Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’
The United States accused China of raising tensions through a new military garrison in the South China Sea as it called on all sides to lower tensions in the hotly contested waters.
China announced last week that it was establishing the tiny city of Sansha and a garrison on an island in the disputed Paracel chain, infuriating Vietnam and the Philippines which have accused Beijing of intimidation.
“We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement, released on Friday.
“In particular, China’s upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha city and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region,” he said.
Ventrell also pointed to “confrontational rhetoric” and incidents at sea, saying: “The United States urges all parties to take steps to lower tensions.”
China says it controls much of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim portions. Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of stepping up harassment at sea.
The United States has rallied behind Southeast Asian nations, expanding military ties with the Philippines and Vietnam. President Barack Obama has decided to send Marines to Australia in a further show of US power in Asia.
The US Senate approved a resolution late Thursday that “strongly urges” all regional nations to exercise self-restraint and to refrain from permanently inhabiting points in the South China Sea until a code of conduct is reached.
The resolution, sponsored by senators from both major parties, declared that the United States was committed ”to assist the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent.”
During a 2010 visit to Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States had a national interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, through which half of world cargo passes.
The State Department statement on Friday reiterated that the United States has an interest in stability and “unimpeded lawful commerce” in the South China Sea but that Washington does not take a position on rival claims.
China also has separate disputes with US ally Japan in the East China Sea, an issue discussed by Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto on a visit Friday to Washington.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, addressing a joint news conference with Morimoto, voiced hope for further progress in a code of conduct on the South China Sea.
“The last thing we want is to have direct confrontation in the South China Sea with regards to jurisdictional issues,” Panetta said.
“Those should be resolved peacefully, and they should be resolved pursuant to a code of conduct. And the United States will do whatever we can to work with Japan and others to ensure that that is the approach we take,” he said.
Southeast Asian nations faced deep divisions last month during annual talks in Cambodia, preventing them from issuing a customary joint communique and holding up progress on reaching a code of conduct with China.
The code of conduct would aim to set rules to reduce the chances of a spat over fishing, shipping rights or oil and gas exploration tipping into an armed conflict.
Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former US government strategist, said that China may have set up the garrison as a way to counter the recent US military focus on Asia.
“To be sure, China is well aware that its assertiveness is not well received in East Asia, and tends to lead smaller nations to tilt to the US to balance China,” Manning wrote in an essay released by his think tank.
“But Beijing seems to be calculating that despite the more robust US military posture in the region, China can throw its weight around and the US response will be limited to diplomatic reprimand,” he wrote.
Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio did well to explain ― in print ― “[w]hy there’s no ASEAN joint communique” that came out of last week’s big regional meeting at Phnom Penh. Until I read her essay yesterday, all
I had read about was China’s going to town with its “success” at ASEAN, portraying the Philippines as an isolated state pathetically abandoned by its fellow ASEAN countries, all of them bowing before China’s might and meekly going along with the regional bully.
Basilio explodes that myth in categorical yet sober language (and even that level of restrained candor, I am unused to getting from our diplomats).
No, the Philippines wasn’t abandoned by its ASEAN neighbors who, in fact, already supported an earlier statement circulated by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on the standoff at Scarborough Shoal. One foreign minister wrote the ASEAN chair on the “necessity for ASEAN to issue a timely statement by the foreign ministers… as our common effort to contribute to the maintenance of an environment conducive in the region which is of interest [to] all of us.”
The Singaporean foreign minister, K. Shanmugan, wondered aloud on his website how ASEAN “was unable to deal with something that is happening in [its] neighborhood and not say something about it.” In other words, it was as if ASEAN pretended there was no elephant in the room. He added: “There’s no point in papering over it. There was a consensus among the majority of countries. The role of the chair in the context is to forge a complete consensus amongst all. But that did not happen.”
But therein lay the problem. The chair happened to be occupied by Cambodia, obviously beholden to China, and it was determined to exclude any mention of Scarborough altogether. Indeed, from Basilio’s account, it was Cambodia which invoked the chair’s prerogative to quash any reference to Scarborough in the communique, in effect, a de facto veto on the majority’s support for the Philippine position.
