Beijing: Factor that stirs up the South China Sea in 2019

tải xuốngThe award of July 12th, 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the Philippines vs. China case completely rejected China's "nine dash line" claim in the South China Sea. However, China neither followed the ruling nor ceased to promote field activities and propaganda to enforce their absurd claim, making the situation in the South China Sea in 2019 extremely tense.

In 2019, China has simultaneously increased the activities of survey, law enforcement, and militia vessels, increasingly violating the waters of Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and even Indonesia which are in the far south of the South China Sea.

First, for the Philippines, Beijing seeks to persuade Manila to cooperate in oil and gas exploitation on the continental shelf of the Philippines in the South China Sea while sending survey vessels to penetrate deep into Philippine waters, even into the latter's territorial sea. Chinese coast guard and militia vessels regularly threaten Filipino maritime activities, especially around Thitu Island currently occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands.

Fierce disputes flared up between Manila and Beijing after the collision at Reed Bank on June 9th, 2019 when Chinese vessels sunk Filipino fishing boats and left 22 Filipino fishermen at sea. This action was heavily condemned by the Filipino public. The Secretaries of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Philippine Navy Commander all criticized China. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin sent an official protest note to China and refused to have a joint investigation, bringing the case to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). All Filipino fishermen in distress were rescued by Vietnamese fishing vessels.

Given China’s increasing violations of Filipino interests in the South China Sea, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana has sought to revise its treaties with the US to gain greater assurances from the latter.

To support the Philippines against China's "carrot and stick" policy on the South China Sea issue, Washington pledged to stand up for Manila in the spirit of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries signed in 1951 in case the Philippines was attacked.

When visiting the Philippines in March 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized that China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea “threaten Philippines’ sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood as well as that of the United States” and "any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations." The US had never previously made this clear to the Philippines, making the country concerned about the level of US commitment.

Second, Malaysia is a party to the dispute in the South China Sea but has long been patient with China. However, since China’s law enforcement and militia vessels repeatedly violated Malaysia’s waters and disturb its oil and gas activities, Malaysia has recently taken a stronger stance.

In the mid-December 2019, Malaysia submitted a dossier to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to determine the shelf limit exceeding 200 nautical miles in the North of the South China Sea. Beijing responded, accusing Kuala Lumpur of violating its sovereignty and international law, urging the United Nations not to consider the submission.

Reacting to Beijing’s unreasonable allegations, on December 20th, 2019, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah bluntly called China's "nine dash line" covering most of the South China Sea "ridiculous". Earlier, in October 2019, he also called for the country's naval capacity strengthening just in case of conflict in the South China Sea, underlined that Malaysia would issue a diplomatic protest if any power violated its territory.

Unlike former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is drowned in Chinese loans, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad is less constrained by China. He gave the green light to legal actions against China in disputed waters and bluntly condemned Chinese investments in Malaysia's infrastructure.

Third, Indonesia previously had hardly spoken publicly about China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea since China's violations in the waters of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam are "far away" from Indonesia’s waters and did not directly threaten Indonesia's keen interests.

In the late December 2019, Chinese coast guard vessels repeatedly violated the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia, the area around the Natuna Islands, compelling Indonesia's Marine Security forces to send vessels to intercept. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese Ambassador in Jakarta to protest and demand a report back to Beijing.

On December 30th, 2019, Indonesia issued a statement on Chinese coast guard vessels' violation of Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna Islands in the south of the South China Sea, resulting in a heated dispute between Indonesia and China. On December 31st, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang repeated on Tuesday Beijing's long-held argument that China had "sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their surrounding waters", implying it also included waters in the Natuna Islands, saying that both China and Indonesia have "normal" fishing activities there.

On the first day of the new year (January 1st, 2020), the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong statement in return asking China to explain its "clear legal basis and borders" in the sovereignty claim based on UNCLOS1982, stressed that Indonesia never accepted China's "nine dash line". Jakarta also reiterated its claim that China's "nine dash line" was rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

Next, for Vietnam, China focuses on putting pressure through sending Haiyang Dizhi 08 geological survey vessel escorted by many coast guard and militia vessels to violate deeply the EEZ and continental shelf of Vietnam, obstruct Vietnam's regular petroleum activities in cooperation with Russia's Rosneft Group from July 3rd to October 24th, 2019.

The purpose of Beijing's action is to prevent foreign countries from participating in energy exploitation in the South China Sea - which they have insisted upon during the negotiation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). Over a period of nearly 4 months, the Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel left several times with an interval of approximately a week to head to the Fiery Cross Reef, where China had built up an artificial feature, before returning to continue its violations. The case showed the possible use of the artificial features China built to enable a constant presence to put pressure on countries around the South China Sea.

Vietnam has availed every channel to counter China, from diplomatic protest, international campaigning to actual field confrontation. The United States has raised its strongest voice to protest Chinese bullying and coercion. Many US allies such as England, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan have condemned China's actions and demanded it to respect international law, especially UNCLOS 1982.

China has ignored Vietnam's diplomatic efforts and the reaction of the international community, further violated Vietnam's waters, sometimes at a distance less than 100 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast, making situation in the South China Sea to escalate to its peak since China laid down 981 oil rig in the EEZ and continental shelf of central Vietnam in 2014.

Lastly, on the media front, China used every propaganda tactics promoting the "nine dash line" despite it being rejected by the Arbitration Court. It inserted a "nine dash line" map into the film, and even car navigators and on solar gears.

China's escalating acts not only hurt the legitimate interests of South China Sea countries but also threaten the interests of countries outside the region, causing strong reactions from the international community, especially the United States.

China's aggressiveness have forced the United States to increase its presence in the South China Sea through increased FONOPs and the deployment of littoral combat vessels in the South China Sea to prevent China's expansion.

The year 2019 has ended, but the aftermath of the tension in the South China Sea that China caused is becoming an nightmare in the new year 2020.