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Silence Is Falling on the South China Sea

Philippine China relations have taken a decidedly friendly turn since the South China Sea arbitration concluded with the Annex VII tribunal ruling mostly in favor of the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has completely upended the country s foreign policy with its powerful neighbor, starting with a soft landing approach to the ruling, and following up with friendly overtures, solicitation and acceptance of pledges of financial assistance, loan packages and infrastructure projects all punctuated with expletive-laden jabs at Western allies. China also increased imports from the Philippines, notably on agricultural products from Mindanao (tying up support from the southern economic elite), opened the tap on Chinese tourists, and invited the country to join the ranks of beneficiaries of China s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative. Renewed Chinese beneficence has had its intended impact: by thawing formerly ice-cold ties, emphasizing cooperation in other areas and drawing attention away from the maritime disputes, the Duterte administration has noticeably muted its reactions to Chinese assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea. During the term of Benigno Aquino III, Duterte s predecessor, even the slightest new development merited a highly-publicized response. Since the victory at the arbitration, serious changes in the situation at sea have merited a helpless shrug and sometimes permissive deference. When news broke in December of the installation of anti-aircraft weaponry and close-in weapons systems on China s artificial islands, then-Secretary Yasay simply conceded that there was nothing that [the Philippines] could do , that China could take whatever action is necessary in pursuit of their national interest and the Philippines will leave it at that. Yasay even took it a step further by saying that the Philippines wouldn t have anything to do with allies interests in the South China Sea, and that the latter should act on their own without Philippine involvement. When a Chinese ship captured a US underwater drone off Subic Bay, the government was quick to distance itself from its erstwhile ally, professing ignorance of US operations. There wasn t even an official response to the reported near-collision between a US aircraft and a Chinese airborne early warning and control system aircraft patrolling near Scarborough Shoal, notwithstanding the obvious implications of apparently regular Chinese long-range aerial patrols over its claimed territory. Silence on the part of the Philippines seems to have become the new normal, even in the protection of its claims. The Philippines isn t raising the alarm over the continuing destruction of marine habitat, despite Chinese fishermen repeating their patterns of coral cutting and giant-clam harvesting in Scarborough Shoal and incessant fishing activities within its EEZ. Elsewhere, its fishermen have to fend for themselves and fish where their presence is tolerated. Philippine offshore petroleum exploration in the West Philippine Sea has ground to a halt with a self-imposed and official moratorium on account of the disputes. Chinese marine scientific research activities encroaching within the Philippine EEZ have increased in scope, frequency and proximity to the Philippine mainland, not only to the west but also to the east despite the absence of Philippine consent or participation. Only a much-publicized order for the country s Armed Forces to occupy the Philippine islands in the Spratlys and an announcement that President Duterte would raise the flag at Pag-asa Island seemed to briefly shatter the quiescence, although it turned out to be very short-lived.

Muting the disputes has resumed; recent published reports of Chinese personnel threatening and firing warning shots at Philippine fishermen in Union Bank (which straddles the Philippine EEZ) were brushed off by President Duterte as a misunderstanding. He even laid blame on the fishermen for testing the waters and tempting the gods. Silence seems to have even expanded to the last ASEAN summit where the Philippine Chair s Statement retreated from the previous years extended expressions of concern over developments in the SCS, shying away from previous clauses about militarisation, escalation and reclamation. The draft framework for a Code of Conduct recently agreed between China and ASEAN reportedly indicates the latter stepping back from any role by expressly preventing the code from being a basis for dispute settlement in the SCS.

Although the Duterte administration portrays this all as part of a grand independent foreign policy that would take the Philippines away from the US orbit and move closer toward China and Russia, it s risking a yet-unaccounted price: the potential collapse of fisheries and habitats along its western shores, loss of energy security and increased dependence on energy imports, financial bondage for infrastructure development, and political restraint to ensure uninterrupted benefits. Unless it takes care to moderate its latest radical foreign policy swing, the Philippines may find itself steadily sacrificing its ability to secure its maritime interests in order to achieve an illusory peace. Eventually, silence may fall upon its claims in the South China Sea.

This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here[1].

References

  1. ^ here (www.aspistrategist.org.au)

Abe, Trump touch base on N. Korea ahead of G-7 summit

Abe, Trump Touch Base On N. Korea Ahead Of G-7 Summit President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a meeting at the G7 Summit, on Friday, May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TAORMINA, Italy (Kyodo) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed their stances on tackling the threat on North Korea in Italy on Friday just ahead of the Group of Seven industrialized nations’ summit. According to the White House, Trump told Abe that the issues surrounding the country, which continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, are “a world problem and it will be solved at some point.”

“It will be solved, you can bet on that,” Trump said at the outset of the talks, the portion open to journalists. Japanese officials said Abe and Trump are expected to reaffirm their commitment to work in close coordination in trying to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

They may also agree that China, Pyongyang’s primary diplomatic and economic benefactor, should play a greater role in pursuit of that goal. Abe has repeatedly said North Korea’s recent provocations constitute a new level of threat for the Asia-Pacific region, and praised Trump’s assertion that all options, including military action, are “on the table” in ensuring the denuclearization of North Korea. North Korea has launched a series of missiles this year, most recently into the Sea of Japan on Sunday, and is thought to be planning a sixth nuclear test despite U.N. resolutions prohibiting it from carrying out either activity.

The leaders were also set to discuss their positions on maritime security, likely to come up in the G-7 discussions of global issues. The Abe administration’s emphasis on maritime security reflects its concerns about China’s expansionary efforts in the East and South China seas. While Abe and Trump are sure to affirm a common stance on security, the gap between them on trade policy is indicative of the general gulf between Trump’s “America First” stance and the consensus reached at last year’s G-7, hosted by Abe in Japan. Abe has recently stressed the importance of standing up for free trade to prevent protectionist sentiment from taking hold worldwide. But an explicit mention of protectionism may end up being left out of this year’s leaders’ communique.

Immediately after taking office in January, Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade mega-pact, effectively lessening the economic and strategic benefits the Abe administration hoped to gain from the deal. In their first official summit in the United States in February, Abe and Trump affirmed the bonds of the Japan-U.S. alliance. They have kept in regular contact since then, holding three telephone talks in April alone. Sources close to bilateral ties said they also spoke on the phone early this month as a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship joined a U.S. Navy ship at sea in the first protection mission enabled by Japanese legislation that took effect last year.

Lawmakers push Trump to punish Erdogan over embassy violence

House lawmakers called on the Trump administration Thursday to punish Turkey for the violence that Turkish security forces visited upon protesters in Washington this month, including blocking future visits to the U.S. by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We have a message for [Erdogan]: We don’t need people like you visiting the United States anymore,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who chairs the Foreign Affairs subcommittee for Europe, said during a hearing Thursday. “Erdogan should never again be invited to the United States.”

Erdogan outraged U.S. leaders by dispatching members of his security detail[1] to attack protesters against his regime who had assembled outside the Turkish embassy in D.C. during his visit to meet President Trump. Turkey is a critical NATO ally, but the strategic importance of the relationship isn’t deterring lawmakers from pushing Trump to make Erdogan regret the crackdown.

“This was an attack on American sovereignty,” Calif. Rep. Brad Sherman, a senior Democrat on the committee, said during the hearing. “Quasi-military forces of a foreign nation beat and attacked Americans on American soil. This was deliberate, because Erdogan believes that this helps him politically back in Turkey. We have to demonstrate to the world that aggression on American soil is not going to pay off.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s team summoned[2] the Turkish ambassador to State Department for a formal rebuke, but Erdogan’s government didn’t show contrition. Instead, they responded by summoning[3] the U.S. ambassador to the Turkish Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down of their own.

“A written and verbal protest was delivered due to the aggressive and unprofessional actions taken, contrary to diplomatic rules and practices, by U.S. security personnel towards the close protection team [of the Turkish ambassador],” the Foreign Ministry said. The tete-a-tete could complicate an already tense relationship between two NATO allies. Erdogan has blamed the United States for a failed coup attempt last year. Turkish officials are also angry that the Obama and Trump administrations are working with a group of Syrian Kurds YPG, which has ties to another group Turkey views as terrorists in the fight against ISIS. Sherman wants to expel the Turkish ambassador for lying about American personnel, and he has a list of proposals to compel a personal apology from Erdogan. His list starts with spurning any Turkish concerns about the YPG. He also wants the Trump administration to recognize the Armenian genocide, in which the Ottoman Empire killed about 1.5 million Armenians over an eight-year period.

On the financial side, Sherman wants to bar Americans from purchasing Turkish government debt “until we get a formal apology from Erdogan.”

“I realize such an apology might be politically difficult for him,” Sherman said. “That’s the point. We have to illustrate this or we will have other leaders attacking Americans both in their country or in ours for their political reasons.”

U.S. and Turkish diplomats seem inclined to let the matter drop rather than risk interference in counterterrorism efforts, but House leaders plan to vote on a resolution rebuking Erdogan over the attack.

“He is an enemy of everything we stand for,” Rohrabacher said. “More importantly, he is an enemy of his own people and we should side with the people of Turkey, not with their oppressor.”

References

  1. ^ dispatching members of his security detail (www.washingtonexaminer.com)
  2. ^ summoned (www.washingtonexaminer.com)
  3. ^ summoning (www.washingtonexaminer.com)
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