Whatever happened to China’s much-touted “peaceful rise”? Since when did it become vicious, and why? China’s leaders devised the term “peaceful rise,” later on replaced by the less suggestive “peaceful development,” to reassure its Asian neighbors and the United States that its breakneck economic prosperity and corresponding military modernization should pose no threat to them, and that it was after all in China’s interest to have peace and stability. For a while, it led to the muting of territorial feistiness over barren islands and rocks in the South China Sea.
Basilio also exposes the canard that Secretary Del Rosario walked out of the meeting. Far from it. (In another report, I read that it was Cambodia’s foreign minister who walked out after the Philippines had already accepted a draft compromise.) Indeed, the scenario was quite the opposite. Del Rosario stayed on to say his piece. His microphone went dead, but he continued speaking to complete the Philippine statement.
Basilio diplomatically fudges whether Cambodian microphones usually conk out when foreign ministers speak but, since I am not a diplomat, I am completely free to speculate that Secretary Del Rosario’s microphone being cut off was not innocent at all.
Finally, Basilio shows that the disagreement at Phnom Penh was narrow and specific, but the consensus that the Philippines won was actually broad and substantial. The disagreement ― the one that stalled and finally killed ASEAN’s joint communique ― was on whether there will be an express reference to Scarborough. The consensus ― on which basis ASEAN can move forward despite the Cambodia-engineered debacle at Phnom Penh ― is on the key elements of a proposed Code of Conduct. I have read other reports saying that consensus affirms international law as the framework for resolving the territorial disputes. That in itself is a major step forward.
But the real triumph there is that the Code of Conduct recognizes the multilateral nature of the South China Sea problem. Again, given the game of shadows that is ASEAN diplomacy, it might have otherwise been wiser to hush up on this triumph. When it comes to victory, what’s important is to win it, not to revel in it. A little humility should be good. But the situation is different now.
The first ASEAN declaration calling for a code of conduct on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea was adopted in 1992, and it took 10 years before that declaration was joined by China in 2002. The 2002 declaration was a major step forward, and must have coincided with the time when China indeed took its “peaceful rise” to heart. Today, another 10 years have passed and obviously things have changed for China.
China has portrayed ASEAN’s failure to adopt a joint statement at Phnom Penh as China’s triumph, but it merely succeeded in portraying it as ASEAN’s defeat. In other words, by gloating about how it prevailed in Phnom Penh, this sordid episode should remind other ASEAN countries why it is so important for them to band together against their biggest, most powerful neighbor. Already, just days after Phnom Penh, China has upped the ante and announced newer initiatives in islands belonging to the Kalayaan Islands Group that are covered as part of Philippine territory under our latest Baselines Law.
In other words, China is using the Cambodian veto over the ASEAN joint communique to build momentum not just over the five scattered rocks at Scarborough but over the Spratly islands archipelago themselves.
We should capitalize on China’s aggressive streak to galvanize further international support for our position. Let the Phnom Penh meeting be one step backward, and foster global outrage to push us two steps forward.
(Sic! Lee is a full blooded Hakka of China, his motherland backhand bitten snake in disguise and a lapdog)
According to a leaked cable from the US Embassy in Singapore, Lee told US officials that ASEAN should not have admitted Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as members, fearful that some might act as a pro-Chinese fifth column within ASEAN.
PHNOM PENH – The official theme for Cambodia’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is “One Community, One Destiny” – but the outcomes of this year’s meetings highlighted the bloc’s growing divisions on the issue of China.
Last week in the Cambodian capital, the Foreign Ministers’ meeting came to an acrimonious end when delegates from the 10-member bloc failed to issue their customary joint communique – the first time they have failed to do so in ASEAN’s 45-year history – after disagreements over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over most of the resource-rich sea, but four ASEAN nations – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have advanced competing claims. Last week’s meetings were overshadowed by a flare-up over a group of islands known as the Scarborough Shoal, a fish-rich reef claimed by both China and the Philippines. The two countries had a military stand-off over the shoal earlier this year, sending ships to the area.
During ASEAN talks on the creation of a Code of Conduct, which would govern the behavior of ships in the disputed maritime areas, Manila tried to insert reference to the Scarborough Shoal, but claims it was blocked by Cambodia – a close ally of China.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan called the meeting’s outcome “very disappointing”, while Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it was “utterly irresponsible” that the grouping could not come up with a joint statement on the South China Sea dispute.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong blamed unnamed “member countries” for trying to forcibly include a mention of the Scarborough Shoal issue in the final communique. He called these requests “unacceptable”, and laid the blame for the breakdown on “the whole of ASEAN”.
