Should the US take action against China's "insurgence" in the South China Sea?

China in the South China SeaAccording to US magazine The National Interest, the pass or fail of South China Sea governance by international laws will depend solely on whether civilian vessels of different nationalities can operate confidently at their wish in desired waters within the framework of their legal rights as recognized by international laws. The military-based political analysis magazine thought that current US approach to countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea had failed. The US Navy’s freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) have not been able to achieve long-term political goals which are to avert Chinese revisionism and aggressive behaviors in the South China Sea and uphold law-based maritime governance in this region.

However, such failure is not yet final. Although China's threatening expansion in the South China Sea has now increased significantly compared to when the US first launched FONOP, there is still time to fix the situation before regional and international communities either politically recognize China's ill-gotten gain or surrender to China’s continental-based conception of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Either approach requires the US to take on a new perspective on the nature of Beijing's threat in the region, revisiting its current efforts and gaining better understanding of the implications of Chinese activities in the South China Sea in the past, as well as in the future. From there, US history lessons can be applied to create new strategies, tactics and operational concepts that can be used to gain an advantage and achieve a more effective goal of maintaining freedom at sea and international rule-based order.

China’s new administrative districts and naming of geographical features in the South China Sea: No

China new administrative districts and naming of geographical features in the South China SeaFollowing a disastrous defeat in the Philippines vs. China South China Sea lawsuit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s at the Hague, China is looking for new ways to legitimize its irrational claim and illegal occupation of features in the South China Sea with perverse declarations. Most recently, China has taken advantage of a time when countries were busy combating the COVID-19 pandemic to make a series of irrational announcements.

Firstly, on April 18, 2020, the State Council of the People's Republic of China blatantly announced the establishment of a so-called "Xisha District" headquartered in Woody Island to oversee the Paracel Islands and Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) Archipelagos and surrounding waters; "Nansha District", headquartered in the Fiery Cross Reef to oversee the Spratly Islands and surrounding seas. These two districts are under the so-called "Sansha City", which China has illegally set up in 2012.

Second, on April 19, 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs had announced the so-called "standard naming" for 25 islands, reefs and 55 geographical features within their absurd "nine-dash line" claim in the South China Sea. In addition to naming these entities, China pronounced the longitudes and latitudes for the islands, reefs and features in question.

Assessing China’s Assertiveness at Commodore Reef

thediplomat-2020-04-16-16The incident earlier this year between Philippine and Chinese naval vessels near Commodore Reef foreshadows dynamics that might characterize regional maritime security in the face of an increasingly assertive China. In this regard, it is essential to reexamine the incident through the lens of international law and good order at sea to understand its implications.

Revisiting the Commodore Reef Incident

On February 17, 2020, the Philippine Navy corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) conducted a patrol mission near the Philippine-occupied Commodore Reef in the South China Sea (SCS). During the mission, it encountered a PLA Navy (PLAN) corvette with hull number 514. PS-39 radioed the Chinese Navy Ship (CNS)-514, which responded with the following statement: “The Chinese government has indisputable sovereignty over the SCS, its islands and its adjacent waters.” Subsequently, PS-39 instructed the CNS-514 to proceed directly to its next destination but the Chinese vessel simply repeated its earlier response and maintained its course and speed.

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Military Confrontation in the South China Sea

CPM ConfrontationSouthChinaSea webIntroduction

The risk of a military confrontation in the South China Sea involving the United States and China could rise significantly in the next eighteen months, particularly if their relationship continues to deteriorate as a result of ongoing trade frictions and recriminations over the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since 2009, China has advanced its territorial claims in this region through a variety of tactics—such as reclaiming land, militarizing islands it controls, and using legal arguments and diplomatic influence—without triggering a serious confrontation with the United States or causing a regional backlash. Most recently, China announced the creation of two new municipal districts that govern the Paracel and Spratly Islands, an attempt to strengthen its claims in the South China Sea by projecting an image of administrative control. It would be wrong to assume that China is satisfied with the gains it has made or that it would refrain from using more aggressive tactics in the future. Plausible changes to China’s domestic situation or to the international environment could create incentives for China’s leadership to adopt a more provocative strategy in the South China Sea that would increase the risk of a military confrontation.

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Is China taking advantage of COVID-19 to pursue South China Sea ambitions?

Is China taking advantage of COVIDOver the past months, as countries in the Pacific region were focused on battling the coronavirus, multiple sources reported that China stepped up patrols and naval exercises in the highly disputed South China Sea.

The activities of the Asian powerhouse in the region, however, did not slip by the eyes of Washington, which went on to accuse Beijing of "exploiting" its neighboring countries as they are "distracted" with the pandemic.

"We call on the PRC [People's Republic of China] to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea," the US Department of State said in a statement in early April.

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Indonesia calls for parties to exercise self-restraint in South China Sea amid pandemic

Indonesia calls for parties to exercise self-restraint in South China Sea amid pandemicIndonesia expressed on Wednesday its concern about recent activities in the South China Sea that could potentially lead to an escalation in tensions at a time when a collective global effort is needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concerns were raised following the latest maneuvers by China and the United States in the highly disputed region – a sea in the Pacific Ocean that covers an area of around 3.5 million square kilometers.

The South China Sea has been the source of a prolonged dispute between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, which each have competing territorial claims.

How should Biden handle China?

How should Biden handle ChinaIn a recent campaign ad, Joe Biden accused the president of being too soft on China over COVID-19. This decision to criticize Donald Trump on China and subsequent signals that Biden will take a tough approach toward Beijing have made some progressives nervous.

Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart called Biden’s ad “a jingoistic fantasy” that may put Asian Americans in the crosshairs of racist attacks, “hastening a geopolitical confrontation that threatens progressive goals.” In The New York Times, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft scholars Rachel Esplin Odell and Stephen Wertheim warned Biden about following Trump into a new cold war with China and argued that the United States should seek to work with Beijing on shared challenges such as pandemics and climate change.

China’s fishing ban in the South China Sea from the international law perspective

China fishing ban in the South China Sea from the international law perspectiveOn April 30, 2020, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China’s Hainan Province announced what is called “annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea” with effect from May 1 to August 16, 2020 in the waters north of 12 degrees north latitude of the South China Sea. During that three-and-a-half-month period, China will perform a safety check on fishing equipment and boats, and at the same time, providing training on regulations and relevant skills for fishermen.

With the so-called purpose of “protecting maritime ecology and diversity from overfishing”, China has blatantly and unilaterally imposed the annual fishing ban for the past 21 years since 1999 in disregard of international law. International law experts and researchers say that China’s action is illegal from an international law perspective.

To begin with, Chinese fishing ban covers part of the Gulf of Tonkin, the waters beyond the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin and the Paracel Islands, which are under Vietnam’s sovereignty, as well as Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS) from latitude 12 degrees north up.

What needs to be done to reduce the risk of conflict in the South China Sea

What needs to be done to reduce the risk of conflict in the South China SeaThe situation in the South China Sea in 2019 was extremely tense, due to aggressive actions by China that increased the risk of conflict. According to observers, in 2020, it will be hard to maintain peace in the region, since there is not only tension between China and coastal countries in the South China Sea, but also Sino-US strategic competition in the South China Sea, which is becoming fiercer than ever. There are even experts who believe that the South China Sea is becoming a gunpowder furnace and one of the hottest spots on the planet.

However, according to Professor Hu Bo, Director of the Center for Maritime Strategy Research and Research Professor at the Institute of Ocean Research, Peking University, the risk here is only “small-scale armed conflict”. Also mentioned in his article “3 Keys to a Peaceful China-US Maritime Coexistence” in The Diplomat were three proposals to reduce the risk of armed conflict:

First, the US and China need to reach a consensus on power distribution in the Western Pacific region. Hu Bo said that the correlation of forces in this area had gradually been tilted toward Beijing, thanks to decade-long investments in military modernization, though in terms of absolute strength, now or near future, China could not be compared with the United States.

Propaganda: Chinese sharp tool to ‘win without a war’ in the South China Sea

Chinese sharp tool to win without a war in the South China SeaThough it is never said nor written, the Chinese government has invested considerably and consistently in propaganda to push for its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea, defending and fencing such claims as well as its unlawful and arrogant activities in the South China Sea. China has turned propaganda into a front, or even a “modus operandi” in order to draw favours from the public to support its political, military, diplomatic, legal and field activities relating to sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. For years Chinese propaganda about the South China Sea, especially the nine-dash line, has become a powerful weapon to help Beijing “acquire territories” in the South China Sea without resorting to war.

In political science, information and communication are crucial, integral parts of the political life of any country both domestically and externally. In China, propaganda plays an even more important role as the Chinese Communist Party is the sole political party leading the country.

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