Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sino-Vietnam relations: Pros & Cons Tran Kinh Nghi
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will come to Vietnam on 13/10 as the highest level official visit since the 1979 border war . The coincidence of his visit at the state mourning time of  legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap - the last symbol of  the national liberation generation of Vietnam may make one think of an omen in the Cino-Vietnam relations . This coincidence may cause some difficulties in protocol arranging for appropriate ceremonies so as to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding, but it is a ripe time to look back the entire process of relationship between Vietnam and its big Northern neighboring state so as to find out a suitable module for future relations. This short article is not to discuss in detail the whole subject but only a practical aspect: What Vietnam  have gained and lost from its relationship with China.

Unequal relations

Many people believe that the cause of national liberation of  Vietnam has been completed by driving out the French colonialists and defeating the American intervention . But actually the cause of  struggle for national liberation has not been completed since the " thousand years under the domination by the Northern Kingdom" . This argument is not unreasonable if one knows about  a common understanding among the Chinese, typically declared by a Chinese professor named Wanghanling at  the 2nd International Semina on East Sea held in Ho Chi Minh City in Nov. 2010 that  "Until 1885 , Vietnam remained a vasal state of China." The professor used this argument to justify Beijing's U-shaped boundaries covering 80 % of the East Sea just like a rudimentary fence erected by a greedy landlords in the front yard of its neighbors ! Ironically, this dash line was just pulled out from the dusbin of outdated files which is merely a dotted line randomly drown out by an officer during the last days of Chiang Kai-shek's rule in China . Anyway, this interpretation suggests clearly why Beijing was willing to support Vietnam against the French , Japanese , American and even Russian . And that's why after winning in 1975 and reunification , Vietnam was continuously attacked by its yesterday's comrades from the southwest border to the northern border , from Spratly Paracel down to Paracel . If it is not Chinese illusion to restore hegemony, why đi Beijing  act like that?
For its own part , the Vietnamese are always proud of defeating the French colonisalism , Japanese fascists and American imperialist and condider it as completion of national liberation . General Secretary Le Duan once stated (roughly): From now on no more enemies dare to invade Vietnam again! But that claim was quickly shown to be false before the big northern neighboring state that stand firm ready to restore its dynasty before the French colonialist time . That is the core lesson that the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wanted to " teach " the Vietnamese. In short, there is sufficient theoretical and practical basis to say that, not only the old dynasties but also today's socialists , the Chinese always considere Vietnam as a vassal state , and this is the clearest difference on how to understand about sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity between Vietnamese and Chinese. Due to this difference , it is so difficult (if not impossible) to build up normal relations between these two national states. It is  neither like the relation between the US and Mexico nor that between US and Cuba. This is a strained relationship , in which the Vietnamsse side though always tries to be humble enough "to avoid the elephant at all cost" while  the Chinese always want to impose and subdue.

Friendship, OK, but better keep a good distance

With the given position of land and space and by long traditions , the Vietnam can not avoid having relations with its northern neighboring state. But nomatter good or bad,  it is the relationship for survival rather than for development. Vietnamese has this pragmatic saying: " Sell brothers far away to buy neighbors nearby " and also has this coarse but profound comment : " Things smell nice when far away, but may smell rotten when come too near". These make up their philosophy of behavior not only on village and national level but also on international scale, particulally with their big northern neighbor - China since very long past. On the other hand, Vietnamese inteletuals of consecutive generations have been trying to search for ways to independence and development through various movements like Duy Tân (Renovation), Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc(Eastwards) or "get rid of Asian" in the 19th centuary and the motto of " making friends with all" recently. Now that after having driven out the French and American imperialists, Vietnamse suddenly realized that the country 's independence and territorial integrity continues to be under thread by "foreign countries" - a vague wording for "Chinese". This is indeed a paradox for Vietnamese themselves as long as they still believe that the God-given position of mountains and rivers with China never allows them to change the relationship. At the same time , They realize that through thousand years under the rule of the Northern Empire and hundred years under the French colonialism, both of which are no good, except that during hundred years of French, Vietnam border lines had been maintained intact from Muc Nam Quan in the North to Mui Ca Mau in the South, and from Spratleys down to Paracels in the East Sea. Regarding development opportunities also find similar phenomena , such as infrastructure, technology and business though limited by the mean method of exploitation, France had however brought about ​​a good difference compared to the Northern Empire time. The fact showed that aid from China only helped the North Vietnam to make to wars but not for development . Ironcally enough, Vietnam 's economy has really taken off only after China cuting  aid. And since "normalization of relations between the two countries one notice the appearance of stagnation , especially in the field of science, technology and engineering..., because China brought into the country all sorts of outdated machinery and equipment while silently ploying their inherent restraint meathods. The bauxit Project in the Central Highland and series of power projects and mineral resources are clear examples . The overwhelming inflows of Chinese low-quality products and toxical food across the border have been actually threatening the economy of Vietnam. In the current rush for investment none can say for sure that one day Vietnamese plants , mines , fields , forests and seas will fall into the hands of Chinese. It is hight time now for Vietnamese political leaders and businessmen should be aware of the risk of increasingly rapprochement with China will restrict access to advanced scientific and technologies of the world . 

In this regard, Vietnam may refer development experience of Japan, South Korea , Taiwan and several Southeast Asian countries who could gain steady and comprehensive development only in a relatively short period of of around 30 years chile keeping distance with China . On the contrary, Vietnam has been losing opportunities during over 40 years due to its failure to get out of the harness of the "big borother". However, opportunities are still around because it is along way for China to get rid of backwardness and poverty enven though it's economy is now ranked world's second largest.

Beware of China's divide and rule trap

"Let us go back to the coming visit of Prime Minister Li Keqiang . Vietnam is the last stop in a series of tours made recently by Chinese leaders to ASEAN countries . These visits takes place in the unusual context of the South China Sea dispute, especially while the U.S. economy fell into deep crisis causing internal divisions. It is funy enough that the Federal Government has run out of budget andPresident Obama could not go to attend very important events overseas such as the EAC and APEC 21 summits . It is a gold opportunity for Beijing to promote its role of as major power in regional forum without being pressed concerning solution of regional disputes. With ample financial capacity than the U.S. , Beijing can now launch to " buy " regional partners to implement its divide and rule scheme for the ASEAN block. Specific agreements have been reached with Indonessia ( including the fishing across the East Sea one). Beiging also signed strategic partnership with Malaysia while strengthening comprehensive relations with Thailand , Singapore , Brunai , Myanmar . So far it can be said that most ASEAN member countries have been " enlisted ", except Cambodia has been put under control, by Beijing; only the Philippines and Vietnam remain Chinese expensionist victims, each struggling to find its own way in dealling with the common enemy . This means Beijing has almost completed its plot of divideand rule over the ASEAN region that deemed far way a few years ago. Meanwhile the so-called " axis rotation policy " of the United States actually interrupted , if not " drumming up sticks " .In the above mentioned context , is not difficult to predict the mission of the visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiangthet to Vietnam is to complete the campaign for Beiging's divide and rule scenario that was clearly shaped since the last visits to China by Vietnamese leaders.And this has been seemingly responded by Beijing by reducing the intensity of the sea encroachment, which may caused some e misunderstading among some circle. In other words , Beijing is actively implementing this scenario in an attempt to buy time to prepare all the necessary conditions for the targetted "core interests" of occupying the whole East Sea . In this scenario, Vietnam though holds most strategic position has to act as a subordinate role . That's what Beijing wants. On purely bilateral relationship , no matter what the guest bring in their main purpose will definitely aim to lure Vietnam back into within influence of China. Surely beautiful words will be utter out from both sides, but both sides' intention remain there.

