Tag Archives: South China Sea

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.

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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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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.

~~~

In case you missed these on our Contents page, F&O’s new works include:

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Posted in Current Affairs Also tagged , , , |

China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise” —  Adm. Harry Harris

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

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 Domain

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 26, 2016

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia/Wikimedia commons

It has been a long and expensive quest, but Beijing has now found a way out of Washington’s straightjacket aimed at blocking China from becoming an imperial power.

For the last 30 years or more, the barrier to China being able to project naval power into the Pacific and Indian oceans has been the control by the United States and its allies of the chain of islands and archipelagos stretching from northern Japan to the Philippines. This “first island chain” has effectively hemmed in Beijing’s navy by keeping eagle eyes on its every move.

Now Beijing has found a way around that barrier by first claiming sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, and now constructing islands with military installations and airstrips in maritime territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

When Beijing first began making claims to own 90 per cent of the South China Sea, claims that clearly had no legal or historical merit, the immediate calculation was that China lusted after the submarine oil and natural gas reserves, and the abundant fish stocks. The claim has generated strong push-back from Washington, which insists on the right of free passage across the sea, which carries some 25 per cent of global maritime trade worth over $5 trillion each year.

But the massive program in the last two years of dredging, island building, and military construction on previously untenable shoals and islets right down to Indonesia – about 1,200 kilometres from Chinese territory – has put a whole different complexion on this enterprise. Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week told America’s House Armed Services Committee that China has created more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of artificial land in the last two years. At least half a dozen of the man-made islands have military bases, most with airstrips, and at least one is home to a squadron of fighter aircraft.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise,” said Adm. Harris. The admiral added that in order to match China’s increasingly capable naval and air power the U.S. needs “weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further and are more survivable.” He said he is only able to deploy 62 per cent of the attack submarine patrols he needs to be sure of keeping the Chinese forces under control.

A key piece of the puzzle of deciphering Beijing’s intentions came this week with the discovery that China had built a high-frequency radar station on Cuarteron Reef, in the Spratly Islands and midway between southern Vietnam and Malaysia’s Borneo states. Cuarteron Reef is about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

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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 supposition is that China is preparing to enforce an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the whole of the South China Sea. It has already done this in the East China Sea as a tactical move in its spurious claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands.

What is emerging is that Beijing is constructing a network of military bastions in the South China Sea to protect its base for its fleet of nuclear missile armed submarines at the southern tip of Hainan Island. The base at Yulin is in massive caves constructed in the sea cliffs and is capable, according to U.S. and Indian intelligence estimates, of housing 20 Type 094, or Jin Class submarines, each carrying 12 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nuclear missile submarines, known as SSBNs, are able to leave and return to the base submerged, making it hard to spot them from U.S. patrol aircraft or spy satellites.

By taking military control of the South China Sea and attempting to cow the other littoral states, Beijing is trying to ensure it can deploy its SSBNs into the Pacific and Indian oceans without them being detected by the U.S. and its allies.

The South China Sea offers several deepwater passages into the Western Pacific, the major one being the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. But there are others between the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia. To get to the Indian Ocean remains more of a problem. The most direct route is through the Malacca Strait, which is well guarded by Washington’s ally, Singapore. To cut the number of times its warships have to transit the Malacca Strait choke point, Beijing has sought port visit privileges, including for its submarines, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

China’s naval ambitions are alarming several of its neighbours and driving them into the arms of the U.S. Much to Washington’s delight, China’s rampant military expansion has given Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the reason he wanted to water down the country’s “pacifist constitution,” imposed after the Second World War. The re-interpretations and amendments to the constitution allow Japanese forces to play a far more assertive role in partnership with allies.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and even old enemy Vietnam are boosting their military relations with Washington as a bulwark against what looks to them like Beijing’s dream of imperial expansion. However, Beijing has been clever at exerting divide-and-rule pressure among the 10 countries of South East Asia. China has used its economic and political muscle on Laos and Cambodia in particular to ensure that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been unable to develop a common front against Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the ASEAN leaders at a landmark summit in California on February 15 and 16. The hope was to develop a united front on the South China Sea issue, and to solidifying economic ties as the group forms a common market modelled on the European Union, and as the Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade agreement approaches completion. Progress on the economic issues was solid, but less so on political matters.

The mere fact that the summit happened underlines the reality that Asia and the growing confrontation with China will loom ever larger on the radar screen of whomever takes over the White House from Obama. It is to be hoped that when the U.S. votes later this year its citizens have in mind the real challenges for the 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’s attack submarines are already engaged with the Chinese navy in “The Hunt for Red October” cat-and-mouse games they used to play with the Soviets under the North Atlantic. Those tensions will only increase as Beijing tightens controls over the sea-lanes to Hainan Island and deploys more and more nuclear missile SSBNs.

The situation is all the more dangerous because Beijing’s belligerence is a sign of the weakness of the regime. Weak regimes make mistakes.

Since it gave up the spiritual draw of communism three decades ago, the Chinese regime has relied almost totally on economic growth for its political legitimacy. That period has come to an end because the ruling Communist Party refuses to make the fundamental political and administrative reforms necessary for the economy to move forward. Those reforms require the party to give up its exclusive hold on power by accepting such things as the rule of law, and effective oversight of the administration. Instead, the party appears ready to go down with the ship rather than plug the leaks and repair the engine while there is still time.

To keep itself afloat, the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping is using two lifeboats. One is a massive expansion of authoritarianism. Chinese people have not been subject to the same kind of repression and restrictions since the days of Mao Zedong. And Xi is nothing if not an equal opportunity dictator. Foreign non-governmental organizations and even foreign companies investing in China are finding their China operations under increasing restrictions and bans.

Xi’s other lifeline is that age-old last refuge of a scoundrel: nationalism. Since he came to power as Communist Party boss and President over the winter of 2012, Xi has pursued an assertive and sometimes aggressive foreign policy aimed at convincing China’s 1.3 billion citizens that they belong to a powerful nation whose footsteps make the ground shake and other nations tremble. His first efforts were to goad Japan, China’s historic enemy. This was an obvious target because Chinese schoolchildren are indoctrinated at an early age with hatred of the Japanese, even though it was Japanese investment and technology that has made China’s “economic miracle” possible.

But supplanting the U.S. as the arbiter of peace and security in Asia has become Xi’s dream for China.

What we are seeing now has developed from another of Beijing’s imperial territorial ambitions; to take possession of the island nation of Taiwan and its 23 million people. But the U.S. has domestic legislation requiring it to aid the defence of Taiwan if the island is attacked. Thus for about 25 years China’s military planners have worked on the premise that in order to successfully invade Taiwan, they must first be able to deter or defeat any rescue bid by U.S. forces.

China’s building of a large fleet of attack submarines — now thought to number over 60 – is a major element in trying to make the seas unsafe for U.S. warships. Even more effective and a lot cheaper has been China’s development of a whole range of anti-ship missiles, which make elements like U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups very vulnerable.

The Chinese military planners could not go very far down this road, of course, before having to take into account that both China and the U.S. are nuclear powers. China insists it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, though only useful fools, fellow travellers and agents of influence would believe that pledge to be of any real value. But China’s problem is that if it were to be attacked by nuclear weapons, it has not had a serious second-strike capability. This phrase will be familiar to those who lived through the Cold War, but what it means is the ability to deter a nuclear attack because the enemy will know for sure you will have enough nuclear weapons that survive to be able to strike back.

China has worked hard to remove this weakness by making its nuclear weapons highly mobile and building safe sanctuaries for them in mountainsides. The most effective second-strike nuclear weapons, however, are on ballistic missiles in SSBN submarines. The dream of Chinese military planners has been to ensure the U.S. will never attack them with nuclear weapons because the Pentagon will know that lurking somewhere in the waters off California or New England are Chinese SSBNs.

