Activities of the Claimants


China says gas output from South China Sea to reach 15 bcm by 2015

China aims to produce 15 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas a year from the South China Sea by 2015, the energy administration said on December 3rd, raising the possibility of disputes with neighbors over over-lapping claims in the sea. The National Energy Administration said in its 2011-2015 five-year plan that the South China Sea would "form the main part" of the country's offshore gas exploration plans. The energy administration did not specify in its plan, published on its website, which particular parts of the sea it intended to exploit for gas.

China warns over Indian oil exploration activities in the South China Sea


In a press conference held on Demcember 4th, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei  said: “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and their adjacent waters. China opposes unilateral exploration and development of oil and gas in contested waters of the South China Sea. We hope relevant countries can respect China's claim, position and rights and interests, and respect and support efforts made by countries in the region to solve disputes through bilateral negotiations.”

China's "board and search" sea rules likely had Beijing's sign-off –official

In an interview with Reuters, Wu Shicun, head of Hainan's foreign affairs office, also heads the National Institute for South China Sea Studies said the regulations of “board and search” were amendments to rules in place since 1999 and had been in the works for over a year. "It was not (initiated by Beijing). Local law enforcement agencies started this," he told Reuters by telephone. But he added: "They definitely would have reported these upward. They'd definitely have sought opinions from the department in charge."

China asks Vietnam to stop oil and gas activities in the South China Sea


In a press conference held on Demcember 6th, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei  said: “As preliminary information shows, the waters that the Vietnamese side referred to are situated between China's Hainan Island and the Vietnamese mainland outside the Beibu Gulf, an area where the two countries' claims overlap. The Chinese fishing boats were conducting normal fishing activities and unjustifiably expelled by Vietnamese naval vessels in the area. It needs to be pointed out that China and Vietnam are now negotiating the demarcation and joint development of waters outside the Beibu Gulf. The Vietnamese side must stop unilateral oil and gas activities in the above waters, stop disturbing Chinese fishing boats and create a conducive atmosphere for relevant negotiation.”

Environment monitoring station set up in “Sansha”

A marine environment monitoring and forecasting station was established in the so-called Sansha city, the Chinese State Oceanic Administration said on December 5th. The station will be operated by 25 crews.

The Philippines

Philippines picks Basilio new ambassador to China


Philippine President Benigno Aquino on December 5th said he would appoint a senior diplomat as new ambassador to China to show Manila was serious about resolving a territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea. Mr. Aquino said Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio was “highly recommended” by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario because of her “wealth of experience,” seniority in the foreign service and “the skills to build bridges to China.”

New visa policy applies to old, new Chinese passports

The Philippine Bureau of Immigration on December 6th said its directive refusing to stamp Chinese passports applies to both old and new passports of the People’s Republic of China. "My memorandum to our immigration officers is clear. We will not stamp All Chinese Passports. It does not matter if the passport is old and new,” BI Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. said in a statement. David issued the clarification following reports  that the new visa policy applies only to Chinese e-passports bearing the map of the disputed islands in the South China Sea.


Vietnam opposes China’s violations of soverignty in the South China Sea


Recently, China has conducted a series of provocative moves in the South China Sea. On December 4th, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said: “The above-mentioned actions by China seriously violated Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelagoes (Paracel Islands) and Truong Sa archipelagoes (Spratly Islands); violated Viet Nam’s sovereign right and jurisdiction over its waters; violated the Agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea issues between Viet Nam and China signed in October 2011; ran counter to the spirit of the Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Declaration of the 10 th anniversary of DOC, complicating the situation in the East Sea (South China Sea).”


India will protect its interests in disputed South China Sea

Viewing the rapid modernization of Chinese Navy as a "major concern", Indian navy chief Admiral D K Joshi on December 3rd made it clear that India will protect its interests in the disputed South China Sea, even if it means sending forces there. "Yes you are right. The modernization (of Chinese Navy) is truly impressive... It is a actually a major major cause of concern for us, which we continuously evaluate and work out our options and our strategies," he told a press conference.


Australia to elvate Southeast Asia’s ties

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr says his priority for the next year is to ensure the US remains engaged in the Asian region and to ensure Australia is defter and more respectful in its relationship with Southeast Asia than it has been under his predecessors. Senator Carr said the government would appoint an ambassador to ASEAN, a forum that he believes plays a critical and central role in Southeast Asia.

