Posts Tagged ‘freedom of navigation’

Philippines: China’s acceptance or rejection of South China Sea arbitral ruling irrelevant (Both nations ignore international law) — Philippines becomes a victim of China’s ways….

January 15, 2018


Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. announces during a press briefing at the New Executive Building (NEB) in Malacañang on January 8, 2018. Presidential Photo/Yancy Lim

By Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – January 15, 2018 – 2:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Whether or not Beijing accepts the July 2012 ruling of a United Nations-back tribunal on the South China Sea is immaterial under international law, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque stressed that the international tribunal had already invalidated China’s historic claims to the contested waters and that their artificial islands were located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“What is material under international law is it’s there… That’s the unique feature of international law. You cannot deny what is there,” Roque said in a televised press briefing. The Philippines has declined to press China on the decision, preferring instead to focus on other aspects of ties between the two nations.

Roque made the statement in response to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who said that the Philippines should reject China’s request to conduct marine research in Benham Rise, which is now officially called Philippine Rise.

READ: Alejano: DFA approved Chinese think tank request to study Philippine waters

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines, Carpio said that the Philippines would be “dumb” to grant China’s request following its refusal to accept its obligation under the arbitral award.

Duterte’s spokesman, on the other hand, said that there is a difference between international law and domestic law.

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Chinese research vessel ‘Kexue’ is seen in the South China Sea. How do we know China is not stealing Philippine oil, fish and other natural resources?

Roque: Not Philippines’ place to compel China to accept ruling

“In international law, the decision itself is the implementation of the law because that’s a statement of the rights of the parties which cannot be extinguished… I really do not understand, with all due respect to Justice Carpio, he really is recognized as the intellectual heavyweight in the court, why he insists that any country including China must accept it,” Roque said.

China has rejected the decision on the South China Sea, saying the proceedings were invalid from the start. It did not send representatives to the proceedings.

Roque further argued that the arbitral ruling is legally binding on all parties whether or not they agree with it as it is considered as a subsidiary source of international law.

“I do not understand why Justice Carpio belabors the point that China does not accept it. In the first place, it’s not for the Philippines to compel any state to accept it,” the presidential spokesperson said.

Asked if President Rodrigo Duterte will still raise the arbitral ruling with China, Roque said that there is no reason for the chief executive to do so given that there is no “international police” that would enforce the decision.

“What is the self-implementing nature of international law is the fact that the decision exists. That’s it,” Roque said.

Roque also clarified that the arbitral ruling is not relevant to Benham Rise as it is not part of the award, which is specifically for the disputed features in the West Philippine Sea. Benham Rise, or the Philippine Rise, is located 216 kilometers east of the coast of Aurora Province.

In 2012, the United Nations Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the request of the Philippines to include Benham Rise as part of its continental shelf.

RELATED: Chinese ‘research’ in Benham Rise slammed






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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.


China objects to Vietnam’s call for Indian investment in South China Sea — Outsiders impair regional peace and stability — Who “owns” the sea?

January 12, 2018

PTI | Updated: Jan 11, 2018, 19:07 IST

China has been opposing ONGC exploring oil in wells claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea for years
China has been opposing ONGC exploring oil in wells claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea for years
BEIJING: China on Thursday objected to Vietnam‘s invitation to India to invest in oil and natural gas sector in the disputed South China Sea + (SCS), saying it is firmly opposed to infringement of its rights using development of bilateral ties as an “excuse”.
Vietnam’s Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh on Tuesday had told an Indian news channel that his country would welcome Indian investments in the South China Sea.Responding to remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “China does not object to the development of normal bilateral relations of relevant countries in our neighbourhood”.

“But China firmly oppose relevant party to use it as an excuse to infringe upon China’s legitimate rights and interests in the SCS and impair regional peace and stability,” Lu said.

“Certainly, China also needs to construct necessary defense facilities for its own territory, which are not directed at any country,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said.

Ton had also said defence cooperation is one of the important and effective areas of cooperation between India and Vietnam and India can be helpful in expanding Vietnam’s defence capabilities.


China has been opposing India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) exploring oil+ in wells claimed by Vietnam in the SCS for years. India has been asserting that the ONGC’s exploration is a commercial operation and not connected with the dispute.

China claims almost all of the SCS while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.


Oil exploration in the SCS is a sensitive issue in the Vietnam-China relations. There were anti-China riots in Vietnam when China tried to deploy oil rigs in an areas claimed by Vietnam few years ago.

India, which is ramping up ties with Vietnam, calls for freedom of navigation in the SCS through which trillions of dollars of trade happens every year.




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

U.S. Says China “Pushing Around Smaller Nations” in the South China Sea

January 9, 2018

US State Department adviser says China is pushing around smaller states with rival claims and limiting navigation in international waters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 5:14pm

South China Morning Post

The United States has accused China of “provocative militarisation” of disputed areas in the South China Sea and will continue sending vessels to the region to carry out freedom-of-navigation patrols, according to a top US adviser on Asia policy.

Brian Hook, a senior adviser to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said on Tuesday that the issue of the South China Sea was raised at all diplomatic and security dialogues between China and the US.

Some analysts have suggested that the US administration’s attention towards the issue has been deflected by the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis.

Hook’s remarks came as China continues building work in the disputed waters, including installing high-frequency radar and other facilities that can be used for military purposes.

“China’s provocative militarisation of the South China Sea is one area where China is contesting international law. They are pushing around smaller states in ways that put a strain on the global system,” Hook said during a media telephone conference.

“We are going to back up freedom-of-navigation operations and let them know we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

Chinese state-controlled media hailed Beijing’s progress in construction work on islands in the South China Sea last year, noting that the projects covered 290,000 square metres.

The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said in December that China had built what appeared to be a high-frequency radar array at Fiery Cross Reef, part of the Spratly Islands chain in the disputed waters. Completed tunnels that could be used for ammunition storage were also spotted on Subi Reef in the same chain of islands.

China also plans to launch 10 more satellites from the southern island of Hainan over the next three years for around-the-clock monitoring of the South China Sea, a move analysts say consolidates Beijing’s control of the contested waters.

“We strongly believe China’s rise cannot come at the expense of the values and rule-based order. That order is the foundation of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and also around the world,” Hook said.

“When China’s behaviour is out of step with these values and these rules we will stand up and defend the rule of law.”

Beijing insists it has sovereignty over almost all the South China Sea but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the waters.


 US President Donald Trump (right) pictured with Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis (centre) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) during a meeting of his advisers at Camp David in Maryland earlier this month. Photo: AFP

China has repeatedly called for the US not to get involved in the disputes, saying it is not a claimant. Beijing also says US freedom-of-navigation patrols in the contested waters infringe on Chinese sovereignty.

Separately, Hook said Washington was opposed to Beijing’s expansion of civil aviation routes in the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing announced it had opened four air routes last week, without consulting the Taiwanese authorities.

It comes as Beijing presses ahead with a massive military modernisation programme, including building new aircraft carriers and stealth fighters to give it the ability to project its power far from its shores. The mainland has also carried out “island encirclement patrols” near Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway Chinese province.

“We oppose these kinds of unilateral actions,” Hook said. “We encourage the authorities in Beijing and Taipei to engage in constructive dialogue on issues related to civil aviation.”

Taiwan has strongly criticised the creation of the air flight paths, saying Beijing’s move threatens regional security.




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

South China Sea: How 2017’s forgotten flashpoint could flare again

December 26, 2017


Updated 10:57 PM ET, Mon December 25, 2017

(CNN) —  In 2017, the South China Sea was the world’s forgotten flashpoint.


Eclipsed by North Korea and overlooked by a Trump administration that has left many Asia positions unfilled, the lack of attention given to the disputed waters allowed China to press ahead with its military build-up on reclaimed land and work to placate the countries that contest its sweeping maritime claims.
“The water was beautiful for China in the South China Sea in 2017,” said Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
But that could change in 2018, if an over-confident Beijing overplays its hand, forcing Washington and its allies to react.

Back burner


Though most analysts agree the White House has put the issue on the back burner, there is disagreement as to why.
At the start of the year, it appeared that the Trump administration would take a more muscular approach to the South China Sea.
“Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. Its taking of territory that others lay claim to,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in his confirmation hearing in January.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed.”
This satellite image shows construction on Fiery Cross, a reef occupied by China.

CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe


But it was North Korea’s nuclear program that emerged as the top priority for the Trump administration, which now identifies Pyongyang’s weapons as a clear and present danger to the US homeland.
Trump and his Secretary of State have come under fire for failing to fill multiple diplomatic posts and the focus on North Korea may have cannibalized the State Department’s resources on other issues in Asia.
“It’s no secret that the Trump administration is still woefully understaffed when it comes to the Asia squad,” said Gregory Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).
“It’s no surprise that they can’t focus on anything but North Korea. And occasionally they talk about trade deficits with China, but that’s it.”
Other critics say the President simply doesn’t give the conflict the same weight as his predecessor did, though many note the Department of Defense has continued to bring the issue to the fore as best it can.
CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe


Compared to North Korea, the South China Sea doesn’t have the same immediate life-and-death consequences as nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
Instead, it requires the Trump administration to push back at Beijing’s attempts to encroach on the sovereignty of its neighbors and trying to control trade routes, violations of the so called “rules-based order” that the United States has championed globally since the end of World War II.
“The South China Sea appeals somewhat less naturally to someone like President Trump because it’s about abstract defenses of norms and systemic stability,” said Euan Graham, the director of international security at Australia’s Lowy Institute.

Lip service


Trump’s administration gave the South China Sea a short mention on page 46 of its newly unveiled 68-page National Security Strategy.
The document said Beijing’s “efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability.”
Analysts believe, for now at least, that mention was little more than lip service.
“The Chinese continue to pace with their long-term strategy to gain de facto control over the sea lanes in the South China Sea. And what changed is the United States stopped paying attention,” said Fuchs, who served as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2013 until 2016.
The United States has continued to conduct freedom of navigation operations, which involve sailing ships through waters to challenge what Washington deems to be overzealous maritime claims. In these operations, US ships will sail very close to the islands China controls, often triggering heated warnings from Chinese coastal patrols.
But there is a sense of South China Sea fatigue, according to Poling.
“After three years of sensational photos splashed across every paper of Chinese island building, that somehow became the new normal,” said Poling.

Diplomatic efforts


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s desire to cozy up to China, as well as a more inward-looking Indonesia and Malaysia, all helped China advance its interests in the region.
And diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the South China Sea did move forward.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to a framework for a Code of Conduct, a formalized process for dispute settlement.
But critics believe the watered-down document, which failed to mention island militarization and may not even be legally binding once finalized, were victories for Beijing. Vietnam was the only country to voice its opposition.
But without the continued strong backing of other ASEAN states and the US, Hanoi does not have the same support it enjoyed in the past.
“Vietnam is in a tough spot. I think they have red lines, and if the Chinese don’t cross them they’re willing to play nice right now,” said Poling.
Military bases destroy reefs in S. China Sea



Experts believe this is all part of Beijing’s strategy of patience in the South China Sea.
China’s leaders are playing a long game, waiting for rivals to either slip up or lose interest while using its economic leverage to influence smaller states who claim a part of the disputed waters.
“Beijing’s opinion has been for the last decade that it was never worth provoking an immediate crisis in the South China Sea, because sooner or later, the Americans would lose focus and that we (the US) just wouldn’t be able to maintain high-level political concern about this from administration to administration. And it looks like they were right, at least right now,” said Poling of AMTI.
But hubris could foil China’s current advantage, Poling says, if China convinces themselves that they won’t have problems with the other claimants in the region
“What seems likely to me is that China will eventually overplay its hand here, because in Beijing, the only concern seems to be with Washington,” he said.
“I hear an awful lot of premature triumphalism in China that the region — the Philippines and Vietnam and Singapore — are all in the bag and if the Americans just got out of the way, the rest of Asia would kind of accede to Chinese hegemony.”

On the horizon


Multiple analysts predict if Washington continues on its current path, Australia, India and Japan — US treaty allies — would get more involved in the South China Sea to ensure the sea lanes are open for trade.
Talks over the Code of Conduct are likely to continue. China could begin using its newly constructed military installations by deploying more aircraft, vessels and personnel.
“They didn’t build all these hangers and airstrips so they can never use them,” said Poling.
If things continue on their current trajectory, it’s a boon for Beijing. But to say China has already won is misleading, according to Graham at the Lowy Institute.
“The fundamental metrics of American power, including the economic revival of the United States, are not to be underestimated,” said Graham.
“The key question is, will that be translated into the political will to go and show leadership, especially on these issues that are not immediately sell-able to a skeptical public and Congress because they’re more about abstracts and systemic order.”
Includes video:

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

China island expansion moves ahead in South China Sea

December 25, 2017


© AFP/File | In this photo taken on June 15, 2016 a vendor stands behind a map of China including an insert with red dotted lines showing China’s claimed territory in the South China Sea


China’s large-scale land reclamation around disputed reefs and shoals in the South China Sea is “moving ahead steadily”, state media has reported, and is on track to use giant “island-builders” to transform even more of the region.

