Search Results for: "South China Sea"

South China Sea nears boiling point with Hague ruling

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

On Tuesday, July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled will rule on an argument by the Philippines government that China’s claim to own 90 per cent of the South China Sea is false. The court is expected to rule ruled in Manila’s favour. Beijing has already said it will take no notice of the judgement. Beijing’s reasoning is that as its territorial claim is beyond question then no one, not even an international court, can question it.

Update on July 12: read the notice of the court decision, which dismissed China’s case entirely, on the court web site. (The site was down periodically during the day.)

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domaine

American destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur in an Asia Pacific live fire exercise in early 2016. Photo: U.S. Navy, Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domain

In anticipation of the court’s ruling, Beijing has been rushing to construct and arm islands in the South China Sea. The stage is now set for more confrontations with the forces of littoral states — most of them allies of the United States, which has already shown its determination to defend its right to freedom of navigation through the sea, which carries over 80 per cent of Asia’s maritime trade.

If, as expected, Beijing now tries to control and manage naval, maritime and perhaps air traffic on and over the South China Sea, the world is moving into a very dangerous era of pushing and shoving, when fatal mistakes can easily be made.

These three columns explain what you need to know about the dispute, from International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe:

China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism

At long last, the Beijing regime has this week been dealt two significant set-backs to what is the world’s most extraordinary contemporary campaign of imperial expansionism. A tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea decided that Beijing’s claim to own almost all the South China Sea is not an indisputable fact, as the Chinese government contends.

China’s war for Asian domination is going well, writes Jonathan Manthorpe from Tokyo. Above, Chinese surveillance ships in waters claimed by Japan, in 2013. Times Asi photo, Creative Commons

China’s war for Asian domination is going well, writes Jonathan Manthorpe from Tokyo. Above, Chinese surveillance ships in waters claimed by Japan, in 2013. Times Asi photo, Creative Commons

China’s war for Asian domination going well

TOKYO, Japan — China’s war to supplant the United States as the regional super power in the Far East and western Pacific is under full steam and gobbling up its objectives. Over the last 15 years, China has not only built a large and potentially effective navy, it has by stealth and cunning either caused divisions between the United States and its Asian allies, or cast doubt among target states whether Washington can be trusted to support them, or both.

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Beijing’s Empire Grows in South China Sea: Manthorpe

500px-Southeast_asia

Southeast Asia. Map: Wikimedia

At what point will Beijing be challenged on its empire-building campaign? International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe examines China’s latest moves to claim territory and influence in Southeast Asia. An excerpt of his new column:

China’s project to slowly gobble up sovereignty over the South China Sea and, with money and threats to cow the 10 countries of Southeast Asia into subservience, has made dramatic advances.

Beijing will be well pleased with the success of the latest strike in its campaign, which started with the moving on May 1 of the massive deep sea oil drilling rig Haiyang 981 into South China Sea waters that are within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, but claimed by China.

The provocation led to some ugly confrontations at sea as Vietnamese vessels jostled the 100-or-so ships Beijing sent to guard the rig. Meanwhile on land Vietnamese mobs attacked Chinese-owned businesses. At least two people were killed and Beijing evacuated several thousand of its nationals … read more*

 

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Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea

JONATHAN MANTHORPE 
May 23, 2014

China’s project to slowly gobble up sovereignty over the South China Sea and, with money and threats to cow the 10 countries of Southeast Asia into subservience, has made dramatic advances.

Beijing will be well pleased with the success of the latest strike in its campaign, which started with the moving on May 1 of the massive deep sea oil drilling rig Haiyang 981 into South China Sea waters that are within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, but claimed by China.

500px-Southeast_asia

Southeast Asia. Map: Wikimedia Commons

The provocation led to some ugly confrontations at sea as Vietnamese vessels jostled the 100-or-so ships Beijing sent to guard the rig. Meanwhile on land Vietnamese mobs attacked Chinese-owned businesses. At least two people were killed and Beijing evacuated several thousand of its nationals.

The timing of Beijing’s move was very purposeful. It came only a week before the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were due to meet in the Burmese capital, Nyapyitaw, where the incursion was rushed on to the agenda.

Beijing’s calculation was that, as in the past, the ASEAN leaders would be unable to agree on any muscular or effective response to China’s slow nibbling away of the maritime territories and sovereign rights of five of the ASEAN members: Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. Beijing has a strong economic and ideological grip on Laos and Cambodia, as well as powerful commercial ties to Burma and Thailand. None of these countries has a direct interest in China’s South China Sea claims and they could be counted on to ensure that ASEAN’s rage is quickly watered down to banal platitudes.

The Chinese government is very adept at exploiting these conflicting imperatives. Beijing rightly expected the ASEAN leaders would be unable to approve any more robust response to the incursion into Vietnamese waters than a meaningless motion calling for a negotiated code of conduct for economic development of the supposedly oil and gas-rich South China Sea.

Equally satisfying for Beijing was the flaccid response from Washington. Last month United States President Barack Obama attempted to reassure America’s Asian allies and others worried about China’s territorial ambitions that Washington would be staunch in defending their interests. He reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the defence of Japan and signed a new defence agreement with the Philippines.

This appeared to be a significant demonstration of resolve by the American President, especially coming after his “red line” for intervention in the Syrian civil war, when the regime used chemical weapons against civilians, proved to be meaningless. But China’s neighbours are now left wondering whether Obama’s “pivot” of focus from the Middle East to Asia has any more substance than his Syrian “red line.”

For several years the Vietnamese government has been courting Washington, with some apparent success, in an attempt to give Hanoi a strategic counterbalance to the ever-present heavy breathing of its neighbour, China. Washington’s response to the Naiyang 981 incident, however, clearly says that while the U.S. may be ready to go to war in defence of Japan, the 7th Fleet is not going to sail to save Hanoi.

All Vietnam got was some bafflegab from Washington deploring Beijing’s provocation and some weasel words from the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. He said: “We just need to cool off, move in a deliberate manner and hopefully solve this diplomatically.”

The Hanoi government of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his government swiftly realized they are on their own. Dung was left to grasp at straws and on Thursday met the Philippines President Benigno Aquino in Manila. The two called on the world to condemn China’s “extremely dangerous” activities in the South China Sea.

Well, that’s not going to happen. Even if it did, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his close colleagues in the luxury villas of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound, next to Beijing’s imperial Forbidden City, will lose no sleep over it.

The targeting of Vietnam and the Philippines by persistently sending Chinese fishing boats and Coast Guard vessels into their territorial waters has proved highly effective. Neither is a central or highly influential member of ASEAN and Beijing has been careful not to confront more central ASEAN members Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, whose waters China also claims. Though, in January 2013, China sent a naval flotilla to James Shoal off the coast of Malaysia’s Borneo coast where the sailors took an oath to defend Chinese territory. This caused some consternation in Malaysia and Indonesia, though no serious push-back so far.

Such incursions have been the most visible and flambouyant part of a slow and steady encroachment into the South China Sea that began when China ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1996. This gives signatories rights to “exclusive economic zones” covering 200 nautical miles of the seas beyond their coastlines.

China swiftly ramped up its claims to both the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South China Sea. On this basis of UNCLOS and these claims, Beijing said, all of the sea right down to the massive Natuna natural gas fields in Indonesia’s waters, 1,500 kilometres away from the nearest undisputed Chinese landfall, is Chinese territory.

When, a few years later, China announced that the Spratly and Paracel islands were to be made a municipality under Hainan island province, it was taken as a bit of a joke. But then in 2012 the status of what is now called Sansha was boosted to a prefecture city, with a local government, complete with 600 busy bureaucrats, established on Woody Island in the Paracels. One of the edicts of the Woody Island bureaucrats is that anyone fishing in Chinese waters in the South China Sea must obtain their permission. Restrictions on the right of passage for foreign merchant and naval shipping through the South China Sea are doubtless on Beijing’s agenda.

To reinforce this appearance of administration of the disputed territories, which will be extremely useful should there ever be an attempted international legal resolution, Beijing has been building and manning military outposts on several of the islands and islets.

At what point Beijing gets called on its empire-building campaign is hard to predict. Going on the events of the last three weeks, not yet and probably not until Beijing’s imperial grip over Southeast Asia is a lot more difficult to pry open than it is now.

Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further reading:
Beijing attempts to provoke conflict with Vietnam over maritime claims: Manthorpe
Beijing, not Moscow, is the home of imperialism: Manthorpe

 

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Pins are out for the Trump balloon

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 20, 2017

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is.

He has given them plenty to work with over the last couple of years with his ignorant and intemperate outbursts. But it matters to everyone whether there is any substance behind Trump’s rabid self-promotion: his opiate of choice.

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John's Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John’s Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The core question is whether the century of the United States imperium is at an end.

It was in the winter of 1918-1919 during the peace talks in Paris to conclude the First World War that Washington took over from London as the capital of the world’s super power. British leaders realized the era of their empire was spent and willingly handed the torch to the U.S., which shared Britain’s civic values.

With super power status goes the responsibility to act as a global arbiter. One can argue about how effectively and morally the U.S. has performed that task. What is beyond argument, however, is that the U.S. created the existing structure of international human discourse. By and large, those institutions were designed and created with a generous spirit and the aim of improving human security and wellbeing. Institutions like the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, and all these organizations’ many spin-offs, undoubtedly are marked by the culture of their creators in Washington. But it is hard to sustain a credible argument that they are agencies of U.S. imperialism, though many try to do so.

Trump’s disdain and contempt for much of this structure does not bode well. He has called NATO “obsolete.” He has dismissed the UN as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” He threatens to tear up trade agreements and warned allies in Asia such as Japan and South Korea not to count on Washington in a crisis.

He applauded the looming break-up of the European Union and got unnecessarily personal in his criticism of European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump threatens an all-out trade war with China, which he accuses of currency manipulation and “stealing” U.S. jobs, and to jettison the policy over the status of Taiwan that has governed Washington-Beijing relations since the late 1970s.

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has gone further with the chest thumping and told Beijing its activities in the South China Sea are unacceptable. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing.

North Korean leader Kim Jung-un said in his New Year Day’s address that his country is close to being able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead. Trump responded with a Tweet saying: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

Even the rogue regime of former President George W. Bush, as mad and bad as it was, realised that pre-emptive strikes against countries with nuclear weapons was a step too far.

Trump will prefer to concentrate on domestic issues in his first months as president. He has set out an impressive agenda of rules, regulations, programs and agencies earmarked for destruction. And in his picks for departmental bosses and cabinet members Trump has assembled a wrecking crew of awesome credentials. (It is impossible to lampoon an administration whose choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, says guns should be allowed in schools to protect children from grizzly bears.)

But the rest of the world can’t and won’t give Trump a breathing space. He will be tested soon.

He has lined up an impressive array of world leaders who have reason to push back against Trump’s Elmer Gantry, bully pulpit methods. Of course, there is one who has no desire to test what Trump is made of. No doubt it will eventually become clear whether Trump is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent groupie, the Kremlin’s Manchurian Candidate — brainwashed by oligarchs’ investments in his wobbly property empire — or something in between. But for the moment, Putin is in the unprecedented situation for a Russian leader of having in the White House a man who admires his murderous and autocratic leadership style, and who wants to be his BBF.

Putin’s test of Trump’s sincerity will be to do nothing. Trump has indicated he wants to remove sanctions imposed on Putin by outgoing President Barack Obama for interfering in the presidental election, for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. If Trump follows through, that will play into Putin’s timetable nicely. Putin is due to be re-elected President next year, and although this piece of theatre is meaningless by any true definition of democracy, he likes the performance to give him the appearance of political legitimacy.

But Russia these days is basically Zimbabwe with nuclear weapons and bad winters. International sanctions have eaten into a misconceived economy, overly dependent on energy exports, and gnawed to the bone by Putin’s kleptocratic stable of oligarchs. Putin needs a little economic fillip to lessen the prospect of public demonstrations of protest at his re-election next year. Trump could be his trump.

It is also unlikely that the ayatollahs who rule Iran will want to push back against Trump, despite his having threatened to junk the 2015 agreement regulating Tehran’s nuclear development program, which he called “the worst deal ever negotiated” and a “disaster.” Trump does not appear to have grasped that this was not an agreement between Washington and Tehran. It is an agreement negotiated with Iran by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and endorsed by the UN Security Council. Trump could perhaps back the U.S. out of the agreement, but it would make no substantial difference to the international contract with Iran or the resultant lifting of international sanctions on the Tehran government.

China has more reason than most countries to try to discover quickly what sort of flimflam man inhabits the Oval Office. Beijing has a huge range of options to choose from. There are U.S. businesses and non-governmental organizations operating in China. There’s actions that can be taken against Taiwan, which China claims to own, but which Trump seems to have singled out for friendship. There’s the possibility of taking a swipe at Washington allies Japan or South Korea. And, of course, there’s lots of opportunity for mischief in the South China Sea. Beijing’s forces have in the past buzzed U.S. military aircraft over the sea, harassed hydrographic research vessels, and chivvied U.S. oil company exploration ships.

What can be said for certain is that the Communist Party regime is a master at presenting no target. If China chooses to take a poke at Trump it’s a fair bet it will be in a way that leaves him blustering with fury and impotent to respond.

Beijing might well feel the task of prodding Trump can be best left to the Malevolent Teletubby Kim Jung-un in North Korea.

As Trump was going through the inauguration process on Friday, media in South Korea was reporting speculation from Seoul’s intelligence services that North Korea would soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S.

Kim, and his father Kim Jung-il before him, has put great effort into developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of presenting a credible deterrent. After five nuclear tests since 2006, Pyongyang appears to have atomic bombs that blow up with some reliability. What remains uncertain is whether it has mastered the miniaturization necessary to make a nuclear weapon that can be put on top of a missile.

Hand in hand with this program has gone the development of missiles. Pyongyang has managed to build a rocket that put some sort of satellite in orbit, but it has had great difficulty in developing reliable missiles. At the end of last year, for example, it had seven failures out of eight test launches of its Musudan intermediate-range missile.

Developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a significant leap beyond that, not least because it requires the ability to bring the missile warhead back down from space on the target and with some accuracy. There is no clear evidence North Korea has yet achieved that skill.

So what could Kim Jung-un do to get Trump’s goat? North Korea Watchers are suggesting three options. One is that Kim’s scientists might fire another of its space rockets, called the Unha, but fit it with a re-entry vehicle emulating a warhead. If it worked, that would demonstrate having mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear weapon in theory if not yet in practice.

Another option would be to test fire an ICBM. Pyongyang has displayed mock-ups of its KN-14 would-be ICBM in a military parade in 2015, but has not test fired it. It is designed for a mobile launcher, and thus far less vulnerable to counter measures than the Unha space rockets fired from fixed bases. But the first tests of the KN-14 are almost certain to fail. Thus any attempt by Kim to fire a KN-14 as a show of strength is most likely to be an embarrassing damp squib.

A third option – and the most disquieting – is for Kim to refrain from trying to thumb his nose at Trump and instead to pursue a quiet and measured ICBM development program. This means taking the time to fully learn the lessons of failed tests and designing remedies. It means cool relentlessness rather than bravado.

The only certainty, of course, is that there is no certainty where the test of Trump as an international player will come from. It is a moment to remember that remark attributed to former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He was asked by a journalist what might knock his government’s program off course and is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan   Column

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

Trump Hits Populist Note in Inaugural Address, by Richard Tofel, ProPublica

Donald Trump’s speech largely lacked lofty language, but contained a full-throated populist vision, delivered with confidence, and signaled this from the start in one of its most memorable lines: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This might be heard to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1981 statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but that would actually miss Trump’s point: The speech did not oppose government — it opposed the governors.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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After looking into Trump’s soul, Japan’s Abe seeks new allies

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 31, 2016

It is now pretty clear that when Shinzo Abe rushed to meet Donald Trump, even while the votes were being counted in November, the Japanese Prime Minister didn’t have a Margaret Thatcher or George W Bush moment.

After Thatcher met then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 she said to a BBC interviewer: “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) puts his arm around Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after they laid wreaths in front of a cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Shinzo Abe’s actions since the U.S. election suggest he has little or no faith in Donald Trump’s capacity to be President of the United States, writes Manthorpe. Above, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) puts his arm around the Japanese Prime Minister after they laid wreaths in front of a cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

And after the junior Bush met Russia’s new President Vladimir Putin in 2001 he remarked: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.”

Well, we now know that Bush was easily conned by Putin, and there’s good reason to think that Trump, who also waxes lyrical about the vulpine Russian leader’s soul, is also being played for a sucker. But let’s leave that aside.

