Monthly Archives: June 2017

Rising tensions and temperatures in the South China Sea

Marine environmental protection and management is an important aspect of climate change adaptation. Coastal and marine habitats — especially coral reefs and wetlands — are bastions against waves, erosion and flooding that are predicted to get more frequent and intensified due to climate change. A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early June 2017 confirms this observation, concluding that marine reserves are capable of mitigating and promoting climate change adaptation. At the same time, they stand extremely vulnerable to climate-induced sea warming. While most countries have already put some marine protection measures in place, the management of shared marine environments — especially in disputed areas like the South China Sea — is lacking. A recent study published in March 2017 shows that 40 per cent of coral reefs in the Pratas Islands (also known as the Dongsha Atoll) in the northern parts of the South China Sea were bleached due to a rise in sea surface temperature during the El Niño in June 2015. This climate-induced phenomenon is unseen in the last 40 years and has become visible in parts of the South China Sea. Regional mechanisms for the protection and management of this shared marine environment need to be strengthened, despite conflicting jurisdictional and territorial claims. Rising tensions and temperatures in the South China Sea

We abandoned our independent foreign policy

Since President Duterte took office, he has been claiming that he is pursuing an “independent foreign policy.” The sad part is that we had an independent foreign policy, until the start of his administration. How we got to this mess may be traced to the often quoted commencement speech of then Sen. Claro M. Recto titled “Our Mendicant Foreign Policy.” In that speech Recto said: “In the parliament of the United Nations, it is no more difficult to predict that the Philippines will vote with the American Union, than the Ukraine will vote with the Soviet Union. (Author’s note: The Ukraine was then part of the USSR.) American policy has found no more eloquent spokesman or zealous advocate and Russian policy no louder critic or more resourceful opponent than the Philippines. Americans may disagree with their own foreign policy, but it has no better supporters than the Filipinos.” That statement of Recto is false. We have differed with the United States on issues vital to our national interest. Four months after Recto’s speech at the University of the Philippines on April 17, 1951, America convened the San Francisco Conference to conclude a peace treaty with Japan. It explicitly stated that Japan shall not be required to pay reparations. Japan was then being set up as a bulwark against communism. Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/105077/abandoned-independent-foreign-policy#ixzz4lVVfKfYL

South China Sea: America needs a better strategy

The China strategy of US President Donald Trump’s administration is confused and confusing, both in general and in particular vis-a-vis the South China Sea. Ordinarily, US policy regarding some marginal sea in Asia would not be a front-burner issue. Indeed it should not be of prime importance when compared to US problems with North Korea and in the Middle East, and burgeoning front-line friction with Russia. However, the South China Sea (SCS) has become a cockpit of contention and competition between the United States and China for military domination of the region and is now a frontier in troubled US-China relations. That is why the US needs urgently to formulate goals as well as a comprehensive strategy with objectives and tactics to reach them – and then articulate and implement that strategy. http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/south-china-sea-america-needs-a-better-strategy

US admiral slams China over South China Sea

In the era of fake news, the public also needs to be wary of fake islands. Top US military commander Admiral Harry Harris has accused Beijing of building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed territory in the South China Sea. ‘Fake islands should not be believed by real people,’ Admiral Harris said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Centre in Brisbane on Wednesday. ‘China is using its military and economic power to erode the rules-based international order.’ About $6.6 trillion of trade transits by ship through the South China Sea each year. China’s territorial claims are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Admiral Harris said the US won’t allow ‘shared domains to be closed down unilaterally’ and resolutely opposed the use of coercion and intimidation to advance claims. http://www.skynews.com.au/news/world/asiapacific/2017/06/28/us-admiral-slams-china-over-south-china-sea.html

Is a New China-Vietnam Maritime Crisis Brewing in the South China Sea?

What are the implications of China’s abrupt cancellation of military border activities with Vietnam? This year’s long-scheduled Vietnam-China 4th Border Defense Friendly Exchange was unexpectedly canceled, reportedly due to Chinese displeasure at Vietnam’s resumption of oil exploration activities in the South China Sea. Neither side officially has confirmed this development. This article reviews public and private information made available to The Diplomat. On June 12, China announced that Senior Lieutenant General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, had left Beijing to visit Spain, Finland, and Vietnam. Chinese media reported that Fan “will also attend the 4th high-level border meeting between the Chinese and Vietnamese militaries” during his visit to Hanoi. Fan was accompanied by a high-powered delegation that included Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of staff of the Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department; Liu Zhenli, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); Liu Yi, deputy commander of the PLA Navy; Song Kun, deputy political commissar of the PLA Air Force; and Yuan Yubai, commander of the PLA Southern Command. http://thediplomat.com/2017/06/is-a-new-china-vietnam-maritime-crisis-brewing-in-the-south-china-sea/

What’s Behind the Resumed Vietnam-Philippines South China Sea Activity?

Manila and Hanoi resumed naval personnel interaction on a feature in the disputed waters. On June 22, Vietnam and the Philippines conducted the third iteration of their naval personnel interactions on Southwest Cay in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, both sides have effectively resumed an intra-ASEAN confidence-building activity in the disputed waters even amid the recent changes in dynamics in the South China Sea. Until the inauguration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Vietnam and the Philippines had been significantly strengthening their maritime collaboration as well as their broader relationship for several reasons, including China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The two sides had come up with mechanisms from hotlines to working groups to facilitate confidence-building, and the relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership in 2015 under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III (See: “Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership by End of 2015”). One of the string of agreements reached during this time in the maritime realm was a 2012 protocol for bilateral naval exchanges on Southwest Cay, currently occupied by Vietnam, and Northeast Cay, occupied by the Philippines. At the time, the interaction between the two countries was hailed as an example of intra-ASEAN confidence building in the South China Sea at a time of heightened tensions. On June 22, Vietnam and the Philippines conducted the third iteration of their naval personnel interactions on Southwest Cay in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, both sides have effectively resumed an intra-ASEAN confidence-building activity in the disputed waters even amid the recent changes in dynamics in the South China Sea. Until the inauguration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Vietnam and the Philippines had been significantly strengthening their maritime collaboration as well as their broader relationship for several reasons, including China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The two sides had come up with mechanisms from hotlines to working groups to facilitate confidence-building, and the relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership in 2015 under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III (See: “Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership by End of 2015”). One of the string of agreements reached during this time in the maritime realm was a 2012 protocol for bilateral naval exchanges on Southwest Cay, currently occupied by Vietnam, and Northeast Cay, occupied by the Philippines. At the time, the interaction between the two countries was hailed as an example of intra-ASEAN confidence building in the South China Sea at a time of heightened tensions. http://thediplomat.com/2017/06/whats-behind-the-resumed-vietnam-philippines-south-china-sea-activity/

Trump’s South China Sea Policy Leaves U.S. Allies Perplexed—and Anxious

On June 21, the United States and China held their first-ever Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington. The dialogue, co-chaired on the American side by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, is a new iteration of engagement that evolved from the April meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago. Along with other newly created discussions on trade and law enforcement issues, the dialogue is aimed at narrowing the focus of the former U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which met annually during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, when it comes to articulating a comprehensive policy to one of the thorniest issues in U.S.-China relations—the South China Sea territorial disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors—the Trump administration remains unclear and uncoordinated. After the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, Tillerson noted that he and Mattis exchanged “frank views” on the issue with their Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and People’s Liberation Army Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui. Tillerson also indicated U.S. opposition to Beijing’s militarization of reclaimed reefs in the area and called on it to adhere to international law. http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/22547/trump-s-south-china-sea-policy-leaves-u-s-allies-perplexed-and-anxious

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte says the name ‘South China Sea’ reflects China’s historical claim

t’s all in the name, according to President Rodrigo Duterte. The fact that the South China Sea is named such reflects the historical claim of China to it, he said. STATEMENT In an ambush interview April 27 at Malacañang, Duterte told journalists: “They really claim it as their own, noon pa iyan. Hindi lang talaga pumutok nang mainit. Ang nagpainit diyan iyong Amerikano. Noon pa iyan, kaya (It goes way back. The issue just did not erupt then. What triggered the conflict were the Americans. But it goes all the way back. That’s why it’s called) China Sea… sabi nga nila (they say) China Sea, historical na iyan. So hindi lang iyan pumuputok (It’s historical. The issue just had not erupted then) but this issue was the issue before so many generations ago.” Source: Transcript of ambush interview, April 27, 2017, Presidential Communications Office News and Information Bureau FACT Contrary to Duterte’s statement, the body of water now commonly known as the South China Sea did not always have that name. In his book The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio writes: “Before Portuguese navigators coined the name South China Sea, the sea was known to Asian and Arab navigators as the Champa Sea, after the Cham people who established a great maritime kingdom in central Vietnam from the late 2nd to the 17th century.” Carpio adds: “The ancient Malays also called this sea Laut Chidol or the South Sea, as recorded by Pigafetta in his account of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world from 1519 to 1522. In Malay, which is likewise derived from the Austronesian language, laut means sea and kidol means south.” http://verafiles.org/articles/vera-files-fact-check-duterte-says-name-south-china-sea-refl

Protecting the South China Sea Chinese Island-Building and the Environment

Since 2013, China has been engaged in an ambitious program of island building on the coral reefs and atolls of the Spratly Islands, a disputed island chain in the South China Sea. The program is part of an effort to bolster Chinese claims of sovereignty in the region, which overlap with those of five other countries—Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—plus Taiwan. So far, global attention has been focused almost exclusively on the security implications of China’s island building. Over the last few years, the U.S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in order to challenge Beijing’s control of the waterways. And in July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled unanimously against China’s extensive territorial claims—a decision that the other claimants (and Washington) applauded and Beijing immediately rejected. Yet while the political implications of Chinese actions have been put front and center, the environmental consequences have often been overlooked. The island building has wreaked havoc on the fragile coral reefs and endangered marine life in the South China Sea. In fact, this environmental angle may present an opportunity to place further international pressure on Beijing: the PCA, in addition to rejecting China’s ownership claims, ruled that it had caused irreversible environmental damage through its island building, which was in clear violation of Articles 192 and 194 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The court declared that China “has caused severe harm to the coral reef environment” and “violated its obligation . . . to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.” https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2017-06-09/protecting-south-china-sea

WHAT IS CHINA DOING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA? BEIJING REVEALS PLANS FOR HUGE OBSERVATION NETWORK

China has announced plans to set up a submarine observation network that will explore the seabed of the disputed East and South China Sea regions, the first of its kind. Chinese state media outlet Xinhua news reported that the project would collect data to be analyzed in Shanghai, and will be completed within five years at a total cost of more than 2.1billion yuan ($310 million). The system will allow it to explore deep under the sea in a region where its presence has proved contentious. According to the South China Morning Post, Zhou Huaiyang, a professor at the School of Marine and Earth Science at Tongji University, said that the collected data could be used to explore natural resources and protect China’s maritime interests and national security. http://www.newsweek.com/china-announces-submarine-observation-network-south-china-sea-623501