Inquirer Southern Luzon 12:37 am | Sunday, April 29th, 2012
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.
The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made “several changes in the program of activities” apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.
“They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.
The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.
“Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities,” the source said.
Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was “reached by both sides.”
“There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety,” Estrella said.
The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided “unilaterally” that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.
“It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough,” the source said.
- US envoy mum on Philippine-China standoff (globalnation.inquirer.net)
- Manila stuns the world by standing up to Beijing (chinadailymail.com)
- PH, US push to protect ‘mutual interests’ as ‘Balikatan’ ends (globalnation.inquirer.net)
The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.
This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.
The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.
“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.
“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”
Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.
Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.
In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.
Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.
Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.
The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.
“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.
“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
- China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas (thehimalayantimes.com)
- South China Sea Standoff Ratchets Up A Notch (chinabystander.wordpress.com)
- China accused of escalating South China Sea standoff (ctv.ca)
- Philippines says new China ship aggravates sea row (staradvertiser.com)
- Russian ships arriving in China for naval war game (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- US and Philippines begin South China Sea drills (1oneday.wordpress.com)
- It’s Getting Ugly Between China And The Philippines In The South China Sea (businessinsider.com)
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, rich in oil and natural gas reserves, require a quick and peaceful resolution to boost energy production and meet growing regional demand, a US official said.
“You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,” Robert Hormats, US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said today at a briefing in Hanoi. “These are long-term investments, so you really need to start now if you’re going to have the energy five years or 10 years out.”
Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint oil and gas development, leading to clashes in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the waters, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom OAO are exploring.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said March 15 that Cnooc’s moves to develop the oil- and gas-rich northern areas of the South China Sea violates its sovereignty. China’s biggest offshore oil explorer opened bids to foreign companies last year for 19 blocks near the disputed Paracel Islands, according to its Web site.
The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the US Energy Information Agency.
- Illegal Foreign Oil Platforms Discovered in South China Sea (chinasmack.com)
- The South China Sea (nation.com.pk)
- Resources fuel tensions in South China Sea (japantimes.co.jp)
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Even as world attention is mesmerized with the Strait of Hormuz, worrisome problems are now arising in the South China Sea, a region along the all-important energy sea lane of communication out to Asia Pacific.
‘You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,’ said Robert Hormats, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment.
Hormats’ remarks came after the Philippines said that it has the right to invite foreign companies to explore for oil and gas in waters located between its western coast and the South China Sea – remarks dismissive of China’s own claims.
‘It is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government‘s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,’ said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
The dispute arose after the Philippines’ Energy Secretary Jose Almendras announced that his country had invited international oil companies to explore for oil and gas offshore Palawan province in two areas that fall within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Palawan province faces the South China Sea, which is claimed entirely by China. But other nations in the region, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have competing claims of their own.
Claims over portions of the sea can have immense bearing on ownership of any oil or gas that lies under the region’s waters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But no one knows for sure just how much oil and gas is actually there.
According to EIA, one Chinese estimate suggests potential oil resources as high as 213 billion barrels of oil (bbl), but EIA also mentions a 1993/1994 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey which put reserves at just 28 billion bbl.
EIA notes speculation that the Spratly Islands could be an untapped oil-bearing province, but it said that, ‘There is little evidence outside of Chinese claims to support the view that the region contains substantial oil resources.’
Of course, there is only one way to find out and that is to explore, explore, explore. The problem, though, is that overlapping claims to the region are hindering exploration.
That was certainly true a year ago when two Chinese vessels threatened to ram the Veritas Voyager, a survey ship hired by U.K.-based Forum Energy PLC.
The Philippines government dispatched a surveillance plane, patrol ships and light attack aircraft to the disputed area, known as Reed Bank. By then, though, the Chinese vessels had vanished and Forum decided to suspend its exploration activities.
Now, a year on, Forum Energy apparently is planning to return to Reed Bank, aiming to drill its first well for oil and natural gas, an event that some analysts say could spark a military crisis if China responds more aggressively than it did last year.
Still, that year has seen a significant change in the posture of the U.S. in the region, with President Barack Obama announcing in January that Asia Pacific is now his country’s top priority in terms of global defense.
