Monthly Archives: November 2014

China urged: Respect PH court decision on poachers

MANILA, Philippines – China was asked yesterday to respect a Philippine court decision imposing a fine of $100,000 (P4.3 million) each on nine Chinese fishermen for poaching in Philippine waters plus P120,000 ($2,666) each for taking wildlife. Speaking to reporters, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said the nine Chinese fishermen have undergone legal process through the judiciary, a separate but co-equal branch of the executive. “We call on China to respect the decision,” he said. Jose said this only highlights the importance of arbitration that the Philippines filed against China before the arbitral tribunal. “Once we are clear as to the extent of our EEZs then incidents like this will be avoided,” he said.   Read more:

Vietnam-Philippines port call amid concern over China’s SCS airstrip

Late last week, an IHS Jane’s report corroborated claims that China was embarking on an island-building project in the South China Sea. Based on satellite imagery, Jane’s reported that China was building an airstrip-capable island on Fiery Cross Reef, a group of three reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China claims the territory as part of Hainan province’s Sansha prefecture and exerts de facto control over the area. The reef’s central location in the broader South China Sea renders it a strategic position for an island-based airstrip. The Jane‘s report substantiates speculation earlier this year that China was constructing an airstrip on a man-made island in the South China Sea. Based on the most recent satellite imagery, Jane’s notes that “Chinese dredgers have created a land mass that is almost the entire length of the reef.” Fiery Cross Reef is an underwater reef, but China is looking to develop a new island that is roughly 3 km long and 200 to 300 m wide — just wide enough for a functional airstrip. The strategic advantages of an airstrips in the middle of the South China Sea include shorter resupply routes for deployed PLAN patrols, a base for reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned system, and a potential permanent installation for anti-submarine warfare equipment including undersea radar arrays. For China, this island on Fiery Cross Reef could fulfill the strategic role of an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” As Beijing continues to raise the stakes in the South China Sea, developments such as this airstrip will cause concern among the other claimants.   Read more:

The South China Sea: Navigating the Most Dangerous Place in the World

When people ponder where the next major conflict might erupt, they often look to the South China Sea – the scene of the potentially most explosive, intractable, overlapping sovereignty claims in the world. What can the United States do to find a peaceful solution to tensions between China, the Philippines and Vietnam, and indirectly between Beijing and Washington? These problems in the South China Sea are not new; the first U.S. policy statement regarding South China Sea disputes was made in 1995. Today’s policy is virtually identical, i.e., a peaceful, non-coercive diplomatic resolution that preserves regional stability and freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most heavily travelled seaways. What is different is that after almost a decade and a half of relative tranquility, the South China Sea has emerged as a cockpit of contention that raises the potential for conflict and introduces instability in Southeast Asia. The United States could become directly involved because the Philippines, one of the contending claimants to land features in the South China Sea, is a U.S. treaty ally. In the South China Sea there are approximately 180 features above water at high tide. These rocks, shoals, sandbanks, reefs, and cays, plus unnamed shoals and submerged features are distributed among four geographically different areas of that sea. These features are claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. China and Taiwan (the Republic of China) claim all of the land features in the South China Sea. A bedrock principle of U.S. policy is that Washington takes no position on the legal merits of these respective claims.   Read more:

China’s Friendship Treaty: A Distraction from South China Sea Diplomacy

As China once again offers ASEAN states billions of dollars and promotes another treaty for “Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation” (which sounds an awful lot like the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation), Southeast Asian nations should consider how China perceives ASEAN and what goals it hopes to gain from its interactions with the bloc. By and large, China has maintained a favorable view of ASEAN since opening relations with it in 1991. Two factors contributing to Beijing’s positive perception of the Association include its flexible and non-binding “ASEAN Way,” and its openness to Chinese win-win overtures that help Beijing secure its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea (SCS). Given China’s exploitation of these characteristics in pursuit of its expansionist goals, ASEAN should seriously consider whether it wants to sign on to another vague deal when diplomatic capital might be better spent on alternative frameworks. Perhaps unexpectedly, China finds ASEAN a favorable diplomatic partner in part because its diplomatic style is compatible with China’s. American criticisms that are directed at both ASEAN forums and the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue are remarkably similar, describing both bodies as talk shops that lack substance and are at times largely symbolic. However, these very characteristics of the “ASEAN Way” offer Beijing a non-confrontational, consensus-based mechanism for addressing regional issues that is in stark contrast to the expectations levied on Beijing in Western diplomatic forums. Like ASEAN, China’s own diplomatic style has traditionally tended to focus more on form than on substance. Although the ASEAN Way may frustrate Western governments that seek to achieve concrete decisions after attending the Association’s many meetings, Chinese diplomats likely find ASEAN diplomacy preferable for its comparatively ambiguous, hard to enforce agreements. This inclination mirrors the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) domestic preference for guidelines and regulations versus detailed, enforceable laws that could threaten to control Party actions. In the SCS, this preference is reflected through Beijing’s vocal support for vague and easily circumvented agreements such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea (DOC), and its relative lack of enthusiasm for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (COC). Beijing has even less regard for the SCS plan of the only other non-ASEAN claimant, Taiwan’s East China Sea Peace Initiative, which Taipei asserts is applicable to the SCS and has successfully guided the island’s diplomacy towards maritime dispute resolution with Japan and the Philippines.   Read more:

PH helpless in stopping China’s reclamation work in disputed seas

MANILA, Philippines—Several months after China was first found to be conducting reclamation activities in a reef in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines has been helpless in stopping the Asian giant from doing nearly all it wants in the disputed region. The latest of China’s reclamation projects is on Fiery Cross Reef, which China calls Yongshu and the Philippines calls Kagitingan. The normally submerged reef has been turned into a 3,000 meter long and 200 to 300 meter wide artificial island. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario previously said that a diplomatic protest has been filed last October 10 for this latest reclamation activity. China is known to be conducting reclamation activities in at least five reefs, Johnson South reef, Cuarteron reef, McKennan-Hughes reef, Gaven Reef, and the latest is Fiery Cross reef. The reclamation work on Johnson South Reef, also known as Mabini Reef to the Philippines, was made public by the DFA last May 15, 2014 through a series of photographs showing the progress of the reclamation. More reclamation activities were discovered the following months, and the Philippines has filed diplomatic protests for each but these were consistently ignored by China. Read more: Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Book proves Bajo de Masinloc part of Philippine territory

University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (UP-IMLOS) with the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) launched a book that will enhance Philippines position on Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal internationally known as Scarborough Shoal. The book entitled “Bajo de Masinloc: Maps and Documents” was launched November 16, 2014 at Malcolm Hall Lobby, UP College of Law. “It’s very timely because we’re trying to convince the world especially the people in China that Bajo de Masinloc has been historically part of the Philippines since 1636 and there is not a single official map, ancient documents or ancient artficact showing China has ever set foot on Bajo de Masinloc,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio emphasized during the book’s launching. Read more:

China strengthening claim to South China Sea oil and gas

Not gone and not forgotten, China is ready to solidify its claim to the South China Sea (SCS). Recent satellite imagery confirms China is conducting significant land reclamation operations in the Spratly Islands in the SCS. The SCS is an important fishing ground and is believed to hold large amounts of oil and gas. Undermining the United States’ influence in the region, China intends to play the shepherd in one of the world’s busiest trade routes. The Spratly Islands along with the Paracel Islands and several maritime boundaries in the SCS have been hotly disputed for several centuries. The conflict includes Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam and has predominantly centered on historical and cultural claims. Though offering very little in the way of land or resources, the islands serve as a tangible marker. As such, parties to the conflict have been quick to occupy them. China’s most recent undertaking in the Spratly island chain is not their first – the last 18 months have already seen three reclamation projects. However, at more than 3,000 meters and counting Fiery Cross Reef is their grandest venture yet and appears destined to house an airstrip and harbor, both capable of supporting military hardware. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam already operate airstrips in the Spratlys, but can only support smaller, prop-based aircraft. As it pursues expansion, China has been hesitant to engage in multilateral negotiations and meaningful dialogue on the SCS was relegated to the sidelines at the recent APEC and ASEAN summits. Instead, China – demanding an in-house solution to the convoluted matter – is content to flex its superior political and military might to limited opposition. Reluctant to step on any toes and with its feet in multiple courts, the United States is short on political recourse, and that’s how China likes it. Though China’s aims are long-term, control of the Spratlies and Paracels is not subsidiary to any prize that may lie beneath. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Asian security concept” calls for Asian solutions to Asian problems and seeks to limit Western influence in such “domestic” affairs. Unchecked dominance in the SCS, whether through direct force or intimidation, would be a remarkable victory in this regard. Read more:

Vietnam-Philippines port call amid concern over China’s SCS airstrip

In what was the first ever port call between the countries, two Vietnamese frigates visited the Philippines on Tuesday. An unnamed Filipino naval officer said the two countries would hold peaceful joint patrols and operations in the Spratlys. But the timing of the maiden port call was clear. It coincides with the first anniversary of China’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Ever since, Southeast Asian states have worried about Beijing’s intentions for its territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The year seems to have only drawn us closer to a major incident, miscalculation or serious conflict in the South China Sea. Yet there is little unity from the ASEAN bloc, despite much discussion. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in May managed a joint communiqué expressing ‘serious concerns’ (the adjective was added at Vietnam’s insistence and only after much debate). The November ASEAN Summit statement managed to declare that ‘we remain concerned’, with a further affirmation of ‘the importance of maintaining peace and stability’ including the ‘freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea’. A leaked pre-Summit draft document cited progress on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, but with no firm agreement on the decade-long process of negotiation.  Read more:

One Year of ADIZ: What Next for China?

It’s now been a year since China unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large swathe of the East China Sea. Beijing’s decision to do so came at a time of rising tensions between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. While that dispute persists today, tensions were significantly higher a year ago, with the potential for escalation high on both sides. At the time, The Diplomat hosted a wide range of perspectives on why Beijing chose to act as it did and the ramifications the ADIZ decision would carry going forward for the security of the Asia-Pacific region, China-Japan relations, and more. A year later, most of the questions raised then still endure. For example, will Beijing follow up on the mixed signals it’s been sending about a potential ADIZ over the South China Sea? Could Beijing’s enforcement of its ADIZ draw international legal action? Finally, will Beijing’s justification of the ADIZ evolve with time? I’ll mostly focus on the first question here. We’ve seen mixed signals come out of China regarding the possibility of a South China ADIZ. For example, while a senior PLA official called for China to establish an ADIZ over the South China Sea, noting that it was “necessary for China’s long-term national interest,” these calls had been contradicted by official Chinese foreign ministry statements noting that there were no plans to install an ADIZ over the South China Sea. The geography of the South China Sea and China’s capacious territorial claim to almost the entirety of the region, down to the Borneo coastline, make the decision to declare an ADIZ there more complicated. Specifically, as I’ve discussed here before, the nature of China’s dashed line claim leaves some interesting and strategically advantageous ambiguities that would be threatened with the declaration of a de jure ADIZ.   Read more: