Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Natunas: Why Is Indonesia Developing A South China Sea Flashpoint?

Indonesia’s resource-rich Natuna Islands, located in the South China Sea northwest of Borneo, tend to be subject to periodic hype from the international media. That’s due to a couple of reasons. For one, though Indonesia is not officially a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Natunas (See: “Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy: A Delicate Equilibrium”). Moreover, with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo taking a tougher line on defending Indonesia’s sovereignty and a number of recent run-ins between Indonesian and Chinese vessels near the Natunas this year, the issue has been dominating the headlines (See: “China’s Maritime Confrontation with Indonesia is Not New”). Indeed, Jokowi himself made news in July when he made his first visit to Natuna aboard a warship in a far-from-subtle display of Indonesia’s sovereignty over the area. But even apart from the China angle that is often hyped up, Indonesia’s commitment to developing the rich resources in the Natunas also makes sense for economic reasons. Focusing on just the energy aspect of this alone (fisheries, too, is a priority) Indonesian government has said that there are seven oil and gas exploitation fields and ten exploration fields there. To get a sense of the potential here, consider the fact that the East Natuna block on its own is said to have over 46 trillion cubic feet of gas, making it Asia’s largest gas reserve. http://thediplomat.com/2016/08/the-natunas-why-is-indonesia-developing-a-south-china-sea-flashpoint/

East Timor-Australia maritime border dispute set to be negotiated at The Hague

The ongoing dispute between Australia and East Timor over maritime boundaries could be resolved in a landmark case that begins in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Monday. In April, East Timor triggered compulsory conciliation under the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over the disputed territory that contains large oil and gas deposits worth an estimated $40 billion. Australia has refused to negotiate a permanent boundary with East Timor. Temporary revenue sharing arrangements have been agreed to in treaties signed in 2002 and 2006. As part of the 2006 Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty, East Timor agreed to a clause that put a 50-year hold on negotiating a permanent maritime border. However, East Timor believes the 2006 treaty should be torn up due to an Australian bugging operation it considers to be illegal. In 2012, then prime minister Xanana Gusmao discovered that Australian intelligence agents had bugged East Timor’s cabinet rooms during negotiations. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-28/east-timor-australia-maritime-border-to-be-negotiated-the-hague/7791778

South China Sea Fact: One of the Last Things South Vietnam Did Was Fight China

In January 1974, South Vietnamese forces clashed with the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the Paracel Island chain—a hot spot between China and present day Vietnam today. The two countries had established their competing claims to the islands—which the Vietnamese refer to as Hoang Sa and the Chinese call Xisha—well before they came to blows. The South Vietnamese navy regularly chased foreign fisherman away in the 1960s under the umbrella of American military might. But in 1973, the U.S. started cutting off support for the Vietnamese Republic. American negotiators cut deals with the North in Paris and Congress then cut aid to the South. Beijing quickly quickly realized the situation was changing in their favor. Communist forces already controlled the northern half of the archipelago. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/south-china-sea-fact-one-the-last-things-south-vietnam-did-17502

Japan protests over Chinese radar in disputed East China Sea drilling rig

According to a spokesman for Tokyo’s foreign ministry, Japan discovered the radar in late June and issued a protest on Friday through its embassy in China, urging Beijing to explain the purpose. Japan has been calling on China to halt construction of oil and gas exploration platforms in the East China Sea, accusing it of unilateral development despite a 2008 agreement to maintain cooperation on resources development in the area, where no official border between them has been drawn. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/07/japan-protests-over-chinese-radar-in-disputed-east-china-sea-drilling-rig

Expert: China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ Exists Only In Beijing’s Imagination

An intensifying debate about China’s meteoric and historically-unparalleled rise is leading some to question its allegedly peaceful nature. Apologists insist China’s rise is benevolent, but this belief isn’t one overwhelmingly shared by the international community, argues China expert Frank Ching in a recent article on China’s pursuit of regional dominance in the Asia Pacific. Building on China’s earlier, “hide your light” (tao guang yang hui) strategy, the Chinese government announced its plans for a “peaceful rise” shortly after the turn of the century to counter “China threat” arguments. Beijing’s concentrated efforts to dominate the Asia-Pacific region have demonstrated to the world that China’s “peaceful rise” only exists in Beijing’s possibly-overactive imagination, asserts Ching, an experienced author and journalist who spent years reporting on Asia and China. Expert: China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ Exists Only In Beijing’s Imagination

A New Legal Landscape in the South China Sea

We need to fully grasp the significance of the Philippines v. China verdict. On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration case instituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) between the Philippines and China handed out its final Award. It has been widely reported that the Philippines with this Award has scored a sweeping victory against China with regard to the latter’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. But describing this arbitration as a fight in which there is a winner and a loser belies the function of the dispute settlement system of UNCLOS. Nor does such a view properly appreciate the significance of the Tribunal’s ruling in the South China Sea disputes as well as its contribution to future cooperation in the interest of peace and prosperity in the region and beyond. Authoritative Answers to Critical Legal Questions As the Tribunal correctly observes, “[t]he root of the disputes […] lies not in any intention on the part of China or the Philippines to infringe on the legal rights of the other, but rather […] in fundamentally different understandings of their respective rights under the Convention in the waters of the South China Sea.” http://thediplomat.com/2016/08/a-new-legal-landscape-in-the-south-china-sea/

The Naming of Seas is a Practical Matter

Two centuries or more of western domination of much of the world has not only redrawn the global political maps but in many cases determined place names. If that seems arcane, it is not. It was western powers that named the South China Sea, for instance. It is a name that China is now using to seek to demonstrate its hegemony over an ocean, parts of which are being claimed by five littoral nations, many of which have their own names for the ocean. Besides the South China Sea, across the world some of these western names have naturally become bones of contention between competing nations and cultures. Thus the Falkland Islands are the Malvinas depending on your point of view. Or, an even more contentious issue, is the body of water between Iran and the Arab states known as the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf? Use of the wrong name on the other side of the Gulf can create serious problems for unwary foreigners. In the case of the Persian Gulf, there is actually a United Nations ruling that came down in Persian favor by reference to maps dating to well before western ones invariably used Persian. Although the Arabs produced Ottoman and other references to alternatives including the Gulf of Basra, the Iraqi city at the head of the gulf, and the Gulf of Musandam, the Omani peninsula at the southwest entrance to the gulf, the UN experts determined that the overwhelming evidence was for use of Persian. http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/naming-seas-practical-matter/

Duterte to China ambassador: Talks should be based on Hague ruling

MANILA, Philippines — After asking Beijing to act in good faith in dealing with the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte insisted on Friday night that any upcoming bilateral talks with China be based on the arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea dispute. The president stressed this point during an hours-long meeting with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, who flew in to Davao to talk with Duterte. “We avoid trouble with them. Hindi pa natin kaya. Sinabi ko Mr. Ambassador, I will not talk about it but when we are in front of each other in a bilateral talk, just the two of us, then I would state my case. I have this arbitral judgment. We will not go out of the four corners of this paper, then let us talk,” the president said during his speech at the 10th anniversary celebration of the East Mindanao Command in Davao City. “Not now, it’s not the right time to talk about it. There are so many conferences going on,” he said. The president said, however, that he would not have China back out from the negotiations. “If China withdraws from formal talks, then it could only mean one thing,” he said. He also said the two countries, who are rival claimants over parts of the waterway, should talk about things that would unite. http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/08/26/1617654/duterte-china-ambassador-talks-should-be-based-hague-ruling

Electronic Warfare Comes to the South China Sea (and Why it Matters)

“An information technology-based war at sea is sudden, cruel and short…” was how the Chinese military characterized a peer-to-peer naval conflict at sea in a public statement at the beginning of the month during PLAN naval exercises. The exercises, occurring in the East China Sea, were designed to increase the PLAN’s “assault intensity, precision, stability and speed of troops amid heavy electromagnetic influences” or in other words, electronic warfare. China and the United States are preparing and force posturing to contest the electromagnetic spectrum in the South China Sea and further north in the East China Sea. One of the defining characteristics of China’s actions in the South China Sea has been the construction of radar installations across the majority of its artificial features in the region.According to CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a variety of radar installations have been constructed on Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef. The purpose of these installations will vary and some will have dual uses—for instance a few of the radars on Fiery Cross and Subi Reef will be used to facilitate air operations from the runways housed on those features—but together, the facilities will significantly expand the real-time domain awareness and ISR capabilities of the PLA over a large portion of the South China Sea. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/electronic-warfare-comes-the-south-china-sea-why-it-matters-17454

Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed South China Sea – sources

Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials. Diplomats and military officers told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-vietnam-idUSKCN10K2NE