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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "South China Sea"

Review: ‘A Contest for Supremacy’ by Aaron Friedberg

by Joshua Kurlantzick
In ‘A Contest for Supremacy,’ Aaron Friedberg portrays the United States and China as almost fated to wind up in conflict, and suggests Beijing is already lapping Washington in preparing for such a fight (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters). In ‘A Contest for Supremacy,’ Aaron Friedberg portrays the United States and China as almost fated to wind up in conflict, and suggests Beijing is already lapping Washington in preparing for such a fight (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters).

In the spring of 2010, after years of relative quiet in the South China Sea —the strategic body of water separating southeastern China from Southeast Asia, and including regions disputed by at least five claimants including China, Vietnam and the Philippines, tensions suddenly seemed to explode. Beijing announced that the Sea was a “core interest,” putting it in the highest pantheon of Chinese policy issues, alongside Tibet and Taiwan, on which China brooks no interference; China also increasingly pushed its claim that it controlled the territorial waters of nearly the entire South China Sea. It had warned other countries not to explore for oil and gas in the Sea, and had warned Western multinationals as well. Chinese ships would cut the lines of other countries’ fishing vessels operating in the Sea, while nationalist Chinese publications warned that other countries claiming even tiny portions of the water would lead to war. Read more »

Liaoning – Paper Tiger or Growing Cub?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
The Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, seen following its maiden sea trial at Dalian Port, Liaoning province, on August 15, 2011. The Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, seen following its maiden sea trial at Dalian Port, Liaoning province, on August 15, 2011. (China Daily China Daily Information Corp - CDIC/Courtesy Reuters)

Colonel Brian Killough is the U.S. Air Force Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On Tuesday, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) joined 9 other nations—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, Thailand, Spain, Italy, and Brazil—that have aircraft carriers in their naval arsenal. But what does that mean for nations in the region and how should we assess the long-term implications? Read more »

News Flash: Washington Source of All Beijing’s Problems

by Elizabeth C. Economy
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. (Jim Watson / Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s swing through Asia has been marked by a revelation in Beijing: the source of all China’s problems with its neighbors is the United States. A Xinhua editorial paints the United States as a “sneaky trouble maker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings.” In the Global Times, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Ni Feng states that the U.S. pivot is “stirring up tensions between China and its neighbors”; while Renmin University scholar Jin Canrong argues that Washington aims to “dominate the region’s political agenda, and build a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China, as well as further consolidate its military edge.” Read more »

Why ASEAN Will Stay Weak

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. secretary of state Clinton delivers remarks during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. U.S. secretary of state Clinton delivers remarks during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

In her visit to Asia this week, including her trip to Jakarta on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not only highlighted the renewed American focus on Southeast Asia, especially regarding the South China Sea, but also highlighted the rising importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), by visiting the organization’s headquarters, or secretariat, in Jakarta. At a bilateral meeting with ASEAN’s secretary-general, Clinton remarked, “We [the United States] have an interest in strengthening ASEAN’s ability to address regional challenges in an effective, comprehensive way.” Read more »

China’s Political Silly Season Arrives

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden address a meeting with governors and Chinese provincial officials in Los Angeles on February 18, 2012. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden address a meeting with governors and Chinese provincial officials in Los Angeles on February 18, 2012. (David McNew / Courtesy Reuters)

Election season in the United States is often called the “silly season” as a result of all the name-calling and heightened nationalistic rhetoric that it tends to produce.  China policy, while never a central focus of the campaign season, nonetheless is always raised, and this year is no exception. Both the Obama and the Romney campaigns have condemned Beijing for its weak adherence to global trade norms and its negative impact on the American economy, with Romney supporters threatening serious action if their guy is elected. Read more »

Cooler Heads on the South China Sea?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) is greeted by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a meeting at the presidential office in Jakarta August 10, 2012. China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) is greeted by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a meeting at the presidential office in Jakarta August 10, 2012 (Enny Nuraheni/Courtesy Reuters).

