U.S. scholar cautions against Chinese coercion

Posted on August 9, 2012


For the first time in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN’s) 45-year history, no joint communique was issued at the end of an annul meeting of foreign ministers of its member countries in July due to disagreement over the statement’s wording.

Many pundits have blamed the host country, Cambodia, for failing to forge a consensus.

Bonnie S. Glaser, a U.S. expert in China affairs, said that Cambodia’s passivity was the result of pressure from Beijing to keep any mention of the South China Sea, particularly a nearly two-month standoff between China and the Philippines around the Scarborough Shoal, out of the communique.

Calling it an example of China’s coercive economic diplomacy, Glaser said that Chinese willingness to use its economic clout to settle international disputes in its favor is a worrying trend.

Two major local newspapers ran reports on Glaser’s article and related issues in their Wednesday editions. The following are excerpts from the reports:

China Times:

Glaser, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, said in an article published in late July that the fact China holds sway over Cambodia should not come as a surprise.

“Beijing has provided billions in aid to Cambodia. In 2011 alone the amount of foreign investment pledged to Phnom Penh by China was 10 times greater than that promised by the United States,” Glaser wrote.

For more than a decade, she went on, China has pursued a strategy in Southeast Asia that has relied on economic carrots to increase the stake of countries in the region in maintaining good ties with it.

The latest example of China employing economic measures for coercive purposes took place during the faceoff between armed Chinese and Philippine ships in waters surrounding the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China, over their conflicting sovereignty claims, Glaser noted.

During the period that began April 10, Chinese quarantine agency reportedly blocked a number of container vans of Philippine bananas from entering China’s ports, claiming that the fruit contained pests.

The move dealt a severe blow to the Philippines which exports more than 30 percent of its bananas to the Philippines.

Moreover, China’s travel agencies suspended sending tour groups to the Philippines, allegedly due to concerns for Chinese tourists’ safety. China has emerged as one of the Philippines’ major source of tourists. Eventually, Filipino corporate leaders pushed their government to drop its confrontational approach in the Scarborough Shoal, which Glaser said was the outcome that China hoped for.

Glaser also cited a more widely reported case of China using trade as a weapon to force a country to alter its policy that occurred in September 2010 when Beijing blocked shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan.

The ban was taken in retaliation for Japan’s detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler in an incident near the Tiaoyutai Islands, which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan. Beijing’s action alarmed Tokyo and was a major factor in Japan’s decision to release the captain shortly afterwards.

A third example of China’s use of economic coercion was triggered by the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In the ensuing months, China froze free trade agreement negotiations with Norway and imposed new veterinary inspections on imports of Norwegian salmon that resulted in a dramatic cutback.

In June, China also rejected a visa application by former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. (Aug. 8, 2012).

United Daily News:

The United States’ recent criticism of China’s establishment of Sansha city and military garrison in the contested South China Sea as risking an escalation in tensions has angered Chinese authorities.

On Monday, a U.S. State Department official said the Aug. 3 statement was a very comprehensive statement which clearly laid out U.S.’s policy and its belief that there needs to be a collaborative diplomatic solution without coercion to all aspects of the South China Sea.

Describing the South China Sea as an area of concern, the official said, the U.S. government is concerned about economic coercion.

“And so given where we are, we thought it was appropriate to make a clear statement of our policy,” said Patrick Ventrell, director of the State Department’s Press Office. (Aug. 8, 2012).

Sofia Wu

Inside the Ring: China warship grounded

The Chinese frigate Dongguan, “the bully that ran aground” in the words of one Philippines official, was temporarily grounded near disputed Half Moon Shoal. (Philippines Government)

A Chinese warship recently ran aground in the South China Sea, an embarrassing incident that has highlighted international tensions over Beijing’s increasing military power and disputes among China’s neighbors.

Inside the Ring obtained the first photograph of the Chinese ship that was beached July 7 and stranded for 10 days. The photo was taken by a Philippines military photographer during a flight over the disputed Half Moon Shoal that both Beijing and Manila claim as their maritime territory. The shoal sits astride a key strategic waterway about 70 miles from the Philippines island province of Palawan.

Tensions have been mounting in the South China Sea as China systematically has stepped up claims to sovereignty over almost the entire resource-rich sea, prompting the U.S. government to worry that current Cold War-style maritime disputes could turn hot.

On Aug. 3, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed U.S. worries about “peace and stability,” “freedom of navigation” and respect for international law in the South China Sea.

“We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely,” he said, noting troubling signs that include more confrontational rhetoric, disagreements over resources and several incidents.

“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,” Mr. Ventrell said.

China reacted to the statement by calling in the U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Robert S. Wang to protest.

China denounced the U.S. statement, saying it “completely ignored the facts, deliberately confounded right and wrong and sent a seriously wrong signal, which is not conducive to the efforts safeguarding peace and stability of the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region.”

The Chinese urged the United States to “immediately correct the wrong behavior, earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do more things which are truly beneficial to the stability and prosperity in Asia-Pacific.”

Regarding the grounded warship, one Philippines official said the photo showed “the bully that ran aground.”

The ship was identified as the Hainan Island-based Dongguan. Days before it ran aground, the ship fired its deck guns at three Philippines fishing boats near Jackson Atoll in the disputed Spratlys Island chain.

Philippines officials also said the Dongguan was involved in other harassment incidents against Filipino fishing vessels.

According to Richard Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, the Dongguan recently was upgraded with YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles, which have a range of 155 miles. It also has a new stealthy, infrared-suppressing exhaust stack.

After the Dongguan ran aground, five or six Chinese ships sailed to aid the stranded vessel. It was freed 10 days later.

A Philippines navy BN-2A Islander patrol aircraft then flew over the ship and took photos of the frigate and a Jiangwei-II class frigate that sailed to the area to provide support.

Philippines officials do not know why the Chinese warship sailed so close to Half Moon Shoal and ended up stuck in the sand. But some believe its presence is part of stepped-up efforts to enforce what Beijing calls its “Nine-dash Line” that outlines almost all of the South China Sea, which it claims as sovereign waters.

The increased pressure by China is part of a program of using naval and maritime police ships to control the sea.

Another theory is that the Chinese sought to survey the region ahead of an expected Philippines-sponsored, oil-prospecting venture that will begin this year or early next year.

“The fact that several ships were in the vicinity of Half Moon Shoal [and were] able to render assistance to the Dongguan is a testament to the overall increased Chinese naval presence in this region, but also a testament to the [People’s Liberation Army‘s] command and control capabilities,” Mr. Fisher said.

“While the grounding was a major embarrassment for China that provided a perhaps unintended military reinforcement to its diplomatic bullying at [a recent regional] summit, this incident also served to highlight the increasing strategic importance of Palawan,” he said.

The Palawan Trench is a major sea lane and a vital Asia trade route. Half Moon Shoal sits at the mouth of the sea lane. There are concerns the Chinese will seek to build naval and other facilities on the shoal, as occurred at nearby Mischief Reef in 1995.

“That would constitute a major escalation that would be viewed as a potential threat by all major Asian states that rely on this vital sea lane,” Mr. Fisher said.

In April, the U.S. and the Philippines conducted a joint military exercise called Balikatan that focused on Palawan, which currently lacks adequate defenses, Mr. Fisher said.

“The Philippine navy and air force do not have the naval or air combatants to station on this island,” he said.

Mr. Fisher said there are concerns that China’s rapid buildup of amphibious and air-power projection capabilities will lead the Chinese military to conduct a brief but violent attack against Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, to punish Manila in the same way China taught Vietnam a lesson during their brief 1979 war.

The Philippines’ government has been alarmed by Chinese actions in recent months and is seeking greater U.S. military involvement. Manila plans to buy two Italian Mastreale-class frigates and 12 Korean T/A-50 fighter-trainers.

There are reports that Russia plans to sell Vietnam 18 Su-30 jet fighters to bolster its forces against China.

Bill Gertz

Posted in: Politics