South China Sea: if Vietnam files suit, China may take part in legal proceedings

South China Sea if Vietnam files suit China may take part in legal proceedingsBeijing is contemplating what countermeasures it can take if Vietnam takes it to international court over territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, insiders say.

One option would be to actually take part in the legal proceedings, which it did not do when facing a similar arbitration case brought by the Philippines four years ago, which China lost.

“I think preparations are under way,” said Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, the capital of China’s island province, Hainan.

“It’s unlikely we’re turning a blind eye while Vietnam is moving into [legal action].”

Beijing could countersue Vietnam over the sovereignty of disputed parts of the Spratly Islands, Wu said.

It could also declare lines around the Spratlys to consolidate its claims and restart its oil and gas explorations there, which were suspended in 1994 after strong opposition from Hanoi, he said.

‘India-China border clash may reverberate in South China Sea’

India ChinaThe medical experts at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have been at the forefront of the global fight against Covid-19 both as a seat of medical research, and as a reliable soundboard for policy interventions. What most don’t know, however, is that the strategic affairs and diplomacy experts at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), specialising in the East Asia and Indo-Pacific, have also been busy during this period pondering on how the post-Covid-19 geo-political dynamics emerges in that region, where the United States, China, Taiwan, Asean countries and Quad partners are increasingly appearing to be closing ranks. Additionally, the recent moves by India to collaborate further and deeper with the countries of that region gain significance, as New Delhi gets embroiled in an active conflict with Beijing at the Line of Actual Control.

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Three U.S. aircraft carriers operating on doorstep of South China Sea

Three US aircraft carriers operating on doorstep of South China SeaFor the first time since 2017, the U.S. Navy has positioned three of its aircraft carriers on the doorstep of the disputed South China Sea, as tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to soar.

Analysts said the dispatch to the Western Pacific of the three vessels was likely intended to send a message to China that, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the United States military would continue to maintain a strong presence in the region.

On Sunday, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet said the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz carrier strike groups had begun dual carrier flight operations in the Philippine Sea.

The two strike groups were scheduled to conduct air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, long-range strike drills, coordinated maneuvers and other exercises, according to a statement.

Fishing ban - Beijing’s “two-sided game” in the South China Sea

Fishing ban Beijings two-sided game in the South China SeaOn May 11, 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated that Vietnam “has no right to comment on China's annual summer fishing ban in the South China Sea, because this measure is under China’s administrative authority”, in order to counter Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman’s earlier objection to China’s recent fishing ban and demand that Beijing do not complicate the situation in South China Sea.

Ms. Hua also stated that “it is indisputable that the Paracel Islands (known as Xisha in China) are a part of China’s territory”, and that “China enjoys sovereignty and jurisdiction rights in its territorial waters of the South China Sea in accordance with international law and Chinese domestic law”.

On the same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also said that “Vietnam has no right to make unwarranted accusations against China”. Mr. Zhao added that, under international law and Chinese domestic law, Beijing enjoyed sovereignty and jurisdiction over certain parts of the South China Sea. He even went so far as to threaten that “Vietnam must not encourage their fishermen to infringe upon Chinese rights and interests”.

Zhao Lijian’s statement was a response to the Vietnam Fisheries Society’s opposition against China’s unilateral fishing ban. In a statement on May 4, 2020, the Vietnam Fisheries Society said that China’s fishing ban had violated its sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Vietnamese waters; violating Vietnamese fishermen’s lawful rights and interests by obstructing their production; and violating international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS and related legal documents.

This raises a question about the actual force that causes such degradation of environment and aquatic resources that China has to issue an annual unilateral fishing ban, so as to “protect marine resources and sustainable development in the South China Sea”. Logically, it should not be China. Nonetheless, at a recent International Seminar on “Environmental and Maritime Security for a Blue South China Sea”, scientists had concluded that 95% of the impacts on marine environment in this region were caused by China.

Gregory B. Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia and Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said that China had destroyed about 40,000 acres of coral reefs to construct artificial islands. He also cited figures from the Philippines press, according to which, in 2019 alone, giant clam harvesting activities done by Chinese vessels had seriously affected the coral reefs around the western shoals of the Luzon island in the Philippines.

Hunter Stires, Fellow at the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research, US Naval War College, cited the same figure as Mr. Poling, affirming that China was world-famous for “paving over” thousands of acres of coral reefs to construct a series of militarized artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, stressing how Chinese giant fishing fleets’ use of stow nets had destroyed the seabed in neighboring countries’ exclusive economic zone. In order to catch the endangered giant clam, China did not hesitate to employ propeller boats to destroy Scarborough Shoal coral reefs, under the Philippines’ sovereignty.

Assessing these destructive activities on the environment and marine life in the South China Sea, John W. McManus, PhD., Professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries at the University of Miami, described the area as seriously devastated, chiefly under the impact of Chinese activities. Chinese fishing boats have been digging and dredging the seabed to find giant clams. China denied the construction of artificial islands in these coral reefs, while they have in fact destroyed a major part of the area to do so. Other countries in the region conduct less than 1% of China's destructive activities. Specifically, 160 square kilometers of coral reefs have been destroyed, of which 17 square kilometers were caused by the construction of artificial islands, while an additional 143 square kilometer were destroyed due to China’s exploitation for construction materials and giant clams.

China has unilaterally imposed fishing regulations in the South China Sea, including seasonal closures, requiring non-Chinese fishermen to ask for Chinese permission to fish. Meanwhile, they have equipped their 50,000 fleets with extremely modern fishing and communication equipment. The ongoing environmental destruction in the South China Sea is so grave that Professor McManus had to exclaim that China had “depleted” the sea.

Expressing her regret for the maritime environment destruction in the South China Sea, Dr. Annette Junio Menne, former Director of the Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, affirmed that there existed a Coral Triangle with more than 500 different species in the South China Sea, home to 3,000 sea creatures. However, China’s rough construction and accretion of artificial islands has exceeded the permissible standards, causing large areas of coral reefs and sediments to disappear forever. That causes great long-term damage to the environment. According to Dr. Menne, economically, the world loses at least USD$4 billion every year to the uncontrolled exploitation of coral reefs in the South China Sea. Not only does this destroy the environment, but also undermines the prosperity of other nations in the South China Sea.

According to an international organization for monitoring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, China is the leading country in the world with the highest number of fishing vessels violating the provisions of international law. According to research findings from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington, D.C. in the United States, large scale exploitation of giant clam and dredging of the seabed for artificial islands construction, mostly conducted by China, are the main cause for marine life extinction.

As such, it is China who has been destroying the environment and gradually exhausting marine resources in the South China Sea. Aware of such harm, China has unilaterally issued the annual fishing ban, explaining that “not only does it protect the interests of the Chinese people, but also the interests of the people of other countries”. However, considering the scope of the annual Chinese fishing ban, which covers the entire northern sea section of the “nine-dash line”, while its southern part from the 12 degrees north latitude upward, covers a joint fishing area with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, it is evident that the ban has seriously violated the agreement between the two countries, not to mention it also covers a disputed area between China and the Philippines. Clearly, China’s fishing ban has seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, as well as Vietnam’s rights and interests in its waters, and international laws including the 1982 UNCLOS.

Greg Poling commented that China's fishing ban covered 1.3 million square kilometers, but only 28% were within China's exclusive economic zone. The remaining 25% are disputed waters with other countries, 18% are international waters, 18% are exclusive economic zones of the Philippines and 10% are exclusive economic zones of Vietnam. As such, the fishing ban is not merely a tool for economic gain, but also an evidence of Beijing's ambition for sovereignty over the South China Sea.

Not only does China’s annual fishing ban infringe on other countries’ waters and marine resources, but it is also in fact a step towards Beijing’s goal of asserting sovereignty under the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. In the long run, it is likely to create Beijing propaganda intended-illusion of normalcy, which may create misunderstanding among public opinion that the area in question is under Chinese sovereignty.

Therefore, the countries concerned need to raise their voices in order to attract international public opinion, helping them understand the nature of China’s actions, as well as taking the needed measures to support and encourage fishermen from other countries to continue fishing in their national waters.

Blatant set-up of island districts: China’s attempt for “legal files” for South China Sea monopoly

Chinas attempt for legal files for South China Sea monopolyOn 18 April 2020, Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN) announced the Chinese government’s decision on the establishment of two districts, Xisha and Nansha, under the administration of Sansha city. According to CGTN, Xisha’s headquarters is in Woody Island (Paracel Islands), while that of Nansha locates in Fiery Cross (Spratlys). They are both under China’s illegal occupation. The Paracels was forcibly seized by China in 1974, while Fiery Cross has been under Chinese occupation since 1988. The two districts will exercise administration over the surrounding water of the two islands, extending to 200 nm of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is against international law.

Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”: a thorny path

Xi JinpingAfter becoming the master of Zhongnanhai and having a great centralized power in hand, Xi Jinping introduced the “Chinese Dream” to make China a superpower and “the centre” of the world. To materialize the “Chinese Dream”, Xi Jinping also launched the “Belt and Road” and “Maritime Silk Road" initiatives. The primary goals are to transform China into a maritime power, increase its presence, and expand its influences over Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the South Pole.

To realize such ambition, on the one hand, Beijing fosters its media campaign promoting “China’s peaceful rise”. On the other hand, China increases its intrusion on land into different regions through the “Belt and Road” (BRI) and on the sea against its neighbouring countries. With its propaganda machine, several countries have initially believed in Beijing's words. However, China’s increasing aggressiveness and assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea, have revealed its expansionist and Great Han hegemonic nature. The “Chinese Dream” of Xi Jinping concurrently enters tough times.

The “Notes Verbale Debate” on sovereignty in the South China Sea “reactivates” the PCA award

MalaysiaOn December 12th 2019, Malaysia submitted a new Note Verbale to the Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) of the United Nations (UN) to assert its claim about extended continental shelf based on the final award issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) dated July 12th 2016. The PCA’s award concludes that China’s “nine-dash line” has no validity and no feature in the Spratly Islands generates any maritime entitlements. Through its Note Verbale on the extended continental shelf, Malaysia has sparked the “Notes Verbale Debate” among claimants in the South China Sea sovereignty dispute.

It is called the “Debate of Notes Verbale” because after the Malaysian submission of Note Verbale to the UN, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and recently Indonesia followed suit, either to object the Malaysian and related nations’ claims or to protect their national sovereignty, or both. Some states even submitted two or three Notes Verbale. Some submitted theirs in response to others’. This has been the second “Debate of Note Verbale” on the South China Sea since the 2000s.

Chinese candidate unworthy of the position as a judge at the International Tribunal for ITLOS

International Tribunal for the Law of the SeaAs planned, the 30th Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea took place from 15th to 19th June, 2020. The Meeting’s agenda covered the election of seven new Judges to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), replacing seven outgoing predecessors.

There are currently 10 candidates from 10 different countries, including the Chinese candidate - Mr. Duan Jielong, Chinese Ambassador to Hungary. China has been aggressively campaigning for their candidate, even resorting to bribing and pressuring other state parties. Nonetheless, Mr. Duan Jielong, as the Chinese candidate, does not deserve to be elected to such an important office for the following reasons:

First of all, in terms of professional expertise and work ethics, members of the ITLOS need to be among the world's leading law experts, with experience in public international law, especially on the law of the sea and is known for impartiality. Given Mr. Duan Jielong’ work history and qualifications, it is evident that he is inferior to other candidates both in terms of professional and legal experience.

What’s new in the US South China Sea policy?

Whats newAt escalating Chinese aggressive behaviors in the South China Sea in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, US South China Sea policy has undergone drastic changes, confirming the US’ commitment to the region. Recent US policy adjustments on the South China Sea are as follows:

First, top US officials, including the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and other members of Congress, have condemned China, one after the other, for taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to push forth their acts of encroachment, coercion and bullying towards neighboring countries in the South China Sea. To prove their point, the US has since dispatched its powerful naval forces (amphibious ships, destroyers, missile defense ships, frigates, submarines...), as well as its air force (long range strategic bombers), to the South China Sea.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, such intense and rapid activities of the US navy and air forces are meant to convey a tough message to Beijing, clearly demonstrating Washington's intention of siding with coastal countries in the South China Sea, supporting their rights to exploit energy resources in their lawful waters, while condemning China of pressuring and bullying its neighbors.

Should China be permitted to “rewrite” the international law?

Should China be permittedThat is the question that experts, academics and the international public raised before the event of April 18, 2020 when China blatantly announced the establishment of the new two administrative divisions under the so-called “Sansha City” to govern Paracel and Spratly Islands. With this action, China continues to disregard international law and the fact that Vietnam has repeatedly affirmed that Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal basis to assert sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands. China’s perverse attitude in the South China Sea did not stop there, but a day later (April 19, 2020), China's Natural Resources Ministry and Civil Affairs Ministry released “standard names” for 80 geographical features in the South China Sea. Most of these features locate in the western part of the South China Sea, some of which are along the "nine-dash line" that Beijing unilaterally declared and is very close to the mainland of Vietnam.

Immediately after those Chinese actions many international experts and scholars have in recent days expressed their frustration at Beijing’s “unethical” and “unreasonable” actions.

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