China and the sea in South East Asia

ASEAN EEZ Vs China's claims over South China Sea

ASEAN EEZ Vs China’s claims over South China Sea

The diplomatic row in the region which brewed and never been resolved, is actually escalating. In the utter stubborn self-preservation belief by China that the nation has rights over the South China Sea since the largest communist nation rejected a multilateral approach to resolve the multiple claims problem within the massive body of water commonly shared between Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines,.

Wall Street Journal story on the recently concluded ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting in Brunei.

China Rejects Multilateral Intervention in South China Sea Disputes

But Beijing Agrees to Work With Southeast Asian Bloc Over Maritime Code of Conduct


BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei—China’s defense minister issued a blunt rebuke to Southeast Asian counterparts on Thursday, saying Beijing rejected any multilateral approach to resolving competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Defense minister Gen. Chang Wanquan said disputes over the South China Sea shouldn’t harm China’s relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations because the 10-member regional bloc doesn’t have a direct role in the disagreements.

“These disputes should be resolved by the countries directly concerned,” Gen. Chang said. “We oppose any attempt to internationalize or complicate the disputes.”

The South China Sea is claimed almost in its entirety by China, which has run up against competing claims by several other countries.

The Chinese position isn’t new but was delivered at a joint news conference after a meeting with the U.S. defense secretary and defense chiefs from Asean and other Asian nations. The remarks were read by Gen. Chang and his translator in answer to a question posed by the Chinese state news agency.

U.S. officials said the statement wasn’t surprising and noted China nonetheless has agreed to negotiate with Asean over a common maritime code of conduct for the region.

Still, the remarks by Gen. Chang made plain the very different visions the U.S. and China have for Asean. While the U.S. hasn’t taken a position on how territorial disputes get resolved, it has favored an Asean role in finding a common approach to settling conflicts over the South China Sea.

The declaration from the assembled defense ministers issued Thursday contained few surprises. But U.S. defense officials said they were encouraged by the organization’s support for practical measures to avoid conflicts between vessels plying the South China Sea. The meeting’s participants endorsed a proposal for more joint exercises to help avoid confrontations between naval vessels in disputed waters.

Brunei’s Energy Minister Mohammad Yasmin, who hosted the meeting, said the group agreed to work on establishing mechanisms to “reduce miscalculation and undesirable incidents at sea.” The presence of substantial reserves of oil and gas under the South China Sea has also helped heighten tension in the area.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined proposals to improve military cooperation and joint exercises in Southeast Asia. “Exercising together builds trust and understanding, and reduces the risk of conflict when disputes arise,” Mr. Hagel told the gathering, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

Mr. Hagel outlined proposals to improve military exercises and operations, urging the Asian nations, working with the U.S., to develop standardized procedures for humanitarian and disaster relief operations, which could improve communications, command and control during a crisis. He also pushed for more multilateral counterterrorism operations as well as improved information sharing. He offered to share military medical technology the U.S. has developed during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The U.S. has tried to focus its work in Southeast Asia on countering terrorists and pirates, as well as building its partners’ abilities to respond to humanitarian crises.

Mr. Hagel added cybercriminals to the list Thursday, singling out North Korea for putting the Asian-Pacific region in peril. “Pirates and terrorists, proliferators, diseases, natural disasters, and cybercriminals aren’t contained by national borders, and they will jeopardize all of our futures if we fail to act together.”

Separately, the Philippines said Beijing has asked President Benigno Aquino III to cancel a trip to China to attend a trade exposition starting Sept. 2 in Guangxi province. “The president has decided not to proceed to [the expo], taking into consideration China’s request for the president to visit China at a more conducive time,” said Philippines Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.

When contacted, the Chinese government did not address the Philippines’s request but said that it hopes China and the Philippines can “can march forward together, tackle problems and clear up disturbances, while making efforts to recover the sound and stable development of Sino-Philippine relations.” The Philippines is locked in a territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea and has turned to the United Nations to settle the issue.


This is rather odd since China signed the  Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) on 4 November 2002, which is the term of reference that ASEAN nations and China respect the ” principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and other universally recognized principles of international law which shall serve as the basic norms governing state-to-state relations”


The Governments of the Member States of ASEAN and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,

REAFFIRMING their determination to consolidate and develop the friendship and cooperation existing between their people and governments with the view to promoting a 21st century-oriented partnership of good neighbourliness and mutual trust;

COGNIZANT of the need to promote a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea between ASEAN and China for the enhancement of peace, stability, economic growth and prosperity in the region;

COMMITTED to enhancing the principles and objectives of the 1997 Joint Statement of the Meeting of the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of ASEAN and President of the People’s Republic of China;

DESIRING to enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned;

HEREBY DECLARE the following:

1. The Parties reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and other universally recognized principles of international law which shall serve as the basic norms governing state-to-state relations;

2. The Parties are committed to exploring ways for building trust and confidence in accordance with the above-mentioned principles and on the basis of equality and mutual respect;

3. The Parties reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;

4. The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;

5. The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.

Pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the Parties concerned undertake to intensify efforts to seek ways, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, to build trust and confidence between and among them, including:

  • a. holding dialogues and exchange of views as appropriate between their defense and military officials;
  • b. ensuring just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or in distress;
  • c. notifying, on a voluntary basis, other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined military exercise; and
  • d. exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information.

6. Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes, the Parties concerned may explore or undertake cooperative activities. These may include the following:

  • a. marine environmental protection;
  • b. marine scientific research;
  • c. safety of navigation and communication at sea;
  • d. search and rescue operation; and
  • e. combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms.

The modalities, scope and locations, in respect of bilateral and multilateral cooperation should be agreed upon by the Parties concerned prior to their actual implementation.

7. The Parties concerned stand ready to continue their consultations and dialogues concerning relevant issues, through modalities to be agreed by them, including regular consultations on the observance of this Declaration, for the purpose of promoting good neighbourliness and transparency, establishing harmony, mutual understanding and cooperation, and facilitating peaceful resolution of disputes among them;

8. The Parties undertake to respect the provisions of this Declaration and take actions consistent therewith;

9. The Parties encourage other countries to respect the principles contained in this Declaration;

10. The Parties concerned reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual attainment of this objective.

Done on the Fourth Day of November in the Year Two Thousand and Two in Phnom Penh, the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Signatories to the DOC

Signatories to the DOC


The DOC is s significant document since China and Vietnam went to war over Paracel Islands on 19 January 1974.

Despite signing the DOC, China’s attitude and actions over the South China Sea is far from what has been stated and agreed upon as the basis for resolving issues. More over, there are international maritime laws to govern the free and safe passage of vessels in the international waters in the South China Sea.

Last year, Chinese Navy incurred into the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed island which many believe that belongs to the Philippines because of the proximity and accepted international maritime claims practices.

As such, in the interest of protecting the busiest commercial waterway United States has committed to move majority of the warships of their Seventh Fleet into the region. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced this during last year’s annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Earlier this year Chinese Navy flotilla ‘visited and conducted naval exercise’ at James Shoal, 45 nautical miles off the coast of Miri. Included in the flotilla is Chinese Navy brand new 210m amphibious ship Jinggangshan. That is far too close for comfort for China to be ‘flexing their muscle’, especially to Malaysia a country where both mutually respect each other as ‘close friends’ and major trading partners.

The recent WSJ report about China has been acused for preparing to build structures on the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The multiple claims issue between China and the Philippines mounted into deeper and more intense pressure as the latter wanted to bring the matter to the United Nations for arbitration. That irked China to a point where President Ninoy Aquino III is no longer welcome in to the communist super-power in the region.

Philippines Accuses China of Activity on Disputed Shoal

Defense Chief Claims ‘Prelude to Construction’ Is Attempt to Violate Its Territory


MANILA—The Philippines said China appeared to be preparing to build structures on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, accusing China of attempting to violate the Philippines’ claim to the territory.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a budget hearing in the House of Representatives that “concrete blocks were sighted inside the shoal,” which he called “a prelude to construction.” He showed three pictures, including one depicting about 30 concrete blocks scattered around the shoal located less than 200 kilometers, or 120 miles, from the northern Philippine province of Zambales.

The South China Sea is claimed almost in its entirety by China, which has run up against competing claims by several other countries. The Philippines claim several islands in the Spratlys group of islands and other shoals in the South China Sea within the 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone. Deeper concerns regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain unresolved. The sea is thought to hold vast oil and gas reserves, and includes some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Other South China Sea claimants include Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Philippine officials are worried that China’s latest purported action on the Scarborough Shoal will lead to the construction of permanent structures, as had happened in Mischief Reef in the past.

The report of the concrete slabs comes a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel completed a four-nation Southeast Asian trip that ended in Manila. Mr. Hagel was pushing for increased rotational U.S. military presence in the Philippines as part of increasing its military focus on the Asian-Pacific region. It has similar security arrangements with Australia and Singapore.

Manila is hopeful that such an arrangement with the U.S. will help deter China from pursuing its claims in the South China Sea. Last year, the Philippines and China had a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal that soured diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Mr. Gazmin told lawmakers that the Philippine Navy plane that took the photos on Aug. 31 had also spotted three Chinese coast guard ships near the shoal.

He said the photographs have been forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the agency that would prepare any diplomatic protests against China.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the agency is still “awaiting further confirmation” before taking further action. He said that jointly with the country’s Defense Department, “we are committed to look at ways to appropriately address this issue.”

Hua Zhang, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Manila, said he hadn’t heard of the existence of the concrete structure. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei also said he had no knowledge of the concrete slabs. “I have no information on that,” he told a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

The Philippines has brought its territorial dispute with China before a United Nations tribunal for arbitration.

Last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III canceled a trip to China to attend the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Trade Expo, scheduled for this week, after the Chinese government requested that the Philippine leader postpone his trip to a more appropriate time.


According to military experts, “It is common for small naval forces units amongst ASEAN nations to chase Chinese naval ships out of the disputed area and it is part of the ‘game’ “.

On the other hand, China has been reported to be committed on the Joint Working Group on the implementation of DOC and would be  holding meetings with ASEAN nations at official level soon.

Xinhua story yesterday:

China, ASEAN South China Sea meetings scheduled | 2013-09-10 17:35:53 | Editor: Fu Peng
BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) — China and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) will hold meetings on implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) this weekend, China’s Foreign Ministry announced here Tuesday.Ministry spokesman Hong Lei specified at a regular press conference that the gatherings would be the sixth Senior Officials’ Meeting and the ninth Joint Working Group on the implementation of the DOC.

China and the ASEAN finished drafting the DOC in 2002, outlining the most important principles in the management of disputes on the South China Sea.Hong said that participants in the weekend’s meetings will have in-depth exchanges of views on full and effective implementation of the DOC and enhance maritime cooperationChina and the ASEAN achieved consensus recently to push for consultations to develop a more detailed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

In a June meeting in Brunei, Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers reiterated “the need to steadily move toward the conclusion of a COC on the basis of consensus.”Hong added that the new meetings will also involve “official consultations on the COC within the framework of the implementation of the DOC.”Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he is confident that both China and its ASEAN neighbors will be able to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea after the meetings.


Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone has been defined as the continental shelves within 200 nautical miles from our coast. It is in accordance to the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea 1982.

Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone as per the Malaysia Act 1984 and under jusrisdiction of the MMEA

Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone as per the Malaysia Act 1984 and under jusrisdiction of the MMEA

Amongst the ASEAN nations, many are bullish that the multiple claims issue could be resolved from series of diplomatic consultations and negotiations. A workable solution in the form such as joint development area (JDA) is likely. Especially for Malaysia, where there are working models for JDA with Thailand and Vietnam.

However, China is very persistent and insistent in their claims.

China would not want to be seen as the ‘neighbourhood bully’ and prepared to arm twist her regional neighbours into submission on a resolve which is favouring China rather than ‘win win’, in the true spirit of mutual respect and friendship.

Published in: on September 12, 2013 at 04:00  Comments (36)