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.
Tag Archives | Asia-Pacific
More than half a million Hong Kong residents cast their ballots over an unofficial referendum on democratic reforms. By late afternoon on Sunday, about 636,000 ballots had been cast since voting started on Friday including about 400,000 through a smartphone application. Nearly 200,000 were cast online despite a massive cyber-attack that left the site intermittently inaccessible and forced the organizers to extend voting by a week until June 29. About 26,500 voters cast their votes at 15 polling stations which organizers operated on two successive Sundays.
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.
The biblical assertion that there is nothing original under the sun finds form on a regular basis in the behaviour of states. This is particularly so regarding assumptions or more often than not, misassumptions, about military means and abilities. The entire Cold War complex was riddled with psycho-babble and speculation: If they (they being a loose term for the enemy) get this weapon before we do, what will it do to the balance of power? As ever, the weapons race was pre-eminent, giving tenured positions to game-theorists and promoters of the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Nothing was spared in terms of dollar or rouble.
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.
Experts in international security view the latent India-Pakistani conflict as potentially one of the most dangerous worldwide. India and Pakistan desperately need to build a lasting peace, and must avoid further friction. Enter Modi, the newly elected prime minister of India. Modi, as president, is a potential nightmare for those hoping for a better relationship between India and Pakistan. This is mainly because of Modi’s controversial role in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, which happened while he was the region’s Chief Minister.
The problem is that popular opinion among Pakistan’s political elites is that India just elected a prime minister who is responsible for systemically killing Muslims. Therefore Pakistan’s leadership is likely not only to mistrust Modi, but also to grow increasingly hostile towards the Indian population as a whole. In Pakistan, growing mistrust equals growing military influence, since the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has historically always been able to use crisis atmospheres to increase their power. Between the US using drones in northern Pakistan with only partial permission from the Pakistani government, India turning to Hindu nationalism, and a failure to effectively eliminate domestic Taliban groups from ruling parts of Pakistan’s periphery, the ISI is bound to take charge sooner or later.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend an insightful talk by Professor Richard Tanter, a leading analyst on East Asia. In talking about the recent American “pivot” to East Asia and its imminent desire to consolidate an East Asian alliance, Tanter was emphasizing US’s ailing economy and its limited capacity for outreach as a challenge for US foreign policy.
Faced with severe and ongoing budget limitations, Tanter’s analysis struck an accurate chord in underscoring a qualitative change in US foreign policy abroad. Indeed, moving away from a neorealist practice of conducting international affairs, post-crisis economic hurdles are reflective of the current US government’s Liberalist turn. To put it into non-IR terminology: the US is increasingly shifting its focus to building and strengthening economic alliances, rather than military ones.
The People’s Republic of China decided to defy the “pivot to Asia” by parking its HYSY 981 drilling platform—protected by a flotilla of various vessels perhaps not including PLAN ships- in waters that Vietnam considers part of its EEZ. Vietnam has been displeased, to put it mildly. It has reached out to the Philippines, indicating that it may support Manila’s legal challenge to the nine-dash-line or perhaps institute a legal case of its own.
A Vietnamese deputy prime minister is also visiting Washington DC at US Secretary of State John Kerry’s invitation, apparently to provide optics for an expected US congressional resolution condemning PRC activities in the South China Sea. The visit also raises the specter (for the PRC) of a US return to Cam Ranh Bay, the massive US-built naval base on the Vietnamese coast.
In the tortured modern political history of Thailand military coups have become commonplace, the result of the growing fissure between the political and economic power of the Bangkok elite versus the rural poor. Thailand has endured 12 military coups and 7 attempted coups since the absolute monarchy ended in 1932 and the army’s right to intervene in political affairs has even been enshrined in law, making Thailand one of the world’s most coup-prone countries.
Coups have become such a permanent component of the political landscape that they are actually good for business. Based on the country’s economic performance over the past 40 years, coups have generally had a net positive benefit on the country’s economic performance. In the years following the 1976/1977 coups, GDP nearly doubled. GDP more than doubled following the attempted coup of 1985 and rose slightly following the coup of 1991. It was only in the years following the 2006 coup, after the current battle lines had been clearly drawn by Thaksin Shinawatra, that GDP took a precipitous decline.
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.
“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” – James Madison, Constitutional Convention, Jun 29, 1787
The greatest dangers of totalitarianism – the variant that produced the European regimes of the 1920s and 1930s – is the sense of a permanent emergency that underpins its existence. The raison d’être of such states lies in the need to maintain the fear, precipitating dangers through the social body, and fostering a permanent sense of vigilance against looming threats. Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has certainly borrowed from that historical legacy, attempting to make the angst and anxiety of border control a fixture of his country’s policy. Emergency, in other words, is being made permanent.
Super security agencies are always to be looked at with suspicion. The creation, after the attacks of September 11 2001, of an Office of Homeland Security in the US was heavily accented in favour of security before liberties. In Australia, the newly elected Abbott government would rush to transform the immigration department into one of immigration and border security. As is ever the case, Canberra is permanently jealous of its American cousins, and attempts, at every given moment, to emulate Washington’s overbearing example. The better examples of constitutional valour are overlooked in favour of the heavy-handed solutions.
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.