South China Sea Disputes: Chinese People’s Obsession


In my previous post “South China Sea Dispute: lucky China, unlucky Philippines” I said, “First of all, Chinese people regard as top priority keeping the legacy they have inherited from their ancestors, but such legacy may perhaps be useless or even an expensive burden.”

It seems a foolish obsession that has caused some Filipino people to call Chinese people “idiots”, but it has turned out to be beneficial because the legacy of remote uninhabitable islands that seemed expensive burdens, have now turned out to be treasures that some contenders are trying hard to take over desperately.

A few Filipino people are upset at Chinese people’s obsession. Some of them become so furious that a well-educated university lecturer went so far as to use insulting and abusive language to stir up enmity between Chinese and Filipino people.

The lecturer is certainly an exception. I believe he is certainly despised even by Filipino people for his insulting and abusive language and bellicose manner as they will certainly be unhappy with such an image in the world when they become aware of that, especially when there has been the scandal of Filipinos coast guards firing as Taiwanese fishermen and killed one of them.

Even killing civilians in a war is denounced severely in the world, let alone killing civilians in peace time.

We Chinese feel ashamed even when some Chinese tourists set some rude images abroad.

The even greater difference between Chinese and Filipino cultures as reflected in quite a few Filipino comments on the dispute is that in Filipino opinion, Chinese are obsessed with history. They say:

What? You say the islands and sea areas belong to you because of your historical claim for nearly a thousand years up to now.

They also use the insulting word “idiot” to describe Chinese people for such obsession for history.

Therefore, they not only disrespect Chinese claim to the islands but also disrespect China’s sovereignty over Taiwan and even Tibet.

Perhaps, they believe foreign powers will still be able to cut away Chinese territory piece by piece.

True China lost Vietnam to France and for a time Taiwan to Japan, Hong Kong to Britain, etc., but the corrupt Qing Dynasty paid dearly for such humiliation. It was overthrown for that.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows well Chinese people’s obsession and exploits it. Why did Xi Jinping called on Chinese people to cherish Chinese dream as soon as he was elected head of the CCP? Because he knows well more than 90% Chinese people have the dream that China will become powerful so as to put an end to its hundred-year history of being bullied by foreign powers.

Who is able to bully China now? The United States.

All countries who have diplomatic relations with China admit that Taiwan is a part of China except the United States. In the Shanghai Communique of the US and China dated February 28, 1972, the US said, “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.”

It implies that if Taiwan has changed its mind and wants independence, the United States will challenge the position that the People’s Republic of China upholds that Taiwan is a part of it. The United States has a law to protect Taiwan when the People’s Republic of China attacks Taiwan militarily.

What is Chinese response as driven by such obsession for keeping the legacy of land from their ancestors and for history. In spite of US pressure, China has refused to promise that China will not use arms against Taiwan if it announces independence.

It means a possible war between China and the United States when such an emergency does occur.

What has China been doing militarily since then? It has been making preparations for such a war.

First, China has produced 200 to 250 nuclear warheads and built corresponding ICBMs for a second-strike capability if the dispute leads to a nuclear war. As China lacks the technology to build sufficiently silent nuclear submarines, it has built tunnels 5,000 kilometers long to avoid China’s mobile ICBMs to be destroyed by the United States at a first strike.

The US has 7,000 nuclear warheads, but China has only 200-plus and is not producing more as China has publicly announced its commitment that it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. 200 are enough to destroy the United States in a second strike.

However, to ensure enough nuclear deterrence, China is improving its nuclear submarines and submarine-launched ICBMs Julang-2.

For a conventional war, while building up its air force and navy, China has been developing DF-21C and DF-21D anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missiles and Houbei class fast-speed missile boats, both of which are regarded by US military experts as aircraft carrier killers.

The number of DF-21Cs and DF-21Ds is a secret, but we know that China has 2,000 medium-range ballistic missiles enough to destroy all Taiwan military bases and all US military facilities near the PRC. In addition, more than 80 Houbei class fast-speed missile boats have been commissioned, more than enough to kill one aircraft carrier.

To avoid a war with China, the United States pressured Taiwan not to declare independence when the pro-independence Progressive Democratic Party was in power for 8 years from 2000 to 2008 in Taiwan.

I do not want to scare people by my description of China’s military capability. In fact, compared with the United States, China’s military is much inferior. There is nothing to scare people.

What I am trying to tell readers is that due to the above-mentioned obsession, China will not hesitate to fight a war if Taiwan declares independence even if Taiwan has US support and in spite of US military superiority. China does not care what losses it may suffer in the war.

On the other hand, like the United States, China also wants peace. Since the commencement of China’s reform and opening up, China has always been making efforts to win over Taiwan by peaceful means.

Due to the danger of war between China and the United States that may results in a world war, I believe that I shall make a clear analysis of the situation for readers:

Due to such obsession, Chinese people will never allow the islands they have inherited from their ancestors to be taken away no matter how powerful support a contender has and whatever decision whatever court has made.

Why?

Because the humiliation of forced losses of territories piece by piece to foreign powers has remained so fresh in Chinese people’s memory that they cannot bear such humiliation once more.

The best solution of such dispute is to follow the recent Sino-Vietnamese model, i.e. the parties maintain the status quo on the disputed islands, avoid the tricky issue of sovereignty but find ways to allow both sides to fish and jointly exploit the oil and gas resources peacefully in disputed waters

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South China Sea Disputes: Lucky China; Unlucky Philippines


I write this post due to Mr. Jose Mario Dolor De Vega’s furious response to my post “China boasts of strategy to ‘recover’ islands occupied by Philippines” at China Daily Mail on May 28.

First, I should make clear that the strategy mentioned in the post is neither my strategy nor China’s strategy as proved by Chinese government’s recent words and actions. I sincerely hope that Chinese and Filipino peoples maintain their traditional friendship.

My daughter has a Filipino housekeeping assistant mainly to take care of my granddaughter Piao Piao. The assistant loves Piao Piao so dearly that Piao Piao is very close to her, closer perhaps than to Piao Piao’s mother.

I am always very grateful to her for taking such good care of my granddaughter and we are good friends. Why shall the dispute over some tiny islands, in fact mostly reefs, turn us into enemies?

I do not see anything in the report I translated and posted that may stir up enmity between Chinese and Filipino peoples though I made the mistake in regarding Major General Zhang Zhaozhong’s strategy as China’s strategy because he said that in an interview with CCTV, an authoritative Chinese media. Moreover, it was precisely what China did in dealing with the incident at Scarborough Shoal.

Major General Zhang made me believe that China would drive Filipino troops away from the shipwreck at Ren’ai Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) by cutting off their supplies of water and food. However, at a routine press conference of China’s Defense Ministry on May 30, to a reporter’s question “a Filipino official said today that the Chinese warships converged at the South China Sea area around the Ren’ai Shoal will cut off Filipino military personnel’s supplies of water and food. Please confirm,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said, “It is necessary to make clear that Philippines side’s allegation has no support of fact at all.”

Obviously, Zhang’s strategy is not Chinese government’s strategy.

I posted the news about what Chinese Ministry spokesman said on May 31, but perhaps Mr. De Vego did not see that. Anyway, I owe Mr. De Vega an apology if my post on the “cabbage strategy” made him believe that the strategy is Chinese government’s strategy. I am sorry, Mr. De Vego.

Mr. De Vego’s post obviously will stir up Chinese people’s enmity against Filipino peoples by saying “his country (meaning China) is a mere dirty scavenger, thieves and pirates of the worst kind”.

Territorial dispute is a very complicated issue. No wonder even some Chinese officials are ignorant what is the basis of China’s claim. However, there are certainly sound basis for China’s claim including lots of documents and maps from Yuan Dynasty up to now.

When I studied geography at primary school, Nansha Islands (the Spratly) and the nine-dash line were already in the map we studied. At that time China was the Republic of China before the Communist takeover in 1949.

Taiwan (the Republic of China (ROC))’s claim to the sovereignty of those islands, reefs and sea areas is identical to China’s. The PRC has just inherited ROC’s claim that in 1949. The speculation about the rich oil and gas resources in those sea areas emerged decades later. Therefore, accusing China as “dirty thieves and pirates” who want to grab the islands, reefs and sea areas because of the resources is entirely groundless and will hurt Chinese people’s feeling.

The republic of China has claimed sovereignty since 1911, several Chinese dynasties claimed sovereignty before 1911.

Even if you had better grounds to claim sovereignty than China, you should not use such insulting and abusive language.

Perhaps, such language is common now in Filipino media aiming at stirring up Filipino people’s enmity against Chinese people. However, I do not think such language is suitable for a well-educated university lecturer before he has made himself well informed about the issue.

Perhaps you believe Taiwan is a country other than China. In the Shanghai Communique of the US and China dated February 28, 1972, the US said, “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.” That was in 1972.

What is the situation now? The KMT, the ruling party, in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party, the ruling party on the Chinese mainland, both uphold the “consensus of 1992” that there is only one China.

The one China on both sides of the Taiwan Strait has identical claim to the islands, reefs and sea area, i.e. Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have claimed sovereignty of the islands, reefs and sea areas since at least 1911.

Major General Zhang’s strategy obviously indicated Chinese people’s unwillingness to fight a war for those islands and reefs, but Mr. De Vego is bellicose. He talks a lot about a war between the Philippines and China in his post.

On January 29 and June 28, 2012, I respectively placed my posts titled “China’s greater Asia co-prosperity sphere” and “China’s dream of a greater Asia co-prosperity sphere” to give my speculation on Chinese leaders’ intention to establish an organization like the EU for prosperity of all the countries in East and Southeast Asia.

As I was for a time close to the new generation of talented intellectuals with moral integrity that emerged during the Cultural Revolution and has seized state power now, I am familiar with their mindset. What the Chinese top leader has recently done proves that I am right.

In early June, Xi Jinping sent Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo to launch a charm offensive at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to stress that China wanted peace and was willing to leave the disputes over the islands in East and South China Seas to future generations.

SCMP says in its relevant reports, “On June 19, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his visiting Vietnamese counterpart of Wednesday that maintaining peace and stability in the contested South China Sea was vital for both countries, who should remember their traditional friendship.”

“On June 20, the presidents of China and Vietnam set up a hotline to defuse territorial disputes and expanded a 2006 agreement to jointly explore for oil in the Gulf of Tonkin,” (refer to my posts titled “China tells Vietnam it wants peace in South China Sea” here and “Beijing, Hanoi set up hotline, sign oil deal during visit by Viet president” in my blog tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com).

As for the disputes between China and the Philippines, I would like to say that China is very lucky while the Philippines is unlucky. Why?

First of all, Chinese people regard as top priority keeping the legacy they have inherit from their ancestors, but such legacy may perhaps be useless or even an expensive burden.

When I studied Chinese geography about Nansha Islands at primary school, I wondered what was the benefit to have those remote uninhabitable islands. They seemed to me expensive burdens that China had to incur lots of expenses to safeguard its sovereignty over them.

However, it turns out that the sea areas around those islands may have rich oil and gas resources and are of strategic importance.

The burdens China inherited have turned out to be treasures.

What good luck!

However China seems unlucky that such treasures have attracted quite a few contenders, especially as China was weak and poor for quite a long time in the past and seemed unable to keep the treasures from being taken away by contenders.

Surprisingly, China has become rich and powerful in a few decades and able to protect those treasures.

What good luck!

On the Philippines side, at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States offered the Philippines the choice to become a state of the United States, but was rejected. If the Philippines had become a part of the US, perhaps the US would have developed those islands and reefs long ago and extracted all the oil and gas in the sea areas there. At that time, China had neither navy nor commercial fleet to counter the United States.

Later, there were US navy and air force bases in the Philippines and the islands, reefs and sea areas were in fact under US control while Mao Zedong neglected development of Chinese navy, but used all Chinese resources for the development of atomic bombs and ICBMs for world hegemony. If the Philippines had seized all the islands, reefs and sea areas in dispute at that time, China would have had great difficulties to recover them.

