Activities of the Claimants


China slams a new Philippine stand on territorial row

In a statement sent on November 26th, the Chinese Embassy in Manila cited the China National Institute for South China Sea Studies’ analysis of the Philippines’ claim to the Panatag Shoal debunking Manila’s EEZ-based assertion to the resource-rich territory. The institute reiterated China’s historical ownership of the shoal, known to the Chinese as Huangyan Island, as it disputed the Philippines’ claim that invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). “Clearly, the Philippines here has misinterpreted and misapplied Unclos on the basis of its own interests, which is contrary to international law and to Unclos,” said the Chinese institute. “It has been an established basic principle of international law that ‘the land dominates the sea.’ Coastal states derive their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over EEZs from their territorial sovereignty. Hence, Unclos cannot serve as a basis for a country to claim sovereignty over China’s Huangyan Island,” the statement further read.

China shipbuilder to start projects in “Sansha”

The Sansha Municipal Government on November 26th signed a package of cooperation agreements with China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, the state-owned conglomerate that engages in manufacturing and scientific research in a number of maritime industries. Details of the agreements were not immediately available, but officials said enhanced cooperation on key projects in infrastructure development, energy and water resources is expected.

Patrols in Hainan get more clout


Under a set of regulation revisions the Hainan People's Congress approved on November 27th, provincial border police are authorized to board or seize foreign ships that illegally enter the province's waters and order them to change course or stop sailing. The full texts of the regulations, which take effect on Jan 1st, will soon be released to the public, said Huang Shunxiang, director of the congress's press office. 

“China seeks maritime power, no hegemony”

China's Defense Ministry spokesman on November 29th stressed that the country's move to build itself into a maritime power has nothing to do with seeking hegemony. China wants to become a maritime power in order to enhance its capacity to exploit marine resources, develop the marine economy, safeguard the country's maritime rights and interests, and ensure a sustainable economic and social development, Geng Yansheng told a regular press conference. According to Geng, China will resolutely protect its sovereignty, security and development interests and will never yield to any outside pressure.


Vietnamese government orders no stamping on new Chinese passports


The Vietnamese government spokesman Vu Duc Dam said at a regular press conference on November that the Vietnamese government has ordered immigration agencies not to stamp anything on the new Chinese passports that contain the illegal 9-dash line. However, in line with the tradition of openness and integration, Vietnam tries to not cause difficulty to Chinese visitors. “The government has ordered, with regards to Chinese persons holding passports with the cow’s tongue line [9-dash line], no Vietnamese stamp of any kind will be put on them”. But such visitors will be issued with separate visas [not attached to the said passports] and can therefore enter Vietnam as normal, Dam explained.

The Philippines

Philippines coast guard patrol ship ready for deployment to Scarborough Shoal


The BRP Pampanga, a Philippine Coast Guard patrol ship, is “on standby” and “ready for deployment” to the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson said. Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesman, however, said they were still waiting for the go-ahead from both the Department of National Defense and Department of Foreign Affairs.

Philippine Department of Budget and Management urged to release funds for Thi Tu Island school construction

At a press briefing, Philippine ACT Teachers’ party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio appealed to the Department of Budget and Management to expedite the release of the P4.3 million he allocated from his priority development assistance fund for the development of the school building. “By building classrooms on Kalayaan Islands, we show the world that we exercise real and actual sovereignty on our citizens in Spratlys,” Tinio said. Last June, classes opened in the Thi Tu Island school, which caters to seven kindergarten pupils and one Grade 1 pupil.

Philippine Statement on the 9-Dash Line Map on the New Chinese e-Passport

Further to the Philippine protest against the inclusion of the 9-dash line map in the Chinese e-passport which covers an area that is part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain, the Philippines will no longer stamp its visas on the Chinese e-passport. Instead, the Philippines will stamp it on a separate visa application form. This action is being undertaken to avoid the Philippines being misconstrued as legitimizing the 9-dash line every time a Philippine visa is stamped on such Chinese e-passport.

Philippines insists Chinese ships must go


The Philippines is still asking China to withdraw three ships from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea almost six months after it promised to pull out, Philippine foreign minister del Rosario said on December 1st. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that while the Philippines withdrew its own ships from Scarborough Shoal on June 4, as agreed by both countries, China’s three government ships remained in the area. Del Rosario told that in an effort to ease tensions, both countries agreed on June 4 to pull out their ships. But while the Philippines kept its commitment, China did not, he said.

Philippines requests China to immediately clarify its reported plans to interdict ships in the South China Sea

On December 6th, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement requesting China to clarify its reported plans to interdict ships that enter what it considers its territory in the South China Sea. In the statement, the Philippines said:”If media reports are accurate, this planned action by China is illegal and will validate the continuous and repeated pronouncements by the Philippines that China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea is not only an excessive claim but a threat to all countries.”


China's passport policy triggers dispute


Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said China's move to include disputed islands into its territorial map found on new passports book has been considered unusual and triggering disputes. "I think anyone would think the move is not replacement of dialogs or talks. So the method would not meet the goal, if indeed its goal is seeking recognition as the problem in the end could only be settled through negotiations," he said.


China's new passport not a problem

The Thai Foreign Ministry's permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the issue of the South China Sea is sensitive for many countries in the region, but the map or graphic in the passport or on other travel documents should not have legal implications on sovereignty over the disputed territory. "Recognising the travel document is not equivalent to recognition of sovereignty of any country over any disputed territory," he said.

The U.S.

US stance on China’s new passport

In the daily press on November 26th, in response to the question related to China’s new passport Victoria Nuland, Spokeperson for the United States Department of State said “Our position, as you know, on the South China Sea remains that these issues need to be negotiated among the stakeholders, among ASEAN and China. And a picture in a passport doesn’t change that.” In the next daily press, she stated “We do have concerns about this map which is causing tension and anxiety between and among the states in the South China Sea. We do intend to raise this with the Chinese in terms of it not being helpful to the environment. We all seek to resolve these issues.” According to her, issuing China’s new passport is not helpful to what we all want, which is an environment where the countries involved in this can settle it.

Regional Snapshots

Vietnam, Japan hold first strategic defence dialogue


Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh and his Japanese counterpart Hironori Kanazawa co-chaired the first Vietnam-Japan strategic defence dialogue in Hanoi on November 26th. The two sides agreed that Vietnam-Japan relations have deepened in all fields, of which defence cooperation continues to see positive development, meeting strategic partnership agreements between the two countries’ leaders. The sides have built mutual trust and understanding with all-level delegation exchanges, driving effective and practical defence cooperation.

Chinese defense minister meets U.S. Secretary of Navy

On November 27th, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie met with visiting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, calling for deeper mutual trust between the two militaries. It is the first time Mabus has visited China since taking office. During his four-day tour, he will also travel to east China's Ningbo City to visit a new Chinese frigate and conventional powered submarine.

Commentaries & Analyses

It's time to start clarifying disputes in the South China Sea

By Termsak Chalermpalanupap

The Philippines is to be commended for its timely initiative of inviting China, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam for a meeting in Manila on the South China Sea disputes. China has reportedly turned down the invitation, but Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines will send their senior officials to attend. Ideally, the following should be considered: i) Involve all the other six Asean member States. The South China Sea has more than just sovereign disputes among the claimant states. There are issues that also involve all Asean member states. ii) How to make the DOC more effective? All the parties under the DOC (10 Asean member states and China) can certainly agree that the DOC has failed to improve the situation in the South China Sea. What else can be done to avoid confrontation and unilateral action in disputed areas in the South China Sea that could lead to armed clashes and escalation? iii) Clarify who is claiming where. This will be the first time that the four Asean claimant states can clarify to one another where their claims are. iv) On what basis? It is also useful to explain on what basis each claimant state is claiming a particular disputed maritime feature in the South China Sea. v) Agree on what is being claimed. Another important but rather technical issue is to try to agree on the technical and legal nature of each particular maritime feature under dispute - whether it is an island, or a rock, or a low tide elevation, a reef, or an artificial structure. vi) Decipher China's nine-dash line claims. Another important issue to discuss is the famous nine-dash line of China's massive claims in the South China. vii) Military activities in the South China Sea. What to do with the secret military activities of foreign warships outside the 12-mile territorial seas of coastal states but within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones? viii) The role of Taiwan? Another issue that Asean member states can tackle collectively is how to deal with Taiwan. ix) Going for joint development. Joint development can start in areas that only two countries are claiming, such as the Scarborough Shoals between China and the Philippines, or even areas off the Paracels, between China and Vietnam. x) New approach needed. What is needed now is a new approach, a new thinking, starting with this question: What can each claimant state give up in order to facilitate the development of a new and perhaps unconventional solution to settle each dispute in the South China Sea in a win-win manner?

Japan Is Flexing Its Military Muscle to Counter a Rising China

By Martin Fackler


This year, Japan crossed a little-noted threshold by providing its first military aid abroad since the end of World War II, approving a $2 million package for its military engineers to train troops in Cambodia and East Timor in disaster relief and skills like road building. Japanese warships have not only conducted joint exercises with a growing number of military forces in the Pacific and Asia, but they have also begun making regular port visits to countries long fearful of a resurgence of Japan’s military. And after stepping up civilian aid programs to train and equip the coast guards of other nations, Japanese defense officials and analysts say, Japan could soon reach another milestone: beginning sales in the region of military hardware like seaplanes, and perhaps eventually the stealthy diesel-powered submarines considered well suited to the shallow waters where China is making increasingly assertive territorial claims. Taken together those steps, while modest, represent a significant shift for Japan. The driver for Japan’s shifting national security strategy is its tense dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that is feeding Japanese anxiety that the country’s relative decline — and the financial struggles of its traditional protector, the United States — are leaving Japan increasingly vulnerable. Japanese officials say their strategy is not to begin a race for influence with China, but to build up ties with other nations that share worries about their imposing neighbor. Japan’s Ministry of Defense said it planned to double its military aid program next year to help Indonesia and Vietnam. Vietnam could also be among the countries that Japan would allow to buy its submarines, according to a former defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, who named Australia and Malaysia as other possible buyers. “Japan has been insensitive to the security needs of its regional neighbors,” Mr. Kitazawa said in a recent interview. “We can offer much to increase their peace of mind.”

“Is Cambodia closer to China?”

By Chun Han Wong

When Asia-Pacific leaders gather this weekend in Southeast Asia—a bright spot in a sputtering global economy—their Cambodian hosts may extend a warm welcome to U.S. President Barack Obama, but they will view officials from Beijing as old friends. "Cambodia understands that China has been its largest benefactor over the years," said Li Mingjiang, who studies Chinese foreign policy at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. That has built Beijing a steady ally within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China's growing footprint in Southeast Asia straddles simmering regional tension. Analysts say China is most keen on Cambodia's influence within Asean. Beijing began courting Mr. Hun Sen in 1997, after the Cambodian leader seized full power in a brief military struggle. Since then, Cambodia has supported Beijing through routine foreign policy and times of geopolitical tension. "As long as Hun Sen stays in power, which he is likely to do for a long time, we can expect Cambodia's relationship with China to remain intact" said Ian Storey, an academic at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

“Asia’s Passport Wars?”

By Ishaan Tharoor


The Asian passport has become something else altogether more absurd: a crude weapon of geopolitics. At issue is what’s inside these new Chinese passports: specifically, a map of the People’s Republic that draws China’s borders around territories disputed by China’s neighbors. There’s little sign of these disputes fading, particularly when they involve China, the continent’s budding hegemon. The new Chinese passport’s pages also boast pictures of famous cultural landmarks and heritage spots — two of which happen to be in Taiwan, an island nation Beijing views as a renegade province. In 21st century Asia — home to nearly half the world’s population — inhospitable mountain crags, barren spits of sand in the sea and now images on passport pages possess a far too dangerous resonance. That’s in large part a product of the regional unease barnacled to a rising China. Its authoritarian leadership fans the flames of popular nationalism, often as a means to quiet or distract from other domestic pressures. And as China’s military — as well as Chinese assertiveness — grows, so will the impulse of neighbors to come together and hedge against Beijing. Provocations as seemingly innocuous as the design of a passport booklet deepen fears of a cold war nobody wants.

ASEAN: A Diplomatic Dead End?

By Trefor Moss

The ASEAN members with a stake in the South China Sea are now under no misapprehension that ASEAN is a diplomatic dead end; even now that Cambodia has handed over the chair of the association to Brunei for 2013. Now, at last, they have done what they should have done a long time ago: Ditched the ASEAN formalities, so far as the South China Sea issue is concerned, and gone their own way. On December 12, representatives of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – the four countries that dispute South China Sea possessions with Beijing – will meet in Manila to discuss the way forward. Originally, handling these matters collectively through ASEAN made good sense, since in theory it would have given the smaller Southeast Asian countries strength in numbers when negotiating with China, the regional powerhouse. But then it became clear that the countries with no direct stake in the South China Sea would not back them up as fellow ASEAN members. The South China Sea disputes have always been complicated by the confusing maze of claims and counterclaims that have made them seem practically unsolvable. At the Manila meeting, the four countries could start to cut through all that. They should start negotiations with a view to settling their disputes amongst themselves, to produce a situation in which only one Southeast Asian country disputes territory with China. They could then set up a new regional body to negotiate with China and to deal collectively with this and other issues of concern in the interests of the member states. They could call it the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It sounds like something the region could use.