The much-touted US pivot/re-balance to the Asia-Pacific has drawn considerable flak of late. From the Syrian chemical weapons use to Russia’s revanchism, the questioning of America’s leadership has seen the pivot naysayers become louder. President Obama has firmly recognized the limits of American power. The Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces has admitted that the resources for the pivot haven’t come his way even as the head of the US Pacific Command has made clear America’s inability to conduct amphibious assaults. To top these off, the US Defence Undersecretary for Intelligence has made it known that the US considers the Syrian civil war, Iran and even a vague ‘persistent volatility’ across South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa as greater threats than China.
Tag Archives | South China Sea
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu commented that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” The text was used for hundreds of years as one of the classics to be recited on the exam to gain access to the Imperial Chinese Bureaucracy. By removing the oil rig China had placed in disputed waters, it seems like this line of thinking has made its way back into the strategic planning of Chinese leaders.
Thousands of Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets to call for democracy and greater autonomy from mainland China. A 170,000-strong rally on July 1 followed hot on the heels of an informal referendum on electoral reform that took place from June 20-29. Hong Kong’s frustration with the mainland is clear, but it is better off treading the path of transition than revolution.
In May the world was jolted to learn that China sank Vietnamese vessels that were trying to stop Beijing from putting an oil rig in the South China Sea (SCS). Along with its vast reserves of untapped natural gas, the South China Sea is also important as a shipping route. The Republic of Korea (ROK), a rising regional power and close economic partner to China, has a vested interest in any conflict in the SCS. South Korea’s economic growth strategy in the last decade has been heavily export oriented, and currently, exports account for over half of the country’s GDP. This increased dependence on exports has affected the ROK-China relationship. Last year, China accounted for over a quarter of South Korea’s total exports.
On May 2nd 2014, tensions dangerously escalated in the South China Sea (SCS) after China’s HYSY 981 oil rig began its drilling operation in an area within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. While the HYSY 981 event has become the focal point of SCS developments at the moment, there are signs of another alarming threat to this region’s peace and stability.
Front-page coverage of Sino-Japanese relations is fraught with reports of provocation. Incidents range from seemingly fortuitous encounters in the airspace of the overlapping air-defense zones to carefully planned military exercises in the waters surrounding the East China Sea and bear every semblance to open conflict. The principles guiding Japanese and Chinese foreign policy, however, speak a different and, in fact, surprisingly similar language, emphasizing shared concerns over the security of trade routes and regional stability which are key variables in the two countries’ economic growth equations.
Is the PRC Ditching the Nine Dash Line?
Without any ambiguity, the People’s Republic of China has announced that it considers itself and not the United States the boss in the South China Sea. Its most assertive statement of this principle was to send the HYSY 981 rig, escorted by a flotilla of dozens of ships, into waters that Vietnam claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone for some exploratory drilling, right after president Obama made a trip to Asia (but, tellingly and perhaps unwisely, not to the PRC) to talk up the US pivot.
In keeping with the PRC pattern of avoiding overtly military operations—those that would justify the invocation of existing or new U.S. security alliances with PRC neighbors—the flotilla apparently included no PLAN vessels, and the objectives and disputes surrounding the rig have been characterized in economic/bilateral terms.
I was rather beguiled at first by President Obama’s commencement speech at West Point.
Not just because everybody else dumped all over it, and I wanted to exercise my contrarian’s prerogative to defend the indefensible. It’s because the central premise—what I call the Obama Doctrine—is rather attractive to me: “Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”
Beijing’s clumsy efforts at foreign policy seem to have backfired again, as its deployment of a deep sea oil drilling rig in disputed waters off Vietnam triggered widespread protests and rioting in Vietnam this past week. In possibly the worst breakdown in ties between the two Communist neighbors since a brief border war in 1979, worker protests broke out in 22 of the country’s 63 provinces, targeting Chinese-owned factories and Chinese nationals. Over 400 factories were damaged, including some 200 Taiwanese, 55 South Korean, and 10 Japanese factories. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, reported the death of two Chinese nationals and over 100 injured as a result of the rioting. Chinese expatriates filled the airports waiting for flights out of the country, while some 600 Chinese nationals crossed into Cambodia over the land border. Vietnamese authorities have arrested over 1000 people involved in the rioting and issued text messages nationwide to quell the unrest.
