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ARIA Reassures Vietnam of Ongoing US FONOPS in South China Sea | James Gordon – Geopolitical Monitor

19 January 2019

Much has been written about US and Vietnam relations since the last helicopter lifted remaining American personnel from the rooftop of the US Saigon Embassy during the 1975 final evacuation, as the final curtain closed on the tragic Vietnam War. Once enemies, Washington and Hanoi are now deeply invested in friendship, mutual respect and peace, working to ensure stability and to uphold freedom of navigation and sustained commerce in the South China Sea.


Vietnam, along with other claimant nations, realize that they can no longer take on China’s advance alone. Beijing’s ambitious naval expansion, militarization of reclamations, and mega-trawler fishing operations challenge Hanoi and other regional nations in the South China Sea. Oil and gas resources, the depletion of species biodiversity, collapsing fish stocks, and overall security—all contribute to the growing importance of the SCS region.

Concerns over China’s intentions to control SCS shipping lanes, along with the creation of its military bases on seven remote Spratly Islands reefs (Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, Mischief and Subi) are alarming both regional stakeholders and Washington. Overall, China’s land reclamation has roughly tripled the size of the entire group of natural islands. While other claimant nations have reclaimed land as well, the total by China over the past several years is equivalent to 17 times of what others have done in the past 40 years.

Vietnam knows all too well the conflicts associated with Chinese measures to occupy and claim disputed islands.

January 19 marks the 45th anniversary of China seizing and and annexing the Paracel Islands, called the Xisha Islands by Beijing and the Hoang Sa Islands by Hanoi. In 1974, as US troops withdrew from Vietnam, China sent troops to the remote islands and more than 70 Vietnamese soldiers died in the resulting invasion. The two countries remain locked in a diplomatic struggle over a panoply of international law and conventions in their respective sovereignty claims.

In Ly Son Island, scores of Vietnamese fishermen commemorate the deaths of those Vietnamese who bravely defended their archipelagos against the Chinese attack. Today, China, along with Taiwan and Vietnam, still legally claim the Paracels.

For now, Vietnam should welcome Washington and the Trump administration to expand the US freedom of navigation operational patrols in the South China Sea since they contribute to peace and security. The presence of US Navy warships streaming through one of the world’s critical merchant gateways bolsters confidence that the United States has not ceded the South China Sea to China.

Hanoi reveals a new geopolitical chart as they continue to navigate a closer and more comprehensive partnership with the United States. Their charm offensive was witnessed over the past several years with White House visits by Vietnam’s former President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and Communist Party head Nguyen Phu Trong. Two years ago, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first Southeast Asian head of state, and the third from Asia (after Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping) to visit President Trump after he took office.

The cooperative ties between the U.S. and Vietnam date back to 1994, when President Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam and, soon after the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995, the two governments signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement. This has since paved the commercial road for the steady and substantial growth of trade between the two economies, with an increasingly favorable balance of trade for Vietnam.

By 2006, the US Congress accorded Vietnam permanent normal trade relations status, which represented the completion of full normalization of economic ties and allowed Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization(WTO) in 2007 as its 150th member. While the Trump administration’s protectionist roadmap offers Hanoi some trade impediments, including the discriminatory anti-dumping treatment, policy experts remain bullish and optimistic about Vietnam’s progressive strides toward transforming into a market economy. Economists are quick to acknowledge that globalization has ushered in increased foreign investment in manufacturing plants like Nike in Vietnam, which employees over 400,000 young women.

The tide of foreign direct investment pouring into the country has yielded many dividends including a dramatic decline in Vietnam’s poverty, improved living standards and increased life expectancy. Hanoi’s cautious and sequential adoption of market institutions have yielded two decades of impressive economic performance. “Nike and Coca-Cola triumphed where American bombs failed. They made Vietnam capitalist,” claims Johan Norberg, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington.

It was encouraging news for Hanoi when last month the US Congress approved the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on December 31. The Act affirms and advances the US National Security Strategy to “develop a long-term strategic vision and comprehensive, multifaceted and principled US policy for the Indo-Pacific region.” A few of the key articles that bolsters confidence in SCS claimant nations, especially Vietnam, are the following:

  • Improves the defense capacity and resiliency of partner nations to resist coercion and deter and defend against security threats, including foreign military financing;
  • Offers mechanism to conduct bilateral and multilateral engagements, particularly with the United States’ most highly capable allies and partners, to meet strategic challenges, including (destabilizing activities by China and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs);
  • Increases maritime domain awareness programs in South Asia and Southeast Asia;
  • Encourages responsible natural resource management in partner countries, which is closely associated with economic growth;

 

Defense Cooperation Sends Message to China

Renewed Vietnam-US military cooperation is best symbolized by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson’s arrival in Da Nang last year, marking the first time such a ship has docked in the country since the Vietnam War. The Nimitz-class supercarrier with its 6,000 crew members, anchored off the coast of Da Nang and marked the largest US military presence in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

This display of military cooperation and reception was also highlighted in 2016, when former President Obama lifted a decades-old ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam.

The US-Vietnam defense relationship has included regular Naval Engagement Activities (NEA) over the past decade primarily to curb China’s assertiveness in the contested South China Sea.

Furthermore, in 2017, the U.S. also transferred the decommissioned Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau to Vietnam’s Coast Guard, and signed a three-year plan for defense cooperation. In addition, the US Pacific Partnership has made regular humanitarian relief exercises with its fast transport ships to the coastal city of Nha Trang to provide humanitarian and disaster relief. Vietnam’s leadership does believe that both a symbolic and cooperative defense relationship with the U.S. promotes regional and global peace and security.

Finally, the U.S. should consider the benefits associated with the US Congress ratification of U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It was adopted in 1982 and one hundred and sixty-two countries, including China and Russia, are signatories to the treaty that governs the world’s oceans. The U.S. has yet to adopt it.

While the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet continues to reinforce freedom in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, the treaty formally defines the limits of a country’s territorial sea, establishing clear rules for transit through “international straits,” and “exclusive economic zones (EEZs).” In short, it would allow the US military complete freedom of action.

With ratification, the United States would have legal standing to bring any complaints to an international dispute resolution body and thus avoid possible confrontation with Chinese naval forces and paramilitary fishing trawlers in the Spratly Islands.

Furthermore, the treaty allows for formal cooperation with other countries, because almost all of Washington’s allies, neighbors, and friends are party to the Convention. The geopolitical message is simple: America requires maximum freedom both for naval and commercial vessels to navigate and to operate off foreign coasts without interference. Vietnam and other South China Sea claimant nations urge the U.S. to abide by UNCLOS’s provisions and for the US Congress to ratify it.

At this moment, it’s possible that China is merely banking on the US government’s political impotence – now on display in the shutdown – to translate into its regional ambitions going unchallenged.

 

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the authors are theirs alone and don’t reflect the official position of Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any other institution.

 

This article is originally published at Geopolitical Monitor.

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Is Vietnam adopting a tough South China Sea posture? | Xuan Loc Doan – Asia Times

18 January 2019

Over the past month, some international news outlets have reported that Vietnam is pursuing a strong stance on the South China Sea. Yet a closer look at Hanoi’s overall position – as well as those of other countries and international entities – vis-à-vis the maritime issue shows that is not the case.

A Vietnamese naval soldier stands quard at Thuyen Chai island in the Spratly archipelago in a file photo. Photo: Reuters/Quang Le

On December 30, Reuters reported that Vietnam was pushing for tough provisions in the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that Southeast Asian nations and China are negotiating. More precisely, according to this report, Vietnam wants the pact to outlaw Beijing’s controversial actions in the disputed area in recent years, including the building of artificial islands and military activities such as missile deployments.

It also pushes for a ban on any new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that China unilaterally announced over the East China Sea in 2013. It equally demands that disputing states clarify their maritime claims as per international law.

A day later, the South China Morning Post also claimed that Vietnam “takes [a] hard line” by making such demands. It described Hanoi’s request that “states clarify their maritime claims according to international law” as “an apparent attempt to shatter Beijing’s ‘nine-dash line,’ by which China claims and patrols much of the South China Sea.”

Last Friday, the Hong Kong-based newspaper ran an article headlined“Vietnam risks Beijing’s ire as it uses US freedom-of-navigation exercise to stake its claim in South China Sea.” That article referred to a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) by USS McCampbell near the Paracel Islands on January 7 and remarks by a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman about it two days later.

Asked for her comments about the US guided-missile destroyer’s passage in a press briefing on January 9, Le Thi Thu Hang said Vietnam “has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence testifying its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa [Paracel] and Trưong Sa [Spratly] archipelagoes in conformity with international law.”

She also stressed that as a member of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a coastal state in the East Sea (Vietnamese name for the South China Sea), her country always respects the right to freedom of navigation and aviation in the area of other states in line with international law, especially the UNCLOS.

It could be that, as the SCMP’s article said, Beijing, which was angry about the USS McCampbell’s FONOP, was not pleased with the Vietnamese spokeswoman’s remarks and that Hanoi used the US military’s move to reaffirm its territorial claims in the area.

But Vietnam’s demands that states clarify their maritime claims, resolve their disputes and operate in the area in line with international law, notably UNCLOS, are not new.

In its own statements, joint declarations with its main partners – such as the United States, IndiaJapanAustraliaSouth KoreaIndonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France – as well as talks with China, Vietnam has long and consistently maintained an international-law-based approach to the South China Sea issue.

For instance, in his keynote speech at the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s then prime minister, urged China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “double efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UNCLOS.” He also said: “As a coastal state, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.”

Similarly, in a speech at the 38th Singapore Lecture three years later, Tran Dai Quang, its then president, who died a few months ago, clearly and firmly stated Vietnam’s “consistent position” vis-à-vis the South China Sea – that is “to remain resolute and persistent in the defense of national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity” and “to settle disputes by peaceful means through the political, diplomatic and legal process on the basis of international law, including [UNCLOS].”

In line with what Quang said in that lecture, in a Vietnam-Singapore joint statement issued at the end of his official visit to the city-state, both sides “emphasized the importance of resolving disputes peacefully, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with international law, including as reflected in the 1982 [UNCLOS].”

