Second of three parts
IN the economic field, the US is pushing for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that will encompass 30 regional economies, excluding China. In contrast, Beijing offered its own trade liberalization framework called Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) which Pres. Xi, in opening the APEC CEO Summit in the Chinese capital on 9 November 2014, claimed as his vision of an “Asia-Pacific Dream.” In July 2014, Pres. Xi joined the leaders of the BRICS group of emerging powers in launching a development bank and an emergency reserve fund. The $50- billion bank will be based in Shanghai while the emergency fund known as the Contingent Reserve Arrangement will have $100 billion in reserves pooled from BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The twin move is being projected as an alternative to the Western-dominated global financial system. While on state visit to Seoul, Korea, also in July 2014, Pres. Xi expressed to his counterpart, President Park Geun-hye, the hope that ROK will be part of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that he intends to launch next year. The AIIB, obviously, is an attempt by Beijing to reshape economic order in Asia. China is apparently displeased by the fact that in the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan and the US are the largest shareholders with 15.7 and 15.5 percent, respectively, while China holds just a 5.5 percent share although its economy has surpassed Japan’s. ADB has 67 member countries.
Sino-American rivalry is more pronounced and intense in Asia- Pacific. There are two main issues that animate the political/strategic landscape in the region, namely: 1. China’s creeping assertiveness and its territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; and 2. The US “pivot” to Asia-Pacific, a policy of rebalancing American forces that envisions the deployment of 60 percent of the US Navy fleet to the region by 2020.
China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea. As a consequence, China has territorial disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines – all members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN). The Philippines and Vietnam have incurred Chinese aggression the most. In 1995, Chinese structures were discovered in Mischief Reef, which is located in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. The structures have acquired permanency. After a two-month standoff with the Philippines, China grabbedPanatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in 2012.
Lately, Chinese maritime patrols harassed a Philippine supply vessel going to an occupied part of the West Philippine Sea. In May 2014, China deployed a deep-sea oil rig near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both Hanoi and Beijing. Although the rig was removed two months later, the provocation caused violent reactions and deep resentment in Vietnam.
The Chinese act is driving Vietnam into Washington’s orbit. In August 2014, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, reviewed a Vietnamese honor guard in Hanoi beside Vietnam’s military chief General Do Ba Ky. Vietnam was seeking new arms from the US. Earlier in 2014, the US and the Philippines raised their defense relationship a notch higher by entering into an “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).” During his visit to Manila that year, Pres. Obama asserted that the US commitment “to defend the Philippines is ironclad” because “allies never stand alone.”
The US “pivot” to Asia-Pacific is intended to expand a network of military partnerships. This will see the deployment of 2,500 US Marines in the northern part of Australia and the stationing of four new Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore.
In the East China Sea, China and Japan are disputing ownership of the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu Islands.
The US has made it clear that the Senkaku Islands are covered by its mutual defense pact with Japan. Like Japan, the US has rejected China’s self-declared air defense identification zone in the East China Sea.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, then US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared at the July 2010 ASEAN Regional Form (ARF) Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi that “the US has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” In reaction to Clinton’s statement, the Chinese Foreign Minister warned the US not to “internationalize” the issue, adding that international practice shows that the best way to resolve these types of disputes are direct bilateral negotiations between the countries involved.”
(I was delighted by the foregoing development. More than a decade earlier, from November 1997 up to early May 1999, I was the Philippine chief delegate to the ARF Intercessional Support Group on Confidence Building Measures and had participated in the Forum’s discussions of the South China Sea. As far as I know, I was the first person to raise the issue of Chinese incursion into the Mischief Reef, together with pictures from our intelligence community, in an international meeting. That happened at the ARF ISG-CBM meeting in Bangkok, Thailand from 2 to 5 May 1999. I was also a member of the Philippine delegation that had bilateral meetings dealing with our territorial dispute with China held in Beijing in 1997 and in Manila in 1999. Considering what transpired at these talks, I am not enamored by the prospect of a bilateral negotiation with China regarding the West Philippine Sea issue. The Philippines was on the right track in elevating its maritime boundary dispute with China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.)
END OF SECOND PART