When China first started developing SSBNs they were part of the Northern Fleet and based at Xiaopingdao in the Bohai Gulf. The problem with this location was that in order to go on patrol the submarines had to go through the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, where they could be detected by the U.S. and ally South Korea. The other route was to go through the East China Sea, which is also shallow, and to risk detection by the Americans and Japanese allies on the Ryukyu Islands.

Hence the move to Yulin on Hainan and the push to turn the islets and reefs of the South China Sea into a network of bastions to protect the base.

Washington and its allies will now have to try to check Beijing’s South China Sea move, unless, of course, the U.S. administration is prepared to see itself overshadowed in Asia and its allies put at risk of Beijing’s tantrums.

Adm. Harris said this week he wants more submarines and better weapons to be able to keep the Chinese in check. Another development already underway is much closer military relations between Washington and Manila. This is essential if effective surveillance of the Luzon Strait is to be maintained. That will also require closer co-ordination with the Taiwanese military. It will probably work in Washington’s favour that Tsai Ing-wen has been elected President of Taiwan at the head of a majority Democratic Progressive Party government. The previous government of President Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang whose ideology was dominated by Chinese who fled to the island in 1949 when the communists captured China, was far too interested in creeping into favour with Beijing to be trustworthy. Tsai and her party are dedicated to maintaining Taiwan’s independence, and can be expected to see a stronger partnership with the U.S. as a guarantee of that hope.

Other U.S. allies in Asia are beefing up their navies in order to be effective partners. Australia, for example, this week published a defence white paper envisaging a large increase in its air, land and sea forces, including 12 submarines and nine anti-submarine frigates. This move is bold because China has become Australia’s largest trade partner, especially as a buyer before the latest recession of Australian natural resources.

A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing regretted the Australian plans, which she said reflected “a Cold War mentality.”  She may be right, because that seems to be the appropriate frame of mind.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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

References and further information:

Watch:  U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flies over new islands in South China Sea — U.S. Navy video

Watch: Asia Maritime Transparence Initiative, Center for Strategic & International Studies video

 

 

From F&O Archives:

China’s war for Asian domination going well, JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 2, 2015

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 10, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea, JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs, May 23, 2014

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe 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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Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism

Amphibious assault vehicles and USS Denver  participate in an exercise in the South China Sea, 2011.  U.S. government photo via Wikimedia

Amphibious assault vehicles and USS Denver participate in an exercise in the South China Sea, 2011. U.S. government photo via Wikimedia

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
October, 2015

Schina_sea_88At 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.

On October 29, a tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) decided that Beijing’s claim to own almost all the South China Sea is not an indisputable fact, as the Chinese government contends. The littoral countries that object to Beijing’s imperial grab — the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia — have the right to have their objections heard and judged before a court of arbitration.

The ruling is significant because Beijing has always avoided any binding judicial scrutiny of its South China Sea claim. Beijing’s usual response is to jump up and down, make a lot of threatening noises and insist its claim is beyond dispute.

Typical was President Xi Jinping’s response a few weeks ago when he was challenged about the claims while on a visit to the United States. “The islands and reefs of the South China Sea are Chinese territory since ancient times,” he said. “They are left to us by our ancestors.”

Well, there’s no substantial evidence to support that claim. And now it may well be that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will adjudicate on the dispute.

It would be pleasant to believe that Beijing’s imperialist march might be halted and reversed by an adverse court ruling. But that is probably a vain hope. The Chinese Communist Party has a lot of problems with the concept of the rule of law, and whatever The Hague says is unlikely to deter it from its territorial ambitions.

Xo Jinping, official photo

Xo Jinping, official photo

Thursday’s legal rebuff to Beijing’s schemes came hot on the heels of Tuesday’s more direct challenge to the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to establish sovereignty in the South China Sea. For two years, fleets of Chinese dredgers have been at work in the sea manufacturing seven new islands hundreds of kilometers away from China. The finished islands have been equipped with harbours, air strips and military bases.

Beijing says these islands are just a physical expression of its rule over four-fifths of the South China Sea and all foreign shipping should respect China’s sovereignty.

On Tuesday, after years of wavering in the face of Beijing’s evident forward policy, the risk-averse United States administration of President Barack Obama sent a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, to challenge China’s claims to authority over shipping on the South China Sea.

After giving plenty of warning that this was to be a “freedom of navigation operation,” affirming the right of passage to all navies and merchant marine through what are some of the world’s busiest seaways, the USS Lassen purposefully sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands group.

Beijing’s response was in the best traditions of Communist Party hyper-ventilated outrage. The U.S. action had, said Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, threatened China’s sovereignty and the USS Lassen had “illegally” entered China’s territorial waters.

As is often the case these days, senior officers in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took a more jingoistic stance. Writing in the government controlled nationalist newspaper Global Times, Rear-Admiral Yang Yi said the PLA would deliver a “head-on blow” to any foreign forces “violating” China’s sovereignty. “Safeguarding maritime rights,” wrote Yang, “calls for force and power.”

Two years ago Subi Reef was just that; an underwater feature that was usually not even exposed at high tide. But after months of dredging and construction work Subi Reef is now a substantial island with a harbour and a three kilometer-long runway that can be used by most Chinese military aircraft.

Beijing contends that Subi Reef, like all the other reaches of the South China Sea it claims right down to Indonesia 1,200 kilometers from mainland China, is now its sovereign territory. As such, says Beijing, this and the other six manufactured military island outposts warrant recognition under the Law of the Sea as having 12 nautical miles of territorial waters around their peripheries and 200 nautical miles “exclusive economic zones” (EEZ) beyond that.

Beijing’s claim that its construction projects are sovereign territory is absolute bunk, as any reading of the UNCLOS agreements quickly reveals. UNCLOS says that habitable islands attract recognition of 12 nautical miles of surrounding territorial waters and 200 nautical miles of EEZ. Uninhabitable rocks and islets get 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, but not the EEZ. What are called “low tide elevations,” which defines Subi Reef and China’s six other island manufacturing projects, get no sovereignty recognition at all.

Indeed, Beijing’s whole claim to ownership of most of the South China Sea is a feeble modern fabrication without any historic or legal merit. For the most part it has been fashioned since the Second World War and the discovery of seabed oil and gas deposits in the 1970s.

Beijing has produced an elaborate paper trail to support what it says is unshakeable proof of its ownership of most of the 3,500,000 square kilometer South China Sea, which carries a third of global maritime trade. The paperwork has been craftily woven and is now a substantial blanket of documentation. But several careful deconstructions, for example this by former BBC correspondent Bill Hayton have found that what is put forward as evidence of Chinese ownership all reaches back to the writings of two or three nationalist propagandists. There is no unimpeachable firsthand evidence of historic Chinese claim to sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea.

There has been a sharp increase in Beijing’s often militarily aggressive pushing of its territorial claims since Xi Jinping became Communist Party boss and China’s President in late 2012. His intense appeals to Chinese nationalism and patriotism appear to be an attempt to divert public attention from the declining economy, deadly environmental pollution, the emergence of a socially dominant wealthy elite of friends and relatives of the Communist Party aristocracy, and a steady drum beat of social unrest. (See related columns, below.)

Yet the record of Xi’s four years in power suggests that when confronted he swiftly retreats.

In his first years in office, Xi stoked Chinese nationalism by confronting the old enemy, Japan, over Japanese ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. These five islands, which the Chinese call the Daioyu, have been claimed by Beijing since they were found to be associated with seabed deposits of natural gas. The Senkakus also have strategic importance, blocking the PLA Navy’s access to the Pacific Ocean.

But incursions first by Chinese fishing boats, then by Coast Guard cutters and finally by PLA warplanes over-flying the islands did not force Tokyo to make any concessions. Quite the reverse. Beijing’s antics gave Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the justification he was looking for to remove restrictions on the use of the armed forces that had been in place since the Second World War.

