Activities of the Claimants


Chinese South China Sea Fleet holds joint training


The People’s Daily published photos of the training of a marine brigade under the South Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), but do not providing information about the time and the venue.

The Philippines

Philippines praises Indian Navy chief’s comment on the South China Sea


Indian Navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi's recent comment on the South China Sea may not have warmed hearts in China, or in the South Block, but they have bolstered India's standing among Asean countries. Welcoming the underlying sentiment as part of India's Look East policy, vice-president of the Philippines, Jejomar Cabauatan Binay, told The Time Of India in an exclusive conversation, "In the present day, these issues are no longer of parochial interest. Freedom of navigation and lawful commerce are universal interests. The statement of the Admiral is a confirmation that it is a problem that India cannot turn its back to."

China row delays Forum exploration

Forum Energy Plc, an oil and gas company controlled by Philex Mining Corp., cannot proceed with the exploration of Recto Bank in the disputed South China Sea without clearance from the Foreign Affairs Department (DFA). Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla told reporters the permits given to oil and gas exploration companies exploring West Philippine Sea had certain limitations. “The limitation of SC [Service Contract] 72 is that is part of the dispute we have right now with China and because of that, everything that we have to do on SC 72, we have to get clearance [from] DFA,” Petilla said.


India stresses on 'freedom of navigation' in South China Sea


India said that Beijing should respect maritime rights of other countries to navigate freely in the much-disputed South China Sea, while stating clearly that any presumed threat by China to its sovereignty can be resolved through dialogue. "There should be compliance and respect for the law of sea and freedom of navigation in high seas is something that we must all adhere to. But the sovereignty issues can be settled between China and the countries that they have a concern about, whether it is done bilaterally or multilaterally. I think there is ample scope for dialogues to settle these issues," Indian external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid said.

Regional Snapshots

New Cambodian Ambassador appointed to Philippines

Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has appointed a former undersecretary of state as Cambodia's new ambassador to the Philippines. Tout Phanha succeeds Ambassador Hor Sereython, who accused the Philippines of playing "dirty politics" after the annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers failed to issue its customary joint statement in July.

ASEAN-India partnership to grow stronger

The ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to mark 20 years of dialogue relations is an important step for stronger and more effective cooperation between the two sides – in their interest as well as for peace, stability and development in the region. The leaders agreed to raise ASEAN-India relations to a strategic partnership level, and adopted the Vision Statement of the summit to orient their ties in all fields in the coming decades. 

Vietnamese Prime Minister meets with Indian counterpart


On December 21st, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi to discuss measures of boosting cooperation between the two countries. The two sides pledged to continue cooperating at regional and international forums. They affirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security and safety in the East Sea (South China Sea), resolving disputes through peaceful means, abiding by international law and the 1982 UNCLOS, implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea and looking forwards to build the Code of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea .

Commentaries & Analyses

ASEAN, China and the chance of a collision at sea

By Rizal Sukma

Expectations were high that ASEAN and China would be a step closer to reaching an agreement on the more binding Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea, which would provide a framework for joint cooperation, a mechanism to prevent conflicts and to manage crises whenever they arose. However, expectations began to wane as the ASEAN Summit in November 2012 in Phnom Penh did not result in an agreement between China and ASEAN on when CoC talks would officially proceed. The absence of significant progress on the CoC has again raised international and regional concerns about peace and stability in the region. Such concerns are not groundless. What has happened over the last few weeks after the November ASEAN Summit is of particular concern here. First, China issued a new passport that included a map with a dotted line that includes a disputed area of the South China Sea. Second, there have also been strong reactions toward the passing of new regulations by Hainan province to allow its public security border defense units to board and search vessels illegally entering waters under Hainan’s jurisdiction. Third, in early December, Vietnam complained about the latest incident, in which it accused Chinese fishing boats of cutting a seismic cable of one its oil exploration ships near the Gulf of Tonkin. Fourth, India, whose state-run oil company Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) previously signed an agreement with Vietnam’s national oil company, Petro Vietnam, to explore oil and gas in the South China Sea, has begun to take a more assertive stand. As tensions escalate and the risk of misperceptions and miscalculations grow, the urgency for a mechanism to prevent conflicts and manage crises has become even more pressing. Despite the absence of progress on the talks about the CoC, China and ASEAN need to double their efforts in 2013 to find a new compromise that will facilitate progress. Otherwise, we are all destined to collide at sea, and that is definitely not a scenario that we want.

