BY TILMAN PRADT | APRIL 14, 2012
The South China Sea (SCS) is the semi-enclosed sea from the south of China to the north of Indonesia and from the east of Malaysia to the west of the Philippines. The territorial demarcations are disputed for decades as are the questions of sovereignty over the islands and islets which are located within the SCS. Several claimants such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and China currently possess islets in the SCS and question each other’s rights to do so. This situation has only marginally changed during the last twenty years, upgrading of military outposts on the islets being the notorious exception.
There are different reasons for the importance of these areas in the SCS, substantial fish stocks, existing and assumed energy resources (e.g., oil and gas resources) and highly frequented sea lanes are the main causes for interest.
The various fish stocks in the SCS build the economic basis for millions of fishermen in the littoral states, furthermore, the fish catch plays a pivotal part in the nutrition of the people living in this area. The demarcation of waters and the possession islets are important means to claim fishing rights in the area.
In the SCS are already various offshore oil extracting enterprises taking place, most of them near the coasts of China, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In the disputed area of the Spratly Islands are further oil reserves expected, thus the littoral states try to ensure their claims to participate in the subsequent exploitation of the oil fields.
Last but not least, the SCS is one of the busiest routes of global merchant ships, roughly half of the annual trade shipping is passing through the bottleneck at the entrance to the SCS, the Strait of Malacca. These sea lanes possess further significance since the majority of Chinese and Japanese imported oil is transported via the SCS. An interruption of these pivotal bloodlines would have significant consequences for the world's second and third biggest economy, respectively. But since the majority of European-Asian trade is shipped through these waters, not only the littoral states have an interest in these busy sea lanes.
Combined, the economic and strategic importance of the SCS makes it a hotspot of geopolitics. Its mixture of energy resources and strategic sea lanes has a high potential for conflict but surprisingly, the region and its conflicts waned from the headlines of international newspapers and the mindfulness of geopolitical strategists. Over the last ten years, the several efforts to fight terrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia gave China free rein to arrange the relations to its south-eastern neighbours.
But since 2010, the conflict over sovereignty rights and territorial waters in the SCS is gaining new attention. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the free passage through the sea lanes of the SCS was an US national interest, she provoked harsh reactions from Beijing.
The Central Committee met over the weekend of October 15, 2011 to determine how the upcoming succession during the 18th Party Congress in 2012 should occur the current candidate to succeed Hu Jintao is Xi Jinping with Li Keqiang, one of the Vice-Premiers is believed to succeed Wen Jiabao as the Premier at the 12th National People’s Congress in 2013.
BY NICHOLAS MILLER | MARCH 14, 2012
There has been less focus by the media and China Watchers on who will succeed Wen Jiabao as Premier. While Li Keqiang is considered to be the front-runner and is the current ‘senior’ Vice Premier, I contend that Li Yuanchao, former party boss of Jiangsu Province and current head of the Organizations Department, still has an equally suitable candidate for the position of Premier. Mainland Chinese news sources have described Li as one of China’s most ‘unconventional leader’, ‘independent minded’, and known for strong ‘forward thinking’ concerning how China should be governed. Li Yuanchao has the most hands on experience amongst the elites in implementing policies for the problem areas that the CCP need to manage in the 21st century. During his reign as Jiangsu Party Boss he improved Party relations with the people, curbed corruption, implemented inner-party democracy on a provincial level, improved the conditions of migrant workers, and brought greater government attention to the dangers of environmental pollution.
Nothing is ever certain in Chinese politics. One of the more recent examples of what China Watchers thought was a certain event that did not go as predicted was the failure of Xi Jinping to be promoted to Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) during the Fourth Plenum of the 17th Party Congress in September of 2009. Though the Party gave no reason as to why he was passed over for promotion it left analysts wondering that perhaps there was infighting amongst the elites and that Xi could be experiencing a fall from grace. Eventually Xi was promoted to the Vice-Chairman position of the CMC at the Fifth Plenum of the 17th CPC in 2010. It should be noted that a military leadership position is not a requited position for one to become Party Secretary. China Watchers inferred the importance of this position because Hu Jintao held this position before he was made Party Secretary and it was believed that Xi would follow Hu’s path. The Party’s failure to promote Xi’s only highlights the unpredictability of accurately forecasting elite level politics and how ‘certainties’ can be wrong.
In May and June 2010 there were widespread worker strikes and migrant unrest throughout several provinces. Premier Wen Jiabao highlighted that the Party must work to ensure better treatment and more resources need to given to migrant workers. Wen also commented that the government must do more to curb environmental pollution and incorporate green development into China’s ‘rise’. This shows the prescience of Li Yuanchao’s policies in Jiangsu Province as he sought to widely improve the lives of migrant workers and spur greater environmental reform since 2002. Li’s policies seem to have taken greater notice by higher Party officials otherwise he would have never been promoted to the Organizations Department during the last Party Congress.
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