China moves to strengthen ties with Singapore


“Will do our best to bring Asean and China closer together,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong 李显龙 wrote in a Facebook post following a meeting with China’s premier, Li Keqiang 李克强, on September 19. The sentiment to increase cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — which Singapore will rotate in to lead next year — and China likely delighted Beijing, which has long viewed the city-state as an important but troublesome partner. Singapore, being three-quarters ethnically Chinese, is important to China as a gateway to Southeast Asia, but distrusted by Communist Party hardliners for its closeness to Taiwan and the United States — see here for a chart explaining the variety of Chinese views on Singapore.

On September 20, the top headlines on central state media outlets Xinhua (in Chinese, in English) and People’s Daily (in Chinese, in English) were about Lee’s meeting with a visibly buoyant President Xi Jinping. But as Bloomberg reports, it wasn’t just the president and his premier, it was all his men, too: Lee met with two more of the seven most powerful men in China, national legislature chief Zhang Dejiang 张德江 and anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan 王岐山 — a meeting that came as a “surprise to many China watchers and apparently even to Wang himself,” the South China Morning Post reports.

What are Singapore and China doing together, other than exchanging friendly bromides? SCMP has the relevant roundup:
•China is trying to get Singapore to have a Chinese company build the planned $14 billion, 350-kilometer (217-mile) high-speed rail line from Singapore to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, expected to be completed in 2026.
•Both countries are implementing the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, a package of financial services, transportation, logistics, and communications services that aims to improve connectivity between Chongqing and Southeast Asia.
•Chinese property developers have flocked to Singapore, as the city-state accounts for more than 15 percent of their outbound investment.
•Trade has flourished, growing 60 percent since 2009 to $85 billion last year, and the countries are currently negotiating an update to their bilateral free trade agreement. China has been Singapore’s top trading partner since 2013.

Source: SupChina “China moves to strengthen ties with Singapore”

Note: This is SupChina’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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Does Vietnam Repent, Want to Bury Hatchet with China?


Vietnam’s General Secretary of the Communist Party and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong talks to media after he casts his vote for members of the 14th National Assembly and People’s Councils at a polling station in Hanoi, Vietnam May 22, 2016. Photo: Kham

After the Vietnam-China standoff due to the drilling of a Chinese oil rig at disputed sea, Nguyen Phu Trong was re-elected as head of Vietnamese communist party and began détente with China.

However, Vietnam’s drilling in disputed waters through its joint venture with Spain and others was recently stopped by China as China put pressure on Spain. No wonder, Vietnam was upset and “has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s claims in the South China Sea,” says Reuters in its report “Vietnam calls for Southeast Asian unity amid South China Sea tension” yesterday.

Unfortunately, according to Reuters, Vietnam “has appeared increasingly isolated (in ASEAN) in challenging China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea”.

Now, in Trong’s first visit to Indonesia, he made a speech on the necessity for ASEAN to be unified in resolving territorial disputes.

Did he mean unity against China? Not likely, Reuters says in its report Vietnam is isolated in challenging China in its disputes with China. It means ASEAN’s other members oppose Vietnam’s challenge.

Reuters quotes Trong as saying, “Do not let ASEAN become a playing card for the competition among major countries”. Trong did not identify the major countries but it is very clear Trong meant China and the United States.

It seems that Trong wanted to explain that though Vietnam is improving relations with the US, it does not want to become a playing card of the United States.

Does Trong want to resume détente with China?

Will Vietnam cooperate with China in exploiting the oil and gas resources in the South China Sea like the Philippines?

Those are very interesting questions that we may soon find answers.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, full text of which can be found at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-vietnam-idUSKCN1B4099


Stop the South China Sea Charade


Chinese President Xi Jinping meets US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford

America’s angst about Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is overblown – and China knows it.

By Robert A. Manning, James Przystup August 17, 2017

Judging from the foreign-policy commentary produced and consumed in the United States, you’d think the South China Sea lay just off America’s East Coast. Every Chinese move in disputed maritime territories is analyzed as though it’s an existential threat to America’s lifelines.

There’s no doubt that China’s growing assertiveness in waters far from its own coasts has sparked great angst in the region. The “nine-dash line” that Beijing pushes as the basis of its claims includes virtually the whole of the South China Sea, including areas claimed by its neighbors, like Vietnam and the Philippines.But the reality is that U.S. core interests are not really at stake, and China knows it. The ferocity of the debate among Washington wonks reflects far less the actual importance of the rocks and islets than the uncertainty of a United States struggling to rethink its post-World War II preeminence now contested by a re-emergent China. It would be better to simply have that conversation in the open.

