Posts Tagged ‘ASEAN’

South China Sea: Malaysia Intends to Hold on to Its Island Possessions, Mahathir says

June 20, 2018


Prime Minister Mahathir told the South China Morning Post that Malaysia wants to retain these islands and is not interested in occupying any others.

“China claims the South China Sea is theirs, but those islands have always been regarded as ours for a long time. So we want to retain them,” Dr Mahathir told the Hong Kong publication.

“There are certain rocks which we have developed into islands. And we hope that we will stay on those islands, because it is a part of our keeping the sea safe from pirates and others.

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Malaysia wants to continue occupying the islands we have called our own in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic).

Malaysia has conflicting claims with China who has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through every year.

Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area.

Last month, China’s airforce landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Tensions escalated further when the United States sent warships to the area as part of “freedom of navigation” exercises.

Dr Mahathir suggested that one way to keep the peace in the disputed South China Sea was for the waters to be “patrolled by small boats” rather than warships.

The small boats, he says, should be “equipped to deal with pirates, not to fight another war”.

“I think there should not be too many warships. Warships create tension.

“Someday, somebody might make some mistakes and there will be a fight, some ships will be lost, and there might be a war. We don’t want that,” he said.

When asked who should be involved in these patrols, Dr Mahathir said countries from Asean were a natural choice because “the whole sea is surrounded by Asean countries”.

“But if China wants to participate with small boats, they are welcome. Anybody, even the US, if they want to participate, but don’t bring battleships here,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said that it would be to China’s benefit to keep the waters open.

“Because then, you will have more trade,” he said.

“You can’t expect all the goods going to China to change into Chinese ships before entering the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea.

“Goods from Europe and America, they will pass through the Strait of Malacca, and they should be free to pass through the Strait of Malacca, and then go to the South China Sea to reach China,” said Dr Mahathir.

He cited the narrow Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia as an example of a free waterway.

“We have never tried to stop ships from passing through. They are welcomed. Although between Malaysia and Indonesia, we could have named this Strait of Malacca the ‘Malaysia-Indonesia Sea’, we didn’t,” he said.

“We want it to be open because it’s good for trade. The South China Sea also is good for trading nations,” added Dr Mahathir.



How Beijing is winning control of the South China Sea

June 13, 2018

Erratic US policy and fraying alliances give China a free hand

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Chinese warships and fighter jets take part in a military display in the South China Sea on April 12.   © Reuters

Even by his outspoken standards, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was startling.

During a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing in May 2017, the subject turned to whether the Philippines would seek to drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Duterte said he was given a blunt warning by China’s president.

“[Xi’s] response to me [was], ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” Duterte recounted.

A year later, Duterte was asked for a response to news that China had landed long-range bombers on one of the South China Sea’s Paracel Islands — a milestone that suggests the People’s Liberation Army Air Force can easily make the short hop to most of Southeast Asia from its new airstrips. “What’s the point of questioning whether the planes there land or not?” Duterte responded.

His refusal to condemn China’s military buildup underlines China’s success in subduing its rivals in the South China Sea. Since 2013 China has expanded artificial islands and reefs in the sea and subsequently installed a network of runways, missile launchers, barracks and communications facilities.

These military advances have led many to wonder if Beijing has already established unassailable control over the disputed waters. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea and its islands – claims that are looking increasingly forlorn in the wake of China’s military buildup.

“What China is winning is de facto control of nearly the entire South China Sea, including all activities and resources in it, despite the other surrounding Southeast Asian states’ respective legal rights and entitlements under international law,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

At stake is the huge commercial and military leverage that comes with controlling one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, through which up to $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis insists that China faces “consequences” for the “militarization” of South China Sea, which he says is being done for “the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”

“There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they do not find the way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations,” Mattis said on June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a security conference organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Mac Thornberry, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, added that the U.S. naval presence means China does not have a free hand in the South China Sea.

“I think you will see more and more nations working together to affirm freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and other international waters,” Thornberry told the Nikkei Asian Review.

But what those consequences might be was left unsaid by Mattis, who suggested that there was little prospect of forcing China to give up its growing network of military facilities dotting the sea.

“We all know nobody is ready to invade,” he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis talked up the “Indo-Pacific” strategy in his June 2 speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “There is no reasonable basis for the U.S. to use military force to push China off its outposts, nor would any country in the region support such an effort.”