The Bullies of Beijing: China’s Image Problem

By Mixin Pei


One of the elementary rules of foreign policy is when you are in a hole, stop digging. But judging by their recent behavior, Beijing’s foreign policy mandarins and national security establishment are clearly in violation of this rule. The challenge facing the new leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping is how to dig China out of its own geopolitical hole. Its relations with Japan are at a record low; China-ASEAN ties have similarly deteriorated due to the South China Sea disputes and China’s heavy-handed use of its clout to divide ASEAN. The Sino-American relationship is increasingly turning into one of strategic rivalry. The most urgent actions that China can do is to stabilize Beijing-Tokyo ties and defuse its tensions with ASEAN over the South China Sea disputes. Chinese policymakers must first realize that its stance on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea has painted Beijing into a corner. The insistence on bilateral negotiations, not multilateral ones, looks too self-serving. The use of a proxy such as Cambodia to undermine ASEAN’s unity on the South China Sea disputes may be a temporary tactical success, but it comes with long-term strategic costs and will ultimately be futile. A bold move for the new Chinese government to take is to do a U-turn on the South China Sea. It can do so by announcing its willingness to negotiate in a multilateral setting and adhere to existing international laws, not historical claims. In addition, China should put U.S.-China ties on a more solid footing and reversing the dangerous dynamics of strategic competition is more difficult and requires steps that Mr. Xi may not be able to take immediately. The factors driving the U.S. and China toward strategic rivalry are not hard to see: mutual distrust, a shift in relative balance of power, China's military modernization, and a lack of transparency in China's domestic political system. So it will be China’s success in reassuring its neighbors and the United States, not with rhetoric but real policy changes, that will help dig Beijing out of its current geopolitical hole.

Asean: Avoiding Another South China Sea Storm

There is no lack of reason for Asean to stay united. Achievements outnumber setbacks. Differences over how to handle maritime claims with China should not distract Asean from commitment to centrality and its role in promoting peace and stability in the region. It is a fact of realpolitik that Southeast Asia has historically been an arena of big-power rivalry. That potential, unfortunately, remains even if protagonists and ideologies have changed since the Cold War. Asean as a group should not take sides. Individual members must learn to manage relations with bigger partners or challengers without dragging Asean into any of their disputes. Big powers, too, have an interest in helping Asean maintain centrality. The generally positive attitude of China and the United States towards Asean is testimony to the region's rapid and robust growth. There is much mutual advantage in joint efforts to enlarge free trade and investment. The world's two biggest economies stand to gain from a peaceful and prosperous Asean and vice versa. So, both China and the US should not jeopardise relations with or within Asean. If the two powers endeavour to be partners rather than adversaries, Asean countries will have more room to manoeuvre - and to avoid embarrassing quarrels like the one in Phnom Penh recently.

Politics in the South China Sea

By Melissa M. Cyrill

China is at a unique junction in the present world scenario. Moreover, while China may have unconsciously risen to becoming a world number two, the latter half of the 2000’s has seen it grow steadfastly into that role. Ambitious infrastructure projects, tenacious displays of cultural brilliance such as during the Beijing Olympics, strategic manoeuvring in its neighbourhood and a steadfast commitment to being bigger and better at everything presents the picture of a nation no longer shy of its powerhouse tag, irrespective of its official denials and occasional rhetoric of 'peaceful rise and co-existence'. Nothing illustrates such national confidence and ambition better than its strengthening of its military capabilities. However, what makes the South China Sea more compelling is its global strategic significance both in terms of trade and energy, which has given rise to the strategic presence of a dangerous number of actors cast in multiple roles. For India, a Sino-US strategic game assumes importance with regard to freedom of navigation in the SCS. The historic US naval presence has long been accepted by China as a given, yet, with its rising power and fearless ambition, China’s passive aggressive moves may escalate a small conflict even if that is not the intention of its leadership.

Trespassers will be Prosecuted: China’s latest Billboard in the South China Sea

By Sarabjeet Singh Parmar


The new maritime regulations passed by the Hainan Peoples Congress to board, inspect, seize, deport or force ships to alter course out of areas within China’s claimed territorial waters has invited the ire of several nations. The ordinance also raises questions about the freedom of navigation and specifically passage rights of ships in disputed areas not internationally recognised as belonging to any nation. The issue as to who will decide if the passage is innocent has always remained a grey area. Therefore, nations could reserve the right to employ rules of engagement to thwart an ‘illegal’ boarding or not to comply with an ‘illegal’ request to alter course out of such disputed waters – a fact that was mentioned by the Indian Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi in his Navy Day interaction with the media. The issuance of these ordinances will not only add to the growing tensions in the disputed areas, specifically the South China Sea, but also add to the growing suspicions about Chinese intent. The moot question is “who will stand up to China if it adopts strong arm tactics and enforces the ordinances in disputed areas?” As former US President Dwight D Eisenhower said, “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

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