Beijing claims nearly all of the sea and has been turning reefs in the Spratly and Paracel chains into islands, installing military facilities and equipment in the area where it has conflicting claims with neighbours.

“The course of construction is moving ahead steadily and a series of striking results have been achieved,” according to a report that appeared Friday on Haiwainet, a website under theHaiwainet’s flagship newspaper the People’s Daily.

The projects have “completely changed the face of the South China Sea’s islands and reefs”, the report said.

The aggressive campaign has been a source of contention with neighbouring countries. China’s sweeping claims overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

During 2017 China built 290,000 square meters (29 hectares) of facilities on South China Sea reefs and islands, including underground storage, administrative buildings and large radar installations, the report said.

“To improve the livelihood and work conditions of people living on the islands, and strengthen the necessary military defences of the South China Sea within China’s sovereignty, China has rationally expanded the area of its islands and reefs,” it said.

The sea is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and $5 trillion in annual trade passes through it.

The report noted that with last month’s introduction of the new super-dredger Tianjing, a “magical island building machine”, and other “magical machines” soon to come, “the area of the South China Sea’s islands and reefs will expand a step further”.

China is also building a floating nuclear power plant, the report said, to provide power for those living in the Sansha city area.

Sansha lies on Woody Island in the Paracel chain — which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan — and administers much of China’s claims in the South China Sea.

China established Sansha in 2012 by unilaterally awarding it two million square kilometres of sea and declaring it the country’s largest city.

Earlier this month a US think-tank released new satellite images showing deployment of radar and other equipment on the disputed islands.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said that over the course of 2017, China had been advancing the next phase of development with construction of infrastructure to support air and naval bases, such as underground storage areas and large radar and sensor arrays.

“We believe that some individuals are making a fuss about this. They’re trying to hype it up,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang after the first report was published.


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Study: China to Boost Military Muscle at Sea to Deter Foreign Powers

December 21, 2017

By Ralph Jennings
December 20, 2017 12:27 PM

FILE - Chinese structures are pictured on the disputed Spratlys island in South China Sea, April 21, 2017.

FILE – Chinese structures are pictured on the disputed Spratlys island in South China Sea, April 21, 2017.

China is widely forecast to bolster its military power next year in the South China Sea to resist Japan, India and the United States, as well as the Asian states that dispute Beijing’s maritime claims.
Scholars believe China will eventually enhance radar surveillance and let fighter jets use tiny islets for stopovers. Beijing might declare an air defense identification zone or other means of maritime control, too, they suggest.It probably hopes the United States, along with militarily powerful allies such as Japan and India, will stay out after they jumped into the dispute this year, according to Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.”I don’t think they’re primarily offensive in nature, but of course with those installations in place, they will have more bargaining chips, they’re in a stronger position to say the U. S. should not perform [freedom of navigation operations] and such in the South China Sea,” Oh said.

New hardware

China this year added installations in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, said the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In 2017, China built underground storage areas, administrative structures and “large radar and sensor arrays,” said the Washington-based research group. The construction covered about 290,000 square meters “of new real estate.”

FILE - Philippine military's images of China's reclamation in the Spratlys, Mabini (Johnson) Reef, March, 2015. (Armed Forces of the Philippines)

FILE – Philippine military’s images of China’s reclamation in the Spratlys, Mabini (Johnson) Reef, March, 2015. (Armed Forces of the Philippines)

Beijing built most actively at Fiery Cross reef in the Spratlys, it said, including work to finish tunnels that are likely for ammunition storage. High-frequency radar gear also appeared on the reef, it adds.

China is the most militarized of six governments that claim all or part of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea, which is valued for fisheries and fossil fuels. It has been building up islets since 2010.

China has enough installations to land fighter jets, refuel, rearm and let crews rest, said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

State-run China Central Television said earlier in the month the military had deployed jet fighters to Woody Island in the Paracel chain.

China may draw a line of control around its holdings in the Spratly Islands, contested by four Southeast Asian countries plus Taiwan, and consider an air defense identification zone, the initiative’s director Gregory Poling said.

China declared an air defense identification zone off its east coast, in a sea disputed by Japan, in 2013.

Outside influence

Analysts say China’s buildup is aimed at claimants Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam as well as powerful nations that do not claim ownership over the sea.

But the United States particularly irks China as a powerful arms supplier and military trainer for the Philippines. Washington sends naval vessels into the South China Sea periodically to back its position the waters are open to freedom of navigation.

“When the Chinese are suddenly trying to stop resupply of the Philippine forces at Pag-Asa or on the Sierra Madre [ship] at Second Thomas Shoal, then [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte is going to face an enormous amount of pressure to react strongly,” Poling said, referring to two Manila-held features in the Spratly chain.

“The only way the Philippines can possibly react, really, is to strengthen the defense relation with the U. S.,” he said.

India, a Western ally, upgraded its partnership with Vietnam last year year as part of its Act East policy, which analysts say is designed to check Chinese expansion.

Japan, an ally of the United States, passed a helicopter carrier through the sea in mid-2017, adding to repeated comments from Tokyo the waterway should be ruled by international law.

China bases its claim to about 90 percent of the sea on historical fishing records. It has eased the dispute through offers of aid and investment around Southeast Asia. Next year, it’s due to sign a code of conduct with regional countries to head off accidents at sea.

Deterrent effect

After appeals by other claimant countries a U. N. arbitration tribunal said China lacked a legal basis to much of its claim.

But China’s buildup has continued. It’s “like the Cold War,” when opponents stocked nuclear weapons to head off attacks, Oh said.

Some other countries see China’s current level of control as a “fact,” Koh said.

But in November, heads of state from Australia, India, Japan and the United States met in Manila to call for “free, open, prosperous and inclusive” Asian seas, according to an Indian external affairs ministry statement.

China, which resents the role of outside powers in the South China Sea, sees provocation from outside players as cause to keep strengthening its claims, Koh said.

“Now they are trying to demonstrate to the U. S. or allies like Japan and Australia that China is in to stay, and more importantly it’s not just purely staying power,” he added, “It’s the ability to sustain and project force in that area. ”





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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Why Is Tension Rising In The South China Sea?

December 20, 2017

DEC 19, 2017 @ 03:40 AM
Why Is Tension Rising In The South China Sea?


Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Philippine special forces guide an amphibious landing craft on a beach on May 15, 2017 in Casiguran Province, Philippines. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

On October 10th 2017, the USS Chafee, a Navy Destroyer, sailed within 12 miles of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. This was the fourth “freedom of operation” mission since President Trump was inaugurated. The U.S. air force also flew two bombers over the Korean peninsula simultaneously, in another maneuver designed to demonstrate its military might.

These moves were not routine patrols or exercises, but the latest activity in a multi-dimensional chess game in one of the world’s most contested and sensitive regions. The smallest miscalculation from either side could have huge consequences for trillions of dollars in trade and billions of lives, not just in the immediate vicinity but around the globe too.

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Encircled by Malaysia to the south, the Philippines to the east and Vietnam to the west, the South China Sea is one of the most resource-rich regions on earth and hosts one third of the world’s shipping traffic. It holds a projected 28 billion barrels of oil, 260 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10% of the world’s fisheries.

Floating offshore oil rig at Vung Tau Vietnam Mouth of the Saigon River at the South China Sea. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

As the most direct sea-route between Asia and Europe, it is absolutely critical for the export and import economies of regional giants China, Japan and South Korea.

Aside from trade and economics, its geopolitical importance is also striking. China has claimed a massive cut of the region, threatening conflict with several other nations, who look to the U.S. to safeguard their own territorial claims.

The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam and China all lay claims on parts of the South China Sea that often overlap with each other. The situation is so sensitive that some don’t even call it the ‘South China Sea’ as that might imply it all belongs to China.

How did this happen?

According to international law, nations can claim territory up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline. Since a central section of water in the sea is more than 200 miles from any surrounding nation, it is considered international and not under the exclusive jurisdiction of anyone.

However, being the regional superpower it is, the Chinese government makes a historical claim over 90% of the region, which it has defined with a “Nine Dash Line.”

These overlapping claims of sovereignty have led to a long list of incidents in which the countries involved each try to assert their control over parts of the region they view as their own, creating a highly tense situation that could easily boil over to armed confrontation.

In 2014, China stationed an oil rig in the contested Paracel Islands, which they have claimed since a short battle with Vietnam in 1974.

The move significantly ratcheted up tension between the two historic adversaries, and China has since constructed a battery of rocket launchers on a disputed reef in the area to deter any Vietnamese naval maneuvers.

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China’s new base at Subi reef

As we have written before, conflict in this area is nothing new. What is new however, is the impact any military action will have on global trade.

There are more than 250 landmasses in the South China Sea, from small, sparsely populated islands to submerged reefs or small slivers of sand.