Abe has reacted with what can only be called horror at what he saw in Trump’s eyes during their hastily arranged 90-minute meeting on November 17 in the President Elect’s New York penthouse.

For sure, after the meeting Abe spouted the usual verbiage in these situations. “The talks made me feel sure that we can build a relationship of trust,” he said. But in the six weeks since, all Abe’s actions suggest he has little or no faith in Trump’s capacity to be President of the United States, or that Trump will be trustworthy for even five minutes.

Abe has been scouting in all directions to strengthen other alliances among Japan’s Asian neighbours, and even Russia. Although Moscow and Tokyo have yet to resolve territorial disputes left over from the Second World War, Japan is a major investor in the industrial development of the sparsely-populated Russian Far East. And both countries are deeply suspicious about the power ambitions of the current regime in Beijing.

Having a trustworthy President in the White House matters to Japan more than many other countries. For nearly 70 years the U.S. has been Tokyo’s firm ally and the guarantor of Japanese security in a very dangerous neighbourhood.

That alliance has become more significant and important in recent years. The immediate threats to Japan in particular, but other U.S. Asian allies too, are the rogue North Korean regime with its nuclear weapons and missiles, and China’s emergence as an expansionist fascist state.

On several occasions North Korea has underlined the threat it represents by test firing unarmed missiles over Japanese territory. After some fumblings and setbacks, Pyongyang now seems to be close to being able to make a nuclear weapon small enough to mount on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Meanwhile, the Beijing regime of President and Communist Party boss Xi Jinping has moved on from claiming Japan’s Senkaku Islands, into whose territorial waters and airspace its ships and warplanes regularly intrude. Beijing has now promoted claims to Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain, which includes Okinawa, home to the base for over half the 54,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=901053

Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain, also called the Nansei Islands, are on the boundary of the East China Sea and the Philippines Sea. Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Interviews with senior Chinese military officers challenging Japan’s ownership of the Ryukyus have been published in several Communist Party-controlled newspapers. When China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been confronted with these claims it has refused to confirm that China recognizes Japan’s ownership of the Ryukyus and Okinawa.

Beijing is even attempting to create a political split within Japan by supporting and cultivating independence activists among the people of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. In a statement last week, Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency said it is closely watching the activities of Beijing’s agents of influence – principally academics from Chinese universities and think tanks – on the Ryukyus.

This latest slice in Beijing’s salami tactics comes as it has crowned its 20-year campaign to exclusive sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, by building seven military bases on islands in the sea and taking effective control over seaways that carry a third of all maritime trade.

Japan has responded to Beijing’s evident lust for the Ryukyus by fortifying 200 of the islands, which stretch in a 1000-kilomtre-long chain south-west from Japan’s main islands. As well as defending Japanese territory, the fortifications are intended to keep control of one of the main passages into the Pacific Ocean for China’s new and modern navy, which now includes an aircraft carrier and the world’s largest submarine fleet.

Japan is a much tougher nut for Beijing to crack than the squabbling littoral nations of the South China Sea. But the severing or weakening of the strong political and military links between Washington and Tokyo works only in Beijing’s favour.

So Trump’s questioning during the presidential campaign of the value-for-money Washington gets from its Asian alliances, and suggestion that Japan and South Korea should acquire their own nuclear deterrents, came at a tender moment. Trump’s off-hand attitude towards Washington’s Asian alliances conforms to his often crudely expressed disdain for most other U.S. treaty-backed friendships and the international institutions that have underpinned global security and development since the Second World War.

Uncertainty about Trump comes at a time when Abe, with the quiet backing of the Barack Obama administration, has already started to remove the pacifist constraints on Tokyo’s uses of its military that are embedded in Japan’s constitution.

Abe and many of his supporters feel that the time has come when these limitations, imposed by occupying U.S. forces after 1945, should be removed. Under the U.S.-drafted constitution Japan’s forces can only be used to defend against an attack on Japanese territory. This constraint has prevented Japan from being a full partner in operations with allies in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

With about half of Japan’s population supporting pacifism, attempting to amend the constitution would be a politically dangerous reach for Abe. So he has “reinterpreted” the constitution instead. His main aim has been to provide a legal framework for the Japanese military to use force to protect allies and thus become a reliable partner. That has been achieved. In November, Japanese troops were deployed on a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan with permission to use lethal force if necessary to protect United Nations and other aid workers.

Abe is also moving to convince countries among the 10 nations of Southeast Asia that Japan is a reliable partner in the growing confrontation with China over power and sovereignty in the region. In the middle of December, Tokyo made a significant advance with the creation of a joint maritime forum with Indonesia, the largest and potentially most influential of the Southeast Asian Nations.

Under the agreement, Tokyo will support Jakarta’s efforts to protect the maritime sovereignty of its archipelago of over 17,000 islands. Japan will help Indonesia enhance its maritime security, as well as assisting in the development of ports, other maritime infrastructure and the economic development of outlying islands. This is a strong pre-emptive move against Beijing. The Chinese regime doesn’t claim any Indonesian maritime territory at the moment. But Chinese fishing boats, many of which act also act as seagoing “militia” for Beijing, regularly poach in Indonesian waters. And China’s navy has sent warships to areas hard up against Indonesia’s massive Natuna submarine natural gas fields.

Abe appears to have been less successful in his overtures to Putin. The Russian President visited Japan in mid-December, but the talks didn’t lead to a breakthrough in relations that many Japanese observers had expected.

That’s not entirely surprising. The major bone of contention for decades between Moscow and Tokyo has been the fate of the Kuril Islands, which the Japanese call the Northern Territories. These Japanese islands were occupied by what was then the Soviet Union in the final weeks of the Second World War, and have been held and administered by Moscow since.

The dispute has blocked Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace agreement formally ending their conflict in the Second World War. The next opportunity for a resolution is when Abe visits Russia early in 2017, but a major breakthrough remains unlikely. Putin has hinged a great deal of his political credibility on regaining and holding territory and influence Moscow lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. His impetus is to grab territory like Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.

Ceding territory is not Putin’s style, and even suggestions for joint Tokyo-Moscow economic management over some of the disputed Kuril Islands will be difficult to seat comfortably with the Russian leader’s prickly self-esteem.

However, apart from the Kurils, Moscow and Tokyo have significant common interests. Both worry about Beijing’s expansionism, which for Moscow is seeing a flood of illegal Chinese immigrants into the Russian Far East. At the same time, there is an exodus of Russians from the region to the country’s west in search of jobs.

Japan is a major partner with Moscow in trying to reverse this flow. Japanese banks are putting up money for investment in resource development in the Russian Far East, and Japanese industrial conglomerates producing everything from cars and trucks to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are establishing manufacturing plants in the region.

Even so, there would be a delicious irony if Japan were driven out of the arms of Trump and into the arms of Putin because of Abe’s suspicions about the reliability of the man who U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously believe was helped into the Oval Office by Putin’s spy agencies.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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Trump victory rattles Asia

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
November 19, 2016

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the audience after a meeting with Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (not pictured) at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Related story: Pacific Rim Leaders Scramble in Trump Trade Era Above, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the audience after a meeting with Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (not pictured) at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Public displays of anxiety are frowned on in Japanese culture, and are especially unacceptable in political leaders.

Even more anathema to the spirit of “Bushido” – the chivalric code of the samurai warrior – is indulging in self-humiliation.

Thus it was extraordinary on Thursday to see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe take a detour on his flight to Peru for the Asia-Pacific summit next week, in order to scurry to New York to seek an audience with Donald Trump.

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Like other world leaders, Japanese prime ministers usually have much more self-esteem and sense of decorum than to play court to United States presidents before they are inaugurated. Rushing off to kiss the ring of an ethically challenged real estate developer, failed casino owner and jumped up “realty” TV performer is demeaning, to say the least.

Even more demeaning for Abe was being seen and photographed in the executive rooms in Trump Towers. The décor is how one imagines the waiting area of a Russian oligarchs’ brothel looks. Given the apparent Russian financial links of the Trump family, this may not be a coincidence.

The 25 per cent of registered US voters who have made Trump president have not only chosen a liar, bully, cheat, racist, misogynist, they have also anointed a man whose idea of tasteful art is retro bordello.

That Abe would put himself through this distasteful encounter speaks volumes about the fear and dread with which not only Japan, but much of Asia, contemplates the ascension of Trump on January 20.

Trump, after all, is inexperienced in international affairs, unless one counts whatever his dealings with Russia amount to. He showed, during the campaigns for his nomination as the Republican Party candidate and the contest with Hillary Clinton for the presidency, that he is supremely and dangerously ignorant.

