Monthly Archives: November 2015

Stand-off in the South China Sea

On Oct 27, the US Navy destroyer Lassen conducted a freedom of navigation (FON) operation in the South China Sea within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island reclaimed by China on the Subi Reef. The United States took this action in order to defy China’s claim that foreign vessels must obtain permission from the Chinese government to navigate in these waters. The US demonstrated a strong resolve to preclude any counter actions that China could effectively take. The Lassen was equipped with a powerful Aegis radar system and anti-air guided missiles, and was accompanied by a P-8A Poseidon and a P-3 Orion patrol aircraft capable of tracking down surface vessels and submarines. The patrol aircraft provided protection and reportedly took record of the operation. After the action was taken, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that the US had conducted the FON operation as part of a larger effort to achieve three strategic goals: First, to demonstrate its determination to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows; second, to convey the message that the militarisation in the South China Sea must be halted and the disputes resolved peacefully; and finally, to strengthen cooperation with US allies and partners in the maritime domain. Read more:

‘Large’ Chinese military fleet flies near Japan islands: media

TOKYO – Japan scrambled jets after 11 Chinese military planes flew near southern Japanese islands during what Beijing said was a drill to improve its long-range combat abilities, reports said Saturday. The planes — eight bombers, two intelligence gathering planes and one early-warning aircraft — flew near Miyako and Okinawa on Friday without violating Japan’s airspace, the Japanese defense ministry said in a statement released on Friday. Some of them flew between the two islands while others made flights close to neighbouring islands, the ministry said. A Chinese air force spokesman said several types of planes, including H-6K bombers, were involved in Friday’s drill over the western Pacific, China’s Xinhua news agency reported. Shen Jinke said such open sea exercises had improved the force’s long-distance combat abilities, according to Xinhua. While there were no further comments from the Japanese ministry, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that it was “unusual” for China to dispatch such a large fleet close to Japan’s airspace and the ministry was analyzing the purpose of the mission. Japan scrambles jets hundreds of times a year to defend its airspace, both against Russia and these days also against Chinese aircraft. Read more:

China Defends Military Expansion In South China Sea

China has defended its military expansion in the South China Sea and denied claims that it’s militarizing the artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, according to USA Today. China vs. U.S. South China Sea Image source: Wikimedia Commons The comments come immediately after U.S. President Barack Obama finished his six-day Asian trip, during which he repeatedly criticized Beijing’s military expansion in the disputed region. Failing to immediately respond to Obama’s comments about China’s military efforts in the South China Sea, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Sunday that the U.S. was testing China by sending warships through the area. Liu claimed Beijing’s construction projects on the sea are a “public service” to protect the reefs and islands that China claims its own, while the move of station personnel to the disputed islands is “for the benefit” of other countries using the waters of the South China Sea. “One should never link the military facilities with efforts to militarize the South China Sea,” Liu told reporters, according to USA Today. “This is a false argument. It is a consistent Chinese position to firmly oppose the militarization of the South China Sea.” Liu also warned other countries against “stirring up trouble” in the South China Sea. China’s alleged militarization efforts in the region have been the reason for escalating tensions in the region, with many experts worrying that the conflict could lead to a military confrontation between the U.S. and China. Read more:

