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(BBC) Q&A: South China Sea dispute
Rival countries have squabbled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries – but a recent upsurge in tension has sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.
From Wednesday Night #1585: The South China Sea, a pervasive entity in adventure novels of the late 19th and early 20th century, is now a star in a 21st century geopolitical melodrama/docudrama, complete with the search for treasure (in this case rare earths).
China Tests Japanese and U.S. Patience
(Stratfor) In an interview The Washington Post published just prior to [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, Abe said China’s actions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and its overall increasing military assertiveness have already resulted in a major increase in funding for the Japan Self-Defense Forces and coast guard. He also reiterated the centrality of the Japan-U.S. alliance for Asian security and warned that China could lose Japanese and other foreign investment if it continued to use “coercion or intimidation” toward its neighbors along the East and South China seas
China, Japan engage in new invective over disputed isles
(Reuters) – China and Japan engaged on Friday in a fresh round of invective over military movements near a disputed group of uninhabited islands, fuelling tension that for months has bedeviled relations between the Asian powers.
The shadow of 1914 falls over the Pacific
(Financial Times) The flickering black and white films of men going “over the top” in the first world war seem impossibly distant. Yet the idea that the great powers of today could never again stumble into a war, as they did in 1914, is far too complacent. The rising tensions between China, Japan and the US have echoes of the terrible conflict that broke out almost a century ago.
The most obvious potential spark is the unresolved territorial dispute between China and Japan over the islands known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and the Senkaku to the Japanese. In recent months, the two countries’ aircraft and ships have shadowboxed near the islands. Alarmed, the US dispatched a top-level mission to Beijing and Tokyo in late October, made up of four senior members of the US foreign policy establishment: including Stephen Hadley, who ran the National Security Council for George W. Bush, and James Steinberg, who served as Hillary Clinton’s number two at the State Department.
PLA trains to fight Asian enemy allied with English-speaking ‘third force’
Scenarios involve fighting Asian enemy allied with America over disputed islands
(South China Morning Post) It could have been just another routine military drill with the pseudo enemy’s jets retreating. But then the pilots of the People’s Liberation Army were caught off guard by chatter over the radio – in English.
By the time they had figured out that they had to confront a third party, their field command – an early-warning plane – had already been shot down, the PLA Daily reported.
Analysts said the inclusion of an English-speaking third party in PLA drills was aimed at sending a message that the Chinese military is preparing for possible intervention by the United States if China clashes militarily with neighbouring countries over territorial disputes.
Dispute over East China Sea islands heads to UN
The United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is slated this year to address the territorial claim by China over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Japan and Taiwan. Japan says the world body should play no role in assessing the scientific validity of China’s claim. Reuters (1/24), AlertNet/Reuters (1/25)
The risks of a clash between China and Japan are rising—and the consequences could be calamitous
(The Economist print edition) CHINA and Japan are sliding towards war. In the waters and skies around disputed islands, China is escalating actions designed to challenge decades of Japanese control. It is accompanying its campaign with increasingly blood-curdling rhetoric. Japan, says the China Daily, is the “real danger and threat to the world”. A military clash, says Global Times, is now “more likely…We need to prepare for the worst.” China appears to be preparing for the first armed confrontation between the two countries in seven decades (see article).
China and Japan have well-known differences over history and territory—most pressingly over five islets, out in the East China Sea, which Japan controls and calls the Senkakus but which China lays claim to and calls the Diaoyus. Rational actors with deeply entwined economies are supposed to sort out their differences, or learn to put them safely to one side. At least, that was the assumption with China and Japan.
Economist Asia editor looks back at a year of rising tensions in the South and East China Seas (embedded video)
Confusion over China’s South China Sea policy
China’s Hainan province recently authorized police to intercept foreign vessels operating in much of the South China Sea, and the policy is sowing confusion and conflict, John Ruwitch writes. India said it will send navy ships to the region, and Vietnam and the Philippines issued verbal protests. Reuters (12/10)
Trespassers To Be Prosecuted: China’s Latest Billboard In South China Sea – Analysis
(Eurasia Review) Hainan’s issuance of the ordinance has invited the ire of several nations, with Vietnam responding by planning to send its own naval patrols to safeguard its interests in the region. The ordinance also raises questions about the freedom of navigation and specifically passage rights of ships in disputed areas not internationally recognised as belonging to any nation. The issue as to who will decide if the passage is innocent has always remained a grey area. Therefore, nations could reserve the right to employ rules of engagement to thwart an ‘illegal’ boarding or not to comply with an ‘illegal’ request to alter course out of such disputed waters
Taiwan enters island fray, but China and Japan shrug
Boats from China and Japan chased each other around a set of disputed islets, setting off a diplomatic crisis. But when Taiwan entered the fray, neither side seemed to care.
(CSM) The government in Taipei said last week it wanted to be a peacemaker in a sovereignty dispute involving a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Boats from China and Japan had chased each other around the islets they both claim, setting off mass protests in China that sent Sino-Japanese relations to a new low.
Then this week, Taiwan stopped talking about peace as 12 of its coast guard vessels escorted some 50 Taiwanese fishing boats to the islets, a sort passive-aggressive reminder of its own claim to islets that are 137 miles from Taiwan. Japan controls the islands, which it calls the Senkakus, and sprayed water cannons at Taiwan’s boats to keep them away.
The even smaller rocks Japan and China are fighting over
(Foreign Policy) … To be clear, this fight differs from the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute in that China does not want Okinotorishima (translated as “remote bird island”), or challenge Japan’s claim. But the Okinotorishima fight highlights the geopolitics often underlying these island feuds: Japan has gone to such lengths to preserve Okinotorishima because possession of the tiny islets lets Japan claim an extra 150,000 square miles of exclusive economic zone, strategically located between Taiwan and US military bases on Guam. China – which been accused of violating Japanese sovereignty by mapping the sea floor around the islands – claims that they are not islands at all, but marine rocks, and therefore not entitled to their own EEZ (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea says that rocks must be able to sustain “human habitation or economic life” before they get an EEZ). A recent UN panel on the issue has generated claims of victory from both sides.
At this point, the geopolitics of the Diaoyu/Senkaku fight have been mostly overshadowed by issues of historical grievances and nationalism – however, these islands, too, would give China and Japan EEZ rights to waters potentially containing significant oil and gas reserves. Similarly, the Okinotorishima fight, while at heart a geopolitical one, has occasionally also been complicated by nationalist feelings: following the Chinese crying foul over the islets in 2004, the right-learning Nippon Foundation scrambled to construct a lighthouse that would help generate “economic life”, and help bolster their claim that it’s more than a reef.
Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict
(Stratfor) Sept. 29 will mark 40 years of normalized diplomatic relations between China and Japan, two countries that spent much of the 20th century in mutual enmity if not at outright war. The anniversary comes at a low point in Sino-Japanese relations amid a dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China.
These islands, which are little more than uninhabited rocks, are not particularly valuable on their own. However, nationalist factions in both countries have used them to enflame old animosities; in China, the government has even helped organize the protests over Japan’s plan to purchase and nationalize the islands from their private owner. But China’s increased assertiveness is not limited only to this issue. Beijing has undertaken a high-profile expansion and improvement of its navy as a way to help safeguard its maritime interests, which Japan — an island nation necessarily dependent on access to sea-lanes — naturally views as a threat. Driven by its economic and political needs, China’s expanded military activity may awaken Japan from the pacifist slumber that has characterized it since the end of World War II. Read more: Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict | Stratfor
Stronger Chinese Navy Worries Neighbors and US
(Spiegel) China and the US seem to be on a collision course in the Pacific. Beijing is significantly bolstering its navy, and Washington is shifting its military focus to Asia-Pacific Region. Many fear it could alter the balance of power in a region rich in oil and crucial for global trade.
It is difficult to overstate the economic and military importance of the South China Sea, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. Over half the annual tonnage of all the world’s merchant navies is shipped through adjacent sea routes here, and the region sees a third of the world’s maritime traffic. Eighty percent of China’s crude oil imports pass through here, and the seafloor holds an estimated 130 billion barrels of crude oil and 9.3 trillion cubic meters (328 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas.
Joseph Nye: Asian Nationalism at Sea
(Project Syndicate) In 2002, China and ASEAN agreed on a legally non-binding code of conduct for managing such disputes, but, as a large power, China believes that it will gain more in bilateral rather than multilateral negotiations with small countries. That belief was behind China’s pressure on Cambodia to block ASEAN’s final communiqué this summer.
But this is a mistaken strategy. As a large power, China will have great weight in any circumstance, and it can reduce its self-inflicted damage by agreeing to a code of conduct.
As for the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the best proposal comes from The Economist. China should refrain from sending official vessels into Japanese waters, and use a hotline with Japan to manage crises generated by nationalist “cowboys.” At the same time, the two countries should revive a 2008 framework for joint development of disputed gas fields in the East China Sea, and Japan’s central government should purchase the barren islands from their private owner and declare them an international maritime protected area.