In short, the visit of Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Vietnam this time brings more bad than good omens giving Vietnam 's leaders another test on coping with the national long-term foreign policy . However, a silver lining has a silver lining , hoping that the departure of General Vo Nguyen Giap has awakened spirit of independence and solidarity among the population for their national destiny before running water . And this will remind the polical leaders and entrepreneurs to on highlight their alert. / .

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How China Sees the South China Sea

China Last week a friend asked me to revisit a historical analogy broached in those thrilling days of yesteryear when I wrote for Flashpoints. Good idea. There is more to say about the comparison, which sheds light on why China plays well with others in the Indian Ocean but not the China seas.
The analogy is the doctrine of "no peace beyond the line" practiced in late Renaissance Europe. To recap: in a nifty bit of collective doublethink, European rulers struck up a compact whereby nations could remain at peace in Europe, avoiding the hardships of direct conflict, while assailing each other mercilessly beyond a mythical boundary separating Europe from the Americas. In practice this meant they raided each other's shipping and outposts in the greater Caribbean Sea and its Atlantic approaches.
It feels as though an inverse dynamic is at work in the Indo-Pacific theater. Naval powers cooperate westward of the line traced by the Malay Peninsula, Strait of Malacca, and Indonesian archipelago. Suspicions pockmarked by occasional confrontation predominate east of the South China Sea rim, a physical — rather than imaginary — line dividing over there from home ground.
A non-Renaissance European, Clausewitz, helps explain why seafaring powers can police the Gulf of Aden in harmony while feuding over the law of the sea in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It's because the mission is apolitical. Counterpiracy is the overriding priority for the nations that have dispatched vessels to the waters off Somalia. Few if any of them have cross-cutting interests or motives that might disrupt the enterprise. It's easy to work together when the partners bring little baggage to the venture.
Or think of it in terms of vector mechanics. Clausewitz's go-to formula holds that how much a government values its political goals should dictate the magnitude and duration of the effort it mounts to obtain those goals. In a coalition, each partner performs its own calculations. Because countries have different interests, inhabit different bits of territory, and see the world through different historical and cultural lenses, their value-of-the-object calculations tend to differ. The vectors diverge. Disparate priorities complicate efforts to align the arrows in more or less the same direction, achieving common purposes, strategy, and operations.
It's rare indeed that coalition partners have the same goals, with few ulterior motives interfering with coalition management. But that does seem to be the case in the western Indian Ocean. The strategic vectors point in the same direction, largely of their own accord. The only real difference is the degree of effort each partner puts forth. Quarrels over free-riding, however, are minimal in a voluntary, informal consortium like the counterpiracy task force. Ergo, peace — even cooperation — beyond the line.
You see where I'm going with this. The expedition to the Gulf of Aden is an easy case. It proves a trivial result, namely that rivals can collaborate for mutual gain when they have the same interests in an endeavor. Now plant yourself in East Asia and survey the strategic terrain within the perimeter separating the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. China views the South China Sea, to name one contested expanse, not as a commons but as offshore territory. Indeed, Beijing asserts "indisputable sovereignty" there.
Such pretensions grate on Southeast Asian states, while the United States hopes to rally coalitions and partnerships to oversee the commons. But if Beijing is serious about the near seas' constituting "blue national soil" — and our Chinese friends are nothing if not sincere — then outsiders policing these waters must look like invaders. How else would you regard foreign constables or armies roaming your soil — even for praiseworthy reasons — without so much as a by-your-leave?
To Chinese eyes, then, Southeast Asians' exclusive economic zones (EEZs) must resemble unlawful occupation of Chinese borderlands. And if there's an iron law of strategy, it's that protecting sovereign territory represents a political aim commanding the utmost importance. In Clausewitzian parlance, it demands maximum defensive effort for as long as it takes. Trying to co-opt ASEAN governments or scuttle U.S.-led constabulary enterprises makes sense if you reason from Chinese precepts.
The upshot: coalition partner beyond the line, coalition breaker this side of the line. There is a common denominator between the Asian and Renaissance European cases, then, namely turf. Home turf. Europeans agreed that different rules would govern their interactions at home and overseas. In so doing they spared themselves the ravages of cross-border invasion. This bespoke a fundamentally conservative outlook. China is trying to regain what it considers its historic maritime periphery. Consequently, it has assumed a more acquisitive, offensive posture.
Either way, securing one's home ground and environs is Job One. The character of undertakings in faraway theaters, by contrast, depends on the extent to which national interests coincide or clash in those theaters. Rivals might cooperate out of expediency, go at each other, or ignore each other. Bottom line, the counter-piracy campaign is an eminently worthwhile endeavor. It should continue. Whether it can be replicated in more fractious zones on the map — and whether it can improve overall relations among nations — is another question entirely.

Friday, September 6, 2013

China Moves to Isolate Philippines, Japan

ChinaThe Philippines and Japan’s charm offensives towards China appear to have failed as Beijing seeks to isolate both powers within the region.
In recent weeks both the Philippines and Japan have made a number of overtures to China aimed at mending strained bilateral ties. Just this week, for instance, the chief of staff of the Philippine military, Emmanuel Bautista, pledged that his country would continue its no-confrontation doctrine in the South China Sea, while also saying that it would consider allowing Chinese naval ships to use the Subic port.
"Many foreign ships visit our ports and we welcome them, that is part of military diplomacy," Bautista told The South China Morning Post, referring to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Equally notable, Filipino President Benigno Aquino III announced earlier this month that he was accepting an invitation from China to attend a one day business expo in Nanning. He was expected to be received by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the September 3 trip.
Japan has been even bolder in its overtures to China, with numerous Japanese officials and former officials quietly visiting China on a number of occasions throughout the summer. Although few specific details were revealed about the trips, there was little doubt that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was sending the envoys to try and improve ties with China, which have been strained since Japan nationalized some of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands last September.
Indeed, Abe said as much himself in his numerous calls for leader or foreign minister summits between China and Japan in recent months.
“I think there should be a summit meeting and also a foreign ministers meeting as soon as possible … I think such meetings should be held without pre-conditions,” Abe said at the end of July.
Other Abe administration officials have been making similar remarks, and Tokyo has expressed optimism that these summits would soon be held.
China has now roundly rejected the overtures from both nations. On Thursday the Philippines’ Foreign Ministry announced that Aquino was cancelling his visit to China next week at the request of the Chinese government. Beijing, for its part, denied having invited Aquino in the first place.
China has also repeatedly rejected Japan’s calls for a leader or foreign minister summit. Most recently, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said that there would most likely not be a summit with Japan and the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg next week.
“A bilateral meeting involving leaders is not only about taking photos and shaking hands, it offers an opportunity for leaders to work out a solution to problems,” Li said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Beijing’s rejection of the Filipino and Japanese overtures does not signal that China is abandoning or moving away from regional diplomacy. To the contrary, China has been mounting something of its own charm offensive throughout the Indo-Pacific. Earlier this month, for instance, Foreign Minister Wang Yi spent six days in Southeast Asia. While warning that ASEAN countries need to be realistic in how quickly the South China Sea dispute could be resolved, Beijing has generally shown a greater willingness to discuss the issue over the last month or more.
This week, China even agreed with Vietnam—the ASEAN nation it has clashed with most frequently besides the Philippines—to work towards resolving their row in the South China Sea, and next week Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plans to visit China next week for the trade fair Aquino was supposed to attend. Additionally, on Thursday the Thai Foreign Minister announced that during a meeting between FM Wang and his ASEAN counterparts, it was agreed that “We will not allow any particular issue to overshadow the ASEAN-China relations, which are progressing well.”
After repeated PLA incursions into India earlier this year, China has been pushing ahead with progress towards dialing down its border dispute with Delhi as well. Last week India announced that China had sent it a draft border cooperation agreement that both sides expect to sign when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits China in October.
Chinese officials have also been traveling to North Korea after a long absence, and U.S.-China military and defense cooperation has improved markedly over the summer. Indeed, China’s Defense Minister, Chang Wanquan, traveled to Washington last week and the two sides held their second joint naval drill last weekend. Chang and his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel, met again on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM) this week, after holding talks at the Pentagon last week.
Thus, China has only been reluctant to engage Japan and the Philippines diplomatically. This is almost certainly aimed at isolating Beijing’s disputes with Japan and the Philippines from its relations with other regional powers. In other words, China hopes to reduce regional concern over its rising power and greater assertiveness by portraying its spats with Japan and the Philippines as rare exceptions to the general rule of China maintaining positive relationships in the region.
The aim of this policy is to shift the blame for the disputes onto Tokyo and Manila, reduce the amount of balancing China faces, and complicate Japanese and Filipino efforts to make common cause with other regional states.
It’s worth noting that this is the natural state of Chinese diplomacy since ancient times, when Chinese leaders used shrewd diplomatic maneuvers to get “barbarians to check barbarians.”

By  - The Diplomat August 30, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

History the Weak Link in Beijing’s Maritime Claims

The Diplomat August 30, 2013: Beijing’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea are now embossed in new Chinese passports and official maps. Chinese leaders and foreign ministry spokespersons insist with increasing truculence that the islands, rocks, and reefs have been China’s “territory since ancient times.” Normally, the overlapping territorial claims to sovereignty and maritime boundaries ought to be resolved through a combination of customary international law, adjudication before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or arbitration under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While China has ratified UNCLOS, the treaty by and large rejects “historically based” claims, which are precisely the type Beijing periodically asserts. On September 4, 2012, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, told then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there is “plenty of historical and jurisprudence evidence to show that China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.”

As far as the “jurisprudence evidence” is concerned, the vast majority of international legal experts have concluded that China’s claim to historic title over the South China Sea, implying full sovereign authority and consent for other states to transit, is invalid and illegal. The historical evidence, if anything, is even less persuasive. There are several contradictions in China’s use of history to justify its claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea, not least of which is its polemical assertion of parallels with imperialist expansion by the United States and European powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Justifying China’s attempts to expand its maritime frontiers by claiming islands and reefs far from its shores, Jia Qingguo, professor at Beijing University’s School of International Studies, argues that China is merely following the example set by the West. “The United States has Guam in Asia which is very far away from the U.S. and the French have islands in the South Pacific, so it is nothing new,” Jia told AFP recently.

An in-depth analysis of the “historical evidence” underlying China’s claims shows that history is, in fact, not on China’s side. If anything, Beijing’s claim to the Spratlys on the basis of history runs aground on the fact that the region’s past empires did not exercise sovereignty. In pre-modern Asia, empires were characterized by undefined, unprotected, and often changing frontiers. The notion of suzerainty prevailed. Unlike a nation-state, the frontiers of Chinese empires were neither carefully drawn nor policed but were more like circles or zones, tapering off from the center of civilization to the undefined periphery of alien barbarians. More importantly, in its territorial disputes with neighboring India, Burma, and Vietnam, Beijing always took the position that its land boundaries were never defined, demarcated, and delimited. But now, when it comes to islands, shoals, and reefs in the South China Sea, Beijing claims otherwise. In other words, China’s claim that its land boundaries were historically never defined and delimited stands in sharp contrast with the stance that China’s maritime boundaries were always clearly defined and delimited. Herein lies a basic contradiction (ji ben mao dun) in the Chinese stand on land and maritime boundaries which is untenable. Actually, it is the mid-twentieth-century attempts to convert the undefined frontiers of ancient civilizations and kingdoms enjoying suzerainty into clearly defined, delimited, and demarcated boundaries of modern nation-states exercising sovereignty that lie at the center of China’s territorial and maritime disputes with neighboring countries. Put simply, sovereignty is a post-imperial notion ascribed to nation-states, not ancient empires.

The notion of sovereignty is not a Chinese or Asian notion but a European one that originated with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. It was primarily a land-based concept and did not apply to nation-states in Asia and Africa until the mid-twentieth century. The Westphalian state system based on the concept of legal equality or state sovereignty over clearly defined external boundaries distinguished itself not only from the old feudal system in Europe, but also from other forms of hegemony and suzerainty that existed at that time in Asia—in Persia, China and India. Before the Treaty of Westphalia, kingdoms and empires in Europe and elsewhere could not claim or exercise sovereignty.

History, as is well known, is written by the victors, not the vanquished. China’s present borders largely reflect the frontiers established during the spectacular episode of eighteenth-century Qing (Manchu) expansionism, which over time hardened into fixed national boundaries (except outer Mongolia, largely because of the Soviet Union) following the imposition of the Westphalian nation-state system over Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Official Chinese history today often distorts this complex history, however, claiming that Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus, and Hans were all Chinese, when in fact the Great Wall was built by the Chinese dynasties to keep out the troublesome northern Mongol and Manchu tribes that repeatedly overran Han China; the Great Wall actually represented the Han Chinese empire’s outer security perimeter. While most historians see the onslaught of the Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan in the early 1200s as an apocalyptic event that threatened the very survival of ancient civilizations in China, India, Persia and other nations, the Chinese have consciously promoted the myth that he was actually “Chinese,” and therefore all areas that the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty) had once occupied or conquered (such as Tibet and much of Central and Inner Asia) belong to China by retrospectively superimposing the sixteenth century European notion of sovereignty over the twelfth century Asia. China’s claims on Taiwan and in the South China Sea are also based on the grounds that both were parts of the Manchu empire. (Actually, in the Manchu or Qing dynasty maps, it is Hainan Island, not the Paracel and Spratly Islands, that is depicted as China’s southernmost border.) In this version of history, any territory conquered by “Chinese” in the past remains immutably so, no matter when the conquest may have occurred.

Such writing and rewriting of history from a nationalistic perspective to promote national unity and regime legitimacy has been accorded the highest priority by China’s rulers, both Nationalists and Communists. The Chinese Communist Party leadership consciously conducts itself as the heir to China’s imperial legacy, often employing the symbolism and rhetoric of empire. From primary-school textbooks to television historical dramas, the state-controlled information system has force-fed generations of Chinese a diet of imperial China’s grandeur. As the Australian Sinologist Geremie Barmé points out, “For decades Chinese education and propaganda have emphasized the role of history in the fate of the Chinese nation-state . . . While Marxism-Leninism and Mao Thought have been abandoned in all but name, the role of history in China’s future remains steadfast.” So much so that history has been refined as an instrument of statecraft (also known as “cartographic aggression”) by state-controlled research institutions, media, and education bodies.

China uses folklore, myths, and legends, as well as history, to bolster greater territorial and maritime claims and create new realities on the land and water. Chinese textbooks preach the notion of the Middle Kingdom as being the oldest and most advanced civilization that was at the very center of the universe, surrounded by lesser, partially Sinicized states in East and Southeast Asia that must constantly bow and pay their respects. China’s version of history often deliberately blurs the distinction between what was no more than hegemonic influence, tributary relationships, suzerainty, and actual control. Subscribing to the notion that those who have mastered the past control their present and chart their own futures, Beijing has always placed a very high value on “the history card” (often a revisionist interpretation of history) in its diplomatic efforts to achieve foreign policy objectives, especially to extract territorial and diplomatic concessions from other countries. Almost every contiguous state has, at one time or another, felt the force of Chinese arms—Mongolia, Tibet, Burma, Korea, Russia, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan—and been a subject of China’s revisionist history. As Martin Jacques notes in When China Rules the World, “Imperial Sinocentrism shapes and underpins modern Chinese nationalism.” If unchecked, imperial hubris or nostalgia for a return to the past can have unpredictable consequences for regional peace and stability.

If the idea of national sovereignty goes back to seventeenth-century Europe and the system that originated with the Treaty of Westphalia, the idea of maritime sovereignty is largely a mid-twentieth-century American concoction that China and others have seized upon to extend their maritime frontiers. As Jacques notes, “The idea of maritime sovereignty is a relatively recent invention, dating from 1945 when the United States declared that it intended to exercise sovereignty over its territorial waters.” In fact, the UN’s Law of the Sea agreement represented the most prominent international effort to apply the land-based notion of sovereignty to the maritime domain worldwide—although, importantly, it rejects the idea of justification by historical right. Thus although Beijing claims around eighty percent of the South China Sea as its “historic waters” (and is now seeking to elevate this claim to a “core interest” akin with its claims on Taiwan and Tibet), China has, historically speaking, about as much right to claim the South China Sea as Mexico has to claim the Gulf of Mexico for its exclusive use, or Iran the Persian Gulf, or India the Indian Ocean. In other words, none at all. From a legal standpoint, “the prolific usage of the nomenclature ‘South China Sea’ does not confer historic Chinese sovereignty.” Countries that have used history to claim sovereignty over islands have had the consent of others and a mutually agreeable interpretation of history—both elements missing in the SCS.

Ancient empires either won control over territories through aggression, annexation, or assimilation or lost them to rivals who possessed superior firepower or statecraft. Territorial expansion and contraction was the norm, determined by the strength or weakness of a kingdom or empire. The very idea of “sacred lands” is ahistorical because control of territory was based on who grabbed or stole what last from whom. The frontiers of the Qin, Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties waxed and waned throughout history. A strong and powerful imperial China, much like czarist Russia, was expansionist in Inner Asia and Indochina as opportunity arose and strength allowed. The gradual expansion over the centuries under the non-Chinese Mongol and Manchu dynasties extended imperial China’s control over Tibet and parts of Central Asia (now Xinjiang), Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Modern China is, in fact, an “empire-state” masquerading as a nation-state.

Even if one were to accept Beijing’s “historical claims” argument for a moment, the problem is that the Chinese empire was not the only empire in pre-modern Asia and the world. There were other empires and kingdoms too. Many countries can make equally valid “historical claims” to lands that are currently not a part of their territory but under Chinese control (e.g., the Gando region in China’s Jilin province that belongs to Korea). Before the twentieth century, there were no sovereign nation-states in Asia with clear, legally defined boundaries of jurisdiction and control. If China’s claims are justified on the basis of history, then so are the historical claims of Vietnamese and Filipinos based on their histories. Students of Asian history know, for instance, that Malay peoples related to today’s Filipinos have a better claim to Taiwan than Beijing does. Taiwan was originally settled by people of Malay-Polynesian descent—ancestors of the present-day aborigine groups—who populated the low-lying coastal plains. Noted Asia-watcher Philip Bowring argues that “[t]he fact that China has a long record of written history does not invalidate other nations’ histories as illustrated by artifacts, language, lineage and genetic affinities, the evidence of trade and travel.”

Unless one subscribes to the notion of Chinese exceptionalism, imperial China’s “historical claims” are as valid as those of other kingdoms and empires in Southeast and South Asia. The problem with history is where and when to draw the line, why, and more importantly, whose version of history is accurate. China laying claim to the Mongol and Manchu empires’ colonial possessions would be equivalent to India laying claim to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia (Srivijaya), Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka on the grounds that they were all parts of either the Ashoka, Maurya, Chola, or the Moghul and the British Indian empires. From the tenth through the thirteenth centuries, several of the Pallava and Chola kings in southern India assembled large navies and armies to overthrow neighboring kingdoms and to undertake punitive attacks on the states in the Bay of Bengal region. They also took to the sea to conquer parts of what are now Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. In his study of India’s strategic culture, George Tanham observed: “In what was really a battle over the trade between China and India and Europe, the Cholas were quite successful in both naval and land engagements and briefly ruled portions of Southeast Asia.”

China’s claims in the South China Sea are also a major shift from its longstanding geopolitical orientation to continental power. In claiming a strong maritime tradition, China makes much of the early-fifteenth-century expeditions of Zheng He to the Indian Ocean and Africa. But, as Bowring points out, “Chinese were actually latecomers to navigation beyond coastal waters. For centuries, the masters of the oceans were the Malayo-Polynesian peoples who colonized much of the world, from Taiwan to New Zealand and Hawaii to the south and east, and to Madagascar in the west. Bronze vessels were being traded with Palawan, just south of Scarborough, at the time of Confucius. When Chinese Buddhist pilgrims like Faxian went to Sri Lanka [southern India] in the fifth century, they went in ships owned and operated by Malay peoples. Ships from what is now the Philippines traded with Funan, a state in what is now southern Vietnam, a thousand years before the Yuan dynasty.”

And finally, China’s so-called “historic claims” to the South China Sea are actually not “centuries old.” They only go back to 1947, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government drew the so-called “eleven-dash line” on Chinese maps of the South China Sea, enclosing the Spratly Islands and other chains that the ruling Kuomintang party declared were now under Chinese sovereignty. Chiang himself, saying he saw German fascism as a model for China, was fascinated by the Nazi concept of an expanded Lebensraum (“living space”) for the Chinese nation. He did not have the opportunity to be expansionist himself because the Japanese put him on the defensive, but cartographers of the nationalist regime drew the U-shape of eleven dashes in an attempt to enlarge China’s “living space” in the South China Sea soon after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Apparently, the Republic of China (ROC) nationalist government was also incensed over the World War II-era Japanese maps that showed the entire South China Sea as a Japanese lake. The Chinese government first operationally sailed into the South China Sea in 1947 with the voyage of the ROC ships Zhongjian, Zhongye, Taiping and Yongxing. They did not begin surveys there until many years later. Following the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war in 1949, the People’s Republic of China adopted this cartographic coup, revising Chiang’s notion into a “nine-dash line” after erasing two dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1953 showing places his government had never been to. As late as 2005, the PLA Navy’s published map of Scarborough Shoal was just an exact datum-for-datum copy of the U.S. Navy’s map (with thanks to Barney Moreland for providing the author with this information).

Since the end of the Second World War, China has been redrawing its maps, redefining borders, manufacturing historical evidence, using force to create new territorial realities, renaming islands, and seeking to impose its version of history on the waters of the region. The passage of domestic legislation in 1992, “Law on the Territorial Waters and Their Contiguous Areas,” which claimed four-fifths of the South China Sea, was followed by armed skirmishes with the Philippine and Vietnamese navies throughout the 1990s. More recently, the dispatch of large numbers of Chinese fishing boats and maritime surveillance vessels to the disputed waters in what is tantamount to a “people’s war on the high seas” has further heightened tensions. To quote Sujit Dutta, “China’s unmitigated irredentism [is] based on the . . . theory that the periphery must be occupied in order to secure the core. [This] is an essentially imperial notion that was internalized by the Chinese nationalists—both Kuomintang and Communist. The [current] regime’s attempts to reach its imagined geographical frontiers often with little historical basis have had and continue to have highly destabilizing strategic consequences.”

Apparently, one reason Southeast Asians find it difficult to accept Chinese territorial claims is that it would amount to acceptance of the notion of Han racial superiority over other Asian races and empires. Says Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines law school: “Intuitively, acceptance of the nine-dash line is a corresponding denial of the very identity and history of the ancestors of the Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Malays; it is practically a modern revival of China’s denigration of non-Chinese as ‘barbarians’ not entitled to equal respect and dignity as peoples.”

To sum up, empires and kingdoms never exercised sovereignty. The “history question” is very complex and defies an easy explanation. If historical claims had any validity then Mongolia could claim all of Asia simply because it once conquered the lands of the continent. There is absolutely no historical basis to support either of the dash-line claims, especially considering that the territories of Chinese empires were never as carefully delimited as nation-states, but rather existed as zones of influence tapering away from a civilized center to the periphery of alien barbarians. This is the position contemporary China took starting in the 1960s, while negotiating its land boundaries with several of its neighboring countries. But this is not the position it takes today in the cartographic, diplomatic, and low-intensity military skirmishes to define its maritime borders.

The continued reinterpretation of history to advance contemporary political, territorial, and maritime claims, coupled with the Communist leadership’s ability to turn “nationalistic eruptions” on and off like a tap during moments of tension with the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines, makes it difficult for Beijing to reassure neighbors that its “peaceful rise” is wholly peaceful. An acceptance of China’s version of history is seen as tantamount to rejection of other countries’ history and the notion of equality of sovereign nation-states. Since there are six claimants to various atolls, islands, rocks, and oil deposits in the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands disputes are, by definition, multilateral disputes requiring international arbitration. But Beijing’s insistence on a bilateral approach to resolving the dispute is predicated mainly on the belief that Beijing might succeed because of China’s superior relative power and ASEAN’s fractiousness. China’s claims of “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea” that have their origins in the late 1940s—and not in ancient history—pose a challenge to all seafaring nations.

By Mohan Malik:  Professor at Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu. These are author’s personal views and in no way reflect the views of the Asia-Pacific Center. An earlier and shorter version appeared in World Affairs, May/June 2013. Special thanks to Carleton Cramer, Carlyle Thayer, Justin Nankivell, Denny Roy and Barney Moreland for invaluable comments and suggestions. 
Read more with comments:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

China’s stamps violate Vietnam’s Hoang Sa island sovereignty


Source: Easst Sea Studies Thursday, 29 August 2013 07:47
The Department of Posts under the Ministry of Information and Communications on August 28 officially objected to China Post’s issuance of stamps that violate Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago.
In May this year, the Chinese State Post Bureau (China Post) issued a set of six stamps featuring six tourist attractions, one of which showed the images of islands belonging to Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago.
Vietnam’s Post Department said Vietnam has sufficient legal foundation and evidence to affirm its sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands.
The act by China Post is not in conformity with Article 8 of the Universal Postal Union’s Convention, the department said. It demanded that China Post respect the truth and abolish the stamps, envelops and postcards which were printed with the images of islands of Hoang Sa archipelago. Such acts should be avoided in order to contribute to building ties between the two postal sectors and the two countries, the department said.
Souce - Vietnamplus
Click here for updated South China Sea news

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Philippines pushes back against China

