We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
South China Sea

Tag Archives | South China Sea

Gunboat Diplomacy in South China Sea Can Lead to a Red Line

|
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touring a military academy in Beijing

The United States may be heading for another Red Line moment–this time with China.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touring a military academy in Beijing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touring a military academy in Beijing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel making his fourth trip to the South China Sea region recently, wanted to reassure Japan and other nations that the U.S. stands with them if China pursues stated territorial annexation. The “Sleeping Dragon” has arisen, hungry for the small mostly uninhabited islands in the East and South China Sea claimed by Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Mr. Hagel’s visit comes on the heels of Russia’s takeover of Crimea which had been part of Ukraine. The fear is that China has been emboldened by Russia’s move, leading to similar action over the long disputed islands. China claims their rights to the islands go back 2,000 years, which could possibly include the international waterways between them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously noted that unimpeded navigation access was important to U.S. national interests. More than half of the world’s merchant goods flow through these waters.

Mr. Hagel announced that two additional guided missile destroyers would be sent, bringing the total to seven U.S. warships in the China Sea region. The news gave Chinese officials the opportunity to showcase their newly refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its J-15 fighter jet strike group, signaling China’s growing global reach. China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the islands was made very clear. Any provocation would require a response—crossing their Red Line. China has a growing global appetite, expanding its economic interests in every continent. Chinese warships could soon be cruising off the coasts of Africa, South America, and North America to protect their interests.

Continue Reading →

Forget Oil and Gas, the South China Sea Just Got More Complicated

|
Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

As former-best-friends-turned-sour during the Cold War, the Sino-Vietnamese relationship has managed to overcome a number of issues and has progressed to levels of cooperation unimaginable only 10 years ago.

Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

But conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea continue to risk derailing any significant cooperation between the two countries. Where the dispute once focussed on the promise of untapped hydrocarbon resources in the region, the nature of it has now changed – it has become a struggle symbolic of something much more important than oil and gas.

The US Energy Information Administration concluded in 2013 that the contested areas of the South China Sea are unlikely to have any significant oil and gas deposits. But the fact remains that even if any were discovered, these would prove too expensive to extract. The cost of drilling a deep water well is around $30 to $60 million, or about five times more than drilling in shallow waters. And while the cost may not put all investors off, the risk of becoming mired in a political dispute will. The 2009 BP pullout from a joint Vietnamese exploration in disputed territory was testimony to these concerns. As BP became threatened by China, Vietnam also applied pressure to prevent its withdrawal. Faced with this catch-22, BP finally backed out due to “commercial and technical reasons.” In other words, the project was scrapped for being unprofitable.

Continue Reading →

John Kerry’s Beijing Visit unlikely to Change Dynamics

|
Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

John Kerry recently concluded a friendly visit to Beijing, with both sides chatting about matters of mutual concern in a way that implied these two great powers have areas of shared concern and interest. Some observers might fear that peace might break out. Don’t worry it won’t.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

My personal opinion is that a dwindling group of PRC doves in the Obama administration are being rolled by military and think tank hawks who sense the weakness of the individuals with suspected panda hugger inclinations, such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, and also smell blood in the water with President Obama’s emerging lame duck status and the likely return of a down-the-line China hawk civilian slate with the expected election of Hillary Clinton as President in 2016.

The result has been a spate of articles calling the White House, especially Joe Biden, soft on China and pointing the finger at John Kerry for being excessively preoccupied with the Middle East and thereby allowing the precious Pivot to Asia to languish.

Continue Reading →

Obama Administration Pushes Back Against Japan Lobby

|
Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

In a rather unnoticed development, Shinzo Abe’s administration in Japan has been determinedly nibbling away at the Obama administration’s freedom of action in Asia, seeking to foreclose positions and options that fall outside the contain/confront China spectrum so desirable to Japan.

Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

The United States may never fall into the “tail wagging the dog” relationship with Japan, at least in its own mind; but the cost of Asian security initiatives that are at cross purposes with Japanese desires will increase until, perhaps, they don’t seem worth it. And my feeling is, Abe’s getting more than a little help from the US defense/security establishment thanks to Abe’s effort to push the US-Japan security alliance closer to the center of the relationship. China hawks in Japan and the United States may also be drawing energy from President Obama’s evolving lame duck status, and the prospect that Hillary Clinton as president will be all in on a China-bashing strategy.

