Tag Archives | South China Sea

Changing alignments in East Asia

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
Early indications about a Trump Presidency’s impact on partnerships in East Asia

Since Woodrow Wilson, the goal of American foreign policy has been to prevent regional hegemony.

believes Seth Cropsey, Director of the Centre for American Seapower at Hudson Institute. Assuming this was true, the goal is now being reconsidered seriously in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections. All through the election season, Trump has indicated that the next administration would be more inward-looking — provision of the common good of security, and promotion of free trade, will not be the guiding principles of US foreign policy anymore.

In the early days, the effects of this new strategy are most clearly visible in East Asia. After Obama decided to suspend efforts to pass his signature Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal through the Congress, Vietnam too will not ratify the deal in the national assembly anytime soon. Trump’s victory also caused panic in South Korea’s financial markets, prompting an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Australia too followed suit — signalling support for Chinese-led Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The framework below gives an idea of how East Asian states are recalibrating their strategies over the past few weeks.

tpp-trump-duterte

Given that the US and China are overwhelmingly powerful in the region, bipolarity exists in East Asia. Further, there are two axes of alignments — political and economic. Based on their relationships with these two major powers, East Asian states can be assigned to one of the four quadrants. There are two bandwagon quadrants (where a state aligns with US or China both, politically and economically) and two hedging quadrants (where a state aligns with one major power in political engagements and aligns with the other in economic arrangements). Grey points indicate positions of East Asian states before Trump’s presidency and black points indicate recent shifts. I haven’t classified all the East Asian states in this framework, yet.

This framework indicates that countries like Australia and Philippines are already moving towards the hedging quadrants. With TPP faltering, a lot of states might follow the Australian trajectory —  economic alignment with China and play a waiting game on geopolitical alignment.

Countries such as North Korea and Japan will find the realignment tougher, and will look out for more options. Faster movement on India—Japan cooperation is an example. No surprises that a landmark nuclear deal between the two countries took place once it was clear that Trump would be the next US president.

Interesting days ahead for East Asia watchers. China can be expected to be strident in the days to come.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

Comments { 1 }

India’s Stand on the South China Sea Ruling between China-Philippines

The normative stand taken by India on the South China Sea dispute between China & Philippines is in keeping with its stated principle of non-interference and respect for International Law

Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

India’s position is bang on target as far as the recent decision (July 12) by the international arbitration tribunal, The Hague on the dispute between China and Philippines is concerned. The court ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources falling within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine dash line’. As was expected, China disagreed with the ruling. The US position is that the ruling should be treated as final and binding.

Mr V.K. Singh, India’s Minister for External Affairs had the following to say at recently concluded 14th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Viantiane, Laos

As a State Party to United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans. India supports freedom of navigation, over flight and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS.” Singh also stressed upon “maritime cooperation as a key priority.”

China has laid sovereign claims on the areas within South China Sea based on historical legacy and then rounded it off for the first time in 2009 with what is called the ‘Nine Dash Line.’

The US has always held Freedom of Navigation operations (FON OPS) as central. But China believes in what one can term as ‘strategic ambiguity’. There is a difference between sovereignty and jurisdiction. Sovereignty is like ownership of property domestically whereas jurisdiction roughly equates to an ability to benefit from or license the use of specific produce in an area (like the fish and hydrocarbons within the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] or a mining lease). Jurisdiction does not mean that one can impose controls on navigation or control the areas as if it is ownership. China has always reacted strongly to FON ops in the South China sea by the US. With the strategic pivot to Asia, we are in for interesting times. The US has unabashedly stated that it will continue to operate in the South China Sea by engaging in flight and naval activities, according to Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US Navy.

As India plans to host East Asia Summit (EAS) Maritime Conference in November this year, the issue of FON is certainly going to be a focal point of discussion. According to the Maritime Strategy unveiled in October 2015, South China Sea is a secondary area of interest to India. What role India plays as an emerging power in Asia and how it engages with China are somethings that would be of deep interest to policy makers .

