Strongman Hun Sen -- who said in June that he is grooming his eldest son, Hun Manet, 42, to take over leadership of Cambodia -- has had a wide range of young political, labor and environmental activists detained in recent weeks after protests over dire economic prospects, corrupt land deals, and a border dispute with Vietnam. 2020-09-18
The United Kingdom, France and Germany have signed a joint note denouncing China’s claims in the South China Sea, in a sign of growing European interest in the maritime disputes there and China’s militarization of occupied islets. The three countries together sent a note Wednesday to the United Nations, following in the footsteps of Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States. Over the past year, those governments have issued diplomatic rebukes, complaints, and rejections of China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, all through the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. “France, Germany and the United Kingdom underline the importance of unhampered exercise of the freedom of the high seas, in particular the freedom of navigation and overflight, and of the right of innocent passage enshrined in the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], including in the South China Sea,” the note says. The three countries also emphasized that “‘historic rights’ over the South China Sea waters do not comply with international law,” and “recall that the arbitral award in the Philippines v. China case dating to 12 July 2016 clearly confirms this point.” The arbitral award mentioned was a landmark case brought before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration by the Philippines. That tribunal ultimately struck down virtually all of China’s claims in the South China Sea as unlawful and without basis under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. The note rejects other parts of China’s stance over the disputed waters. It states that artificial islands, such as those created by China in the South China Sea through land reclamation and sand dredging, cannot generate maritime entitlements such as exclusive economic zones under UNCLOS. And it also clarifies that France, Germany and the U.K. don’t recognize China’s grouping of rocks and islets in the Paracels into an archipelago that would generate “straight baselines.” Baselines are imaginary lines connecting the outermost points of the features of archipelago that are meant to circumscribe – and effectively maximize – the territory that belongs to it. The Paracels are a cluster of rocks and islets in the northern part of the South China Sea and are disputed between China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. The United Kingdom already did not recognize China’s attempt to draw “straight baselines” around its occupied features in the area and performed a freedom of navigation exercise there in 2018. However, this is the first time France and Germany have explicitly rebuked China’s baselines, as well as China’s “historic rights” position that it insists grants it sovereignty over the waters and rocks spread out over nearly all the South China Sea. Both of those European nations have recently pushed for further involvement in the Pacific. France held a high-level trilateral meeting with Australia and India on Sept. 9, and has signed logistics agreement with both countries that allow its forces to access facilities on their island territories, and vice versa. On Sept. 1, Germany published its first ‘Guideline on the Indo-Pacific,’ updating its policy to reflect growing economic ties to the region and concern over militarized tensions there. “The Malacca Strait may seem a long way away. But our prosperity and our geopolitical influence in the coming decades will depend not least on how we work together with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region. That, more than anywhere else, is where the shape of the international order of tomorrow will be decided,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a press release earlier this month. “We want to help shape that order – so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong.” The Malacca Strait refers to a critical waterway connecting the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean. About a quarter of the world’s traded goods and oil passes through the Strait. China has come under growing international criticism, particularly from the U.S. government, over its conduct in the South China Sea, and but it has continued to send military and government-controlled civilian vessels into the territory of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Indonesia, one country astride the Malacca Strait, castigated China for sending a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship into its waters over the weekend. At the same time, ship tracking data shows China has sent survey vessels into areas claimed by the Philippines and even into the Philippine exclusive economic zone. The Hai Yang 4 survey vessel operated around Philippine-claimed Macclesfield Bank from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15, and the Dong Fang Hong 3 has been surveying the same area since Sept. 12. Both are operated directly by the Chinese government. The Jia Geng, another Chinese survey vessel owned by Xiamen University, has been sailing within 150 nautical miles of the Philippine coast since Sept. 13. Benar News, an RFA-affiliated online news service, reached out to the Philippine government on Tuesday for comment and was told the Department of National Defense would “validate this report.” It was not immediately clear if they had done so. The U.S. renewed its criticism of China on Thursday. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell – Washington’s top diplomat for East Asia – accused Beijing of “destabilizing territorial revisionism” when he addressed a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Manila took aim at recent U.S. criticism in a statement, although it did not explicitly name the United States. “[A] certain country outside the region is bent on interfering in the disputes in the South China Sea and the COC [Code of Conduct] consultations to serve is own geopolitical agenda. How to resist the interference is crucial for pushing forward the future consultations of COC,” the statement said, referring to negotiations between China and the Southeast Asian bloc on a code that would regulate conduct at sea.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said China’s state-owned companies engage in predatory business practices in the Mekong River region and the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for much of the boom in trafficking of persons, drugs and wildlife there. The new U.S.-Mekong Partnership launched Friday will help combat these transnational crimes and will strengthen water security for partner countries where China’s manipulation of the river has exacerbated a drought, he said. The U.S. is “concerned about infrastructure-linked debt and the predatory and opaque business practices of Beijing’s state-owned actors, such as China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC),” Pompeo said in a statement. Last month, a senior State Department official also named CCCC when he said upstream damming pursued by Beijing in the Mekong River has been done in “a completely nontransparent and non-consultative way.” “And there is a – actually a specific CCCC angle to the Mekong environmental concern story given CCCC’s role in would-be Chinese plans to blast and dredge the Mekong River, which could have potentially catastrophic effects on the downstream communities, the scores of millions of people whose livelihoods rely on the Mekong,” the official who was not named said during a special briefing. On Monday, Pompeo also said companies and groups associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are linked to human and narcotics trafficking in the Mekong region. His statement did not provide evidence to support the allegation. “Concerning also is the boom in trafficking of persons, drugs and wildlife, much of which emanates from organizations, companies and special economic zones linked to the CCP.” Pompeo also said the CCP is withholding Mekong water, adding downstream countries must hold it accountable by asking it to share water data through the Mekong River Commission. “The CCP’s unilateral decisions to withhold water upstream have exacerbated an historic drought,” he said. “We encourage countries of the Mekong region to hold the CCP accountable to its pledge to share its water data. That data should be public. It should be released year-round. It should include water and water-related data, as well as land use, and dam construction and operation data.” U.S. pledges $154 million to Mekong region Countries of the Mekong – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – “deserve good partners,” Pompeo said. The U.S. has pledged a total of $156.4 million for a host of initiatives under the U.S.-Mekong Partnership. These include $52 million to support COVID-19 recovery, $55 million to counter transnational crime, $33 million to develop energy markets under Asia EDGE (Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy), $6.6 million to improving energy infrastructure and markets in the Mekong region, and $2 million to counter trafficking in persons. These initiatives were announced Friday at the first U.S.-Mekong Partnership Ministerial Meeting held to launch the partnership. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun was the U.S. representative at the virtual meeting. “The United States is committed to supporting the resilience and autonomy of countries in the Mekong region and will work with all partners who share our principled, transparent approach,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement after the meeting. Pompeo said on Monday that the U.S. will also work closely “with partners like Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, and other good friends of the Mekong.” The partnership’s launch Friday coincided with last week’s series of meetings at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial summit. Pompeo on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia and ASEAN and accused China of “aggression” in the South China Sea. “We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation,” Pompeo said in a statement released during the summit. On Monday, Pompeo said the U.S.-Mekong Partnership “is an integral part of our Indo-Pacific vision and our strategic partnership with ASEAN.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia and accused China of “aggression” in the South China Sea and manipulating the flow of the Mekong River in a time of drought. Touting U.S. investment in the region and support for the COVID-19 response of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pompeo said Washington will speak out in the face of China’s “threats to sovereign nations’ ability to make free choices.” “We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation,” Pompeo said in a statement released during a summit of top ASEAN diplomats held online this week and hosted by Vietnam. The top U.S. diplomat accused China of exacerbating the drought in nations downstream on the Mekong River. “We stand for transparency and respect in the Mekong region, where the CCP [Chinese Communist party] has abetted arms and narcotics trafficking and unilaterally manipulated upstream dams, exacerbating an historic drought,” Pompeo said. His statement did not provide evidence to support the allegation of the CCP aiding weapons and drugs smuggling. Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have been grappling with variable water flow on the Mekong that supports the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. While poor rains have caused the drought, environmentalists say dams that China has constructed on the upper reaches of the river have worsened the situation. Rising tensions Pompeo’s rhetoric underscores the rapid deterioration in U.S.-China relations on a raft of issues in recent months, including trade, the status of Hong Kong, the plight of Uyghur Muslims and China’s assertion of “historic rights” to most of the disputed South China Sea. On Thursday, Pompeo had urged Southeast Asian countries to reconsider business deals with the 24 Chinese companies that Washington sanctioned last month for their roles in constructing Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. In recent years, Beijing has undertaken major reclamation of disputed land features in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. ASEAN nations Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have territorial claims in the South China Sea and seek to use resources in areas that China claims for itself. Beijing further claims parts of that sea overlapping the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia, the largest ASEAN member. For its part, Beijing this week accused the U.S. of interference in the region’s affairs. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the U.S. the “biggest driver of militarization of the South China Sea,” Chinese media reported. “The United States is becoming the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea,” Wang said at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Southeast Asian nations are uneasy about being caught in the war of words between the U.S. and China. In the ASEAN joint communique made public on Thursday, the bloc, which operates by consensus, expressed concern over increased tensions in the South China Sea and called for resolution of disputes in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. A day before that, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that the group’s countries did not want to “get caught up in the rivalry between major powers.” Vietnam, too, said on Wednesday that the dispute threatens regional stability and that countries should settle the acrimonious row by adhering to international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. While Friday’s toughly worded statement from the U.S. was issued by Pompeo, the State Department public schedule showed that his deputy, Stephen Biegun, was the leading U.S. delegate at the ASEAN virtual meetings that day. Pompeo was traveling to the Middle East to attend the opening of Afghan peace talks. The ASEAN summit ends Saturday after the ASEAN Regional Forum on peace and security. The 27-member forum includes 10 ASEAN states, India, Japan, China, the U.S., Russia and the European Union. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.