South China Sea disputes threaten Asean-China ties

Discussion in 'China' started by lambu, Jun 1, 2011.

  1. lambu

    lambu Regular Member

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    AFTER 15 years of discreet and patient diplomacy over overlapping claims for the South China Sea, both Asean and China are showing signs of fatigue as there has been no progress yet towards a resolution or joint development schemes. Alleged intrusions and confrontations in the resource-rich maritime territory by various claimants have increased over the past two years.

    The most serious incident occurred on March 2 when the Philippine oil exploration ship, MV Veritas Voyager, was harassed by Chinese Navy patrol boats at Reed Bank, near the Philippines. It topped the agenda when the visiting Chinese defence minister Gen Liang Guanlie visited the Philippines last week.

    The incident immediately brought back memories of March 1995, when the Philippines confronted China after the discovery of new structures in the Mischief Reefs, which subsequently led Asean to issue a joint statement, the first and the only one, expressing "serious concern" over Beijing's action.

    Over the years, there were high hopes that the Declaration of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 would not only encourage the claimants to restrain from any activity that would destabilise the whole region but help to resolve issues related the territorial sovereignty.

    Somehow the longstanding pledge for the promotion of trust-building measures and mutually beneficial cooperation have continued to be an elusive goal over the past nine years.

    One stumbling block remains the wording of implementing guidelines of the 2002 document, which was agreed on when bilateral relations were at a zenith. The Asean claimants, Viet Nam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and China were still fighting over them when senior officials last met in Medan, Indonesia.

    Given the current tension and growing mutual suspicion, especially between China and Viet Nam/Philippines, it is doubtful if they will be able to finalise the guidelines in time for next year's 10th commemoration in Phnom Penh, when Cambodia chairs the 20th Asean summit. Their collective assertiveness shows that the disputes in the South China Sea represent core national interests.

    More than conflicting parties like to admit, the relatively benign environment which Asean and China used to enjoy tackling the South China Sea problem since Mischief Reef in 1995 effectively ended last July.

    The dispute got an international stamp when the US State Secretary Hilary Clinton raised the issue openly on the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea and expressed strong support for the Asean document. Furthermore, the US also offered to facilitate diplomatic efforts to find a resolution.

    From that moment, China and the Asean claimants knew full well that their disagreements have been thrown into the international spotlight - after they had been kept under wraps for the past 15 years.

    China was quite happy to continue negotiating with Asean over the guidelines without intervention from other players. Back in 1994, when China was still a consultative partner of Asean, visiting Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen told his Asean counterparts in Brunei Darusalam that Asian countries must solve their problems in an Oriental Way.

    Somehow this approach rings hollow and does not bode well in the current atmosphere. The lack of progress and the claimants' growing presence and visible physical structures has provided a raison d'etre for the Asean claimants, in particular Vietnam and the Philippines, to harden their pursuit of more tangible outcomes.

    To add fuel to the fire, last week, the two Asean countries agreed to work on a joint exploration project for oil and gas in the disputed areas.

    Previously, the Asean claimants and China held bilateral negotiations trying to craft collaborative frameworks that would be acceptable to both sides - settling sovereignty issues with Asean claimants and overall cooperation with all Asean members.

    Unfortunately, some claimants viewed the exercise as a foot-dragging tactic to further strengthen presence in claimed islands or islets. At the moment, Viet Nam occupies 23 islets while China and Malaysia occupy seven each. The Philippines has claimed the so-called Kalayaan Island group made up of 54 islands, reefs and shoals.

    Last July in Ha Noi, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi was visibly upset when the South China Sea issue was brought up and discussed openly at the Asean Regional Forum.

    It was a radical departure from the modus operandi agreed at the Huangzhou meeting between China and Asean in April 1995, with both sides keeping the dispute under wraps. At this hill resort meeting, Asean for the first time jointly called on China to be more transparent about claims over the South China Sea including the significance of the nine-dot line.

    The lack of better answers and practice gradually pushed the Asean claimants to ditch bilateral frameworks. The fact that the dispute received wider international attention last year was also partly attributed to the Asean chairman's diplomatic manoeuvrability.

    One immediate consequence of this shift may be a less polite (bu ke qi in putonghua) attitude and policy by China towards Asean. It is currently in a reset mode. Beijing views Asean's positions over the guidelines as problematic and undermining its claims for sovereignty.

    With Asean members juggling their positions between claimants and non-claimants as well as China's ambivalence to Asean as a whole, relations between the grouping and the regional power will be severely tested from now on.

    Without a law-binding code of conduct, it is hard to foresee long- term peace and stability in the region's maritime territory. The whole scheme of things is further complicated by the new strategic landscape with the rise of China and its navy fleet, as well as the US's proactive engagement in Asia.

    As such, it is not hard to envisage other non-claimant players or facilitators wanting to guarantee the safety of sea lanes for vital mercantile activities.

    Finally, if the ongoing disputes are not properly handled, it will have huge spill-over effects on broader China-US rivalry in this region. The Philippines is a treaty ally of the US, as are Japan and South Korea, which also have overlapping claims on islands with China.

    For instance, a small incidental armed attack in the Kalayaan Island chain could easily turn ugly amid growing China-US rivalry. The Philippine government is confident that any attack on a Filipino ship in areas under its administration is a direct attack on the US, as stipulated in its defence treaty with the US.

    South China Sea disputes threaten Asean-China ties
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    So the Chinese have seen the light at the end of the tunnel?

    No more of the South China Sea belonging to China?

    Or is she playing for time and trying all tricks to keep the US out so that the US does not put China in its correct place?
     
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    From Jane's Intelligence.

    A good backgrounder of the issue and a ready reference.
     
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Where is all that hoity toity belligerence gone?

    Vanished?

    Down to Mother Earth?

    Imagine two naval exercises by the US, one with Philippines and one with Vietnam, India resolutely stating that it is her birthright to explore for oil on the invitation of Vietnam, the East Asian summit, where China failed to force bilateral discussion as the only solution, is all that was required for China to purr!

    Reminds me of Mao - paper Tiger!
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  6. Bangalorean

    Bangalorean Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    [​IMG]

    That is China for you.

    :hail:
     
    The Messiah and prahladh like this.
  7. p2prada

    p2prada Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The Chinese Dragon is a myth after all. They are better off with the Panda.

    Completely unlike India with the Bengal Tiger and the US with the Bald Eagle. Now these are real and dangerous.

    It is never too late to start learning diplomacy, seems the Panda is growing up.
     
  8. p2prada

    p2prada Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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  9. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    I am surprised that China has backed down.

    They were quite belligerent and was sure of their footsteps.

    Very unlike of China!

    I am surprised.
     
  10. ice berg

    ice berg Senior Member Senior Member

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    NUSA DUA, Indonesia—The Philippines called for a faster, bolder response to China's increasingly aggressive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.While the U.S. and other countries raised worries about China's claims during a series of Asian summits over the weekend, the Philippines, one of the countries most concerned, said nothing has been resolved and that it needs more concrete steps to feel secure.Manila has recently been the most vocal critic of China's stance in the crucial waterways, which are believed to contain significant reserves of energy and other resources. The Philippines can't fight Asia's dominant power alone, said Albert del Rosario, secretary of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs, so it needs more backup from the U.S., as well as its partners in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations."We feel that we are the puny kid in the schoolyard," he told The Wall Street Journal after Philippine President Benigno Aquino met with U.S. President Barack Obama in connection with the Asean and East Asia summits held on Indonesia's resort island of Bali through Friday.The Philippines says Asean-sponsored discussions on the issue are moving too slowly. It has unveiled its own proposals on how to proceed faster, but they were largely ignored during the summits. If the Philippines doesn't get better backing from other Southeast Asian countries, Mr. del Rosario said, it will be have to try to defend its claims in international courts that rule on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. "That's the avenue we think we will have to pursue if we are not able to convince Asean to take up the cudgel for moving forward the validation of respected claims," he said.The Philippines, China, Vietnam and other Asian countries have overlapping claims in the sea. The Philippines has clashed with China in the past in an area known internationally as the Reed Bank, and has taken to calling the whole body of water the West Philippines Sea. In an incident in March, a Chinese patrol boat threatened a Philippine oil-exploration ship in the area, Mr. del Rosario said. The Philippines has responded by calling for support from the U.S. and Asean, as well as unveiling plans to upgrade its military.China says it wants peace in the region but is sticking by its claims. At the last major Asean meetings, in July, China agreed to participate in multilateral talks on the issue. But the many claimant nations have yet to exchange proposals on peaceful confidence-building operations in the South China Sea, and the discussions are far from even asking claimants to outline their claims as well as any historical and geographical proof they are based on.The Philippines has recently unveiled its own plans for the disputed territories. It has called for what it describes as a "Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation" that would have countries clearly define claims in the sea and then cooperate in and share areas where they have no overlapping claims, leaving a reckoning on the disputed areas till later. President Aquino failed to drum up much support for the proposal during the Asean and East Asia summit meetings."What is happening now is that the president is trying to get Asean behind its position, but there are some countries that don't want to go as far as antagonizing China," said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, a think tank in Manila.Asean leaders say Manila will probably have to wait, because the group makes decision by consensus. "This is the typical Asean way," Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said. "You cannot have the speed that any member state expects because of the diverse views among the membership."Asean member Vietnam also has been an outspoken critic of China's actions in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese have long been wary of China's long-term policy goals in the sea, and have been working to build relations with the U.S. in recent years.While Vietnam was one of the countries complaining loudest about China earlier this year, some Vietnamese diplomats see the Philippines' recent campaign as an opportunity to sit back a little, analysts say. Despite its wariness, Vietnam trades a lot with China, and there are many high-level interactions between the two, particularly between the chiefs of their respective Communist parties.The Philippines is getting impatient, Mr. del Rosario said. It needs unfettered ability to explore the waters surrounding its islands for natural resources like oil and gas. "China can afford to wait 100 years," he said. "But we need what we are trying to explore for in the South China Sea for our economic development sooner rather than later."

    So much for the united front.
    :thumb:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203710704577049720213087062.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  11. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    No solution in sight?
     

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