Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

China seen using its muscle and money to push states to withdraw South China Sea claims — Other countries might ‘give in’ like Philippines did

January 10, 2018
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – January 10, 2018 – 3:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing might keep other claimant states away from the South China Sea as it seeks greater control over the region in the long run, maritime security analysts said.

Experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said China may have a different goal than when they first started their island-building activities in the South China Sea a few years back.

“We see a much more confident China now than we did just five years ago… My guess is that China wants greater control in the South China Sea, I don’t think that’s surprised anyone,” CSIS expert Zack Cooper said in a podcast hosted by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Cooper, however, said China might try to exclude other countries from conducting freedom of navigation and overflight in the region as that would pose a threat to Beijing’s trade in the region.

Over the long term, Beijing might use its artificial islands, which have been installed with military facilities, in the Spratlys and Paracels to “press other countries out of the region.”

“I wouldn’t be shocked at all if we see China trying to stop fishing in portions of the South China Sea or pushing other claimants off of their claims in the region… I think we have to expect that if China grows stronger that is quite likely to have much more expansive aims that it has now,” Cooper said.

‘China will expect countries to advance its interests’

Agreeing with Cooper, CSIS expert Bonnie Glaser said that China’s policies will be driven by their capabilities and how other countries see them.

“The Chinese, I think, want every country in the region to avoid taking steps that would take Chinese interests and maybe in the future that will progress to a point where China will expect countries to implement some policies in order to help, expand and advance Chinese interests,” Glaser said in the podcast.

Glaser also expressed concern over the remarks of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China last October, where he highlighted the “steady progress” of construction in the disputed waters.

“‘Steady progress’ in Chinese, as well as in English and other languages, implies to me that China has not yet achieved its goal, that it’s continuing down this path it is making gains and it is going to continue to work on ways to advance its objective,” Glaser said.

She added that Beijing’s goals in the future might include establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone and maybe even dredging in the South China Sea.

Other countries might ‘give in’ like Philippines did

Cooper, on the other hand, warned that other claimant states might readily give up their claims when faced with China’s overwhelming strength given its maritime militia.

“We’ll see other countries in the region do what… the Philippines has done which is try and think through… if they’re gonna lose some of these claims anyway, maybe they can get something for it,” Cooper said.

One tactic for Beijing would be paying a certain amount or offering assistance to smaller claimant states to the point that they would withdraw from their claims.

“I think that’s a real danger unless we can stop the momentum that we’ve seen in the last few years,” Cooper added.

AMTI director Gregory Poling, meanwhile, noted that tensions in the disputed South China Sea have cooled down since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump.

‘Win-win’ and delaying tactics

The Chinese have resorted to two possible strategies — reaching out diplomatically to Southeast Asian nations to reach a “win-win” solution or employing delaying tactics such as the negotiations in on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

“The continued construction, for instance, the military facilities in the Spratlys implies that China has an access to change anything about its fundamental goals. All it’s doing is tactically reaching out in the hopes that it has in fact suggested to some Southeast Asians on the side to cut and run, which is true,” Poling said.

Despite insisting that they will not give up a single inch of the country’s territory, the Philippine government appears to be doing otherwise.

Following reports that China had transformed Fiery Cross or Kagitingin Reef into a fortified airbase, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the government continues to rely on Beijing’s commitment of “good faith” that they will not embark on new reclamation activities.

“From the very beginning China, we knew, was militarizing the area by reclaiming these areas and by using them as military bases so the fact that they are actually using it now as military bases, as far as I am concerned, is not new,” Roque said in a televised press briefing.

RELATED: Palace defends China’s ‘good faith’ in South China Sea






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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.


New Possibilities for U.S. – Philippines Ties Under Trump’s National Security Strategy

January 8, 2018


US President Donald Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte held a bilateral meeting in Manila last November at the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings. STAR/Krizjohn Rosales, File

Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – January 8, 2018 – 4:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — US President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy, despite being consistent with his “America First” policy, offers opportunities to enhance US-Philippines alliance, an analyst said.

Last December, Trump unveiled a new NSS, which is organized into four pillars — protect the homeland, promote American prosperity, preserve peace through strength and advance American influence.

Under the third pillar, the US seeks to rebuild its military strength to protect their diplomatic, information, military and economic interests.

“We will ensure the balance of power remains in America’s favor in key regions of the world: the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East,” the White House fact sheet read.

RELATED: Trump to unveil ‘America First’ national security strategy

In a commentary published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, National Defense College of the Philippines senior defense research officer Christian Vicedo said that Washinton’s security interest and priorities in the Indo-Pacific would have an impact on the US-Philippines alliance.

China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear threat and the rise of terrorism and radical extremism are the three regional security issues mentioned in the NSS.

Vicedo noted that addressing the three regional concerns would entail US security commitment to allies and partners in the region.

“As a result, while Trump’s NSS reiterates transactional principles of economic reciprocity and burden-sharing in confronting common threats, the possibility of a diminishing US security commitment to the Philippines seems unlikely,” Vicedo said.

The new security strategy promotes increased cooperation among the US, Japan, Australia and India. The Philippines also has defense and security ties with all these countries.

“Indeed, linking US allies and partners may provide a strategic advantage for the US-Philippines alliance in addressing future traditional and nontraditional security concerns such as a more assertive China in the South China Sea or a major terrorist attack similar to the Marawi Siege,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Trump’s bilateral meeting last November, as well as the bilateral strategic dialogue between US and Philippine senior defense and foreign affairs officials, also underscore the two countries’ commitment as allies.

RELATED: Philippines, US agree to boost bilateral ties in human rights, other areas | Philippines vows to work with US in addressing North Korea’s threat

Following his visit to Manila, Trump described the Philippines as a “prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint.”

“The complementarity and opportunities offered by President Trump’s National Security Strategy may re-energize security engagements between the two countries,” Vicedo said.


A Chinese Empire Reborn By Coercion, Force and Power

January 6, 2018

Chinese paper warns Australia on ‘interference’ in South China Sea — China is Australia’s largest trading partner

January 1, 2018

By Lindsay Murdoch

January 1, 2018 — 5:53 pm

Bangkok: A Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper has published an article warning that Australia’s “interference” in the flashpoint waters of the South China Sea may prompt China to “adopt strong countermeasures which will seriously impact Australian economic development”.

Zhang Ye, a researcher at the Chinese Naval Research Institute in Beijing, wrote in the hawkish Global Times that Australia’s “kissing up to the United States” will “poison its relations with China and shake up [the] foundation for its strategic balance between China and the US”.

“Australia has changed its policy considerably. Its bigoted actions have jeopardised not only China’s national interests but also Australian long-term interests, bringing Canberra’s structural contradictions and strategic dilemma to a worse level,” Zhang wrote.

The comments come two weeks after China’s top naval commander formally rebuked Australia’s Chief of Navy, Tim Barrett, over Australia’s policy on the waterways, where China and five other countries have overlapping territorial claims.

The rebuke was partly in response to Australian navy ships crossing into the South China Sea during multinational military exercises in September.

In early December, Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Australia’s ambassador to China, Jan Adams, for an official rebuke over revelations that China had meddled in Australia’s political system, prompting the Turnbull government to introduce new laws to counter foreign interference.

And in November China lashed Australia over its Foreign Policy White Paper, saying remarks on the South China Sea were “irresponsible”.

In a new year article, Zhang accused Australia of a “double standard” by supporting a 2006 finding brought by the Philippines under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea that China has “no historical rights” to the South China Sea.

“However when Australia dealt with its own conflict with the Timor-Leste [East Timor] over a sea border, it took a contrary stance and claimed all the results of the arbitration were meaningless and unacceptable,” he said.

Zhang, whose institute is an arm of the People’s Liberation Army, criticised Australian support for freedom of navigation operations by US ships close to Chinese occupied islands in the disputed waters, saying “once Sino-US relations are strained, Australia will have to choose between the two countries and fall into a deeper strategic plight”.

He said Australia’s provocations on the South China Sea “have increased Canberra’s strategic burden, widened the gap between its limited powers and its goal to become a middle power”.

“Australia has held this goal for a long time and wants to have its position in international affairs. However due its small population and limited strength, Canberra hasn’t stood out in global geopolitics,” Zhang said.

Zhang said Australia should recognise “China’s peaceful rise” and not let the South China Sea issue damage bilateral relations or become a “tool for foreign forces to undermine regional stability”.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of NSW’s Australian Defence Force Academy, said the article was an intensification of China’s anti-Australian rhetoric and was written for Australia’s domestic audience, especially those who adhere to the view of accommodating China’s rise rather than opposing it.

Professor Thayer said Zhang’s view that China should economically sanction Australia for its stance on the South China Sea was “particularly disturbing”.

He said the tone of the article follows a consistent line by the Global Times to criticise, belittle and intimidate Australia, partly because of Canberra’s criticism of Chinese meddling in Australian domestic politics.

Professor Thayer said the Global Times “plays the role of a Rottweiler guard dog to threaten any country that advances a view contrary to China’s current propaganda line”.

Recent satellite images show that China has been busy building military infrastructure in the South China Sea during 2017 while the US and its key allies have been distracted by the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The work continued despite Beijing signalling its willingness to pursue protracted negotiations on a “code of conduct” with other claimants.

Australia’s first Foreign Policy White Paper in 14 years remarked how China has caused “tension” in the South China Sea.

“Australia is particularly concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China’s activities,” it said.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang hit back after the paper’s release, saying “Australia is not party to the South China Sea issue”.

China claims almost the entire sea while there are overlapping claims by the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Australia’s public position is not to take sides in the dispute while calling for a peaceful solution and using diplomatic channels and forums to pressure China to end its military build-up.

The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes with more than half of Australia’s coal, iron ore and LNG exports pass through the waters.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner.




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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.

Dawn of the post-American order in Asia

December 30, 2017

By Hugh White

The Trump administration’s narrowly defined ‘America First’ approach towards Asia has effectively ceded US leadership in the region to a rising China.

Historians may well look back at 2017 as the year that Asia’s leadership changed hands. It will be seen as the year China stepped forward and America stepped back.

The United States-led regional order that we have known for so long is being replaced by a new Chinese-led order that remains deeply uncertain and, to many of us, deeply unsettling. But now, at the end of this year, it is no longer credible to deny what is happening, or to expect that it can be reversed. Welcome to the new, post-American Asia.

Two closely sequenced set-piece events demonstrated the transition from the old order to the new. The first was Beijing’s 19th Party Congress in October, where President Xi Jinping set out forcefully and in detail his vision of China as a regional and global leader.

He extolled China’s achievements as an inspiration to other countries, and its model as an example for others to follow. He asserted China’s right to take the lead in addressing international issues. And he implicitly claimed for himself the historic achievement of restoring China to its rightful place as a leading Great Power.

The second event followed last month, when Mr Donald Trump made his first visit to Asia as President of the US. Over 12 long days, he showed beyond doubt that he was not serious about asserting US leadership in Asia. This was hardly a surprise. It had become clear from the very beginning of his presidency, when he pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, that as president, Mr Trump would do exactly what he had promised as a candidate. He would put “America First”, taking a narrow view of US interests in Asia and dismissing obligations and commitments which were not obviously and directly connected to that narrow view.

In Beijing, Mr Trump revelled in the pomp of a full-court state visit, and heaped praise on his host. He did nothing to contest Mr Xi’s assertion of Chinese leadership in East Asia, made no mention of key issues in their strategic rivalry like the South China Sea, and left a clear impression that he was willing to accept China’s view of their respective roles in Asia.

Then, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Mr Trump passed up the chance to explain and promote a new American vision of Asia’s future as an alternative to China’s – a future as a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. He barely touched on these themes in his big set-piece speech. Instead he talked trade, and in the worst possible way.


He brusquely repudiated the commitment to free trade which had done so much to underpin US leadership, regional integration and economic development in Asia in recent decades. He declared a push for managed trade arrangements aimed at eliminating the bilateral trade imbalances which he sees, in defiance of economic logic, as the source of America’s economic problems.

By doing this, he left it to Mr Xi to project China as the champion of free trade and regional economic integration. Mr Xi’s pitch was lent credibility and substance by his Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which this year has moved to the centre of China’s version of global engagement and regional leadership. The huge BRI summit hosted in Beijing this year was arguably the most significant international meeting of the year. While much remains unclear about what the BRI will ever deliver, it has at least provided a positive vision of what China purports to offer.

From Washington, by contrast, Asian countries heard little that was positive, or even coherent, about how the new administration sees its future role in Asia. This month’s new US National Security Strategy was so internally contradictory that it has only deepened the confusion about where America is heading under Mr Trump. But amid the contradictions, there was a clear underlying message.

On the one hand, the new National Security Strategy has at last, and for the first time, acknowledged in stark terms what we in Asia have known for years – that China is plainly determined to take over from America as East Asia’s primary power. On the other hand, the document offered no compelling argument that America’s interests required it to resist China’s challenge, and no coherent idea of how it could do so.

In fact the main theme of the new strategy points the other way. The “America First” slogan reflects a determination that America should commit itself only where the most direct and vital US interests are engaged. Having abandoned the post-Cold War vision of a harmonious US-led global order, there is no overarching case that America’s interests require it to dominate every region of the world – including in Asia. As long as America can trade in Asia, and faces no direct threats from the region to its own security at home, then Washington will step back and let Asia look after itself.

We can see this shift at work in the new administration’s focus on North Korea’s long-range missile programme, which has dominated its diplomacy in Asia this year. Much of Asia has been threatened for years by Pyongyang’s shorter-range missiles, but Mr Trump is worried only by the threat that the new missiles could pose to America itself. To avoid that, he is willing to threaten, and maybe even fight, a devastating war in Asia.

Most likely, however, he will end up deciding that America’s massive nuclear deterrent makes it safe enough from North Korea’s missiles, and US allies in Asia will be left to deal with Pyongyang’s threats by themselves.

So for Asia, the lesson of 2017 is simple: America no longer sees itself having interests in Asia great enough to justify the immense costs and risks involved in resisting China’s drive to replace it as the leading regional power. That means that, especially in East Asia and the Western Pacific, we face the prospect of living under China’s shadow. Indeed we already are. And 2017 has given us a sobering foretaste of what that will mean, as China has more overtly used its weight – economic, diplomatic and strategic – to promote its interests and impose its wishes on its neighbours. South Korea has felt this over the deployment of a US missile defence system that China deems to be a threat to its security. In Australia, there has been an upswing of anxiety about China’s efforts to influence domestic politics and public debate, and plain expressions of displeasure from Beijing as a result.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by all this. After all, China is just doing what great powers have always done, using their weight and influence to impose costs on those that displease them.

But for all of us in Asia, we are going to have to rethink our approach to foreign policy to address this new reality. That will not be easy. New thinking will be needed.

  • The writer is professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Australia warship makes huge Arabian Sea hashish seizure

December 30, 2017


© AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE/AFP | Australian officials described the seizure as a big setback for drug traffickers

SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian warship has seized almost eight tonnes of hashish in the Arabian Sea, with the defence department Saturday estimating its street value at Aus$415 million (US$325 million).HMAS Warramunga has also confiscated 69 kilogrammes of heroin during maritime security manoeuvres in the area over the past three days.

“The crew prepared extensively for a task like this and we were able to employ our helicopter and boarding crews to locate and board three suspect vessels,” the ship’s commanding officer Dugald Clelland said.

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HMAS Warramunga

“A thorough search by the boarding parties uncovered a large quantity of hashish and heroin intended for distribution around the world.”

The drugs will be disposed of at sea.

Major General John Frewen, head of Australian Forces in the Middle East, described the seizure as a big setback for drug traffickers.

“This operation will impact on the flow of narcotics around the world and the use of drug money to fund extremist organisations,” he said.

The officials did not say which country’s shoreline the seized drugs were closest to.

The HMAS Warramunga is part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) naval partnership in which 30 nations patrol 2.5 million square miles of international waters.

The warship enforces maritime security with a focus on terrorist activity in the Middle East and Indian Ocean regions as part of the Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, which operates under the CMF.

China Is Pushing Its Luck With the West — Outside intervention causing problems

December 27, 2017

Credit Christina Hägerfors

The warning bell is ringing on China’s global effort to suppress Western values and undermine the freedoms enjoyed in the world’s democracies.

Beijing has baited some of America’s leading corporations with offers of access to its giant consumer market. In return, the likes of Apple and LinkedIn have agreed to play by China’s rules and submit to what amounts to censorship.

On American college campuses, accepting money from the Beijing-backed Confucius Institute has come at the price of academic freedom: There are mounting concerns that the language and cultural centers financed by the institute prohibit discussion on issues that place China in a critical light.

Elsewhere, Beijing has been accused of pulling the strings of Western democracies. In Australia, Chinese businessmen with ties to the Chinese Communist Party have donated millions of dollars to the country’s two leading political parties in an effort to shape domestic and foreign policy. A rising political star, Sam Dastyari of the opposition Labor Party, announced his resignation from the Senate in the face of allegations that he was peddling Beijing’s positions for financial support.

But what might first appear to be signs of Beijing’s rising power are proving to be strategic missteps for China. Beijing is overreaching and starting to burn bridges across the West and in the developing world.

After two decades of expanding engagement and economic ties with Australia, China is now watching as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is overhauling his country’s espionage and foreign interference laws in part to counter Chinese influence. Despite President Trump’s warm reception in Beijing last month during a state visit, the United States government has designated China as a competitor in its new national security strategy and is weighing an expansion of the Foreign Agents and Registration Act to curb propaganda and disinformation from Chinese state media and think tanks.

Even in the European Union, China’s largest trading partner, Beijing has caused anxieties to spike. Germany’s intelligence agency recently accused China of mining the personal data of German politicians and diplomats. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and NATO chief, as well as a free-trade-loving Scandinavian, asked the European Union to create measures to investigate and potentially restrict Chinese investments on the Continent.

This position echoes that of other European leaders who argue Beijing has kept the door closed to foreign investment in too many sectors of its economy while exploiting the openness of European markets and snatching up leading European technology companies over the past few years. Demands are growing that Beijing offer equal treatment to European companies in China.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a grandiose trillion-dollar trade and investment strategy to reconnect Eurasia and position China at the center of the global economy, is also facing resistance. While the United States is only now waking up to the threat from Chinese money to its democracy, the developing world has long known the extent to which Beijing is willing to influence politics and societies abroad.

Pakistan, a pivotal country in the plan, has begun to question the extent and terms of its involvement, recently shelving a $14 billion hydropower dam project it felt was too costly. In Myanmar, a critical land link into China from the Indian Ocean, officials have been questioning the notion that the same large and expensive infrastructure projects that helped fuel China’s economic growth will serve as vehicles for its own development.

In Latin America, China’s global infrastructure drive has faced local demands to be more sensitive to environmental concerns, such as in Argentina, where President Mauricio Macri pushed Beijing to shrink the footprint of the hydropower dams it was building in that country. China also faced protests in Africa after Chinese construction firms have failed to conduct due diligence on land acquisition and local employment before pushing forward with new railway and road projects.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia with Premier Li Keqiang of China in Sydney in March. Democracies like Australia are taking notice of Beijing’s deepening global reach. Credit David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Backlash is likely in Sri Lanka as well. After accepting Beijing’s talk of “win-win development,” and amassing billions in Chinese loans, the Sri Lankan government recently ceded control of the strategic port of Hambantota to Beijing for a 99-year lease in return for debt forgiveness. But few tenants love their landlord, particularly one that is charging you rent to live on your own land. Prominent politicians have already accused the Sri Lankan government of selling the country’s sovereignty to Beijing.

In light of this resistance, 2018 may very well see new efforts to tackle the challenge from China. Beijing’s recent intrusions may prompt more security cooperation among the so-called Quad in the Asia-Pacific: the United States, India, Japan and Australia.

Japan and India are particularly keen to find new ways to counter China’s hegemony over Asia’s waterways. And looking to make its trade less dependent on China, Europe will put a stronger focus on other large economic partners. It has already signed a new free trade agreement with Japan that will account for 40 percent of global trade.

It should be no surprise that authoritarian powers are not good at making friends, particularly with democracies, which favor open markets and freedom of speech. If Beijing seeks to calm concerns in the West over its influence in politics and society, it may need to revamp its policy that prioritizes economic gains. Instead, China would be well served to consider its own history of resentment regarding outside intervention, and look to build new cooperation and compromise with the West.

Beijing is gradually building warmer relations with Tokyo based on economic and social cooperation. This may offer a path forward for Beijing to overcome its differences with Western democracies, to disengage from political interference, and to refocus on building partnerships that can expand the trade and investment that brought it to the heights of the global economy in the first place.

China leaves 2017 with frayed relations across much of the West. If it does not pull back from these intrusions on Western democracies, the overreach will ultimately reduce China’s global power.

South China Sea: How 2017’s forgotten flashpoint could flare again

December 26, 2017


Updated 10:57 PM ET, Mon December 25, 2017

(CNN) —  In 2017, the South China Sea was the world’s forgotten flashpoint.


Eclipsed by North Korea and overlooked by a Trump administration that has left many Asia positions unfilled, the lack of attention given to the disputed waters allowed China to press ahead with its military build-up on reclaimed land and work to placate the countries that contest its sweeping maritime claims.
“The water was beautiful for China in the South China Sea in 2017,” said Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
But that could change in 2018, if an over-confident Beijing overplays its hand, forcing Washington and its allies to react.

Back burner


Though most analysts agree the White House has put the issue on the back burner, there is disagreement as to why.
At the start of the year, it appeared that the Trump administration would take a more muscular approach to the South China Sea.
“Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. Its taking of territory that others lay claim to,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in his confirmation hearing in January.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed.”
This satellite image shows construction on Fiery Cross, a reef occupied by China.

CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe


But it was North Korea’s nuclear program that emerged as the top priority for the Trump administration, which now identifies Pyongyang’s weapons as a clear and present danger to the US homeland.
Trump and his Secretary of State have come under fire for failing to fill multiple diplomatic posts and the focus on North Korea may have cannibalized the State Department’s resources on other issues in Asia.
“It’s no secret that the Trump administration is still woefully understaffed when it comes to the Asia squad,” said Gregory Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).
“It’s no surprise that they can’t focus on anything but North Korea. And occasionally they talk about trade deficits with China, but that’s it.”
Other critics say the President simply doesn’t give the conflict the same weight as his predecessor did, though many note the Department of Defense has continued to bring the issue to the fore as best it can.
CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe


Compared to North Korea, the South China Sea doesn’t have the same immediate life-and-death consequences as nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
Instead, it requires the Trump administration to push back at Beijing’s attempts to encroach on the sovereignty of its neighbors and trying to control trade routes, violations of the so called “rules-based order” that the United States has championed globally since the end of World War II.
“The South China Sea appeals somewhat less naturally to someone like President Trump because it’s about abstract defenses of norms and systemic stability,” said Euan Graham, the director of international security at Australia’s Lowy Institute.

Lip service


Trump’s administration gave the South China Sea a short mention on page 46 of its newly unveiled 68-page National Security Strategy.
The document said Beijing’s “efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability.”
Analysts believe, for now at least, that mention was little more than lip service.
“The Chinese continue to pace with their long-term strategy to gain de facto control over the sea lanes in the South China Sea. And what changed is the United States stopped paying attention,” said Fuchs, who served as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2013 until 2016.
The United States has continued to conduct freedom of navigation operations, which involve sailing ships through waters to challenge what Washington deems to be overzealous maritime claims. In these operations, US ships will sail very close to the islands China controls, often triggering heated warnings from Chinese coastal patrols.
But there is a sense of South China Sea fatigue, according to Poling.
“After three years of sensational photos splashed across every paper of Chinese island building, that somehow became the new normal,” said Poling.

Diplomatic efforts


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s desire to cozy up to China, as well as a more inward-looking Indonesia and Malaysia, all helped China advance its interests in the region.
And diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the South China Sea did move forward.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to a framework for a Code of Conduct, a formalized process for dispute settlement.
But critics believe the watered-down document, which failed to mention island militarization and may not even be legally binding once finalized, were victories for Beijing. Vietnam was the only country to voice its opposition.
But without the continued strong backing of other ASEAN states and the US, Hanoi does not have the same support it enjoyed in the past.
“Vietnam is in a tough spot. I think they have red lines, and if the Chinese don’t cross them they’re willing to play nice right now,” said Poling.
Military bases destroy reefs in S. China Sea



Experts believe this is all part of Beijing’s strategy of patience in the South China Sea.
China’s leaders are playing a long game, waiting for rivals to either slip up or lose interest while using its economic leverage to influence smaller states who claim a part of the disputed waters.
“Beijing’s opinion has been for the last decade that it was never worth provoking an immediate crisis in the South China Sea, because sooner or later, the Americans would lose focus and that we (the US) just wouldn’t be able to maintain high-level political concern about this from administration to administration. And it looks like they were right, at least right now,” said Poling of AMTI.
But hubris could foil China’s current advantage, Poling says, if China convinces themselves that they won’t have problems with the other claimants in the region
“What seems likely to me is that China will eventually overplay its hand here, because in Beijing, the only concern seems to be with Washington,” he said.
“I hear an awful lot of premature triumphalism in China that the region — the Philippines and Vietnam and Singapore — are all in the bag and if the Americans just got out of the way, the rest of Asia would kind of accede to Chinese hegemony.”

On the horizon


Multiple analysts predict if Washington continues on its current path, Australia, India and Japan — US treaty allies — would get more involved in the South China Sea to ensure the sea lanes are open for trade.
Talks over the Code of Conduct are likely to continue. China could begin using its newly constructed military installations by deploying more aircraft, vessels and personnel.
“They didn’t build all these hangers and airstrips so they can never use them,” said Poling.
If things continue on their current trajectory, it’s a boon for Beijing. But to say China has already won is misleading, according to Graham at the Lowy Institute.
“The fundamental metrics of American power, including the economic revival of the United States, are not to be underestimated,” said Graham.
“The key question is, will that be translated into the political will to go and show leadership, especially on these issues that are not immediately sell-able to a skeptical public and Congress because they’re more about abstracts and systemic order.”
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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.

Japan eyes broad accord on new security pact with Australia; Turnbull visit likely in January

December 25, 2017


DEC 25, 2017

Japan and Australia are arranging for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to visit Japan in January, aiming to bolster their bilateral security cooperation by striking a broad agreement on a new pact, government sources said Monday.

The envisioned “visiting forces agreement” is aimed at facilitating joint drills amid the growing military threat from North Korea and China’s maritime assertiveness in the East and South China seas, according to the sources.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull hold bilateral talks in Manila on Nov. 13. | KYODO

The two governments hope an agreement in principle on the pact will be reached at a meeting between Turnbull and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, they said.

Japan views Australia, along with the United States and India, as a vital partner under Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy designed to counter China’s rising activities in waters in the region.

The agreement would allow the two countries to bring military equipment and ammunition onto each other’s soil more easily when the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military conduct exercises.

In January this year, Tokyo and Canberra signed a revised acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that enables the SDF and the Australian military to supply each other with ammunition.

Unlike the similar Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the planned accord involving Australia does not presuppose a long-term stationing of the Australian military in Japan.

Japan also aims to reach a similar pact with Britain, with Tokyo and London planning to launch negotiations in the near future.

During the meeting, Abe and Turnbull are also expected to confirm their commitment to putting more pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the United States, the sources said.

China island expansion moves ahead in South China Sea

December 25, 2017


© AFP/File | In this photo taken on June 15, 2016 a vendor stands behind a map of China including an insert with red dotted lines showing China’s claimed territory in the South China Sea


China’s large-scale land reclamation around disputed reefs and shoals in the South China Sea is “moving ahead steadily”, state media has reported, and is on track to use giant “island-builders” to transform even more of the region.

Beijing claims nearly all of the sea and has been turning reefs in the Spratly and Paracel chains into islands, installing military facilities and equipment in the area where it has conflicting claims with neighbours.

“The course of construction is moving ahead steadily and a series of striking results have been achieved,” according to a report that appeared Friday on Haiwainet, a website under theHaiwainet’s flagship newspaper the People’s Daily.

The projects have “completely changed the face of the South China Sea’s islands and reefs”, the report said.

The aggressive campaign has been a source of contention with neighbouring countries. China’s sweeping claims overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

During 2017 China built 290,000 square meters (29 hectares) of facilities on South China Sea reefs and islands, including underground storage, administrative buildings and large radar installations, the report said.

“To improve the livelihood and work conditions of people living on the islands, and strengthen the necessary military defences of the South China Sea within China’s sovereignty, China has rationally expanded the area of its islands and reefs,” it said.

The sea is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and $5 trillion in annual trade passes through it.

The report noted that with last month’s introduction of the new super-dredger Tianjing, a “magical island building machine”, and other “magical machines” soon to come, “the area of the South China Sea’s islands and reefs will expand a step further”.

China is also building a floating nuclear power plant, the report said, to provide power for those living in the Sansha city area.

Sansha lies on Woody Island in the Paracel chain — which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan — and administers much of China’s claims in the South China Sea.

China established Sansha in 2012 by unilaterally awarding it two million square kilometres of sea and declaring it the country’s largest city.

Earlier this month a US think-tank released new satellite images showing deployment of radar and other equipment on the disputed islands.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said that over the course of 2017, China had been advancing the next phase of development with construction of infrastructure to support air and naval bases, such as underground storage areas and large radar and sensor arrays.

“We believe that some individuals are making a fuss about this. They’re trying to hype it up,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang after the first report was published.


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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.