Why the US is reluctant to take on China

China wants to use resources like these landing craft, pictured here parading through Beijing on Sept. 3. © AP TOKYO — Talks over China’s island-building projects in the South China Sea at Sunday’s East Asia Summit in Malaysia yielded no surprises. The U.S. and Japan expressed concerns about the new islands, and China defended their legitimacy. Japan, the Philippines and Australia expect the U.S. to maintain a presence in the area and use its naval vessels and other military assets to counterbalance China’s claims that its territorial waters extend throughout much of the South China Sea. The U.S., however, is caught in a dilemma. While it wants to quell China’s unilateral attempt to change international order, it is reluctant to engage in an all-out battle with China. There are three reasons. The U.S. military is overstretched. It is engaged in the fight against the Islamic State group in the Middle East. It is also trying to prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad. And the row with Russia over Ukraine continues. U.S. military forces are weary. Many U.S. troops are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mental condition brings back vivid memories of combat, makes sleeping difficult and changes how sufferers react to those around them and to the outside world. It is incurable. This is apparently holding back U.S. President Barack Obama from sending ground troops to Syria. Finances. The federal government is being forced to spread its dollars thin, and the defense budget is getting squeezed. It will probably take about 10 years for the battle-fatigued U.S. military to revamp its capabilities to a point where it would feel comfortable rivaling China. In 10 years, it will have replenished its ranks and deployed new arsenals. In the meantime, it will have to try its best to contain contingencies with its existing resources. The U.S. wants to avoid confronting China before it can deploy the unmanned combat aircraft X-47B, pictured here, and take other measures. © AP China, on the other hand, is all warmed up, although it continues to restrain itself. When the Navy destroyer USS Lassen sailed past the artificial islands in the South China Sea on Oct. 27, China remained cool. Still, if such warnings continue, China’s navy could fire on U.S. vessels, ignoring orders from the Communist Party. The Chinese military has in the past acted out of step with the party, and anti-U.S. hostility is rife among Chinese military officials. China is apparently challenging the U.S. with a focus on quantity rather than quality. It currently has 116 military vessels in the South China Sea. And its coast guard has some 200 patrol ships. The U.S. could counter China by improving its military capabilities. If over the next 10 to 20 years the U.S. deploys warships and aircraft equipped with laser missiles, which do not require reloading, as well as unmanned aircraft that put no U.S. personnel at risk, the balance of power in the South China Sea could tip in favor of the U.S. Read more:

UN tribunal at The Hague to rule on rival claims to South China Sea islands

Philippines disputes China claim to sovereignty over Spratly archipelago, where Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands Rival claims to strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are to go before an international tribunal in The Hague. The hearing on Tuesday – prompted by the Philippines’ claim – comes as China steps up its divisive programme of building airstrips and defences in the Spratly Islands. As well as the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei all dispute sovereignty over the mid-ocean outcrops. Last month, the US raised the stakes by sailing a warship through a 12-nautical mile zone around two artificial islands in the archipelago. China responded by accusing the US of “provocative actions”. Beijing refuses to recognise the authority of the permanent court of arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the UN-appointed tribunal that adjudicates in international disputes over maritime territory, in this issue. China has stated: “It will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.” Read more:

PH: China ‘9-dash-line’ doesn’t exist

Philippine lead external counsel Paul Reichler (standing) confers with Solicitor General Florin Hilbay during round two oral arguments in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China at the UN arbitral court in The Hague on Tuesday. The empty table is reserved for China, which has refused to participate in the proceedings. (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN/Zoilo Velasco) Philippine lead external counsel Paul Reichler (standing) confers with Solicitor General Florin Hilbay during round two oral arguments in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China at the UN arbitral court in The Hague on Tuesday. The empty table is reserved for China, which has refused to participate in the proceedings. (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN/Zoilo Velasco) On day 1 of Round 2 of the South China Sea arbitration case in The Hague, the Philippine legal team told the United Nations arbitral court that China’s “historic claim over the nine-dash line” does not exist. Its claim to the South China Sea has no basis in international law, the Philippines told the court in The Netherlands on Tuesday. The court issued a statement early Wednesday, announcing it had “commenced the hearing on the merits and remaining issues of jurisdiction and admissibility” in the arbitration case initiated by the Philippines against China. The hearings, which began 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday in The Hague (9:30 p.m. in Manila) at the Peace Palace, where the arbitral tribunal sits, were to end on or before Nov. 30. Manila has called on the tribunal, which was established in 1899, to rule on the dispute, invoking the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario led the 48-member Philippine legal team, which went into the hearing emphasizing that China’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea, represented on new Chinese maps by nine dashes encompassing about 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer waterway, had no basis in Unclos. In a dispatch from The Netherlands, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte quoted renowned international lawyer Paul Reichler as telling the tribunal that “China’s historic rights claim and how these purported historic rights, supposedly derived under the Unclos, in fact do not exist under the provisions of the convention.” “Mr. Reichler mentioned that China has asserted exclusive rights over the areas covered by the nine-dash line and has deprived the Philippines of fishing and exploration activities,” Valte said. China’s expansive claims have put it in conflict with those of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Beijing is a party to Unclos but has rejected the tribunal’s jurisdiction over its dispute with the Philippines. “Our position is clear: We will not participate [in] or accept the arbitration,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. The Philippines brought the case in January 2013 after China seized Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground off Zambales province well within Manila’s 360-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), in June 2012. Manila’s move angered Beijing, which set about building artificial islands on reefs in the Spratly archipelago, a group of about 100 islets, atolls and reefs in the middle of the South China Sea, to present the UN court with a fait accompli. Read more:

