Lucas NiewenhuisNovember 16, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump used his Twitter megaphone to declare on November 15 that “our great country is respected again in Asia,” and later gave a speech in which he further boasted that America’s “standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now.” But in at least one major hot-button Asian issue, America’s standing appears to be notably declining, and China’s notably rising: the South China Sea.
- The New York Times notes (paywall) that though Trump made references to the conflict, saying that “no one owns the ocean” and that “freedom of navigation and overflight are critical,” he “did not single out China for criticism, continuing a pattern of soft-pedaling on a dispute that could annoy United States allies.”
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which in previous years has “noted concerns ‘expressed by some’ leaders” about China’s actions in the South China Sea, this year made no mention of concerns in a statement, the Nikkei Asian Review reports (paywall). This is a “clear diplomatic victory” for China, Nikkei says.
- Japan, also, seems to be newly reluctant to criticize China’s claims in the South China Sea. The South China Morning Post reported on November 15 that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “has repeatedly raised the South China Sea issue during his last five years in office – much to Beijing’s irritation – so his silence this week was a marked contrast to the past.”
- SCMP attributed Abe’s silence to his efforts to further diplomacy on North Korea, but the New York Times says (paywall) that experts suggest that “Mr. Abe appears keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s erratic swings in opinions and loyalties,” and is “naturally wondering if the United States may make some kind of deal with China that could put Japan at a disadvantage.” Trump’s “failing to press China on its military buildup in the South China Sea” has reinforced the perception that China is “taking advantage of an American retreat,” analysts say.
Source: SubChina “No one wants to criticize China on the South China Sea anymore”
Note: This is SubChina’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
On October 28, I had a post titled “China’s Wisdom Tested when the US Likely Falls into Thucydides Trap” on Daniel Kliman and Zack Cooper’s October-27 article “Washington Has a Bad Case of China ADHD” that reflects US security experts’ Thucydides Trap mentality. I expressed my hope that Chinese leaders will have the wisdom to avoid the trap.
Two days later on October 30, my post “US, India Join Force to Block China’s Belt and Road Initiative” describes US Secretary State Rex Tillerson in the trap as reflected in his speech at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) titled “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century” before his visit to India aimed at winning over India as US ally in containing China.
Yesterday, we have Daniel Blumenthal’s article “Trump Needs to Show That He Is Serious About America’s Rivalry With China” on Foreign Policy that further reflects US elite in Thucydides Trap.
Note: The title of the article is America’s rivalry with China instead of vice versa.
South China Sea
China claims the isles, reefs and area within its nine-dash line since long ago and had the line in its map since 1947. The US supported the claim by sending Chinese navy to take back from Japan the isles there with its navy after World War II.
Due to Thucydides Trap Clinton began to challenge China’s claim in 2013 in order to contain China and Obama then began his pivot to Asia as US priority to contain China.
Instigated by the US, the Philippines began Scarborough standoff and ended up in China disallowing Philippine fishermen fishing there.
Then US told the Philippines to file an arbitration and helped it get an arbitration award that entirely denies China’s rights and interests, but China refuses to accept it and US failed to force China to accept it with its two aircraft carrier battle groups.
China decided to fight a war to defend its rights and interests, but the US did not want to fight as it had no rights or interests to defend. It certainly will not fight for others’ rights and interests.
The US ended up in losing its long-term ally the Philippines and its influence in ASEAN and the South China Sea, a total failure in its rivalry with China there.
Since Japanese government bought the Diaoyus (known as Senkaku in Japan), China has sent coast guard ships and aircrafts to patrol and large fishing fleet to the area around the disputed islands. Japan wanted to send navy to drive Chinese vessels away, but that may end up in war so that it needs US help. It was an opportunity for Thucydides Trap to give rise to a war between the US and China.