Yes, the importance of the sea lanes in the South China Sea through which $3.4 trillion in goods passes each year cannot be overstated. But those sea lanes have never been under serious threat (in peacetime), as the United States and China share an economic interest in the uninterrupted flow of commerce.

Historically, U.S. national security interests in the South China Sea have been limited and consistent since the first clipper ship, the Empress of China, sailed to Canton (now Guangzhou) in 1784. The United States has always sought freedom of navigation — which today includes airspace — and commercial access in Asia.

Freedom of navigation does reflect a vital interest that the United States can and should defend, unilaterally, if necessary. To that end, U.S. Navy exercises in the South China Sea should be stepped up — and coordinated with allies and strategic partners — to underscore continuing U.S. presence and commitment. The Trump administration’s assertive naval operation last week (on Aug. 10) near the Chinese-controlled islet Mischief Reef was a good example of such U.S. resolve and continuing presence. But China’s howls of protest notwithstanding, ultimately, such tactics can have only a marginal effect on China’s own actions.

China is willing and able to go much further than the United States
China is willing and able to go much further than the United States, as it has already demonstrated by transforming facts on the ground.

People in the region watching Beijing stake claims to disputed South China Sea rocks and shoals have no illusions that China is being deterred by the United States. They have come to understand the reality of an asymmetry of respective Chinese and U.S. geopolitical interests. Beijing’s interest in the South China Sea is political and strategic in nature. Island building is aimed at asserting sovereignty to reverse the “century of humiliation,” which has become a key to legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party. Strategically, China is pushing out its defense perimeter and enhancing China’s maritime sway in the region.

But for the United States, the South China Sea is just one part of the larger, complex U.S.-China relationship. Former President Barack Obama’s policy priorities for China were the Paris climate change accords and the Iran nuclear deal; Donald Trump’s policy priorities for China are North Korea and trade. Look no further than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s appearance at last week’s meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum: Though the meeting was held one year after an international tribunal at The Hague rejected all of China’s territorial claims, the issue that dominated the discussions was North Korea. The lingering disputes in the South China Sea were a second-order matter, and in the chairman’s statement only “some member states” expressed “concerns” regarding the South China Sea.

China knows that the Trump administration lacks a comprehensive strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region. Whatever its shortcomings in terms of implementation, the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” did conceptually integrate the diplomatic, military, and economic elements of a comprehensive regional strategy. In contrast, the present administration’s rejection of the hard-fought Trans-Pacific Partnership was a strategic shock and a blow to U.S. credibility. That has left Chinese projects like the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank unchallenged. Like the global financial crisis of 2008, perceived U.S. weakness has emboldened China.

But even in the face of the Obama administration’s cautions against unilateral change and support for a rules-based international order, Beijing disregarded U.S. diplomacy, trashed the Hague tribunal’s ruling against its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, and effectively changed the status quo.

The Chinese bet, correctly, that, as long as shipping lanes are not threatened, the United States will not risk war with a nuclear weapons state over rocks and reefs to which it has no claims, just to defend the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which it won’t ever ratify. Washington’s absence from the governance councils at UNCLOS makes it easier for Beijing to push its largely bogus interpretations of the treaty.

Beijing is several steps ahead of Washington in moving to consolidate the new facts on the ground it has created in the South China Sea. It has been quietly negotiating with ASEAN a code of conduct for the South China Sea. It has announced multibillion-dollar aid and investment projects in the Philippines and has now agreed to explore joint energy production with Manila, effectively neutralizing a U.S. ally. Similarly, Beijing has announced more than $30 billion in loans and investments in Malaysia, as well as stepping up military ties to Kuala Lumpur and Thailand. If ASEAN and China reach a weak, nonbinding code of conduct that affirms the new realities, the United States will have little choice but to support it.

China seems to have learned from the Thucydidean observation that great powers “do what they can.” During the 2010 ASEAN meeting, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told assembled leaders, “China is a big country, and other countries are small countries — and that’s just a fact.” Rules can be broken or ignored by great powers if their interests dictate, and Beijing displays a similar a la carte approach to the rules-based order as other major powers do.

China’s irredentism is very troubling. But whether we like it or not, China is going to have a much larger role in the region. The United States needs to come to terms with the great strategic question of our time: What Chinese role in the Asia-Pacific can it live with? Similarly, Beijing needs to forget its hope that the United States will fade away and answer the key question: What sort of U.S. posture in the region can China live with?

Over time, both the United States and China need to learn to distinguish between what their respective interests dictate they must have and what they merely prefer. That is the key to finding a balance of interests and a modus vivendi for U.S.-China relations in the 21st century.

Source: Foreign Policy “Stop the South China Sea Charade”

Note: This is Foreign Policy’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Philippines says China wanted non-legally binding South China Sea code


Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano speaks during the closing ceremony of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Manuel Mogato August 8, 2017 / 9:56 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – China pushed for a maritime code of conduct with Southeast Asian countries that would not be legally binding, the Philippine foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Alan Peter Cayetano said some countries wanted the South China Sea code to be legally binding, and China preferred the less forceful “binding”. He said all parties realized it was better to drop all mention of it from the framework and move forward.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China hailed the adoption on Sunday of a negotiating framework for the code of conduct (COC) as progress towards preventing disputes.

Cayetano cited the framework as an example of how parties that were historically at odds were co-operating, but his comments indicate that China had initially set out to create a code that had no legal binds.

“Everyone is more open to negotiations,” Cayetano told a news conference. “At first, words about being non-legally binding, China dropped, just said ‘OK, approve the framework and go to the COC’.”

Critics say Beijing’s end game is to either negotiate what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement, or stall and buy time to expand its defense capability on its manmade islands.

ASEAN has long wanted to sign China up to a set of laws to prevent disputes over energy reserves, fishing, and land reclamation, and avoid military conflicts in the South China Sea, where Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and China have competing claims.

ASEAN and China say the framework is only a guide for how the code will be established, but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make it legally binding and enforceable creates doubts about how effective the pact can be.
Australia, Japan and the United States on Monday urged ASEAN and China to ensure the code is “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law”.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday said it was too soon to discuss components of the code, but whatever is agreed must be stuck to.

“If China is saying now that we’re going for ‘binding’, will we stop talking to them?” Cayetano asked.

“The problem with legally binding is … what are the penalties, what are the mechanisms for adjudication, what tribunal, what court and who will enforce?.

“I think some countries are just being practical.”

How to address Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has long been ASEAN’s most divisive issue, with China’s influence on the group looming large and complicating efforts to reach consensus decisions.

China is particularly sensitive to even oblique references in ASEAN statements to its artificial islands and rapid development of defense facilities in disputed waters.

Host the Philippines, which is expanding its economic ties with China, made no mention of those in its chairman’s statement on the 27-nation ASEAN Regional Forum issued late on Tuesday.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Neil Fullick and Alister Doyle

Source: Reuters “Philippines says China wanted non-legally binding South China Sea code”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


With South China Sea, US Can Do Nothing but Making Some Noise Now


U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, passes by the table of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the start of the 7th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its dialogue partners as part of the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meetings in Manila, Philippines August 7, 2017.Aaron Favila/Pool

In spite of some hardline stance by US Congress and military, the US is no longer able to affect the affairs in the South China Sea except making some noise that is disregarded by the parties concerned, ASEAN and China as they have been making progress in concluding their code of conduct in disregard of US stance or opinions. As a result, Reuters shows in its report today titled “Australia, Japan, U.S. call for South China Sea code to be legally binding” how desperate US and its allies Australia and Japan are. They issued a joint statement on what they want to be included in the code but the statement was denounced by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and ignored by ASEAN.

Reuters says that Wang described the “sharp contrast” in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries as reflected by the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia.

It quotes Wang as saying that Coastal countries had “fully recognized the progress we have made through concerted efforts from all parties. On the other hand, some non-regional countries remain in the past … They are not recognizing the positive changes occurring in the South China Sea. Is it that some countries do not want to see greater stability in the South China Sea?”

For a time, the US tried to act as a world police to enforce the law of the sea not binding on it as it is not a signatory. It sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to scare China in vain. Now, what it can do is but to make some noise.

The photo on top shows how unhappy US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was at the affairs in the South China Sea. Tillerson once said that the US shall block China’s access to its artificial islands but later realized that the US simply lacks the capabilities to do so.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, which is reblogged below:

Australia, Japan, U.S. call for South China Sea code to be legally binding

Manuel Mogato and Christian Shepherd August 7, 2017 / 4:29 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – Australia, Japan and the United States on Monday urged Southeast Asia and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct they have committed to draw up will be legally binding and said they strongly opposed “coercive unilateral actions”.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China should establish a set of rules that were “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law”, the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a statement following a meeting in Manila.

Foreign ministers of ASEAN and China on Sunday adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Australia, Japan and the United States also “voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions”.

They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China’s expansion of its defense capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
The three countries are not claimants but have long been vocal on the issue, arguing their interest is in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

They urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year’s international arbitration ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims there.

The code framework is an outline for what China and ASEAN call “consultations” on a formal agreement, which could start later this year.

