Three responses, reactions and one older article on Russia's position.]
US launches quiet diplomacy to ease South China Sea tensions
14 Jul 2016 07:29
WASHINGTON: The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalise on an international court ruling that denied China's claims to the South China Sea, several US administration officials said on Wednesday (Jul 13).
"What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic messages.
Some were sent through US embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, the sources said.
"This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the US is leading a coalition to contain China," the official added.
The effort to calm the waters following the court ruling in The Hague on Tuesday suffered a setback when Taiwan dispatched a warship to the area, with President Tsai Ing-wen telling sailors that their mission was to defend Taiwan's maritime territory.
The court ruled that while China has no historic rights to the area within its self-declared nine-dash line, Taiwan has no right to Itu Aba, also called Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys. Taipei administers Itu Abu but the tribunal called it a "rock", according to the legal definition.
The US officials said they hoped the US diplomatic initiative would be more successful in Indonesia, which wants to send hundreds of fishermen to the Natuna Islands to assert its sovereignty over nearby areas of the South China Sea to which China says it also has claims, and in the Philippines, whose fishermen have been harassed by Chinese coast guard and naval vessels.
One official said new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains "somewhat of an unknown quantity" who has been alternately bellicose and accommodating toward China.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that ahead of the ruling he had spoken to Carter, who he said told him China had assured the United States it would exercise restraint, and that the U.S. government made the same assurance.
Carter had sought and been given the same assurance from the Philippines, Lorenzana added.
Meanwhile, two Chinese civilian aircraft landed on Wednesday at two new airports on reefs controlled by China in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, a move the State Department said would increase tensions rather than lower them.
"We don't have a dog in this fight other than our belief ... in freedom of navigation," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing on Wednesday. "What we want to see in this very tense part of Asia, of the Pacific, rather, is a de-escalation of tensions and we want to see all claimants take a moment to look at how we can find a peaceful way forward."
However, if that effort fails, and competition escalates into confrontation, US air and naval forces are prepared to uphold freedom of maritime and air navigation in the disputed area, a defence official said on Wednesday.
Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said confrontation is less likely if the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries work with the United States rather than on their own.
"I don't think China wants a confrontation with the United States," he told reporters. "They don’t mind a confrontation with a Vietnamese fishing boat, but they don’t want a confrontation with the United States."
The court ruling is expected to dominate a meeting at the end of July in Laos of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, will attend the ministerial.
Sino-American relations suffered two fresh blows on Wednesday as a congressional committee found China's government likely hacked computers at the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the United States challenged China's export duties on nine metals and minerals that are important to the aerospace, auto, electronics and chemical industries.
Taiwan sends warship to South China Sea after ruling
July 13, 2016
Taiwan's government said the ruling was "completely unacceptable" and had no legally binding force since the arbitral tribunal did not formally invite Taipei to participate in its proceedings or solicit its views.
TAIPEI: A Taiwanese warship set sail for the South China Sea on Wednesday “to defend Taiwan’s maritime territory”, a day after an international tribunal ruled China has no historic rights in the waterway and undermined Taipei’s claims to islands there.
President Tsai Ing-wen rallied troops on the deck of the frigate, saying Taiwanese were determined to “defend their country’s rights”, before the warship headed for Taiwan-controlled Taiping island in the Spratly island chain from the southern city of Kaohsiung.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled Tuesday that China has no historic rights to its claimed “nine-dash line” and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone.
Crucially for Taipei, it ruled that Taiwan-administered Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys chain, was legally a “rock” that did not give it an exclusive economic zone, undermining Taiwanese claims to waters surrounding the island.
Taiwan’s government said the ruling was “completely unacceptable” and had no legally binding force since the arbitral tribunal did not formally invite Taipei to participate in its proceedings or solicit its views.
“The South China Sea ruling, especially the categorisation of Taiping island, has severely jeopardised our country’s rights in the South China Sea islands and their relevant waters,” Tsai told soldiers on the deck of ship in footage broadcast by news channels.
“This patrol mission will show Taiwanese people’s determination to defend their country’s rights,” she said, before disembarking from the warship ahead of its departure.
