Saturday, August 11, 2012

Will New Zealand enter faux-fray for South China Sea

New Zealand has discovered an "island" of pumice floating in the South Pacific.

Might it then tow the island to the South China/Western Philippine/What-have-you Sea and claim 200 miles of EEZ mineral rights?


Gigantic floating island the size of New Jersey spotted in south Pacific
Yesterday, the Royal New Zealand Air Force spotted a gigantic mass made from volcanic pumice rocks floating in the south Pacific. The total area of the "island" is about 9,000 square miles, or about the same size as New Jersey (and larger than Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island or the entire nation of Israel).

New Zealand Navy scientists believe this 300-by-30-mile floating mass, which reaches about two feet above sea level, dribbled out from a huge underwater volcanic eruption. These "pumice rafts" are thought play an important role in the Earth's biological evolution as they can ferry animals across large bodies of water and may have even been homes to the earliest microscopic lifeforms.

And who knows, should this new floating island be found to be a nice place, it may be just what the anxious inhabitants of rapidly disappearing The Maldives are looking for.
Whilst obviously tongue in Guambat's cheek, creating a new South China Sea pumice island is no more farfetched a claim than most of the ones being made over long uninhabited rocks floating above the mineral rich sea floor of the Pacific Asian sea shelf.

Japan and South Korea Lock Horns Over Islands, China Steers Clear
This Friday, Japan recalled its ambassador to South Korea after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak paid an official visit to a small group of islands located smack-dab in the middle of the Sea of Japan. Or the East Sea of Korea, as the South Koreans call it.

The islands, called the Dokdo Islands in Korean, the Takeshima Islands in Japanese, and Liancourt Rocks in English, have been part of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan since Korea gained its independence from Japan after World War Two.

South Koreans are reportedly passionate about the issue, and claim the islands have always been part of their motherland. The only current residents of the island are an old woman, her husband, and the South Korean Coast Guard. But the islands are also home to an abundance of fish, in which Japan is extremely interested, and to recently discovered reserves of natural gas, which would be worth billions of dollars.

Territorial disputes are common in this region, given the vast number of tiny islands, according to Harvard Professor of Japanese History David Howell. "These disputes are more visible now that China is exerting a naval influence," he said. "For most Japanese people, the status of some islands in the southern Okinawa is a much more powerful issue [than the Takeshima islands]."

Howell also said China might be staying out of this spat strategically: "Getting involved one way or the other would highlight the ambiguity of these territorial claims in general," he said, "and that might undermine some of China's other claims to other islands."
US-Japan intervention biggest threat: analyst
A Chinese military strategist has warned that a US-Japan joint military intervention in the Taiwan question would be the biggest threat to China, in the wake of a proposed revision of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation.

Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, director of the Chinese Navy Advisory Committee for Informatization, made the warnings Wednesday while exchanging views with Web users on China's national security at people.com.cn.

The US has incited tensions surrounding the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea and the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea to tighten military ties with its allies, and take China's attention away from such issues in order to contain China, Yin said.

"If the US fails to contain China with such issues, it may make big moves in the Taiwan Straits. We should seriously and psychologically prepare for that," warned Yin.

The US and Japan last week agreed to consider revising the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation, which stipulate methods of cooperation between Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the US military during times of emergency, reported the Yomiuri Shimbun paper.

The guidelines, which were first created in 1978, were drastically revised in 1997 to respond to possible contingencies on the Korean Peninsula. Tokyo and Washington both found it necessary to review the guidelines afresh, as 15 years have passed since the previous revisions.

Yin warned that the biggest threat of a revised guideline would be a joint military intervention in the Taiwan question by Japan and the US, which would have a subversive impact on China's period of strategic opportunity.

Though China has been taking a defensive strategy in national defense, Yin noted that it is not afraid of wars and has the confidence to beat any rivals on its soil and in its coastal waters.

According to the Rear Admiral, China has set up marine corps in its three fleets, namely the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet and South Sea Fleet. However, only two marine brigades are deployed to the South Sea Fleet due to limited numbers of troops.
The Bully of the South China Sea
China's broad territorial claims have no legal merit, and the U.S. is the only power strong enough to push back.

In a 2000 white paper, Beijing claimed that the source of its "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands, the most important features in the South China Sea, is imperial China's historical record as "the first to discover and name the islands as the Nansha Islands and the first to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over them."

This basis is disputed. China may have some of the oldest surviving maps of the area, but aboriginal, Malay, Indian and Arab traders traversed these seas before Han Chinese began their explorations. And the maps produced by China and other countries from ancient times through the 20th century show the islands as uninhabited dangers to navigation, not destinations under anyone's sovereignty.

Militarist Japan, ironically, is the true origin of China's claims. As the great scholar of the Chinese diaspora Wang Gungwu noted recently, World War II-era Japanese maps that showed the entire South China Sea as a Japanese lake were the first serious claim to sovereignty over the islands.

A second irony is that the People's Republic's current claims date to a 1947 map issued by the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek, which drew a u-shaped line of 11 dashes around more than 90% of the South China Sea. Mao's regime republished that map with a simplified nine-dashed line after it routed the nationalists, claiming the sea as China's "historic waters."

Beijing continues to use this map to justify its claims, although it alternates between arguing that its claims rest on the U.N.'s Law of the Sea treaty, which it signed and ratified in 1996, or otherwise on territorial rights that predate the treaty. Whatever the case, Beijing acts as if it owns all of the sea within the line, last year condemning Vietnamese exploration of areas that fall both within the "territorial" line and Vietnam's coastal exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.

Even if all the disputed islands belong to China, the area of water they control under maritime law would be relatively small. Only a handful of the islands are capable of sustaining human habitation, which is required to claim a 200-mile EEZ, and some of those would be circumscribed where they overlapped with the EEZs generated by other countries' coastline. Rocks and shoals only generate a 12-mile radius of territorial waters at most.

This raises another demonstrably false claim made by Beijing—that Southeast Asian nations accepted its rights to the islands until the 1970s, when potential oil and gas reserves were discovered. Not so: The 1947 map was a matter of international dispute at the time.

It was only after the hydrocarbon discoveries that China began bullying its way into the islands. In 1974, the People's Liberation Army launched a surprise attack and ejected (South) Vietnamese forces stationed on the Paracel Islands. In 1988, the PLA again surprised the Vietnamese on Johnson Atoll in the Spratlys. Beijing seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines in 1994 without a fight.
China gets its catch, hook, line and sinker
ASEAN is the 10-nation grouping of the countries of south-east Asia - Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In recent years it has insisted on being the central mechanism for mediating regional disputes.

The US decided to take ASEAN seriously. The Obama administration coached ASEAN to stand up to China en bloc by crafting a code of conduct for dealing with disputes in the South China Sea.

Beijing split ASEAN spectacularly last Thursday. A meeting of its foreign ministers not only failed to agree on the code of conduct, but also failed for the first time in ASEAN's 45-year history to agree on a standard communique to record its discussion.

Using its considerable influence over the host country, Cambodia, China effectively wielded a veto on ASEAN. By blocking even a communique, it censored any official record that the South China Sea disputes were even discussed.

Beijing pushed through the central diplomatic defence against its assertiveness as easily as if it were wet rice paper.

The chairman, Cambodia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Hor Namhong, told reporters after the meeting that he ruled out a communique because ''I have told my colleagues that the meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers is not a court, a place to give a verdict about the dispute''. The Philippines' Foreign Affairs Secretary, Albert Del Rosario, said he had ''simply wanted the fact that we discussed the issue and it should be reflected in the joint communique, no more, no less. It would have just been a simple sentence or paragraph in the communique.''
Cambodia as divide and rule pawn
Chinese state banks today bankroll the construction of roads, bridges, hydropower dams, real estate developments and tourist resorts in Cambodia. Over the past decade, these loans and grants have run into the billions of US dollars, and official delegations shuttle back and forth between the two countries each year.

Beijing's offers of hefty amounts of loans and investment dollars unconstrained by human-rights or good governance concerns has been eagerly taken up by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who resents the conditions often attached to Western aid.

in December 2009 Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum seekers to China. The timing of the deportation - a day before the arrival of a Chinese official carrying a $1.2 billion package of grants and loan agreements - left few in doubt that extreme pressure was brought to bear on Phnom Penh.

This unspoken quid pro quo arrangement extends back as far as July 1997, when Hun Sen ousted his rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody factional coup. Unlike many Western countries, which balked at the bloodshed in Phnom Penh, China immediately recognized the status quo and offered military aid. Hun Sen reciprocated by shuttering the Taiwanese representative's office in Phnom Penh after accusing Taiwanese elements of providing support to his rivals, and in the years since has frequently voiced support for the One-China policy.

"Cambodia's single act of obstinacy is a reflection of China's influence and not Cambodian interests," said Carlyle Thayer, an analyst at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney, adding that it would likely "poison" ASEAN proceedings until the next round of summits in November.

The bloc was founded in 1967 as a bulwark against the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand as members. The end of the Cold War brought an end to the overt anti-communist posture of ASEAN, which was eventually expanded to include Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999).

But tensions have remained between the old and new members. In 2007, Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, identified a division between ASEAN's original member states and the poorer nations that joined in the 1990s. According to a leaked cable from the US Embassy in Singapore, Lee told US officials that ASEAN should not have admitted Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as members, fearful that some might act as a pro-Chinese fifth column within ASEAN.

"The older members of ASEAN shared common values and an antipathy to communism," the cable states, quoting Lee's views. "Those values had been 'muddied' by the new members, and their economic and social problems made it doubtful they would ever behave like the older ASEAN members."

Lee particularly focused on Laos, describing it as an "outpost" of China that reported back to Beijing on the content of all ASEAN meetings - but he could easily have mentioned Cambodia, which is quickly becoming China's most dependable ally in the region.

Thayer said last week's imbroglio, after years of pro-unity rhetoric, was "the first major breach of the dyke of regional autonomy" created by ASEAN. "China has now reached into ASEAN's inner sanctum and played on intra-ASEAN divisions," he said.
SBY to Demand China Respect Asean Road Map
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to tell visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to respect a road map taken by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to resolve conflicts in the South China Sea.

Yang will meet with Yudhoyono today after discussing bilateral and regional issues, including the tensions in the South China Sea, with his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa. Indonesia is trying to persuade China to agree on Asean’s proposal of creating a legally binding code of conduct for the disputed area.

Marty said bilateral cooperation was high on the agenda but added that Yudhoyono was not afraid to bring up the South China Sea issue.

“Why should he be afraid? There’s no problem,” Marty said after a Cabinet meeting on defense affairs at the Armed Forces headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta. “This is something that is in China’s interest as well. Any obstruction or disruption in the diplomatic channels between Asean and China, including the South China Sea problem, may greatly affect China-Asean relations.

“[The meeting] will discuss the Asean-China partnership, including possibly the South China Sea problem."

Asean members were divided in their views on the maritime dispute during a meeting of foreign ministers last month in Phnom Penh. For the first time in its 45-year history, the group failed to deliver a joint communique following one of its meetings.

Marty embarked on a 36-hour “shuttle diplomacy tour” to the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore that resulted in the member states agreeing on a joint statement about the ongoing disputes. Asean reaffirmed “the non-use of force by parties” in the sea.

Indonesia has warned of a “risk of further tension” between nations with overlapping claims to swathes of the South China Sea if a “collective and common approach” is not agreed upon soon.

“This is an issue that demands Asean’s and China’s collective and common approach and action. Otherwise, the risk of further tensions are very much ahead of us,” Marty said on Wednesday. “In the absence of a code of conduct, we may be risking more incidents in the future.”
Myanmar’s Leader Invites US Businesses to Return
President Thein Sein of Myanmar addressed a dinner of US business executives in this city near the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat on Friday, inviting them to invest in his impoverished country after an absence of 25 years.

The appearance of Thein Sein, who traveled to Cambodia from his nearby country for the occasion, was the latest sign of a significant warming of relations between the United States and Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country that had been firmly in China’s orbit.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed Thein Sein to the gathering on the last full day of her Asia trip, one intended to show that Washington’s commitment to the region reached beyond a strengthening of military alliances to economic ties. Across the region, most countries — the Philippines being an exception — do more trade with China than with the United States.

The meeting followed President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday of the easing of sanctions on US investments in Myanmar, a decision reached after two months of debate within the administration over how much and how quickly to reward the Myanmar government for the reforms it has undertaken so far.

The administration placed some conditions on investments, including the requirement that US companies investing more than $500,000 must report to Washington on their human rights policies and anti-corruption efforts. US energy companies that conclude deals with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise — which the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, wanted to be kept under sanctions — will be required to report their investments to Washington within 60 days.

Clinton told Thein Sein that the United States was concerned about the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group, which has suffered killings at the hands of Buddhists, the State Department official said.

Western business executives say they are aware of the opportunities in Myanmar, but that there are also big hurdles. A modern banking system does not exist, communications are spotty and ingrained corruption linked to military officers is widespread.

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