As Filipino fishermen set sail for the Scarborough Shoal, they hope for three things: a bountiful fish catch, their safety, and benevolence from the Chinese coastguard. For the past two years, Paolo Pumicpic, captain of the JJ2 fishing boat, has been at the mercy of the sea; he hasn’t been lucky with any of the three. The South China Sea, where the Scarborough Shoal is located, is a major maritime route, where an estimated five trillion dollar- (4.2 trillion euros) trade transits annually. The sea also contributes to about 12 percent of the global fish supply. Read more: South China Sea – what you need to know But experts say that overfishing, as well as dynamite and cyanide fishing, are depleting the area’s marine resources at an unsustainable rate. A study by the University of British Columbia in Canada shows that the South China Sea fish catch could decline by as much as 50 percent by 2045. Apart from a dwindling fish catch, Pumicpic tells DW that he and his men also face harassment and bullying from the Chinese coastguard. They are not allowed to fish in the area. “The Chinese regularly raid our catch. They take away our best fish for their consumption and give us cigarettes and instant noodles in return,” Pumicpic said. Still, the fisherman does not want to complain. He says the Chinese behavior is much better than before. http://www.dw.com/en/south-china-sea-filipino-fishermen-hope-for-chinese-benevolence/a-41576397
HCM CITY — While the East Sea (South China Sea) situation remains uncertain, nations should build “strategic trust” to maintain peace, stability and development in the region, a Vietnamese official told an international conference held in HCM City yesterday. Nearly 200 senior officials, business executives, experts, academics and diplomats are participating in the ninth International Conference on the East Sea. Assoc Prof Dr Nguyễn Vũ Tùng, director of the Diplomatic Academy of Việt Nam, said the East Sea issue remains “one of the most difficult and unpredictable questions for international academics and scholars.” Since the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal, the East Sea situation has seen positive changes, but in the long run there is still fear of “disorder and conflict,” he said. This is mainly due to the fact that “international law is not fully respected” and nations in the region lack “strategic trust,” he said. “The role of the East Sea in the security of the region will continue to grow.” Read more at http://vietnamnews.vn/society/418323/experts-call-for-strategic-trust-in-east-sea.html#aycWmh8ix1wPi42m.99
The government in Beijing has made no official statement to this effect, but connect the dots and here’s a picture: It has mothballed for now a quest to landfill new islands in Asia’s major disputed waterway, the South China Sea. Land reclamation had alarmed five other Asian governments that vie with China for sovereignty over the sea, which is packed with valuable fisheries as well as fossil fuel reserves, because the resulting new islets can support military installations. China has put any new, controversial reclamation work on hold under a rising tide of foreign pressure, at least two veteran Asian geopolitics analysts believe. The last time you heard about it was in June, when an American think tank called China’s work on three of the sea’s Spratly Islands “near completion.” The construction began at least a year earlier. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/11/27/china-freezes-expansion-of-its-control-over-asias-major-disputed-sea/#25871a2d771c
The Trump administration has endorsed the Turnbull government’s foreign policy white paper which tilted more hawkish on China, with a senior US diplomat saying the document outlines “issues of concern” that are shared by the US and Australia. In contrast to China’s response that Australia should stop making “irresponsible” comments about territorial disputes in the South China Sea, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Matthews said the US welcomed the paper and would work with Australia to uphold order in the Indo-Pacific. “Both our nations are diverse democracies with foreign policies based on the principles of individual freedoms, open markets and the rule of law,” Mr Matthews said in a statement. “Our alliance and overall relationship is an affirmation of the timeless nature of these shared foundational principles. Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/foreign-affairs/trump-administration-backs-australia-white-paper-20171125-gzsxlv#ixzz4ztSEbfuV
Tran Duc Anh Son, a historian in Danang, Vietnam, says his government is afraid to use the records he uncovered to challenge Beijing. “That’s why we have many documents that are kept in the dark.” Credit Quinn Ryan Mattingly for The New York Times DANANG, Vietnam — Eight years ago, officials in Danang asked Tran Duc Anh Son to travel the world in search of documents and maps that support Vietnam’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. He did, and he concluded that Vietnam should challenge China’s activities in waters around some of the sea’s disputed islands, as the Philippines successfully did in a case that ended last year. But his bosses would not be moved. “They always say to me, ‘Mr. Son, please keep calm,’” he said during an interview at his home in Danang, the coastal city where he is the deputy director of a state-run research institute. “‘Don’t talk badly about China.’” Vietnam’s top leaders are “slaves” to Beijing, he added bitterly, as torrential rain beat against his windows. “That’s why we have many documents that are kept in the dark.” Dr. Son’s mission, and his bosses’ demurrals, are signs of the times in Vietnam, which has always lived in China’s shadow but also harbors a fierce independent streak. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/world/asia/vietnam-south-china-sea.html
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A closer look at steps toward finalizing a long-anticipated Code of Conduct. At the recently concluded 31st ASEAN Summit Meetings in Manila, the leaders of ASEAN and China formally announced the start of negotiations on the fine print of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. The agreement comes just three months after the foreign ministers from both sides endorsed the framework on the COC earlier in August. Recent progress made on the COC is seen by many as a milestone development, in light of the aggressive brinkmanship in the lead-up to the arbitral tribunal ruling in July 2016. Tension certainly appears to have calmed down significantly since, and discussions for the COC have been actively on-going since the meeting of the 19th ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on Implementation of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea in February. Compared with the history of strenuous negotiations, the relatively fast pace of recent developments does appear encouraging. However, with the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) yet to be fully implemented more than a decade after its adoption, one can’t help but wonder how much real progress is achievable with the upcoming negotiations. How different would the COC be from the DOC? Is this another tactic by China to buy time? How united would ASEAN be in negotiating its position vis-à-vis China? The concept for a COC first emerged in the 1990s, but disagreements over whether it should be a legally binding document appeared soon after. In particular, China was strongly against any form of legally binding agreement, which would restrict its activities in the South China Sea. ASEAN and China agreed on the non-binding DOC in 2002 as a compromise and interim agreement with the goal to work “towards the eventual attainment of [the COC].” Little substantial progress has been made since then.
