Activities of the Claimants


Xi orders PLA to intensify combat awareness


General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Xi Jinping has ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to intensify its "real combat" awareness in order to sustain military readiness. According to a press release issued by military authorities, Xi made the remarks at the PLA's Guangzhou military theater of operations, a term usually used to emphasize the coordination and joint operations by forces in air, land and sea. Xi also reaffirmed the PLA's core task of improving its abilities to wage regional wars in the Information Age and conduct diversified military operations.

China urges concerned parties to promote mutual trust and cooperation in the South China Sea issue

In a press conference on December 10th, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said “China's position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent that relevant dispute should be addressed by countries directly concerned through friendly bilateral consultation and negotiation. This is an important principle and spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and is also the consensus of all signatories of the DOC. We hope relevant parties could bear in mind peace and stability of the region and contribute more to greater mutual trust and cooperation.”

The Philippines

Philippines backs rearming of Japan

The Philippines would strongly support a rearmed Japan shorn of its pacifist constitution as a counterweight to the growing military assertiveness of China, according to the Philippine ­foreign minister. “We would welcome that very much,” Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times in an interview. “We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.

Philippines seeks quiet meeting of South China Sea claimants

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Demcember 11th that the postponed four-party claimant meeting, which was supposed to discuss the overlapping claims in the South China Sea, must be done privately. “It was just a postponement. It has been reset [but] it is going to push through,” the Philippine Foreign Affairs chief said when asked if the meeting was merely postponed or cancelled.


Indonesia cautions against South China Sea 'Tit-for-Tat'

Indonesia's foreign minister cautioned against a "tit-for-tat" approach in relations between China and other claimants of the South China Sea, saying a framework was needed to encourage dialogue over disputes as they occur. "These issues will be carried over to next year, no doubt,'' said Mr. Natalegawa, who has struggled to get Asean to take a common position in dealings with China on the issue. "There will probably be more [problems of a] similar type. What we can do as best as we can is to establish the norm and principle by which to address these types of problems when they arise."

The U.S.

US Pacific Command renews commitment to freedom of navigation


The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) reiterated its commitment to protect freedom of navigation and stressed that the territorial row in the South China Sea should be addressed peacefully. “There ought to be international forums that are used to be able to resolve this in a peaceful way, that’s the only way ahead, that’s the only way”, said USPACOM commander Adm. Samuel Locklear.

Regional Snapshots

Philippines, US to hold 3rd bilateral strategic dialogue

The Philippines and United States (US) held their Third Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) on December 11th to 12th in Manila. The 3rd BSD was co-chaired by Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio and National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino for the Philippine side and State Department Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell and Defense Assistant Secretary Mark Lippert for the US. During the third BSD, the Philippines and the US discussed increased economic linkages, inclusive growth, judicial reform, law enforcement capacity building, maritime security, defense cooperation, and regional and global issues, among others.

China, Australia hold defense consultation

China and Australia held their 15th Strategic Defence Consultation on December 13th, with both military leaderships exchanging views on international and regional security issues of common concern as well as bilateral military relations. The Consultation was co-chaired by Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army of China and David Hurley, chief of the Defense Force of Australia.

China, U.S. hold wide-ranging defense talks


China and the United States have held wide-ranging talks on defense and security at the 13th annual China-U.S. Defense Consultative Talks in the Pentagon. The talks, held on December 12th, were jointly hosted by Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, and Jim Miller, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy. Officials from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Pacific Command, National Security Council and State Department also participated.

Commentaries & Analyses

Storm is brewing in the treacherous South China Sea

By Michael Williams


The South China Sea conflict may be long running, but there are several reasons why it has become much more dangerous. First, although there are four Association of Southeast Asian Nations states that lay claim to the Spratlys – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – historically this has largely been a bilateral dispute between China and Vietnam. It has now become very different, pitting almost all of ASEAN’s members against China. Second, the Phnom Penh meeting confirmed ASEAN countries in their att-empts to enhance their military and especially naval capabilities. A striking development has been the rush to acquire submarines. There is now a maritime arms race with the added danger that none of these countries has experience in the operation of submarines. Third, there appears evidence of growing anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the region. Fourth, there is growing US concern about Chinese behaviour, and this is not limited to the South China Sea. Washington is equally troubled by Beijing’s antipathy towards Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. China’s leadership changes may not be helpful, making new incumbents less likely to compromise. Fifth, there are economic imperatives among all the claimants to the South China Sea driving them in a more assertive direction. All are anxious to pursue oil and gas exploration while protecting their claimed fishing ground as coastal waters become depleted. Fishing vessels from all countries are pushing further into disputed areas. ASEAN discussions on a code of conduct for the South China Sea appear to be exhausted after the Phnom Penh debacle. The International Crisis Group has suggested that a troika of ASEAN foreign ministers could engage in shuttle diplomacy between the claimants to the islands. Maybe, these countries may rely on the United Nations, and in particular the Secretary General’s good offices, to prevent the dispute from escalating. In this case, he should take the initiative of appointing a Special Representative.

Russia’s Ever Friendlier Ties to Vietnam—Are They a Signal to China?

