Posts Tagged ‘Brunei’

China has built seven new military bases in South China Sea, US navy commander says

February 15, 2018

Beijing’s assertive territorial claims in disputed waterway is ‘coordinated, methodical and strategic’, Admiral Harry Harris says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 1:15pm

South China Morning Post

The commander of the United States Pacific Command on Wednesday warned of China’s growing military might, saying Beijing had unilaterally built seven new military bases in the South China Sea.

“China is attempting to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features by further militarising its man-made bases,” Admiral Harry Harris said in a congressional hearing.

Harris told the House Armed Services Committee that the new facilities included “aircraft hangers, barracks facilities, radar facilities, weapon emplacements [and] 10,000-foot runways”.

Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than a third of all global trade passes.

Harris said he saw Beijing’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas as “coordinated, methodical and strategic, using their military and economic power to erode the free and open international order”.

In the East China Sea, Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in an attempt to undermine Tokyo’s administration of the uninhabited islets.

Harris said the US alliance with Japan “has never been stronger” and that Washington’s alliance with South Korea was “ironclad”.

Harris, who is set to become the next US ambassador to Australia, also hailed the Washington-Canberra alliance, saying bilateral military ties were “terrific” and that Australia was “one of the keys to a rules-based international order”.



Image may contain: 1 person, text

No automatic alt text available.

Chinese military bases near the Philippines

No automatic alt text available.

China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. 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.


ASEAN’s role in Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy

February 14, 2018


FEB 14, 2018

From Saturday to Monday, Foreign Minister Taro Kono was on a brief Southeast Asian tour to both Brunei and Singapore. Beyond the bilateral and regional issues Kono touched on during both legs of his visit, it was also a demonstration of the emphasis Japan is placing on Southeast Asia as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations within the broader context of its own Indo-Pacific strategy.

Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy

Despite the current focus around U.S. President Donald Trump’s articulation of an Indo-Pacific strategy, the concept is not new or unique to the United States. The concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy is also not new in the Japanese context, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe being a staunch advocate of it dating back to his previous tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

The most recent articulation of the vision during Abe’s current tenure broadly centers around enhancing connectivity from Asia to Africa to promote greater stability and prosperity across these regions through a variety of means, including improving the security situation in these regions, promoting greater development, and supporting the advancement of rule of law and building capacity in related fields.

Apart from larger states like the U.S. and India, the smaller countries of Southeast Asia in general as well as ASEAN play an important role in the context of Japan’s vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Geopolitically, Southeast Asia is where several aspects of the vision Japan is advancing will be tested — whether standards around infrastructure projects or the advancement of the rule of law in the maritime domain with the South China Sea disputes — all amid the involvement of other major powers, including China and the U.S.

Singapore and Brunei

Singapore and Brunei are also important countries within the context of this strategy in their own right, albeit in different senses. Singapore is a highly capable and active contributor to regional security and prosperity, both on its own as well as in concert with partners like the U.S. and Japan. A case in point is the Japan-Singapore Partnership Program for the 21st Century — a jointly run training program for developing countries.

Brunei is much less active comparatively speaking but is nonetheless strategically significant as a country, whether in terms of its search for economic diversification in the context of ongoing reform, which also saw it become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Singapore and Japan, or its role as a quiet claimant in the South China Sea.

Both countries are also important within ASEAN, especially in the current context. Singapore holds the annually rotating ASEAN chairmanship for 2018, which puts it at the center of the advancement of several regional initiatives this year. Brunei, meanwhile, has served as the coordinator for ASEAN-Japan relations, which are in their 45th year, with several activities and developments planned around that as well.

So it was no surprise that Kono chose to visit these two countries this month. Of course, part of the focus of the visit was around specific bilateral issues and regional areas of concern like North Korea as well as developments related to the 45th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan dialogue relations this year. But the theme of a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy unsurprisingly featured as well. Ahead of the trip, the Foreign Ministry said Kono’s visit was a demonstration of how it was important to cooperate with Brunei and Singapore “in the framework to materialize the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy based on the rule of law, as both these countries attach importance to the maritime order.”

True to that statement, both legs of Kono’s visit saw a focus on elements of that Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. In Brunei, the focus was partly around Japan’s role in helping the country in its quest for economic diversification in the context of reform, which has significance beyond the domestic realm as it has also impacted Brunei’s dealings with China as well. In his consultations with Brunei officials, the Foreign Ministry said Kono did reinforce the importance of Brunei and Southeast Asia within the context of Japan’s broader Indo-Pacific vision.

But the most significant development was Kono’s delivery of remarks on board the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Yamagiri at Muara Commercial Port, which was one of three vessels that had docked there for a goodwill visit.

The South China Sea

During his address there, Kono said Japan was promoting its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy “under the conviction that ensuring that this ocean, which we see before our eyes, is free and open is the cornerstone for peace and prosperity not only for Japan but for the world.” The significance of those remarks was not lost on regional observers considering that Brunei is a claimant, albeit a quiet one, in the context of the South China Sea disputes.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, during his discussions with Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, apart from areas for expansion in bilateral cooperation (like air connectivity, innovation and digital technology), there was also discussion about broadening ASEAN-Japan ties under Singapore’s chairmanship this year, as well as enhancing the Japan-Singapore Partnership Program for the 21st Century, which both sides had agreed to advance last year during its 20th anniversary.

In addition, mirroring the maritime focus we had seen in Brunei, Singapore’s foreign ministry also said that Kono had visited the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, including the Port Operations Control Center. The ministry said Kono was briefed on ongoing bilateral maritime cooperation, though no further specifics were provided.

It is still early days in terms of Japan’s rolling out of its Indo-Pacific strategy, particularly in Southeast Asia, where there are mixed feelings in different countries about what the strategy is and how it will play out in terms of broader trends, be it links with ideas like the so-called Quad — grouping Japan, Australia, India and the U.S. — as well as China’s own growing role in the region. But Kono’s visit demonstrated Japan’s recognition of both that ambivalence as well as the significance of the smaller countries of Southeast Asia in this bigger strategy.

Prashanth Parameswaran is senior editor at The Diplomat based in Washington, where he writes mostly on Southeast Asia, Asian security affairs and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region. © 2018, The Diplomat; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency,

Four Powerful Countries Plan Resistance To China in the South China Sea

February 5, 2018
By Ralph Jennings
U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Navy Vice Adm. David Johnston take part in a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise.

U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Navy Vice Adm. David Johnston take part in a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise.

A bloc of four powerful, Western-allied nations, intent on keeping the South China Sea open for international use despite growing Chinese control, will probably issue stern statements, help China’s maritime rivals and hold joint naval exercises near the contested waterway this year, analysts say.

Australia, India, Japan and the United States, a group known as the quad, are most likely to take those measures rather than directly challenging Chinese claims such as its military installations among the sea’s 500 small islets.

“Number one, presence is probably going be driven by the U.S.,” said Stuart Orr, professor of strategic management at Deakin University in Australia. “If I were to take a guess, I would say probably follow that by India, with Japan taking a little bit more of the same role as Australia does, at providing high-level logistical support.”

The quad countries want to keep the 3.5 million-square-kilometer, resource-rich sea open while protecting their own economic ties with Beijing, say experts who follow the issue. Multiple countries ship, fish and explore for oil in the South China Sea today.

Cautionary pronouncements

Heads of state from the four-way alliance met in Manila in November to discuss keeping the sea open. Australia and Japan separately called then for “rules-based order” and “respect for international law” in the sea.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries, including four that compete with China for maritime sovereignty, January 26 that India was committed to working together more on maritime matters.

Expect more statements designed to keep China on guard, analysts say.

“I think the most concrete thing they can do is to issue some statements on the South China Sea dispute, and even then I believe that China might not even be explicitly named in such a statement,” said Ben Ho, senior analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

World leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

World leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

China calls about 90 percent of the sea its own. Chinese expansion since 2010 has irritated rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Those governments, all militarily weaker than Beijing, bristle when China fortifies disputed islets for military use and passes coast guard ships through contested waters.

Beijing says historical records prove its claim to the sea, an argument rejected in 2016 by a world arbitration court.

Joint military exercises

Combinations of the four countries might pass naval vessels through the South China Sea, especially along its perimeters or the coastal waters of smaller countries that want help resisting Chinese vessels, experts say.

The United States, the world’s top military power, has sent naval vessels to the South China Sea five times under President Donald Trump, extending a practice under his predecessor to assert Washington’s view that the sea should allow freedom of navigation.

Japan may follow as it tries to “break out of its self-imposed restraints,” said Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.

Tokyo passed a helicopter carrier through the disputed sea in June 2017. Japan vies with China over tracts of the East China Sea, as well. Leaders are in Tokyo are studying constitutional changes to give the armed forces more power.

“You will see Japan trying to make more frequent port calls and indeed join military exercises, providing training and so on to these nations,” Oh said.

India and Australia would support any military movement aimed at warning China, analysts say. Australia could become a place to monitor “what’s going on” and become a platform for any follow-up, Orr said.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd arrives off the coast of India in preparation for Malabar 2017, a series of exercises between the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and U.S. Navy.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd arrives off the coast of India in preparation for Malabar 2017, a series of exercises between the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and U.S. Navy.

India will make port calls and join any naval patrols with other countries, said Sameer Lalwani, deputy director for U.S. think tank The Stimson Center’s South Asia program. India vies with China for geopolitical control in south and central Asia.

“India could also enhance the number of military exercises, both national and joint with other countries to improve proficiency, enhance cooperation, and signal capabilities,” Lalwani said. “Obviously more visible cooperation with the United States would send an even stronger message.”

Arms supplies

Japan will “continue to bolster the capacities” of allied Asian countries, said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor in politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.

Expect military training, new equipment and two naval destroyer visits this year to Vietnam “as a message that their relations are deepening,” he said.

Vietnam has been the most aggressive South China Sea claimant aside from China. In January 2017 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to provide six patrol boats for Vietnam’s coast guard. The U.S. government is also planning to let one of its aircraft carriers visit the Southeast Asian country this year.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, waves to reporters at a meeting during the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Nov. 13, 2017.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, waves to reporters at a meeting during the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Nov. 13, 2017.

“With the U.S. sending ships as well, Vietnam and other countries are being courted for more security partnerships,” Nagy said.

India has previously helped Vietnam explore the sea for oil. It may look to the quad for chances to grow its economy, technology and foreign relations, experts believe.

Chinese reaction

China is expected to react to the quad one act at a time. If they make statements, China will use words in return, Ho said. If the other countries hold military exercises, China might double down on fortifying the islets it holds now in the Paracel and Spratly chains.

India and Japan are unlikely to push too hard overall as they grapple with their own disputes involving China, Ho said. India and China contest two tracts of their mountainous land border.

China’s chief deterrent for the quad players may be its economic might. Australia, for example, counts China as its No. 1 trade partner, with a 27 percent increase in exports in 2016 and 2017, official Australian data show. A naval drill is unlikely, Ho said.

“I think Canberra has too much at stake in terms of economic links with Beijing to take such a drastic measure,” he said. “After all China is Australia’s top trading partner, both in terms of imports and exports, and Canberra will not do anything drastic to damage its relationship.”



Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

No automatic alt text available.

China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. 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.

China to bring 4G+ telecom services on man-made islands in South China Sea

February 3, 2018
Aerial photos aired by China Central Television show the completed construction of facilities on Fiery Cross Reef, one of Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands. CCTV via Asia Times

MANILA, Philippines — China’s navy and telecommunication corporations are reportedly working to improve communications system in Chinese-occupied features in the disputed South China Sea by bringing 4G+ services in the area.

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

On Friday, state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the Chinese navy has signed an agreement with Beijing’s three largest telecom operators to “comprehensively upgrade” civil communication system on Chinese reefs in Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) islands.

The project is targeted to be completed in May.

“The project will greatly increase the number of telecommunication base stations on some islands and reefs, such as Yongxing (Woody), Yongshu (Kagitingan), and Meiji (Panganiban),” Xinhua reported.

“The operators also promised more affordable service packages for users,” it added.

“In addition to improvements in the living conditions for civilians and military on the islands and reefs, the upgrade is also expected to provide support for fishery, emergency response, maritime search and rescue, and humanitarian relief efforts in nearby waters.”

In a report dated December 14, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s CSIS identified all permanent facilities that can be used for military purposes that China completed or began work since the start of 2017.

AMTI said Beijing had done “smaller scale” construction at its bases in the Paracel islands, which are claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Although there was no substantial new construction at the island last year, Woody island, China’s military and administrative headquarters in the disputed sea, saw two first-time air deployments that “hint at things to come at the three Spratly Island airbases farther south.”

READ: Analyst: China continues expansion in South China Sea as int’l focus ‘shifts away’

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who courted the Asian power for billion dollars’ worth of investments.

RELATED: US think tank expert: South China Sea diplomatic breakthrough ‘unlikely’

Mattis’ visit a harbinger of enhanced US engagement in Asia? — Fears over lower US military presence

February 2, 2018

By Francis Chan
The Straits Times

Jakarta trip a start to easing fears over lower US military presence

Francis Chan US Defence Secretary James Mattis pitched his visit to Indonesia as an opportunity for him to, in his own words, “listen… and understand” what the United States can do for South-east Asia’s largest nation.

His trip, which includes a stop in Vietnam, comes amid concerns over an erosion of United States military presence in this part of the world, while China continues its own aggressive expansion in the region.

It also follows US President Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a controversial move Indonesia strongly and publicly opposes.

Still, Jakarta rolled out the red carpet, literally, for Mr Mattis, who was granted face-time not only with Indonesia’s top three defence officials, but also President Joko Widodo on Tuesday.

Washington will see this as a positive sign from the vast archipelagic state, home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Indonesia can be a key US partner when addressing challenges ranging from rising Islamic extremism to maritime security, as well as to counter China’s territorial ambitions in South-east Asia.

Befittingly, Mr Mattis chose Indonesia as his first stop in the region just days after the release of a new National Defence Strategy (NDS) plan last week.

Much of the NDS will remain secret, but an unclassified summary reveals a clear prioritisation of China and Russia as strategic threats or competitors over, say terrorism, as the primary concern for US national security.

It also includes a focus for the US to build partnerships and strengthen alliances with countries such as Indonesia.

To that end, the retired four-star US Marines general had to do more than just lend a ear during his visit.

In remarks after meeting Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, Mr Mattis referred to a part of the contested South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea – a move likely to be noted by Beijing.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. Indonesia was never a party to the territorial dispute, but had to assert itself after Beijing claimed parts of the waters off the resource-rich Natuna Islands are part of its “traditional fishing grounds”.

In response, Jakarta named waters in its Exclusive Economic Zone, just off its northern perimeter, the North Natuna Sea.

The US acceptance of the name, which has no legal consequence, is a massive geopolitical win for Indonesia as it seeks to politely fend off Chinese ambitions in the waterway, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.5 trillion) in cargo passes every year.

Another boost to US-Indonesia defence relations was when Mr Mattis told Mr Ryamizard, a fellow four-star general, that the US military may consider working with Indonesian Special Forces, better known as Kopassus, again.

The US had placed restrictions on Kopassus following allegations of past human rights violations by its troops in the late 1990s.

The lifting of the ban would be well-received by Indonesia’s military elite, including several retired generals who play key roles in the Joko Widodo administration.

Mr Mattis will also be taking back to Washington a wish-list from Jakarta, which includes the sale of advanced weapons systems and help to set up an intelligence network to support the region’s counter-terrorism efforts, as well as calls for the US not to provoke North Korea and rethink its position on Jerusalem.

This presents the US with an opportunity to not only reinforce ties with Indonesia but also show that Mr Mattis’ visit is a harbinger of enhanced US engagement in Asia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline ‘Mattis’ visit a harbinger of enhanced US engagement in Asia?’

US-Vietnam Military Ties Warn China over Maritime Expansion

January 30, 2018

By Ralph Jennings

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, shakes hands with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong before holding talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, shakes hands with Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong before holding talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

A high-level U.S. visit to Vietnam followed by plans to send American naval vessels may herald a tougher American policy toward China in Asia’s stickiest maritime sovereignty dispute.U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis met in Vietnam last week with the host country’s president, Tran Dai Quang, as well as the general secretary of its ruling Communist Party and a Vietnamese military counterpart.

The U.S. Department of Defense website said they shared concerns about freedom of navigation and “respect for international law,” likely references to a six-way dispute over sovereignty of the South China Sea dominated by Beijing. A U.S. aircraft carrier will call in Vietnam in March. Vietnam is the most outspoken rival claimant to China.

“The Mattis visit and the one by the aircraft carrier in March are intended to send a signal to China about its assertive behavior in the South China Sea,” said Murray Hiebert, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The visits are part of a series of steps by Vietnam and the United States in recent years to bolster their political and security ties as China rises and steps up its activities in the South China Sea,” he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis chats with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis chats with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

An extension of military ties with Vietnam would mark President Donald Trump’s strongest stance on the South China Sea dispute to date following a year of doubt about whether he would challenge the dominance of Beijing in favor of five other governments that contest Chinese claims.

China’s maritime rise

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam vie for control over all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea between Hong Kong and Borneo. They resent passage of Beijing’s coast guard vessels and its landfilling of small islets for military installations, hallmarks of growing maritime control by Asia’s chief military power.

China claims about 90 percent of the sea. It cites historical records to document the claims. In mid-2016 a world arbitration court ruled at the request of the Philippines against the extent of the Chinese claim. China rejected the ruling but since then made peace with other claimants by offering aid, investment and joint marine research.

Over the past year, China also built up three islets in the sea’s Spratly archipelago and three more in the Paracel chain, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Vietnam says the Paracels fall under its flag.

FILE - An aerial photo taken though the window of a Philippine military plane shows the land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015.

FILE – An aerial photo taken though the window of a Philippine military plane shows the land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015.

“I think that maybe China is not happy with the U.S. visit, but they have to accept the facts that Vietnam is becoming a big player in the region and Vietnam has its own freedom in maintaining (a) better relationship with the U.S.,” said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Expectations for Trump

Southeast Asian countries with claims to the sea waited in 2017 for Trump to form a clear South China Sea policy.

Trump spent much of the year seeking Beijing’s help containing weapons development in North Korea, muting any challenges to Chinese maritime activities. The U.S. Navy, however, passed ships through the disputed sea four times in 2017 and once this month to show its position that the waterway is free to all.

But Trump did not pick up his predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of arms sales and joint military training for Southeast Asian maritime claimants.

The Philippines befriended Beijing in late 2016. China is helping the country build railways, resist armed Muslim extremists and explore an undersea plateau off the Philippine Pacific coast. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began in 2016 pushing back against the United States, a former colonizer and staunch military ally since the 1950s.

Malaysia also counts China as its top investor and trading partner, likewise a source of new infrastructure. Trump toyed with stronger Taiwan ties a year ago but stopped after a protest from Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own.

Mattis’ Vietnam visit this month augurs a “tougher line on Beijing in general” in Washington, said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies consultancy in New York. The shift might come too late, he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leans in to listen to Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at the party's headquarters in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leans in to listen to Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at the party’s headquarters in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 25, 2018.

“Relations with Vietnam are now more vital than ever as we appear to have already lost the Philippines on the South China Sea,” King said. “It may all be too late as Beijing’s hold on the South China Sea appears to have entered fait accompli territory.”

Arms sales

Improved ties could lead Vietnam to buy military hardware from the United States, Hiebert said. In 2016, Obama lifted a decades-old ban on sales of lethal weapons to the Communist country that the United States fought in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Vietnam has clashed before at sea with China, which is militarily stronger.

Vietnam ranked the world’s eighth largest importer of weapons from 2011 to 2015, up from 43rd in the previous five years, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor with the University of New South Wales in Australia. Vietnam is looking now for a fighter jet to replace its Russian-made MiG-21 fleet that it retired over a year ago, he said.

Vietnam acquired a former U.S. coast guard cutter in December, according to the the U.S. defense department website.

But officials in Hanoi are expected to move slowly toward warmth in U.S. relations. They value ties with China, too, as neighbors and trade partners. “I’m sure Vietnamese leaders know they will not walk so fast toward improving relationships with the U.S.,” Nguyen said.

Joint Research Projects Help China Consolidate Power, Peacefully, at Sea

January 28, 2018
By Ralph Jennings
FILE - A Malaysian navy vessel patrols waters near Langkawi Island, May 16, 2015. Malaysia is buying four ships from China to help it patrol its coastline.

FILE – A Malaysian navy vessel patrols waters near Langkawi Island, May 16, 2015. Malaysia is buying four ships from China to help it patrol its coastline.

An increase in Sino-foreign joint maritime research, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, is helping China improve its regional reputation by contributing to the health and utility of international waterways, analysts say.China helped Malaysia with atmospheric studies on the high seas last year, among other marine science projects, the Southeast Asian country’s chief news service Bernama reported in December.

This month and next, China will work with the Philippines on exploring an underwater plateau, and Beijing’s official Xinhua News Agency said a vessel of Chinese scientists had reached port in Myanmar on Jan. 17 for joint oceanographic research.

Analysts say these cases, and others, let China and its partners find valuable marine resources while casting Beijing as a trustworthy steward of shared oceans in Asia.

FILE - Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario points to an ancient map that officials said show that China's territorial claims over the South China Sea did not include the Scarborough Shoal.

FILE – Then Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario points to an ancient map that officials said show that China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea did not include the Scarborough Shoal.

Political will, funding

“This clearly shows there’s a political will of China, which means also it will influence, or it will strengthen its influence, in the region,” said Liu Nengye, senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “China is willing to pay for certain activities like joint marine scientific research. So as long as you pay, you somehow strengthen your influence in the region for sure.”

Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, which covers 3.5 million square kilometers from Taiwan to Singapore.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all contest China’s claims. They resent passage of Beijing’s coast guard vessels and its land-filling of small islets for military installations.

Science and marine protection

Since a world arbitration court ruled against the scope of China’s claim in mid-2016, Beijing has improved economic ties with other claimants to put the legal dispute behind them.

Those ties dovetail with China’s $900 billion Belt-and-Road initiative to build infrastructure in as many as 65 Eurasian countries to smooth trade.

Joint maritime projects are likely to focus on “low-sensitivity” issues popular with the Chinese partner nations, Liu said. All coastal states want to improve marine research on environmental protection, earthquake predictions, contamination from floating plastics and ocean acidification levels, he said.

Pollution persists because the South China Sea supports one-third of the world’s marine shipping traffic. Land reclamation as well as acidification also hurt coral. The harvests of an estimated 333,000 to 1.6 million fishing vessels have depleted stocks.

FILE: Divers swim above a bed of corals off Malaysia's Tioman island in the South China Sea, May 4, 2008.

FILE: Divers swim above a bed of corals off Malaysia’s Tioman island in the South China Sea, May 4, 2008.

As a hint that China sees joint research as diplomacy, a year ago this month Xinhua said China and Vietnam would pursue “research of joint development” as a “transitional solution” to their sovereignty dispute.

In the past, China would do its own research, in some cases drawing protest, such as one from Brunei in 1992.

Two years ago Beijing’s State Oceanic Administration issued a “marine international cooperation framework plan” to run through 2020 covering the South China Sea as well as other Asian waters, state-run Chinese media say. The joint projects fall under this plan, Liu believes.

China is expected to bring better technology to research as scientists onshore develop a seaplane, drones for maritime use and an underwater observation network. A code of conduct being negotiated between China and a 10 member group of Southeast Asian countries would add to Beijing’s image offshore.

A stronger reputation for China would let the militarily and economically powerful country mute any protests as it keeps expanding at sea through land reclamation or military buildup. China cites historical documents as proof of its claims.

The deals as announced often lack specifics, such as who pays and what happens to any findings of value. The South China Sea is rich in fisheries, oil and natural gas.

Research in the Indian Ocean off Myanmar will include “comprehensive ocean observation to promote prevention and reduction of natural disasters,” Xinhua said without giving details.

Leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum wave as they pose for a group photo at the Yanqi Lake venue on the outskirt of Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.

Leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum wave as they pose for a group photo at the Yanqi Lake venue on the outskirt of Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.

Receptive but on guard

China’s partners are eager as long as they get a share of findings without compromising maritime sovereignty claims, analysts say.

The Philippines says it will have access to any discoveries, such as natural gas, on the plateau along its continental shelf.

Sino-Malaysian research last year took place mainly in the “internal waters” of Malaysia, the Bernama report said. The Chinese researchers must follow Malaysian laws and regulations, it said.

The ocean research paired with Chinese investment on land, such as in a $12.8 billion east-west railway line, are making China evermore familiar to Malaysians, said Ibrahim Suffian, program director with the Kuala Lumpur-based polling group Merdeka Center.

Bernama calls China’s maritime research with Malaysia a case of “soft diplomacy.”

“China is pretty much in the public radar now,” Suffian said. “I think for many people, particularly those in commerce and in the public sector, they are pretty much aware about the role of China.”

But China is likely to want something in return, some analysts say. The country often “dominates most projects” and is “not consultative enough with needs of local partners” overseas, said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Expect Beijing to want favors in return, such as more infrastructure contracts, from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, he said.

“China will lean on him, depending on how bold they want to be, either softly or not so softly to give them something in return for their financial backing,” Chong said.



No automatic alt text available.

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.

Trump Tariffs Spark Criticism, Raise Tensions Over Trade

January 24, 2018

Eleven Pacific Rim nations forge a new trade bloc without the U.S. and Europe moves to shore up other ties as Washington takes tougher approach

WASHINGTON—The emerging fault lines in the global trading system were laid bare Tuesday, as 11 Pacific Rim nations agreed to forge a new commercial bloc that excludes the U.S., while President Donald Trump signed orders to curb cheap Asian imports he said had unfairly harmed American manufacturers.

As Mr. Trump touted from the Oval Office his commitment “to defending American companies…very badly hurt from harmful import surges,” U.S. allies grew more vocal in their concerns about what they view as the longtime leader of the world trading system turning inward.

“Now in some parts of the world, there is a move toward protectionism,” Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese economy minister, said in Tokyo, announcing the agreement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, redrafted after Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out a year ago. “TPP-11 is a major engine to overcome such a phenomenon.”

The debate is expected to intensify this week as it shifts to Davos, Switzerland, where Mr. Trump is scheduled Friday to explain and defend his emerging “America First” policies to the World Economic Forum, a group that has staunchly defended and fostered globalism over the past four decades.

As a sign of the arguments to come, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India addressed the forum Tuesday with a speech that didn’t mention Mr. Trump by name, but appeared aimed at him.


  • Full Coverage of the World Economic Forum
  • Discord Arises Over Tariffs’ Impact
  • In South Carolina, Resistance to Levies
  • Canada, Mexico Seek Nafta Harmony
  • Warning Signs Dent Growth Confidence
  • CEOs See Economy as Beneficiary of Trump Policies
  • IMF Cautions Global Boom Is Too Reliant on Easy Money
  • President to Meet With Leaders
  • China’s World: Targets of Trump Tariffs Say U.S. Consumers Will Get Pinched
  • Moneybeat: As ‘America First’ Trade Focus Returns, The Dollar Is Still Too Strong

“Many societies and countries are becoming self-focused. Globalization is shrinking,” Mr. Modi said, adding that this trend was as grave a challenge as terrorism. “Protectionism and its forces are rearing their heads.”

In response to criticism of Mr. Trump’s trade policy, Gary Cohn, the head of the White House National Economic Council, said Tuesday: “Look, the U.S. is pulling back from nothing.” He added: “American first does not mean America alone.”

U.S. officials said that as they put forth more aggressive trade policies in the coming weeks, they will also try to persuade skeptical allies that their actions are intended to improve the international economic system, not destroy it. The underlying message: The U.S. is neither retreating from trading partners nor fighting them.

“A strong U.S. economy benefits the world, having fair and reciprocal trading relationships help the world, and the U.S. is engaged in trying to help the global economy through reforms like that,” a White House trade official said. “That’s a message you’re going to see us using more frequently in the near future.”

Mr. Trump’s emerging trade policy involves three main components, each advanced in different forms this week.

The first is ramping up trade-enforcement actions, like the broad, steep tariffs announced Monday aimed at protecting U.S. makers of solar panels and washing machines. Administration officials said more of these types of protections are coming, with studies under way for action on steel and aluminum.

The U.S. also plans to assess action against an array of Chinese goods and investments in retaliation for China allegedly pressuring U.S. companies to turn over valuable intellectual property.

“You’ll see what’s going to take place over the next number of months,” Mr. Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony held Tuesday to sign the solar and washer actions.

The second part of the trade agenda is either shunning pacts negotiated by previous administrations, like TPP, or rewriting them. A large delegation of U.S. trade negotiators is in Montreal this week to press Canada and Mexico for concessions to rebalance the North American Free Trade Agreement in ways aimed at steering manufacturing from Mexico back to the U.S.

Mr. Trump’s chief trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, has indicated that if his counterparts don’t show sufficient compromise in this round, Mr. Trump will be more inclined to pull the U.S. out of the quarter-century-old pact.

“Nafta is moving along pretty well,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday, but added: “I happen to be of the opinion that if it doesn’t work out, we’ll terminate it.”

The third element of the policy agenda is to shake up the World Trade Organization, the overseer of the global trading system since 1995. Administration officials said the Geneva body too often rules against U.S. interests, and doesn’t do enough to rein in China’s state-driven trading system.

To make its point, the U.S. is blocking appointments to the WTO’s court responsible for arbitrating trade disputes between members, a move that risks gumming up the world commercial legal system.

In a tense meeting of world trade officials in Geneva on Monday, Mexico introduced a proposal backed by nearly 60 WTO members demanding the U.S. end its filibuster. Eighteen delegates—including those from Canada, Europe, and China—spoke to support the proposal, one warning of “major consequences” for the WTO. The U.S. representative declined to yield.

As the administration advances those three goals, officials are honing their message for how they plan to explain the significant shifts in U.S. international economic policy to allies and trading partners.

One theme: “We’re not turning away from the system, we’re saying the system needs to be reformed to survive,” the White House trade official said.

Mr. Trump said Tuesday: “There won’t be a trade war.”

Indeed, many trading partners are sympathetic to one aspect of the Trump administration’s criticism: that the WTO doesn’t do enough to counter Beijing’s government-driven industrial policy. That policy has helped fuel Chinese exports and growing market shares that have destroyed vital industries abroad, from steel to semiconductors. Both the European Union and Japan have recently joined with the U.S. in efforts to get the WTO to more directly pressure China.

And many free-trade advocates find criticism from leaders like Mr. Modi ironic, given India’s long history of protectionism and its own fights with the WTO.

But the U.S. challenge is to avoid alienating those countries as Washington either hits them with new trade barriers or rejects longstanding trade arrangements with them.

While Mr. Trump has criticized multilateral trade agreements like TPP, Mr. Cohn said that the administration is eager to expand global trade through bilateral agreements and said that Mr. Lighthizer “is working on a bunch of different agreements.”

Related image

Mr. Cohn declined, though, when pressed to identify any specific agreements under way, and countries the administration has identified as priorities for new trade pacts, such as Japan, have actively shunned overtures for a new bilateral pact.

Japan and other TPP participants have instead chosen to strike new deals elsewhere.

Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration last year, the EU has accelerated a campaign to sign new free-trade agreements around the world, seeking to fill what it sees as a new void in advancing market-opening agreements.

While U.S-EU talks launched under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, have stalled under Mr. Trump, the EU implemented new pacts last year with Japan and Canada. The EU is seeking this year to build on that by clinching deals to slash tariffs and open new markets from Mexico to Chile. The EU is also negotiating a trade deal with the Mercosur bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Meantime, both Canada and Mexico signed onto the new TPP pact, with some officials seeing it as a hedge to open non-American markets if Nafta collapses.

The U.S. withdrawal from TPP—which also includes Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia—and its hard-edge negotiating over Nafta have “prompted governments and stakeholders across the region to reassess their reliance on American economic leadership and the U.S. market,” the Asia Society Policy Institute wrote in a recent report. U.S. allies, the report added, are “hard at work developing contingency plans for…advancing trade and investment liberalization without the United States.”

—Emre Peker in Brussels contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at

Turnbull hails revived TPP, critics question value for Australia

January 24, 2018


© POOL/AFP/File | Turnbull says the revived TPP will be a boon for jobs
SYDNEY (AFP) – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday hailed the revival of the Trans Pacific Partnership as a boon for jobs, but critics questioned how much Australia would really gain from a deal that excludes the US.

After Canada Wednesday agreed to rejoin 10 other nations in resurrecting the trade pact, Turnbull termed the deal a multi-billion-dollar trade windfall for Australia.

“It is a big deal,” the prime minister told reporters. “A big trade deal at a time when many people said it couldn’t be done, after the United States pulled out, after President Trump was elected.”

“We are firmly of the view that a free and open Indo-Pacific, open markets, free trade, the rule of law, encouraging investment and trade through our region is manifestly in our national interest and in the interests of all of the countries in the region.”

In addition to Australia, the pact now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The agreement, expected to be formally ratified in Chile in March, will incorporate all commitments from the original TPP, except for a limited number of provisions suspended temporarily and some remaining issues to be finalised.

It means new bilateral agreements for Canberra with Canada and Mexico, as well as increased access for many Australian agricultural products to member states. The deal seeks to remove 98 percent of tariffs within the trade bloc.

The TPP looked doomed last year after President Donald Trump withdrew the US, dismaying allies but fulfilling an election pledge.

Australia’s opposition Labor party said the new pact had lost its shine since the US withdrawal and the government had failed to specify how the country would benefit from it.

“This is a very different agreement because America’s not in it,” shadow minister for trade Jason Clare told Sky news.

“The original agreement involving the United States involved around 40 per cent of the global economy. Without the US it’s about 13 per cent.”

Patricia Ranald, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, cautioned that a revived deal would deliver less than the government boasts.

Access to Canada and Mexico would be moderately beneficial but trade agreements were already in place with the other countries, “so the market access gains are at the margin”, she said.

Ranald has been critical of the pact, which she says allows corporations to bypass national courts and does too little to protect labour rights and migrant workers.

“I think the TPP has become a symbol of open markets, against the Trump unilateralism, but if you actually look at what is in the TPP it does reinforce monopolies which are the opposite of open markets,” she said.

“It really is about global corporations having a set of rules that suits them.”

