Tuesday, August 1, 2017

South China Sea deal stuck on mere outline | Opinion, News, The Philippine Star | philstar.com

"x x x.

I. Framework of the Code of Conduct 

The Framework is simply a list of topics to be included in the draft that will be negotiated into a final COC. The Framework is just the skeleton of an agreement. From this skeleton, a draft agreement will be fleshed out, and from this draft a final agreement – the COC – will be hammered out by the parties.

Each topic in the Framework indicates the intent of a provision. E.g., under “Basic Undertakings,” the first item is “Duty to Cooperate,” second is “Promotion of Practical Maritime Confidence,” and third is “Prevention of Incidents.” Under “Prevention of Incidents,” there are two sub-items: “Confidence Building Measures” and “Hotlines.” The fourth item is “Management of Incidents,” with the sub-item “Hotlines.”

Lawyers would call the Framework “Heads of Agreement;” laymen would call it bullet points. The Framework is not the COC, not even the draft COC.

The Framework, as of May 2017, is simply a one-page set of bullet points. It comes 15 years after the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct was signed in 2002, which called for the negotiation of a COC. So, this one-page Framework is 15 years in the making, and it is still a skeleton of a draft agreement.

China has repeatedly stated it will sign a COC “at the appropriate time,” or “when the time is ripe.” In my assessment, that time is when it has completed its island-building activities in the SCS to create the air and naval bases it needs to control the SCS for economic and military purposes. That means a strategic triangle of air and naval bases on Woody Island, in the Spratlys, and in Scarborough Shoal. China already has air and naval bases on Woody Island and in the Spratlys. Thus, only one air and naval base is missing – in Scarborough Shoal – to complete China’s radar and anti-aircraft missile coverage of the entire SCS.

A Chinese air and naval base in Scarborough Shoal will protect the Bashi Channel as outlet to the Pacific for nuclear-armed submarines that are based in Hainan Island. The missiles of these Chinese submarines, if launched in the South China Sea, cannot reach the continental U.S.A. The submarines must transit the Bashi Channel and launch their missiles in the mid-Pacific. Securing the Bashi Channel is critical to China’s nuclear deterrent strategy.

The Framework, and its eventual transformation and signing as a COC, is a case of good news and bad news. When China says it is ready to sign the COC, it is of course good news. At the same time, it is bad news because it means China will soon reclaim Scarborough Shoal since China will sign the COC only after it completes its radar and anti-aircraft missile coverage of the entire SCS. Once the COC is signed, China will then demand a freeze by all disputant states on all island-building, reclamation and militarization in the SCS.

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