China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors are expected to top the agenda when regional leaders, including heads of state from U.S., China, Japan, Australia and others meet in Cambodia in the coming days.
Of the 10 ASEAN countries set to meet on Sunday, four are at odds with China over territory in the South China Sea.
A key issue at stake in the upcoming talks is whether ASEAN can agree on a so-called code of conduct aimed at averting clashes over the various overlapping claims.
Beijing has lobbied against the code, preferring to address the territorial disputes with each country, one on one. On Friday Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman gave no indication that Chinese authorities had changed their stance.
Du Jifeng, a researcher at the government-backed Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Studies says that’s not surprising, even with a new leadership group coming into power.
“Although leaders have changed, the point of view has not changed. ASEAN countries hold a very important place in China’s diplomatic relations, so there won’t be a big change in China’s position,” he said.
The United States has urged countries to adopt the code of conduct to avoid hostilities. But Chinese state media have remained skeptical of U.S. intentions in the region, accusing the Obama administration of trying to meddle with Asian affairs.
This week the Global Times published an editorial accusing the United States of having a Cold War mentality.
The waters enclosed between China’s southeastern coastline and Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan are hotly contested in part because of the rich, and so far untapped, energy resources discovered underneath them. They are also a critical trade route for international shipping.
Professor Du says he believes that despite alarms over the U.S. so-called pivot to the Pacific, it does not mean Washington is planning to interfere in specific territorial claims. “The U.S. has a big security interest in the area, but at the same time its official position is to maintain neutrality in the disputes, and also to solve the matters peacefull,.” he said.
China says Premier Wen Jiabao will represent Beijing at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh next week.
Can ASEAN Unite On South China Sea?
The Philippines has fired its first political salvo at China and Cambodia ahead of upcoming regional summits, calling on the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to forge a united front over the South China Sea dispute.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia Summit, which is attracting leaders from around the world, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said ASEAN should speak with one voice, particularly given that four ASEAN countries have overlapping territorial claims in the sea.
“We can talk to the other claimants that aren’t ASEAN members but since we want to maintain ASEAN’s centrality, we must have just one voice in ASEAN,” he said.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and Aquino’s comments will almost certainly upset Beijing, which wants to deal with each of its disputed claims with ASEAN members on a bilateral basis. The Spratly Islands, located in the disputed territory, are also claimed in full or in part by The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
China, Vietnam and Taiwan also have conflicting claims over the Paracel Islands.
Cambodia will also be angered by Aquino’s statement. As chair of ASEAN this year, it has sought to find an agreement on the Code of Conduct for dispute resolution in the South China Sea, known as the East Sea in Vietnam and the West Philippine Sea in the Philippines.
The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has benefited enormously from Chinese largesse in recent years and, consequently, has emerged as a key ally in Beijing’s strategy of forcing ASEAN members to deal with Spratly Islands disputes on a bilateral basis. China has refused to refer the matter to an international arbitrator.
Cambodia’s actions resulted in ASEAN failing to release a joint communiqué at the end of this year’s ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July, the first time in ASEAN’s 45 year history in which a joint message failed to be issued. The Philippines and Vietnam had wanted this spring’s confrontation at Scarborough Shoal included, but Cambodia, at China’s behest, balked, leading to charges that Phnom Penh was putting China ahead of the ASEAN bloc.
Whether or not there is a repeat of the July debacle at next week’s summit, which leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will attend, remains to be seen.
There is some speculation in Phnom Penh that a joint communiqué for the summit is currently being negotiated, with the hope that it will be ready to sign by end of the heads of state meeting next week.
To build goodwill ahead of the summits, for instance, on Friday Indonesia proposed that ASEAN and China establish emergency lines of communication to prevent South China Sea crises from turning violent. An agreement such as this might allow the parties involved to issue a joint communiqué next week.
But given Manila and Beijing’s respective stances, any agreement on the Code of Conduct could be some time off.
Still tough on Japan, China takes a softer tack with other countries
The territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands between Japan and China has hurt the Japanese economy, cast doubt on exchange programs between the two nations and led to a wave of animosity from both Chinese and Japanese citizens.
But for other countries embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing, the row with Japan has provided a breather, as China attempts to garner international support by taking a softer approach in settling these claims.
China’s different stances were clearly evident at the Asia-Europe Meeting held in Laos in November.
At a session on Nov. 6, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, exchanged harsh words of criticism over the Senkakus.
At that same session, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said, “Disputes must be resolved based on international law and treaties.”
And Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said, “Disputes should be resolved fairly based on international law.”
In order to deal with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been seeking to compile a code of conduct that would legally require peaceful resolution of such disputes. The international body has been holding informal talks with China about the issue, but Beijing has taken a passive stance, leading to the comments by Dung and Aquino, even as they stopped short of naming China as the target of their criticism.
