Category Archives: West Philippine Sea

Editorial: Code of conduct on South China Sea will have no teeth


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  To prevent conflicts and maintain order in the South China Sea, it is indispensable to lay down legally binding international rules. It will be difficult to achieve this objective as long as China, which is continuing its self-righteous maritime advances, takes the lead in discussions on this. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have held a meeting of their foreign ministers, at which they agreed on a framework for a regional “Code of Conduct” aimed at preventing collisions in the South China Sea. The framework is said to include such principles as ensuring maritime safety and freedom of navigation.   The problem is that it does not refer to whether the code of conduct will have legally binding force. If it is not legally binding, the code cannot be expected to impose a curb on China when it carries out activities that violate the criteria. In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” which advocated peacefully settling territorial disputes, based on international law. However, China unilaterally started work to build artificial islands and military facilities in that sea area, and this has prompted ASEAN to advocate devising a pertinent code of conduct at an early date.   China’s claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea were entirely rejected by a decision handed down by a court of arbitration in July last year. To fend off international criticisms, China became positive about holding talks with ASEAN over relevant issues.  


Beijing is using underwater drones in the South China Sea to show off its might

  The world’s second-largest economy has been deploying disruptive technology that could strengthen its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.   Late last month, Beijing dropped a dozen underwater drones, also known as unmanned underwater vehicles, in an unspecified location in the international waterway to carry out “scientific observations,” state-run media outlet Xinhua reported.   A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Blue Hawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 fires chaff flares during a training exercise near the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Philippine Sea April 24, 2017. Sean M. Castellano | US Navy | Reuters A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Blue Hawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 fires chaff flares during a training exercise near the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Philippine Sea April 24, 2017. The torpedo-shaped vehicles — called Haiyi, or sea wings in Mandarin — will remain underwater for a month, according to reports. In March, one device hit a depth of 6,329 meters, breaking an earlier record held by a U.S. vessel, Xinhua said.   China claims a massive section of the South China Sea that extends roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores. The huge area is home to significant energy deposits and the world’s busiest shipping routes, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also assert sovereign rights over parts of the international waterway.   The use of autonomous drones raises a number of questions as to whether Beijing is deploying the technology to support its aggressive expansion in the geopolitical hotspot.  


China protests after US warship sails near island

Beijing voiced displeasure on Friday after a US warship sailed near an artificial island in the disputed South China Sea, an operation that prompted the Chinese navy to warn off the American destroyer.   Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the actions of the USS John S. McCain had violated Chinese and international law, “seriously” impairing the country’s sovereignty and security.   “China is strongly dissatisfied with this,” Geng said in a statement, adding that Beijing would lodge an official protest with Washington.   The USS John S. McCain destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef — an artificial island built by China — on Thursday as part of a “freedom of navigation” operation, a US official said.   The reef is part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which is the scene of rival claims between China and neighbouring countries.   Speaking on condition of anonymity, the US official told AFP a Chinese frigate sent radio warnings at least 10 times to the USS McCain.   “They called and said ‘please turn around, you are in our waters’,” the official said. “We told them we are a US (ship) conducting routine operations in international waters.”  


USS John S. McCain conducts operation near China-held island

  MANILA, Philippines — A U.S. warship sailed close to a Chinese man-made island in the disputed South China Sea, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.   Two Chinese frigates and a Chinese coast guard vessel shadowed the USS John S. McCain as it sailed in a freedom of navigation operation within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef Thursday. A U.S. P-3 patrol plane flew overhead.   Nothing happened that the U.S. Navy considers unsafe or unprofessional, Martin reports.   China, which claims the South China Sea virtually in entirety, has protested such repeated U.S. military operations, which President Trump’s administration has continued partly to reassure allies locked in territorial rifts with Beijing.  


Think tank says Cayetano, Wang claim on China reclamation ‘false’

  A Washington-based think tank has belied the claims of Philippine and China foreign ministers that Beijing has stopped its reclamation activities in disputed areas in the South China Sea.   “This is false,” the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (AMTI-CSIS) said on Wednesday, referring to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s claim that Beijing is “not reclaiming land anymore.”   Cayetano’s statement came after his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, said during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Manila that China is “definitely” not carrying out any reclamation activities.   “China’s own reclamation work did not end in mid-2015 with the completion of its artificial islands in the Spratlys,” the think tank countered.   “Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north, in the Paracel Islands,” it added, referring to the part of the South China Sea being claimed by China and Vietnam.   As proof, the think tank released photos, dated August 5, showing China’s ongoing reclamation activities.   According to AMTI-CIIS, the two most recent examples of continued reclamation activities by China are at Tree Island and North Island in the Amphitrite Group.    


