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The fallout from Philippine President’s cancellation of the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement

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The fallout from Philippine Presidents cancellation of the US-Philippines Visiting Forces AgreementDespite being dubbed “US’ non-NATO ally” in Asia, on February 11, 2020, the Western Pacific island nation of the Philippines saw President Rodrigo Duterte “shock” the public by filing the termination of the “Visiting Forces Agreement” (VFA) between the Philippines and the US. Basically, the agreement allows activities such as US-Philippines joint military exercises, training and humanitarian aid within Philippine territory which approximates 300 every year, including visits from US warships. Ratified by Senate of the Philippines in 1998, the VFA came into effect in 1999 as a continuation of the “Mutual Defense Treaty” (MDT) signed in 1951 between the two countries, marking the alliance between the Philippines and the US. Such an unexpected decision from the Philippine leadership had stirred up the public within and without the region, especially those in the Philippines itself.

Firstly, the public is very much interested in President Duterte’s reason for the termination. In this regard, the general consensus is that there are both direct and indirect causes. The root cause remains President Duterte’s implementation of a step-by-step policy to “separate from the US” and “pivot to China” in exchange for economic benefits, which would help realize the “Build, Build, Build” strategy he himself set out.

As things stand, China is a regional power about to realize its dream of becoming a global "superpower”. China does not hide its ambition, but the rise of China has been the cause for concerns for many countries in the region, especially with regard to territorial issues. When it comes to the South China Sea, China has expressed its intention to “monopolize control” of nearly the entire South China Sea area through the unreasonable "nine-dash line" claim. During a 2016 visit to Singapore, a senior Chinese leader boldly stated, “I repeat, the South China Sea has long been China’s”. Despite being a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982), Beijing has repeatedly shown disregard for international law in its statements and acts of “bullying” in the South China Sea. In 2016, the International Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of Manila on the case brought by the Philippines against China relating to sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea and China blatantly rejected this Ruling. Many ASEAN countries are troubled by China's ambitions and increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea. However, given their weak capabilities, many governments in the region feel the need to develop relations with China to attract Chinese investment. President Duterte’s administration is no exception.

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China is using Covid-19 pandemic to step up encroachment in the South China Sea

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China is using Covid19 pandemic to step up encroachment in the South China SeaAs experts have warned, once China proclaimed that the Wuhan epidemic outbreak was under control, they would take advantage of the complicated global context, especially those in the US and Europe, to conduct new activities in the South China Sea.

On the ground, Chinese ships continuously travel from Hainan island to seven outposts illegally occupied in Spratly Islands to prove their regular presence in the South China Sea. Not once has China ceased their encroachment, even amidst the novel corona virus outbreak.

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China’s Chance to Demonstrate Leadership in the South China Sea

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Chance to Demonstrate Leadership in the South China SeaChina, in a series of assertive and sometimes risky unilateral actions, has netted some significant gains in the South China Sea in the past decade. The island outposts it has constructed in the Spratly and Paracel Islands are strategic assets in both war and peace. Together with the vast fishing and law enforcement patrols they enable, the outposts provide unprecedented maritime domain awareness capabilities across the South China Sea and serve as a springboard to extend China’s reach even further into Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.

Beijing seems intent on translating this maritime superiority into a de facto victory in the disputes. On the water, its grey zone operations aim to increase the costs of Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Philippine hydrocarbon and fishing operations to the point where they can no longer operate within the nine-dash line, which denotes China’s vast maritime claim. It has simultaneously pushed for a major geopolitical victory within the negotiations on a Code of Conduct with the ASEAN states, where China has tried to gain a veto right over joint military exercises between claimants and countries from outside the region as well as an outright ban on cooperation with extraregional countries on oil and gas.

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Learning in the South China Sea: The U.S response to the West Capella standoff

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Learning in the South China Sea The U.S response to the West Capella standoffMalaysian oil exploration in a contested area of the South China Sea sparked a “five-nation face off” in April, with Malaysian, Vietnamese, Chinese, U.S., and Australian maritime forces sailing within relatively close proximity. When the responding U.S. Navy Expeditionary Strike Group departed after spending only a few days in the area, some observers panned the U.S. response as uninvited, insufficient, and having emboldened China. The passage of a few weeks has shown these accusations to be premature, but also highlighted a recurring weakness in the U.S. approach to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. While the U.S. strike group may have departed, U.S. forces sortied from both forward deployed locations and the U.S. homeland to maintain a persistent presence over the South China Sea with platforms ranging from small surface combatants to strategic bombers. China’s presence has remained largely static. Overall, the United States shows progress in its approach but also an inexplicable missed opportunity to reach out to its Southeast Asian partners.

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It’s time for Vietnam and ASEAN to challenge Beijing in the South China Sea

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Beijing in the South China SeaOn 14 April, as China’s Haiyang Dizhi 8 survey group sailed into the South China Sea again, Taiwan scrambled ships to monitor the passage of the Chinese navy’s Liaoning aircraft carrier strike group as it went through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa and turned south.

According to a MarineTraffic report on 23 April, the carrier group was operating near Macclesfield Bank, and the survey group was shadowing a Philippines-flagged drilling ship that had been contracted by Malaysia to survey for oil in its exclusive economic zone near the overlapping waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.

This is the third time in recent years that China’s naval activities have threatened a maritime crisis for Vietnam. In May 2014, the Haiyang Dizhi 981 oil rig was parked in Vietnam’s EEZ, and from July to October 2019 the Haiyang Dizhi 8, escorted by armed coastguard vessels, surveyed extensively near the Vanguard Bank, resulting in a month-long standoff with Vietnam.

Now, the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts appear to be pressuring Malaysia’s new government as they did with Vietnam. While this new standoff was over by 25 April, China’s bullying in the South China Sea won’t stop there, at least for Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

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The legal implications of Vietnam’s note verbale protesting China’s claims in relation to East Vietn

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The legal implicationEditor's note: In recent weeks, there have been many new developments relating to Bien Dong (the East Vietnam Sea), particularly the circulation of notes verbales by several states — including Malaysia, China, the Philippines and Vietnam — at the United Nations. In this context, Dr. Nguyen Ba Son, president of the Viet Nam Society of International Law (VSIL) gave Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper an interview to discuss the legal implications of these actions, as well as give his opinion on what should be done to maintain peace, stability and to promote peaceful settlement of disputes and cooperation in the Sea.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President, for giving this interview. In the recent weeks, we have witnessed many new developments relating to Bien Dong, in particular the circulation of notes verbales by several states at the United Nations, seizing the attention of the public opinion. In your capacity as president of VSIL, what are your evaluations of these developments from the perspectives of international law?

Dr. Nguyen Ba Son: It is noticeable that the situation in Bien Dong always attracts the attention of the public opinion, not only in the coastal states of the Sea but also in countries outside the region. The complicated developments in relation to Bien Dong, as well as territorial and jurisdictional claims of coastal states have continually been updated by the media in Vietnam and elsewhere, being a hot topic for commentaries at different venues, including on the social sites.

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The Building Blocks of a China Strategy

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China stratsAlong overdue reassessment of how the United States should deal with the People’s Republic of China is finally taking place, with governments across the West jarred into action by the devastation wrought by the pandemic and by the Chinese government’s prevarication and lack of transparency since the crisis began. Despite a concerted and aggressive propaganda campaign by the Chinese Communist Party through various channels in the West to deflect blame for the cover-up and mishandling of the initial stages of the Wuhan epidemic, in country after affected country, momentum is building to fundamentally reorder relations with China. As the pandemic cuts ever-deeper into our social fabric, devastating our economies and increasing the likelihood we will be set back a generation when it comes to growth and prosperity—with a deep recession or even depression a real possibility—the systemic vulnerability brought about by offshoring the production of critical medicines and supplies to an adversary state is plain for all to see. As national debts track for levels unseen since 1945, pre-pandemic assumptions about overall global and regional power balances, their long-term trends and the durability of legacy security institutions have been called into question.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union constituted an immediate security threat to the West, but it never had the means to become an economic competitor; in contrast, the communist Chinese state credibly challenges us in both arenas. After three decades of globalization, the People’s Republic of China is for the first time in a genuinely competitive position vis-à-vis the United States when it comes to manufacturing, its technological base, and financial reserves, and it is using the resources it has accumulated to rapidly expand its army and navy, as well as its military capabilities in other domains.