The U.S. pushback so far has included disinviting China from a major Pacific naval exercise. It also continues to carry out so-called freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, the most recent of which took place on May 27. This was followed by U.S. military aircraft flying over the Paracel Islands in early June, a move that prompted a countercharge of “militarization’” against the U.S. by China’s Foreign Ministry.

China regards the FONOPs as sabre-rattling and “a challenge to [our] sovereignty,” according to Lt. Gen. He Lei, Beijing’s lead representative at the Singapore conference.

He restated the government position on troops and weapons on islands in the South China Sea, describing the deployments as an assertion of sovereignty and said that allegations of militarization were “hyped up” by the U.S.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stopped short of endorsing the FONOPs but told the Nikkei Asian Review that “it is our belief that those sea lanes should be left open and free.”

In contrast to Duterte’s reluctance to confront China, his predecessor as president, Benigno Aquino, was frequently outspoken about China’s increasing control of the sea. He pressed a case against Beijing to an arbitration tribunal in 2013 after a protracted naval stand-off the year before around Scarborough Shoal, a rock claimed by both countries and lying about 120 nautical miles off the Luzon coast.

In mid-2016 the tribunal dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the South China Sea and its artificial island-building and expansion, all of which the tribunal said contravened the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Duterte said he would not “flaunt” the tribunal outcome, in contrast with his campaign pledge to assert the country’s sovereignty — he even vowed to ride a jet ski to one of China’s artificial islands and plant the Philippine flag there. Manila hopes for significant Chinese investment in roads, rail and ports, as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multicontinent plan outlining China-backed infrastructure upgrades.

Filipino activists rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila in February to protest Beijing’s continued reclamation activities in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

Defense Secretary Lorenzana emphasized in remarks to the media in Singapore that good relations with China remain a priority, regardless of bilateral disputes. “It is just natural for us to befriend our neighbor. We cannot avoid dealing with China, they are near, [and] many Filipinos, including me, have Chinese blood.”

For the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally, there are growing doubts about whether the American navy would protect them in a conflict with China, something Duterte, a brusque critic of the U.S., has questioned publicly.

Mattis, like former President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sidestepped a question on that issue in Singapore, saying, “The reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues.”

American evasiveness is a reminder to the Philippines that the U.S. might not risk war with China over its old ally. “It is debatable whether Filipinos believe that the U.S. will have its back in a conflict with China,” Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines said. “Duterte’s repeated statements against the reliability of the U.S. as an ally tends to undermine this further.”

Duterte’s reticence has left Vietnam as the sole claimant willing to speak up. Discussing recent developments in the South China Sea, Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich told the Singapore conference, “Under no circumstances could we excuse militarization by deploying weapons and military hardware over disputed areas against regional commitments.”

Lich did not name-check China in his speech, but described “a serious breach to the sovereignty” of another country that “violates international laws, complicates the situation and negatively affects regional peace, stability and security.”

As well as hindering oil and gas projects in waters close to Vietnam, China’s navy has for several years harassed Vietnamese fishing boats — as it does around the Philippines — and continues to occupy islands seized from Vietnam nearly five decades ago.

In 2014, anti-China riots kicked off across Vietnam after China placed an oil rig in South China Sea waters claimed by Hanoi. In early June there were demonstrations against proposals that protesters claimed will give Chinese businesses favored access in so-called Special Economic Zones in Vietnam.

The Lan Tay gas platform, operated by Rosneft Vietnam, sits in the South China Sea off the Vietnamese coast. China has been hindering Vietnam’s oil exploration activities in the sea.   © Reuters

Vietnam’s response to potential isolation has been a cautious dalliance with the U.S. In late 2016, shortly before the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, American warships docked in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base, the first such visit since the former antagonists normalized ties in 1995. That landmark was followed in March this year by the arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the central Vietnam city of Danang.

Hanoi recently called for greater Japanese involvement in the region’s maritime disputes, perhaps signalling an interest in a wider effort to counter China. But unlike the Philippines, Vietnam, which like China is a single party communist-run state, is not a U.S. treaty ally. Historical and ideological differences mean that there are limits to how closely Vietnam will align with the U.S.

