Archive | June, 2017

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Chinese boats attack Vietnamese fishermen in South China Sea – Elizabeth Shim | UPI

30 June 2017

Elizabeth Shim | UPI — China may be flexing its muscle in the South China Sea with attacks on Vietnamese fishing boats.

Vietnamese boats are increasingly under attack in the South China Sea. 
Photo(C)Luong Thai Linh/EPA 

Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ reported Thursday two Chinese ships assailed a Vietnamese fishing boat near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The attack took place on June 18, according to the report.

Authorities in Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province said a similar incident occurred on June 15, also involving a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracels, known as the Xisha Islands in China and Hoàng Sa in Vietnam.

The archipelago is roughly equidistant from the Chinese and Vietnamese coastlines.

The June 18 attack took place around 7 a.m., when two small Chinese boats, manned by officers in military uniform, approached the Vietnamese boat, which was in the middle of a fishing operation.

The uniformed men proceeded to smash the fishermen’s gear and the hull of the boat, then physically assailed the boat’s captain, according to the Vietnamese press report.

The earlier attack on June 15 also involved Chinese officers climbing onto a Vietnamese boat uninvited, destroying equipment and incurring more than $6,000 worth of damages.

The newspaper quoted sources from the Vietnamese Fisheries Society, who said they have received detailed reports on the attacks, initiated by members of the Chinese coast guard.

China has been enforcing an annual ban on fishing since 1999 in international waters. The ban is enforced for three months, beginning in May, and Vietnamese fishing vessels have remained prime targets, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

The ban has at time resulted in fatalities. In November 2015, a Vietnamese fisherman was shot to death, in an incident involving armed Chinese vessels near the disputed Spratly Islands.

About 84 percent of attacks on Vietnamese boats take place near the Paracels, Vietnamese media reported.

 

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China builds new military facilities on South China Sea islands: think tank | Reuters

30 June 2017

Summary:
  • China suspected of building new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, following U.S. think tank report.
  • Satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities.
  • U.S. express concerns that this could impact trade.

DigitalGlobe | Getty Images
DigitalGlobe imagery of the Fiery Cross Reef located in the South China Sea. Fiery Cross is located in the western part of the Spratly Islands group

China has built new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, a U.S. think tank reported on Thursday, a move that could raise tensions with Washington, which has accused Beijing of militarizing the vital waterway.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said new satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities being built on the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The United States has criticized China’s build-up of military facilities on the artificial islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement through the South China Sea, an important trade route.

Last month, a U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in a so-called freedom of navigation operation, the first such challenge to Beijing’s claim to most of the waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images
Chinese soldiers march past Tiananmen Square

Trump has sought China’s help in reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and tension between Washington and Beijing over military installations in the South China Sea could complicate those efforts.

China has built four new missile shelters on Fiery Cross Reef to go with the eight already on the artificial island, AMTI said. Mischief and Subi each have eight shelters, the think tank said in a previous report.

In February, Reuters reported that China had nearly finished building structures to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on the three islands.

On Mischief Reef, a very large antennae array is being installed that presumably boosts Beijing’s ability to monitor the surroundings, the think tank said, adding that the installation should be of concern to the Philippines due to its proximity to an area claimed by Manila.

A large dome recently was installed on Fiery Cross and another is under construction, indicating a sizeable communications or radar system, AMTI said.

Two more domes are being built at Mischief Reef, it said.

A smaller dome has been installed near the missile shelters on Mischief, “indicating that it could be connected to radars for any missile systems that might be housed there,” AMTI said.

“Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time,” it said.

 (This article is originally published on CNBC

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[Tension] China Cancels Military Meeting With Vietnam Over Territorial Dispute – by Mike Ives | New York Times

21 June 2017

by Mike Ives | New York Times – HONG KONG — State-run newspapers in Vietnam and China reported in recent days that senior military officials from the two countries would hold a fence-mending gathering along a border where their militaries fought a brief but bloody war in 1979.

One of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. A Chinese delegation unexpectedly cut short a trip to Vietnam 
after tempers flared during a closed-door discussion on disputed territories in the region. 
Credit Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency

But Tuesday, the scheduled start of the gathering, came and went without any of the coverage in the state news media that readers in the two countries had expected. The Chinese Defense Ministry later said in a terse statement that it had canceled the event “for reasons related to working arrangements.”

Analysts, citing government sources, said that the Chinese delegation had unexpectedly cut short a trip to Vietnam after tempers flared during a closed-door discussion on disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The cancellation is highly unusual for the two Communist neighbors, and it comes as Beijing continues to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, where the Chinese seek to expand their military influence at a time of uncertainty over President Trump’s policies in the region.

“This was not what the Vietnamese expected from a polite guest,” said Alexander L. Vuving, a Vietnam specialist at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.

“You can say both sides miscalculated,” he added. But another interpretation is that both countries are “very committed to showing the other their own resolve” on matters of territorial sovereignty.

The dispute happened during a visit to Hanoi this week by Gen. Fan Changlong of China. It was unclear what precisely roiled his meeting with Vietnamese officials, much less whether the general’s actions had been planned.

Analysts said he appeared to have been angry over Vietnam’s recent efforts to promote strategic cooperation with the United States and Japan. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently visited those two countries in quick succession, and the Vietnamese and Japanese coast guards conducted joint drills in the South China Sea last week focused on preventing illegal fishing.

Another reason, analysts said, could be Vietnam’s apparent refusal to abandon oil and gas exploration in areas of the South China Sea that both it and Beijing claim.

Mr. Vuving said a specific source of the dispute may have been the so-called Blue Whale project, a gas-drilling venture in the South China Sea by Vietnam’s state oil company, PetroVietnam, and Exxon Mobil. The companies signed an agreement during a January trip to Hanoi by John Kerry, the secretary of the state at the time.

The drilling site, which is expected to produce gas for power generation by 2023, is close to the disputed Paracel Islands and near the “nine dash line” that shows expansive territorial claims on Chinese maps. Mr. Vuving said that China probably resents that Vietnam has formed a partnership with an American oil company, particularly one whose previous chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, is Mr. Trump’s secretary of state.

The project appears to set a “very damaging precedent for China’s strategy in the South China Sea,” Mr. Vuving said.

The Chinese and Vietnamese Foreign Ministries did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, and an Exxon Mobil spokeswoman in Singapore could not be reached for comment.

Other analysts said that the source of tension may have been Vietnam’s recent decision to resume oil exploration in another disputed part of the South China Sea.

Carl Thayer, a longtime analyst of the Vietnamese military and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said that if General Fan had indeed asked Vietnam to cease oil exploration in that area, Vietnam would have considered the request “inflammatory”; it would have implied Chinese territorial control in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Vietnamese coast.

“Vietnam’s leaders would have refused this request and responded by reasserting Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Mr. Thayer said in an email to reporters and diplomats.

There were unconfirmed reports on Wednesday that China had recently deployed 40 vessels and several military transport aircraft to the area. Vietnam accused Chinese ships of cutting the cables of one of its seismic survey vessels there in 2011.

Though China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and a longtime ideological ally, the neighbors have long been at odds over competing claims to rocks, islands and offshore oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

Tensions came to a head in 2014, when a state-run Chinese company towed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands and within about 120 nautical miles of Vietnam. No one was killed at sea, but a maritime standoff led to anti-China riots near foreign-invested factories in central and southern Vietnam, bringing relations between the countries to their lowest point in years.

A few days before General Fan’s Hanoi visit, Mr. Vuving said, China moved the same oil rig to a position in the South China Sea that is near the midway point between the Chinese and Vietnamese coasts, apparently seeking to pressure Vietnam to cease oil and gas exploration in disputed waters. Data from myship.com, a website affiliated with the Chinese Transport Ministry, showed that the rig has been about 70 nautical miles south of China and 120 nautical miles northeast of Vietnam over the past week.

The first fence-mending gathering, called the Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange Program, took place in 2014 and was intended to promote bilateral trust. The meeting this week was expected to include a drill on fighting cross-border crime.

Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who specializes in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, said that the countries were expected to disagree over territorial claims in the South China Sea. But they have established frameworks to defuse disagreements through government channels as well as through the two countries’ Communist parties, he added.

In the end, the two countries “will come out and resolve this problem since both want stability,” Mr. Xu said.

Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, agreed with that conclusion, but warned that new tensions could emerge in the short term. China appears increasingly eager to stop Vietnam from growing too close to Japan and the United States, he said.

“As Vietnam tries to achieve its economic growth targets, it is planning to exploit more oil from the South China Sea,” Mr. Hiep wrote in an email. “As such, the chance for confrontation at sea may also increase.”

(This article is originally published at The New York Times)

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US taking stronger stance in South China Sea – Vietnamese expert – by Niña P. Calleja | Inquirer Global Nation

06 June 2017

Niña P. Calleja | Inquirer Global Nation – HO CHI MINH CITY — The United States seems to be taking a stronger stance against China’s activities in the South China Sea, according to Dr. Ha Anh Tuan, director of the Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies (IFPSS) of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.

Mischief Reef. (Photo from the Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Among the indications this, Ha pointed out, are the recently implemented Freedom of Investigation Operation (Fonop) implemented by the United States and the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on May 31.

On May 25, the USS Dewey, a guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, sailed within 12 nautical miles (22.22 kilometers) of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in the Spratly Islands, where China has built one of its man-made islands. The reef is being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.

Fonop is meant to counter China’s assertion of de facto control over the South China China, where it has nearly finished building artificial islands and military bases.

“In the first month since Trump came into office, the US strategy towards the South China Sea was not clear,” Ha said in an email interview with the Inquirer. “The latest US Freedom of Navigation Operation campaign in May 2017, however, suggests that Trump’s position towards the South China Sea could be even stronger than the one adopted by Obama administration.”

Ha said the delivery of the six coastal patrol vessels to Vietnam, followed by the meeting between Trump and Nguyen on May 31, showed a stronger support of the US against China’s occupation in the South China Sea.

“All are signs of a US commitment, which Vietnam had feared was waning under President Donald Trump,” he said.

Nguyen went to the US for a three-day official visit from May 29 to May 31, which culminated in his first meeting with Trump at the White House. He is the first head of state in Southeast Asia to meet Trump since the latter’s inauguration this year.

Visiting to the US on Trump’s official invitation, the Vietnamese leader also hoped to boost relationship with the US, Vietnam’s top trading partner despite its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, the trade treaty which an export-oriented Vietnam would have likely benefited from.

Since diplomatic ties between Vietnam and US normalized 20 years ago, bilateral trade has flourished – reaching $36.3 billion in 2014 and $45 billion in 2016.

But the South China Sea was also on the Southeast Asian leader’s agenda. In a joint statement issued after their meeting, Nguyen and Trump called on all parties to “refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, such as the militarization of disputed features.”

In the same statement, Trump assured Vietnam that US  would continue to “fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Ha noted that the land reclamation of China in the South China Sea was completed well before Trump’s presidency. This, he said, left the the US with “virtually no option to change that reality.”

China, meanwhile, condemned the US operation, saying the US ship did not ask permission to enter what it claimed to be its territorial waters.

But other claimants in the South China Sea, like Vietnam, were hoping to see more of the US presence in the region “as a way to maintain regional peace, stability and security,” Ha said.

Vietnam and the Philippines, along Malaysia and Brunei, have competing claims with China over the South China Sea.

After his US trip, the Vietnamese prime minister would go next to Japan for an official visit from June 4 to 8 at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Trump is also in the offing, as the US president had invited the Philippine leader to visit the White House.

Trump is also expected to visit Vietnam in November for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held there in Danang.

 (This article is originally published at Inquirer Global Nation)


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Southeast Asia tends to defenses in South China Sea – by Atsushi Tomiyama | Nikkei Asian Review

02 June 2017

by Atsushi Tomiyama | Nikkei Asian Review – HANOI — With Vietnam welcoming foreign warships to a key port and the Philippines building on a disputed island, Southeast Asian nations are working to reinforce their South China Sea claims in the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Japan’s Izumo destroyer at Cam Ranh Bay on May 20. © Kyodo

Japan’s Izumo helicopter carrier — one of the country’s largest naval ships — made port in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay for the first time May 20 as part of the Pacific Partnership annual humanitarian mission by such countries as Japan and the U.S. A state-affiliated newspaper expressed Hanoi’s hope for Japanese involvement in the region.

Located 550km from both the Spratly and Paracel islands, Cam Ranh Bay is a key stronghold in the South China Sea. Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships first entered the port in April 2016, followed by American and Chinese vessels in October, as the Vietnamese government seeks to strike a diplomatic balance between various countries.

The U.S. granted six patrol ships to Vietnam on May 22. Two days later, America conducted its first freedom-of-navigation operation — a sail-by through disputed waters — in the South China Sea since President Donald Trump took office.

Trump “stressed that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows” in a Wednesday meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the White House said in a statement.

Vietnam knows that even as Washington seeks cooperation with the Chinese on North Korea, it is still working to curb Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea. U.S. Sen. John McCain met with Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich here shortly before the summit. McCain requested that more American vessels be allowed to enter Cam Ranh Bay, according to Vietnamese sources.

Foothold in the Spratlys

The Philippines is cementing its control over an island in the disputed Spratly group, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China. Manila abruptly resumed efforts to build coastal facilities and repair the runway at Pag-asa Island, which had been delayed for several years, when its military started transporting cement and wood there early last month. The project is expected to cost a total of 1.6 billion pesos ($32.1 million).

Pag-asa is home to 100-plus Filipinos and a Philippine military presence. By building there, the Philippines is demonstrating its claim of sovereignty over the island, which lies within China’s “nine-dash line” claim over most of the South China Sea.

Duterte said at one point that he would visit Pag-asa to raise the Philippine flag. He later changed his mind in a likely effort to secure economic aid from China but is expected to maintain his country’s claim over the island.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is believed to have deployed five F-16 fighters and three to five naval frigates to its Natuna Islands. The country is building up a base there, with plans to finish a runway and expand a military port by the end of the year. Indonesia is also considering deploying submarines and buying additional fighters from Russia.

Beijing is steadily expanding its area of effective control in the South China Sea, taking such steps as installing air defense systems on seven artificial islands in the Spratlys. With both Washington and Manila warming up to Beijing, little progress was made on a legally binding code of conduct in the waters at a May meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian security summit starting in Singapore on Friday, will likely focus on North Korea’s continued missile tests. Group of Seven leaders expressed concern over the maritime disputes in May — provoking a rebuke from Beijing. This time, most countries are expected to shy away from antagonizing China, given its role in restraining Pyongyang.

 (This article is originally published at Nikkei Asian Review)


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