Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The South China Seize

(Map Source AFP)



Beijing begins mapping disputed South China Sea
China said on Tuesday it is mapping South China Sea (SCS) with an aim to step up exploration for oil and gas and to reinforce its territorial claims.

China claims the entire SCS as its own. Its claim however has been contested by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which assert it is part their maritime waters.

China may step up its exploration of South China Sea to reinforce its territorial claims following announcement that geographical surveys of the area are underway, state-run Global Times reported.

"The majority of the disputed waters used to be beyond our reach because we seldom put our claims into action," Zhang Yunling, director of the Institute for International Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the daily.

"By drawing a map, the country can reinforce its jurisdiction claim in the South China Sea, and further actions may follow, such as exploiting resources near the Nansha Islands," Zhang said.

According to a report released by China's National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geo-information (NASMG) a working group jointly set up by 13 government agencies will continue geographical surveying of the South China Sea and draw a map of the sea or its islands to "declare China's stance" on territorial issues.

Similar mapping work will also be carried out on the Diaoyu Islands and other important areas in the East China Sea, (ECS) when the time is right, it said.

Zhuang Guotu, director of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, downplayed the possibility of the mapping work escalating tensions. "A spat is inevitable but tensions are unlikely to escalate as maintaining cooperation despite disputes has been a basic consensus that China and relevant countries hold," Zhuang said.

Hu's visit to strengthen Sino-Cambodian ties
The Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to Cambodia this week will build up stronger Sino-Cambodian ties in politics, trade and investment, Pan Guangxue, Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, said Tuesday.

"The visit will deepen the bilateral relations in all fields, especially in politics, economics, trade, and culture," he said, adding "the China-Cambodia ties are as of good brothers, good partners, good neighbors, and good friends."

When asked about the South China Sea issue, Pan said the dispute should be solved under the framework of Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) with claimant states. China is willing to cooperate with related parties to solve the dispute under the principle of shelving differences and seeking joint development. [It's ours but we may let you play in our sandbox.]

"Moreover, China strongly opposes the internationalization of the South China Sea dispute and do not allow non-claimant forces to interfere this issue," Pan added.

Australia’s Carr makes rounds
The South China Sea dispute is not an issue that should be “internationalised” at the upcoming ASEAN Summit, the government told visiting Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr yesterday.

In his first overseas trip as foreign minister, Carr, a former state leader who came out of retirement to assume the federal role on March 6, also met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An yesterday.

“I informed Bob Carr . . . that we should encourage China and ASEAN to begin to discuss . . . a COC [Code of Conduct of the South China Sea],” Hor Namhong said. “I [said] we should not internationalise the issues, because it will lead to complications and it doesn’t serve any country’s interest.”

The government announced last week that the South China Sea would not be on the agenda at next week’s ASEAN Summit.

Vietnam Protests Cnooc's Plans in Disputed South China Sea
Vietnam is protesting plans by a Chinese oil company to take bids on developing energy deposits in the contested South China Sea, in a fresh sign that territorial disputes in the region may rise as Beijing, Hanoi and other regional claimants push ahead with development plans.

The statement singled out a block that it said is one mile from an island in the Paracel Island chain, which both countries claim.

"The Chinese activities constitute serious violations of Vietnam's sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago," the statement read, referring to the islands by the Vietnamese name. "Vietnam asks China to respect Vietnam's sovereignty … and make substantive contribution to maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea."

At a daily Foreign Ministry news briefing in Beijing Friday, spokesman Liu Weimin reiterated long-standing assertions by Beijing that the South China Sea was an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The sea is also partly claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China detains Vietnamese fishermen in disputed South China Sea
"Recently, more than 100 Vietnamese fishing boats entered the waters around the Paracel Islands for illegal fishing. Unable to drive them out, relevant Chinese authorities investigated and dealt with a Vietnamese boat and 21 fishermen in accordance with the law," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"China has irrefutable sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, and there is no dispute over this. Vietnamese fishing activities infringe on China's sovereignty and maritime rights," he told a daily news briefing.

"The relevant actions by Chinese authorities are completely proper, law enforcement actions. We hope that Vietnam takes effective measures to earnestly manage and educate its fishermen and stop their invasive fishing."

But Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said it was China that had violated Vietnam's sovereignty.

"Vietnam demands that China immediately and unconditionally release these fishermen and the fishing vessels, and to cease the detention ... of Vietnamese fishermen in the waters of Vietnam," he said.

"A representative from Vietnam's Foreign Affairs Ministry has met with the Chinese embassy to give them a diplomatic note outlining Vietnam's position, and will continue the fight to resolve this matter and protect the legitimate rights of Vietnamese fishermen."

China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea. China's claim is the largest, covering a big U-shape over most of the sea's 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

China has insisted on handling the disputes on a one-on-one basis rather than multilaterally, a strategy some critics have described as "divide and conquer". China says its sovereignty is indisputable and historically based.

Occupy Spratly Islands! Vietnamese monks sent to live on disputed South China Sea territory
Vietnam has adopted a new strategy to secure disputed sea territory: send buddhist monks to reclaim derelict shrines on the Spratly Islands. There, the monks will oversee temple operations and lead prayers in an effort to instill a region scattered with military and industrial buildings (and no indigenous people) with some spiritual life.

It's a noble story, but one with strong economic/political undercurrents. China, Vietnam, and four other nations currently claim areas of the virtually desolate archipelago, but Vietnam's resurrection of the region's dormant culture may lend it some leverage in the land dispute.

Pulling the culture/religion card might also help throw the scent off the money trail as the Spratly Islands abound with oil and gas - riches Vietnam will not be able to tap if it goes tete-a-tete with an ever-growing Chinese navy.

However, Vietnam does not hold longstanding cultural ties to the region, no more than any of the other countries squabbling over the region, which include the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in addition to Vietnam and China.

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