What undoubtedly prompted Abe to set aside his better instincts, and decide he had to size up the monster a small minority of U.S. voters have foisted on the world, was some of Trump’s unbelievably stupid campaign rhetoric.

Trump not only said Washington’s allies should pay a greater share of the cost of their protection – there are about 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, at heavy cost to the Tokyo and regional governments – he mused about withdrawing Washington’s ultimate defence guarantee. Instead of Washington protecting Japan and South Korea from attack with the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” it might be better if Tokyo and Seoul developed their own nuclear weapons arsenals, he said.

Of course, that one little unconsidered piece of nonsense not only knocked out of the window the alliances that have underpinned Far Eastern security since the Second World War, it also beat the stuffing out of the whole concept of nuclear non-proliferation. It reinforced the perception that Trump is a man of dangerous stupidity, who cannot be trusted to sustain U.S. alliances. In these circumstances, it might indeed be a good idea for Washington’s traditional allies to get nuclear weapons of their own.

The other question that prompted Abe to divert his flight to New York was whether the U.S. will continue to be a sound economic partner for Japan. Trump’s mindless rubbishing of free trade agreements is of special concern to not only Japan, but to all U.S. business partners. Abe and his government are particularly anxious about Trump’s contempt for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress.

Tokyo took a lot of persuading by Barack Obama’s administration to join the TPP initiative. But having done so, Abe’s government has become one of the TPP’s most ardent fans. Indeed, TPP would be one of Abe’s most significant achievements to revitalize the Japanese economy. But there is now no hope of Obama being able to get TPP approved by a hostile Congress before he leaves office, and Trump says he plans to junk any agreement that appears to have exported blue collar jobs from the U.S.

Abe emerged from his meeting with Trump saying the new U.S. President is someone “in whom I can have great confidence.”

“We were able to have a very candid talk over a substantial amount of time (90 minutes). We held it in a very warm atmosphere,” he said to reporters after the meeting. “Without confidence between our two nations, our alliance would never function in the future.”

Well, that script could have been written before Abe’s plane touched down in New York. And how well Washington’s alliances function is going to depend a great deal on who Trump picks to advise and administer policy. One can only hope this is done with more sophistication than Trump portrayed as the sociopathic bully-boss in the TV show “The Apprentice,” a performance which seems to have been a major rung on his ladder to the presidency.

The announcement of Trump’s first senior appointments is not encouraging. The common thread among these men appears to be past rejections for anti-social behaviour.

The potential impact on Asia of the Trump presidency goes well beyond Japan, of course.

In Beijing, the Communist Party leaders are delighted. They see the election of Trump not only as a wonderful example of the deadly flaws in democracy, but also as clear evidence of the withering of the U.S. as the world’s supreme super power.

Chinese state media is already trotting out a propaganda line aimed at countries in Asia and Africa, saying the Trump election shows how fallible is the democratic system. Far better, says the Beijing line, is a system of guided meritocracy, such as that followed by the Chinese Communist Party, which aims to produce leaders prepared for the job.

Beijing is ready for some pain if Trump follows through on promises he made during the campaigns. He accused Beijing of currency manipulation and threatened retribution, including imposing a 45 per cent tax on imports from China with the aim of bringing back to the U.S. jobs that have been moved to China to take advantage of lower production costs. But as Trump within the first few days after the election reneged on promises he made during the campaigns, Beijing has good reason to think his threats are empty.

Of more long-term encouragement to Beijing is that China’s leaders see Trump’s victory as a major step in the decline of the American Imperium. Over the last 20 years or so Beijing has pursued a massive program of military reform and modernization that now means China’s armed forces are potent enough to deter the U.S. from supporting Asian allies, without grave risks.

At the same time, Beijing has used the massive profits generated from becoming the world’s manufacturing centre to finance a sustained charm offensive throughout Asia. Beijing’s investment in infrastructure projects such as ports, pipelines, roads and railways in Asian countries has put China at the hub of a network of client states.

Some countries have welcomed the apparent end of the U.S. guarantee of security in Asia. The world recently witnessed the unsettling picture of the new Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, pointedly abandoning his country’s century of reliance on Washington for its security and running to Beijing to swear fealty to China’s President and Communist Party boss, Xi Jinping. Soon afterwards, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, did the same.

Other Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand have already made pacts with Beijing. But there are several who are put in a tight spot by Trump’s victory and the uncertainty about what policies he will pursue towards Asia.

The ascendancy of Trump, with his seemingly off-hand regard for nuclear weapons, comes at an especially difficult time for South Korea, which is always under threat of attack by the rogue Marxist monarchy of Kim Jong-un in North Korea. The Seoul government is also an essential player in the international efforts to get Kim to give up, or at least contain, the crude but dangerous nuclear weapons his regime has managed to produce.

But South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, has been made almost entirely politically impotent by a scandal. For some years she had nursed a secret relationship with a spiritualist whom she has allowed to dictate government policies and decisions. She has offered to hand over power to the prime minister, but the opposition, which controls parliament, has rejected this. It looks as though South Korea will be effectively leaderless for much of next year.

Trump’s lack of interest in Asia is also disturbing for Vietnam. The Hanoi government has been growing its trade and political links with Washington for several years, both to build its economy and to provide backing against Beijing, which claims large areas of the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam.

Vietnam is likely to find itself under increased pressure from Beijing and it is unclear where Hanoi may look for support to replace Washington’s failing hand. By judicious use of its money, Beijing has already destroyed any chance of a united push-back against its territorial expansion in the South China Sea from among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Vietnam has already made some overtures towards India, a regional rival to China. But India’s interest in supporting Vietnam is unlikely to extend much beyond the fun of irritating Beijing.

Trump’s victory is also disconcerting for another natural ally of Washington. Indonesia has 250 million people and is now well into a successful transition from dictatorship to a vigorous democracy. The country is rich in resources and has a young population that makes it a perfect candidate for industrial and technological development.

But nearly 90 per cent of Indonesians are Muslim, though of a particularly moderate brand. Trump’s anti-Muslim diatribes during the campaign – his threats to ban Muslims entering the U.S. and keeping official registers of those already in the country – have not gone down well in Indonesia, just as they have diminished Washington’s influence in the rest of Islam.

It is hard to imagine how any candidate for the U.S. presidency could do a better job of discrediting himself in the eyes of Asia – or the rest of the world for that matter – than Trump has done. So one can understand why Abe was willing to abandon conventions and to open himself to ridicule by going to see exactly what sort of creature U.S. voters have foisted on the world.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related story: Pacific Rim Leaders Scramble in Trump Trade Era, Reuters

Leaders of Pacific rim nations scrambled to find new free-trade options on Friday as a looming Donald Trump presidency in the United States sounded a possible death knell for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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Hillary Clinton Advisers Probe Prospects With North Korea

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
October 29, 2016

Commuters make their way through a subway station visited by foreign reporters during a government organised tour in Pyongyang, North Korea October 9, 2015. Picture taken October 9, 2015. To match Insight NORTHKOREA-CHANGE/     REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Commuters make their way through a subway station visited by foreign reporters during a government organised tour in Pyongyang, North Korea October 9, 2015. Picture taken October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Two seemingly unconnected incidents this week suggest Washington and North Korea are limbering up for another bout in their two decades-long wrestling match over the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons program.

The first event was a quiet meeting in Malaysia’s principal city, Kuala Lumpur, between two senior officials from Pyongyang and an “unofficial” United States’ delegation. The U.S. team was led by Robert Gallucci, Washington’s chief negotiator with North Korea in 1994 during the Bill Clinton administration.

Gallucci is reported to be a close adviser to Hillary Clinton. Thus his two-day meeting with North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol and Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Jang Il Hun, suggests that Hillary Clinton’s team is already thinking beyond its expected defeat of Donald Trump on November 8. It is looking at some of the foreign policy problems likely to be at the top of her in basket in the Oval Office and exploring possibilities for movement.

North Korea does not send officials of the stature of Han and Jang to semi-clandestine trysts in distant cities for the fun of it.

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Neither does Washington. Gallucci was accompanied by Joseph De Trani, former special envoy to the so-called “Six-Party Talks,” which included China, Russia, South Korea and Japan as well as the U.S. and North Korea, in efforts to agree the ending of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

It didn’t work. But it is a reasonable assumption that at last weekend’s meeting both sides were trying to get an idea of the potential for progress when the new Clinton administration takes office next year.

That sounds more optimistic than it is, in part because of the second episode this week.

That was an odd comment on Tuesday during an interview in New York by James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence. Clapper said in the course of a meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations, “I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause. They are not going to do that … that is their ticket to survival.”

This comment appears to be a heresy of the worst sort. Since 1993, when North Korea renounced its ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after using the pact to acquire bomb-making know-how, all Washington administrations have stuck to the same script: the only acceptable resolution of the problem is North Korea’s “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”

On Tuesday, the State Department was swift to deny that Clapper’s remarks indicate a change of policy or viewpoint in Washington. “No, nothing’s changed … that’s not our position,” a department spokesman said when asked about Clapper’s statement. “Our policy objective is to seek to obtain a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Now, everyone involved with the efforts to deal with the problem of the increasingly viable nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles being developed by Pyongyang knows that Washington’s position on North Korea is no longer obtainable or realistic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

With five tests of nuclear warheads under its belt – two of them this year and the last on September 9 – and regular tests of increasingly reliable medium and long-range missiles to carry them, Pyongyang is well beyond the point of no return. The best outcome that can be hoped for now is some sort of containment of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, probably in the context of a major program to foster economic development in the benighted hermit state. Pyongyang will doubtless hold out for freezing its nuclear weapons stockpile at a level that will deter Washington – or other potential enemies such as Japan and South Korea – from attempting to oust the regime of Kim Jong-un. Kim, 30-something, is the third generation of his family to rule the Marxist monarchy since the end of the Second World War.

There’s a big question whether a resolution would also involve recognition of Pyongyang’s status as a nuclear power, as President George W Bush did with India. The difference is that unlike India and other unacknowledged nuclear weapons states like Israel and Pakistan which never signed the NPT, Pyongyang cheated on the international treaty. It signed in order to get access to the technology to make bombs, and then dumped the NPT once it had the information. There’s a broad international consensus that such duplicity ought not to be rewarded. Contempt for Pyongyang’s methods will continue to influence Washington’s attitude.

Andrei Lankov, the Russian scholar who did graduate studies in Pyongyang and who is one of the few reliable commentators on North Korea, said in an essay this week he remains unconvinced that Washington can or will acknowledge the truth of what Clapper said. Any U.S. administration, Lankov wrote, has to think about nuclear weapons and non-proliferation in a much broader context than just North Korea.

Were Washington to drop its demand for full denuclearization before negotiations with Pyongyang “it will create a dangerous precedent,” Lankov wrote. “Both domestic political opposition in the United States, and, more importantly, the entire world, will see the development as a case where a successful blackmailer state is paid for its boldness by the United States and, by default, the international community.”

“It will demonstrate to the world that a country can abuse the existing non-proliferation structure to get vital intelligence and then end up both nuclear and rewarded by the U.S. taxpayers.” Such an outcome would encourage other rogue states to follow the same example, he said.

Lankov doesn’t mention it, but Washington’s management of the delicate business of Iran’s nuclear development program, and trying to prevent it moving from power generation into weapons production, is an immediate example of the wider context.

Closely linked to Iran is the issue of Tehran’s main rival in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia. Riyadh helped Pakistan acquire its “Islamic Bomb” in return for a guarantee that Islamabad would give the Saudi government nuclear weapons when needed. But since Pakistan spurned Riyadh’s call to join the fight in Yemen against rebels backed by Tehran, the Saudi government is now unsure whether Islamabad is a dependable ally in a crisis. The answer for Riyadh may be to get its own bomb.

Dependable allies are also an issue in Asia. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has been underwhelming. Witness Washington’s less than fully committed response to China’s island building and de facto occupation of most of the South China Sea. It is perhaps no wonder that the Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, has decided that despite the U.S. being his country’s traditional main ally (as well as former colonial power), he needs to appease the bully on his doorstep. Duterte’s recent visit to Beijing was sickening in its sycophancy.

Japan is already beefing up its military and the scenarios in which they can be used. This is in part because of Washington’s desire for its allies to carry a greater share of the mutual defence load, and in part because Tokyo senses that the U.S. will not necessary come running when called.

There is as yet no constituency for Japan to acquire nuclear weapons. But there are similar anxieties about North Korea and Washington’s dependability evident in South Korea, with right wing parties even demanding that Seoul develop its own nuclear weapons.

Donald Trump, in his dismissive remark that as president he would leave Seoul and Tokyo to their own devices, has made such thoughts semi-respectable.

Yet there are other possibilities for the resolution of the North Korean problem besides a bilateral deal between Pyongyang and Washington, with or without the other four members of the Six-Party formula.

The Kim regime is not sustainable in the long term. In essence, it is a slave state run by a feudal family. The economy is in tatters. In recent years millions of North Koreans have died in famines created in part by adverse weather conditions, but mostly by criminally stupid economic policies. Tens of thousands have fled across the Yalu River border into China, where there are now substantial refugee communities. For the past 20 years or so North Korea has been kept on life support by its northern neighbour and brother-in-Marxist-Leninism, China.

If it wished, Beijing could tomorrow force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. But, while Beijing would be happier if the Kim regime was not building a nuclear weapons arsenal and the missiles to deliver the bombs, it has more immediate strategic worries. If Beijing stops propping up North Korea with a minimal diet of economic calories – some of it in defiance of UN sanctions – the Pyongyang regime will collapse.

At the moment, that prospect alarms Beijing even more than Pyongyang having nuclear weapons. Collapse would almost inevitably mean a rushed reunification of the two Koreas under the domination of the South, which is immeasurably more wealthy and a well-founded democracy. Beijing cannot abide the idea of a prosperous and vigorous democracy on its border, especially one that it allied to Washington.

So, even though Beijing has voted in favour of UN sanctions against North Korea and has on the surface applied trade embargoes, goods continue to flow across the border. In the past month, China’s importation of coal from North Korea – a major money earner for Pyongyang – has been cut by 27 per cent. This appears to be a punishment for Pyongyang’s nuclear test at the beginning of last month. But it comes after China’s imports of North Korean coal in August were the largest since 1998, and total imports from the North were still $US228 million in September, a marginal decrease over the same month in 2015.

And China’s export of aviation jet fuel to North Korea jumped nearly 400 per cent in September from a year earlier, in clear defiance of the UN sanctions resolution adopted in March after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

There is also a huge clandestine maritime trade between China and North Korea. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported this week that every day North Korean and Chinese ships meet off-shore to exchange goods such as food, construction materials, agricultural goods and even minerals such as coal and iron ore. The report quotes South Korean intelligence sources as saying that even though the official North Korea-China trade last year was worth $US5.5 billion, the illicit trade was worth another $US2.2 billion.

However, Beijing has been given cause to re-examine its priorities after the July announcement that South Korea has agreed to the deployment on its territory of Washington’s advanced anti-missile system known as THAAD, Terminal High Altitude Air Defense. The justification for deploying THAAD is, of course, to defend South Korea against missile attacks from the North, nuclear or otherwise. But the view from Beijing is that THAAD, which can knock out missiles at an altitude of up to 50 kilometres, is also an effective counter measure against China’s own intercontinental ballistic nuclear weapons. That makes China’s nuclear deterrent impotent and, in theory, opens the country to a nuclear “first strike” from the U.S.

That would be more of a concern to everyone with Trump in the White House. But the events of this week say that the North Korean game is back again in play, though to what end is anyone’s guess at the moment.