That view was underlined in early March by Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, who said that the America’s military must be present in the South China Sea.
China was less confrontational in 2011 in asserting its claims in the South China Sea than it was in 2010, Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But Willard also noted that China continues to challenge vessels conducting oil and gas exploration within space that it claims as its own. In a word, he said, ‘They remain aggressive.’
Just how aggressive they will remain is yet to be determined, perhaps by U.S. plans for war games in April with the Philippine navy near Reed Bank – war games that one analyst suggests will be viewed by China as provocative.
‘This will be a litmus test of where China stands on the South China Sea issue,’ said Ian Storey, a fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
According to Storey, the Chinese ‘could adopt the same tactics as they did last year and harass the drilling vessels, or they might even take a stronger line against them and send in warships.’
- Philippines reignites row with China over oil exploration rights (guardian.co.uk)
- Philippines seeks US muscle on South China Sea (bbc.co.uk)
- South China Sea: The New Persian Gulf? (Defence IQ) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Resources fuel tensions in South China Sea (japantimes.co.jp)
- The South China Sea (nation.com.pk)
- Illegal Foreign Oil Platforms Discovered in South China Sea (chinasmack.com)
A group of Philippine Marines wait to board a navy ship inside a navy headquarters in Manila
Manila : Philippines | Dec 16, 2011 at 9:04 PM PST By GerryAlbert
By Handog Malaya Vera, Gerry Albert Corpuz and Himala dela Cuesta
MANILA, Philippines-The alleged plan of US President Barack Obama to deploy combat ships in the Philippines to offset China’s growing military presence in South China Sea and the Southwast Asian region sparked outrage among groups in Manila highly critical of US military aggression and intervention.
The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Saturday protested what it called an upcoming intervention in Manila as they urged Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to clarify reports about a US plan to station American combat ships in the disputed Spratlys group of islands.
Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap cited an online report published by Interkasyon, the website news of ABC 5 which said the US Navy is planning to deploy combat ships in Singapore and in the Philippines to check China’s threatening presence in Spratlys.
“President Aquino should tell all about this US military project in Spratlys. Is he aware of this upcoming deployment of Washington combat ships inside the territorial waters of the Philippines? Did he agree with this military escapade of US President Barack Obama? What is the real score Mr. President,” asked Hicap in a press statement.
The Pamalakaya leader also asked officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila to shed light on the report, which Hicap said is a direct affront to the country’s national sovereignty.
Hicap said the report likewise merits a full-blown congressional inquiry by the Philippine Senate and the oversight committee of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), saying the deployment of combat ships is tantamount to allowing Washington to use the country as a launching pad to attack countries which the US categorized as rival powers like the China and other nations highly critical of American interests in Asia and the Pacific.
The report said regional defense analysts said the ships were small, but agreed the symbolism of the moves, which come after Washington announced it was increasing its engagement in Asia, would upset Beijing.
Last November, the United States and Australia announced plans to deepen the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with 2,500 U.S. Marines operating out of a de facto base in Darwin in northern Australia.
A report published by the U.S naval Institute said in coming years, the U.S. Navy will increasingly focus on the strategic “maritime crossroads” of the Asia-Pacific region, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert wrote in the December issue of Proceedings.
The plan highlights the deployment of several of US newest littoral combat ships at Singapore’s naval facility and will help the American navy sustain its global forward posture with what may be a smaller number of ships and aircraft than today.
Greenert described littoral combat ships as shallow draft vessels that operate in coastal waters and can counter coastal mines, quiet diesel submarines and small, fast, armed boats. Greenert admitted the ships would focus on the South China Sea, conducting operations to counter piracy and trafficking, both of which are endemic in the area.
“Similarly, 2025 may see P-8A Poseidon aircraft or unmanned broad area maritime surveillance aerial vehicles periodically deploy to the Philippines or Thailand to help those nations with maritime domain awareness.”
Defense experts argued that the disputed ownership of the oil-rich reefs and islands in the South China Sea is one of the biggest security threats in Asia. The sea is claimed wholly or in part by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
They agreed that the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through it.
At a regional summit held in November, US President Obama told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that the United States wanted to ensure the sea lanes were kept open and peaceful. But Jiabao lashed back declaring “outside forces” had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute, a veiled warning to the United States and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue.
- U.S. Navy may station ships in Singapore, Philippines (ibtimes.com)
- Philippines launches warship amid territorial row (sfgate.com)
- Philippines Launches Warship Amid Territorial Row (abcnews.go.com)
- Philippines launches warship amid territorial row (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Tensions rise on South China Sea dispute (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Clinton in Manila amid ASEAN row over South China Sea (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Is War in the South China Sea Inevitable? (mb50.wordpress.com)
- China’s Hu Urges Navy To Prepare For Combat (thetruthabout1111.wordpress.com)
- China’s Hu urges navy to prepare for combat – Yahoo! News (2012indyinfo.com)
- Is China Preparing for war? (peavyblack.com)
If China is not actually preparing for conflict in the South China Sea over disputed archipelagos and islets and their rich offshore resources, from fish to hydrocarbons, then consider the comments made on 6 December by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the Central Military Commission, as reported by Xinhua. Hu said that China’s navy should “make extended preparations for warfare,” adding that the navy should “accelerate its transformation and modernization in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security. Our work must closely encircle the main theme of national defense and military building.”
Is Beijing’s big nautical stick about to be deployed against other Southeast Asian nations contesting China’s South Sea sovereignty claims?
At issue are the Spratly islands’ 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays, which China, along with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are claimed by all. While there are no native Spratly islanders, about 45 archipelago’s islands are now occupied by Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Filipino forces, hardly a recipe for concord.
Whatever China’s intentions, what is beyond doubt is the exponential growth of the Chinese navy, which can now field 66 submarines, an undersea arsenal the Chinese government is intending to increase to 78 by 2020 as planned, putting it roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy’s submarine forces in numbers, if not in quality. Furthermore, China’s defense budget is growing nearly 10 percent annually and China’s first aircraft carrier, a renovated Soviet vessel, has begun its second set of sea trials from its Yellow Sea port in Dalian in northeastern China. The 990-foot-long former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, originally called the Varyag and now apparently renamed the Shi Lang, was completely overhauled and is currently based in China’s northeast Dalian port. It is perhaps not coincidental that “Shi Lang” was a famous 17th century Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan.
China is applying some not so subtle gunboat diplomacy to advertise its new maritime capabilities. Last month a delegation composed of 42 military attaches from 37 countries including the United States, Canada, Britain and Germany make a two-day-long goodwill visit to the North China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, visiting a ship-borne aircraft regiment of the aviation force under the North China Sea Fleet.
Their Chinese hosts demonstrated a number of capabilities, including platform-based flying and overland rescue. Lest the attaches be in any doubt about the Chinese Navy’s new capabilities, they also visited the Shenyang guided-missile destroyer.
But at least one contestant in the South China Sea is rising to the challenge. Later this month the Philippine Navy will deploy its biggest and most modern warship, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, to the South China Sea, which Manila labels the West Philippine Sea.
Regional diplomats are still trying to defuse the situation. Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said that the Bali Concord III, signed last month, could serve as a guide for East Asian countries in dealing with the dynamic situation in the South China Sea, commenting, “We are aware of the dynamic situation in the South China Sea. However, we must remember that now we have the Bali Concord III that was signed by the heads of state/government during the East Asia Summit last November 19.”
Washington’s take on the squabble? Pentagon spokesman George Little said, “They (China) have a right to develop military capabilities and to plan, just as we do.”
Translation for Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Seri Begawan – you’re on your own. It’s worth remembering that the People’s Republic of China fought two brief but savage border wars with both India (1962) and Vietnam (1979.)
For those with a sense of history, today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred prior to a declaration of war. For those with a greater sense of history, Dalian is close to the Chinese port of Lushunkou. Previously known as Port Arthur, it was the major base of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet and attacked on 8 February 1904 by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Without a formal declaration of war.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com
Source – Oilprice.com
Although U.S. officials have insisted for years that they do not regard China’s rise to great-power status as a threatening development, Washington’s statements and actions increasingly belie those assurances. Any doubt on that point disappeared following President Obama’s November 17 speech in Canberra, Australia. In his address to the Australian parliament, Obama boldly asserted that “the United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.” Observers in Australia and throughout the region interpreted that comment as sending a message to China that the United States was not about to quietly relinquish its hegemony in East Asia and let the PRC become the leading power.
The Canberra speech was not the only measure that suggested that Washington was adopting a harder line toward Beijing on security issues. Just hours before his address to parliament, Obama announced that the United States would send military aircraft and as many as 2,500 Marines to northern Australia over the next few years to develop a training hub to assist allies and protect American interests throughout the region.
The next day, while attending an East Asian economic summit in Bali, the president went out of his way to emphasize the importance of the U.S. defense alliance with the Philippines and pledged to strengthen that relationship. His comment followed a blunt statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the ongoing dispute between China and several of its neighbors (including the Philippines) over territorial claims in the South China Sea. “Any nation with a claim has a right to exert it,” Clinton stated during a visit to Manila on November 16, “but they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion.” She added that “the United States will always be in the corner of the Philippines and we will stand and fight with you.” Although the latter remark could be interpreted merely as a restatement of the rationale for the six-decade-old mutual-defense treaty, given the secretary’s comments about the South China Sea dispute Beijing could certainly view her statement as a specific warning regarding that issue.
Those moves, along with previous efforts to strengthen cooperative military ties with other traditional allies such as South Korea and Japan and one-time U.S. adversaries such as Vietnam, have all the earmarks of a rather unsubtle containment policy directed against China. It is a foolish strategy that will complicate and perhaps permanently damage the crucial U.S.-China relationship. Perhaps even worse, it is a containment strategy that is long on symbolism and short on substance, thereby managing to be simultaneously provocative and ineffectual.
Take the U.S. decision to send 2,500 Marines to Australia. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which such a small deployment would be militarily useful. If there is a security contingency somewhere in East Asia, it is likely to be decided by air and naval power, not a meager force of Marines. Yet, while militarily useless, such a deployment conveys a hostile message to Beijing, thereby managing to antagonize the Chinese.
A similar conclusion is warranted with regard to the Obama administration’s transparent effort to revitalize the nearly moribund alliance with the Philippines. That chronically misgoverned, third-rate military power would hardly make a good security partner in any crisis. Yet by siding with a country that is deeply embroiled with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, the United States once again appears to be going out of its way to antagonize Beijing.
That would be an ill-advised approach under the best of circumstances. But to embrace a containment policy—especially one that is primarily bluster and symbolism—when Washington badly needs China to continue funding the seemingly endless flow of U.S. Treasury debt verges on being dim-witted. It’s never a good idea to anger one’s banker. And one can assume that Beijing is watching U.S. actions, not just the pro-forma assurances that the United States wants good relations and does not regard China as a threat. Those assurances ring increasingly hollow, and one can assume that Chinese leaders will react accordingly. That does not bode well for the future of the U.S.-China relationship.
- The Coalition Against Chinese Hegemony (mb50.wordpress.com)
- U.S.-China tensions risk spilling over into Asia summit (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Flash-point: China issues warning to India on disputes in the South China Sea (theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com)
- Beijing naval drills to go ahead amid sovereignty row (chinapost.com.tw)
- China military condemns US-Australia pact (news.smh.com.au)
To resist Beijing’s maritime claims, Asean members will have to compromise and form a common front.
Ownership of the islands, seabed resources and navigation rights in the South China Sea is now very much on the international agenda. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is more united on this issue than it has been for about a decade, and the U.S. is turning more attention diplomatically and militarily to the Pacific. Nevertheless, sustaining the coalition of interests disputing China’s claimed hegemony over the sea will not be easy.
In fact, the wonder is that the Chinese leadership managed to get itself into this predicament by so clumsily arousing neighboring countries’ fears. Having suffered constant Chinese provocations over the preceding few years, Hanoi used its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2010 to first bring the issue of Chinese aggression to the table. Vietnam and the Philippines encouraged the U.S. to make clear its own interest in freedom of navigation and settlement of territorial disputes according to international principles.
