Posts Tagged ‘nine-dash line’

China is again exploiting the Philippines

January 18, 2018


By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star)

 Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

MANILA, Philippines — China is again exploiting the goodwill of the Philippine government to conduct studies in Philippine seas to discover more areas rich in minerals and gas, a lawmaker warned yesterday.

In a statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate cautioned the public that with the Duterte administration’s friendly approach to the Chinese, Beijing is using the same modus operandi it employed during the Arroyo administration.

Zarate reminded the public about the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) of Beijing in 2005, wherein Philippine    official position in the disputed West Philippine Sea “jeopardized our claims in the Recto Reed Bank” near the waters off Palawan.

He warned that the JMSU during the Arroyo administration “is bound to happen again in the case of Benham Rise.”

Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf awarded by the United Nations in 2012, which provides Manila the exclusive sovereign rights over it. The area is believed to be rich in minerals and gas.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should rethink its decision to allow Chinese oceanographers to conduct studies in Philippine waters because it is one of the methods they used before under the JMSU that China entered with the Arroyo administration,” Zarate said.




South China Sea and Beyond: Chinese research ship ‘Kexue’ to conduct research in Philippine waters

January 18, 2018


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China research ship Ke Xue


By Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( – January 18, 2018 – 2:45pm

MANILA, Philippines — China will deploy its most sophisticated research ship to study Philippine waters, including the potentially resource-rich Benham Rise (Philippine Rise).

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list) earlier slammed the Department of Foreign Affairs for allowing the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) to conduct research in waters off Eastern Luzon, where Benham Rise is located, and off Eastern Mindanao.

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The Chinese marine exploration will take place on January 24 to February 25 this year.

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

In a press conference in Beijing last Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed that Chinese research vessel “Kexue” will survey Philippine eastern waters, adding that such a cooperation would further strengthen the two countries’ bilateral relations.

“China commends this decision made by the Philippine side on agreeing to China’s scientific activities and offering facilitation,” Lu said.

“We welcome Philippine scientific research institutions’ participation and would like to work with them to advance maritime practical cooperation in marine research and other fields so as to create a favorable environment for the sound, steady and sustainable development of bilateral ties,” he added.

The $87.5-million Kexue was handed over to IO-CAS in 2012, newspaper China Daily reported. In September 5 last year, Kexue reportedly finished a month-long scientific exploration of the western Pacific Ocean.

Weighing 4,711 tons, China Daily described Kexue as a “moving laboratory on the sea” capable of global voyages and all-day observations.

Kexue can also conduct water body detection, atmospheric exploration, deep-sea environment exploration and remote sensing information verification.

In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the Philippines’ undisputed claim to the Benham Rise.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier signed an Executive Order officially renaming Benham Rise to “Philippine Rise” to assert the country’s sovereignty there following reports that Chinese research vessels were spotted surveying the area in 2016.

The Philippine Navy now regularly patrols the continental shelf.

According to Alejano, the Chinese researchers will be joined by the University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute “as a requirement.”

Alejano also revealed that a similar plea was lodged by French-based non-profit organization Tara Expeditions Foundation, but it was declined by the DFA.

The lawmaker said Tara Expeditions was a better choice if Manila was seeking additional resources and manpower to study eastern waters, noting that France, unlike China, has no territorial conflict with the Philippines.

For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the law gives equal chance to foreign countries to study Philippine waters as long as there are Filipinos on board.

Foreign marine researchers must also share their findings and data with their Filipino counterparts, Cayetano added.

READ: Cayetano: ‘Same rules for all countries’ seeking to study Philippine waters






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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.

Judge Carpio: Philippines dumb to grant China request to do research in Benham Rise

January 16, 2018

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday said it would be “dumb” if the Philippine government would allow the request of China to explore the resource-rich Philippine Rise.

“China has squatted on the West Philippine Sea and refuses to leave despite the ruling of the UNCLOS tribunal. Now, China requests to be allowed to survey the Philippine Sea on the east side of the Philippines. The Philippines would be dumb to grant China’s request,” Carpio said in a 24 Oras report by Raffy Tima.

Magdalo partylist Representative Gary Alejano last week said that he had recieved information that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had granted the request of a Chinese entity to do research in waters off eastern Luzon.

The Philippine Rise, formerly known as the Benham Rise, is located east of Luzon and is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.

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In 2012, the United Nations gave the country exclusive sovereign rights over the rise, believed to be rich in minerals and gas.

Chinese vessels were spotted surveying the said area in 2017, prompting the Philippine government to send Beijing a note verbale, seeking clarification as regards the presence of its ships in the resource-rich area.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Carpio should respect the executive branch once a decision was already made.

“Sana respetuhin natin ‘yung separation of powers kapag meron ng kasong nakahain sa kanya,” Roque said.

DFA secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had said “Philippine law says research can be done as along as there is a Filipino on board.”

“So there’s nothing suspicious about approval or disapproval of scientific research whether they’re Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Singaporeans. If they comply we will approve, if they do not comply we will not approve,” Cayetano said.

It is the DFA which usually grants applications to conduct research in the area, with coordination from technical agencies depending on the type of research. —Anna Felicia Bajo/NB, GMA News





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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.

Suspicious Chinese activity in Philippine Rise — Duterte administration’s apparently inexhaustible capacity to bend over backward to accommodate Beijing — What do Filipinos get?

January 16, 2018
 / 05:11 AM January 16, 2018

Had Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano not raised the issue, the public would not have known that the Department of Foreign Affairs has allowed China — specifically, a research vessel operated by that country’s Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences — to conduct purportedly scientific marine research in Philippine Rise.

Formerly called Benham Rise, the area is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau in the Philippine Sea, 250 kilometers east of the province of Isabela, that the United Nations officially recognized as part of the Philippine continental shelf in 2012, along with the sovereign rights to explore and exploit resources in it.

Philippine Rise is far from and well outside the waters in the South China Sea almost all of which are claimed by China through its so-called “nine-dash line,” a supposedly historical basis of ownership that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected as without basis in July 2016. That same ruling also declared that Beijing’s actions in the region had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore for resources within its own 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

The same sovereign right by the Philippines exists in Philippine Rise, an area that is incontrovertibly Philippine territory, with no scintilla of ownership dispute and recognized by international law as such.

So what is a Chinese vessel doing in those waters? And why did the DFA grant it permission to conduct research there, considering the testy relations the country has had with China over its island-grabbing in the South China Sea — including islands that have long been part of Philippine territory?

As Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio keenly pointed out: “If a bully has squatted on your front yard and requests to look at your backyard, would you grant the request of the bully?”

More strangely, why was all this kept under wraps by Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano — hidden from public discussion and scrutiny until Alejano’s revelations forced some sort of justification out of him?

Cayetano has defended the Chinese vessel’s incursion into Philippine Rise by saying the law allowed foreign research in Philippine territory so long as a Filipino scientist is aboard the research vessel and the findings of the study are shared internationally.

Carpio said no such local law exists, but Article 246 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) — of which both China and the Philippines are signatories — does call on “coastal states” like the Philippines to, “in normal circumstances, grant their consent for marine scientific research projects by other countries.”

Only the most blinkered observer would deny that Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea and its disrespect for the arbitral court’s ruling have long nullified that condition of “normal circumstances.”

So any hint of interest on its part for—let alone active entry into—another part of the Philippine territory would naturally raise red flags in any reasonable Filipino’s mind. But apparently not in Cayetano’s, or Malacañang’s.

Given his office’s justification for this suspicious Chinese activity in Philippine Rise, Cayetano must be asked: Who, then, is the Filipino scientist aboard the Chinese vessel, whose presence in the ship supposedly was a reason for the permission given? What are the findings of the research vessel so far? Where have these findings been published, who benefits from them, and for what specific ends was the maritime research undertaken?

Unless Malacañang becomes forthcoming and transparent about the tradeoffs it is forging with China for promised loans and assistance, questions like these will continue to point at an inconvenient notion: this administration’s apparently inexhaustible capacity to bend over backward to accommodate Beijing.

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Changing the narrative of Philippines-China ties

December 17, 2017

Manila Business Mirror

The relationship between the Philippines and the Asian Dragon, China, has taken a much different turn under the administration of President Duterte, in contrast to the diplomatic path his Palace predecessor had followed.

Jose Santiago Santa Romana, Philippine ambassador to China, emphasized that the Duterte administration has changed the narrative as far as the relations between Beijing and Manila are concerned.

Before June 2016, under former President Benigno S. Aquino III, Santa Romana said the prevailing narrative was both adversarial and confrontational. But not today.

“Right now, we are pursuing a nonconfrontational and nonadversarial approach based largely on an independent foreign policy. I think this is one of the reasons in the breakthrough in Philippine-China relations,” Santa Romana said in his keynote speech during the 30th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Association of Chinese Studies (PACS) at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City.

Santa Romana revealed that the Chinese media once had this perception that the Philippines wasn’t acting independently on its foreign-policy initiatives and interest, but moving according to the intent of another world superpower. The belief of the Chinese media, he said, was that the Philippine foreign policy was anchored on containment of Chinese influence, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Pursuing an independent foreign policy is not a new road map for the Philippines. The move to form an independent foreign policy gained ground under the initiative of progressive Filipinos, led by the great nationalist Claro M. Recto in the 1950s.

“Recto’s nationalist, anti-imperialist campaign was launched during a most difficult period in Philippine history, a time when Cold War psychosis gripped the country, or at least its ruling elements,” Prof. Renato Constantino explained in his essay “Unity for Survival.”

The China pivot

When Duterte started to hurl invectives against former US President Barack Obama one after the other, Beijing was convinced that the Philippines under the present administration has taken a new perspective on China, and is not acting now based on the dictates of another power—obviously referring to Washington.

“The new perception was that the Philippines is no longer a part of a coalition against China, but [one that is] willing to be friendly with China,” Santa Romana, a former student leader from the De La Salle University during the turbulent First Quarter Storm in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, said.

He added the ties between the two countries were enhanced when Duterte visited China for the first time in October 2016. He again visited Beijing in May to attend the Belt and Road Initiative Summit. The two-day BRI event highlighted Chinese Premiere Xi Jinping’s major foreign-policy project that aims to revive the ancient Silk Road trading route through the building of infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa. Skeptics believe this is Beijing’s bid to boost its clout, both in trade and geopolitics. China, for its part, has been insisting that its objectives under the Silk Road initiative are for the benefit of the world.

By pivoting to China, Manila was given some goodwill, such as the recovery of the fishing access to the Scarborough Shoal. Furthermore, the Philippines was given access to several official development assistance funding for several local infrastructure projects.

Santa Romana said every administration has its own version of realpolitik, that every administration will take a different approach to issues, such as the territorial dispute with China. During the Aquino administration, the government opted for the legal and confrontational approach.

In 2016 the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, ruled  that the Philippines has the exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea (in the South China Sea), and that China’s “nine-dash line” is invalid.

However, China did not accept the ruling, and insisted it is still serious in solving the territorial problems with its neighbors.

‘Right approach’

Santa Romana said the approach in settling territorial disputes should be multidisciplinary. But this does not mean the country has to give up on international law, “but rather combine it with other approaches.”

“You have to combine law and diplomacy. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy-Tufts University knows the importance of merging these two disciplines in settling disputes,” Santa Romana added.

As far as the Chinese are concerned, the bilateral approach is the best way to settle disputes. Through this, the border issues between China and Vietnam and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were resolved. “Successful negotiations with China were based on bilateral approach with dialogues,” Santa Romana said.

The collapse of the USSR, he noted, was a big factor in Vietnam’s shift in its China policy. It took China two decades of negotiation to finally resolve issues and demarcate the lines of their borders.

Santa Romana recalled that there was a standstill before, as Chairman Mao Ze Dong and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev took a hard-line stance against each other. The winds of change came when Mao died and Mikhail Gorbachev took over the leadership in Moscow.

“Right now, it is through the bilateral approach that they will discuss the disputes,” he said. “Our experiences so far have shown discussions are better rather than an adversarial approach.”

Santa Romana added the key component is not to put the dispute on top of the negotiating table and not see it as an obstacle in pushing for a stable relationship.

The government right now has managed to ease up the tension. Nevertheless, Santa Romana admitted, this process is not a one-shot deal. “It will take one more administration to solve the underlying issues.”

Image Credits: Ruletkka | Dreamstime




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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.