“I think there is a good momentum with defense cooperation with the U.S. But I don’t think that it would immediately mean jumping into the ‘American camp,’ whatever it means,” said Huong Le Thu, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

From Bollywood to Hollywood

The U.S. has sought to widen the array of countries it hopes will join it in countering China’s rising influence. During his 12-day swing through Asia in late 2017, Trump peppered his speeches with references to the “Indo-Pacific,” dispensing with the long established “Asia-Pacific” label in favor of a more expansive term first used by Japan.

The “Indo-Pacific” was then mentioned throughout the U.S. National Security Strategy published soon after Trump’s Asia trip — a document that alleged China aims to “challenge American power” and “is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.”

Three days before his Singapore speech, Mattis announced in Hawaii that the U.S. Pacific Command would be renamed the Indo-Pacific Command, describing the expanded theater as stretching “from Bollywood to Hollywood.”

Mattis later added some gravitas to the cinematic catchphrase, saying in Singapore that “standing shoulder to shoulder with India, ASEAN and our treaty allies and other partners, America seeks to build an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded — the promise of freedom fulfilled and prosperity prevails for all.”

The Trump administration clearly hopes for greater Indian involvement in its efforts to counter China’s growing influence. Kori Schake, deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that while “Indo-Pacific isn’t yet an established part of the lexicon,” the implications of the term are clear.

“India is an Asian power. The countries adopting the term are encouraging India into greater cooperation in maintaining the maritime commons in the Indian and Pacific oceans,” said Schake, a former U.S. State Department official.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference, in Singapore on June 1. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

Modi enthusiastically echoed American rhetoric about a “shared vision of an open, stable, secure and prosperous” Indo-Pacific, which he described as “a natural region” — countering those who wonder if an area stretching from Bollywood to Hollywood might too vast and disparate to be cast into a geopolitical fact on the ground.

But Modi also heaped praise on China, despite its border dispute with India and increasingly close economic ties with Pakistan, India’s neighbor and nuclear rival.

“Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border,” Modi said.

China’s foreign ministry described Modi’s speech as “positive,” while one of its military delegation at the Singapore conference gloated that India and the U.S. “have different understandings, different interpretations, of this Indo-Pacific.”

China’s first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier   © Kyodo

It is perhaps no surprise then that China’s rivals in the South China Sea do not yet regard the nascent Indo-Pacific alliance-building as something to pin their hopes on when it comes to control of the sea.

“We are witnessing the great power shift toward Asia-Pacific with the ‘Indo-Pacific strategy,’ Belt and Road Initiative and a series of country grouping[s] in the region,” Lich said, cautioning that “the outcomes for the region and the world are somewhat yet to be unveiled.”

Lich’s Philippine counterpart was even more circumspect, particularly regarding the Indo-Pacific concept. “I have to study it some more,” Lorenzana said. “This is a new construct in this area.”

Nikkei staff writers Mikhail Flores in Manila and Atsushi Tomiyama in Hanoi contributed to this article.

China may have removed missiles from South China Sea island — report

June 6, 2018


In this undated file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

Xinhua via AP/Liu Rui, File

Audrey Morallo ( – June 6, 2018 – 6:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — China may have removed the missile systems it installed on three of its outposts in the South China Sea, according to a report, although it is unclear if this was due to the international pressure Beijing has been facing since the news on it broke.
According to CNN, new analysis from ImageSat International, an Israeli intelligence firm, suggests that China may have already removed or relocated its missile systems.
Previous imagery taken by the intelligence firm showed a number of missile launchers and a radar system on the shore of Woody Island in Paracel Islands. However, CNN said that these had already disappeared based on images taken on Sunday, which ISI said could indicate a decision by China to remove them or transfer them to other parts of the South China Sea.
“It may be a regular practice. If so, within the next few days we may observe a redeployment in the same area,” ISI was quoted by the international network as saying.
Tensions in the disputed waters escalated in recent weeks after it was reported that China deployed missile systems on three of its outposts in the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
China was also revealed to have landed a bomber capable of carrying nuclear-tipped weapons on Woody Island, and this and the missile systems effectively put the Philippines and the whole of Southeast Asia within Beijing’s military reach.
The militarization of the dispute resulted in rebuke from the US, but the Philippines, one of the main parties to the sea row, chose to project a non-confrontational stance as it courts China for money and investments.
China was recently disinvited by the US from a maritime exercise, an “initial response” to Beijing’s militarization of the conflict, the Pentagon said.
“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, spokesman for the Pentagon, said.
Beijing maintains that the reclamation of features was meant for non-military purposes, but the Pentagon said the installation of weapons showed intent for military use.
Aside from American rebuke, the United Kingdom and France said that their warships would sail in the disputed waters to challenge China’s militarization of the conflict.
French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said that at least five French ships, joined by British helicopters and ships, sailed in the past year in the South China Sea, a region believed to hold vast reserves of natural resources and home to a sea lane through which $3 trillion worth of trade passes.


South China Sea: U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations demonstrate that China’s claims are not recognized and illegal

June 5, 2018
Satellite image of Woody Island

Beijing has been turning islands into military bases. Reuters photo

A senior U.S. Navy officer has pushed back against suggestions at a regional security summit that freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea have been ineffective, calling them a long-term strategy for demonstrating that China’s claims in the body of water are not internationally recognized.

Speaking in Singapore at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Rear Adm. Donald Gabrielson, commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific, added that the operations, known by the acronym FONOP, are not meant to be a military provocation or intended to shape policy in the short term.

Gabrielson said the operations are instead a statement on the lack of agreement to, and lack of recognition of, an excessive claim ― in this case China’s claim that the South China Sea islands it occupies and has constructed military facilities on are part of its territory. China has also deployed surface-to-air, anti-ship and jamming equipment to its reclaimed islands.

The islands in the Spratly and Paracel groups are also claimed by five other Asian countries, and several have reclaimed and constructed facilities on the islands, although they have been dwarfed by the pace and scale of China’s activities.

An aerial shot of a reef in the disputed Spratly islands, taken April 21 2017 (Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe)

Gabrielson, who is due to be the next commander of Carrier Strike Group 11 out of Everett, Washington, added that the FONOPs were not a nation-on-nation interaction but rather a way to support the rights of all nations.

However, China, which claims large tracts of the South China Sea, its islands and features as part of its territory, has been angered by the FONOPs, which it sees as a violation of its territorial waters and sovereignty. It used this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue to express its displeasure at continuing American-led efforts to push back against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, despite not having a speaker at the dialogue’s plenary sessions due to it sending a relatively low-level delegation to the summit.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhou, a research fellow at the Institute of War Studies of the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Sciences, said the FONOPs in the South China Sea were a “violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China.”

The officer accused the United States of “militarization in the South China Sea under the veil of the freedom of navigation,” following a speech by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Mattis had noted that the United States does not see the operations as militarization, as its ships were going through what has traditionally been an international water space, citing rulings by international tribunals based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS determined in 2016 that, among other things, China’s claims “exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements.” China had rejected the ruling, with the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper, the People’s Daily, saying the country “will neither acknowledge it nor accept it.”


South China Sea: US warns of capacity to ‘blow apart’ China’s artificial islands

June 5, 2018


Satellite imagery shows that China deployed new weapons, including likely missile systems, and J-11 fighter jets to Woody Island in the Paracels for live fire military exercises in May.

CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – June 1, 2018 – 12:53pm

MANILA, Philippines — Following Beijing’s deployment of new weapons to its outposts in the South China Sea, a Pentagon official warned that Washington has the capacity to take down these man-made islands.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., US Department of Defense joint staff director, said that the US has experience in taking down small isolated islands during World War II.

“I would just tell you that the United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific, taking down small islands,” MacKenzie said in a press briefing Thursday.

MacKenzie, however, clarified that he was not trying to send a message to China but only stating a fact.

“That’s a core competency of the US military that we’ve done before. You shouldn’t read anything more into that than a simple statement of historical fact,” he said.

Echoing US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ statement earlier this week, MacKenzie stressed that the United States would continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the region.

China, meanwhile, accused the United States of “playing up” the militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying noted that US military presence in the region exceeds China’s military strength.

“We urge certain people in the US to give up all the meaningless hyping up surrounding the situation and do more in a responsible way to enhance trust and cooperation between regional countries and promote regional peace and stability,” Hua said in a press briefing.

Earlier this week, the Chinese Ministry of Defense confirmed that it has deployed warships to warn US Navy warships sailing near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The US Navy’s USS Antietam and USS Higgins reportedly sailed within 12 nautical miles of four islands in the Paracels while conducting freedom of navigation operations.

“China firmly opposes this. The Chinese army is determined to strengthen the preparations for sea and air combat readiness, raise the level of defense, defend national sovereignty and security, and maintain the determination of regional peace and stability,” Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian said.

The Pentagon had disinvited the Chinese Navy from this year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercises as an “initial response” to Beijing’s recent actions in the South China Sea.

The US said it has strong evidence that China deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to its bases on the Spratly Islands. Washington also expressed concern over Beijing’s landing of an H-6K bomber aircraft on Woody Island, its largest base in the Paracel Islands.


With ports, ships and promises, India asserts role in Southeast Asia

June 3, 2018

Almost lost in the din of the upcoming U.S-North Korea summit and fresh tension between Washington and Beijing last week, India cemented its diplomatic and security ties across Southeast Asia in a clear challenge to China.

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FILE PHOTO: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers the keynote address at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

It’s not clear just how far New Delhi will take these relationships, given years of promise, and a general election due in 11 months that could be a distraction for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And if India is already rattling China, it won’t want to spark open confrontation.

But Modi took several concrete foreign policy and security steps in Southeast Asia in recent days.

He signed an agreement with Indonesia to develop a port in the city of Sabang that would overlook the western entrance to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest waterways, and agreed a pact with Singapore on logistical support for naval ships, submarines and military aircraft during visits.

Modi also flew to Kuala Lumpur for a late-scheduled call on Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who won last month’s general election, effectively cementing ties with three of the most influential Southeast Asian nations.

On Friday, Modi told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense forum, that India would work with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to promote a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We will work with them, individually or in formats of three or more, for a stable and peaceful region,” he said in the keynote speech at the forum.

Several delegates, including U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, voiced support.

At the end of the forum on Sunday, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said: “I am sure many countries are delighted that India has indicated its firm commitment to the region.”


The term “Indo-Pacific” has grown in usage across diplomatic and security circles in the United States, Australia, India and Japan in recent years, shorthand for a broader and democratic-led region in place of “Asia-Pacific”, which some people have said places China too firmly at the center.

In a nod to India’s growing regional stature, the U.S. military’s Pacific Command in Hawaii formally changed its name to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in a ceremony on Wednesday.

Despite an outward show of friendship between China and India, and Modi’s comments about the strong relations between them, Beijing gave a distinctly cool response to his strategy.

The state-owned Global Times warned in an editorial last week: “If India really seeks military access to the strategic island of Sabang, it might wrongfully entrap itself into a strategic competition with China and eventually burn its own fingers.”

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhou, research fellow at the Institute of War Studies Academy of Military Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue that Modi “made some dedicated comments on what he thought of the Indo-Pacific concept”.

He did not elaborate but the Global Times quoted him as saying: “The Indo-Pacific strategy, and the quasi-alliance between the U.S., Japan, India and Australia will not last long.”


Indian foreign ministry officials said there was a strong element of self-interest in New Delhi’s efforts to secure open access to the Malacca Strait, since it carries about 60 percent of its foreign trade.

But India’s intended footprint looks to be wider. Late last month, three Indian warships staged exercises with the Vietnamese navy for the first time in the South China Sea, which is claimed almost wholly by China.

Vietnamese submariners are trained in India, while the two sides have significantly increased intelligence sharing and are exploring advanced weapons sales.

To the west, India signed an agreement for access to the port of Duqm on Oman’s southern coast, during a visit by Modi earlier this year. Under the agreement, media reports said, the Indian navy will be able to use the port for logistics and support, allowing it to sustain long-term operations in the western Indian Ocean.

In January, India finalised a logistics exchange arrangement with France under which it can use French military facilities in the Indian Ocean.

Analysts said a more assertive India would answer concerns in Southeast Asia about expanding Chinese influence in the region and a fear that the United States was disengaging.

The United States’ trade spat with China and a perceived U-turn in its foreign policy as it pursues peace with North Korea had shaken many assumptions in the region, they said.

“There is some pressure (in ASEAN) for diversification of security relationships, taking insurances,” said C. Raja Mohan, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

“An active India then actually fits into this situation.”

But although Modi has started strongly, it was not clear how well his strategy would be sustained, he added.

“Implementation has always been a major challenge for India. (Modi is) struggling to improve the capacity of Delhi to do things outside borders. There’s been some advance but that is a structural challenge that will remain.”

Additional reporting by Chyen Yee Lee, Fathin Ungku and Greg Torode in Singapore; Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Alex Richardson


India stresses free navigation, ‘rules-based order’ for Asian seas

June 1, 2018

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on Friday the importance of ensuring the freedom of navigation in Asian waters for free trade, days after pledging to help develop a strategic port in Indonesia.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in Singapore on Friday. REUTERS/Edgar Su

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in Singapore on Friday. REUTERS/Edgar Su   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Modi is visiting three countries in Southeast Asia this week as part of an “Act East” policy of strengthening relations in the region amid concern over China’s rising maritime influence, in particular in the disputed South China Sea.

“We also reiterated our principal stance, as far as maritime security is concerned, our commitment to a rules-based order,” Modi said through an interpreter after holding talks with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in Singapore June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

“We also agreed on having an open, fair and transparent maritime trade commitment in this area,” Modi said.

On Wednesday, Modi met Indonesian President Joko Widodo and pledged to develop infrastructure and an economic zone at Sabang, on the northern tip of Sumatra island at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Related image

Modi stopped in Kuala Lumpur briefly on Thursday to meet newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad before arriving in Singapore, where he will deliver the keynote address at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue security forum.

Modi’s talks in Singapore included an agreement for greater engagement between their navies including exercises.

“Both prime ministers further agreed to India’s proposal for continuous and institutionalized naval engagements in their shared maritime space, including the establishment of maritime exercises with like-minded regional partners,” the Singapore Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Modi this year invited the leaders of all 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries to India Republic Day parade in New Delhi, the biggest such gathering of foreign leaders at the event.

There has been growing unease about China’s activity in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in full, and which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam claim in part.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday the United States would push back against what it sees as China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea despite China’s condemnation of a voyage through the region on the weekend by two U.S. Navy ships.

Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel

US plans ‘steady drumbeat’ of military exercises in South China Sea, Mattis says

May 30, 2018

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday that the United States will continue “a steady drumbeat” of naval exercises to challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, amid Beijing’s militarization of the contested waters.

Mattis’ comments came after Beijing expressed “firm opposition” on Sunday after two US warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of four artificial islands claimed by China in the disputed Paracel island chain, east of Vietnam.
Speaking to reporters during a flight to Hawaii, Mattis said the South China Sea was international waters and “a lot of nations” wanted to see freedom of navigation maintained in the area.

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“There’s a very steady drumbeat of freedom of navigation operations … You’ll notice there is only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff them or state their resentment of them,” he said.
us military vietnam china uss carl vinson rivers pkg _00014607

The Chinese government, which claims much of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, has established a significant military presence in the region, installing radar facilities and airstrips on contested islands and reefs.
Mattis said Chinese President Xi Jinping had broken the promise he made at the White House in 2015 in regards to his country’s actions in the region.
“He stated that they would not be militarizing the islands, we have seen in the last month they have done exactly that, moving weaponry in that was never there before,” Mattis said.
In May, the Chinese military landed nuclear-capable bombers on their artificial islands for the first time. Weeks earlier, US intelligence announced there was a high possibility Beijing had deployed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles as part of military exercises.
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Chinese bomber
Though the US’ latest freedom of navigation operation was likely planned months in advance, experts said it was suggestive of the US’ attempts to pursue a harder line against China in the South China Sea.
On Sunday, China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian labeled the return of US warships a “provocation” which violated Chinese and international laws and blamed the US military’s exercises for the growing militarization of the region.

China disinvited from major US exercises


Mattis, who travels to the annual Shangri-La defense summit in Singapore on June 1, said the United States worked to keep their military activity in the Pacific “very transparent” and expected the same from its partners and allies.
“So, when (Beijing) do things that are opaque to the rest of us, then we cannot cooperate in areas that we would otherwise cooperate in,” he said.
Mattis’ comments appear to refer to the US’ decision to rescind an invitation to the Chinese military to participate in maritime exercises in the Pacific due to Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, which Washington described as “inconsistent with the principles and purposes” of the exercise.
The massive military event, known as RIMPAC, is described by the US Navy as the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise and involves more than 20 countries from across the world.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the time the US decision was “very unconstructive.”
“It’s unhelpful to mutual understanding between China and the US. We hope the US will change such a negative mindset,” he told reporters in Washington.
Includes several videos:

Philippines President Duterte says will ‘go to war’ over South China Sea resources, but nobody believes it

May 29, 2018

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said China will cross a red line if it unilaterally mines the natural resources of the South China Sea, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano.

