Thu, Aug 29, 2019 - Page 9 News List

China, Vietnam spar on high seas over US$2.5 trillion in energy

The US has accused Beijing of escalating efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea

By Philip Heijmans  /  Bloomberg

“Anything that the Philippines tries to do, particularly at Reed Bank, is going to met with the same kind of response that we’re seeing right now off the coast of Vietnam,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Weekly transgressions from China near its coast has also cast a shadow over Duterte’s final years in office amid his pursuit of warmer ties with Beijing. The Philippine Armed Forces this month said they have consistently spotted armed Chinese warships sailing through its territorial waters since early last month.

The presence of Chinese surveyors in its exclusive economic zone this month prompted a diplomatic protest, said Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr, who was mindful that China now has the largest naval force in the region.

“Our nightmare — we send a ship and a big Chinese ship laughs at it. What do we do,” Locsin wrote in an e-mail.

“They claim it is all theirs. We claim it is all ours,” he said.

This all follows the deployment of a maritime militia and so-called fishing fleets known to harass fisherman throughout the region. A high-profile incident in June included a Chinese vessel colliding with a trawler, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen stranded at sea.

“It is indicative of how much China has expanded its operations in and through Filipino waters on account of the government’s accommodation of China,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

With Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) set to discuss recent activities in the South China Sea later this month in Beijing, Xi will be hoping to make progress on a joint exploration deal that would serve as a major concession in the ongoing code of conduct negotiations with the ASEAN.

According to a leaked draft of the negotiating text of the code of conduct dated June last year and seen by Bloomberg, China has stated its intention to achieve exclusive joint explorations in the South China Sea by eliminating any foreign presence.

The draft also expresses China’s intent to win veto rights over any joint military exercises with foreign militaries and attain regular joint patrols with Southeast Asian countries.

The pursuit of such an agreement demonstrates Beijing’s resolve to win administrative control within its so-called “nine-dash line” encompassing about 80 percent of the South China Sea, while recent incidents openly challenge a 2016 ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Observers say the increased hostilities in the South China Sea might be an attempt by China to coerce the 10-nation bloc to yield to Beijing’s demands within a self-imposed deadline of three years — when Duterte’s term comes to an end.

“These actions are designed to shape the other parties’ calculus to take into account their interests with China in mind,” Koh said.

With Vietnam less likely to yield to such pressure, China has engaged in several high-stakes deployments in recent weeks, including conducting two military exercises near the disputed Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), lifting a controversial fishing ban, and testing new warships and weapons in the Gulf of Tonkin, prompting concerns the two nations might wind up in open conflict.

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