US President Donald Trump’s highly anticipated Asia trip had a packed agenda and was closely watched by many in the region. Yale-NUS College’s Chin-Hao Huang discusses whether it has lived up to expectations and what it bodes for the future. SINGAPORE: With five countries in 12 days, US President Donald Trump’s Asia visit was ambitious. He managed to check off some of the key items he wanted to address, especially on airing concerns about unfair trade practices and the North Korean crisis, but on the whole his visit fell short in providing a coherent vision on a number of important, strategic issues. For starters, there was limited clarity on US leadership and what it stands for in this part of the world. Although Trump had already signalled US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership before he entered office, he missed the opportunity to articulate and convey a credible alternative in this trip to reassure partners on how future trade relations with the region will be affected, and what a rules-based order for a more balanced economic partnership might look like. The economic nationalism he championed did not square with the message that the US wants to engage Asia in an open and competitive manner. Righting the US’s trade imbalance will be difficult to accomplish in a relatively short period of time and will probably not come to fruition during his presidency. He gained points from his domestic constituents, but in so doing may have sacrificed US standing as a proponent for free and open trade in the region.
The United States is creating problems in Asia by offering to mediate Vietnam’s tensions with China. Just what did Donald Trump mean when he offered to “mediate” in the dispute between Vietnam and China over the South China Sea? On Sunday, during his official visit to Hanoi, U.S. President Trump told his Vietnamese counterpart, “If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know … I’m a very good mediator and arbitrator.” The comment set alarm bells ringing in Vietnam, where fears about becoming the spurned partner in a G-2 relationship between the United States and China come second only to concerns about the United States supposedly plotting to overthrow Communist Party rule in Hanoi.
The unexpected revival of the Quad may mean the demise of Asian multilateralism and a more threatened China. A working-level meeting between diplomatic staffers from the United States, India, Japan, and Australia on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summits (EAS) has caused quite a lively reaction among Asia-watchers and the policy community. The idea that the Quad (quadrilateral format) is back is exciting at a time when Donald Trump’s administration seems unable to formulate a policy for the Asia-Pacific beyond doing more of what Obama’s team did, minus trade liberalization and plus Twitter-brinksmanship with North Korea. U.S. Asia policy, already labelled as on “autopilot,” got a first whiff of fresh air at the start of Trump’s Asia tour, when his administration started extensively using “Indo-Pacific” instead of “Asia-Pacific.” The term that includes India into the Pacific balance of power – previously used mostly in Australia – is one that has long asked for more circulation. “Indo-Pacific” supposedly implies that China is not the only resident center of geopolitical gravity in the Western Pacific. The move toward the Quad solidifies that interpretation. The Quad is about many things, as perfectly surveyed by Ankit Panda, but most importantly about building a rules-based regional order, providing maritime security as a regional public good, and enhancing connectivity, the latter being a more recent trend toward geoeconomics. But what seems to be the elephant in the room is that the Quad is more about containing China than about anything else. For most areas that the four nations see as fertile ground for cooperation, China is seen as a major competitor and rule-breaker. China’s conduct in the South China Sea or the enormity of the Belt and Road Initiative alone are enough to see a crosshair aimed at China behind these themes. But the implications of quadrilateral coordination really kick in when considering the broader network of partners around it, primarily from Southeast Asian states. The obvious candidates are Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Granted, the latter two are currently in an uncertain position vis-à-vis their U.S. alliance, but a long-term orientation toward balancing Chinese assertiveness is very likely. Vietnam, for example, has long been seeking closer defense relations with Japan and India, since associating with them in terms of security carries less risk of more Chinese pressure. For Southeast Asian nations, the Quad is a chance to balance out China, while at the same time reducing the risks of such a strategy as India, Japan, and especially Australia are very susceptible to Chinese economic pressure if things should go out of hand.