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Updated 1:29 AM ET, Tue May 29, 2018

“(Beijing) said some red lines, we said some red lines … The President has already said that. If anyone gets the natural resources in the Western Philippines Sea, South China Sea, he will go to war. He said, “Whatever happens, happens.” He will go to war,” Cayetano said.
Tensions in the hotly disputed region have risen in recent weeks, amid reports of the Chinese military landing bombers on their artificial islands for the first time.
Under Duterte, who took office in 2016, the Philippines has toned down its rhetoric towards China on the dispute. In April, he publicly declared that he “loved” Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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It’s not clear whether the latest statement marks a tougher approach from Duterte, who’s been accused of being too lenient on the issue. Cayetano said China had been told of the “red lines.”
Manila is pursuing a joint exploration agreement with Beijing for oil and natural gas reserves in their claimed territory in the South China Sea.
Cayetano said during the speech his department was repeatedly told to “file a protest” over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea. “We are taking all diplomatic actions at the right time,” he said.
But he said it was unfair to single out China for its advanced militarization in the South China Sea. “If there is more than one country militarizing, and it’s not only the islands, if huge navies are sailing through the area, is that not militarization?” he said. “So we don’t even have a definition of militarization.”

US Navy steps up


Cayetano’s speech came as the United States Navy sailed two warships within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands in the Paracels, as part of their regular freedom of navigation exercises in the contested waters.
It was the first time more than one US vessel had been used in the exercises, according to experts, part of a recent escalation in US opposition to China’s action in the region.
Beijing claims a huge swathe of territory across the South China Sea, known as the “nine-dash line,” from its southern Hainan province all the way down to the waters north of Malaysia.
To reinforce its claims to the territory, the Chinese government has built a series of artificial islands in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains, complete with radar facilities and airstrips.
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The Philippines says it “owns” Mischief Reef, but there is not one known Filipinos living there. China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines. China says its activity bears “not the slightest resemblance to the so-called ‘militarization’ that the US side has been irresponsibly accusing us of.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stated the territory in the South China Sea falls under Beijing’s jurisdiction, to do with as it pleases.
But Beijing’s position overlaps competing territorial claims from the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, among others. An international tribunal ruled in 2016, in a case brought by the Philippines, that most of Beijing’s stated claims in the South China Sea were illegal under international maritime law.
To register its objection to Beijing’s growing militarization of its artificial islands, the United States military on May 23 disinvited China from biannual RIMPAC naval exercises.
“China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise,” a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement at the time.



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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.



Does the Philippines have limited options on the South China Sea issue?

May 23, 2018
Does the Philippines have limited options on the South China Sea issue?
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Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – May 23, 2018 – 4:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte keeps on insisting that taking a stronger stance on against China’s militarization in the South China Sea would mean going to war.

Justifying his administration’s soft stance on the maritime dispute, Duterte said that he would have taken a stronger and more “violent” position on the matter but that would “probably be a great loss to the nation and probably end up losing a war.”

As opposed to the president’s pronouncements, the Philippines’ options are not limited to waging a war to resolve the dispute.

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urge the Duterte administration to file a diplomatic protest against China's bombers in the South China Sea. File photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urge the Duterte administration to file a diplomatic protest against China’s bombers in the South China Sea. File photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

READ: Duterte explains soft stance on West Philippine Sea dispute: We can’t win

The Philippines actually has legal, diplomatic and security policy options following the July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal on the South China Sea, according to an April 2017 report titled “South China Sea Lawfare: Post-Arbitration Policy Options and Future Prospects.”

Legal policy options

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said that the use of armed force in settling the disputes is out of the question.

Following the issuance of the arbitral ruling, the Philippines has legal policy options related to the entrenchment of legal positions on entitlements, rights and delimitation, re-engagement with China on legal positions and engagement with other claimants and the ASEAN on the same basis.

“Therefore, its only policy framework for addressing and eventually resolving the South China Sea disputes must be based on the peaceful modes of dispute settlement enumerated in the Charter of the United Nations and Part XV of UNCLOS,” Batongbacal said in his article in the report.

Batongbacal also opened the possibility of China changing its position on the arbitral ruling under the circumstances of “a transactional exchange of legal rights for economic benefits or an accommodation coerced through unilateral actions.”

Re-engaging with China on the basis of legal positions would give the Philippines two tracks — re-engaging and improving bilateral ties and the possibility of another round of unilateral actions and escalating the sea row.

“These options present the best suitable means for the Philippines to protect and preserve its exclusive rights and interests in its EEZ and continental shelf, while at the same time, leaving the doors open to possible joint cooperation related to shared interests in the remaining disputed areas comprised of 12-nautical mile territorial sea enclaves around all the high-tide elevations in the Spratly Islands area,” Batongbacal said.

Engaging with other claimant states such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei would result to a clear and common position derived from the arbitral decision, despite China’s refusal to acknowledge the landmark ruling.

As such, the award could be a basis for a unified regional position on maritime rights and jurisdiction in the South China Sea among Southeast Asian countries, Batongbacal said.

“In summary, the Award has provided the Philippines with very strong legal leverage that can be used in its bilateral relations and discussions with China and in multilateral relations with other parties both within and beyond the region,” the maritime law expert said.

So far, the Philippines has started a bilateral consultation mechanism with China on the South China Sea while negotiations on a legally binding code of conduct are ongoing with the ASEAN.

RELATED: Expert: Malaysia, Vietnam also potential partners in sea exploration

Diplomatic policy options

The Duterte administration departed from the Aquino administration’s confrontational strategy when it opted to set aside the arbitral ruling and chose to directly engage with China instead.

Policy analyst Richard Heydarian suggested that the primary diplomatic option would be to engage with China rather than confront it.

“Instead of leading to further confrontation between the (Philippines) and (China), the conclusion of the arbitral proceedings has actually enhanced their resolve to bridge their differences through diplomacy, leading to a decline in tensions in the South China Sea,” Heydarian said in the “South China Sea Lawfare” report.

He suggested that a joint fisheries agreement in the Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing continues to control, would be a “game-changing” compromise.

Given that the Duterte administration prefers avoiding conflict, a mutually satisfactory agreement would move closer to the renormalization of ties between the two countries, according to Heydarian.

“Much of this has to do with the Duterte administration’s pragmatic foreign policy outlook and the realization that translating de jure victory into de facto gains requires careful and deliberate diplomacy,” he said.

US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), meanwhile, suggests that a mediation from ASEAN or a neutral party such as Singapore, would be possible in case of conflict in the area.

“Parties could also call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to negotiate a cease-fire, although China’s permanent seat on the Council could limit the effectiveness of this option,” the think tank said.

RELATED: Vietnam asks China to withdraw missiles from South China Sea

Security policy options

Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said that the South China Sea dispute is not only a legal issue but also a security issue which requires security responses.

“Aware of the aforementioned security implications and the current security situation in the post-arbitration South China Sea, the Philippine government is now pursuing several key policy options, including rethinking its security alliance with the US, strengthening its strategic partnerships with Japan and Australia, promoting strategic cooperation with ASEAN members, and engaging China constructively in functional areas and on non-traditional security issues,” Banlaoi said.

While the arbitral award gave the Philippines legal victory, the ruling also had security implications such as the protection of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, securing the country’s gas and oil exploration projects in Reed Bank and ensuring the safety of Filipino troops in the Kalayaan Island Group.

Think tank CFR also suggested that military-to-military communication would reduce the escalation of conflict over the South China Sea.

“Communication mechanisms like military hotlines to manage maritime emergencies, similar to the ones set up by China and Japan, China and Vietnam, and China and ASEAN, could be established among all claimants,” the CFR said.

In case conflict involving the Philippines would arise, the United States would be obligated to consider military action under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

The think tank, however, noted that Washington’s defense commitment to Tokyo is stronger than its commitment to Manila.

“Under its treaty obligations, the United States would have to defend Japan in the case of an armed attack; the US-Philippine treaty holds both nations accountable for mutual support in the event of an ‘armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties,'” the CFR said.

The US has been openly calling out China’s expansive reclamation activities and has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the contested waterway to display its military might.




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.



Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

Above: China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier

Image may contain: airplane

 Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water
The Philippines says it “owns” Mischief Reef, but there is not one known Filipinos living there. China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines