the Game in the South China Sea
14, 2016 "Information
- The Joint Sea-2016 started this Monday; that’s the
fifth annual China-Russia naval drill, featuring
stalwarts from both navies in action at the eastern
waters of Zhanjiang, in Guangdong province, the HQ
of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Nanhai
this is the first time that the Joint Sea is
happening in the South China Sea, apocalyptic alarms
from the usual suspects could not be more
predictable – and thoroughly dismissed by the
Sea-2016 intervenes just after a quite significant
holding hand moment last week in Laos. Hand holders
were no less than China’s premier Li Keqiang and
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, a.k.a. The
Punisher, clad for a change in full suit and tie
good reasons for such camaraderie. After all China
and ASEAN had just agreed that the framework for a
legally binding code of conduct in the South China
Sea will be in effect before the end of the year.
lobbied “vigorously” for this key development.
Beijing regards Singapore as “a key partner
for cooperation in the region”, as Li told Xinhua.
The Punisher’s own press secretary, Martin Andanar,
squared the circle; “Our president also expressed
his approval of having a framework for a code
setting — Laos — could not be more strategically
appropriate for China. For three years now China is
Laos’s biggest investor – mostly in energy and
mining, including the construction of the $868
million Nam Ngiep 1 hydropower project. Key planned
projects include the $1.6 billion Luang Marsh
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) near Vientiane, and —
what else – a 472 km railway between Kunming
in Yunnan province and Vientiane, with an extension
to Thailand, to be completed by 2021. That will be
part of the Southeast Asian branch of the New Silk
Bombing Laos with rhetoric
Laos was the
setting for the first face to face meeting between a
top Chinese leader – Prime Minister Li Keqiang — and
the 10 heads of state from ASEAN, right before the
East Asia summit – the annual gathering of the ASEAN
10 plus China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia,
New Zealand, US and Russia.
At the East
Asia summit, US President Barack Obama, in his last
– quite melancholic – visit to Asia, to where his
administration allegedly pivoted, declared that The
Hague’s ruling invalidating China’s territorial
claims in the South China Sea is binding.
not only false – but piled up on a Nobel Prize
with a license to kill (list) visiting Laos decades
after the nation was bombed to smithereens by the
“indispensable nation” now saying with a straight
face that everything’s gonna be alright. Asians,
to say the least, were not impressed.
for Obama’s visit was to actually sell the pivot
once again to Asia in tandem with its “NATO
on trade” arm – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
insisted that, "TPP is a core pillar of America's
rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. And the trade and the
growth it supports will reinforce America's security
alliances and regional partnerships."
"failure to move ahead with TPP will not just have
economic consequences, but call into question
America's leadership in this vital region."
for its part privileged diplomacy over empty
rhetoric when dealing with an in-flux ASEAN,
crisscrossed by a stark diversity among its 10
member nations. Indonesia and Thailand,
for instance, used to be bridge-builders, but now
Jakarta is concentrated inward and Bangkok’s
policies are in transition.
House was counting on Manila to press its –
confrontation – case, as Manila is supposed to be a
key cog in the pivot machine. Yet even when talking
to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Duterte
emphasized South China Sea problems should be
resolved through peaceful means, and Manila would
maintain dialogue with Beijing.
to “celebrate” this pan-Asia meeting – and
simultaneously the 68th anniversary of the founding
of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) —
Pyongyang inflicted a dose of realism on all and
sundry by conducting a fifth nuclear test.
Exit TPP, enter high-speed rail
meanwhile, keeps accumulating “facts on the sea” –
with a lot of action, in the form of sea patrolling,
originating from Sansha, a prefecture-level city set
up in 2012 to administer the Spratly Islands,
Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank (which the
Chinese call Zongsha Islands).
on the sea” are irreversible, as Sansha has made
sure islands, atolls, reefs, rocks, shoals –
whatever the terminology – all across the South
China Sea are regarded as a matter of national
security, politically and strategically,
as in-flux ASEAN is concerned, Thailand may retain
the status of strategic pivot for US interests. But
now Washington must factor the delicate political
equation before the looming – and extremely
complex — royal succession, with the power of the
Thai army solidified by a new constitution as it
expands trade and political relations with both
Russia and China.
only discourse emanating from Washington boils
down to Pentagon obsession with confrontation in the
South China Sea and White House obsession with TPP,
the trade arm of the pivot.
Mahbubani, dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public
Policy at the National University of Singapore, has
been clever enough to propose a way out. What if
Washington accepted a Chinese contribution in terms
of high-speed rail technology – as a means
to jump-start the US economy from the Pacific to the
Atlantic. This China-US partnership
in infrastructure would be, according to Mahbubani,
a “match made in heaven”.
American Society of Civil Engineers has projected a
$1.44 trillion investment funding gap in the US
between 2016 and 2025 – generating a huge drag
on business, exports and incomes. China would have
the financial and institutional capacity to build
that much-needed infrastructure. TPP is a dead end.
Perhaps Mahbubani should send his proposal to Donald