Our Footballer, Your Hero

I’m sure that Hassan Sunny didn’t expect; not in his wildest dreams that he could be called a 门神 by Chinese football fans. As a goalkeeper for the lions, he performed better than expected in the World Cup match against Thailand on 11 June 2024. He made almost a dozen saves but allowed 3 goals to pass. By any standards, it’s not a spectacular performance. Curiously, millions of fans in China were celebrating even when many Singapore fans are still mourning the loss. Why? Watch the video below.

Hassan Sunny has capitalised on this madness. After explaining to the Chinese media that he didn’t deliberately help China get into the Top 18 and we give him the benefit of the doubt for not being able to read the banner that says 为中国而战,he went to China to serve nasi lemak. But make no mistake, the people who matter in China are not recruiting Hassan Sunny for his footballing skills.

If you look at the comments section, you’ll notice that the haters are more vocal than the fans. Their stand is neither obvious and nor are they making any clear statement. They are just mudslinging and that’s what these modern Red Guards are good at because reason is simply not on their side. However, they are a very powerful political weapon that can be used against Party rivals as in the case of Mao Zedong vs Liu Shaoqi. In the digital age, the bullying can spread across borders.

C919 国产大飞机 Really 国产?

The Comac C919 is a narrow-body airliner developed by Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac. The development program was launched in 2008. Production began in December 2011, with the first prototype being rolled out on 2 November 2015; the maiden flight took place on 5 May 2017. On 29 September 2022 the C919 received its CAAC type certificate. The first production airframe was delivered to China Eastern Airlines on 9 December 2022 and was put into commercial passenger service on 28 May 2023.

C919 model

The aircraft, primarily constructed with aluminium alloys, is powered by CFM International LEAP turbofan engines and carries 156 to 168 passengers in a normal operating configuration up to 5,555 km (3000 nmi; 3,500 mi). In 2023, COMAC announced that it would develop both a shortened and a stretched version of the passenger jet – similar to the sub-variants offered for the competing Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo family.


Only the tail, wings, fuselage and radar cover are made in China. I’m not sure if it’s a good aircraft, but which country in the world would have the termity to call such an aircraft 国产?

Protest And Get Famous

Here is a clueless supporter of the CCP who, like many Palestinian supporters, have no idea what he is supporting or protesting against. We see him in this video harassing Dr K with the flag of China and some Chinese slogan which he probably can’t read.

In China, people slam Japan or the West to get famous and earn money on Douyin. In the West, people go against the mainstream to gain fame and lead the left wing.

His identity is not really important. What’s more telling is his “history”. This man had once protested against the indictment against Julian Assange, saying no to a surveillance state. Ironically, it’s a well-known fact that China is the most advanced and high tech surveillance state in the world.

Could he be like one of those pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters who don’t really know what they are standing up for? But the most pathetic folks have to be those who CCP fans who had lost their shirts investing in scams in China and still think that China has a good system. Faith and ethno nationalism conquer reason.

Of course, the really shameless ones are those who keep praising China’s superiority but place their best on America instead.

Evergrande Dance Troupe (disbanded)

林丹丹, 白珊珊, 钱香香 (haha) , 徐雯雯,陈婷婷,马莎莎,蒋露露,吴娜娜,齐媛媛 etc top performers in Mr Xu Jiayin’s Evergrande Dance Troupe (now disbanded). The names tell you something about Mr Xu and his backers’ fetishes. He had money to support the dance troupe but had no money to complete the construction projects.

The Truth About Nakba

Those who don’t have time to read books should watch this video. Of course, a lot happened after the events mentioned in the video but here are some simple background facts to show that the ongoing conflict is a part of an endless cycle of revenge. The first partition plan was the Peel Plan which gave only 17% of the land to the Jews. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs in Palestine (note that I didn’t use the word Palestinian) rejected it outright. They wanted the land to be ruled by Arabs only. Jews and other non-Muslims could only be second class citizens.


After WW2, the Jewish population increased, so another partition plan was proposed, this time by the UN in 1947. The land area given to the Jews was significantly increased, but it should be noted that the southern region was an arid desert and whoever lived there would have to figure out how to irrigate and cultivate the land. The Jews would accomplish that on their own.


Again, the Arabs in Palestine rejected the UN’s plan. The Jews went ahead to declare the state of Israel in 1948. Soon after that, the first Arab-Israeli war broke out. In subsequent wars, Israel would grab more and more land as they grew from strength to strength. The West Bank was a part of Jordan. Gaza was a part of Egypt.


Till this day, the Arabs have not defined any Palestinian territory. They want everything from the river to the sea. If you were an Israeli, would you defend your homeland or would you surrender to a jihadist administration plagued by terrorism. Nobody is innocent. Both sides have blood on their hands. Don’t pick the weaker side by default because that’s the woke thing to do. Pick the lesser of two evils. Pick wisely.

Still Support Chinese Vaccines?

Yang Xiaoming, the chairman of China National Pharmaceutical Group’s vaccine subsidiary China National Biotec Group, has been stripped of his NPC deputy post due to serious discipline and law violations.

Sinopharm CNBG was the developer of the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd (BIBP) COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

Yang is also the chief scientist of the vaccine project under China’s 863 program.

Literally breaking news from China. Former vaccine hero is now a criminal. Authorities admit that Chinese vaccines are problematic and it’s all Yang Xiaoming’s fault. 😆 Remember all the “patriotic” uncles queuing up for their Sinovac shots? I’m not sure if they’ll get into trouble with the Chinese authorities if they still support the vaccine now.

Blood Suckers

It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how good your business is. Once the blood suckers descend on you, you’re pretty much finished. No wonder Chinese people prefer the times when gangs collected protection money.

On Dangerous Ground by Gregory Poling – Conflict and hegemony in the South China Sea

Summaries taken from the book:

The United States signed the Implementation Agreement in July 1994. President Bill Clinton transferred UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the agreement to the Senate for ratification in October. A month later, having secured ratification by the required 60 member-states, UNCLOS finally entered into force. The international bodies it established were soon up and running. The ISA (International Seabed Authority) met for the first time in late 1994, Satya Nandan was named secretary-general and would serve for twelve years.

In 1996, Indonesia’s Hasjim Djalal was elected the first president of the ISA assembly. That year, member-states also elected the first judges to the ITLOS (International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea).”

All told, UNCLOS required more than two decades of effort by nearly every country in the world. It was an unprecedented undertaking and arguably the greatest accomplishment of the United Nations to date.

By 1996, China and all the Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea had ratified the convention. Beijing made a formal declaration to the United Nations at that time reaffirming its claim to the “archipelagoes and islands” of the South China Sea. But it said nothing about the nine-dash line or historic rights over its waters.” (in 1996)

Taiwan remains ineligible to ratify because it is not a UN member-state, but it has consistently said that it abides by UNCLOS as a matter of customary international law.

And the United States? After all these years, the Senate still hasn’t ratified the convention. In fact, the treaty hasn’t even come up for a vote. There are virtually no substantive objections left, but successive administrations have feared that ideological opposition to any international governing body, whether the United Nations or the ISA, would lead Republican lawmakers to vote it down. This despite the near universal support for accession by the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chiefs of naval operations, and secretaries of state and defense since 1994. The United States still goes to great pains to assert that it abides by the convention, and US, officials continue to frame it as a codification of customary law.

In 2012, the ICJ (International Court of Justice) gave their arguments a boost. It ruled that most core provisions of UNCLOS have become customary international law, binding upon all states. So even if that argument was a bit disingenuous in 1982, it has become truer over the years. And it is on this basis that the United States objects to China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

Staking Claims in the South China Sea

By the end of 1976, the law of the sea negotiations had reached consensus on the general outlines of a new regime. This included a 200-mile EEZ and a continental shelf of at least that much.

It would take another six years to wrap up the convention, but countries around the world didn’t wait to start staking claims. Among the South China Sea claimants, Vietnam moved first, issuing a statement May 1977 claiming a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

A year later, on the same day he established the Municipality of Kalayaan, President Ferdinand Marcos claimed 200 miles of EEZ and continental shelf for the Philippines. Taiwan followed suit in October 1979. In 1979, Kuala Lumpur issued a new map showing its continental shelf. And in the spring of 1980, Indonesia and Malaysia both claimed a 200-mile EEZ. Only China delayed making formal claims though it voiced support for the 200-mile EEZ and continental shelf during the UNCLOS negotiations, Beijing would not officially claim them until it ratified the treaty in 1996.


The end of the Cold War opened space for a new multilateral effort to manage the South China Sea disputes. ASEAN had been born in 1967 as a loose confederation of the five independent, non-Communist states of Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. In its early years, the grouping’s foremost concern had been to give Indonesia a role in regional leadership and thereby blunt its ambitions. This followed the tense era of Konfrontasi (1963-66), during which Jakarta had violently opposed the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

ASEAN’s second prime directive was to preserve the autonomy of member states in the face of great power competition at the height of the Cold War. This had meant a de facto alignment against the Soviet Union and PRC, which had supported Communist insurgencies in all the ASEAN member states. After the United States and China had normalized relations, most of the ASEAN states followed suit. That meant ending official recognition of the ROC.

The turning point for ASEAN came in June 1992, during its twenty-fifth-anniversary summit in Singapore. Member states wanted to cement their transition from a loose Cold War coalition to an organization that could claim the mantle of regional leadership. So the six heads of government issued a groundbreaking commitment to “move towards a higher plane of political and economic cooperation to secure regional peace and prosperity.” And that meant “[promoting] external dialogues on enhancing security in the region as well as intra-ASEAN dialogues on ASEAN security cooperation.”

As if to prove the point, at their annual meeting in Manila that July 1982, the six ASEAN foreign ministers issued the organization’s first ever joint statement on the South China Sea. The “Manila Declaration” was short and vague but incorporated several principles that continue to inform ASEAN statements about the South China Sea. These included calls for mutual respect and restraint, peaceful resolution of disputes, and cooperation on less sensitive issues like safety of navigation, marine pollution, and countering piracy.

China’s foreign minister, who was on hand for the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference with the grouping’s dialogue partners, was invited to endorse the statement. He declined, arguing that China had no hand in crafting it. But he reportedly said Beijing backed its “principles.” Whatever optimism that might have fueled would be short-lived.

Confusion at Scarborough

A Philippine Navy patrol plane was flying over Scarborough Shoal on April 8, 2012, when it spotted eight Chinese fishing boats at the reef. Manila dispatched the newly acquired Gregorio del Pilar to have a look. In hindsight, Philippine officials probably wish they had sent the coast guard. Having the country’s naval flagship on station only helped escalate the crisis that followed.

The Gregorio del Pilar arrived two days later and sent a boarding team into the lagoon to inspect the fishing boats. They found that the ships were not only fishing without permission but had been poaching endangered clams, sharks, and other species. Before they could be arrested, the Chinese fishers sent out a distress call. Two Chinese law enforcement vessels soon arrived and took up position between the Gregorio del Pilar and the only channel into the lagoon, where the fishing boats remained.

Over the next few days, the two sides traded accusations while insisting they were open to a diplomatic solution. The Philippine government replaced the Gregorio del Pilar with a coast guard vessel, while China beefed up its presence with a third law enforcement ship. On April 13, Philippine secretary of foreign affairs Albert del Rosario met with China’s ambassador to Manila, Ma Keqing. Del Rosario described the meeting as “very friendly” and said, “We both want to have this resolved ASAP and we have agreed that both sides will not do anything to escalate the situation there any further.”

The next day, two of the Chinese law enforcement vessels escorted the fishing boats out of the shoal and departed. The two sides were down to one ship apiece. But talks broke down within twenty-four hours and a second Chinese vessel was sent back to Scarborough. Up to that point, Manila had tried to avoid internationalizing the standoff. Del Rosario told the press after his initial meeting with Ambassador Ma that the question of American involvement didn’t even come up. But with talks at a standstill, the Philippine government changed tack. Del Rosario called on support from ASEAN and told the press that China’s actions threatened the freedom of navigation of all nations that used the South China Sea.

On June 6, Aquino and del Rosario flew to Washington. They briefed President Obama on the situation at Scarborough and received more promises of security assistance. If they hoped a face-to-face meeting between the presidents would lead to more clarity on the MDT, they were disappointed. Instead, they got an- other boilerplate statement of American commitment to the alliance. Around the same time, Kurt Campbell met with Fu Ying in a hotel in southern Virginia in the hopes of finding a diplomatic solution. Campbell proposed that both sides simultaneously withdraw all their ships from the shoal. If Beijing agreed to this return to the status quo ante, he would convince Manila. What happened next is still a matter of dispute. Most American accounts of the meeting hold that Fu agreed to the plan. Campbell thought so, and the U.S. government proceeded accordingly. But Chinese accounts disagree. They argue that Fu agreed only to relay the proposal to Beijing. In her memoir, Fu claims to have told Campbell she couldn’t make promises but thought “there would be no need” for the Chinese vessels to stay if the Filipinos withdrew. Some of the other Americans left the room unsure whether a deal had been struck. Either way, the Philippines took the chance.

Manila ordered its fishing boats out of the lagoon and then, on June 15, told its two law enforcement ships to head home. At first, Filipino officials blamed the withdrawal on an approaching typhoon. But two days later, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that China was expected to pull out too as part of an “arrangement.” Apparently Manila believed the storm would offer both sides a convenient excuse to withdraw while saving face. Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s top advisors, forwarded the secretary an email that same day quoting Campbell on the issue. The assistant secretary said China had made “commitments to ‘de escalate’ over Scarborough” and acknowledged that the State Department had “put a lot of pressure on the [Philippines] to step back.”

The next day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied any agreement but indicated that its fishing boats might leave anyway due to the bad weather. Over the next week, Philippine officials, including President Aquino, decried China’s bad faith and threatened to send their ships back to the shoal. Some reports indicated that the Chinese briefly left during the storm, at least for a day or two. Fu claims “only 1-2 law enforcement ships” stayed behind. But when a Philippine Air Force plane flew over Scarborough on June 26 (2012), it spotted five Chinese government vessels and more than twenty fishing boats. Trillanes later claimed to be blindsided when Aquino called and asked him why China had broken the agreement, which he knew nothing about. The senator said he was negotiating a separate deal with the Chinese for a staged withdrawal from the shoal, which Beijing called off after Manila’s public criticism.

ASEAN Consensus Collapses

The South China Sea is the most difficult problem facing ASEAN. It is the only regional security issue that directly involves China and the interests of major outside players. And so it invites exactly the type of interference that ASEAN was established to mitigate. This creates a strong incentive, especially among the original five members, to assert “ASEAN centrality” in managing the disputes. They fear that doing otherwise would encourage China to ride roughshod over individual claimants. And some worry that too much involvement by the United States and other outsiders would turn the region into an arena of great power conflict. But the non-claimants within ASEAN also face strong incentives to do nothing. The South China Sea disputes don’t directly involve them. Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are particularly reliant on China as their major economic benefactor and have no desire to upset Beijing. These competing interests had for years made ASEAN’s approach to the South China Sea a frequent source of disagreement among members.

The ten Southeast Asian foreign ministers met in Phnom Penh for the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and related events on July 8. These included the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum), which brought together the foreign ministers of China, the United States, and all of ASEAN’s other dialogue partners. Since the first ministerial meeting in 1968, the ASEAN meeting had always been capped by the release of a joint communiqué summarizing the ministers’ discussions. In this case, Cambodia’s foreign minister Hor Namhong as chair tasked his counterparts from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam to draft the communiqué. They drew up 132 paragraphs summarizing the ministers’ deliberations. Three of those covered the South China Sea. During the meeting, the Philippines had raised China’s occupation of Scarborough Shoal and Vietnam had complained of CNOOC’s (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) recent issuance of oil and gas blocks off its coast. The discussions were reflected in seemingly uncontroversial language in the draft communiqué: “In this context, we discussed in-depth recent developments in the South China Sea, including the situation in the affected Shoal/disputed area, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of coastal states, particularly those contrary to the provisions of the 1982 UNCLOS.”

As diplomatic as it was, this language outraged Hor Namhong. He declared that there was no consensus and demanded that all the sections referencing the South China Sea be struck out. This provoked exchanges with each of the four foreign ministers who helped draft the language, during which Hor Namhong refused to budge. He insisted that it was unnecessary and provocative to mention the words “shoal,” “exclusive economic zones,” and “continental shelves,” and that doing so inappropriately dragged ASEAN into bilateral matters between each claimant and China. The discussions continued over the weekend, with Hor Namhong’s counterparts suggesting compromises and the Cambodian foreign minister rejecting them out of hand. Del Rosario tried, without success, to sway his Cambodian counterpart with references to ASEAN centrality: “We are also ignoring the fact that there are gross violations of the DOC in the EEZs in the Philippines and Vietnam. It is a challenge to ASEAN’s leadership, centrality and solidarity. Afterward it became widely rumored that Hor Namhong repeatedly left the room to share the draft language and receive instructions from Chinese officials. In the end, the chair reportedly “picked up his papers and stormed out of the room.” On the morning of July 13 (2012), ASEAN was forced to admit that for the first time in its history, it couldn’t agree on language for a joint communiqué.

Taking China to Court

On January 22, 2013, Ambassador Ma Keqing was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila. He was handed an official Notification and Statement of Claim initiating arbitral proceedings under Article 287 and Annex VII of UNCLOS. The Philippine government was following through with the threats made by del Rosario and Gazmin after Scarborough. Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza was to be the Philippines’ legal representative in the case. He would soon be appointed to the country’s Supreme Court and replaced as solicitor general by Florin Hilbay. American lawyer Paul Reichler had been hired as lead counsel. Reichler had earned a reputation as a giant slayer after representing Nicaragua in a successful International Court of Justice case against the United States during the Reagan years. The legal team also included Bernard Oxman, who had played a key role in U.S. preparations for the UNCLOS III conference; British jurists Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle; and Reichler’s partners at Foley Hoag, Lawrence Martin and Andrew Loewenstein. Other important proponents of the case included Henry Bensurto, a lawyer and head of the West Philippine Sea bureau in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Antonio Carpio, a justice on the Philippine Supreme Court. UNCLOS includes multiple venues for compulsory and binding dispute settlement, including the International Court of Justice and International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. But if the parties to a dispute disagree on which to use or haven’t identified a preference, the default is an ad hoc arbitral tribunal established according to rules laid out in Annex VII of the convention. That is where this case was headed. The Philippines had thought long and hard about its substance.

China was predictably angry. A month after the notification, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the document was “historically and legally incorrect and included unacceptable accusations.” It insisted China wouldn’t participate and would ignore any ruling. But UNCLOS is very clear that nonparticipation by one party doesn’t stop the dispute settlement process. The next step was the appointment of a five-judge panel. The Philippines had nominated Germany’s Rudiger Wolfrum. China was given thirty days to make its own nomination. When that didn’t happen, the president of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, Shunji Yanai, stepped in as required by UNCLOS. He named Poland’s Stanislav Polack. China continued to ignore requests to help fill out the tribunal, so again Yanai was forced to do so. Jean-Pierre Cot of France, Alfred Soons of the Netherlands, and Christopher Pinto from Sri Lanka were appointed, and Pinto was named president but he later resigned to avoid any appearance of bias as his wife happened to be Filipino.

In July, the arbitrators met for the first time at the Peace Palace in The Hague, They decided that the Permanent Court of Arbitration, located in the palace, would serve as the registry for the case. Beijing was again invited to join but refused. In August, the tribunal adopted its rules of procedure. The Philippines was asked to submit its memorial, which would lay out the formal arguments in the case, on March 30, 2014.

During the early stages of the arbitral process, tensions continued to build at sea. The Philippines accused Chinese ships of using water cannons to drive away fishing boats at Scarborough in January and February 2013. A few months later, it formally protested the growing presence of Chinese law enforcement vessels near Second Thomas Shoal, where a small contingent of Filipino marines still manned the rusting Sierra Madre. Both incidents would make their way into the memorial. The case was growing in scope as Reichler and his legal team realized they had to plug holes in the initial statement of claim and preemptively respond to arguments that China would make were it to participate.

The Philippines’ friends and neighbors seemed unsure how to respond to the arbitration. There were no cheers from within ASEAN. It was understood that some in the group were angry that they weren’t consulted. There was no official outpouring of support from Europe, Australia, or Japan, where the Liberal Democratic Party under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had retaken power at the end of 2012. The Obama administration was focused on finding ways to work with Beijing on North Korea and the deteriorating situation in Syria. The issue didn’t even come up in the State Department daily press briefing until almost a month after the Philippines filed its Statement of Claim. When asked on February 19 (2014) if the department was disappointed by China’s refusal to participate, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was measured in her response: “The United States supports the use of diplomatic and other peaceful means to manage and resolve these kinds of disagreements, including the use of arbitration or other international legal mechanisms.” So the United States was supportive, but not effusively so. It has been suggested that the Obama administration privately discouraged the arbitration, seeing it as too escalatory. It is hard to say for sure given publicly available data. But if so, the administration soon changed its mind.

While the Philippines was pursuing legal remedies, China was taking what would prove to be monumental steps toward eventually controlling the South China Sea. In July 2012, it had established a new provincial-level “city,” Sansha, on Woody Island in the Paracels. It was tasked with administering everything within the nine-dash line. At the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that November, Hu Jintao had introduced a new goal of becoming a maritime power.

Soon after, Xi Jinping took over and he would prove far more aggressive than Hu. China also continued to push the margin in the East China Sea. In May 2013, the People’s Liberation Army submitted a proposal to the government to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea. The leadership quickly signed off, and in November the Ministry of Defense announced the new zone, which overlapped those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Washington was given less than an hour’s notice. The ADIZ was particularly egregious not only because of its size but for requiring all aircraft flying through it, not just those planning to enter Chinese airspace, to report flight plans and follow other rules. This was wildly out of step with international norms regarding such identification zones.

U.S. officials immediately derided the announcement. Kerry said it would “increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident.” He also reiterated that “freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace are essential to prosperity, stability, and security in the Pacific.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed those concerns and added a reaffirmation that Article V of the U.S.-Japan MDT applied to the Senkakus, which were covered by the identification zone.” Three days after China’s announcement, the United States flew two B-52 bombers through the ADIZ near the Senkakus without informing Beijing. Japan and South Korea also sent military aircraft through. All three continue to do so, making the zone an enduring point of contention.”

On May 1 (2014), Vietnam detected the Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) oil rig and three service ships sailing past the Paracel Islands. The rig was CNOOC’s constructed a $1 billion deep-water drilling platform launched in 2012. At that time, the company’s chairman had declared it “mobile national territory” and a “strategic weapon” to assert Beijing’s claims. The rig parked in waters 120 nautical miles east of Vietnam’s Ly Son Island and 180 miles south of Hainan. The closest disputed feature was barren Triton Island, 17 miles to the north. Under any equitable arrangement, the area belonged to Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf At the very least, Beijing had to recognize that it was legally disputed.

Nonetheless, China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced that the HYSY 981 would conduct exploratory drilling in the area until August 15. Vietnam immediately dispatched half a dozen law enforcement vessels as a “show of force” to prevent the rig from operating. In response, Beijing deployed a mixed force of forty CCG (Chinese Coast Guard), PLA Navy, and militia vessels to protect it. They formed up in concentric rings, with the PLA Navy closest to the HYSY 981 and the militia farthest out where it would have the most contact with the Vietnamese. No shots were fired, but things quickly turned violent. China released video of a Vietnamese ship ramming two CCG vessels. Vietnam published photos of Chinese ships using high-pressure water hoses and intentionally colliding with Vietnamese boats, in one case rupturing a vessel’s hull.

Vietnam actively internationalized the issue. Its embassies around the world held press conferences and released evidence of the violence. Japan and the European Union issued statements of support. Even the ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in Myanmar, managed to express “serious concerns over the ongoing developments” without naming China. The U.S. State Department criticized Beijing’s “provocative and unhelpful” behavior. And Assistant Secretary for East Asia Daniel Russel suggested Vietnamese leaders might “avail themselves of international legal mechanisms” a sign of how much Washington had come around on the Philippine arbitration case. Both sides continued to pour more forces into the standoff. By the middle of May (2014), Hanoi claimed that China had deployed 130 vessels to the scene; Beijing said Vietnam had 60 ships involved. The Vietnamese were not only outnumbered but outmatched. The CCG ships were larger and better-armed than Vietnam’s law enforcement vessels. And once Hanoi started deploying its own fishing militia to the scene, the wooden boats found themselves dwarfed by their larger steel-hulled Chinese counterparts. Soon enough a Vietnamese fishing boat was rammed and sunk, though the crew was rescued safely.

China must have known that deploying the HYSY 981 would carry some risk, but it seemed surprised by Vietnam’s determined response. The longer the standoff continued, the more likely it became that there would be a loss of life at sea, whether by design or mishap. On May 27 (2014), China moved the rig about 20 miles to the east. It was still much closer to Vietnam than to China, and well outside the territorial sea of any disputed islands. On June 18, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, paid a visit to Hanoi. Afterward, several of China’s vessels headed home and the rig visibly retracted its drilling equipment. It stayed in that location until July 15, when CNOOC announced it was withdrawing a month ahead of schedule in the face of an approaching typhoon. Chinese officials insisted the rig had finished its work early, but Vietnamese officials celebrated what they saw as a victory. Most outsiders agreed with them. In the years since, the HYSY 981 has repeatedly redeployed to waters near the Paracels but always closer to China’s coast than Vietnam’s.

Dredging Up Trouble

The next crisis started on the internet. At the beginning of May 2014, members of an online forum in China published a dozen photos showing Chinese ships and construction vehicles working on a large patch of reclaimed land at Johnson Reef, where only a few rocks normally broke the surface. The pictures also showed PLA Navy vessels guarding the construction site and several Vietnamese ships near enough to observe. Why the Vietnamese kept quiet until the news broke is unclear. In any case, the photos quickly went viral. China’s state-owned Global Times was the first to respond, dismissing the work as “merely a renovation.”

At the ASEAN Summit in Myanmar a week later, the Philippines revealed that it had been monitoring Chinese dredging and landfill work at Johnson for over two months. It had even filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing in early April but was rebuffed. Four days after the summit, Manila took the story to the press and released its own aerial surveillance photos to prove the work was far more than “renovation.”

In retrospect, it is possible to identify the exact start of China’s island-building campaign by tracking publicly available transponder signals from the first ship involved. The Tianjing was at that time the largest dredging vessel in Asia and third- largest in the world. Operated by Tianjin Dredging, a subsidiary of state-owned China Communications Construction Company, it cost $130 million to build between 2008 and 2010. Known as a cutter suction dredger, the ship grinds up the seabed in waters up to 100 feet deep and spews the resulting sand and gravel onto shore at a rate of 160,000 cubic feet per hour. After touring Cuarteron and Fiery Cross Reefs, presumably gauging their suitability for dredging, it got to work at Johnson on December 17, 2013.

The Tianjing spent two and a half months grinding up the reef at Johnson. It dug out a new harbor and created twenty-seven acres of land. Then it moved on while support vessels and construction vehicles took over, smoothing and shaping the new island. That was the work that could be seen in the photos posted online a few months later. In the meantime, the Tianjing repeated the process in fits and starts at Hughes and Cuarteron Reefs. By late May it had created nineteen acres of land at the former and fifty-six at the latter, though the Philippines didn’t seem aware of that at the time. 20 Later analysis of satellite imagery showed that in each case, the Tianjing was preceded by a fleet of clam-harvesting boats from Hainan. These vessels would anchor over shallow reef surfaces and use custom-made brass propellors to pulverize the coral. That allowed them to more easily scoop up the endangered giant clams embedded in the coral. They tossed the meat and transported the shells back to Hainan for use in overpriced jewelry and statuary. Everything about the operation was illegal under both Chinese and international law. But the Tianjing helped destroy the evidence, and the scale of their poaching, which soon extended to dozens of reefs across the Spratlys and Paracels, wouldn’t be known for years (Figures 9.1 and 9.2).


After breaking news of the island building at Johnson, Philippine officials went on the offensive. They blasted China’s “hypocrisy” in complaining about repairs to the Sierra Madre while building whole new islands. The Presidential Palace declared the revelations proof that Manila had been right to pursue arbitration. And Aquino said such wanton violations of the DOC showed that ASEAN needed to push for a legally binding COC immediately. But Beijing was anything but chastened. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the reports about Johnson and said China was well within its rights. Then on May 22, the Tianjing along with two other dredgers moved from Cuarteron to Gaven Reef and started work on a fourth artificial island. By mid-June, the reef was home to thirty-four acres of new land.

Law and Failed Diplomacy

The best chance to deescalate before it was too late might have been November 2014, when Xi hosted the APEC Leaders Meeting in Beijing. Heads of state from across the Pacific, including President Obama, flew to China. It accorded Xi his first opportunities to meet with Prime Minister Abe and President Aquino. Playing the gracious host, the Chinese president played down the tensions in the East and South China Seas. Aquino told the press afterward that the meeting offered a “new beginning” and a chance to “develop areas of cooperation.”

But that new beginning was forgotten in about a month. The arbitral tribunal in The Hague had given China until December 15 to submit its countermemorial responding to the Philippines. China had again insisted it would neither recognize nor participate in the proceedings. But as the deadline approached, the international community held out hope that Arbitration and Artificial Islands Beijing might change its mind. It was well-known that some jurists in China disagreed with the decision to sit out the proceedings. They believed that China would be better served by defending itself, at least during the early stages when it might still convince the arbitrators that they lacked jurisdiction. Then, in the first week of December, China was one of three parties that weighed in on the case.

The United States was the first, albeit indirectly. The State Department on December 5 released an analysis of Beijing’s South China Sea claims. It was part of a series of reports called Limits in the Sea which had been published since 1970. It gave department lawyers a way to publicly analyze foreign maritime claims for consistency with international law. The report focused on three possible interpretations of the nine-dash line. If it was merely a claim to islands-as originally intended that was fine. Washington was neutral on sovereignty, and maritime entitlements from each feature could be determined based on their status under UNCLOS. That was exactly what the Philippines was asking the tribunal to do. But if the line was meant as a national boundary, then it was illegal. It was too far from anything to be an EEZ or continental shelf boundary, and those were the only options allowed by international law. Finally, the study tackled the notion of historic rights. That took up most of the report since it was the only interpretation that accorded with China’s recent behavior. The department concluded that UNCLOS left no room for such rights. And if China had claimed them prior to the advent of UNCLOS, “the Convention’s provisions prevail over any such historic claims, Vietnam delivered a statement to the arbitral tribunal that same day. Hanoi asked the arbitrators to pay “due regard” to how their decision might affect Vietnam’s claims. But it also recognized the tribunal’s jurisdiction. And it agreed with the Philippines that the nine-dash line was illegal and none of the features occupied by China qualified for EEZs or continental shelves.


Two days later, the Chinese government sent a “position paper” to the tribunal, press, and foreign governments. It offered three arguments. First, Beijing maintained that no matter how Manila framed it, the case ultimately affected territorial sovereignty, which was beyond the scope of UNCLOS. Second, it argued that the Philippines had no right to bring a case of any sort because it had agreed in the 2002 DOC to settle disputes only through negotiation. Third, if the arbitrators didn’t buy those arguments, China insisted they lacked jurisdiction because the case amounted to the delimitation of maritime boundaries. And China had exempted itself from compulsory arbitration on such matters, as allowed by the convention. The position paper seemed like an internal compromise for the Chinese government. It allowed Beijing to participate in the proceedings without admitting it. Chinese officials knew that the tribunal would have to consider their points and hopefully throw out the case.

ASEAN, meanwhile, was increasingly irrelevant in the changing state of play. At the group’s Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in January, several members voiced concern about China’s island building. But according to the host, Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman, they could agree only to “intensify efforts” to implement the DOC and reach a COC. The group had issued that same state- ment dozens of times without effect. Del Rosario lamented, “Our inaction on this would undermine the principle of centrality, since we are unable to address in a unified and collective way such a critical issue in our own backyard.”41 He was right-the clearer it became that ASEAN couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with the South China Sea, the more member-states and outside powers would look beyond the organization.

Pressure was also growing on the Obama administration, which had made speeches but taken little direct action in response to China’s island building. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who served as chief of naval operations from 2011 to 2015, believed that a more forceful response might have caused Chinese leaders to “recalibrate.” His PLAN counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, made clear in private meetings that Beijing had been expecting a stronger reaction from Washington. Greenert would later write, “When there was no such response, the island- building campaign continued apace.”

China tried to deflect the mounting criticism, accusing the United States of being the one “militarizing” the South China Sea with its surveillance operations, joint exercises, and network of alliances. When Kerry again demanded a halt to new construction during the ARF in August, Foreign Minister Wang insisted that China already had stopped. He accused the Vietnamese of being the only ones still expanding their bases. In reality, China had completed landfill at Fiery Cross, but the dredgers kept working at Subi and Mischief into the fall, China was also quietly reclaiming hundreds of acres of land at Woody Island and other bases in the Paracels, which would continue until mid-2017.

Chinese vessels were also making their presence felt elsewhere in the South China Sea. And that was forcing other governments to respond even when they would rather have ignored the issue. PLA Navy ships had occasionally made patriotic cruises by James Shoal-the so-called southernmost territory of China-for years. But in September 2013, China had established a more regular presence in Malaysian waters. A CCG vessel had traveled to Luconia Shoals and dropped anchor near Luconia Breakers, which contains the only sandbar on those vast reefs. The Malaysian government led by Prime Minister Najib Razak had little interest in playing up the issue. Kuala Lumpur had long championed its “special relationship” with Beijing; Malaysia was the first ASEAN member to normalize relations with China. And the Najib government was increasingly reliant on Chinese capital to cover the debts its 1MDB fund was racking up through plunder and fraud, though that wasn’t fully known at the time.

For the first two years, Indonesia seemed to be applying the rules unevenly. Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Thai vessels were caught and sunk by the dozens. Chinese ships were noticeably absent from the list of those sent to the deep. Some of that was just because they were harder to arrest. China’s boats were larger, operated in large groups farther from shore, and were often escorted by the CCG. But politics was also at play. Jokowi had named infrastructure his top priority and was actively courting Beijing. Susi was the most popular member of his cabinet but caused major headaches for those tasked with attracting Chinese financing. A series of incidents involving illegal fishing gave her the upper hand, but only for a while.

7 Prestasi Jokowi di Mata Dunia

On March 20, 2016, an Indonesian law enforcement vessel interdicted a Chinese trawler less than 50 miles from Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. Before his ship was boarded, the captain sent a call for help to the CCG-a benefit of the subsidy program that put a Beidou satellite positioning and communication system on every Chinese fishing boat. Hours later, as the Indonesians were towing the trawler back to Natuna Besar (Greater Natuna) for impoundment, a CCG vessel appeared on the horizon. In a shocking violation of law and safe conduct, it intentionally rammed the trawler, apparently trying to shut down its engine so it couldn’t be towed. Then a second, better-armed CCG ship turned up and ordered the Indonesians to release the fishing boat. Outnumbered and outgunned, Indonesian law enforcement had no choice but to comply, though they kept the eight crew members in custody. Susi later alleged that the ramming occurred less than 2.5 miles from one of the Natunas-well within Indonesia’s territorial sea. Jakarta was outraged and filed a formal protest. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing insisted that the trawler, captured at the southern edge of the nine-dash line, was operating in “traditional Chinese fishing grounds,”

Tensions continued to build for the next several months. Jakarta announced plans to upgrade its military facilities on Natuna Besar and increased patrols. In May, an Indonesian Navy frigate was forced to fire shots at a Chinese trawler before arresting its crew and towing it back to port. A CCG ship was serving as escort nearby but decided not to intervene. But Beijing did issue a protest of its own. Another arrest occurred a month later, again with shots fired. This time a Chinese fisherman was injured and had to be flown back to Hainan for treatment. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “lodged a strong protest” and insisted that “China and Indonesia have overlapping claims” in the area. Indonesia, as it had consistently since the 1990s, denied any overlap. Susi continued to speak out against Chinese illegal fishing, but the issue slowly faded from the headlines. Jakarta and Beijing tried to focus attention instead on their positive economic relations. Of course, sweeping it under the rug didn’t make the problem go away, and Chinese fishing would reemerge as a major flashpoint in the relationship in 2019.

The Road to Judgment Day

The first hearings in the Philippines’ case against China were held on July 7, 2015. They involved only jurisdictional matters. The judges heard two rounds of arguments over the next weeks. China had been invited to submit any final written arguments by June but refused. And as expected, it didn’t appear for the proceedings. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan, however, sent observers to The Hague.” Del Rosario gave the Philippines’ opening statement, declaring: This is a matter that is most important not only to the Philippines, but also to all coastal States that border the South China Sea, and even to all the States Parties to UNCLOS. It is a dispute that goes to the very heart of UNCLOS itself…. If China can defy the limits placed by the Convention on its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, and disregard the entitlements of the Philippines under the Convention,then what value is there in the Convention for small States Parties as regards their bigger, more powerful and better armed neighbors?

On October 29, the tribunal issued a 151-page decision on jurisdiction. It reiterated that China’s refusal to participate would not prevent the case from moving forward. The decision also rejected Beijing’s argument that the DOC prevented Manila from bringing a case. As for the fifteen claims the Philippines made against China, the tribunal found that it clearly had jurisdiction over seven of them. These involved the legal status of each feature, charges of endangering Philippine vessels, and engaging in destructive fishing practices, On seven others, the arbitrators said they would have to decide on jurisdiction when they considered the merits of the case. At issue, mostly, was the status of Itu Aba. If it was an island entitled to an EEZ, then the tribunal wouldn’t have jurisdiction over several of the Philippine claims because they would require first delimiting maritime boundaries. On the final claim, requesting Beijing be ordered to “desist from further unlawful claims and activities,” the judges asked for more specifics, China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement the next day. It declared that the ruling on jurisdiction was “null and void, and has no binding effect on China.“And that was the last time it would engage with the proceedings until the tribunal’s final award. The Philippine legal team returned to the Peace Palace a month later to argue the merits of the case. This time, Australia and Singapore joined the other “interested States Parties” in the gallery. The United States tried to attend, but its request was rejected; as a nonparty to UNCLOS, it had no standing. China of course refused to take part. It was provided a transcript of the hearings and given until January 1, 2016, to submit any comments. It didn’t. If China wasn’t going to defend itself, another party was determined to have a say.

At the Sunnylands summit in February, Obama declared that China and the Philippines would be “obligated to respect and abide by” the arbitration ruling. In March, the European Union expressed concerns about militarization of the artificial islands and urged claimants to resolve disputes “in accordance with international law including UNCLOS and its arbitration procedures.” All twenty-seven EU members along with five nonmembers in Europe endorsed the statement. And in April, the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a special “Statement on Maritime Security” during Group of 7 meeting in Hiroshima. It called on states to “fully implement any decisions rendered by the relevant courts and tribunals which are binding on them, including as provided under UNCLOS.”

Their heads of state endorsed the statement a month later. Similar endorsements came in from Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, and Vietnam. Tellingly, no other member of ASEAN followed suit. But the Philippines managed to get forty countries on the record publicly calling for compliance with the ruling. China was working hard to build its own competing coalition. By June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing was publicly claiming to have the support of more than sixty countries. In reality, only thirty-one publicly agreed that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction or that compulsory dispute settlement was invalid, and twenty-two of those did so through a single line tucked into a dense China-Arab League joint declaration in May. Another thirty-six countries refused to comment when Chinese officials claimed their support, and four-Cambodia, Fiji, Poland, and Slovenia-publicly rebutted such claims. When the tribunal announced at the end of June that it would issue its final award on July 12 (2016), it seemed the Philippines was in the driver’s seat. It clearly had more support. And while everyone expected China to reject the ruling, it also seemed there would be a considerable diplomatic price to pay.

The judges agreed that China had illegally destroyed the marine environment through clam harvesting, intentionally created the risk of collision to foreign ships, and prevented the Philippines from accessing the resources of its EEZ and continental shelf. And they berated China for building artificial islands while the arbitration was underway. It had effectively destroyed evidence, along with the marine environment, while having no bearing on the legal merits of the case, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States immediately called on China to comply with the ruling. Vietnam issued a somewhat tortured statement reiterating its earlier support for the process. Just three ASEAN members-Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore positively acknowledged the ruling but stopped short of calling for compliance.


Indonesia, where officials had previously said they would endorse the outcome, issued a neutral statement instead. Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand did the same. China-and Taiwan-rejected it entirely. Beijing even had a white paper ready to release the very next day reiterating that it claimed internal waters, territorial seas, EEZS, and continental shelves from all features in the Nansha, Zhongsha, and Xisha Islands, and historic rights beyond that. And how did the new Philippine government react to its own victory? By saying it had to study the matter. That ambivalence from Manila made it easy for other countries to walk back their previous support in the face of pressure from Beijing.


Three days after the ruling, the European Union issued a statement acknowledging the award but not calling for compliance. It was a significant shift away from its advocacy just four months earlier. Montenegro, one of the nonmembers who had endorsed the March statement, had even switched sides and was now backing China. When the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and ARF gathered in Laos a month later, newly installed Philippine foreign secretary didn’t advocate for the ruling.