China Answers Obama

Source: Wall Street Journal

An 80-ship flotilla plants a Chinese oil rig in Vietnamese waters.

Chinese-oil-rig-HD-981Less than a week after President Obama’s Asian Reassurance Tour, Beijing offered its rejoinder, sending a flotilla of 80 military and civilian ships to install China’s first oil rig in disputed South China Sea waters, well within Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. When some 30 Vietnamese naval vessels demanded the rig’s withdrawal on Sunday, China’s ships responded by ramming several of the Vietnamese boats and injuring six sailors.

This skirmish hasn’t escalated to gunfire or attempted boarding, but the two sides are still facing off at sea. “Vietnam has exercised restraint,” said a senior Vietnamese commander Wednesday, “but if Chinese vessels continue ramming Vietnamese ships, we’ll have to act out of self-defense.” Beijing said Thursday it would negotiate only if Hanoi’s ships leave the site. The Foreign Ministry says the $1 billion rig—located 225 miles south of mainland China and only 120 miles east of Vietnam—is “normal and legal.”

The truth is that this is China’s latest attempt to revise the East Asian status quo through intimidation and force. China claims sovereignty over some 90% of the 1.35-million-square-mile South China Sea, and it is staking that claim by flexing its muscle around the sea’s outer reaches. Along the eastern edge, China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012. Since March it has blockaded Philippine Marines on Second Thomas Shoal.

This week’s oil standoff also wasn’t begun on a whim. China developed the CNOOC 981 rig so it would not depend on foreign companies to drill in contested waters. “Large deepwater drilling rigs are our mobile national territory,” explained Wang Yilin, chairman of state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, in 2012. The sea grab follows several years of gradually intensifying pressure—from Chinese tourist boats landing on disputed South China Sea islands, to Chinese fishing vessels cutting the acoustic cables of Vietnamese oil exploration ships.

Submarine-Russian-Kilo-class-named-HanoiAs Chinese-Vietnamese relations have worsened, Hanoi has procured new military hardware—including Kilo-class submarines, guided-missile frigates, land-based antiship cruise missiles and jet fighters—and sought closer ties with India, Japan and the U.S. The Vietnamese and U.S. militaries held their first joint naval exercises in 2012, a year after a U.S. Navy ship called at Cam Ranh Bay for the first time since the Vietnam War.

So it goes across Asia—Chinese territorial revanchism is spurring arms purchases and defense cooperation among China’s neighbors and with Washington. These are welcome developments, yet China continues on its aggressive course.

“It’s fair to say both Vietnam and China have rights to claim sovereignty over the Paracels,” said America’s top Asia hand, Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel, in Hanoi Thursday. “It is not for the U.S. to say which position is stronger. It’s within the rights of the United States and the international community to call all parties to address the dispute in a peaceful way.” China has heard such U.S. rhetoric many times, including as it grabbed Scarborough Shoal from Manila over three months in 2012. Beijing says it plans to drill for oil at least until Aug. 15.

 A Chinese ship, right, uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands on May 3. Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

A Chinese ship, right, uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands on May 3. Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

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One Response. Have your say.

  1. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    The strategy of China is to bait a calculated war against anyone of the claimants in the disputed Pacific sea.

    Not too long ago, Vietnam took the bait and confronted China militarily and eventually lost some of its possession in the Paracel Islands to China (forever?).

    The strategy of China is to insidiously agree in a diplomatic agreement only to renege on it later to assert its power to possess the disputed land and sea in the Pacific.

    After a stalemate in Baja de Masinloc(Scarborough Shoals), the PHL and China agreed to withdraw their armed forces and civilian fishers to avert armed confrontation. PHL left, but China remained with insidious reason and cordoned off the area to possess it (forever?).

    The strategy of China is to buddy-talk a mediator, only to drop the mediator, and make an about-face to consider the mediator as an intruder to the disputed Pacific area.

    Indonesia volunteered to be a mediator in the dispute but eventually found out that its Natuna Islands is being claimed by China in its 9-dash lines.

    The strategy of China is to issue pacifying statements amidst the foregoing incidents:

    “The Pacific Ocean should be kept pacific”.

    Only a fool will believe that!

    Hello, to Military Strategists, to diplomats and more importantly to UN Council.

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