Category Archives: South China Sea

“A New Map in Chinese Passports Stirs Anger Across the Region”

China’s quest to make all of her neighbors angry is starting to get make some serious progress (via Mark MacDonald):

China’s new passports — embossed with a map showing disputed territories as belonging solely to the mainland — are causing quite the diplomatic furor in Asia.

India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have all objected to the new map, which puts a number of island chains and border areas under Beijing’s sovereignty.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Beijing was “not targeting a specific country” with the revised passport map, noting that “China is willing to communicate with the relevant countries.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said in The Financial Times that the new map could “demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more problematic and there is already more than enough trouble” over territorial disputes.

“We are not prepared to accept it,” said Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister. “We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way.”

India, meanwhile, has come up with its own map, which it is stamping into the passports of Chinese citizens seeking Indian visas.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that Vietnamese border officials — not wanting to appear to validate the new Chinese map — were refusing to stamp visas into the passports of Chinese visitors.

Instead, Vietnam was issuing visas on separate pieces of paper that are inserted into the passports.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario sent a verbal note to China’s embassy in Manila saying that “the Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash line in the e-passport as such image covers an area clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain.”

The Chinese passport map includes the popular Taiwanese tourist sites of Sun Moon Lake and Cingshui Cliffs. That did not sit well with President Ma Ying-jeou, who said in a statement that Beijing should not “unilaterally damage the status quo of the hard-fought stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said: “China has ignored the truth and sparked disputes by including pictures of our territory and landscape in its new Chinese passports. It should put aside disputes and face up to reality.”

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“China’s Diplomatic Folly”

Eurasia Review has quite a bit to say about the South China Sea conflict, and the failure of Chinese diplomacy. This isn’t the first time Chinese propaganda, originally meant for internal consumption, has painted their leadership into a corner- and then damaged their foreign policy outcomes:

When China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confidently asserted shortly before the East Asia Summit at Bali, Indonesia, that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved between the ‘parties concerned’ bilaterally, little did he realise how isolated China had become over this issue. A series of blistering articles emanating from Beijing left no one in doubt that if push came to shove, China would use force to assert its rights in the South China Sea. The butt of Chinese ire seemed to be directed at the Philippines and Vietnam. For the Chinese the ‘fault’ of the Philippines lay in the fact that it had renamed the South China Sea as the West Philippines Sea, called on ASEAN to form a ‘united front’ and sent an official to claim sovereignty over a disputed islet. China threatened that the ‘punishment’ would be ‘strong’ enough to deter other countries from emulating the Philippines example and to ‘discourage’ other countries from ‘dreams to join the United States to contain China’.

Far from achieving its objectives based on threats, the Chinese found to their consternation that the East Asia Summit not only took up the issue of disputes in the South China Sea, despite their objections, but except for Myanmar and Cambodia every other country spoke up on the issue. The unease felt by the Chinese was palpable and it forced the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao to refer to the dispute in a multi-lateral forum. Wen asserted that China goes to great ‘pains’ to ensure that the shipping lanes are safe and free. It is learned that Wen did not reiterate the standard Chinese line that such disputes be settled ‘bilaterally’, although the official Xinhua report said that he ‘re-affirmed’ China’s position.

It is obvious that the Chinese wish to deal bilaterally with the countries of South and East Asia in order to prevent them from ‘ganging-up’ against China. Another worry that the Chinese have is that collectively ASEAN might bring the South China Sea dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and that China may not be able to validate its stated position in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. Such an eventuality would be a serious loss face for China.

That Chinese diplomacy has played right into hands of the US is increasingly being recognized. Chinese threats and bluster have antagonized almost all the nations of East and South East Asia. Alarm bells have been ringing in their respective capitals as to what the Chinese intentions are. Not willing to take any chances on Chinese belligerence, almost all have begun to strengthen their defence networks. Vietnam has increased its defence budget by 70 per cent this year and Indonesia announced a 35 per cent increase in its defence outlay for this year. The Republic of Korea [ROK] is building a large naval base on Jeju Island whose location indicates that it will cater for security in the East China Sea rather than against North Korea. The US has agreed to retrofit 145 Taiwanese F-16 fighters. Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore have increased their defense purchases by a whopping 700 per cent and 140 per cent respectively.

Even in the case of India, Chinese ham-handedness and belligerence have led to the addition of two new divisions for the Indian army to be deployed along the Sino-Indian border region. The US, Japan and India are to have a trilateral security dialogue by the end of this year followed by joint Indo-Japan naval exercises in 2012. The Chinese decision to staple visas on a piece of paper rather than on regular passports for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, now happily rescinded in some cases, was a needless provocation. So have been the propaganda blasts every time an Indian leader visits Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing seems to have a really hard time balancing the steady IV drip of nationalist fury they need to keep the population on their side with the reality that other nations can hear their propaganda. Then leaders have to either be as belligerent as the latest Xinhua article, or be seen as selling out their country by the folks back home. The solution is to cut down the all-nationalism diet a bit, but what else holds China together?

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“China looks across Asia”

Reuters has a new piece on Chinese foreign policy, and the changing picture they see:

None of China’s festering territorial disputes is near resolution. Its growing economic and military reach continues to stir worry in many parts of Asia. And despite vows of mutual goodwill, Beijing remains wary of U.S. intentions and alliances, including Obama’s push for a new regional free trade pact.

One theme is that the United States is bent on “encircling” China, an idea reflected in recent commentaries in state-run newspapers suggesting that U.S. pressure was behind Myanmar’s decision to suspend work on a controversial Chinese-funded dam.

China has seen the former Burma as a bulwark on it southwest border, and a conduit for trade and energy imports.

“(China) fears that some countries are pulling in major powers from the outside to counter-balance China, or that some neighbours are teaming up against China,” a team of researchers from a Chinese state think tank said in a recent study of Beijing’s regional dilemmas.

Even as Beijing leaders have sought to tamp down regional tensions, media commentaries and harder-line quarters have warned that China remains beset by potential strategic traps.

Last month, for example, the Chinese Ministry of Defence published on its website an essay warning that Japan and India were entering into the disputes over the South China Sea, where Beijing claims most of the potentially energy-rich ocean floor.

“The South China Sea presents far greater strategic needs for Japan than it does for China,” said the essay by Zhang Wenmu, a professor of strategic studies at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who is well-known for his hawkish views. “Only major strategic needs can produce structural strategic conflict.”

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“Abusing History?”

On a list of things that wouldn’t surprise me, Beijing abusing history is pretty high (via The Diplomat):

Historically, China was the dominant power in East Asia and considered lesser powers as its tributaries. By insisting now on territorial claims that reflect a historical relationship that vanished hundreds of years ago with the rise of the West, Beijing is, in a sense, attempting to revive and legitimize a situation where it was the unchallenged hegemon.

The ambiguity about what parts of international law China recognizes and which bits it doesn’t gives rise to the current dispute, which directly involves Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, and indirectly involves the interests of many other nations.

The claims made by Southeast Asian countries rest primarily on the provisions of the Law of the Sea. China, however, is taking the position that its sovereignty over the territories concerned precedes the enactment of the Law of the Sea, and so the law doesn’t apply. History trumps law.

In 2009, China submitted a map to the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea in support of its claims to ‘indisputable sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea and the adjacent waters’ as well as ‘the seabed and subsoil thereof.’

The map featured a U-shaped dotted line that encompassed virtually the entire South China Sea and hugged the coasts of neighbouring countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. This was the first time China had submitted a map to the United Nations in support of its territorial claims, but there was no explanation given as to whether it claimed all the waters as well as the islands enclosed by the dotted line.

China’s resort to history is a relatively new development in international law, although it isn’t completely unprecedented. For example, coastal states have been allowed to claim extended jurisdiction over waters, especially bays or islands, when those claims have been open and long-standing, exclusive, and widely accepted by other states.

In China’s case, however, its claims are evidently neither exclusive nor widely accepted by other states since they are being openly contested. Still, Chinese officials and scholars have attempted to buttress their arguments by appealing to historical records.

For example, Li Guoqiang, a research scholar with the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences wrote in July in the China Daily: ‘Historical evidence shows that Chinese people discovered the islands in the South China Sea during the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties.’ China’s maritime boundary, he asserts, was established by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

‘In contrast,’ he wrote, ‘Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines hardly knew anything about the islands in the South China Sea before China’s Qing Dynasty.’

Vietnam, in pressing its case, has cited maps and geography attesting to its ‘historical sovereignty’ over the Paracel and Spratly islands going back to the 17th century. This doesn’t match the antiquity of China’s claims, but, at the very least, it shows that Chinese claims have been contested for centuries, and that China didn’t enjoy exclusive and continuous jurisdiction over these islands.

And, if history is to be the criterion, which period of history should be decisive? After all, if the Qin or Han dynasty is to be taken as the benchmark, then China’s territory today would be much smaller, since at the time it had not yet acquired Tibet, Xinjiang or Manchuria.

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“Vietnam, India Stand Firm on China Row”

Via WSJ, news that India and Vietnam are still holding out against Chinese threats on the South China Sea:

China is embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. India’s ONGC, a state-owned oil and gas company, is planning to begin exploration next year at a block in waters claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang, who is meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Wednesday, is using one of his first trips abroad to rebuff China’s suggestions that ONGC’s plans amounted to a violation of Chinese sovereignty.

