Vietnamese hold a protest against China in Hanoi
Photo: AP / Na Son Nguyen
Hundreds of Vietnamese hold a rare protest in Hanoi demanding China stay out of their country's waters Sunday, June 5, 2011.
* Yahoo! Buzz
* Philippines, China Support Discussion on South China Sea
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Tensions in the South China Sea over territorial disputes are rising once again with China clashing with Vietnam and the Philippines recently. The disputes come as the United States and ASEAN try to help those with claims in the resource rich waters resolve their differences through dialogue and avoid the use of force or threats.
At a rare protest rally on Sunday in Vietnam, hundreds converged on the Chinese Embassy to blast Beijing for its recent alleged aggressions in the South China Sea. Vietnam says a Chinese vessel intentionally cut a submerged cable of a Vietnamese oil survey ship last month while it was conducting seismic tests.
The Philippines has also reported renewed territorial disputes, accusing China of unloading building materials and putting up military posts on reefs claimed by Manila. China defends its actions and says they are completely justified.
On Sunday, speaking at a regional defense forum in Singapore, China's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie claimed the recent flare ups with Vietnam and the Philippines were now under control. "There has always been freedom to navigate in the South China Sea. No one owns it. The overall situation in the area is stable," he said.
Dean Cheng, an Asia defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington says while China may not be shooting anyone, it's actions are provocative and put lives in danger. “[China] seem[s] to be engaging in a broad-based push to lay claim to the entire region and they don’t seem to care whose toes they are stepping on," he said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN has been working with China to reach an agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Speaking at the same conference on Sunday, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Defense Ngyuen Chi Vinh says China's cooperation is crucial and adds Vietnam's resolve is firm. "The consistent unwavering position of our party and state is that we will use all means to protect our sovereignty," he said.
The South China Sea is a major shipping lane and is believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves. It is claimed by several countries including Brunei, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
The United States has offered to facilitate territorial disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Speaking in Washington last week, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell says the U.S. continues to promote dialogue between the disputing parties. “We discourage a resort to violence in these circumstances or threats and we want to see a process of dialogue emerge. We communicate intensively and privately with a variety of states associated with the South China Seas and I think we are going to continue to do that as we go forward," he said.
China prefers to discuss disputes one on one with other claimants. And, until recently Beijing appeared to be easing off in its assertions of territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Heritage Foundation analyst Dean Cheng says the recent uptick in tensions may be a sign Beijing is testing the waters with Vietnam or the United States. He points out China's actions follow a string of summits between China and the United States, including between President Hu Jintao and Barack Obama in January. “This may well be a test. To see - ok- we’ve had these summits, we’ve said that we want better relations: Are you going to jeopardize that promise of better relations now by interacting on behalf of the Southeast Asians or with the Southeast Asians over issues the Chinese feel is their territorial rights," he said.
Cheng says the increase in tensions could also be related to China's upcoming leadership transition in 2012. Chinese President Hu Jintao steps down from office next year and Cheng says it could be that the incoming government and outgoing government feel they have no choice but to take a stand and make a point that this is China's territory.
Over the past week, U.S. officials have stressed Washington's commitment to Asia, in particular Southeast Asia, and their willingness to work together with China in the region. China says it too is committed to peacefully resolving disputes in the region.
However, from the streets of Hanoi, it appears that resolution may still be a long way off.
China’s ‘Worried’ Neighbors Query South China Sea Peace PledgeJune 05, 2011, 12:39 PM EDT
By Daniel Ten KateJune 6 (Bloomberg) -- China’s pledge to keep peace in the South China Sea failed to assuage its neighbors, with defense ministers from Vietnam and Philippines saying harassment of oil, gas and fishing vessels raised questions about its intentions.
China “never intends to threaten any nation,” Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told a regional forum in Singapore yesterday. Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said China’s actions in the waters made neighboring countries “worried and concerned.”
China’s development of modern naval vessels and anti-ship missiles has heightened concerns among the U.S. and regional states with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. At stake is control of energy deposits below the waters that companies including Exxon Mobil Corp., Talisman Energy Inc. and Forum Energy Plc have signed deals to explore.
“Incidents will likely increase over the next few years” as China boosts the number of maritime surveillance vessels operating in the sea, said Gary Li, an analyst with Exclusive Analysis Ltd., a London-based business advisory firm. “We’re very likely to see a much more aggressive patrolling of the area” by China.
Vietnam said Chinese vessels on May 26 sliced cables of a survey ship with Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, or PetroVietnam, a move that sparked a demonstration of several hundred people in Hanoi yesterday. The Philippines protested Chinese ships moving into waters it claims last month and chasing away a Forum Energy survey vessel in March.
“We truly expect no repetition of similar incidents,” Vietnam Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh said yesterday, flanked by counterparts from the Philippines and Malaysia at the annual IISS Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue. Vietnam’s purchase of six Russian submarines was in part designed as “a deterrent to those who have an intention to compromise and impair Vietnamese sovereignty,” Thanh said.
China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over much of the South China Sea, including oil and gas fields more than three times further from its coast than they are from Vietnam. Exploration in waters under China’s jurisdiction infringes its “sovereignty and interests and is illegal,” the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said May 12.
Thanh said his country “cannot accept” China’s map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint development of oil and gas resources because it has “no legal grounds.”
Shrinking Oil Reserves
Vietnam’s domestic gas demand is set to triple by 2025, according to World Bank estimates, increasing the need to drill. The Philippines will boost hydrocarbon reserves by 40 percent in the next 20 years to reduce its reliance on imports, according to an energy department plan. China’s oil reserves have shrunk almost 40 percent since 2001 as the economy grew 10.5 percent a year on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who spoke June 4 at the summit, warned that more clashes will occur in the sea if China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations fail to agree on a code of conduct in the waters. He said budget cuts and the American public’s war weariness won’t be an obstacle to expanding U.S. military engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
Asked about China’s weapons capability, Gates said the U.S. was “investing significant sums of money” to offset threats. “America is, as the expression goes, ‘putting our money where our mouth is’ with respect to this part of the world.”
The U.S., which has patrolled Asia-Pacific waters since World War II, has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand, and guarantees Taiwan’s security. China has bolstered its forces over the past decade, procuring nuclear-powered submarines and developing an aircraft carrier, according to a Defense Department report in August.
China’s military planned to spend 601.1 billion yuan ($92.8 billion) this year, a figure U.S. analysts say underestimates actual outlays. The Pentagon requested $671 billion for fiscal 2012.
In 2010, Vietnam spent $2.4 billion on defense and the Philippines $1.5 billion, according to Brussels-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“I know many people tend to believe that with the growth of China’s economy, China will become a military threat,” Liang said during a 42-minute question-and-answer session with regional scholars, government officials and executives. “It is not our option. We are not seeking to and we will not seek hegemony.”
China’s improved military capabilities fall “within the legitimate need of its self defense,” he said. He dismissed concerns that its advanced weaponry threatens U.S. access to the region, saying freedom of navigation “has never been impeded.”
China has resisted signing a code of conduct for the waters with Asean that builds on a 2002 agreement to resolve disputes without the use of force.
“I don’t see any possibility of China and other claimant states joining hands to exploit resources,” said Li Mingjiang, a professor at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “If there is no possibility of cooperation, the only outcome is conflict and tension.
--With assistance from Shamim Adam in Singapore. Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Dick Schumacher.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Singapore at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com