Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Flashpoint at the South China Sea, China sailing into troubled waters

The South China Seas is a potential flash point between  affected ASEAN countries  and The People's Republic of China(PRC) and the ever watchful United States  due to its importance in transportation of precious cargo such as crude oil and liquefied natural gas from the Middle East to China and the far East. Besides being an important navigation area there are proven and potential crude oil and natural gas reserves under ground around the Spratly Islands which sees overlapping claims by the sovereign states of Malaysia, Vietnam, The Philippines, PRC, Taiwan, and Brunei. 

The PRC with its growing economic clout has started to flex its military muscle to show that they are the boss in the South China Seas and the affected ASEAN states together with the US the only superpower left on this planet are wary of the PRC's intentions. 

Read here for better background :The Spratly Islands Dispute in the South China Sea:Problems, Policies, and Prospects for DiplomaticAccommodation Christopher C. Joyner, additional read here and latest here and here.

The PRC is unfairly claiming nearly all of the South China Seas rich in crude oil and gas reserves as theirs


With tensions brewing all round so it is timely that things needed to be discussed among neigbors and hopefully the ASEAN 2011 Regional Forum to Prioritize South China Sea Dispute in Bali starting today 19th July 2011 will see some kind of agreement. 

Asian ministers discuss South China Sea, security

Jul 19, 2011 at 12:45
BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Territorial disputes and flare-ups in the South China Sea were expected to take center stage at Asia's largest security forum this week, after Vietnam and the Philippines accused China of interfering in efforts to explore for oil and gas.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono noted ahead of closed-door talks that it's been nine years since the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed to negotiate a code of conduct in the potentially resource-rich waterway.

"Things do not necessarily have to be this slow," he said, adding "some progress" was long-overdue.

He said ASEAN needed to send a "strong signal" to the world that the situation in the region, a strategical shipping lane, is "predictable" and "manageable."

Southeast Asian ministers — on Indonesia's resort island of Bali for their annual get-together — will be joined later in the week by officials from Asia-Pacific, Europe and the United States for the much more important ASEAN Regional Forum.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, now in India, will be among those attending. So will China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, and Pak Ui-Chun of North Korea.

Hot topics on the table include Pyongyang's nuclear crisis, the slow pace of democratic reforms in military-dominated Myanmar and international efforts to end a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

Overshadowing talks, however, will be conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

The sparring is primarily over the Spratlys, nearby Paracels and Scarborough Shoal, a slew of tiny, mostly uninhabited islands, some no more than a half-submerged coral reef and surrounding waters.

China claims the entire area, a large swath extending far from its southern coast and overlapping with the 230-mile (370-kilometer) exclusive economic zones of the Philippines and Vietnam and, to a lesser degree, of Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The smaller Southeast Asian nations often look for backing from the U.S., which is eager to protect strategic shipping lanes in the waters and deepen its own military ties in the region. That only serves to further irk China.

Clinton was expected to touch on the issue, but only indirectly, sources in Washington told reporters.

Beijing has already called recent U.S. military exercises in the region inappropriate, though they were planned well before the latest dispute.

Vietnam says on two occasions since May, China cut cables used by its ships to conduct seismic tests on the sea floor. And last week, just as it appeared that temperatures were starting to cool, a Vietnamese border official alleged that a fishing boat was chased and attacked by Chinese soldiers, who beat up the boat captain.

The Philippines has similar complaints, saying in March two Chinese naval ships threatened one of their ships exploring for gas in an area known as Red Bank.

Beijing, while denying cutting cables, acknowledges incidents took place in what it said was its waters.

Southeast Asian officials are expected to hold their first direct talks with China on Wednesday.

ASEAN, founded in 1967, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It admitted Myanmar in 1997, despite strong opposition from Western nations. Source here.

I am a pessimist in this instance, I do not think any kind of talking will keep the PRC at bay,  because  the PRC have short, mid and long term strategic and economic objectives for control of the South China Seas and with its new found economic clout comes its military prowess which will not be afraid to take on the mighty policeman of the world the US Military if needed be. I do not think the US will stand by and watch its influence in the South China Sea being eroded by the PRC that is for sure. 

Its looking like "Gajah lawan Gajah, Pelanduk yang mati"( When elephant (US) fight elephant(PRC), the mouse deer (AseanStates) will get trampled)

Additional reading:

Mideast Oil Drives China Disputes

China's heavy dependence on Middle East oil will continue to spur frictions with neighboring countries in the South China Sea, experts say.

Recent disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines about overlapping border claims have focused on rights to explore for oil and gas in offshore areas.

But relatively little attention has been paid to the large volumes of China's existing oil supplies that flow through the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

A Radio Free Asia review of China's customs data found that nearly half of the country's imported oil has come from the Middle East and North Africa this year. The proportion rises to nearly 80 percent with the inclusion of other African sources such as Angola and Sudan.

All of that oil threads through the narrow Strait of Malacca by tanker before crossing the South China Sea on its way to Chinese ports.

Detailed customs data through May suggests that some 2.8 million barrels per day may be sailing through the contested areas. That would be about 30 percent of China's total oil demand, based on Reuters estimates.

While the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention calls for freedom of navigation, the vital traffic gives the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) a strategic motive to expand its presence on the route, whether new oil is discovered or not.

"Who controls those sea lanes, currently controlled by the U.S. Navy, is becoming a very important issue to China's strategic planners," said Mikkal Herberg, research director for energy security at the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research.

"This helps explain at least one important reason why China is working very diligently to expand its naval capabilities, including surface ships, submarines and a new submarine base on Hainan Island," Herberg said.
Read more here.

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