Tag Archives: ASEAN

South China Sea Dispute – Response of ASEAN

International Conference on Changing Security Dynamic in the Indo-Pacific, organised by ICRIER at Hyderabad, on February 15-16, 2017

M. Mayilvaganan, Associate Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

Abstract of Lecture/Presentation: The events following the recent verdict of the permanent court of arbitration on claims of the Philippines in the South China Sea (SCS) has not only demonstrated Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) dilemma but also reflected the lack of unanimity among its member countries. ASEAN’s inability to respond to the territorial disputes in the SCS in an affirmative manner and particularly, its watered-down joint statement at the end of its 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Laos preferring to avoid reference to the court ruling against China are a case in point. Interestingly, the ASEAN coexisted traditionally with the US approach as many within it considered the latter as a stabilizing force.

However, with the newly elected US president Donald Trump’s censure on its allies’ failure to pay enough for US protection and his inward looking policy have raised concern among many littoral states. Similarly, Beijing upping the ante in SCS part of its larger game plan—including ignoring the court’s decree—and its growing clout over the region has put ASEAN to the test. Should China’s military buildup and its attempts to rewrite the rule book including its yearning to have power over the sea lines of communication—through which about $5 trillion trade passes annually—increase, undoubtedly it will heightened far reaching implications for the region and worldwide. In this context, the big question is that how does the 10 member bloc going to balance their own strategic interests as well as the unity of the bloc when the SCS emerging as a potential flashpoint. Particularly, it is imperative to examine how ASEAN is going to behave and will it be able to defend its centrality and credibility. Unless ASEAN manages to finalize a fair code of conduct in the SCS with China, its continuity and legacy would be in the challenge even may risk losing its very raison d’etre.

Findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration: A Major Diplomatic Setback to China

ISSSP Reflections No. 47, July 14, 2016

Author: R.N. Ganesh

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25-nine-dashed-line-in-the-south-china-seaChina’s claims in the South China Sea are based on its “9-dash line”, which claims virtually the whole of the South China Sea. The 9-dash line is itself based on an ‘11-dash line” published by the Republic of China in 1947, (i.e., before the creation of the Peoples’ Republic of China), which has no valid historic, logical or legal basis. This claim predates the UNCLOS by several decades, and most of the countries of the SE Asian region were not even independent states at the time. China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea and has used military force to interfere with legitimate fishing and oil exploration activity by regional coastal states.  From 1970 the PRC reiterated its demands more aggressively when the Philippines began oil exploration off its coast. The Philippines began oil production in 1984, and today its offshore oil meets nearly 15% of its national requirement.

UNCLOS: Scope of Authority            

The UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, to which the parties to the disputes in the South China Sea are signatories, lays down the principles based on which the living and non-living resources of the sea bed may be exploited by coastal state. As modified by the lay of the continental shelf and various other factors, it prescribes a limit of 200 nautical miles (approximately 360 kms), as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the coastal state. The Scarborough Shoal, the Spratley islands and the Paracels lie well outside this limit from China. In any case, where the EEZs of two coastal states overlap, they have to be negotiated and agreed based on certain formulae.

The UNCLOS does not rule on issues of sovereignty or national or territorial borders. Rather, it prescribes methods for use of the sea and the exploitation of the resources in and under it, outside of national boundaries. It also lays down how the limits of the EEZ are to be defined and the use and limits for the exploitation of the Continental shelf by coastal states. An important law in the Convention is that rocks and features that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. This is an issue that is particularly relevant in the case of the South China Sea.

South China Sea Disputes & the Case of Philippines

Taiwan and the coastal states of the ASEAN have 9 different points of dispute concerning maritime boundaries. Of these 7 involve China, and at least 5 states are affected in all but 2 of the disputes with China. China is averse to multilateral discussions and insists on dealing with each state separately so that it can extract the most advantage.

In the absence of any progress of its efforts to resolve the problems with China and the economic loss caused by inability to exploit its rightful maritime resources, the Philippines took its case to Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in January 2013. The case dealt with 15 separate complaints about violations of international law by China in the South China Sea. Beijing responded by saying that it would not participate in any proceedings at The Hague, and that the PCA had no jurisdiction in the matter. The PCA undertook a detailed examination of China’s submission and in October last year it published its determination that the case fell within its jurisdiction. It accordingly proceeded with 7 of the 15 issues raised by the Philippines. These dealt with the following aspects:

  1. Role of historic rights
  2. Source of maritime entitlements
  3. Generation of maritime entitlements by certain maritime features
  4. Unlawful activities by China that were in violation of the Convention

Findings of the PCA               

  1. China’s Historic Rights: The Court ruled that the provision of comprehensive and exclusive rights by the UNCLOS had extinguished historic rights as they were incompatible with the concept of exclusive economic zones.
  2. Chinese Control over S. China Sea Waters: There was no historical evidence of Chinese control over the South China Sea waters or its resources
  3. Nine-Dash Line: There was no legal basis for claiming resources within the Nine-dash Line
  4. Maritime Features and Maritime Entitlements: The Court found that some reefs had been heavily modified by construction and land reclamation.  None of the features were capable of sustaining inhabitation in their natural state; therefore they could not have an EEZ, but only a 12-mile territorial limit.
  5. Within Philippine EEZ: As some areas were outside any possible entitlement of China, the Court could declare that these are within the the EEZ Philippine EEZ
  6. Unlawful Actions by China: The Court found that China had violated Philippines rights by interfering in with its fishing and oil exploration, constructing artificial islands, and allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines EEZ.  China had also caused great harm to the marine environment by destroying reefs and depleting endangered species such as sea turtles. The Court found that China’s actions were incompatible with the the obligations on a while dispute resolution proceedings were going on.

Implications of the Findings of the Court of Arbitration

China has clearly suffered a setback with the Court of Arbitration so explicitly declaring it a violator of the UNCLOS, and upholding Philippines position. It is quite evident that the dashed lines have no validity and that seems to knock the bottom out of China’s case.

This does not mean that China will resile from its present claims in the South China Sea. Its whole aim there is to acquire the rights to exploit sub-sea resources, particularly offshore oil, and its likely reaction can be predicted. It will harden its position, condemn the Arbitration proceedings and reject the findings (which it has already said it would do) and adopt a tougher and more belligerent posture in its dealings with the USA and the ASEAN, which is already dubious about long-term security support from the US. It may respond to its legal and diplomatic failure with military bravado. It may well become more hard-nosed in its dealings with India, for instance in the border issue and in trade.  Such a reaction will be of a kind with its method of international policy, such as its aggressive postures with Japan over the Senkaku islands, or the ordering of the ADIZ over East China.

The softening of the US towards China has in a sense contributed to matters reaching near-crisis.  America has been aware for more long about the construction and land reclamation in the South China Sea, but its response has been muted, as it is not ideally placed to demand adherence to the Arbitration Court’s findings, not having itself ratified the UNCLOS.

China’s long-term aspiration, however, is to gain status and assert its place at the global  “head table.” This it cannot do if it continues to behave like a maverick. It has to return to its professed policy of a “harmonious rise” This will only happen if the world community takes a firmer stand on its conforming to international agreements.


About the Author

Vice Admiral RN Ganesh (Retd.) has commanded a diesel submarine, a nuclear submarine and the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. His last appointment was as the Director General of the Indian nuclear submarine programme which he continued to head after retirement from active service till 2004. He is adjunct faculty, ISSSP, NIAS.

Workshop Report – Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications & Options for India

Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications and Options for India

Authors: M. Mayilvaganan, Aditi Malhotra, Sadhavi Chauhan, and Viswesh R

To read the complete report click here

Executive Summary

report coverBackground: China’s rise, unresolved maritime disputes in Asia Pacific, and the US pivot to Asia have led to the re-emergence of Asia- Pacific as a strategically important region. This new found focus has created a growing need to understand the regional dynamics in a more nuanced way. Given this backdrop, the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore has been engaged in a medium term project focusing on China. A primary objective of this project was to study the behaviour of regional countries in the face of a crisis in the Asia Pacific. As a part of this effort, ISSSP organised a workshop titled ‘Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications and Options for India’ on March 11, 2014.