In response, the Philippines said in a statement that “it deplore[d] the non-issuance of a joint communique” and took “strong exception” to Cambodia’s actions, arguing that they undermined previous agreements to tackle the South China Sea disputes as a unified bloc – rather than bilaterally, as China would prefer.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told Bloomberg that the impasse was a result of Chinese “pressure, duplicity [and] intimidation”.
Similar tensions were also apparent at the annual ASEAN Summit in April, when Cambodia kept the South China Sea dispute off the official agenda. Some analysts suggested that Chinese President Hu Jintao, who arrived on a high-profile state visit just days before the opening of the summit, had pressured Phnom Penh over the issue.
The recent tensions highlight just how far Chinese influence has increased in Cambodia in recent years. Beijing’s offers of hefty amounts of loans and investment dollars unconstrained by human-rights or good governance concerns has been eagerly taken up by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who resents the conditions often attached to Western aid.
Chinese state banks today bankroll the construction of roads, bridges, hydropower dams, real estate developments and tourist resorts in Cambodia. Over the past decade, these loans and grants have run into the billions of US dollars, and official delegations shuttle back and forth between the two countries each year.
Monetary attachment Despite Hun Sen’s claims that China’s support is offered without strings, Beijing’s economic clout has bought the country considerable political leverage in Cambodia. This was dramatically demonstrated in December 2009 when Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum seekers to China. The timing of the deportation – a day before the arrival of a Chinese official carrying a $1.2 billion package of grants and loan agreements – left few in doubt that extreme pressure was brought to bear on Phnom Penh. This unspoken quid pro quo arrangement extends back as far as July 1997, when Hun Sen ousted his rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody factional coup. Unlike many Western countries, which balked at the bloodshed in Phnom Penh, China immediately recognized the status quo and offered military aid. Hun Sen reciprocated by shuttering the Taiwanese representative’s office in Phnom Penh after accusing Taiwanese elements of providing support to his rivals, and in the years since has frequently voiced support for the One-China policy.
“I think it’s very difficult to deny there are no strings attached to Chinese aid and economic assistance in Cambodia,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst based in Phnom Penh. “The attitude and position taken by Cambodia at the last [ASEAN] meeting shows that it was toeing the Chinese line.”
ASEAN, a regional grouping built on the premise of safeguarding Southeast Asian interests from outside pressure or interference, now faces an uncertain year.
Analysts say the disappointing end to last week’s foreign ministers’ meeting could undermine ASEAN unity on the vital South China Sea issue, making it that much more difficult to negotiate a Code of Conduct with China.
“Cambodia’s single act of obstinacy is a reflection of China’s influence and not Cambodian interests,” said Carlyle Thayer, an analyst at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney, adding that it would likely “poison” ASEAN proceedings until the next round of summits in November.
However, the dispute could potentially have deeper implications for ASEAN, cracking its unity and exacerbating the differences between the grouping’s widely diverse member states.
The bloc was founded in 1967 as a bulwark against the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand as members.
During the 1970s and ’80s it played a strong role in the US-led isolation of communist Vietnam, and, after 1979, the Cambodian government installed by Hanoi after the overthrow of the murderous regime led by the Khmer Rouge. The end of the Cold War brought an end to the overt anti-communist posture of ASEAN, which was eventually expanded to include Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999).
But tensions have remained between the old and new members.
In 2007, Singapore’s founding father (founding dictator?), Lee Kuan Yew, identified a division between ASEAN’s original member states and the poorer nations that joined in the 1990s.
According to a leaked cable from the US Embassy in Singapore, Lee told US officials that ASEAN should not have admitted Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as members, fearful that some might act as a pro-Chinese fifth column within ASEAN. (Sic! Lee is a full blooded Hakka,a backhand bitten snake)
“The older members of ASEAN shared common values and an antipathy to communism,” the cable states, quoting Lee’s views. “Those values had been ‘muddied’ by the new members, and their economic and social problems made it doubtful they would ever behave like the older ASEAN members.”
Lee particularly focused on Laos, describing it as an “outpost” of China that reported back to Beijing on the content of all ASEAN meetings – but he could easily have mentioned Cambodia, which is quickly becoming China’s most dependable ally in the region.
Thayer said last week’s imbroglio, after years of pro-unity rhetoric, was “the first major breach of the dyke of regional autonomy” created by ASEAN. “China has now reached into ASEAN’s inner sanctum and played on intra-ASEAN divisions,” he said.
In the worst-case scenario, he added, continuing disagreement could undermine the creation of the planned ASEAN Political-Security Community and potentially raise the specter of a de facto division between the mainland Southeast Asian states – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar – and ASEAN’s maritime states. “I don’t know how this rift is going to be overcome,” he said.
It is too soon to say whether last week’s stand-off will sound the death knell for ASEAN’s “One Community” pledge. Lao Mong Hay, for one, believes there are “serious leaders [in ASEAN] who will set out to repair the damage”. But it is quickly becoming apparent that Phnom Penh’s dependence on Chinese loans and grants is a development with regional implications.
16 Jul 2012
BANGKOK (ANN) – Thanks to its single-mindedness, Cambodia has literally brought Asean to its knees. In the organisation’s 45-year history, its foreign ministers have never failed to issue a joint communique – however vague or noncommittal – after their deliberations. In the past there have been plenty of rough times and many disagreements – not least during the Cambodian conflict. But they have never ended like this.
This time around, Cambodia, as the Asean chair, has taken an uncompromising stand on the issue of the South China Sea. Instead of trying to find common ground among all concerned parties, as the Asean chair has done in the past, the chair decided to put its national interest ahead of the grouping’s solidarity. In the long run, it will backfire on Cambodia and Asean as a whole.
It could also hurt Cambodia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council next year. It will be interesting to see how the Philippines reacts. Sooner rather than later, Cambodia will realise that its action has jeopardised the grouping’s credibility.
In the absence of a joint communique on the deliberations, action cannot be taken on dozens of decisions because there is no official record, and the Asean Secretariat will not be able to do anything about it. Asean will need to take immediate remedial action.
Since its period of enlargement from 1995-1999, more than officials would like to admit, Asean’s ethos and way of doing things has changed tremendously due to new members’ different political backgrounds and habits. Only Cambodia went through serious difficulties in joining Asean due to its troubled history. Therefore, it was the last member to be admitted, in 1999. Asean had wanted all new members from the Asean-10 admitted by 1997. Since Cambodia joined, Asean has quickly developed new relations with China, once Phnom Penh’s nemesis.
China was the key supporter of the Khmer Rouge, which fought the Phnom Penh government from 1979 until well after the United Nations intervened to stage elections in the country in 1993.
For the past 12 years, Cambodia and China have built up their bilateral ties and cemented cooperation and friendship as never before. As it has with the rest of Asean’s members, China has developed a close relationship with Cambodia. But somehow, Cambodia-China relations have gone a bit further than the rest.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen knows China would be of great assistance in propelling the country’s economic development and its standing in the region. As the longest-reigning leader in the region, Hun Sen wants to be recognised as a leader who has brought peace and prosperity to his country and also the region. After all, it was the Cambodian conflict that threatened the region’s stability previously.
Since Cambodia took the chair of Asean, Asean-China relations have come under the world’s microscope. The rows over the overlapping claims in the South China Sea, especially those involving China, the Philippines and Vietnam, have all reared their ugly heads at about the same time.
The Philippines has gone ballistic against China over the Scarborough Shoals – known as Huanyan Island in China – in the past several months. Manila has engaged its key ally, Washington, to increase its defence capacity.
Vietnam and China are also at each other’s throats over their claims on the Spratly Islands. Each side has chosen different manoeuvring tactics. But like it or not, it has always been the Asean chair that can make or break any sensitive topic.
Asean’s unity and solidarity is of the utmost importance for the grouping’s survival and the preservation of its bargaining power. If each Asean member dwells on its own interest – as Cambodia has – then Asean has no future. The group’s consensus and non-interference policies allow each member to pursue their own interests. But there is no Asean principle that allows the rotating chair to take things into its own hands without considering the voice of the majority.
Foreign ministers from 10 countries …
Graphic showing disputed sea border
AFP,13 July 2012
Days of heated diplomacy at Southeast Asian talks ended in failure Friday as deep splits over China prevented the ASEAN grouping from issuing its customary joint statement for the first time.
Foreign ministers from the 10-member bloc have been wrangling since Monday to hammer out a diplomatic communique, which has held up progress on a separate code of conduct aimed at soothing tension in the flashpoint South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims in the area.
The long-stalled code of conduct, strongly supported by the United States, is seen as a way of reducing the chances of a spat over fishing, shipping rights or oil and gas exploration tipping into an armed conflict.
The Philippines lambasted the failure at the end of the talks on Friday, saying “it deplores the non-issuance of a joint communique… which was unprecedented in ASEAN’s 45-year existence”.
It had insisted ASEAN refer to an armed stand-off with China last month over a rocky outcrop known as the Scarborough Shoal, but Cambodia — a Beijing ally and chair of the meeting — resisted.
Taking “strong exception” to Cambodia, the Philippine statement said divisions undercut ASEAN’s goal of tackling disputes as a bloc ”and not in a bilateral fashion — the approach which its northern neighbour (China) has been insisting on”.
The Philippines and the United States called this week for a unified ASEAN that could use its collective clout to negotiate with China, while Beijing prefers to deal with its smaller neighbours individually.
Diplomatic sources, speaking anonymously to AFP, referred to angry exchanges during behind-the-scenes talks, with an emergency meeting called for early Friday morning also failing to break the deadlock.
“I think it would be fair to say that tempers in some of the private meetings have run hot. There have been some very tense back and forths,” one US official said.
China is a key bankroller of the much-criticised host Cambodia and some diplomats said Beijing had twisted arms in Phnom Penh to prevent any reference to the South China Sea disputes in the communique.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong expressed regret at the discord within ASEAN, but said he could “not accept that the joint communique has become the hostage of the bilateral issue (between the Philippines and China)”.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who played a key role trying to broker a compromise, expressed “deep, profound disappointment” at the lack of consensus within the bloc.
“There is still a common view that we must, if anything, reinforce our efforts to work on the COC (code of conduct), to begin our talks with the Chinese on the COC,” he added.
Foreign ministers said Sunday they had agreed “key elements” of a draft code to be presented to China, but these were not released to the media.
China was also cool on the idea of starting negotiations, almost 10 years since the idea of creating a code was first agreed, saying it would only negotiate “when conditions are ripe”.
Analysts said the friction could “contaminate” future negotiations between ASEAN and China.
“Cambodia is showing itself as China’s stalking horse. This will make negotiating a final code of conduct with China more difficult,” said Southeast Asia expert Carl Thayer.
“I find it difficult to believe that ASEAN foreign ministers cannot come up with some formulation that satisfies all parties.”
ASEAN struggles over maritime dispute with China…from Ile de Peste Nom Benh a la mode de prince Xeehanouk
AFP,11 July 2012
China and Southeast Asian countries struggled to make progress Wednesday on a code of conduct designed to ease tension in the flashpoint South China Sea, diplomatic sources said.
The two sides were due to meet at a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia amid splits on what the code should include and how it should be implemented.
A joint statement to be issued by ASEAN foreign ministers was also held up as countries wrangled over whether to include a reference to recent spats over the resource-rich area pitting China against Vietnam and the Philippines.
“ASEAN foreign ministers are having an emergency meeting to resolve the wording on the South China Sea in the joint statement,” one Asian diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another spoke of “splits and divisions” in the organisation, principally between the Philippines and the chair of the meeting, staunch Chinese ally Cambodia.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa admitted the debate about whether to mention recent incidents, including a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships last month over Scarborough Shoal, remained a sticking point.
The shoal, an outcrop in the South China Sea, is claimed by both countries.
“It’s very important for us to express our concern with what happened whether it be at the shoals, whether it be at the continental shelves,” he told reporters.
“But more importantly than simply responding to the past is to move forward to ensure that these kind of events no longer occur.”
Manila is leading a push for ASEAN to unite to persuade China to accept a code of conduct based on a UN law on maritime boundaries that would delineate the areas belonging to each country.
Beijing has said it is prepared to discuss a more limited code aimed at ”building trust and deepening cooperation” but not one that settles the territorial disputes, which it wants to negotiate with each country separately.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told reporters Wednesday that the fact the code was under discussion “is already having a calming effect on all parties”.
Efforts to produce one began 10 years ago, but nations were now engaging seriously and efforts were being made to “move along”, he said.
Planned talks between ASEAN and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Liechi were repeatedly delayed, however, with a meeting originally scheduled for the morning slipping to a late afternoon slot.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to arrive in Cambodia for a wider regional Asian summit on Thursday, with Washington also pushing for progress on reducing friction in a key shipping lane that is vital to the world economy.
“We look to ASEAN to make rapid progress with China toward an effective code of conduct in order to ensure that as challenges arise, they are managed and resolved peacefully,” Clinton said in Vietnam on Tuesday.
She said that the South China Sea would be discussed alongside other areas of mutual concern at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which groups 26 Asia-Pacific countries and the European Union and starts Thursday.
This risks irking Beijing after the Chinese foreign ministry warned on Tuesday against “hyping” the problem and said it should be kept out of the summit.
“This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN, but between China and some ASEAN countries,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.
“Hyping the South China Sea issue… is against the common aspirations of the people and the main trends of the time to seek development and cooperation.”
The Philippines, lamenting the poor state of its armed forces, appealed Monday for US and international help in building a “minimum credible defense” amid an escalating territorial dispute with China.
Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin called for assistance in boosting their country’s armed forces in talks in Washington with US counterparts Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta.
Del Rosario lamented how the international news media has described the poor state of Philippines armed forces.
“It sounds terribly painful for the Philippines but more painful is the fact that this is true, and we only have ourselves to blame for it,” del Rosario said in a candid assessment as Clinton and Panetta listened across a table.
“For the Philippines to be minimally relied upon as a US regional partner… it therefore behooves us to resort to all possible means to build at the very least a most minimal credible defense posture,” del Rosario said.
“On our own, we will do the best we can,” the Philippines top diplomat said.
“Developing a minimum credible defense posture may however be hastened mainly through an enhancement of the activities we do together with our singular treaty (with Washington) and through a positive consideration of increased assistance that we seek at this time as well,” he said.
“We are concurrently seeking a higher level of assistance from other international partners,” he said.
Gazmin alluded to tension with China over islands in the South China Sea as he called for the need to “intensify our mutual trust to uphold maritime security and the freedom of navigation.”
“We should be able to work together to build the Philippines minimum credible defense posture, especially in upholding maritime security,” Gazmin said.
He also talked of the need to “institutionalize efficient humanitarian assistance and disaster response” as the Philippines armed forces needed to be better prepared to tackle natural disasters.
Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the meetings of four key national security officials of both countries, “allows us to write a new chapter together in our alliance.”
The Philippines and China have been embroiled in a dispute over a shoal in the South China Sea, with both nations stationing vessels there for nearly three weeks to assert their sovereignty.
The Philippines says Scarborough Shoal is its territory because it falls well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognized by international law.
The Philippines has called for arbitration through the United Nations to end the dispute, but China has refused.
Publication Date : 09-04-2012
Over the past decades, the Philippines used to be benign with its defence strategy over the claims in South China Sea.
Domestic turmoil, economic down-turn and southern rebellions kept the country at arm’s length on this key security issue. However, since July 2010, the government under President Benign Aquino III has displayed assertive foreign policy postures in the relations with the US and China – which has currently moved in an opposite direction. At the last week’s Asean summit in Phnom Penh, the Philippines unmistakably emerged as the most critical and loudest voice against China over the maritime territorial disputes. Even strong positions normally held by Vietnam regarding its claims, which has fought numerous wars during their thousands of years of adversarial relations, looked pale by comparison.
Manila’s new found confidence harked back to the Cold War when the country was the centre of regional power with substantial and active American presence at Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base. Obviously, the former American colony is trying to be the game changer extraordinaire within Asean amidst the fast changing regional landscape. With such a determination from a founding member, the latest round of discussions among the Asean members over this sensitive topic was no longer business as usual. Their positions on China are more difficult to manage than ever before. That has been the trend for a while after the US State Secretary Hilary Clinton declared in July 2010 that it was in the US national interest to see a peaceful settlement of the disputes. Soon after, Asean and China reached consensus in Bali over the guidelines of declaration of conducts of South China Seas (2002) after exactly a decade of negotiations.
Building on this progress, the Asean senior officials met four times to discuss “possible elements” of code of conducts (COC) in the South China Sea since last November. “Possible elements” was used instead of “terms of reference” after China’s objection. Asean hopes to finalise them by the July ministerial meeting before discussing with the Chinese counterpart. In recent months, anxious Beijing has sent a strong signal requesting joint deliberations on the COC but Asean was mute. At the summit, the Philippines and Vietnam objected strongly to have China taking part at this juncture. As such, it is doubtful whether Asean and China can actually agree, let alone sign, on the COC before the next Asean Summit planned in mid-November under the Cambodian chair. In the Chinese media, “the rule of conducts” has already become a preferred term used to refer to the COC. In the draft, Asean has linked the key COC elements with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, among others. The Philippines has already proposed the setting up of a joint cooperation area on the Spratlys including a joint permanent working group that would operationalise activities in the disputed areas. But there was no consensus within Asean.
At the Phnom Penh summit, China surprised Asean with a proposal to establish an eminent persons and experts group (EPEG) to discuss the COC. The EPEG will comprise 10 members, five each from China and Asean which will include the Jakarta-based Secretariat. Asean would definitely turn down the proposal as China failed to consult beforehand. Furthermore, it is a track two discussion while the grouping wants to concentrate on the official mechanisms first before going further. The proposal is also deemed divisive as it discriminates the other half of Asean.
In more ways than one, China and Asean have now realised that the frequent debates without an acceptable and workable framework of peaceful settlement and joint cooperation will only further complicate the issue and hold their longstanding mutual trusts hostage. Worse still, it can invite further involvement of outside players and dispute settlement mechanisms. Presently, Asean positions and views on the disputes are quite diverse comprising moderate and hard-lined varieties among claimants and non-claimants. Their differences surfaced after the so-called “Aseanisation” efforts began in 1992 abruptly shifted to an open-end internationalised process in 2010 during the chair of Vietnam. Abilities to bring back the Asean-China mainstream – if it is possible at all – would now depend on the grouping’s ability to speak with one voice and China’s willingness to engage Asean as a group.
Unlike the Philippines’ confrontational prepositioning, another prominent claimant, Vietnam, was more subdued in Cambodia, its close ally for decades. As if to compensate for the conspicuous absence of comments this time, Vietnam took the opportunity to introduce to the Asean leaders, the next Asean secretary general, Vice Foreign Minister Le Luong Minh eventhough the current Asean chief, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, still has nine-month to go. The veteran diplomat served as his country’s permanent representative to the UN before taking up the current position. He will succeed Surin, who was openly recruited in Thailand, on January 1, 2013 which will last five years.
As the Asean chair, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wanted this summit to highlight the success of 45-year-old organisation in integrating all countries in Southeast Asia as well as his leadership in the grouping. That explained why Hun Sen pushed to issue the Phnom Penh Declaration on Asean and his statement on the 45th anniversary of Asean with contents taken in parts and whole from the roadmaps of Asean Community, without which the summit could easily be overwhelmed by the euphemism on outcomes of April 1 by-election in Myanmar. At first, the poll outcome, which was applauded by Asean and the international community, along with the call for ending sanctions was supposed to be issued as a separate statement to highlight Myanmar’s good news but later it was just included in the Chairman’s statement.
Besides the chair’s agenda, the Phnom Penh summit also mirrors the future strategic competition in the region among major powers, mainly the US and China, through their friends or foes. Despite Cambodia’s efforts to avoid taking up the South China Sea disputes knowing its sensitivities, President Aquino and Foreign Minister Del Rosario however decided to speak up much to the chagrins of their colleagues. At the press conference wrapping up the summit, Hun Sen was visibly not happy with the media focus on the perceived roles of China and Cambodia over this issue. Hun Sen knows that if this sentiment continues, it will impact on his chairmanship and Cambodia’s budding relations with China and longstanding fraternal ties with Vietnam, not to mention Asean and the regional’s stability as a whole.
There are ways to reduce the threat to stability that an emerging superpower poses
7 Apr 2012 | from the print edition Economist
NO MATTER how often China has emphasised the idea of a peaceful rise, the pace and nature of its military modernisation inevitably cause alarm. As America and the big European powers reduce their defence spending, China looks likely to maintain the past decade’s increases of about 12% a year. Even though its defence budget is less than a quarter the size of America’s today, China’s generals are ambitious. The country is on course to become the world’s largest military spender in just 20 years or so (see article).
Much of its effort is aimed at deterring America from intervening in a future crisis over Taiwan. China is investing heavily in “asymmetric capabilities” designed to blunt America’s once-overwhelming capacity to project power in the region. This “anti-access/area denial” approach includes thousands of accurate land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, modern jets with anti-ship missiles, a fleet of submarines (both conventionally and nuclear-powered), long-range radars and surveillance satellites, and cyber and space weapons intended to “blind” American forces. Most talked about is a new ballistic missile said to be able to put a manoeuvrable warhead onto the deck of an aircraft-carrier 2,700km (1,700 miles) out at sea.
China says all this is defensive, but its tactical doctrines emphasise striking first if it must. Accordingly, China aims to be able to launch disabling attacks on American bases in the western Pacific and push America’s carrier groups beyond what it calls the “first island chain”, sealing off the Yellow Sea, South China Sea and East China Sea inside an arc running from the Aleutians in the north to Borneo in the south. Were Taiwan to attempt formal secession from the mainland, China could launch a series of pre-emptive strikes to delay American intervention and raise its cost prohibitively.
This has already had an effect on China’s neighbours, who fear that it will draw them into its sphere of influence. Japan, South Korea, India and even Australia are quietly spending more on defence, especially on their navies. Barack Obama’s new “pivot” towards Asia includes a clear signal that America will still guarantee its allies’ security. This week a contingent of 200 US marines arrived in Darwin, while India took formal charge of a nuclear submarine, leased from Russia.
The prospect of an Asian arms race is genuinely frightening, but prudent concern about China’s build-up must not lapse into hysteria. For the moment at least, China is far less formidable than hawks on both sides claim. Its armed forces have had no real combat experience for more than 30 years, whereas America’s have been fighting, and learning, constantly. The capacity of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for complex joint operations in a hostile environment is untested. China’s formidable missile and submarine forces would pose a threat to American carrier groups near its coast, but not farther out to sea for some time at least. Blue-water operations for China’s navy are limited to anti-piracy patrolling in the Indian Ocean and the rescue of Chinese workers from war-torn Libya. Two or three small aircraft-carriers may soon be deployed, but learning to use them will take many years. Nobody knows if the “carrier-killer” missile can be made to work.
As for China’s longer-term intentions, the West should acknowledge that it is hardly unnatural for a rising power to aspire to have armed forces that reflect its growing economic clout. China consistently devotes a bit over 2% of GDP to defence—about the same as Britain and France and half of what America spends. That share may fall if Chinese growth slows or the government faces demands for more social spending. China might well use force to stop Taiwan from formally seceding. Yet, apart from claims over the virtually uninhabited Spratly and Paracel Islands, China is not expansionist: it already has its empire. Its policy of non-interference in the affairs of other states constrains what it can do itself.
The trouble is that China’s intentions are so unpredictable. On the one hand China is increasingly willing to engage with global institutions. Unlike the old Soviet Union, it has a stake in the liberal world economic order, and no interest in exporting a competing ideology. The Communist Party’s legitimacy depends on being able to honour its promise of prosperity. A cold war with the West would undermine that. On the other hand, China engages with the rest of the world on its own terms, suspicious of institutions it believes are run to serve Western interests. And its assertiveness, particularly in maritime territorial disputes, has grown with its might. The dangers of military miscalculation are too high for comfort.
How to avoid accidents
It is in China’s interests to build confidence with its neighbours, reduce mutual strategic distrust with America and demonstrate its willingness to abide by global norms. A good start would be to submit territorial disputes over islands in the East and South China Seas to international arbitration. Another step would be to strengthen promising regional bodies such as the East Asian Summit and ASEAN Plus Three. Above all, Chinese generals should talk far more with American ones. At present, despite much Pentagon prompting, contacts between the two armed forces are limited, tightly controlled by the PLA and ritually frozen by politicians whenever they want to “punish” America—usually because of a tiff over Taiwan.
America’s response should mix military strength with diplomatic subtlety. It must retain the ability to project force in Asia: to do otherwise would feed Chinese hawks’ belief that America is a declining power which can be shouldered aside. But it can do more to counter China’s paranoia. To his credit, Mr Obama has sought to lower tensions over Taiwan and made it clear that he does not want to contain China (far less encircle it as Chinese nationalists fear). America must resist the temptation to make every security issue a test of China’s good faith. There are bound to be disagreements between the superpowers; and if China cannot pursue its own interests within the liberal world order, it will become more awkward and potentially belligerent. That is when things could get nasty.