Thursday, June 5, 2014

Update from Embassy of Viet Nam: June 4

Dear friends and colleagues,

I would like to share with you the latest updates on China’s oil-rig operation in Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf.
1. PM Nguyen Tan Dung on Sunday issued an instruction to task relevant ministries, agencies and localities to beef up the realization of measures to support foreign-funded enterprises which were affected by recent anti-China protests in some localities.

Positive news about the situation are trickling in. More than 2,100 out of 2,650 foreign experts have returned to their work in industrial zones in the southern province of Binh Duong as almost all riot-affected enterprises have resumed operation. Formosa Project in Vung Ang, Ha Tinh Province is also back to operation since end of last week.

2. The past two weeks have been quite busy for US – Vietnam relation. PM Nguyen Tan Dung on June 2 welcomed an American business delegation led by Secretary of the Department of Commerce Penny Pritzker. State President Truong Tan Sang on June 2 also hosted a reception for the Secretary.

Meanwhile, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung on June 3 welcomed a delegation from the US House of Representatives, headed by Congressman John Kline. Deputy Minister of National Defence Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh hosted a reception for Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Kelly Magsamen in Hanoi on June 4, on the occasion of her working visit to Vietnam.

3. Agencies in Vietnam are closely monitoring the HY981 oil rig.  The Viet Nam Fisheries Surveillance Department on June 1 detected that China’s oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981, illegally stationed in Vietnamese waters, may not be fixed in a stable position. Please see attached update for further information

4. The Prime Minister has decided to invest 200 million USD in building four more large-scale vessels for the Fisheries Surveillance Force to allow them to better carry out their law enforcement missions in the country’s waters and supporting Vietnamese fishermen. On June 4, he inspected Viet Nam’s largest fishery surveillance vessel KN-781 which will be delivered this month.

5. A lot of discussion have been taking place in Vietnam about the possibility of bring the case to UN Tribunal, like the Philippines has done. However, there are news reports states that “China refused to defend its territorial claims in the South China Sea to a United Nations tribunal because it doesn’t recognize international arbitration of its dispute with the Philippines.”

6. The following are the highlights of international responses to current developments provoked by the illegal installation of Chinese oil rig in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Viet Nam. 

        For those of you who would like to read further about Vietnam, these are the newspaper and English news with reliable news in Vietnam:

            - Government News Portal:
            - Vietnam News Agency:
            - Thanhnien Daily:
            - Tuoitre Daily:
            - People Daily:

Thank you for your time and consideration.
With best regards,
Dzung Le

Update on situation at the oil rig (June 4th, 2014)
(Day 35)
1. Situation:
- On June 4 afternoon, China maintained 35-40 coast guard vessels, about 30 cargo ships and tugboats, 40-45 fishing vessels and four military ships at the site, along with a renaissance aircraft. Chinese vessels kept on hindering Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance ships and driving them about 7-9 nautical miles away from the rig.
- China Oilfield Services Limited (COSL) has recently announced its already-signed contracts for the construction of three new drilling units (including a 300ft jack-up rig ‘Gulf Driller I, a 400ft jack-up rig HYSY944, and a 300-ft jack-up rig Haiyangshiyou 932) and its plans to boost the operators rig fleet to over 40 drilling rigs. The rig 932  arrived at Bohai Bay on April 28 and commenced drilling services for clients.
            2. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said to Bloomberg News on May 30  that “We are prepared and ready for legal action”; “We are considering the most appropriate timing to take this measure.”
3. Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh said at the Shangri la Dialogue on May 31:  China must join talks with Vietnam in order to maintain peace, stability and friendship between the two countries; Under this policy, Vietnam has acted with restraint; we have not used aircraft, missile ships, etc. We have only deployed coast guard vessels and fisheries surveillance ships which haven't deliberately rammed or sprayed water at Chinese ships. In return, we demand that China withdraw its rig from Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone; Taking legal proceedings is also a peaceful measure that complies with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Charter of the United Nations. But it is a last resort.
4. Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh told reporters on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 30 that “They (China) have asked us several times not to bring the case to international court,” and “Our response was that it’s up to China’s activities and behavior; if they continue to push us, we have no choice. This (legal) option is also in accordance with international law.”
5. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made an address at Shangri-la dialogue on May 30: "... China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea"; " We (the U.S.) take no position on competing territorial claims. But we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims. We also oppose any effort – by any nation – to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation – whether from military or civilian vessels, from countries big or small. The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged."
6. Japanese Prime Minister made a speech at Shangri-la dialogue on May 30: "Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of over-flight"; "We likewise support Vietnam in its efforts to resolve issues through dialogue. Movement to consolidate changes to the status quo by aggregating one fait accompli after another can only be strongly condemned as something that contravenes the spirit of these three principles".
7. Australian Defense Minister David Johnston on May 30: “They (China) ’ve been certainly unhelpful, and if they’re unhelpful they must be destabilizing”; “The unilateral action of the declaration of boundaries is completely unhelpful and takes us in the wrong direction.”
8. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Australian Defence Minister David Johnston held trilateral defense ministerial talks on the margins of Shangri-la dialogue on May 3: i) Underscoring their shared interest in the maintenance of peace and stability; respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce; and upholding freedom of navigation and over-flight in the East China and South China Seas. ii) Expressing their strong opposition to the use of coercion or force to unilaterally alter the status quo in the East China and South China Seas. iii) Calling on claimants to refrain from actions that could increase tensions to clarify and pursue claims in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); iv) Reaffirming their support for the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes, including through legal mechanisms, such as arbitration, under the convention. v) Calling for ASEAN and China to reach early agreement on a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

State Department Briefings May 9, May 15, June 4

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 9, 2014

QUESTION: I’d like to ask about the South China Sea again.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I know that you were asked about this yesterday, but the Vietnamese have released more photos that they say is evidence that the Chinese were the ones who indeed instigated the clash that occurred last week. I wanted to know if the State Department has seen those photos and if you make anything of them.
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve spoken pretty extensively to this and our concerns about the provocative actions. I don’t have anything new to add today.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I did have one more follow-up.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I don’t think you have a comment on this, but the – China’s Foreign Ministry did have a rebuttal to something you said from the podium here a couple days ago, essentially saying that the U.S. should butt out of this conflict because it doesn’t specifically involve the U.S. I just wanted to know if you could comment on why the U.S. should not butt out.
MS. PSAKI: Well again, we don’t take a position on the sovereignty, as you know, of these – these are disputed waters, and obviously, they have a difference of view on who has control over those waters or who has ownership over those waters. So I think we were speaking to – in response to a range of questions.
Our concerns about – any time there are provocative or unhelpful actions taken that put the maintenance of peace and stability at risk, and I think that’s something that any country has the right to have concerns about.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And also, the foreign ministry spokeswoman this morning said that the United States was making irresponsible statements on this, and that you’ve ignored the facts and made a whole series of wrong remarks.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would stand by our statements we’ve made and our views on this specific issue.

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 15, 2014
QUESTION: And so I just wanted to know if you guys are following the ongoing unrest in Vietnam. The riots and looting and protest to the Chinese actions off the coast have now spread to the central part of the country, and seeing reports that the number of dead could be more than 20. I was just wondering how you guys are responding − what guidance you’re providing to Americans, if any. Yeah, maybe if you want to get into that first, and then I’ll go on with my second one.
MS. HARF: Yes. So we are, obviously, closely following the protests that you asked about. And as we say frequently – as I say frequently – support the rights of individuals, people to assemble peacefully to protest. Obviously, all parties need to refrain from violence and exercise restraint here.
We are in close touch with national and local authorities; condemn any of the violence that we’ve seen and the loss of life that’s occurred. And again, would encourage people while they – everyone – while folks are exercising their right to freedom of expression to refrain from any further violence.
QUESTION: Any particular sort of warnings or guidance to U.S. citizens in the country or visiting U.S. citizens?
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve seen. We haven’t – not that I’ve seen. We haven’t seen any reports of U.S. citizens being targeted, but I’m happy to check with our folks and see. I just haven’t seen any specific warnings.

MS. HARF: Thank you. Going back quickly to the Spratlys, I did find it in my guidance. So to revisit the last question: We are aware of reports that China is reclaiming land at a disputed reef – I think this is what you were referring to – in the South China Sea. Major upgrades or the militarization of disputed land features in the South China Sea by any claimant has the potential to raise tensions. That’s why we think that all parties to the Declaration On the Code of Parties in the South China Sea should fully and effectively implement the DOC, especially with regard to exercising self-restraint and the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes. And recent incidents highlight the need for claimants to be transparent about their respective activities in disputed areas.
Obviously, we’ve talked about this in a number of ways recently, but again, want folks to reach a shared understanding on appropriate behavior and activities in these kind of disputed areas.


QUESTION: Hi Marie, thanks for doing this. Can I just go on back to the Vietnam protests for a minute? I certainly appreciate that the State Department supports the right of people to protest around the world, but these have been unusually large demonstrations for Vietnam and I’m wondering if the Department has a position on whether the protests are justified. That would be my first question.
Then there have been mounting sort of anti-Chinese fervor in Vietnam over the past week or so, particularly since China placed an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam. Does the Department believe that the Chinese may be violating Vietnamese sovereignty with this move and sort of pushing the Vietnamese to accept Chinese sovereignty claims over certain areas of the South China Sea? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond beyond just saying we support the right of people to --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Well, on the oil rig issue, I’ve said and a bunch of us have said repeatedly that China’s decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels in waters that are disputed with Vietnam is provocative and raises tensions, absolutely, and that this is a unilateral action that appears to be part of a broader pattern, quite frankly, of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed areas in a manner that really undermines peace and stability in the region.
So we are very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation of this kind. We’ve called on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully and in accordance with international law. So I think we’ve spoken out very clearly about how that action was seen and could be seen as provocative and raising of tensions.
QUESTION: Could you --
MS. HARF: In terms --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Go ahead. No, no, go ahead. You can follow-up on that before I get to my next one.
QUESTION: Could you update us just on what the last communications or what level of communications is the Department having with the Chinese on this particular issue within the context of perhaps getting the Chinese to pull the ship out without losing face at this point?
MS. HARF: Well, we have raised this issue with both sides, including at high levels, during separate calls with both the Vietnamese deputy prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, and the Chinese foreign minister. The Secretary – Secretary Kerry emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea and stated our view that China’s unilateral introduction of an oil rig was provocative; urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, engage in high-level dialogue, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and a host of other things as well.
So the Secretary’s been engaged on it; other folks have been as well. I think the last time the Secretary spoke to the Chinese foreign minister was on Monday evening, where he again emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea.
QUESTION: But that was – when were the protests that time? Had they really gotten out of – gotten big by Monday evening, or that was before the protests really got going?
MS. HARF: Well, we can – I can check on that, but he was very clear about what was happening in the South China Sea and what behavior should not continue.
In terms of the protests, as I’ve said, we’ve been in close touch with national and local authorities and have absolutely condemned the violence and the loss of life that’s occurred. What I said, though – and I – it didn’t sound like you really liked the answer, but it’s true that we support the rights of individuals to assemble peacefully to protest, period. So that is something that is important to us, but at the same time, urge all parties to refrain from violence and to exercise restraint. Those are really things that underscore what we’ve said.
So while we support peoples’ right to protest, we do not in any way support violence against Chinese-affiliated businesses or firms in Vietnam – absolutely are opposed to that, so --

QUESTION: Thank you very – no, I appreciate it. Thank you very much

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 4, 2014

QUESTION: On South China Sea. Yes. So in the past, the Department has urged for a diplomatic resolution of the maritime dispute in the South China Sea. And today China rejected a – or rejected a step that would’ve sent – that required them to send evidence to a UN tribunal for a court in the maritime court. Is the U.S. concerned that the --
MS. HARF: Is this in the Philippines filing?
QUESTION: Yes, the Philippines filing. So is the U.S. concerned that China’s not genuinely interested in seeking a diplomatic resolution to the case?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said, the Philippines and other state parties have the right to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention. We think this is a good thing. We think states should work through a rules-based system to resolve their disputes. So we have said, broadly speaking, that we are concerned about China’s actions there, about an increasing pattern, it seems, of destabilizing actions there, and again, believe that this kind of dispute resolution mechanism is a good way to handle these things.
QUESTION: And the court has set a deadline of December 15th for China to offer its evidence in its dispute. Is the State Department engaging with China at all to encourage them to take this step?
MS. HARF: I can check and see. I would imagine we are. Let me check and see.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

A Belligerent China

China-Vietnam tensions: Beijing vows to continue drilling

People's Liberation Army of China Chief of the General Staff Gen Fang Fenghui hold a joint press conference on 15 May 2014 in Arlington, USAGen Fang urged the US not to take sides in the Beijing-Hanoi dispute

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China says its oil rig will continue drilling in contested waters in the South China Sea, despite deadly anti-Beijing riots in Vietnam.
Top General Fang Fenghui said Beijing could not "afford to lose an inch" of territory, blaming Hanoi for stirring up trouble in the region.
Speaking in the US, he also warned that America's efforts to increase its focus on Asia were fuelling tensions.
A Chinese worker died in an attack on a steel mill in Vietnam on Wednesday.
Almost 150 other people were injured as protesters targeted the Taiwanese mill in the central Ha Tinh province.
Footage has emerged of a collision between a Chinese coastguard vessel and a Vietnamese ship in the South China Sea
On Tuesday, at least 15 foreign-owned factories were set on fire at industrial parks in Binh Duong province, and hundreds more attacked. No casualties were reported.
The protests have been triggered by China's decision to move its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig into waters west of the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month.
This triggered confrontations between Vietnamese and Chinese ships as Hanoi sought to block the move.
Nationalist sentiment is currently running very high in Vietnam over the issue, correspondents say.
'Provocative steps'
Gen Fang's comments came as he visited Washington.
Vietnamese firefighters work at a burning Taiwanese factory in Binh Duong province. Photo: 14 May 2014At least 15 foreign-owned factories were set on fire in two industrial parks in Vietnam on Tuesday
Chinese nationals cross to Cambodia from Vietnam. Photo: 15 May 2014Hundreds of Chinese nationals are reported to have left Vietnam in recent days
"It's quite clear... who is conducting normal activity and who is disrupting it," the People's Liberation Army's chief of general staff said.
He also said some nations in the region had seized upon US President Barack Obama's so-called pivot to Asia to stir up trouble.
Gen Fang urged the US not to take sides in China's escalating dispute with Vietnam.
US Vice-President Joe Biden, however, expressed "serious concern" over the Chinese rig move.
"No nation should take provocative steps to advance claims over disputed areas in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region," a statement from his office quoted him as telling Gen Fang.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier condemned the violence in an urgent call with Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, according to China's Xinhua news agency.
Mr Wang also called on Hanoi to take measures to ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese nationals and firms in Vietnam.
A delegation of Chinese officials has been sent to Vietnam for talks.
Reports suggest many Chinese workers have left, with hundreds crossing the border into Cambodia.
During Tuesday's protest, protesters appeared to have targeted businesses with Chinese characters in their signs, even if they were from places such as Taiwan.
Wednesday's protest happened at a huge steel mill owned by Taiwan's Formosa Plastics. Local officials said one Chinese man was killed and 149 people injured as protesters targeted and attacked Chinese workers and damaged facilities.
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Vietnam-China tensions
File image of Vietnamese navy sailor
  • 1954-1975: Communist China backs North Vietnam during the Vietnam war
  • 1974: China and South Vietnam fight a bloody war over the Paracel Islands; China seizes Vietnam-controlled islands.
  • 1975: Vietnam war ends, Vietnam-China relations deteriorate over Hanoi's ties with Russia and Beijing's support for the Khmer Rouge
  • 1979: China and Vietnam fight a border war; thousands of troops die
  • 1988: Two sides fight over the Spratly Islands; about 60 Vietnamese sailors killed
  • 1991: Sino-Vietnamese ties normalised; trade expands
  • 2011: Tensions mount with China over South China Sea exploration; US-Vietnam rapprochement gathers pace
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In an emergency letter to the police ministry, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called the protests against the "illegal oil rig" a "legitimate action".
But he said those who broke the law should be punished and foreign business activities protected.
China claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, including several areas that its South East Asian neighbours say belong to them.
In recent years it has started to enforce these claims more assertively, leading to severely strained ties with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular.
On Friday Chinese state media said Hanoi and Manila "still cherish the illusion that China can simply be forced back by pressure", but said they needed to learn to "treat China as a major power".
"The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn't mean China can't resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines," an editorial in state-run Global Times said.

BBC Analysis of Attacks on "Chinese" Factories

16 May 2014 Last updated at 00:28 ET

Vietnam-China tensions: 

Why protests are not just jingoism

Dramatic images of Vietnamese workers vandalising Chinese-owned factories appear to be yet more proof that an angry nationalism is taking hold in East and South East Asia.
The reality is a little more complex. Although passions are certainly rising over the fate of a few specks of rock in the South China Sea, this is not simply jingoism at work.
The first clue is that those most of the "Chinese" factories that are being smashed up aren't, in fact, Chinese.
Journalists have no access to the industrial parks where the protests have been concentrated so we can only make informed guesses about what is going on and why.
However, going on the information reaching my colleagues in the BBC's Vietnamese Service, the riots tell us more about the conditions inside those factories than about geopolitics.
This is not to deny that many Vietnamese are livid about China's attempt to drill for oil in waters claimed by Vietnam. There were angry protests about the issue outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and its consulate in Ho Chi Minh City over the weekend.
These were the usual small affairs and they were tolerated by the government. That tolerance can be explained by the ruling Communist Party's need to impress two audiences: its own people and its foreign sparring partners.
What we are witnessing in Vietnam is an inchoate sense of anger - partly against China but more urgently against bad employers”
The Communist Party of Vietnam is an intelligent organisation. It knows that there is widespread anger about China's moves in the South China Sea (or the East Sea as it is known in Vietnam).
It also knows that its critics, particularly overseas-based anti-communists, accuse it of kowtowing to China. If it cracks down too hard on "patriotic" demonstrators, the party will be accused of betraying the national interest.
It also knows that its negotiating position with China will be much stronger if it can prove that the domestic cost of making compromises will be too great.
This is the usual explanation for instances of anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam (and, not coincidentally, also of anti-Japan protests in China).
The party is furious about China's installation of an oil rig near the Paracel Islands. A bit of street action helps to bolster its position in dealings with its brother communists in Beijing and allows hotheads to let off a bit of steam.
However, the scale and extent of the vandalism and rioting that we have seen in the past few days is something new and shocking. It has a different explanation.
There are several accounts of what triggered the rioting. Some say it began at an officially-sanctioned protest that got out of hand. Others have suggested that an American-based organisation of anti-Communist Vietnamese exiles, Viet Tan, may have played a role.
Both may be true but neither would explain why the protests became so large and so violent so quickly. There are other factors at work.
Thomas Jandl is an expert on Vietnam, based at American University in Washington DC. He points to the growing discontent among Vietnam's rapidly-growing industrial workforce.
"Riots can easily start over minor issues that then get conflated with others. These are factory workers, not political science or history scholars. They have 'Chinese' overseers, they feel that these people are not nice to them and now they - or someone like them - is invading the country," he says.
Over the past few years there have been dozens of strikes at foreign-owned plants in Vietnam. Complaints about low pay, bad workplace conditions (poor canteen food, limits on using the toilet and so on) and bullying management have triggered disputes.
These complaints have focused on plants owned by Taiwanese and Korean companies in particular. However, Thai and Singaporean plants have also been affected.
Perfect storm?
To these traditional complaints, a major new one has been added. Some factories, particularly Taiwanese-owned plants have been employing Chinese workers in favour of local Vietnamese.
This appears to have been the trigger for the trouble in the central province of Ha Tinh, in which one Chinese person was killed and 90 others injured.
What we are witnessing in Vietnam is an inchoate sense of anger - partly against China but more urgently against bad employers. This is a nightmare scenario for the Communist Party of Vietnam.
It will be easy for protestors to paint it as betraying the national interest out in the South China Sea (by failing to stand up strongly enough to China) and weak at home for failing to ensure that foreign companies treat their workers fairly.
Add in a myriad of other personal and local grievances and a wrong move could stir up a perfect storm of anti-"system" protest.
The party has the means to put hundreds of thousands of security personnel on the streets within hours if the threat to its rule becomes significant. However that would be a last resort for an organisation that claims to be the living embodiment of the people's will.
The ramifications of the decisions the party takes in the next few days will be felt for some time.
Bill Hayton, who works for BBC Media Action, is the author of Vietnam: rising dragon (Yale 2010) and The South China Sea and the struggle for power in Asia, to be published by Yale in September.

Secretary of Defense Hagel Criticizes China's Actions at Sea

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Singapore on Friday. CreditRoslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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SINGAPORE — The Obama administration’s three-year-old plan to shift its foreign policy focus to Asia was supposed to shore up interests in a critical region, push new free trade pacts and re-establish United States influence as a balance to a growing China, after a decade of inattention.
But as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited this city-state for a security conference with all of the interested parties on Friday, that much-vaunted Asia policy appeared to be turning into more of a neighborhood street fight, with the United States having to simultaneously choose sides and try to play the role of referee.
All around Asia, China is pushing and probing at America’s alliances, trying to loosen the bonds that have kept the countries close to Washington and allowed the United States to be the pre-eminent power in the region since World War II.
In just the past week, China traded punches with Vietnam and Japan. A Chinese fishing vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boaton Monday near a Chinese deepwater oil rig that was placed in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam. That confrontation followed a close encounter last Saturday in which two pairs of Chinese fighter jets flew close to Japanese surveillance and electronic intelligence planes, in disputed airspace claimed by both countries.
Continue reading the main story


