MonitorsPublished on Jun 05, 2017
South China Sea | Vol. VI, Issue 6

THE ISSUE: US & Vietnam – Converging interests

With the Philippines no longer as clear an ally of the US as it was previously, the latter is seeking reliable partners in its efforts towards neutralising Chinese advances and influence in the Asia Pacific. Ever since a change of political regime in the Philippines took place, the current dispensation has sought to maintain an even keel with Beijing, despite occasional rhetoric that may indicate otherwise. For instance, President Rodrigo Duterte recently said that he was warned by his Chinese counterpart about the possibility of a war if the Philippines tried to explore for oil in a disputed stretch of sea. Immediately after this, however, Foreign Secretary of Philippines Alan Peter Cayetano softened this stance saying that the two leaders had an amicable meeting that sought to stabilise the region. It is believed that public opinion of Duterte’s closeness to Beijing is not well taken and hence the President tries to balance his approach towards China at home. However, it cannot be denied that Duterte has reached out to Beijing in a bid to reverse what he perceives as an over-dependence on the US. This has prompted the US to seek other allies in the region and Vietnam -which has remained one of the most vocal countries against the increasing presence and assertion of China in the South China Sea- has emerged as a likely candidate. The Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will be the first ASEAN leader to visit the US after the election of President Donald Trump. The two countries have strengthened strategic ties through visits of heads-of-government, naval exchange visits, the supply of vessels from the US to the Vietnamese coast guard and most importantly, the waiver of arms exports to Vietnam from the US. While bilateral ties were given a fillip after the ‘road to normalisation’ initiated by the then US President George H.W. Bush in 1992, it is only recently that the importance of cultivating strategic ties has been acknowledged by both countries. Nothing is ever static in global politics and the development of relations between the Washington and Hanoi best demonstrate this fact. From being enemies during the Cold War to initiating and enhancing economic ties during the 90s to accepting each other as strategic partners, the two countries have come a long way. Vietnam is often regarded as the silent economic success story of Southeast Asia and the country has made significant progress in terms of its GDP and enhancement of standard of living of the citizens. In recent years as China’s inroads and claims over the maritime features and space of the South China Sea has grown, Vietnam has remained one of the most prominent littoral states of the region to object. Contesting maritime territorial claims, constructions of airstrips and land reclamation activities by Beijing have embroiled the waters of the region. While different littoral nations have taken different approaches towards the dragon, Hanoi has staunchly opposed its activities. And this is probably one of the determining factors for the US pursuing stronger ties with Vietnam.


G7 seeks demilitarisation of ‘disputed’ sea features

The Group of Seven (G7) or the seven richest countries in the world have issued a joint communiqué expressing concern about the situation in the East and South China Seas and calling for a demilitarization of “disputed features.” The joint statement was released following the May 26 and 27 meetings in Taormina, Italy attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump. The leaders strongly opposed any unilateral action that could increase tensions. (Philstar)

China is behaving like a 'bully' in the South China Sea, says Senator McCain

China is behaving like a "bully" with its militarization of islands in the South China Sea, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said on Tuesday, activity Washington must confront with its allies to find a peaceful solution.  In a speech in Sydney, McCain said China was asserting itself globally, best illustrated by militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea, a claim repeatedly rejected by Beijing. (Business Insider)

US warship drill meant to defy China's claim over artificial island: officials

A U.S. warship carried out a "maneuvering drill" when it sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, to show Beijing it was not entitled to a territorial sea around it, U.S. officials said on Thursday. The operation near Mischief Reef on Thursday, Pacific time, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has disputes with its neighbors, was the boldest U.S. challenge yet to Chinese island-building in the strategic waterway. (Reuters)

China slams G7 for 'interfering' in South China Sea dispute

China on Sunday strongly denounced the just-concluded G7 summit, accusing it of interfering in the East China Sea and South China Sea disputes in the "guise of international law". The G7 summit held in Taormina, Italy, ended with a joint communique yesterday, saying the members are committed to "maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law". The statement expressed concerns about the situation in the East China Sea and South China Sea. (The Times of India)

 ‘No-fly zone’ in South China Sea a fabrication: China

China on Thursday dismissed reports that it was planning a “no-fly zone” over the disputed South China Sea, saying it was a “large-scale fabrication” by the Japanese media. “The deployment of armaments on southern China’s Hainan Island is within the country’s sovereign right and the so- called no-fly zone is entirely fabricated by Japanese media,” Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson with the Ministry of National Defence, said. (The Indian Express)

South China Sea policy unchanged under Trump: US State Dept official

Washington's policy on the South China Sea has not changed under President Donald Trump, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday. Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton also said there were no indications China had gone cold on further potential sanctions against North Korea. A U.S navy warship conducted a so-called freedom of navigation drill near Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands on Thursday, the first such manoeuvre under the Trump administration, prompting an angry response from Beijing. (Reuters)

India plans tsunami warning system for South China Sea, as does China

India is trying to extend its influence over the disputed South China Sea by exploring the possibility of setting up a tsunami early warning system for the region -- something that China has reportedly also been working on. India's system would provide South China Sea littoral states such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia with early alerts in the case of a tsunami -- high waves caused by a quake in the sea that can cause unmitigated damage. (The Times of India) 24

Philippines, China play down Duterte's talk of war in disputed sea

The Philippines and China played down on Monday a warning by President Rodrigo Duterte that China would go to war if the Philippines drilled for oil in the disputed South China Sea. The outspoken Philippine president has been facing criticism at home for being what some people see as too soft on China over a long-running territorial dispute. Duterte met China's President Xi Jinping for talks in Beijing last week and later said Xi had warned him there would be war if the Philippines tried to explore for oil in a disputed stretch of sea. Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said their meeting was frank and friendly, and the discussion was largely about preventing conflict, not threatening it. (Reuters)

China succeeds in mining combustible ice in South China Sea

China has succeeded in collecting samples of combustible ice in the South China Sea, a major breakthrough that may lead to a global energy revolution, Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming said Thursday. This is China's first success in mining flammable ice at sea, after nearly two decades of research and exploration, the minister said at a trial mining site in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea. China found flammable ice in the South China Sea in 2007. (Xinhua)

China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct

China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Thursday to a framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China's foreign ministry said, as both sides step up efforts to ease tension in the strategic waterway. China and the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been hoping to agree on the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it. After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the Chinese city of Guiyang, China's foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, but gave no details of its contents. (Reuters)



Mark J. Valencia, “A South China Sea Code of Conduct? Don't Get Your Hopes Up”, The Diplomat, May 30, 2017 Jay Batongbacal, “Silence Is Falling on the South China Sea”, The National Interest, May 26, 2017 Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson, “In the South China Sea, the U.S. is Struggling to Halt Beijing’s Advance”,  Foreign Policy, May 25, 2017 Michael Vatikiotis, “Why China's Slick Strategy to Dominate the South China Sea Is Working”, The National Interest, May 24, 2017 Prashanth Parameswaran, “What’s With Indonesia’s 'Big' Military Exercise Near the South China Sea?”, The Diplomat, May 23, 2017 Ankit Panda, “China Pushes Back on Japan, New Zealand Statement on South China Sea”, The Diplomat, May 21, 2017 Richard Heydarian, “Duterte seeks to play dealmaker in South China Sea disputes”, South China Morning Post, May 6, 2017 Editor: K. Yhome                                               Associate Editor: Pratnashree Basu
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