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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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How Brexit Is Helping Vietnam in the South China Sea | Du Nhat Dang – The Diplomat

17 January 2019

China offered to bail out Malaysia’s controversial 1MDB fund, according to an investigation made by the Wall Street Journal.

How Brexit Is Helping Vietnam in the South China Sea
Image Credit: Pixab

The report has Vietnam worried, since it reveals that in 2016, China tried to pour money into Malaysia through infrastructure deals after a discussion on September 22, 2016. In return, that explains why Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Najib Razak supported Beijing’s stance on the South China Sea during the 28th and 29th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits in Laos the same year.

This kind of offer reflects exactly what many fears about Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – that China is buying the world. And Vietnam is concerned that it is surrounded by leaders willing to sell. Hanoi, the most active protester to China’s claims over the South China Sea, is facing the prospect of being isolated by Beijing’s money.

But there is good news, too. In parallel with the chance to host the second Trump-Kim Summit, Hanoi sees opportunities to widen its support on foreign affairs. Brexit could work to Vietnam’s advantage in this regard.

Mark Field, the minister of state for Asia and the Pacific at the U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office visited Vietnam earlier this month. Along with his visit, he contributed an article for Tuoi Tre News, one of the leading media outlets in the Southeast Asian country. The article, given the title “UK to strengthen relationship with Vietnam after Brexit,” was the latest positive signal for Vietnam-U.K. relations as the two celebrate the 45th anniversary of their ties.

Earlier, on October 10, Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, paid a visit to the U.K., which ended in a noteworthy joint statement with U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In the statement, both sides agreed to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The U.K. and Vietnam also noted the growing importance of collaboration in the United Nations on peacekeeping, global security, international law, and the illegal wildlife trade. Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration has asked for Vietnam’s commitment to the United Nation sanctions regime to encourage North Korea to take steps to denuclearize fully and verifiably as well as maintaining the ban on the use of chemical weapons globally. Beyond that, public opinion tends to focus on trade and security issues in the relationship.

Vietnam, as well as ASEAN in general, has been considered one of the best options for the U.K. after Brexit. Post-Brexit trade deals are important for Downing Street, especially in the worst-case scenario of a “hard Brexit” – something that became more likely this week with the empathic parliamentary rejection of the U.K. government’s proposed Brexit deal.

That is why the U.K., a strong advocate for free trade in Europe and Asia, is looking forward to ensuring “continuity for business” with Vietnam by “transitioning the prospective EU Vietnam Free Trade agreement during the Brexit transition,” as the joint statement put it. Further more, Pham and Hunt also agreed to consult on the prospects of the U.K. joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), sometimes called the TPP-11.

Free trade agreements beyond ASEAN that involve Southeast Asian states (like CPTPP), bilateral free trade deals with selected ASEAN member states (such as Vietnam) and an ASEAN-U.K. free trade agreement are three possible opportunities for a post-Brexit U.K., according to a report by the U.K.-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC) and the London School of Economics’ Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Center (LSE SEAC). The report, “Future Options for the UK-ASEAN Economic Relationship,” points out the U.K.’s longstanding and deep historical relations with Southeast Asia. In terms of trade, U.K. exports to ASEAN are higher than exports to Japan, India, and South Korea. In 2016, two-way trade between the U.K. and Southeast Asia amounted to 32.4 billion British pounds — a 9.1 percent increase from 2015. Vietnam is now the U.K.’s third largest trade partner in ASEAN, accounting for 14.9 percent of total trade with the bloc.

But with ASEAN divided by national interests, not least because of economic inducements from China, the ASEAN-U.K. free trade agreement seems uncertain. Bilateral free trade deals with selected ASEAN member states can be crucial in the short term, at least.

“I am confident that when the UK leave the EU that we will be ready to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Vietnam, which will be good for both sides,” Gareth Ward, the U.K. ambassador to Vietnam, told me on the sidelines of a business reception in Ho Chi Minh City in December. He added:

Also in the future, the UK is considering whether we will make the application to join CPTPP. We know from our discussion with members of CPTPP, including Vietnam, that there is a lot of interest among the members for working with the U.K.. So the U.K. and Vietnam are both strong supporters of free trade, and that means we will find the way to make sure trade is maintained smoothly.

The U.K. is also accelerating toward the Vietnamese market in order to keep on track as “the only [EU] country to maintain market share” in the country last year, according to the UKABC/LSE SEAC report.

As part of its efforts to approach Vietnam, the U.K. is playing its role an issue of core interest: The South China Sea. The joint statement of Pham and Hunt noted included a nod to a 2016 international tribunal’s ruling, which favored the Philippines over China’s claims on the South China Sea:

They agree that adherence to international law is the foundation for peace and stability and renew their commitment to upholding existing Arbitrations and to freedom of navigation and overflight. They hold the view that countries should resolve all disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with international law and through existing legal mechanisms.

There are signals proving that the U.K. is taking the South China Sea seriously. In addition to port calls — for instance, the visit of HMS Albion to Vietnam in September — Britain is acting in line with its “Look East” strategy.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Telegraph, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed plans to build a permanent naval base in Southeast Asia, possibly in Singapore or Brunei. This almost immediately caused protests from China.

To put it into context, there are suggestions that the U.K. is pursuing an idea similar to the previous U.S. administration’s strategy of pivoting to Asia, in which the rules-based trading order would be protected by a military presence close to China.

While flirting with Vietnam, the U.K. wants to make sure that those efforts contribute to its global strategy in general.

Du Nhat Dang is a Vietnamese reporter who works for Tuoi Tre newspaper in Vietnam. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism and Communication, University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. He is a fellow at the Reporting ASEAN program, which supports articles about ASEAN.

Source: The Diplomat

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South China Sea: Vietnam Dares What Philippines Didn’t | Panos Mourdoukoutas – Forbes

02 January 2019

AP Photo/Kin Cheung – ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the South China Sea disputes, Vietnam dares to do what the Philippines didn’t: challenge China’s mission to turn the vast waterway into its own sea.

That’s according to a recent Reuters report, which claims that Vietnam is pushing for a pact that will outlaw many of China’s ongoing activities in the South China Sea.  Like the building of artificial islands, blockades and offensive weaponry such as missile deployments; and the Air Defence Identification Zone—a conduct code China initiated back in 2013.

This isn’t the first time Hanoi is challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea. Back in July of 2017, Vietnam granted Indian oil firm ONGC Videsh a two-year extension to explore oil block 128, according to another Reuters report.

And that’s something Beijing loudly opposed.

In recent years, China has considered the South China Sea its own. All of it, including the artificial islands Beijing has been building in disputed waters, and the economic resources that are hidden below the vast sea area. And it is determined to use its old and new naval powers to make sure that no other country reaches for these resources without its permission.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte understands Beijing’s determination very well. Back in April of 2018 he reversed his earlier decision to raise the Philippine flag in disputed islands, following Beijing’s “friendly” advice.

A year before that incident, the Philippines and its close ally, the U.S., won an international arbitration ruling that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea. Yet Duterte didn’t dare enforce it. Instead, he sided with Beijing on the dispute, and sought a “divorce” from the U.S. 

Duterte’s flip-flops saved peace in the South China Sea by changing the rules of the game for China and the US, at least according to his own wisdom.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Vietnam– which also claims parts of the waterway.

And it has a strong ally on its side: the US, which has been trying to enforce the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and save peace, too!

So far, financial markets in the region do not seem that concerned, at least for now. Instead, they have been focusing on the economic fundamentals rather than the geopolitics of the region; and on the rising interest rates in the US.

China, Vietnam, and Philippines Shares (KOYFIN)

But things may change in the future, as an escalation of South China Sea disputes could add to investor anxieties fueled by the US-China trade war.

Source: Forbes

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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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