China: Philippines breached consensus by filing arbitration case

“Our position is crystal clear: we will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spoeksperson Hong Lei said in a press conference on Tuesday. FMPRC MANILA, Philippines – Beijing on Tuesday insisted that the Philippines breached the bilateral consensus between the two countries as it filed an arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations. “In an attempt to negate China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, the Philippine side unilaterally initiated the arbitration in breach of bilateral consensus with China and its commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press conference. Hong maintained that China will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration case in connection to the disputed South China Sea. The first round of oral arguments on merits before the arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands has started on Tuesday and will last until November 30. Malacañang assured that the Philippine delegation, headed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, is fully prepared to present the country’s case before the tribunal. Meanwhile, China is set to install facilities on islands and reefs in the disputed sea to fulfill its “international responsibility and offer better public goods and services to countries in the region.” Read more:

Philippines Presents Maritime Claims at the Hague

In a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on Tuesday, a delegation of nearly 50 lawyers and representatives for the Philippines gathered to present their case for territorial claims and usage rights in the South China Sea. The Philippine claims contest China’s assertion that it has sovereignty over waters surrounding its island construction projects in the Spratlys, and its interests in an area of the South China Sea encircled by its “nine-dash line.” Other countries involved in the dispute, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, are said to be watching the proceedings closely to determine whether to file claims of their own. Lawyers for the Philippines will be presenting a total of 15 claims to the court. “We are confident that we will get a favourable decision on some of the issues, but it would be unrealistic to expect that we will get a favourable decision on all issues,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose in Manila. Read more:

China’s ‘historical sovereignty’ over East Vietnam Sea is groundless: US expert

The “historical sovereignty” China claims over the East Vietnam Sea is baseless and thus Beijing should comply with international law, according to a U.S. expert. Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, offered the remark when talking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, rejecting the argument of a Chinese scholar at an international conference on East Vietnam Sea issues that concluded in the southern Vietnamese city of Vung Tau on Tuesday. The Chinese scholar in question is Dr. Nong Hong, director of a research center under an institute for East Vietnam Sea studies in China. In her speech at the event, Dr. Nong said that China’s “historical sovereignty” under the so-called “nine-dash line” is more meaningful in terms of international law than the concept of “exclusive economic zone” adopted by other countries in the East Vietnam Sea. The line was unilaterally proclaimed by China to illegally claim sovereignty over about 80 percent of the East Vietnam Sea, including Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes. Read more:

New South China Sea Lighthouses: Legal Futility and Strategic Risk

International law can be viewed as either a tool or a weapon, depending on how it is wielded. On the one hand, the rules of international law outlining the range of legitimate territorial and maritime claims can provide an invaluable toolbox of objective standards for sorting out a way forward in what can often be a complex problem of international relations. On the other, a misinterpretation or partial understanding of the applicable international law can obfuscate the intentions of the rival claimants and further complicate the overall situation. In some ways, a partial understanding of the applicable law might be more harmful than no knowledge at all. For the unresolved disputes in the South China Sea, one issue worth considering is the potential significance of the new lighthouses that China has constructed on several geographic features within the Spratly Islands. The recent “China’s Lighthouses in the Spratlys” commentary by Lin Ting-Hui of Taiwan is an example of how a misinterpretation or a partial understanding of the applicable law can obfuscate more than it illuminates. This includes both the international law of the sea, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the customary international law relating to sovereignty claims. Below is an attempt to outline the limited legal significance of those new lighthouses, and a strategic risk arising from their construction. Read more: