any fear.
As Robert Beckman, one of the foremost legal expert on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea, writes in his article The South China Sea: the evolving dispute between China and her maritime neighbors, "Therefore, unless China is willing to bring its maritime claims into conformity with UNCLOS and limit its claims to maritime zones measured from islands, it will continue on a legal collision course with its ASEAN neighbors."
What would reassure these nations is for China to bring these claims into the realm of international law and reasonableness. China should be prepared to negotiate in good faith the limits of the disputed area. If this negotiation does not lead to agreement, China should be prepared to join the other claimants in asking an international court or tribunal to delimit the disputed areas - this is without prejudice to the question of which nation owns the islands and rights over the waters in those areas.
Source: vuquangtiep

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Countering China in the South China Sea

On March 18, officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in Singapore to discuss steps towards an elusive code of conduct in the contentious South China Sea dispute. If the past is any indicator, China will ensure that such diplomacy will produce little significant progress even as it continues to coercively change realities on the ground in its favor. While cooler heads hope diplomacy will prevail, hope is not a strategy. Southeast Asian officials and other external partners like the United States and Japan need to use the full range of instruments at their disposal to persuade Beijing about the urgent need for a diplomatic solution, dissuade it from undertaking further destabilizing moves, and prepare for a range of crises in the absence of Chinese cooperation.
Since 2009, China has displayed a growing assertiveness towards ASEAN states in the South China Sea, using a combination of diplomatic, administrative and military instruments to impose unilateral fishing bans, harass vessels, and patrol contested waters. Despite the so-called ‘charm offensive’ by China’s new leadership in the region in 2013, Beijing’s conduct in the South China Sea has remained largely unchanged, with a new fishing law promulgated in January, invasive patrols and encroachments into waters of other claimants, and foot-dragging at talks over a code of conduct it finally agreed to discussing last year. Meanwhile, the specter of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea also continues to loom large. Yet, as former CIA senior analyst Chris Johnson told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this year, unlike most other observers China’s leaders continue to see no contradiction between seeking better relations with Southeast Asia and assertively defending their sovereignty claims at the expense of other ASEAN claimants.
Given this, it is now up to ASEAN states and their partners to craft an integrated strategy in the diplomatic, legal and security realms geared towards both steering Beijing away from its assertiveness if possible, and preparing to counter it effectively should it continue or intensify. In the diplomatic domain, ASEAN states and other parties should continue to consistently emphasize the cardinal principle that all countries – including China – need to resolve their disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law. The principal means to reach this objective is a legally binding code of conduct. In spite of Chinese stalling, ASEAN states should remain united in insisting on both its speedy conclusion and meaningful content, including key mechanisms like a crisis management hotline.
While all ASEAN countries ought to be united in pursuit of a code of conduct, the four ASEAN states that have claims in the South China Sea – namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – should also take additional steps together given their greater stake in the issue at hand. The main objective would be to thwart China’s efforts to divide the ASEAN claimants (most clearly by isolating the Philippines) by banding together in spite of certain differences in their positions. Greater coordination looks more promising now than it did in the past, with the recent hardening of Malaysia’s stance along with the birth of the ASEAN Claimants Working Group Meeting held in the Philippines last month. Additionally, external actors beyond just the United States, including the European Union and Australia, need to do their part by speaking out against Chinese transgressions to raise the cost of noncompliance. A rules-based approach to resolving the disputes ought to be a shared global interest, and a greater coalition explicitly calling for this will help increase the pressure on Beijing without it being framed as just a U.S.-China issue.

Friday, February 14, 2014

TOP NEWS: U.S. admiral assures Philippines of help in disputed sea

Thu, Feb 13 06:09 AM EST
By Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - The United States will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea, the commander of the U.S. Navy said on Thursday.
The comments by Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations of the U.S. Navy, were the most explicit statement of U.S. support for the ill-equipped Philippine military which is facing a more assertive China in disputed waters.
"Of course, we would help you," Greenert told students of the National Defense College of the Philippines in response to a question about a hypothetical Chinese occupation of one of the disputed Spratly Islands.
"I don't know what that help would be specifically. I mean, we have an obligation because we have a treaty. But, I don't know in what capacity that help is."
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fisheries catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.
Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.
China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims, and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension there.
Greenert said the United States supported the Philippines' case and opposed China's aggressive behavior and would work with allies to maintain freedom of navigation.
The United States has spoken out against China's assertive moves which have in recent months included the imposition of an air defense identification zone in northeast Asia and new fishing rules in South China Sea.
"I think you may have seen some statements coming from our policy-makers exactly in that direction, you will see more of that from us," he said, adding he believed China wanted to be clear on where the United States stood.
Greenert said the United States was deploying more ships in the region as it rebalanced foreign policy towards Asia and the United States hoped to deploy 60 ships in the Western Pacific from about 45 to 50 now.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

ASEAN Should Reject a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea

Be afraid, ASEAN countries. Of a South China Sea code of conduct, I mean. The only code of conduct worth having would be one by which China renounces its nine-dashed line of the region and the associated territorial claims; matches its words with deeds by evacuating sites it has poached from other countries' exclusive economic zones; stops asserting the right to proscribe certain foreign naval activities within the nine-dashed line; and agrees that the purpose of any code of conduct is to lock in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the regional status quo.

ChinaAnyone want to place odds on Beijing's doing any one of these things? Me neither. All of them? Fuggedaboutit. If ASEAN consents to a code of conduct anyway, it will have ratified the current state of affairs, including China's seizures of Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef, deep within the Philippine EEZ. Southeast Asian countries will have consented to a region wide protection racket, in hopes that letting China keep its past gains will purchase its forbearance and goodwill in the future.
Good luck with that one. It's rather as though a less kind, gentle Naval Diplomat pointed a gun at you and demanded money to protect you from … me! Such bargains with the Family seldom work out well in gangster films. Life imitates art in this case. The international relations counterpart is what scholars call bandwagoning. Weaker states prefer to band together to offset strong, domineering powers prone to trampling their interests and security. But if the weak are unable to balance a would-be hegemon, they may align themselves with it. They agree to the hegemon's demands in hopes of buying peace while retaining as much of their sovereignty and preserving as many of their interests as they can.
Trouble is, such arrangements are perishable. They only last until the Family decides it needs more. Then the leg-breakers up their demands. Needless to say, the price of protection has a way of going up over time.
Philippine foreign minister Albert del Rosario understands the dynamics at work in the South China Sea. "We think that China is trying to stay ahead of the CoC," del Rosario told Reuters this week. The code of conduct will look forward in an effort to defuse future controversies, not back to reverse past offenses. Beijing, accordingly, is pushing "an assertion agenda." It will grab what it can, then agree to a code that guarantees it can keep what it just grabbed. That becomes the new normal.
There's ample precedent for using laws or international covenants to cement your gains. British scholar Ken Booth recalls that seafaring states scrambled for maritime territory during the 1970s and early 1980s, at the same time they were negotiating UNCLOS. And one doubts that was the first time states gamed international law in such fashion.
So Manila is right to cry foul about Beijing's agenda. Don Xi Jinping and his Family are a particularly demanding, unforgiving lot. If they won't let the explicit text of a treaty — a treaty to which China has consented — restrain their ambitions, why expect a code of conduct to? Beware of bandwagoning, Southeast Asians, unless you're prepared to pay up — again and again. 
By  .The Diplomat, September 5, 2013

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