China is speaking out of both sides of its proverbial mouth. China loudly declares that it has no violent intent in an area which includes the Philippines, islands of Vietnam, and others, yet China has taken very provocative, even warlike action in South China Sea waters (also called the West Philippine Sea).
Speaking in Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said that “China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.” In a speech to an Asian security summit in Singapore, in response to allegations of Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea, he made the claim that freedom of navigation and overflight in that region had never been impeded .
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs sent a message to the Chinese embassy on June 2, 2011, protesting activities of Chinese vessels, citing repeated incidents of Chinese aircraft and naval vessels entering Philippine territory and taking provocative acts, including the use of naval gunfire, against unarmed fishing vessels. In March of 2011, the Philippines filed a protest with the United Nations regarding Chinese vessels harassing a survey vessel in the same area. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said these actions by China hamper “normal and legitimate fishing activities of the Filipino fishermen… and undermine the peace and stability of the region.” They said such behavior could lead to “unfortunate incidents.”
China’s provocations are not limited to the Philippines. In the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, on Sunday, June 05, students and other young people demonstrated near the Chinese Embassy carrying signs reading, “Stop Chinese Invasion of Vietnam’s Islands.” Demonstrators sang the Vietnamese national anthem as they marched through the streets of Hanoi. The specific charge is that on May 26, China destroyed a cable on a Vietnamese state owned boat, representing PetroVietnam, and doing seismic research.
The government of Vietnam is concerned that China is upgrading its navy destroyers and frigates so they can “sail further and strike harder.” China may be preparing an aircraft carrier, according to the Vietnamese.
China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Brunei have competing claims to various parts of the waters, including the potentially resource-rich Spratly islands, the Paracel Island area, and adjacent waters. Documents regulating these areas include the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Part 5, Article 55, which discusses overlapping claims in that region. The document most mentioned in the current discussions is a 2002 agreement signed by China and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states which is mild and may be difficult to enforce. After reaffirming a commitment to the 1982 agreement, the 2002 declaration stresses such ideals as “The promotion of a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment” and “mutual trust between the two sides” and emphasizes hopes that the parties concerned “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
The overall issue has to hinge on the vast superiority of the Chinese Navy, the helplessness of the island nations and Vietnam, and most importantly, on the matter of the rich undersea deposits of mineral wealth that may be involved.