Workshop Agenda & Methodology Validation: The agenda and the proceedings of the workshop were finalised through a number of stages. The first stage involved in-house discussions over potential trigger events that could spur a crisis in the Asia-Pacific. The second stage involved the identification of crisis events and possible scenarios along with the compilation of a database, which included relevant information of all the countries in the region. Finally, the agenda and programme for the workshop were decided upon through a validation exercise, held on August 20, 2013, which brought together area experts and scholars. The validation meetings concluded with a consensus on the trigger events that would facilitate the simulation exercise. It was also suggested that the workshop be preceded by a seminar where subject experts would reinforce the current baseline positions of the various countries of the region.

The Groups: The workshop was structured into five groups, keeping in mind the alliances and the major power blocks in the Asia-Pacific region. The first four groups comprised of China and its allies, US and its allies, ASEAN, and India. There was a fifth group, the Control, which included all the other countries, coordinated the events and documented the responses of the other four groups. The groups were made up of area experts hailing from the defence and diplomatic services, academics, and scholars.

Workshop Findings: The Workshop revealed the following strands of strategic thinking amongst the different groups:

The US

The workshop commenced with a baseline position wherein the US did not want to confront China but only deter it. However, the workshop exercise suggested that if the current tensions transform into a crisis that could escalate into a confrontation, the US will be willing to escalate the crisis and would not yield to Chinese threats.

  • The workshop revealed that the US maybe willing to reassert its dominance in the Asia-Pacific if needed; this was displayed by its assertive actions in the region.
  • As events progressed in the workshop, America’s stand transformed from deterrence to containment and eventually from containment to possible confrontation with China.
  • The responses also suggested that the US looks at the region as an integrated entity. Specifically, the US clubbed the East China and the South China Seas, and the Indian Ocean region as one domain, when dealing with China. Thereby, it hoped to invoke a multilateral response to the China threat. This was achieved by a strengthening of ties with its current regional allies (Japan, Korea), and seeking more allies in the South China Sea (Vietnam) and the Indian Ocean Region (India).
  • Although the US wanted India to be a part of its alliance, it was not willing to get involved in India’s bilateral issues with China.

China

  • Unlike the US, China did not view the Asia Pacific region as an integrated entity. Whether this was a conscious part of its strategy or whether it was an inherent flaw in the way they think remained unclear.
  • China’s treatment of regional and global issues seemed to reveal an absence of a clear link between them. Though Taiwan, the East China Sea and the South China Sea issues are all connected especially through geography, China chose to deal with them separately.
  • The divide and rule approach adopted by China was also revealed in its preferences for bilateral negotiations even though many of the maritime disputes in the region are multilateral ones.
  • China’s strengthening of its military and political partnerships with South Asian countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh were aimed to check India, which Beijing identified as a crucial US ally.
  • China’s responses highlighted its aspirations to attain parity with the US in a new bipolar world order, where it enjoys the same status and power that the erstwhile USSR commanded during the Cold War Era.

ASEAN

  • ASEAN’s responses to the events reflected the lack of unanimity amongst its member countries.
  • During crisis situations, ASEAN preferred to use diplomatic negotiations to defuse tensions.
  • The workshop reflected that ASEAN is interested in an enhanced US presence in the region that allows its members the luxury to trade with China, without the problem of political domination by China.
  • Though ASEAN seemed comfortable with the current power structure in the region, an unleashing of Japanese power seemed to have been a matter of grave concern to them. The group’s responses established that ASEAN was as concerned about Japan as it was about China. This is understandable since many of the member countries have been victims of Japanese aggression in the past.
  • Looking at the overall scenario, it can be inferred that ASEAN’s ability to respond in an affirmative manner remains restricted to diplomatic endeavours. Though individual members of ASEAN such as Vietnam or Cambodia could be important from the viewpoint of the US or China, the ASEAN collective did not seem to be a major force in a crisis escalation scenario in the region.

India

  • Throughout the crisis, India practiced strategic restraint and made conscious attempts to stay out of a China-US conflict.
  • India’s responses made it clear that it did not view crisis events in the South China Sea as important enough for it to take any actions.
  • The only time New Delhi contemplated military action was when its territorial interests were in peril.

Issues and Questions: The workshop raised a number of issues to be addressed in greater detail. These issues arise from the various assumptions that went into the formulation of the baseline positions, the trigger event for the crisis and other events that lead to crisis escalation.

  • Under what circumstances (that threaten its current dominant position) will the US move from a strategy of deterrence or containment of China towards a more aggressive posture of reasserting its dominance?
  • Is China’s current aggressive posture, which has transformed a number of neutral countries into potential adversaries, a part of a broader grand strategy? Or is it based on an ad hoc judgment of its interests by vested parties within the Chinese establishment?

As a corollary to the above, the following questions may also need more detailed investigation:

  • Do China’s actions in the region display a prioritisation of its interests? Would it help if China asserted its maritime territorial claims after it has resolved the Taiwan issue? By creating multiple adversaries in the Asia-Pacific, is China creating problems for itself?
  • Is the US approach of looking at the region as an integrated whole the right way to look at the problem?
  • Why does China continue to breach the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even though it is a signatory to it? Is there some well thought component of a Chinese grand strategy behind some of its overtly irrational and inconsistent behaviour in the region?
  • Under what conditions will India play a more proactive role in an Asia-Pacific crisis?

For the Indian strategic community, there is an undoubted need to gain a deeper understanding of the evolving regional dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, as a result of China’s rise. ISSSP intends to conduct a series of workshops on this theme in the coming years. Future workshops would incorporate more countries and participants, in order to make the events, scenarios and proceedings more realistic and relevant.

Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications and Options for India

Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications and Options for India

Authors: M. Mayilvaganan, Aditi Malhotra, Viswesh R., and Sadhavi Chauhan

To read the complete report click here

Executive Summary

seminar coverIn the emerging geopolitical discourse today, the Asia-Pacific region has emerged as a major centre of geostrategic interest. Accompanying this change in perception is a change in scope, with strategists not just considering the typical Indian Ocean, but also the western, and sometimes even central Pacific Ocean. The Asia-Pacific ranges from East Africa to the western and central Pacific, including Japan and Australia. Asia-Pacific concept reflected a new reality shaped by the rise of China and India, a revitalized Japan, along with the continued primacy of the United States and also signifies the accelerating economic and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean thus creating a single strategic system.

Based on the proceedings of the seminar, the following inferences on the behaviour and strategies of the major players in the Asia Pacific Region can be made.

China
  • China’s economic performance and its military modernization have made it a major power in the Asia Pacific Region.
  • Though there is a great deal of economic inter-dependence between China and the US, there is great trust deficit that spills over into the strategic and military domains. This has created a new Cold War type situation between the two countries.
  • There was agreement among the participants that China is behaving in an increasingly assertive and aggressive way with its neighbours in the region. This assertive behaviour is particularly prominent in the East and South China seas. This behaviour was directed not only at US allies but also at other countries in the region.
  • China’s aggressive behaviour seems to have the full support of the Party and the PLA. The PLA remains under the firm control of the Party. Participants felt that this assertive behaviour would continue.
  • China’s relations with prominent US allies such as Japan and Philippines have become significantly worse following a string of maritime incidents. Other countries such as Vietnam have also been subject to Chinese harassment.
  • China’s behaviour towards the ASEAN group of countries also suggests that it thinks it has a dominant power position.
  • There seems to be a gap between Chinese local bullying behaviour and the overall strategy that seems to advocate a more reasoned rise.
  • Participants described this variously as “psychological flux”, “muscular leadership” and “no clear sense of direction”.

The seminar proceedings raised a number of questions related to the motives behind China’s behaviour. Some questions are as follows:

  • Is China’s increased belligerence based on the premise that US power is on the decline and that it can now match the US at least in the region?
  • With the presence of “US pivot” and the notion of “Air Sea Battle,” does China believes that it has in place a strategy to deter the US from intervening in the region? or
  • Is the increasing assertiveness based on the belief that the US wants to deter China from bullying its neighbours but will not move towards containing China?
  • By implication does this mean that China does not take the “US pivot” and the “Air Sea Battle” as a hindrance to or a constraint on its actions? or
  • Is the Chinese behaviour a consequence of a gap between the local and global strategies or between the tactical and the strategic? What are or what could be the reasons for this gap? Or
  • Is China’s assertiveness a part of a well thought out integrated approach towards the eventual re-establishment of China’s dominant position in the region?
  • Though some participants raised the question of a new world order with China and the US as dominant power centres, the issue did not emerge as a major point deserving serious consideration.
United States

According to the seminar participants the recent US pivot to Asia Pacific region could be interpreted in many ways.

