Tuesday, May 13, 2014

China playing hardball with Vietnam ( Philippines too ) ? With the additional deployment of a submarine and a missile ship, there are now 86 Chinese vessels accompanying the oil rig's installation in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Local news reports that 3 Chinese military ships are surrounding a Vietnamese marine police vessel this morning and water cannon use continues against Vietnamese ships ..... While Russia engages the US and EU with Ukraine , China pretty much doing what it wants in Vietnamese waters !

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-05-13/china-deploys-submarine-near-vietnam-oil-rig-86-vessels-now-present


China Deploys Submarine Near Vietnam Oil Rig, 86 Vessels Now Present

Tyler Durden's picture





With the additional deployment of a submarine and a missile ship, there are now 86 Chinese vessels accompanying the oil rig's installation in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Local news reports that 3 Chinese military ships are surrounding a Vietnamese marine police vessel this morning and water cannon use continues against Vietnamese ships. We addressed the who, what, where, when and how of China’s HD-981 oil rig foray into Vietnamese waters here but, as we discuss below, the enduring question, as with many of China’s recently provocative actions in the Asia-Pacific, remains why?
Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters?
Why now and why Vietnam?
The enduring question, as with many of China’s provocative actions in the Asia-Pacific, remains why? The opacity of China’s internal decision-making processes makes it rather difficult to conclusively answer that question, but a good amount of evidence suggests that the oil rig crisis with Vietnam was manufactured to test the mettle of ASEAN states and the United States. It gives Beijing an opportunity to gauge the international response to China asserting its maritime territorial claims.
As Carl Thayer points out on this blog and M. Taylor Fravel said in an interview with The New York Times, the China National Offshore Oil Company’s decision to move oil rig HD-981 was a premeditated move of territorial assertion. CNOOC may be a state-owned enterprise but the decision to move this $1 billion asset into an area with questionable hydrocarbon reserves while also inciting a diplomatic crisis speaks to the planned, political nature of this move. The fact that approximately 80 PLAN and Chinese coast guard ships accompanied the rig reinforces the notion that China was making a strategic push to assert its territorial claims in the region.
The question of why China chose to escalate with Vietnam specifically is perhaps slightly easier to answer.Several analysts have already noted that China caught the world off-guard by choosing to escalate its territorial dispute with Vietnam given that relations between the two countries were improving as recently as fall 2013. Additionally, a certain degree of camaraderie exists between the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). For China to suddenly risk a relatively stable bilateral relationship through an underlying rivalry seemed brazen and irresponsible.
On the contrary, if China had to push any dispute in the South China Sea to test the mettle of the United States and ASEAN, Vietnam was perhaps the most fitting candidate. As Tuong Vu told the New York Times, a political debate exists within Vietnam about whether the country should remain close to China or pursue closer relations with the west, with the former faction wielding considerably more influence. With this in mind, China gambled with a good degree of confidence that despite the oil rig provocation, Vietnam would respond with rhetoric and restraint — not force.
To this end, only Chinese coast guard vessels rammed Vietnamese ships and hit them with water cannons — the PLAN remained in a support function, ensuring that whatever kinetic coercion was used was not explicitly originating from a military vessel (although Vietnam did not entirely buy this interpretation). Furthermore, before China can begin trying its luck with U.S. allies in the region, such the Philippines, which recently signed a ten-year defense facility sharing deal with the United States, it must see if the United States is willing to defend its self-stated interests in the region.
Whereas with the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan the United States is treaty-bound to take action, in the case of other disputes in the South China Sea, particularly the Paracel Islands dispute between Vietnam and China, all the United States has to do is demonstrate that it is willing to stand up for the interests it has identified in the past, including freedom of navigation, the peaceful resolution of all conflicts, and the non-use of coercion and intimidation in disputes. With HD-981, China has challenged the United States on all three. Additionally, given ExxonMobil’s interests in the waters, HD-981 is also impeding U.S. commercial interests in the region. So far, the United States’ response — a statement calling China’s behavior “provocative” — is insufficiently costly to China to deter such behavior in the future.
Finally, China timed this coercive move as U.S. President Barack Obama left Asia and just prior to the meeting of ASEAN Heads of Government/State in Naypyidaw, Myanmar this past weekend.In doing so, China was taking a risk: the move would doubtless draw massive international attention and condemnation. However, as the ASEAN Summit statement demonstrates, China still has an assurance that regional leaders are insufficiently united to put forth a joint front against Chinese coercion in the South China Sea. While it is significant that ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a separate statement, the “internationalization” of disputes that China dreads has not yet come to pass (and likely will not anytime soon).
Similarly, as the United States grows old, weary and underfunded as the global policeman, this oil rig debacle sits in the same category of global crises as Syria and Ukraine — just without the same sort of political urgency. By avoiding a U.S. treaty ally or major partner, China seeks to paint the U.S. as unable to assert its interests in the region. A negative consequence of this is that other states engaged in territorial disputes with China will seek to unilaterally militarize to offset their reliance on U.S. security guarantees, potentially creating a headache for China later in the future.
The decision to move oil rig HD-981 into disputed waters matches China’s decision to impose an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in terms of signaling China’s appetite to unilaterally pursue its maritime territorial claims. China has said that the oil rig will remain in these waters until August this year. What ultimately sets this episode apart from any other is that it is the first time China has placed an asset this expensive within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of another state. And Vietnam isn’t a pushover of a state either — it has a more-than-modest maritime capacity that could result in an armed altercation with China. Overall, in the past six months, we’ve seen China more assertive than ever in pursuing its claims and, for the moment, it is succeeding.



http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-05-12/chinas-oil-rig-gambit-south-china-sea-game-changer



China's Oil Rig Gambit: South China Sea Game-Changer?

Tyler Durden's picture





Submitted by Carl Thayer via The Diplomat,
China’s placement of the giant state-owned oil rig HD-981 in Block 143 inside Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on May 2 was unexpected, provocative and illegal.
This incident marks the first time China has placed one of its oil rigs in the EEZ of another state without prior permission. This was an unexpected move because China-Vietnam relations have been on an upward trajectory since the visit to Hanoi by Premier Li Keqiang in October. At that time, both sides indicated they had reached agreement to carry forward discussions on maritime issues. China’s move was also unexpected because Vietnam has not undertaken any discernible provocative action that would justify China’s unprecedented actions.
China’s deployment of the rig was provocative because the oil rig was accompanied by as many as 80 ships, including seven People’s Liberation Army Navy warships. When Vietnam dispatched Coast Guard vessels to defend its sovereign jurisdiction, China responded by ordering its ships to use water cannons and to deliberately ram the Vietnamese vessels. These actions were not only highly dangerous, but caused injuries to the Vietnamese crew.
China’s actions are illegal under international law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying justified China’s actions by claiming the rig’s operations were in Chinese “territorial waters” and had nothing to do with Vietnam. In other words, China has adopted a position similar to Japan with regard to the Senkaku Islands by declaring there is no dispute with Vietnam.
China has placed itself in an inconsistent position. China has been provocative in using paramilitary ships and aircraft to challenge Japan’s assertion of administrative control over the Senkakus. China seeks to get Tokyo to admit that the Senkaku Islands are disputed. Yet Beijing has adopted Japan’s stance with respect to Block 143 by refusing to acknowledge that there is a legal dispute between China and Vietnam.
Chinese spokesperson  Hua Chunying only presented a general statement, not a detailed legal argument in support of China’s actions. Her claim that the oil rig is in Chinese “territorial waters” lacks any foundation because there is no Chinese land feature within twelve nautical miles of Block 143 on which to base this assertion. Chinese statements refer to the Paracel Islands – and not Hainan Island – as the basis for its claim.
China’s lack of clarity has led academic specialists and regional analysts to speculate about the possible legal basis of China’s claim. In 1996 China issued baselines around the Paracel Islands, including Triton Island. Specialists argue that China’s claim could be based on the proximity of Triton, and its entitlement to a continental shelf and EEZ.
Other specialists point out that the 1996 baselines do not conform to Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and cannot be used to advance a legal claim over Block 143.
If the former line of argument is accepted, China’s hypothetical EEZ would overlap with the EEZ promulgated by Vietnam. This would constitute a legal dispute. International law requires the two parties to enter into provisional arrangement, refrain from the use of force or the threat of force, and take no action to upset the status quo. Clearly China’s placement of the oil rig and its 80 escorts in Block 143 constitutes a violation of international law.
Analysts are divided on the motivations and objectives of China’s current bout of aggressiveness. Three main interpretations have been put forth.
The first interpretation views the placement of the HD-981 rig in Block 143 as the inevitable response by China to Vietnam’s promulgation of the Law of the Sea in mid-2012. Prior to the adoption of this law by Vietnam’s National Assembly, China unsuccessfully brought intense diplomatic pressure on Hanoi not to proceed. Immediately after the law was adopted, the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) issued a tender for blocks in the South China Sea that overlapped with blocks issued by Vietnam within its EEZ.
According to this interpretation, the current controversy is the result of a decision by CNOOC to follow through and begin exploring these blocks. In CNOOC’s view, Block 143 fell within Chinese jurisdiction. In China’s view, commercial exploration activities in Block 143 would undercut Vietnam’s claims to sovereign jurisdiction.
The first interpretation is questionable given the sheer size and composition of the fleet of 80 ships and vessels that accompanied the oil rig. This was clearly no ordinary commercial venture but a pre-emptive move to prevent Vietnam from defending its EEZ.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing also report that CNOOC officials revealed they were ordered to place the rig in Block 143 despite their misgivings on commercial grounds. CNOOC officials pointed to the costs of keeping the rig on station until mid-August when oil exploration is scheduled to cease. Other observers point out that the prospects of finding commercial reserves of oil and gas in this area are quite low.
A second interpretation posits that China’s actions were in response to the operations by ExxonMobil in nearby blocks..
This interpretation seems unlikely. ExxonMobil has been operating in Block 119 from 2011. While China protested the award of an oil exploration contract to ExxonMobil, China has not stepped up its objections in recent months. It is also unclear how the placement of a Chinese oil rig in Block 143 would deter ExxonMobil from operating elsewhere.
Finally, China’s actions appear to be disproportional and very likely counterproductive. Block 143 does not directly affect U.S. interests. Chinese interference with ExxonMobil would be a direct challenge to the Obama administration’s statement that U.S. national interests included “unimpeded lawful commerce.”
The third interpretation, first publicized by The Nelson Report (May 6, 2014), argues that China’s actions were pre-planned in response to President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. During his visit, President Obama publicly opposed the settlement of territorial disputes by intimidation and coercion.
China was angered by the Obama administration’s prior criticism of China’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea and U.S. support for the Philippines’ decision to request international arbitration to settle its territorial dispute with China. In addition, China was outraged by President Obama’s public declaration of support of Japan and its administration of the Senkaku islands as well as President Obama’s declaration that U.S. alliance commitment to the Philippines were ironclad.
In sum, the third interpretation argues that China chose to directly confront the main premises of the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia. China chose to expose the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and U.S. capability to respond to China’s assertion of its sovereignty claims.
Some analysts who support the third interpretation argue that China has taken heart from President Obama’s inability to respond effectively to the crises in Syria and the Ukraine. Therefore China manufactured the oil rig crisis to demonstrate to regional states that the United States is a “paper tiger.”
The third interpretation has plausibility.But it begs the question of why Vietnam was the focus for this crisis. Also, China’s actions could prove counter-productive, coming on the eve of a summit meeting in Myanmar of the heads of government of the ten states comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
On March 18, China and ASEAN held the tenth joint working group meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Singapore. This was followed up by the seventh ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Meeting on the Implementation of the DOC in Pattaya, Thailand on April 21. While progress has been slow, there were some encouraging signs that confidence building projects under the DOC might be developed. As one ASEAN diplomat put it to the author, “the journey [consultations with China] is more important than the destination [achieving a binding COC].”
China’s deployment of the oil rig and accompanying fleet ensured that the South China Sea would be a hot button issue at the ASEAN Summit. ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a stand alone statement on May 10 expressing “their serious concerns over the on-gong developments in the South China Sea, which increased tensions in the area.” It is significant that a separate statement was issued on the South China Sea. This statement implicitly expresses support for Vietnam and lays the foundation for a similar statement by ASEAN heads of government/state.
The Foreign Ministers’ statement did not specifically mention China by name but it reiterated ASEAN standard policy on the South China Sea. The statement urged the parties concerned to act in accord with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to exercise self-restraint, avoid actions that could undermine peace and stability, and to resolve disputes by peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement called on all parties to fully and effectively implement the DOC. The Statement also called for the need for “expeditiously working towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement did not mention China by name in deference to Beijing. But the Statement may be read as a shift in the views by individual members of ASEAN that territorial disputes involving the Paracel Islands and its surrounding waters are a bilateral matter between China and Vietnam.
An endorsement of the Statement by the Foreign Ministers on the South China Sea by the ASEAN Summit will provide political and diplomatic cover for the United States and other maritime nations to express their concern.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already come out in public in support of Vietnam. The U.S. State Department issued a statement characterizing Chinese actions “provocative.” More importantly, Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel just visited Vietnam on a scheduled trip. He will be able to take his first-hand assessment back to Washington to shape the Obama Administration’s response.
Beneath the ASEAN diplomatic surface, however, China’s actions are likely to stoke anxieties already held by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. These states will seek to shore up their own maritime capabilities and to seek reassurance of support from the United States and other maritime powers such as Japan, Australia, and India.
Vietnam has reiterated its determination to respond to Chinese tactics of ramming its vessels. The current stand-off between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the waters around the CNOOC oil rig therefore holds the potential for an accident, a miscalculation, or the use of deadly force.
It is more likely that China and Vietnam will manage this affair by preventing matters from escalating to the extent that armed force is used. As of May 2, China and Vietnam have held six face-to-face diplomatic meetings in Beijing and three meetings in Hanoi between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese Embassy officials.
Vietnam has requested that China receive a high-level special envoy. Diplomatic rumor has it that the special envoy will be a member of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) Politburo. Vietnam has resorted to sending special envoys to Beijing on two occasions in recent years and both visits resulted in a lowering of tension.
On May 8, the VCP Central Committee opened a long-planned executive session. This will provide Vietnam’s leaders with an opportunity to review the current crisis and to work out an effective political and diplomatic strategy to deal with China. Consensus on this issue will give the special envoy authority to speak on behalf of the Hanoi leadership.
When China first announced the deployment of its oil rig, it stated that its operations would terminate on August 15. This provides plenty of time for both sides to orchestrate and manage the confrontation in Block 143 and provide a face saving means for ending the confrontation.





http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/CHIN-01-090514.html


China blames Vietnam for oil-rig collisions
By Radio Free Asia 

China tossed blame back at Vietnam on Thursday over collisions of their ships around a giant oil rig deployed by Beijing in contested waters in the South China Sea as activists in Vietnam called for protests against the northern neighbor amid spiraling tensions. 

Countering Hanoi's accusations that Chinese vessels hadintentionally rammed Vietnamese coast guard ships patrolling the area near the rig, China's foreign ministry said it was Vietnamese ships that had slammed Chinese ones and blamed Hanoi for the "provocations." 

At the same time China also opened the door for talks on the issue, as Japan and the United States warned both sides to reduce tensions and urged China to clarify its claims to the territory. More ... 








China 'building airstrip' on disputed reef

Philippines accuses China of reclaiming land to build an airstrip on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Last updated: 14 May 2014 01:23
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The Spratly Islands are also claimed by neighbouring China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei [Al Jazeera]

The Philippine foreign ministry has accused China of reclaiming land on a disputed reef in the South China Sea and said it appeared to be building an airstrip.

Foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that China had been moving earth and materials to Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands over recent weeks.

It also said China was reclaiming land in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an informal code of conduct for the region.

The ministry had already lodged a protest with the Chinese and raised the issue behind closed doors at last weekend's summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Myanmar, Jose said.



and....



Philippines says China appears to be building airstrip on disputed reef

MANILA Tue May 13, 2014 9:35pm EDT

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(Reuters) - The Philippines accused China on Wednesday of reclaiming land on a reef in disputed islands in the South China Sea, apparently to build an airstrip, only a day after Washington described Beijing's actions in the region as "provocative".
If confirmed, the airstrip would be the first built by China on any of the eight reefs and islands it occupies in the Spratly Islands and would mark a significant escalation in tensions involving several nations in the area.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, an area rich in energy deposits and an important passageway traversed each year by $5 trillion worth of ship-borne goods.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the area.
Philippine Foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told Reuters that China had been moving earth and materials to Johnson South Reef, known by the Chinese as Chigua, in recent weeks. He said China was reclaiming land in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an informal code of conduct for the region.
"They're about to build an airstrip," Jose said.
He said evidence of the Chinese activity on the reef had been shown in aerial photographs taken by the Philippine Navy. The Philippines and Taiwan already have airstrips in the area.
The ministry had already lodged a protest with the Chinese and raised the issue behind closed doors at last weekend's summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations inMyanmar, Jose said.
Tensions in the South China Sea were already high after China moved a large oil rig into an area also claimed by Vietnam. Beijing and Hanoi each accused the other of ramming its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands,
On Tuesday, Kerry said during a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China's introduction of the oil rig and numerous government vessels into the area disputed with Vietnam was "provocative", a State Department spokeswoman confirmed.
China in turn said there had indeed been provocative action taken in the area but that it was not the guilty party, with the foreign ministry blaming the United States for encouraging such behavior. The ministry said Wang had urged Kerry to "act and speak cautiously".
Beijing says the South China Sea issue should be resolved by direct talks between those involved and has bristled at what it sees as unwarranted U.S. interference.
It has also looked askance at the U.S. "pivot" back to Asia, especially Washington's efforts to boost existing military links with Tokyo and Manila.
The remote and otherwise unremarkable Johnson South Reef has been a catalyst for conflict in the past. In March 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval skirmish on and around the reef with up to 90 Vietnamese reported killed.