Lessons from Paracels XXXI: Panda-monium Gambit

The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte should seriously consider China’s resolve to get what the new bully-in-the-block desire, ahead of his own domestic politics.

Reuters story:

Duterte says China’s Xi threatened war if Philippines drills for oil

By Manuel Mogato | MANILA

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday Chinese counterpart China Xi Jinping had warned him there would be war if Manila tried to enforce an arbitration ruling and drill for oil in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

In remarks that could infuriate China, Duterte hit back at domestic critics who said he has gone soft on Beijing by refusing to push it to comply with an award last year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled largely in favor of the Philippines.

Duterte said he discussed it with Xi when the two met in Beijing on Monday, and got a firm, but friendly warning.

“We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,” Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.

“His response to me, ‘we’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.”

Duterte has long expressed his admiration for Xi and said he would raise the arbitration ruling with him eventually, but needed first to strengthen relations between the two countries, which the Philippines is hoping will yield billions of dollars in Chinese loans and infrastructure investments.

The Hague award clarifies Philippine sovereign rights in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone to access offshore oil and gas fields, including the Reed Bank, 85 nautical miles off its coast.

It also invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim on its maps denoting sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.

Duterte has a reputation for his candid, at times incendiary, remarks and his office typically backpeddles on his behalf and blames the media for distorting his most controversial comments.

Duterte recalled the same story about his discussion with Xi on oil exploration in a recorded television show aired moments after the speech.

He said Xi told him “do not touch it”.

He said Xi had promised that the arbitration ruling would be discussed in future, but not now.

Duterte said China did not want to bring up the arbitral ruling at a time when other claimant countries, like Vietnam, might also decide to file cases against it at the arbitration tribunal.

It was not the first time the firebrand leader has publicly discussed the content of private meetings with other world leaders.

His remarks came the same day that China and the Philippines held their first session in a two-way consultation process on the South China Sea.

They exchanged views on “the importance of appropriately handling concerns, incidents and disputes involving the South China Sea”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that gave few details.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Martin Petty)

************

President Duterte should be mindful of China’s hard handedness on security and defense. Energy, if of China’s priority in a nation of 1.3 billion people and within two decades, would be the largest economy in the world.

Perhaps he should consider a more diplomatic approach and not risk getting a threat from the President of China. It would worse mistake to openly share on a privacy of the two Asian leaders’ conversation.

It is not clear what President Duterte was trying to achieve.

If in his mind, getting the global attention by going public with his exchange of words with President Xi Jinping and thus attempting to get the international backing in the attempt to reign in the latest addition of world super power, then President Duterte is wrong.

It is unlikely any other super power would stand up for the Philippines if there is a physical conflict with China. Not even the Phillippines’ status one time as part of United States commonwealth.

The Philippines and China recent stand off on the matter of Scarborough Shoal which is part of the disputed area under the latter’s unsubstantiated claim of ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ saw the former not able getting issues resolved.

China’s unsubstantiated claim of the ‘Nine-Dash-Line’

China unilaterally turned its back on the decision made by the ICJ, after the Philippines took their complaint to the Hague.

The People Liberation Army (PLA) has been modernising since the late 80s and embarked on a more rapid modernisation especially the PLA Navy (PLA-N) since the mid 1990s, in line with the aggressive economic growth embarked under Deng Xiao Ping.

The increased PLA-N capability enabled China to do continuous projection of force in the region, especially in South China Sea where the unsubstantiated ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ claim was first laid by the Kuomintang Republic of China Government in 1948.

When the communist under Mao Zedong defeated the Kuomintang under Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949, the claim was recognised and follow through. China did not aggressively pursuit the claim with military till 2008, though the invasion of the Paracels which happened in 1974.

The latest development in the execution of twenty Langley agents proven China’s resolve for security matters.

New York Times story:

Photo

An honor guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last month. The Chinese government killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 C.I.A sources from 2010 through 2012. CreditWang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.

Assessing the fallout from an exposed spy operation can be difficult, but the episode was considered particularly damaging. The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.

The previously unreported episode shows how successful the Chinese were in disrupting American spying efforts and stealing secrets years before a well-publicized breach in 2015 gave Beijing access to thousands of government personnel records, including intelligence contractors. The C.I.A. considers spying in China one of its top priorities, but the country’s extensive security apparatus makes it exceptionally hard for Western spy services to develop sources there.

At a time when the C.I.A. is trying to figure out how some of its most sensitive documents were leaked onto the internet two months ago by WikiLeaks, and the F.B.I. investigates possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, the unsettled nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services like those in Russia and China.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. both declined to comment.

Details about the investigation have been tightly held. Ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.

Photo

Investigators still disagree how it happened, but the unsettled nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services.CreditCarolyn Kaster/Associated Press..

The first signs of trouble emerged in 2010. At the time, the quality of the C.I.A.’s information about the inner workings of the Chinese government was the best it had been for years, the result of recruiting sources deep inside the bureaucracy in Beijing, four former officials said. Some were Chinese nationals who the C.I.A. believed had become disillusioned with the Chinese government’s corruption.

But by the end of the year, the flow of information began to dry up. By early 2011, senior agency officers realized they had a problem: Assets in China, one of their most precious resources, were disappearing.

The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. opened a joint investigation run by top counterintelligence officials at both agencies. Working out of a secret office in Northern Virginia, they began analyzing every operation being run in Beijing. One former senior American official said the investigation had been code-named Honey Badger.

As more and more sources vanished, the operation took on increased urgency. Nearly every employee at the American Embassy was scrutinized, no matter how high ranking. Some investigators believed the Chinese had cracked the encrypted method that the C.I.A. used to communicate with its assets. Others suspected a traitor in the C.I.A., a theory that agency officials were at first reluctant to embrace — and that some in both agencies still do not believe.

Their debates were punctuated with macabre phone calls — “We lost another one” — and urgent questions from the Obama administration wondering why intelligence about the Chinese had slowed.

The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the C.I.A.’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.

There was good reason to suspect an insider, some former officials say. Around that time, Chinese spies compromised National Security Agency surveillance in Taiwan — an island Beijing claims is part of China — by infiltrating Taiwanese intelligence, an American partner, according to two former officials. And the C.I.A. had discovered Chinese operatives in the agency’s hiring pipeline, according to officials and court documents.

But the C.I.A.’s top spy hunter, Mark Kelton, resisted the mole theory, at least initially, former officials say. Mr. Kelton had been close friends with Brian J. Kelley, a C.I.A. officer who in the 1990s was wrongly suspected by the F.B.I. of being a Russian spy. The real traitor, it turned out, was Mr. Hanssen. Mr. Kelton often mentioned Mr. Kelley’s mistreatment in meetings during the China episode, former colleagues say, and said he would not accuse someone without ironclad evidence.

Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft at a time when the Chinese were becoming better at monitoring American espionage activities in the country. Some F.B.I. agents became convinced that C.I.A. handlers in Beijing too often traveled the same routes to the same meeting points, which would have helped China’s vast surveillance network identify the spies in its midst.

Some officers met their sources at a restaurant where Chinese agents had planted listening devices, former officials said, and even the waiters worked for Chinese intelligence.

This carelessness, coupled with the possibility that the Chinese had hacked the covert communications channel, would explain many, if not all, of the disappearances and deaths, some former officials said. Some in the agency, particularly those who had helped build the spy network, resisted this theory and believed they had been caught in the middle of a turf war within the C.I.A.

Still, the Chinese picked off more and more of the agency’s spies, continuing through 2011 and into 2012. As investigators narrowed the list of suspects with access to the information, they started focusing on a Chinese-American who had left the C.I.A. shortly before the intelligence losses began. Some investigators believed he had become disgruntled and had begun spying for China. One official said the man had access to the identities of C.I.A. informants and fit all the indicators on a matrix used to identify espionage threats.

After leaving the C.I.A., the man decided to remain in Asia with his family and pursue a business opportunity, which some officials suspect that Chinese intelligence agents had arranged.

Officials said the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. lured the man back to the United States around 2012 with a ruse about a possible contract with the agency, an arrangement common among former officers. Agents questioned the man, asking why he had decided to stay in Asia, concerned that he possessed a number of secrets that would be valuable to the Chinese. It’s not clear whether agents confronted the man about whether he had spied for China.

The man defended his reasons for living in Asia and did not admit any wrongdoing, an official said. He then returned to Asia.

By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.

The C.I.A. has tried to rebuild its network of spies in China, officials said, an expensive and time-consuming effort led at one time by the former chief of the East Asia Division. A former intelligence official said the former chief was particularly bitter because he had worked with the suspected mole and recruited some of the spies in China who were ultimately executed.

China has been particularly aggressive in its espionage in recent years, beyond the breach of the Office of Personnel Management records in 2015, American officials said. Last year, an F.B.I. employee pleaded guilty to acting as a Chinese agent for years, passing sensitive technology information to Beijing in exchange for cash, lavish hotel rooms during foreign travel and prostitutes.

In March, prosecutors announced the arrest of a longtime State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, accused of lying to investigators about her contacts with Chinese officials. According to the criminal complaint against Ms. Claiborne, who pleaded not guilty, Chinese agents wired cash into her bank account and showered her with gifts that included an iPhone, a laptop and tuition at a Chinese fashion school. In addition, according to the complaint, she received a fully furnished apartment and a stipend.

****************

As such, the Philippines Foreign Minister Alan Cayetano was quick to downplay President Dueterte’s revelation in the latter’s recent visit to Beijing.

“There was no language or even tone that would lead any of the two Presidents to believe that the was any disrespect to them or their country”.

Reuters story:

China War Talk Not Serious, Philippine Foreign Minister Says

May 22, 2017, 2:01 PM GMT+8 May 22, 2017, 4:40 PM GMT+8
  • President Duterte claimed China’s Xi threatened war at meeting
  • ‘We hate the sin but we love the sinner’: Cayetano on China

China’s President Xi Jinping wasn’t trying to bully the Philippines at a recent meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, according to the Southeast Asian nation’s top diplomat.

In a speech last Friday, Duterte said Xi had threatened to go to war with the Philippines after Duterte expressed an intention to drill for oil in the disputed South China Sea.

“It is but natural that when you talk about peace and you talk about conflict that the word ‘war’ may or may not come up,” new Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said at a televised briefing in Manila on Monday. “My interpretation of the meeting is that there was no bullying or pushing around.”

Since taking power last year, Duterte has sought to improve ties with China while deflecting criticism at home that he’s failed to assert Philippine claims to disputed territory. China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea has prevented the Philippines and Vietnam from exploring valuable oil and gas deposits.

An international court ruled last July that China had no historic rights to resources in waters claimed by the Philippines in a case brought by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino. Duterte has sought to put the ruling aside in his dealings with China, which has ignored the ruling. That stance has won Duterte $24 billion in loan and investment pledges from China.

‘Common Development’

Cayetano said Duterte only disclosed details of the meeting with Xi because he was “being barraged with comments with what he should do.” He added that the Philippines won’t form a military alliance with China, nor would it try to raise emotions against the Chinese.

“I hate the fact that China is claiming part of the territory of the Philippines but I love the Chinese,” Cayetano said in a speech during a flag-raising ceremony in Manila on Monday. “Why? Because we hate the sin but we love the sinner.”

Without specifying when or where his meeting with the Chinese president took place, Duterte said Xi had threatened to go to war with the Philippines after Duterte asserted his nation’s sovereignty over the South China Sea by citing last year’s arbitration tribunal ruling upholding the Philippine claim.

“Well, if you force this, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth. We will go to war. We will fight you,” Duterte quoted Xi as saying.

When asked to confirm Xi’s comments at a press briefing on Monday, China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying referred reporters to Cayetano’s earlier remarks.

“We are committed to resolving the dispute with parties directly concerned, including the Philippines, through dialogue and negotiation,” Hua said. “Pending final settlement, we advocate shelving the dispute for common development.”

Officials from both countries agreed to discuss “mutually acceptable approaches” to South China Sea issues during a bilateral consultation in the Chinese city of Guiyang last Friday, according to a joint statement released by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

No Disrespect

Cayetano, who claimed to have been present at the meeting, said he couldn’t divulge the exact conversation between the two leaders but claimed it was meant to “increase mutual trust and respect.”

“There was no language or even tone that would lead any of the two presidents to believe that there was disrespect for them or their countries,” he said.

After hosting a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders in Manila last month, Duterte said discussing China’s recent actions in the South China Sea would have been useless.

“For those who are peace loving just like me, I don’t want trouble,” Duterte said. “You have to be very careful. Whenever we talk about a buildup it would be useless. It would be useless except for fighting terrorism,” he said, adding that the Philippines intended to ask China for more help to develop its economy.

In a communique released after the summit, Asean welcomed “progress to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” by the middle of this year, and recognized the long-term benefits of peace, stability and sustainable development in the region.

**************

In the final analysis, it is only diplomacy left as the path of resolution for President Duterte to partake. China is very serious about its economic and trading power, in the recent power projection with the ‘One Belt, One Road’ global economic initiative.

China has agreed to enter into dialogue, to resolve the ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ unsubstantiated unilateral claim.

The Document of Conduct (inked 2002)

Despite signing the Code of Conduct with ASEAN in November 2002 where it stated disputed matters amongst signatories should be resolved through dialogue and diplomatic means as per stated under the United Nations Combined Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS), handling China is a complex feat.

China would hold the dialogue on one-on-one basis against a multilateral discourse of parties involved in the disputed areas.

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 23:59  Leave a Comment  

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