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China accuses Vietnam in South China Sea row

A Chinese ship launches a missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea on 29 July 2010Both China and the US have increased naval drills in the Asian region


 

China has accused Vietnam of "gravely violating" its sovereignty in an escalating row over disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Beijing said Vietnam had endangered Chinese sailors' lives and warned it to stop "all invasive activities".
It follows an accusation by Vietnam that a Chinese fishing boat rammed cables from an oil exploration vessel inside its exclusive economic zone.
China is engaged in maritime border disputes with several countries.
The South China Sea includes important shipping routes and may contain rich oil and gas deposits.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have rival claims in the area; China's claim is by far the largest.
The US has also expressed concern about China's rising naval ambitions.
Escalating dispute
China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Chinese fishing boats were chased away by armed Vietnamese ships on Thursday.
He said that during the incident the fishing net of one of the Chinese boats became tangled with the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploring vessel which continued to drag the Chinese vessel for more than an hour before the net had to be cut.
Protesters shout anti-China slogans during a protest in Hanoi, 5 June 2011.Hackers have taken up where protesters left off
China insists the Vietnamese vessel was operating illegally in the area.
"By conducting unlawful oil and gas surveys in seas around the Wanan Bank of the Spratly archipelago and by driving out a Chinese fishing vessel, Vietnam has gravely violated China's sovereignty and maritime rights," said Mr Hong.
"China demands that Vietnam cease all violations," he said, adding that Vietnam should "not take actions that would complicate and expand the dispute".
Beijing's strong-worded statement followed Vietnam's accusation that a Chinese fishing boat had "intentionally rammed" the exploration cables of a Vietnamese boat - the second such incident in two weeks.
That vessel, chartered by state energy giant PetroVietnam, was conducting a seismic survey inside its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone on Thursday, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga.
She described the "premeditated and carefully calculated" attack as part of China's attempts to control disputed waters.
"This is unacceptable to Vietnam," she said, adding that her colleagues had met Chinese embassy officials "to express our opposition to such acts".
On Thursday, hackers from both countries planted patriotic messages on hundreds of websites, including government sites.
It follows anti-China protests by hundreds of Vietnamese over the weekend.
Seeking resolution
China's ambassador to the Philippines, Liu Jianchao, has insisted China's intentions were peaceful and said that China was not looking for oil in the disputed waters and, therefore, no other country should.
"We're calling on other parties to stop searching for the possibility of exploiting resources in these areas where China has its claims," he told reporters.
"We will never use force unless we are attacked," he said.
The Philippine government has accused two Chinese patrol boats of harassing a Philippine oil exploration ship on 2 March this year.
The Philippines has said it has seen new structures being built on islands which it claims.
"That's part of our exercise of jurisdiction. It's not harassment," Mr Liu said.
He also rejected the involvement of the United States in regional attempts to resolve the long-running territorial dispute.
China prefers to tackle each conflicting claim with each country separately.
Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines have led regional efforts to seek a multilateral resolution of the conflict.
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Why are South China Sea tensions rising?


Imagine an exchange of fire between Chinese and Vietnamese navies in the South China Sea.

A Vietnamese guard stands near a US destroyer in the Vietnamese port of Danang on 10 August 2010The US has increased military and diplomatic ties with Vietnam in recent months

Or just an accidental bump between Chinese and American warships, as high-stakes manoeuvring gets out of hand.
Or the arrest by China's navy of hundreds, not just dozens, of Vietnamese fishermen in disputed waters, sparking US voices to support Hanoi against Beijing - or the other way around.
Fanciful scenarios? Certainly.
But the impact of a conflict over a storm-tossed and otherwise unremarkable stretch of water south of China and bordered by most South East Asian states would be far-reaching.
The shipping of Middle Eastern oil to Japan would be at risk, north-east Asian economies could stall, trade between China and South East Asia could be blocked in tit-for-tat recriminations and much more if the world's two biggest powers became locked in combat.
On alert
That is why a discernible ramping-up of tension has excited the analyst community that watches the South China Sea issue.
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When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Hanoi in July, she aligned the US firmly with South East Asia's approach to overlapping claims in the South China Sea.