Several ASEAN countries want the code to be legally binding, enforceable and have a dispute resolution mechanism. But experts say China will not allow that and ASEAN may end up acquiescing to what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement.

SHARP CONTRAST

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a “sharp contrast” in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries, and the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia showed that.

Coastal countries had “fully recognized the progress we have made through concerted efforts from all parties”, he said.

“On the other hand, some non-regional countries remain in the past … They are not recognizing the positive changes occurring in the South China Sea.

“Is it that some countries do not want to see greater stability in the South China Sea?” he asked.

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said on Sunday it was premature to conclude the outcome of the negotiations, but added: “Surely when we move into the COC, it has got to have some additional or significant legal effect.”

Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines, told news channel ANC the adoption of the framework gave China “the absolute upper hand” in terms of strategy, because it will be able to decide when the negotiating process can start.

China also called out “some countries” who voiced concern over island reclamation in the South China Sea in the joint communique issued by ASEAN members on Sunday.

“In reality it was only one or two country’s foreign ministers who expressed concerns of this kind,” Wang told reporters.

Wang said that China had not carried out reclamation for two years. “At this time, if you ask who is carrying out reclamation, it is definitely not China – perhaps it is the country that brings up the issue that is doing it,” he added.

Several ASEAN diplomats told Reuters that Vietnam was one country that had pushed for stronger wording in the statement. Satellite images have shown that Vietnam has carried out reclamation work in two sites in the disputed seas in recent years.

Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie and Pritha Sarkar


ASEAN, China adopt framework for crafting code on South China Sea


Christian Shepherd and Manuel Mogato August 6, 2017 / 5:47 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted on Sunday a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the adoption of the framework created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year, if “the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties.”

He told reporters there had been “really tangible progress” so there was “a need to cherish momentum on the South China Sea”.

Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the strategic waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China’s disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.

Beijing insists its activities are for defense purposes, in areas it considers its waters. Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, however, all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands.

Some critics and diplomats believe China’s sudden interest in the code after 15 years of delays is to drag out the negotiating process to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea, through which more than $3 billion of ship-borne trade passes annually.

WEAKER HAND

Opponents also say it is being pushed through at a time when the United States, long seen as a crucial buffer against China’s maritime assertiveness, is distracted by other issues and providing no real clarity about its security strategy in Asia, thus weakening ASEAN’s bargaining position.

The framework has not been made public but a leaked two-page blueprint seen by Reuters is broad and leaves wide scope for disagreement.

It urges a commitment to the “purposes and principles” of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but does not specify adherence to it, for example.

A separate ASEAN document, dated May and seen by Reuters, shows that Vietnam pushed for stronger, more specific text in the framework, wanting mention of a dispute resolution mechanism and respecting “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction”.

Sovereign rights cover entitlements to fish and extraction of natural resources.

Several ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have said they still favor making the code legally binding, something experts say China is unlikely to agree to.

Wang said he would not try to anticipate what the code will comprise, but said whatever is signed must be adhered to.

Robespierre Bolivar, foreign ministry spokesman of host Philippines, said the adoption of the framework symbolised the commitment to creating a “substantive and effective” code.

Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Source: Reuters “ASEAN, China adopt framework for crafting code on South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


ASEAN overcomes communique impasse, urges non-militarisation in South China Sea


MANILA (Reuters) – Southeast Asian foreign ministers ended an impasse on Sunday over how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, issuing a communique that called for militarization to be avoided and noting concern about island-building.

The South China Sea has long been the most divisive issue for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with China’s influence looming large over its activities. Some countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand.

ASEAN failed to issue the customary statement on Saturday, over what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China’s rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters.

China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its seven reclaimed reefs, three of which have runways, missile batteries, radars and, according to some experts, the capability to accommodate fighter jets.

The communique late on Sunday takes a stronger position than an earlier, unpublished draft, which was a watered-down version of one issued last year in Laos.

The agreed text “emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint”.

It said that after extensive discussions, concerns were voiced by some members about land reclamation “and activities in the area which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and may undermine peace, security and stability”.

ASEAN’s deadlock over the statement highlights China’s growing influence on the grouping at a time of uncertainty over the new U.S. administration’s security priorities and whether it will try to keep China’s maritime activities in check.

Several ASEAN diplomats said that among the members who pushed for a communique that retained the more contentious elements was Vietnam, which has competing claims with China over the Paracel and Spratly archipelago and has had several spats with Beijing over energy concessions.

Another diplomat, however, said there was no real disagreement on the contents of the communique and stressed that the initial draft was seen by some members as weak.

Also on Sunday the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Reporting by Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Gareth Jones

Source: Reuters “ASEAN overcomes communique impasse, urges non-militarisation in South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.