Monday, 30 November 2015

Territorial disputes in the China Seas

Map showing territorial claims in South China Sea
Maritime claims in the South China Sea

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

There are disputes concerning both the Spratly and the Paracel islands, as well as maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere. There is a further dispute in the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands. The interests of different nations include acquiring fishing areas around the two archipelagos; the potential exploitation of suspected crude oil and natural gas under the waters of various parts of the South China Sea; and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

Shangri-La Dialogue serves as the "Track One" exchange forum on the security issues surrounding Asia-Pacific region including Territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is the "Track Two" dialogue on security issues of Asia-Pacific.

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South China Sea disputes
Tensions in the South China Sea because of disputes with other claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam are leading to alarming headlines about possible conflict

China insists it is simply doing what all its neighbours are trying to do - but it is doing it at dizzying pace.

The US Department of Defense assesses that as of June 2015, China had reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months in the South China Sea than all the other claimants combined over the past 40 years.

China's exact intentions remain unclear, but the overall assessment is that Beijing wants to slowly push the US out of the area without causing a conflict.


Tension in the South China Sea

The U.S. military commander in the Pacific warned Friday that the risk of a miscalculation that could trigger a wider conflict in a tense territorial standoff between China and Vietnam is high and urged both nations to exercise restraint.

Adm. Samuel Locklear also urged Southeast Asian nations and China to hasten the drafting of a legally binding “code of conduct” to prevent territorial rifts from turning into armed conflicts that could threaten the region’s bustling economies.

Southeast Asian diplomats have accused China of delaying the start of negotiations for such a nonaggression pact while it tries to consolidate its control of disputed territories.

ASIA-PACIFIC, TERRITORIAL AND LAW OF THE SEA DISPUTES

As part of a broader project of land reclamation, beginning in November China started efforts to develop Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

As of late November the reef had been built up to 3,000 meters long and between two and three hundred wide. This makes it large enough, in the assessment of analysts with IHS Jane’s and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to argue that China’s first airstrip in the Spratly Islands might be under development. China already has a growing airfield on Woody Island in the Paracels a several hundred miles north, and this would not be the first airstrip in the Spratly Islands; Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia all have airstrips of their own.

If a runway is truly planned for Fiery Cross Reef, what does this mean for the region’s security environment?

Nine-dash Line
The nine-dash line (highlighted in green) as formerly claimed by the PRC

The nine-dash line (Chinese: 南海九段线; pinyin: nánhǎi jiǔduàn xiàn; literally: "nine-segment line of the South China Sea"; Vietnamese: Đường lưỡi bò; literally: "cow's tongue line"), and at various times also referred to as the "10-dash line" and the "11-dash line", refers to the demarcation line used initially by the government of the Republic of China (ROC / Taiwan), and subsequently also by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea. The contested area in the South China Sea includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and various other areas including the Pratas Islands, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. The claim encompasses the area of Chinese land reclamation known as the "great wall of sand".

An early map showing a U-shaped eleven-dash line was published in the then Republic of China on 1 December 1947. Two of the dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin were later removed at the behest of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, reducing the total to nine. Subsequent editions added a dash to the other end of the line, extending it into the East China Sea.

Despite having made the vague claim public in 1947, China has not (as of 2015) filed a formal and specifically defined claim to the area within the dashes. The People's Republic of China added a tenth-dash line to the east of Taiwan island in 2013 as a part of its official sovereignty claim to the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

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CHINA’S NINE-DASHED LINE FACES RENEWED ASSAULT

China’s ambiguous claim to the South China Sea, approximately demarcated by a series of hash marks known as the “nine-dashed line,” faced objections from an expanding number of parties over the past two weeks. While a challenge from the United States came from an unsurprising source, actions by Indonesia and Vietnam were unexpected in their tone and timing.

On December 5th, the U.S. State Department released its analysis of the compatibility of China’s nine-dashed line with international law. The report attempted to set aside the issue of sovereignty and explore “several possible interpretations of the dashed-line claim and the extent to which those interpretations are consistent with the international law of the sea.” The analysis found that as a demarcation of claims to land features within the line and their conferred maritime territory, the least expansive interpretation, the claim is consistent with international law but reiterated that ultimate sovereignty is subject to resolution with the other claimants.

As a national boundary, the report went on, the line “would not have a proper legal basis under the law of the sea,” due to its unilateral nature and its inconsistent distance from land features that could confer maritime territory. Alternately, although many commentators have indicated China bases its claims on “historic” rights pre-dating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, the report argued that the history China points to does not fit the narrow “category of historic claims recognized” in UNCLOS under which historic rights may be conferred. Lastly, the report noted that as China has filed no formal claim supporting its nine-dashed line, the ambiguity over the exact nature and location of the line itself undermines under international law China’s argument that it possesses maritime rights to the circumscribed waters.


The South China Sea - Oil on troubled waters

TWO Chinese oil companies show contrasting approaches in their attempts to operate in the South China Sea where, to the discomfort of its smaller neighbours, China’s claims in disputed waters have grown increasingly assertive. One company’s actions are adding to tensions in the area, while the other’s may hint at a way to ease them.