SOUTH CHINA SEA TENSIONS

  • Late 2009 and early 2010 - Vietnam condemns China's decision to establish local governing bodies in the Paracel Islands
  • March 2010 - Chinese officials tell the US the South China Sea is a "core interest"
  • 23 July 2010 - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells Asean the US "supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion"
  • 25 July - China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said internationalising a bilateral issue "would only worsen the situation and add difficulties to solving" it.
  • 30 July - A Chinese Ministry of Defence spokesman tells reporters: "China has indisputable sovereignty of the South Sea, and China has sufficient historical and legal backing" to support its claims
  • 17 August - Vietnam and the United States hold defence talks at higher level.
She said: "The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant."
In response, China has described the South China Sea as a "core interest", complained of "encirclement" and lambasted unwarranted interference by the US in matters that do not concern it.
A series of moves by the various players has brought the region to a point where "the status quo is not sustainable", says Ian Storey, fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
There has been a "change of tone" and concerns in the region have "increased markedly", he says.
Carl Thayer, a professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, concurs.
China has "undertaken provocative actions to underscore its national security concerns. Chinese actions have resulted in growing friction with Vietnam and have spilled over to affect US strategic interests.
"The United States has responded by asserting its right to freedom of navigation and has moved to develop a strategic partnership with Vietnam," he says.
No progress
That is not how China sees it, of course.
It was already angry about the activities of US military vessels in China's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which it says are not "innocent", as required by the rules governing such behaviour.
Sovereignty over the entire South China Sea is the bigger issue, however, not only because of suspected, albeit unproven, deposits of oil and gas.
A Chinese ship launches a missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea on 29 July 2010Both China and the US have increased naval drills in the Asian region
More important is the fisheries industry and the vital issue of freedom for trade through some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world - 80% of China's energy imports pass through these waters.
Back in 2002, China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) signed a Declaration of Conduct on how to tackle the disputes.
But in scores of meetings since, they have failed to act on specified confidence-building measures which could implement the declaration.
A China-Asean working group on the Declaration of Conduct has met only four times since 2004 but could meet a second time this year.

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Now China has the wherewithal to pursue more coercive diplomacy - so it can't go on like this”
Ian StoreyInstitute of Southeast Asian Studies
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is also scheduled to attend the first-ever meeting of Asean defence ministers - China is invited but is haggling over whether to attend - set for October.
Some analysts hope these meetings will help work towards a real code of conduct in the seas - but there remains a fundamental divergence in approach between China and Asean.
Although China has been happy to regulate economic relations with Asean as a bloc - touting the success of the China-Asean Free Trade Area (Cafta) in place since the beginning of 2010 - it wants to handle political issues differently.
It has consistently said sovereignty disputes should be tackled bilaterally, between China and each individual claimant country.
Asean members are unwilling to take that approach, knowing it weakens them in talks with a power that is now crucial to almost all their economies.
'Coercive diplomacy'
While the big powers, the US and China, battle it out with more bellicose rhetoric and a series of competing military exercises around the region, key countries within Asean are watching warily.
With Vietnam as chair of Asean this year, the issue of the South China Sea has come to the fore and a new level of consensus has been reached within Asean.
"South East Asians were, and continue to be, fully aware of both the inherent promises and dangers that China presents, whose traditional symbol is after all a dragon," notes Indonesia's Dewi Fortuna Anwar, research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
"During the Cold War, China was regarded as an unmitigated threat. Today, however, Asean believes that the best course of dealing with China, with its vast economic potential and growing military might, is to engage and integrate it fully into the regional order," she wrote in The Jakarta Post.
The experts are agreed that the balance of power in East Asia is shifting.
"Twenty years ago, no-one was in the position to enforce any claims. Now China has the wherewithal to pursue more coercive diplomacy - so it can't go on like this," says Ian Storey.
"As the PLA grows in strength, South East Asians have become more aware of the gap between rhetoric and reality. As a result, China's platitudes are wearing thin."
More than ever, the dangers of failing to engage in a more serious search for peaceful arrangements are clear.








Two Chinese trawlers stop directly in front of the USNS Impeccable on 8 March 2009 (image: US Navy)
Five Chinese vessels surrounded the USNS Impeccable on 8 March
When Dutch ships sailed up the River Thames into London in 1688, it was clear they were an invading force.
The freedom of the seas was a well-established idea in the 17th Century, with states only able to claim a narrow belt of sea around their own coast.
But as the United States and China have discovered in recent days, that certainty is much harder to come by now.
Tensions were raised after an unarmed US navy surveillance vessel was jostled by five Chinese ships in the South China Sea last weekend.
The Pentagon accused the Chinese vessels of "harassment" during the routine operations in international waters.
Beijing says the US ship behaved "like a spy" and accused it of breaking international law by operating in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The debate over a nation's claim to marine territory has been turbulent - after all, the seas carry immense riches of fish, oil, gas and other resources, as well strategic navigation rights.
Law of the sea
Central to all efforts to disentangling such claims is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - created in 1982 after years of international negotiations.
This is, in effect, a constitution governing the oceans - granting not just the EEZs, but right of access to the sea for land-locked states, the right to conduct marine research, mandating control of resources on the seabed, and creating an international tribunal to settle conflicts.


SOUTH CHINA SEA TENSIONS
US Navy photo of the USNS Impeccable
Territorial claims from China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia overlap in resource-rich sea
Hosts some of the world's busiest shipping lanes
China says the US was in its Exclusive Economic Zone - but the two sides disagree on what activities are allowed in an EEZ
So could the US-China spat, south of Hainan in the South China Sea, simply be put to the UN tribunal and solved?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Unlike China, the US has signed the UN Convention, but has not ratified it.
This means it has promised not to undertake any action that might defeat the Convention's goals, but it does not consent to be legally bound by its provisions.
"This puts the US in an awkward position," said Dr Mark J Valencia, a leading maritime expert. "They are trying to interpret the terms of the Convention in their favour, which they are not a party to."
The Law of the Sea provides for EEZs - sea zones generally extending 200 nautical miles (370km) from a nation's coast, giving it special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources. This is complicated where EEZs overlap.
Without seeing detailed maps of exactly where the US ship was when confronted by the Chinese, experts have been hesitant to say exactly who was right.
If the USNS Impeccable was in China's EEZ, it could have been there perfectly legally - depending on what it was doing.
China says the US was "spying", and thus conducting activities that could be seen as preparation for conflict.
'Eye of the beholder'
So, does China have the moral superiority in this row?
Again, it is not that simple.


 China challenging the US creates instability and is therefore generally not in the interest of other Asian countries
Dr Jurgen Haacke
London School of Economics
"China also conducts intelligence operations in what the Japanese claim as their EEZ," noted Dr Jurgen Haacke of the London School of Economics.
According to the UN Law of the Sea, intelligence operations are normally not deemed "innocent" if they occur in territorial waters.
"Some might argue that intelligence gathering should not be considered to amount to peaceful activity if it was conducted in the EEZ. Whether it is may be in the eye of the beholder," says Dr Haacke.
Dr Valencia agrees.
The Japan-China argument centres on the Diaoyu islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku) and, in law, refers to an area of still-disputed sovereignty.
"China has done things in Japan which it has accused the US of," noted Dr Valencia.
These actions include infringements of the Law of the Sea, such as having a submarine submerged instead of obvious on the surface, or sailing intelligence-gathering ships around in other nations' waters.
Jockeying for position
This is where maps defined by law distort into maps defined by the larger political realities - where geography becomes geopolitics.
The US has long had the seas around Asia to themselves, able to extend their considerable (often nuclear-powered) naval power in and out of Asian states' waters.

President Obama on Thursday
Mr Obama has tried to resolve the dispute in talks with Chinese officials
Depending what they do there, many of these states have no problem with that.
But China is not alone in its irritation at the assumption of freedom across the high seas.
Indonesia, a key player in talks shaping the Law of the Sea, has been irritated by the US navy sailing ships through its straits at will.
So too has Vietnam, which has also protested against Chinese military exercises in its waters.
But only China has made its irritation so public.
Analysts say voluntary codes of conduct across Asia's seas need to be strengthened into enforceable guidelines to avoid future conflicts.
Underlying the recent US-China spat is a fear in some South East Asian states, as well as in the West, of China's growing military might.
"While there may even be some sympathy for China's robust actions given more widespread concerns about how the US collects intelligence, China challenging the US creates instability and is therefore generally not in the interest of other Asian countries," says Dr Haacke.
China has protested before - when a Chinese frigate confronted the USNS Bowitch in the Yellow Sea in March 2001.
The next month, a Chinese jet fighter collided with a US surveillance plane over Hainan, rupturing US-China defence contacts for a while.
Neither the US nor China can claim to be wholly right. "It's not a slam dunk on either side," says Dr Valencia.
There is a jockeying for position afoot across Asia's rich and contested seas. So long as the US refuses to ratify the UN Convention "it's going to get worse", he says.
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