Online mapping error fixed by National Geographic Society

Thanh Nien News

3 April 2010

The National Geographic Society has removed a label on one of its online maps that insinuated that the Paracel Islands were part of China, after admitting that the previous label could be misinterpreted.

On its website (, the archipelago is now simply referred to by its conventional name – Paracel Island, and the label “China” has been deleted.

The Washington-based organization announced last week that it would change naming conventions for the Paracel Islands on future map printings.

“We have carefully reviewed the situation and recognize that simply denoting the archipelago with the Chinese name and the word ‘China’ in parenthesis without further explanation can be misleading and misinterpreted,” it said in a statement.

The Vietnamese government said on March 13 that the National Geographic Society was wrong to put the note “Paracel Is. China” to refer to Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago on its world map and requested the mistake be corrected.

In related news, Vietnam last month also requested that Google Maps, the online map service of Google Inc., correct its mistakes concerning the borderline between Vietnam and China.

In the map published by Google, many areas that belong to Vietnam totaling thousands of square kilometers have been presented as belonging to China.

Kate Hurowitz, a spokesperson for Google, was quoted by local news website VietNamNet on Wednesday as saying the issue was still being considered. It may take a few more weeks before the final decision is made, she said.

Beijing beefs up South China Sea patrol amid friction with Vietnam

Earth Times

1 April 2010

The two fisheries administration ships set off from the southern island of Hainan to mount China's first dual-vessel patrol of areas close to the disputed Spratly islands, which are known as the Nansha in Chinese, the semi-official China News Service said.

The "Nansha patrol united action" is designed crack down on piracy and protect the "normal production and life of Chinese fishermen," the agency quoted officials as saying. The officials said the dual patrol would initially last one month but could be extended.

The two patrol vessels include the fisheries administration's largest and fastest vessel, a converted naval ship weighing 4,450 tons. The agency said Chinese fishing vessels had been attacked or seized in the area more than 300 times since 1994, resulting in the death of 25 Chinese citizens and the detention of some 1,800 others.

The launch of the new patrol follows a protest by Vietnam to China on Tuesday over the seizure of a Vietnamese fishing boat and its crew by Chinese naval patrol boats on March 22 close to the nearby Paracels, or Xisha in Chinese.

Vietnam has accused China of repeatedly detaining Vietnamese fishing boats near the islands over the past year. The Paracels belonged to the former South Vietnam until China seized them in 1974. Tensions over sovereignty in the South China Sea have been rising since May when regional nations submitted maritime territorial claims to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

At a November workshop on regional maritime territorial disputes in Hanoi, experts said the disputes were likely to drag on for decades. The area surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands is believed to contain substantial undersea oil and mineral deposits.

[Press Release] Speaking engagement with Dr. Nguyen Nha, a well-known scholar on the topic of Hoang Sa & Truong Sa
29 March 2010

Event: Speaking engagement with Dr. Nguyen Nha, a well-known scholar on the topic of Hoang Sa & Truong Sa.
Date: Friday, April 2, 2010
Time: 12:00pm - 3:00pm
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library
150 East San Fernando Street
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 808-2000

12:00-12:15 Welcome reception/Meet & Greet
12:15-12:30 Introduction / Opening remark
12:30-1:00 Dr. Nguyen Nha presentation
1:00 - 1:15 Special Guest(s) presentation*
1:15 - 1:45 Panel discussion / Q&A
1:45 - 2:45 Networking Lunch
2:45 - 3:00 Wrap Up

*Special guest will be announced later, or day of event.
Information about Dr. Nguyen Nha:

Space is limited. Please RSVP with the person who invited you or send email to

Vietnam protests Chinese ship seizure Read more: http://www

Earth Times
29 March 2010

Hanoi - Vietnam protested to China over the seizure and continued detention of a Vietnamese fishing boat and its crew by Chinese naval patrol boats in the South China Sea, local press reported Tuesday.

The newspaper Thanh Nien reported that Vietnam had asked China to release the boat and its crew, which were seized March 22 near the disputed Paracel Islands.

According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga, the Vietnamese government met with Chinese representatives, affirmed Vietnam's claim to the Paracels and asked China "to immediately and unconditionally release the boat and its crew."

Nga did not specify on what day the meeting had taken place.

Over the past year, Chinese forces have repeatedly detained Vietnamese fishing boats near the islands, which both countries claim. The Paracels belonged to the former South Vietnam until China seized them in 1974.

Nguyen Thanh Hung, deputy chairman of the commune of Binh Chau, home of the fishermen being held, said China has demanded a fine of 180 million dong (10,000 dollars) for the release of the fishermen.

The families are too poor to pay the fine, Hung said. The fishermen are being held on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels.

Hung said the boat seized has an 80-horsepower engine and is worth 13,500 dollars.

In August and October, China seized several fishing boats and their crews when they tried to shelter in the disputed Paracel Islands during storms.

On February 2, a Vietnamese fishing boat owner reported that a Chinese patrol had stopped and boarded his boat and seized 500 kilograms of fish, a navigation device, spare parts and tools.

Tensions over sovereignty in the South China Sea have been rising since May when regional nations submitted maritime territorial claims to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. At a November workshop on regional maritime territorial disputes in Hanoi, experts said the disputes were likely to drag on for decades.

The area surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands is believed to contain substantial undersea oil and mineral deposits.

Copyright DPA

China kidnaps more Vietnamese citizens off Paracel Islands

Thanh Nien News
27 March 2010

A boat of Vietnam fishermen was seized by China in the waters surrounding the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, coastal guards in the central province of Quang Ngai said Friday.

Chinese authorities have asked for US$7,860 in ransom for release of the people.

Tieu Viet La, a Quang Ngai local resident and captain of the boat, informed the guards via radio that he and his 12 member crew, mostly relatives, was captured on Wednesday, local newswire Vietnamnet reported.

La said they were about to leave Hoang Sa’s Phu Lam Island Sa after a night diving for holothurian when they were detained by the Chinese. Chinese guards were now keeping them at Phu Lam island and were asking for VND150 million in return for the fishermen and the boat.

This was the first time La sailed with the boat, a second-hand one he bought early this year after his other boat was seized by China in similar situation.

Vietnam has proved its historic sovereignty over Hoang Sa, but Chinese boats are detected in its waters almost every day.

Last year the Chinese captured 17 fishing boats with some 210 fishermen from Quang Ngai while they were fishing or taking shelter during storms off the Hoang Sa islands, according to the provincial coast guard.

Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a note to China last year asking them to stop such harassment and abuse.

National Geographic to revise Paracel naming convention

After the Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation sent a petition to National Geographic as well as receiving numerous complaints from Vietnamese scholars, organizations, and individuals, National Geographic Society has given its response in regarding the naming convention for the Paracel Islands. Below is the latest update on the statement from NGS regarding this matter:

UPDATE, March 25, 2010:

The National Geographic Society's Map Policy Committee has recently met to discuss this matter in greater detail. Based on the best information and research available, the Map Policy Committee seeks to make independent judgments about future changes or clarifications on its maps, as well as to correct any errors.

The naming conventions of the Paracel Islands on our maps will be revised as follows:

  • Smaller-scale world maps: Use conventional name - Paracel Islands; omit possession label.
  • Larger-scale regional, continental, and sectional maps: Use conventional name - Paracel Islands. Expand possession qualifier: Occupied by China in 1974, which calls them Xisha Qundao; claimed by Vietnam, which calls them Hoàng Sa.

These conventions will apply on future printings of our maps, and will be reflected online in short order.


Cindy Beidel
National Geographic

National Geographic maps support occupation of Vietnamese islands

Thanh Nien Daily
23 March 2010

A recent set of maps published by the National Geographic Society has implicitly endorsed China’s illegal occupation of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, which have been the sovereign territory of Vietnam for centuries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga on March 13 reaffirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the [Paracel] Islands and asked the Washington-based society, which publishes the popular National Geographic Magazine, to correct the mistake.

“Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa [Spratly] Islands is indisputable. The map showing the Paracel Islands as part of China is incorrect. We request that National Geographic [Society] correct this error,” she said.

In either defiance or ignorance of history and international conventions that deem the islands either part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam or at least as “disputed” by both Vietnam and China, the maps show the word “China” printed in red letters below “Paracel Is”, which is written in parenthesis. At least one map also refers to the Paracel Islands by their Chinese name, “Xisha Qundao.”

The collection of world maps can be found at ps.html.

On March 12, the US Embassy in Vietnam said the map’s error did not reflect the US Government’s point of view.

National Geographic Society is a private entity that has no connection with the US Government and thus its documents don’t reflect the US Government’s policy, the US Embassy in Vietnam told Tuoi Tre.

Public ire

Lawyer Hoang Viet in Ho Chi Minh City said the general public in Vietnam was visibly upset with the maps.

“Many people, including me, are frustrated because a prestigious scientific organization has issued unscientific, subjective information,” he said.

Duong Danh Huy, a Vietnamese expert on the East Sea who is working in the UK, said he thought the map error was an honest mistake because the agency usually doesn’t take sides in political disputes.

However, he said “it is a mistake that should be criticized” because even though such maps don’t have any legal value “this could lead to similar error in many other maps.”

“If more and more maps show the islands as China’s territory, it could affect the thinking of many people in the world,” he said.

Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s Government Border Committee, echoed Huy’s criticism, saying scholars had often talked about “map wars” when discussing island sovereignty disputes.

“Many countries, especially China, have published maps with new border lines, and names of places in their languages with the intention of legalizing their sovereignty there,” he said.


Thanh Nien wrote to the Board of Editors of National Geographic Maps to ask for a correction of the mapping error and to ask for an explanation. Thanh Nien asked National Geographic Maps to reclassify the islands and put them under the correct status as being disputed by Vietnam and China.

NGS responded to Thanh Nien in a statement Wednesday: “With respect to the Paracel Islands (the traditional name), National Geographic has recognized that this archipelago has been occupied and administered by the Chinese government since 1974, and as a result, the Society recognizes the Chinese name Xisha Qundao as the primary name.”

NGS said on regional and other maps, they had designated the alternative Vietnamese name Hoang Sa, and included a note indicating that while China occupies and administers the archipelago, Vietnam claims the archipelago as its own. The society said the scale of its World Map made it difficult to include detailed information about such a small land mass.

NGS conceded that “simply denoting the archipelago with the Chinese name and the word ‘China’ in parenthesis without further explanation can be misleading and misinterpreted.” The group made one important concession: “In the future, we will either provide the additional explanation that is included on our other maps as described above, or we will omit any designation.”

However, inconsistencies can still be found on the maps, despite the NGS explanation.

The World Decorator map, for example, labels islands disputed by the UK and Argentina as Falkland/Malvinas – the former is the British name and the other is the name Argentina uses. However, this map sub-labels the Paracel Islands as Xisha Quandao, the Chinese name, while failing to include the Vietnamese name, Hoang Sa.

In recognizing both disputed names of the Falkland/Malvinas islands on all its maps, NGS appears to be applying a double-standard when it lists only the Chinese name for the Hoang Sa Islands.

On the Asia map, NGS named the islands disputed by Vietnam and China as “Xisha Qundao” with “Paracel Is.” in parentheses and a note reading “Administered by China” and “Claimed by Vietnam”. However, this map still fails to indicate the Vietnamese name.


Over the past several decades, Vietnam has exhibited legal documents, historical proof and archeological evidence demonstrating that Vietnamese have long inhabited and administered the Paracel Islands, along with the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, also in the East Sea.

No other countries claimed ownership of the islands until rich oil and gas deposits were discovered around the archipelagos in 1968.

In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel Islands. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then Republic of Vietnam ensued and China was victorious. Vietnam’s behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since.

A post-1975 united Vietnam never relinquished ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands. Vietnam has vigorously protested the illegal Chinese occupation of the Paracel Islands as well as some of the Spratly Islands, not only in discussions with China, but also at meetings of the United Nations.


Quang Ngai Province’s Ly Son District authorities have requested that central authorities ask China to investigate an unidentified ship that rammed and sunk a local fishing boat last week.

Vo Xuan Huyen, chairman of Ly Son People’s Committee, said the fishing boat was rammed March 9 while it was anchored near the Hoang Sa Islands. The assailant vessel then fled, leaving the 17 Vietnamese sailors to drown on the sinking boat, he said.

The fishermen abandoned ship on coracles and were luckily rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat that passed by half an hour later. They arrived home safely at Ly Son Island on March 12.

“The strange boat deliberately rammed us,” said Duong Thanh Phu, owner of the sunk boat, adding that material damages were about VND2 billion (US$104,766).

Press Release fron NG about Paracel Islands


In pursuit of a consistent and accurate Map Policy over the National Geographic Society's 122-year history as a not-for-profit scientific and educational institution, we strive to be apolitical, to consult multiple authoritative sources, and to make independent decisions based on extensive research. We do not seek to resolve or take sides in recognized disputes regarding territory or names, but to pursue a de facto policy — that is, to portray for any reader or viewer to the best of our judgment the current reality of a situation.

With respect to the Paracel Islands (the traditional name), National Geographic has recognized that this archipelago has been occupied and administered by the Chinese government since 1974, and as a result, the Society recognizes the Chinese name Xisha Qundao as the primary name. This is consistent with our Map Policy. On our regional and other maps of sufficient scale, we specifically also recognize and designate the alternative Vietnamese name Hoàng Sa, and the traditional name Paracel Islands, and include a note indicating that while China occupies and administers the archipelago, Vietnam claims the archipelago as its own. We believe that is the current reality from everything we know.

We have recently received complaints about the particular depiction on our World Map, the scale of which makes it difficult to include detailed information about a small land mass such as the Paracel Islands. We have carefully reviewed the situation and recognize that simply denoting the archipelago with the Chinese name and the word "China" in parenthesis without further explanation can be misleading and misinterpreted. In the future, we will either provide the additional explanation that is included on our other maps as described above, or we will omit any designation. We hope this better clarifies the de facto situation that is described on our other maps in greater detail.


Cindy Beidel
National Geographic

Petition: Removal of the label “China” at the Paracel Island Feed

Click here to sign petition

Mr. Chris Jones, Editor in Chief
The National Geographic Society
1145 17th St, NW
Washington, DC 20036-4688

March 10, 2010

Ref: The petition for removal of the label “China” at the Paracel Islands on NGS’s online world map

Dear Mr. Jones:

We are writing this letter concerning the label “China” at the disputed Paracel Islands on the online world map edition published by the National Geographic Society. (*)

The fact is that the islands located in the South China Sea have never been recognized as part of Chinese territory by the international community.

In this letter, we do not have any ambition to convince you the Paracel Islands belong to a specific country. Instead, we are requesting you to review the current status of the islands based on reliable, third-party source for correctly labeling the islands on your map.

The sovereignty disputes over the islands remain unresolved for nearly a century. Over the years, the United Nations have also received many complaints from Vietnam and China regarding these features. In fact, the latest submissions to the United Nations from these countries happened in May 2009. The United Nations have classified the Paracel Islands as “the disputed islands” and have never confirmed them belong to neither country.

It is no doubt that the National Geographic Society is a trusted and reliable source of important information for many people around the globe, including researchers and young students.

Therefore, in preventing the public from being misled, we call upon you to immediately review and change the label based on the true status of the Paracel Islands to reflect both the point of view of the international community as well as the neutral point of view policy of the National Geographic Society. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Your name

(*) Link to the said online world map by National Geographic Society


1. The International Court of Justice of the United Nations has recorded the Paracel Islands as the disputed islands between Vietnam and China.

2. On May 6, 2009, Vietnam and Malaysia formally filed a joint submission with the United Nations’ Commissions on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to claim their territorial sea, including the Paracel Islands.

3. On 6 August, 1998, at the request of the Government of Viet Nam, the protest was circulated to all States Members of the United Nations.


Vietnamese citizens protest National Geographic mapping error

Thanh Nien News
12 March 2010

A group of Vietnamese citizens has sent a letter to the National Geographic Society opposing the latter’s publishing of a map that shows the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands as belonging to China.

“We urge you to reclassify the islands and put them under the correct status as being disputed by Vietnam and China,” the group said in a letter to the society’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns. The letter was also forwarded to the government, the National Assembly and many newspapers in Vietnam.

The letter, signed by the group’s representatives including Nguyen Hung, Ngo Khoa Ba and Le Quang Long, asks the society to reconsider several points “in the interest of scholarship and fairness.”

The letter pointed out that “the islands in question, as well as those of the Spratlys Archipelago, historically belong to Vietnam. We have legal documents and human habitation to claim sovereignty. No other country has claimed ownership of these islands until recent discoveries of rich oil and gas deposits around the islands.

“In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the war theater in Vietnam, China invaded the Paracel Islands and after a brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then Republic of Vietnam, has occupied the Paracel Islands. United Vietnam after 1975 has never relinquished ownership of the Paracel Islands as well as that of Spratly Islands. It has vigorously protested the illegal Chinese occupation of the Paracel Islands as well as some parts of the Spratly Islands not only directly to China, but also the United Nations.”

The letter also cited a National Geographic issue on China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from the Vietnamese.

“Here is what you said on page 10 of the Dec 1998 issue: ‘In 1988, China sank Vietnamese ships, killing at least 70 sailors, before taking several of the Spratlys islands - the most serious clash since it seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974. Tensions fuelled a local arms race as well as fears that China aims to dominate all of Asia by controlling the sea,’” it said.

“Your classification of the Paracel Islands as part of China is seen as putting a non-governmental seal of approval on a matter which is under dispute. This action could cloud legal international interpretations for many years to come,” the letter said.

“We are writing this letter because National Geographic Society is a respectable organization and its maps are widely consulted as reference,” it added.

Vietnam To Publish Book On Sovereignty Over Spratly And Paracel Archipelagos

9 March 2010

HANOI, March 9 (Bernama) -- Vietnam is about to publish a geographic anthology offering data and important historical evidence to illustrate the nation's sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, according to Vietnam news agency on Tuesday.

The Vietnam Geographic Anthology, to be circulated by the Youth Publishing House, has four chapters that include 40 of the most famous works on geography, starting with the Tran dynasty of the 13th century through 1954.

The writings were composed by the giants of Vietnamese letters and history, such as Nguyen Trai, Le Quy Don, Phan Huy Chu, Truong Vinh Ky, Dao Van Hoi, Bui Duong Lich, Vuong Duy Trinh, Ngo Vi Lien and Dao Duy Anh.

The publication also offers up an ancient map of the Le dynasty and the "Phu bien tap luc" a miscellany compiled by the 18th century scholar Le Quy Don that identifies the locations, and cites legal documents related to the Vietnamese people's sovereignty over the two groups of islands that have been preserved through many different feudal dynasties.

According to Chief Author Bui Van Vuong, the anthology is a set of very important and reliable historic data that helps reaffirm Vietnam's sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

Vuong and his associates have spent ten years collecting, researching and compiling the Vietnam Geographic Anthology.

China's contradictory policies in island disputes (vs. Japan and vs. Vietnam)

By Peter J Brown
4 March 2010
Asia Times Online

Japan's Okinotori Island, which has a Tokyo postal address even though it lies roughly 1,770 kilometers south of the capital and it is actually a pair of tiny islets, has become a bone of contention for China.

Among other things, China refuses to grant it island status, and refers to it instead as an atoll, reef or simply a rock. By doing so, China hopes to throttle back Japan's plan to create an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) there. The dispute over Okinotori, which Japan calls Okinotorishima, persists because it involves strategic concerns and rights to undersea resources over an area that is roughly equivalent to the entire land mass of the four main Japanese islands.

At an undersea resource development conference hosted by Kyushu University last December that was attended by experts from China, Japan and South Korea and elsewhere, the cobalt-rich manganese crusts around Okinotori were highlighted. Although "rich natural resources" in the area are frequently mentioned as well by China, details are lacking.

At the East Asian Seas Congress in Manila last November, Japan's submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in March 2009 was discussed. This document addressed seven regions between Japan and the Philippines comprising 740,000 square kilometers. Besides potential overlapping claims with the United States and the Republic of Palau - not involving Okinotori - Japan is confronted by both China and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which filed complaints last year with the CLCS concerning Japan's actions on Okinotori. [1]

When the Democratic Party of Japan-led government headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama came to power last year, it wasted no time in declaring that Japan is allocating US$7 million in 2010 to create a facility on Okinotori in a bid to firmly establish yet another foothold there. This may seem like a large sum, but it represents less than 3% of the total amount spent thus far by Japan to sustain this remote island. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated by the Japanese over the past two decades.

Japan now finds itself indebted to Vietnam, albeit indirectly. Vietnam is exposing curious contradictions that it has detected in China's case against Japan in this instance.

Vietnam, along with other Southeast Asian nations, has a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. Last year, the Vietnamese government submitted a national report on the limits of its continental shelf "which lie 200 nautical miles beyond the country's baselines in the northern part of the East Sea [Vietnam's name for the South China Sea]" to the CLCS. This took place in late August.

Together, Vietnam and Malaysia also presented another joint report to the CLCS on the continental shelves of both countries, "which extend out over 200 nautical miles from their baselines in the southern part of the East Sea".

The Vietnamese national report and the Vietnam-Malaysia joint report preceded the approval by the Japanese Diet (parliament) of a law in 2010 that authorizes the central government - not local government - to manage and control both Okinotori and the even more remote Minamitori Island, southeast of Tokyo - and about 290 kilometers more distant than Okinotori.

While China dismisses all of these actions by Japan as illegal, it is anxiously looking over its shoulder at the emboldened Vietnamese.

"The construction of infrastructure will not change Okinotori Reef's legal position," said China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a press briefing in January, adding that this violates international maritime law. [2]

Japan claimed Okinotori, also known as Douglas Reef or Parece Vela, in 1931 as part of Ogasawara village in the prefecture of Tokyo, and officially named it Okinotorishima.

"The Japanese claim to an EEZ and continental shelf around Okinotorishima is based on several factors," said Associate Professor Peter Dutton of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College. "First, Japanese scholars claim that Okinotorishima is an island that qualifies under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for an EEZ and continental shelf in that it sustains economic activity, even though it is apparently not much more than 10 square meters in size at high tide.

"This argument has only the most tenuous support under the current state of international law. The Japanese seem to recognize this fact and have set out a second legal basis, namely that Japan has longstanding historic interests in Okinotorishima, the adjacent waters, and the resources of the surrounding seabed. In Japan's view, these interests have consolidated over time into legally protected rights."

China points to Article 121 of UNCLOS, which defines an island as "a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide". China designates it as a rock under the same article - rocks cannot sustain human habitation or economic life - because a rock by itself cannot be used to claim either an EEZ or by extension a continental shelf submerged in a relatively shallow sea.

By acting as if it has legal standing under UNCLOS, China has suddenly opened the door for Vietnam, and Vietnam has seized the opportunity.

The strategic importance of Okinotori cannot go unnoticed as it sits halfway on a line between the huge US military base on the island of Guam and Taiwan. While divergent Chinese and Japanese strategic interests are driving this dispute, China's need to navigate freely is increasing.

"China has staked legal positions that have de-legitimized foreign military operations in a coastal country's EEZ. China's objections to US military activities in its EEZ are based on these legal perspectives," said Dutton. "On the other hand, as China's naval power has grown over the last couple of decades, China's strategy for controlling the outcome of events throughout East Asia in times of crisis has also evolved. During times of crisis, China now has aspirations of challenging outside naval powers for control of the waters between the first and second island chain." (The first island chain encompasses the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The second encompasses the Japan Sea, the Philippines Sea and the Indonesia Sea.)

This puts China in an awkward position to say the least.

"To be consistent with its demand that the US cease performing military operations in and above China's EEZ, China would not be able to undertake military operations in the waters of Japan's EEZ surrounding Okinotori. As such, to preserve their own security interests, China refuses to recognize Japan's claim," said Dutton.

Prior to Vietnam's move, the chief objective here for Japan had been to politely ignore China's protests and to ensure that, above all else, Okinotori should not somehow sink beneath the sea.

"There is no change in the nature of the dispute. Japan has been planting coral on Okinotori to secure its status as an 'island', while China keeps criticizing [and asserting that] it is a 'rock', so as not to allow Japan's EEZ," said Yukie Yoshikawa, senior research fellow at the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies in Washington, DC.

Planting coral there is just one of the latest Japanese measures, which have included pouring tons of concrete, at a cost of $280 million, to encase both of the islets, as well as covering them with a titanium net which cost another $50 million.

In 2005, Japan mounted a large address plaque there so that everyone would immediately know on arrival that they had reached "1 Okinotori Island, Ogasawara Village, Tokyo." Soon after this was put in place, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara was photographed kissing the plaque and waving the Japanese flag over it. He kept his life jacket on at the same time. [4]

As China attempts to convince the rest of Asia that what Japan is now undertaking actually harms its neighbors, Vietnam shakes its head.

"If Japan's efforts succeed, other countries will not be allowed to fish or share other rich natural resources in a region that is currently regarded as international high seas," said Wang Hanling, an expert in maritime affairs and international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Besides, for some neighbors such as China and the Republic of Korea, the fleets' freedom of navigation along some key routes in the area will also be hampered. That will pose risks to their national security."

In its dealings with Japan, China has even raised the issue of fairness at times, a tactic which must amuse Hanoi.

"Japan's claim over Okinotori, which lies between Taiwan and Guam, is in a strategically important position for Japan's benefit," said Jin Yongming, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "But the move has harmed other countries' navigation interests and marine survey in the sea waters around Okinotori, and is contrary to the principle of fairness." [4]

Why China is beginning to realize that the stance it has adopted here might backfire is becoming increasingly apparent. Vietnam still claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands - China's Xisha Islands - in the South China Sea, while the Spratlys, or Nansha Islands as China calls, them are claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

In early 2009, or perhaps earlier, Vietnam started picking apart the "reefs and islands" argument raised by China supposedly under UNCLOS rules in its case against Japan, and said in effect, "Wait a minute, China, you are arguing the exact opposite regarding our claims in the East Sea."

One minute, argues Vietnam, China asserts that Okinotori cannot have an exclusive economic zone or determine the limits of a continental shelf because it is an atoll, reef or rock and does not have an independent economic life, and the next minute China asserts that so-called "islands" in the East Sea all have independent economic life so they can support a claim to exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of 200 nautical miles covering 80% of the East Sea.

None of this rings true, or not to the extent that it allows China to proceed down the path it is taking. Ownership of the islands in the East Sea is really not central to the outcome because Vietnam contends that "no country can claim up to 80% of the East Sea on the basis of a claim to ownership of these islands". [5]

In other words, look closely and one can detect dozens of little "Okinotoris" dotting the South China Sea. China is just hoping that the rest of the world - at least the rest of the world which has been following China's attempt to derail Japan - will overlook them.

"It seems as though Vietnam is signaling that it would be satisfied with sovereignty over the islands and to leave most of the South China Sea as high seas. The implication of Vietnam's perspective, were Vietnam to consolidate its claims at China's expense, is that most of the South China Sea would remain open for all states to fish and extract seabed resources," said Dutton. "That is not the effect of China's claims over the South China Sea."

At the same time, if China is attempting to counter this clever tactic by Vietnam, it is not doing a very effective job. In fact, China appears to be turning a blind eye to Vietnam here.

"This position presents China with an additional dilemma that it has not yet publicly begun to reconcile," said Dutton.

Beijing's decision to build a luxury resort in the Paracels in the South China Sea has not helped the situation.

"[Vietnam] demanded in early January 2010 that China abandon the project, which [it] said causes tension and further complicates the situation," said Yoshikawa.

Still, when Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and a member of the Central Military Commission, met with Nguyen Chi Vinh, Vietnam's deputy defense minister, in Beijing in early March, there was no mention of this dispute, not publicly anyway.

China has been diligent in other maritime matters despite any protests elsewhere. Just last month, for example, China finished work on the last of 13 permanent facilities on islands and reefs in the East China Sea as part of another intensive EEZ extension and development process. A new lighthouse at Waikejiao is the latest addition.

"Because Japan and China tend to look at foreign policy in a more relationship-oriented manner - rather than Washington's event-driven policies - if both countries are on good terms, which you can say for now, the Okinotori Island issue will be taken care of so that it does not dampen the relationship," said Yoshikawa.

Japan is not likely to suffer any consequences as it proceeds with its plans on Okinotori.

"I do not see that happening for the foreseeable future as this is a peripheral issue which is more likely to be affected by overall Sino-Japanese relations," said Yoshikawa.

Nevertheless, China has a very good reason for persisting in its efforts here, regardless if it annoys Japan or not.

"There is not much that China can do about Japan's claim, given China's own claims in the South China Sea," said Dutton. "However, China will probably continue to diplomatically object to Japan's claim in order to preserve Chinese freedom of military action in the waters surrounding Okinotori."

Notes: 1.) EAS CONGRESS 2009 HIGHLIGHTS , Nov 24, 2009
2.)Beijing slams Tokyo move on atoll, China Daily, Jan 8, 2010
3.)Japan and China Dispute a Pacific Islet , New York Times, July 10, 2005
4.) Japan atoll expansion 'hurts neighbors', China Daily, Feb 11, 2010
5.) Vietnam delimits its continental shelf in UN report. Vietnamnet, Aug 2009
Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from the US state of Maine.

Boat services suspended as level of Mekong plunges

Asia One News
4 March 2010

Many large boats and ferries have had to suspend services on the Mekong River due to the extremely low water level.

No cargo ships have cruised up and down the stretch of the Mekong in Chiang Rai for several weeks.

"Big boats can only sail along the river with a depth of at least 2 metres but the Mekong is now running dry," Sanyan Piyanont, a 53-year-old boat operator, said yesterday.

Wassana Mongkhonklee, an executive of a transport company in Chiang Rai, said some products could not be shipped out.

"I believe the damage to the export sector is well over Bt100 million (S$4.28 million ) during the past month," she said.

Apisit Khampilo, Chiang Rai marine chief, said he had received many complaints that the Mekong was running so low that ship navigation was impossible.

"We're going to petition the Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River among China, Laos, Myanmar [Burma] and Thailand [JCCN] for help," he said.

He expects the JCCN to arrange negotiations to ensure that ship movements are possible along the entire stretch of the Mekong throughout the year.

Many people suspect that China-based dams are the main reasons the Mekong's water level has been getting so low this year.

Kanokwan Manorom, a lecturer at Ubon Ratchathani University, said the sinking water level in the Mekong had both economic and social repercussions.

"When farmers cannot rely on water from the Mekong, many of them will have to seek new jobs and change their way of life," she said.

China should think about the peoples of down-river countries too, she said.

If China agreed to become a member of the Mekong River Commission, all countries involved might be able to find solutions to the water-level crisis in the Mekong, she said.

Only Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are members of the commission.

"We have to hold forums to inform China that people down river are suffering. China should understand that the Mekong is an international level. It does not belong to China alone," she said.

On February 21, leisure cruises between Thailand's Chiang Rai and Laos' Luang Prabang also came to a halt.

"Some operators have continued their service by making extra efforts. They have to carefully avoid low spots. Instead of spending just 30 or 45 minutes in the river, their trip takes up to two hours," said Somsuk Khutakaphan, the Nakhon Phanom-based deputy chief of the Bueng Kan Customs Checkpoint.

If the Mekong continues to drop like this, motorised ferryboats will vanish from this international waterway within five years, he said.

Mongkhon Tansuwan, chairman of the Nakhon Phanom Chamber of Commerce, said the Mekong was just 35-centimetres deep in some places.

"This is the worst in three decades," he said.

Riverside resorts, which usually offer beds in floating rooms, now see their facilities resting on the exposed riverbed instead.

-The Nation/Asia News Network

Vietnamese boat attacked, robbed by Chinese

7 February 2010
VietnamNet Bridge

VietNamNet Bridge - Fishermen in the central province of Quang Ngai have complained that a Chinese boat robbed and mistreated them as they were fishing off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) islands early this week, a local newswire reported Sunday.

According to the complaint submitted to Ly Son District’s Coast Guard Headquarters by fisherman Nguyen Chin, he and his crew of 15 were fishing in Vietnamese waters when a boat with a Chinese flag chased them on Tuesday.

When the Chinese boat caught up with Chin’s boat, around 20 people in army uniforms boarded the boat and pushed the Vietnamese fishermen to the prow before taking away over 500 kilograms of seafood.

“They also threw two drums of water to the sea, poured cold water on our rice container and asked us to go back to Vietnam’s coast,” Chin said, adding that they arrived home more than one day later.

A representative of the coast guard headquarters told the newswire they were verifying Chin’s allegations, and that the Quang Ngai coast guard had already reported the incident to provincial authorities.

Last year, more than a dozen boats in Quang Ngai were illegally stopped, robbed and mistreated in three attacks by the Chinese when they were fishing in Vietnamese waters, according to the news source.

In the meantime, the central province of Da Nang reported many Chinese boats continued fishing off Vietnam’s coast, local newspaper Tuoi Tre said on Saturday.

At least 130 boats were found illegally casting nets off the coast of Da Nang, Thua Thien-Hue, and Quang Tri provinces between last Saturday and Tuesday, it said.

The boats were chased off the waters, the Da Nang Coast Guard reported.

Early last month the coast guard headquarters had complained about the Chinese boats’ encroachment of Vietnamese waters, saying they detected the boats almost every day since late last year.

NGOs push for talks with Beijing on dam impact

Bangkok Post
23 February 2010

The government has been urged to hold talks with Beijing on the impact of Chinese dams on the upper Mekong River following recent sharp drops in the river's water flow.

The Save the Mekong Coalition - an alliance of environmental groups and riverside communities monitoring ecological changes in the Mekong River - believes the unusually low level of the river is caused by Chinese dams.

"It's time for the Thai government to look into the impact of [Chinese] dams on downstream communities," the group said in a statement issued yesterday.

The group said a large number of people had been affected by the unusual river flow patterns since 1993 when Manwan, the first dam built on the upper Mekong, began to operate.

The Chinese government has built four mega-dams on the Mekong. The fourth - Xiaowan, which is the world's highest arch dam and the second largest hydroelectric power station in China after the Three Gorges Dam - was completed and began to store water last October.

Peerasak Intayos, of the Chiang Rai-based Mekong Conservation Group, said water levels in the Mekong had dropped sharply since Saturday, prompting tour boat operators to suspend services such as those between Chiang Rai and Luang Prabang in Laos.

The Royal Irrigation Department yesterday reported that water levels measured in Loei, Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom provinces were at a "critical low".

Pianporn Deetes, of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network, urged the government to hold talks with Beijing on the situation.

"The Thai authorities must ask Beijing to disclose the amount of water stored by the dams to see if the water shortage has been caused by the dams' operations," she said.

"The government must also work with other Mekong countries to map out measures to help riverside folk."

China Reverts to Aggressive Stance in the South China Sea

Epoch Times
Gary Feuerberg
22 February 2010

WASHINGTON—At an all-day hearing Feb. 4 on Capitol Hill, U.S. Congress Members and experts from the State and Defense Departments, and academia and non-government organizations, gave testimony on China’s activities in Southeast Asia, and the economic, strategic and security implications for the United States. Concerns by China’s mainland and maritime southern neighbors were discussed regarding China’s increasing willingness to use force and threats to back up its territorial claims.

The hearing was conducted by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), which advises the Congress on China’s activities.

“Especially in the South China Sea, China has become increasingly assertive—even provocative—towards its neighbors in regard to maritime issues,” said Dr. Richard Cronin, Henry L. Stimson Center. Dr. Cronin testified that it appears that China is switching back to its pre-1995 stance when it takes up military action to back up its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“Since the 1950s, the PRC has claimed most of the South China Sea as Chinese maritime territory,” said Dr. Andrew Scobell, Texas A&M University.

“[Since late 2007] China has increased naval patrols, pressured foreign energy companies to halt operations in contested waters, [taken steps to appropriate the Paracel and Spratly islands,] and unilaterally imposed fishing bans in parts of the sea,” said Bronson Percival, Center for Naval Analyses (CNA). Mr. Percival said that China insists that disputed claims are “bilateral issues,” i.e., between China and a weaker nation, and cannot be handled by “multilateral mechanisms.”

Last year China displayed highly aggressive conduct against US Navy vessels. In March 2009 the U.S. navy ship Impeccable in the South China Sea—in international waters—was interfered with by Chinese vessels and told to leave the area or “suffer the consequences,” testified Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). A similar incident occurred in June with the destroyer USS John S. McCain.

“There can be no mistaking what these moves mean. The [People’s Republic of China] is aggressively signaling through their actions, claiming dominance and control over the South China Sea,” said Rohrabacher. He adds that if China acts in this belligerent way to the U.S., one can only imagine what the threat must be to the countries in the region.

Robert Scher  (l), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia, U.S.  Department of Defense, and Robert Shear (r), Deputy Assistant Secretary  for Eastern Asia and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Robert Scher (l), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia, U.S. Department of Defense, and Robert Shear (r), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Eastern Asia and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State. (Gary Feuerberg/Epoch Times)
“We strongly object to behavior that puts at risk the safety of our vessels and is a clear violation of international norms of behavior in ocean waters outside territorial seas,” stated Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Scher. He asserted that the U.S. rejects any attempt to restrict the freedom of the seas in EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones). Nearly 40 percent of the world’s oceans lie within the 200 nautical mile EEZs. Consequently, navigational rights must be preserved, according to Scher, for the sake of global economy and international peace.

Even though no standing army threatens China, it is building a massive military, which we ignore at our peril, said Congressman Rohrabacher. He referred to the anti-satellite missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles that China is developing, with the intention of denying us the ability to come to the aid of our regional allies.

According to Commissioner Larry M. Wortzel, who co-chaired this hearing, China’s growing naval capabilities is seen as a potential threat to the countries that have maritime territorial disputes with China—Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. He said that during the Commission’s visit to Vietnam last December, they heard several times Vietnam’s concerns over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea regarding territories claimed by both nations.

The consensus of all participants at the hearing was that the U.S. should be more engaged in the region and has a vital role in preventing China’s domination of the South China Sea and maintaining free passage of U.S. Armed forces and energy supplies.

ASEAN fears as China trade grows

In the 1990s, the Southeast Asian countries had fearful expectations of what China might do, especially with regard to territories in the South China Sea that China claims. Walter Lohman, director, Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, gave the examples of China’s confrontational actions with the Philippines over the disputed Spratly Islands and the 1995-96 missile crisis in the Taiwan traits. However, China in the late 1990s and in the early years after 2000, began to reverse its image by going on a “charm offensive,” becoming less ideological and emphasizing trade relations over territorial claims.

The five founders of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 1967 were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, joined later by Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam. The aim was to bring about the economic, political and cultural integration of the region.

Dr. Ellen L. Frost (l) and Professor Donald  E. Weatherbee (r) answer questions on Capitol Hill on China economic  and strategic interests in SE Asia and the South China Sea.
Dr. Ellen L. Frost (l) and Professor Donald E. Weatherbee (r) answer questions on Capitol Hill on China economic and strategic interests in SE Asia and the South China Sea. (Gary Feuerberg/Epoch Times)
China-ASEAN economic ties are growing each year and are likely to grow further under the China-ASEAN Free Trade (CAFTA) Agreement that became effective this year on Jan.1. Two-way trade between China and the 10 ASEAN countries reached $193 billion in 2008, which passed the U.S.’s $181 billion, and makes China now ASEAN’s third largest trading partner behind the European Union and Japan. “In terms of market size, the CAFTA ranks only behind the European Community and NAFTA,” said Professor Donald E. Weatherbee, University of South Carolina.

“According to the ASEAN Secretariat, trade between ASEAN and China has maintained an average growth of 26 percent a year since 2003,” said Walter Lohman from the Heritage Foundation. “…it can be expected that China’s trade will continue to grow at a faster rate than that of ASEAN’s other trading partners….China is already the largest trading partner of Malaysia and Vietnam and the second largest partner of the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar,” Prof. Weatherbee said.

The increased trade is on the whole welcomed by these nations, but China’s dominance in Asia has made these nations wary of its motives. Because the RMB is undervalued and China is unwilling to revalue it, “ASEAN exports [are] less competitive in global markets and Chinese imports—which will increase with CAFTA—more competitive in ASEAN domestic markets. Vietnam has already found it necessary to devalue its currency and other ASEAN countries, especially Thailand may have to follow suit,” said Professor Weatherbee. He also said that voices in Indonesia, ASEAN largest market, worry that cheaper Chinese imports will lead to massive job loss in the industrial, agricultural and fishery sectors.

The increased involvement of China in trade and investments gives China leverage that it didn’t have before. For example, China’s second ranking official, Xi Jinping, was in Phnom Penh for signing 14 economic assistance agreements between China and Cambodia when the latter country two days later forcibly repatriated 20 ethnic Uyghur refugees, who had been under UNHCR protection, said Professor Weatherbee.

Secretary Clinton: 'the United States is back'

All who testified spoke of the importance of maritime Southeast Asia to China and other nations that depend on navigating through the South China Sea. “The sea lanes that run through Southeast Asia are some of the world’s busiest and most strategically important…Last year 90 percent of foreign oil imported by China went through the Malacca Strait,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David B. Shear.

Yet, the U.S. lacks a clear strategy for the region, according to those who testified.

“Most ASEAN governments are eager for deeper U.S. engagement. During the George W. Bush administration, there was a widespread perception that the United States only cared about fighting terrorism and was indifferent to other Southeast Asian needs,” testified Dr. Ellen Frost, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Obama Administration has been making efforts to renew and expand U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. In July 2009 Secretary Clinton signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, reversing the Bush administration and giving a legal basis for US-ASEAN relations. Also in July she attended the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phuket Thailand, where she announced, “The United States is back.”

“Clinton’s statement was “clearly a response of concern that China’s involvement in the region was potentially destabilizing, especially in the Mekong Basin and the South China Sea,” said Dr. Cronin.

In November President Obama met with the ASEAN-10 during his visit to Singapore and attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leadership Meeting, which was the first meeting of an American president with all of the ASEAN heads of government. And on Feb.1, the White House announced that the President would be traveling to Indonesia and Australia in March.

China’s involvement in destructive infrastructure projects

The majority of Dr. Cronin’s written testimony discusses China’s decision to build eight hydropower dams on the Upper Mekong River, which he says will have devastating environmental effects on the Lower Mekong countries, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. He also blames the latter countries for being short-sighted for pursuing environmentally unsustainable development with plans to build 13 dams on the mainstream of the lower part of the Mekong.

“…the mainstream dams in both the Upper Mekong in China and Lower Mekong in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia [and Vietnam] will have an incalculable impact on human and food security and livelihoods in the whole Mekong Basin,” said Dr. Cronin. Preserving the fish stocks, which many depend upon for their livelihood and diet, is not compatible with mainstream dams.

Commenting in general about China’s aid to Southeast Asian nations, Ernest Z. Bower, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) said:

“Too often, Chinese funds are used to build unnecessary projects that serve political rather than practical requirements. These projects support local politicians rather than practical requirements.”

Opponents of Mekong dams campaign in Australia

12 February 2010

Environmental activists from Thailand are in Australia to campaign against 11 new dams along the Mekong River.

In the region south of China, 60 million people rely on the Mekong River in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Oxfam Australia is assisting in the campaign.

Oxfam's Michael Simon says the proposed hydropower dams will block fish migration and flood rice paddies.

"Land is already extremely hard sought after, for plantations, logging, and for these people to be relocated away from the river, away from their livelihoods," he says.

"It's a well known global norm that people who are forced to resettle are pushed further into poverty."

Oxfam has sponsored a photo exhibition in Canbera and Melbourne, featuring the diversity of life on the Mekong.

It's on display at the High Court in Canberra until February 16, then at the State Library of Victoria.

Lyons: Underestimating China

By Adm. James A. Lyons
12 February 2010
The Washington Times

On a recent visit to Australia, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus downplayed the threat posed by China's rapid modernization of its military forces, highlighted in Australia's 2009 Defense White Paper. With no discernable threat, China's unprecedented force modernization program has grown at a double-digit rate for the past 10 years.

Though China professes that the modernization of its military forces threatens no one and is only for defensive purposes, it is classic Chinese subterfuge. Every new weapons system it has acquired or developed is designed specifically to target or intimidate U.S. military forces. For example, China's development of an anti-ship ballistic missile is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers - not some commercial container ship. It has purchased from Russia the Supersonic SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship cruise missile, which was designed specifically to strike our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. It has tripled to 36 the number of surface combatants carrying anti-ship cruise missiles.

China's strategic modernization program is no less impressive. Its four new nuclear missiles - some probably with multiple warheads - coupled with its recently demonstrated anti-ballistic-missile and anti-satellite intercept capability cannot be ignored. Nor can its development of a new strategic bomber and a fifth-generation fighter.

The building of underground submarine pens on Hainan Island, which can house both strategic and nuclear-attack submarines, cannot go unnoticed. By this year, China could have 60 attack submarines. Hainan Island's strategic location provides quick access to the critical sea lines of communication that lead to northeastern Asia and Australia, plus ready access to the broad reaches of the Western Pacific. This facility, coupled with China's illegal action to claim the entire South China Sea as part of its "historic waters," should be a wake-up call. Further, its unilateral claim of sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, including the Paracels, Spratlys, Senkaku and Taiwan, provides substance to China's goal of dominating an island chain that includes Taiwan. Taiwan is the key to extending that dominance out to a second island chain that includes Guam.

The Australian Defense White Paper properly recognizes the threat posed by China to Australia's national security and also highlights the adverse impact it could have on U.S. naval and Marine forces in the Western Pacific. Australia places its security not only on its own self-reliant military forces, but on the strategic underpinnings provided by its most important ally, the United States. In that sense, Australia is concerned about the reduction in U.S. strategic forces and the lack of a modernization program. The extension of the U.S. strategic umbrella is critical to Australia, as it is to our other friends and allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea.

According to reports, Mr. Mabus stated that the immediate challenges to stability across the Pacific did not stem from China's growing naval power, but the threat from pirates, terrorists and illegal fishing. This view obviously reflects the Obama administration's new strategy of not preparing for major conflicts, which is a formula for disaster. Further, it plays into the China propaganda line that its modernization is only for defensive purposes. China goes on to state that it has never committed aggression against anyone. This propaganda is repeated by pro-China supporters, plus a line attributed to Henry Kissinger that "military imperialism is not China's style." Then China's aggression in Tibet, Vietnam, India, Russia and the South China Sea must have been aberrations.

How much further will Chinese imperialism reach, when, by the end of this decade, it could have multiple aircraft carriers, a growing large-ship amphibious navy, near nuclear parity should the president succeed with further U.S. nuclear warhead reductions, and growing numbers of fifth-generation fighters? It's not just this picture that worries some of our Australian allies, but also the refusal of the Obama administration to see how it may be accelerating a growing threat.

I agree with Mr. Mabus that our commitment to the Western Pacific region must remain absolute. Many of the programs that need to be supported to enhance that commitment go beyond the Navy's budget.

Our recently announced sale of the Patriot defensive weapon system to Taiwan was a good start, but more needs to be done. Taiwan also needs F-16 fighters now, then fifth-generation F-35s later this decade, and submarines. We should never let Chinese bluster - like its threat to cease its mostly useless "assistance" to end Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs - interrupt American aid to democratic Taiwan. The Navy budget needs to include funding for a 12th aircraft carrier, plus funding for a core surface naval force that is imbedded with the capabilities of a Zumwalt-class destroyer to counter known and future threats.

Unlike Mr. Mabus, I can see clearly that China is a real and growing threat to U.S. naval forces in Asia, to U.S. allies and friends such as Taiwan and to freedom of navigation in the maritime and outer-space realms. Denying these facts will not make China go away and will not impress our allies.

Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

Chinese patrol boat seizes fisherman's catch

Vietnam Enlists Allies to Stave Off China’s Reach

By Edward Wong
New York Times
4 February 2010

HANOI, Vietnam — The archipelago called the Paracel Islands lies in the South China Sea 250 miles off the east coast of Vietnam, a series of rocks and reefs and spits of land that, to the undiscerning eye, appear as valuable as broken coral washed up on a beach.

But that archipelago and the nearby Spratly Islands are rich in oil and natural gas deposits, and so they are coveted by the nations that form a wide arc around the South China Sea. China, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims in the Paracels, while all three and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have claims on the Spratlys or the waters surrounding them.

The most vociferous are Vietnam and its traditional rival, China. Indeed, no issue between them is more emotional or more intractable.

Tensions crept up another notch last month, after China announced plans to develop tourism in the Paracels, which the Chinese military has controlled since 1974. It was an inauspicious start to what the two governments had officially labeled their “Year of Friendship.”

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry loudly denounced China’s move, as it usually does in these situations. But quietly, Vietnam has been doing more than just complaining; it has laid the groundwork for another strategy to pry the islands from China’s grasp.

Vietnam is pushing hard behind the scenes to bring more foreign players into negotiations so that China will have to bargain in a multilateral setting with all Southeast Asian nations that have territorial claims in the South China Sea. This goes against China’s preference, which is to negotiate one on one with each country.

In other words, Vietnam wants all parties at the same table to stave off China, the behemoth. This strategy of “internationalizing” the issue is one that smaller Asian countries like Vietnam may adopt more often as they wrangle with the Chinese juggernaut on many fronts. The thinking is: As China’s political power in the world expands, smaller nations will gain leverage over China only if they force it to negotiate in multilateral forums.

Vietnamese officials “are internationalizing the issue, and they’re doing it in a quiet way, not in a direct way,” said Carlyle A. Thayer, a scholar of Southeast Asia and maritime security at the Australian Defense Force Academy. “They say they want to solve it peacefully, but let the international community raise the issue.”

Analysts say a big test for this strategy will come this year, as Vietnam takes over the leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean. Vietnam is likely to use its position to try to persuade the countries to join territorial negotiations with China, analysts say. In November, Vietnam held a conference in Hanoi, its capital, where 150 scholars and officials from across Asia came to discuss disputes in the South China Sea — an opening salvo in the new strategy, analysts say.

“The kind of thing that I took away was that developments in the South China Sea had either deteriorated or had the potential to deteriorate,” said Mr. Thayer, who attended the workshop.

American military and intelligence officials say the South China Sea, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, is growing as a security concern because Beijing is increasingly emboldened to flex its naval muscles there. In the past two years, China has been more aggressive in asserting control over the area — detaining Vietnamese fishermen, increasing sea patrols and warning foreign oil companies away from working with Vietnam.

The United States takes no sides in these disputes, but American officials “remain concerned about tension between China and Vietnam, as both countries seek to tap potential oil and gas deposits that lie beneath the South China Sea,” Scot Marciel, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said in July while testifying before Congress. Mr. Marciel added that China had shown a “growing assertiveness” in regard to what it deemed its maritime rights.

Tensions over such rights plague China’s relations with many of its neighbors. Just last month, Japan protested Chinese plans to develop gas fields in the East China Sea.

For the Vietnamese, the South China Sea dispute is so emotional that it unites virtually all of them under an anti-China nationalist banner, even those in exile who usually abhor Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party. In Houston, a South Vietnamese enclave usually hostile to the Vietnamese government, a pop band proudly calls itself Hoang Sa, the Vietnamese name for the Paracels.

In December, Vietnam asked China to return fishing boats and other equipment seized from fishermen detained by the Chinese military near the islands. One Vietnamese news organization has estimated that China detained 17 vessels and 210 fishermen last year; the fishermen have all been released.

Also in December, the Vietnamese prime minister signed an arms deal in Russia that reportedly included the purchase of six diesel-electric submarines for $2 billion, presumably to be used in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China has agreed to continue talks with Vietnam, but it is willing to discuss only joint development of the area, not sovereignty rights. And it refuses to negotiate with all the relevant Southeast Asian nations in any multilateral way.

“There would be too many countries involved,” said Xu Liping, a scholar of Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Do Tien Sam, a scholar of China at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, said the Vietnamese government believed the exact opposite, that the “negotiations should involve discussions between at least five countries.”

“They all need to sit down,” Mr. Do said.

The conference here in November was not an official site for talks but rather a workshop intended partly to explore multilateral approaches to the issue. Despite China’s resistance to such approaches, several scholars from research groups in Beijing attended.

Some analysts are skeptical of whether Vietnam will get any traction with its new strategy, especially if it decides to press the issue as it presides over Asean. The association has members that have no stake in the fight, like Cambodia and Myanmar.

“Vietnam’s approach faces real obstacles,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has written a book on China’s territorial issues. “It is hard to see how consensus can be built within Asean short of a major armed clash involving Chinese forces.”

China and Vietnam: Clashing Over an Island Archipelago

By Ishaan Tharoor
14 January 2010

Vietnam condemns China tourism plan for archipelago

8 January 2010

HANOI - Vietnam has condemned what it says is a Chinese plan to develop tourism on the disputed Paracel archipelago.

The Paracels would be included in China's plan to develop nearby Hainan island into an international tourist site, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said in a statement late Monday.

China announced its intention on December 31, the ministry said.

Nga demanded China immediately end the plan which "causes tension and further complicates the East Sea situation".

Vietnam and China have a long-standing dispute over sovereignty of the Paracels and a more southerly archipelago, the Spratlys. Both are in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing had "taken note" of the Vietnamese protest.

She added: "I want to reiterate that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratleys and the Paracels."

In December, Vietnam and Russia signed a major arms deal which reportedly involves the purchase of six submarines. Analysts said the deal aims to bolster Hanoi's claims against China over the potentially resource-rich islands.

Vietnam says its policy is to ensure a peaceful outcome to the maritime disputes.

Sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands by Monique Chemillier-Gendreau

Sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands by Monique Chemillier-Gendreau

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4