Territorial Disputes in the Waters Near China

China has recently increased its pursuit of territorial claims in nearby seas, leading to tense exchanges with neighboring countries. A map of some of the most notable disputes.
By itself, neither encounter rises to the level of the trans-Pacific standoff that occurred in the East China Sea last year after Chinaasserted military authority over airspace that included uninhabited islands claimed by Japan.
But taken together, those episodes form a pattern of escalating maritime and air tensions in the Pacific that have frustrated and worried American officials.
In his strongest words yet on the territorial disputes, Mr. Hagel on Saturday morning implicitly accused China of “intimidation and coercion” as he delivered his keynote address to the conference. China has called the South China Sea “a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” Mr. Hagel said. “But in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea.”
China’s goal is to show Washington that if it maintains alliances in Asia, it risks a fight with Beijing, said Hugh White, a former senior Australian defense official who worked closely with Washington and is now professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.
“China is deliberately doing these things to demonstrate the unsustainability of the American position of having a good relationship with China and maintaining its alliances in Asia, which constitute the leadership of the United States in Asia,” Mr. White said.
China is betting that America, tired and looking inward, will back off, he said, eroding its traditional place of influence in Asia and enhancing China’s power.
But even as Mr. Hagel and the United States have adopted a public posture that backs Japan — and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines, Vietnam and any other country that finds itself at odds with China — some administration officials have privately expressed frustration that the countries are all engaged in a game of chicken that could lead to war.
“None of those countries are helping matters,” a senior administration official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about American policy, said that the United States would publicly back Japan and that treaty obligations mean that if Japan and China go to war, the United States will almost certainly be dragged into it. But, he added, administration officials have privately prodded their Japanese counterparts to think carefully before acting, and to refrain from backing China into a corner.
“If these are kids in the schoolyard, they are running around with scissors,” said Vikram J. Singh, who until February was the United States deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia and is now the vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress. “Wars start from small things, often by accident and miscalculation — like dangerous maneuvers by aircraft that result in a collision or aggressive moves that lead to an unexpected military response.”
Mr. Hagel, left, with the Australian and Japanese defense chiefs, David Johnston and Itsunori Onodera. CreditPool photo by
Speaking at the opening session of the conference on Friday, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has had a role in stirring tensions in the region by embracing a more assertive military stance, bypassed a question about whether he was willing to go to war with China over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu. Instead, he said cryptically that it was “important that we all make efforts” so that certain “contingencies can be prevented.”
Mr. Hagel and the large American military contingent on hand, including Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, spent their time shuttling from delegation to delegation to make sure those contingencies did not come up.
“Any good teacher knows that you want to get the kids to behave in the first place, rather than try to referee a dispute that breaks out,” said Andrew L. Oros, an associate professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and a specialist on East Asia.
“Millions of people in China, Korea and many countries in this region have been killed by the Japanese Army,” the Chinese officer said, asking whether Mr. Abe planned to honor them. Mr. Abe spoke of the remorse that Japan felt after World War II. But he added that it was common for world leaders to honor those who fought for their country.
While much of the maritime and air disputes go back to ancient territorial claims, the Obama administration may have fanned the tensions with its shift toward Asia, some foreign policy experts said. Many Chinese believe that shift is intended to check China’s rise.
“For that reason, you cannot expect China to welcome the alliance system because it doesn’t serve China’s interest,” said Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, gave a strong hint of his objectives in a speech in Shanghai on May 19, when he outlined a new Asian security strategy that would deliberately exclude the United States, analysts said.
“We need to innovate our security concepts, establish a new regional security cooperation architecture and jointly build a shared win-win road for Asian security,” Mr. Xi said at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, a group that includes China, Russia and Asian countries but not the United States, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.
At another conference, in Beijing, Adm. Sun Jianguo, the deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, expanded on Mr. Xi’s ideas, describing the American alliance system as an antiquated relic of the Cold War that should be replaced by an Asia-centric security architecture, participants said.
As word filtered through the region about Mr. Xi’s new concept — so far, only sketched in a bare-bones outline — it was referred to as “ ‘Asia for Asians,’ which means China decides as the biggest guy on the block,” said a senior Asian diplomat from a country allied with the United States, who declined to be named for fear of alienating China.