Thursday, November 20, 2014

Q&A: Peter Navarro on America's Death by China

Workers on a production line at a toy factory in China
Photograph by AFP/Getty
Workers on a production line at a toy factory in China
Bloomberg Businessweek speaks with Peter Navarro, a business professor at theUniversity of California, Irvine, about his new documentary Death By China. The film, based on the eponymous book he co-authored with Greg Autry in 2011, opened in Los Angeles on Aug. 17 and comes to New York on Aug. 24. Reviews have described it as “a lucid wake-up call” and criticized it for being “heavy handed” and containing “xenophobic hysteria.” Navarro reponds, “The film accurately depicts the devastation China’s unfair trade practices are having on Americans. Critics giving bad reviews should get out into the heartland of America more. Viewers are deeply moved by the film if our L.A. opening is any indicator.”
Poster for the movie 'Death By China'Poster for the movie 'Death By China'
Death By China. That’s a pretty grim prognosis. Is China killing us?
We’re billing this as the feel-good movie of the year. [Laughs.] There’s nothing subtle about what’s happening. It’s an economic death because of China’s unfair trade practices and the loss of the U.S. manufacturing base. Also, literal death because of the loss of consumer safety: toothpaste, baby formula, a dizzying array of products. There are also human rights abuses—China’s forced labor camps. There’s a chilling discovery in the film about how people are being taken out of labor camps and their organs are harvested. Also, the military buildup of China. It’s an evocative title, yes, and it has multiple meanings.
Is it about declining U.S. dominance?
That would be jingoistic. It doesn’t matter to me who’s the most powerful or profitable country in the world. All countries want to be prosperous. What’s happening is a zero-sum game between China and the U.S. where their gain is our loss. It’s about the fact that we don’t make things any more, that we lost our manufacturing base, the 25 million people who can’t find a decent job in this country, the zero wage growth. I want consumers to connect the dots, to go to any store and look at the label and connect the dots between buying cheap China products, which is better for the wallet, and all the other things we lose, like jobs.
Some would argue that the U.S. shifting away from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge- and service-based economy is a good thing.
The best counterfactual argument to that is Germany. Germany is one of the strongest, most stable economies, and 25 percent of their workforce is in manufacturing, compared with 9 percent in the U.S. The service-sector opium they tried to sell us in 1990s and early 2000s hasn’t worked. Manufacturing is the seed corn for other jobs in the U.S.
Would you call yourself a protectionist?
The way that my view on this is often derided is using the P word. It’s a very inflammatory word in my profession. There’s a big difference between self-defense against unfair trade practices and protectionism. The biggest protectionist in the world now is China. If you want to go into China now, you can’t without a joint venture Chinese partner, and you have to give them your tech. The logical result of that is they take your IP and then you’re obsolete. This is not protectionist; it’s self-defense against a very mercantilist trading partner.
Is calling you a Democrat just as inflammatory? 
The greatest compliment is I am accused of being a Dem leftie and a Republican righty. I am a pragmatist. I call it as I see it. This country needs more of that. I am a Democrat. I ran for Congress in 1996 as a Democrat. Both parties have failed us in the same way. We’re really careful in the movie to make this a nonpartisan issue. It’s an American problem, not a Democrat or Republican issue.
When was the last time you went to China?
I went back just before the release of the Coming China Wars in 2006. Once I wrote that book … it’s dangerous for me to go back there. My co-author Greg Autry was followed, and they searched his room. Some think this movie is too strong, but it’s not. It’s a serious national security issue. I don’t go back to China. I understand the country at some level. And a lot of my colleagues are wined and dined, but it’s Beijing and Shanghai, and that’s it. You have to get out in the countryside to know what’s going on.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book Review: The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia

Written by David Brown
Print Friendly
By Bill Hayton. Yale University Press, Hard cover, 263 pp, US$29.13 on Amazon
In any short list of global headaches, China's quest for hegemony in the South China Sea ought to be up there with climate change, jihadis and the Ebola virus. It's seemingly intractable, yet solving it has become the critical test of whether the international order can accomodate a 'rising China.'
Notwithstanding the cautious instincts of a president who knows it is far easier to get into a foreign fight than to win one, the threat that Beijing's tactics pose to vital American interests is drawing Washington ineluctably into a showdown with China. Until a few years ago, it was possible to see the South China Sea problem as a squabble among littoral countries over fish and seabed resources, exacerbated by a stiff dose of bloody-mindedness on China's part. Now it is evident that China has no interest in negotiating territorial claims with its neighbors and only a selectively self-serving interest in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Washington has had to put dreams of global partnership with Asia's emergent superpower on the shelf while it ponders China's prospective control of vital sea lanes. The South China Sea is, in Bill Hayton's words, "the first place where Chinese ambition has come face-to-face with American strategic resolve."
It's a confrontation that we need to understand, and Hayton, a BBC correspondent who's done time in Myanmar and Vietnam, has provided the backstory. His thoroughly researched and gracefully written The South China Sea, subtitled the Struggle for Power in Asia, was published in the UK in late September and will be published in the US on October 28 by Yale Press. It is being offered on Amazon for US$28.
Hayton's 320 page book will inevitably be compared with another recent volume on the same subject, Robert Kaplan's Asia's Cauldron: the South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. They are very different books. Kaplan tosses off glib generalizations about national character, national interests and Asian leaders' purported obsession with order. It's all about balance-of-power, Kaplan says, a contest played out "in this new and somewhat sterile landscape of the 21st century." His Southeast Asia is a place where China is destined to sweep its erstwhile tributaries back into their proper orbits and where, if Washington is realistic in its analysis, it ought to graciously yield precedence to Beijing.
Hayton, on the other hand, explains. His opening chapters lead his readers almost effortlessly through the five thousand years that the South China Sea was a global commons dominated by proto-Malay voyagers. Then trading empires rise and fall: Funan, Champa, Majahapit and Malacca. Circa 1400, for the first and only time before the present era, China briefly becomes a sea power, sending great fleets to India and east Africa before again turning its attention inward. Europeans in search of spices, porcelain and silks arrive in the 1500's. Spain establishes dominion over the Philippine archipelago; three centuries later, France in Indochina and England in the Malay states have carved out their own colonies and are forcing even China to kowtow to gunboat diplomacy.
The Europeans, intent on demarcating boundaries and establishing exclusive rights to territory, unwittingly lay the foundations of fervent, self-conscious nationalism in what become, by the middle of the 20th century, their ex-colonies and ex-concessions. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and China -- both its Taiwan and Beijing governments -- all now claim great and overlapping swaths of an expanse of water that in times past connected rather than divided their inhabitants. All have scrambled to plant their flags on the reefs, rocks and islets (collectively 'features') that dot the vast sea.
The rich tapestry Hayton weaves is fascinating in itself, but of signal importance is a thread he carefully pulls from it: China's history-based claim to the sea area south of Hong Kong and Hainan Island is mostly rubbish. The Chinese evidence simply does not stand up against the annals of Vietnam's Nguyen lords, who by 1750 or so were despatching annual expeditions to both the Spratly and Paracel Island groups. The Vietnamese went mainly to salvage shipwrecks, to be sure, but they left behind markers and kept careful records.
Ironically, the Vietnamese have ceased to harp on their own historic claim. They appeal instead to the rules governing the division of seas that are codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, which came into force in 1994. So do the Philippines and the Malaysians. International law is the refuge of smaller and weaker states. For strong states intent on undoing past humiliations, international law is often an inconvenient nuisance. The regime in Beijing may know its legal case is weak; it may rationalize that China would have dominated its nearby seas had it not been oppressed by the West and Japan. For China's man in the street, the message is simple. Teachers and populist media have convinced him that Beijing's sovereignty over the southern seas and islands is 'immutable' and 'incontestable.'
Analysts -- Hayton and this writer among their number -- are hard put to explain why Beijing would so arrogantly squander the respect that until recently it worked so hard to gain. Hayton toys with the notion that naval commands, oil companies and provincial authorities have pursued aggressively independent foreign policies, dragging along top-level leaders who don't want to seem weak. That argument hasn't stood up in the Xi Jinping era; in recent years Chinese tactics have been impressively coordinated.
Other analysts blame the rising superpower's raging thirst for oil and gas. There's no doubt that China's future growth depends on ample supplies of both. There's considerable doubt, however, that the South China Sea is the "second Persian Gulf" often mentioned in Chinese media. Further, flush with foreign exchange, China has had no problem sourcing oil and gas outside the region, nor is it in anyone's interest to interfere with that trade.
Western observers who haven't done their homework have tended to see Chinese claims and ambitions as no less valid than all the others'. Kaplan goes further, treating international law as essentially irrelevant in the South China Sea disputes. And yet, the grandiosity of China's territorial claims and the tactics it has employed in their pursuit are highly significant to the US and other states with a large stake in the maintenance of a peaceful, law-based, free-trading world order. They suggest that a "rising China" will play by the rules only when that suits its interests. That means, Hayton concludes, that this 1.35 million square mile expanse -- the world's largest 'enclosed sea' -- "has become the place where incompatible Chinese and American identities are doomed to clash."
With each passing year, the stakes grow higher. An unstable dynamic ineluctably is drawing in the US and its principal Asian ally, Japan, in support of Vietnam and the Philippines. China shows no sign of backing down. There is no happy ending in sight.
Postscript: Bill Hayton, ironically, is not welcome in Vietnam. He was the BBC's resident correspondent in Hanoi in 2007-2008. Evidently his reporting at that time annoyed the authorities. When Hayton applied for a visa to participate in a November 2012 conference on East Sea issues sponsored by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, he was refused. Some months later, Hayton applied again, specifically asking to interview Vietnamese officials for his forthcoming book. Again he was refused. The result is that Hayton's sections on Vietnam and the East Sea are relatively 'thin' -- they lack the compelling detail that conversations with Vietnamese experts might have supplied. It's a pity -- and another story with (so far) no happy ending!
David Brown is a retired American diplomat who writes on Southeast Asian topics with particular regard to contemporary Vietnam. He may be reached at

