China-backed RCEP trade pact in ‘final stage,’ deal eyed in 2019: Singapore


Lee Chyen Yee, Aradhana Aravindan November 14, 2018

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Negotiations for a major China-backed trade agreement have moved to a final stage and Southeast Asian states involved in the talks are determined to wrap up the deal in 2019, Singapore, current chair of the 10-nation group, said on Wednesday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, had hoped to reach broad agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact at summit meetings in Singapore this week.

“We noted with satisfaction that the RCEP negotiations have advanced to the final stage, and we expressed our determination to conclude a modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial RCEP in 2019,” said a statement issued by Singapore.

Earlier on Wednesday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that the deal was at risk of losing credibility if negotiations were further prolonged, while Beijing said talks on the deal this week were at a “critical moment.”

“Market access negotiations have advanced substantially, bringing us closer to finalization next year. We are now at the final stage of negotiations,” Lee told a meeting of the leaders of the 16 countries involved in the talks.

“Further prolonging negotiations puts the RCEP at risk of losing credibility and support from our stakeholders,” Lee said, adding that businesses and citizens will miss major opportunities should the talks drag on.

Negotiations began in 2012 for RCEP, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone that will encompass 45 percent of the world’s population and more than a third of its GDP, but does not involve the United States.

“We have come to a crucial moment now. We have to continue the momentum, so that we can wrap up the deal with the finishing touches and aim to conclude negotiations next year,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement issued by China’s foreign ministry.

RCEP talks were given new impetus after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the competing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal in one of the first acts of his administration.

Eurasia Group analysts said Singapore and several other ASEAN members had been pushing hard to achieve a substantial conclusion to the talks this week.

“However, an announcement along these lines is unlikely, as member countries have yet to agree on the broad framework for market access for goods, services and investment,” the group said in a note on Tuesday.

India and Japan are among the countries with reservations about the pact, analysts and sources close to the discussions said.

Sudhanshu Pandey, an official in India’s Ministry of Commerce, said on Wednesday that India had wanted to see more progress on services, which constitute more than 50 percent of the GDP of most of the RCEP countries.

But he added that India supported the deal and had urged “early conclusion” of the talks.

Writing by Jack Kim and John Geddie; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during the opening ceremony of the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Source: Reuters “China-backed RCEP trade pact in ‘final stage,’ deal eyed in 2019: Singapore”

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

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ASEAN, China agree ‘milestone’ text as basis for South China Sea talks


Reuters Staff August 2, 2018

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations and China have reached a “milestone” in talks with China over a code of conduct in the South China Sea with a working text that will serve as a basis for future negotiations, Singapore’s foreign minister said on Friday.

A number of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) and China have overlapping claims to islands in the sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways. For years they have been discussing an agreement to prevent escalation.

“I am pleased to announce yet another milestone in the COC (code of conduct) process,” Vivian Balakrishnan said at the start of a meeting of regional foreign ministers and China.

“AMS (ASEAN member states) and China have arrived at a single draft COC negotiating text, which will be a living document and the basis of future COC negotiations.”

Source: Reuters “ASEAN, China agree ‘milestone’ text as basis for South China Sea talks”

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


Southeast Asia seeks Russia cybersecurity pact, South China Sea code of conduct


John Geddie, Manuel Mogato August 2, 2018

SINGAPORE/MANILA (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations hope to strike a cybersecurity agreement soon with Russia, which the United States has accused of election meddling, after a series of high-profile hacks in the region, according to a draft document seen on Thursday.

The draft of the document seen by Reuters discusses formalizing an agreement with Russia. It is set to be issued by foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the close of meetings underway with other global lawmakers in Singapore.

The statement also showed that a first draft had been agreed in negotiations on a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea and reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to an ambitious trade pact backed by China.

“We welcome the further strengthening [of] our cooperation in cybersecurity with Russia through the issuance of the statement of ASEAN and Russian foreign ministers on cooperation in the field of cybersecurity,” the draft document said.

The statement is due to be published on Saturday and the title would be updated depending on negotiations, it said.

Singapore, the host of the ASEAN meeting, suffered its worst cyberattack when hackers stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, from a government health database in July.

Malaysia said earlier this year it had foiled an attempted cyber heist on its central bank.

Neither country has identified the hackers and neither suggested the involvement of Russia, which appointed a dedicated ambassador to ASEAN based in Jakarta last year.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said a Russian propaganda arm tried to tamper with the 2016 presidential election by posting and buying ads on Facebook (FB.O). Moscow has denied involvement.

Facebook said on Tuesday it had identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead its users and sow dissension among voters ahead of November’s U.S. congressional elections.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The statement also referred to a first draft to begin negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where China and Southeast Asian nations have overlapping claims to islands.

It said the draft was reached at a meeting in central China’s Changsha in June. The draft will form the basis of likely protracted further discussions before a final version is reached.

Critics have said the emphasis on reaching a consensus for the code of conduct works in China’s favor as a delaying tactic to ease criticism of its militarization of man-made islands in the disputed region.

The statement, set against a backdrop of protectionist trade policies from United States, also reiterated the commitment of ASEAN members to finalize a major trade pact backed by China called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“We reiterated the priority placed by ASEAN on the RCEP as a centerpiece of its external economic relations, particularly at a time of growing uncertainties in global trade,” it said.

Singapore’s prime minister said on Thursday the deal would create the world’s largest trading bloc, covering a third of the global economy.

ASEAN also urged steps for “the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean peninsular, saying that it welcomed the agreement struck between the United States and North Korea at a landmark summit in Singapore in June.

The United States, which is due to meet ASEAN leaders on Friday, has said it will press Southeast Asia to maintain sanctions on Pyongyang.

That follows reports of renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the isolated country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Reporting by John Geddie, Christian Shepherd and Jack Kim in SINGAPORE and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Neil Fullick and Paul Tait

Source: Reuters “Southeast Asia seeks Russia cybersecurity pact, South China Sea code of conduct”

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


No one wants to criticize China on the South China Sea anymore


Lucas NiewenhuisNovember 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.


Some Americans Are Deeply in Thucydides Trap and Want Trump in


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.

 

Japan

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.

North Korea
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.

 

India

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.


China, Southeast Asia aim to build trust with sea drills, Singapore says


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.


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.