Posturing Post Paracels

Protecting the sovereignty, economic and territorial interests of the nation, including the maritime passage and rights to fishery and mineral extraction as part of the Economic Exclusive Zone which is enacted in Parliament as Act 311 1984 and UN Convention Law of the Seas 1982, is the paramount duty of His Majesty’s Government.

Geo-politics is a very complicated game with variables that would have strategic effect on nations like Malaysia, if not properly played and handled before it is worsened

The Star story:

Hisham: Malaysia will not compromise on South China Sea sovereignty


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will not compromise on its sovereignty in the South China Sea, says Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

“My stand is clear. We will not compromise on our sovereignty,” he told reporters during a press conference in Parliament on Wednesday (July 15).

He assured that the naval vessels from both China and the United States are no longer in Malaysian waters.

“It a geopolitical issue between the two superpowers of US and China. Let them sort it out,” he added.

“Even if we resolve the posturing between the two superpowers, we still need to resolve the overlapping claims between neighbours,” said the former defence minister.

He said that it was important for Malaysia and Asean to play an intermediary role to find an amicable solution to the issue.

“My personal fear is that could be an incident or accident that could lead to war. We have to avoid military posturing as it will not help the situation,” he added.

Hishamuddin acknowledged that Malaysia had previously sent protest notes over China’s encroachment of its waters.

He was asked to comment on the recent Auditor-General’s Report report that China’s military encroached into Sabah and Sarawak waters in the South China Sea 89 times from 2016 to 2019.

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The latest development of China’s People Liberation Army-Navy manoeuvres in the South China Sea as part of the Asia’s Superpower imperious tendency of unsubstantiated claim of the ‘Nine-Dash-Line’, is very worrying.

The South China Morning Post

Beijing should change tack on South China Sea to avoid conflict with US, analyst says

  • As relations deteriorate and Washington toughens its stance, the contested waterway is likely to be a flashpoint, regional security expert says
  • Managing tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbours is seen as a key task

Beijing needs to reassess its strategies in the South China Sea as relations with Washington are in free fall and the disputed waterway is likely to be a flashpoint, a Chinese regional security expert says.

While policy advisers will be looking at different scenarios for the protracted struggle between the two superpowers in the region, managing tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbours was a key task for Beijing, according to Chen Xiangmiao, an associate researcher with the National Institute for South China Sea Studies on Hainan Island.

“If there is a maritime clash with [rival claimants] Vietnam, Malaysia or the Philippines, the US will have an excuse to step in, and that could trigger a direct military conflict between China and the US,” Chen said.

“[But] as long as the rival claimants can exercise restraint and don’t take sides between China and the US, I think the risk of conflict can remain under control.”

Chen’s assessment came as Washington toughened its stance on the South China Sea, raising concerns about the possibility of military conflict between Beijing and Washington – already at loggerheads over issues ranging from trade to human rights and Hong Kong.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that the US formally opposes a swathe of Chinese claims to waters and the rights to seabed resources within the so-called nine-dash line that encompasses almost all of the South China Sea. The move was seen by some Chinese observers as Washington abandoning its previous position of neutrality on territorial disputes in the waterway.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0South China Sea: key moments in a decades-long dispute

“We used to say that the South China Sea issue could affect overall Sino-US relations. But now the South China Sea issue has become [part of Washington’s] comprehensive strategy to contain China,” Chen said. “China will need to examine the relationship between the South China Sea issue and overall Sino-US ties.”

He continued: “Is decoupling [between China and the US] possible? My assessment is that it is not likely. But if the relationship between China and the US continues to worsen, then the South China Sea issue could become the tipping point that leads to a [military] clash.”

According to Chen, Beijing needed to prepare for the US taking a tougher approach, including more flexing of its military muscle in the strategic waterway and pressing its regional partners and allies to take a stronger stand against China.

In one scenario, Chen said the US could send its coastguard in response to what it sees as a growing threat from China’s “grey zone” operations by coastguard vessels and maritime militia, which Beijing has been accused of using to expand its presence in the South China Sea.

Chen said likely countermeasures from Beijing included setting up an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea and accelerating its infrastructure-building in the disputed waters

“[China’s actions will] depend on the perceived threat from the US,” Chen said. “If the US or rival claimants such as Vietnam make any unilateral move, I wouldn’t rule out any possibility.”

Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asian affairs expert with Jinan University in Guangzhou, said Beijing needed to improve relations with its neighbours, and that could include providing public services.

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However, Al Jazeera reported that China’s own historical records debunked their claims for the disputed territories.

China’s own records debunk ‘historic rights’ over disputed seas

Experts say official Chinese documents belie ‘nine-dash line’ as Beijing asserts dominance in South China Sea.

by Ted Regencia1 hour ago

Having secured the allegiance of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a state visit to Beijing in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping returned the favour when he visited Manila in 2018 promising a new chapter in the two nations’ diplomatic ties and vowing to turn the disputed South China Sea into “a sea of peace”.

In a published message to Filipinos just before his trip, Xi recalled how more than 600 years ago, Chinese explorer Zheng He “made multiple visits to the Manila Bay, Visayas and Sulu” areas during his “seven overseas voyages seeking friendship and cooperation”.

The suggestion was that China had been in contact with the archipelago long before Europeans arrived naming it Las Islas Filipinas after Spain’s King Felipe II. It was also a way for Xi to bolster China’s claims in the South China Sea based on its ‘nine dash line’ and long contested by the Philippines, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

The problem is that the evidence suggests Zheng never set foot in the future Philippine islands.

“All the scholars all over the world are unanimous: Zheng He never visited the Philippines,” Antonio Carpio said in an online lecture earlier this month. He called Xi’s anecdote “totally false”. The former Philippine Supreme Court justice also presented other official Chinese records that debunk Beijing’s “historic maritime rights” over the South China Sea – thereby raising new questions about its standing in the region as tensions escalate.

On Monday, the US raised the stakes saying “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources” across most of the disputed seas were “completely unlawful”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that the world would “not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.” In response, Beijing accused Washington of unnecessarily inflaming the situation.

Earlier, the US deployed the warships, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan to assert what it calls its freedom of navigation in the waters. A sailor on one of the ships told Al Jazeera that the operations could last for weeks. China held a large-scale naval exercise in the area from July 1 to 5.

‘History vs facts on the ground’

Historical records may not favour China in the continuing debate on the control of the South China Sea,  through which as much as $5.3tn in global trade passes annually.

Refuting the Chinese president’s claim, Carpio, the Filipino legal scholar, presented evidence from China’s own Naval Hydrographic Institute, chronicling Zheng’s visit to the then Cham Kingdom of central Vietnam. A translation mixup of the kingdom’s Chinese name, incorrectly referred to it later as a Philippine island.

2019 Ancient History Encyclopedia article also traced Zheng’s expeditions in the early 1400s as far as the Arabia and Africa, but nowhere in the story did it mention Zheng’s supposed visit to the Philippines.

Chinese Map - Tang Dynasty

A map of ancient China dating back to the Tang Dynasty shows that the island of Hainan was the country’s southernmost territory [State Bureau of Cultural Relics of China via the presentation of Philippine Justice Antonio Carpio]

To further disprove China’s claim of “historic rights”, Carpio presented several ancient Chinese maps, dating as far back as 800 and 900 years ago during the Song and Tang dynasties. All the maps showed that China’s southernmost territory was the island of Hainan.

Additionally, the 1947 Constitution of the Republic of China, also identified Hainan as the country’s southernmost part, raising questions over what would later emerge as the “nine-dash line” claim.

Regardless of the historical evidence, the reality is that China already “controls almost all the facts on the ground”, said Thomas Benjamin Daniel, senior foreign policy expert at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies. It is clear that Beijing now has “real and credible foothold” in the South China Sea, he told Al Jazeera. 

Still, Daniel and other analysts are urging China and other stakeholders in the region, to abide by the principles and spirit of international law, to keep the peace and avoid situations that would lead “down a very dangerous road.”

‘Nine-dash line’

For years, China has anchored its South China Sea claims on the “nine-dash line”, under which it lays claim to almost 90 percent of the disputed waters as far south as the coasts of Malaysian Borneo and Brunei. Images published by China showed the imaginary line almost hogging the shores of neighbouring countries.

Using the controversial line, Beijing has been ramping up activities in the South China Sea, starting with the Paracels in the 1970s and 1980s, the Spratlys in the 1990s, and the Scarborough Shoal in the early 2000s.

Chester Cabalza, a security analyst and fellow at the National Defence University in Beijing, said China has been strategic in approaching the “South China Sea conundrum”. He added that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has only provided the country even more opportunities to advance its interests.

“It seems like China is winning,” he told Al Jazeera, noting how it has militarised the disputed waters by developing rocks and atolls into islands in recent years.

ISIS Malaysia’s Daniel added that China “is playing the long game”, as it attempts to solidify and “normalise” its regional maritime position.

The Hague ruling

Beijing’s approach encountered resistance in 2016 with the landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which declared China’s “historic rights” had no legal basis.

The ruling also said that the rocks and the partly submerged features, on which China had built its naval and aerial facilities, were within the 200 nautical miles (370.4km) Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, as defined by the UN. Those zones allow only the Philippines to fish and explore any natural resources although foreign vessels are allowed safe passage.

The court also automatically established the EEZs of Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam, boosting their own positions in relation to China.

Furthermore, the court said China’s reclaimed areas and artificial islands were not entitled to a 12-mile (22.2km) territorial sea, because they were not habitable in their original form. As such, freedom of navigation and overflight are allowed in those areas.

China refused to participate in the arbitration case, dismissing the ruling as “null and void”.https://players.brightcove.net/665003303001/rkf5Vd3FnM_default/index.html?videoId=6170789127001&playsinline=trueSouth China Sea: Beijing extends its military and economic reach | Counting the Cost

It has continued to expand its facilities in the South China Sea regardless, including a three km (1.86 miles) military-grade runway, barracks and radars on Mischief Reef, which is within the Philippine EEZ.

Maritime incidents have also escalated, and in April a Vietnamese boat was sunk; an incident blamed on a Chinese surveillance vessel. All eight firshermen survived. In June 2019, at least 22 Filipino fishermen were almost left to drown when their fishing boat was rammed under suspicious circumstances by an alleged Chinese militia boat. They were later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

On Tuesday, Malaysia revealed that Chinese coastguard and navy ships were recorded to have encroached into its waters at least 89 times between 2016 and 2019. Earlier this year, there were also reports of a Chinese government survey ship “tagging” a Malaysian oil-exploration vessels within the Malaysian EEZ.

Cabalza, of the National Defence University in Beijing, described China’s behaviour as “schizophrenic”, as it tries to employ confrontation and cooperation in dealing with its neighbours.

‘Code of Conduct’

As part of its effort to defuse tensions in the region, the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been pressing China for years to reach agreement on the so-called Code of Conduct, which would govern countries’ behaviour in the South China Sea.

Differences between members – some of whom have no claim to the sea but are close to China – mean there has been has little headway.

Cabalza says the 10-nation bloc must present a more unified voice before it takes on China, which prefers bilateral negotiation, adding that ASEAN nations “should not become submissive” in negotiating an equitable deal with Beijing.

On June 26, ASEAN leaders held a virtual summit hosted by Vietnam, in which they declared that the 1982 United Nations oceans treaty should be foundation of sovereign rights and entitlements in the South China Sea. However, the leaders were unable to make significant progress on the Code of Conduct.

Daniel of ISIS-Malaysia says he is “not very optimistic” that an agreement can be reached soon in order to help ease tension.

“ASEAN is an Association of 10 member states with different national and foreign priorities, that makes decisions based on consensus. Consensus here often means the lowest common denominator.”

In the absence of a consensus, the increased presence of the United States in the South China Sea could prove a useful counterweight.

Daniel said the “marked increase” of US freedom of navigation operations and sharper rhetoric, show that Washington wanted to remain relevant in the region. 

On Wednesday, Pompeo issued another statement saying the US would “support countries all across the world who recognise that China has violated their legal territorial claims as well – or maritime claims as well.”

Meanwhile, Carpio said all navies from around the world should be encouraged to sail through the South China Sea and exercise freedom of navigation – to deliver a message to Beijing that it does not control the area.

He also urged Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam to help the Philippines in explaining that China’s claim of “historic right” is “totally false.”

“We should continue resorting to the rule of law, because we have no other choice,” Carpio said.

“War is not an option.”

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Former Former Minister Dato Seri Panglima Anifah Amah opined that issues pertaining to the ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ claim by China should not be taken lightly and Malaysia should be stern and decisive on their position:

Press Statement by YBhg Datuk Seri Panglima Anifah Haji Aman on the Recent News Reports Quoting That There Was No Further Enroachment By Chinese Vessels into Malaysia’s Maritime Areas in the South China Sea and cara bagaimana kita lakukannya, is between us and the leadership in China”.
 
I read with great interest the many news reports that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, YB Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussien had stated on 15 July 2020 that since he took over as the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, there was no further encroachment by Chinese vessels into Malaysia’s maritime areas in the South China Sea, and “cara bagaimana kita lakukannya, is between us and the leadership in China”.
 
I am appalled by the Minister’s statement. He is either in denial or ignorant of the fact. Worst, he is playing politics with Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests.
 
It was only in April that a flotilla of Chinese enforcement vessels was sighted accompanying a Chinese survey vessel within Malaysia maritime areas. Further, I was reliably informed that Chinese coast guard vessels were sighted in the vicinity of Beting Patinggi Ali in May, June and July.
 
As a country that legitimately owns maritime areas in the South China Sea, the Government should not be hesitant to categorically state its objection to any unauthorised activities by foreign vessels within its maritime areas. If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds it appropriate to issue statement on 25  June and 12 July on the drone and missile attacks towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, surely it would not be too much to expect the Ministry to at least summon the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to register Malaysia’s displeasure on the unauthorised activities by the Chinese coast guard vessels within Malaysia’s maritime areas in the South China Sea.

Malaysia has never recognised China’s claims over its maritime areas in the South China Sea and the Government must uphold the position to ensure Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests are not jeopardised. Failing to do so is a great disservice to the nation.
Being firm in safeguarding, protecting and promoting Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests does not mean we need to be confrontational. What we need to do is to ensure full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, and uphold the supremacy of the rule of law in accordance with international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As I have stated many times, we must not be indecisive in defending our rights and interests, and a consistent principled position would stand us in good stead for the long term.


DATO’ SERI PANGLIMA ANIFAH HAJI AMAN
16 July 2020

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Wisma Putra should no longer be wishy-washy on the matter and act now, in the best interests of Malaysia and Malaysians.

Published in: on July 16, 2020 at 13:00  Leave a Comment