During his trip to Southeast Asia this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi vowed to work with ASEAN to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, according to reports by the Asia News Network. Yang visited Indonesia, which has been trying to rally ASEAN unity on the South China Sea, as well as Malaysia and Brunei, two of the nations that have claims to the South China Sea —but ones that have been far more reticent to cross China than Vietnam or the Philippines have been. Read more »

China Moving Soldiers to Disputed South China Sea Islands

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People's Liberation Army Hong Kong garrison march at an airbase in Hong Kong (Bobby Yip/courtesy Reuters) People's Liberation Army Hong Kong garrison march at an airbase in Hong Kong (Bobby Yip/courtesy Reuters)

In today’s New York Times, a detailed article notes that China’s Central Military Commission has approved “the deployment of a garrison of soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army to guard disputed islands claimed by China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.” This development is only going to ratchet tensions up even higher from the already sky-high level in the wake of the failed ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting earlier this month. Read more »

What Happens Now in the South China Sea?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Filipino fishermen wave from a fishing boat bound to fish near Scarborough Shoal in Masinloc (Erik de Castro/courtesy Reuters) Filipino fishermen wave from a fishing boat bound to fish near Scarborough Shoal in Masinloc (Erik de Castro/courtesy Reuters)

Although the meltdown of the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh last week seemed like an unmitigated disaster, and already has resulted in a flurry of press coverage blasting the organization, the situation in the South China Sea is not necessarily headed for a steep descent into real conflict. To be sure, both sides seem likely to send more “fishing vessels” and other boats that straddle the line between civilian and military vessels into the disputed waters, raising the possibility of further skirmishes. Meanwhile, in the wake of the summit Philippine opinion leaders, and the Philippine media, are both livid at Cambodia for allegedly scuttling any joint position and increasingly aware of how vulnerable the Philippines is, having allowed their armed forces to deteriorate badly over the past two decades. Read more »

ASEAN Kicks the South China Sea Dispute down the Road

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011.

Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011. (Peter Ng/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, both Southeast Asian nations and China celebrated the drafting of an agreement between Southeast Asian states and China to resolve South China Sea disputes peacefully. As Voice of America reported, American officials also hailed the deal:

“U.S. officials are expressing relief over the accord, which they say should ease tensions between China and several ASEAN member states including U.S. defense treaty ally, the Philippines.”

Of course, any dampening of tensions in the South China Sea, where there has been one incident after the next in recent months, is welcome. The Philippines, Vietnam, and China had been ratcheting up tensions, and some Chinese analysts even began talking of a “limited war” with Vietnam to teach the country a lesson about claims in the Sea.

Read more »

The South China Sea Steams Up

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Protesters march with banners and placards during an anti-China demonstration on a street in Hanoi on June 19, 2011. Several dozen Vietnamese protested in front of the Chinese embassy and marched through Hanoi for the third Sunday running after Beijing sent one of its biggest maritime patrol ships into the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Protesters march with banners and placards during an anti-China demonstration on a street in Hanoi June 19, 2011. Several dozen Vietnamese protested in front of the Chinese embassy and marched through Hanoi for the third Sunday running after Beijing sent one of its biggest maritime patrol ships into the disputed waters of the South China Sea. (John Ruwitch/Courtesy Reuters)

It is summertime, and everyone is out sailing on the South China Sea. Unfortunately, the waters have gotten a bit choppy.  The Philippines and Vietnam, in particular, are riled up over China’s most recent demonstrations of assertiveness: Chinese vessels have reportedly been busy intruding into Philippine waters and cutting the cables of two boats under the flag of PetroVietnam. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have called for assistance from the international community to help rein China in.

At stake, of course, are the potentially vast oil and natural gas resources that many believe the South China Sea possesses. For decades, six claimants—Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, and Brunei—have bickered and skirmished over who is entitled to what. Ancient claims of sovereignty run up against the Law of the Sea and Exclusive Economic Zones. Rhetorical and actual skirmishes have become a way of life. Indeed the situation has been far more dangerous in the past with live fire exchanged and fishermen or sailors killed.

What’s different now, however, is the context in which these conflicts are playing out. And this matters – a lot. Read more »