Anger at China had been building after the Chinese floated a $1 billion deep sea drilling rig to disputed waters close to the Paracel Islands on May 1. The Paracels are known as the Xisha to the Chinese and the Hoang Sa to the Vietnamese. While Vietnam lays claim to the more than 30 islets, sandbanks and reefs as part of its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the islands are currently controlled by China’s Hainan Province, which in July 2012 established Sansha City to administer the three townships under its jurisdiction. China took control of the islands in 1974 in a naval skirmish between China and Vietnam following the withdrawal of American troops.
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has prompted Chinese citizens to pressure their government to react harshly to Malaysia’s perceived incompetence. Purtrajaya’s lack of transparency on the subject, and Beijing’s sensitivity to domestic populism, have fueled the angry rhetoric Chinese officials have directed toward their Malaysian counterparts. Yet, in spite of the bilateral tension created by MH370, China is likely to remain cautious about taking actions that could jeopardize its partnership with Malaysia, given the country’s importance in the region’s geopolitical landscape and its warming relations with Washington.
China has a history of encouraging its citizens to rise up against foreign powers when Chinese people or property have been done wrong. The best recent example of this was the mistaken bombing by the U.S. of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. A firestorm of protest followed across China, culminating in daily attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beijing by Chinese citizens armed with rocks. The Chinese government tacitly encouraged this response – a useful way for Chinese citizens to blow off some steam, while sending a strong message to America.
Hundreds of people across Vietnam have protested against China’s role in a sea dispute – the largest rallies of their kind recently in the communist country. In the capital, Hanoi, demonstrators sang patriotic songs and held up placards opposite the Chinese embassy. Tensions have been running high after Vietnamese ships clashed with Chinese vessels guarding an oilrig in a contested area of the South China Sea. The protests appear to have the Vietnamese government’s approval.
The country’s communist authorities have broken up previous anti-China demonstrations because of fears that they may be hijacked by pro-democracy activists, says the BBC’s Asia Pacific editor, Charles Scanlon. Nevertheless, he says, Hanoi has also used the demonstrations to communicate its anger over what it sees as Beijing’s aggressive infringement of Vietnamese sovereignty.
The protesters opposite the Chinese embassy on Sunday included war veterans and students. “This is the largest anti-Chinese demonstration I have ever seen in Hanoi,” a war veteran named Dang Quang Thang told the AFP news agency. “Our patience has limits. We are here to express the will of the Vietnamese people to defend our territory at all costs. We are ready to die to protect our nation,” he is quoted as saying. Large anti-China protests were also seen in other Vietnamese cities.
Earlier this month, ships from the two countries collided near a Chinese oil drilling platform in the South China Sea. China has warned Vietnam to withdraw its ships from waters, off the disputed Paracel Islands, that it claims as its own. But Vietnam – which also claims that stretch of sea – accused China of having sent 80 vessels, including navy ships, to support an oil drilling operation. It released video footage to back its claim that Chinese ships had rammed Vietnamese vessels. The US has accused China of provocation, and warned that the dispute could destabilize the region.
The issue was also discussed by foreign ministers at the 10-member ASEAN summit of Southeast Asian Nations in Myanmar (also known as Burma).
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement at Davos that the relationship between Japan and China is the same as that between Great Britain and Germany prior to the First World War has drawn a sharp response from world leaders.
The political turmoil in the East China Sea between Japan and China has reached unprecedented heights to a level where leaders of both countries are not talking to each other. The situation is quite alarming considering the huge economic repercussions a conflict between the two countries could have on the world economy. The Japanese prime minister’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last year coupled with aggressive nationalist policies have worsened the situation. The recent air defense identification zone (ADIZ) declared by China over the disputed Senkaku/Daioyu Islands has caused the situation to deteriorate further as Japan considers these islands as part of Japan. Both the countries are playing a game of cat and mouse and testing each other’s capabilities and limits.
Japan fears China’s rise and its rapid military modernization in the region as a threat to its very existence. What Japan fears is that China might gain control of both the East China and South China Seas thereby holding Japan ransom and crippling its already struggling economy. Japan’s recent National Security Strategy clearly identifies China as the troublemaker in the region. In response to China’s military buildup, Japan has increased its defense budget to counter a perceived Chinese threat. The bulk of the defense budget will be spent on acquiring maritime surveillance units. Japan will spend around $250 billion USD over the next 5 years to keep Chinese forces in check. Concerns about China’s opaque decision-making process and its intentions in the region are troubling for Japan. China’s use of force and coercion to enforce its claims with blatant disregard for international law and order has propelled the Japanese government to have a look at its peace constitution, which enforces a ban on offensive military capabilities.
China’s economy requires increased access to resources, especially when managing the needs of approximately 20% of the world’s population.
China’s growing energy needs and overlapping territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea place their energy security on a collision course with its smaller, weaker neighbors. The most recent issue is China’s increasingly hard-lined approach to the Scarborough Reef, approximately 4 times farther away from China than it is to the Philippines.
China backs its South China Sea claims through a Chinese map produced in 1947, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai’s 1951 statement, and the discovery of the Belitung Wreck in 1998. Please make your own opinions regarding the legitimacy of a map created in 1947 citing a historical claim. Minister Zhou’s statement denounced the San Francisco Peace Treaty – as China was not invited – and further declared Chinese ownership of the Spratly, Paracel, and Pratas Islands.
Last fall, President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the so-called “Asia pivot,” suffered a big setback when the budget mess in Washington forced him to cancel a long-scheduled trip to Asia.
The trip was supposed to reassure U.S. allies and partners about the administration’s commitment to the region. I argued back then that while Mr. Obama would always be able to reschedule, the key question is whether he will have anything substantive in hand once he shows up. As the president begins a week-long tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, we now know the answer: No. The strategic shift to Asia, which Washington launched with much hoopla two years ago, is premised on two key efforts: 1.) the buildup of U.S. military forces that is plainly directed against China, and 2.) the ambitious set of trade and investment negotiations known as the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that would contest Beijing’s economic hegemony in East Asia. Both initiatives are currently in deep trouble.
Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security advisor, contends that the pivot remains “a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s foreign policy” and calls the president’s trip “an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region.” But many question whether the administration has the budgetary resources to back up its rhetoric. As one commentator observes, “The whole exercise risks looking like an inversion of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous advice to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ The pivot has generated plenty of loud talk – but the stick looks rather small.”
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which has seen the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, has generated two important legal questions.
The first one relates to whether Russia has violated international law with respect to the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine. The second question relates to the legality of the referendum in Crimea whereby it has chosen to become a part of Russia. With regard to the first question, the UN Charter imposes via Article 2(3) the obligation upon nations to settle international disputes by peaceful means. Article 2(4) prohibits members from using force or the threat of force against another state’s territorial integrity and political independence. The use of force is however permitted in a situation where the UN Security Council has authorized such action to maintain or restore international peace and security or where a state exercises its inherent right of self defence as recognized in Article 51.
In addition to violation of the provisions of the UN Charter, it has been argued that Russia is in violation of the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security & Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Accords) which reaffirmed the obligation of its signatories to respect each other’s territorial integrity and borders as inviolable in addition to refraining from the use of threat of use of force. These are commitments that were echoed in the 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT (the Budapest Memorandum) and the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation & Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Further, Ukraine says Russia is violating the Black Sea Fleet Agreements and the 1999 agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers on the Use of Airspace of Ukraine and of Airspace Over the Black Sea, which places caps on Russian troop levels in Crimea and mandates prior approval of Ukrainian authorities before making any troop movements.