Archive | SEAS

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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ASEAN Summits 2017: A Common Agreement Needed for South China Sea Issues? – Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | Futura Institute

11 September 2017

Khuong Nguyen & Tri Vo | Futura Institute – For a long time, China has used a variety of political, diplomatic, economic and commercial pressures to influence public opinion in countries to not internationalize internationalizing the South China Sea issue.[1]

For ASEAN countries that are directly involved in the South China Sea dispute, China imposes its views and attempted to drive changes in viewpoint in these countries through bilateral negotiation or avoidance of mentioning about the subject matter in ASEAN conferences and dialogs.[2] In so doing, China has indeed achieved some success evidenced by changes and adjustments in the International Relations policy of the Philippines, views of some Cambodian and Lao leaders…

The Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
took place in Manila, the Philippines. Hanoi Times

In 2017, at the Conference of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 20-21st February 2017[3], the 30th ASEAN Summit on 26-29th April[4], and the Senior Officials Meeting – ASEAN SOM on 22nd May[5], apart from talking about measures to demonstrate determination towards building a community of solidarity, ASEAN leaders also paid special attention to the South China Sea issue.

Most leaders have expressed their concerns about recent developments in the South China Sea that have caused increased tensions, directly affecting the security of the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, the need to continue to strengthen measures to alleviate tensions in the region by promoting confidence, restraint, and lack of action also complicates the situation. The point is to resolve all disputes by peaceful means, on the basis of respect for the diplomatic and legal process, not to use or threaten the use of force, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. ASEAN leaders have also stressed the importance of fully implementing the DOC Declaration, pushing the efforts of ASEAN and China to reach agreement on the COC framework for the year. 2017 proceeds to sign and put the COC into operation.

At these conferences, high ranking officials of Vietnam expressed their high consensus on the discussion topics among ASEAN countries, while highlighting the role of the Block as a whole and that of each member states in applying the basic principles and shared positions adopted at conferences to contribute to the upholding of peace, stability, security, and safety in the South China Sea.

It is expected that at ASEAN conferences from now until the end of 2017, ASEAN members and the Philippines will reach an agreement to take on the South China Sea issue in their official agenda. In particular, focus will be placed upon solutions to achieve signing and implementation of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC) with China which, according to geopolitical experts, is internationally binding and signifies an important milestone in the process of retaining peace, stability, security, and air travel and sea travel safety in the South China Sea. Without a mutual consensus of the Block on the way forward, immense challenge is still ahead.

REFERENCES:

[1] China’s Dangerous Game. The Atlantic. November 2014.

[2]China’s Curious South China Sea Negotiation Policy. The Diplomat. June 2016.

[3]Press Release by the Chairman of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat (AMM Retreat). ASEAN. February 2017.

[4]ASEAN Declaration on the Role of Civil Service as a Catalyst for Achieving the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. ASEAN. April 2017.

[5]ASEAN Regional Forum meeting discussed in SOM. Hanoi Times. May 2017.

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Trump just approved a plan for the US Navy to check Beijing in the South China Sea – Alex Lockie | Business Insider

23 July 2017

Alex Lockie | Business Insider – President Donald Trump approved a plan to check Beijing over its continued militarization of and actions in the South China Sea, Breitbart News Kristina Wong reports.

USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.

Over the last few years, China has ambitiously built up islands on reefs and atolls in the South China Sea and militarized them with radar outposts, military-grade runways, and shelters for missile defenses.

Military analysts believe China hopes to expand its air defense and identification zone into the western Pacific and build a blue-water navy to rival the US’s, but six other countries also lay claim to parts of the region.

In 2016, an international court at The Hague deemed China’s maritime claims unlawful and excessive, but China rejected the ruling outright and has continued to build military installations and unilaterally declare no-fly and no-sail zones.

When a country makes an excessive naval claim, the US Navy challenges it by sailing its ships, usually destroyers, close to the disputed territory or through the disputed waters as a way of ensuring freedom of navigation for all. In 2016, the US challenged the excessive claims of 22 nations — China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping passes, were the most prominent.

China has responded forcefully to US incursions into the region, telling the US the moves were provocative and that they must ask permission, which doesn’t align with international law or UN conventions.

“China’s military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and regional peace and stability,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in response to US bombers flying in the region.

Photo(C)Reuters

Under former US President Barack Obama, the US suspended freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015. In 2016, the US made just three such challenges. So far, under Trump, the US has made three challenges already.

“You have a definite return to normal,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told Breitbart News.

“This administration has definitely given the authority back to the people who are in the best position to execute those authorities, so it’s a return to normal,” she said.

Freedom of navigation operations work best when they’re routine in nature and don’t make news.

They serve to help the US establish the facts in the water, but in the South China Sea, those facts all indicate Chinese control.

When Chinese military jets fly armed over head, when Chinese navy ships patrol the waters, and when Chinese construction crews lay down the framework for a network of military bases in the South China Sea, the US’s allies in the region notice.

An increased US Navy presence in the area won’t turn back time and unpave runways, but it could send a message to allies that the US has their back and won’t back away from checking Beijing.

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

30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

06 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (This article is originally published at Inquirer Global Nation)


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