China is confident it will be able to wrap up talks for a code of conduct in the disputed waters, even as the coronavirus has delayed negotiationsBut with recent stand-offs and Southeast Asian states ramping up their claims, an amicable resolution looks farther away than before, analysts say
Published: 6:45pm, 18 Sep, 2020
China may be sounding optimistic notes over an early conclusion of its ongoing talks with Asean for a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, but regional scholars of the row say they are far less buoyant that the accord is within reach.
Speaking in a webinar on Friday, the Southeast Asian researchers suggested instead that the talks’ suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic meant Beijing now lacked the use of the ongoing negotiations as a “pretext” for saying all was well in the sea dispute.
With recent stand-offs in the waters, as well as Southeast Asian claimants ramping up “lawfare” tactics of citing international maritime law to press their respective cases – much to Beijing’s annoyance – an amicable resolution looks farther away than before, the analysts said.
The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have long viewed a legally binding and enforceable code of conduct (COC) as the best course of action for peace in the waters in the midst of their powerful neighbour’s claim of jurisdiction of almost the whole sea.
If China could make the USA the bogeyman, its mission of dominating the South China Sea would be easier…
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on Washington’s opposition to Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea goes beyond its traditional assertions of navigational and overflight freedoms.By showing its support for international law, notably a 2016 ruling by an arbitral tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it adds a new dimension in the United States’ efforts to push back against China’s attempts to consolidate its hold over the strategic waterway. Last month, the US also issued a diplomatic note referencing the ruling.
Pompeo’s statement gives full play to a growing range of tools – military, diplomatic and legal – that Washington is putting to bear to oppose what it sees as Chinese attempts to undermine a rules-based maritime order.
The US announcement struck a chord with Southeast Asian nations irked by Beijing’s recent moves in contested waters. Having neither the naval assets nor the ambitions to ply the sea’s vastness to fend off China’s attempts at disrupting fishing and offshore hydrocarbon activities carried out within theilarr maritime zones, Southeast Asian countries privately welcome the US naval presence.
China, for instance, dispatched patrols to warn Malaysia and Vietnam from exploring oil and gas within their exclusive economic zones, while Chinese fishing boats have regularly encroached into Indonesian waters that border the edge of the South China Sea. Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines also protest Beijing’s annual unilateral fishing ban.
It is one thing for China not to accept the tribunal award, but it is another to actively undermine its substance by establishing new administrative entities to govern its sweeping claims. It is one thing to respond to US freedom of navigation operations, but it is another to harass routine patrols and frustrate marine economic activities of its coastal neighbours amid a health crisis.
While hawks in China may sweep Pompeo’s statement under the rug as another case of stirring tensions, Beijing should reflect on why Washington’s overtures are increasingly receiving an audience within its immediate neighbours.Nonetheless, Asean nations are unlikely to publicly side with the US as they try to keep in good standing with China, their largest trade partner. Also, Washington’s framing of its contest with China as a choice between free and repressive global visions is not something that regional nations necessarily agree with.
Vietnam has indicated it could challenge China before an international legal body, which the Chinese have warned against. The precedent set by the ruling could provide useful jurisprudence that Hanoi can cite for its case.
Given this, the onus is now on Beijing to revisit its South China Sea policy. While Southeast Asia’s considerations will be shaped by factors such as economic interdependence with China more so than the reliability of Washington’s resolve in the disputed waters, Beijing should realise that its continued assertiveness will roll back gains made through confidence-building and consultation mechanisms set up over the years. Pressure is building on China as it ponders next steps.
Analysis: The Asia-Pacific arms race has taken an ominous turn
As China increases its military might and trust in US alliances erode, Australia and Japan are going on the offensive.
by Alex Gatopoulos11 Jul 2020
Within days of each other, two key United States allies – Australia and Japan – announced their intentions to boost defence spending and adopt a more aggressive military posture. Rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific region account for what is being called a “game-changer” in the way the two countries think about protecting themselves from China’s rapid military expansion.
Australia changes direction
Australia is a key partner in the region for the US and cooperation between the two countries remains central to Australia’s new strategic thinking.
Intelligence sharing, basing of US troops in-country and the purchase of major arms from the US are still key joint concepts. Strategic aims in the region for both countries largely overlap, especially when it comes to deterring an ever-expanding Chinese regional influence.
An increasingly erratic foreign policy under the Trump administration has made its allies nervous about the US’s long-term commitments in the region. China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea, near Taiwan and on the border with India has many analysts concerned China is lowering the threshold for military action, making war more likely.
With this in mind, Australia has been steadily modernising its military, ordering advanced, super-quiet French submarines, received its first batch of American stealth jets and boosted its advanced naval vessels. The country’s geography dictates the bulk of the new defence funds will go to the navy, where most of the new personnel are earmarked.
