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Southeast Asia

France, Germany and the UK note verbale to the UN on the SCS issue

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Following the enlistment of Chinese companies under sanctions by the US for involvement in SCS for reclamation of islands, there has been increasing pressure on Chinese establishment for course correction. In total, about twenty-four Chinese companies, and their management individuals have been listed under the US sanctions. These 24 companies have been placed in the sanctions list, and the US companies are barred from entering into any trade or investment dealings until unless they have specific permission from the US government. This effectively means that any transfer of technology, software, and associated agreements will be presumed as denied from the US government.

One of the critical companies which will be majorly affected and has been engaged in infrastructure projects such as ports development and highway construction would be China Communications Construction Company(CCCC) which has been involved in more than 80 projects across the world. These sanctions have been complimented with visa denial and restrictions on Chinese individuals who are responsible and are directly involved in the large-scale reclamation, construction, or incremental militarization in the disputed seas. The visa restrictions have been comprehensive, and includes individuals and their immediate families.

Following this US response to the Chinese island reclamation activities, NATO countries such as France and Germany have already outlined their Indo Pacific strategy and have try to take cognizance of the fact that island reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea would be detrimental to their interests in the region. The US sanctions on the Chinese companies would have comprehensive impact as many other nations which would be doing business with this companies would be apprehensive of collateral impact from US, in case they engage these companies in the long term projects in their countries.

Closely following the NATO partner Germany, the UK and France have also made a representation to the UN in the form of a note verbale submitted to the UN on 16th September on the developments in South China Sea. This buttresses the Malaysian representation made to the UN in December 2019 related to the commission on the limits of the continental shelf. This note verbal also reposes faith in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) as the framework under which the activities related to the oceans and the seas must be addressed.

The provisions of UNCLOS resonated under the PCA ruling on the issue of Philippines and China dispute related to contested islands in South China Sea. The PCA ruling had adjudicated that the UNCLOS should be the reference for resolving disputes related to maritime zones, territorial seas, and defining the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)of the islands which are uninhabitable. Given the fact that France and the UK are the permanent members of the UN Security Council while Germany is a UNSCaspirant, this note verbalegains significance in the current context. This also reinforces the fact that Indo-pacific would be the epicenter of development in the region and in order to safeguard their interests the European countries cannot ignore intimidating tactics adopted by the China at the sea.

While it is understandable that France has a number of territories in the Indo-Pacific region which comprise more than 80 per cent of its total EEZ but Germany taking an anti-China stance shows shifting priorities. Germany foreign minister during press briefing has expressed that Germany would like to work together with the countries in the Indo Pacific region and would be a participant in the rules based order. The three countries -the UK, France, and Germany are critical in pressurizing China to adapt to the international regulations related to the law of the seas and must acknowledge that freedom of navigation, overflight, and the right of innocent passage are the legitimate rights of the littoral countries as well as extra regional powers which have trade and commercial interests in the region. The US has not acceded to the UNCLOS but the three countries have acceded to it. It is also seen as the fact that the US is trying to galvanize NATO countries in support of its initiatives and military deployments in the South China Sea. The three countries also have extensive business and trade interest in the region, and have trade relations with Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Therefore, increasing tensions in the South China Sea would increase their freight costs as well as insurance costs.  This would make their exports expensive and would affect the market dynamics.

The increasing resistance to Chinese assertive activities started in in December 2019 when Malaysia made a representation to the UN about the extended continental shelf. This has been supported by identical representations and statements made by littoral countries of South China Sea which included Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and even a public statement by Brunei. The US also made a strong rejoinder to the case and extended support on major issues that have been highlighted by the various countries include the issue of baselines, the low tide elevations of the rocks, islets and uninhabitable islands, and the issue of Chinese concocted history which is in contravention to the established international order.

In response to these submissions made by the three European countries, China has stated that it treats the UNCLOS as an established order but abhors its use as a political tool. Citing reservations to the UNCLOS, it has stated that it does not cover everything related to the maritime order. Citing paragraph 8 of the UNCLOS it has stated that “matters not regulated by this convention continue to be governed by the rules and principles of general international law”. This clearly means that China wants to derive new meaning which suits its own interests and reclamation activities in the South China Sea. The UNCLOS has made it very categorical that parties which have acceded to UNCLOS must comprehensively and correctly interpret the rule of the law of the seas. In its representation China has stressed that it has a long history, and the Chinese governments under different leaders have expressed their sovereign rights on the islands in the South China Sea. In the submission China has completely castigated the PCA ruling of July 2016, and stated that the sovereign rights of China on those disputed islands cannot be prejudiced by the illegal awards made under any arbitration or ruling .The biggest irony in the statement is the fact that it believes that UNCLOS  is not effective neither implementable in the context  of South China Sea but China claims that territorial baselines related to the islands and rocks are in conformity to the provisions of UNCLOS; clearly showing the dichotomy between  conditional acceptance and comprehensive selective utility.

The long response that China has made with regard to submission by the three European countries clearly highlights the fact that China is under pressure to accept legal provisions and maintain law and order at the sea. In the letter in response to these representations, China has made it very clear that it is making sincere efforts through friendly consultations with the ASEAN countries. The representation made by UK, Germany and France has brought about an international dimension to the whole issue. In total the number of countries which have raised objections to China’s reclamation activities have increased to more than 10 countries which have been seen as regional powers and have clout in the UN.

This also empowers Vietnam which is the current chair of ASEAN to undertake wide-ranging discussions on the topic during the summit meetings and in a way coerce China to undertake effective course correction measures. The hyperactivity which China has shown with regard to Taiwan, and military exercises in the South China Sea, have brought about international attention and raised serious concerns with regard to the developments in the region. The US exercises has been matched by China with undertaking surveillance sorties, scrambling of advanced fighter jets and infringing on EEZ of littoral countries. Therefore, it requires effective countermeasures as well as international condemnation of the Chinese activities. One can very well understand the fact that with China being at the receiving end of the international criticism in the wake of the coronavirus and subsequent domestic dissent shows that China would try to rake up hyper nationalism so as to protect President Xi from stigma. However, with majority of UNSC members expressing dissent the pathways for China are going to get tough in future.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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