South China Sea
At least 28 Chinese vessels and boats remained in and around the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal as of 26 June 2012, contrary to earlier reports that China had pulled out all its vessels. Aerial surveillance conducted by Philippine Navy aircraft spotted six Chinese fishing vessels and 17 dinghies inside the lagoon. - Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa said 03 July 2012 it would be up to the national government whether to redeploy Philippine vessels to the hotly-contested Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, on 22 June 2012 urged Vietnam to correct an erroneous maritime law it passed the previous day. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the NPC expressed its position concerning the recent passing of the Vietnamese Law of the Sea in a letter to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Vietnamese National Assembly.
Vietnam’s Law of the Sea was adopted by 495 out of 496 National Assembly (NA) deputies on 21 June 2012, accounting for 99.8 percent of the vote. Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi rejected China’s accusations of Vietnam’s legitimate act as unreasonable. “Now as before, Vietnam advocates to settle the differences and disputes over the East Sea by peaceful means and on the basis of international laws, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC)”, the official said.
The dispute emerged as the U.S. Navy's research vessel, Roger Revelle, docked at Tien Sa Port in Vietnam's central Da Nang city on 22 June 2012, beginning its eight-day visit trip to the city. Roger Revelle belongs to the U.S. Navy and is run by the Scripps Oceanic Institute of the University of California in San Diego.
On 21 June 2012 China set up a new “prefecture level” city called Sansha to administer three disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Xisha (Paracels), Zhongsha (Macclesfield bank), and Nansha (Spratlys) islands were collectively elevated to prefecture status under Sansha city from their previous county-level status. Sansha means “city of three sands” in Chinese. The State Council approved the establishment of Sansha, with its seat of government on Yongxing Island [Woody Island], which is part of the Paracels.
At least six Chinese government-controlled vessels were still in Scarborough Shoal s of 20 June 2012 despite the prevailing bad weather that had resulted in the pull-out of Philippine ships. There were three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels (MCS) and three fishery law enforcement command (FLEC) ships in Panatag Shoal. The DFA said the Philippines and China have only agreed to withdraw their respective vessels “from the lagoon of the disputed Scarborough Shoal” and not the entire area. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged Philippine officials to refrain from making remarks meant to influence public opinion on the month-old standoff at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Chinese and Phillipine ships were reportedly withdrawn with the threat of typhoon Butchoy (international name: Guchol). Tropical Storm Guchol intensified into a typhoon 14 June 2012. Typhoon Guchol (Butchoy) spawned alerts in the Philippines as it was forecast to skirt the eastern part of Luzon 15 June 2012. Tropical Storm Talim formed in the South China Sea 18 June 2012, just south of Hainan Island, China. Talim is moving northeast towards the Strait of Taiwan. The territorial tensions between the Philippines and China have affected trade and boosted nationalistic rhetoric. Fishermen on both sides say their governments need to come to an agreement so they can all make a living. A fishing ban was imposed in the area by Manila and Beijing in May 2012 in a bid to address worsening marine resource conditions.
The Pillipines was ready to redeploy ships to counter the possible presence of foreign vessels, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III said 19 June 2012. "The guidelines are very clear, if there are foreign-owned vessels in our waters, we send back our ships… That will be determined by the overflight of our aircraft," he said. The Palace said the government was set to reevaluate the redeployment of ships in Scarborough Shoal.
On 8 June 2012, Philippine President Benigno Aquino met with US President Obama and reportedly pressured for assurances that the US would be prepared and willing to assist the Philippines in the event of further escalation of the crisis in the South China Sea. The United States response was that it took no position on South China Sea rivalries, but encouraged countries in the area, including rival claimants, to resolve disputes through a "code of conduct" being developed with China's participation.
On 04 June 2012 the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said some vessels deployed in a standoff at the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) had been withdrawn,, with the government hoping this will ease tensions between the Philippines and China. Following an announcement by the DFA that "two Chinese maritime vessels and our BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) vessel are no longer in the lagoon," Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a briefing that the pullout was a "way forward."
On 24 May 2012, China was reported to have admitted to sending additional ships to the disputed area of the Panatag Shoal / Huangyan Island / Scarborough Shoal. Chinese authorities accused the Philippines of being "insincere" in their efforts to end the 2 month old stand off, citing unspecified provocative actions. The Chinese ships were said to be government vessels. Their mission in the area was to conduct maritime surveillance and provide some guarantee to Chinese fishing boats operating in the disputed area. In spite of a previously announced temporary ban on fishing in the area, the Chinese government also acknowledged the presence of at least 20 Chinese fishing boats. It was unclear whether or not these fishing boats were operating with the formal consent of the Chinese government.
On 15 May 2012, it was reported that China had announced a ban on fishing in the area of the Panatag Shoal / Huangyan Island / Scarborough Shoal between 16 May and 1 August 2012. The Philippines responded by announcing plans for its own ban. Though the reasoning for the bans officially had to do with reducing over-fishing in the area and allowing the rich fishing grounds to replenish themselves, the actions were seen as reducing tensions in the continued dispute.
The Philippines said 11 May 2012 the United States had pledged to protect it from attacks in the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea), a day after China issued a warning over a territorial row in the waters. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he had received the assurances during talks in Washington. Gazmin said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stressed they were not taking sides in the dispute, but they assured the Philippines the United States would honor a 1951 mutual defense treaty. “It includes armed attack… (on) island territories in the Paci?c (region),” Gazmin said, citing conditions for the allies coming to each other’s aid.
Deng Xiaoping said "since we can't solve the South China Sea issue, we can leave it to the next generation which will be smarter." It is impossible to resolve the disputes over the South China Sea to the mutual benefit of all. Hypothetically, the claims of other littoral states could be reconciled by sectoral extensions of the Exclusive Economic Zones [as was done in the Gulf of Guinea]. China's claims cannot be so reconciled, since China claims vritually the entire South China Sea, which it views as internal waters.
China claims most of the South China Sea as either territorial water or Exclusive Economic Zone. China's claims cannot be reconciled with the claims of other states in the South China Sea area. The other states have conflicting claims that can be harmonized, the way there were compromises among the conflicting claims for the Gulf of Guinea in Africa. In the South China Sea, each of the littoral states claims areas that are immediately contiguous to their territorial seas, and it would be possible to "split the difference" on competing claims. But China claims the entirety of the South China Sea, so there is no possibility of compromise with China's position, since it is all or nothing.
In July 1977, when Deng Xiaoping emerged as China's leader following the death of Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese foreign minister, Huang Hua, confirmed that China's claim to the South China Sea was "non-negotiable" in the strongest terms. At the same time he commented: "The territory of China reaches as far south as the James Shoals, near Malaysia's Borneo territory... I remember that while I was still a schoolboy, I read about those islands in the geography books. At that time, I never heard anyone say those islands were not China's... The Vietnamese claim that the islands belong to them. Let them talk that way. They have repeatedly asked us to negotiate with them on the issue; we have always declined to do so... As to the ownership of the islands, there are historical documents that can be verified. There is no need for negotiations since they originally belonged to China.... In this respect Taiwan's attitude is all right. At least they have some patriotism and would not sell out the islands..."
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) coastal states have the right to establish sovereignty over adjacent waters out to a maximum of 12 nautical miles from the nation's coastline, including the coastline of offshore islands. These enclosed waters are known as the coastal state's territorial sea.
During the negotiations of the text of the 1982 UNCLOS military activities in the EEZ were a controversial issue. Some coastal States such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Cape Verde, Malaysia, Pakistan and Uruguay contended that other States cannot carry out military exercises or maneuvers in or over their EEZ without their consent. In June 1998, the PRC passed the "Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act." This Act created an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with 200 nautical mile limits from its coastal baseline, and claimed the right, inter alia, to broadly undefined powers to enforce laws in the EEZ, "including security laws and regulations." Based on the Act, the PRC does not recognize the airspace above its EEZ as "international airspace" and has interfered with and protested US reconnaissance flights over its EEZ. China takes the position that all maritime data collection activities, including military intelligence and hydrographic collection activities, fall within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] provisions for marine scientific research and therefore require coastal-state consent before they could be carried out in the two-hundred-nautical-mile EEZ.
The US has protested this sovereignty claim as a violation of international law numerous times since this law was passed. The US Government has long conducted a vigorous freedom of navigation program through which it has asserted its navigational rights in the face of what it has regarded as excessive claims by coastal states of jurisdiction over ocean space or international passages. When remonstrations and protestations are unavailing, elements of US military forces may sail into or fly over disputed regions for the purpose of demonstrating their right and determination to continue to do so.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|