Monthly Archives: January 2017

Confronting China’s slow invasion at sea

Since the 1990s, China has insistently waged a slow and deliberate imperial war of territorial expansion in the South China Sea. “Imperial war” is the apt description. China exhibits classic imperial ambition. Using economic, diplomatic and military muscle (camouflaged by propaganda), Beijing adds territory to its imperial dominion at the expense of less powerful neighbors. In 1950, the newly installed Communist regime in Beijing took Tibet. The Communists defended their action by claiming that “traditionally” Tibet was a Chinese province. As progressive Communists they were liberating Tibet from non-progressives. If that sounds like old time Communist propaganda gospel, it was. Invading Tibet took two weeks. By mid-1951, Beijing had full control of the country. Weeks and months were the time metric for China’s Tibet operation. Soldiers armed with rifles and artillery pieces were the means. Reporters and headline writers understand the pace and weaponry of that kind of war — rapidly seizing objectives while firing guns. Tibet is a destination for Buddhist pilgrims and mountain climbers, not an international trade route. So who cared? India cared. Tibet is an invasion route into India. India felt threatened. In 1962, the Sino-Indian War flared over control of southern Himalayan passes. China won. So China’s invasion of Tibet stood and still stands. Beijing’s South China Sea invasion moves at a different pace: decades. That makes recognizing the invasion difficult and confronting it even more problematic. News media focus on hours, days and weeks, perhaps a year or two. Politicians, particularly in democracies, focus on electoral time. U.S. presidents have a four to eight year policy window — not even a decade. Over the last 30 years, China’s principal weapon systems in the South China Sea haven’t been bayonets, aircraft and warships, though Beijing is making increasing use of those classic means of coercion and menace. China’s principal weapons have been offshore construction barges, construction crews and exploratory oil drilling rigs, all supported by shepherding coast guard vessels and swarms of fishing boats. The barge-borne construction crews usually begin with a “sea feature” like a reef or a rock in the South China Sea. A sea feature is not habitable. A sea feature is not, in and of itself, sovereign territory. No matter. Only power matters to Beijing. The construction crews add thousands of cubic meters of dredged sand and reinforced concrete to the sea feature. Voila, an artificial islet. The crews top their manufactured islet with military-grade runways capable of handling high-performance combat aircraft. If the final product looks something like a stationary naval aircraft carrier surrounded by a strip of sand, that isn’t a glitch, it’s a feature. The counterfeit archipelago Beijing has created now extends south from the Chinese coast and Hainan Island to close to Borneo and the Filipino island of Palawan. Read more:

China steps up as US steps back from global leadership

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appearance at last week’s World Economic Forum shows global leadership is shifting, not drifting, toward Beijing. The most vigorous defense of globalization and multilateral cooperation was mounted not by an American statesman, but by the president of the People’s Republic of China. China’s Xi reaffirms US relations in talk with Trump “The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalization,” Xi declared. “Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.” Speculation is mounting that the United States, with Donald Trump cast in the role of president, will ignore international challenges, renounce global responsibilities and abandon friends and allies. As Washington greets a new administration disinclined to play a worldwide role, Beijing increasingly accepts opportunities to lead. Xi and his colleagues understand that their country’s domestic development and global ascendance require steady engagement and honest efforts abroad. Yes, China has “done the right thing” before. It has restricted antibiotics in food-animal agriculture, created a new infrastructure-development bank for Asia, aided previously exploited African countries and promised to end its internal ivory trade. But never before has China so forthrightly stepped up when the United States appears to be stepping away. As scholars of Chinese strategy and the intersection of science and politics, we see how Beijing’s ambitions and interests will affect its engagement on a range of important international issues. Read more at

Exxon-Vietnam gas deal to test Tillerson’s diplomacy

US energy giant Exxon Mobil and state-owned PetroVietnam agreed this month to develop Vietnam’s largest natural gas-fired power generation project, a US$10 billion joint venture known as ‘Blue Whale’ (Ca Voi Xanh). The deal, signed while outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry was on his last official visit to Vietnam, threatens to create new ripples in the contested South China Sea under the new Donald Trump administration. The project is scheduled to come online in 2023 and will draw on a natural gas field situated 88 kilometers from Vietnam’s central Quang Nam province in the South China Sea. The field is estimated to hold some 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas, three times the amount of Vietnam’s current largest gas project, a joint venture with Russia’s Gazprom in the southern Con Son Basin. Exxon Mobil will construct an 88-kilometer sea-to-shore pipeline, while PetroVietnam’s Exploration Production Corporation (PVEC) subsidiary will build gas treatment and four power plants with a total capacity of 3 gigawatts, according to reports. A planned expansion phase will generate enough gas for another 5,750 megawatts of power and petrochemical production, the reports said. PetroVietnam estimates the project will produce US$20 billion for state coffers over an undefined timeline.

Hisham: Look beyond ‘childish’ notions to resolve South China Sea disputes

SINGAPORE: Malaysia on Monday called on all parties to “look beyond tired and childish notions of winners and losers” in resolving South China Sea territorial disputes. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (pic) said Malaysia firmly and unequivocally believed that these disputes can only be resolved through diplomacy and via multilateral institutions such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean). “Look beyond tired and childish notions of winners and losers for the simple fact that peace is a universal good and not a zero-sum game,” he said in his keynote address at the 2017 Fullerton Forum here. Hishammuddin said there was a pressing need to finally make progress on long-standing contentious matters like the South China Sea. “Whether this progress is for good or ill rests solely on the shoulders of the nations of this region and its external partners,” he added.

China will lose war over islands – analysts

MILITARY and geopolitical experts dismissed Chinese state media’s warnings of war over the South China Sea following US Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s statement that China should be barred from reclaimed islands. Experts said China’s military and economic reach, as well international alliances, were not enough to sustain a war. Antonio Santos, former undersecretary for defense affairs, said China only had one aircraft carrier in service and it would take a while to complete its arms buildup in the disputed waters. “And in fact, they are just putting that to flight for propaganda purposes. They still do not know how to operate an aircraft carrier,” Santos claimed. The US, in comparison, has 10 aircraft carriers in service and one in reserve, he said. “As an intelligence officer, you don’t come up with a conclusion based on the intent. We look at capabilities,” he said. Former national security adviser Roilo Golez said China’s alliances were no match with that of the US. “If you’re talking about the top 20 powers of the world, practically, all of them, except of the one county in the Indian Ocean, are friends of the USA. China’s only friend is that one country in the Indian Ocean and the other country is North Korea,” the former lawmaker said. “From the economic point of view, the top six economies – the US, China, Japan, Germany, Great Britain and India – China is alone in the top six. All the rest are with the United States.” Conflict will also take a toll on the Chinese economy, which remains smaller than that of the US, Santos said. “The ability to sustain a war, that’s the important thing. You can start a war, but can you sustain it? Sustaining a war is based on the economy. If China loses the exportation, they will die,” Santos said. China will lose war over islands – analysts

Track 2 diplomacy in aid of official dialogue on South China Sea 0

FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay recently revealed that the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest with China through a third person note verbale, upon verification of the report by the Washington-based CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that China appears to have built anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. One of these man-made artificial islands is Mischief Reef, which is a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and forms part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. This low-key reaction of the Philippines is in accord with the policy of the Duterte administration to settle its maritime and territorial issues with China through quiet diplomacy. However, China should satisfactorily explain why the structures do not support China’s justification that they are intended as refuge shelters for fishermen. So far, the Philippine government has taken a cautious approach to the bilateral negotiations, since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitration decision, which the Philippines won, covers only issues relating to the rights of the Philippines with respect to its EEZ and continental shelf. The arbitral decision did not cover issues of sovereignty, whether of Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands. Our immediate concern is that China should not convert Scarborough Shoal into a military base. This would directly undermine the Philippines’ security and territorial integrity. The United States has taken the position that its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines does not cover our Kalayaan Islands unless the Armed Forces of the Philippines stationed there are attacked. Track 2 diplomacy in aid of official dialogue on South China Sea

Tensions in the South China Sea National Intelligence Estimate: The Next Two to Three Years

The South China Sea is developing at an extraordinarily rapid rate and the events that transpire in the region in the next two to three years will be some of the most significant geopolitical events in the world. Inside the South China Sea Region are five claimants, hundreds of contested geological features, and two major clashing superpowers: The United States and China. Four key variables have been identified as the principal factors in determining how the South China Sea will evolve in two to three years: (1) U.S. foreign policy in East Asia under Trump. (2) The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) increasing reliance on nationalism to maintain its legitimacy. (3) Vietnam and the development of its foreign policy. (4) The trend in the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a collective security organization. It is predicted with a high degree of confidence that tensions in the South China Sea will continue to increase as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy becomes more confrontational with China. This will in turn encourage Vietnam to act more assertively, which in turn will drive Chinese nationalism to new levels. We predict with a medium degree of confidence that the region will take on the characteristics of Finlandization as a weak U.S. economic, as well as a lackluster hard power presence drives the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) towards bandwagoning with an increasingly-aggressive China. Vietnam remains the lone holdout, lashing out from its isolated position. Finally, we predict with a low degree of confidence that the South China Sea will deescalate to the mid-2016 status quo as uncertainty in U.S. foreign policy forces all claimants and peripheral influences to pause and consolidate their positions. Black swan events in the region include a radical change in Indian foreign policy towards China and a radical shift in the China-Russia relationship, for better or worse. Identification and Elaboration of the Key Variables in the South China Sea’s Development Variable One: Trump’s Foreign Policy in East and Southeast Asia The United States’ presence in and around the South China Sea littoral community has been and will continue to be the biggest factor in the region’s development economically, politically, culturally, and militarily. Therefore U.S. foreign policy under President-elect Trump will greatly impact the South China Sea in the next two to three years. Thus far, the presence of the United States has encouraged the many smaller claimants to land and sea territory in the South China Sea to try and remain united against Chinese attempts to claim and administer nearly all of the Sea. Without the United States, the weaker nations around the South China Sea have previously indicated that they would likely have little choice other than to bandwagon[i] with China despite their geopolitical and economic aversions. While the United States has traditionally been a security provider and economic pillar for the region, the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States has cast this historical consistency into doubt. Trump’s foreign policy on the South China Sea has yet to be fully articulated days before his inauguration. This is a critical unknown for the multitude of nations balancing against China’s perceived aggression in the region and places a great deal of stress upon already buckling leadership. Trump personally has expressed isolationist tendencies in foreign policy, but has also voiced economic hostility towards China. That said, the presumed failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership removes the best possible way the United States can challenge China’s attempts to dominate the regional economy. Trump has indicated that he would raise tariffs on Chinese goods to at least 35 percent in order to bolster the United States’ domestic manufacturing sector, increasing the possibility of mutually harmful trade wars.

Vietnam Signals Softer Stance on Contested South China Sea

Vietnam Signals Softer Stance on Contested South China Sea TAIPEI — Vietnam shows signs of softening its approach toward China over their bitter maritime dispute, a move welcomed by nervous leaders in Beijing as it could rebalance Hanoi’s foreign policy away from Washington while cooling decades of strife. Beijing and Hanoi issued a communique Saturday proposing negotiations on their conflicting claims in the South China Sea, state-run media from both sides report. The two sides will also look for shorter-term solutions that avoid slighting either country’s political position, the reports say. Cooperation with China would remove the thorniest opponent to Beijing’s expansion in the sea. Four other governments claim the ocean, which is rich in fishery stocks and possible fuel reserves. They normally keep quiet about Beijing’s military maneuvers and reclamation of small, disputed islets. Friendlier Sino-Vietnamese ties also would help protect marine shipping lanes that bring exports from Asia to markets in the West and make the commercial fishing industry safer for the millions who depend on it, said Frederick Burke, a partner with the multinational law firm Baker & McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City.

China Is Winning The Tech Battle In The South China Sea

China’s deployments of technological assets to the South China Sea may be aiding its efforts to dominate one of the world’s most contested waterways. Other regional claimant states lack the capabilities to compete with China’s maritime technology, and the U.S. deploys its strategic assets on a non-permanent basis. China, on the other hand, has deployed radars, drones, and satellites to significantly boost its ability to monitor its “territorial waters” in the South China Sea. “China can use their technology or use defense to claim that we have strengthened our holding or our control, or administration or even our scientific research in the South China Sea,” Yun Sun, senior associate in the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, told Voice of America. “In the long run it is one way that could matter,” she added. She stressed that while China’s extensive claims to the South China Sea were discredited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague this past summer, “the Chinese can come up with a list of the equipment they deployed in the region and show that as evidence of sovereignty.” Chinese deployments also give China the ability to monitor regional activities in a way that other states cannot. China launched the Gaofen 3 satellite in August 2016 to “play an important role in monitoring the marine environment, islands and reefs, and ships and oil rigs,” the China Daily wrote, citing Xu Fuxiang, the project director. China Is Winning The Tech Battle In The South China Sea

Duterte leaves door open for US role in South China Sea

Philippine president’s softer tone is music to the ears of Japan’s Abe Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged the importance of his country’s alliance with the U.S. in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Friday, delighting his guest, who sees American involvement in Asia as essential for countering the rise of China. The two leaders held talks for a second day in Duterte’s hometown, the city of Davao on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. During the 30-minute meeting in a hotel, the Phiippine president declared his intention to maintain cooperation with the U.S., Japanese government sources said. Duterte also expressed hopes of peacefully resolving territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, based on international law, and of holding direct talks with China on its attempts to create military outposts in the disputed waters. Since coming to power in June, Duterte has repeatedly voiced his intention to distance his country from the U.S. The relationship between the two longtime allies has deteriorated after U.S. President Barack Obama raised human-rights issues over Duterte’s strong-arm campaign against drugs. Abe, who sees cooperation with the U.S. and the Philippines as key to addressing Beijing’s overreaching territorial claims in the South China Sea, attempted to play the role of peacemaker between Manila and Washington in a meeting with Duterte in Japan in October. He continued to assume that role during his meetings on Thursday and Friday, offering Japan’s support for the Philippines’ anti-drug efforts without raising human-rights concerns.