TED ALJIBE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - US and Philippine navy personnel prepare to launch an unmanned aerial vehicle from a boat off the naval base in Sangley point, west of Manila. The six-day exercises were held last month, close to Scarborough Shoal, which China insists it owns.
MANILA — China’s most daring adversary in Southeast Asia is, by many measurements, ill-suited for a fight. The Philippines has a military budget one-fortieth the size of Beijing’s, and its navy cruises through contested waters in 1970s hand-me-downs from the South Vietnamese.
From that short-handed position, the Philippines has set off on a risky mission to do what no nation in the region has managed to do: thwart China in its drive to control the vast waters around it.
(The Washington Post/Source: Staff reports) - South China Sea dispute
Analysts say the Philippines’ strategy, in standing up to Asia’s powerhouse, is just as likely to backfire as succeed. But it provides a crucial test case as smaller countries debate whether to deal with China as a much-needed economic partner, a dangerous maritime aggressor, or both.
The Philippines doesn’t view China exclusively as a threat, officials here say, noting that trade between the countries is growing. The Philippines has also used caution at times, most notably by holding off on provocative plans to drill in what could be the nation’s richest oil and gas field. But analysts point to a series of steps taken in recent months that suggest that Manila is increasingly willing to confront Beijing. They also note that the Philippines has suspended or canceled several development deals that depended on generous Chinese aid.
Earlier this year, the Philippines filed a case with the United Nations contesting China’s maritime claims. More recently, the Philippines has increased its manpower on disputed islands, approved upgrades to decrepit military equipment and discussed plans that would give the United States expanded access to Philippine air and naval bases. Speaking to his armed forces in May, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the nation needed to protect its maritime territory from “bullies.”
Battles over territory in Asia go back centuries, but China has made an increasingly aggressive play in recent years to recover land that it says fell wrongly into foreign hands. China has made a case for ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, marking its territory with a nine-dash line on a map that it submitted to the United Nations in 2009.
At least four other neighbors — Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam — are skirmishing with China over the tiny islands and the waters within that boundary. They covet sovereignty not just as a matter of pride but also to claim rich fisheries and underwater oil and gas resources.
But they have reason to tread cautiously. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. Brunei depends on China as a market for its fossil fuel exports. Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has fostered a major improvement in relations with Beijing.
Comparatively, Vietnam has been more willing to anger China. The two nations have a legacy of centuries of animosity, including a brief border war in 1979 and more recent clashes at sea. But the two are also communist partners, capable of patching up frayed ties.
Some Filipinos say their country is more suited than others in the region to play tough with China. The Philippines has deep ties to Washington, stemming from a U.S. colonial period that ended in 1946. China and the Philippines took opposite sides in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as in the Cold War.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Vietnam: Playing with fire

Print E-mail
Written by David Brown   
Sunday, 07 July 2013
The Trung sisters ran off the Chinese. Can Vietnam do it again?
The Trung sisters ran off the Chinese. Can Vietnam do it again?
Facing off against China
Follow America and save the country; follow China and save the party. This saying, heard everywhere in Vietnam, distills the geopolitical dilemma facing its ruling Communist Party.

Forty years after the last American troops left Vietnam, the party that won independence and unified the nation has lost much of its legitimacy. No amount of harking back to the virtues of Ho Chi Minh and his comrades can restore its élan nor, it seems, root out systemic corruption. The regime's biggest liability is its failure to right a faltering economy. But public opinion is also scornful of its inability to defend Vietnam's interests against China.

From the perspective of the man in the street in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Beijing has thrown off the cloak of "peaceful rise" and reverted to its historic role of regional bully. Its farcical claim to the marine and mineral resources of the entire South China Sea is only the most prominent example. China's construction of a cascade of dams on the upper Mekong in Yunnan province and support for a plan to build a further 11 dams downstream in Laos threaten to wipe out the annual flood surge that sustains the fertility of Vietnam's Mekong Delta region.

Chinese enterprises are also pursuing Laos' mineral and lumber resources, challenging Vietnamese hegemony in its backyard. In Vietnam itself, growing investment by Chinese engineering, construction and mining firms—notably Chinalco's multi-billion dollar bauxite project in the central highlands—has drawn heavy criticism. Cheap and often shoddy Chinese goods have flooded Vietnam's markets, crushing local manufacturers.

The man in the street wants to hit back. It doesn't occur to him that Vietnam's armed forces are no match for China's or that Vietnam is highly vulnerable to economic retaliation. Western analysts typically attribute Chinese "assertiveness" to surging popular nationalism and to over-zealous security agencies, but to ordinary Vietnamese it is obvious that Chinese aggression is coordinated in Beijing.

That is nothing new: the grand theme of the nation's history, everyone learns in school, is dogged and ultimately successful resistance against invaders. And most of the armies sweeping across Vietnam's borders for the past 2000 years have been Chinese. There is no reason why it should be different this time.

Prickly partnership
Vietnam and China share a 1,350-km border and much more. Both countries are Leninist states with a political culture shaped by neo-Confucian ideas of merit-based hierarchy and well-tended relationships. Their ruling Communist Parties have survived by shedding Marxist economics while nurturing a pervasive state-security apparatus. Their "socialist market economies" allow vibrant free markets to exist alongside thousands of state-owned enterprises, which dominate heavy industry.

Both Beijing and Hanoi are tormented by the lively criticism of internet-enabled dissidents. These shared cultural and political factors underpin a web of party-to-party and state-to-state consultations aimed at sustaining cooperation between the regimes.

Nonetheless, bilateral relations have normally been prickly. China's far greater geopolitical and economic weight means its relationship with Vietnam is fundamentally unequal. When Chinese people pay attention to Vietnam at all, they often regard it as a willful province that somehow slipped loose from its moorings.

Conversely, Vietnam's 90 million residents are always uncomfortably aware of their northern neighbors, who are 15 times more numerous and whose economy is 50 times larger. Yet the Vietnamese will not kowtow to Beijing when territorial integrity is at stake. Ho Chi Minh excepted, their greatest heroes are generals who forced dynasty after dynasty of Chinese invaders to withdraw. As recently as 1979, some 20,000 Chinese soldiers died when Deng Xiaoping sought to "teach Vietnam a lesson" for toppling Beijing's Maoist protégés in Cambodia and forging an alliance with the Soviet Union.

By the mid-1990s, China and Vietnam had slipped back into a relatively comfortable relationship. Both nations were preoccupied by internal economic reform, the Soviet Union had disintegrated, and China was advertising its "peaceful rise" to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which now included Vietnam.

Bilateral trade was expanding, there was discussion of upgrading "trade corridors" from landlocked southwest China to Vietnamese ports, and negotiations to demarcate the land border were progressing well. Even the rival claims to ownership of the reefs, rocks and shoals of the South China Sea seemed under good management, if no closer to solution.

All that changed, however, in 2009. Whether by design or diplomatic mishap, China was no longer content to leave the overlapping claims on the shelf. In May that year, China presented a crude map at the United Nations claiming "indisputable sovereignty" over 80 percent of the South China Sea.

Tensions escalated sharply thereafter, drawing in non-regional nations—including the United States—and challenging Asean cohesion. Vietnam and the Philippines have borne the brunt of the Chinese drive to create "facts" that, although incompatible with international law, are difficult to rebut. Nationalist passions are boiling in all three nations, threatening armed skirmishes at sea. Hanoi's policy of deferring to China is in tatters.

Many of Vietnam's non-party elite, as well as some within the party itself, believe the solution is to seek a de facto economic and military alliance with the US. Yet senior members of the party remain highly skeptical of US intentions, viewing themselves as locked in an existential conflict with Western liberalism, capitalism and imperialism. They have yielded only grudgingly to reforms aimed at establishing the nation's global economic competitiveness and engaging the US as a counterbalance to China.

Party stalwarts gag on American demands that Vietnam allow greater democratic freedoms, fearing that Washington's true objective is to bring down the Communist regime. For all the recent frictions, they do not believe China's leaders will betray a ruling Communist Party so like their own.

Still waiting for a free lunch
In truth, China these days cares a lot less about helping its fellow Communists cling to power than it does about exploiting regional resources and extending its economic tentacles. With a sackful of export credits and eligibility for concessional loans from state-owned banks, Chinese firms have become major players in infrastructure development in Vietnam, particularly construction of thermal power plants.

