South China Sea claims are complicated. US's only interest is aggression.

Sunday, 2 August 2020 - 9:15am to 9:30am

This show compiled by the Alternative News team and presented by Zachary Doney, CICD member.


[presenter signs on]

This show will consist of some general news, both domestic and international and then a closer look at a current hot-button topic, that of the South China Sea.

General News


  • An anti-China rally supposedly took place at Martin Place, Sydney with many people waving the Australian flag, holding signs that say “CHINA LIED”. This happened around the same time Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested in Sydney.

  • The Council of Attorneys-General decided there was not enough evidence to raise the age of juvenile detention from 10 years old to 14 years old and has postponed the issue until at least 2021.



  • Pyongyang has reported their first suspected coronavirus case and have put their city into lockdown to stop the virus from spreading.

  • Australia has sent  a letter to the United Nations declaring that China’s claims on islands in South China Sea are  ‘illegal’. Australian politicians have cited the security of South China Sea as one of our interests under ‘Operation Gateway’.

  • Australia has consolidated our alliance with the US at the Australia-US Ministerial talks, but resisted going all the way  with the US in their aggression towards China by conducting “freedom-of-navigation exercises” in the South China Sea

  • Australia promised to continue joint military exercises with the US to pursue their shared national interests in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean to apparently “deter bad behaviour”. We ask that the militaries of both China and the US stay home.

  • At the talks, Australia  and the US also spoke of expanding the US military presence in Darwin and of installing a US-funded military fuel reserve for the American military in the Northern Territory.

  • Mike Pompeo complimented Australia on our new $270 billion defence strategy that makes us what he called an “extremely capable partner of the US” in defending international law.

  • Thousands of workers, peasants, and students mobilised across India in late July against the Modi administration’s neoliberal policies to privatise India’s railways. Many protestors were arrested including Council of Indian Trade Unions cadres and members of the Dakshin Railway Employees’ Union.

  • Vietnam evacuated 80,000 people from the city of Danang after three people tested positive for coronavirus. Most of the people evacuated were local tourists from around Vietnam. Vietnam has been a role model in containing the virus with a total of 446 confirmed cases and 0 deaths.

  • After elections were postponed in Bolivia last week for the third time since the 2019 coup, the Bolivian Workers’ Union, Central Obrera Boliviana, and the organised coca farmers of Cochabama mobilised the people to demand democracy from the interim government. The Bolivian workers’ union told the government that if the decision to postpone elections is not retracted, then the workers will enact a general strike and road blockade nationwide on Monday the 3rd of August.

  • The Census Bureau of America found that almost half the population of the US are facing evictions for not being able to pay rent because of the financial strain coronavirus has put on the country. Millions of people could be forced out of their homes.

  • Early this week, the Israel Defence Force fired into Lebanon to stop an evidence-free “Hezbollah infiltration” attempt along the Blue Line. The IDF fired into a civilian house in Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed that the Israeli army were pre-emptively firing at Lebanon in fear of a Hezbollah retaliation attack after one of their members died in an Israeli air strike in Syria. Hassan Diab, the Lebanese Prime Minister said the incident was a “dangerous military escalation by Israel” and that if escalation continues, it will be an excuse for a push to alter the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon which ends next month. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon are conducting research into the incident.


South China Sea

We've been hearing a lot about the South China Sea lately. 

history of area, competing claims

rom the beginning of last century until now the South China Sea has been under dispute by several regional players - China, Vietnam (who call it the East Sea), the Phillippines (who have called it the West Philippine Sea since 2011)Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Taiwan. $3.37tn of trade passes through this region including 40% of the world's LNG. Presumably for this Imperialist think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations rate the impact of the conflict in the South China Sea on US interests as "critical". Ostensibly to keep this trade moving, though it is not really clear if this is the whole reason, the US prefers to be able to sail weapons platforms around the region and would like to continue to do so. 

To achieve this aim it relies on the United Nations Convention of the Law Of the Sea. This is a Convention which the United States of America has not ratified.

[ title only: explanation of 1982 UNCLOS]

  • After 3 decades of negotiations the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea was signed in 1982 and came into effect in 1994. It establishes various zones around nations and decrees what activities can lawfully occur in those zones in terms of fishing and resource extraction.

  • Under the Convention area of the sea the area of the sea floor which belongs to "everyone" has shrunk from 70% to 43% thanks to claims by countries.

  • UNCLOS does not address sovereignty issues related to the South and East China Seas, and its vague wording has prevented it from serving as a credible body of law in resolving territorial disputes.

current situation

  • [who is in dispute

    • every regional player has some kind of claim to the South China Sea. ]

  • what are they disputing?

    • access to resources, fossil fuels and fisheries. Although it is only estimates there seems to be a huge amount of oil and gas under the seabed. Each claimant to the area is trying to push its sovereignty out into the region to the detriment of other claimants.

  • why is the issue being raised again?

    • this ongoing and complicated dispute is being used to further the domestic political interests of the ruling political class of the United States.

    • We shall return to this point briefly later but as far as this is the case Australia has no business getting involved.

    • [Thankfully an Australian delegation which flew to the coronavirus capital of the world during a global coronavirus pandemic did not commit to participating in so called freedom of navigation operations with the US.]

    • Australia did issue a statement calling China's activities in the South China Sea illegal. As discussed earlier, this illegality is based on a Convention which was written in such a way that it could not be used to solve the dispute in question.

    • There is a huge mess of details in the issue of the South China sea and the US is not interested in solving any of them.

The US seems to limit itself to countering Chinese aggression in the region.

So what constitutes Chinese aggression?

  • China sees itself as having a valid claim to the South China Sea. The South China Sea is a coastal water of China. Does that then mean that everyone should obey the nine-dash line and Vietnam can't fish in the East Sea anymore? Well… I don't think so but I have some doubts about this Chinese aggression.

    • According to American exceptionalism, the US is the only country that can have interests close to its own borders.

    • It's easy to forget this because the border of the US seems to be everywhere in the entire world. For instance, how did their freedoms get in Syria? 

  • China has militarised some reefs -this project seems to have concluded in 2016. Possibly this constitutes aggression. 

  • There have been collisions at sea over the years - and also some recent near-misses. These are very serious incidents. Oil spills should not be tolerated.

  • Regional players have been involved in a series of maritime collisions and violations of each others' sovereignty. Disputes over moving oil rigs into Vietnamese waters and disputes over fishing activities in the wrong places and so on.

  • As far as militaries go essentially there is a tit-for-tat series of activities in the sea - China develops the Spratly islands, the US sails warships near the islands, China puts a missile on the islands. What the US views this as escalation, China views this as exercising sovereignty, and so on.

what constitutes US/imperialist aggression?

  • Here's a quote from a US news magazine called The Nation: "On July 4, it deployed two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers— the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan—along with their accompanying squadrons of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines; joining them was a nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress, flown in all the way from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. On July 15, the guided missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson sailed within 12 nautical miles of Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef, two tiny islands converted by the Chinese into military bases. And on July 21, two B-1B supersonic bombers, originally designed to carry nuclear weapons, flew over the South China Sea in yet another demonstration of America’s military prowess."

  • In 2014 the US and Philippines sign a military pact which gives the US higher troop presence in the country and greater access to bases, ports and airfields in the region. For their part in this the Philippines gain a more prolonged taste of the military-industrial jackboot. A taste that we know all too well in Australia.

  • Blaming China for everything going wrong with the world. From the US economy to coronavirus everywhere you turn the demonic apparition of the Chinese Communist Party lurks! 

OK, what should Australia do?

  • should pursue a genuinely independent foreign policy position on this issue

    • it is correct that we want peace in the SE asian region.

    • we also want the respect of the parties involved if we're speaking out on peace in the region

    • For a possible example of how Australia could behave: ‘Vietnam does not pursue a military buildup, but Vietnam pursues protecting our sovereignty, firstly with peaceful measures, diplomatic mea"sures, and even justice measures." VIETNAMESE PRIME MINISTER NGUYEN XUAN PHUC

  • we should urge against aggression in the region particularly on the part of the US whose neighbourhood it is not.

  • we should call for the demilitarisation of the islands in the south china sea.

  • we should call for the united states to remove its military from the region

  • we should call for the US to ratify the UNCLOS.


Are we strategically independent, as M Payne insists?

  • We are heading for a big crash, in Australia - in the developed world. JobKeeper and JobSeeker are being reduced as of September and JobKeeper has already been cut to our Early Childhood Educators. 

  • Australia’s interests are much more local than those of the US, and US exceptionalism provides a poor model for Australia to emulate. Secretary Pompeo’s chest-beating on China may play well to the US Republican base, but it does nothing to assist Australia in navigating a changing and difficult relationship.

  • Although we aren't participating in the next round of sailing close to the Spratly Islands, we have a long way to go in the battle for our independence. Currently we're being positioned as being able to guide the US in the Asia-Pacific:

  • From a recent Australian Foreign Affaris article: 'Canberra is now in an unusual position – it can make demands of Washington and try to set the terms of the alliance. “Australia has got quite a lot of bargaining leverage with the United States, which we’re not using at the moment,” [Michael] Wesley says. “The United States needs us as it hasn’t needed us for a long time, possibly since the Second World War, and that should be giving us the ability to help shape US strategic thinking in the region.” '

  • Ashley Townshend from the United States Studies Centre said in a recent ABC article: '"Put simply: the US can no longer uphold a favourable balance of power on its own, which means that likeminded partners such as Australia, Japan and key South-East Asian countries must contribute more purposefully to a multilateral regional military strategy," [Ashley Townshend from the United States Studies Centre] said.'

    • to the extent that this is about more than US domestic policy it is about this.

    • this shows that the US wants to have multi-lateralism in Asia on American terms. This is the role of the minor-imperialists in the region, Japan, South Korea and good old, true blue, fair dinkum Australia. Let's hope we can avoid an absolute catastrophe. 

  • The Morrison government wants to invest in a bilateral conversation that will not make any difference to the problems now facing humanity - economic collapse, pandemic and climate change. These problems demand sustained international effort and in that every nation, including China, has a role to play.


[presenter signs off]

Alternative News produced by the Campaign for International Co-Operation and Disarmament
Sunday 9:00am to 9:30am
News about peace, disarmament and nuclear issues.


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