Daily Archives: November 15, 2011

A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy


Navies Ramping Up: Three Contested Regions

Published: November 12, 2011

IT may seem strange in an era of cyberwarfare and drone attacks, but the newest front in the rivalry between the United States and China is a tropical sea, where the drive to tap rich offshore oil and gas reserves has set off a conflict akin to the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century.

The Obama administration first waded into the treacherous waters of the South China Sea last year when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared, at a tense meeting of Asian countries in Hanoi, that the United States would join Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in resisting Beijing’s efforts to dominate the sea. China, predictably, was enraged by what it viewed as American meddling.

For all its echoes of the 1800s, not to mention the cold war, the showdown in the South China Sea augurs a new type of maritime conflict — one that is playing out from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean, where fuel-hungry economic powers, newly accessible undersea energy riches and even changes in the earth’s climate are conspiring to create a 21st-century contest for the seas.

China is not alone in its maritime ambitions. Turkey has clashed with Cyprus and stoked tensions with Greece and Israel over natural-gas fields that lie under the eastern Mediterranean. Several powers, including Russia, Canada and the United States, are eagerly circling the Arctic, where melting polar ice is opening up new shipping routes and the tantalizing possibility of vast oil and gas deposits beneath.

“This hunt for resources is going to consume large bodies of water around the world for at least the next couple of decades,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview, describing a global competition that sounds like a watery Great Game.

Such tensions are sure to shadow President Obama this week, as he meets with leaders from China and other Asian countries in Honolulu and on the Indonesian island of Bali. Administration officials said they expected all sides to tamp down disagreements, though that won’t mask the coming conflicts.

“Underlying all of this is the recognition that an increasing share of oil resources is offshore,” said Daniel Yergin, an energy expert and author of a new book, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.” “When you have energy resources on land,” he said, “you know where things stand. When they’re offshore, things can get murkier.”

Twenty-nine million barrels of oil a day, one-third of global production, now come from offshore fields, Mr. Yergin said, a share that will rise steadily. The South China Sea alone is estimated to have 61 billion barrels of petroleum — oil and gas — plus 54 billion yet to be discovered, while the Arctic is projected to have 238 billion barrels, with possibly twice that in undiscovered sources.

As countries race to erect drilling rigs and send oil exploration vessels to comb the seabed, conflicting maritime claims are helping to fuel a naval arms race. It is no coincidence that the countries with the fastest-growing navies are those with stakes in these energy zones.

China expanded from 2 Soviet-era destroyers in 1990 to 13 modern destroyers in 2010, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. In its drive for a blue-water navy, one that operates in the deep waters of open oceans, it is also building an aircraft carrier. Malaysia and Vietnam are beefing up their navies with frigates and submarines. India, which wants to make sure it has access to the Far East, is bulking up. And the Israeli Navy is pushing for more vessels to counter Turkish warships circling Israeli drilling rigs.

“Countries want to make sure they have the ability to develop resources and to make sure their trading routes are protected,” said David L. Goldwyn, a former special envoy for international energy affairs at the State Department.

This competition is also behind calls for the United States to bolster its naval strength, even at a time of budget cuts. Mitt Romney, considered by many the Republican front-runner in the presidential race, declared recently he would “reverse the hollowing of our Navy and announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15.” With anemic building rates and tighter maintenance budgets, analysts say, the Navy has been forced to cope with an aging fleet that some say is not up to its challenges.

Even so, the Obama administration has been an active practitioner of gunboat diplomacy, a term that refers to achieving foreign-policy objectives through vivid displays of naval might. Last fall, Mr. Obama sent the aircraft carrier George Washington to the Yellow Sea for joint exercises with South Korea, sending a message to both North Korea and its key backer, China. The move echoed the Clinton administration’s decision in 1996 to send the Seventh Fleet to warn China against attacking Taiwan.

The United States has used gunboat diplomacy in Asia at least since 1853, when Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed his fleet into Tokyo Bay, intimidating Japan into opening up to foreign trade. But these days, the Chinese are fashioning an Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine to press their imperial ambitions.

