China geopolitical strategy – South China Sea/Indo-Pacific region

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Urgency in Indo-Pacific: Canada at a distance as China becomes increasingly embedded: Cleo Paskal (YouTube)
(CDA Institute) Cleo Paskal discusses the political warfare techniques that China employs in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in Pacific Island nations, to drive a wedge between the Indo-Pacific and the West. (11 September 2023)

4-13 April
US, Japan, Philippines trilateral deal to change dynamic in South China Sea, Marcos says
A cooperation agreement by the Philippines, the United States and Japan will change the dynamic in the South China Sea and the region, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Friday, while seeking to assure China it was not a target.
(Reuters) “I think the trilateral agreement is extremely important,” Marcos told a press conference in Washington a day after meeting President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the nations’ first trilateral summit.
Marcos said the summit was “not against any country” but had focused on deepening economic and security relations among Manila, Washington and Tokyo.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found Beijing’s sweeping claims had no legal basis.
Philippine and Chinese ships have had a series of run-ins in the past month….
US, Philippines, Japan to tackle South China Sea row in summit
(Reuters) U.S. President Joe Biden will host next week Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to discuss economic relations and the Indo-Pacific.
The summit set for next week is not directed at any country, Philippines’ acting foreign affairs undersecretary Hans Mohaimin Siriban told a press conference, although the three countries have expressed concern about China’s growing aggressiveness in the region.
“We can expect an alignment of views among the three countries on the recent incidents,” Siriban said, adding they are expected to come up with a “joint vision statement” on their diplomatic relations.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, policed by an armada of coastguard vessels, some more than 1,000 km (620 miles) away from its mainland.

25 March
Philippines summons China envoy over standoff, dares Beijing to seek arbitration
Philippines to lodge protest in Beijing
Tensions simmer over disputed features in Philippines EEZ
China says took necessary measures
(Reuters) The Philippines summoned China’s envoy on Monday to protest against “aggressive actions” in the South China Sea at the weekend, as Manila’s defence minister dared Beijing to bolster its vast sovereignty claims by taking them to international arbitration.
The foreign ministry accused China’s coastguard of using water cannon against a civilian boat supplying troops on Saturday at the Second Thomas Shoal, which it said damaged the boat and injured some crew, in the latest in a succession of flare-ups in the past year.
… Philippine security chiefs convened a high-level meeting on Monday over the incident to prepare recommendations to put to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on ways forward in the dispute.
Since taking power in 2022, Marcos has taken a tough line against what he sees as Chinese hostility and has refused to cave in to Beijing’s pressure to steer clear of features it claims.

26-28 February
Chinese navy’s presence in South China Sea is ‘worrisome’, says Philippine president
(Reuters) – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday said the Chinese navy’s presence in the South China Sea is “worrisome” but will not deter his country from defending its maritime territory and protecting its fishermen.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spotted the presence of Chinese navy vessels during a patrol mission by a vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) at the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea last week.
Satellite images reveal floating barrier at mouth of disputed atoll in South China Sea
(Reuters) – Satellite images of the hotly disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea show a new floating barrier across its entrance, near where Philippine ships and China coast guard vessels have had frequent run-ins.
One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies on Feb. 22 and viewed by Reuters showed the barrier blocking the mouth of the shoal, where the Chinese coast guard last week claimed to have driven off a Philippine vessel “illegally intruding” into Beijing’s waters. … China claims the Scarborough Shoal, although it is inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. An international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said in 2016 that China’s claims had no legal basis – a decision Beijing has rejected.

Congress ‘gradually destroying’ US relations with Pacific ally, Marshall Islands president warns
Hilda Heine says US funding delays damage relationship with the Pacific nation as lawmakers say hold-up delivers a ‘gift’ to China
(The Guardian) Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, has warned relations with the US are “gradually being destroyed by party politics” as Congress delays approval of crucial funding for the Pacific nation.
US lawmakers have not yet passed funding packages agreed in 2023 with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), in a move some argue is opening the door to China to build its influence in the Pacific region.
“Members of the Congress have to understand that the funds that the US has agreed to provide … did not come because of the generosity of the US government and its citizens, but rather because of hard negotiations between the parties,” Heine told the Guardian in emailed comments.

Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister
Former attorney general is named new prime minister after a general election that ousted the island’s pro-Taiwan leader.
Lawmakers in Tuvalu have named former Attorney General Feleti Teo as the Pacific Island nation’s new prime minister, weeks after a general election that put the country’s ties with Taiwan in the spotlight.

8 February
US Congress’ COFA Delay Jeopardizes a Key Element of the ’Free and Open Indo-Pacific’
Cleo Paskal
The U.S. government concluded COFA renewal talks with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands in 2023. Months later, Congress has yet to approve the funding.
(The Diplomat) Months ago, negotiations concluded between the United States and the three U.S. Freely Associated States (FAS) – Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia (FMS) and the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) – on the terms of the renewals of key components of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).
Those components cover primarily financial and service elements of the Compacts for the next 20 years, things like education programs, support for U.S. military veterans from the FAS who have returned home, and the postal service.
Those agreements then went to the U.S. Congress where they have been waiting to be approved. And waiting. And waiting.
On February 6, 2024, the presidents of Palau, RMI and FSM wrote to Senate leadership on the “need for the legislation that would strengthen our associations and enable them to endure.”

6 January
India can unite Global South with developed world
By Akhil Ramesh and Cleo Paskal
Delhi has closer Africa connection than Washington, is less vulnerable to ‘predatory lending’ charge than Beijing
(Asia Times) Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and the resulting economic and political crises have led the resurgence of the “Global South” – developing countries seeking leverage through unity on the global stage. Increasingly, they have found themselves caught in the crossfire of larger nations, such as the United States and China.
James Marape, prime minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG), in his address at the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation in May 2023, called for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer a third voice in the face of the Global North. Hailing Modi as the leader of the Global South, Marape went on to suggest that the Pacific Island countries would rally behind his voice at global forums.

2023

8 November
At India-US meeting, the looming question of China’s not-so-subtle maritime assertiveness
The ultimate denouement of the US-China contestation will be shaped by the contour and content of the bilateral relationship that both these nations have with India and the current 2 + 2 meeting leading to the Quad summit could be an important punctuation
C Uday Bhaskar
India will host the next 2+2 ministerial dialogue with the US tomorrow (November 9).
After arriving at a modus vivendi over the contentious nuclear issue in late 2008, the India-US partnership has acquired a strategic underpinning and become more robust in recent years. The agenda of the current meeting will seek to build on the progress already made in defence, diplomacy and technology.
While the wars in Gaza and Ukraine are urgent issues, the more abiding challenge for both the US and India relates to China and its revisionist orientation.
Recent developments in the South China Sea (SCS) that have pitted the Philippines against Chinese intimidation are illustrative. This is a matter of considerable relevance to ASEAN as also to the four Quad nations — Australia, India, Japan and the US.
If the proposed Quad summit is convened in Delhi in January 2024, the current 2+2 meeting will have to address a prickly nettle: When and how to pick up the gauntlet apropos China’s not so subtle creeping maritime assertiveness in east Asian waters.

23 October
Philippines says Chinese coastguard ‘intentionally’ collided with its boats
(Reuters) – The Philippines on Monday accused Chinese coastguard vessels of “intentionally” colliding with its vessels on a resupply mission in a disputed part of the South China Sea, as ties deteriorated between the Southeast Asian U.S. ally and Beijing.
Both sides traded accusations after the latest incident on Sunday, which was the most serious yet in the waters around the disputed Second Thomas shoal, though no one was harmed.
China said on Sunday that the Philippine boats “bumped dangerously” with the coastguard vessels and “Chinese fishing vessels” fishing there.
On Monday, China’s embassy in Manila said it had lodged stern representations to the Philippines over its vessels “trespassing”, and called on the Philippines government to stop “causing trouble and provocation” at sea and to stop smearing China’s reputation with “groundless attacks”.

23 September
Blasting Bullhorns and Water Cannons, Chinese Ships Wall Off the Sea
(NYT) The Chinese military base on Mischief Reef, off the Philippine island of Palawan, loomed in front of our boat, obvious even in the predawn dark.
Radar domes, used for military surveillance, floated like nimbus clouds. Lights pointed to a runway made for fighter jets, backed by warehouses perfect for surface-to-air missiles. More than 900 miles from the Chinese mainland, in an area of the South China Sea that an international tribunal has unequivocally determined does not belong to China, cellphones pinged with a message: “Welcome to China.”
The world’s most brazen maritime militarization is gaining muscle in waters through which one-third of global ocean trade passes. Here, on underwater reefs that are known as the Dangerous Ground, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., has fortified an archipelago of forward operating bases that have branded these waters as China’s despite having no international legal grounding. China’s coast guard, navy and a fleet of fishing trawlers harnessed into a militia are confronting other vessels, civilian and military alike.

28 August
South China Sea: as Australia strengthens ties with the Philippines, it’s wading even further into dangerous waters
Noel Morada, Director (Regional Diplomacy and Capacity Building) Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland
-Australia and the Philippines should be aware of risks posed by their alliances with the US, which could potentially draw them into a conflict in the South China Sea
-Canberra’s push to deepen its strategic ties with Manila comes at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea
(The Conversation) Late last week, 1,200 Australian troops took part in a joint military exercise in the Philippines with hundreds of Filipino and American forces. Their mission: simulating the retaking of an island by a hostile force, presumably in the South China Sea.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles joined Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr to observe the drills, reportedly the largest ever between the nations. Marles then announced Australia would soon begin joint maritime patrols with the Philippines in the contested South China Sea.
Although Marles was careful not to reference China directly during a press conference in the Philippines, Australia’s push to deepen its strategic ties with Manila comes at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea, known as the West Philippine Sea in the Philippines.
… The Philippines is among five other competing claimants in the South China Sea, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and mainland China. Unlike Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea using the so-called “nine-dash line”, the others assert only limited sovereignty in the area.

26 August
Why we should be paying attention to a showdown in the South China Sea
By Christian Caryl, Op-ed Editor/International
(WaPo) This has been an unusually eventful August. … Less noted, but every bit as important, were the latest events in the South China Sea, which have potentially explosive implications for the region and the world.
Filipinos celebrated a victory this week after two of their supply ships managed to push through a blockade of Chinese coast guard vessels to deliver provisions to a small force of marines stationed on an unlikely ocean outpost
This latest conflict between the two countries reflects the hotly contested status of the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its own — based on a self-declared “nine-dash line” sketched on Chinese maps hundreds of miles east and south of its island province of Hainan. The line is hotly disputed by the six other nations and islands that border the sea, which is home to fisheries and shipping lanes of huge economic and strategic importance. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Over the past three decades, the Chinese have embarked on a vast military buildup in the area, constructing bases on remote atolls to support planes and ships. The United States and its allies, determined to push back against Beijing’s growing regional hegemony, have decided to send a message of support for Manila by dispatching a significant naval force to conduct a joint drill in the sea.

13 July
China and ASEAN agree to try to conclude nonaggression pact on sea feud in 3 years
(AP) — China and Southeast Asian nations agreed Thursday to try and conclude within three years a long-delayed nonaggression pact aimed at preventing the frequent territorial spats in the busy South China Sea from turning into a major armed conflict.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed Thursday during a meeting between the 10-nation bloc’s foreign ministers and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to guidelines to complete their code of conduct negotiations before fall 2026, a Southeast Asian diplomat involved in the meetings told The Associated Press.
China and four of ASEAN’s member states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — along with Taiwan have been locked in a decades-long territorial standoff in the disputed waterway, a key passageway for global trade that is believed to be sitting atop vast undersea deposits of oil and gas.
The contested territory has long been feared as an Asian flashpoint and has become a sensitive front in the U.S.-China rivalry in the region.
Washington lays no territorial claims in the South China Sea but has said that freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of the disputes were in the United States’ national interest. It has challenged China’s expansive territorial claims in the region and Beijing has angrily reacted by warning the U.S. to stop meddling in what it calls a purely Asian dispute.

9 May
Philippines’ Marcos muscles up ASEAN’s South China Sea posture
China tensions loom over bloc summit as Malaysia asserts gas rights, Vietnam hones defense
(Nikkei) This week, the South China Sea dispute is expected to be high on the agenda when leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hold their summit in Indonesia. ASEAN states Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also lay claims to parts of the waterway, through which around $3 trillion worth of trade passes annually.

3 May
South China Sea drills conceal a secret war to control the internet
(The Hill) As one of the world’s most important shipping lanes for oil, minerals and food, whoever dominates the South China Sea will control over a fifth of global trade. But the biggest economic asset up for grabs in the region is Big Data — and the future of the entire internet depends on who wins the battle to dominate this strategic waterway.

27 February
China Is Flooding the Pacific with Money, Corruption
(China Unscripted) The Chinese Communist Party knows that if it can get a foothold in the Pacific islands, its rivals would have a hard time coming to Taiwan’s aid. This is all part of the CCP’s invasion plan for Taiwan, and that plan seems to be coming to fruition. In this episode of China Unscripted, we talk about the corruption and money China is sending to the Pacific islands, how China’s biggest critic in the Solomon Islands got ousted, and what the West can do to displace China’s foothold in the region. Joining us in this episode is Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

7 February
Solomon Islands ousts official who is critical of close relations with China
A vocal critic of China and leader of the most populous province in the Solomon Islands has been removed from office after a no-confidence vote by the provincial legislature on Tuesday, Australian state broadcaster ABC reported.
Daniel Suidani, premier of the South Pacific nation’s Malaita province, is a longtime critic of the country’s deepening relations with China, which culminated in a security pact signed last April. He has banned Chinese companies from the province and accepted development aid from the United States.

2022

15 December
Indo-Pacific region remains the future engine of the global economy: Experts
British Parliamentarians and experts have called the Indo-Pacific region one of the greatest current and future engines of the global economy at an event titled Indo-Pacific APPG Dialogue at the House of Commons in London on Wednesday.
The Indo-Pacific is emerging as one of the most important geopolitical regions in the world. Despite recent trends and the rise of nationalism and sub-nationalism in political discourse, the transnational interests of countries today have in reality moved well beyond the strict geographical categorisations of earlier times.
The region is made up of 14 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. In a narrow sense, sometimes known as the Indo-West Pacific or Indo-Pacific Asia, it comprises the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia
Across much of the Indo-Pacific region, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using military and economic coercion to bully its neighbours, advance unlawful maritime claims, threaten maritime shipping lanes, and destabilize territory along the periphery of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) The speakers provided a detailed insight into the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a region of significance and explored the need for the UK to engage more proactively on the Indo-Pacific framework.
Cleo Paskal, a strategic Indo-Pacific expert spoke about the People’s Republic of China’s influence operations in the Pacific Islands and provided deep insight into the Chinese manoeuvring in the Pacific islands over many years.

China-Solomon Islands Security Agreement and Competition for Influence in Oceania
(Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA)) The China-Solomon Islands security agreement alarms Western countries concerned about China’s growing influence in Oceania. While the agreement is unlikely to result in the establishment of a Chinese military base in Solomon Islands, China’s influence will continue to grow. Meanwhile, attempts by the United States and its allies to counter China could lead to the establishment of more military bases elsewhere in the Pacific, increasing the militarization of Oceania as a whole. Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island countries must ensure they are true partners, rather than merely pawns in the increasing geopolitical competition.

11 September
Urgency in Indo-Pacific: Canada at a distance as China becomes increasingly embedded: Cleo Paskal (YouTube)
(CDA Institute) In this week’s episode, Cleo Paskal, Senior Fellow at the CDA Institute and Non-Resident Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, discusses the political warfare techniques that China employs in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in Pacific Island nations, to drive a wedge between the Indo-Pacific and the West. Paskal details how China leverages money and influence to sew (sic!) instability within and between nations in order to pave the way for PRC interests in the region.
Paskal also discusses the mismatch between the sense of urgency in the region and the resources dedicated to bolstering relationships to counter Chinese influence. While the United States is making progress in addressing shortcomings, Canada remains well behind. Though Canada has unique levers with which it could build up its relationships with Indo-Pacific nations, the lack of resources and political will to make those levers truly effective remains an obstacle which has not gone unnoticed.
Paskal highlights the urgency of the situation in Pacific Island nations caused by PRC-funded corruption and influence, the strategic significance of the Pacific Island chains for stability in the region, and outlines the tools and strategies necessary to counter China’s ability to undermine democracies in Pacific Island nations and the Indo-Pacific more broadly.
The CDA Institute is a non-partisan think tank that conducts research and education programming on defence and security.

13 August
Cleo Paskal: Right to vote being snatched from Solomon Islanders by PRC-backed PM
Sogavare has introduced a Bill to postpone elections. Reaction on the ground is seething. Likely Sogavare and his backers in Beijing don’t mind violence so they can activate the China security deal.
Beijing has studied the importance of the vast Pacific Islands region—for instance, you need to be able to hold it, or deny it to others, to take Taiwan. It also knows the cost and difficulty of taking it by force, as those on Bloody Ridge remembered.
So, Beijing has worked on its consolidation of the region by using political warfare to “island hop” beyond the first island chain and set up political, economic and, increasingly, force-capable forward operating sites across the region.
Its goals for the region were made explicit in its proposed “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision” and supported by the “China-Pacific Island Countries Five-Year Action Plan on Common Development (2022-2026)”.
… Countries need to realise this is not business as usual. This is a coup with Chinese characteristics, and if it’s not stopped in the Solomons, it will spread.

11 August
China’s growing reach is transforming a Pacific island chain
(WaPo) As China rapidly extends its reach in the Pacific, its growing influence is unmistakable in the Solomon Islands, a country with which it established diplomatic ties only in 2019. The relationship between the world’s most populous country and this Pacific archipelago of 700,000 people was thrust into the spotlight this year when word leaked that they had struck a secret security agreement. The United States and its allies fear the pact could pave the way for the establishment of a Chinese military base in the strategically valuable island chain.
… The United States and Australia are both increasing their aid and diplomatic engagement with Pacific nations, including the Solomon Islands, where the Biden administration announced in February it would reopen the long-closed U.S. Embassy. Some Solomon Islanders feel the efforts by China’s rivals are too little, too late. But cracks also are showing in China’s promises.

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