Friday, August 24, 2012

Hegemony with Chinese Characteristics

THE UNITED States and the People’s Republic of China are locked in a quiet but increasingly intense struggle for power and influence, not only in Asia, but around the world. And in spite of what many earnest and well-intentioned commentators seem to believe, the nascent Sino-American rivalry is not merely the result of misperceptions or mistaken policies; it is driven instead by forces that are deeply rooted in the shifting structure of the international system and in the very different domestic political regimes of the two Pacific powers.
Throughout history, relations between dominant and rising states have been uneasy—and often violent. Established powers tend to regard themselves as the defenders of an international order that they helped to create and from which they continue to benefit; rising powers feel constrained, even cheated, by the status quo and struggle against it to take what they think is rightfully theirs. Indeed, this story line, with its Shakespearean overtones of youth and age, vigor and decline, is among the oldest in recorded history. As far back as the fifth century BC the great Greek historian Thucydides began his study of the Peloponnesian War with the deceptively simple observation that the war’s deepest, truest cause was “the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The South China Sea's Gathering Storm

All of East Asia is waiting to see how the U.S. will respond to China's aggression.

Since World War II, despite the costly flare-ups in Korea and Vietnam, the United States has proved to be the essential guarantor of stability in the Asian-Pacific region, even as the power cycle shifted from Japan to the Soviet Union and most recently to China. The benefits of our involvement are one of the great success stories of American and Asian history, providing the so-called second tier countries in the region the opportunity to grow economically and to mature politically.
As the region has grown more prosperous, the sovereignty issues have become more fierce. Over the past two years Japan and China have openly clashed in the Senkaku Islands, east of Taiwan and west of Okinawa, whose administration is internationally recognized to be under Japanese control. Russia and South Korea have reasserted sovereignty claims against Japan in northern waters. China and Vietnam both claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, the site of continuing confrontations between China and the Philippines.
Ryan Inzana
Such disputes involve not only historical pride but also such vital matters as commercial transit, fishing rights, and potentially lucrative mineral leases in the seas that surround the thousands of miles of archipelagos. Nowhere is this growing tension clearer than in the increasingly hostile disputes in the South China Sea.
On June 21, China's State Council approved the establishment of a new national prefecture which it named Sansha, with its headquarters on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. Called Yongxing by the Chinese, Woody Island has no indigenous population and no natural water supply, but it does sport a military-capable runway, a post office, a bank, a grocery store and a hospital.
The Paracels are more than 200 miles southeast of Hainan, mainland China's southernmost territory, and due east of Vietnam's central coast. Vietnam adamantly claims sovereignty over the island group, the site of a battle in 1974 when China attacked the Paracels in order to oust soldiers of the former South Vietnamese regime.
The potential conflicts stemming from the creation of this new Chinese prefecture extend well beyond the Paracels. Over the last six weeks the Chinese have further proclaimed that the jurisdiction of Sansha includes not just the Paracel Islands but virtually the entire South China Sea, connecting a series of Chinese territorial claims under one administrative rubric. According to China's official news agency Xinhua, the new prefecture "administers over 200 islets" and "2 million square kilometers of water." To buttress this annexation, 45 legislators have been appointed to govern the roughly 1,000 people on these islands, along with a 15-member Standing Committee, plus a mayor and a vice mayor.
These political acts have been matched by military and economic expansion. On July 22, China's Central Military Commission announced that it would deploy a garrison of soldiers to guard the islands in the area. On July 31, it announced a new policy of "regular combat-readiness patrols" in the South China Sea. And China has now begun offering oil exploration rights in locations recognized by the international community as within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.
For all practical purposes China has unilaterally decided to annex an area that extends eastward from the East Asian mainland as far as the Philippines, and nearly as far south as the Strait of Malacca. China's new "prefecture" is nearly twice as large as the combined land masses of Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Its "legislators" will directly report to the central government.
American reaction has been muted. The State Department waited until Aug. 3 before expressing official concern over China's "upgrading of its administrative level . . . and establishment of a new military garrison" in the disputed areas. The statement was carefully couched within the context of long-standing policies calling for the resolution of sovereignty issues in accordance with international law and without the use of military force.
Even so, the Chinese government responded angrily, warning that State Department officials had "confounded right and wrong, and sent a seriously wrong message." The People's Daily, a quasi-official publication, accused the U.S. of "fanning the flames and provoking division, deliberately creating antagonism with China." Its overseas edition said it was time for the U.S. to "shut up."
In truth, American vacillations have for years emboldened China. U.S. policy with respect to sovereignty issues in Asian-Pacific waters has been that we take no sides, that such matters must be settled peacefully among the parties involved. Smaller, weaker countries have repeatedly called for greater international involvement.
China, meanwhile, has insisted that all such issues be resolved bilaterally, which means either never or only under its own terms. Due to China's growing power in the region, by taking no position Washington has by default become an enabler of China's ever more aggressive acts.
The U.S., China and all of East Asia have now reached an unavoidable moment of truth. Sovereignty disputes in which parties seek peaceful resolution are one thing; flagrant, belligerent acts are quite another. How this challenge is addressed will have implications not only for the South China Sea, but also for the stability of East Asia and for the future of U.S.-China relations.
History teaches us that when unilateral acts of aggression go unanswered, the bad news never gets better with age. Nowhere is this cycle more apparent than in the alternating power shifts in East Asia. As historian Barbara Tuchman noted in her biography of U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Stillwell, it was China's plea for U.S. and League of Nations support that went unanswered following Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria, a neglect that "brewed the acid of appeasement that . . . opened the decade of descent to war" in Asia and beyond.
While America's attention is distracted by the presidential campaign, all of East Asia is watching what the U.S. will do about Chinese actions in the South China Sea. They know a test when they see one. They are waiting to see whether America will live up to its uncomfortable but necessary role as the true guarantor of stability in East Asia, or whether the region will again be dominated by belligerence and intimidation.
The Chinese of 1931 understood this threat and lived through the consequences of an international community's failure to address it. The question is whether the China of 2012 truly wishes to resolve issues through acceptable international standards, and whether the America of 2012 has the will and the capacity to insist that this approach is the only path toward stability.
Mr. Webb, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Virginia.
A version of this article appeared August 20, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The South China Sea's Gathering Storm.

Friday, August 17, 2012

U.S. is right to assail China on its South China Sea claims

THE SOUTH CHINA sea stretches over 1.4 million square miles, rich in natural resources and bejeweled with islands. China has long regarded much of the sea as its own, claiming waters more than 1,000 miles from its shores and very close to the shores of other nations. Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei make competing and overlapping claims in a tangled yet high-stakes rivalry.
The territorial disputes stretch back decades, but took a new twist recently. In an Aug. 3 statement, the State Department criticized China for aggressive actions to reinforce its claims. The next day, China’s Foreign Ministry summoned an American diplomat for a formal protest and announced that the United States “showed total disregard of facts, confounded right and wrong, and sent a seriously wrong message.”

Why this matters is that the United States has announced a pivot toward Asia, a seminal move to counter China’s rising influence, including a rebalancing of forces over the next eight years toward a goal of 60 percent of the Navy in the Pacific, up from half at present. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, that will include six aircraft carriers and a majority of cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines.
The United States is neutral on the territorial claims in the South China Sea. But the State Department’s statement was intended to push back against China’s recent harrying of the Philippines and Vietnam over disputed fishing and oil drilling rights. China has announced that it is upgrading the administrative level of Sansha city, on one of the Paracel islands, to a prefecture and establishing a military garrison there, a further signal of its intent. Worried neighbors are welcoming more port calls from U.S. naval forces.
The U.S. statement called for resolving disputes peacefully. China saw it, quite accurately, as a challenge on behalf of the weaker states in the region and insisted the United States “respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” What exactly does that entail? China has a very expansive claim to the sea, based on nine dashed lines sketched in a very imprecise fashion on a map six decades ago. The claim encroaches on some of the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones granted to other countries by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China has insisted that it will work out the disputes one by one, and the United States should stay away. But the State Department’s statement accurately asserted that the United States has a “national interest” in the region: not territorial, but to protect regional stability and the huge volume of international shipping that passes through the sea. The sea is clearly a flashpoint. Everyone needs to make sure it does not become a sea of hostility.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Bully of the South China Sea

China's broad territorial claims have no legal merit, and the U.S. is the only power strong enough to push back.

Last Friday, a U.S. State Department spokesman stated that Beijing's recent decision to upgrade tiny Sansha City in the disputed Paracel Islands to a "prefecture-level city" and establish a military garrison there runs "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region." That muted protest was just the excuse Beijing wanted to play a round of Down With American Imperialism. The Foreign Ministry called in a U.S. Embassy official for a tongue-lashing Saturday. State-run media also went to town, telling the U.S. to "shut up" and stop "instigating" conflict in the region.
Why the irruption of ire? Partly it's because Beijing's various factions need to look tough on sovereignty issues ahead of the upcoming Party Congress. The Congress will pick the next generation of Party leaders.
But another reason is that China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has caused a backlash among its neighbors and hardened their determination to resist Chinese bullying. Instead of admitting its mistake, Beijing wants to treat the U.S. as the "black hand" that is poisoning its relations with Southeast Asia. This may have a purely propagandistic purpose, but the danger is that the Communist Party will now fixate on America as its regional enemy.


In a 2000 white paper, Beijing claimed that the source of its "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands, the most important features in the South China Sea, is imperial China's historical record as "the first to discover and name the islands as the Nansha Islands and the first to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over them."
This basis is disputed. China may have some of the oldest surviving maps of the area, but aboriginal, Malay, Indian and Arab traders traversed these seas before Han Chinese began their explorations. And the maps produced by China and other countries from ancient times through the 20th century show the islands as uninhabited dangers to navigation, not destinations under anyone's sovereignty.
Militarist Japan, ironically, is the true origin of China's claims. As the great scholar of the Chinese diaspora Wang Gungwu noted recently, World War II-era Japanese maps that showed the entire South China Sea as a Japanese lake were the first serious claim to sovereignty over the islands.
A second irony is that the People's Republic's current claims date to a 1947 map issued by the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek, which drew a u-shaped line of 11 dashes around more than 90% of the South China Sea. Mao's regime republished that map with a simplified nine-dashed line after it routed the nationalists, claiming the sea as China's "historic waters."
Beijing continues to use this map to justify its claims, although it alternates between arguing that its claims rest on the U.N.'s Law of the Sea treaty, which it signed and ratified in 1996, or otherwise on territorial rights that predate the treaty. Whatever the case, Beijing acts as if it owns all of the sea within the line, last year condemning Vietnamese exploration of areas that fall both within the "territorial" line and Vietnam's coastal exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.
Resolving the ambiguity about how China makes its claims is more than an academic question. For the U.S. it matters because about a third of the world's trade passes through the South China Sea, and freedom of navigation is a vital U.S. interest. China's neighbors also care, since they are most immediately confronted by what they term Beijing's "creeping assertiveness."
Even if all the disputed islands belong to China, the area of water they control under maritime law would be relatively small. Only a handful of the islands are capable of sustaining human habitation, which is required to claim a 200-mile EEZ, and some of those would be circumscribed where they overlapped with the EEZs generated by other countries' coastline. Rocks and shoals only generate a 12-mile radius of territorial waters at most.
This raises another demonstrably false claim made by Beijing—that Southeast Asian nations accepted its rights to the islands until the 1970s, when potential oil and gas reserves were discovered. Not so: The 1947 map was a matter of international dispute at the time.
It was only after the hydrocarbon discoveries that China began bullying its way into the islands. In 1974, the People's Liberation Army launched a surprise attack and ejected (South) Vietnamese forces stationed on the Paracel Islands. In 1988, the PLA again surprised the Vietnamese on Johnson Atoll in the Spratlys. Beijing seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines in 1994 without a fight.
Now Beijing accuses its neighbors of stirring up tensions. But in June it staged its biggest provocation since 1994: putting up for bid oil exploration blocks that lie within Vietnam's EEZ and overlap with blocks that Vietnam has already leased. This is especially threatening to Vietnam because China is no longer dependent for such contracts on multinational companies, which shy away from the risk of military conflict around their rigs. The state-owned China National Off-shore Oil Corporation is developing its own deep-sea exploration platforms, a new way for Beijing to mark its claims.
Meanwhile, Beijing is also using its navy and militias to escalate the tension. During the standoff with Manila over the Scarborough Shoal in May, nearly 100 fishing boats were inside the atoll at one time, according to the Philippine government. Last year, its vessels cut the acoustic cables on two Vietnamese exploration ships—much as they tried to do to the USNS Impeccable in 2009. And in June, China's Defense Ministry announced it had started "combat ready" patrols in waters claimed by Vietnam.
To Beijing's mind, being able to make outlandish territorial claims and violate international law at will is the prerogative of a great power. That was certainly the message Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi delivered at the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi in July 2010. He described the South China Sea as a "core national interest," and he followed that up by saying, "China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact."
So it's no wonder that Southeast Asian nations that 40 years ago looked to the U.S. to halt the spread of communism are now asking Washington to help push back against Chinese encroachment. The wonder is that Beijing seems surprised that it is again isolated in the region and surrounded by U.S. allies. But as China's power grows, some of China's neighbors realize that the window of opportunity for a unified response that will change Beijing's behavior is closing.


The best chance of avoiding a nasty showdown is a strong U.S. response. Washington has maintained its own ambiguity toward the South China Sea, saying it takes no side in the dispute but has a national interest in the peaceful resolution.
That's fine as far as the islands and the small areas of territorial waters around them. But Beijing has shown that it has no interest in a negotiated settlement and will use force to claim and dominate the entire South China Sea if it can. Washington needs to call out the U-shaped line as the travesty of international law that it is, and state clearly that it will fight to keep the sea lanes open.
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Saturday, August 4, 2012

ESM GOH: S. China Sea test case for Asean unity

The failure of Asean to reach a consensus over the South China Sea disputes dealt a "severe blow" to the regional bloc's credibility, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.
At a meeting of the region's foreign ministers in Phnom Penh last month, member states failed to agree on a joint closing statement for the first time in the organisation's 45-year history after the chair, Cambodia, stonewalled attempts to include references to recent disputes in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.
Although an agreement was
This aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain.
reached a week later, Mr Goh observed that the episode damaged the association in the eyes of observers.
"Our dialogue partners and investors must surely be watching and re-calculating their interests and positions. We cannot blame them for this.
"It is, therefore, imperative that we address their concerns and demonstrate that we are capable of reaching a consensus on even the most sensitive of issues," he said during the 5th Asean and Asia Forum, held at the Fullerton Hotel.
China claims almost all of the sea as its sovereign territory. Taiwan has its eye on the area as well. Furthermore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims there.
Parts of the area in dispute include the Scarborough Shoal, the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.
The complexity of the claims has led to major differences in opinion on the maritime row among Asean members.
These fissures came to light at last month's Asean ministerial meeting, particularly between Cambodia, and claimant states Vietnam and the Philippines.
Cambodia, a close ally of China, has been accused of deliberately resisting an agreement that would not be in China's interest.
Noting that the sea disputes have now become a key signal of Asean's broader unity, Mr Goh urged Asean nations to put the region's interests before the disputes.
"The South China Sea will remain a test case of Asean's ability to forge a consensus on difficult problems and act in the region's broader interests.
"It thus has a broader significance for the region beyond the immediate disputes which are, of course, for the claimant states to settle among themselves."
In his speech, Mr Goh also addressed the progress of economic integration in the Asean region. Asean leaders seek to establish an Asean Economic Community by 2015, which will eventually allow Asean to become a "single production base" that will "allow companies to operate seamlessly throughout the region", he told the audience of about 300.
Among the businessmen, academics and diplomats attending was Brunei High Commissioner Abdul Ghafar Ismail, who said he was still "very optimistic" about the prospects for Asean integration.
"We don't have an alternative," he said. "I'm proud to say we have moved quite a lot and we have made important steps towards integration of the region."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Taiwan's double-face and the Scarborough dispute

By Chiang Huang-chih 姜皇池: Island claims need careful thought

The world is watching the standoff between China and the Philippines over ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, which also lays claim to it. Meanwhile, there have been reports of Vietnamese soldiers opening fire on Taiwanese stationed on Taiping Island (太平島), the largest of the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands 南沙群島).

Driven by public anger, legislators are falling over each other in their enthusiasm to make inspection tours of Taiping as well as the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島). Many have been vocal in calling for the defensive capabilities of these territories to be reinforced and for the deployment of more powerful weaponry — a position I wholeheartedly support.

These actions would allow Taiwan to show who actually controls the islands and a response needs to be formulated now, especially in regards to the Pratas and Spratly islands, over which the Republic of China (ROC) has exercised actual control for more than half a century. The government must think very carefully and plan just how it can reinforce control and consolidate its sovereignty over these territories.

Faced with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reiterated time and again that historically, geographically and based on international law, the territories of the Spratlys, the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands, 中沙群島) and the Pratas Islands, together with their surrounding waters, belong to the ROC and that it exercises sovereignty over them. However, claiming sovereignty over all the islands in the South China Sea is not consistent with the facts and fails to accept the reality of the situation. It is perhaps time for a reappraisal.

In international law, the major factors deciding territorial sovereignty claims are historical control (historical rights); actual, current control (de facto, effective control); and the position of members of the international community, to the extent that they recognize one’s claims, whether overtly or tacitly. If a country has not been able to maintain control over the territory in question all the way to the present day, only historical rights can be used to support a claim and must be used in conjunction with a claim based on the current reality. In other words, in deciding sovereignty rights over disputed territories, the value of historical documents in themselves is limited.

The foreign ministry and the Ministry of the Interior have repeatedly stated that the Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Macclesfield Bank of which it forms a part, all belong to the ROC. However, Taiwan has never actually governed this territory, which has never been internationally recognized as belonging to Taiwan.

This stance on sovereignty over these territories is based on records from China, which controlled them in the past, in addition to pre-1949 maps showing what is known as the “U-shaped demarcation line.” However, as has just been pointed out, “evidence” demonstrating whether a given country has governed a territory historically is not really crucial to the argument. It follows that territories that belonged to China during the Yuan Dynasty now actually belong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which governs China, and not the ROC. Since the ROC no longer represents China, these historical documents and maps really have nothing to do with Taiwan. Any attempt to make a sovereignty claim over the Macclesfield Bank based on this paperwork has no validity under international law.

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