Archive | SEAS

Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

Sinking captured fishing boats is deterrent, not retaliation, Indonesia says after South China Sea clash with Vietnam | Aloysius Unditu – South China Morning Post

02 May 2019

  • Fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti says move is continuation of long-standing policy laid out by President Joko Widodo
  • On Monday Indonesia accused a Vietnamese coastguard patrol boat of ramming into one of its navy vessels
Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

Members of the Indonesian Navy watch as a Vietnamese coastguard ship approaches and rams their vessel off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

When Indonesia begins sinking 51 captured fishing vessels – mostly from Vietnam – this Saturday, it will not be punishment for the recent clash at sea between the countries, but a continuation of its policy to deter illegal fishing, according to fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti.On Monday, Indonesia accused a Vietnamese coastguard patrol boat of ramming into one of its navy vessels at the southern edge of the South China Sea, which it considers its exclusive economic zone. The Indonesian navy was trying to stop a Vietnamese fishing boat from entering the area, as Jakarta says it has the sole right to exploit resources there.

Twelve of the 14 fishermen were apprehended and the boat sank, the authorities said, leading Vietnam’s foreign ministry to demand their return as well as compensation for the sunken vessel.

Susi, a straight-talking minister who has authorised the seizure, sinking and blowing up of hundreds of vessels from different countries for fishing illegally in Indonesia’s waters, said 38 of the boats to be sunk starting on Saturday had Vietnamese flags.

SCMP Graphics

The rest were from Malaysia, China and the Philippines or registered to Indonesian companies in a bid to disguise their true origins.SUBSCRIBE TO THIS WEEK IN ASIAGet updates direct to your inboxSUBMITBy registering for these newsletters you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

“It’s not retaliation,” Susi said on Tuesday after visiting sites in Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Batam in the Riau Islands where several boats were being held.

“It has been a policy by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to sink the ships. It is aimed at creating a deterrent effect.”

Jokowi asks Indonesians: If not Jakarta, where should new capital be?

The boats would be sunk in batches, she said, starting with those in Pontianak. She also praised the navy for protecting the North Natuna Sea, a name Indonesia gave the waters two years ago to demonstrate its sovereignty over the area.

Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, where China and several other Asian countries including Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims.

But Jakarta and Hanoi are stuck in a long-running discussion over the boundaries of their overlapping exclusive economic zones.

Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Photo: Reuters

Indonesia’s Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Photo: ReutersShare:

In a statement on Tuesday, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the government had issued a diplomatic note to the Indonesian embassy in Hanoi. The boat and fishermen were taken away “while operating within Vietnam’s waters, in an area where Vietnam and Indonesia are delimiting our exclusive economic zones”, it said, according to news site VNExpress International.Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to explain the incident, which it described as one that “endangered the lives of officers from both countries and is not in accordance with international law or the spirit of Asean[Association of Southeast Asian Nations]”.

Vietnam wants a South China Sea dispute resolution pact with teeth

A video released by the Indonesian navy on social media purportedly showed the Vietnamese patrol boat ramming into the naval ship, as crewmen armed with rifles shouted expletives at the aggressor.

Rear Admiral Yudo Margono, the commander of the Indonesian navy’s first fleet, said the crewmen were taken to the Ranai naval base on Natuna island and “would face legal process”.

International law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said Hanoi and Jakarta needed to create rules of engagement so both sides would know how to deal with incidents of “physical contact” in the area with overlapping claims.

An Indonesian Navy officer targets a seized Vietnamese boat fishing to sink in 2014. Photo: AFP

An Indonesian Navy officer targets a seized Vietnamese boat fishing to sink in 2014. Photo: AFPS

Le Hong Hiep, a researcher from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the Indonesia’s arrest of Vietnamese fishermen was the latest in a series of similar incidents over the years.

“This time around it was more dramatic because there was an intervention … the incident obviously created an impression that there are growing maritime tensions between Vietnam and Indonesia over the South China Sea, but the problem mainly boils down to the overlapping of the two countries’ EEZs,” he said.

He suggested both nations accelerate negotiations on the zones and for Vietnam to persuade its fishermen not to venture into Indonesian waters.

Vietnam protests China’s sinking of boat in South China Sea

“Increasing tensions between the two countries over fishing rights will undermine their relations and Asean unity, and may pose further challenges to the ongoing negotiation of the Asean-China code of conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.

Between October 2014 and August 2018, Indonesia sunk 488 foreign and domestic ships that had conducted illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. They included 272 Vietnamese-flagged boats, 90 Philippine-flagged ships, 73 with Malaysian flags, 25 from Indonesia and 23 with Thai flags, according to data from the fisheries ministry.

This year alone, Indonesia has detained 33 ships from Vietnam and 16 from Malaysia, according to Lilly Aprilya Pregiwati, head of communication at Indonesia’s fisheries ministry.

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Vietnam protests to China over South China Sea boat sinking – Channel NewsAsia

23 March 2019


China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea, despite claims from Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines AFP/TED ALJIBE

HANOI: Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat which was being chased by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel in the disputed South China Sea, Vietnam said late on Thursday (Mar 21).

Vietnam and China have for years long been embroiled in a dispute over the potentially energy-rich stretch of waters, called the East Sea by Vietnam.

The fishing vessel was moored near Da Loi island in the Paracel archipelago on Mar 6 when a China Maritime Surveillance Vessel chased it and fired water cannon at it, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The boat sank after hitting rocks while it was being chased. All five fishermen on board were rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat, the ministry said.

A Vietnamese rescue agency said earlier that the Chinese vessel rammed the fishing boat.

“The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago, threatened the lives and damaged the properties and the legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” the ministry said in the statement, referring to the Paracel islands by their Vietnamese name.

Vietnam had lodged a protest with China’s embassy in Hanoi and demanded that China deal strictly with its Maritime Surveillance agency to prevent similar incidents and to compensate fairly the fishermen for their losses.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Paracel Islands were China’s and Vietnam must immediately stop illegal fishing activities in the vicinity.

The fishing boat had already struck a reef and sunk before the Chinese vessel arrived, he added.

“We hope the Vietnamese side can stop making things up.”

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, where it has steadily expanded military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs, unnerving the region and angering Washington.

In addition to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea.

Separately, the Vietnamese government on Friday denounced Taiwan’s military drills on and around Itu Aba, an island in the South China Sea, that Vietnam calls Ba Binh.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the drills were “a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the (Spratly) archipelago, threatening peace, stability, and maritime safety and security, stressing and complicating the situation in the East Sea.”

“Vietnam resolutely opposes (the drills) and demands that Taiwan not repeat similar actions,” Hang said in a statement on the government website.Source: Reuters/nc/ec
Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/vietnam-protests-to-china-over-south-china-sea-boat-sinking-11368788

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Australia’s Pyne says China must act responsibly in the South China Sea | SBS News

28 January 2019

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne wants to reassure China that no country wants to hamper its growth and it should avoid isolationism.

Australia’s Defence Minister Christopher Pyne is set to call on China to act with greater responsibility in the South China Sea and avoid the “might is right” approach to diplomacy used by isolationist regimes like Russia.

Mr Pyne will also stress in a keynote address to the 2019 Fullerton Forum in Singapore on Monday that no country wants to stifle China’s growth and prosperity in the region, which is playing “host to the defining great power rivalry of our times between the United States and China”.

But he will call on it to rethink a “might is right” approach in the South China Sea as that has eroded regional confidence and increased anxiety.

“On the other hand, resolving disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law would build confidence in China’s willingness to support and champion a strategic culture that respects the rights of all states,” Mr Pyne will say.

“As the exhortation goes, “to those that much is given, much is expected”, similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea.”

Christopher Pyne calls on China to act ‘with great responsibility’ in South China Sea

While he will not directly name Russia, the minister will make a thinly-veiled swipe at its annexation of the Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014 and refer to Vladimir Putin’s government as an “oligarchy” that is threatening the international rule of law.

“It is under threat from oligarchies who think it is their birth right to simply annex their neighbour at will,” Mr Pyne will say, according to a copy of his speech.

“It is under threat from countries who treat all of cyber space like their own personal fiefdom, to do with as they will; to take what is not rightfully theirs.”

Mr Pyne will pledge Australian support for conducting multilateral activities in the South China Sea to demonstrate to China that they are international waters, if required.

“In an age of increasing interdependence, a “might is right” approach serves the long-term interests of no country,” the minister will say.

“We fall short of our economic potential when parties choose to withdraw behind walls and withdraw from mechanisms designed to make us stronger.

“Australia envisages a region that is more closely integrated and where we all collectively reject isolationism.”

Mr Pyne will also shrug off previous suggestions of a potential “cold war” between China and the US in the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s a simplistic and unsophisticated characterisation of what is a much more complex and dynamic geostrategic paradigm,” he will say.

“Any division of the region into Cold War-like blocs is doomed to failure, since it would necessitate false choices between prosperity and security.”

But Mr Pyne said the ongoing rivalry between the US and China will be a feature of the international outlook “in the foreseeable future”.

Source: AAP – SBS

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Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty review may provoke China — expert | Patricia Lourdes Viray – PhilStar

24 January 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The proposed review of the provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States may push China to become more aggressive in its actions in the South China Sea, a maritime expert said.

In this May 9, 2018 photo, American and Filipino troops participate in an amphibious landing exercise simulating a beach assault during the annual Balikatan exercises in San Antonio, Zambales.

Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said Beijing’s future actions on the disputed waterway, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, would depend on the outcome of the MDT review.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier called for a review of the decades-old treaty between the Philippines and the US due to the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

“If the Americans come forward with a statement that is, I would say, insufficiently clear it might very well provoke adventurism from Beijing testing that commitment,” Poling said during the “Asia Forecast 2019” forum in Washington earlier this week.

China has been encroaching on Philippine waters, constructing artificial islands and installing military facilities within the latter’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing continues to ignore a July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The Department of Defense wants Washington to give a definitive stand on whether it will support the Armed Forces of the Philippines in case of a confrontation with other South China Sea claimants.

“I think if we offer a quite clear clarification on MDT scope, it dissuades China because it lays down… red lines that make clear to Beijing where the trigger for US intervention would be,” Poling added.

The AMTI director also noted that freedom of navigation operations of other countries aside from the US are also factors for China’s aggression in the disputed waterway in the past year.

Poling said Beijing’s response to “multilateralization” of FONOPs in the South China Sea have been “much more aggressive” and “reckless.”

“We had the HMS Albion, the first British FONOP that was clearly a FONOP, we had increased activities by the French, the pace of Australian patrol even though they are not what we would call FONOPs had increased, the Japanese continued to operate so I think China feels that they win the South China Sea if they keep it as a bilateral Sino-US narrative,” Poling said.

It would be harder for Beijing to win the narrative if they would go against the international community, the maritime expert added.

Noting the harassment of Chinese Coast Guard personnel on Philippine troops conducting resupply missions on Ayungin Shoal last year, Poling clarified he could not predict when an incident between the two countries would escalate.

“I don’t know if it happens tomorrow, six months from now or six years from now. There will be a violent incident in the South China Sea that has a potential to escalate. They all do,” Poling said.

Source: PhilStar

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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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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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