When a country has a security relationship with the US it not only engages with the US government from a position of strength as an ally; it can look to the full range of enthusiasts, activists, sympathetic theorists, and even paid apologists to lobby on its behalf, their advocacy energized by the money sluicing through the security/defense industrial complex.

Continue Reading →

Does Abe Consider Obama a Lame Duck?

|
Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

And is Joe Biden the Designated Whipping Boy?

Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

There has always been an implicit contradiction between Shinzo Abe’s declared desire to “bring Japan back” and the US wish to lead “Free Asia.” The divergence of aims has been obscured by the eagerness of the US defense establishment to encourage Japan’s increasing heft as a “security” “defense” “active pacifist”; well, let’s just say “military” power, in order to add to the credibility of US hegemony in the Western Pacific, and Japan’s awareness that US military backing – if properly exploited by invoking the US-Japan Security Treaty – can give Japan a significant leg up in its confrontation with the People’s Republic of China.

The Abe administration has performed exactly as desired by American military strategists, both in its willingness, nay eagerness to build up its military and endorse the concept of “collective self defense,” and on the highly contentious issue of shoving the Futenma airbase relocation down the throats of the resisting Okinawan people by a combination of financial blandishments and crude political pressure. However, there are signs that the are tensions in the US-Japan romance, largely because the Obama administration is serious about exploiting the potential of its “honest broker” role to carve out a role for itself as the even-handed interlocutor between Japan and China – a role that the PRC is encouraging in order to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington – and is therefore not giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the full-throated support that he believes he needs and deserves.

Continue Reading →

Tensions between China and the U.S. over Fishing Rights

|
The South Korean Coast Guard confronts a flotilla of Chinese fishing boats

China and the US are once again on a collision course due to new fishing regulations pertaining to the Chinese island province of Hainan which requires all foreign vessels to obtain prior approval before entering the disputed waters of the South China Sea. This follows tensions over China’s ADIZ which covers some parts of Japan’s and South Korea’s territorial waters. More tensions ensued over the narrow miss between China’s only aircraft carrier and an American vessel in early December of last year. While the US has described the above Chinese move as “provocative and potentially dangerous,” China has accused the US of unnecessarily fanning tensions and supported its move to uphold its thirty year old fisheries laws which have been “consistently implemented in a normal way and never caused any tension.”

The official Xinuha news agency charged the US of “resorting to the old trick of divide and rule,” and a commentary added that “First it stirs up tensions, disputes and even conflicts, then steps into pose as a mediator or judge in bid to maximise its own interests.” It further commented that “Washington’s accusations are unreasonable, as China’s fishing regulations are in line with international practice and aimed at strengthening the protection of fishery resources and maritime environment. The United States itself has similar ones.” As of January, the new regulations are already in force, and will be administered by Hainan.

The repeated escalation of tensions between the US and China are due to China’s rising imperialistic assertions regarding its maritime claims in the South China Sea which are contested by several regional countries and the US which wants to maintain its predominance in the Asia-Pacific region. The recurrence of such events appears due to asymmetry in perception of regional balance by both China and the United States. Whereas China projects itself as the sole hegemon in the East, thus elevating itself to become a dominant global player by displacing the US, the US wishes to maintain its global predominance by uprooting any regional power which aspires to become a global power to challenge its (the US) hitherto unquestioned status. Both are wrong and an escalation of tensions between them will not serve the interest of the region. Instead, these ugly tensions, marked by the use of undiplomatic language, may trigger an armed conflict between them unless cooler heads prevail.

China at a Crossroads: What does it Want to Be?

|
Illustration: John Shakespeare

For decades the Chinese government has deployed both soft and hard power to promote China’s influence and status, while at the same time discouraging interference in Chinese affairs.

Illustration: John Shakespeare

China’s foreign policy has been premised on its desire to ensure uninterrupted economic growth while at the same time promoting political stability and prolonging the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, China has portrayed itself on one hand as a good neighbor while at the same time pulling its weight and making sure its neighbors know who’s boss. China’s modern geopolitical psyche is characterized by the often used Chinese saying “hide one’s brilliance and bide one’s time.” China sees its return to global prominence as inevitable, based on its modern history as a global leader in such areas as trade, finance, and industrial production. Today China’s global strategy, and its path to global prominence, are to embrace multi-polarity while supporting the principle of state sovereignty and self-determination.

Multi-polarity generally works well for China in the international arena, where China has perfected the art of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for an end game to emerge, then swooping in and claiming the spoils. A good example of this was the Iraq War, where China did not participate in combat but aggressively pursued oil contracts, ultimately winning a large percentage of them. However, China prefers uni-polarity when it comes to its relations with Asian nations. While it maintains a veil of collaboration and cooperation with its Asian neighbors, in reality, China prefers that its neighbors snap to attention when China makes a proclamation, or takes action in the region. This is very much in evidence with the Senkaku and Spratly Islands.

Continue Reading →

The Senkaku Islands Dispute Needs a Diplomatic Resolution

|
Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Over the long term, the main Pacific regional concern is having a stable Sino-Japan relationship and a sustainable US and international presence in the Pacific. That is the single most important objective in the present dilemma. If we ignore the actual ownership and administration and focus on de facto control and access of the islands, which is most important to China, then China is expected to eventually overrun Japan with commercial and merchant ships over the next few decades.

Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Until then, China must keep the issue of the Senkaku islands alive. China increasingly wants and needs “its” resources and believes that other states as “stealing” them, although this is a region-wide charge that many neighboring countries blame China for. In truth, the natural resources belong to not one particular state. They should be shared.

Presently, the United States does not recognize Japanese legal ownership of the Senkaku islands – only their administrative control. Nevertheless, it will be difficult for the US not to take sides at some point, as it is backing the security of South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and others from any perceived Chinese belligerence.

Continue Reading →

Escalating Tensions Over China’s ADIZ

|
U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific

China is setting up its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and extending it into some of the disputed parts of the East China Sea.

U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific

Not only the neighbouring countries, Japan and South Korea, but the United States are concerned and cautious as it appears to be a calculated Chinese exercise to consolidate its increasing sphere of influence over the zone.

The area includes international air space east of China’s airspace into the East China Sea and up to 130 km. from Japan’s territorial airspace. China’s ADIZ has stirred attention as it overlaps with the zones set up by Japan and South Korea. This was opposed by Japan, South Korea and also by the US as all these countries have carried out their respective flights through this region since China’s announcement last Saturday to set up its ADIZ in this zone as an expression of their defiance to China’s plans to bolster its control over the contested region. The trios response has led to a tense situation in the region as Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and other littoral countries have already contested the rising Chinese presence in this disputed area over the past few months. China has also scrambled its fighter jets to identify and tail 12 American and Japanese aircrafts that entered its newly established ADIZ, raising regional tensions.

Continue Reading →

The Hysteria over China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

|
Japanese Coast Guard off of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Source: Al Jazeera

Bonnie Glaser gets it about right regarding China’s newly announced Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ: “I don’t know that this is specifically directed against Japan, so much as it is the Chinese feeling that every modern country should have an Air Defense Identification Zone.”

Japanese Coast Guard off of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Source: Al Jazeera

Just to make it clear. An Air Defense Identification Zone is not a “no fly zone” or extension of sovereignty. It is defined by the speed of modern enemy jets and the amount of time needed to challenge, identify hostile intent, and prepare air defenses. When unidentified planes entire an ADIZ, they are required to identify themselves.

Per Xinhua, the new regulations require: First, a flight plan identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone should report the flight plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China or the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Second, radio identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must maintain the two-way radio communications, and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries from the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ.

Continue Reading →

Examining India’s Look East Policy 3.0

|
Indian Naval ships.  Photo: Michael Scalet

“India will have to play a very great part in security problems of Asia and the Indian Ocean, more especially of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as India is the pivot around which these problems will have to be considered.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India

Indian Naval ships. Photo: Michael Scalet

The changing geopolitical environment in Asia and in particular in the Indian Ocean region brings attention to the role of oceans in shaping a country’s strategic and security policy. The launch of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, on August 12, and later, a military satellite from French Guiana, on August 30, appears to form an integral part of India’s Asia-Pacific strategy or India’s Look East Policy (LEP) 3.0 Strategy. China views the Indian aircraft carrier and military satellite as a power projection by New Delhi in the region. For example, the official, China Daily, quoted Chinese analysts, “the development of the aircraft carrier (as well as the readiness of India’s first nuclear submarine for sea trials) were significant steps towards enabling India to project power across the oceans, not only in the Indian Ocean, but also eastward in the Pacific.”

Similarly, Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Military Studies Research Institute is of the view that these developments have contributed to India’s efforts “to quicken its pace to steer eastward to the Pacific.” Therefore, the question that arises is whether this maritime component is a new feature of India’s LEP 3.0? Why and how is the Asia-Pacific significant for India? What is India’s stake in the region and how does New Delhi perceive this region in terms of India’s evolving strategic interests?

Continue Reading →

The Pentagon’s Logistics Nightmare

|
The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea

“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” – Sun Tzu

The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea

Nearly two years ago on March 11th 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami off the east coast of Japan resulted in one of the worst nuclear disasters since Chernobyl, killing more than 18,000 and laying to waste tens of billions of dollars in damages. But one of the surprising ‘aftershocks’ of the March 11th quake was the catastrophic effect it inflicted on the global supply network.

Factories and key infrastructure were completely destroyed. Vehicles, iPad’s and pharmaceutical ingredients worth billions were held in limbo as Japan got back on its feet. As Industry Week noted, Toyota executives knew about their first tier suppliers, but did not know how the disaster affected 2nd, 3rd or 4th tier suppliers. It turns out that many of the ancillary contractors and sub-contractors were damaged. They had virtual monopolies on particular electronic components or on the manufacture of a specific piece of metal that ultimately halted more than 2 million vehicles in production. It became particularly clear when the disaster unfolded that the global economy had moved beyond localized supply chains into the realm of globalized supply networks.

Continue Reading →

Washington’s Asia Pivot

|
Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy problems, most of them regional, some of them global. Washington’s Asia pivot will prove critical to how America is able to maneuvers this region.

Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world. Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

The Asia-Pacific region has hosted four American conflicts—the Spanish American War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and is today the focus of a “strategic pivot,” although that is a bit of a misnomer, by the Obama administration. The Pacific basin has long been the U.S.’s number one trade partner, and Washington deploys more than 320,000 military personnel in the region, including 60 percent of its navy. The American flag flies over bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Guam and Wake.

Continue Reading →

Raising the Stakes in Asia

|
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

“Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

Depending on one’s ideological bent, America’s so-called “pivot to Asia” could be interpreted in varying ways. However, one thing that is increasingly clear is that the Obama administration is intent on re-asserting America’s strategic centrality in the Asia-Pacific. This was very explicit in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 piece for Foreign Policy, entitled “America’s Pacific Century.” The U.S. pivot to Asia is motivated and shaped by both economic and military-strategic factors. Essentially, it is still an ongoing process that will depend on the cooperation of regional allies as well as the evolving patterns of Sino-American relations.

While the proponents of the pivot argue that it enhances regional security, it is in reality precipitating a much more explicit Sino-American rivalry, thus undermining the prospects of an amicable and pluralistic regional order. Ultimately, America’s growing military presence in the region could backfire, giving birth to what it dearly seeks to prevent: as it tightens the noose around China, the pivot could become a self-fulfilling prophecy by encouraging Beijing to take more drastic and aggressive counter-measures. China’s growing naval assertiveness in adjacent disputed waters is already an indication of this ominous trend.

Continue Reading →

Japan’s Right: Going Nuke?

|
The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea

Behind the current impasse among China, Japan and Taiwan over five tiny specks of land in the East China Sea is an influential rightwing movement in Japan that initiated the crisis in the first place.

The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea

A crisis that Japanese nationalists are using it to undermine Japan’s post-World War II peace constitution and, possibly, break the half-century taboo on building nuclear weapons. The dispute over the islands China calls the Diaoyus, Taiwan the Diaoyutais, and Japan the Senkakus, is long-standing, but it boiled over when the right-wing governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, provoked a confrontation with China by trying to buy the uninhabited islands from their owners. When the Japanese government bought three of the islands, ostensibly to keep them out of Ishihara’s hands, China accused Japan of “stealing” the disputed archipelago.

Ishihara, who has long pressed for building nuclear weapons, is generally portrayed as a bit of a loose cannon—The Economist calls him the “old rogue of the Japanese right”—but he is hardly an anomaly. Toru Hashimoto, leader of the rightwing National Japan Restoration Association and just re-elected mayor of Osaka, is cut from the same cloth. Hashimoto and Ishihara both deny Japan’s record of brutality during World War II—in particular, the horrendous Nanking Massacre in China and the sexual enslavement of Korean women—sentiments echoed by some of Japan’s leading political figures, many of whom advocate Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.

Continue Reading →