The defence ministry vowed to “firmly defend Taiwan’s territory and sovereignty” and said there would be no change to Taiwan’s claims in the strategic seas because of the ruling.
It brought the deployment of the warship forward by a day in reaction to the ruling.
The ministry said in a statement it would continue to send aircraft and ships for patrol missions to the region and remain “highly vigilant” to protect national security.
Tsai’s predecessor Ma Ying-jeou visited Taiping in January to press Taiwan’s claims and show that Taiping is an island, not a rock, in a move that triggered criticism from the United States as well as protests from Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Spratlys are also claimed in part or whole by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Russia Disappoints China, Sides With Philippines Over South China Sea Dispute
By Hugh Clement -
June 21, 2016
Russia Disappoints China -The tension over territorial disputes in the South China Sea have seems to overcome even the issue before of Senkaku/Diayu Islands. Vietnam and the Giant country are also involved in their worst political conflicts which are already decades over a platform of oil drilling near the Paracel Islands.
And because of the anti-China protests in Vietnam, this brought the relation of both countries’ to a temporary freeze. Moreover, the Philippines’ detention of Chinese fishermen has increased the discord between the China and the country.
And will all these conflicts occurring at the same time, the issue in the South China sea becomes even more serious.
Behind this picture of the issue, we have seen the United States criticizing China, expressing support for Vietnam and guarded the Philippine Military. But we haven’t heard Russia, China’s “strategic partner,” take a stand on this big issue, who now think that the relationship between Russia and China are not as good as before. Even on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute between Vietnam and China, Russia has kept a cryptic position.
In a report by Mu Chunshan, a Beijing-based journalist on The Diplomat he said, “ In my eyes, however, this does not mean that Russia’s is of two minds in its relationship with China.”
He also lists down the 4 main reasons of complicated political and strategic factors of both countries.
Chunshan said that China-Russia relationship is different from Philippine-US relations, for China and Russia are not allies. There is no treaty between the 2 countries, unlike US and Philippines as well as Japan and US, that sets obligations to provide political and military support to its partner. In short, this is the highest bilateral relationships in international relations. While China-Russia has a characteristic of strategic partnership, the 2 are not bound by treaty obligations.
Second, “Russia enjoys good relations with countries bordering the South China Sea and does not need to offend Southeast Asia for the sake of China. As noted above, Russia is not enthusiastic about publicly backing China on the South China Sea issue. One of the most important reasons for this is that Russia enjoys good relations with many of the Southeast Asian countries,” Chunshan continued.
Third, it is not necessary for Russia to directly seek out confrontation with the US over the South China Sea. Russia is currently focusing onEurope, especially in the occurring crisis in Ukraine that las already modified confrontation between the West and Russia.
“Given this, Russia has neither the desire nor the ability to confront the U.S. in the South China Sea,” he added.
He also highlighted that “The U.S. is only an influencing factor, not a determining factor that will determine the future of the situation. In this context, as an outsider and bystander, Russia has even less of a motivation to support China and criticize the U.S.”
Fourth, China’s development has actually caused some worries within Russia. To some west people, the tumult between China and other countries in the South China Sea could help restrict China’s “expansion” into other regions.
“In Russia, there has always been some concern that China’s development will lead to the Russian far east being gradually “occupied” by the Chinese, with this vast territory, along with its resources, becoming fodder for China’s development. Although Russian officials are optimistic about the potential for cooperation in the far east, they have never for a moment relaxed their guard against China’s so-called “territorial expansion.”” he said.
No need for China to be doubtful and feel disappointed about Russia’s viewpoint on the South China Sea Disputes.
Europeans Gang Up Against China in the South China Sea
June 08, 2016
France has thrown its hat into the acrimonious South China Sea debate, calling for more European naval patrols in a contested waterway that is at the center of a growing dispute between China and the United States and its Asian allies.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking Sunday at a three-day security conference in Singapore, called on European navies to have a “regular and visible” presence in the region to uphold the law of the sea and freedom of navigation.
“If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right and defend it ourselves,” he said.