FOR Mr. Obama, whose roots in Hawaii and Indonesia have imbued him with a strong Pacific worldview, the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan gives him a good pretext to turn his gaze eastward. The United States has worked to shore up its ties to old Asian allies, like Japan and South Korea, as well as new giants like India. The goal, though administration officials are loath to say it publicly, is to assemble a coalition to counterbalance China’s growing power.

On a recent tour of Asia, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta pledged not to retreat from the region. “If anything,” he said, “we’re going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific.” This week, Mr. Obama is expected to announce an agreement with Australia for a permanent American military presence there.

On land, the race for energy supplies is not new, of course. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the United States maneuvered to keep Russia out of oil-rich Iran. Today, China is busy cutting deals in energy-rich Africa. But technology has changed the equation, putting undersea oil and gas fields into play as never before.

“At root, it’s a question of when and how you will have these conflicts,” said James B. Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state with experience in all three regions. “Will countries see these as win-win opportunities, or will they see them as zero-sum competitions?”

For China, the South China Sea has long been crucial as a supply route for oil and other raw materials to fuel its economy. China’s claims have deep historical roots, dating from the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists drew a dotted line in the shape of a cow’s tongue extending south of China, embracing most the sea and two disputed island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys.

Quarrels over these hunks of volcanic rock wouldn’t matter much, except that China, Vietnam and the Philippines are running into one another in the race for oil. Last spring, in two separate incidents, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of deliberately cutting the seismic survey cables of an oil exploration ship. A former American official said his nightmare scenario would be a Chinese warship’s firing on an Exxon oil-drilling ship.

If the South China Sea is simmering, then the eastern Mediterranean is seething. There, claims to huge natural-gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Lebanon have raised tensions with Turkey, which occupies half of Cyprus, as well as with Israel. Cyprus and Israel are drilling for gas, angering Turkey. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, in Lebanon, has threatened to attack Israeli gas rigs.

Further complicating this is the bitter rift between Turkey and Israel after the deadly Israeli commando interception of a Turkish flotilla trying to transport aid to Palestinians in Gaza last year.

“The Turks are saying, ‘The Israelis humiliated us; what can we do in return?’” said Charles K. Ebinger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Part of it is just the greater assertiveness of Turkey’s foreign policy everywhere.”

Perhaps the least dangerous arena of competition lies in the frigid north, partly because experts believe that many of the Arctic’s mineral deposits lie within one or another of the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of the countries that ring the ocean. But even countries with no Arctic coastline, like China and South Korea, are sending icebreakers there to explore weather patterns and fish migration.

Ironically, the biggest bone of contention there is between two stalwart allies, the United States and Canada. Melting ice has opened up the fabled Northwest Passage, which runs through an archipelago of islands in northern Canada. The United States views the passage as an international waterway, giving American ships unlimited access. The Canadian government insists it is an inland waterway, meaning that foreign ships can use it only with Ottawa’s approval.

Canada and the United States are highly unlikely to go to war, of course, though the wrangling could keep maritime lawyers busy for years. As temperatures climb, officials warn, tempers may follow. “It’s a serious legal dispute,” Mr. Steinberg said. “When it is ice-free, there will be some real issues.”


Obama to renew, strengthen ties in Australia


By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP)President Barack Obama turns from economic to security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region as he travels to Australia, finally making a long-delayed visit to the longtime and increasingly important U.S. ally.

Obama twice last year canceled visits to Australia, once to stay in town to lobby for passage of his health-care bill, and again in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The third time’s the charm as Obama was setting out for the capital of Canberra Tuesday morning from Hawaii, where he’s spent the last several days hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Because Air Force One has to cross the international date line, Obama won’t arrive in Australia until mid-afternoon local time Wednesday for a one-and-a-half-day visit.

Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., said Obama’s mere appearance was “enormously important” to Australians. And for the U.S., Australia’s geographic location in the burgeoning Asia-Pacific region makes the longtime ally an increasingly important one as China’s might grows.

After arriving Wednesday afternoon, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the two will hold a joint news conference. On Thursday, Obama addresses the Australian Parliament before traveling to Darwin, on Australia’s remote northern coast, where U.S. and Australian forces were killed in a Japanese attack during World War II. Obama will pay respects at a memorial to the dead and visit a military base in Darwin, where he’ll speak to Australian troops and U.S. Marines.

The visit comes as the U.S. and Australia mark 60 years as defense treaty partners, and Obama is expected to announce plans to expand that relationship, including positioning U.S. military equipment in Australia, increasing access to bases and conducting more joint exercises and training.

The moves would effectively counter an increasingly aggressively China, which claims dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the U.S. considers international waters. China has alarmed smaller Asian neighbors by reigniting old territorial disputes, including confrontations over the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the goal is to signal that the U.S. and Australia will stick together in face of any threats.

From Australia, Obama will head to Indonesia for a security summit with Asian nations before finishing his nine-day trip and returning to Washington on Nov. 20.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Regional disputes delay large-scale drilling of oil in South China Sea

Oil rig under tow, South China Sea-photo: Peter Bowater

Posted by thủy tinh vỡ

HANO: To China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, another Saudi Arabia of oil may lie beneath the ocean to its south. Escalating regional tensions mean large-scale drilling may be slipping further into the future.

The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, or 80 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the United States Energy Information Agency. The world’s second-largest economy claims ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over most of the sea, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil and Russia’s Gazprom are exploring.

Disputes have strained China’s ties with its neighbors and tensions rose this year as Vietnam said oil survey boats were harassed by Chinese vessels. The friction threatens maritime security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and may be discussed at a two-day summit of Asia-Pacific leaders hosted by US President Barack Obama in Honolulu starting today.

“China is the elephant in the room at the moment, so like it or not, you cannot ignore it,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the independent China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in Fujian province. “Countries at the rim of the South China Sea are under pressure to find a practical way to deal with its presence — not to anger or challenge it.”

The sea lies south of mainland China at the western extreme of the Pacific Ocean, and while it borders several nations China claims a huge expanse. That’s based largely on a historical map that predates the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. There are hundreds of islands, many disputed.

China-Vietnam clash
Chinese and Vietnamese military forces clashed in the Paracel Islands in 1974 and the Spratly Islands in 1988. The region, marked by China’s ‘nine-dotted line’ to delineate its territorial claims, extends hundreds of miles south from its Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo, and overlaps with areas claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The Philippines will propose a new initiative to settle disputes in the South China Sea at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said October 26. President Benigno Aquino will also meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Manila this month and discuss maritime security with Obama at the East Asia summit in Bali on Novembesr 18, del Rosario said.

The US set off China’s ire in 2010 when Hillary, speaking at a regional summit in Hanoi, called resolving the competing claims to the sea ‘a leading diplomatic priority’. That drew a rebuke from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said internationalising the incident with US involvement ‘can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve’.

“There are challenges facing the Asia-Pacific that demand America’s leadership, from ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to countering North Korea’s provocations and proliferation activities to promoting balanced and inclusive economic growth,” Hillary said in Honolulu on Thursday.

The US has longstanding security alliances with countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, which it aims to enhance, and faces a balancing act as it seeks to deepen regional integration.

Nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam are simultaneously attracted by Chinese commerce and concerned by what they consider Chinese belligerence.


Clinton in Manila amid ASEAN row over South China Sea


By Manuel Mogato and Paul Eckert

(Reuters) – The Philippines criticized fellow Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday for failing to take a united stand against China over maritime rights in the South China Sea, a crucial commercial shipping lane thought to contain valuable oil and minerals.

The comments by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario coincide with the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Manila for a two-day visit in which the Philippines is likely to press Washington to help resolve disputes in the sea lanes claimed by China.

“They’re concerned from a security point of view and are looking at us to identify ways to work together,” a senior U.S. defense official travelling with Clinton told reporters. “We’re very sensitive to making sure that this does not in any way alarm or provoke anybody else.”

Regional leaders gather in Bali, Indonesia, this week for back-to-back summits of the ASEAN and East Asia groupings where the issue is also expected to be raised.

The summits follow a meeting in Honolulu this past weekend of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Beijing claims that entire maritime region, which contains rich energy and fisheries resources, pitting it against coastal states Vietnam and the Philippines in a test of wills that erupted in violent clashes in recent years.

Diplomats in Vietnam and the Philippines have privately expressed concern that Beijing is using its economic influence on some members of the 10-state Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to prevent the regional bloc from steering negotiations over conflicting claims.

The Philippines has proposed a “Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation”, or ZoPFFC, to define which areas are disputed and which are under the sovereignty of a country. That would pave the way for a joint cooperation area.

In the first sign of discord as regional foreign ministers met on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, del Rosario reprimanded Southeast Asia, suggesting it was failing to flex its diplomatic muscle in the face of pressure from China.

“We have been given the impression that political and economic considerations have hindered a fruitful and mutually acceptable outcome on the discussions of the ZoPFFC,” Rosario said in a statement in Manila on Tuesday that was read by his deputy at an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Bali.

“ASEAN must play a decisive role at this time if it desires to realize its aspirations for global leadership.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country holds the rotating ASEAN chairmanship, said the Philippine proposal failed to find traction in the region.

“The core problem is to define which areas are in dispute and which areas are not,” he told reporters in Bali. “So to many countries, this almost appeared to be a non-starter.”


Maritime security will be front and centre when U.S. President Barack Obama attends the East Asia Summit in Bali this weekend, the first U.S. leader to join the annual meeting of Asian leaders and dialogue partners.

Obama is expected to respond to China’s territorial sea claims which the Philippines and other U.S. allies regard as economically and militarily threatening.

Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are other claimants to parts of the South China Sea. Those countries, along with the United States and Japan, have pressured Beijing to try and seek some way forward on sovereignty, which has flared again this year with often-tense maritime stand-offs.

But China, growing in confidence and military power, sees no reason to back down.

Countries such as the Philippines are increasingly concerned and fear their Asian allies will succumb to Beijing’s influence on the issue.

Del Rosario said there was no full participation of ASEAN member states in an ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting, making it difficult to reach consensus on the issue.

Manila hosted the legal experts’ meeting in September but Laos and Cambodia — both of which have benefited from waves of Chinese investment in recent years — did not turn up despite indicating they would, preventing a joint position.

“ASEAN is now at a critical junction of playing a positive and meaningful role to contribute in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea,” del Rosario said.

China and Taiwan also claim the whole of the world’s second-busiest sea lane, which has rich deposits of oil and gas and is also a major fisheries resource.

Beijing wants to resolve the dispute through bilateral negotiations and has rejected calls for United Nations arbitration, but other claimants prefer a multilateral approach, including an indirect role for the United States.

Washington has supported Manila’s multilateral and rules-based approach to resolve the issue and has pledged military assistance to upgrade the Philippines’ ability to patrol its maritime borders in the area.

Clinton will sign a partnership agreement to mark 60th anniversary of the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty.

Briefing journalists travelling with Clinton, a senior U.S. state department official said Washington will continue efforts in the country’s restive south to help fight Islamic militants but “are focusing more on maritime capabilities and other aspects of expeditionary military power.”

“We are working on a whole list of things that improve their own indigenous capabilities to be able to deal with maritime challenges,” he said, adding the U.S. has provided the Philippines with a destroyer and a second ship will come soon.


Obama’s Crude Chutzpah


By Aaron Goldstein

Our president’s ideological and intellectual laziness is a job killer.

Over the weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Coperation (APEC) Summit in Honolulu, President Obama raised a few eyebrows when he criticized a lack of ingenuity on the part of Americans in attracting foreign investment:

But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.

President Obama’s choice of words was at best peculiar and at worst pedantic. Forty-eight hours earlier, the Obama Administration delayed approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline until after the 2012 election. The Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the oil sands in northern Alberta into the United States as well as U.S. domestic oil, is being built by TransCanada, which is based in Calgary. The last time I checked Canada is a foreign country. Ergo this would constitute foreign investment. Apparently, President Obama’s appetite for foreign investment isn’t as insatiable as he would have us believe. Talk about chutzpah in its crudest form.

The Keystone XL is actually an extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline that went into operation in 2008. The extension would have been twofold. First, the pipeline that currently ends in Oklahoma would be extended into the Gulf Coast of Texas. Second, the pipeline would be extended from its starting point in Hardisty, Alberta, and run through Montana and South Dakota before joining up with the existing pipeline in Nebraska.

The pipeline extension faced opposition from environmentalists, many of whom took their protest to the White House. Most of the opposition to the extension of the pipeline is centered in Nebraska where there are concerns that the pipeline could contaminate the groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer that encompasses the Nebraska Sandhills. However, a report produced by the State Department back in August concluded the extension of the pipeline would have little environmental impact. But in facing a difficult bid for re-election next year, Obama dismissed reason and chose to placate the passions of the environmentalists. For its part, TransCanada has pledged to work with the State Department in looking at alternate routes for extending the pipeline but emphasizes that time is of the essence:

Keystone XL is shovel-ready. TransCanada is poised to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline — pipe fitters, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators, the list goes on. Local businesses along the pipeline route will benefit from the 118,000 spin-off jobs Keystone XL will create through increased business for local restaurants, hotels and suppliers.

However, some believe this “delay” represents the death knell of the pipeline extension. Christopher Helman of Forbes writes:

So the Obama administration rejected Keystone XL. Oh sure, they want us to think it’s just a delay, a kicking of the Keystone can down the road. Officially, the state department just sent TransCanada back to the drawing board to look at a variety of other pipeline routes that do their best to avoid the Sandhills in Nebraska and areas overlaying the Ogawalla Aquifer. But don’t be fooled. This is a rejection plain and simple.

In the process of selecting the proposed route, TransCanada plotted and studied 14 different pipeline paths and submitted 10,000 pages of environmental studies. They’ve already studied this thing to death. So when the state department says this new review could be done by early 2013, can we really expect any different outcome than more delays?

All of which brings me back to President Obama. Consider what he had to say at a Democratic Party fundraiser in San Francisco last month:

Anybody been to Beijing Airport lately? Or driven on high-speed rail in Asia or Europe? What’s changed? Well, we’ve lost our ambition, our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and unleashed all the potential in this country.

Who does President Obama think he’s kidding? As Thomas Purcell points out, it took more than fifteen years for the Golden Gate Bridge to be built largely because of stonewalling on the part of the federal government:

Construction did not go as smoothly as planned. It takes another FIVE years for the government and the architects to come to agreement on the design. Furthermore, Federal contractor unions wanted the contracts to build the bridge and stalled the government on the issue, demanding they take action to halt construction unless they got the contract. Fortunately, local authorities insisted that as part of the contract only local labor would be used instead of Federal union contracts, insuring the area had work during Depression era unemployment.

And at the risk of conjuring up the image of Rachel Maddow wearing a hard hat, there is no way on God’s green earth the Hoover Dam would have be built in Barack Obama’s America. If there was a proposal on the table to divert the Colorado River, you could be sure that Robert Redford, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Darryl Hannah would be there to oppose it faster than you could say, “Splash!” As the Economist recently put it:

It was hard enough back then to overcome the rivalries of the seven states involved, but at least nobody gave a fig for the down-river rights of the south-western Indians, let alone the Mexicans, or the creatures whose habitats were eradicated when the river was damned. Today a rampart of federal legislation, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, would block the way.

At the risk of being crude, if President Obama was just a little less lazy about his economic policies and his knowledge of American history, then perhaps we wouldn’t find ourselves in this sorry state of affairs.


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