Tuesday, July 19, 2011

China and the South China Sea: Back to the "Cow's Tongue"

Red dashed line is the "Cow's Tongue"
There are a couple of things floating about the internet involving China and its assertion of claims to a large chunk of the South China Sea - a topic that I remind you has been discussed here and on Midrats on several occasions (see China: "The Cow's Tongue", Midrats (Dr. Michael Auslin in first part of show) and, more recently, A War of Words Over the South China Sea).

Senator James Webb has taken on this South China Sea issue as "America's Munich Moment":
So when the senator opines that the United States is ‘approaching a Munich moment with China’ in the South China Sea, it’s worth taking his words seriously.

He levels an incendiary charge. If this is a Munich moment in the making, who are the protagonists? Webb seemingly casts China in the part of Nazi Germany, an aggressive, acquisitive power bent on increasing its geopolitical sway at small states’ expense. This makes President Hu Jintao the counterpart to German dictator Adolf Hitler. President Barack Obama plays the part of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who traded away much of Czechoslovakia in 1938 in the hope of slaking Hitler’s land hunger.
Americans seldom follow Southeast Asian politics, despite the importance of this maritime crossroads to US and global commerce. Filipino leaders maintain that the 1951 security treaty between Manila and Washington covers maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea. Would Americans fight to defend such claims, or are they, like Czech sovereignty for the Western powers in 1938, a secondary affair?

As noted here. the U.S. Senate has taken a stand on the South China Sea by passing a resolution condemning the use of force in the disputed waters in Southeast Asia. See, from Senator Webb's website, U.S. Senate Unanimously “Deplores” China’s Use of Force in South China Sea:
The text of S.Res.217 is below:

Title: Calling for a peaceful and multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia.

Whereas, on June 9, 2011, 3 vessels from China, including 1 fishing vessel and 2 maritime security vessels, ran into and disabled the cables of an exploration ship from Vietnam, the VIKING 2;
Whereas that use of force occurred within 200 nautical miles of Vietnam, an area recognized as its Exclusive Economic Zone;
Whereas, on May 26, 2011, a maritime security vessel from China cut the cables of another exploration ship from Vietnam, the BINH MINH, in the South China Sea in waters near Cam Ranh Bay;
Whereas, in March 2011, the Government of the Philippines reported that patrol boats from China attempted to ram 1 of its surveillance ships;
Whereas those incidents occurred within disputed maritime territories of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, composed of 21 islands and atolls, 50 submerged land atolls, and 28 partly submerged reefs over an area of 340,000 square miles, and the Paracel Islands, a smaller group of islands located south of China’s Hainan Island;
Whereas China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei have disputed territorial claims over the Spratly Islands, and China and Vietnam have a disputed claim over the Paracel Islands;
Whereas the Government of China claims most of the 648,000 square miles of the South China Sea, more than any other nation involved in those territorial disputes;
Whereas, in 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China signed a declaration on the code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea;
Whereas that declaration committed all parties to those territorial disputes to “reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea” and to “resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force”;
Whereas the South China Sea contains vital commercial shipping lines and points of access between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean;
Whereas, although not a party to these disputes, the United States has a national economic and a security interest in ensuring that no party uses force unilaterally to assert maritime territorial claims in East Asia;
Whereas, in September 2010, the Government of China also deliberately provoked a controversy within the waters of the Senkaku Islands, territory under the legal administration of Japan in the East China Sea;
Whereas the actions of the Government of China in the South China Sea have also affected United States military and maritime vessels transiting through international air space and waters, including the collision of a fighter plane of the Government of China with a United States surveillance plane in 2001, the harassment of the USNS IMPECCABLE in March 2009, and the collision of a Chinese submarine with the sonar cable of the USS JOHN MCCAIN in June 2009;
Whereas, like every nation, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation and open access to the maritime commons of Asia;
Whereas the Government of the United States expressed support for the declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China in 2002 on the code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea, and supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion;
Whereas the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation and in unimpeded economic development and commerce;
Whereas, on October 11, 2010, Secretary Gates maintained “The United States has always exercised our rights and supported the rights of others to transit through, and operate in, international waters.”;
Whereas, on June 3, 2011, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Secretary Gates stated that “[m]aritime security remains an issue of particular importance for the region, with questions about territorial claims and the appropriate use of the maritime domain presenting on-going challenges to regional stability and prosperity”;
Whereas, on June 4, 2011, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Liang Guanglie, the Defense Minister from China, said, “China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.”;
Whereas, on June 11, 2011, the Government of Vietnam held a live-fire military exercise on the uninhabited island of Hon Ong, 25 miles off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea; and
Whereas, on June 11, 2011, Hong Lei, the Foreign Ministry spokesman of China, stated, “[China] will not resort to force or the threat of force” to resolve the territorial dispute: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) reaffirms the strong support of the United States for the peaceful resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and pledges continued efforts to facilitate a multilateral, peaceful process to resolve these disputes;
(2) deplores the use of force by naval and maritime security vessels from China in the South China Sea;
(3) calls on all parties to the territorial dispute to refrain from threatening force or using force to assert territorial claims; and
(4) supports the continuation of operations by the United States Armed Forces in support of freedom of navigation rights in international waters and air space in the South China Sea.
Now comes Vietnam to assert its complaints against China's encroachment into what it asserts are Vietnamese waters, in The East Sea: Seizing opportunity, getting out of danger:
If we look at the map of the East Sea, the territorial water sovereignty of each country and the international maritime order have been clearly clarified under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS).

