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The South China Sea as China

The South China Sea as China’ss Core 
Core
Interest: What Role for ASEAN?

Professor Carl Thayer
Presentation to ASEAN Studies Center 
American University Washington DC
American University, Washington, DC 
March 23, 2011
Background: 
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the South 
China Sea
China Sea
•Semi‐
enclosed sea
7 littoral 
•7 littoral
states
Competing Territorial Claims
Competing Territorial Claims
• Two
Two major island 
major island
archipelagoes
• Paracel Islands
• Spratly Islands
S tl I l d
Hydrocarbon & Fisheries Resources
Hydrocarbon & Fisheries Resources
Sea Lines of Communication ‐ SLOC
Sea Lines of Communication 
UN Convention on Law of the Sea
UN Convention on Law of the Sea
Taiwan and 
•Taiwan and
China make 
same claim
same claim
•China’s 
claim is
claim is 
based on a 
map 
map
produced by 
Nationalist 
Nationalist
Government 
in 1947
in 1947
The Philippines Claim
Kalayaan or Freedom Land
Chronology South China Sea
Chronology South China Sea
• Taiwan on Itu
Taiwan on Itu Aba since 1956
since 1956
• 1974 China seizes southern Paracels
• No Chinese presence prior to 1988
Chi i 988
– Chinese‐Vietnamese clash, China lodges forces on 
Johnson South Reef 
h h f
• 1992 China adopts Law on Territorial Waters
• Oil exploration and “scramble for the Spratlys”
• 1992 ASEAN issues Declaration
1992 ASEAN issues Declaration
ASEAN Declaration on South China Sea
ASEAN Declaration on South China Sea
Issued in  Manila, Philippines, 22 July 1992
Issued in Manila, Philippines, 22 July 1992
• 1. EMPHASIZE the necessity to resolve all 
sovereignty and jurisdictional issues
sovereignty and jurisdictional issues 
pertaining to the South China Sea by peaceful 
means, without resort to force;
• 2. URGE all parties concerned to exercise 
restraint with the view to creating a positive 
climate for the eventual resolution of all 
disputes
South China Sea Occupation
South China Sea

Claimants Features occupied Estimated troops
Vietnam 21‐22 900‐1,000
The Philippines 8‐9 600‐700
China 7‐10 900‐1,000
,
Malaysia 4‐5 230‐330
Taiwan 1 500‐600
Brunei 0 0
Chronology Spratly Islands
Chronology Spratly Islands
• 1995
1995 Mischief Reef occupied, ASEAN issues 
Mischief Reef occupied ASEAN issues
another Declaration
• 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties DOC
2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties DOC
• 2005‐08 Chinese Naval base on Hainan Island
• 2007 China declares new Administrative 
Region over South China Sea
• 2008‐present increased tensions draws US 
diplomatic intervention
p
China Occupies Mischief Reef
1995 ASEAN Declaration
1995 ASEAN Declaration
We call upon all parties to refrain from taking actions that 
p p g
destabilize the region and further threaten the peace and 
security of the South China Sea. We specifically call for 
the early resolution of the problems caused by recent
the early resolution of the problems caused by recent 
developments in Mischief Reef. 
We urge countries in the region to undertake cooperative 
activities which increase trust and confidence and 
i ii hi h i d fid d
promote stability in the area. 
We encourage all claimants and other countries in
We encourage all claimants and other countries in 
Southeast Asia to address the issue in various fora, 
including the Indonesia‐sponsored Workshop Series on 
Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea
Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea.
Chinese Construction on Mischief Reef
ASEAN Declaration on Conduct of 
Parties in the South China Sea
• 1995‐02 China‐ASEAN discussions on South 
China Sea results in DOC
• Non‐binding
• Geographic area not defined
g p
• Confidence building measures proposed
• First step towards a Code of Conduct
First step towards a Code of Conduct
• Joint Working Group to Implement DOC
Recent Developments
Recent Developments
• Vietnam’s Maritime Development 
p
Strategy 2015 (2007)
• Anti‐China students protests Vietnam
Anti China students protests Vietnam
• Chinese “invasion plan” and war of 
words on Internet
• China
China’ss unilateral imposition of annual 
unilateral imposition of annual
fishing bans
USNS Impeccable Incident March 2009
Extended Continental Shelf May 2009
China’s 
China s
Response to 
Claims for
Claims for 
Extended 
Continental 
Shelf
Core Interest
Core Interest
• U.S.
U.S. officials visiting Beijing reported that 
officials visiting Beijing reported that
China identified the South China Sea as a 
“core interest” (March 2010)
( )
• Unclear which Chinese official made 
comment
– State Councillor Dai Bingguo
– Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai
• Unclear if this represents a change in 
official policy
Core Interest
Core Interest
• “When
When the Chinese first told us at a 
the Chinese first told us at a
meeting [in China] of the Strategic and 
E
Economic Dialogue [May 25, 2010] that 
i Di l [M 25 2010] th t
they view the South China Sea as a core 
interest, I immediately responded and 
said ‘We don’t agree with that’.”
g
– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, quoted in 
The Australian, November 9, 2010
The Australian, November 9, 2010
PLAN Naval Exercises
PLAN Naval Exercises
1 Early
1. Early April 
April – 16 warships from North, 
16 warships from North
East and South Sea Fleets
2 Early July ‐
2. Early July 10 warships from East Sea 
10 warships from East Sea
Fleet in response to US‐ROK exercise
3. Late July –
l largest of its kind, most 
l f k d
modern ships, senior commanders
4. Early November – 100 platforms + 
marines
•March‐April 2010 
E tS
East Sea and North 
d N th
Sea Fleets conduct 
major exercises
major exercises 
beyond First Island 
Chain
•Vietnamese 
fishing craft 
“swarm” around a 
Chinese fishery 
vessel in Spratlys
vessel in Spratlys
•PLAN warships 
intervene
43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting
ASEAN Ministerial Meeting

• “[DOC]
“[DOC] a benchmark document 
b h kd
between ASEAN and China.” 
• Assigned Senior Officials to resume 
discussions with China on the South 
China Sea
– ASEAN Foreign Ministers statement July 
20, 2010
17th ASEAN Regional Forum
ASEAN Regional Forum
“The
The U.S. supports the 2002 ASEAN
U S supports the 2002 ASEAN‐ChinaChina 
Declaration on Conduct of Parties in 
the South China Sea.  We encourage 
the parties to reach agreement on a full 
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code of conduct.  The U.S.  is prepared 
to facilitate initiatives and confidence
to facilitate initiatives and confidence 
building measures consistent with the 
declaration. “
– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
• 11 of 27 members voice concern
17th ASEAN Regional Forum
ASEAN Regional Forum

• “China is a big country and other 
countries are small countries, and 
that is just a fact, [staring directly 
at Singapore’ss foreign minister, 
at Singapore foreign minister,
George Yeo].”
– Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi
2nd US
US‐ASEAN
ASEAN Leaders Meeting
Leaders Meeting
• “oppose
oppose the use or threat of force by 
the use or threat of force by
any claimant attempting to enforce 
disputed claims in the South China Sea”
disputed claims in the South China Sea
– U.S. draft statement
• D
Dropped from official statement as well 
df ffi i l t t t ll
as all references to South China Sea
• White House “read out”
ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus 
ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus

• South
South China Sea not on formal agenda 
China Sea not on formal agenda
or included in final statement
– Included in Chairman’ss statement
Included in Chairman statement
• 7 ministers raised South China Sea
• “It
It is their problem, it is not our 
is their problem it is not our
problem.”
– Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, deputy director of 
Rear Admiral Guan Youfei deputy director of
the external affairs office in China’s Defence
Ministry
Status of the DOC
Status of the DOC
• ASEAN‐China
ASEAN China Joint Working Group to 
Joint Working Group to
Implement the DOC revived
– Previously considered on 
Previously considered on “life
life support
support”
• Now discussing a code of conduct for the 
South China Sea
South China Sea
• ASEAN‐China discussions may have been 
prompted by U.S. diplomatic intervention
b l
• Indonesia as ASEAN Chair has raised issue
Conclusion 
Positive Developments
l
• Upturn
Upturn in China‐US relations
in China‐US relations
• China has ceased pressure on 
i t
international oil and gas companies
ti l il d i
• US downplays another “USNS Impeccable
incident”
• Decrease in harassment of Vietnamese 
fishermen
• Grounds for cautious optimism on DOC
Grounds for cautious optimism on DOC
Conclusion 
Negative Developments
l

• China increasing capacity to enforce 
sovereignty claims
g y
• Continued development of Yulin Naval 
Base
• Continued lack of China’s defence
transparency
transparenc
• Anxiety about decline of US primacy
The South China Sea as China
The South China Sea as China’ss Core 
Core
Interest: What Role for ASEAN?

Professor Carl Thayer
School of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities & Social Sciences
Australian Defence Force Academy