Last July Brightoil, a company listed in Hong Kong with high-level political connections on the mainland, bought the exploration rights to 6.2m acres (2.5m hectares) of seabed from an American company, Harvest Natural Resources. The block, which the Chinese call Wan’an Bei 21 (WAB-21, part of an area known in English as the Vanguard Bank), has a controversial history. Although it lies more than 650 nautical miles (about 1,200km) from the Chinese coast and just 200 nautical miles from Vietnam, China asserts “historic rights” over the area. It lies near the south-western edge of the U-shaped “nine-dash line” that marks Beijing’s ambiguous claim in the sea (see map).

China issued a licence to explore for oil in WAB-21 in 1992. That came as a shock, because it was the first time China had claimed resources in the South China Sea so far away from its own coast. When Chinese vessels attempted to survey the block in 1994, Vietnam sent its navy to stop them. Vietnam then dispatched an oil rig to drill there, and it was China’s turn to impose a blockade. Neither side was able to extract any oil.

China's Island Factory
New islands are being made in the disputed South China Sea by the might of the Chinese state

The appearance of these new islands has happened suddenly and is a dramatic new move in a longstanding territorial struggle in the South China Sea.

At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls.

Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs.


China charts course for blue-water navy, extending reach into open seas

China has unveiled plans to expand its naval power as part of an assertive military strategy that aims to go beyond its present push for "offshore defence" to "open-seas protection".

The defence ministry released a white paper on the plans yesterday, the same day that China broke ground on construction of two lighthouses in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Beijing said the lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef - sites of massive reclamation works - were "to improve navigation safety in the South China Sea". The reefs are also known as the Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef.

The Republic of the Philippines v The People’s Republic of China: A question of jurisdiction

The dispute in the South China Sea continues to be played out on the global stage with no resolution yet in sight. Tensions endure as the Philippines pursues its quest for arbitral resolution, whilst China continues to stake its claims in the area despite the ongoing litigation. Satellite photographs have been released in recent months of Chinese barges enlarging the size of reefs and islands, and the building of airstrips and harbours to accommodate jets and warships. This demonstrates China’s determination to assert its ownership of virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines has challenged the basis of China’s territorial claims by way of arbitral proceedings, and lodged a Memorial in March 2014. The Arbitral Tribunal (for which the Permanent Court of Arbitration acts as a Registry) fixed 15 December 2014 as the date for China to submit a Counter-Memorial in response, however no such document has been forthcoming. The Chinese Government has previously stated in a Note Verbale that it will ‘neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.’  Article 287(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (LOSC), which both States are party to, requires States to select a preferred means of binding dispute resolution involving third parties, and if they fail to do so, arbitration under Annex VII becomes the default means – unless reservations have been made in writing with regard to optional exceptions (see below).

As China and the Philippines have not agreed on a binding mechanism, they are deemed to have selected arbitration unless the aforementioned exceptions apply. Article 9 of that Annex provides for default of appearance; namely if one of the parties fails to appear before the arbitral tribunal, the other party may request that the tribunal continue its proceedings and make an award. This may well be the approach of the Tribunal in this case, as China refuses to participate.

Pre- and post-reclamation in Spratlys

China has ongoing massive reclamations on seven reefs - Fiery Cross Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson South Reef, McKennan Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef - in the South China Sea

China noted that the purpose of the reclamation activities was for their military defense.

"The primary purpose of these activities is to improve the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there, to better fulfill our international obligations concerning maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention, and mitigation, and to enable China to provide better services to vessels from China, her neighbors, and other countries sailing in the South China Sea," China deputy representative to the United Nations Wang Min said.

PH files new protest over China’s land reclamation in Mischief Reef

Not minding calls from other countries to channel its claims through international court, China continues to expand reefs as a resolve to assert its entitlement to territories over nearly the entire South China Sea.

Aside from the Mischief Reef, China is also undertaking land reclamation on six other disputed areas in an area of the South China Sea, Spratlys Islands.

Foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the Mischief Reef “is a low tide elevation in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and on its continental shelf,” and is a rich fishing ground within the Philippine territory that came under Chinese control in 1995.


Philippines protests to China over land reclamation in disputed reef 
The Philippines says China is constructing an airstrip on reclaimed land at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands

The Philippines has protested against China's reclamation of land at a disputed reef in the South China Sea that can be used to build an airstrip.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Manila filed a diplomatic protest against the reclamation on the Johnson South Reef last month, but Beijing rejected it on grounds that the reef is part of Chinese territory.

Asked if China was building an airstrip on the reef, which is also claimed by Vietnam, Del Rosario said: "That's one possibility."

China has nearly completed the artificial island it is building to grab territory in the South China Sea
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still file image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Nav Reuters

The Chinese government has nearly completed a 3km-long airstrip on a man-made island built to project military power into the South China Sea.

New photos taken by US aircraft show dozens of Chinese dredging vessels at work near the island in the Spratly archipelago.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says that two helipads, ten satellite dishes, a Chinese Naval vessel and a radar tower are visible in the photo.