 

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

~~~

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

America’s Withering Dims Age of Enlightenment

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1830. Public domain.

Liberty Leading the People, Oil on canvas, Eugène Delacroix, 1830. Public domain.

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
October 22, 2016

Donald Trump will lose the United States presidential election in November, but the curse of Pandora is now out of the box and the age of the collapse of the American Imperium is upon us.

Trump did not create the dumb rage he represents. It was already festering in the gangrenous wing of the Republican Party that is so bone headed it has spent the last eight years making the administration of the U.S. dysfunctional, and will assuredly try to do the same during a Hillary Clinton presidency whether or not it retains control of Congress.

The cancer will only get worse and spread. The U.S. political system, as historian Francis Fukuyama eloquently set out in an essay in Foreign Affairs1 journal in 2014, is deeply flawed and always has been. The Founding Fathers were so fearful of creating a George III they designed a system where the checks always outweigh the balances.

Mother Nature always has a wonderful sense of irony, of course. So in their maniacal efforts to avoid George III, Americans have created George III in the shape of Donald Trump, or whichever mad demagogue succeeds him as the mouthpiece for Americans suffering from self-disenfranchisement. (Actually, George III appears to have been a rather pleasant man, unfairly besmirched by history.)

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

America’s allies have already seen during the George W Bush and Barack Obama presidencies that Washington is no longer a predicable and dependable friend in a crisis. For all Obama’s attempts to turn a page after the disastrous junior Bush years, he has been caught in the headlights of the “war on terror” and unable to get out of the withering beam of that foolish concept. The decline of Washington as a reliable arbiter of world affairs will only get worse as the U.S. continues to wrestle with its inner demons.

When the British Empire approached its decline in the winter of 1918 after a century as the world’s pre-eminent super power, she was fortunate to have a blood cousin and fellow democracy in the U.S. to whom to pass the torch. As it confronts its own decline after its own century at the helm, modern America has no such luxury.

The looming powers come from beyond the North Atlantic basin of democratic culture and are dominated by fascist states China and Russia. For middle powers like Canada, the component parts of some of Europe, and others spread around Asia, Africa and Latin America that want to keep their democratic social, legal and political structures, the world is looking an increasingly threatening place.

Even membership of such groups of circled wagons like the European Union doesn’t seem to give sufficient confidence to defy the new fascism. On Friday efforts to intensify sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the bombing of the rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo were watered down to nothing. Italy led the drive to avoid offending Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Spain, Austria and Greece hurrying to sign on to appeasement. Europe’s schism between those who want to censure Putin and those who want to avoid prodding the bear is now deep. Just how deep will be seen in January when the EU is due to renew sanctions against Moscow for its intervention in Ukraine and takeover of Crimea.

The collapse on Friday of the free trade talks between Canada and Europe because of fears in the southern Belgian region of Wallonia of cheap agricultural imports is a broader black mark against the future dependability of the EU. By giving its regions a veto over the trade deal, the EU gave up control over one of its critical central powers. It will be difficult to put that cat back in the bag.

There was a painfully farcical demonstration this week of what future relations with Russia and China may hold. The Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte — a phantasmagoric version of Donald Trump, if such a thing is imaginable – was in Beijing to pledge allegiance to the Chinese regime.

In a scene not witnessed in Beijing since vassal states came to perform the kow tow and bring tribute in return for gifts at the height of the Ching Empire in the early 1800s, Duterte announced: “In this venue, your honours, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military, not maybe in social, but economics also, America has lost.”

The message did not need driving home, but Duterte is never one to hold back when on a roll. “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, the Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Duterte’s pilgrimage to kneel before the imperial throne of what is politely called “authoritarian capitalism” – fascism in plain language – may be the most theatrically outlandish seen thus far, but it is not the first. To one degree or another several other Asian countries, such as Cambodia and Laos, and many in Africa have already sworn fealty in return for Beijing’s gold.

The Beijing regime is very good at taking small and seemingly innocuous steps, which only months or years down the road pull into focus and suddenly show major changes in strategic and security geography. Witness Beijing’s salami slicing tactics in the South China Sea in the last 20 years. These are now resolving themselves into China’s domination of one of the world’s most important trade waterways and Beijing’s authority over the littoral states such as the Philippines.

Similarly, this week Chinese troops were on a joint exercise with 10,000 local soldiers in Tajikistan on the border with Afghanistan. This follows China’s participation in war games in Kyrgyzstan in September. Beijing is making itself an indispensable security partner in Central Asia, while being careful not to excite Moscow’s suspicions.

Small countries like the “Stans” of Central Asia and those in Southeast Asia have always been vulnerable. They have a history of seeking the protection of whomever is the regional alpha male of the moment and of making whatever cultural, political, economic and even territorial compromises are necessary in return for security.

As U.S. global authority declines, the danger is that Canada and other middle power democracies that have depended on Washington having their back will feel compelled to make the same kind of compromises with the rising fascist states.

Just look at the visit to Ottawa this week of a group of Chinese billionaires, headed by Ma Weihua, who immediately got access to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in order to try to get him to override British Columbia’s 15 per cent tax on foreign real estate speculators. The tax has been brought in to try to curb the pillaging of the Lower Mainland housing market by Chinese buyers, which has played a large part in putting the home ownership beyond the means of most local people.

If Ma’s China Entrepreneur Club were indeed a simple organization of successful business people one might be able to regard its access in Ottawa with equanimity. But anyone with eyes to see knows that these plutocrats are mere agents of the regime and have become rich through one form of corruption or another. Indeed, a new book by the noted China scholar, Minxin Pei, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, sets out the crass reality of “China’s Crony Capitalism.”

Pei delineates how, after the shock of the 1989 national uprising against the Communist Party, mistakenly minimised in the narrow western vision as “The Tiananmen Square Massacre,” the Communist Party sought to create stability and spark industrial development by allowing its friends and relatives to loot state assets. Corruption in modern China is not a result of lack of attention by the authorities; it is the very root and bone of how authority is administered in China by this regime.

Ma reported that in their meeting Trudeau “himself expressed very clearly to support the business collaborations in the two countries.” As well Trudeau might. The upper echelons of the Liberal party and its allies in business and academia have been targets of Beijing’s seductive dances since the 1960s. Now, a free trade agreement with China is high on the list of the Trudeau government’s objectives. The Beijing regime is using this as leverage for an extradition agreement so it can run down, threaten and capture its political enemies in Canada without having to resort, as is does now, to sending its secret agents here masquerading as tourists.

Trade between China and Canada now totals around $85 billion. But only around $20 billion of that is goods Canada sells to China, most of them commodities and natural resources of one sort or another. In return China sends to Canada about $65 billion-worth of manufactured goods, most of them of shoddy quality. But the profit margins for importers are so massive because of China’s cheap, indentured labour that another major import is income inequity and widening economic disparity in Canada, as it is in most other countries with which China does business.

A Canada-China free trade agreement will only exacerbate the already dangerously unbalanced and distorted pattern of trade. One of the dangerous fallacies in circulation is that free trade agreements between states can function in isolation. This is rubbish. For states to have satisfactory, comprehensive trade relationships they need also to have cultural, political, judicial and social compatibility. (After a troubling meeting this week with a group of graduate international business students and their instructors, I am more than ever convinced that business schools that do not teach the political and cultural context of international trade are dooming their students and this country to failure.)

Canada has no political, judicial or social meeting point with the current regime in China, and never will have. I had another telling moment this week talking to Canadian trade negotiators. The only justification they could put forward for seeking a free trade agreement with China was to try to create a forum to arbitrate the problems Canadian business people get into when doing business there. There’s a simple answer to that problem: politicians should stop encouraging Canadian businesses to risk their livelihoods in that thieves’ market. In reality, the only reason Canadian politicians lead trade missions to China is in the hope of winning approval at election time from the immigrant population. The economic benefits of these road shows are always marginal at best and disastrous at worst.

In his 2013 book “How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change,” former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Joe Clark set out an agenda for coping with life after the end of the American Imperium. Clark said that middle power democracies like Canada must gather together and cement their relationships if their values are to survive the assault from the regimes that are becoming dominant. He identifies three qualities that should identify partner nations for Canada. Those are:

  • “Nations that are forward-looking and outward-reaching, seeking seriously to embrace a changing world.
  • “Nations that are innovators or problem-solvers, at home and how they see the world.
  • “Nations whose wealth, or location, or cultural composition, or history equips them to understand and address these new sources of conflict.”

It’s a good litmus test and Clark goes on to list countries he thinks fit the template. The Nordic countries are obvious ones, and so are Canada’s blood relatives Australia and New Zealand. In the post-Brexit era Britain should also be added.

In Asia, Clark identifies Indonesia, which is rapidly emerging as one of the few Southeast Asian countries that has got right the transition from autocracy to democracy. He points also to South Korea, another of the few countries in the world that has successfully navigated the rough passage from military rule to a representative and accountable government.