Saigon's Chinese--going, going, gone

When the Vietnam War finally ended in 1975, roughly 4 percent of Vietnam's population was of Chinese extraction. Perhaps 1.5 million were citizens of the defeated southern regime, of whom more than half lived in Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter. Only around 300,000 lived in the victorious northern half of the country.

Vietnam's Chinese community had prospered over the years. Merchants of Chinese origin monopolized wholesale trade in the south and dominated manufacturing and retail trade. The descendants of refugees from the collapsing Ming dynasty, who settled in Vietnam in the mid-17th century, were substantially assimilated. Yet the majority, offspring of much more recent migrants, maintained their regional Chinese cultures. As in many other parts of Southeast Asia, their outsider status and economic success created resentment among locals.

By and large the Chinese firms are not squeezing out Vietnamese contractors, instead grabbing business from Japanese, South Korean, US or European competitors by entering bottom-dollar bids. But critics accuse Chinese enterprises of employing their own countrymen and producing work of low quality, with frequent missed deadlines and cost overruns. Vietnamese security hawks further assert that dependence on Chinese contractors in strategic sectors like energy undermines national security.

Another bone of contention is Vietnam's mounting trade deficit with China, its largest trading partner, which economist Tran Van Tho calls an "industrial tsunami." Vietnam's trade with the other nine Asean countries and with Japan is roughly balanced, and it has a huge surplus with the European Union and the US. But with China it ran a US$16.4 billion deficit in 2012, giving China a bilateral trade surplus of 40 percent.

The bulk of Chinese exports are intermediate goods for assembly in Vietnam's export processing plants: fabric, zippers, buttons, wires, circuit boards, and assorted widgets. But China also provides more expensive capital goods—machinery to equip Vietnam's factories and build infrastructure.

A third and very visible component is consumer goods, priced to undercut domestic competitors. Vietnamese newspapers regularly feature stories alleging that China dumps dangerous or shoddy goods, and provocative moves by Beijing in the South China Sea reflexively result in calls to boycott Chinese wares.

It wasn't meant to be this way. According to economists' predictions, Vietnam should be eating Guangdong's lunch by now. With its much lower labor costs, Vietnam was the logical destination for factories from China's export-processing center migrating to cheaper climes. The labor-intensive garment and footwear industries have long accounted for about 20 percent of Vietnam's exports; they got their start in the 1990s when China's garment and footwear exports were capped under EU and US quota schemes.

Yet labor productivity remains low, real wages rose at 10 percent a year in 2006-11, and Vietnam has largely failed to lure manufacturers from their bases in China. As labor costs continue to rise in both China and Vietnam, factories are migrating instead to Cambodia, Bangladesh and even Myanmar.

It is not all bad news. As the global economy slowly recovers, Vietnam's foreign-invested sector is growing once again. Rather than shifting factories from China, some multinationals and their contractors have diversified their manufacturing bases by opening additional plants in Vietnam. Anecdotal evidence suggests a pronounced trend toward higher quality investments, which can benefit from substantial tax breaks.

Firms establishing or expanding assembly plants include household names like Canon, Samsung, Intel and IBM, Hitachi, Panasonic and Nokia. Yet nearly all the inputs to Vietnam's manufactured exports are imported, some from China. All that is added in Vietnam, typically, is labor—something China can do more efficiently and on a much larger scale.

Comprehensive strategic blunder
In 2008, capping a warmer phase in relations, Chinese party chief Hu Jintao and his Vietnamese counterpart, Nong Duc Manh, declared a bilateral "comprehensive strategic cooperative relationship." And if China is truly interested in nurturing a special relationship with Vietnam - and thereby strengthening its diplomatic muscle in Southeast Asia - Beijing is in a position to help.

Although Vietnam's rulers admit to no anxiety over the bilateral trade imbalance, it is nevertheless a chronic political liability. China imports plenty of rubber, coal, oil, lumber and agricultural products, but is uninterested in Vietnam's industrial goods. Friendly moves to pump up industrial imports would cost China little and be very good news for Hanoi.

Above all, a sincere proposal for joint development of mineral resources and co-management of fish stocks in the disputed area of the South China Sea could be a game-changer—both for relations with Vietnam and with Asean.

Yet the reality is that the relationship between Beijing and Hanoi has become dangerously unstable since the agreement in 2008. Chinese pressure on political and strategic issues has boxed in Vietnam's leaders, arguably threatening their survival. Beijing has bolstered its standing among Chinese nationalists by flexing its muscle in the South China Sea, while Hanoi's ineffectual attempts to fend off Chinese provocations have steadily eroded its position among nationalists at home.

Short of armed conflict, it is hard to imagine what more China could do to hasten the downfall of its would-be friends and ideological allies in the world's only other "market socialist" regime. In all probability, this would bring in new leaders looking to cozy up to the US - an entirely self-defeating result.

More worrying, an armed conflict between is not out of the question. China has vastly more firepower than Vietnam, but Hanoi is ramping up its air and sea deterrent capabilities. If pressed against a wall, history suggests that the Vietnamese will hit back. A miscalculation by either side could result in a clash. This would be sharp and bloody, with unpredictable consequences. China can continue playing the bully - but it is playing with fire.

(David Brown is a retired diplomat and regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. He wrote this for the Hong Kong-based Gavekal Dragonomics' China Economic Quarterly.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Japan and South-East Asia Hand in hand

Shinzo Abe has compelling diplomatic as well as economic reasons to push into South-East Asia

Abe, Thein Sein and a golden future
IT WAS all toasts and effusions of mutual esteem when President Thein Sein welcomed Shinzo Abe to Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, on May 26th. Mr Abe was the first Japanese prime minister to visit the country since 1977. Both leaders looked determined to cement diplomatic and economic ties that had long been relatively good, even during the decades when the West shunned a brutal military regime. Mr Abe, who also met Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, promised “all possible assistance” to support the country’s new commitment to reform, which Mr Thein Sein initiated in 2011.
Japanese deeds matched the fine words. Mr Abe cancelled Myanmar’s $1.8 billion of debt and promised another $500m in aid loans. This comes on top of Japanese commitments already agreed on over the past 18 months, including for a special economic zone at Thilawa, just south of Yangon, the commercial capital. Japan is spending an initial $200m on Thilawa, which will include a new port to replace Yangon’s old one, now largely silted up. Dozens of Japanese executives also came with Mr Abe to Myanmar, where he urged them to hunt for opportunities.

Myanmar is the region’s most fashionable destination for investment, but other countries in South-East Asia have benefited more from Japanese largesse of late. Since Mr Abe came to office in December, his ministers have tripped over each other in South-East Asian capitals, offering new investment, aid and more. Japan wants to perk up its own economy by dramatically increasing its presence in ASEAN, the ten-country Association of South-East Asian Nations, a rare economic bright spot.
But the ministers’ talk is not only about trade. Diplomatic alliances, naval training and even sales of defence equipment are also on the agenda. For hanging over the new South-East Asian push is Japan’s troubled relationship with China. Chinese confrontation over Japan’s control of the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea has exacerbated differences between the two countries. Anti-Japanese sentiment in China has added to the concerns of Japanese businessmen about the long-term future of their investments there. Last year a Reuters survey of Japanese manufacturers found that almost a quarter of those questioned were considering delaying or reversing investment plans in China. For Japan, South-East Asia has fast become a diplomatic and economic hedge against China.
As part of a new financial pact with the region, Japan is investing in the government bonds of ASEAN members. Its finance ministry will also help Japanese companies borrow in local currencies. Some corporate giants are drawing together entire supply-chain clusters in South-East Asia, usually centred on Thailand—Honda, for example, expects to build 424,000 cars a year there by 2015. For this, Japanese companies increasingly need local funds. Thailand’s appalling floods in 2011, which closed car plants and many other Japanese manufacturers, have not fundamentally changed business plans; after all, insurance payouts minimised companies’ losses.
In Indonesia, another country with long-standing economic links to Japan, Japanese companies recently won a $370m contract to start building a new underground transit system in Jakarta. (The flood-prone capital is built atop a marsh, and is just the sort of challenge that Japanese engineers relish.) But it is in other South-East Asian countries with which it has traditionally had fewer ties that Japan is unusually active. In particular, it is forging new partnerships with Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which have their own maritime quarrels with China, over islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
In Vietnam the Japanese have been helping to bail out the country’s stricken state banking sector. In December Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ announced that it was buying a 20% stake in VietinBank, for $743m. Mizuho took a 15% stake in Vietcombank, for $567m, in September 2011. Japanese commitments to Vietnam rose to $5.1 billion in 2012, double the figure for the previous year. Japan has also started to improve Vietnam’s naval capabilities, training Vietnamese sailors in maritime surveillance, for instance.
As in Vietnam and Myanmar, memories in the Philippines still linger over Japan’s brutal wartime occupation (Thailand was spared, allying itself with Japan). Yet history has not spilled over into politics as relations with Japan have warmed. More pressing for the Philippines is the stand-off with China over the disputed Scarborough shoal. Japan has boosted aid to the Philippines. It has also given it naval assistance, promising ten patrol vessels, costing $11m each, to help with maritime surveillance. Just as in Myanmar, once in the China camp but now closer to the West and its Asian allies, Japanese business and diplomacy march hand in hand.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Vietnam police swoop on anti-China protest, 20 detained

Source: Reuters - Sun, 2 Jun 2013 04:11 AM
Author: Reuters
cor-gov hum-war med-dev
Tweet Recommend Google + LinkedIn Bookmark Email Print
Jump down to related content
HANOI, June 2 (Reuters) - Police in Vietnam moved swiftly to break up an anti-China protest on Sunday, making at least 20 arrests in the latest sign of the communist regime's tough stance on dissent, and even after it chided Beijing for aggression in the South China Sea.
As crowds gathered in response to the recent ramming of a Vietnamese trawler by Chinese navy vessels, uniform and plain clothes police blocked off rallying points and quickly put protesters on to waiting buses, Reuters witnesses said.
Two Vietnamese journalists working for foreign media were also detained at the protest near Hanoi's Hoan Kien lake.
Vietnam's has been criticised by Western countries including the United States for crushing freedom of speech and arresting its detractors as discontent grows over land grabs, graft and the state's management of an economy hamstrung by bad debt.
Diplomats and experts say the ruling party is eager to curtail all protests, even those against rival China which it once tolerated, fearing they could mushroom into wider anti-government movements.
Tensions in the decades-old territorial dispute have risen in recent weeks after Chinese vessels struck a Vietnamese fishing boat and later converged near a ship the Philippines ran aground on a reef in 1999 to mark its territory.
The Philippines warned China to withdraw from what Beijing considers its "indisputable territory" and Vietnam complained of a "serious violation" of its sovereignty.
In a rare break from a usually diplomatic tone, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Friday warned of damage to regional economies and global trade if "unilateral might, groundless claims" and "power politics" were to ignite a conflict in the South China Sea.
Dung made the comments during an address to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore but did not specifically name China. (Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Vietnamese fishermen to ignore China’s illegal fishing ban

Vietnamese fishermen will continue operating in Vietnam’s territorial waters despite China’s illegal ban on fishing in the East Sea, a Vietnam Fisheries Association official says.
The Chief Secretariat of the Association, Nguyen Ngoc Duc, made the statement yesterday while answering Tuoi Tre’s queries on the Association’s response to China’s promulgation of the ban on fishing from 12:00 am, May 16 till 12:00 am, August 1 in the East Sea, which encompasses portions of Vietnam’s waters.
Tuoitre News Vietnam
Today the association will send official letters to concerned agencies asking for assistance for fishermen in their normal fishing activities in Vietnam’s territorial waters in the East Sea, Duc said.
Photo: Vietnamese fishing boats return to central Quang Ngai Province from the Hoang Sa (Paracels) archipelago on May 15, 2013
The association will also ask authorities of coastal localities to give necessary support and instructions to fishermen operating at sea, the official said.
“There will be no problem if the ban is applied to China’s sea areas only, but in fact, China has illegally imposed the ban on Vietnam’s territorial waters, so there is no reason for Vietnamese fishermen to comply with such an illegitimate regulation,” Duc said.
The same day, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested against China’s implementation of a ban on fishing in the East Sea.
“China’s unilateral implementation of the ban on fishing in the East Sea in 2013, which encompasses some portions of Vietnam’s waters, violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, and its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” ministry spokesperson Luong Thanh Nghi told reporters.
The ban goes against the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), and “Vietnam opposes and declares China’s aforementioned unilateral decision null and void,” the spokesperson stressed.
On May 9, Nghi said at the ministry’s regular press conference that Vietnam has indisputable sovereignty over Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago in the East Sea, and all activities of parties in this area without Vietnam’s approval violate the country’s sovereignty.
He made the statement in response to reporters’ questions on Vietnam’s reaction to China’s deployment of 32 fishing boats to the archipelago’s area on May 6.
Nghi emphasized that, “all activities in the East Sea must comply with international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), with respect to the sovereignty, sovereign right and jurisdiction right of concerned countries.”
The chart above shows China’s view of the South China Sea. China says it “owns” everything inside the red dashed line. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and others are not too happy with this assertion: especially since China is a growing naval power.
China’s neighbors have rejected its map of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest sea corridors. Pictured: China’s Maritime Surveillance Force on patrol
Chinese officers stop and question fishermen in the South China Sea
China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi (R) shakes hands with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan during the sixth meeting of the China-Vietnam steering committee on cooperation in Beijing, capital of China, May 11, 2013. (Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)
The captain of the Vietnamese fishing boat that was fired at by a Chinese ship in March 20, 2013, Pham Quang Thanh, is seen on board the boat which sustained damage after a fire sparked by a Chinese flare. Vietnam complains that China has not stopped at threatening to use force, but it has actually used force in violating Vietnam’s sovereignty.

Search over this blog