Libmonster ID: UK-1228
Author(s) of the publication: G. M. LOKSHIN


Candidate of Historical Sciences

KeywordsSouth China Seaterritorial disputeParacel and Spratly IslandsChinaVietnamASEAN

Claims that the center of the world economy and politics in the XXI century is moving to the Asia-Pacific region have long been banal. What is often overlooked, however, is that along with such a tectonic shift, there are also problems generated by the rivalry of the world's leading powers and their coalitions. They were recalled by the International Scientific Symposium "East Sea: Cooperation for Peace and Development in the Region"* held in Hanoi at the end of 2009, in which the author of these lines also took part. For the first time, such a forum was attended by a large group of Chinese scientists, who usually avoided any international discussion of these issues.

The situation around the islands of the South China Sea (SCM), according to the general opinion of the participants of the symposium, is heating up, as evidenced by the frequent incidents involving the Chinese Navy and other states. Some speakers even compared the development of events in the region to the Berlin crisis of 1948* * And this, unfortunately, is not such a strong exaggeration.

The arms race that has begun here and the militarization of the South China Sea islands zone in the context of ongoing disputes over the ownership of them, and most importantly, their coastal shelf, leads to various incidents and armed skirmishes that can potentially escalate into a conflict. And such a conflict would be fraught with an expansion of the number of participants, an increase in the number of forces involved, not to mention the territory.

The essence of the conflict is the claims of 6 states of the region to the numerous Spratly Islands, as well as the waters of the South China Sea, and the PRC (not counting Taiwan) and Vietnam - to the Paracel Islands.

We are talking about the most important sea communications, large reserves of seafood and, most importantly, significant hydrocarbon deposits on the continental shelf. The issue of the South China Sea Islands is unique both in the depth of the controversy and in the scope of the countries that are already involved, while others potentially have the grounds and opportunities to participate in this intricate territorial dispute.

The Spratly Islands are claimed by China and Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, to a lesser extent by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Sultanate of Brunei.

The most active and assertive participant in the territorial dispute was China, which in its development entered the stage of becoming a powerful power not only economically, but also militarily. The possibility of involving the United States, which has military-strategic and economic interests in the region, in the dispute is also quite real.-

The Paracel Islands are a group of coral islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Under the Act of Surrender of Japan (2.IX.1945) and the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, Japan renounced its claims to these islands.

After the formation of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese amphibious force took control of the Amphitrite Group of islands in the Paracel Archipelago, while the Croissant Group remained in the hands of Franco-South Vietnamese (later South Vietnamese) forces. In January 1974, the PRC landed troops on Croissant Island, thus establishing control over all the Paracel Islands. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) considers these actions illegal.1

In 1979, during the armed conflict with Vietnam, China occupied part of the Spratly Islands located to the south, between Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Other Spratly Islands have military contingents from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.2

* East Sea-the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea (editor's note).

** The blockade of railway and automobile access to West Berlin by the Western occupying Powers (06.1948-05.1949), related to Moscow's negative reaction to the monetary reform in the territory occupied by the Western Powers and its attempts to prevent the creation of a West-controlled German state in this territory and the division of Germany. The city was supplied via an air bridge. The belligerent head of the American occupation zone, General L. Clay, almost brought the tanks of both sides, which were stationed in Berlin at a close distance from each other, to a direct collision (editor's note).

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Gray circles indicate the disputed Paracel Islands and the Spratly Archipelago, a U-shaped dashed line indicates the Chinese border according to Beijing, and the remaining dashed lines indicate 200-mile economic zones according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Source: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the CIA.

It is a military and political ally of the Philippines and is a patron of Taiwan. This region is also extremely important for Japan.


In November 2007, the People's Republic of China announced the creation of a new county of Hainan Island province called Sansha, which includes the Paracel (Xisha) and Spratly (Nansha) Islands. 3

The decision of the State Council of the People's Republic of China to establish Sansha County and its territorial jurisdiction over the Paracel Islands caused protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which Vietnam has not seen in a very long time.

In September 2008, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post published various plans and schemes for an alleged invasion of Vietnam by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) from land and sea. Commenting on these "plans", Song Xiaojun, a prominent military expert invited by the newspaper, called them just a "joke", stating: "China and Vietnam have a common political system and should join forces to resist a common enemy - the United States, which is trying to play the Vietnamese card against a rising China."4

Of course, one can doubt that under the current control of the Internet in China, anyone would take the liberty of posting such things on their website without the approval of the competent authorities, and even more so to replicate them in the press.

According to many experts, the new round of tension that began in May 2009 was caused by the reaction of the Chinese leadership to Vietnam's application to the UN for the borders of the continental shelf. In accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all its participants had until May 13, 2009 to submit proposals to a specially created UN Commission on the limits of the continental shelf they claimed, since these limits were not clearly defined in the Convention itself. Vietnam and Malaysia jointly submitted such proposals on 6 May, and Vietnam submitted additional proposals separately a day later. This immediately provoked a sharp protest from China. According to the rules of the Commission, in this case, the proposals could not be considered, and the issue hung up.

Speaking at the Hanoi Symposium, Prof. Li Jingming (Institute of International Relations, Xiaoming University, Fujian Province) referred to the fact that the South China Sea belongs to the type of semi-closed seas, and due to geographical conditions, coastal countries should not have claimed the shelf boundaries beyond their 200-mile exclusive economic zone. In addition, all recognized islands (and not individual coral reefs) should have their own 200-mile economic zone and their own continental shelf boundaries, which makes the claim of the claiming States, in his opinion, generally unworkable, since their claims are mutually intertwined and superimposed on each other.

In support of its objections, in May 2009, China presented for the first time a map showing the Chinese border as a dotted line in the form of the Latin letter U, covering almost the entire water area of the South China Sea. The water area controlled by Vietnam and the Philippines is reduced to a minimum 12-mile zone of territorial waters.

China has never presented such maps before, although statements about its sovereignty over almost the entire water area of the South China Sea have been repeatedly made, since 1958.No explanations or legal grounds have been given by the PRC. Speaking at a symposium in Hanoi, the head of the Center for International Law Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Dr. Liu Nanlai, also referred only to the fact that"China's full sovereignty over the Spratly Archipelago, which was declared in the 50s and 60s of the last century, was not seriously disputed by anyone."

However, immediately after-

page 56

There were actions on the part of the PRC designed to show "who is the boss" in the region.

The most painful challenge to Vietnam was the unilateral moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea (above the 12th parallel) imposed by China from May 16 to August 1, 2009 (at the peak of Putin's day). This was done ostensibly in order to preserve fish stocks, prevent poaching and protect the interests of Chinese fishermen. All Vietnamese fishing vessels were forced out of the area of the islands, where they traditionally conducted intensive fishing for seafood, several vessels were detained, the catch was confiscated, and the crews were arrested and fined. These actions caused an exchange of notes of protest and led to a complication of relations between the two countries.

Only after negotiations in Hanoi at the level of deputy foreign ministers were the arrested vessels released, and the conflict was temporarily muted. The two sides agreed to work together to find a " comprehensive and lasting solution to the conflict." They pledged to strictly implement the agreements reached by the leaders of both countries, to maintain peace and stability in the region,and to try to work out a temporary and transitional solution to the problem that would not harm their bilateral relations. 5

Armed incidents in the South China Sea occurred in 2009 not only with Vietnamese fishermen, but also with Chinese ones, such as the arrest of 8 Chinese vessels by Indonesian patrol ships in June 2009.

Much attention was also drawn to the incident between Chinese border patrol boats and the US military frigate Improbable, which allegedly conducted research in international waters 70-80 miles off the Chinese island of Hainan in February 2009.

Thus, in 2009, there was a renewed threat that competition for the possession of significant energy and fishing resources in the South China Sea could exacerbate the situation.


In this regard, many foreign scientists pay great attention to the rapid build-up of China's military power in the South China Sea region.

In particular, a well-known Australian expert on the problems of Southeast Asia (SE), a professor at the Australian Defense Academy, retired American General K. Thayer, said that, according to satellite data, China is building a large naval base on the southern coast of Hainan Island near Sanya, which will be of great strategic importance.

The scale of construction work suggests that the base is intended for parking and servicing large surface warships, including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. At the same time, China significantly expanded its field airfields and fortifications on one of the Paracel Islands and on a number of islands in the Spratly Archipelago, increased the number of patrol vessels off the coast of Vietnam and the Philippines, reinforcing its claims to sovereignty and ensuring the security of communications in the Strait of Malacca.

The base in Sanya, according to K. Thayer, will seriously change the balance of military and strategic forces in the region. Until now, China's nuclear submarines were only under the command of its Northern Fleet, and now they will be at the disposal of the Southern Fleet of the Chinese Navy.

According to many foreign analysts, Beijing is interested in maintaining a peaceful environment and stability in the region and will seek to win the competition for a dominant position in the region, without getting involved in an open fight.

At the same time, it goes without saying that with the growth of the PRC's economic and military power, the country's military and political role will also grow not only regionally, but also internationally. And this will have to be considered by everyone. As Fidel Ramos, the former President of the Philippines and now a recognized authority on the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ACEAH), put it, "we must accept the reality of life, which is a large presence of China in all spheres." To ensure long-term stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Ramos considers it necessary to move from a "Pax Americana", which was provided by a strong US military presence, to a "Pax Asia-Pacific", to which " major countries and sub-regional groupings could contribute.""6.


The Chinese authorities have strongly opposed all attempts by major multinational companies (TNCs) operating in Southeast Asia, primarily in Vietnam and the Philippines, to start geological exploration and exploitation of certain deposits in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

According to Professor Li Jingming, who spoke in Hanoi ," the involvement of TNCs in disputes that have close ties with both the governments of the region and their own will only complicate the resolution of all disputed issues." Under the threat of breaking all the lucrative contracts implemented in China, such oil giants as the American Exxon Mobil and the British British Petroleum were forced to retreat.

The leading Pacific powers - the United States and Japan, participants of the ACEAH Regional Forum (ARF), where these problems have been raised repeatedly since the mid-90s - took a detached and observant position from the very beginning, making it clear only that they would not tolerate any infringement of their freedom of navigation and military navigation in this sea. To this we must add the significant interests of American business in the region.

However, the United States, during the famous Philippine-Chinese conflict over the islands in 1995, stated that Washington's obligations under military-political treaties with Manila

page 57

The Spratly Islands area is not covered. At present, the United States continues to demonstrate that it stands aloof from the conflict situation in this zone, but declares that it does not recognize anyone's claims to the sole disposal of the waters of the South China Sea and all the islands.

Washington clearly does not want to openly act as an arbitrator in disputes over the islands, not without reason believing that this can only toughen China's position. While remaining neutral with respect to the arguments and proofs of sovereignty of all the contenders, the United States is interested in maintaining the ability and willingness to prevent any of them from single-handedly imposing their own solution to the dispute by force on others. "Quiet diplomacy" in support of a negotiated settlement can, in their opinion, help the contenders to show the necessary political will and solve problems through the negotiation process, without directly involving the United States in the conflict.

Japan, too, is limited to general statements about the need to comply with international law, although it has a vital interest in preserving freedom of navigation in the region, through which 75% of Japanese maritime traffic passes and where Japanese companies are actively involved in the exploration and production of energy resources.


Finding a way out of this impasse will still require a lot of effort, patience, money and time. The many constructive proposals and cooperation projects already on the table could be particularly useful if they received the support of global public opinion.

Many such proposals were also made at the Hanoi Symposium, although experts differed on how to resolve the increasingly deadlocked conflict in the South China Sea. Some concluded that the problem of sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands could not be resolved within the framework of ACEAH and the ARF due to disagreements between the Association's members. Therefore, the best way out today is to preserve the existing strategic and diplomatic status quo. Moreover, none of the parties is interested in a military solution, does not want it, and does not have the necessary potential for this.

Others, on the contrary, believe that there is no longer any status quo, but the "window of opportunity" for a political solution has not yet been closed. A variety of proposals were put forward to resolve the problem, develop confidence-building measures and keep all conflicting parties (and we are talking not only about confrontation with China, but also about contradictions between a number of Southeast Asian countries) in the negotiation process, which may take many years.

The conflict resolution mechanism in ACEAH has yet to be developed and it will take time to develop the habit of preventing conflicts of interest and differences from arising, stopping them at the very beginning, or managing and resolving them through consultation and patient negotiation based on the well-known "ACEAH method".

There are only initial and very modest results, although it seems that the ARF, which develops confidence-building measures and preventive diplomacy and operates on the principles of ACEAH, could take on this role in the future. Regular meetings of ACEAH defense ministers and even regular ACEAH-China summits can also become an important mechanism for solving problems.

However, as far as the conflict situation in the South China Sea is concerned, we can speak rather about the "Chinese way" rather than the well-known "ACEAH way". The management of the conflict has remained in the hands of Chinese diplomacy for all these years, which is clearly in no hurry to share it with anyone else.

In this regard, much attention was drawn to the presentations of Chinese experts at the Hanoi Symposium. In general, they maintained a conciliatory tone, emphasizing the need for joint search for political solutions through negotiations, and expressed regret that the coastal states did not support the PRC's proposal made 10 years ago to "postpone disputes for the sake of joint development." The reason for this is the intervention of oil TNCs and the fact that the coastal states "lost interest in this initiative", and some of them "did not want to share the increased revenues from oil production in the disputed territories".

In order to remove all obstacles to joint development of the South China Sea energy resources, the Chinese colleagues said, it is necessary to create a mechanism for settling disputes and strengthening mutual trust between the interested states. This means " institutionalizing cooperation between them through diplomatic channels in such a way as to achieve harmony and mutual understanding on all issues of the South China Sea."

If these and similar positions reflect the official course of the Chinese authorities, and there is little reason to doubt this, then the proposals made may indicate significant progress in Beijing's position on this issue.

So far, China has consistently adhered to the "three NO's" policy: no internationalization of the conflict, no multilateral negotiations, and no special body on the issue.

It is obvious that the development of mutually acceptable principles and forms for dividing islands in the South China Sea or the procedure for sharing their resources (which is more likely in the current circumstances) is a long and complex process in the coming years.

Therefore, as many participants of the Hanoi Symposium emphasized, it is not the discouraging statements of the expert community that increase skepticism or add fuel to the fire of passion that are needed, but constructive proposals, support and encouragement of the efforts of those countries that, within the framework of the ARF and at the bilateral level, are torturing-

page 58

We need to develop a common approach to resolving conflict situations in the region.

This approach involves 3 stages, namely: development and implementation of confidence-building measures; creation of preventive diplomacy structures; coordination and implementation of measures to resolve specific conflicts. All of this requires incredible patience, strong political will, and tremendous effort. It is known that the signing of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea required almost 10 years of joint efforts by the ACEAH countries. The demarcation of the land border between Vietnam and China, which was completed in 2009, was preceded by about 20 years of hard work, and the Russian-Chinese negotiations on the same issues took as long as 30 years.

It is also obvious that the joint economic use of disputed territories by the States claiming them, if there is a clear political will, has a real chance of becoming an instrument that would significantly reduce the risk of continuing and deepening the conflict situation.

What is needed, as many analysts believe, is deeper economic integration, interdependence, in which no one wants to use force. One example of such a decision is the recently signed agreement between the PRC and Vietnam on the delimitation of maritime territories in the Bay of Bakbo (Gulf of Tonkin), supported by a contract of the Chinese company China National Off-shore Oil Corp. with Vietnam's Petro-Vietnam, which agreed to jointly conduct geological exploration in the Gulf within 5 years, dividing all risks and revenues in half.

The South China Sea belongs to the category of closed and semi-closed seas. In accordance with Part IX of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, such seas do have a special status, according to which coastal States should cooperate to a greater extent than in "ordinary" seas in the exercise of their rights and obligations, as well as invite other countries to participate in this cooperation, where appropriate.


None of the speeches made by the participants of the Hanoi Symposium, or indeed any of the scientific papers published in various countries on this issue, mentioned Russia's interests, role, and positions in the region under discussion.

Perhaps this is also the reason why the Russian representative presented his views on Russia's vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region, its rights as the largest Pacific power and its readiness to implement them not to the detriment of anyone, but in cooperation with our strategic partners-China and Vietnam, as well as with all the countries of the ACEAH and Asia-Pacific region.-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), were met with considerable interest.

Russia is no less interested than others in giving this region a stable international status, in ensuring stable freedom of navigation and maritime communications here. There are also serious economic interests of Russian oil and gas corporations, which have been successfully operating in Vietnam for many years.

Russia has a strategic partnership with both China and Vietnam, which involves joint activities in key areas, is designed for a long-term predictable perspective, is based on the contractual recognition of each other's interests, respect and observance of such interests, and is aimed at achieving common or similar vital goals.

In July 2009, in a lecture to students of the University of Bangkok after the ARF session in Phuket, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov succinctly but exhaustively outlined the essence of the Russian position: "Russia stands for an equal and transparent architecture of security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, based on collective principles, generally recognized norms and principles of international law and using dialogue, consultations and negotiations as a tool for solving complex problems. That is, what is defined as the "ACEAH method". This does not require military superiority, building up defense power, weakening the security of other states, creating military bases and defense alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, or creating a regional missile defense system capable of destabilizing the strategic balance. Such an architecture should be promoted through the establishment of multilateral diplomacy, the development of relations between regional organizations and forums, and, most importantly, through mutual respect and consideration of each other's interests."7

In this regard, the upcoming 2nd Russia-ACEAH summit (the first one was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2005), which is expected to take place in 2010, under the chairmanship of Vietnam in ACEAH, will be of great importance.

The "ACEAH method" mentioned above means, first of all, rejection of war and violence, tolerance and respect for differences, careful search for compromise and agreement. As far as modern international relations are concerned, there is simply no reasonable alternative.

1 Diplomatic dictionary in 3 volumes, ed. Gromyko A. A. et al. Vol. 2. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1986, pp. 338-339.

2 See for more details: Kobelev E. V. The South China Sea: a smoldering hotbed of conflicts / / ACEAH at the beginning of the XXI century. IDV RAS. M " 2010.

3; Hsiao Russell. China Exerts Administrative Control Over Disputed South China Sea Islets // The Jamestown Foundation. China Brief, Vol. 7, Issue 23. 13.12.2007 -

4 South China Morning Post, 5.09.2008.

5 Xinhua, 14.08.2009.

6 Cit. by: South-East Asia in 2004. Aktual'nye problemy razvitiya [Actual problems of development], Moscow, 2005, pp. 311-312.

7 17.07.2009.


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