Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Experts paint gloomy picture on South China Sea conflict

Conflict prevention:  Advisor to the marine affairs and fisheries minister and Navy chief of staff Hasjim Djalal expresses his view on international law and outside power engagement in resolving territorial disputes at a seminar entitled Peace, Stability in the South China Sea and Asia Pacific: ASEAN Unity and Power Engagement in the Region in Jakarta on Thursday. ( JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)Conflict prevention: Advisor to the marine affairs and fisheries minister and Navy chief of staff Hasjim Djalal expresses his view on international law and outside power engagement in resolving territorial disputes at a seminar entitled Peace, Stability in the South China Sea and Asia Pacific: ASEAN Unity and Power Engagement in the Region in Jakarta on Thursday. ( JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

As China’s military power grows, the potential for conflicts between members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) may increase, and finding solutions within the grouping could become more difficult, experts have said.

Andi Widjajanto, a defense expert at the University of Indonesia (UI), said that as China grew to become more assertive, some ASEAN members would predictably lean toward the United States, while others would align themselves with the Asian superpower.

He said for ASEAN countries there would be no escaping China’s shifting military strategy from defense to offense.

“The increase in China’s military power will affect ASEAN unity, as the member states will be divided between the two main powers due to their different interests,“ Andi said during an international seminar on security in the South China Sea.

Andi said that besides its growing military power, China’s economic power could lure countries in the region to come under its sphere of influence.

“For non-claimant countries, such as Cambodia, the interest does not lie in the South China Sea. They are more interested in what they can get from China’s economic power,” he said.

Amid the stand-off, Indonesia can play a significant role by becoming a go-between, offering diplomatic initiatives to prevent future tensions in the region.

Indonesia’s influence was, however, limited, Andi said.

“It is not possible to persuade China to withdraw its claim over the South China Sea and the role we can play would not produce a solution as such. But we could delay, and perhaps prevent, a conflict from occurring,” he added.

Jose Tavares, director of ASEAN political and security cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, concurred with this view, saying that international and regional organizations could play a mediating role, but they were not best placed to find a permanent solution to the territorial dispute.

“They are not in themselves avenues for a definitive resolution of territorial disputes,” Tavarez said.

During the past two years, tensions have heightened over the South China Sea issue.

In 2010, Vietnam accused China of cutting their exploration cables on one of its oil survey ships.

Tensions worsened when the Philippines announced their new exploration licenses for petroleum blocks off the country’s Palawan Island in February 2012.

The exploration sparked protests from China.

In March 2012, the standoff escalated when 23 Vietnamese fishermen were arrested by Chinese officials for illegal fishing and poaching near the Paracel islands.

The most serious incident, however, occurred in April 2012, when several Chinese fishing vessels anchored at the Scarborough Shoal, followed by attempted arrests by the Philippines’ Navy seals.

Ralf Emmers from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said the South China Sea standoff was worrying not only because it involved areas rich in natural resources but also due to its strategic value for international maritime trade.

Emmers said the conflict was sparked by US interest in preserving the principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas, in light of China’s rising naval capabilities and renewed assertiveness.

He said increasing Chinese naval power could be used to back up its territorial claims.

“The United States could go to war in the Asia Pacific over the freedom of navigation principle. This freedom is a key principle over which the US will not allow any concessions,” Emmers said.

While the US wanted this point to be highlighted at ASEAN forums, it remained highly problematic for China as they were concerned about the attempt at internationalizing the South China Sea, preferring instead to discuss these matters bilaterally with smaller Southeast Asian claimants, Emmers added. (nad)

Friday, September 14, 2012

China – a hungry dragon in the East Sea

After implementing the closed-door policy for a long period of time, China has begun to compete with other countries and raise big claims in the East Sea. 
In his recently-published book “Vietnam’s hallmarks in the East Sea,” Dr. Tran Cong Truc, former chief of the Border Committee, analyzed China’s marine policy. Below is an extract from the book.

China’s goal is to become a superpower of the same rank with the US by 2050, based on reform, open-door policy and peaceful rise. China believes that from now to 2020 is the best time for development. Therefore, China’s foreign policy in the coming years is trying to solve inside and outside conflicts, avoid the use of extreme measures and confrontation with the US, develop friendly and cooperative relations with neighbors and maintain peaceful environment.

On the other hand, after a long period of time leading the world for economic growth rate, China has become a big country in the world.

In 2005, its gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded US$2.2 trillion to become the fourth largest economy in the world.

Because of robust economic development, China has become a hungry dragon for fuel and materials.

From 2003, China has become the second largest importer of oil in the world, after the US. China has been spreading to the world to seek and exploit natural resources and energy to satisfy its demand of development and ensure its energy security. The ocean is considered an important source.

To facilitate transportation of fuel and goods, China now attaches importance to the freedom of navigation and maritime commercial safety. With around 70 percent of its imported oil transported via the East Sea, China sees the East Sea as its life-line.

China has raised the biggest claims in the East Sea. After implementing the closed door policy for a long time, this country began eyeing and encroaching into the East Sea. The process has happened as below:

In 1909 it began to occupy Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.

In 1946 it drew the U-shaped line, which covers around 80 percent of the East Sea. However until May 2009 it made the line public. At the same time it occupied eastern islands in Hoang Sa Archipelago and Ba Binh Island in Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago.

In 1956, the People’s Republic of China occupied the eastern part of Hoang Sa while Taiwan held Ba Binh Island in Truong Sa.

In 1958, the People’s Republic of China officially raised its sovereignty claims over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.

In 1974, this country occupied the western part of Hoang Sa. It continued to occupy some islands in Truong Sa in 1988 and Vanh Khan Island of Truong Sa in 1995.

China claims sovereignty over the whole Hoang Sa Archipelago. It considers Hoang Sa and the adjacent waters as its natural territory. It also claims sovereignty over the entire Truong Sa Archipelago and its adjacent waters, but admits to have disputes.

From the 90s, along with China’s fast economic development and the improvement of China’s position in the international arena, China began building and implementing a new marine policy. Under this policy, China has strengthened its control and exploitation of the sea to serve its goal of becoming a maritime superpower. China believes that it cannot become a real superpower if it is not a maritime superpower.

China’s policy is exploring the far waters firstly and then to the near waters, the disputed waters firstly and then its waters; diplomatic methods go firstly, followed by naval force; sowing division among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); taking advantage of and restricting the US and Japan.

In terms of cooperation mode, China focuses on bilateral cooperation and multilateral cooperation when China holds the key role. Its main direction in the sea is the East Sea, where natural resources are abundant, big countries do not have military bases and related small countries are weak at military ability.

By Tran Cong Truc
Source: East Sea (South China Sea) Studies

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chinese leader thanks Cambodia for role in sea row

(The Philippine Star) Updated September 03, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (7) View comments

BEIJING – China’s premier has thanked Cambodia for its support in a Southeast Asian regional bloc amid tensions between Beijing and several nations over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The official Xinhua news agency said Wen Jiabao told Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in a meeting yesterday that China will promote closer cooperation with Cambodia.
In mid-July, foreign ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to issue a joint statement after their annual meeting in Phnom Penh when host Cambodia rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their territorial disputes with China in the document.
Xinhua said Wen thanked Cambodia for its “important role in maintaining the overall situation of friendly relations between China and the ASEAN.”
Last month, Cambodia’s ambassador to the Philippines was recalled, after the envoy accused his host country of playing “dirty politics” in its maritime row with China.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that Ambassador Hos Sereythonh had been recalled, but he did not give reasons.
The recall came after Del Rosario summoned the
ambassador to explain comments he made in a letter to The STAR blaming the Philippines and Vietnam for a rift at a regional conference in Cambodia.
Overlapping claims
China has overlapping claims with four ASEAN members in the South China Sea.
At a regular ASEAN meeting hosted by Cambodia last month, the 10-nation bloc for the first time in its 45-year history failed to issue a joint statement because of tensions over the maritime disputes.
Hos accused the Philippines and Vietnam of attempting to “sabotage and hijack the joint communiqué” during the meeting.
In his letter, Hos said he was responding to an article written by an official of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on what happened at the ASEAN meeting.
The Philippines has accused Cambodia, a close ally of China, of blocking any mention of the South China Sea spat.
China lays claim to a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, overlapping areas claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
These are thought to have significant oil and gas reserves below parts of the South China Sea subject to ownership disputes.
In recent years, tensions over the issue have increased amid growing assertiveness from China over its maritime claims.
Ties between China and the Philippines are already strained in the wake of a recent standoff over another disputed area, Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. – AP

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