Vietnam’s joint statements with the US in 201320152016 and 2017 stated, more or less, the same posture. For instance, in the 2017 statement issued during US President Donald Trump’s Vietnam visit, the leaders of the two countries “underscored the strategic importance to the international community of free and open access to the South China Sea” and “the need to respect freedom of navigation and over-flight, and other lawful uses of the sea.”

They also “reaffirmed their shared commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.”

In his talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing in early 2017, Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, also clearly “asserted Vietnam’s consistent stance of persistently dealing with the dispute in the East Sea by peaceful measures in compliance with international law, including the 1982 [UNCLOS], and with respect to diplomatic and legal processes.”

Such an approach is also supported by other countries and international bodies, such as the Group of Seven advanced economies, which repeatedly says its members “are committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in the [UNCLOS].”

Of Vietnam’s demands reported by Reuters, the stress that disputing states “clarify their maritime claims in according to international law” is, without doubt, the most fundamental one. All nations, strong and weak alike, should, if not must, make their claims, resolve their disputes and act in accordance with international law.

In his remarks at the G7 summit in Canada last June, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, urged the member states (namely France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the US, Canada and Japan) to “demonstrate unity regarding the ongoing land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea, as the international law must apply to all countries, big and small, on land and at sea.”

In this sense, Vietnam’s South China Sea posture is not tough at all. On the contrary, it’s very sensible, advisable and, as such, widely supported.

Yet for China, the provisions that its communist neighbor wants the COC to include – notably that “states clarify their maritime claims” in the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea “according to international law” – are tough.

As the December 31 SCMP article said, they are “likely to prove unpalatable to Beijing.” This is because such propositions would invalidate the Asian giant’s controversial, if not illegal, claims and actions in the resources-rich and strategically vital waters.

As ruled by a UNCLOS tribunal in 2016, if it is based on international law, notably the 1982 Convention, China’s “nine-dash-line” claim would be unlawful. And as that infamous line was already declared illegal by the international tribunal, many, if not most, of China’s contentious actions within it, including its recent land reclamation and military buildup or a future ADIZ declaration, are illegal.

That said, it may be true that Vietnam is adopting a tougher posture than it was, and that would be understandable.

A few years ago, the Philippines and Vietnam were the two regional countries that were mostly critical of China’s behavior in the area. But since Rodrigo Duterte became the Philippines’ president in 2016, Manila has pursued an accommodating, if not defeatist, attitude toward Beijing.

The maverick leader is now seen as “China’s voice in ASEAN.” It’s no coincidence that China, which was previously very reluctant to negotiate the COC, has recently vowed to conclude it before 2021. Both the Duterte presidency and the Philippines’ term as the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue end in that year.

Against this backdrop, Hanoi needs to voice its position robustly if it wants to “remain resolute and persistent in the defense of [Vietnam’s] national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity.” An effective – if not, the most plausible – way to achieve that goal is to internationalize the issue and call for an international-law-based approach to it, because international law and many other countries are on its side.

By calling claimant parties as well as other interested countries to act according to international law in the South China Sea, Hanoi is, intentionally or not, urging China to practice what Xi Jinping, its core leader, repeatedly and, indeed, beautifully, preaches on the world stage.

For instance, addressing the United Nations Office in Geneva in 2017, the Chinese president quoted “an ancient Chinese philosopher [that] said, ‘Law is the very foundation of governance’” and then lectured that all countries should “uphold the authority of the international rule of law … ensure equal and uniform application of international law and reject double standards and the practice of applying international law in a selective way.”

In that speech, titled “Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” Xi also vowed, “No matter how strong its economy grows, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence.”

Should Beijing apply all this to the South China Sea, the intractable maritime disputes would be easily and peacefully resolved.

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This article is originally published at Asia Times

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Vietnam Gains Bargaining Power Over China in Conduct at Sea Talks | Ralph Jennings – VOA News

18 January 2019

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Vietnam’s tough stance against China over sovereignty of the South China Sea will put Beijing on the defensive during regional talks on easing the regional maritime dispute, people who follow the process say.

 

FILE – People take part in an anti-China protest to mark the 43rd anniversary of the China’s occupation of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 19, 2017.

 

Officials in Hanoi have suggested establishing a code of conduct that, among other things, would bar construction on artificial islands in the South China Sea and ban militarizing disputed features, said Carl Thayer, a University of New South Wales emeritus professor, in an online commentary about a preview of a draft code text written last year. Vietnam, he added, wants to ban any blockades of vessels and nix the possibility of any single country’s air defense identification zone.

Vietnam also would deem “unacceptable” any agreement excluding the sea’s Paracel Islands, which it claims but China effectively controls, according to a report posted by Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative think tank project in the United States.

 

 

FILE – Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy.

 

 

China’s island building

Analysts say China has landfilled and militarized more of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea than any of the other five claimants. It will oppose the Vietnamese agenda, further setting back the 23-year-old code of conduct process but keep it at the bargaining table to show it’s a good neighbor, they expect.

“Chinese hegemony of the South China Sea is not accepted by any of the states within the region,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate politics and international studies professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.

“The problem is, their asymmetric capabilities basically mean that they can’t push back,” he said. “The only way they can push back is to try to forge consensus on code of conduct or at least raising awareness that these issues still remain a core challenge to security and territorial sovereignty within the region.”

 

 

ASEAN leaders and delegates pose for a photo during a working lunch on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore, Nov. 14, 2018.

 

Code of conduct

After 23 years of on-again, off-again efforts, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China decided in 2017 to restart talks on a code of conduct aimed at preventing accidents while leaving sovereignty issues aside. China has said a final code should be signed by 2021.

Four association countries and Taiwan dispute China’s claims to about 90 percent of the sea. China and Vietnam have gotten into three clashes there since the 1970s.

Vietnam’s suggestions for the code, if they carry forward, would affect China the most because of its reach over the sea valued for fisheries, shipping lanes and energy reserves. China has reclaimed about 1,200 hectares of land to build out tiny islets and placed military hardware such as aircraft on some, maritime scholars believe.

The wording from Hanoi would spotlight China’s expansion at sea, a trend Beijing seldom publicizes. It might also serve as a bargaining chip during later stages of talks about the code of conduct, they say.

“Vietnam is in a difficult position as perhaps the country that is pushing back most vociferously against the gradual expansion of Chinese control over the South China Sea,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at Honolulu-based research organization the East-West Center.

“Hanoi must draw the attention for playing the role of standing up to China,” Roy said. “Otherwise China will meet less resistance from ASEAN. In that sense Vietnamese pushback might make a difference.”

Hanoi lost control of the Paracel chain of some 130 islets to China in the 1970s. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam vie with China sovereignty in the Spratly Island chain.

Chinese reaction

China would oppose Vietnam’s ideas for the code, experts say. Beijing is unlikely to show foreign policy “weakness” this year before celebrations of its 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

“I expect if the Vietnamese government continues to insist (on) putting language that the Chinese cannot tolerate, it would be more like a kind of bargaining chip,” he said. “It’s going to touch the nerve of the central leadership.” 

 

South China Sea Territorial Claims

 

China bases its maritime claims on fishing records it says date back some 2,000 years.

But China will keep negotiating the code of conduct because it’s under “tremendous pressure” to reduce tensions in Southeast Asia so it can focus instead on ties with the United States, Nagy said. The U.S. government helps train troops in the Philippines and periodically passes ships through the sea to show it’s open to all.

Despite historical jousting between China and Taiwan over territory, the two countries’ communist parties regularly discuss maritime issues. They have agreed the Paracel dispute should stay between them, said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Vietnam’s conditions for the code would delay code negotiations, he said.

“I think it will be slow, because the Chinese side already said three years’ time frame, so they will just go through the motions of having meetings,” Chalermpalanupap said.

This article is originally published at VOA News

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Senior Chinese military official urges PLAN to attack US naval vessels in South China Sea – Duncan Deaeth |Taiwan News

13 December 2018

The Chinese tabloid Global Times hosted a conference in Beijing, Saturday, Dec. 8 which featured bellicose statements concerning Taiwan and the US

PLAAF Colonel Commandant Dai Xu (Image from Chinese media)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – At a conference held in Beijing on Saturday, Chinese government and military officials discussed issues in the South China Sea and the current state of relations between the U.S. and China.

Chinese media reports that the situation in the South China Sea is expected grow more intense over the coming year, with one senior military official also declaring that China should be prepared to attack United States naval vessels, should the U.S. violate Chinese “territorial waters.”

Dai Xu (戴旭), who is President of the Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, as well as a PLA Air Force Colonel Commandant, was quoted by the tabloid Global Times saying the following.

“If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it… In our territorial waters, we won’t allow U.S. warships to create disturbance.”

Referring to the increasingly regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) being carried out by the United States in the South China Sea, Dai said he couldn’t understand why people in China were afraid of using military force to counter U.S. FONOP activity.

Most recently, the U.S. sent two naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait four days after the Taiwanese elections held in November, which caused alarm among officials in Beijing .

Speaking about Taiwan, Dai even seemed to express anticipation for increasing tension in the South China Sea, emphasizing that China should not fear conflict.

He suggested that some manner of provocation in the South China Sea might push China towards military action targeting Taiwan.

“It would boost the speed of our unification of Taiwan… Let’s just be prepared and wait. Once a strategic opportunity emerges, we should be ready to take over Taiwan.”

Another speaker, Huang Jing, from the Beijing Language and Culture University, claimed that U.S. foreign policy was no longer capable of competing with Beijing’s in attracting support from other countries in the region.

Huang is a Chinese-American Professor, and an alleged spy for the Chinese Communist Party, who was deported from Singapore in 2017 for passing privileged information to Singaporean officials to “covertly advance the agenda of a foreign power,” while working at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Huang says that Beijing’s policy remains “firm but flexible” in the region, and also expressed his belief that ASEAN countries were increasingly supportive of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

Huang also reportedly made the statement “Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor after it took control of the South China Sea.”

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Vietnam and Russia expand joint South China Sea gas projects – TOMOYA ONISHI | Nikkei

30 November 2018

A Rosneft Vietnam worker stands on the Lan Tay gas platform in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

HANOI — Vietnam and Russia are working more closely together on gas development projects in the South China Sea as they seek to reduce their dependence on trade with China.

Locked in a bitter territorial dispute with China over islands in the area, Vietnam is trying to insulate itself from economic pressure by its giant neighbor. Russia, whose economy has been pummeled by Western sanctions, is also trying to avoid becoming too dependent on economic ties with China.

But cooperation between Vietnam and Russia to develop resources in the South China Sea could trigger a fierce backlash from Beijing.

Earlier in November, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev traveled to Hanoi for talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The two reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to joint natural gas development projects in the South China Sea and other forms of economic cooperation. They also agreed to double bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2020.

At the meeting, local media reports said Phuc took a thinly veiled swipe at China’s naval expansion in the South China Sea, saying countries should try to settle issues peacefully, while respecting international law. Medvedev was reported as supporting Phuc’s call.

Vietnam’s state-owned oil company PetroVietnam and Russian state-controlled natural gas producer Gazprom have agreed to jointly develop gas in fields on the continental shelf in the South China Sea. But the project has been on hold due to strong protests from China, which claims most of the vast body of water and has been building military facilities in the area.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, second from right, and his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, second from left, greet schoolchildren before talks in Hanoi on Nov. 19.   © AP

Russia is pursuing closer relations with Vietnam to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia. “We hope that these ties will strengthen,” Medvedev said of the cooperation between the two oil companies. “To achieve that, we will create favorable conditions for implementing joint and new projects involving Gazprom, Zarubezhneft [another Russian state-controlled oil company], PetroVietnam and other companies.”

Any projects involving the two countries are bound to irritate Beijing, which is vigorously pressing its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Russia is not a major trading partner for Vietnam, accounting for less than 1% of its total trade. But Vietnam has become increasingly uneasy about its heavy reliance on China, which is its largest trading partner. This is driving Vietnam’s move to strengthen ties with Russia and other countries.

The Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian-led political and economic grouping of former Soviet republics, signed a free trade agreement with Vietnam in 2016. The union is also looking for greater economic cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through its trade deal with Vietnam.

“Our two countries [Vietnam and Russia] will continue implementing the agreement for a free trade zone between Vietnam and the Eurasian Economic Union to maximize favorable conditions and preferences under that agreement,” Phuc said. “We will seek to achieve a breakthrough in bilateral trade and investment by increasing bilateral trade turnover to $10 billion by 2020.”

The South China Sea is rich in natural resources, such as oil and gas, and has become an arena of competition for China, Vietnam, the Philippines and others. In ASEAN, Vietnam has been the most vocal critic of China’s military muscle flexing the region.

The Russian economy has been battered by Western economic sanctions following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Moscow has tried to cushion the impact of the sanctions by strengthening ties with China, but it is wary of relying too much on its larger neighbor for its economic well-being.

During the Soviet era, Moscow had solid relations with Vietnam and other communist countries in Southeast Asia, wielding much influence. Russia is now pursuing closer ties with Vietnam and other fast-growing economies in the region to keep its options open.

In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear Russia’s ambitions to become a more active player in Southeast Asia. “We believe this is in our practical interest and represents an opportunity to strengthen our position in the region’s rapidly growing markets,” he said.

This article is originally published on Nikkei 

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Taiwan Announces Live-Fire Drills in Disputed South China Sea, Frances Martel | Breitbart

23 October 2018

Taiwan China air force

The government of Taiwan announced a new live-fire drill next month in Taiping Island, a territory disputed by China and Vietnam, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

Taiwan’s drill shortly follows the passage of U.S. warships through international waters in the region, angering China. The drill may also incense neighboring Vietnam, the Post suggests, as that country claims the relevant part of the Spratly Islands. Taiping is the largest island in the Spratly chain.

China typically disregards Taiwan’s claims in the South China Sea, instead using all manifestations of sovereignty on Taipei’s part as evidence of China’s sovereignty over the region. China claims all of Taiwan as a rogue province.

China has expanded its presence in the South China Sea to include illegal constructions on land belonging to Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing also claims parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.

The drills announced this week, according to the Post, are scheduled for November 21-23 and will feature 40mm grenade machine guns. Taiwan’s Coast Guard told the Post that the event will be a “routine shooting practice, which we have held for years.” The Coast Guard added that Vietnam and other neighboring countries were aware of the drill and Taipei had no reason to believe they opposed it.

The announcement comes a day after the U.S. Navy confirmed the passage of two of its warships through the Taiwan Strait, technically international waters.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” spokesman Navy Cmdr. Nate Christensen said, adding, “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” The transit was the first of its kind publicly announced since 2007.

“The Taiwan issue concerns the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. It is the most important and sensitive issue amid China-US relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday in response to the report. “We urge the US to observe the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-US joint communiqués and prudently and properly handle Taiwan-related issues so as to avoid undermining China-US relations and the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”

Prior to the U.S. passage, Taiwan announced last week plans to expand its military technology arsenal and replace infantry in the Taiwan Straits with a “major automation initiative,” funded in part with over $23 million allocated to buy “six indigenous automated close-range defense systems and two joint-forces management systems.” The control center for this new automated defense and surveillance system is expected to be built on Taiping, known also as Itu Aba.

The government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has also planned a visit by several Taiwanese military officials to the United States this month to request expanded military sales to the country. Taiwan is reportedly particularly interested in buying military aircraft to protect from a mainland invasion.

Under the Trump administration, Washington has proven more open to Taiwanese requests for support. Last month, the State Department confirmed the sale of $330 million in spare aircraft parts to Taipei.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient,” the State Department said in a press release.

Taiwan itself has changed to a more proactive stance regarding seeking out international alliances, however, under President Tsai. Tsai engaged in an unprecendented phone call with President Trump in 2016 to congratulate him on his election victory, triggering a stern rebuke from Japan. She has also undertaken several visits to Latin America, traditionally one of the most Taiwan-friendly regions in the world, and made a historic visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston in August.

In a speech commemorating Taiwan’s founding day this month, Tsai urged the international community to support Taiwan’s sovereignty, challenging China directly.

“For some time now, China’s unilateral diplomatic offensive and military coercion have not only harmed cross-strait relations. They have also seriously challenged the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said. “The best way to defend Taiwan is to make it indispensable and irreplaceable to the world.”

“The people of Taiwan will never accept any attempt by external forces to unilaterally change the cross-strait status quo. And the international community will never approve of and support the violation of universal values,” she concluded.

The shooting drills next month are far from the first such exercises appearing to prepare for a Chinese invasion. Last week, Taiwan simulated a Chinese attack in the direction of the East China Sea, training to attack the nation’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

This article is originally published on Breitbart

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France to send aircraft carrier to Indian Ocean next year | AFP/ec

19 October 2018

The French nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle – at the center in this 2016 picture – is currently undergoing renovation in the southern French port of Toulon. (Photo: AFP/Stringer)

MARSEILLE: France said on Friday (Oct 19) it would send its aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean next year, to defend freedom of navigation at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed waters.

The Charles de Gaulle, currently in the southern French port of Toulon undergoing renovation, should be ready to sail to the Indian Ocean early next year, Defence Minister Florence Parly said.

France “has always stood in the front line in defence of the inalienable right of freedom of navigation in international waters,” Parly told La Provence newspaper.

“Whenever there are infringements of this fundamental principal of international law, as is currently the case in southern China, we shall make a show of our freedom to act and sail in such waters,” she added.

In May, the French helicopter-carrier Dixmude cruised the South China Sea, while a French air squadron flew over the region in August.

Also in May, French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking on a trip to Australia, said no country could be allowed to dominate the region.

France, Australia and India had a responsibility to protect the region from “hegemony” — a veiled reference to Beijing’s growing might, he said.

France has a number of island territories in the Pacific Ocean.

This article is originally published on Channel News Asia

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How Vietnam Benefits From US Strategy in the South China Sea – Gary Sands | The Diplomat

19 October 2018

The Trump administration’s free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy is quickly gaining more definition.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) fires two Standard Missile (SM) 2 missile during a live-fire evolution.
Image Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Logan C. Kellums/Released

As Washington starts to counter Beijing on multiple fronts — economically, politically and militarily — the Trump administration’s free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy is quickly gaining more definition. The United States has struggled to define its FOIP, a regional construct also led by Australia, India, and Japan, ever since Trump signed on to the concept last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit held in Da Nang.

In recent days, however, U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have started to comment publiclyon details of the strategy.  Another U.S. official, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver, recently visited Vietnam to speak on what the U.S. FOIP means for Hanoi. Schriver was making his third visit to Vietnam as part of the annual Defense Policy Dialogue between the United States and Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense, amid growing military ties between the two former combatants.

In his speech at the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City on October 5,  Schriver began by referring to the Indo-Pacific region as a “priority theater,” while highlighting some of the more aggressive actions undertaken by China in the region, particularly in the South China Sea (which Vietnam refers to as the East Sea). Schriver defined the new U.S. National Defense Strategy as based upon three pillars: 1) recognition of great power competition, primarily between China, Russia, and the United States; 2) the development and nurturing of defense allies and partners; and 3) structural reforms of the U.S. Defense Department to better undertake its mission.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.How Vietnam Benefits From the New U.S. Strategy

One of the ways in which Vietnam can gain from the FOIP strategy is through freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) conducted by major players in the region. These FONOPs are intended to show Beijing and the other littoral nations of the South China Sea that passage by naval vessels can be free and open — despite Beijing’s claim to some 90 percent of the waters and its determination to control rights to passage.

Schriver spoke at some length concerning one such recent U.S. FONOP involving the near collision between the USS Decatur, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and the Lanzhou, a Luyang-II class guided-missile destroyer, near the Gaven Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands (also claimed by Vietnam). During the FONOP, the Chinese destroyer reportedly passed within some 45 yards (40 meters) of the U.S. destroyer, causing the U.S. warship to alter its course in order to avoid a collision. This year, the U.S. has conducted four FONOPs in the South China Sea so far, compared to four in 2017, three in 2016, and one in 2015.

According to Schriver, the U.S. FONOPs are in response to the construction of artificial islands by Beijing — built around reefs and rocks to create “facts on the ground” in an effort to further China’s claims. Some of those rocks and reefs claimed by China (such as Gaven Reef) used to be submerged during high tide. Schriver suggested further action may be taken by the Trump administration against Chinese companies involved in the construction of these artificial islands — presumably through the implementation of economic sanctions.