China was determined to fight. In order to prevent US retaliation with nuclear weapons in case China has sunk a US aircraft carrier (note: China had hundreds of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles able to sink a carrier with saturate attack), China showed its strategic nuclear submarines for three days in a row on CCTV primetime news to tell the US it had second-strike capabilities with not only mobile ICBMs hidden in tunnels but also nuclear submarines.
The US said that it did not want to fight for a few rocks so that it told Japan not to send its navy and China not to fire the first shot. The crisis ended as a result. Still China patrols and fishes in the disputed area so that the islands are now jointly administered by China and Japan.
At that time, perhaps Clinton had but Obama had not yet fallen into Thucydides Trap.
Now, Chinese navy has grown much stronger, fight a war in the East China Sea is out of the question especially because the sea there is too shallow for US submarines to operate.
When Obama began his pivot to Asia, Japan was very happy especially at Obama’s TPP that aimed at containing China.
Now, Trump has scrapped TPP. Japan has no choice but to court China in order to have a larger share in China’s huge market. Japan though a US ally and does want to contain China as it is scared by China’s rise, cannot give the US the help the US needs in containing China as Japan’s economic relations with China are too important for Japan especially as TPP has been scrapped.
China has satisfied Trump’s demands in implementing his sanctions so that Trump cannot make things difficult for China though the writers of the article want him to do so.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson places hope in US relationship with India to contain China, but India has joined Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Indian leader Modi is obviously very wise to obtains from every possible corner including the US. Modi will certainly not give up its interests in other corners such as trade and economic cooperation with China, weapon supply from Russia for improvement of relations with the US.
In fact, what the US can provide India with is but weapons and weapon technology but it is very expensive. If China and Pakistan may improve their relations with India to resolve their long-term disputes and remove India’s long-term enmity, India will willingly become a member of Asia Union. There is real possibility for that as both India and Pakistan have joined Russia and China’s SCO.
What China shall do is to avoid rivalry with the US so that there is no excuse for Americans to fall into Thucydides Trap though US vested interests such as money-thirsty weapon makers want them to fall into.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Foreign Policy’s article, full text of which can be viewed at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/02/trump-needs-to-show-that-he-is-serious-about-americas-rivalry-with-china/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=%2AEditors%20Picks.
Manuel Mogato October 24, 2017
CLARK, Philippines (Reuters) – China and Southeast Asian navies aim to hold an inaugural joint maritime exercise next year, Singapore’s defense minister said on Tuesday, as they try to build trust amid conflicting claims over the South China Sea.
China claims almost the entire strategic waters through which about $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, with tensions exacerbated by Beijing’s island-building and Washington’s increasing freedom of navigation patrols.
“Singapore supports it,” Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters when asked about China’s offer to hold maritime exercises. “We will push it … for the very reason that all ASEAN and China want that. If you exercise, you at least build understanding and trust.”
The exercises were discussed at a meeting between China and Singapore on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers’ Meeting at the former U.S. air force base at Clark, north of the capital Manila.
“We’ll work out the details. See the logistics… and find a suitable area where ASEAN and China navies can exercise together,” Ng said.
Singapore and China have not always seen eye to eye in recent months. Singaporean troops have trained in self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own, which had been an irritant in ties.
Last November, Chinese-controlled Hong Kong impounded nine Singaporean armored military vehicles being shipped home from Taiwan, inflaming tension. Hong Kong later released the vehicles.
Ng said Singapore also had a proposal to “reduce risk of actual conflict” by agreeing to a new code of unexpected encounters in the air after ASEAN adopted a code to avoid sea encounters.
ASEAN and its eight regional partners, the United States, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, had agreed to set up a “direct communications link” among them to ease tension.
Ng said the United States and Japan also welcomed the idea of exercises.
“Secretary (of Defense Jim) Mattis welcomed the exercises together with ASEAN countries,” he said.
Ng also hoped for the early conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea after a framework agreement was reached this year to reduce conflicts and misunderstanding.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie
Source: Reuters “China, Southeast Asia aim to build trust with sea drills, Singapore says”
Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
“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.
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
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.
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.