US and China argue over South China Sea

Posted on August 5, 2012


China and the US stepped up their war of words over territorial disputes in the South China Sea at the weekend, with the Chinese foreign ministry calling in a senior US diplomat to protest remarks by the US state department.

China last month shocked its neighbours by establishing a new military garrison in the South China Sea. The US state department on Friday said the move risked raising tensions “counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences”.

Beijing responded at the weekend by saying it had summoned Robert Wang, US charge d’affaires, to express a “stern message” about Washington’s comments.

Zhang Kunsheng, assistant foreign minister, said the US had “sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific”.

China claims sovereignty over groups of islands which are also claimed in entirety or in part by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Tensions have been high in recent months after incidents involving China and the Philippines, as well as Vietnam.

The disputes have become a focus of international interest, given that as much as half of global ship-borne trade by volume passes through the South China Sea. The stakes have risen in the area as the US military shifts its attention back to Asia, emboldening its long-time ally the Philippines and former foe Vietnam to defend their interests in the region more aggressively. The US is pressuring all those involved to resolve the disputes through regional rather than bilateral negotiations.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang also issued a separate statement in response to the US comments on Friday, which repeated China’s contention that it has absolute sovereignty over the sea and the islands in question, and the right to set up a city to administer the region.

“Why does the US turn a blind eye to the facts that certain countries opened a number of oil and gas blocks, and issued domestic laws illegally appropriating Chinese islands and waters?” Mr Qin said. “Why does the US avoid talking about the threats of military vessels to Chinese fishermen by certain countries and their unjustified claims of sovereignty rights over Chinese islands?”

Jia Qingguo, deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said the US statement showed “partiality” by blaming only China “since the South China Sea issue involves not only China but also other parties”. The statement would not help resolve the disputes, he said.


China and America’s Dueling South China Sea Statements

The ever-exciting South China Sea took on a new twist this weekend with the U.S. and China trading strongly worded statements.

The dispute was prompted by a U.S. statement  on Friday, which was credited to acting Deputy State Department Spokesman, Patrick Ventrell.

The statement began by reaffirming that the U.S. has a “national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared at the ASEAN Regional Forum two years ago. It then expressed concern at what it claimed was “an uptick in confrontational rhetoric, disagreements over resource exploitation, coercive economic actions, and the incidents around the Scarborough Reef, including the use of barriers to deny access.” Controversially, the next sentence singled out China, “in particular,” and even more specifically Beijing’s recent establishment of the “Sansha City” administrative body and corresponding military garrison.

China responded with a harshly worded statement by a spokesperson in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The MFA statement said that Washington’s “so-called press statement” showed a “total disregard of facts, confused right and wrong,” and was not conducive to regional peace. It also reaffirmed that Beijing has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters” and argued that creating Sansha City was well within its sovereign rights.

The MFA statement did say China was willing to discuss a binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea with ASEAN, but only when certain member-states stopped violating the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). The statement went on to rhetorically ask why the U.S. turned a “blind eye” to other claimants’ actions in the disputed waters,  such as-without naming names- using naval boats to intimate Chinese fishermen and passing domestic legislation that claimed ownership over Chinese islands and reefs.

Not content to leave it at that, on Saturday Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in the country, Robert Wang, to further chastise the statement.  This was followed by more criticism from Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who was part of the Chinese delegation that attended the ASEAN summit last month, during an interview with Xinhua News on Sunday. During the interview Fu also stated that “The South China Sea is not an issue between ASEAN and China, but rather between China and relevant ASEAN countries.”

The U.S. statement signaled a departure from the United States’ recent policy of publically remaining rather aloof from the escalating tensions in the South China Sea. This stand-offish policy was motivated by the lack of consensus among ASEAN member states- a number of ASEAN members, for instance, initially criticized Philippines for provoking the Scarborough Shoal conflict- as Washington’s desire to not be seen as the one creating tensions in the region.

The Obama administration’s decision to reenter  the fray is perhaps driven by possible behind-the-scenes consultations with its ASEAN allies. Beijing’s recent maneuvers in the SCS appear to have created greater intra-ASEAN unity on China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters, with Indonesian FM Marty M. Natalegawa stating last week that they demonstrated the need for a legally binding COC. Not far from the Obama administration’s mind are the lessons it drew from its first year in office in 2009. During that time, the Obama administration went to great lengths to court China including making concessions on a number of key issues like human rights. When this “open hand” was met with an uptick in Chinese assertiveness on a range of issues, administration officials concluded that Chinese leaders were interpreting their engagement policy as a sign of U.S. weakness. They vowed not to repeat that mistake.

Nevertheless, one shouldn’t place too much importance on the U.S. statement. Washington’s decision to issue the message through a junior official suggests it hopes to avoid a fierce dispute with Beijing.

Zachary Keck

U.S. Criticizes China Sea Garrison, Reiterates Asia Strategy Not Meant To Hedge

The newly-minted chinese administrative city of Sansha in the Paracel archipelago taken from Vietnam in 1974.

In an usual move directly citing a policy disagreement with China, the United States weighed in Friday on a recent decision by the Communist nation to place a naval garrison in a disputed area of the South China Sea. The State Department urged restraint by all sides, while calling the move by China unhelpful to diplomatic efforts in the region.

“We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely,” State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Peter Ventrell said in a statement Friday.

“In particular, China’s upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region.”

China announced last week it was establishing the minute city of Sansha in a disputed region of the Paracel island chain also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. After receiving complaints from the two Southeast Asian neighbors, China reiterated it was against outside meddling on the matter.

“We are willing to reiterate that the establishment of the city of Sansha is a readjustment by the Chinese government to existing administrative bodies, which is an issue within China’s sovereignty,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office told official news agency Xinhua on July 26.

“The Chinese side will continue to be committed to seeking appropriate solutions through bilateral negotiations and consultations with the parties directly involved in the concerned disputes,” it added, making a tacit reference to U.S. involvement in the region.

China’s Ministry of Defense Spokesman Geng Yansheng also reiterated this point on July 31, saying “the system was established to maintain the country’s territorial sovereignty and safeguard its maritime rights, and it is not targeting any other country or specific goals,” according to Xinhua.

China has repeatedly accused the United States of attempting to hedge their military and cultural growth in the region. The United States unveiled its “pivot to Asia” policy last year, which will see much of the country’s naval assets shifted to the South and East China Seas.

The U.S. is also focusing in the region more diplomatically, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats becoming more engaged with Southeast Asian allies, partners and organizations like ASEAN.

The U.S. has denied their strategy is based on hedging China. Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carton said the pivot strategy “is not about any single country or group of countries. It is not about China or the United States. It’s about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where sovereign states can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper.”

“We seek to strengthen our very important relationship with China, and believe that China is key to developing a peaceful, prosperous and secure Asia-Pacific region,” he added.

Last month at the ASEAN foreign minister’s meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Clinton urged China to sign onto an international Code of Conduct (COC) agreement for the South China Sea. But China’s refused, while leaving open the possibility to accept the COC by saying they were willing to discuss it further in the future.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all have overlapping claims in the sea with China. Clashes have been particularly violent in recent months between China and the latter two Southeast Asian nations, who claim China is ramping up tensions in the waters.


New Tensions Rise on South China Sea

Beijing Summons U.S. Envoy to Express ‘Strong Dissatisfaction’ Over Washington’s Criticism of Planned Military Garrison

The U.S. says China’s recent decision to elevate the administrative status of Sansha, above, in waters claimed by China, the Philippines and other countries risks further inflaming tension in the region.

BEIJING—China summoned a U.S. diplomat to rebut a State Department accusation that Beijing is hampering diplomatic efforts to defuse long-simmering tensions over the disputed South China Sea.

The Foreign Ministry said on its website late Saturday that it summoned the U.S. deputy chief of mission in Beijing, Robert Wang, to present “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to a U.S. statement on Friday. On Friday, the U.S. said China’s recent decision to establish a military garrison in the South China Sea and elevate the administrative status of an island outpost in waters claimed by China, the Philippines and others risked further inflaming tension there.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing confirmed Mr. Wang met with Chinese officials on Saturday but declined to provide further details.

In Washington, a State Department official said, “We have been in close contact with countries in the region, including China, on developments in the South China Sea.”

The latest tit-for-tat underscores how China, the U.S. and Southeast Asian nations remain far apart in resolving what has emerged as a possibly volatile flash point. The potentially mineral-rich waters, which are also home to key international trade routes, are claimed in whole by China and in part by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and others.

Renewed concern over the regional disputes comes as diplomats and officials from both the U.S. and China are working to smooth relations ahead of China’s sensitive once-a-decade leadership transition beginning late this year and a U.S. presidential election in which Beijing’s rise has emerged as a contentious talking point.

Additionally, renewed U.S.-China tensions over the sea threatens to complicate a push into North America by CNOOC Ltd., CEO +1.42% which would gain assets in the Gulf of Mexico among other places if it completes its $15.1 billion deal for Canada’s Nexen Inc. NXY +0.31%

The Hong Kong-listed oil company’s state-controlled parent, China National Offshore Oil Corp., has been the most aggressive Chinese company to help assert Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea, which is thought to hold vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

In June, China announced it would elevate the administrative status of a community called Sansha on one of the disputed islands to become a prefectural-level city, responsible for governing Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, as they are called in China. They are also commonly referred to as the Spratlys, Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank.

The islands, for now, remain mostly undeveloped. The exact population of civilians and military personnel living in Sansha isn’t clear, but Xinhua said last month that 613 people have become official residents of Sansha. Officials say they plan to beef up infrastructure there as well as industries like tourism, which Beijing hopes will bolster its claims of sovereignty.

China’s Central Military Commission also in July approved the establishment of a military garrison in the area, though it remains unclear what kinds of air and sea power Beijing might station there. Analysts say these moves by Beijing threaten to unite other regional claimants in opposition.

Chinese officials have been eager to build public support for the country’s efforts in the South China Sea. In late July, for example, the southern island province of Hainan broadcast a variety show titled “Love My Sansha,” complete with performances of songs such as “Xisha, My Cute Hometown,” according to a government news portal.

The U.S. State Department Friday reiterated its long-held stance that it doesn’t take sides in territorial disputes, but that it has an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in critical South China Sea shipping lanes.

“China upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region,” the statement added.

China resents U.S. involvement in the disputes and says they should be settled peacefully between China and individual countries involved. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying the U.S. was undermining stability and economic prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

The State Department accusation “is not conducive to unity and cooperation among countries in the region or to peace and stability in this part of the world,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

Disputes over the sea’s collection of rocks, islands and reefs have existed for decades, but have become more volatile alongside rising prospects for exploiting oil and gas reserves there.

Cnooc, one of China’s three major oil companies, has been developing deep-sea technology for use in the South China Sea despite the rising territorial disputes. In May, the company announced it had launched the country’s first deep-water drilling rig southeast of Hong Kong.

Brian Spegele

China slams US over South China Sea criticism

Senior US diplomat told US criticism of new military base in South China Sea was not conducive to regional peace. The move to establish the garrison has prompted protests from the Philippines, Vietnam and others [Reuters]

China has summoned a US diplomat to protest his government’s criticism of a new military garrison in the South China Sea.

Zhang Kunsheng, the Chinese assistant foreign minister, summoned Robert S Wang, the deputy chief of the US embassy in Beijing, on Saturday to express displeasure with earlier US comments.

The US State department said on Friday that China’s formal establishment of Sansha City, a garrison on a remote island about 350km from the country’s southern-most province, was risking an escalation in regional tensions.

The garrison, created two weeks ago, is intended to administer hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of water where China wants to strengthen its control over potentially oil-rich islands that are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

The Philippines, a US treaty ally, has described the move as unacceptable, while Vietnam has termed it a violation of international law.

In Beijing, Zhang told Wang: “The [US State department’s] statement showed total disregard of facts, confounded right and wrong, and sent a seriously wrong message. It is not conducive to efforts by the parties concerned to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea and the Asia-Pacific region at large.”

Regional tensions
In a separate statement, Qin Gang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, reiterated China’s position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.

“The recent establishment of the Sansha City is a necessary adjustment made by China to the existing local administrative structure and is well within China’s sovereign rights,” Qin said.

Qin accused the United States of taking sides, saying that Washington has not criticised countries whose naval vessels have threatened Chinese fishermen or who have marked out oil and gas blocks in the sea.

Al Jazeera

>> US needs to behave itself over South China Sea
The establishment of Sansha city and garrison is a normal adjustment of China’s administrative and military structure, and is an issue totally within China’s sovereignty.

The new arrangement does not mean that China is abandoning its traditional South China Sea policy. Beijing remains committed to seeking proper solutions to its disputes with other claimants through bilateral negotiations and consultations.

China is the one that have always exercised maximum restraint. It is China’s genuine wish to turn South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation, and the vision is widely shared across the region and the world at large.

In 1904, the Shanghai Publishing House printed this map and distributed it to all provinces of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China ruling from 1644 to 1912. The introduction of the map was written by the director of a Chinese observatory. This map reveals that the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelagos did NOT belong to China.

Global Times

China rebukes US diplomat for sending ‘wrong signal’ on South China Sea

China’s foreign ministry has called in a senior US diplomat to express “strong dissatisfaction” at remarks by the US state department raising concerns over tensions in the disputed South China Sea, in the latest political spat between the two countries.

In a statement released late on Saturday, China’s foreign ministry said assistant foreign minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission Robert Wang to make “serious representations” about the issue.

The state department on Friday said it was monitoring the situation in the seas closely, adding that China’s establishing of a military garrison for the area runs “counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region”.

The South China Sea has become Asia’s biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing’s sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.

Beijing and Washington are already at odds over numerous issues, including the value of China’s currency, Tibet and Taiwan.

Zhang said the US statement “disregarded the facts, confused right with wrong, sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific.

“China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition, urges the US side to immediately to mend the error of its ways, earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and do more to genuinely benefit stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific,” he added.

A separate statement by ministry spokesman Qin Gang repeated that China had absolute sovereignty over the sea and its myriad islands and had every right to formally set up a city to administer the region, which it did last month.

“Why does the US turn a blind eye to the facts that certain countries opened a number of oil and gas blocks, and issued domestic laws illegally appropriating Chinese islands and waters?” Qin said.

“Why does the US avoid talking about the threats of military vessels to Chinese fishermen by certain countries and their unjustified claims of sovereignty rights over Chinese islands?” he added.

In all, six parties have rival claims to the waters, which were a central issue at an acrimonious Asean regional summit last month that ended with its members failing to agree on a concluding statement for the first time in 45 years.

The stakes have risen in the area as the US military shifts its attention and resources back to Asia, emboldening its long-time ally the Philippines and former foe Vietnam to take a bolder stance against Beijing.

The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines’ decrepit military forces. It says freedom of navigation is its main concern about a waterway that carries $5 trillion in trade – half the world’s shipping tonnage.

An oil rig in the South China Sea. Photograph: Na Son Nguyen/AP

The Guardian

On August 1, 2012, China asserted its claims of ownership over the South China Sea by flooding the area with 23,000 armed fishing vessels.

A leading Chinese fishing-industry official is urging the Chinese government to provide arms and military training for 100,000 Chinese fishermen to roam the South China Sea and defeat Vietnam and other countries in the region that are challenging China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty in those waters.

He Jianbin, chief of the state-run Baosha Fishing Corp., based in Hainan province, urged the Chinese government to make fishermen into Chinese militiamen.

“If we put 5,000 Chinese fishing ships in the South China Sea, there will be 100,000 fishermen,” Mr. He stated in a June 28 commentary in the state-controlled Communist Party newspaper the Global Times.

“And if we make all of them militiamen, give them weapons, we will have a military force stronger than all the combined forces of all the countries in the South China Sea,” he said.

The fisheries official confidently disclosed that at present, China would have no problem deploying that many fishing ships. “In Hainan province alone, we now have over 23,000 fishing ships, with over 225,000 experienced and mature captains,” Mr. He said.

“Every year, between May and August, when fishing activities are in recess, we should train these fishermen/militiamen to gain skills in fishing, production and military operations, making them a reserve force on the sea, and using them to solve our South [China] Sea problems,” he continued.

China’s government has been using fishing vessels in recent weeks to ratchet up tensions with almost all its maritime neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. In several high-profile skirmishes, most noticeably with the Japanese and Philippine maritime vessels, Chinese fishing vessels have played a central role, followed by vessels belonging to the government’s China Maritime Surveillance bureau [Haijian] and Bureau of Fishery [Yuzheng].

The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy is poised in the region but so far has not been directly involved in initial confrontations with several foreign vessels in an apparent effort to avoid direct challenges from the navies of other countries, including Japan, South Korea and possibly the United States.

China, in particular, regards the U.S. Navy as its main obstacle and the most formidable enemy in its South China Sea gambit. By making fishermen a maritime militia force, Mr. He argues, “we can make the PLA Navy our rear echelon for now but not the forward echelon in the South China Sea. This will alleviate our nation’s burden, because if we put the PLA Navy at the front line now, we fall right into the trap set up by the U.S. government.”

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