The Chinese incursions also pushed Tokyo and Washington to re-affirm their military alliance. And they raised alarm in the capitals of South East Asia, leading them to wonder if they were next in line for Beijing’s aggressive attentions.

They were right. Xi shifted his focus to the South China Sea where Chinese vessels began confronting the Philippines and asserting ownership of reefs and islands clearly within Philippines’ waters.

At the same time, Beijing began pushing hard against Vietnam, harassing Hanoi’s maritime survey vessels and even ostentatiously sending a massive drilling rig to hunt for oil and gas in disputed waters.

A PLA naval flotilla was even sent to the southern limits of China’s South China Sea claim, right by Indonesia’s territorial waters, where the crews held an elaborate sovereignty ceremony.

Meanwhile, Beijing set up a faux “administration” for the South China Sea on Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain and began manufacturing the seven islands to hold military bases.

All of these moves have been individually too small to trigger emphatic responses from either the United States or China’s neighbours, singly or in coalition.

But the emerging picture is already very clear. Beijing has established de facto occupation and a substantial military presence over territory to which it has no legitimate legal claim. More than that, it is territory of great strategic military and economic significance to the U.S. and its Asian allies.

The push-back by the court in The Hague and the U.S. Navy will give Xi and his admirals pause for thought. They will have immediately noted, however, that Obama’s sending of one destroyer, the USS Lassen, to demonstrate Washington’s resolve is a far less robust response than what Bill Clinton did in 1996.

That year, Beijing tried to disrupt the first fully democratic presidential elections among the 23 million people of the independent island nation of Taiwan, which Beijing also claims to own without any substantial historic or legal justification, by firing unarmed missiles into the sea-lanes approaching the island’s ports. Clinton responded by dispatching a full aircraft carrier battle group, which sailed through the 160-kilometer-wide Taiwan Strait separating the island from China. When the island next held presidential elections four years later, Beijing confined its outrage to verbal bluster.

Beijing is now most likely to return to its salami slicing policy by building up the military resources on the islands its has constructed. It may also try to test Washington’s credibility as a strategic partner by confronting some of the smaller claimants to the waters of the South China Sea to see how strongly the U.S. supports its allies.

On the other side of the equation, the U.S. already has strong alliances with regional nations Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Australia. Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia have already shown they want stronger military alliances with Washington to counter the threat from China.

What would send a strong message to Beijing would be a joint “freedom-of-navigation” patrol by ships of the U.S., Vietnam and Philippines navies.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Links:

BBC correspondent Bill Hayton, Asia Sentinel:  http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/fact-fiction-south-china-sea/

Related on F&O:

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims, Jonathan Manthorpe

Not content with stealing other people’s territory, the Beijing government is now manufacturing islands to boost its insubstantial claim to ownership of the South China Sea.

China’s war for Asian domination going well, Jonathan Manthorpe

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.

Labour unrest surges as China’s economy slows, Jonathan Manthorpe

As China’s economy slows to a crawl, the Communist Party is facing one of its worst nightmares: a militant labour movement.

From our archives:

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea. Jonathan Manthorpe, May 23, 2014
Beijing, not Moscow, is the home of imperialism. March 5, 2014
China set to gain from airspace dispute. November 29, 2013
Chinese airspace claims reminiscent of pre-WW I. November 27, 2013
Political reform in China unavoidable. October 3, 2013
Japan to counter Chinese “provocations.” September 18, 2013

Contact: 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. Manthorpe 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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Island-building Inflames China-Philippines Dispute

Mabini Reef 2014

Earlier this year the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs released a series of photographs, which it said shows stages of China’s “reclamation” of land on Mabini Reef, also called Johnson South Reef, in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Photo provided by Philippines government.

Pursuit of Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea is a major element in the drive by China’s Communist Party boss Xi Jinping to convince the population that the country is re-emerging as the world’s pre-eminent power, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe.. “The prospects are not good.”

An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims:

Not content with stealing other people’s territory, the Beijing government is now manufacturing islands to boost its insubstantial claim to ownership of the South China Sea.

The Philippines government has released aerial photographs of Chinese dredgers and construction teams pulling up millions of tonnes of sand and rock from the ocean floor to create islands on Johnson South Reef, which is claimed by the Manila government.

The new island is one of several being created by Beijing, and is within Manila’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone,” but about 800 kilometres from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

China’s island manufacturing industry, using reefs and islets as bases on which to create territory, is the latest in a vigorous policy of territorial expansion being pursued by the new Beijing administration of President and Communist Party boss Xi Jinping. Since Xi came to power in late 2012, Beijing has been pushing an evermore aggressive and assertive policy over territorial disputes with its neighbours. In the East China Sea this has seen almost daily confrontations with the Japanese Coast Guards and Air Force around and over the Japanese-owned Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands. …. read China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. (Log in first; subscription or day pass* required)

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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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On China’s dangerous assertiveness — Manthorpe

Backed by its arsenal of modern ships, submarines, warplanes and missiles, Beijing has become increasingly assertive over its territorial disputes with its neighbours,  writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. The most recent — and most dangerous — case is in the South China Sea, an area of many territorial disputes including between China and Vietnam. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s column:

Schina_sea_88The Chinese government seems determined to provoke a military clash with its neighbours over disputed ownership of islands and conflicting maritime boundaries.

This week’s clashes between Vietnamese naval and coast guard vessels, and Chinese ships defending a deep-sea oil rig Beijing’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has parked in disputed waters in the South China Sea is the most dangerous confrontation in the area in many years.

China is reported to have deployed about 80 ships to the area, supported by aircraft, and Hanoi has sent 29 vessels to disrupt the rig’s placement and operations. The clashes have left sailors on both sides injured and several of the ships damaged in collisions, but no lethal weapons have been used so far.

In these situations it is easy for mistakes or misjudgements to be made, and for violence to swiftly spiral out of control.

It is particularly dangerous because Beijing clearly intended the positioning of the rig to be provocative …  more.*

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Analysis: China’s belligerence, Southeast Asia’s arms race, and 1914

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the echoes of the first World War in the arms race underway in Southeast Asia.  Excerpt:

Manthorpe B&WAs China has become wealthy it has also become an expansionist power. Beijing portrays its territorial ambitions as merely the re-assertion of its sovereignty over lands that were stolen from it during the “century of humiliation” after its disastrous collision with the industrial powers starting in the 1840s.

For the most part these claims are bunk. Beijing’s loud and often belligerent claims to ownership of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the island nation of Taiwan, and most of the South China Sea as far as the territorial waters of Indonesia are modern fabrications of little or no merit.

At the same time, Chinese officials have studied the history of the European empires of the 18th and 19th centuries and concluded that their survival and expansion depended on the control of far-flung resources. Because of its communist and authoritarian heritage and instincts, Beijing continues to shy away from the message of the American imperium and to trust the market place to provide what is necessary to fuel its economy.

To these ends to control of territory and resources, China has in the last 20 years been pursuing the ability to project power to defend its interests. The key ingredient of this effort has been the construction of a massive and modern blue water navy, whose evident purpose is to challenge the supremacy of the U.S. navy.

It is this that carries echoes of the years leading up to 1914 and the start of the First World War.

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Manthorpe: Echoes of pre-WWI in Chinese claims of airspace

As China ramps up its bellicose stance toward Japan and the United States with the imposition of an air defence zone over disputed territory, the imminent arrival of 2014 is mimicking the months before 1914, warns international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt:

In the early years of the 20th century, Germany saw that Britain had had to deploy the full weight of its empire to defeat the Afrikaners in the two Boer wars.

Berlin judged the days of Britain’s super power status were approaching their end. It launched an arms race and a flurry of provocations against Britain and its allies, which cascaded out of control into the First World War.

Beijing has made a similar judgement about the impending decline of the United States … read Manthorpe’s column here.*

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