Nine dragons stir up the South China Sea


“Too many dragons, too much noise.” That is how one Chinese scholar explained constant friction in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s territorial claims are rubbing up against competing claims from several south-east Asian nations.

The latest set-to is with the Philippines. Last month, a Philippine naval ship attempted to detain several Chinese vessels it said were fishing illegally near disputed islands inevitably known by two different names: Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines and Huangyan Island in China. Chinese marine surveillance ships quickly arrived on the scene, preventing the Philippines from making any arrests.

In his book about what he sees as a Sino-American clash for mastery in Asia*, Aaron L. Friedberg, of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, says China has three foreign policy axioms: “avoid confrontation”, “build comprehensive national power” and “advance incrementally”. Beijing’s stepping up the ante looks very much like “advance incrementally”.The clash at sea has led to a fractious diplomatic standoff on land. Last week, after angry editorials in some Chinese newspapers demanding the People’s Liberation Army Navy teach the Philippines a lesson, there was even speculation that China was preparing for war. Beijing seems to have pulled back from that bellicose brink. But China has wounded the Philippines in other ways. It has left shiploads of bananas rotting on its docksides, threatening the livelihoods of up to 200,000 Filipino farmers. And Chinese travel agents have cancelled tours to the Philippines, ostensibly on safety grounds.
Manila’s inability to defend what it regards as clear territorial rights has been sorely exposed. Last year, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, the president, admitted rather charmingly that the idea of the Philippines’ ill-equipped armed forces taking on China was like a boxer trying to fight trapped inside a barrel. The problem for the Philippines, as with Vietnam – another country that has rubbed Beijing up the wrong way in the South China Sea – is that China claims virtually the entire strategic waterway. It produced an infamous “nine-dashed-line” map marking the waters it claims – like a huge lolling tongue licking its neighbours’ coastline. In recent years, incidents at sea have escalated, suggesting Beijing is getting bolder. In 2009, Chinese vessels provoked a diplomatic dispute with Washington by surrounding a US survey vessel. Last year, marine surveillance ships clashed with both Philippine and Vietnamese seismic vessels. To some, China’s insistent defence of its (exaggerated) claims is evidence that it is developing the equivalent of a Monroe doctrine in its own back-yard pond.
That may be Beijing’s long-term goal. For now, according to an excellent report by International Crisis Group**, a Brussels-based conflict resolution body, the reality may be messier – and more dangerous. That is because a proliferation of agencies – not the Chinese government itself – may be pushing the boundaries of China’s policy. These are the dragons that are “stirring up the sea”. They include Customs Law Enforcement, China Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, the Maritime Safety Administration, China Marine Surveillance, and so on.
“There’s a multi-level game going on,” says Michael Wesley, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a Sydney-based think-tank, who says competing agencies have an incentive to keep tensions high in order to attract bigger budgets.
“The name of the game has been to use law enforcement as a proxy for the grander sovereignty dispute,” says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, one of the authors of the ICG report.
The “arms race” being conducted by these marine agencies could even be more dangerous than the real thing, she warns, because their ships are more easily deployed and they have fuzzier rules of engagement.
Mr Wesley says China’s long-term goal is to push out of the South China Sea into the wider Pacific. Ms Kleine-Ahlbrandt fears it is only a matter of time before China either dominates the disputed fishing grounds or comes to blows with Philippine vessels. When Deng talked of Beijing hiding its light, he evidently didn’t count on the bright eyes of China’s nine dragons.
READ MORE:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/856bf1c0-9dd1-11e1-9a9e-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1v6bEClGj

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nine dragons stir up the South China Sea

“Too many dragons, too much noise.” That is how one Chinese scholar explained constant friction in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s territorial claims are rubbing up against competing claims from several south-east Asian nations.

The latest set-to is with the Philippines. Last month, a Philippine naval ship attempted to detain several Chinese vessels it said were fishing illegally near disputed islands inevitably known by two different names: Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines and Huangyan Island in China. Chinese marine surveillance ships quickly arrived on the scene, preventing the Philippines from making any arrests.

In his book about what he sees as a Sino-American clash for mastery in Asia*, Aaron L. Friedberg, of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, says China has three foreign policy axioms: “avoid confrontation”, “build comprehensive national power” and “advance incrementally”. Beijing’s stepping up the ante looks very much like “advance incrementally”.The clash at sea has led to a fractious diplomatic standoff on land. Last week, after angry editorials in some Chinese newspapers demanding the People’s Liberation Army Navy teach the Philippines a lesson, there was even speculation that China was preparing for war. Beijing seems to have pulled back from that bellicose brink. But China has wounded the Philippines in other ways. It has left shiploads of bananas rotting on its docksides, threatening the livelihoods of up to 200,000 Filipino farmers. And Chinese travel agents have cancelled tours to the Philippines, ostensibly on safety grounds.
Manila’s inability to defend what it regards as clear territorial rights has been sorely exposed. Last year, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, the president, admitted rather charmingly that the idea of the Philippines’ ill-equipped armed forces taking on China was like a boxer trying to fight trapped inside a barrel. The problem for the Philippines, as with Vietnam – another country that has rubbed Beijing up the wrong way in the South China Sea – is that China claims virtually the entire strategic waterway. It produced an infamous “nine-dashed-line” map marking the waters it claims – like a huge lolling tongue licking its neighbours’ coastline. In recent years, incidents at sea have escalated, suggesting Beijing is getting bolder. In 2009, Chinese vessels provoked a diplomatic dispute with Washington by surrounding a US survey vessel. Last year, marine surveillance ships clashed with both Philippine and Vietnamese seismic vessels. To some, China’s insistent defence of its (exaggerated) claims is evidence that it is developing the equivalent of a Monroe doctrine in its own back-yard pond.
That may be Beijing’s long-term goal. For now, according to an excellent report by International Crisis Group**, a Brussels-based conflict resolution body, the reality may be messier – and more dangerous. That is because a proliferation of agencies – not the Chinese government itself – may be pushing the boundaries of China’s policy. These are the dragons that are “stirring up the sea”. They include Customs Law Enforcement, China Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, the Maritime Safety Administration, China Marine Surveillance, and so on.
“There’s a multi-level game going on,” says Michael Wesley, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a Sydney-based think-tank, who says competing agencies have an incentive to keep tensions high in order to attract bigger budgets.
“The name of the game has been to use law enforcement as a proxy for the grander sovereignty dispute,” says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, one of the authors of the ICG report.
The “arms race” being conducted by these marine agencies could even be more dangerous than the real thing, she warns, because their ships are more easily deployed and they have fuzzier rules of engagement.
Mr Wesley says China’s long-term goal is to push out of the South China Sea into the wider Pacific. Ms Kleine-Ahlbrandt fears it is only a matter of time before China either dominates the disputed fishing grounds or comes to blows with Philippine vessels. When Deng talked of Beijing hiding its light, he evidently didn’t count on the bright eyes of China’s nine dragons.
READ MORE:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/856bf1c0-9dd1-11e1-9a9e-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1v6bEClGj

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