It is not the only country that wants this flexibility. Japan has always relied on its ally the US to protect it from potential aggressors while maintaining its post-World War II pacifist constitution. This trust has slowly been eroded and Japan, while still benefitting from substantial American support, now looks to develop its own first-strike capability, a game-changer for the country’s military posture.
In an increasingly volatile region, Japan’s military budget is set to rise for the eighth straight year to $48bn as it steadily seeks to rearm itself, revamping its air force, buying in US stealthy F35s and early-warning aircraft. Concerned not just by China’s rise but by a North Korea that has threatened to start testing its long-range missiles again, Japan now wants to give itself the option to hit targets hundreds of kilometres away should it need to.
This switch from defensive to offensive was highlighted when a major defensive system, Aegis Ashore, was cancelled in June. A land-based missile interceptor system, it was initially bought to protect Japanese cities and the 50,000 US troops stationed in the country from ballistic missile attack. At $4.1bn, it was expensive and not 100 percent guaranteed to work. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to look for alternatives, ones that would firmly place operational control in Japanese hands and the focus of conflict away from Japanese shores. If a missile was going to be blown up, let it be over foreign soil.
China’s rapid buildup of bases, naval forces and long-range air force in the South China Sea and beyond has unnerved its neighbours, who now seek closer defence ties with each other. Australia and India signed a naval and logistical cooperation defence pact in June.
Japan seeks to strengthen ties with India, Australia and other ASEAN states and is pushing plans for further cooperation in an effort to form an alliance that is able, with the US help, to counter any potential aggression from China.
In the middle of an increasingly dangerous continent, that is “poorer and more disorderly” these alliances will become all the more important. With the potential for American support to diminish, an ally that can strike back hard at its opponents is all the more useful.
Some critics have voiced concern that such an offensive military stance would encourage China to boost its own offensive capabilities, in turn trying to counter what China sees as its aggressive neighbours.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS
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BANGKOK (REUTERS) – US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville met with Thailand’s prime minister and its army chief on Friday (July 10), in the first high-level visit by a foreign delegation to Thailand since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted international travel.
McConville met with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and also Thai army chief Apirat Kongsompong and signed a Strategic Vision Statement, a US Embassy statement said, as Washington looks to reassure allies about its commitment to the region.
The text of the statement was not released, but the embassy said McConville and Apirat “discussed modernisation, interoperability, joint training, and doctrine”.
The United States has sought to counter China’s influence in Southeast Asia, most recently by sending two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea while the Chinese military conducted drills near islands that are also claimed by Vietnam.
Thailand is Washington’s oldest ally in Asia, but relations were strained by a 2014 military coup led by then-army chief Prayuth that ousted an elected civilian government.
The United States scaled back some military exchanges with Thailand, and Bangkok responded by forging a closer ties with China.
But ties improved after last year’s general election that officially restored civilian rule while keeping Prayuth on as a civilian leader, resulting in arms deal for US-made armoured personnel carriers and light attack helicopters last year.
By Alastair Gale
Published: Jul 3, 2020 10:23 pm ET
U.S. officials said they wanted to challenge what they called Beijing’s unlawful territorial claims
The U.S. is sending two aircraft carriers into one of Asia’s hottest spots to deliver a pointed message to China that it doesn’t appreciate Beijing’s military ramp-up in the region.
The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz are set to hold some of the U.S. Navy’s largest exercises in recent years in the South China Sea from Saturday—at the same time that China is holding drills in the area.
With tensions rising between the two over trade, the coronavirus pandemic and China’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, U.S. officials said they wanted to challenge what they called Beijing’s unlawful territorial claims.
“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” said Rear Adm. George M. Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, in an interview.
Published: 8:26pm, 27 Jun, 2020
Southeast Asian leaders said a 1982 UN oceans treaty should be the basis of sovereign rights and entitlements in the South China Sea, in one of their strongest remarks opposing China’s claim to virtually the entire disputed waters on historical grounds.
The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) took the position in a statement issued by Vietnam on Saturday on behalf of the 10-nation bloc.
Asean leaders held their annual summit by video on Friday, with the coronavirus pandemic and the long-raging territorial disputes high on the agenda.
“We reaffirmed that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones,” the Asean statement said.
The leaders were referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 international agreement that defines the rights of nations to the world’s oceans and demarcates stretches of waters called exclusive economic zones where coastal states are given the right to exclusively tap fishery and fuel resources.
They said in their statement that “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.”
Published 10:50 am
Vietnam and the Philippines warned of growing insecurity in Southeast Asia at a regional summit on Friday amid concerns that China was stepping up its activity in the disputed South China Sea during the coronavirus pandemic.