Luckily, the Philippines drove away the US and took back the bases to deprive the US of the obligations to spend lots of money for the defense of the Philippines. At that time, we were really very happy about that as we were worried that US presence would make it very difficult for China to maintain its sovereignty to the islands, reefs and sea areas given that it took time for China to develop its navy.

When the Philippines began to contend with China for the islands, reefs and sea areas, China had grown relatively rich and was developing its navy quite quickly. Still, the Philippines has occupied some shoals and China and the Philippines both patrolled and fished in the rich fishing area around Scarborough Shoal.

In my opinion, even though China has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, the two countries shall maintain the previous status quo. China shall allow Filipino fishermen to fish there as like Chinese fishermen, quite a few Filipino fishermen had been fishing there for generations; therefore, before the standoff there, China did not drive away Filipino fishermen from the sea area though perhaps, China had the intention to do so.

Luckily for China, Filipino navy tried to drive away Chinese fishermen and provided China with the excuse to drive away Filipino fishermen. China is thus very lucky to gain complete control of Scarborough Shoal peacefully.

Luckily again, Filipino coast guards fired at Taiwanese fishermen and killed one of them. As China regards Taiwan as a part of China, it has given China further excuse to drive away Filipino fishermen when China thinks fit.

China was not so lucky with Ren’ai Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). If the Philippines had sent building materials to stabilize it shipwreck there, China would have had the excuse to drive Filipino troops from the shoal, but the Philippines did not give China such a chance.

By my post “China boasts of strategy to ‘recover’ islands occupied by Philippines”, I provided Filipino and world people with the information on possible Chinese strategy. I believe, if Mr. De Vego had not been so furious as to lose his mind, he would have made calm analysis and known what the Philippines had better do to avoid making China lucky and the Philippines unlucky.


China’s Strategy on Recovery of Islands Occupied by the Philippines


Major General Zhang Zhaozhong

Major General Zhang Zhaozhong

Recently, well-known military expert Major General Zhang Zhaozhong talked in a TV interview in Beijing about the current situation of dispute between China and the Philippines at the South China Sea and analyzed China’s strategy in the South China Sea Region. The following is what has been said in the interview:

TV host: Well, we have watched the footage and now let’s look at the big screen that shows the Chinese islands and reefs illegally occupied by the Philippines. All of us shall remember that counting from the north, there are the Beizi Island, Feixin Island, Zhongye Island, Xiyue Island, Shuanghuangzhou Shoal, Mahuan Island, Nanyue Island and Siling Reef. What one has stolen has to be returned. No matter how long the Philippines have illegally occupied those Chinese islands and reefs, I believe that it cannot change the fact that those islands and reefs are inherent Chinese territories. However, what shall we do to counter those rude and barbarian acts of the Philippines?

Zhang Zhaozhong: What shall we do about those islands and reefs? I think that in the main we have done some things relatively successfully in dealing with the Philippines. Since the 1990s, the Philippines has done quite a few illegal and irrational things in its attempt to turn the Huangyan Island into its territory by means of presidential order, domestic legislation, etc. Each time our Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protested, but it refused to listen. In the meantime, it was busy doing this and that such as sunk a boat there and conducting lots of patrols there. By April, 2012, an incident finally took place that it took initiative to detain Chinese fishermen by force, i.e. it sent troops to detain at gun point the Chinese fishermen who entered the lagoon to carry out normal fishing.

Since then, we have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around the Huangyan Island, seal and control continuously up till now. In the over one year period since then, there have been fishermen in the inside. Our fishermen are often there because there is lot of fish there. Fishermen go there in large ships and then sail small boats in the lagoon to fish. They can have shelter in the lagoon when there is a typhoon. The fishermen conduct normal production there. In the area around the island fishing administration ships and marine surveillance ships are conducting normal patrols while in the outer ring there are navy warships. The island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage. As a result, a cabbage strategy has taken shape. If the Philippines wants to go in, in the outermost area, it has first to ask whether our navy will allow it. Then it has to ask whether our fishery administration ships and marine surveillance ships will allow it. Therefore, our fishermen can carry out their production safely while our country’s marine rights and interests as well as sovereignty are safeguarded. Is that not satisfactory?

We can adopt this method elsewhere. We have not resorted to war and we have not force the others to do anything, haven’t we? You have invaded and then left. You have violated Chinese law and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, haven’t you? Why did you point your guns at our fishermen? As you have first violated the law and pointed your guns at our fishermen, you would never be allowed to enter the area. We should do more such things in the future. For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the “cabbage” strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands. Without the supply for one or two weeks, the troopers stationed there will leave the islands on their own. Once they have left, they will never be able to come back. For many things, we have to grab the right timing to do them. Over the past few years, we have made a series of achievements at the Nansha Islands (the Spratly Islands), the greatest of which I think have been on the Huangyan Island, Meiji Reef (Mischief Reef) and Ren’ai Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).

We have gained quite satisfactory experience about the ways to recover the islands and reefs and defend them. For the Nansha and Xisha (Paracel) Islands, we have established Sansha City to administrate them. That was a good step we have taken. The next step shall be the strengthening of power and authority in implementing our law in conduct our administration. The further next step shall be the vigorous development there, including the development of economy, tourism, marine fishery and marine protection. We have to do much more work there and coordinate various efforts. We shall not rely only on military effort. In the military perspective, fighting is the last resort while before it there must be production on a large scale and with high enthusiasm and large-scale production on the sea. That is why I say that we have to create such an environment and atmosphere.

Source: mil.huanqiu.com “Zhang Zhaozhong: To recover the islands occupied by the Philippines, the ‘cabbage’ strategy is enough” (translated from Chinese by Chan Kai Yee)


China slams Philippine bid to ‘legalize’ occupation of islands


Chinese Navy vessel at James Shoal

Chinese Navy vessel at James Shoal

China accused the Philippines on Friday of trying to legalize its occupation of islands in the disputed South China Sea, repeating that Beijing would never agree to international arbitration.

Frustrated with the slow pace of regional diplomacy, the Philippines in January angered China by asking a U.N. tribunal to order a halt to Beijing’s activities that it said violated Philippine sovereignty over the islands, surrounded by potentially energy-rich waters.

Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.

Manila said on Thursday that a U.N. arbitration court had set up the tribunal which would hear Manila’s complaint, but China said this was an attempt to steal Chinese territory.

“The Philippine side is trying to use this to negate China’s territorial sovereignty and attach a veneer of ‘legality’ to its illegal occupation of Chinese islands and reefs,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

The Philippines must immediately withdraw personnel and facilities from the islands, the ministry added, listing those which it said Manila was occupying.

Manila asked the tribunal of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to order a halt to China’s activities.

But the convention did not apply in this case as what the Philippines was actually asking for was a decision on sovereignty, the ministry said.

“China’s refusal to accept the Philippines’ request for arbitration has full grounding in international law,” it said.

China had always believed that the two countries should resolve their dispute through direct talks, the ministry added.

Southeast Asian nations stepped up efforts on Thursday to engage China in talks to resolve maritime tensions, agreeing to meet to try to reach common ground on disputed waters ahead of planned discussions in Beijing later this year.

Efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to craft a code of conduct to manage South China Sea tensions all but collapsed last year at a summit chaired by Cambodia, a close economic ally of China, when the group failed to issue a closing statement for the first time.

Source: Reuters “China slams Philippine bid to ‘legalize’ occupation of islands”

Related posts at https://tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com:

  • Philippines seeks U.N. help to resolve maritime row with China dated January 22, 2013
  • China says Philippines’ UN request on seas complicates issue dated January 23, 2013
  • Southeast Asia to reach out to China on sea disputes dated April 25, 2013

Southeast Asia to reach out to China on sea disputes


A general view of the retreat during the ASEAN Summit at the Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan April 25, 2013. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in. Credit: REUTERS/Ahim Rani

A general view of the retreat during the ASEAN Summit at the Prime Minister’s Office in Bandar Seri Begawan April 25, 2013. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in.
Credit: REUTERS/Ahim Rani

Southeast Asian nations stepped up efforts on Thursday to engage China in talks to resolve maritime tensions, agreeing to meet to try to reach common ground on disputed areas of the South China Sea ahead of planned discussions in Beijing later this year.