Analyst: Philippines, China should abandon ‘secret diplomacy’

October 27, 2017
Foreign Ministers, from left, South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha, Japan’s Taro Kono, Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, China’s Wang Yi and Singapore’s Vivian Balakrishnan walk after a family photo before the 18th ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting, part of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. Mohd Rasfan/Pool Photo via AP

MANILA, Philippines — Manila and Beijing must be transparent in their dealings if they want to shelve sovereignty disputes and in favor of joint development, a policy analyst said.

Jeffrey Ordaniel, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the Philippines and China should learn from the  Joint Seismic Marine Undertaking (JMSU) between the Philippines, China and Vietnam in 2005.

The JMSU was supposed to be a test case for joint exploration of disputed waters, particularly the South China Sea, but it failed.

Ordaniel noted that the JMSU resulted into corruption scandals as it was directly connected to the $904.38-million NBN-ZTE broadband deal.

Manila’s “secretive diplomacy” at the time meant that there was insufficient public scrutiny prior to the signing of the JMSU, Ordaniel said.

“Secret diplomacy could result in unpleasant surprises, and legal challenges in the Philippines,” Ordaniel said in his article published by the CSIS on its website.

The policy analyst stressed that Manila and Beijing should avoid a repeat of the JMSU fiasco.

“When Cayetano told the press that he should not talk publicly about the matter and that joint exploration initiatives could be part of other cooperation agreements with China, it sounded like JMSU all over again,” he said.

Beijing, on the other hand, should refrain from linking development deal to joint exploration as the South China Sea dispute should be separate from overall China-Philippines relations.

The Philippines could turn to other overseas development assistance such as Japan if China will continue to link its deals to development loans and investment pledges, Ordaniel said.

“Finally, joint development in the South China Sea should begin in areas that are outside disputed EEZs but are within the nine-dash lines,” Ordaniel said.

Pursuing joint exploration outside disputed exclusive economic zones would not violate each other’s domestic laws and the UN Convention on the law of the sea, according to the analyst.

“For instance, there is a sizable maritime space in the Spratlys that is outside the EEZ of any littoral state in the South China Sea, per the July 2016 ruling, and which was covered by the JMSU,” he said.

Last month, state-owned Philippine National Oil Company and China National Offshore Oil Corporation signed a deal intending to follow their 2006 agreement on hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea.

The deal, however, does not cover Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.

RELATED: ‘Duterte wants joint exploration with China’



China says it will not militarize the South China Sea — But satellite images show the real truth

October 18, 2017
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Construction is shown on Mischief Reef in this June 19, 2017 satellite image released by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to Reuters. (CSIS/AMTI DigitalGlobe/Handout/Reuters)

BEIJING — China maintained it will not militarize the South China Sea despite persistent reports it has been constructing military structures in the disputed territory.

Yao Wen, deputy director general for policy planning of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asian department, gave this assurance on Monday in an interview with Asian journalists covering the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress.

“China will never seek militarization of South China Sea,” Yao replied when asked if China could make a categorical statement that it would not use its military to assert claims in the disputed sea lanes.

He did admit that structures have been constructed on reclaimed reefs and islands “within China’s sovereignty.”

“Yes indeed, we have some construction works. There are some projects that are actually public structures, especially the lighthouse and hospitals … we believe the neighboring countries will benefit from in the future,” he said.

Yao reiterated China’s call to countries not directly involved in the territorial dispute to leave the resolution to the claimant countries, which include the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

He said stationing military vessels and aircraft near the disputed territory “is highly dangerous” as it could lead to misjudgment.

“We are worried about the so-called free navigation activities of non-relevant countries that come as far as near five to six nautical miles of the reefs where our staff are stationed,” Yao said, apparently referring to such operations by the United States and its allies in the region.

Yao said territorial disputes, particularly those surrounding China’s nine-dash line and historical rights claims, should be resolved peacefully through dialogues and negotiations among the affected countries.

China-Philippines relations hit a snag after The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines’ 2013 arbitration case to contest China’s nine-dash line claims.

But President Rodrigo Duterte, who has chosen to seek closer relations with China, has set aside the verdict.

“The disputes in the south China are always there but the important thing is how to manage those disputes and china and the Philippines have done groundbreaking work in this respect. The basic position of China is to resolve the differences for common development,” Yao said.



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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.


Indonesia, Long on Sidelines, Starts to Confront China’s Territorial Claims

September 11, 2017

JAKARTA, Indonesia — When Indonesia recently — and quite publicly — renamed the northernmost waters of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea despite China’s claims to the area, Beijing quickly dismissed the move as “meaningless.”

It is proving to be anything but.

Indonesia’s increasingly aggressive posture in the region — including a military buildup in its nearby Natuna Islands and the planned deployment of naval warships — comes as other nations are being more accommodating to China’s broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The two countries had three maritime skirmishes in 2016 involving warning shots, including one in which Indonesian warships seized a Chinese fishing boat and its crew.

Indonesia is challenging China, one of its biggest investors and trading partners, as it seeks to assert control over a waterway that has abundant resources, particularly oil and natural gas reserves and fish stocks.

The pushback from Indonesia takes direct aim at Beijing’s claims within the so-called “nine-dash line,” which on Chinese maps delineates the vast area that China claims in the South China Sea. It also adds a new player to the volatile situation, in which the United States Navy has been challenging China’s claims with naval maneuvers through waters claimed by Beijing.


The coastline at Ranai, the administrative center of the Natuna islands. Credit Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Indonesia “is already a party to the disputes — and the sooner it acknowledges this reality the better,” said Ian J. Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, where he researches South China Sea issues.

The dispute largely centers on the Natuna Sea, a resource-rich waterway north of Indonesia that also lies close to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Before naming part of the contested waterway the North Natuna Sea “to make it sound more Indonesian,” Mr. Storey said, Indonesia last year began beefing up its military presence in the Natunas. That included expanding its naval port on the main island to handle bigger ships and lengthening the runway at its air force base there to accommodate larger aircraft.

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People take pictures of a burning ship as the government destroyed foreign boats that had been caught illegally fishing in Indonesia waters, at Morela village in Ambon island, April 2017. Indonesia destroyed 81 mostly foreign boats on the weekend that had been caught illegally fishing in its waters, taking to more than 300 the number sunk since President Joko Widodo launched a battle against the poaching of fish in 2014. Antara Foto/Izaac Mulyawan — Reuters photo

For decades, Indonesia’s official policy has been that it is not a party to any territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, unlike its regional neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Last year, however, Indonesia and China had the three maritime skirmishes within Indonesia’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands, which lie northwest of Borneo.

After the third skirmish, in June 2016, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which it claimed for the first time that its controversial nine-dash line included “traditional fishing grounds” within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

The administration of the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, whose top administrative priorities since taking office in October 2014 include transforming his country into a maritime power, has ordered the authorities to blow up hundreds of foreign fishing vessels seized while illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

Mr. Joko, during a visit to Japan in 2015, said in a newspaper interview that China’s nine-dash line had no basis in international law. (See map below) . He also chaired a cabinet meeting on a warship off the Natunas just days after last year’s third naval skirmish — a move analysts viewed as a show of resolve to Beijing.

On July 14, Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries held a conspicuously high-profile news conference to release its first national territorial map since 2005, including the unveiling of the newly named North Natuna Sea. The new map also included new maritime boundaries with Singapore and the Philippines, with which Indonesia had concluded agreements in 2015.

Arif Havas Oegroseno, a deputy minister at Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told journalists that the new Indonesian map offered “clarity on natural resources exploration areas.”

That same day, Indonesia’s Armed Forces and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources signed a memorandum for warships to provide security for the highly profitable fishing grounds and offshore oil and gas production and exploration activities within the country’s exclusive economic zone near the Natunas.

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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.

As World Watches Kim, China Quietly Builds South China Sea Clout — “There is a willingness on their part to push things as far as they can.”

September 6, 2017


By Jason Koutsoukis and Dan Murtaugh

September 5, 2017, 5:00 PM EDT September 6, 2017, 4:07 AM EDT
  • U.S. under Trump shows greater focus on North Korea threat
  • Tensions rising over oil exploration blocks with Vietnam

Why China’s Maritime Disputes Could Lead to War

As Kim Jong Un’s antics in North Korea capture global attention, China is quietly moving to bolster its grip on disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Last month, a Philippine lawmaker released photos he said showed Chinese fishing, coast guard and navy vessels surrounding a Philippine-occupied isle in the Spratly island chain, preventing planned repairs to a runway. Vietnam in July halted drilling in an area leased to Spain’s Repsol S.A, amid reports it did so under Chinese duress.

The incidents suggest China is taking advantage of a perceived U.S. vacuum on Southeast Asia under President Donald Trump, whose administration has focused on Chinese trade tensions and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.

While the U.S. is still doing what it calls “freedom of navigation” naval operations in the South China Sea, testing China’s claims to exclusive access — it plans to conduct two to three such maneuvers in the next few months, according to the Wall Street Journal — and a rear admiral publicly chiding Beijing for its behavior, the intensity of its actions and statements on the waters has faded since Trump took office.

Doubts over the future of U.S. commitment could leave some Southeast Asian states reluctant to publicly challenge China on their own. The risk is that while the U.S. is occupied further north, China expands its presence in the South China Sea in a way that becomes impossible to unwind, giving it the strategic advantage over time.

“China knows that Trump is very focused on North Korea, and not too worried about Southeast Asia,” said Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines. “There is a willingness on their part to push things as far as they can.”

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The recent actions are a far cry from the clashes at sea that occurred in mid-2014 when China dragged an oil rig into waters also claimed by Vietnam. After an international outcry, Beijing withdrew the rig several months later.

When a 2005 agreement to share the area’s resources expired in 2008, the Philippines and Vietnam opposed China’s so-called nine-dash line — marks on a map covering more than 80 percent of the South China Sea — as a basis for joint exploration.

Now, under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Beijing and Manila are negotiating a deal for the Sampaguita gas field at Reed Bank as a starting point. Without strong support from the U.S. or Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam could find itself less able to push back against China’s efforts to drill in other areas.

Vietnam is concerned about the potential of a U.S. pullback in the region. “We are watching them with worry,” said Tran Viet Thai, a deputy director general at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in Hanoi, where the country’s diplomats are trained. “We want to see the positive contribution of the U.S. to regional stability and international security.”

China’s focus is on pushing joint exploration that ties economic fortunes together and takes the focus off strategic ambitions. Standing alongside Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in Manila in July, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said joint exploration was an idea “full of political wisdom.”

According to a 2013 estimate by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the South China Sea has in total about 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas rated as proved or probable reserves.

Block 136-03

The latest tensions are over exploration block 136-03, which is located around 350 miles (560 kilometers) southeast of Ho Chi Minh City and which China calls Wanan Bei-21.

It’s not the first time the area has been an issue. In 1994, Chinese warships blocked a Vietnamese oil drilling rig from working in the area, and in 2011, Vietnam said a Chinese fishing boat rammed a PetroVietnam ship doing a seismic survey. The BBC reported in July that Vietnam had terminated drilling by Repsol “following strong threats from China.”

Repsol confirmed the suspension in an earnings call in July but said it would not comment further. Asked about the matter on July 25, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China urged the relevant party to stop its “unilateral actions that infringe upon China’s rights.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement on the ministry’s website in July that Vietnam asked parties to respect its rights in the waterway. China’s live-firing drills in the Paracel archipelago violate Vietnam’s sovereignty and threaten peace in the region, she said in a statement on Sept. 5.

“It will be critical to watch how China responds to other drilling activities,” said M. Taylor Fravel, associate professor of political science at MIT and a member of the board of directors for the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Other Vietnamese blocks overlapping China’s claims involve Exxon Mobil Corp.Murphy Oil Corp. and KrisEnergy Ltd., according to Jean-Baptiste Berchoteau, an Asian upstream research analyst for Wood Mackenzie.

KrisEnergy spokeswoman Tanya Pang said the company has no current drilling activity in the area. Murphy Oil did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are not conducting drilling operations and have not received any similar such request,” Exxon spokesman Aaron M Stryk said in an emailed statement. “At this time, we are working very constructively with our partners and the government of Vietnam to develop the Ca Voi Xanh field.”

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China have now endorsed a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Exploration done in accordance with Philippine law “would be a constructive development for future foreign relations within Southeast Asia,” said Albert del Rosario, a former Philippine foreign secretary. “Respect for the rule of law by China would be welcomed not only by Asean but by the responsible community of nations.”