Although the French defense minister did not explicitly call out China, his remarks amounted to thinly veiled criticism of Beijing, which has aggressively pursued its territorial claims in the South China Sea with vast dredging work and construction of military facilities on artificial islands.
“If the law of the sea is not respected today in the China seas, it will be threatened tomorrow in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere,” Le Drian told the security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue and hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
France’s stance marked the latest international pushback against China’s tough tactics in the strategic waterway, where more than $5 trillion worth of goods pass through annually.
The Singapore conference gathered top defense officials and diplomats from the region and beyond to hash through the security challenges facing Asia, especially the increasingly bitter spat over China’s claims to nearly the entire South China Sea. Beijing defended its policy at the forum and accused Washington of meddling in the region. But China was the target for indirect criticism from other countries, and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a stark warning to Beijing in a speech at the conference.
China would face unspecified U.S. “actions” if it tried to reclaim land at the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the Philippines, Carter said Saturday.
And on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking ahead of a major summit this week with Beijing on economic and security issues, urged China to avoid declaring an air-defense identification zone over the South China Sea. Doing so, he said, would be a “provocative and destabilizing act.”
Since it started pressing its claims to little reefs and rocks, and feuding with other countries over fishing rights, Beijing has sought to keep the argument from being “internationalized,” preferring to deal with its smaller neighbors on a one-to-one basis. China has regularly worked to keep the South China Sea disputes off the agenda at biannual meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes many of the countries with which Beijing is butting heads, especially the Philippines and Vietnam.
But China’s intransigence on sovereignty and territorial issues, coupled with an increasingly aggressive deployment of muscled-up coast guard ships, a rapidly modernizing navy, and a building spree on reclaimed reefs, has driven many of those Southeast Asian countries closer to the United States. Washington, for example, just ended a ban on the sale of U.S. weapons to Vietnam and has redoubled defense ties with the Philippines.
Other Asian countries are also worried about China’s activities. Japan last year said it would consider carrying out naval patrols in the South China Sea, even though Tokyo and Beijing have their own heated dispute in the East China Sea. This year, India has become increasingly vocal about the challenge China poses to free navigation in the Western Pacific.
And now, with France’s comments, even European nations are advocating a more muscular response to Chinese encroachment. For France and Europe, said Le Drian, it’s not just about protecting economic and trade interests in the region. It’s also about upholding the international order and rule of law.
Le Drian said he would soon provide more details on his proposal for regular patrols by European navies.
The timing of the French defense minister’s remarks was no accident. An international court in The Hague is due to rule this month on a long-running dispute between China and the Philippines, and Beijing has rejected the tribunal’s authority while lobbying other governments to back its view. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule against China, and Washington has been calling on Beijing to abide by the results of the decision.
“More EU involvement in the South China Sea is something the United States has hoped to see for quite a while now,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told Foreign Policy.
“The timing of the French call may also mean that we see European Union governments come out in vocal support of the Hague decision in a few weeks,” she said.
France’s involvement in the Asia-Pacific region hasn’t been purely theoretical. It inked a $40 billion deal this year to sell advanced submarines to Australia, citing increased fears over the region’s security, and called for a greater French presence around its colonial possessions in the Southern Pacific.
Le Drian’s words over the weekend also offer a reminder that while China is trying to parlay its growing economic might in Europe into diplomatic dividends, some European heavyweights are still ready to push back against Beijing.
Chinese leaders want to overcome what they call a “century of humiliation,” which started with European naval imperialism in the Opium Wars of the 19th century and lasted through the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. But, ironically, their actions appear to be forcing European gunboats to again steam for the South China Sea.
The Hague ruling: 'Absurd award that contravenes procedural justice'
Wang Wen and Chen Xiaochen
For The Straits Times
July 14 2016
China views the Arbitral Tribunal as wrongly conceived, lacking jurisdiction to rule on territorial matters. But it remains open to negotiations.
On July 12, a temporarily established Arbitral Tribunal located in The Hague, sharing office service with the Permanent Court of Arbitration but not a part of that, released a unanimous award over the South China Sea Arbitration.
The award was in favour of almost all the Philippines' claims. However, no matter how sophisticated the 500-page award may appear, it comes from an arbitration that is flawed in procedure, and is not in accordance with its jurisdiction. In short, with the arbitration's lack of legitimacy and jurisdiction, the award is not legal, and thus not binding.
While the award categorically denied China's historic rights in its nine-dash-line map, in fact it does not even have authority and jurisdiction over territorial disputes, as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Then there is the fact that the arbitration case was unilaterally initiated by the Philippines without any diplomatic consultation with China.
This is inconsistent with the Philippines' own commitment, in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea, to resolve the dispute through consultations and negotiations. According to the Equitable Estoppel, its words should be its bond. That is why we see the unilateral arbitration as an act of bad faith of the Aquino government of the Philippines.
Thus, the lawfulness of the arbitration itself is doubtful from the very beginning.
Fundamentally, therefore, we cannot expect any objective judgment to emerge from the tribunal. It simply does not accord with procedural justice.
Merits of the case When it comes to the actual merits of the case and the subject matter of the arbitration, the tribunal's ruling cannot be justified as well.
The essence of the subject matter of the arbitration is the territorial disputes over the maritime features in the South China Sea.
Territorial disputes are beyond the scope of the Unclos and does not concern the interpretation or application of the Convention. As far as the present arbitration is concerned, without first having determined China's territorial sovereignty over the maritime features in the South China Sea, the tribunal will not be in a position to determine the extent to which China may claim maritime rights in the South China Sea pursuant to the Convention, not to mention whether China's claims exceed the extent allowed under the Convention. In essence, the sovereignty issue falls beyond the purview of the Convention.
That is why it is so surprising to many observers, even to those who are inclined to the Philippine side, that the tribunal boldly claimed jurisdiction and then directly denied China's historic rights in the "nine-dash line".
That China has historic rights over the areas within the nine-dotted line has been the subject of much historical and academic writings, so we will not go into them here.
What we want to emphasise here is that, without clear jurisdiction, the tribunal simply has no rights to even arbitrate the case, let alone fundamentally deny China's rights.
Second, the Philippines, by requesting the tribunal to determine the maritime features "occupied or controlled by China", has in effect dissected the Nansha Islands as a whole. It deliberately makes no mention of the rest of the Nansha Islands, including those illegally captured or claimed by the Philippines.
Its real intention is to gainsay China's sovereignty over the whole of the Nansha Islands, to deny the fact of its own illegal seizure of or claim on several maritime features of the Nansha Islands, and to distort the nature and scope of the China- Philippines disputes in the South China Sea.
It sounds even more ridiculous for the award to claim that the largest island in the Nansha Islands, Taiping Dao (Taiping Island), currently controlled by the Taiwan authorities of China, is not an island. In fact, this section has triggered more ridicule than anger among scholars.
Third, the tribunal also alleges that China's claim to and exercises of maritime rights in the South China Sea have unlawfully interfered with the sovereign rights, jurisdiction and rights and freedom of navigation which the Philippines is entitled to enjoy and exercise under the Convention.
The premise for this claim must be that the spatial extent of the Philippines' maritime jurisdiction is defined and undisputed, and that China's actions have encroached upon such defined areas. The fact is, however, to the contrary.
China and the Philippines have not delimited the maritime space between them. Until and unless the sovereignty over the relevant maritime features is ascertained and maritime delimitation completed, this category of claims of the Philippines cannot be decided upon.
To decide upon any of the Philippines' claims, the tribunal would inevitably have to determine, directly or indirectly, sovereignty over the maritime features, which is beyond its legitimacy and jurisdiction. That is why China does not participate in the arbitration, nor accept, recognise or implement the award.
But it does not mean China refuses to talk. In fact, China has always been committed to settling disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights through consultation and negotiation between the sovereign states directly concerned.
Regardless of the award and the arbitration, China will continue to work closely with Asean countries, including the Philippines, to safeguard the peace and stability and uphold the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, so as to eventually turn it into a "sea of peace, friendship and cooperation".
Wang Wen is the Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China; Chen Xiaochen is a researcher at the institute. Chang Yudi, intern researcher at the institute, also contributed to the article.