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blocking China’s salami-slicing tactics on the South China Sea require region-wide cooperation

 YaleGlobal: Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet in Washington early October. The two nations, at war more than 40 years ago, now find common interest in protecting open sea lanes in the South China Sea. China asserts sweeping claims, going as far as to construct new islets and impose limitations on the use of other nations’ exclusive economic zones. China signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States has not. “Kerry and Minh should work out a middle course that protects US policy autonomy while maintaining balance in the region,” writes former US diplomat David Brown. Diplomacy and increased US engagement could include training regional coast guards with the aim of minimizing risky maneuvers that could trigger greater conflict, lifting a ban on weapons sales to Vietnam, encouraging joint explorations for oil and gas and encouraging multilateral fisheries management. In the meantime, Brown urges Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines to waste no time in sorting out their own competing claims.

Blocking China’s salami-slicing tactics on the South China Sea require region-wide cooperation
David Brown / YaleGlobal, 25 September 2014
Battle over waters: US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh will meet in early October to discuss the South China Sea (top); earlier in the summer China's coast-guard ships rammed a Vietnamese  vessel near a Chinese oil drilling rig
FRESNO: When Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet in early October, China's aggressive behavior in the waters of Southeast Asia will top their agenda. In the months leading up to the meeting, Washington’s foreign policy elite have been debating whether it is in America’s interest to get involved in the dispute. The strategic implications of letting China have its sway are too serious for the US to adopt a binary policy of going in all guns blazing or looking the other way. Kerry and Minh should work out a middle course that protects US policy autonomy while maintaining balance in the region.
China is a rising power and its cooperation is essential in efforts to contain terrorism, slow climate change, curb nuclear proliferation and so on. But the US cannot ignore China's drive to establish hegemony over the seas that touch its shores. Cautiously in the East China Sea, where Japan, allied with the United States, is a formidable opponent, and confidently in the South China Sea, China has mounted a determined challenge to the international order expressed in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, and the notion that territorial disputes should be settled, not by force, but by negotiation or arbitration.
Six years ago China presented a crude map to illustrate its claim to "indisputable sovereignty" over the area bounded by a nine-dash line enclosing 3.5 million square kilometers.
With each year that's passed since then, China's upped the ante. Deploying hundreds of deep-sea fishing boats and many dozens of coast guard vessels, Beijing has challenged its neighbors' sovereignty over exclusive economic zones drawn according to UNCLOS rules. It has driven Vietnamese fishermen out of traditional fishing grounds, wrested the aquatic resources of Scarborough Shoal from Manila's control, harassed oil and gas exploration off Vietnam's central coast, and planted markers on James Shoal, 50 miles off the Malaysian coast and 2200 miles south of China's Hainan Island. This year China again proved its mastery of the tactical initiative, deploying a deep-sea oil drilling rig and an armada of escort vessels into waters near Vietnam's central coast while sending a flotilla of seagoing pumps, dredges and cement mixers further south with the mission of converting a handful of reefs into artificial islets.
The US cannot ignore China's drive to establish hegemony over the seas that touch its shores.
Beijing has been impervious to persuasion and angered by tough talk from US diplomats – from Hillary Clinton and Kerry on down. Xi Jinping's government may know that the records it relies on to support an "historic claim" to the South China Sea are legally untenable, but Chinese public opinion finds them persuasive. China's man in the street is furious that countries on the periphery of "China's South Sea" are "stealing China's resources" when they fish on the high seas or drill for offshore oil and gas.
China, it seems, has no intention of submitting its sweeping territorial claims to rulings by international tribunals. It evidences little more interest in negotiating a Code of Conduct with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At most, Chinese spokesmen have hinted at a disposition to be generous when and only when Vietnam or the Philippines acknowledge the superior merit of China's claims.