By Stephen Blank

In a series of high-level visits of foreign and defense ministers and high-ranking military officers to each other’s capitals, Vietnam and Russia have reaffirmed their strategic partnership. The two sides have also increased their cooperation on trade and energy exploration in the South China Sea, as well as on atomic energy. This bilateral cooperation, though not loudly proclaimed, is a direct rebuff to Beijing and reaffirms Moscow’s position that it will not allow China to dominate Asia, deprive Russia of millions if not billions of dollars in energy revenues, or marginalize Russia in its quest for great power influence in Southeast as well as Northeast Asia. These actions, similar to Russia’s relations with Japan, signify several key points. First, Russia is ever more determined to play a major independent role in Asia—and not just Northeast Asia but also the continent’s southeast. Second, it is clearly committed to pursuing an independent policy that it understands will bring it into conflict (at a diplomatic level) with Beijing over Chinese efforts at aggrandizement throughout both Northeast and Southeast Asia. Third, Moscow’s gambit in Asia revolves around the provision of energy and arms sales, and it must necessarily resist every effort to curtail its presence in those areas of endeavor. Fourth, rhetoric about a congruence of views with Beijing notwithstanding, there exist visible and possibly growing differences between Russia and China concerning regional security issues in East Asia. Fifth, Hanoi’s activities demonstrate, as does its growing closeness with India, the ability of Vietnam and of other Asian states to fend off China with the support of partners, coalitions or, in some cases, allies. From this vantage point it is difficult to see what China has gained by its belligerent statements and behavior other than to bring into stronger relief the emergence of a blocking coalition, which, to some degree, includes Russia. Clearly Russia’s relations with all of East Asia, including the hitherto neglected Southeast Asian area, merit careful scrutiny and analysis in the foreseeable future.

South China Sea on the brink of gunboat diplomacy

By Amando Doronila


The past four weeks saw the swiftest escalation in recent years of tensions over the territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific. The tensions spiraled in late November when the province of Hainan, in the southern coastal region of China, issued an imperial-sounding  edict that its so-called lawmaking body had authorized its police patrol boats to board and search foreign ships of any nationality that illegally enter what it considers Chinese territories in the South China Sea. The plan was announced to take effect on short notice: on Jan. 1. The edict caused not only considerable alarm among China’s smaller neighbors but also consternation among other world powers such as the United States and India. The determination of what is illegal is left entirely in the hands of the Hainan authorities. What has affronted the rest of the world is this arbitrary exercise by China to enforce its territorial claims while intimidating its weaker neighbors with threats of its expanding naval power. There are now questions raised over whether the new rules were handed down at the instigation of the central Chinese government in Beijing or were initiated by the Hainan provincial government. Whatever is the source of the initiative, the new rules have galvanized countries affected by it to call for a clarification. What happens when the boats they intercept are Philippine gunboats patrolling where Manila called national territory and also claimed by China? That can be an act of war. We are on the brink of gunboat diplomacy.

Avoid breaking down Asean-China relations

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

After the 21st Asean Summit in Phnom Penh last month, the Asean leaders were relief hoping China would soon enter into negotiation on the binding code of conduct in South China Sea. At a Pattaya meeting in October ahead of the Asean summit, senior officials from China and Asean held consultations without reaching key common grounds. In Pattaya, China listed six common misunderstandings, culling from Asean statements and numerous reporting, pertaining to the COC negotiations which Asean needs to address before the drafting can start. First of all, the East Asia Summit will be peaceful if there is a COC; without it, it will be a stalemate. Secondly, the COC is aimed at regulating China's behavior alone. Thirdly, Asean will use the COC to consolidate its claims and push China to give up its sovereignty. Fourthly, the COC has been the work of outsiders due to their consistency in calling on China and Asean to begin the drafting. Fifthly, the COC is a negotiation between China and the Asean 10 as stated in the grouping's Proposed Common Elements on the COC. Finally, the COC will not confine the South China Sea issue only between Asean and China. With such perceptions imbedding deep in the Chinese mind, it is hard to foresee how Asean could overturn these allegations in the next few months. At present, from the Asean's vintage point, what the group is witnessing has been the reiteration of China's position and sovereignty claims over the disputed territories since the dispute was brought into the open in July 2010. If the disputes remain unresolve, it would have a domino-effect in widening the perception gaps between the two - China on one side and Asean on the other.

ASEAN at a Crossroads

By Prashanth Parameswaran


Given that tensions over the SCS have dominated two rounds of meetings this year, how can ASEAN ensure that this will not happen again next year? The Philippines, twice bitten and thrice shy, announced after the EAS that it will host a meeting in Manila on December 12 with fellow claimants Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. The four countries should use this as an opportunity to coordinate strategies on how to best advance their claims to China in a more unified way. Furthermore, ASEAN countries should continue to engage with next year’s ASEAN chair (and SCS claimant) Brunei on how it plans on handling the SCS issue in multilateral forums as appropriate. In 2013, the government in Bandar Seri Begawan will no longer have the luxury of simply deferring to other countries or remaining neutral as ASEAN chair. If Brunei needs any advice or guidance on tackling divisive issues, the organization’s more experienced members should be prepared to provide it. Lastly, ASEAN states should not give in to intimidation by China on the SCS, such as Chinese move of releasing fresh passports containing a map of China which includes parts of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines. Cambodia’s chairmanship this year has shown ASEAN that it is only as strong as its weakest link. In order to prevent outside actors from exploiting divisions within the bloc, ASEAN states must redouble their efforts at unifying their positions where they should and taking a clear stand where they must. Only then can the bloc continue to effectively occupy the driver’s seat in pushing for greater regional integration in the Asia-Pacific. 

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