In the airspace over the disputed waters, Schriver mentioned the FOIP policy would also resist any existing or new declarations by Beijing of Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ), one of the ways in which China attempts to assert its sovereignty in the region. Schriver stated that under a free and open Indo-Pacific “the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” consistent with the previous policy of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter under the Obama administration “pivot to Asia,” and revealing implicit support for the territorial claims of littoral states such as Vietnam.

With a Little Help From My Friends

While the new U.S. National Defense Strategy calls for the development and nurturing of defense partners such as Vietnam, Hanoi will not get too friendly thanks to its foreign policy of “Three Nos”: no foreign bases on its territory, no military alliances, and no involving third parties in its disputes.

While Hanoi does not officially involve third parties in its dispute over the South China Sea, Vietnam will stand to gain from an increase in FONOPs and other challenges to Beijing’s assertion of authority under the U.S. administration’s free and open Indo-Pacific strategy. Some of the naval vessels conducting FONOPs will continue to make port call visits at Cam Ranh Bay, furthering the development and nurturing of defense partnerships between Hanoi, the United States, and other major naval players in the region, while their FONOPs will show implicit support for the claims of Vietnam and other littoral nations.

Finally, with the potential for greater cooperation among the great naval powers in the region to promote and administer a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, in an era of greater economic, military, and political competition among China, Russia, and the United States, Hanoi may find it easier than ever to skillfully play all three partners off against each other to maximum advantage.

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. A former diplomat with the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, he has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, Asia Times, National Interest, EurasiaNet, and the South China Morning Post. He is currently based in Taipei.

This article is originally published on The Diplomat

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Mattis pushes closer ties to Vietnam amid tension with China – Robert Burns | The Associated Press

14 October 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — By making a rare second trip this year to Vietnam, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is signaling how intensively the Trump administration is trying to counter China’s military assertiveness by cozying up to smaller nations in the region that share American wariness about Chinese intentions.

 Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich, left, review an honor guard Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP) 

The visit beginning Tuesday also shows how far U.S.-Vietnamese relations have advanced since the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War.

Mattis, a retired general who entered the Marine Corps during Vietnam but did not serve there, visited Hanoi in January. By coincidence, that stop came just days before the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Tet was a turning point when North Vietnamese fighters attacked an array of key objectives in the South, surprising Washington and feeding anti-war sentiment even though the North’s offensive turned out to be a tactical military failure.

Three months after the Mattis visit, an U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, made a port call at Da Nang. It was the first such visit since the war and a reminder to China that the U.S. is intent on strengthening partnerships in the region as a counterweight to China’s growing military might.

The most vivid expression of Chinese assertiveness is its transformation of contested islets and other features in the South China Sea into strategic military outposts. The Trump administration has sharply criticized China for deploying surface-to-air missiles and other weapons on some of these outposts. In June, Mattis said the placement of these weapons is “tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”

This time Mattis is visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s most populous city and its economic center. Known as Saigon during the period before the communists took over the Republic of South Vietnam in 1975, the city was renamed for the man who led the Vietnamese nationalist movement.

Mattis also plans to visit a Vietnamese air base, Bien Hoa, a major air station for American forces during the war, and meet with the defense minister, Ngo Xuan Lich.

The visit comes amid a leadership transition after the death in September of Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang. Earlier this month, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party nominated its general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, for the additional post of president. He is expected to be approved by the National Assembly.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, listens during talks with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP)
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, listens during talks with Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong Jan. 25, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Tran Van Minh/AP)

Although Vietnam has become a common destination for American secretaries of defense, two visits in one year is unusual, and Ho Chi Minh City is rarely on the itinerary. The last Pentagon chief to visit Ho Chi Minh City was William Cohen in the year 2000; he was the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Vietnam since the war. Formal diplomatic relations were restored in 1995 and the U.S. lifted its war-era arms embargo in 2016.

The Mattis trip originally was to include a visit to Beijing, but that stop was canceled amid rising tensions over trade and defense issues. China recently rejected a request for a Hong Kong port visit by an American warship, and last summer Mattis disinvited China from a major maritime exercise in the Pacific. China in September scrapped a Pentagon visit by its navy chief and demanded that Washington cancel an arms sale to Taiwan.

These tensions have served to accentuate the potential for a stronger U.S. partnership with Vietnam.

Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow and Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview that Vietnam in recent years has shifted from a foreign and defense policy that carefully balanced relations with China and the United States to one that shades in the direction of Washington.

“I do see Vietnam very much aligned with some of Trump’s policies,” he said, referring to what the administration calls its “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.” It emphasizes ensuring all countries in the region are free from coercion and keeping sea lanes, especially the contested South China Sea, open for international trade.

“Vietnam, leaving aside Singapore, is the country the most skeptical of China’s Southeast Asia policy and makes the most natural partner for the U.S.,” Kurlantzick said.

Vietnam’s proximity to the South China Sea makes it an important player in disputes with China over territorial claims to islets, shoals and other small land formations in the sea. Vietnam also fought a border war with China in 1979.

Traditionally wary of its huge northern neighbor, Vietnam shares China’s system of single-party rule. Vietnam has increasingly cracked down on dissidents and corruption, with scores of high-ranking officials and executives jailed since 2016 on Trong’s watch.

Sweeping economic changes over the past 30 years have opened Vietnam to foreign investment and trade, and made it one of fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. But the Communist Party tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule. Even so, the Trump administration has made a focused effort to draw closer to Vietnam.

When he left Hanoi in January, Mattis said his visit made clear that Americans and Vietnamese have shared interests that in some cases predate the dark period of the Vietnam War.

“Neither of us liked being colonized,” he said.

This article is originally published on Military Times

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US-China Tensions in South China Sea – Pankaj Jha | Modern Diplomacy

13 October 2018

Following the end September incident in South China Sea when a Type 052 destroyer of Chinese Navy cut ‘across the bow’ of US Navy destroyer USS Decatur  when the US vessel was passing near the Gaven Reef in Spratly islands, Trump administration has taken a serious note of this incident . It was a very close encounter which reminded of the U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane disaster in 2001 when Chinese navy plane rammed into the US surveillance plane, and what followed was a diplomatic crisis. Just a week later after the two destroyers crossed each other paths, President Trump made a very curt remark on the earlier Obama administration and called it “impotent” for its lackluster approach in containing Chinese activities in South China Sea. President trump added that as Obama administration did not undertake necessary counter measures, Beijing is posing serious challenges to US ships which are operating in the contested waters of South China Sea. The impending confrontation was expected but the problem for Trump is the magnitude and timing of such confrontation would jeopardize its deft maneuvers in diplomacy. Trump has held first summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to manage the nuclear threat that the dictatorial regime poses to US, South Korea and Japan. Any escalation of maritime tensions would have a cascading effect on its peace initiatives with North Korea.

Woody Island, as seen in a Google Maps satellite image

According to rough estimates South China Sea contains 17.7 billion tons of crude oil and more than 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Given these large estimated reserves and also very rich fishing grounds in the shallow waters of South China Sea, many nations around its periphery have claimed sovereignty over the more than 80 islands /islets islands. South China Sea is also a commercial shipping route which witnesses $4.5tn of maritime trade passing through its waters. China claims more than 80 per cent of the maritime m area of South Chain Sea citing the nine dash line drawn by Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist government in 1949. South China Sea had a history of close encounters which were seen when Chinese navy killed 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988 over occupation of Johnson South Reef, and thereafter when during confrontation with Philippines in 1995, it occupied Mischief reef. The features in South China Sea are islets and rocks which at times of low tide are barely 4-5 meters above the sea level and these get submerged during the high tide.

The island building process that China has undertaken has started threatening the safety and security of the sea lanes. In few of the islands under Chinese occupation in the South China sea, China has developed necessary infrastructure to support operations of the military aircraft and also missile defence batteries creating serious challenge to the US navy, and also challenging freedom of navigation for navies of other ASEAN countries as well as those of India, Japan and Australia. This assertive approach that China has adopted has resonated in the ASEAN multilateral meetings but a strong counter narrative, and criticism from the multilateral institution is missing. The ASEAN nations fearing Chinese riposte along with Chinese aggressive behaviour have tried to engage China so as to bring about a Code of Conduct in the disputed waters. China has imposed fishing ban in certain months each year in the third richest fishing grounds in the world, and also has intimidated the other claimant states fishing vessels in the past. Chinese navy had harassed Philippines Coast Guard and had snapped the undersea cables laid by a Vietnamese ship. In 2009 USS Impeccable also had to weather annoying tactics by Chinese fishing boats who have been acting as the third line of defence after Chinese navy and Coast guard. This aggressive behavior and demarcation of safe zones by the Chinese navy in and around the islands that China occupies, have threatened lives and livelihood of fishing communities of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines who make their living out of the fisheries that they catch in South China Sea.

In July2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had given a verdict in favor of Philippines when the country took the issue of illegal Chinese occupation of features particularly islets and small islands in the EEZ of the Philippines to the international tribunal. It adjudicated that all those features which could not sustain human habitation have not right to seek an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, and also declared that Chinese occupation and reclamation activities is illegal. The Philippines while awaiting an international support and US action given the fact that US and Philippines have a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) sought refuge with China to resolve the crisis. For a long time, China has been insisting on bilateral negotiations with other claimant states including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan also occupies the largest island in South China Sea known as Itu Iba which is centrally located and it of immense strategic importance. The island building and the installation of military support and logistics structure has annoyed US and it has made very strong remarks with regard to Chinese construction activities. However, in terms of dissuading Chinese activities there has been a sublime response from US. As a result of US non–intervention, China has built nearly 2,000 acres of reclaimed land in and around its islands in South China Sea.

With South China sea heating up because of the recent incident, India will have to be cautious with regard to safeguarding its interest. The reported near confrontation between US and Chinese navy in the end of September 2018 is a matter of concern. India has also faced such intimidation tactics in the past when in July 2011 its naval ship AIRAWAT leaving the Vietnamese coast received radio message warning it of transgressing the Chinese territory in South China sea. Given this one off incident cannot be a parameter for the tension germinating in the disputed waters, India will have to be prepared for close encounters with the Chinese navy in future.

This article is originally published on Modern Diplomacy

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