At that point Beijing could have backed off and allowed the subject to fade from view. Instead, the People’s Liberation Army tried to punish Vietnam and the Philippines by harassing their exploration ships. Under the confident new administration of President Benigno Aquino, Manila responded with unprecedented vigor, carrying on exploration and offering new blocks for drilling.
Even this has not given China’s nationalists second thoughts. Recently the Global Times newspaper, owned by the People’s Daily, warned those who dispute Chinese claims to be “mentally prepared for the sound of cannons,” a threat that was noted around the world.
There is a sense that China’s provocations have been driven by the military, probably against the advice of its diplomats. If wiser heads among Beijing’s civilian leadership can reassert control, they will re-adopt Deng Xiaoping‘s maxim about keeping a low profile. If so, China will tone down its rhetoric and offer economic benefits on a larger scale to increase its neighbors’ dependence. It will likely quietly offer bilateral exploration deals which would divide the Asean claimants who are just starting to work together.
China has tried this before and nearly succeeded with Manila. Although the Philippines has relatively little reliance on China trade, its need for investment and pervasive corruption are vulnerabilities. The preoccupation of its armed forces—who are anyway poorly equipped—with insurgencies at home limits its ability to police the seas and protect exploration.
However, democracy can be a powerful force when it comes to protecting national interests. The Philippine public’s determination to stand up to bullying can be stronger than that of elites with business deals with China or autocracies reliant on good relations.
Vietnam’s nationalistic instincts are sure enough but Vietnam is still a relatively small and weak nation quite dependent on trade with China and likely to become more so. Good ties with India, Japan and Russia and emerging ones with the U.S. are an offset but China’s threats have already deterred some exploration on the continental shelf.
China’s efforts to divide the littoral states by pressing for bilateral negotiations have so far not met with success. But they could do so if Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei do not resolve their own differences. Significantly, China has refrained from overt threats against Malaysia even though oil and gas wells off Borneo are within its claimed territory. Malaysia in return has urged caution and cooperation with China. If Vietnam and the wider Malay world do not hang together they will surely be hung separately.
The difficulty lies in sacrificing some overlapping claims to form a united front. Vietnam claims all the Spratlys, the Philippines most but not all of them, Malaysia just a few, and Brunei only a couple of banks. Many of the islets, rocks and reefs lie outside their 200-mile exclusive economic zones and none qualifies for its own EEZ as none is capable of independently supporting permanent habitation.
Vietnam’s claim is as successor to its French colonial rulers as well as Vietnamese imperial assertions and the legacy of the Cham trading kingdom which flourished in central Vietnam until about 1500. The U.S. never claimed the Spratlys but an independent Philippines did so on the basis of proximity and as part of the Philippine archipelago. Malaysia and Brunei make claims based on rights to the continental shelf off Borneo.
Compromise among these four countries, who together own two-thirds of the coastline, is essential to prevent China from establishing hegemony over Southeast Asia. If the Asean nations cannot agree among themselves they could ask the International Court of Justice for a ruling, as did Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in previous island disputes. The court could also be asked to adjudicate the EEZ boundaries. China would object, but that would only underline its unwillingness to agree to arbitration based on the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention.
In the end, only leadership from Indonesia, the largest Malay state and the cornerstone of Asean, can resolve this conflict. It can do more to refute China’s history-based claims, which ignore centuries of Malay trading across the sea a thousand years before the Chinese. And Jakarta can be the honest broker in finding a compromise to share resources that lie outside the EEZs of the claimants.
Vietnam, the Philippines and the other smaller states are never going to be able to remove China from the Spratly Islands that it now occupies, let alone the Paracels that it seized from Vietnam in 1974. But if they can maintain a common front with backing from Indonesia, they should be able to defend their interests in the South China Sea and their future sovereignty.
- Tensions rise on South China Sea dispute (mb50.wordpress.com)
- The disputes over the Spratly Islands (louisadheen.wordpress.com)
- Showdown in the South China Sea (gulfnews) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- China Rejects U.S. Bid for Sea Dispute Talks in East Asia Summit (International Business Times) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)