www.theusnews.com - Monday 11th June, 2018
During the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue, China came under fire from hundreds of delegates, including defense ministers and other top-ranking officials from dozens of Asia-Pacific countries.
At the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue from June 1-3 in Singapore, some 600 delegates, mainly defense ministers and other top-ranking officials from 40 countries centered their discussions on de-escalating the North Korean crisis, shaping Asia’s evolving security order, new dimensions of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and raising the bar for regional security cooperation. Recognizing the regional and global importance of the South China Sea, the second-busiest sea lane in the world, carrying one-third of global shipping, many delegates mentioned the sea quite extensively, and used strong words to criticize China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea which is raising tensions and destabilizing the region.
On June 2, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke on the subject of “US leadership and the challenges of Indo-Pacific security”, bluntly pointing out China’s unacceptable behaviors, actions and plots regarding the South China Sea. “China's militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island. Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis stated. China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 public assurances in the White House that they would not do that, he said.
“For these reasons, and as initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea, last week we disinvited the People's Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), as China's behavior is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the RIMPAC exercise, the world's largest naval exercise, and exercise in which transparency and cooperation are hallmarks,” the US Secretary of Defense noted.
After his speech, the US Secretary of Defense answered many questions raised by delegates to the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue. He stressed that China has to face consequences, has to live by international rule, and has to accept the fact that there is no legal nine-dash line in the South China Sea.
There are consequences to China
“I think there are consequences to China ignoring the international community. We firmly believe in the non-coercive aspects of how nations should get along with each other, that they should listen to each other.
Nothing wrong with competition, nothing wrong with having strong positions, but when it comes down to introducing what they have done in the South China Sea, there are consequences,” Mattis answered a question of a UK delegate.
“I would tell you that up until -- if you'd asked me two months ago, I'd have said we are still attempting to maintain a cooperative stance with the PRC, with China. We were inviting them to the RIMPAC and world's largest naval exercise in order to try to keep the open lines of military communication between us and transparency. But when you look at what President Xi said in the Rose Garden of the White House in 2015, that they would not militarize the Spratlys, and then we watched what happened four weeks ago, it was time to say there's a consequence to this. And the world's largest naval exercise will not have the Chinese Navy participating. But that's a relatively small consequence, and I believe there are much larger consequences in the future…,” Mattis continued.
Answering a question raised by a delegate from the Philippines, the US Secretary of Defense stated: “We have been on the record about international tribunals that say there is no such thing as a nine-dash line, or is no legal basis for this -- we stand by international law. We stand by international tribunals. We listen to each nation's concerns.”
Peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law
In his keynote speech made on June 1, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also mentioned right ways China should follow, highlighting the importance of partnerships on the basis of shared values and interests. Importantly, the Indian prime minister used the term “rules-based international order” for the region, which he stressed “must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons”. The rules are based on “the consent of all, not on the power of the few”. Modi also emphasized the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.
“We believe that our common prosperity and security require us to evolve, through dialogue, a common rules-based order for the region. And, it must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons. Such an order must believe in sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as equality of all nations, irrespective of size and strength. These rules and norms should be based on the consent of all, not on the power of the few. This must be based on faith in dialogue, and not dependence on force. It also means that when nations make international commitments, they must uphold them,” Modi stated.
“We should all have equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. When we all agree to live by that code, our sea lanes will be pathways to prosperity and corridors of peace,” the Indian prime minister added.
COC establishment promoted
During his speech on the topic “Shaping Asia’s evolving security order” at the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue, General Ngo Xuan Lich, Minister of National Defense of Vietnam, mentioned a wide range of defense and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. “Independence, self-determination, promoting cooperation, adhering to international laws are the foundations of security, peace and development”, he stated.
“Regarding the issue of the East Sea (South China Sea), we are consistent with the support for peaceful dispute resolution, on the basis of international laws, including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, observe the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and promote the establishment of a code of conduct (COC) as a mean to build strategic trust between ASEAN and China and to show the determination of concerned parties to contribute to regional security orders in accordance with international laws,” the Vietnamese defense minister said.
According to him, under no circumstances, one could not make up excuses to militarize by deploying weapons and military hardware on disputed areas or areas belong to another country. Such act, regardless from whom, is a serious breach to the sovereignty of other country, violate international laws, complicate the situation and negatively affect regional peace, stability and security. Instead, all concerned parties should show their responsibility in building order at sea so the East Sea can truly become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.
The Vietnamese defense minister’s speech was welcomed by Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne. “It is my great pleasure to join a panel particularly with my friends General Lich of Vietnam and General Ryamizard of Indonesia to discuss Shaping Asia’s Evolving Security Order. I appreciate both of their insights that they have shared with us,” she said.
“Adopting a ‘might-is-right’ approach is contrary to the interests of all nations. Rules that have served us so well for so long, and from which we have all benefited, should not be carelessly discarded… Australia encourages all countries to clarify and resolve their territorial claims in the South China Sea based on international law. And we have welcomed movement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states and China towards a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC),” the Australian defense minister said.
William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security, also stressed the importance of COC establishment, stating that ASEAN and China were pushing ahead with the long-awaited COC for the strategic maritime area. However, the mercury has risen with displays of Chinese military strength and accelerated deployments in the Paracel and Spratly islands. In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a massive naval parade and week-long live-fire drills in the South China Sea. The exercise involved 10,000 naval officers, 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines. In early May, it was reported that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea - the first missile to be deployed in the Spratly Islands. On 18 May, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China announced that it had landed bombers, including its top-of-the-line H-6K, on an outpost in the South China Sea for the first time./.
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