Mar del Sur

A Philippine supply boat and a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea, October 2023. Adrian Portu / Reuters

As China increasingly threatens to use force against Taiwan, the United States is rightly focused on the dangers of conflict over the island. But there is an equal risk of crisis, confrontation, and even war over a different area—the South China Sea. China is aggressively pursuing its claims throughout the sea, through which over $3 trillion in trade flows each year. Over the last decade, Beijing has built military bases on a series of reclaimed islands and harassed other countries that claim rights in the sea. Most recently, it has raised the risk of disaster by unsafely intercepting ships and aircraft belonging to the United States and its allies.…  Seguir leyendo »

Filipino fishermen prepare to sail despite alleged harassment by China in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines won a landmark arbitral case against China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images.

Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency has invited counterparts from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam to ‘share experiences and foster brotherhood’ as the six Southeast Asian countries most affected by China’s activities in the South China Sea. The gathering next month appears to have been triggered by reports of Chinese coastguard ships harassing Indonesian oil and gas exploration.

Indonesia has long acted as if it were not involved in the South China Sea disputes but is now forced to recognize that Chinese companies and state agencies covet the oil, gas, and fish resources available off its coast, and so finds itself in the same boat as its Southeast Asian neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the German navy stand on deck of the frigate Bayern. Photo by MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP via Getty Images.

When it recently emerged that Germany was planning to deploy the Bayern frigate to the South China Sea, it was widely interpreted as a move towards taking a tougher stand against China’s territorial claims in Asia. Defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer framed the deployment as a demonstration of solidarity with allies and ‘like-minded’ partners in the region.

Despite Germany’s dependence on China as an export market and the close political relationship between Beijing and Berlin over the past decade, it seemed Germany was prepared to go beyond a rhetorical commitment to the international rule of law and take concrete steps to uphold it alongside France and the UK, both of which have carried out ‘presence operations’ in the Indo-Pacific recently.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump managed to avoid touching off a forest fire in the tinder-dry forest around Mount Rushmore with his Independence Day fireworks display, but instead his administration seems to be doing its best to set Asia on fire in the South China Sea.

Two aircraft carrier strike groups headed by the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz have moved into the South China Sea for the largest military exercises in years just as China has been holding its own drills around the Paracel Islands, which it seized from Vietnam in 1974 in a move the United States has never accepted.…  Seguir leyendo »

China’s largest cutter-suction dredger Tiankun takes water on November 3, 2017 in Qidong, Jiangsu Province of China. Credit VCG/VCG, via Getty Images

One of the most dangerous confrontations between the United States and China is heating up. Warships are being deployed, bombers are taking wing and threats are being exchanged — all of it sparked by China’s growing mastery of the use of the world’s most overlooked natural resource: sand.

The point of contention is a set of man-made islands China has built in a strategic and hotly disputed patch of the South China Sea. It’s one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and home to some 10 percent of the world’s fish. What’s more, billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie under the seafloor.…  Seguir leyendo »

A PLA Navy fleet takes part in a review in the South China Sea on 12 April. Photo: Getty Images.

On 12 July 2016, an independent arbitral tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) published a clear and binding ruling on China’s claims vis-à-vis the Philippines in the South China Sea. China’s response at the time was to dismiss the ruling as ‘nothing more than a piece of waste paper’.

Interestingly, in the two years since then it has, in some small ways, complied with it. However, it is also clear that China’s behaviour in the South China Sea has not fundamentally changed. It is, in effect, using military force to try to extort concessions from its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

HMS Sutherland visits Japan in April. Photo: Getty Images.

This weekend the British defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, is likely to reveal that two British naval ships have taken part in ‘freedom of navigation’ operations in the South China Sea during the past month. This will highlight a significant revival of British interest in Asian security after four years in which no Royal Navy ship visited the Asia-Pacific.

Williamson is expected to tell the international security conference in Singapore known as the ‘Shangri La Dialogue’ that HMS Albion and HMS Sutherland sailed through parts of the South China Sea to which China is attempting to restrict access. HMS Albion navigated through the Spratly Islands in early May en route from Brunei to Japan.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Chinese coast guard vessel sails near an oil drilling rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea in 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

Vietnam has lost another sea battle: a $200 million oil and gas development project — known as the ‘Red Emperor’ development — off Vietnam’s southeast coast has been suspended, possibly cancelled. Hanoi’s hopes of a hydrocarbon boost to its stretched government budget have been dashed. And the culprit is Vietnam’s ‘good neighbour, good comrade and good friend’ to the north.

The project, many years in the making, was a joint venture between Repsol of Spain, Mubadala of Abu Dhabi and the state-owned energy company PetroVietnam. Commercial drilling was due to begin this April and oil and gas were expected to flow for at least 10 years.…  Seguir leyendo »

The inauguration of a frigate built by Russia for the Vietnamese navy. Photo: Getty Images.

Russia’s new military agreement with Vietnam, which maps out cooperation between the long-time friends until 2020, has caused concern in Japan. An increased Russian presence brings into conflict two different foreign policies of Shinzo Abe’s government –maintaining a strong posture on power plays in the South China Sea and being careful to avoid confrontation with Russia.

The new agreement, which includes Russia agreeing to deploy rescue boats to Vietnam and to take part in rescue missions, follows a number of moves to deepen naval cooperation. Since 2011, four Russian-made naval vessels have joined the Vietnamese navy, and the two countries are planning a joint military exercise in the next three years.…  Seguir leyendo »

The USS Carl Vinson pulls into port in Danang on 5 March. Photo: Getty Images.

The United States is sending one of its largest ships, the USS Carl Vinson, to Vietnam this week. It will be the first aircraft carrier to dock in the country since the end of the war in Vietnam, over 40 years ago.

In some respects this is a routine event: other US warships have been visiting Vietnamese ports since 2003. But it is also a symbolic moment. Previously, Vietnamese governments kept aircraft carriers at arm’s length – officials have only visited them far offshore. By welcoming the USS Carl Vinson into the harbour at Danang, the country’s third city, and the one closest to the disputed Paracel Islands, Vietnam is clearly sending out some strong messages.…  Seguir leyendo »

Indonesia & China The Sea Between

Indonesia has long been cautious in confronting China’s claims in the South China Sea, so its announcement on July 14 that it was renaming a part of the area the “North Natuna Sea” may have come to many as surprise. The new name encompasses a region north of the Natuna islands that partly falls within the infamous “nine dash line”, by which China claims the sea stretching fifteen hundred miles from its mainland coast almost to the shores of Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia. China immediately demanded a retraction—which it will not get.

The naming was a reminder of how seriously Indonesia treats its position as the seat of ancient trading empires and location of some of the world’s strategically most important straits—Melaka, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar.…  Seguir leyendo »

Les contentieux territoriaux en mer de Chine méridionale sont à l’agenda du 16e sommet sur la sécurité en Asie (appelé aussi Dialogue Shangri-La), organisé à Singapour, qui rassemble du 2 au 4 juin les principaux acteurs de la défense en Asie-Pacifique. Plus de la moitié du commerce maritime mondial transite dans cet espace, qui compte parmi les plus riches en ressources et biodiversité sous-marine.

La zone fait l’objet de revendications concurrentes de la Chine (qui prétend posséder 90 % de la zone) et des Etats côtiers (Taïwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaisie, Brunei, Indonésie). De tels désaccords n’ont rien d’exceptionnel dans une région située aux confins d’anciens empires, à terre comme en mer, mais leur évolution récente est préoccupante.…  Seguir leyendo »

International law is under siege in the South China Sea

China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) in the South China Sea last month garnered widespread attention. The drone was an oceanographic research instrument, available for commercial purchase off the shelf and without any value for capture.

Although Washington and Beijing seemed to resolve the issue within a few days, other commentators have noted that the incident fits into a pattern of Chinese behavior surrounding American transitions of power. Both the 2001 EP-3 collision and the 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable occurred in the weeks immediately following American presidential inaugurations. Both actions seemed calculated to challenge the new presidents in an effort to gauge their reactions and convey a message of Chinese strength and determination early in the new leaders’ terms.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made some surprising remarks about China and the South China Sea during his recent Senate confirmation hearings. He said the US should “send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

His comments created a furor in the international media as it seems the US might resort to force by blockading the Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea.

James Mattis, Trump’s defence secretary nominee, was more circumspect in his remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee.…  Seguir leyendo »

Perilous South China Sea plan

On Jan. 11 former Exxon Mobil CEO and now U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state Rex Tillerson was grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding his position on various current international issues. He was pressed by Texas Republican Sen. Marco Rubio regarding his view of recent actions by Russia in Ukraine, Syria and cyberspace. Tillerson wisely — some would say evasively — avoided direct answers repeatedly pleading ignorance and a need for more information.

He should have done the same for questions regarding China’s actions in the South China Sea. Instead he made several intemperate remarks that have alarmed China and the region, including U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The US marine base in Darwin ... and the implications it holds for Australian freedom of action should the US decide to militarily intervene in the South China Sea are troubling.’ Photograph: Patrina Malone/PR IMAGE

Rex Tillerson’s cosy relationship with the Russian government was set to be the big controversy of his confirmation hearings to become the next US secretary of state. But it was the subject of Chinese construction in the South China Sea, and his statement that Chinese access to their facilities on the islands is “not going to be allowed”, that held the biggest implications for American foreign policy and security in Asia Pacific.

The suggestion of a more aggressive, interventionist, American regional involvement highlights the pressing task of developing a more independent foreign policy for Australia. A foreign policy which works closely with the US when it is undergirding regional peace and stability, but is willing and equipped to break from it when it is not.…  Seguir leyendo »

Illustration on U.S./Taiwan relations by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

For far too long, the United States has stood idly by and allowed the People's Republic of China to conduct what is charitably described as a massive power grab throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Looking back just a few years ago, such a statement seemed unimaginable. Under the leadership of President Obama, while America has talked about pivoting to Asia with robust rhetoric, we have offered the world’s most economically dynamic and strategically important part of the globe some impressive photo-ops, but little substance to ensure the status-quo — which has allowed Asia to enjoy decades of peace, stability and unparalleled economic opportunity — would be preserved.…  Seguir leyendo »

Duterte deal with China over Scarborough Shoal exposes US failure

Controversial Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte appears to have secured a major concession from Beijing in the South China Sea.

It happened quietly last week when China suddenly lifted its four-year blockade of the Scarborough Shoal, allowing Filipino fishermen to freely access the shoal's plentiful waters.

If it lasts, this will be chalked up as a victory for Duterte's pivot to China and a geopolitical setback for the United States.
By cozying up to China and trash-talking America, Duterte has achieved something that Washington couldn't deliver: a peaceful resolution to the Scarborough Shoal standoff.

The significance of this can't be overstated.

Back in 2012, China seized the Scarborough Shoal by deploying powerful coastguard cutters to evict the Philippine navy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace tres meses, la Corte Permanente de Arbitraje de La Haya dictaminó que no había ningún sustento legal para que China reclamara derechos históricos sobre los recursos del Mar Occidental de Filipinas (también conocido como Mar de la China Meridional) y, en consecuencia, que las Filipinas tienen derechos exclusivos sobre el territorio. China rechazó la sentencia, y un frío glacial empañó la relación bilateral alguna vez amistosa. Es hora de recuperar cierta cordialidad.

Poco después del dictamen, el presidente filipino, Rodrigo Duterte, inesperadamente me designó, a los 88 años, como enviado especial de mi país a China, con ese simple objetivo.…  Seguir leyendo »

El mar del Sur de China es el Mediterráneo del este de Asia. Por sus aguas transita el 70% del comercio -incluidos productos energéticos, como gas y petróleo- de la zona, lo que representa un tercio del comercio mundial, y como vía de conexión entre el Índico y el Pacífico tiene valor estratégico fundamental. El 12 de julio, la Corte Permanente de Arbitraje (CPA) asestó un duro golpe en las pretensiones chinas de controlar buena parte de esas aguas. Pekín, que reivindica el 80% de los 3,5 millones de kilómetros cuadrados de esa superficie, baraja cómo encajar la bofetada jurídica.El panel de cinco expertos en Derecho Internacional Marítimo de este desconocido organismo -fundado en 1899, dormido entre 1946 y 1990 y con 121 países miembros-- falló por unanimidad a favor de 14 de las 15 demandas interpuestas por Filipinas contra los «derechos históricos» chinos.…  Seguir leyendo »