China flexes muscles to assert control over the South China Sea
Vietnam disputes claims - backed by Beijing's modern navy - on oil, gas reserves
By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver SunJuly 3, 2012
Well.. What can we expect from Caucasians anyhow, others than their "anything to crap the Chinese whitey-mentilty" that is... Seriously, I'd be super duper surprised if "any Caucasoid percepion" would have us Chinese in their favorable listings anyhow, unless, of course, we allow ourselves to drop to the same [obedient, petish, and no talking/biting back] level as that of the Yoshihiko Noda boys, the Benigno Aquino boys, the Lee Myung-Bak boy's. Or, to that of "the Giap boys" and the "Sigh boys too" which are willing and enthusiastic exploits to be employed as a weapon against us Chinese!
China has moved to assert administrative control over almost the entire South China Sea in the last two weeks, a thrust that heightens the risk of conflict with neighbours who dispute Beijing's territorial claims.
In swift succession Chinese authorities have sought to establish a legal framework for their claim, which extends to Indonesian waters over 1,200 kilometres from the nearest undisputed Chinese landfall, and to threaten its neighbours if they continue to defy Beijing's claimed sovereignty over the sea.
The long-running dispute has intensified in recent years as China has invested heavily in building a modern navy capable of regional power projection and exploration reveals the South China Sea covers substantial reserves of oil and gas.
Estimates of the oil reserves range from 28 billion barrels of oil right up to 213 billion barrels, and predictions of the amount of natural gas start at 16 trillion cubic metres.
Beijing claims its sailors discovered and established sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly clusters of islands, islets and shoals hundreds of years ago. Therefore, runs the Chinese argument, most of the South China Sea falls within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones around these features established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the 1980s.
This claim is vigorously disputed by the sea's littoral states, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
But recent confrontations have been focused on the Philippines - where a standoff between Chinese vessels and Philippine coast guards has been underway since April - and Vietnam.
What appears to have set off the latest round of assertiveness by China was the passage on June 21 by Vietnam's National Assembly of a law setting out Hanoi's claims to some of the Spratly and Paracel islands.
China's parliament, the National People's Congress, immediately issued a statement saying the Vietnamese move "is a serious violation of Chinese territorial sovereignty and is illegal and invalid."
To underline the point, the same day China's Foreign Ministry announced it is establishing a city-ranked municipal administration covering the Paracel and Spratly island chains. The so-called "Sansha City" will have its seat of government on Woody island in the Paracels, an area China took from Vietnam in 1974.
Then, a week ago, the China National Offshore Oil Co. (CNOOC) announced nine new blocks in the South China Sea are open for oil companies to bid for exploration and development rights. But unlike blocks offered by CNOOC in 2010 and last year, which were in undisputed Chinese waters, these blocks cover 160 square kilometres in the centre of the South China Sea. The western edges of some of the blocks reach to less than 80 nautical miles off the Vietnamese coast, well within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Indeed, several of the blocks intrude on areas where PetroVietnam and foreign oil companies are already exploring.
Hanoi reacted angrily to the Chinese move and warned, "The Vietnamese government will not allow any implementation of these exploration activities" by Chinese-contracted companies.
This exchange took the wind out of any hopes that Chinese vice foreign minister Cheng Guoping, who was in Hanoi at the time of the CNOOC announcement, would be able to move forward with talks with counterparts from the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on developing a code of conduct for rival claimants in the South China Sea.
Nor does this confrontation bode well for the meeting in a few days of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which focuses on security issues in Asia.
China's defence minis-try added more spice to the stew last Thursday when it announced that it has begun "combat ready" patrols in waters around the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.
Until now China has used unarmed or lightly armed vessels from its Coast Guard, Maritime Safety Administration, Fisheries Law Enforcement Command or China Marine Surveillance in confrontations with its neighbours.
But a spokesman for the ministry said China would "resolutely oppose any militarily provocative behaviour" by neighbouring states.
"In order to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests, the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control," the spokesman said.
A hint of how extensive China believes it can reach to assert its claims came the same day when Beijing warned the Philippines against opening a public school in Kalayaan, an eight-island chain in the Spratly group.
Since the 1970s, about 200 Filipinos have lived on the islands where they have built a town hall, a health centre, an airstrip and a naval station.
But Beijing warned Manila against indulging in any "illegal activities" like building the school and said it should "refrain from taking any measures that will complicate and exacerbate the current situation and affect peace and stability in the South China Sea."