The U.S.

U.S. seeks clarification of new China sea laws

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said on December 5th that the United States is seeking clarification on China's recent announcement that its police could board vessels in the disputed South China Sea. The rules, which China announced rêcntly, are unclear as to their extent and purpose, Locke told Reuters in an interview. "The U.S. government very much wants clarification of what these rules mean, how they will be interpreted by the Hainan government and marine enforcement agencies and the purpose of these rules," Locke said on the sidelines of an investment forum in Beijing.

U.S. Pacific Command Seeks Collaboration, Not Confrontation


The United States would like China to be a constructive influence on the world stage, and the U.S. Pacific Command is stressing cooperation and collaboration, not confrontation, in the region, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III said. Locklear reiterated the U.S. position on these disputes. He said America does not take sides but does want to see issues resolved peacefully. “We call on all the parties there, including the Chinese, to ensure that, as they approach these problems, that they do so in a way that avoids conflict, that avoids miscalculation, that uses the vehicles available today through diplomacy and through those legal forums that allow them to get to reasonable solutions on these without resorting to coercion or conflict,” the admiral said.

Regional Snapshots

China, Indonesia pledge closer maritime cooperation

China and Indonesia held the first meeting of the Maritime Cooperation Committee here on Thursday, pledging to boost maritime cooperation between the two countries. The meeting was held "as a follow-up action to the Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Cooperation signed by the ministers of foreign affairs of the two countries in March 2012," according to the release. The two sides also agreed to adopt relevant maritime cooperation projects under the framework of the Maritime Cooperation Committee, according to the release, without providing details on the projects.

4-way maritime talks in Manila postponed


The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the talks on the South China Sea dispute in Manila next week among four Southeast Asian claimant countries have been postponed. “It will not happen this coming December 12, but the parties are working on it,” DFA Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez told reporters when asked about updates on the matter. When pressed by reporters about the reasons for the postponement of the meeting, Hernandez did not elaborate, saying that the main problem was “scheduling.”

Chinese envoy tells Philippines: “We are not your enemy”

Speaking at a meeting with Philippine Daily Inquirer editors and reporters in the newspaper’s office in Makati City, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing also revived proposals for joint exploration of mineral, oil and marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, as she “cannot see” a solution to the territorial dispute between the two countries “in the near future.”. “China will only be reactive when it’s provoked.  China will not initiate any incident.  China will not be provocative. That I can say.  It’s the commitment of China,” Ma said.

Vietnam, Russia hold fifth strategic dialogue


The fifth Vietnam-Russia Strategic Dialogue on Diplomacy-Defence-Security took place in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on December 7th. The Vietnamese delegation was led by Permanent Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ho Xuan Son, and the Russian delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister A. I. Denisov. During the annual dialogue, the two sides discussed measures to boost bilateral ties in the framework of their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Commentaries & Analyses

Alarm as China Issues Rules for Disputed Area

By Jane Perlez

New rules announced by a Chinese province recently to allow interceptions of ships in the South China Sea are raising concerns in the region, and in Washington. The move by Hainan Province, which administers China’s South China Sea claims, is being seen by some outside analysts as another step in the country’s bid to solidify its claims to much of the sea. The laws, passed by the provincial legislature, come less than a month after China named its new leader, Xi Jinping. The laws appear to have little to do with Mr. Xi directly, but they reinforce fears that China, now the owner of an aircraft carrier and a growing navy, is plowing ahead with plans to enforce its claims that it has sovereign rights over much of the sea, which includes dozens of islands that other countries say are theirs. In an interview, Mr. Wu Shicun said the new regulations applied to all of the hundreds of islands scattered across the sea, and their surrounding waters. That includes islands claimed by several other countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Until now, some Asian countries had believed that China did not want to have simultaneous conflicts on two maritime fronts: in the East China Sea with Japan and the South China Sea with other countries. With the passage of the new laws in Hainan, that assumption has now proved incorrect, Ms. Glaser said.

Enhanced role of RI, ASEAN unity: Keys to handling SCS row

By Veeramalla Anjaiah

Though Indonesia is not a claimant country, it has a large stake in the dispute. First, China’s controversial nine-dashed, U-shaped line touches Indonesia’s Natuna gas field and its adjacent waters, and second, it feels that the South China Sea disputes threaten peace and stability in ASEAN. It’s a fact that Southeast Asian countries are very weak states in comparison to the mighty China, while ASEAN is a loose-knit inter-governmental organization. That’s why China always want to discuss the issue with individual countries rather that at a regional level. It’s time for Indonesia to work on building unity within ASEAN, not only for the South China Sea dispute but also other issues. In three years’ time, all 10 member states will become a single community. If ASEAN is united, its bargaining position and leverage will be enhanced, and it will be able to deal with major issues as a family. Since the South China Sea disputes affect both claimants and non-claimants alike, ASEAN unity is crucial.

“The future of China – U.S. relations”


At the same time, the US announced its ‘pivot’ to Asia in November 2011, and is strengthening its alliances in the region and stepping up diplomatic and economic engagement across the board. The engagement and the ‘pivot’ are two sides of the same coin of foreign policy. The engagement conveys that the US seeks a cooperative co-existence with China, and the ‘pivot’ signals to China and US allies that it has vital interests in the Asia Pacific which it is determined to protect, irrespective of its budgetary constraints. As for the South China Sea, the US faces a delicate dilemma — avoiding conflict with China while maintaining the credibility of its commitments to allies, and ensuring that the balance of power in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia is preserved. There could also be a risk that the importance the US is according to its strategic engagement with China could encourage some in China to be more assertive in the South China Sea while inhibiting the US from making a firm response. The combination of China’s increasing presence on shoals and rocks in the disputed territories, the installation of new military and administrative structures, and more paramilitary and naval presence may not seem grave enough for the US to respond in a way which spoils the engagement process with China, but such tactics could strengthen China’s de facto position in the South China Sea. Its forward movement in the South China Sea, which is located in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia near vital maritime choke points, may proceed in stages, with each stage a test of US reaction and resolve.

China nudges up South China Sea tension

Some strategic analysts believe that uncertainties over the US's ability to finance its "pivot" policy have emboldened more hawkish elements in China's new leadership, including those intent on pushing the limits of the territorial disputes as a nationalistic way to consolidate domestic power and legitimacy. Despite the warnings and alarms, it's still not clear China would be willing to risk a full-blown confrontation in the area. The "intercept and board" decision, first announced by Hainan Island officials, has yet to be fully embraced by China's top leadership. Not only has China's Foreign Ministry expressed its commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, it has also equivocated on what constitutes "illegal entry" or a violation of China's sovereignty by foreign vessels. China's recent actions also come in response to rising assertiveness by US regional allies, seen in Japan's recent attempt to purchase the contested Senkak/Diaoyu islands, the Philippines' push for more US strategic involvement, and Vietnam's stepped up energy exploration and offshore-drilling projects in disputed territories. But as both sides ramp up their rhetoric and threats, the potential for a clash in the South China Sea continues to grow.

India’s South China Sea Gambit


Indian Navy Chief Admiral D.K Joshi said that his country stands ready to intervene in disputes in the South China Sea if Indian state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp’s (ONGC) joint oil exploration venture with Vietnam came under threat. "Not that we expect to be in those waters very frequently, but when the requirement is there for situations where the country's interests are involved, for example ONGC Videsh, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that," Joshi told reporters. Joshi’s comments came as India and China began two day of negotiations over their disputed land borders, which led to a brief but bloody war in 1962. Tensions were already running high ahead of the talks after Beijing issued new passports that included a map showing the disputed territory with India as part of China. It’s unlikely that the Indian Navy will become a formidable force within the South China Sea in the near to medium term. The country, after all, is far more concerned with maintaining its primacy over China in the Indian Ocean amid the People Liberation Army-Navy’s (PLAN) continued build-up and modernization. Furthermore, in the not too distant future New Delhi may have to deploy more of its naval forces to its Western front to protect the transit of its oil imports from the Middle East and parts of Africa should the U.S. reduce its own presence in the Persian Gulf as Washington achieves greater energy self-sufficiency in the decades ahead. Nonetheless, Joshi’s comments reflect a budding naval rivalry between India and China that some experts, like C. Raja Mohan, have been warning about it. India has long spoke of exercising greater influence in East and Southeastern Asia as part of its “Look East” policy, which is almost certainly to include strengthening ties to Chinese neighbors like ASEAN nations and Japan that are also increasingly concerned by Chinese assertiveness. This is almost certain to play into China’s historic and modern fears of strategic encirclement.