NO nation in the world recognizes China’s nine-dash claim in the South China Sea and the weakness of its legal base is the reason Beijing is undertaking massive reclamation in disputed waters, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
“It reaffirms the belief that no country in the world recognizes that the nine-dash line is a valid claim on the part of China,” Del Rosario said at a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
Del Rosario accused China of accelerating its expansionist agenda by changing the size, structure and physical attributes of land features in the South China Sea and have even rammed Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea, endangering the lives of fishermen.
“China is aware it has to engage in a battle of public opinion and shape the narrative in its favor given the weak legal case it is standing on,” Del Rosario said, adding that the Philippines chose to pursue international arbitration “to preserve a valued friendship” with China.
The DFA chief highlighted the international community’s significant support for the Philippines’ advocacy for a peaceful and rules-based settlement of disputes in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.
Del Rosario welcomed the growing international support after United States Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, Jack Reed and Bob Menendez warned that China’s land reclamation and construction in the region could be considered “a direct challenge, not only to the interests of the United States and the region, but to the entire international community.”
Del Rosario described the US lawmakers view as very helpful, saying it brings into focus with the international community the differences in terms of what is being said and what is happening on the ground.
“We welcome the statements made and we also welcome the call for a more substantive support and focus on the Asia rebalance strategy of the United States,” he added.
Del Rosario said a comprehensive US strategy on Chinese reclamation would likewise add an important voice to Manila’s arbitration case against China.
The Philippines likewise welcomed the Vietnam’s and Indonesia’s stand against China’s continue expansionism in the south China, adding describing it as helpful in terms of promoting the rule of law and in finding peaceful and nonviolent solutions to the South China Sea claims.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has earlier announced that part of China’s claims to almost the entire the South China Sea has no legal basis.
“The ‘nine-dash line’ that China says marks its maritime border has no basis in any international law,” Jokowi said.
Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Bin said his government told the Permanent Court of Arbitration that Vietnam fully rejected “China’s claim over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes and the adjacent waters.”
China claimed sovereignty over 90% of the water and all the islands in the South China Sea by drawing a nine-dash line covering 90% of that sea, prompting her neighbors to protest that her claim contradicts international law, specifically the 1982 UNCLOS.
“Even as the Philippines filed arbitral proceedings under Article 287 of UNCLOS, however, China continues to undertake unilateral measures that form part of a pattern of forcing a change in the regional status quo in order to advance and realize its ‘nine-dash line’ claim of undisputed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea,” Del Rosario said.
“As the arbitration case proceeds, everyone should have a deep appreciation of the case, in the context of our policy on the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
China backs the level of the resources it has poured on consolidating its presence in the South China Sea with an aggressive public diplomacy campaign, in its domestic public, the region and international community, and – as some of you may have noticed -- even in the Philippine public.
He said China is aware that it has to engage in the battle of public opinion and shape the narrative in its favor given the weak legal base that its claims are standing on.
“That said, it is my hope that all Filipinos can work together with us in standing behind our country’s position,” Del Rosario said.
“Ours is a principled position. The challenge, therefore, is to continue communicating effectively and efficiently our principled position on the West Philippine Sea issue. Even as we face a formidable challenge, we have the law on our side. International law is the great equalizer,” he said.
Del Rosario expressed confidence that doing the right thing will help the Philippines get what it think is right.
“We are, moreover, in the right. And right is might, ” Del Rosario concluded.
The endgame of communist rule in China has begun, and Xi Jinping’s ruthless measures are only bringing the country closer to a breaking point
Chinese President Xi Jinping, front center, and other Chinese leaders attend the opening meeting on Thursday of the third session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.PHOTO: XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS
On Thursday, the National People’s Congress convened in Beijing in what has become a familiar annual ritual. Some 3,000 “elected” delegates from all over the country—ranging from colorfully clad ethnic minorities to urbane billionaires—will meet for a week to discuss the state of the nation and to engage in the pretense of political participation.
Some see this impressive gathering as a sign of the strength of the Chinese political system—but it masks serious weaknesses. Chinese politics has always had a theatrical veneer, with staged events like the congress intended to project the power and stability of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. Officials and citizens alike know that they are supposed to conform to these rituals, participating cheerfully and parroting back official slogans. This behavior is known in Chinese as biaotai, “declaring where one stands,” but it is little more than an act of symbolic compliance.
Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China’s strongman leader,Xi Jinping, is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule. He is determined to avoid becoming theMikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society—and bringing it closer to a breaking point.
Predicting the demise of authoritarian regimes is a risky business. Few Western experts forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union before it occurred in 1991; the CIA missed it entirely. The downfall of Eastern Europe’s communist states two years earlier was similarly scorned as the wishful thinking of anticommunists—until it happened. The post-Soviet “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan from 2003 to 2005, as well as the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, all burst forth unanticipated.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the site of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.PHOTO: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC/GETTY IMAGES
China-watchers have been on high alert for telltale signs of regime decay and decline ever since the regime’s near-death experience in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Since then, several seasoned Sinologists have risked their professional reputations by asserting that the collapse of CCP rule was inevitable. Others were more cautious—myself included. But times change in China, and so must our analyses.
The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think. We don’t know what the pathway from now until the end will look like, of course. It will probably be highly unstable and unsettled. But until the system begins to unravel in some obvious way, those inside of it will play along—thus contributing to the facade of stability.
Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly. A single event is unlikely to trigger a peaceful implosion of the regime. Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’état. With his aggressive anticorruption campaign—a focus of this week’s National People’s Congress—he is overplaying a weak hand and deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies.
The Chinese have a proverb, waiying, neiruan—hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Mr. Xi is a genuinely tough ruler. He exudes conviction and personal confidence. But this hard personality belies a party and political system that is extremely fragile on the inside.
Consider five telling indications of the regime’s vulnerability and the party’s systemic weaknesses.
A military band conductor during the opening session of the National People’s Congress on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
First, China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble. In 2014, Shanghai’s Hurun Research Institute, which studies China’s wealthy, found that 64% of the “high net worth individuals” whom it polled—393 millionaires and billionaires—were either emigrating or planning to do so. Rich Chinese are sending their children to study abroad in record numbers (in itself, an indictment of the quality of the Chinese higher-education system).
Just this week, the Journal reported, federal agents searched several Southern California locations that U.S. authorities allege are linked to “multimillion-dollar birth-tourism businesses that enabled thousands of Chinese women to travel here and return home with infants born as U.S. citizens.” Wealthy Chinese are also buying property abroad at record levels and prices, and they are parking their financial assets overseas, often in well-shielded tax havens and shell companies.
Meanwhile, Beijing is trying to extradite back to China a large number of alleged financial fugitives living abroad. When a country’s elites—many of them party members—flee in such large numbers, it is a telling sign of lack of confidence in the regime and the country’s future.
Second, since taking office in 2012, Mr. Xi has greatly intensified the political repression that has blanketed China since 2009. The targets include the press, social media, film, arts and literature, religious groups, the Internet, intellectuals, Tibetans and Uighurs, dissidents, lawyers, NGOs, university students and textbooks. The Central Committee sent a draconian order known as Document No. 9 down through the party hierarchy in 2013, ordering all units to ferret out any seeming endorsement of the West’s “universal values”—including constitutional democracy, civil society, a free press and neoliberal economics.
A more secure and confident government would not institute such a severe crackdown. It is a symptom of the party leadership’s deep anxiety and insecurity.
A protester is pushed to the ground by a paramilitary policeman March 5, 2014, in Beijing before the opening of the National People’s Congress nearby.PHOTO:ASSOCIATED PRESS
Third, even many regime loyalists are just going through the motions. It is hard to miss the theater of false pretense that has permeated the Chinese body politic for the past few years. Last summer, I was one of a handful of foreigners (and the only American) who attended a conference about the “China Dream,” Mr. Xi’s signature concept, at a party-affiliated think tank in Beijing. We sat through two days of mind-numbing, nonstop presentations by two dozen party scholars—but their faces were frozen, their body language was wooden, and their boredom was palpable. They feigned compliance with the party and their leader’s latest mantra. But it was evident that the propaganda had lost its power, and the emperor had no clothes.