China has been involved in a number of angry exchanges and incidents at sea this year with Vietnam and the Philippines. Vice foreign ministers from China and Vietnam agreed during a meeting in Beijing to settle their disputes through “negotiations and friendly consultations,” the official Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

Still, Hanoi sees India as a strategic counterweight to China and both countries have been beefing up defense ties under a 2009 agreement.

In July, Indian officials say an Indian navy ship visiting Vietnam as part of this pact received a radio message warning that it was entering Chinese waters. China has dismissed India’s version of events as “groundless.”

For New Delhi, the growing ties offer potential access to stocks of energy in the South China Sea and are a way to project its growing strategic role in East Asia.

Both nations are hoping to boost trade in the coming years. Mr. Sang told PTI that he believed trade between the two countries could rise to $7 billion in 2015 up from $2.7 billion today.

I wonder if there are any efforts underway to get the other parties to the South China Sea conflict to join them.

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“The India-Vietnam Axis”

WSJ, on the growing friendship between India and Vietnam:

India is the latest country to get drawn into the South China Sea dispute. Earlier this month, Beijing told New Delhi that its permission was needed for India’s state-owned oil and gas firm to explore for energy in two Vietnamese blocks in those waters. This follows reports of a Chinese vessel confronting an Indian Navy frigate off Vietnam in late July.

Vietnam quickly cited the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to claim its sovereign rights over the two blocks in question. Hanoi has been sparring with Beijing over the South China Sea in the past year, so such a response was expected.

What’s new is New Delhi not taking Chinese aggression in that region sitting down. It immediately decided to support Hanoi’s claims.

Hanoi fought a brief war with Beijing in 1979 and has grown wary of the Middle Kingdom’s increasing economic and military weight. That’s why in some quarters of New Delhi, Vietnam is already seen as a counterweight in the same way Pakistan has been for China.

That’s not to say good India-Vietnam relations wouldn’t exist otherwise. Vietnamese have traditionally held Indians in high regard because of the latter’s support for Vietnamese independence from France and their opposition to U.S. involvement in the country. And New Delhi formulated a “Look East” policy as early as 1991, to capitalize on East Asia’s economic growth. But the rise of China has given this relationship a powerful strategic—not to mention urgent—dimension.

New Delhi’s abiding interest in Vietnam, though, is in the defense realm. It wants to build relations with states like Vietnam that can act as pressure points against China. With this in mind, it has been helping Hanoi beef up its naval and air capabilities.

Given that Vietnam and India use similar Russian and erstwhile Soviet defense platforms, New Delhi could easily offer defense technologies to Hanoi. Talks are ongoing for India to sell the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture. Such arms could allow Vietnam to project regional power and improve deterrence against China.

The two nations also have stakes in ensuring sea-lane security, as well as shared concerns about Chinese access to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Hence, India is helping Vietnam to build capacity for repair and maintenance of its defense platforms. At the same time, the armed forces of the two states have started cooperation in areas like IT and English-language training of Vietnamese Army personnel. The two are also sharing their experiences in mountainous and jungle warfare.

Naval cooperation, however, remains the focus. Here, Vietnam has given India the right to use its port of Nha Trang in the south; the Indian Navy has already made a port call. It is not entirely clear what the final arrangement would look like, but the symbolism of this is not lost on China.

This is the way to counter Chinese aggression in the region. If they could convince the other nations involved in the South China Sea flap to work with them, even a dominant China would have to pull back.

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“Japan Sharpens Rhetoric on China”

Ordinarily some new move in the ongoing slapfight between elements of the Chinese and Japanese governments wouldn’t be terribly newsworthy, but I’m including this because it’s an example of the way the relationship between China and almost all of her neighbors has degraded recently:

Japan intensified its rhetoric against China’s military, accusing Beijing for the first time of “assertiveness” and saying it needs to keep a closer watch on how China views the contested waters between the two countries.

Japanese government officials stressed that the new language—contained in an annual white paper released Tuesday and approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan—shouldn’t be seen as a cause for alarm. “This is one way of expressing our hope that China will address these issues through friendly relations,” said Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Still, the paper underscores the rising tensions between China and a number of its neighbors over similar regional issues. China has bumped heads with Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing also publicly sparred with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on his visit to China last month over U.S. joint military exercises with those two countries.

The paper also details what it said was China’s “frictions” with other countries, including “unbalanced trade, currency and human-rights issues.” “China is expected to acknowledge responsibility as a superpower, abide by international standards and play a more active and cooperative role toward regional and global issues,” it added.

The white paper had previously cited China’s lack of transparency in its military capabilities and its defense spending, but had focused its strongest criticism on domestic issues such as corruption, pollution and issues involving ethnic minorities.

The U-Shaped Line angering almost all of Southeast Asia, ongoing fights with India over NEFA/Zangnan and Pakistan (which is itself now being accused of giving Uyghur terrorists safe haven), the usual tensions with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan… it isn’t a coincidence that neighbors in all directions are feeling less and less secure next to China.

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