U.S.-China talks to highlight Pacific disputes
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to meet with high-ranking officials in China amid rising tensions over competing national interests in the South and East China Seas. Clinton has urged the resolution of Asia-Pacific disputes “without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force.” Reuters (9/4), Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model) (8/29), NBC News/Reuters (9/4), The Economist/Analects blog (8/6)
(The Economist) LONG a zone of contention among a number of littoral states, the South China Sea is fast becoming the focus of one of the most serious bilateral disputes between America and China. Over the weekend China’s foreign ministry summoned an American diplomat to express “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to a statement issued by the state department on August 3rd.
The specific Chinese complaint this weekend was over America’s criticism of its recent upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha city, on one of the Paracel islands (known in China as the Xisha), from a county to a prefecture, and the establishment of a new military garrison there. In its riposte China judged its own decision to be “normal and reasonable”, though only a few hundred people live on the islets covered by the vast new maritime prefecture.
More broadly, China complains that America is taking sides in the many territorial disputes in the sea. China and Taiwan both claim virtually all the sea. Vietnam claims the Paracels, from which it was evicted by China in 1974, as well as the Spratly chain further to the south. In the south both overlap extensively with the exclusive economic zone the Philippines claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Further complicating things, Malaysia and Brunei also have smaller territorial claims, and the regional club to which they, the Philippines and Vietnam all belong, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), has tried to play a co-ordinating and mediating role.
US voices concern over South China Sea rows
(Al Jazeera) US accuses China of raising tensions through a new military garrison in the South China Sea.
Salami Slicing in the South China Sea
China’s slow, patient approach to dominating Asia.
(Foreign Policy) … in June, the Chinese government established “Sansha City” on Woody Island in the Paracel chain, which China seized from South Vietnam in 1974. Sansha will be the administrative center for China’s claims in the South China Sea, to include the Spratly Islands near Reed Bank and Palawan, and Scarborough Shoal. China also announced plans to send a military garrison to the area. China’s actions look like an attempt to gradually and systematically establish legitimacy for its claims in the region. It has stood up a local civilian government, which will command a permanent military garrison. It is asserting its economic claims by leasing oil and fishing blocks inside other countries’ EEZs, and is sending its navy to thwart development approved by other countries in the area. At the end of this road lie two prizes: potentially enough oil under the South China Sea to supply China for 60 years, and the possible neutering of the U.S. military alliance system in the region.
Philippines to auction South China Sea exploration blocks
(BBC) The Philippine government is set to auction off three areas in the South China Sea for oil and gas exploration that are also claimed by China.
“All the areas we have offered are well within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines under the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas),” said Jose Layug, an undersecretary in Manila’s Department of Energy.
“Thus the Philippines exercises exclusive sovereign rights and authority to explore and exploit resources within these areas to the exclusion of other countries. There is no doubt and dispute about such rights.”
However the waters, which are claimed by several other countries, are a source of tension in the region.
The blocks being auctioned are off Palawan province, near Malampaya and Sampaguita where natural gas was discovered.
China morning round-up: South China Sea city opens door
(BBC) Newspapers report the inauguration of the local government in Sansha City, set up recently by Beijing to govern disputed South China Sea islands. The new government held a ceremony on Yongxing Island in the Paracels – known as Woody Island in English – where the mayoral office sits.
Stirring up the South China Sea (II): Regional Responses
(International Crisis Group) The South China Sea dispute between China and some of its South East Asian neighbours – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – has reached an impasse. Increasingly assertive positions among claimants have pushed regional tensions to new heights. Driven by potential hydrocarbon reserves and declining fish stocks, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular are taking a more confrontational posture with China. All claimants are expanding their military and law enforcement capabilities, while growing nationalism at home is empowering hardliners pushing for a tougher stance on territorial claims. In addition, claimants are pursuing divergent resolution mechanisms; Beijing insists on resolving the disputes bilaterally, while Vietnam and the Philippines are actively engaging the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). To counter diminishing prospects of resolution of the conflicts, the countries should strengthen efforts to promote joint development of hydrocarbon and fish resources and adopt a binding code of conduct for all parties to the dispute. (Read full report)
Indonesia scrambles to end ASEAN rift over South China Sea disputes, seeks nonaggression pact
(WaPost) Indonesia’s top diplomat started an emergency trip to Southeast Asian nations Wednesday to ease differences among them over the handling of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Foreign ministers of the 10-nation bloc failed to issue a concluding joint statement after their annual meeting in Phnom Penh last week when host Cambodia rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their separate territorial disputes with China in the statement.
The absence of a post-conference statement was unprecedented in ASEAN’s 45-year history and underscored the divisions within the group over the handling of the South China Sea disputes, which involve four of its members — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The four, along with China and Taiwan, have long contested ownership of potentially oil- and gas-rich territories and recent spats have raised alarm.
South China Sea issue dominates ASEAN summit
(Al Jazeera) US warns of more conflict if China doesn’t agree to maritime code, as Philippines and Vietnam push for code of conduct. The Philippines is leading a push for ASEAN to unite and draw up a code based on a UN law on maritime boundaries that would delineate the areas belonging to each country. Beijing is unlikely to accept this, however. This push came as Beijing invited bids for exploration of oil blocks in waters claimed by Vietnam, which has sparked protests on the streets of the capital, Hanoi.
The troubled waters of the South China sea
(Foreign Policy) For China’s top leaders, this is not a good time for confrontations with the neighbors. The country’s once-a-decade leadership transition is expected to unfold this fall, and neither outgoing nor incoming officials want uncertainty or ugly international headlines to interfere with the official choreography.
Thus the worry that Asian governments like the Philippines and Vietnam, emboldened by a commitment from Washington to maintain a robust strategic presence in the region, are pushing more aggressively to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea. More worrisome still, China’s leaders face patriotic pressures from within for a forceful response.
China and its neighbors could be working together on joint oil and gas exploration in these disputed waters. Proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea are estimated to be as high as 213 billion barrels, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If accurate, that’s larger than the proven oil reserves of all but Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But territorial disputes continue to block efforts to prove these estimates, and the potential for open hostilities in the area is growing, threatening to disrupt trade flows and stoking regional tensions.
Japan Plan to Buy Islands Draws China’s Condemnation
(Bloomberg) The dispute over who controls the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, escalated in April after Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said he wanted to use public money to buy them. Sovereignty over the area, which has undersea natural gas and oil fields, has been a flash point between the world’s second- and third-largest economies.
China tests troubled waters with $1 billion rig for South China Sea
(Reuters) – China has spent nearly $1 billion on an ultra-deepwater rig that appears intended to explore disputed areas of the South China Sea, one of Asia’s most volatile hotspots and where the United States is strengthening ties with Beijing’s rival claimants.
For now, the locally built Haiyang Shiyou (Offshore Oil) 981 rig owned by China’s state-run CNOOC oil company is drilling south of Hong Kong in an area within Beijing’s ambit. But Chinese energy experts say Beijing will eventually move its first ultra-deepwater rig to explore in deeper and more oil-rich waters further south in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping territorial claims.
Stirring up the South China Sea (I)
(International Crisis Group) The conflicting mandates and lack of coordination among Chinese government agencies, many of which strive to increase their power and budget, have stoked tensions in the South China Sea. Repeated proposals to establish a more centralised mechanism have foundered while the only agency with a coordinating mandate, the foreign ministry, does not have the authority or resources to manage other actors. The Chinese navy’s use of maritime tensions to justify its modernisation, and nationalist sentiment around territorial claims, further compound the problem. But more immediate conflict risks lie in the growing number of law enforcement and paramilitary vessels playing an increasing role in disputed territories without a clear legal framework. They have been involved in most of the recent incidents, including the prolonged standoff between China and the Philippines in April 2012 in Scarborough Reef. Any future solution to the South China Sea disputes will require a consistent policy from China executed uniformly throughout the different levels of government along with the authority to enforce it. Read full Report (.pdf)
Oil bonanza in South China Sea
(Global Times) At a press conference Thursday, Hong Lei, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated that China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters.
The region has abundant resources of oil and natural gas, and some surrounding countries have been exploring resources there for years.
As part of the strategy to deepen the exploitation of deep-water resources, China has stepped up efforts in oil and natural gas mining in the areas, but overall levels of investment and production are considerably smaller than those of nearby countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
Although the government has expanded exploration in the area in the hopes of easing China’s dependence on imported oil, technological limitations and continued explorations from surrounding countries that disregard Chinese claims over the areas are hindering the ambitious plan.
The South China Sea, dubbed the “second Persian Gulf,” is rich in natural resources of oil and gas. It is estimated that the area contains over 50 billion tons of crude oil and more than 20 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.