Efforts by ASEAN to craft a code of conduct to manage South China Sea tensions all but collapsed last year at a summit chaired by Cambodia, a close economic ally of China, when the group failed to issue a closing statement for the first time.

Cambodia was accused of trying to keep the issue off the agenda despite a surge in tension over disputed areas and growing concern about China’s assertive stance in enforcing its claims over a vast, potentially energy-rich sea area.

Thursday’s initiative came as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tried to patch up differences that shook the group last year, but struggled to make progress on long-held plans to agree on a dispute-management mechanism.

Thailand, which has the role of ASEAN coordinator with China, called for the talks ahead of an ASEAN-China meeting expected in August to commemorate 10 years since they formed a “strategic partnership”.

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh told reporters that ASEAN would approach China with a common stance.

“When we come to our partners to discuss important issues, we come as a group and we come with one common position,” he said, adding that the next move would be to get China to participate in the negotiations.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, setting it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts.

China insists on resolving sovereignty disputes on a bilateral basis. It has flexed its growing “blue water” naval muscle by occupying some areas claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, leading to a rise in tension.

Without mentioning Cambodia, Philippine President Benigno Aquino drew a strong contrast with last year’s discussions.

He described as “beautiful” the fact that Brunei had brought up the South China Sea issue as the first subject.

“We should really be thankful that the whole of ASEAN is willing to discuss this instead of putting it on the back burner,” Aquino told reporters.

The tiny oil kingdom of Brunei, in marked contrast to Cambodia, it is keeping the maritime issue high on the agenda.

“WORK WITH CHINA”

But prospects for a legally binding code of conduct appear dim. The summit-concluding communiqué on Thursday made no new announcement, but said ASEAN ministers had been tasked to “work actively with China” for a conclusion of the proposed agreement.

A U.S. move to rebalance its military forces to focus more on Asia has threatened to worsen tension, reinforcing China’s fears of encirclement.

China has had a permanent naval presence for a year at the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground 124 nautical miles off the Philippines northwestern coast.

Last month, it sent four warships to land troops on its southernmost claim – the James Shoal, 80 km (50 miles) off the Malaysian coast and close to Brunei.

Tensions are likely to rise again in coming months, as monsoon weather eases and China imposes a unilateral annual fishing ban that has irritated Vietnam and the Philippines.

Frustrated with the slow pace of regional diplomacy, the Philippines in January angered China by asking a United Nations tribunal to order a halt to Beijing’s activities, such as those at Scarborough Shoal, that it said violated its sovereignty.

The Philippines appeared to win backing for that approach in Brunei, despite concern that it could be used by China as a reason to further delay talks on a code of conduct.

Source: Reuters “Southeast Asia to reach out to China on sea disputes”


Insight: China consolidates sea claims as Asian diplomacy struggles


Graffiti done by activists is seen in front of the Chinese consulate demanding the withdrawal of Chinese ships from the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea during a protest in Manila's Makati financial district in this April 19, 2012 file photo.  Credit: Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo/Files

Graffiti done by activists is seen in front of the Chinese consulate demanding the withdrawal of Chinese ships from the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea during a protest in Manila’s Makati financial district in this April 19, 2012 file photo.
Credit: Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo/Files

For decades, fishermen along the northwestern Philippine coast treated the teeming fishing grounds of the Scarborough Shoal as their backyard, less than a day’s boat ride away.

Now, they see it as a foreign country.

“I lost my livelihood when we lost the Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese,” said Mario Forones, a 53-year-old who owns three fishing boats that worked the reef for about a dozen years before armed Chinese vessels arrived in force last April.