It has thus become impossible to regard the South China Sea as an inconsequential sideshow to a hoped-for entente between the United States and the emergent Chinese superpower. The conflict is not inconsequential – the sea lanes carry nearly half the world's commerce. Added now is profound worry that Beijing's steadily more aggressive tactics there and its dismissal, whenever inconvenient, of the rules of the international order reveal China’s true nature with which the international community must contend in other places in times to come. China's actions and attitudes have made confrontation in the South China Sea a central concern of US diplomacy and strategic planning.
China shows no intention of submitting sweeping claims to rulings by international tribunals.
In the South China Sea, as elsewhere in the world, US engagement is essential if China's ambitions are to be effectively countered. Tough talk alone will not stiffen the ASEAN backbone nor impress Beijing.
From a tactical perspective, the US has behaved as if there were no viable options in the large space between denunciation of Chinese provocations and deploying the 7th Fleet. China on the other hand has consistently exploited opportunities in the middle space. It has relied on paramilitary assets, coast guard ships and auxiliary "fishing boats," to further its sovereign ambitions while the Peoples Liberation Army Navy, PLAN, waits discreetly just over the horizon.
Mimicking Chinese tactics, the US and Asian friends and allies could step up cooperation among their coast guards, prominently including a robust schedule of multilateral training exercises at sea. Military assistance that enhances Southeast Asian states' abilities to keep watch over their maritime frontiers will reduce China's capability to spring unpleasant surprises. Skillfully managed, such activities would, Carlyle Thayer has argued, "put the onus on China to decide the risk of confronting mixed formations of vessels and aircraft."
Washington ought also to forge a much closer relationship with Vietnam, the only Southeast Asian country with both the military deterrent capacity and, assured of American backing, the will to stand up to China. China's drill-rig deployment in May stunned Hanoi's Communist leaders and may have tipped the Politburo balance against continued strenuous efforts to appease Beijing.
A higher profile of American engagement vis-à-vis China in the South China Sea ought to reinforce diplomacy.
Hanoi and Washington have been courting since summer of 2012 and that intensified this summer. Largely for reasons of face – Vietnam doesn't like being lumped in with North Korea, Iran, Syria and China – it wants the US to drop its ban on lethal weapons sales. Washington, meanwhile, has conditioned such sales on "movement" on human-rights issues – an issue also likely to figure in Kerry-Minh talk.
Forging a strategic entente is not easy for either Hanoi or Washington. Each must give a bit on political rights. Yet, with the wolf at Hanoi's door, pragmatic adjustments may lay the foundation of an effective counter to Beijing's drive for hegemony over the South China Sea and domination of adjacent nations.
The US has already intervened effectively in support of the Philippines. Steps to upgrade and reinforce Philippine maritime surveillance and self-defense capabilities have had a tonic effect, allaying concerns that Manila may engage in risky, desperate behavior.
A higher profile of American engagement vis-à-vis China in the South China Sea ought to reinforce diplomacy. In that respect, the US could press Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines to sort out their claims among themselves. It could foster initiatives to draw Chinese authorities into discussions of multilateral management of rapidly depleting ocean fisheries and Chinese firms into joint exploration of the seabed for oil and gas.
There's no way for the United States to engage more actively in the South China Sea issues without angering China. That would probably have short-term negative consequences for US-China cooperation in other arenas, though Beijing is unlikely to refrain from cooperation that is in its own interest in order to punish Washington. The longer-term consequences of limiting China's overweening ambition will be salutary – Beijing will understand that it cannot rewrite the rules of international relations at will. 
David Brown is a retired American diplomat who writes on contemporary Vietnam. He may be reached at

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.

Search over this blog