Monday, 12 December 2011

More confrontation and collaboration in the South China Sea

A South Korean coastguard was stabbed to death by Chinese fisherman on 11th December, even as Beijing began joint patrols along the Mekong River with Burma, Laos and Thailand.

The South Korean coastguard was killed when his vessel sought to detain the Chinese fishermen, who were fishing illegally near South Korea's territorial waters. It comes after South Korea announced a crackdown: 430 Chinese vessels have been seized for illegal fishing this year, up from 370 last year. A number of clashes have occurred but this is the first time that a member of the coastguard has been killed while detaining fishermen.

Seoul has lodged a formal protest with Beijing. The incident is likely to stir tensions between the two neighbours, and be seen as further evidence of China's lack of regard for maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. Similar incidents in 2010 provoked a serious diplomatic crisis between Japan and China.

Elsewhere, however, China is demonstrating a willingness to cooperate with South-East Asian states. Following the death of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong river in October (believed to be by drug smugglers), Chinese forces have begun joint patrols along the Mekong, in conjunction with their counterparts from Thailand, Burma and Laos.

The extent of their jurisdiction and their authority is so far unclear. Most regional states are wary of Chinese intentions and would be unwilling to allow Chinese police to kill or arrest their citizens on local soil. Regardless of the specifics, the patrol marks a major step forward for China's security forces in operating overseas.

Sources: BBC, Wall Street Journal

Monday, 5 December 2011

India and China cancel border talks after Dalai Lama row

China and India have cancelled a round of talks to settle their border dispute after India allowed the Dalai Lama to participate in a global Buddhist conference.

Beijing insisted that New Delhi block the exiled Tibetan leader's speech at the conference; it refused to do so and cancelled this week's dialogue instead. Both Indian and Chinese officials did not address the issue publicly, stating simply that the date of the next round of talks was still being decided; however, the Indian ambassador to Beijing was reportedly brought back to New Delhi for consultations.

China regularly criticises governments which host the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists and a man who the Communist Party considers to be a dangerous troublemaker and separatist. He has lived in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959, although the Indian government is wary of allowing him to use the country as a base for political opposition to China.

The cancellation of talks comes at a time when the two sides are making substantial progress towards settling their disputed border, a major source of tension as both emerge on to the world stage. They have been developing “Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on Border Affairs” to resolve disputes which occur along the boundary line.

Tensions persist along the border, however. China is apparently angry at Indian plans to develop a Mountain Strike Corps of 100,000 soldiers to be deployed along the border; India, for its part, is concerned about the development of Chinese infrastructure near the boundary line, which could be used for military purposes.

Despite the postponement of talks both sides are keen to insist that cooperation will continue. India's Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said on 30th November that defence talks, scheduled for December, would go ahead.

Sources: The Hindu, Voice of America