Reuters interviews with fishermen in two coastal Philippine towns – some of whom tried to fish the shoal as recently as this month – show how the Philippines has effectively ceded sovereignty of the reef about 124 nautical miles off its coast after a naval stand-off last year.

China’s consolidation and expansion of its grip on the disputed South China Sea looms over a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders in the tiny kingdom of Brunei this week as they try to kickstart stalled efforts to ease one of Asia’s biggest security flashpoints.

Beijing claims almost the entire sea as its territory based on historical records, setting it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts. Except for China and Taiwan, all the claimants are members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Diplomats hope leaders at the two-day ASEAN summit starting on Wednesday can put aside bitter differences that emerged last year and pave the way for China to join a proposed dispute-management mechanism.

But the fishermen’s accounts vividly show how China’s expanding, assertive naval reach could be overtaking diplomatic efforts to ease a crisis whose stakes have risen with the U.S. military’s “pivot” to refocus its forces on Asia.

In rare first-hand descriptions of the situation at the remote outcrop claimed by both China and the Philippines, the men described being chased off aggressively by large, fast-moving, white Chinese ships armed with guns and rockets. In recent months, they said the Chinese vessels had laid down thick undersea ropes to keep fishing boats out.

“I don’t know the specifics of the situation,” said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked by Reuters to comment on the fishermen’s accounts. “But as you know, the Scarborough Shoal is indisputably part of China’s territory, and China will ensure that its sovereignty over this area is not being violated.”

The 10-member ASEAN aims to agree a legally binding Code of Conduct to manage maritime conduct in disputed areas, but prospects for quick progress appear dim.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told Reuters in an interview that the summit would mostly be about “making sure that things do not regress”.

Even if they agree, China has said it will only join talks when the time is “ripe” and that countries should first build trust by observing a weaker Declaration of Conduct (DOC) signed in 2002, which has so far failed to dampen tensions.

Natalegawa accused China of “flouting” the commitment in that agreement to exercise “maximum restraint”.

“You are seeing a number of unilateral steps that China has taken that is clearly not in line with the spirit of the DOC,” he said in Jakarta.

China says diplomatic efforts were set back by U.S. ally the Philippines’ request in January for a United Nations tribunal to order a halt to Beijing’s activities, such as those at Scarborough Shoal, that it said violated its sovereignty.

“Nothing has changed from the Chinese perspective,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “The fact that the Philippines has submitted its claims to the U.N. gives China another pretext not to discuss the Code of Conduct.”

TENSIONS IN BATHTUB

As monsoon weather eases and China imposes a unilateral annual fishing ban that has stoked tensions with Vietnam and the Philippines, tensions are likely to grow in coming months.

China, which has said it will hold 40 naval exercises in the South China Sea this year, further antagonized Vietnam this month by saying it would allow Chinese tourists to visit the disputed Paracel islands for “sightseeing” trips. Two weeks earlier Hanoi accused Chinese ships of opening fire on a Vietnamese fishing boat, a charge that Beijing denied.

China stirred alarm in the region last month by sending four warships to land troops on its southernmost claim — the James Shoal, just 80 km (50 miles) off the Malaysian coast and close to Brunei. The crew of the ships held a ceremony on the shoal, swearing an oath to defend and “build up” the South China Sea and protect China’s sovereignty, state media reported.

The show of strength likely ruffled Malaysia, which has taken a more low-key approach than Vietnam and the Philippines over its claims.

Regional navies are no match for China, but the United States, which has said it has a national interest in maritime freedom of passage, is beefing up its forces in the region, especially after recent tensions with North Korea.

U.S. B-52 and B-2 bombers flew sorties over South Korea in recent weeks and Washington is moving the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense system to its Pacific base in Guam.

Last week, the United States sent the first of its Littoral Combat Ships, a new class of a coastal warship, on an eight-month deployment to Singapore.

“It’s a bathtub and more and more countries are pouring ships into the bathtub,” said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy. “It’s just a matter of time before they bump into one another.”

CAT AND MOUSE

Tensions over the dispute first peaked last year in the two-month stand-off between China and the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal.

Forones, the fisherman in the coastal town of Masinloc, says he was working at the shoal when the confrontation started.

“That was the first time we saw large ships from the two countries appearing at the shoal at the same time. Then our coastguard came and told us to leave because there might be a war … That was the last time we had a bountiful harvest.”

Since then, his catch has shrank so much that his wife has switched from selling fish at the local market to selling pork. He said he was considering selling one of his three boats and his delivery truck.

The Scarborough shoal is famed among fisherman for its rich waters, packed with turtles and squid as well as fish such as grouper and mackerel. The long monsoon season means it is only accessible by small boats from January to May, giving fish stocks plenty of time to recover each year.

Forones and other fishermen still try to fish at the shoal, face a tense cat-and-mouse game with the Chinese ships.

“It’s really scary now,” said Miguel Betana, a 45-year-old boat captain, who has fished at the shoal for 15 years.

“I have had worse experiences at sea, but being chased by a very fast Chinese ship I was thinking what if the ship rams our boat or if they shoot us. No one will ever find out.”

When he was last there in late March, he saw five Chinese ships, four of them sitting at the shoal’s mouth. After being chased off by one armed ship, he said he returned under cover of darkness to resume fishing.

Zaldy Godores, a 34-year-old from the town of Santa Cruz, said his boats could no longer fish far from shore because they had lost the protection from storms provided by the shoal.

Forones said three of his ships were chased as far as 24 km (15 miles) from the shoal in January. That was when he noticed that the Chinese had submerged an arm-thick rope stretching across the shoal’s mouth to snag boat propellers.

“We are like thieves, stealing what really should be our riches,” Forones said.

Source: Reuters “Insight: China consolidates sea claims as Asian diplomacy struggles”


China points finger at U.S. over Asia-Pacific tensions


Members of the People's Liberation Army guard of honour stand with red flags during an official welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing April 15, 2013.  Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Members of the People’s Liberation Army guard of honour stand with red flags during an official welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing April 15, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s defense ministry made a thinly veiled attack on the United States on Tuesday for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region, days after the top U.S. diplomat visited Beijing.
China is uneasy with what the United States has called the “rebalancing” of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention further east.

China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes with Beijing.

China faces “multiple and complicated security threats” despite its growing influence, the Ministry of Defense said in its annual white paper, adding that the U.S. strategy meant “profound changes” for Asia.

“There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser,” the ministry said in the 40-page document, in a clear reference to the United States.

Such moves “do not accord with the developments of the times and are not conducive towards maintaining regional peace and stability”, ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

The official People’s Liberation Army Daily went further, saying in a commentary on Monday that China needed to beef up its defenses to deal with a hostile West bent on undermining it.

“Hostile Western forces have intensified their strategy to westernize and split China, and employed every possible means to contain and control our country’s development,” it said.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the re-orientation of U.S. foreign policy towards Asia as he ended a trip to the region dominated by concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s behavior, including its third nuclear test in February, it has also made clear it considers U.S. displays of force in response to Pyongyang’s behavior to be a worrisome development.

China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic and financial backer — the two fought together in the 1950-53 Korean war — although the ministry’s Yang would not be drawn on the subject aside from repeating a call for peace and dialogue.

JAPAN “MAKING TROUBLE”

China’s own military moves have worried others in the region, too.

China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure last month, to 740.6 billion yuan ($119 billion) for 2013, and is involved in protracted and often ugly disputes over a series of islands in the East and South China Seas.

“On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue,” the white paper said.

Japan’s government said it had lodged a protest with Beijing about that comment. “There exists no territorial issue to be solved over the Senkaku”, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said in Tokyo.

The dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku, has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets and patrol ships shadow each other.

The waters around the islands in the East China Sea are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

The U.S. shift comes as China boosts military spending and builds submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

China has repeatedly said the world has nothing to fear from its military spending, which it says is needed for legitimate defensive purposes in a complex and changing world, and that the sums spent pale in comparison with U.S. defense expenditure.

Source: “China points finger at U.S. over Asia-Pacific tensions”