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Military Coup In Myanmar: Getting Democratic Reforms Back On Track

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The recent military coup in Myanmar brought looming contradictions in the country’s transition into sharp focus. It has also revealed the international short-term approach to an ingrained politico-military conflict over decades. Western observers have had a romantic and limited perception of Myanmar, which means little to average Europeans aside from being an exotic new tourist destination. Democracy still needs to take root in Myanmar and requires long-term solid commitment. While civilian rule has been suspended, it is possible that the coup will turn out to be brief and might follow the Thailand paradigm of bloodless intervention under a more assertive and organized civil society. A new cycle of violence is not a foregone conclusion. Myanmar has reached its most acute constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old junta in 2010 and the last coup in 1988.

Key partner actions should therefore include joining forces and diplomacy with Myanmar leaders to resuscitate political dialogue that had lost steam since 2019. ASEAN and EU have a meaningful role to play in inter-regional trilateral cooperation to avoid pushing Myanmar deeper into the arms of China which has significant economic and strategic interests in the country. B2B relations and knowledge sharing should also be scaled up through business and academic associations, instead of taking reflex action to impose wider sanctions. During the global COVID-19 response, additional entry points can be created to capitalize on local success in Myanmar’s resilience against the virus. Moving military assets in this direction can help promote reforms. This is urgently needed to put the country on a more solid democratic path to tackle global challenges, including migrations and climate change. 

Current Dynamics- Myanmar Actors and International Response

The 1 February military coup in Myanmar and subsequent arrests among senior civilian leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) including Aung San Suu Kyi did not come as a complete surprise. After the military- affiliated USDP Party voiced misgivings since November 2020, the military leadership warned of a possible coup in late January. Crisis talks with NLD and the military on 28 January were not successful. At the core were unsubstantiated election fraud allegations just before the newly elected parliament was convened. NLD increased its majority compared to the 2015 election results.

For the Myanmar military with guaranteed 25% of seats in parliament, three senior cabinet positions and one vice presidency under the constitutional arrangement since 2008, there was much at stake. Myanmar’s military- industrial and trading complex is vast and protecting their investments had become urgent, in view of a possible redrawing of the constitution. Abolishing privileges for the military might expose them to international prosecution after retirement. The military established a one-year state of emergency in preparation for a re-run of the last elections. Internet services were ordered to close Facebook and other online messaging up until last weekend. Yangon International Airport was closed for a day until regional flights resumed.

Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing became the facto national leader; he has a reputation for problem solving and experts assess he has no intention to curb Myanmar’s economic progress. Most of the new cabinet members are in fact civil servants and not military leaders as in the 1980s (Myanmar Confronts New Uncertainties, China Daily, Global Weekly Edition 5-11 February 2021).Civil society in Myanmar was stunned by the coup which has remained bloodless. After early local discontent, mass demonstrations followed over the weekend and on Monday 5 February in Yangon, the capital of Naypyidaw and other urban centers. However, mostof the detained regional and state ministers were released by 5 February.

 International response was swift, and the EU as well as western capitals issued declarations against the coup. Despite internal wrangling and objections from China, the UN Security Council was relatively quick in pronouncing itself on Myanmar. China stressed that the international community should “create a sound external environment for Myanmar to properly resolve the differences.” The Council’s 4 February media statement called for respect of democratic principles and avoiding violence as well as releasing the detainees. so the constitutional order could be restored. Yet the Council avoided a condemnation of the coup and instead demanded that the constitutional order should be respected. Myanmar’s former colonial power (the UK) presided over the Security Council session. UN SG Guterres was frank in denouncing the coup as “absolutely unacceptable” and noting all firm intention to reverse the coup.

The US led international reactions threatening possible sanctions and blocking direct assistance to the government on 3 February, which was a notable policy departure from the Trump Administration. President Biden highlighted the Myanmar coup in his first major foreign policy speech at the U.S. State Department on 4 February, promising to hold the military accountable.

Democratic Pause or Rollback of Reforms?

Examining the country’s trajectory since the ground-breaking 2011 elections and opening from the military dictatorship holds clues for further evolution of the coup. International actors face a dilemma: strong opposition to the coup might drive the military and protestors into a spiral of violence which has potential for another repression like the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007 where thousands of lives were lost. Analysts based in the region see Myanmar backsliding several decades and gains in democratic transition erased.

Despite economic engagement and foreign investments over the last decade, Myanmar has suffered from contradictions and incomplete democratization. Commentators see the coup as confirmation that the 2008 power sharing deal between civilians and the military was never very solid. The legacy of 50 years in political roles for the armed forces- beginning with Aung San Suu Kyi herself as daughter of the independence leader general who was assassinated in 1948- shows that civilian- military relations are complex and still evolving. Therefore dialogue among the political contenders is highly valuable, which requires significant investments and patience.

The two greatest recent challenges for reigning in military power were evident in the violent campaigns against ethnic minorities. First, military anti-terror sweeps in northern Rakhine State against Muslim stateless residents (described as “Rohingya” and anathema to the Myanmar Bamar ruling class) led to a huge population exodus in 2016/2017across the border into Bangladesh. Myanmar was facing international court action on allegations of genocide, which saw Aung San Suu Kyi standing in defense of the authorities at the International Court of Justice. While some steps were taken to try to enable returns and reintegration, those processes remained largely untested.

Second, the fragile peace talks with armed ethnic militias in several states of Myanmar started to fizzle out in 2018/2019.Rebels adopted more mobile tactics to confront the military in known hotspots but also in Rakhine, causing frustrated in the armed forces. The Myanmar Peace Center, established in 2013 with support from the Norway-led Peace Support Donor Group, closed after three years. Its secretariat services were formally incorporated into a National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) while innovative dialogues received less attention. Official claims from the military that most rebel groups were pacified and cooperating rang increasingly hollow. These were ominous signs that the military was asserting itself as in previous decades. After the coup,return to open warfare with ethnic rebel movements is seen as one of the greatest possible aftershocks of the coup. In both developments, the military was not pushed to undergo deeper reforms and civilian oversight, or use military justice effectively against human rights violators, with few exceptions. This illustrated the pervasive challenges in maintaining inclusive political dialogue. Western actors mistakenly believed that professional military training and capacity building could align the military more with civilian rule. 

Thailand Paradigm and Geopolitical Weight of China

In neighboring Thailand, which hosts many refugees from neighboring Myanmar in camps, military intervention has a long tradition in supporting the monarchy against civilian rule. Demands for constitutional monarchy from a grass-roots movement led by young activists are a new phenomenon. Regional reactions to the coup in  Myanmar were muted, with the notable exception of Singapore and Malaysia as well as Indonesia. The combination of conservative political rule with relative economic liberalism and unified national trends seen in Thailand is an appealing model for the transition in Myanmar. It could help moderate the military behavior after Myanmar’s coup.It is assessed that Myanmar’s main economic partners will most likely adopt a “wait and see” approach before they start to reach out again and deal with the junta-led government.

China’s Yunnan province borders Myanmar where Chin State has been one of the more recent flashpoints in rebel activity. The area is critically important for China’s designs in bringing Myanmar into the ambit of the transcontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), through a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). This plan features a high-speed train link from China to the Indian Ocean, alongside gas projects/pipeline installations in coastal areas of Rakhine State.  China has also pursued

a mega-hydro project (Myitsone north of Myitkyina) which was stalled in 2011 over environmental concerns. In addition, Chinese investors have snapped up a lot of land and real estate in the Yangon area, despite a prohibition on sales to foreign buyers.

China’s President Xi Yiping undertook a milestone visit to Myanmar in January 2020, where he signed 33 agreements and MoUs. The strategic value of Myanmar in these schemes was recently underscored by the visit of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in mid-January 2021- the highest ranking foreign official to arrive since November’s election. In military cooperation, China has taken a low-key approach with Myanmar. Some observers believe that the opening in 2011 provided just enough breathing space for Myanmar’s military to avoid over-dependency on China in the defense sector. India as Myanmar’s northwestern neighbor hosts refugees from the Christian Chin minority and a crackdown might prompt a larger influx of arrivals from Myanmar.

Role of ASEAN and EU: Joining Forces and Preparing for Global Challenges

Myanmar chaired the ASEAN regional group of states in Southeast Asia as a founding member in 2013, after having to abandon this role in 2007, due to peer pressure from ASEAN. Yet ASEAN had avoided a confrontational approach over the forced displacement from Rakhine State; the consensus principle in ASEAN prevents strong common positioning, putting regional cohesion as a top priority. There is no punitive, sanctions-based mechanism as in ECOWAS for West African States, despite an obligation to respect the ASEAN Charter. Accordingly, the current ASEAN chair Brunei appealed to respect ASEAN’s principles of rule of law, democracy and human rights. ASEAN encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar” (ASEAN Statement of 1 February 2020).

What has been missing is the joint thematic dialogue and support to Myanmar through ASEAN and the EU. Lady Catherine Ashton, the first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, had a significant role as EU Envoy for Myanmar. A well-resourced European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) was opened in Yangon in 2014 to serve as a voice of European businesses in Myanmar. The EU was in fact one of the first actors to respond to the country’s political opening, suspending in April 2012 its restrictive measures except for the arms embargo.

Since Myanmar is vulnerable to climate change, especially in the coastal regions and the large Irrawaddy Delta, collective expertise for humanitarian disaster preparedness, relief and prevention of natural hazards is an entry point for dialogue. The experience of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 has left deep scars in the country and productive areas. Therefore making Myanmar fit for withstanding even greater climatic change and extreme weather events in the future is a shared interest for the country’s leadership. Expertise in navigating politically complex situations exists in ASEAN where non-traditional security threats are systematically studied at a dedicated institute in the RSIS School of Singapore.

Greater connectivity and access to innovation is possible with business partners from Europe where the “Green Deal” has heralded a re-tooling of many industries to exit faster from the economic slump caused by the Pandemic to realize ambitious emissions targets by 2030. Myanmar has already shown initiative in flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections from late 2020 into early 2021, due to concerted local sensitization campaigns, e.g. in the “Paung Sie” Facility joint partnership with 50 civil society partners (see: Paung Sie Facility Leaflet, October 2020), and through immigration controls. Similar resourcefulness can promote larger modernization, digitalization and green infrastructure schemes. The NLD already had a response and recovery plan to deal with medium and long-term challenges of the Pandemic, providing some common ground in conciliation with the military.

Myanmar’s Geopolitical and Global Pivot

While the global US- China relations are undergoing a rebalancing, Myanmar offers a convenient middle ground for the global powers to work with the middle powers and regional alliances such as EU and ASEAN. It should not be forgotten that an open, fully fledged democratic Myanmar next door to China will remain a thorn in the side for China, even though the emerging superpower is projecting itself elsewhere into the ASEAN and global arena.

In this wider perspective, the reactions to the military coup in Myanmar will be decisive for shaping the future diplomatic and geo-economic playing field. With foresight and a dose of realism, the recent events can still be turned into an advantage, requiring a substantial increase in inter-regional joint dialogue as well as support to domestic peace and reconciliation efforts in Myanmar. EU and ASEAN but also the UN should scale up the information flow on situational awareness and wield sanctions tools judiciously. There is a risk that more punitive approaches could drive Myanmar deeper into the Chinese sphere of influence once again.  

Matthias E Leitner, Senior Adviser/ International Coordinator with ICSVE Center Washington, DC (USA), Berlin-based Matthias Ernst LEITNER has over 20 years’ experience in international peace and security, mainly in UN and regional peace operations across Africa and in the Middle East. His professional focus is on governance/ accountability, national dialogues and coalition building as well as on project development for preventing violent extremism and radicalization. Mr. Leitner has held senior management positions with UN Special Envoy Offices. His ongoing interest is in UN reforms, peacebuilding and innovative approaches for resilience to the COVID-19 Pandemic. His academic background from Bonn and Oxford Universities is in languages and history.

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Southeast Asia

The National Unity Government and the Rohingya Issue in Myanmar: A New Twist?

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In a Twitter message on 3 June 2021, the National Unity Government (NUG) in Myanmar announced a new policy position about the Rohingya issue. Entitled as ‘Policy Position on the Rohingya in Rakhine State’ the NUG unequivocally spells out, “In honour of human rights and human dignity and also to eradicate the conflicts and root causes in the Union, the NUG aims to build up a prosperous and federal democratic union where all ethnic groups belonging to the Union can live together peacefully. This objective is clearly stated in the Federal Democracy Charter.’ The statement further says, ‘We invite Rohingyas to join hands with us and others to participate in the Spring Revolution against the military dictatorship in all possible ways.’

This marks a monumental policy change on the Rohingya issue by the NUG that did not include any Rohingya when it was formed on April 16, 2021. It may be mentioned that the NUG includes a president, state counsellor, vice president, prime minister and 11 ministers for 12 ministries. There are also 12 deputy ministers appointed by the CRPH.  Of the 26 total cabinet members, 13 belong to ethnic nationalities, and eight are women. International community particularly global civil society actors criticized the NUG for excluding the Rohingyas in the newly formed civilian government. It is, indeed, a question about the credibility of the government when it talks about federal democracy, but excludes a community who have been living in Myanmar for centuries.

The new statement from the NUG is a welcome development and an adjustment of their position with a genuine spirit of bringing all ethnic groups together and create a strong platform against the brutal and genocidal military regime in Myanmar. The February 2021 military coup in Myanmar is a watershed political development in the country that has dramatically changed the attitudes and perception oof the Myanmar people and the civilian political forces because of illegality, extreme form of brutality and betrayal to democratic change. The spontaneous social movements by the Myanmar people with a high risk of lives and livelihoods was perhaps unimaginable to the Junta government as well as global community. The civilian political forces possibly did not think such kind of sustained resistance in the form of Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in Myanmar where people suffered direct military rule for more than five decades. Military rule was the order of the day in the country.

Against this backdrop, the statement of the NUG deserves a huge attention. Why has the NUG issue the statement? What is the significance of this statement for the status of the Rohingyas and the future of democracy in Myanmar? These questions are vital for establishing the rights of the Rohingyas who have been suffering as stateless people and living in different countries as the forcibly displaced people. Particularly, the presence of the 1.1 million Rohingyas in Bangladesh in the camps of Cox’s Bazar and Bhashan Char is a stark reality and a great casualty of humanity in the present world where a country called Myanmar can force more than a million of its residents overnight and continue to show the defiance not to accept them. The world is virtually silent!

In understanding the significance of the statement of the NUG we can identify several issues that deserve to be taken into consideration. First, the reason behind the change of position of the NUG on the question of Rohingyas is clearly spelled out at the bottom of the statement where they have urged the Rohingyas to join the movement to oust the military regime in Myanmar. It is not only addressed to the Rohingya people, but also to the forces and parties in the world who are supporting the cause of the Rohingyas. From this perspective it has a huge diplomatic purpose to bolster the movement of the NUG and CDM in their fight against the military regime. Particularly, the Western world, the United Nations and the Muslim countries who have expressed their solidarity and compassion for the Rohingyas and have devoted their resources for them. Second, the statement is not just a declaration of support of the NUG to the Rohingyas. It contains a roadmap about solving the Rohingya crisis for which some of the members of the NUG were liable. The leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) betrayed with the Rohingyas when their leader Aung San Suu Kyi joined hands with the Tatmadaw in 2011 and ruled the country jointly and ditched the cause of the Rohingyas.

The NLD leader also defended the crimes against humanity of the military leaders in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It was a true infidelity to the Rohingyas and also to her own long credentials as a fighter for democracy. Therefore, to establish a credibility of their declaration, the NUG shows a way-out to resolve the Rohingya crisis. They have promised to repeal and amend laws such as the 1982 Citizenship laws by the new constitution. This new Citizenship Act must base citizenship on birth in Myanmar or birth anywhere as a child of Myanmar citizens. It is also mentioned that the NUG is in process of abolishing National Verification Cards to recognize Rohingyas as citizens. These two laws have discriminated for Rohingyas as the core ground. The NUG reaffirms to implement the aggrements signed with Rohingya repatriation and also agreed to Kofi Anan’s 88 points recommendations over Rohingya legal rights.

Third, the statement acknowledges the rights of Rohingya people and atrocity crimes they faced in Myanmar. The statement represents a shift from the persecution of the Rohingya by the military junta as well as previous governments, which routinely denied the existence of the Rohingya as well as evidence of mass atrocity crimes they suffered. The statement commits the NUG to ensuring justice and accountability for crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar. The NUG also affirmed its commitment to “voluntary, safe, and dignified repatriation” of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State. The NUG makes a bold promise, “We will actively seek justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the military against the Rohingyas and all other people of Myanmar throughout our history.” They have gone to the extent of profound redressing of the past crimes and injustice as they say, “We intend if necessary to initiate processes to grant [the] International Criminal Court jurisdiction over crimes committed within Myanmar against the Rohingyas and other communities.”

Fourth, a critical issue is how would the supporters and sympathizers of the Tatmadaw at home and abroad respond to this major policy reversal of the NUG and its leadership who once viewed the Rohingyas in the same eyes as with the Tatmadaw? Understandably, China, Russia, ASEAN, India and several pro-military regime actors would not find it encouraging. They may rule it out at a tactic of the NUG to garner the global support particularly from the UN and West. Fifth, whatever the reactions of the global community, the Tatmadaw would find it a new avenue of diplomatic pressure on them. However, they will rule out this position as the military regime has already declared the NUG as a ‘terrorist’ outfit. Rather, the Tatmadaw would appeal to the Buddhist nationalists and Bamar people that the NUG has a sinister objective to legitimize the Rohingyas as citizens of the country.

Finally, the crux of the matter is that it is a great victory of the Rohingyas to show the world that the successive Myanmar regimes – military and pseudo military – have used false narratives, including branding them as terrorists, to undermine their rights and justice in the country where they have been living for centuries with their own identity. The NUG has made it loud and clear to the world that the military junta in the country is pursuing an apartheid policy and committed the crimes against humanity widely referred as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’.

In conclusion, to mean the business and establish a credibility of their intention expressed in the new policy position, the NUG of Myanmar should appoint an ethnic-Rohingya member to the cabinet who would help it implement and expand upon its new policy on the rights of Rohingya people. The NUG must continue to highlight meaningful consultation with Rohingya people globally, including Rohingya women. This new twist in the position of the civilian leadership in Myanmar who once reigned power and supported the military regime is critical for the future of the Rohingya issue and if it sustains, then the prospect of democracy in the post-Tatmadaw Myanmar will energize pro-democracy forces and boost global support for the NUG.

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Bargaining and Strengthening position of EEZ: Indonesia’s Diplomacy in South China Sea

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The South China Sea issue is getting more complex and has become an international issue that never ends until now. Because in addition the water areas are rich in natural resources both from energy sources, offshore and fisheries, on the other hand,  the waters of the South China Sea also become a strategic territory because the South China Sea is a trade route that delivers international goods and services with the amount of US$5 trillion. Therefore, automatically, these territories become a bone of contention for many countries especially China and four ASEAN member countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei Darussalam in utilizing natural resources, where the involvement of many countries in claiming ownership of the South China Sea can trigger the occurrence of tension in an area such as the occurrence of conflicts such as there are showing of force between the armed forces, military intervention, and monitoring each other in the territorial waters of the South China Sea. These activities will disrupt the security stability of the South China Sea which triggers the threat of waters and disrupt the stability of neighbor countries that it close to the territorial. Coupled with the existence of China’s ownership claiming of the entire South China Sea through the Nine Dash Line rule, which is an ancient rule that emerged from Chinese history. This rule violates International law and is an illegal act, especially in violation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is an international treaty that was adopted and signed in 1982. In which the treaty emphasizes the existence of national sovereignty over the territorial sea as far as 12 miles from the coast and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as far as 200 miles.

The Importance of Bargaining and Strengthening position of EEZ Indonesia Diplomacy In South China Sea

Indonesia has no claim position and disputes in the waters of the South China Sea. Because Indonesia respects the International law of the sea agreement. However, there is Indonesia’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) which intersects with China’s Nine Dash Line. It is clear that this action violates UNCLOS and has become an illegal action. Because China still maintains the claims and rules of the Nine Dash Line which is a rule that come from Chinese history that is contrary to International Law. It can be proven by the presence of a Chinese Coast Guard ship entering the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone in the North Natuna Sea, it can automatically disrupt the stability of Indonesia’s territory and can become a problem and it is obvious that China violates the International norms. Therefore, Indonesia is important to strengthen Indonesia’s diplomatic position in its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) through negotiations with China through South China Sea diplomacy by maintaining its EEZ position to avoid inequality between the Nine Dash Line and Indonesia’s EEZ , especially in the Natuna Sea. Where this diplomatic activity can be used as a more effective strategy because it prioritizes peace or soft power strategy rather than through hard power diplomacies like military which can cause tension between the two countries, especially Indonesia and China. Indonesia and China have established diplomatic relations for 70 years in various aspects, both in terms of economy, education, military, religion, as well as public diplomacy activities that involving people to people strategy in each country as a strategy to maintain the relationship between two countries. As good partner country, Indonesia and China also need to carry out diplomacy activity, especially Indonesia in maintaining and showing a standing position and considering the overlapping Nine Dash Line in the Exclusive Economic Zone which if Indonesia does diplomacy through soft power, both countries will become good negotiating partners. Indonesia and China are coexistence with each other, therefore more comprehensive cooperation is important in discussing problems from various aspects, in particular, Indonesia must strengthen the position of Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone to maintain the sovereign rights owned, especially the Natuna waters.

Therefore, Indonesia is important to negotiate and make a clear standing position in the EEZ by conducting diplomacy that is sustainable and encouraging China not to occupy Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. As Indonesia has sovereign rights in the waters of the South China Sea which consists of territorial integrity, regional stability, and economic interests. However, with the existence of Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which has been intersectingwith China’s Nine Dash Line, this has led to a reduction in Indonesia’s sovereign rights which can be feared to disrupt the stability of the international security of Indonesia waters, especially the Natuna Islands which can disrupt many activities such as navigation activities, activities in exploring natural resources, and can threaten the national stability of the country. It because the Natuna Island is an asset that owned by Indonesia which greatly influences the life of civil society in the Natuna Archipelago region and depends on it for their lives by looking for natural resources in the Natuna island. Therefore in addition to economic cooperation, education and others. There is also a need for clear cooperation and certainty from each country, especially Indonesia and China, regarding their clarity in claiming waters without offending the boundaries of the neighboring waters, especially the Indonesian territory in the Natuna Islands through diplomatic activities, which with the existence of diplomatic activities, bilateral negotiations from the two countries. It can be a strategy to achieve peace and prevent conflicts. Because until now Indonesia is dependent on China from any aspect in completing the country’s needs especially through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), therefore the strategy in maintaining Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) position through bilateral diplomacy can be a great strategy to create peace, without undermined cooperation and diplomatic relations between two countries especially must implement the aim and the purposes of ASEAN  to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law.

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The thorny issue of the South China Sea between Japan, China and Vietnam

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Photo: Ibrahim Mushan/Unsplash

Japan is a long and narrow island country from North to South and narrower from East to West. Its land surface (377,975 square kilometres) is little larger than Italy’s. It borders the Pacific Ocean to the East and looks across the ocean to the United States of America to the East; to the West it faces China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), as well as the Russian Federation by sea but without strategic depth.

The rise of modern Japan during the Meiji Restoration elevated it at the time to the rank of “foundation of all Asian nations”. It opened up thousands of multiple political-military outlets and spread the country’s prestige in all directions. In so doing, it showed Japan’s intention to go beyond its Japanese archipelago and spread abroad.

This was confirmed, in fact, by the forms of continental policy, proposing a line of defence sovereignty and the theory of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere or Greater East Asia Collective Prosperity Sphere, shown in the 1940s.

In response to the situation in the Far East after World War I, Japan implemented a strategy of moving from North to South and in World War II it set for itself the goal of moving its interests to the Republic of China. When the armed forces invaded an internally divided China, due to Japan’s lack of internal resources, the self-sufficiency economic situation was seriously challenged, with the results we all know.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is located in the Eastern part of the Indochina peninsula, bordering China to the North, Laos and Cambodia to the West and the South China Sea to the East and the South. It covers an area of 331,212 square kilometres (slightly more than Italy’s). Its coastline is 3,260 km long (excluding islands), and the country stretches 1,600 kilometres from North to South: its narrowest point is 50 kilometres.

Mountains are high in the West and low in the East. Three quarters of the territory is mountainous. In the mid-19th century, Vietnam had no concept of marine economy or trade. However, with the occupation of some oil- and gas-rich areas and islands in the South China Sea, as well as through private development, Vietnam gained huge economic benefits, and has later formulated a series of marine policies since the 1960s.

In 2007, it approved a marine development project with 2020 as its goal. With strategic planning it tirelessly pursued the goals of a “sea power” and adopted a policy to strongly develop the marine economy, combining marine and maritime economy with national defence and security. Vietnam did not give up and fought for every square inch of island land, with the aim of obtaining a favourable strategic position and practical advantages.

As the awareness of maritime sovereignty grew, in the midst of fierce conflicts of national interests and drastic changes in international and regional geopolitical relations, Japan and Vietnam found themselves in the Senkaku (Chinese: Diaoyu), Paracel (Chinese: XishaQuan; Vietnamese: Hoàng Sa) and Spratly (Chinese: Nansha; Vietnamese: Truong Sa) islands.

There has been an open debate on the sovereignty issue. So far the disputes between China and Japan over the ownership of the South China Sea islands have not been properly resolved. The sovereignty of the South China Sea islands has become a serious issue that challenges bilateral relations between China and Japan, as well as the bilateral relations between China and Vietnam.

Indeed, one of the important goals in strengthening Japan’s and Vietnam’s maritime strategies is the use of oil and gas resources, but the dispute over the sovereignty of territorial waters and related exclusive economic zones is the most important issue.

With technological development, the earth’s resources will gradually shrink and be depleted. The ocean’s abundant resources will become the last piece of territory that can offer resources to the earth’s countries. Clearly the division of maritime borders and the island sovereignty between Japan and Vietnam involves the fundamental interests of national territorial sovereignties, and the various maritime measures and policies adopted by these two countries in the maritime sector will have a huge impact on the South China Sea. This impact is also the main reason for the stability of the South China Sea in the future.

As seen above, the issues regarding the South China Sea are complex and the other major player, namely the United States of America, must act cautiously and take precautions when dealing with the issue of these shores. Moreover, the effectiveness of its South China Sea policy should also be measured by whether it favours the achievement of the US strategic goals without coming into conflict with the People’s Republic of China, not least because of the presence of US military bases in the area.

Certainly, the United States will use the so-called South China Sea sovereignty issue in the Asia-Pacific region to incite China’s neighbours in the short term, but it must be said that in the long term the US influence will gradually decrease due to issues of greater remoteness. Dominance is waning, and the course of international relations is changing and cracking traditional hegemonies.

This is the iron law of historical development. China’s rise must therefore ensure the international security and fluidity of the South China Sea. Japan and Vietnam are the main reasons that will influence the stability of the South China Sea in the future.

As a result, China is stepping up the definition and implementation of the South China Sea military and maritime economic strategy. Having a strong ocean capability is the expression of a country’s comprehensive and global value in politics, economics and business, national defence, science and technology.

With the fast development of global industrial modernisation, China is an economically and demographically rich country. In the future, the South China Sea will be an important channel linking China to the rest of the world. The South China Sea and its coastal areas will be key strategic regions, and will cross the economic construction and national defence security of every country bordering it.

Fluidity and prosperity are also the ultimate goal of China’s rise. On the contrary, once wars and conflicts occur in these areas, they will affect and warn China’s economy and national defence security. Therefore, military strategy in the South China Sea outweighs economic value, if the latter is not adequately protected.

The confrontation over the South China Sea is not limited to a specific strategy in the field of maritime economy, but to a mutual development strategy that embodies the will of the coastal countries which, facing the ocean, are confronted with their own future.

At present, China itself is actively pursuing its maritime strategy, starting with maintaining and reclaiming sovereignty over territories traditionally belonging to the Motherland, by undertaking a more advanced military presence. It is also joining other countries in oil and gas exploration, as well as in mining, by strengthening research and sharing based on historical and legal principles.

Strengthening its presence, also through the construction of coastal, offshore and island areas, is a gradual march towards deep and distant seas, in line with the development interests for the South China Sea.

Provinces and cities in countries bordering the South China Sea are also considering the development of marine economy as an important goal, because the ocean is a strategic resource for the sustainable development of mankind and belongs to everyone.

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