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China Begins Construction in Spratly Islands

China has begun a construction project in the disputed Spratly Islands, drawing a formal protest from the Philippines, which said the move violates a longstanding pledge not to build on any of the South China Sea's contested islands.

The project is the latest example of Beijing's increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, a week after it boldly deployed a large oil rig, guarded by a flotilla of ships, to disputed waters east of Vietnam.

That action sparked anti-Chinese protests and violence against factories in Vietnam, and prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to criticize Beijing's "aggressive" and "provocative" moves.

South China Sea: China Is Building on the Paracels As Well


It’s not just the Spratlys, China is constructing military facilities on the Paracel Islands too.

High-resolution satellite images from March 17 show that Woody Island, occupied by China since 1956, is undergoing a major expansion of its runway and airport facilities. Within the past five months, a 2,400-meter airstrip has been completely replaced with a new concrete runway measuring 2,920 meters in length, accompanied by a new taxiway, expanded runway aprons and adjacent large buildings under construction.

Additional land reclamation is also underway on Woody Island, called Yongxing Dao in Chinese and Đảo Phú Lâm in Vietnamese.


Vietnam Spat Represents a Chinese Leap

When China parked a giant oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam, it confirmed what Washington and regional governments have long feared: Beijing is taking a major leap in the defense of its territorial claims, testing the resolve of rattled neighbors—as well as the U.S.

At the heart of the latest maneuvering for control in the South China Sea is China's most modern oil rig, deployed by a state-owned oil company off the contested Paracel Islands over the objections of Hanoi, whose coast guard has sought to obstruct the rig's work.

The standoff over the rig has built over several days, bursting into open conflict on Wednesday when Vietnamese officials said that about 80 Chinese vessels had moved into disputed areas near it and that six Vietnamese crew members had been injured in scuffles. Rear Adm. Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Vietnamese coast guard, said Thursday that the situation at the site remains tense, with many ships still there.

China oil rig finishes first phase of drilling in waters claimed by Vietnam

A giant Chinese oil rig has finished its first round of drilling in South China Sea waters also claimed by Vietnam and moved to another site in the area, the rig's operator, China Oilfield Services Ltd (COSL), said on Tuesday. In a statement, COSL said exploration would still take place off the Xisha islands, China's name for the disputed Paracel chain, suggesting the rig was not moving far.

In early May, the rig was deployed between the Paracel islands and the Vietnamese coast, sparking deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam and protests from the government in Hanoi.

The rig had 'smoothly' completed the first phase of its work said COSL, the oil service arm of state-run China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) Group, which owns the $1 billion platform. COSL said it had obtained relevant geological data from the drilling, but did not give details or specify the current location of the rig.

Malaysia to lodge protest with China over naval incursion
Security minister posts pictures on Facebook of what he says is Chinese ship anchored in Malaysian zone

Malaysia will protest against what it called the intrusion of a Chinese Coast Guard ship into its waters north of Borneo Island, the Wall Street Journal reported, in another departure from the country’s previously soft approach to South China Sea disputes. National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim was quoted as telling the Journal that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will raise the issue directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The report comes after Shahidan posted pictures on Facebook of what he said was a Chinese ship anchored at Luconia Shoals, an area of islets and reefs about 150 km north of Malaysian Borneo.

The shoals are inside the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone claimed by Malaysia and about 2,000 km from mainland China, he said, adding that any foreign vessels entering the area were “intruders.”

Controversy Builds Over Spratly Islands As Indonesia Demands International Tribunal

Indonesia demanded an international tribunal Wednesday over China's expansionism in the South China Sea if the countries involved could not come to a diplomatic solution on their own. Several nations in the region, including Indonesia and China, as well as the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia, have made land claims of sovereignty over an area of the South China Sea that includes the Spratly Islands.

The 750 spits of lands that make up the Spratly Islands are small and relatively uninhabited. But their strategic location in the middle of several major trade routes, as well as the possibility of their containing oil or other minerals, have made the islands an extremely valuable commodity.

Indonesia's primary dispute with China in the South China Sea is over the so-called nine-dash line, a boundary that China has used to demarcate its territory in the region. Part of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna islands may be within the territory China has designated as its own, and Indonesian authorities asked for clarification.

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China-Indonesia Territorial Dispute: Chinese South China Sea Occupation Is A "Real Threat"
A police coast guard vessel patrols the shipping lanes off the coast of Singapore, March 4, 2010. Reuters/Vivek Prakash

Indonesia has labeled Chinese claims to the hotly disputed South China Sea waters as a "real threat." Vice Admiral Desi Albert Mamahit, who heads Indonesia's Sea Security Coordinating Agency, told a maritime security focus group that the waters surrounding several of the country’s islands were in jeopardy from an encroaching Chinese presence.

The Jakarta Post reported the maritime areas surrounding the Natuna Islands on the southern part of the Strait of Malacca technically do not lie within China’s proposed territorial claims thus far, but it added China has not clarified its position on Indonesia’s exclusive economic maritime zone. The Strait of Malacca is recognized as a prime strategic location, particularly for military observance of the South China waters.

“This is clearly a real threat for Indonesia,” said Desi, who is also a dean at the Defense University. Desi said Indonesia would need to prepare for moves China may make to further expand its claims in the area.

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South China Sea conflict a real threat to Indonesia

Indonesia has been warned that the territorial conflict over the South China Sea is a real threat that will sooner or later impact this country.

Chief of the Sea Security Coordinating Agency, Vice Admiral Desi Albert Mamahit, conveyed the warning during the opening session of a focus group discussion on maritime security early warning systems held in Batam, the Riau Islands province, earlier this month.

He said that the Indonesian waters around the Natuna Islands (Kepri) regency were not actually inside in the disputed territory, but they were very close to the area and China had not yet clarified whatever claims it would make regarding Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (ZEE) around them.

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Great Power Politics in the South China Sea
Filipino protestors carry signs decrying U.S. and Chinese South China Sea claims during a June 12 march on the Chinese consulate in Makati, Philippines. (DONDI TAWATAO/Getty Images) (DONDI TAWATAO/Getty Images)

For months, Beijing and Washington have been engaged in a mounting rhetorical war over Chinese territorial claims — and island building — in contested waters of the South China Sea. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has cautioned the U.S. military not to exacerbate tension in the South China Sea by sailing naval vessels or flying aircraft near Chinese-held islands, many of which are located in waters also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. The Pentagon has countered that U.S. ships and aircraft will travel along any routes allowed by international law at any time and has told regional allies that it will soon conduct patrols near Chinese positions.

Though this standoff might seem like simple nationalist posturing between two Pacific powers, maritime disputes carry a special significance in Asia. Unlike in Europe, water is the organizing element of the continent, which wraps around the East and South China Seas, the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, as well as countless peripheral lagoons and bays.

Ownership of a particular island, reef or rock, and the right to name a body of water is more than a question of sentimentality — it is the foundation of many national policy strategies. Securing the right to patrol, build bases and regulate trade through these waterways can mean access to resources critical to sustaining economic growth and political stability.

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New South China Sea Lighthouses: Legal Futility and Strategic Risk

What is the significance of the lighthouses China has built in the Spratly Islands?

International law can be viewed as either a tool or a weapon, depending on how it is wielded. On the one hand, the rules of international law outlining the range of legitimate territorial and maritime claims can provide an invaluable toolbox of objective standards for sorting out a way forward in what can often be a complex problem of international relations. On the other, a misinterpretation or partial understanding of the applicable international law can obfuscate the intentions of the rival claimants and further complicate the overall situation. In some ways, a partial understanding of the applicable law might be more harmful than no knowledge at all.

For the unresolved disputes in the South China Sea, one issue worth considering is the potential significance of the new lighthouses that China has constructed on several geographic features within the Spratly Islands. The recent “China’s Lighthouses in the Spratlys” commentary by Lin Ting-Hui of Taiwan is an example of how a misinterpretation or a partial understanding of the applicable law can obfuscate more than it illuminates. This includes both the international law of the sea, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the customary international law relating to sovereignty claims. Below is an attempt to outline the limited legal significance of those new lighthouses, and a strategic risk arising from their construction.

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China's lighthouses in Spratlys beckon recognition from passing ships
The Huayang Lighthouse is pictured during an inauguration ceremony in the South China Sea, in this picture released by China's official Xinhua News Agency dated October 9, 2015

The next time the United States sends warships by China’s man-made islands in the disputed South China, officers aboard will have to decide how, if at all, they will engage with a pair of giant lighthouses that Beijing lit up there this month.

Chinese officials say the lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the disputed Spratly islands will help maritime search and rescue, navigational security and disaster relief.

Experts, diplomats and foreign naval officers say, however, the lighthouses represent a shrewd move to help buttress China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

related: China completes construction of lighthouses in disputed South China Sea

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China Inaugurates 2 New Lighthouses in South China Sea

Just days after a recent showdown between the Chinese and US navies in the South China Sea, China started construction on two new lighthouses in the contested territory.

Reuters reports that the lighthouse openings were televised on state television. The ostensible purpose of the lighthouses is to help disaster relief, search and rescue, and environmental protection. The Chinese also say the lighthouses are important to protect commercial vessels and international shipping.

The United States and other nations in the vicinity of the South China Sea such as Vietnam and the Philippines view the lighthouses as another example of aggressive Chinese posturing and land claims.

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China’s Lighthouses in the Spratlys

In May 2015, China began construction of lighthouses on two of the features it occupies in the Spratlys, Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef. The lighthouses, employing cylindrical and cone-cylindrical designs, respectively, are 50-meter-high towers constructed of reinforced concrete that officially began operation on October 9. Each tower has been designed to cast its white light out to a distance of 22 nautical miles on an eight-second cycle and has a 4.5-meter lantern on its uppermost level. During a press conference the day after formal operation commenced, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying stated that China would continue to construct other civilian and public facilities on relevant features in the Spratlys so as to better serve coastal nations in the South China Sea and passing vessels from around the world. Official statements clearly indicate the primary aim of erecting these lighthouses is to further navigational safety, but then why is it that China is constructing approximately 3,000-meter-long runways on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs while choosing to instead erect lighthouses on Cuarteron and Johnson South Reefs?

The Significance of Lighthouses in UNCLOS - A review of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions for using straight baselines to determine the limits of the territorial sea shows that when selecting base points, in accordance with Article 7, Paragraph 4, “Straight baselines shall not be drawn to and from low-tide elevations, unless lighthouses or similar installations which are permanently above sea level have been built on them or except in instances where the drawing of baselines to and from such elevations has received general international recognition.” In establishing baselines for archipelagic states, Article 47, Paragraph 4 stipulates, “Such baselines shall not be drawn to and from low-tide elevations, unless lighthouses or similar installations which are permanently above sea level have been built on them or where a low-tide elevation is situated wholly or partly at a distance not exceeding the breadth of the territorial sea from the nearest island.”

In other words, for countries in general and archipelagic states in particular, it is only through construction of a lighthouse above sea level that can allow low-tide elevations, on which these structures are erected, to be considered as starting or ending points of a baseline. Therefore, there is no need for China to rely on the construction of lighthouses on Cuarteron and Johnson South to establish its baseline. As such, China’s construction in the Spratlys cannot simply be a matter of delimiting its territorial sea. 

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PHL protests Chinese lighthouses in disputed South China Sea features

The Philippines on Monday issued a public statement protesting China’s unilateral construction and operation of lighthouses in two South China Sea reefs, which Manila says is part of its territory.

"We are strongly opposed to China's construction and operation of lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson Reef,”  Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

Refusing to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the said features, Jose said “these actions are obviously intended to change the actual conditions on the ground and aimed at bolstering China's territorial claim in the South China Sea.”

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China Spooks Neighbors in South China Sea With Lighthouses

Lighthouses have for centuries guided the world’s seafarers, preventing ships from striking rocks and reefs and helping fishermen find their way home. In the disputed South China Sea, they may be taking on a darker role.

China’s program to build beacons on reclaimed reefs it occupies in the waters -- through which about 30 percent of global trade passes -- is spooking other claimant countries concerned it will use them as political tools. Having lighthouses perched on top of the reefs, ostensibly to help navigation in the waters, could boost China’s argument for sovereignty.

The country is expediting construction, having built two lighthouses in the Paracel islands and two in the Spratly archipelago as of October. They are part of an array of civilian facilities that China says will serve the public good by providing bases for search and rescue operations and meteorological information.

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Start of Operation of Huayang and Chigua Lighthouses

China held a ceremony marking the start of operation of two lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef of the Nansha Islands. Can you give more details?

We have learned from the relevant department that the construction of lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef of the Nansha Islands has completed as scheduled and a lighting ceremony was held yesterday marking the start of operation. In accordance with China's Maritime Traffic Safety Law and international practices, the relevant department in China has issued a navigation notice and a navigation warning concerning the start of functioning of Huayang and Chigua Lighthouses.

The South China Sea is an important maritime corridor, as well as one of the world's major fishing grounds, with high density of vessels and complex sea conditions. Marine traffic accidents occur from time to time. The two lighthouses will provide highly effective route guidance and navigation aid to vessels passing these waters, and greatly improve navigation safety in the South China Sea. In the future, China will continue to build other civil facilities for the public interest on the stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands so as to provide littoral countries and all passing vessels with better services.

related: Sansha Paradise Islands can build two wind 17 lighthouses

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China military keeping tabs on US Poseidon deployment in Singapore
A U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft at Perth International Airport March 31, 2014. Reuters file photo

China’s military is closely watching an agreement between the United States and Singapore to deploy the US P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to the city state and hopes the move does not harm regional stability, said the ­Defence Ministry. “We are paying close attention to how the relevant situation develops, and hope ­bilateral defence cooperation between the relevant countries is beneficial to ­regional peace and stability and not the opposite,” said the Ministry in a brief statement.

The Foreign Ministry of China, which is at odds with Washington over Beijing’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea, said the ­deployment was aimed at militarising the region and was detrimental to ­regional peace. However, analysts ­TODAY spoke with noted that the move is ­unlikely to significantly affect US-China or Singapore-China ties.

In a joint statement after a meeting this week in Washington, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Singa­pore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen welcomed the inaugural deployment of the aircraft in Singapore from Dec 7 to 14. A US defence official has said further deployments in Singapore could be expected.

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China says freedom of navigation ‘should not be used as excuse to flex muscle’

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, responding on Monday to a US plan to sail within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands China has built in the South China islands, said the concept of freedom of navigation should not be used as excuse for muscle-flexing.

Embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said the United States should "refrain from saying or doing anything provocative and act responsibly in maintaining regional peace and stability."

"Freedom of navigation and overflight should not be used as excuse to flex muscle and undermine other countries' sovereignty and security," he said

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South China Sea ruling 'null and void', says ministry

The Foreign Ministry on Friday dismissed a ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal on the jurisdiction and admissibility of the South China Sea issue, saying it is null and void.

The ministry said in a statement released on its website that the result has no binding effect on China.

"The result of the ruling will by no means affect China's sovereignty and rights on the South China Sea," Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Friday at a media briefing.

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Beijing won't accept Hague court's ruling on arbitration

China has rejected an international court's decision to allow arbitration on South China Sea claims brought forth by the Philippines, saying it is "null and void, and has no binding effect on China".

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement yesterday, stressed that when it comes to issues of territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, Beijing will not accept any solution imposed on it, or any unilateral resort to a third-party dispute settlement.

It also accused Manila of political provocation and of trying to "negate China's territorial sovereignty".

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In blow for Beijing, court to hear South China Sea dispute

China has lost the first round of a major legal fight with the Philippines after an international tribunal agreed to hear a case about contested islands in the South China Sea.

The ruling early yesterday was seen as a legal setback for Beijing, after Manila filed the case in 2013 to seek a ruling on its right to exploit the South China Sea waters in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

But China, facing international legal scrutiny for the first time over its assertiveness in the disputed waters, reiterated yesterday that it will neither participate in nor accept the case, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters.

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Tribunal rules it can arbitrate in South China Sea dispute
A satellite image of Subi Reef in the Spratlys. Manila is accusing Beijing of violating international laws by claiming areas that are 1,611km from its borders.PHOTO: REUTERS

An international tribunal has ruled that it has the power to hear the Philippines' case against China's claims over nearly all of the South China Sea, a move analysts say will likely force Beijing to dig in deeper instead of sitting down to talk.

In a ruling released late on Thursday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague determined that it has jurisdiction over seven issues that Manila raised in a 4,000-page plea it submitted in March last year.

Reviewing the claims submitted by the Philippines, the tribunal has rejected China's argument that the "dispute is actually about sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and therefore beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction", the five-man tribunal said in a nine-page summary of its ruling.

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Is the South China Sea Worth War?
USS Lassen conducts exercises with Korean and Turkish navy ships. U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Evan Kenny/Released

Trailed by two Chinese warships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-nautical-mile limit of Subi Reef, a man-made island China claims as her national territory. Beijing protested. Says China: Subi Reef and the Spratly Island chain, in a South China Sea that carries half of the world’s seaborne trade, are as much ours as the Aleutians are yours.

Beijing’s claim to the Spratlys is being contested by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan. While Hanoi and Manila have occupied islets and built structures to back their claims, the Chinese have been more aggressive. They have occupied rocks and reefs with troops, dredged and expanded them into artificial islands, fortified them, put up radars, and are building air strips and harbors.

What the Chinese are about is easy to understand. Having feasted and grown fat on trade surpluses with the United States, the Chinese are translating their economic strength into military power and a new strategic assertiveness. They want to dominate East Asia and all the seas around it.

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Tension in disputed South China Sea
The USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed past one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Barack Obama’s decision to send a US guided missile destroyer into disputed waters off the Spratly islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday has provoked predictable outpourings of rage and veiled threats from Beijing – but nothing, yet, in the way of a military response. The worry now is that the confrontation will catch fire, escalate and spread.

Both China, which claims the Spratlys as its own, and the US, which does not recognise Beijing’s sovereignty, have boxed themselves into a rhetorical and tactical corner. With the Pentagon insisting it will repeat and extend such naval patrols at will, and with the People’s Liberation Army Navy determined to stop them, it is feared a head-on collision cannot be far away.

China’s heated response to Tuesday’s manoeuvre by the USS Lassen off the Spratlys’ Mischief and Subi reefs, where Beijing is controversially building military airstrips and lighthouses on reclaimed land, left it little wiggle room. The American warship had been tracked and warned off, officials said, adding that what it termed an illegal incursion was a “threat to national sovereignty” and a deliberate provocation that could backfire.

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Tensions Running High In South China Sea




Two incidents over disputed territory in the South China Sea this week threaten to disrupt the tense status quo between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors.

In Vietnam, China's dispatch of a state-owned oil rig into waters close to Vietnam sparked a face-off between Chinese and Vietnamese ships and anti-China protests. In the Philippines, China is protesting the detention of a Chinese fishing boat filled with illegal sea turtles and the arrest of its crew.

While the region has been home to competing territorial claims for centuries, increasingly assertive action by both China and its neighbors has raised concerns that more serious conflict could erupt.

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East China Sea EEZ disputes

There are disputes between the People's Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and South Korea over the extent of their respective exclusive economic zones

The dispute between the PRC and Japan concerns the different application of the 1982 UNCLOS, which both nations have ratified. China proposed the application of UNCLOS, considering the natural prolongation of its continental shelf, advocating that the EEZ extends as far as the Okinawa Trough. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that "the natural prolongation of the continental shelf of China in the East China Sea extends to the Okinawa Trough and beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of China is measured," which is applicable to the relevant UNCLOS provisions that support China's right to the natural shelf. In 2012, China presented a submission under the UNCLOS concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf to the UN. Japan, based on UNCLOS, proposed the Median line division of the EEZ.