SOUTH CHINA SEA | U.S. destroyer challenges China’s territorial claim near Mischief [Panganiban] Reef

  The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain at sea in this 2010 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. REUTERS WASHINGTON – A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island, Mischief Reef (Filipino name: Panganiban Reef) built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters.   Mischief Reef is a reef / atoll surrounding a large lagoon east of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It is located 250 kilometers west of Palawan.   The operation came as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.   Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, in a challenge to China’s territorial claims.  


China defends its controversial ambitions for the South China Sea

  China has for some years intensified its land reclamation, facility construction and defence installation in the South China Sea. Its contentious activities in the hotly disputed waters have unnerved rival claimant states and other countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia.   Yet, each time its island-building and militarization in the strategic seaway have been raised Beijing vehemently denied or downgraded the contentions.   For instance, in March this year, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry categorically stated there was “no such thing” as man-made islands in the South China Sea and denied the country’s military build-up in the area, saying any work was mainly for civilian purposes.   In the same month, during a visit to Australia Li Keqiang, China’s premier, also dismissed Beijing’s militarization of the islands, adding “if there is a certain amount of defence equipment or facilities it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation” for all.    


To be relevant, let Asean use S. China Sea dispute ruling

  The Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), which marks its 50th anniversary on Aug 8, finds itself at a crossroads: How can it continue to be relevant as a regional bloc, in the light of its inability to counter, or even merely criticise, expansive Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea? One possibility is for individual members to separately invoke last year’s arbitral tribunal ruling.   That landmark ruling in international law, which the Philippines sought and which benefits both individual member-states and the Asean as a regional association, has been temporarily set aside by the Philippines.   The “award”- decided by the arbitral tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – was released on July 12, 2016, a mere 12 days after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.  


Will a China-ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct Really Matter?

Ahead of the next round of Asian summitry led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set for Manila later this week, reports have surfaced that, as expected, ASEAN countries and China will endorse a framework on the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that had first been agreed to in May.   Even though we ought to recognize any amount of diplomatic progress, however small, when it comes to the contentious South China Sea disputes, we also need to keep things in perspective by asking: what does the so-called ASEAN-China draft framework on a code of conduct in the South China Sea actually mean, and to what extent does it matter?   Three main things are clear in this respect: there is no real meaningful breakthrough between Southeast Asian states and Beijing on the South China Sea; there is no real code of any kind to speak of; and even if this agreement is built out, evidence suggests it will do little to regulate actual Chinese conduct in the maritime realm.   Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month. In other words, the draft framework as it stands now, and even an eventual, concluded COC for that matter, may not really matter that much if the past is any guide to how the future will play out.      


Enforce UN ruling? Carpio lists ways

  War never is an option. Diplomacy can fortify the UN ruling on Manila’s row with Beijing. Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio enumerates some diplomatic initiatives, in a presentation to the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute. Third of four parts:   There is no world policeman or sheriff to enforce the arbitral ruling. However, states that ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea expressly bound themselves to comply in good faith with decisions of arbitral tribunals created under UNCLOS. China is reneging on this treaty obligation.     The option for the Philippines is not “talk or go to war with China.” This is a false option, and shows a dismal lack of understanding of international law and relations.   First, the Philippine Constitution prohibits war as instrument of national policy. Second, the UN Charter has outlawed war as a means of settling disputes between states. In resolving the SCS dispute, war is not and has never been an option. That is precisely why the Philippines filed the arbitration case against China.   If the Philippines starts a war against China, it would surely lose, and lose badly. If the Philippines is the aggressor, that will violate the Constitution and the UN Charter. The Philippines cannot invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty because the treaty is only for defense, not for aggression. President Duterte’s oft-repeated question – whether the US will support and join the Philippines if we go to war against China – is a misguided question because the US is not bound by the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty to support any act of aggression by the Philippines. If the US joins the Philippines in a war of aggression, the US will also be in breach of the UN Charter.   China itself does not want to start a war because war will give the US an excuse to intervene in the SCS dispute, since to defend itself the Philippines will certainly invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. China’s strategy is to control the SCS without firing a shot. Those who raise the issue of war with China either do not understand the Three Warfares Strategy of China, or are scaring the Filipino people to submit to China’s designs in the SCS.