South China Sea Watch No. 5

South China Sea Watch No. 5

What you need to know

An overview of the past week's key developments in the South China Sea.

ASEAN meeting deadlock

An ASEAN meeting of foreign ministers in Laos entered deadlock on July 24 over how to address the South China Sea dispute. The Philippines and Vietnam wanted a communiqué released after the meeting to refer to the Hague ruling and the need to refer to international law, Reuters reports. However, China’s closest ASEAN ally, Cambodia, opposed the wording in the statement.

On July 12 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating sweeping Chinese claims over the South China Sea.

On July 25, ASEAN and China reached a deal on refraining from inhabiting currently uninhabited features in the South China Sea, the South China Morning Post reports.The ASEAN-China joint statement also pledged to respect freedom of navigation and to peacefully resolve territorial disputes through negotiations following international law.

Of the 10 ASEAN member states, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei are claimants in the South China Sea dispute.

On July 27, Manila said the failed communiqué at the ASEAN meeting was not a diplomatic victory for China. Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay spoke after returning from the Laos meeting.

“I am just saying this to dispel the reports that have been said that China came out victorious in the Asean meeting because we precisely agreed to not mention the arbitral award,” he said, the South China Morning Post reported. “But that [was] not the object of our meeting in Asean. The arbitral award is a matter between China and the Philippines.”

Japan told to remain silent

On July 24, China told Japan to stay away from the South China Sea disputes as it is not directly a claimant, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang (陸慷) said, “Japan is not a party to the South China Sea issue, and considering its shameful history, it has no rights whatsoever to accuse China on the matter.”

His comments came after Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he would approach his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi (王毅) to talk about the South China Sea dispute.

China continues expansion

On July 26, China’s Century Satellite established a new 4G station on the Spratly islands, Central News Agency reported. This adds to the previous 4G station by China Telecom, raising the number of major Chinese telecoms operating 4G stations in the Spratlys to two.

Chinese operations in the Spratlys were previously dependent on satellite communications established in 2008 to keep in touch with China.

Experts have predicted China will continue to expand its infrastructure in the South China Sea, despite having its territorial claims thrown out in the Hague ruling, the South China Morning Post reports. This is to give the Chinese submarine fleet, stationed on Hainan, unrestricted access to the Pacific Ocean, according to experts.

“No matter what the international arbitration rulings said, China will keep pushing ahead with its maritime ambitions in the South China Sea because it regards it as a ‘fortress’ that will enable its military expansion,” said Beijing-based military commentator Song Zhongping (宋忠平). “The South China Sea provides the only route for China to establish itself as a real maritime power.

China in Times Square

Xinhua News Agency is playing a propaganda video 120 times a day in Times Square in New York City to support its stance in the South China Sea dispute. The video dismisses the legitimacy of the Hague ruling and calls for claimant nations to conduct bilateral negotiations with China.

The video features figures voicing support for China’s position, but one such figure has claimed her quotes were taken out of context, Quartz reports.

Catherine West, a British Labour MP and shadow foreign minister, is shown saying in the video, “I think talks are crucial. And that’s why we have to be careful that yes, we need to resolve something very locally, and have a grown-up approach to dialogue.”

West’s comments seem to affirm Beijing’s stance for resolving the dispute through bilateral negotiations. However, in an email to Quartz, she clarifies her position.

“Although I was of course happy to give an interview on my concerns regarding the militarisation of the South China Sea and the need to work together to secure a peaceful resolution, I am not happy for the footage to be used in a way that suggests that I support the current approach adopted by China towards these islands.”

“Securing peace and stability in the South China Sea is an issue I care deeply about. Indeed I raised this very issue with the Chinese delegation I met whilst at the [The 5th China-Europe High-level Political Parties Forum], and I specifically voiced concern that island-building and the deployment of military forces on the Islands of the South China Sea was of great concern to the UK and our European neighbours, as well as those parties affected within the South China Sea Region.”

“I maintain that dialogue is crucial to securing peace in the region, the arbitration process at The Hague would have been such a opportunity for the dispute to have been settled in a grown-up way.”

China has amped up its propaganda campaign in recent years via various channels in an effort to develop an influential voice on the global scene.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole