Thursday, April 18, 2013

China Wages A Quiet War Of Maps With Its Neighbors While Waging A War Of Nerves In Their Neighbor's Offshore Waters.

Ancient Map from Google Images:  The"Bamboo Seas" denote what we now call the "East and South China Seas"

Recently the following appeared in the Washington Post:

"BEIJING — Bitter maritime disputes between China and its neighbors have recently sent fighter jets scrambling, ignited violent protests, and seen angry fishermen thrown in jail. But beneath all the bellicose rhetoric and threatening posture, China also has been waging a quiet campaign, using ancient documents, academic research, maps and technical data to bolster its territorial claims.
The frenetic pace of such research — and the official appetite for it — comes after decades of relative quiet in the field and has focused heavily on the two hottest debates: China’s quarrel with six other nations over a potentially oil-rich patch of the South China Sea and its tense feud with Japan over a small sprinkling of land called the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese and the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese......."

 All maps or charts, especially historic ones aside it is time that the Dragon learns about the international rule of law relative to sovereignty in the coastal zones, exclusive economic zones, and sovereignty over islands. Early maps and charts prove nothing in the court of World opinion, or in any of the existing International Tribunals. By referring to old enough maps one could claim that the Dutch own New York, the Norman French own England, the Sioux own the U.S.Great Plains, or that the Mediterranean Sea is a Roman Lake. 

 Like wise in the realm of uninhabited real estate who "discovers it", or sights it , or reports and charts it first doesn't have a claim on it for sovereignty. The United States landed on the moon 44 years ago and not just once but on repeated occasions, and hasn't been back since. China intends to go within a decade, and is certainly unimpeded by any U.S. claim on the turf. The United States didn't abstain from making any claim on the moon just out of the generosity of the American people. America back in 1969 recognized that the ultimate test of sovereignty over an uninhabited place is "effective settlement". In the Falkland Islands war Argentina tried to enforce an ancient claim but was forced to accept this point of international law by the force of arms of Great Britain.  The Ultimate test of Sovereignty over an island or previously uninhabited area is "effective settlement". Even if many Falkland islanders have Hispanic sounding names they settled the island, occupied the towns, and farmed the land under a British flag and have voted to stay under that flag for the better part of two centuries. This rule of international law is well settled in litigation, described in international legal commentators, and has been enforced by force of arms.

 But most of the islands that China now claims are in fact uninhabited. Most are in closer proximity to such neighbors as the Philippines or Vietnam than to China's mainland. In the case of the southernmost Japanese Islands that China claims , China is indeed close aboard, but Japan has effectively administered the Islands in the 19th and 20th, and 21st centuries. That is one of the international legal test for uninhabited islands, a history of "effective administration". The simpler test is proximity to an adjacent coastal state as provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea. This convention however provides for negotiated boundaries to exclusive economic zones (EEZs) where areas within the basic proximity scheme are occupied, or historically "effectively administered" by powers other than the adjacent coastal state. 

 Most of China's neighbors except Japan have only recently started to develop Coast Guard like forces as the value of the islands, waters, and reefs within their EEZs in terms of rich fisheries, and oil deposits have become known. Most of the Islands are uninhabited and for practical purposes are uninhabitable without extreme logistic effort at great costs. So effective administration becomes important. China wanting all of the oil and fisheries is not content to let the boundaries prescribed under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on The Law of The Sea) stand and is claiming all of the valuable real estate in the China seas as far away as 900 plus miles from her mainland on any basis that it can articulate. 

 The voracious Dragon knows the map war is a looser in terms of getting any definitive ruling out of any international tribunal. Having more wealth than its neighbors the Dragon has built what amounts to the World's largest "Coast Guard" and sent them out into all the islands enforcing fisheries regulations, running the fishermen of the adjacent coastal states out, meeting and greeting and "escorting" foreign flag vessels on innocent passage through the area. All of this activity so highly offensive to the adjacent coastal states is designed to demonstrate "effective administration". As long as China is engaged in these activities it is very difficult for any state including China to successfully sell oil leases. China wants to be recognized as the legitimate source for oil exploration and production leases everywhere in the region , not just her own legitimate EEZ. In the 1980s China simply sent in her Navy and shot to death dozens of Vietnamese sailors over ownership of a reef off of Vietnam.

 The UN Charter expressly refuses to recognize sovereignty by conquest. As China became more engaged with the rest of the World it came to realize out right conquest might be resisted by an international coalition, and that natural resource companies with money to spend might be afraid to license with holders of a title considered by the international community to be illegal. Enter China's evolving Coast Guard offensive. They are filling every void that the adjacent coastal states leave open with "Fisheries Enforcement Vessels", Ocean Surveillance Service Ships, and other lightly armed "law enforcement vessels" similar to the larger U.S.Coast Guard cutters. Now China is already working on a plan to unify this vast fleet under one "Coast Guard Command". Where their "cutters" have not been expelled China has even established at great expense "settlements" of fishermen, and "research stations", then followed on with troops "to protect their nationals and sovereignty from expulsion by the rightful owners. China ignores one major concept in International law however in this approach, "Terra Nullius, or "no man's lands".  The islands they claim appear on modern charts , have long been claimed by adjacent coastal states , some are recognized as belonging to certain adjacent coastal states by various treaties. Administration may have been spotty in places, but not so lacking that China can travel 900 miles from her shores and literally start enforcing her fisheries laws, claim to have authority to assign mineral leases, and colonize larger islands. Unfortunately the concept of Terra Nullius is controversial in part and unsettled and argumentative around its edges.   Thus China has converted its evolving Coast Guard into an aggressive force vice a law enforcement and peace keeping force as is the norm for Coast Guard's around the world. China's simple solution for taking the entire "First Island Chain" right up to the beaches of the Philippines and the southern most islands of Japan is to simply call every uninhabited rock or island "Terra Nullius", point to an old map somewhere , and send in her Coast Guard to "Administer" the area. The scary part is that the Chinese "Coast Guard" has met the Japanese Coast Guard; and the Philippine Coast Guard is gearing up, growing and professionalizing. So far when it has come to blows it has been limited to fly by exchanges, and water cannon engagements. But to fire on someone's Coast Guard is just as much an act of war as firing on another nation's navy. The aggressive behavior of the Chinese "Coast Guard Forces" is highly likely to lead to a mistake that will lead to a war at sea.

 At the very least the continued aggressive behavior by China will continue to delay oil and gas exploration and development in the area to the detriment of the entire region. If the daily news of Chinese Coast Guard misbehavior is growing tiresome, imagine the tension out there on Japanese and Philippine Coast Guard ships. There is pressure on the Chinese sailors as well. Unless China comes to the bargaining table and stops its Coast Guard led island hopping campaign, someone is going to eventually pull a trigger. No matter who pulls the trigger first the blame for the resulting war rests with The Dragon.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Hong:
    The ancient bamboo map illustrated was not "manufactured" to serve any modern purpose. It is a very early and inaccurate world map produced centuries ago for the purposes of the cartographer who compiled and prepared it. The entire point of the post is that the Chinese attempt to prove "ownership" of island territory and surrounding seas by maps and stories of first sightings, etc. is immaterial in law. There is well established international law that is codified and signed off on by most of the nations of the earth, including China that trumps the map / history or legend of discovery arguments. We didn't allege that China was manufacturing counterfeit ancient maps. Codified international law sets effective settlement, administration,and boundaries drawn in conformance with the International Convention on the Law of the Sea the standards of soverignity . Now to your second point about "white devils" learning to "kowtow" to the "great Chinese empire" you obviously didn't click on the link to the video of the opening shots of China's aggression. Those are Vietnamese sailors being mowed down by Chinese naval guns for refusing the "kowtow" to the "great Chinese empire". Not only are the Vietnamese not "white devils", they aren't even formally allied with any western nations. The present leading resistance to Chinese intentions in the China seas is composed of Japan and the Philippines, neither of which are populated by "white devils"., To the south of China are groups of non aligned, non European nations with splendid small navies and coast guards who do not intend to "kowtow" to the "great Chinese empire". Beyond them in the Indian Ocean is another large, well trained, well equipped navy, that of the Indian nation which is certainly non aligned , certainly not made up of "white devils", but definitely is concerned with the intentions of China. So China through naked aggression has managed to offend all of her neighboring states. When these Asian states decided to resist China no one asked America, or Australia, what we thought. The refusal to "kowtow" to the "great Chinese empire" is not an American or Australian created or led phenomena. No "white devils" created a "China containment movement", China ignited it among her neighbors by translating attitudes such as yours into visible naval action and public pronouncements. Finally, you don't know much about demographics based on your characterization of us (either the AAB/ AAIS organization or the United States) as "white devils". Just take a look at the pictures of our present occupant of the White House and the make up of our congress, or look into the faces of any photo of American military forces in ranks. One of the things that unites the incredibly mixed population of America is the fact that we all hate tyranny. So take your "kowtow to the Great Chinese empire" idea and stick it in a part of your anatomy that never sees daylight.

    Johnas Presbyter, Editor