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Thứ Bảy, ngày 18 tháng 5 năm 2013

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Why Philippines Stands Up to China

The Philippines is hopelessly mismatched against China in pure military terms. But there are historical reasons why it won't back down in the South China Sea.

Why Philippines Stands Up to China

Last month, I wrote a column forGlobal Times in which I observed that a dominant Chinese Navy lets China’s leadership deploy unarmed surveillance and law-enforcement vessels as it implements policy in theongoing stand off at Scarborough Shoal. It can flourish a small, unprovocative seeming stick while holding the big stick – overwhelming naval firepower, and thus the option of escalating – in reserve.
That, I wrote, translates into “virtual coercion and deterrence” vis-à-vis lesser Asian powers. If weak states defy Beijing, they know what may come next. Global Times readers evidently interpreted this as my prophesying that Southeast Asian states will despair at the hopeless military mismatch in the South China Sea – and give in automatically and quickly during controversies like Scarborough Shoal.
Not so. Diplomacy and war are interactive enterprises. Both sides – not just the strong – get a vote. Manila refuses to vote Beijing’s way.
Military supremacy is no guarantee of victory in wartime, let alone in peacetime controversies. The strong boast advantages that bias the competition in their favor. But the weak still have options. Manila can hope to offset Beijing’s advantages, and it has every reason to try. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? China has been the weaker belligerent in every armed clash since the 19th century Opium Wars. It nevertheless came out on top in the most important struggles.
That the weak can vanquish the strong is an idea with a long pedigree. Roman dictator Quintus Fabius fought Hannibal – one of history’s foremost masters of war – to a standstill precisely by refusing to fight a decisive battle. Demurring let Fabius – celebrated as “the Delayer” – marshal inexhaustible resources and manpower against Carthaginian invaders waging war on Rome’s turf.
Fabius bided his time until an opportune moment. Then he struck.
Similarly, sea power theorist Sir Julian Corbett advised naval commanders to wage “active defense” in unfavorable circumstances. Commanders of an outmatched fleet could play a Fabian waiting game, lurking near the stronger enemy fleet yet declining battle. In the meantime they could bring in reinforcements, seek alliances with friendly naval powers, or deploy various stratagems to wear down the enemy’s strength. Ultimately they might reverse the naval balance, letting them risk a sea fight – and win.
Victory through delay represents time-honored Chinese practice. Mao Zedong built his concept of protracted war on stalling tactics, and, like Corbett, he dubbed his strategic vision “active defense.” For both theorists, active defense was about prolonging wars to outlast temporarily superior opponents.
Mao pointed out that China boasted innate advantages over the Japanese Army that occupied Manchuria and much of China during the 1930s. It merely needed time to convert latent power – abundant natural resources and manpower in particular – into usable military power. Mao’s Red Army later overcame stronger Nationalist forces by winning over popular support, and with it the opportunity to tap resources, establish base areas in the countryside, and the like.
Good things came to those who waited.
So there’s some precedent for Philippine leaders to hope for diplomatic success at Scarborough Shoal. The Philippine military is a trivial force with little chance of winning a steel-on-steel fight. But like lesser powers of the past, Manila can appeal to law, to justice, and to powerful outsiders capable of tilting the balance its way. Sure enough, Philippine officials have advocated submitting the dispute to the Law of the Sea Tribunal and invoked a longstanding U.S.-Philippine mutual defense pact.
Despite all of this, the deck remains heavily stacked against Manila. Why persevere in defying China, with its overwhelming physical might? Thucydides would salute the Filipinos’ pluck. The Greek historian chronicled the Peloponnesian War, the protracted 5th century BC struggle between Athens and Sparta. One of Thucydides’ best-known precepts is that “fear, honor, and interest” represent “three of the strongest motives” driving societies’ actions.
In one infamous episode, Athenian emissaries inform the leaders of Melos, a small island state, that “the strong do as they will and the weak suffer what they must” when their interests collide. They demand submission. The Melians balk, but have no hope of help from Sparta or any other rescuer. When they remain defiant anyway, the Athenians put the men to the sword while enslaving the women and children.
Fear, honor, and interest animate small states like Melos and the Philippines as much as they do superpowers like Athens and China. Maritime claims are a matter of self-interest for Filipinos. They are also a matter of honor. Beijing can't expect Manila to simply tally up the balance of forces, acknowledge it faces a hopeless mismatch, and buckle. Philippine leaders can solicit foreign support, and they know Beijing has no Melian option.
Why admit defeat prematurely, any more than Fabius or Mao did?
James Holmes is an associate professor of strategy at the US Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.




 

 

Why Japan Should Ignore China’s Okinawa Provocation


May 17, 2013

By Taylor Washburn

Nationalists are seeking leverage for the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. Japan shouldn’t play into their hands.
By now the narrative is familiar: China, brandishing a sheaf of faded maps and records, questions the basis of Japan’s authority over islands in the East China Sea. The dispute summons bitter memories of the Middle Kingdom’s humiliation at the hands of its neighbor starting in the late 19th century, but also heightens fears that Beijing is abandoning its decade-old mantra of “peaceful rise” to become the revisionist power its neighbors and Washington fear.
For the last year, this has been the tale of the Senkaku Islands, a remote cluster of rocks whose only mammalian inhabitants are goats and an endangered race of moles. China’s claim to the islets, which it calls Diaoyu, dates back at least four decades, but tensions have heightened since the Japanese government announced last year that it would purchase them from a private owner.
Just last week, however, Beijing opened up a new front in the dispute. On Wednesday, China’s leading state-run newspaper, thePeople’s Daily, ran a piece questioning the status of Okinawa, home to 1.4 million Japanese citizens as well as 25,000 U.S. troops. Its authors, two scholars at a government-backed think tank, surveyed the history of the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is easily the most important, and concluded that the legitimacy of Japan’s rule over the chain is “unresolved.” When pressed for comment, China’s Foreign Ministry refused to affirm that the Ryukyus are part of Japan, instead reiterating that “the Diaoyu Islands,” which sit to Okinawa’s west, “are China’s inherent territory,” and not part of the Ryukyus. This is hardly the first time that nationalists have attempted to sow doubt about Okinawa, but never before have questions about Japanese sovereignty been entertained at such a high level.
The Ryukyus arc from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, towards Taiwan. Most of their residents are indigenous Ryukyuans, a group of peoples who have traditionally spoken their own Japonic languages and maintained political and trade ties with both China and Japan. Even before the unification of Okinawa and surrounding islands under a single king in the 15th century, the Ryukyuans were tributaries of the Ming Dynasty. But after their king refused to help the Japanese daimyo Hideyoshi invade Korea in the 1590s, the islands were subjugated by a feudal lord from Kyushu. For almost three centuries, the islands’ kings paid tribute to two masters, the shogun of Japan and the emperor of China.
The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and his “black ships” in the 1850s rocked Japan, but the new state that emerged from this political turmoil was unified and assertive. In 1879, the young Emperor Meiji, a modernizing reformer, formally absorbed the Ryukyus, which became Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. China’s Qing Dynasty ratified this action in 1895, but only under duress; the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese War, not only provided that China would abandon any claims to the Ryukyus, but signed away Taiwan and severed China’s longstanding tributary relationship with Korea. (The treaty also helped set the stage for the Senkaku dispute, which turns in part on whether those islets were part of Taiwan, and thus reverted to China after 1945, or the Ryukyus.)
Okinawa was captured by Allied troops in the final months of the Pacific War, but this victory came at such a terrible cost that it may have influenced President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons rather than mount a ground assault on Japan’s home islands. When the American occupation of Japan ended in 1952, the Treaty of San Francisco provided that Washington would continue to administer the Ryukyus. Okinawa became a key pedestal of American power in Asia, an idea that Commodore Perry had championed a century earlier. The chain reverted to Japanese control in 1972, but the U.S. military continues to maintain a constellation of bases on Okinawa under the terms of Washington’s security alliance with Tokyo.
The Ryukyuan people have a complex relationship with their national government. Many resent the way the islands were used during the Pacific War –in particular, the compulsory mass suicides ordered by Imperial officers during the Allied invasion – and feel that they still bear a disproportionate burden for Japan’s defense. One particular source of controversy is the location of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, today situated in an urban area near Okinawa’s capital. While Washington and Tokyo long ago negotiated a plan to move the base, a combination of local opposition and waffling by Japanese leaders has delayed its implementation.
But none of this knotty history casts any doubt on Japanese sovereignty. The islands’ residents remained citizens of Japan throughout the postwar U.S. administration, and most welcomed the return of Japanese control. In polls, a majority of Okinawans either identify themselves as Japanese or adopt a dual identity, and independence advocates – who, ironically, express solidarity with similar movements in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang – have fared poorly in local elections.
These facts are hardly news to Beijing. The questions that state organs have raised are not part of a disinterested historical inquiry (as the Foreign Ministry asserts), nor do they foreshadow a campaign to claim the chain for China. Rather, they are an attempt to broaden the Senkaku dispute, itself a pointed challenge to Tokyo and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Indeed, an unsigned editorial in Global Times has already acknowledged as much, describing the issue as a source of “leverage,” to be raised whenever Beijing is displeased with Tokyo. “If Japan, binding itself with the U.S., tries to threaten China’s future,” the hawkish state-run paper warns, Beijing should seek to “impose threats on the country’s integrity” by backing Ryukyuan independence.
Since last week, formal diplomatic protests have ping-ponged between between Tokyo and Beijing. Japan is entitled to its outrage, but its leaders must recognize that an angry response could play into the hands of Beijing’s hawks. Facing two genuine independence movements and tied up in territorial disputes with other neighbors from India to Southeast Asia, China in fact has much to lose from pressing a theory that could embolden “splittists” at home and heighten anxieties abroad. Emphasis on the Ryukyus’ antique tributary relationship with China is particularly incendiary, given that many other Asian nations were similarly tied to the Middle Kingdom at some point in history.
With even Chinese netizens mocking the People’s Daily for overreaching, Japan has nothing to gain from becoming ensnared in a debate over Okinawa. By refusing to be goaded, Tokyo can deny China the leverage it seeks – and watch as Beijing suffers
Taylor Washburn is a lawyer studying at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and was previously a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He can be followed on Twitter @washburnt
the consequences of its own provocation.


 

Deleterious Neglect: Will the U.S. Navy Surrender Maritime Asia? 

May 17, 2013

By Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes

Having gone unchallenged for decades, and facing budget cuts, the U.S. Navy is in danger of losing its capability to challenge the PLA in its near seas.
The Chinese navy's surface forces are on the march. Destroyers, frigates, corvettes, fast-attack craft, and, most recently, the newly commissioned aircraft carrier comprise the surface fleet. Over the past two decades, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) has put to sea four Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers procured from Russia, along with ten new classes of indigenously built destroyers and frigates. Some of the latter ship types have entered serial production, adding mass to the fleet. This is an impressive feat by any standard.
The PLA Navy's metamorphosis from a coastal defense force into a modern naval service has riveted the attention of the U.S. defense community. In 2009 the Office of Naval Intelligence — a body not known for hyperbole — described the advances of China's surface fleet as "remarkable." Similarly, the Pentagon's most recent annual report on Chinese military power notes the "robust" buildup of PLA Navy major combatants since 2008.
The Liaoning carrier understandably captures the public imagination. But the true vanguard of the PLANavy's prowess will be its surface combatants — the workhorses of any navy — that will make China's turn to the seas felt in maritime Asia and beyond. In the coming years, these warships will serve as pickets guarding the carrier, project power on their own in surface action groups, maintain a visible presence in disputed waters, defend good order at sea in distant theaters, and conduct naval diplomacy around the world. 
Yet debate persists over this metamorphosis. Skeptics doubt the PLA Navy will translate its growing material heft into real combat effectiveness. One sanguine view holds that the U.S. Navy surface fleet is more than a match for any rival in the contest for sea control — the arbiter of any naval war — and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The implication is that while Beijing may be able to exact a price from the U.S. Navy for attempting to use the seas and airspace in China's environs, the United States will still command the seas when the chips are down. 
At the tactical level, this comforting narrative holds that U.S. naval forces remain able to land a devastating blow before opposing warships get close enough to fire their first shot. In a fleet-on-fleet engagement, for example, carrier-based warplanes would unleash missiles at enemy surface combatants from standoff distances, meaning beyond the engagement range of the opponent's anti-ship arsenal. This scenario conforms to the longstanding American doctrinal preference for shooting the archer before the archer can let fly his arrow.
This tactical and technological margin of superiority will endure and perhaps even widen, so goes this storyline, letting the U.S. Navy retain its dominant position in maritime Asia.   
We're not so sure.
For one thing, China's surface fleet is quickly catching up. Mariners are cementing core competencies while closing the capability gap. For years, Chinese ships' lack of sophisticated area-wide air defenses exposed them to air and missile attacks. This shortcoming reaffirmed U.S. commanders' conviction that carrier aviators would handily defeat the PLA Navy in a fight. Now, however, near-state-of-the-art systems on board some Chinese combatants outrange the anti-ship weaponry sported by U.S. aircraft. The Luyang-class guided-missile destroyers are apparently equipped with phased-array radars similar in appearance — and, according to Chinese pundits, in capability — to the American Aegis combat system, a combination radar, computer, and fire-control system that can detect and target multiple aircraft simultaneously at long range.
At the same time, the PLA Navy has armed its warships to the teeth with a family of Russian- and Chinese-made anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) boasting ranges of 120-130 nautical miles. The only comparable weapon in the U.S. inventory is the nearly-four-decade-old Harpoon anti-ship missile, whose advertised striking range is less than 70 nautical miles. In other words, major Chinese combatants can not only keep U.S. aircraft at bay, but can also close in on the U.S. fleet to unleash volleys of ASCMs outside the weapons range of U.S. vessels. Not American but Chinese archers may now hold the initiative.
Thus both the defensive and offensive sides of sea combat are stacking up in China's favor — progressively eroding the tactical advantages of U.S. naval power.
Furthermore, it is unclear whether the U.S. Navy's surface battle capacity has kept up with the times. Since the Cold War, the navy has grown accustomed to operating in uncontested waters. Indeed, directives from on high stated that no one was likely to dispute American command of the sea. Owing to such strong bureaucratic signals, the surface fleet has let the skills and hardware for striking at sea atrophy. Why practice fighting for something no one can dispute?
Other missions have preoccupied the service since the Cold War. Naval aviators have spent the past decade supporting ground forces rather than girding to duel enemy armadas. Dropping smart bombs on insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan demands different skill sets from evading enemy defenses and pummeling enemy men-of-war. Meanwhile, guided-missile destroyers have been burdened with an ever wider array of missions, including ballistic-missile defense (BMD). Competing missions — some of which, like BMD, command national-level scrutiny — siphon finite resources, crews' attention, and, equally important, physical space aboard ship away from the combat function.
In effect, then, the service has demoted war at sea, the raison d'être for any navy, to secondary status. Both the hardware (weaponry, sensors, and hulls) and the software (training and exercises) for sea control have doubtless suffered as a result. In an era of tight budgetary constraints, reversing two decades of steady decline in surface warfare will be neither easy nor quick. In short, prevailing assumptions about American naval supremacy are coming under strain.
It would be a grievous mistake, nonetheless, to concentrate wholly on the operational progress the PLA Navy surface fleet has made or the tactical travails that could hold back the U.S. Navy surface fleet. Competition is about more than just gee-whiz weaponry or comparing entries in Jane's Fighting Ships. The only meaningful standard by which to gauge a seagoing force's adequacy is its ability to muster superior combat power at the decisive time, at the decisive point on the nautical chart, against the strongest probable adversary. As a great man once proclaimed, there is no substitute for victory.
It is far from clear that the United States retains its accustomed supremacy by that unforgiving standard, any more than it does in technological terms. For a variety of reasons — distance from the theater, the consequent need for forward bases and logistics fleets, expensive weaponry, salaries, and pensions — it costs the United States far more than China to stage a unit of combat power at a given place in maritime Asia. Whether the Pentagon can afford to mount superior strength in a rival great power's backyard, whether the sea services are investing in the right people and hardware to constitute that strength, and whether American seafarers have the requisite skills to prevail when battle is joined are the only questions worth asking.
That casts U.S.-China competition in a whole new light, doesn't it? A purely fleet-on-fleet engagement is improbable within the China seas or the western reaches of the Pacific Ocean. In those expanses, Beijing has the luxury of throwing the combined weight of Chinese sea power into a sea fight, dispatching not just its surface fleet but missile-toting submarines and swarms of patrol craft. Furthermore, land-based implements of sea power can strike a blow in any fleet action that takes place within their combat radii. PLA Air Force warplanes can join the fray, as can anti-ship missiles fielded by the PLA Second Artillery Corps. Lord Nelson, who knew a thing or two about operating fleets under the shadow of shore-based weaponry, sagely counseled that a ship's a fool to fight a fort. That's doubly true today, when Fortress China can reach scores or hundreds of miles out to sea.
One part of the U.S. Navy, then, could conceivably confront the whole of China's maritime might. The U.S. sea services are dispersed throughout Asia and the world. To estimate the outcome of a fleet action, we thus have to determine how the contingent the U.S. Navy is likely to commit to battle — including its aerial and subsurface components, along with any assets supplied by allies like the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force or South Korean Navy — stacks up to the massed power of the PLA Navy fleet, backed by the array of anti-access weaponry at PLA commanders' disposal. (This assumes Chinese commanders do the smart thing in wartime and mass their fleets for action.) If China's navy outmatches the U.S. or combined fleet contingent under such conditions, it is adequate to the tasks entrusted to it by the political leadership. If not, the advantage resides with the United States and its allies.
The unenviable task before Washington, then, is to preserve or extend the margin of superiority of part of its naval force over the whole maritime force, sea and land, that's available to Beijing. It's tough to pull off such a feat, especially under present circumstances. Finances are straitened. Overall numbers are under stress as a result, as is the military's capacity to innovate. To make ends meet, the U.S. Navy is substituting light combatants such as the new Littoral Combat Ship for multi-mission warships bristling with heavier firepower. To compound these problems, the fleet finds itself outranged by its most likely antagonist. It will be several years before a new anti-ship missile restores long-range hitting power to the fleet, or until exotic armaments such as electromagnetic rail guns or shipboard lasers augment the main battery.
From a grand-strategic standpoint, the lag in weapons development could open a danger zone in which Beijing is tempted to strike before its range advantage lapses. Imperial Japan made a similar now-or-never calculation in 1904, realizing that rival Russia was constructing new battlewagons for its Pacific squadron. It struck before St. Petersburg could amass insuperable strength in Far Eastern waters. In 1941, likewise, Tokyo hit the U.S. Pacific Fleet before the entirely new fleet being built under the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940 could arrive in the theater and shift the naval balance against Japan. U.S. and allied leaders must remain watchful, lest Beijing too succumb to the temptation to settle disputes around its nautical periphery by force.
Are submarines the great equalizer, a U.S. Navy game-changer akin to the "assassin's mace" that so beguiles Chinese strategists? Many Westerners appear to think so. They consider undersea warfare a talisman, assuming that the U.S. Navy can simply dive beneath the waves and pummel the PLA Navy from below. Submariners voice confidence in the superiority of American and allied boats over anything China has put to sea. We see no reason to question the allies' qualitative superiority in this sphere, and indeed we have depicted the subsurface fleet as a core competitive advantage for the United States.
But while quality remains on the allied side, numbers are more problematic. Yes, under the pivot to Asia, sixty percent of the U.S. Navy’s 72-vessel submarine force now calls the Pacific Ocean home. But 18 of those 72 submarines are Ohio-class ballistic- or cruise-missile boats (14 SSBNs, 4 SSGNs) meant for shore bombardment. That leaves 54 attack submarines (SSNs) suitable for a tilt against the PLA Navy, sixty percent (32-33 submarines) of which will be in the Pacific. That may sound like a lot, but bear in mind that no unit is ready for service all of the time. Routine upkeep, extended overhauls and refueling, crew rest, and training all have claims on a vessel's schedule.
A hoary U.S. Navy axiom holds that it takes three ships to keep one on foreign station. One is in the shipyards and completely out of service, another is preparing for deployment, and the third is actually oncruise. If anything, the 3:1 ratio actually overstates the proportion of ships available for combat duty.  Even using this ratio, however, U.S. naval commanders can expect to have 11 fully combat-ready subs at their disposal at any time. Assuming the rhythm from overhaul to deployment holds up, another 11 may be available in varying states of readiness.
Twenty-two SSNs, no matter how good individually, is a slender force to cover the China seas and Western Pacific in wartime. Theorist Julian S. Corbett advises commanders to post vessels at the origin of an enemy fleet's voyage; at its destination, if known; or at focal points such as straits where shipping has to congregate as it passes from point A to point B. Otherwise it may be hard to make contact. Monitoring Chinese seaports, along with narrow seas such as the Luzon Strait and the passages through the Ryukyu Islands, will stretch the tactically proficient but lean U.S. submarine fleet. That in turn will leave broad operating grounds open to the PLA Navy.
Undersea warfare, then, remains an advantage, owing not just to American skill but to the PLA Navy's neglect of antisubmarine warfare. But the U.S. Navy needs more mass — meaning more boats — if it is to vanquish China's navy from the depths. Practitioners and pundits err if they view the silent service as it currently stands as a panacea. Doubling the submarine force would be a prudent move for Washington in its strategic competition with Beijing.
Where does all of this leave us? It's commonplace among China-watchers to make the U.S. Navy the benchmark by which to judge the PLA Navy's size and composition. This misleads. As noted here, the proper yardstick is the navy's capacity to fulfill the goals assigned to it by political leaders, in the expanses that matter, against the strongest likely opponent. Beijing's immediate goals and its likely opponents fall within reach of the abundant shore-based armaments festooning Fortress China. Combining land- with sea-based implements of marine combat yields a force far more formidable than side-by-side comparisons of surface fleets would indicate. The PLA Navy, then, may not need a surface fleet symmetrical with the U.S.Navy's — in terms of flattops, air wings, destroyers, etc. — to get its job done.
Observers must apply standards unique to China to determine whether China's Navy has struck the right balance of capabilities. Comparing it to a globe-spanning navy like America's reveals little.
Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes are professors of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, where Yoshihara occupies the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies. The views voiced here are theirs alone.
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Vietnam

 

By Hung Nguyen

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam-China relations have gone through roughly four major phases.
The first phase, which ran from 1949 to 1978, was characterized by ideological comradeship, mutual trust and support.  China was a steady and indispensable source of support for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) throughout both its war against the French, then against the United States and South Vietnam.
The second phase began with Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978 and China’s border war with Vietnam in 1979, and ended in 1990. This period featured antagonism, war and mutual distrust.
The third phase began in 1991, with the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries through 2007. The first few years of this period saw a rapid improvement in bilateral relations based on ‘sixteen golden words’—friendly neighbours, total cooperation, stable and long-term, future-oriented increased trade and settlement of border disputes, mostly in favour of China.  This spirit of cooperation and renewed friendship was, however, weakened toward the latter part of the period due to Vietnam’s concern over China’s rise and its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.
The fourth phase, which began in 2008, pitched China’s increasing assertiveness against Vietnam’s efforts to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of the China challenge. The future of Vietnam-China relations depends on the interaction between two constants (geography and history) and two variables (China’s policy and changing big powers’ relationship).
Geographically, Vietnam is a small country living in the shadow of a huge neighbour. It’s normal for a big country to seek influence over a smaller neighbour, just as it’s normal for a small country to resist that effort to preserve its independence until they reach a mutually satisfactory accommodation. In the past, when the two countries shared the same ideological fervour and faced a common enemy—the anticommunist ‘imperialists’—relations were close and solid. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of European communism,  the ascendancy of the market economy and the force of global integration have weakened the special ideological bond between China and Vietnam and have revived the perennial problem of the big neighbour-small neighbour relationship, as well as Vietnam’s strategic mistrust of China.
In 1990, feeling threatened by the radical transformation in the communist world, Vietnam sought a communist alliance with China against the threat of a perceived Western-instigated ‘peaceful evolution.’ China accepted Vietnam’s proposal for reconciliation, but rejected its request for an alliance. Failing to secure an alliance with China, Vietnam began to take serious steps to reorient Vietnam’s foreign policy toward its neighbouring countries and the West, and worked to improve its international profile. The success of this policy has resulted in the normalization of US-Vietnam relations, deepening Vietnam’s integration into the ASEAN system, and its election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2008 and as the Chair of ASEAN in 2010.
If geography and history combine to make Vietnam’s mistrust of China an underlying factor in bilateral relations, Chinas’ actions since 2008 have further reinforced this. On the one hand, China accelerated its naval build up in the South China Sea, while Chinese web sites began to publish ‘invasion plans’ against Vietnam. On the other hand, China began to warn foreign oil companies against exploring for energy in area claimed by Vietnam while allowing them to explore in area disputed by Vietnam.
More recently, in 2009, China unilaterally imposed a fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, arrested Vietnamese fishermen and made public its claim over 80 percent of the South China Sea—a claim that seriously encroached upon Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. Vietnam reacted by encouraging Vietnamese fishing vessels to continue fishing in disputed areas, purchasing arms to beef up its defences and, despite China’s protests, multilateralizing the South China Sea dispute and seeking the cooperation of other countries.
The US has made clear it doesn’t share China’s views over its excessive territorial claim, and that it opposes  any attempt to intimidate US companies ‘engaging in legitimate economic activity’ and interference with the free navigation in the South China Sea. China’s aggressive behavior thus speeds up the process of US re-engagement in Asia, including with Vietnam.  This new US determination emboldened countries including Vietnam to stand up to China, as reflected at the Shangri-La dialogue in June 2010, the Fifth East Asian Summit and the first ADMM-Plus in Hanoi in October 2010.
At the same time, US-Vietnam military relations have improved markedly, beginning with the first political-military dialogue in 2009 and followed by the first defence policy dialogue in 2010. China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea brought about a convergence of strategic interests between
Vietnam and the United States and served as a driving force behind Vietnam’s rapid rapprochement with America despite its fear of  ‘peaceful evolution.’
All this said, Vietnam doesn’t want to antagonize China unnecessarily. Ideologically, it’s more comfortable with China than with the United States. Economically, China is a potential market, a source of financial assistance and a model of development. The biggest obstacle to good relations between the two countries is their conflicting claims over the South China Sea.
Vietnam has for its part declared that it won’t make further concessions to China’s excessive demands. A peaceful solution to this problem therefore depends heavily on China’s restraint and magnanimity. If it can’t respond as hoped, China will simply drive Vietnam and other countries further away—and into closer cooperation with the United States.
Hung Nguyen is an associate professor of government and international relations at George Mason University.
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Fisherman's death gives cause for Spratlys offensive: PLA general


·                                 Staff Reporter
 
·                                 2013-05-15
·                                  
·                                 PLA generals like Luo Yuan see the death of Hung Shih-cheng as a chance for China to press home its objectives regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea at the same time. (Photo/CNS)
PLA generals like Luo Yuan see the death of Hung Shih-cheng as a chance for China to press home its objectives regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea at the same time. (Photo/CNS)
General Luo Yuan, known as one of the most outspoken senior officers in China's People's Liberation Army, has said that the killing of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng by the Philippine coast guard has given China an opportunity to seize the eight islands currently held by Manila in the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po.
"Opening fire on a Taiwanese fishing boat is not only a provocation to Taiwan, but to the entire Chinese family," said Luo. "I don't know what law the Taiwanese fishing boat violated for fishing in the overlapping exclusive economic zones instead of the Philippines' territorial waters."
Luo also said the use of lethal force against an unarmed fishing boat is a direct violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The general also questioned the account offered by the Philippine side regarding the incident, saying he believes Manila is trying to protect the officer who fired the fatal shot. Beijing will need to come to Taiwan's aid to force the Philippines to apologize, Luo said.
There are four ways China can help Taiwan seek redress, the general said. First, China, as a member of the United Nations, is able to charge the Philippine at the International Court of Justice. Second, a mechanism of cooperation between fishery associations on either side of the Taiwan Strait should be established immediately through consultation. Third, the coast guards on either side should discuss a similar mechanism to patrol disputed waters. Fourth, a mechanism to establish cross-strait military trust should be initiated.
If the Philippines continues to harass Taiwanese fishing vessels, Luo said the PLA will launch an attack to recover an island in the Spratlys held by the Philippines. The general China gained experience in dealing with the Philippines in the standoff over Scarborough Shoal last year.
Luo's suggestion is unlikely to be taken up by Taiwan's government. But President Ma Ying-jeou may find an uncomfortable ring of truth in the words of Hung Feng-lien, the daughter of the 65-year-old fisherman who died when the Philippine coast guard opened fire on Thursday. She said that it is now safer for Taiwanese fishermen to fly the colors of the PRC flag rather than the ROC when operating in or near disputed waters.
References:
Luo Yuan  羅援
Hung Shih-cheng 洪石成
Hung Feng-lien  洪鳳蓮
 NTB(HK) st

 

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