Nevertheless, technology and assertive aspirations have combined, with China undertaking reclamation work that has expanded reefs and sandbars into man-made islands that can serve as naval bases throughout the area.

These moves have obviously worried many of China’s neighbors, who view increasingly assertive Beijing as fully determined in taking full control of the sea, including its resources and trade routes.

Their concerns are not without basis. Beyond the so-called ‘militarization’ of reefs, China has also mentioned establishing an “air identification zone” above the region, effectively forcing any aircraft seeking to pass over the area to ask its permission for doing so first.

These moves haven’t been met with silence. In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration (an international body tasked with mediating territorial claims) ruled in favor of The Philippines against China’s claim to a section of the sea.

There is no way of enforcing the ruling and China has ignored it, but the markets sensed danger and Brent crude oil futures rose $1 per barrel in light of the news.

Obama’s “Asian pivot”

China’s expanding assertiveness ­in this crucial zone has forced the U.S. to take note and expend more time and resources on the area.

Obama identified the need for an increased U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and made it a cornerstone of his foreign policy. He oversaw a big increase in U.S. Navy patrols aimed at reinforcing freedom of navigation in the area, which it sees China as attempting to manage or block unilaterally.

For its part, China claims the U.S. is blowing the crisis out of proportion in order to attempt to curb China’s rising – and “legitimate” – influence in the region and beyond. Ultimately, the dispute may be regionally focused, but it is part of the wider geopolitical struggle being waged between the two superpowers.

A continued U.S. focus in the region can therefore be expected under President Trump.

Chess in the Sea

The current situation effectively pits China on one side against the U.S. and smaller regional nations on the other, with few signs of anyone wanting to back down.

China hasn’t ruled out diplomacy, but insists on dealing with each claimant country individually – which gives it more bargaining power – and not as a group, which the U.S. has tried to push for.

This is not an easy situation to manage for smaller claimant countries. While many look to the U.S. for defense, the economic weight of China can be felt everywhere in the region, as the chart below demonstrates.

China Top Trading Partners in 2016One Road Research

China Top Trading Partners in 2016

At US$39 billion (16%), China imports more Malaysian goods and services than any other country. China also buys more goods from the Philippines than the U.S. does, accounting for US$16.2 billion (21%) of exports. At US$38 billion (21%) the U.S. still leads the pack for Vietnamese exports, but China is expected to overtake this by 2030.

China's Export Orientation and the SHCOMP IndexOne Road Research

China’s Export Orientation and the SHCOMP Index

Chinese companies will also benefit from this increased interconnection, as the following chart below demonstrates.


Ticker Company Name Foreign Revenue (%) Market Cap (US$ Billion)
SSE: 601857 PetroChina Co Ltd 31.9 31.9
SSE: 601988 Bank of China LTd 24.72 26.68
SSE: 600028 China Petroleum & Chemical  Corp 22.93 15.75
SSE: 601800 China Communications Construction Co Ltd 20.18 5
SSE: 603993 China Molybdenum Co Ltd 56.16 3.43
SSE: 601669 Power Construction Corp of China Ltd 22.8 2.83
SSE: 601881 China Galaxy Securities Co Ltd 97.73 2.81
SSE: 600309 Wanhua Chemical Group Co Ltd 20.86 2.74
SSE: 601111 Air China Ltd 34.89 2.6
SSE: 600690 Qingdao Haier Co Ltd 39.85 2.07

Nations like Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, which have territorial disputes with the northern superpower, are therefore forced to take a close look at just how far they can push their claims without hurting their economies.

Peter Pham is managing director of Phoenix Capital, author of “The Big Trade: Simple Strategies for Maximum Market Returns” and host of “The Big Trade Series” podcast.




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Australia Foreign Policy White Paper hits China’s activities in South China Sea — SCS is a “major fault line” in regional order.

December 6, 2017
In this April 21, 2017, file photo, Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130. CSIS AMTI via DigitalGlobe, File

MANILA, Philippines — Expressing concern over the scale of China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea, Australia urged all claimants to clarify the full nature of their claims in accordance with international law.

In its 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper released a few weeks ago, Australia stressed its position that the UN-backed tribunal’s ruling on the Philippines’ arbitration case against China is “final and binding on both parties.”

Clarifying that they are not taking sides in the competing claims, Australia considers the South China Sea as a “major fault line” in the regional order.

“Like other non-claimant states, however, we have a substantial interest in the stability of this crucial international waterway, and in the norms and laws that govern it,” the Foreign Policy White Paper read.

Australia noted that they have urged all claimants to refrain from actions that would increase tension in the region. They have also called for a halt on Beijing’s land reclamation and construction activities.

Resolving dispute should be based on international law, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Australia said in its foreign policy paper.

“Australia opposes the use of disputed features and artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes,” the white paper read.

The Australian government vowed to ensure international law, particularly UNCLOS, will be respected and implemented to protect freedom of navigation in the region.

Meanwhile, China criticized Australia for its “irresponsible comments” on the South China Sea.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian stressed that Australia is not in a position to make comments on the contested waters as they are not a claimant country.

“It has been proven by facts that interference from countries outside the region can only complicate the South China Sea issue and will be of no help to regional peace and stability,” Wu said in a press briefing.

Earlier this year, Beijing also slammed US Secretary Rex Tillerson for his comment that China is using its economic powers to buy its way out of problems.

“China is a significant economic and trading power, and we desire a productive relationship, but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failure to put appropriate pressure on North Korea,” Tillerson said in Sydney last June.

Beijing had been insisting that the situation in the South China Sea has “cooled down” following direct consultations and dialogues with claimant states.

RELATED: China assures Philippines: No military force in South China Sea


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

November 18, 2017
  • 18 November 2017
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. REUTERS/EPA

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, but it’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.

How come Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get along?

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.

The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Map showing Sunni distribution in Middle East

This religious schism is reflected in the wider map of the Middle East, where other countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

Map showing Shia distribution in Middle East

In the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.


Fast-forward to 2011 and uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.

Iran’s critics say it is intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, and achieve control of a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean.

How have things suddenly got worse?

The strategic rivalry is heating up because Iran is in many ways winning the regional struggle.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence and the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young and impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is exacerbating regional tensions.

Five things about Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, but after nearly three years this is proving a costly gamble.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc and controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.

There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), Salman bin Adbulaziz (centre) and Donald Trump put their hands on an illuminated globe, Riyadh (21/05/17)

The Jewish state is fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border. EPA photo

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting that it did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.

Who are their regional allies?

Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.

Map showing who supports whom

In the pro-Saudi camp are the other major Sunni actors in the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

In the Iranian camp is Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, and where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?

This is in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.

Syria is an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.

Houthi rebels in Sanaa (file photo)
Yemen is one of a number of battlegrounds fuelling Iranian-Saudi tensions. Reuters photo

But having become bogged down in Yemen and essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.

Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos but few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.

Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah and this could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.

Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah and deliver a heavy blow to the group this way!

Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

So far Tehran and Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is really geared up for a direct war with the other but one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital from Yemen could upset the apple cart.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is in the waters of the Gulf, where they face each other across a maritime border.

But here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US and other Western powers, freedom of navigation in the Gulf is essential and any conflict that sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping and oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval and air forces.

Graphic showing military balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For a long time the US and its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force in the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat and the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems it necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.

The danger is that Saudi Arabia’s new activism is fast making it a further source of volatility in the region.

South China Sea: China Takes Control — “The sheer numbers [of Chinese] are starting to push the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and the Malaysians out”

November 18, 2017

China is starting to dictate terms in one of the world’s strategic waterways, and the United States is largely missing in action.

A Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaonin, takes part in military drills in the South China Sea on Jan. 2. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaonin, takes part in military drills in the South China Sea on Jan. 2. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

In his 12-day trip to Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump largely focused on North Korea and trade, all but avoiding the simmering disputes in the South China Sea and steering clear of sharp criticism of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive activities there.

With the Trump administration focused elsewhere for now, China is quietly pressing ahead with its agenda in one of the world’s most strategic waterways, building more military facilities on man-made islands to buttress its expansionist claims and dramatically expanding its presence at sea at the expense of its smaller neighbors.

Beijing’s under-the-radar advances in the South China Sea could be bad news for countries in the region, for U.S. hopes to maintain influence in the Western Pacific, and for the rules-based international order that for decades has promoted peace and prosperity in Asia.

At the Chinese Communist Party congress last month, President Xi Jinping cited island building in the South China Sea as one of his top achievements so far, and touted the “successful prosecution of maritime rights.” Those rights appear at odds with international law: Xi is now assuring nervous neighbors that China will offer “safe passage” through the seas to other countries in the region.

“The South China Sea has fallen victim to a combination of Trump’s narrow focus on North Korea and the administration’s chaotic and snail-paced policymaking process,” said Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as an advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden.

China’s recent advances in the South China Sea aren’t as eye-popping as the overnight creation of artificial atolls in recent years, a massive engineering project dubbed the “great wall of sand” by a top U.S. admiral. That’s one reason the disputes got pushed to the back burner on Trump’s big trip.

“Because there’s no sense of immediate or medium-term crisis (in the South China Sea), they didn’t make it a big priority on the trip,” said Evan Medeiros of the Eurasia Group, who oversaw Asia strategy in the Obama White House.

But experts say the quiet moves — including expanding military bases, constructing radar and sensor installations, hardened shelters for missiles, and vast logistical warehouses for fuel, water, and ammunition — are threatening to turn China’s potential stranglehold on the region into reality.

Much of the activity has centered on three reefs converted into artificial islands through large-scale dredging: Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, about 650 miles from Hainan Island in southern China. Satellite imagery in June revealed a large dome had been erected on Fiery Cross with another under construction, suggesting a substantial communications or radar system, experts say. At Mischief Reef, workers were installing two more domes.

With runways, hangars for fighter jets, and communications hardware in place on the artificial islands, China can deploy military aircraft and missiles whenever it wants, solidifying its grip over the area and flouting international maritime law. The three newly built bases in the Spratlys, combined with another on Woody Island, will enable Chinese warplanes to fly over nearly the entire South China Sea, according to Pentagon officials and defense analysts. That could be the precursor to an “air defense identification zone” similar to the one that China slapped onto the East China Sea in 201

And the new bases have given China much greater reach at sea. Beijing has deployed more naval ships, Coast Guard vessels, and a flotilla of fishing boats that act as a maritime militia virtually around the clock. The ships can now dock nearby to refuel and resupply, rather than sail home, extending their time on station and their ability to project Chinese power through the area. That is changing the balance of power as fishing ships and coast guard vessels from other claimant countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are elbowed away from disputed features.

This summer, for example, Vietnam hoped to drill for natural gas off its own coast. But China reportedly summoned the Vietnamese ambassador and threatened military action if Hanoi went forward with development in its own exclusive economic zone. Sensing little backing from Washington, Vietnam quietly backed down and stopped drilling.

“The sheer numbers are starting to push the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and the Malaysians out,” said Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

More than nine months into the Trump administration, contrasts with U.S. policy under Barack Obama toward the South China Sea are apparent — as they are with the initial saber-rattling tone of Trump administration officials. The Obama administration put a focus on diplomacy and consistently sought to uphold international law regarding the disputed waterway, though it often shied away from sailing U.S. Navy ships through the waters to send a tough signal to Beijing.

The Trump administration has taken almost the opposite approach: Navy cruises to assert the right of navigation have become commonplace, but there is little sign yet of a concerted U.S. policy to diplomatically push back against Chinese encroachment or offer encouragement to U.S. allies and partners threatened by Beijing’s advances, former officials, experts and foreign diplomats said.

“By having no South China Sea policy, Trump ensures that all the initiative lies with Beijing,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center.

Former U.S. officials and congressional aides said the Trump administration appears to be pulling its punches on the South China Sea, as well as trade issues, in hopes of securing Beijing’s cooperation to cut off North Korea’s access to fuel and cash to fund its nuclear weapons program. So far, China has stopped short of drastic action to squeeze the regime in Pyongyang — and Chinese officials just contradicted Trump’s claims that the two countries have found more common ground.

At the end of his Asia trip, Trump did offer to “mediate” between Vietnam and China, but that spooked officials in Hanoi who fear they could be a pawn in a bigger U.S.-China game centered on North Korea.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on its approach to the South China Sea.

However, some former Obama officials are cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration, hamstrung so far by short staffing at key positions, especially regarding Asia policy, is starting to craft a more coherent policy toward the region, including a sharper focus on China’s activities in the South China Sea. Joint communiques in Japan and Vietnam stressed continued U.S. support for the rule of law and an end to coercion in maritime disputes, for example.

Ratner, the former Biden advisor, said he expects the Trump administration to chart a more proactive course as it settles into office.

“They appear to finally be getting their policy feet under them and I’m expecting more focus on South China Sea in the months ahead,” he said. “So it’s premature to declare it’ll remain a low priority going forward.”

Dan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. @dandeluc

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China’s playbook still working…


Peace and Freedom Note: The South China Sea already had a “legally binding” decision that China did not like — so China ignored the legally binding finding….

No automatic alt text available.

China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.