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Chinese map of Spratly Islands by Joe Jones licensed from creativecommons.org

 

Comments { 0 }

No One Saw the Joint Statement

ASEAN adopted a rare tough stance on the South China Sea expressed in a Joint Statement and then immediately retracted it, indicating divisions amongst members.

by Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

There was a statement and then there wasn’t. The China-ASEAN Special Foreign Minister’s Meeting, organised after a gap of three years, was convened on June 14th to discuss relevant issues before the ASEAN-China Summit to be held later this year. After the meeting, Malaysia released a Joint Statement on behalf of ASEAN. The statement was remarkable because ASEAN seemed to have strayed away from diplomatic niceties and had taken a stern stance on the South China Sea. AFP reported that the statement read,

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea…We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea…We articulated ASEAN’s commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes…This includes “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the UN Charter…”

While the ASEAN refrains from mentioning China by name, the statement is important because it conveys the institution’s anxiety about the tensions in the South China Sea. Generally, the ASEAN calls for all parties to conform to the 2002 Code of Conduct and attempt to solve the issue peacefully. ASEAN does not directly take part in the conflict. Instead, it tries to act as a facilitator to resolve the conflict as it affects the national interests of several of its members and has implications for the whole region. As the South China Sea is an important shipping route, countries around the world are interested in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the areas.

Less than three hours later, the statement was retracted by the Malaysian government who said that it was not the official statement but the media guideline. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia released individual official statements where they stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Officials from Vietnam and Indonesia later said that the retracted statement was in line with the ASEAN standpoint.  The objection to the statement reportedly came from Laos (the current chairman of ASEAN) and Cambodia, both of whom share close relations with China. The episode evokes memories of the 2012 ASEAN Summit when the institution failed to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years due to Cambodia’s objection to inclusion of the South China Sea issue in the statement.

ASEAN’s success as a multilateral institution lay in its unanimity and consensus based decision making. However for the last few years, arriving at the ASEAN consensus is becoming increasingly divisive, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei-Darussalem (along with Taiwan) all have contesting claims to the boundaries of the South China Sea, most of which has been claimed by China under its ambiguous nine-dash line. As China began projects of land reclamation, construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, its military modernisation and increasingly assertive posture has worried the other claimants.

China is also using its bilateral relations with countries like Laos and Cambodia to undermine the multilateral consensus of the ASEAN. Some reports also debate if China’s ‘salami slicing strategy’ has now extended to Malaysia by leveraging its purchase of the debt ridden state entity, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (IMDB) reducing domestic pressure on Najib Razak in return for geopolitical payoffs. China denied the use of pressure either to influence ASEAN proceedings in this case or any others. The reasons behind the retraction of the rare tough stance taken by ASEAN remain unexplained. What it does indicate is that the ASEAN countries have failed to reconcile with a common viewpoint on the South China Sea issue.

The incident is also poignant because the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to deliver a judgement on the second round of hearings on the arbitration proceedings initiated by Philippines in 2013. While China contests the validity of an arbitration proceeding, the decision will be an important geopolitical marker, depending on how different countries respond to it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

Comments { 0 }

India: A vital player in South China Sea

South China Sea is one of the most difficult and contentious maritime conflicts in the Asia Pacific. Several scholars have echoed the sentiments that the South China Sea conflict would be worst case threat to peace and stability in the region. The concerns are further strengthened with China’s continued military build up, despite the 2002 Joint Declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea. China’s assertive posture in the South China Sea is of great concern especially with India unfolding its Act East Asia Policy.

The Modi Government has realised the importance of the South China Sea both in terms of its geo-economic and strategic interests. To further strengthen the relationship with South East Asian countries, India pledges to be a credible  security provider. At the  2014  East Asian Summit, India along with the United States and Vietnam affirmed its support to safeguard maritime security and freedom of navigation. Further, India has been very vocal in the settling the dispute through peaceful means and in a accordance with the UNCLOS.

south china sea

Several reasons have been attributed to India’s interest in the South China Sea (SCS) (1) The increased trade with East Asia and the sense for recognition on the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) from the Indian side beyond its geographical expanse and the importance of the Indo-Pacific region (2) Reducing dependency on the major powers for India’s avowed maritime needs (3) India’s fear of growing China’s assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region (4) The importance of forward maritime presence and naval partnership  is seen critical to deter India’s adversaries in the region (5) Securing the trade-transit route which passes through the South China Sea all vital to India’s growing trade, energy and security interests ( Raja C Mohan, Samudra Manthan).

As India unfolds its  maritime security posture and interest, there is a strong commitment from the Indian side to realign with several South East Asian countries. India is seen as a a vital player in the region, and Southeast Asian countries are keen to partner with India both economically and strategically. India’s inertia to expand towards to East unfolds, this is also a step to contain China’s expanding maritime interest. India’s participation in several East Asian forums is seen as a counter balance move initiated by the Southeast Asian countries. Thus India is welcomed as an external balancer along with the Untied States.

Indian Navy 2007 Doctrine defined “South China Sea as an area of strategic interest” for India and the recent Act East Asia strategy has further reiterated India’s commitment to move beyond the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea. At several occasions India stated that it could or would deploy India Navy to the South China Sea to defends its energy interests.

With India’s maritime discourse expanding and 55% of India’s trade passing through this region, it is imperative that India pursues its interest in the region. The Indo-Pacific trilateral with India, Japan and United States further revitalises India’s presence in the region. Thus the adoption of  the Indo-Pacific region into the strategic framework has cumulatively  summed up the  relevance of South China Sea for India.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar@Takshashila. Priya tweets @priyamanassa.

Comments { 0 }

China deploys missiles to contested South China sea islands

China has recently deployed the  advance surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea. The recent satellite images show tow batteries of eight surface-t0-air missile launchers as well as radar system on woody island, a part of the Parcel island chain in the south china sea. There are several claimants to the dispute and the Woody Island has been claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. On several occasion there has been agreement on the peaceful settlement of the dispute. The missiles arrived in the Woody Island over weeks and according to news reports the missle were visible from 14 February.

Heightened tension and anxiety is seen among the claimants countries as well as United States. Recently president Obama and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had several rounds of discussion to  ease the tension, but none of the dialogues ever had a mention of China’s assertive posture in the region

Though there have been several mechanism to thwart the tension and halt to the construction and militarisation of the disputed areas, the tension continues. US has pledged to conduct the freedom of navigation patrols for a free and smooth passage of ships were several countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Taiwan have their contested claim over the isalnd.

China sending its missile is not something unusual and it has deployed missiles on several occasions. The South China Sea issue intertwines several countries to dispute with China. Several countries like  Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and China are intertwined in the dispute over the South China Sea. Since 1950 China has laid its  claim over the Woody Island and the recent deployment probably is seen as a provocation.

US  has raised concern over the deployment, Japan and Vietnam have joined hands with US in condemning this deployment. South China Sea is a contested area with countries competing over the trade routes and mineral deposits. Does this deployment by China confirms China’s assertiveness  or as the Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi claims that an act to distort China’s image by the western media.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar @Takshashila. She tweets at priyamanassa

 

 

Comments { 0 }

China building indigenous second aircraft carrier

China has confirmed the building of its second aircraft carrier, but the first carrier in the indigenous category.  Military observers say that the second aircraft would be completely different from the country’s first carrier Liaoning a Soviet designed carrier purchased in 2012. The new carrier will be built with a brand new propulsion system, and the IHS Jane first noted the new hull under construction. Further the carrier would be  designed to accommodate the native  developed J-15 fighters and an  upgradation from the first aircraft carrier Liaoning.

 

aircraft

The image shows an overview of the Dalian shipyard in Northern China where China is building its indigenous second aircraft carrier.  White Paper entitled “China’s Military Strategy” is an endeavour to rejuvenate China’s capability. As the White Paper testifies it is important and relevant that China develops its maritime forces in way that it safeguards China’s national interest. The second aircraft carrier is a move toward this direction. Enhancing China’s blue water naval capability as a means to contain the US pivot in East Asia is an important directive towards this interest. China is currently working on the aircraft capability that would be on par with the USS Nimitz class super carriers. It is also speculated that the Chinese aircraft could be much smaller than the aircraft used by United States. There is also a good possibility that the new aircraft carrier might be stationed at a new facility on Hainan Island near the South China Sea. A  showcase of China’s might over the South China Sea.

The most critical objective of the program is the visualization of a blue water navy that could be operable beyond the first and second island chains. Beijing is keen to bolster its naval capabilites  as means to safeguard its maritime security. Further with China embroiled in conflict over East and South China Sea and the presence of United States in the region, convinces China to further enhance its deterrent capability. A raison d’être for China’s military expansion which is more global in nature rather than just looking at homeland defence.

Is China’s military expansion a tactics to  counter US primacy in the region or  stratagem of    reaching the Oceans, a part of its maritime strategy. Further it could be a modicum to  protect its Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) vital to China’s modernisation drive.  Despite several factors have been attributed to China’s expanded maritime interest, there is an interesting theory that unfolds China’s motivation. With China embroiled in maritime conflict in East Asia with Japan, the presence of United States a long time ally of Japan poses a major challenge to Chinese supremacy and rise. Further there is also a growing triple entente between Japan-United States-India which could be used to counter weight China.  Though India unlike the United States is not a traditional partner in East Asia, but today it is making a concerted effort to drive its economic, military and foreign policies eastward. There is a strong possibility that a Quadripolar Structure could emerge thus reframing the geo-strategic order of East Asia.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

 

 

Comments { 0 }

“Chinese dream”- return to the concept of Middle Kingdom?

By Piyush Singh

China wants to be the sole regional power in the Asian region and is clearly projecting the same, militarily and through its economic clout.

The recent declaration of Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) by China over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands was a reminder by the Chinese government to the world of its growing role as a regional power and in future a ‘superpower’. Over the course of last year after President Xi Jinping took helm as the leader of the country, Chinese assertiveness has increased in the Asia-Pacific region. It has proactively started claiming the whole of South China Sea and Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. The Chinese government has already declared these zones as its “Core Interests”, putting it at the same stature as the issue of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Its Boundary dispute with India is one of a more complex nature and in the past one year there have been more than 300 instances of incursions by the Chinese troops and occupying Indian Territory.

President Xi Jinping’s Speech about the great Chinese Dream was focused on “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “combines the spirit of the nation with patriotism as its core”. Skeptics around the world have linked the nature of this so called “Chinese Dream” to a more military form of dream. China’s increasing assertiveness in South and East China Sea has created ripples in various countries. President Xi’s interpretation of the Chinese Dream as a strong nation for the Chinese people and a strong military dream for the military has further more alarmed the neighbouring countries, in particular Japan, India and Vietnam. This is a stark difference from President Hu Jinatao’s “Peaceful Rise” concept whereby he emphasised on the peaceful development of the “Chinese nation”. After assuming power President Xi has issued orders to focus on “real combat” and “fighting and winning wars”.  China’s official defence budget has increased 10.7 percent from 2012 to 117 Billion Dollars.Unofficial Spending is estimated to be much higher, around 150 Billion Dollars.

What Is the Dream About? However, the main concept behind President Xi’s Concept of “Chinese Dream” is to restore China to its former glory of more than 5000 years of proud civilisation which it had lost after more than 200 years of foreign rule and oppression starting in 1750’s through Opium Wars and ultimately Japanese Occupation culminating into World war II. His dream is directly related to the old Confucian concept of the “Middle Kingdom” whereby China was at the centre of the world affairs and different countries paid homage to it. China no longer needs to “bide its time and hide its capabilities” as propounded by the great reformer Deng Xiaoping. For President Xi, the time for the Chinese nation to reclaim its former glory has come. He has even outlined the year 2049 as the time when the Country would have truly arrived at the world stage, which is on the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. Even though many argue that the so called “Chinese Dream“ is for the development of the Chinese people and to achieve economic growth, reduce poverty etc drawing parallels with “American Dream” of economic prosperity, liberty and basic human rights they clearly forget that China has always been a very opaque society in terms of its functioning and decision making. Who calls the shots in China has always been disputed. Many argue that the military has a firm control over the politburo and largely influences its decision making process.

Indian and Japanese Concerns-Time for Strategic Partnership? The other two aspiring regional powers in the Asian region, India and Japan have clearly taken the proactive Chinese military Posture with a pinch of salt. India in response to repeated Chinese incursions has raised a new mountain corps division of near about 85,000 soldiers and is simultaneously strengthening its fledging navy to maintain its dominance over the Indian Ocean region and also to secure its economic interests in the South China Sea. Japan has for the first time in ten years increased its defence budget and aims to spend around US$239 Billion over the course of next five years on buying up military hardware to counter China. Since assuming office, prime minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Japan. The Japanese Self Defense Forces(SDF) have been rapidly undergoing modernisation drive and it is being widely assumed in policy circles that it will soon lose its “pacifist” tag forced upon it after the horrors of World War II.

Both India and Japan share common concerns regarding the rise of China and how it is going to impact the regional balance in Asia and its periphery. The recent visit of the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko signify the importance the Japanese give to India-Japan Relations. Both India and Japan in recent years have increased defence cooperation and financial engagements. Abe’s government has also vowed to review Japan’s ban on weapons exports and is aggressively pursuing options of arming the militaries of India and Vietnam. Even the United States of America, the sole super-power after the end of Cold War has started prioritising itself in Asia-Pacific with its “Asia Pivot” program whereby it seeks to limit China’s growth as a super power and keep it mingled on the Chinese Mainland through repeated poking at its dismal Human Rights record, environment pollution and more rights for its citizens. Many analysts have linked this concept of “Chinese Dream” to the USA’s “Monroe Doctrine” which it adopted in the early 19th Century whereby it restricted the meddling of European powers in the Americas. China wants to be the sole regional power in the Asian region and is clearly projecting the same, militarily and through its economic clout.  The best way to contain China is to engage it more in international issue through the rule of law and not arbitrarily through its own set of rules.

Piyush Singh is a law student with an interest in India-China Relations, Nuclear Law and Energy. He is completing his internship with the Takshashila Institution. 

Comments { 0 }