In a marked contrast to the harsh words he had for Japan, Yang took a decidedly calmer approach in responding to the Southeast Asian nations.
“China’s position has remained consistent based on historical and legal grounds,” Yang said. “There have been no issues related to navigational freedom and safety in the South China Sea until now nor will such issues arise in the future.”
As recently as April, ships from China and the Philippines were involved in a standoff near the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, leading to a rapid worsening in bilateral relations.
Now, however, there are signs of change.
On Oct. 19, Fu Ying, a vice foreign minister, visited Manila and handed Aquino a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao that said emphasis should be placed on friendly relations between the two nations.
Chinese media described the visit as an “ice-melting” trip.
And Aquino has acknowledged that the situation in the South China Sea has improved considerably.
China has, in fact, temporarily softened its aggressive stance, reducing the number of maritime surveillance ships dispatched to the area.
A high-ranking Philippine government official said one aim behind the more cordial approach in the South China Sea was to avoid being isolated internationally as China deepened its confrontation with Japan.
Vietnam views the development in a similar light.
A government source said, “With China turning its attention to Japan, the aggressive action toward Vietnam has been relaxed, and we are relieved.” (which is a white lie since Vietnam totally controls Cambodia and Laos, and Vietnam has been under China’s absolute control in 1990 when the Vietnamese Communist Party ‘s leadership sensed the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, and decided to put itself under Beijing’s control. Any Vietnamese who dares opposing openly China’s illegal occupation of Vietnam-owned Paracel and Sptratly islands faces harassment, intimidation, and long-term jail sentences)
Vietnam launched one of its largest maritime patrol ships in October with an eye toward China’s maritime advances. But rather than only strengthening maritime patrol activities, Vietnam would like nothing better than to avoid stirring up more trouble with China.
Due to these developments, Japanese government officials are concerned about how Cambodia will act as the host of the ASEAN summit that begins on Nov. 18 as well as the East Asia summit to follow.
In the July meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, Cambodia handled the proceedings in a manner favorable to China.
This seemingly preferential treatment led to resistance from the Philippines and Vietnam, which contributed to the highly unusual development of no joint statement being released at the conclusion of that meeting.
At the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting immediately after the foreign ministers’ meeting, Cambodia refused to include wording in the chairman’s statement about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea that Japan, the United States and Australia had called for. China did not want such wording included.
The worst-case scenario for Japan at the East Asia summit will be if the chairman’s statement refers to the Senkakus issue as a territorial dispute in response to such requests from China.
While Japan is the largest provider of aid to Cambodia, its confidence is now shaky.
On Nov. 5, Noda met with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba also sent a letter and other officials, including former ambassadors and a deputy chief Cabinet secretary, have been dispatched to Phnom Penh to ensure the summit proceeds in a favorable direction.
Japan has long been connected to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. During World War II, the Japanese military occupied most of the islands there, but its defeat immediately set off fierce competition for control.
Fuel was added to the fire when bountiful petroleum reserves that China has described as the “second Persian Gulf” were discovered under the sea.
While there are no definitive figures for total petroleum reserves in the South China Sea, a 2008 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) gave a variety of estimates, including one of 28 billion barrels, made by the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as one of 213 billion barrels, made by China.
At the same time, EIA statistics for confirmed reserves that could be mined for profit put Saudia Arabia with the world’s largest reserves of 267 billion barrels, while China was found to have 20.4 billion barrels.
A sharp increase in petroleum demand and the rapid increase in petroleum prices pushed China to strengthen its arguments for territorial sovereignty over the South China Sea.
The waters near the Senkakus, which are called the Diaoyu Islands in China, are estimated to have about 3 billion barrels of petroleum reserves. About 40 years ago, one estimate for those waters had reserves of about 100 billion barrels, and analysts have used that latter figure in explaining why China has begun asserting its claims to the islands in the recent past.
The territorial dispute in the South China Sea was temporarily tabled in 2005, and the state-run petroleum companies of China, Vietnam and the Philippines began joint exploration. However, cooperative efforts soon failed following minor tussles.
Since then, the three nations have proceeded with separate resource development projects.
Last June, China National Offshore Oil Corp. announced plans to begin resource development in waters near Vietnam. The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry issued a protest statement, and Do Van Hau, the president and CEO of Petrovietnam, held a news conference in which he called China’s move “illegal.”
Since the area is part of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, Vietnam had proceeded with development while partnering with the United States, Russia and India. The nine drilling zones announced by China overlapped with the waters where Vietnam had been developing.
Petrovietnam is considering joint development with Japanese companies in about 20 drilling zones in the South China Sea off the coast of Da Nang in central Vietnam. But though there were initial plans to hold an explanatory meeting in July, the process has come to a standstill following the trouble with China.
A source at a Japanese company said, “While the resources are attractive, we do not want to shoulder the risk of disputes. We will take a wait-and-see attitude for the time being.”
Summit focuses on South China Sea, connectivity
Senior officials from ASEAN member countries were preparing the documents needed for the 21st ASEAN Summit and all related summits in the Cambodian capital on Friday with the South China Sea and connectivity topping the list.
“Currently, we are in the housekeeping stages of preparing all documents needed for the summits, as well as procedural and protocol issues,” the Foreign Ministry’s director general for ASEAN cooperation, I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, told reporters on the sidelines of an ASEAN senior officials meeting.
“We are getting everything ready for the summits on Nov. 19 and 20 because there are a series of meetings [other than the ASEAN Summit], such as the ASEAN retreat, the East Asian Summit and meetings with dialogue partners.”
As for the substance, Puja said it would be discussed later as there were several outstanding points such as certain paragraphs on the South China Sea, connectivity issues and the East Asian Summit and senior officials were still identifying what the pending issues were.
On the South China Sea, he said that the forum had agreed to Indonesia’s six-point principles. “We should start from there,” Puja said.
“The South China Sea is still a delicate matter we have not discussed yet. I know this is one of the issues that is anticipated by everyone.
“This is an ASEAN meeting, however, and the South China Sea is just one of the highlighted issues.”
He maintained that the principle was to engage all parties in the creation of a stable and peaceful region.
“This is still a process of peaceful, diplomatic means. Of course there will be dynamics. We are also still in the process in deliberating the Code of Conduct [CoC]. We need to keep up momentum so that once all parties are ready, we can implement it. There is no time frame in discussing the CoC.”
Puja said the South China Sea issue should not distract attention from ASEAN’s big agenda of achieving the ASEAN Community in 2015.
“The media really love to have this issue highlighted but it is up to the wisdom of the leaders whether they will take up the issue in such a manner or put it in such a way that this meeting can contribute to the creation of stability and peace in the region.”
Attention is also being paid to efforts to expedite three aspects of connectivity in the context of the ASEAN Community 2015, he added.
“The first aspect is the physical aspect of the provision of infrastructure to accelerate the creation of an ASEAN Community while the second aspect is institutional connectivity, harmonizing ASEAN regulations with national ones,” he said.
“The third aspect is people-to-people contact allowing the movement of ASEAN residents within ASEAN to strengthen the ASEAN Community’s connectivity.”
Puja said an important point for Indonesia was to strengthen domestic connectivity considering the country’s vast archipelago.
“That is why we are supporting the maritime connectivity concept using the Ro-Ro [roll-on, roll-off] vessels connecting not only islands in Indonesia but also those of our neighboring countries,” he said.
The Trade Ministry’s director general for international trade cooperation, Iman Pambagyo, also highlighted the importance of improving domestic connectivity.
“It would be a waste if we built ASEAN-wide connectivity but still had problems at home,” he said on the sidelines of the Senior Economic Officials Meeting (SEOM).
“Such domestic connectivity is important for archipelagic countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. We must make efforts to create domestic connectivity such as through the MP3EI,” he said.
Another important issue was to reduce the gap between ASEAN member countries, Puja said.
Iman said reducing such gaps was not only between the ASEAN 6 and the ASEAN 4 — known as the CLMV for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam — but also inside countries.
“That is why last year Indonesia proposed the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development with a special focus on small and medium enterprises,” he said.
ASEAN Struggles to Hold Its Own Against U.S., China
A new report released as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepares for its annual summit says that the bloc is poorly equipped to defend its interests in relation to Asia-Pacific powers the United States and China, ranging from overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea to demands for more trade and engagement in the region.
The report by LSE IDEAS, the London School of Economics’ center for the study of international affairs, analayzed how each of the region’s countries is responding to the differing strategic interests of the United States and China. It found that most states held a “more benign” view of American interests but that overall, their desire for bilateral gains – including increased trade with China – could reduce Southeast Asia’s overall bargaining power.
China’s neighbors and friends in the region have welcomed US engagement in the region, but largely want to maintain cordial ties with Asia’s largest economy, and in some cases, particularly the Philippines, have had to carefully balance China’s interest in the South China Seas or risk conflict, the report said.
The report comes as ASEAN will host its annual summit and a series of other gatherings in Cambodia starting Sunday that will be joined by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and India.
“ASEAN represents a market of over half a billion people, with a combined GDP growth currently double the global average,” the report says, but Southeast Asian states have so far been unable to form a regional strategy. “Regional member states need to empower ASEAN to represent their collective strategic interests” or the region risks surrendering its future to the two giant powers.
Southeast Asia has increasingly been on the radar of governments, investors and business leaders in recent years, a process accelerated by the recent U.S. defense “pivot” to the region, relative political stability in most countries and record growth rates for important players like Indonesia.
The report argues that China’s economic rise has forced the bloc to “see imperatives of geo-economics trump issues of geopolitics” despite territorial issues in the South China Sea, a hot-button issue that pits China, which claims all of the strategic waters for itself, and competing claims by ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
China’s most reliable ally in ASEAN, Cambodia, prevented the bloc from adopting a common position on the issue at an important meeting in July, and Nicholas Kitchen, editor of the report, said that the U.S. resurgence in Asia has also provoked suspicions among some members.
ASEAN has drawn members closer in economic arrangements in recent years, with a regional trade pact that, among others, will allow free movement of manufactures goods, services and labors across the 10 countries, due to be in place by the end of 2015, but the report suggested that the organization needs unity to carry its members interests forward by prioritizing the region instead of individual countries. Bottlenecks to implementing closer economic integration include addressing domestic reforms, gaps in infrastructure and differing levels of protectionism.
China Eats Its Mistakes
November 17, 2012: Chinese efforts to claim all of the South China Sea and then keep all foreign naval forces out have usually been explained in economic terms. There are a lot of valuable fishing grounds in that area, not to mention oil and gas deposits under the sea bed. But another benefit is to provide secure patrol areas for its noisy (and this easy for nearby anti-submarine forces to detect) SSBNs (nuclear powered ballistic missile carrying subs). While it is 13,000 kilometers from the South China Sea to Washington, DC, and the longest range of SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles) is 11,000 kilometers (for the American Trident missile), a longer range SLBM could be built. That would be easier than mastering the much more complex technology of making SSBNs quiet enough to avoid detection by American subs and aircraft. While this sounds like a desperate solution, China does not have too many other good options.
In the last year several Chinese JL (Julang) 2 SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile), were test fired. The results were not encouraging. The 42 ton JL-2 has a range of 8,000 kilometers, and would enable China to aim missiles at any target in the United States from a 094 class SSBN (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs) cruising off Hawaii or Alaska. Each 094 boat can carry twelve of these missiles, which are naval versions of the existing land based 42 ton DF-31 ICBM. China has had lots of problems with the JL-2, which was supposed to have entered service four years ago, but kept failing test launches.
In part because of the lack of a reliable SLBM, no Chinese SSBN has ever gone on a combat cruise. But the subs have been very unreliable as well. China has so far produced two generations of SSBNs. In the early 1980s, the Type 92 was launched, but had lots of problems and never made a patrol. It only went out for training in Chinese coastal waters. Only one was built. In the last decade, the Type 94 showed up. This was believed, in the West, to be the Chinese SSBN that would go on patrol, but that never happened. Turns out that the Type 94 also had lots of technical problems.
This sad saga began with the Type 93 class SSN (nuclear powered attack sub), which looks a lot like the three decade old Russian Victor III class SSN design. The first Type 93 entered service in 2006. The Type 93 was the basis for the Type 94 SSBN, which looks like a Victor III with a missile compartment added. Taking a SSN design and adding extra compartments to hold the ballistic missiles is an old trick, pioneered by the United States in the 1950s to produce the first ever SSBNs. The Chinese appear to have done the same thing with their new Type 93 SSN, creating a larger Type 94 SSBN boat of 9,000 tons displacement. Priority was apparently given to construction of the Type 94, as having nuclear missiles able to reach the United States gives China more diplomatic clout than some new SSNs. The first 94 entered service three years ago. But it has still not gone to sea equipped with nuclear missiles.
Having already sent the first two new, 7,000 ton, 093 class SSNs to sea, China was apparently underwhelmed by their performance. Not much more is expected from the 94s. The 93s were too noisy, and had a long list of more minor defects as well. It’s unclear how many 93s will be built, probably no more than 3-6. More resources are apparently being diverted to the next SSN class – the 95, and the next SSBN, the Type 96.
The Type 093 and Type 094 were both over a decade in development and construction. Work began on the 094 class in the 1990s. For years, all that was known was that the Chinese were having technical problems with the new design. The 094 is a modern SSBN, using technology bought from Russia, plus what was developed by the Chinese in their earlier nuclear submarine building efforts. While the Chinese have had a hard time building reliable and quiet nuclear subs, they are determined to acquire the needed skills. You do that by doing it and eating your mistakes. U.S. intelligence experts believe that China is now concentrating on the design of the new Type 96s. China has made progress in developing more reliable land-based ICBMs which means they have the technology to build similar SLBMs.