  • It can be seen as a move away from a dominant or hegemonic position towards a rebalancing position.
  • It can also be seen as a US response to contain a rising China. Many participants mentioned that this was the position that the Chinese were taking in response to the “US pivot” and the concept of “Air Sea Battle”.
  • There seemed to be a broad acceptance amongst the participants that the US actions were not aimed at containing China but rather directed towards deterring China’s bullying tactics.
  • The view that the US sees India as an important ally in its rebalancing strategy also seemed to find acceptance.
  • When the sessions on China and the US are viewed together, the seminar proceedings seemed to suggest ambiguities in both Chinese and American perceptions regarding each other’s motives and intentions in the Asia Pacific area. These grey areas could sow the seeds for future conflicts in the region.
Russia
  • Russia would like to remain relevant as a major power centre in the region. The mature status of the European markets for oil and gas, and the growth prospects for them in the Asia Pacific region (especially in China) will force Russia to look eastwards rather than westwards. If China’s response is positive especially in terms of economic investment in Russia’s eastern regions, Russia may not have any problems in sharing power with China, as a part of the new political order in the region.
  • Developments in Ukraine and their consequences will also move Russia closer towards China to counter the moves from NATO and the western alliance. A Sino-Russian alliance of sorts could well happen soon.
  • Japan
  • The seminar proceedings suggest that Japan is seriously worried about the rise of China and its increasing aggressive behaviour towards it. It is also worried about China’s power and influence over a nuclear and missile capable North Korea that can be used to threaten and coerce Japan.
  • Japan has responded to these developments by strengthening its alliance with the US. As a part of this alliance it will once again allow US bases to operate out of Japan.
  • It is also improving its defence capabilities and if the constitution can be amended it is signalling the setting up of a self-defence force for the country.
  • By signing security pacts with Australia and India it has also indicated its intentions to form alliances with other like-minded countries to counter China’s aggressive behaviour.
ASEAN Countries

The ASEAN as a collective body is divided on how it should deal with China’s increasing assertiveness. Some fall clearly within the Chinese camp while others fall within the US camp and many others would like to remain neutral.

  • Most of the approaches adopted by them to build integrated security architecture with all the major players in the region such as the EAS have not delivered any great results so far.
  • As a consequence, countries are pursuing their own approaches when dealing with this situation.
  • Cambodia and Laos appear to be closely linked to China.
  • Indonesia, the largest country of the ASEAN is trying to remain neutral by providing space to China but also seems to be worried about Chinese actions in waters close to it. It is looking new ways and means in dealing with these problems.
  • Malaysia like Indonesia originally favoured a security architecture that recognized China’s major role but after the spate of maritime incidents, it has moved along with the Philippines towards a multilateral code of conduct approach with the involvement of countries like the US and Japan.
  • Singapore and Thailand are trying to work out arrangements which would favour the continuity of trade with China but also enable them to be linked to a security umbrella under the US.
  • South Korea appears to be moving closer to China both in terms of trade and also because it believes that China can control North Korea. However, in case a major conflict breaks out, it might still look to the US to guarantee security.
  • Given this large variation in interests, it appears unlikely that a grand alliance against China can materialize, even under US leadership. However new security arrangements between countries with similar interests that may include other major powers are already beginning to emerge. This may be the trend for the next few years.
India
  • India does not have a clearly articulated strategy for dealing with developments in the Asia Pacific region including the rise of China. The articulation of such a strategy that includes both hard and soft power components came out as the top Indian priority.
  • Though Indian and US interests are increasingly aligned against China in many ways, India should not become a formal part of the US rebalance strategy. India should also make sure that it has the capabilities to deal with any problems with China on its own without having to depend on other countries.
  • India should continue to actively engage with China in all areas while continuing to be watchful about Chinese actions and intentions.
  • India needs to be proactive in its approach to the region especially with regard to the maritime domain. It must exploit emerging opportunities to send strong signals to all players, that it will preserve and protect its strategic interests. The absence of a clear ‘Look East’ strategy is currently hampering such efforts.
  • In spite of the many problems within ASEAN, India should continue to engage actively and constructively with it.
  • Apart from strengthening bilateral ties with countries like Russia India also needs to look at trilateral agreements with the countries to strengthen its strategic position.

 

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