China's Nine-Dotted Line Map
But why China dares to put forward the U-shape line to claim up to 80 percent of the East Sea – which could only happen if the wheel of history have reversed to the time before the World War II; when Vietnam, the Philippines and the countries around the East Sea were not recognized as independent nations and when Vietnamese, Filipino and other peoples did not have independence and freedom?
In that context, China has two options: 1) Cooperating with other super powers in the world, led by the US, to supply goods for maintaining the international order, the stability and prosperity development based on cooperation and global trade; 2) replacing the US and the US’ strategic allies (West Europe and Japan) to set up the new world order and new military alliance headed by the US in order to force others to obey the new order.

In fact, China has chosen the second. This process began by trampling on the UNCLOS in order to turn the East Sea into its pond. It is uneasy for China to realize that ambition because: 1) it abolishes the sovereignty of countries around the East Sea and goes on the contrary with the trend of the time (the campaign to struggle for independence for nations after the fascism was defeated). 2) In the long run, it can make a bad precedent for appropriating the rights of free navigation and maritime safety on international sea routes. Other countries (except for China) will have to pay fees or be fined or banned from using international sea routes or air routes, which are controlled by China.

The key point here is the clear difference between international maritime routes and maritime routes in China’s waters. When politic or interest conflicts occur, China can use its control right to ban related countries from traveling in the East Sea, though in principle, China commits maintaining free navigation. This will not happen if China cannot impose its real control on the waters bordered by the U-shape line.

The sovereignty disputes in the East Sea are not a bilateral matter, but the issue of regional and international security. China understands it very clearly and China understands that the US, Japan, West Europe and other superpowers in the world, like Russia and India also know its plot.

This game shows adventure in the strategy that China is pursuing. Carefully analyzing that game will create international agreement to solve the East Sea disputes, which China makes up into “bilateral conflicts” on the “indisputable sovereignty” in which China is the victim.
Now, with heads turning toward the U.S. to be a presence, ask yourself, "What fleet do we need?"

And, make no mistake, this is all about naval power and power projection.


  1. Sadly, I saw a poll that stated that 48% of American respondants felt that retrenchment, as a cost saving measure, was acceptable. It would do people a world of good to get out and see what the rest of the world is really like, rather than just rely on what the various media say it is.

  2. mandb4:50 AM

    But to complete the China-Vietnam incidents, let's not forget that both sides sat round the table immediately afterwards to stop such incidents as reported at:
    Look for similar bilateral arrangements in the future....... with the Chinese economic regional clout being used as the bargaining chip.

  3. Anonymous11:15 AM

    All major powers need to expand: culturally, politically or physically. The US expanded west absorbing Natives and cheating them out of land; Great Britain, France and Spain expanded their respective commercial emipires via sea power and now China tries in their sphere of influence in Asia. Big Deal. It will always be this way, not a justification, just an excuse.

  4. Anonymous5:26 PM

    Thank you very much for posting! :)