Under the United Nations' Law of the Sea, the PRC claims the disputed ocean territory as its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) due to its being part of PRC's natural extension of its continental shelf, while Japan claims the disputed ocean territory as its own EEZ because it is within 200 nautical miles (370 km) from Japan's coast, and proposed a median line as the boundary between the EEZ of China and Japan. About 40,000 square kilometers of EEZ are in dispute. China and Japan both claim 200 nautical miles EEZ rights, but the East China Sea width is only 360 nautical miles. China claims an EEZ extending to the eastern end of the Chinese continental shelf (based on UNCLOS III) which goes deep into the Japanese's claimed EEZ.

In 1995, the People's Republic of China (PRC) discovered an undersea natural gas field in the East China Sea, namely the Chunxiao gas field, which lies within the Chinese EEZ while Japan believes it is connected to other possible reserves beyond the median line. Japan has objected to PRC development of natural gas resources in the East China Sea near an area where the two countries Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims overlap. The specific development in dispute is the PRC's drilling in the Chunxiao gas field, which is located in undisputed areas on China's side, three or four miles (6 km) west of the median line proposed by Japan. Japan maintains that although the Chunxiao gas field rigs are on the PRC side of a median line that Tokyo regards as the two sides' sea boundary, they may tap into a field that stretches underground into the disputed area. Japan therefore seeks a share in the natural gas resources. The gas fields in the Xihu Sag area in the East China Sea (Canxue, Baoyunting, Chunxiao, Duanqiao, Wuyunting, and Tianwaitian) are estimated to hold proven reserves of 364 BCF of natural gas. Commercial operations began 2006. In June 2008, both sides agreed to jointly develop the Chunxiao gas fields. Rounds of disputes about island ownership in the East China Sea have triggered both official and civilian protests between China and Japan.

The dispute between PRC and South Korea concerns Socotra Rock, a submerged reef on which South Korea has constructed a scientific research station. While neither country claims the rock as territory, the PRC has objected to Korean activities there as a breach of its EEZ rights

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Tensions rise over East China Sea
A Chinese SU-27 fighter flying over the East China Sea in this photo taken on May 24, 2014 and released by the Defence Ministry of Japan on May 25, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Japan and China yesterday accused each other’s air forces of dangerous behaviour over the East China Sea, with Japan saying Chinese aircraft had come within a few dozen metres of its warplanes.

Japan’s Defence Minister accused Beijing of going “over the top” in its approach to disputed territory.

China’s Defence Ministry said Japanese planes had carried out dangerous actions during its joint maritime exercises with Russia.

related:
China, Japan exchange barbs over action by warplanes in East China Sea
Japan condemns China fishing curbs, vows to defend islands

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In the East China Sea, a Far Bigger Test of Power Looms

In an era when the Obama administration has been focused on new forms of conflict - as countries use cyberweapons and drones to extend their power - the dangerous contest suddenly erupting over a pile of rocks in the East China Sea seems almost a throwback to the Cold War.

Suddenly, naval assets and air patrols are the currency of a shadow conflict between Washington and Beijing that the Obama administration increasingly fears could escalate and that American officials have said could derail their complex plan to manage Chinas rise without overtly trying to contain it. As in the Cold War, the immediate territorial dispute seems to be an excuse for a far larger question of who will exercise influence over a vast region.

The result is that, as the Chinese grow more determined to assert their territorial claims over a string of islands once important mainly to fishermen, America’s allies are also pouring military assets into the region — potentially escalating the once obscure dispute into a broader test of power in the Pacific

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The A to Z on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

Computer screens display a map showing the outline of China’s new air defense zone in the East China Sea on the website of the Chinese Ministry of Defense.Associated Press

AIRSPACE – Under international law, a country’s sovereign airspace extends to the outer limits of its territorial waters, 12 nautical miles from its coastline. Most countries require all foreign military aircraft to obtain permission to enter their airspace and reserve the right to take military action, including shooting them down, if they do not. China and Japan both claim the disputed East China Sea islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China as part of their territory. They also claim sovereign airspace above them and over the waters extending 12 nautical miles around them.

EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE (EEZ) – According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, each signatory state can claim an EEZ that gives it special rights to exploit marine resources up to 200 nautical miles from its coastline. When EEZs overlap, signatory states are supposed to negotiate an agreed boundary. Most countries allow freedom of passage for foreign vessels through their EEZ. However, some countries disagree on whether non-aggressive foreign military operations – such as reconnaissance patrols — should be allowed in their EEZ. The U.S. says yes; China says no. China often intercepts and tracks foreign military planes over its EEZ, but usually does not try to repel them or force them to land.

AIR DEFENSE IDENTIFICATION ZONE (ADIZ) – An ADIZ has no basis in international law and is not overseen by any international organization. So definitions and rules vary between different countries. Typically such zones extend well beyond a country’s airspace to give its military time to respond to potentially hostile incoming aircraft. Several countries have declared them unilaterally, including the U.S. and Japan. Many of those countries require foreign military aircraft to identify themselves and their flight plans on entering their ADIZ. They will often intercept and escort foreign military aircraft in their ADIZ but will usually not repel them or force them to land unless they consider them a threat. The U.S. says it only applies ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft intending to enter its airspace. China’s ADIZ is unusual in that it overlaps with Japan’s, South Korea’s and Taiwan’s and covers disputed territory.

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China should seize opportunity to reshape South China Sea order


After a series of visits by leaders of ASEAN states to China, China and ASEAN have found common agreement to prioritize economic cooperation and move forward. A golden opportunity has emerged: It is high time for China and its rival claimants in ASEAN to make major progress in the South China Sea disputes.

It's reported that officials and scholars from countries related to the South China Sea issue have met recently to discuss trust-building mechanisms, including nailing down the Code of Conduct, reshaping South China Sea order and the feasibility of joint cooperation on areas including anti-terror, climate change and protecting biodiversity.

US President-elect Trump's aggressive posturing against China has generated a lot of uncertainties in many respects, South China Sea disputes included, which have just quieted down after the tricky and stormy international arbitration process in July.

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Countries outside South China Sea should not flare up regional tension

Now an increasingly serious menace to South China Sea stability is interference from the outside. For example, Washington's so-called "rebalance to the Asia-Pacific" strategy played an undeniable role in emboldening certain claimants to make hot-headed moves on the issue, which served only to further complicate and protract it.

Therefore, for the South China Sea disputes to be untangled as soon as possible and for the busy patch of water to keep permanently peaceful, outsiders should withdraw their meddling hands and give full play to the wisdom and pragmatism of those directly involved.

In parallel, ASEAN members need to keep their heads cool and eyes open. They should join hands with China in preventing the South China Sea issue from being used by others as a stir stick to muddy the waters and fish for self-interests.


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US is bringing storms to South China Sea

The 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting starts in Manila, the Philippines on Wednesday. The suspense is to what extent the US will foist the South China Sea disputes into this economic and trade meeting. Manila has made clear that territorial disputes will not be included on the agenda, but Washington is not resigned to letting it go, but apparently will bring forth the issue on the sidelines of the meeting.

Compared with the horrible terror clouding Europe, the bone of contention in the APEC meeting - the South China Sea disputes - is unworthy of equal attention. France has shut its borders, and several European countries and half of US states are considering whether to shun Syrian refugees. Chaos and turbulence caused by relentless wars continue in the Middle East, and with the path of fleeing blocked, hatred and resentment among the refugees will thrive.

Many believe the US should assume the primary responsibility for the turmoil in Europe. The US has managed to keep terrorism away from of its own turf after rounds of strong interventions in the Middle East with the aid of its European allies after the 9/11 attacks. However, unable to extend their reach to American soil, terrorists have sabotaged Europe time and again, from Madrid to London and recently, Paris.

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US manoeuvre in South China Sea leaves little wiggle room with China
The USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed past one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Barack Obama’s decision to send a US guided missile destroyer into disputed waters off the Spratly islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday has provoked predictable outpourings of rage and veiled threats from Beijing – but nothing, yet, in the way of a military response. The worry now is that the confrontation will catch fire, escalate and spread.

Both China, which claims the Spratlys as its own, and the US, which does not recognise Beijing’s sovereignty, have boxed themselves into a rhetorical and tactical corner. With the Pentagon insisting it will repeat and extend such naval patrols at will, and with the People’s Liberation Army Navy determined to stop them, it is feared a head-on collision cannot be far away.

China’s heated response to Tuesday’s manoeuvre by the USS Lassen off the Spratlys’ Mischief and Subi reefs, where Beijing is controversially building military airstrips and lighthouses on reclaimed land, left it little wiggle room. The American warship had been tracked and warned off, officials said, adding that what it termed an illegal incursion was a “threat to national sovereignty” and a deliberate provocation that could backfire.


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US B-52 bombers challenge disputed China air zone

The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are a source of rising tension between the two nations. Photo credit: Global Times

The US has flown two B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea in defiance of new Chinese air defence rules, officials say.

China set up its "air defence identification zone" on Saturday insisting that aircraft obey its rules or face "emergency defensive measures".

A Pentagon spokesman said the planes had followed "normal procedures".

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US B-52 bombers challenge disputed China air zone

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US boosting naval presence in western Pacific
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Map of east china sea and declared air defence zone
China's demarcation of its expanded air defence identification zone overlaps with those of South Korea and Japan

Territorial disputes are escalating in East Asia with China stepping up its push for maritime interests despite strong protests from its neighbours and dampening the mood for regional cooperation for stability.

China's demarcation last week of its expanded air defence identification zone overlapped with those of South Korea and Japan. The two countries berated Beijing for having drawn the zone without any consultation.

Beijing's air demarcation comes as Tokyo and Washington have pushed for a stronger alliance amid the deepening Sino-Japanese conflict over a chain of islands in the East China Sea ― called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China

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China should be concerned about The Hague Tribunal

On Oct. 29, in a unanimous decision, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague issued its first, preliminary ruling concerning whether the Tribunal had “jurisdiction” over the issues raised by the Philippines against China’s so-called “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea.

The Tribunal held that in about half of the Philippines’ 15 claims, it did have jurisdiction. The other claims will be treated as jurisdictional questions fused with the merits of the case, and the Tribunal will be rendering a final award in 2016.

The Tribunal’s preliminary award on jurisdiction and admissibility should prove to be a clear victory for international law, as well as a clear defeat for Chinese unilateralism.

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