Both Hanoi and Manila lodged protests with China in April after Beijing unilaterally declared the creation of new administrative districts on islands in the troubled waterways to which Vietnam and the Philippines also have competing claims.
“Even as our region struggles to contain Covid-19, alarming incidents in the South China Sea occurred,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told an online meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders on Friday.
“We call on parties to refrain from escalating tensions and abide by responsibilities under international law,” he said.
China has been pushing its presence in the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries while claimants are preoccupied tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting the United States to call on China to stop its “bullying behaviour” there.
This year, an armed confrontation over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea was included as a top tier priority in the Center for Preventive Action’s annual Preventive Priorities Survey.
Blog Post by Mira Rapp-Hooper
January 10, 2020
In this year’s Preventive Priorities Survey, foreign policy experts ranked an armed confrontation over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea between China and one or more claimants as a top conflict to watch in 2020. As one of the world’s most strategically significant waterways, the South China Sea is home to three different types of enduring international disputes: disputes over claimed territory, disputes over claimed waters, and disputes over the types of maritime activities that are permissible in these waters under international law. For decades, Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have each claimed land features and waters in the South China Sea. China, however, has adopted a broad interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and, as a result, has operated unilaterally to claim expansive territorial and maritime rights in the region, as indicated by its oblique nine-dash line.
Beginning in 2014, Beijing transformed seven reefs and rocks into artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, building military-grade airstrips and port facilities and installing major weapons systems. It has since continued to militarize these islands. Taken together, these positions appear to be an effort by China to dominate the waterway and claim it as its own, despite the fact that an international tribunal ruled many of its activities to be illegal. Although the United States does not claim any territory or maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, it opposes China’s militarization of the area as well as its interpretation of UNCLOS. It has an abiding interest in ensuring that the South China Sea remains an open part of the global commons—to permit the free flow of commercial and military traffic—and that the balance of power in the Western Pacific does not tip precipitously in China’s favor.
However, the United States’ footing in the South China Sea has faltered while China’s power has grown. China has increasingly interfered with freedom of navigation, warning military and commercial vessels away from its artificial island bases. It has also harassed vessels belonging to regional claimants, conducted maritime surveys of dubious legality, and attempted dangerous maneuvers with its own military craft. These activities could lead to accidental or inadvertent escalation. Beijing could interfere with normal operations by other regional claimants, possibly while operating its own vessels dangerously. It could further militarize the Spratly Islands by deploying more military platforms; it could also begin building on the Scarborough Shoal, which it seized from the Philippines in 2012. Alone, other South China Sea claimants lack the ability to fully resist Chinese pressure. Although the Department of Defense conducts routine freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) to demonstrate non-recognition of China’s illegal maritime claims, inconsistent U.S. signals of support continue to make it difficult for claimants to calibrate their responses.
China’s island fortifications are a challenge to international norms
By: Capt. David Geaney April 17
While the world is combating the new coronavirus, COVID-19, China continues to fortify its islands in the South China Sea, with only muted response from the international community. Even the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel brought minimal reaction from the international community, though the Philippines and U.S. military have made statements against the incident.
Prior to COVID-19, China’s “war without gunsmoke” strategy had already resulted in the near-normalization of its South China Sea military buildup and its “nine-dash line” claims. Since 2013 the “Great Wall of Sand” (so dubbed by former Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris) has become even more formidable. Combined with Chinese disregard for a 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated Chinese nine-dash line claims, it is obvious that China will continue to persist in its claims, as I detailed in a 2017 article for Foreign Policy.
Despite this, the United States, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations states can make headway by quickly acting in concert to prevent further garrisoning of the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.
At the present moment, China has runways and dozens of hangars for fighter aircraft on a handful of islands, as well as anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft batteries and missile defenses. The Chinese have used these islands to begin pressure campaigns in the Spratlys, Paracels and even the Natuna Sea (claimed by Indonesia).
Though they have refrained from mass fighter deployments to their island bases, in the event of a conflict, fighter squadrons would potentially be able to rapidly mobilize and use the hardened facilities as forward basing. The Chinese could then use the recently installed anti-ship, missile and air defenses to limit incursions into the South China Sea, effectively keeping an adversary at bay during an onset of hostilities. In effect, these islands should be considered an existential threat to Taiwan, since they mitigate the U.S.-led deterrence against an attempt at unification by force.
The islands afford China bases from which it can intimidate ASEAN states into abandoning their claims or acquiescing to Chinese demands. China’s paramilitary forces and fishing vessels use the island bases as hubs from which to harass and even sink commercial ships from ASEAN countries. A coordinated, international response is necessary to curtail the success of China’s Monroe-esque Doctrine throughout Asia.