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Anti-Chinese Protests Shake China-Vietnam Relations

China's oil rig, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, sits 120 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coastline.  Photo: Xinhua.

China’s oil rig, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, sits 120 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coastline. Photo: Xinhua.

Following the deployment by China of an oil rig in disputed waters between China and Vietnam, anti-Chinese riots have swept Vietnam, bringing Chinese-Vietnamese relations to their lowest level in recent years.

The demonstrations started shortly after China moved an oil rig, referred to as Haiyang Shiyou 981, within 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam. This position is also 17 nautical miles off of the disputed Paracel Islands.

The Paracel Islands lie at the heart of the controversy over the oil rig. The Paracel Islands are a group of small islands in the middle of the South China Sea with no native population. Both Vietnam and China place historical territorial claims to the islands. Prior to 1974, the islands were controlled by the navies of China and South Vietnam. Following a naval battle in 1974, China took the whole group of islands from South Vietnam.  Following the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam renewed its claim to the Parcels, and the dispute has continued ever since.

The dispute over the oil rig and the Paracels also ties into different interpretations by Vietnam and China over the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which both Vietnam and China are signatories. Vietnam claims that the oil rig falls within the 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) granted to it by UNCLOS, and thus violates Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty along with UNCLOS. China claims that it falls within its territorial waters that are adjacent to the Paracel Islands it controls.


Regardless of the validity of each of the two country’s legal claims, one thing clear through all of these murky interpretations of international law is that the placement of the oil rig has raised significant anger on the Vietnamese side. Vietnam has declared that it will “apply all necessary and suitable measures to defend its rights and legitimate interests.” At the 24th ASEAN Summit in Burma, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung declared that China’s placement of the rig was “brazen”, “ gravely violates the international law”, and that China’s action was “dangerous”.

In response, the Chinese side has been equally provocative. The state-run newspaper Global Times backed “non-peaceful” measures against Vietnam and the Phillipines, said that Vietnam should get a “lesson it deserves to get”, and declared that “many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China’s sincerely peaceful intentions”. Meanwhile, the chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Fang Fenghui, declared at a press conference that it was actually the Vietnamese who were being provocative, that the Paracels were “”border territory which has passed down from our ancestors into the hands of our generation – we cannot afford to lose an inch”, ending with “We do not make trouble. We do not create trouble. But we are not afraid of trouble.”

The situation around the rig has only gotten worse since it has been deployed, with both sides claiming the other side has rammed its ships and used water cannons, while the Chinese have deployed ships to protect the rig, and have accused the Vietnamese of erecting barricades and fishing nets around the rig in order to impede the rig.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground on Vietnam has become violent. Anti-Chinese protests have erupted all across Vietnam in response to China’s actions, and the protestors have targeted foreign factories believed to be Chinese, but have also turned out to be Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian or South Korean. More than 400 factories were damaged by the mobs. The casualties resulting from the protests are still unclear with the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirming that two Chinese nationals had been killed, while other sources said that 21 people had been killed. Over 100 are believed injured. China has charted planes and ships in order to evacuate 3000 Chinese nationals in Vietnam.

Photo: Kham/Reuters

Photo: Kham/Reuters

At the time of this writing, it seems that the protests have mostly calmed with over 1400 protestors having been arrested, and Vietnam having deployed massive numbers of security forces throughout the country. However, what’s clear is that the formerly cordial relations between the two states have been seriously damaged, with China’s Foreign Ministry declaring that the violent protests had “undermined the atmosphere and conditions for exchanges and cooperation between China and Vietnam” and that the Chinese side was suspending diplomatic contacts, along with issuing a warning against travel to Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Prime Minister sent out a mass text message warning people not to participate in the protests, but at the same time calling for Vietnamese to “to boost their patriotism to defend the fatherland’s sacred sovereignty with actions in line with the law”. As Vietnam continues to deal with China, the Vietnamese government will likely remember the consequences if it is seen as being soft on China by the Vietnamese populace. And unless China moves the rig, China has likely just given the US further reason to justify its pivot to Asia.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Energy, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, Regional Relations, SLIDER, South China Seas, Vietnam

China Sea Territory Disputes (source: Money Morning, NPR, google news)


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The 3rd Annual ICIRD Conference, Part I

With the ASEAN Economic Community set to launch in 2015, it’s not surprising to see a heightened level of uncertainty, concern, and even apprehension about what this enhanced sphere of regional integration will mean for Southeast Asian nations.

Holding this backdrop firmly in mind, the 3rd Annual International Conference on International Relations and Development (ICIRD) recently commenced at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, on August 22-23, 2013. This year’s timely theme, “Beyond Borders: Building a Regional Commons in SE Asia,” showcased established voices, civil society organizations, and a new generation of scholars rising to the challenges of this historical moment. Over forty panels traversed diverse but interrelated topics from environmental justice and human rights, to sustainable economic growth.

While few would deny the problems of development in Asia as they have manifested so far (e.g., environmental degradation, growing income disparity, and resettlement), finding a consensus on a way forward proves much more difficult. As Dr. Siriporn Wajjwalku (Assoc. Prof., Thammasat University) noted with some urgency in the opening remarks, “2015 for us in the region is approaching… It’s extremely important for us to think about the commons and go beyond the borders that we are facing now.”

Dialogue and discussion are a good place to start. Thus Dr. Carl Middleton (Lect., Chulalongkorn University), a member of the ICIRD Executive Committee that organized the event, proclaimed the conference “a success in that there was plenty of sharing of knowledge, experience and ideas amongst the participants, and a wide range of examples of the commons and how they support peoples well-being and create public space were discussed.” Continue reading

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Taiwan: The most important R.O.C. in the South China Sea

Events over the last couple weeks have re-drawn attention, rightfully, to an oft-overlooked player in the South China Sea disputes, Taiwan (aka. Republic of China). SCS analyses often dismiss Taiwan’s claims as a marginal issue and is only mentioned in the context of mainland China’s claims, however as the most recent incidents with the Philippines demonstrate, Taiwan’s strategic importance to the South China Sea (and East China Sea) is actually woven into the very core of disputes.

Fishermen Wars

On May 9, a 65 year old Taiwanese fishermen named Hung Shih-cheng was shot and killed by the Philippine Coast Guard in a standoff. The PH Coast Guard claims that they shot at Mr. Hung’s vessel  to disable the engine as a self-defense mechanism because the fishing boat was attempting to ram-and-run. Eye-witness accounts through Taiwanese media however, report that the boat was struck by 30-40 bullets, which seems excessive. Mr. Hung was unarmed, accompanied on the boat by his son and two other sailors.

On May 10th, the news broke and Philippine officials acknowledged the incident and indicated investigations have began. Coast guard commander Rodolfo Diwata Isorena indicated that the 11 officers involved have been suspended from duty. On May 12, with tensions running high on both sides, Taiwan issued a 72 hour ultimatum to the Philippine authorities, demanding formal apology from the President, appropriate reparations to the fishermen’s family, and extradition of perpetrators to Taiwan for investigation to ensure “justice”. On May 15th, just minutes before the deadline, the Philippines announced that it would send its representative to Taiwan to apologize but that no extradition will occur and was unclear with regards to reparations. Taiwan subsequently rejected this apology declaring it insincere and insufficient. It announced a series of retaliatory actions, including withdrawing its diplomatic representative, conducting elevated sea patrols, and sanctions on work permits for the nearly 87,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan. The last action would prove to be costly to the Philippines which sends over a million workers overseas each year and is heavily reliant on remittances.

On May 17, Taiwan carried through with its threat to conduct joint Naval – Coast Guard drills in the SCS, the first time ever crossing the 20* latitude “temporary enforcement line” since the Taiwanese government established it in 2003. Taiwan indicated that these drills, along with heightened patrols (increase of 1-2 ships to 3-4 ships) are not a one-off occurance but will continue indefinitely, in order to ensure the safety of its fishermen. Continue reading

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A Primer to the Philippines’ South China Sea Arbitration Challenge to China

Earlier in January this year, the Philippines submitted a unilateral challenge to China on certain key aspects of their ongoing dispute in South China Sea (SCS) maritime delimitations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). This challenge will take the form of an arbitration case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS). To the uninitiated, this move is intriguing but unclear as to its real-world implications for international maritime law or the future of SCS geopolitics. The following primer attempts to translate the dense jargon of maritime law, distill the meanings behind subtle diplomatic language of Claimant States, and untangle the intricate web of geopolitical maneuvering to provide a clearer, layman picture of this case and its implications for the SCS disputes.

Why the arbitration case?

The ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China has been simmering for many years. Ever since a joint exploration agreement (along with Vietnam) to conduct seismic review of potential hydrocarbons in the SCS region collapsed in 2007, the tone and intensity of SCS disputes have escalated.  The situation came to a head when in early 2012, Chinese Coast Guard ships came into confrontation with a Philippine naval ship over harassment of fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, a formation in the Spratlys (南沙in Chinese). The Scarborough Shoal standoff did not end well for the Philippines as China has now established an ongoing blockade of the shoal. (More discussion of this standoff and its implications to follow in a later article) In response, the Philippines moved for ASEAN to issue a unified statement to China censoring it for its actions in the South China Sea. However, other ASEAN members proved reluctant to do so for many reasons. (More discussion of this will come in a later article) Suffice it to say, by Fall 2012, the Philippines began actively exploring other options to pursue its dispute with China.

What is happening?

To the layman observer of SCS disputes, the Philippines’ move to challenge China by arbitration may have been surprising. After all, it’s generally understood that China studiedly avoids multilateral engagement on SCS disputes and/or 3rd party mediation, insisting that the SCS disputes are a regional issue that should be addressed on a bilateral basis. Questions regarding this case include:

  • Can the Philippines unilaterally bring China to arbitration? And if so, does China have to engage?
  • Regardless of China’s engagement, does the ITLOS have jurisdiction to rule on the challenges?
  • What are the points the Philippines is challenging?
  • Even if ITLOS has jurisdiction to rule on certain aspects of challenges put forth, what are the actual implications for SCS disputes?

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Filed under ASEAN, China, Energy, Foreign policy, Philippines, Regional Relations, Uncategorized, water