Philippines: Japanese security expert backs Judge Carpio on Permanent Court of Arbitration, South China Sea, Benham Rise

January 19, 2018
By: – Reporter / @MRamosINQ
 / 10:05 AM January 19, 2018
Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water
China research ship Ke Xue.  Maritime scientific exploration is usually done by a soverien nation with rights to the sea area subject to research. When an outside nation is brought in to research, an extensive legal agreemnent is usually required to protect the sovereign owner’s rights. What is the Philippine Agreement with China — or has some underhanded deal or bribes set up the current state of affairs?

TOKYO – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was right in insisting that the Philippines should deny China access to the Philippine Rise if Beijing continued to reject a United Nations-backed arbitral court ruling honoring Manila’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, a leading Japanese international security expert said.

At the same time, Professor Ken Jimbo of the Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management backed Carpio’s argument that Beijing should respect the landmark July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague whether China liked it or not.

Image may contain: water

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH A diver explores the seabed of Benham Rise believed to be rich in marine resources and underwater minerals. —INQUIRER PHOTO

The magistrate, who has made the Philippines’ ownership claims over portions of the South China Sea his personal advocacy, contradicted Malacañang’s position that China’s recognition or non-recognition of the PCA verdict was immaterial.

Image may contain: 1 person

President Duterte

“The Philippines has a clear legal judgment on what could be allowed and what could not be allowed (under the international law),” Jimbo told visiting foreign journalists here on Thursday.

“And that is not based purely on the Philippine interpretation of where is the red line, but there’s an internationally-recognized legal red line. That’s the strength of the PCA,” he also said.

Jimbo even added: “I do agree with (Carpio) in trying to manage the issue and I hope to see the consistency (that) every decision the Philippines will make… should be based on the PCA ruling. I wish to see the Philippines maintain the status of the PCA (decision).”

Early this week, Carpio labeled as “dumb” the Duterte administration’s decision to let a Chinese vessel conduct a supposed marine scientific research in the Philippine Rise, internationally known as Benham Rise, since China has maintained its intransigence not to recognize the arbitral ruling.

 Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

The United Nations (UN) had already ruled that the rise, believed to be rich in oil and marine resources, was part of the Philippine continental shelf in 2012 and awarded the Philippines sovereign rights to explore and exploit resources on the submerged plateau.

In March last year, President Duterte admitted that he had authorized Chinese survey vessels to enter the Philippine Rise as part of an agreement.

But Carpio said the Philippines should not let China avail its rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) for its refusal to heed the international law in its entirety.

Image may contain: text

“By refusing to accept the award of the… arbitral tribunal pursuant to the dispute settlement provisions of Unclos, China is not accepting its obligation under Unclos,” he said. “China is cherry-picking and not taking Unclos as one package deal.”

In response, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said Mr. Duterte’s decision to let Beijing explore the rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau in the Philippine Sea just 250 kilometers east of Isabela province, was irrelevant with the issue over the West Philippine Sea.

“Science is science,” Roque said. “Science knows nationalities and the requirement is Philippine scientists must also participate in the scientific exercise and the results must be shared with Philippine authorities.”

Interestingly, Roque had previously been very vocal against Beijing’s intrusion into Philippine waters until he was designated by the Chief Executive as his official mouthpiece a few months ago.

Jimbo, who has done researches and studies on security policies in the Asia-Pacific region, noted that Japan had been supportive of the Philippines’ efforts to secure a legally-binding solution to the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which also involved Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

When asked how to best counter China’s hardheadedness in complying with the arbitral court ruling, Jimbo said the international community should continue to rally behind the Philippines.

“I think it (PCA ruling) has been very much politicised in a way… The international community needs to congratulate what the Philippines has done so far,” he said. “It was a very rare case in international society that the PCA made a judgment on a very specific legal issue in the South China Sea.”

He said that although it may be a bitter pill to swallow, Mr. Duterte should rethink his policy of veering away from the United States militarily while increasing the Philippine engagement with China on economic matters.

“If you look at the wider perspective of the security architecture in the region, the US engagement not only in Northeast Asia, but also in (Southeast Asia), is still the platform in creating the basic kind of structure of deterrence and response capability,” Jimbo reiterated.

With China’s rapid rise as an economic superpower, its annual defense budget had eclipsed Japan’s military spending in the past several years, making Beijing a force to reckon with in the whole Asian region, according to Jimbo.

“Obviously, US has lot of fluctuation in engagement, but we cannot really replace the role of the US. We can engage in Philippine maritime security, but not in replacing the role of the US,” he said.

Moreover, the Japanese security expert said the Duterte administration may reconsider its decision to take on China and the South China Sea issue unilaterally.

“I think President Duterte and his team may come back to the logic that it’s not about what the US thinks, but it’s about the multinational platform (that must) co-exist with (his) China policy,” he said.

“The Philippine government has the comprehensive understanding on how to deal with them… I hope that those kind of ‘black-and-white’ type of engagement with China should be moderated. Otherwise, China will likely to penetrate into that logic,” he continued. /kga

Read more:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

See also:


Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature




No automatic alt text available.


No automatic alt text available.

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.