Clark neglected Japan and he doesn’t mention Taiwan, which he should have done. Taiwan, like South Korea, is an outstanding example of successfully making the fraught transition to democracy from the military one-party state. Canada should be taking every opportunity to enhance trade and political relations with Taiwan. This would have too the highly desirable bonus of confronting the bullying and blackmail of Beijing, which claims to own the island nation and its 23 million people without significant historical or legal justification.

In Latin America, Clark identifies Mexico, with which Canada already has the strong link of the North American Free Trade Agreement. (In the unlikely event that Trump wins next month and junks NAFTA, as he promises, Canada and Mexico now have a strong enough relationship to go it alone.) The Canada-Mexico link is beginning to be a carriage for partnership in endeavours, such as peacekeeping, in other parts of Latin America.

In Africa, Clark identifies Ghana as a logical partner. Again, he is right. Ghana has had its ups and downs, but it has been more successful than most on the continent in overcoming the challenges of the post-colonial world and the potentially calamitous bonus of a massive oil and gas industry. Other African countries worth sticking with are Kenya and South Africa, which are also going to be hubs for regional development if they can keep on a positive track.

In the Middle East, Clark identifies two countries whose suitability in my view have been overtaken by events since he finished his manuscript. One is Qatar, which despite being a centre for education and innovation, has blotted its copy book mightily by giving financial aid and arms to terrorist Islamic groups. Clark’s other dubious Middle Eastern pick is Turkey, which since he wrote has tumbled towards becoming its own fascist mini-state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For the foreseeable future, the Middle East is a wasteland for Canada seeking like-minded partners. The exception is Israel, but Israel is soon going to have to decide whether it is a democracy or a religious state. Its future depends on the choice.

As events since Clark wrote show, no such list is ever complete or cast in stone. What ought to be consistent is a strong sense in Canada of our values, and our dedication to protecting and enhancing them with like-minded partners in what promises to be an increasingly challenging world.

Canada has good foundation relationships on which to build with all likely partner countries. What is needed is a clearer focus and recognition that playing footsie with fascist states like China is a fool’s game.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Link:

Francis Fukuyama, Foreign Affairs: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2014-08-18/america-decay

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Reporting

Turkish coup crumbles, crowds answer call to streets, by Nick Tattersall and Ece Toksabay

An attempted Turkish military coup appeared to crumble on Saturday after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to support him and dozens of rebel soldiers abandoned their tanks in the main city of Istanbul.

How the mafia is causing cancer, by Ian Birrell  Magazine

When doctors in rural Italy began to see a surge in cancer cases, they were baffled. Then they made the link with industrial waste being dumped by local crime syndicates.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman  Report

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

UK won’t trigger EU divorce until country-wide agreement, by Russell Cheyne  Report

Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would not trigger formal divorce talks with the European Union until a “UK approach” had been agreed, bidding to appease Scots who strongly oppose Brexit.

Oxford dictionary update shows beauty of English, by Annabelle Lukin  Report

By adding the “World Englishes” to the entries on British and American English, the OED has opened a pandora’s box.  Changes to the OED remind us that a language is open and dynamic.

If carbon pricing is so great, why isn’t it working? by Peter Fairley   Analysis

Carbon pricing has yet to deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low — “virtually valueless.”  That has led even some economists to question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.

Commentary:

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that China’s claim over the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful. China must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner, in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council.

Why the NRA makes America so very dangerous, by Tom Regan   Column

Recent events in the U.S. – the shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent shootings of five police officers in Dallas – show how the National Rifle Association’s toxic message of guns, guns, guns, and fear, fear, fear, affect the way people deal with daily problems, and the way police respond to all kinds of situations.

Recommended elsewhere:

The Great Republican Crackup is an excellent analysis of American discontent, by ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis.  Excerpt:

The disruption that the nomination of Trump represents for the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan has been cast as a freakish anomaly, the equivalent of the earthquakes that hit the other side of Ohio in recent years. But just as those earthquakes had a likely explanation — gas and oil fracking in the Utica Shale — so can the crackup of the Republican Party and rise of Trump be traced back to what the geologists call the local site conditions. … read the story on ProPublica

We’ve seen another week of blood shed by innocents, of countries roiled by war, of loud simpletons jumping to instant conclusions — including some politicians in positions of extreme power. Facts matter; here’s where to find some of them this week:

  • Follow France24 for news of the Nice truck massacre by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, whose first victim, reported the BBC, was a devout Muslim woman and whose own father described him as mentally ill and not religious.
  • Follow Al Jazeera and Reuters for news of the coup in Turkey.

Findings:

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1346294

FBI sketch of the man dubbed DB Cooper, via Wikipedia.

The man known as America’s air pirate, DB Cooper, is a man of myth, hunted for 45 years by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation after he hijacked a Boeing 727, was paid a ransom, then vanished via parachute somewhere over the Pacific Northwest. In an announcement on Tuesday the FBI officially conceded defeat in perhaps its most storied case. “The FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the statement said. ” Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof.” The hijacker  inspired stories in books, TV series and at least one movie. Shops in Washington and Oregon sell Cooper tourist souvenirs; the town of Ariel, in Washington, holds a “Cooper Day” each fall, notes Wikipedia. Was Cooper his real name? Did he survive the drop? Is he living somewhere in ripe old age? He remains a man of mystery.

American presidential hopeful Donald Trump selected Mike Pence as his VP hopeful. ProPublica compiled some of the best reporting for a profile of the Indiana governor.  Still in America: the climate denial apparatus that has long obstructed American politics needs investigating for fraud, argues U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the Columbia Journalism Review. In a piece about the hyperbolic reaction to his call for such an investigation, he points out, “fraud is not protected speech under the (U.S. constitutional) First Amendment.”

“Face it, Facebook. You’re in the news business,” writes media guru Margaret Sullivan.  Two-thirds of Facebook’s 1.6 billion users get their news there. At  stake, argues Sullivan — former public editor of the New York Times, now the Washington Post media columnist — are no less than civil liberties and free speech.

The close British vote to leave the European Union is already reshaping global security.  Germany Sees Brexit Opening for EU Defense Union With France, write Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs, of Bloomberg. They report on the German defence minister’s plans for an overhaul, and her suggestion that the U.K. ‘paralyzed’ a joint EU security and defense stance.

Still on Brexit, we all know Churchill’s quip about democracy being the least bad form of government (it’s the tag line on F&O’s Publica section). In the wake of the Brexit debacle, scholar Geoffrey Pullum looked up the person Churchill quoted and, in  In Lingua Franca, the blog of the journal Chronicle of Higher Learning, presented his finding of Robert Briffault (1874–1948), a British surgeon, social anthropologist, and novelist.  Briffault’s exact words — considering the dire decline of political discourse internationally — are worth repeating here:

Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. … It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap, and demagogy. … Yet democracy is the only form of social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice.  

Of note, the Chronicle also publishes Arts and Letters Daily. Take a look if (and I would be surprised) it’s not already on your must-read menu.

Last but not least: for a pick-me-up read this, from the Oatmeal comic site. Trust me, just do.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , , , , |

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
July 16, 2016

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The ruling this week by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that China’s claim to sovereignty over about 90 per cent of the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful, will have profound effects on the tenor and timbre of the growing power struggle in Asia.

The 497-page decision by the five judges under the authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a sharp and humiliating rebuke to Beijing, which for two decades has been strutting and preening as the self-appointed natural super power of the region.

The judgement says there is no legal backing for Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea, across whose waters about half the world’s merchant shipping travels every day. China’s construction of seven islands on reefs and islets it claims, is entirely illegal. And Beijing is responsible for unacceptable environmental damage to coral reefs and other submarine features, as well as devastating effects on marine wildlife by its rapacious fishing fleets.

Beijing’s response this week was to dismiss the court and its judgement as “null and void,” while government-owned media issued thinly disguised threats of a military response if any serious challenges are made to its territorial claims. These threats were aimed at Washington, which has not only affirmed the traditional maritime rights of freedom of passage by sending warships and naval flotillas through waters claimed by China, but is also giving military support to China’s neighbours.

Beijing may dismiss the judgement, but it cannot avoid the authority of the decision. The government of President Xi Jinping must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council. In all likelihood Beijing will, for a while at least, lower the tone of its rhetoric on its territorial claims and probably pull back from its head-butting with its neighbours, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular. What Beijing won’t do, however, is abandon the seven illegal military outposts. Beijing thinks a generation down the road and believes that, in the end, the reality of occupation trounces the law. That strategy has worked well on its colonial occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang, the denial of promised democratic rights to Hong Kong, and would be used with equal utility if Beijing could ever get its hands on the island nation of Taiwan.

The U.S., distracted by a bizarre presidential election campaign that is shrouded in foreboding for the future of the country’s global stature, will not move to assert the court’s ruling. Neither will the Southeast Asian countries whose maritime territory China contests. Beijing has managed to make the South China Sea territorial disputes a hugely divisive issue among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Chinese government has used its overpowering economic relationships with non-affected ASEAN states such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar to ensure there is no consensus on how to address Beijing on the issue or even to agree to discuss it.

Nevertheless, China’s imperial pretensions, and its heavy investment in the last two decades in building a modern and threatening high seas navy, have received a significant check. It is also an important piece of symbolism that on this occasion Beijing’s military advances have been confronted by the international rule of law, rather than a military push-back of some kind from the U.S. or Japan.

The weakest link in the apparent power of the Chinese regime at home and abroad is that it does not believe in the rule of law. Specifically, it does not believe that the Communist Party regime is subject to the same rules as ordinary Chinese. At home, there is plenty of evidence that the regime is doomed unless it accepts the rule of law and all the political and social consequences that flow from that. On the international front, this decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration presents Beijing with perhaps its clearest choice in recent years between being a dependable player on the world stage, or deciding that the road to super power status travels through confrontation and bullying.

It is that low road that brought Beijing to this humiliating court judgement.

Beijing has sought confrontations with Tokyo, its ancient adversary, over claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, but has been wary of pushing too hard against the economic and military muscle of its island neighbour. Even so, Japan is alarmed at China’s aggression. The significant victory in this week’s elections by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to open the way for constitutional changes that will allow Japan to play a more overt military role in the region in concert with allies such as the U.S., Australia and countries of Southeast Asia.

The Chinese government has been far more aggressive and assertive against what it sees as the easily cowed nations to the south. It the last few years Beijing’s navy, coast guard and fishing fleets operating as maritime militias have invaded the economic zones in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Indonesia, over 1,200 kilometres from the Chinese mainland.

Beijing’s imperial posturing reached something of a zenith in recent months as it constructed seven islands on rocks and reefs in the Paracel and Spratly chains of islets. Some have now been equipped with airfields and all are garrisoned with soldiers or paramilitaries. Most, if not all, have missile defence systems and radar facilities that Beijing could use to impose an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the 3.5 million square kilometre South China Sea if it chooses to do so.

With some poetic justice, it is the push-back by the weakest of those littoral states, the Philippines, which has given Beijing a drubbing and changed the future course of regional power politics.

In 2013, after Chinese ships roughly expelled Philippines’ fishing boats from havens in Scarborough Shoals, an area of the South China Sea clearly within Manila’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ), the administration of then president, Begnino “Noynoy” Aquino decided to take Beijing to court. Manila asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, founded in 1899 and the world’s oldest institution for settling international disputes, to rule on Beijing’s claims and behaviour in the South China Sea.

From the start, Beijing refused to have anything to do with the judicial proceedings, which it dismissed as a “farce,” despite having ratified UNCLOS in 1996. The court therefore took into consideration public statements Beijing has made about its claim that the South China Sea and its islets and reefs have been Chinese territory “since ancient times.” Of particular import in the Beijing case is the map of the South China Sea marked with a “nine-dash” line that appears to show nearly 90 per cent of the sea as Chinese territory. This map was produced in 1947 by the Kuomintang government of China that was defeated in the civil war by the Communists in 1949.

Modern Beijing has always been purposefully ambiguous about what it claims the “nine-dash” line represents. The strength with which Beijing affirms its claims depends entirely on how firmly they are challenged. Sometimes Beijing suggests it has full sovereignty over the area within the line. At other times the suggestion is that, although Beijing claims the Spratly and Paracel islets, it has only economic interests in the fisheries and submarine oil and gas reserves in the bulk of the region.

A central strand in the court decision is to clarify several of the questions stemming from the creation of UNCLOS in 1982 about the degrees of sovereignty that accompany ownership, occupation and use of islands, islets, rocks and reefs. As such, this is a precedent-setting judgement that has profound implications world-wide for nations that base territorial and economic claims on possession of maritime outcrops. That includes Canada’s claims in the Arctic, some of which are challenged by Russia, Denmark and the U.S.

The court’s 15 main findings fall into three areas. The first deals with the status of “historic rights” under the UNCLOS regime, the second with the degree of sovereignty imparted by possession of rocks and reefs versus islands, and the third with China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.

The panel’s first assertion is that by ratifying and therefore accepting the dominance of UNCLOS in 1996, Beijing voluntarily erased all its “historic rights” in maritime regions. Beijing cannot, said the judgement, accept UNCLOS and assert its old territorial claims at the same time.

Throughout its escapades in the South China Sea, Beijing has acted as though the islets, rocks and reefs it claims in the Paracel and Spratly chains give it full sovereign rights. These would include the surrounding 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of territorial waters, and, more significantly, the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) exclusive economic zone. It is this surrounding 370 kilometre EEZ, covering rich fishing grounds and what look like significant submarine oil and gas reserves, that has been asserted by Beijing to justify its claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea right down to Indonesian territorial waters.

The court says, in effect, that China’s claim is bunk. All of the islets in the Spratly chain are what the panel defines as rocks. The judges’ criteria are that unless a maritime feature in its unaltered state can sustain human habitation or economic life, it is a rock that does not give EEZ rights, only the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters. China’s massive illegal construction project in recent months to build seven islands does not change that, say the judges. Even if the Spratly islets do belong to China, said the judgement, they are within the Philippines’ EEZ, whose claim predominates outside the 12 nautical mile of territorial waters.

That passage will make uncomfortable reading for Japan, which claims a 200 nautical mile EEZ around Okinotorishima, a man-made research station on a coral atoll 1,740 kilometres south of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea. The judgement makes it clear there is no foundation for Japan’s EEZ claim.

In the third area of the judgement the panel is highly critical of the behaviour of Chinese forces and agencies. It was illegal in 2011 for China to interfere with Philippines oil and gas surveys in the Reed Bank northeast of the Spratly Islands, say the judges. The judgement only deals directly with complaints by the Philippines, so it does not address the incident in 2014 when the Chinese moved an oil exploration rig into waters south of the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam. The judgement suggests that action by Beijing, and others where Chinese ships have purposefully damaged oil exploration gear being used on behalf of Vietnam, were also illegal.

Equally illegal, says the court, have been the operations of Chinese fishing fleets within the 200 nautical mile EEZ of the Philippines coast. Even more unbecoming has been Chinese treatment of Philippine fisherfolk, when the perils of the sea demand mutual support among seafarers irrespective of nationality. Chinese Coast Guards’ denial of access to the sanctuary of a lagoon in Scarborough Shoal in the Spratlys was unacceptable, says the judgement.

As well as declaring Beijing’s island-building illegal, the panel also looked at the effects of this construction and of its industrial-scale fishing operations. The judges concluded Beijing’s dredging operations to build its island military bases caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment.” More “severe damage” to threatened species and the environment has been caused by China-flagged fishing vessels harvesting giant clams, turtles and coral.

Ironically, the conclusive victory for the Philippines’ case causes problems for the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who was inaugurated last month. One of his election promises was to improve relations with China, which had soured under the administration of his predecessor, President Aquino. Duterte is hungry for Chinese investment in infrastructure, especially for a railway network he lusts to build. He says he’s open to reviving bilateral talks with Beijing over joint exploitation of the resources in the contested area of the South China Sea. But thus far, Beijing insists Manila disavow the arbitration court’s decision before there can be bilateral negotiations. Duterte cannot go that far without risking a backlash from outraged Filipinos.

And Beijing too risks a backlash. In recent years the party’s propaganda machine has invested heavily in stirring up nationalist fervour in support of its territorial claims, in large part to divert attention from the economic slump and the endemic outlandish corruption of senior officials and their relatives. The proud image of a militarily rampant China has found much support – though there are also very many thoughtful Chinese who find it distasteful and dangerous. If Beijing now finds it necessary to slink away from its boastful bluster, there is no telling how the public will react.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Link:

Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, decision.

Related on F&O:

China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism

At long last, the Beijing regime has this week been dealt two significant set-backs to what is the world’s most extraordinary contemporary campaign of imperial expansionism. A tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea decided that Beijing’s claim to own almost all the South China Sea is not an indisputable fact, as the Chinese government contends.

China’s war for Asian domination going well

TOKYO, Japan — China’s war to supplant the United States as the regional super power in the Far East and western Pacific is under full steam and gobbling up its objectives. Over the last 15 years, China has not only built a large and potentially effective navy, it has by stealth and cunning either caused divisions between the United States and its Asian allies, or cast doubt among target states whether Washington can be trusted to support them, or both.

 

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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