For now, the lack of public comment from Vietnam on Block 136-03 is probably recognition that “it’s not a good time to rock the boat,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“There is a growing uneasiness about China and the way it has been behaving in the region,” said Koh. Still, for now, “Vietnam sees that it has to give the code of conduct a chance to work.”

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, John Boudreau, and Luu Van Dat



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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.

Filipino officials: Chinese navy stalked Philippine area — Philippine Government not telling all they know?

August 22, 2017
 / 08:04 PM August 22, 2017

In this Friday, April 21, 2017 photo, a sandbar is seen from the Philippine-claimed Thitu Island off the disputed South China Sea in western Philippines. On Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, two Filipino security officials said China has deployed its navy and coast guard ships in a cluster of uninhabited sandbars in the disputed South China Sea amid concerns that the Philippines may build structures on them in an emerging territorial issue that the government stated was quickly resolved. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA, Philippines- China recently deployed navy and coast guard ships in a cluster of uninhabited sandbars in the disputed South China Sea amid concerns that the Philippines may build structures on them, two Filipino security officials said Tuesday. The government, however, said the issue was quickly resolved amid the Asian neighbors’ friendlier ties.

Two senior Philippine security officials told The Associated Press that three Chinese navy ships, a coast guard vessel and 10 fishing boats began keeping watch on Sandy Cay on Aug. 12 after a group of Filipino fishermen were spotted on the sandbars. The Filipinos eventually left but the Chinese stayed on.

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The two spoke on condition of anonymity, saying only the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila has been authorized to publicly discuss issues related to the country’s territorial disputes with China. The foreign affairs department, however, has in recent days refused to divulge details of the situation at Sandy Cay, a cluster of three sandbars.

A senior Philippine diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly, said China “is concerned that we will build” structures on the sandbars. Chinese and Philippine officials have quietly worked to resolve the issue in recent days, said the diplomat, who is involved in the talks.

A government security report seen by the AP says Chinese navy ships with bow numbers 504, 545 and 168, a Chinese coast guard ship with bow number 46115, and 10 Chinese fishing vessels took positions off Sandy Cay. Its nearest sandbar is about 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 kilometers) from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island.

On Aug. 15, a blue Chinese helicopter flew low off Thitu’s southwest coast, the report said.

Philippine troops and villagers based at Thitu call it Pag-asa -Tagalog for hope – while the Chinese call the island Zhongye Dao.

The Chinese military presence near Thitu sparked concerns in Manila.

Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has studied the disputes extensively, said the Chinese navy ships and other vessels encroached in the Philippine island’s 12-nautical mile (22-kilometer) territorial waters.

“In short, Sandy Cay is a Philippine land territory that is being seized, to put it mildly, or being invaded, to put it frankly, by China,” Carpio said in a statement over the weekend.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano have the constitutional duty to defend and protect Philippine territory.

“The very least that they could do now is to vigorously protest this invasion of Philippine territory by China,” Carpio said. “If both are courageous, they should send a Philippine navy ship to guard Sandy Cay and if the Chinese navy ships attack the Philippine navy vessel, they should invoke the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty.”

The 1951 treaty binds the allies to come to the aid of each other when attacked.

Cayetano, however, told reporters Tuesday that the issue has been diplomatically resolved and denied that China has invaded Sandy Cay.

“Let me assure you, there is no more problem in that area,” Cayetano told reporters, declining to provide details. “But it is not true that there was an attempt to invade or seize it.”

Much-friendlier ties between Manila and Beijing under Duterte have allowed both governments to manage their disputes better. “If our relationship with our neighbors isn’t this good, the situation in the West Philippine Sea will be much, much worse,” Cayetano said, using the Philippine name for the South China Sea.

Duterte told reporters over dinner late Monday that he has been assured by China’s ambassador in Manila, Zhao Jianhua, and the Chinese foreign ministry that Beijing has no plans to occupy or build structures on Sandy Cay.

“They’re not invading,” ABS-CBN TV network quoted Duterte as saying. “They are just there but they are not claiming anything.”

One of the Philippine security officials said the military has been monitoring the Chinese presence at Sandy Cay but added it was difficult to check if Beijing’s ships were still there due to bad weather in the remote offshore region.

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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 chose to ignore international law.