In December, I was back in Beijing for a conference at the Central Party School, the party’s highest institution of doctrinal instruction, and once again, the country’s top officials and foreign policy experts recited their stock slogans verbatim. During lunch one day, I went to the campus bookstore—always an important stop so that I can update myself on what China’s leading cadres are being taught. Tomes on the store’s shelves ranged from Lenin’s “Selected Works” to Condoleezza Rice’s memoirs, and a table at the entrance was piled high with copies of a pamphlet by Mr. Xi on his campaign to promote the “mass line”—that is, the party’s connection to the masses. “How is this selling?” I asked the clerk. “Oh, it’s not,” she replied. “We give it away.” The size of the stack suggested it was hardly a hot item.
Fourth, the corruption that riddles the party-state and the military also pervades Chinese society as a whole. Mr. Xi’s anticorruption campaign is more sustained and severe than any previous one, but no campaign can eliminate the problem. It is stubbornly rooted in the single-party system, patron-client networks, an economy utterly lacking in transparency, a state-controlled media and the absence of the rule of law.
Moreover, Mr. Xi’s campaign is turning out to be at least as much a selective purge as an antigraft campaign. Many of its targets to date have been political clients and allies of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Now 88, Mr. Jiang is still the godfather figure of Chinese politics. Going after Mr. Jiang’s patronage network while he is still alive is highly risky for Mr. Xi, particularly since Mr. Xi doesn’t seem to have brought along his own coterie of loyal clients to promote into positions of power. Another problem: Mr. Xi, a child of China’s first-generation revolutionary elites, is one of the party’s “princelings,” and his political ties largely extend to other princelings. This silver-spoon generation is widely reviled in Chinese society at large.
Mr. Xi at the Schloss Bellevue presidential residency during his visit to fellow export powerhouse Germany in Berlin on March 28, 2014.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Finally, China’s economy—for all the Western views of it as an unstoppable juggernaut—is stuck in a series of systemic traps from which there is no easy exit. In November 2013, Mr. Xi presided over the party’s Third Plenum, which unveiled a huge package of proposed economic reforms, but so far, they are sputtering on the launchpad. Yes, consumer spending has been rising, red tape has been reduced, and some fiscal reforms have been introduced, but overall, Mr. Xi’s ambitious goals have been stillborn. The reform package challenges powerful, deeply entrenched interest groups—such as state-owned enterprises and local party cadres—and they are plainly blocking its implementation.
These five increasingly evident cracks in the regime’s control can be fixed only through political reform. Until and unless China relaxes its draconian political controls, it will never become an innovative society and a “knowledge economy”—a main goal of the Third Plenum reforms. The political system has become the primary impediment to China’s needed social and economic reforms. If Mr. Xi and party leaders don’t relax their grip, they may be summoning precisely the fate they hope to avoid.
In the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the upper reaches of China’s leadership have been obsessed with the fall of its fellow communist giant. Hundreds of Chinese postmortem analyseshave dissected the causes of the Soviet disintegration.
Mr. Xi’s real “China Dream” has been to avoid the Soviet nightmare. Just a few months into his tenure, he gave a telling internal speech ruing the Soviet Union’s demise and bemoaning Mr. Gorbachev’s betrayals, arguing that Moscow had lacked a “real man” to stand up to its reformist last leader. Mr. Xi’s wave of repression today is meant to be the opposite of Mr. Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost. Instead of opening up, Mr. Xi is doubling down on controls over dissenters, the economy and even rivals within the party.
But reaction and repression aren’t Mr. Xi’s only option. His predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, drew very different lessons from the Soviet collapse. From 2000 to 2008, they instituted policies intended to open up the system with carefully limited political reforms.
They strengthened local party committees and experimented with voting for multicandidate party secretaries. They recruited more businesspeople and intellectuals into the party. They expanded party consultation with nonparty groups and made the Politburo’s proceedings more transparent. They improved feedback mechanisms within the party, implemented more meritocratic criteria for evaluation and promotion, and created a system of mandatory midcareer training for all 45 million state and party cadres. They enforced retirement requirements and rotated officials and military officers between job assignments every couple of years.
In effect, for a while Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu sought to manage change, not to resist it. But Mr. Xi wants none of this. Since 2009 (when even the heretofore open-minded Mr. Hu changed course and started to clamp down), an increasingly anxious regime has rolled back every single one of these political reforms (with the exception of the cadre-training system). These reforms were masterminded by Mr. Jiang’s political acolyte and former vice president, Zeng Qinghong,who retired in 2008 and is now under suspicion in Mr. Xi’s anticorruption campaign—another symbol of Mr. Xi’s hostility to the measures that might ease the ills of a crumbling system.
Some experts think that Mr. Xi’s harsh tactics may actually presage a more open and reformist direction later in his term. I don’t buy it. This leader and regime see politics in zero-sum terms: Relaxing control, in their view, is a sure step toward the demise of the system and their own downfall. They also take the conspiratorial view that the U.S. is actively working to subvert Communist Party rule. None of this suggests that sweeping reforms are just around the corner.
We cannot predict when Chinese communism will collapse, but it is hard not to conclude that we are witnessing its final phase. The CCP is the world’s second-longest ruling regime (behind only North Korea), and no party can rule forever.
Looking ahead, China-watchers should keep their eyes on the regime’s instruments of control and on those assigned to use those instruments. Large numbers of citizens and party members alike are already voting with their feet and leaving the country or displaying their insincerity by pretending to comply with party dictates.
We should watch for the day when the regime’s propaganda agents and its internal security apparatus start becoming lax in enforcing the party’s writ—or when they begin to identify with dissidents, like the East German Stasi agent in the film “The Lives of Others” who came to sympathize with the targets of his spying. When human empathy starts to win out over ossified authority, the endgame of Chinese communism will really have begun.
Dr. Shambaugh is a professor of international affairs and the director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His books include “China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation” and, most recently, “China Goes Global: The Partial Power.”
Corrections & Amplifications: A photo shows a protester in Beijing being pushed to the ground by a Chinese paramilitary policeman before the opening of the National People’s Congress in March 2014. An earlier version of this article contained a photo caption that incorrectly said the incident was this month. (March 9, 2015)
“China’s nine-dash (territorial) line is ambiguous and is open to various interpretations. It is in China’s interest to keep matters this way. Historical evidence and international law support the view that the nine-dash line is unsustainable and has no legal foundation”.
Professor Carl Thayer
So says Professor Carl Thayer, a leading expert on Southeast Asia at the Australian Defence Forces Academy, who was talking to reporters about maritime disputes in the South China Sea at the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) last week.
Here are some of the questions posed to him by Vietnamese journalists and his answer, as selected by DTI:
Vietnam has shown historical evidence to support for its territorial claim for the Paracel and Spratly islands, but China has occupied the Paracels and is reaching to the Spratlys. What’s your opinion about the so-called nine-dash line?
The Paracel and Spratly archipelagos present two sets of different issues. Under contemporary international law great weight is given to evidence of continuous occupation and administration in territorial and sovereignty claims. Vietnam’s claims to the Paracels are strong because of the Hoang Sa Brigade (Doi Hoang Sa) and French rule when the Kingdom of An Nam was a protectorate. Vietnam’s claims to several of the islands and features are even stronger because they were acquired by China by aggressive force in January 1974.
Vietnam’s claim to the Spratlys has a sound historical basis and Vietnam’s occupation and administration has been established.
China’s nine-dash line is ambiguous and open to various interpretations. It is in China’s interest to keep matters this way. Historical evidence and international law supportthe view that the nine-dash line is unsustainable and has no legal foundation. The People’s Republic of China modified the Republic of China’s original 11-dash line map of 1947/1948. China has also published maps showing the nine-dash line that are inconsistent. Finally, China’s claim that James Shoal near Malaysia is China’s most distant land is absurd. James Shoal is 20 or more metres underwater. China’s claims is based on a translation error.
You said in late November that tensions in the East and South China Sea should remain low for perhaps six months. Do you think China is now satisfied with the situation in South China Sea?
It is clear that China reassessed its tactics last year in the South China Sea. China suffered damage to its prestige and witnessed a rise in concern by regional states. China is now quietly consolidating its presence in the South China Sea through land reclamation, an increased presence of fishing fleets and larger mother ships, larger Coast Guard vessels and more military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Navy. At the same time, China is advancing a larger agenda through its proposals for land and maritime “Silk Roads”. Time appears to be on China’s side. China must “neutralise” Asean; that is, keep it from aligning with the United States and Japan. China has close relations with Malaysia, this year’s Asean Chair.
Malaysia prefers to keep South China Sea disputes quiet. This will suit China. China will react when it perceives that its interests are threatened. So far, the Philippines has adopted a low-key approach to its dispute with China so as not to jeopardise its claim to the Arbitral Tribunal. This also suits China.
This leads me to believe that all will be quiet on the South China Sea front this year.
What do you think China’s next move will be?
China will keep on with land reclamation. It will continue to urge its fishermen to push south in to the EEZs (exclusive economic zones) of other littoral states. China maritime enforcement ships will intervene to protect the fishermen. China will conduct more frequent and larger military exercises. In short, it will be business as usual for China.
How likely is it that China will establish an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea to support its sovereignty claims, and what would such a move mean for nations with interests in the sea, including Vietnam and the United States?
China does not yet possess the means to enforce an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea. It could do so over the Paracel Islands because it has air force planes based on Hainan Island. At present and in the near-term future China cannot enforce an ADIZ over the southern reaches of the South China Sea, even with its present land reclamation and construction activities. If China’s ADIZ interfered with internationally recognised air routes, the United States would deliberately fly through the zone to uphold international law. China has not interfered with US planes that pass through its ADIZ in Northeast Asia.
What are the chances for the Asean bloc and China to achieve a code of conduct this year under Malaysia’s chairmanship to defuse sea tensions and ensure peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?
There is little prospect for Asean and China reaching final agreement on a binding code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea this year. China has insisted that the implementation of the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) be implemented first. Although a number of working groups have been set up under the DOC, and China has made funding available, not one confidence-building project has been approved. So far the Asean-China consultations have agreed only on the structure and general form of the COC. Specific details remain to be worked out. Thailand, as Asean’s country co-ordinator for relations with China, increased the number of working group meetings last year. This is a positive development. However, ASEAN wants a binding COC. It is unlikely that China will agree to a COC with treaty status.
People say the role and the voice of Asean doesn’t have much power against China’s claims of the nine-dash line. What’s your opinion?
Last year, during the HD 981 crisis, Asean foreign ministers issued a stand-alone statement expressing their concern. Although this statement did not mention China, it was the first time that Asean has expressed a view on tensions arising from the China-Vietnam dispute over the Paracels and surrounding waters. In this case, this had an impact on China for two reasons. It indicated Asean unity, and because (of that) it provided a basis for the US, Japan, Australia and other countries to support Asean. Having said this, Asean as a body is not a direct party to the South China Sea disputes. Asean has its limitations. It must function by consensus. Asean is, at best, a diplomatic community and can only exert political influence on China. This is a necessary condition to resolve the South China Sea disputes, but it is not sufficient.
In the escalation of territorial disputes in the East Sea (South China Sea), Asean wants to speed up the code of conduct with China to make it an effective tool to maintain peace in the East Sea. However, China has tried to delay and hinder the realisation of the COC and push the negotiation to a stalemate. What is the solution to breaking this stalemate?
Asean and China agreed to move forward on the basis of consensus. This provision was included in the 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). This makes is very difficult for Asean to speed up consultations on a code of conduct if China is unwilling. China, however, has shown a willingness to respond to Asean’s concerns. Asean must maintain unity and the current Asean Chair must continually press China to hurry up the speed of talks. Asean foreign ministers and government leaders can also use their annual ministerial and summit meetings to add pressure. Asean needs to set out a road map and a check list showing what progress has been made.
What are your comments on the role and statement of Vietnamese scholars in international conferences and forums on topics related to the East Sea dispute? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their research?
Over the last four years I have attended an average of 16 international conferences each year; most focus on the South China Sea. The Vietnamese participants invariably hail from the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. They are the elite of the elite. They are well trained and fluent in English. They conduct primary research and are well informed. I hold them in highest respect. There are also Vietnamese scholars who are studying abroad who participate. They are committed to legal and historical research on the South China Sea and they are collectively an impressive group. One great strength of Vietnamese scholars is their originality when writing opinion editorial pieces in the foreign press. I value highly their responses to Chinese opinion writers.
If I detect any weaknesses it is that Vietnam needs more scholars fluent in Chinese language who have access to Chinese language sources. Vietnam should issues a comprehensive White Paper on the South China Sea setting out the legal argument for Vietnam’s claims to both the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.