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The South China Sea’s Roiled Waters: Diplomatic Settlement or Destabilizing Naval Arms Build Up?

Professor Carl Thayer Australian Institute of International Affairs (ACT Branch) July 7, 2009

Overview
 Strategic

Overview  Maritime territorial claims  Chinese assertiveness  Roiled waters, 2009  Yulin Naval Base, Hainan Island  Naval arms build up  Diplomatic prospects

1. Strategic Overview

Paracel (Xisha or Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Nansha or Truong Sa) Archipelagoes

2. Maritime territorial claims
China’s historical claims – undefined stroke marks on a map

Inter-mixed pattern of occupation

3. Chinese assertiveness 2007
• • • • •

BP oil and gas plans shelved temporarily under Chinese pressure (March-June) Chinese naval vessels detain 4 Vietnamese fishing craft (April) Chinese sink one Vietnamese boat and kill one fisherman (9th July) PLAN naval exercise in Paracels (November) National People’s Council creates Shansa county level administrative district

Chinese Response to Vietnam’s ‘Maritime Strategy to 2020’

Anti-China Student Demonstrations

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on 9th and 16th Dec. 2007

China’s ‘Invasion Plan’

Posted on Chinese web sites in August 2008

4. Roiled Waters, 2009
 UN

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) deadline May 13  Malaysia’s Prime Minister visits Swallow Reef to assert sovereignty  Philippines Archipelagic Baselines Act  Malaysia-Vietnam make joint submission to UN CLCS; Vietnam also submits separate submission; China lodges protest

UN Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf – May 13, 2009

USNS Impeccable Incident

Unilateral Chinese Fishing Ban,
May 16-August 1, 2009

Roiled Waters, 2009
 May-June:

Armed Chinese vessels adopt aggressive measures, chase Vietnamese fishing boats, sink one, seize fishing catch, one fatality reported  May: Joint trade ministry web site shut  June: Three Vietnamese boats seized, two later freed, other boat subject to hefty fine and 12 crew detained

5. Yulin Naval Base, Hainan Island

Sanya Naval Base 5 Aug 05 to 28 Feb 08

Yulin Naval Base

Deep Sea Trench – SSBN Patrol Area

China’s ‘String of Pearls’

Chinese Airstrip Woody Island, Paracel Archipelago

Fiery Cross and Mischief Reefs

Consolidation of facilities on Fiery Cross and permanent naval presence at Mischief Reef

6. Naval arms build up

Vietnamese Naval Modernisation

Tarantul Frigate

BPS 500 Missile Boat

Area Denial – Submarine Acquisitions
China - 5 SSBNs by 2010 Singapore - 4 Malaysia - 2 Indonesia - 3 Vietnam - 6 Australia - 12 US redeployments to Western Pacific

Vietnam in market for up to six Project 636 Kilo class submarines

6. Prospects for Diplomatic Settlement
 Bilateral
 China-Vietnam

+ Philippines  China-Malaysia  Vietnam + Indonesia & Malaysia
 Multilateral
 ASEAN

Code of Conduct?  ASEAN Regional Forum
 Outside

Balancers – United States

The South China Sea’s Roiled Waters: Diplomatic Settlement or Destabilizing Naval Arms Build Up?

Professor Carl Thayer AIIA (ACT Branch) July 7, 2009