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Does the global pandemic open new South China Sea opportunities for Beijing? Not really

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US milThe South China Sea is becoming even choppier. Last month, China started to conduct a seismic survey within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and a Vietnamese fishing boat sank near the Paracel Islands after a collision with a China Coast Guard vessel.

A number of recent analyses have emphasized that China is seizing pandemic-created opportunities to improve its position in the South China Sea as other countries are distracted or otherwise unable to respond. A key implication of such claims is that absent the pandemic, China would have acted differently and perhaps with more restraint.

My research — and a rundown of Chinese actions since the pandemic — suggest these moves demonstrate continuity in China’s behavior, not opportunism. Here’s what you need to know.

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How China Is Slow Conquering the South China Sea

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national interestBeijing is making gradual progress toward achieving its objective of gaining international assent to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. With each decade, more of Beijing’s agenda is realized. During the 1970s, China limited its attempted enforcement of Chinese claims mostly to the Paracels Islands, which lies in the northern part of the South China Sea, closer to China. Beijing’s violent seizure of Johnson South Reef from Vietnam in 1988 was jarring but unusual. More typical of the era was the “creeping invasion” of the 1990s, exemplified by the rickety makeshift structures built on Mischief Reef in the more southerly Spratly Group. In 1999 Beijing began attempting to impose bans on fishing in the South China Sea during the summer months, making the case that China has administrative control.

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Filipino daughter thanks Vietnamese fishermen for saving dad who lost at sea for 17 days

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Filipino daughter thanks Vietnamese fishermen for saving dad who lost at sea for 17 daysAnding Nadie Repil was thrown overboard after his boat collided tossing him into the ocean. He survived by clinging on to a plastic can and eating seaweed, reports say.

After his miraculous rescue by Vietnamese fishermen, his daughter spoke of her immense gratitude to the men who saved her Dad’s life.

“We can’t image life without my father… We couldn’t even do something because of this pandemic as we are in a lockdown,” she said.

“God used the Vietnamese fishermen to save our father. To all Vietnamese that helped and saved our father, you are all a hero.”

Her 52-year-old father has told the authorities he went fishing alone on March 19 on a small boat from the port of Candria in the Philippines. He was asleep when his boat was struck by a cargo ship, tossing him into the water around 40km off the coast of the Philippines.

“I was wearing a life jacket. When the boat sank I could only hug a plastic can and began to drift.”

“On April 5, a small Vietnamese boat appeared but it could not accommodate many people, so the fishermen on board gave me a basket boat and some food,” he said.

Twelve days later he was picked up by another boat which took him ashore and handed him over to the authorities in Binh Dinh province.

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China brazenly violates international law in the East Sea

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China brazenly violates international law in the East SeaIn an interview with VOV, Kraska said China’s announcement about “Xisha” and “Nansha” is a way to flex its muscles on the “Four Sha” plan that China introduced in 2017, which is really just a variation of the “9-dash line” rejected by the the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016.

Professor Kraska said that China's creation of its "Xisha" and "Nansha" is seriously detrimental to regional stability, infringing another country's sovereignty, sovereign rights, and political independence. China's deployment of its military forces to these districts violates Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, which China also violated in 1974 by using armed force to illegally occupy Hoang Sa archipelago, Kraska added.

Kraska said China’s act is a violation of Article 87 and 58 of the 1982 UNCLOS, which clearly establish freedom of navigation and aviation in this region. It’s obvious that China is using other countries’ efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for pursuing its strategic objectives in the East Sea, he said. He called for a stronger world protest against China’s unlawful acts.

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