Posts Tagged ‘Brunei’

U.S. Ship Sails Near Disputed South China Sea Islands in Challenge to Beijing

January 7, 2019

USS McCampbell patrol was meant to challenge excessive maritime claims by Beijing, U.S. Navy says

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USS McCampbell 

WASHINGTON—A U.S. guided-missile destroyer patrolled near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Monday, challenging Beijing’s maritime claims there, U.S. military officials said.

The USS McCampbell conducted what the military calls a freedom of navigation operation in the Paracel Islands chain, sailing within 12 nautical miles of three islands: Tree, Lincoln and Woody, according to a Navy official.

The ship patrol was meant to challenge excessive maritime claims by Beijing and to “preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” according to a statement from Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr, a spokeswoman for U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The Paracels are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan but have been controlled by China since it seized them from Vietnamese forces in 1974.

The U.S. Navy has conducted such patrols in the South China Sea for years but tensions with Beijing over the operations have escalated in recent years as China has sought to assert its extensive maritime claims in one of the world’s busiest waterways.

The U.S. and its Asian allies and partners have been alarmed in particular by China’s construction of seven fortified artificial islands—including three with large airstrips—in the Spratly Islands chain.

China’s claims in the Spratlys overlap with those of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—a U.S. treaty ally.

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Above chart shows China’a “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid and is not recognized under international law.

Beijing has also upgraded several military outposts in the Paracels and deployed jet fighters to at least one, according to satellite images and U.S. officials.

The U.S. has responded by stepping up its patrols in the area—often sailing close to China’s new artificial islands—and encouraging allies to exercise their right to freedom of navigation in the area.

China’s reclamation activities in the Paracels are less extensive than in the Spratlys and are considered by the U.S. and others as less threatening to the status quo in the region, but Beijing typically takes a dim view of Washington’s patrols through the area.

China says it has “indisputable” sovereignty over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, and has often accused the U.S. of destabilizing the region with its naval patrols.

The USS Decatur conducted a patrol in the Spratlys in September, sailing past Gaven and Johnson reefs over the course of a 10-hour patrol and sailing within 12 nautical miles of both features.

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USS Decatur

The two outposts have been fortified militarily and have reinforced fears among the U.S., Asian nations and others that China could use such islands to base ships, planes, weaponry and other material to enforce its claims across the South China Sea.

“U.S. forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea,” according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.”

Last month, the McCampbell conducted a freedom of navigation operation against Russia in Peter the Great Bay in the Sea of Japan.

Write to Gordon Lubold at and Jeremy Page at


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A fighter jet from Taiwan keeps a close watch on a Chinese bomber. Xinhua photo

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Philippine fisherfolk in the South China Sea



Philippines: Albert Del Rosario pushes for all ASEAN nations so support Vietnam on South China Sea

January 3, 2019

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario on Wednesday said the Philippines and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should fully support Vietnam’s tough stance against China in negotiating a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario (Wikipedia/ Manila Bulletin)

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario (Wikipedia/ Manila Bulletin)

In a statement, Del Rosario said Vietnam’s specific positions on banning any new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), clarifying maritime entitlements in accordance with the international law, the blocking of a proposal by China to ban military drills in the SCS with outside powers unless all signatories agree, and the blocking of Beijing’s proposal to exclude foreign oil firms by limiting joint development deals to China and Southeast Asia “are areas of major importance which should be fully supported not only by the Philippines but by ASEAN as a whole.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews a naval parade Thursday in the South China Sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping during a military display of the PLA Navy in the South China Sea earlier this year. Photo: Xinhua

“Clearly, it would be a constructive move to consult with Vietnam to give us an opportunity to share and appreciate each other’s views which could lead to an agreed plan of action that is beneficial not only to both countries but to others as well,” Del Rosario said.

The former DFA secretary pointed out that China appeared to be adopting a delaying strategy in moving the COC forward “in order to give itself time to complete the Chinese unlawful expansion and militarization strategy.”

“Now that they have practically completed their overall intended strategy, Beijing appears to want to forge ahead with the COC. What could it mean?” he said.

Del Rosario said this could mean that all relevant parties would need to exercise utmost vigilance in ensuring that the COC is not utilized by Beijing for the purpose of protecting what has been declared as being unlawful by the Hague court which is now an integral part of international law.

He insisted that an ASEAN consensus on the issues raised in Vietnam’s position will serve to demonstrate to the world that the 10 member-states of the regional bloc as a solid body, “willing to strongly uphold its centrality and not allow itself to be bullied and bribed.”

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Above chart shows China’a “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.

Del Rosario was the foreign affairs chief when the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China before the United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague. On July 12, 2016, the Arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippine petition.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims with China in certain parts of the South China Sea.


Beijing to restore coral reefs ‘damaged by island building’ in South China Sea

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Philippine fisherfolk in the South China Sea



Britain’s planned naval base in Southeast Asia seen as ‘muscle-flexing’ against China

January 1, 2019
  • Building a facility in the region, potentially in Singapore or Brunei, is likely to further complicate the geostrategic landscape, analysts warn
  • They say it could also cast a shadow over Beijing’s relations with its neighbours and worsen tensions with London – though ‘Washington will be pleased’
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 8:31pm

South China Morning Post


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HMS Queen Elizabeth
British Defence Minister Gavin Williamson (2nd R) speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart Stepan Poltorak
Gavin Williamson, second from the right, in Ukraine

Britain’s plan to build a new military base in Southeast Asia is likely to further complicate the strategic landscape in a region already fraught with maritime disputes and geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Washington, Chinese analysts warn.

The plan was unveiled by British defence secretary Gavin Williamson during an interview with The Sunday Telegraph this week, with possible sites including Singapore and Brunei.

If it goes ahead, the move could cast a shadow over China’s relations with its Asian neighbours and would risk further inflaming tensions between Beijing and London after a British warship sailed close to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, according to the experts.

“It is clearly a muscle-flexing gesture targeting China and shows closer engagement of external powers in the South China Sea disputes,” said Xu Liping, a professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews a naval parade Thursday in the South China Sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping during a military display of the PLA Navy in the South China Sea earlier this year. Photo: Xinhua

Williamson said Britain would open two new military bases in “a couple of years”, including one in the Caribbean, saying it would help the country to return as a “true global player” after Brexit.

“This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the second world war, when we can recast ourselves in a different way, we can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play,” he was quoted as saying.

The move marks a policy shift from Britain’s withdrawal from military bases in Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf in the 1960s.

Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, also said the plan was more evidence of Britain and other key American allies increasingly aligning themselves with US President Donald Trump’s hardline approach on China.

“It is a complementary step to Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy and Washington will be pleased,” Ni said, referring to Trump’s plan to bolster its security and economic engagement with the region at a time when bilateral ties are at a historical low.

Beijing has long viewed Washington’s increasing military activity in the disputed South China Sea as a threat to regional stability and has expressed concern over the Indo-Pacific strategy, which it sees as part of a broader US effort to thwart China’s ambitions of becoming a global superpower.

Xu believed Washington, which was less interested in playing a global leadership role under Trump’s “America first” policy, was behind London’s plan for a military base in the region.

“Britain in particular has been increasingly active in the South China Sea” at a time when the US may have concerns about directly confronting China in the region, he said.

Sino-British ties, which were described as being in a “golden era” a few years ago, have cooled recently as Britain began to challenge China’s expansive claims to the strategic waterway, as the US has done.

Beijing accused Britain of engaging in “provocation” after a British warship passed near the Paracel Islands claimed by China in a “freedom of navigation” operation in late August.

The British military base plan could be good news for American allies and partners in the region that have been concerned about Washington’s reluctance to take a leadership role to challenge Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea disputes, such as Japan, Australia and Vietnam, according to analysts.

But for China, it could signal severe challenges ahead in dealing with a delicate regional security balance in the region, with the risk of growing tensions and even partial confrontation, Ni warned.

Xu also said that although the British plan was still at an early stage, it would test China’s relations with Singapore and Brunei, both of which are former British colonies.

Beijing has tried hard to woo Brunei, a rival claimant in the South China Sea disputes, through economic cooperation via its “Belt and Road Initiative”. President Xi Jinping visited Brunei in November to shore up ties, which saw bilateral trade soar in the past months.

Meanwhile, China’s relations with Singapore, which is not a claimant in the long-standing maritime disputes, were tested two years ago when Beijing accused the city state of siding with the US on the South China Sea.

During a regional gathering in November, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Southeast Asian nations had been caught in the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and may be forced to choose sides.

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RAF fighter jet

Chinese experts also questioned the feasibility of the naval base plan.

Despite its ambition to restore its past glory as a global nation, Ni said it remained to be seen if Britain could afford such plans for more overseas bases when it had struggled with budget shortfalls for years to maintain a strong military deterrence.

Although it saw a modest spending boost in 2018, the British military has shrunk by roughly half since the end of the cold war.

The move was also criticised in Britain, including by Labour MP Luke Pollard, who challenged Williamson’s plan on Twitter. “Where is the budget for this? Why is our national military strategy being made up as we go along? Which budget will be cut to pay for these expansions?” he asked.


Image result for china, south china sea, nine dash line, pictures

Above chart shows China’a “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.

In March 2018, the French Navy announced that Floréal-class surveillance frigate Vendémiaire conducted a patrol in the South China Sea to assert French presence in the region.



As nations fight for control, South China Sea coral reefs are dying in silence

December 31, 2018
  • James Borton and Jackson Ewing say the devastation wrought by island building in the waters, mainly by China, is having a big impact on an already fragile ecosystem
  • Cooperation on scientific research and environmental management must be encouraged to limit the damage, and as a way to build trust
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 9:07am

South China Morning Post

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The worst of nature’s battlefields are visible in the destroyed South China Sea coral reefs. Over the past five years, China has added more than 1,300 hectares to islands, reefs and atolls primarily on the Spratly archipelago, in the waters between Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines – which, along with China, Taiwan, and Brunei, have competing claims to the territories. Vietnam has likewise engaged in artificial island construction, albeit on a much smaller scale, as each claimant seeks, through varied means, to maximise their own position.

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Divers swim above a bed of dead corals off Malaysia’s Tioman island in the South China Sea May 4, 2008.Reuters/David Loh

The South China Sea’s complex and interconnected ecosystems need the voices of marine scientists to quell the degradation wrought by such island construction, as well as the overfishing and the harvesting of critical species that mar the region.

The rich marine biodiversity feeds on the patina of living corals and is home to a multibillion-dollar fishery industry, ranging from fleets of state-of-the art mega-trawlers to small wooden boats. Directly and indirectly, the South China Sea supports the food security, livelihoods, and quality of life of hundreds of millions of people.

The accelerating environmental peril in the South China Sea is inseparable from the territorial disputes that plague it. Increasing numbers of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other shallow-water ecosystems have been destroyed and buried primarily as a result of China’s push to stake concrete claims in the region. The land reclamation projects continue to undermine ecological connections between the Spratly Islands and waters of the South China Sea, choking off the supply of nutrients upon which these fragile ecosystems depend.

Coral rubble remains after "chopper" boats killed branching corals, which were subsequently further broken up by storm waves of blast fishing.

Coral rubble remains after “chopper” boats from China killed branching corals, which were subsequently further broken up by storm waves of blast fishing.

Within this troubled context, environmental cooperation is essential for the sea’s ecological future, and may offer a pathway for defusing strategic tension and building trust among claimants. Key leaders must be convinced to coalesce around environmental management and research, as well as setting rules for construction, amid the military posturing and economic nationalism that dominate the current status quo.

There are precedents for such cooperation and confidence-building in the South China Sea.

In the 2000s, the UN Environmental Programme led cooperative activities with support from all the major claimants to the sea. The project brought together scientists and marine experts to determine the sea’s greatest environmental challenges and map out potential responses.

Other bilateral and multilateral scientific cooperative activities, such as the Joint Oceanographic Marine Science Research Expedition in the South China Sea from 1996-2007, have pursued similar objectives. This project was initiated between the Philippines and Vietnam, to show others in the region that the challenges associated with territorial disputes could be mitigated through science.

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Filipino fish port workers prepare tuna for export in General Santos City in the Philippines. Coral reefs in the South China Sea sustain a rich marine biodiversity that is home to a multibillion-dollar fishery industry. Directly and indirectly, the South China Sea supports the food security, livelihoods and quality of life of hundreds of millions of people. Photo: EPA-EFE

In both cases, participants were less concerned with sovereignty and politics than with collecting and analysing scientific data, which contributed to civil and relatively uncontroversial collaboration. Despite the best efforts to create a space in which trusting relationships can exist among countries embroiled in fractious disputes, both projects fizzled out in the late 2000s. The research revealed that two-thirds of the fish stock was in a decline.

Nevertheless, the programmes’ objectives offer keen insights into how data sets and the common language of science can enrich public policy discussions. For example, some recently formed groupings facilitate exchanges between countries to discuss regional marine challenges.

Such collaboration has never been more critical, as the message is clear: fish, coral, mangrove, and seagrass stocks in the South China Sea have importance beyond their immediate marine environments, and are being disrupted at an unprecedented scale. As critical spawning grounds and early gestational habitats for aquatic resources, the shallow waters surrounding South China Sea reefs and archipelagos feeds stocks throughout the region. Once degradation passes critical thresholds, these resources may be irreparably damaged.

Hence, a growing food security challenge looms as the destruction of marine habitats combines with unsustainable overfishing practices. The latter is accelerated by growing demand for aquatic protein in Asia – a result of laudable development progress – and the uncertainty of future access fuelled by territorial disputes.

A giant clam shell, riddled with wormholes, sits amid dead coral from "chopper" boat operations.

A giant clam shell, riddled with wormholes, sits amid dead coral from “chopper” boat operations.


Garrett Hardin, author of The Tragedy of the Commons, laments the fate of oceans to “continue to suffer from the survival of the philosophy of the commons”, as maritime nations “bring species after species of fish and whales closer to extinction”. Unlike the air, soil and freshwater pollution eliciting a public backlash in Asia, much of the South China Sea degradation is going on in relative silence.

Addressing this challenge requires accurate scientific assessments of the current state of play. In the South China Sea, this means regional scientists gathering data and sharing information. For geopolitical and environmental management experts and practitioners, the task is to bring the findings to people and institutions in positions to drive more sustainable policies.

In combination, these strategies can yield tangible environmental outcomes while helping to modestly desensitise the territorial dispute. Sharing more data and connecting with one another through structured and regular multilateral dialogue and, more ambitiously, joint scientific marine expeditions is a goal worth pursuing.

Such cooperation is no panacea, and scientific exchanges in the South China Sea will continually intersect with geopolitical realities in ways that risk making them only peripherally about the environment. Regardless of strategic tensions, however, claimant nations can ill-afford not to seek scientific common ground through environmental cooperation. The currents wait for no one, and with marine life fast disappearing and fisheries collapsing, the urgency for science cannot be ignored any longer.

James Borton is a journalist writing about the Mekong region and the South China Sea and most recently edited Islands and Rocks in the South China Sea: Post-Hague Ruling. Jackson Ewing is a senior fellow at the Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

See also:

One Result Of China’s Buildup In South China Sea: Environmental Havoc


US Defense Chief’s Resignation Stirs Doubts in Asia about Help Resisting China

December 25, 2018

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Vietnam twice this year and suggested in October stronger relations as China bears down on Vietnamese maritime claims. In the Philippines a month later, Mattis swore to uphold a decades-old military alliance that helps Manila resist China. A U.S. naval ship passes through the South China Sea every couple of months or so as support for keeping the resource-rich waterway open, not just for Chinese use.

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

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

Moments like these raised Southeast Asia’s confidence in U.S. support after some nervousness when President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Mattis will quit January 1, in turn shaking that confidence.

Beijing has drilled for oil, built up islands or passed ships in South China Sea waters claimed as well by Vietnam, the Philippines and three other Asian governments. Weaker than China, the Southeast Asian states hoped the United States would help. Mattis advocated close relations with allies to resist authoritarian states.

“I suspect many leaders, be they in Southeast Asia or elsewhere, will just roll their eyes and think, ‘here we go again’” after Mattis leaves, said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York. “Mattis is different, as he…holds such a critical life-and-death cabinet post and is a firm believer in America’s alliances, as evidenced in his resignation letter to Trump.”

The U.S. Asia alliance spans democracies from Japan through South Korea and Taiwan into Southeast Asia. Many of those countries are trying to pare back the influence of China.

Sudden resignation

“It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies,” the 68-year-old ex-Marine Corps general wrote in his resignation letter to Trump.

“That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense,” the December 20 letter says.

Asian leaders found “reliability” in Mattis’s ties with Asia, said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei. The defense secretary made a particular impression by attending the Shangri-la Dialogue twice, telling Asia’s major annual defense summit in 2018 that the U.S. government would help its “partners” improve protection of their maritime interests.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan dispute Chinese expansion in the resource-rich South China Sea. Taiwan and Japan vie with Beijing separately over control of the East China Sea.

“He played a sort of force of reliability because at least as defense chief he did what he said and then when he made contact with every other country he was steady, giving them a sense of reliability, so other people’s trust in the United States won’t fall so fast,” Huang said.

Mattis quit a day after Trump announced the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, a move opposed by the defense department. European allies France, Sweden and the U.K. have already voiced concern about the resignation.

Among countries that claim the South China Sea, Vietnam will probably “miss” Mattis the most, King said. Vietnam has stood firmest against Beijing, he said, while other Asian maritime claimants look to the United States for security but to China for economic support.

Wait-and-watch phase

The U.S. withdrawal from Syria could show that Trump and his eventual new defense chief will later isolate Washington from its Asian allies, King said. China, he said, “would fill the vacuum.”

For the short term, expect leaders in Asia to wait nervously again as they did after Trump’s inauguration, analysts suggest.

“President Trump is playing demolition derby with his own cabinet and he’s going to be distracted and this is not the time to mount any significant foreign policy initiatives,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“If there’s any more restrained member of Trump’s cabinet left, now is not that time, because a whimsical management team would pull the rug from under their feet at any time,” he said. “So I think things will remain static.”

Trump will probably look for a new defense chief “who will listen to him,” Huang said.

Trump has said he would appoint Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as acting secretary on January 1 to replace Mattis.

Carpio on China: If you don’t protest, you give up your rights

December 10, 2018

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said not filing a diplomatic protest against China’s alleged aggression in the West Philippine Sea would be tantamount to giving up the country’s rights over the disputed waters.

The magistrate was reacting to a statement of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin that protesting Beijing’s aggression was “basically throwing pieces of paper at a brick wall.”

Carpio, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration’s handling of the West Philippine Sea dispute, stressed the importance of filing note verbales against China’s expansive claim, citing how diplomatic protests aided the country’s victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2016.

“We won in the Hague because we filed several, numerous protests, note verbales protesting China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Had we not made those protests, we could have lost,” Carpio told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.

READ: China Coast Guard shoo away Filipino TV news crew from Panatag Shoal

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Chinese Coast Guard vessel protects a Chinese oil well in the South China Sea near Vietnam  on June 13, 2014. Reuters FILE photo

He was referring to the landmark 2016 decision by the PCA that held that China had “no legal basis” to “claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’”.

Carpio was part of the legal team that argued the Philippines’ case before the Hague-based PCA.

The magistrate also explained how the Tribunal favored the Philippines after it protested China’s  nine-dash line map during the past administration.

“China submitted their nine-dash line map to the UN (United Nations) in 2009, and China said you did not object. But the UN said, the Tribunal said Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei the Philippines protested within a reasonable period… and because of that China cannot claim that the Philippines acquiesce,” he said.

“That was the basic decision, the very first preliminary decision of the Tribunal whether we acquiesce to the nine-dash line because that was the position of China but the Tribunal said the Philippines did not acquiesce and we protested through a note verbal timely,” he added.

READ: Palace: Gov’t probing China’s ‘bullying’ of TV crew in Panatag Shoal

Carpio stressed that “we won because we protested” on numerous occasions when China imposed its will in the West Philippine Sea.

“We show (the Tribunal) that we never accepted China’s claim because we kept on protesting and we won because we protested. If you don’t protest, you give up your rights and we don’t wanna do that,” he said. /cbb


Dominant China pushes for oil and gas deals in Asia

November 23, 2018

Joint exploration with Brunei and Philippines could help strengthen China’s maritime claims

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) and Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte inspect the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Malacanang palace grounds in Manila on November 20, 2018. Chinese President Xi Jinping called his visit on November 20 to long-time US ally the Philippines a “milestone”, as he aimed to boost blossoming ties on the promise of billions of dollars in backing for mega-projects.

AFP/Ted Aljibe

By John Reed in Bangkok and Lucy Hornby in Beijing

China is holding out the prospect of joint oil and gas development in disputed areas of the South China Sea as an inducement to its politically weaker south-east Asian neighbours, as it seeks to close off the waters to outsiders. Beijing has until now used its internationally unrecognised “Nine-Dash Line” claim to exercise a de facto veto on other countries’ attempts to exploit the rich mineral reserves within the disputed waters.

However, in visits to Brunei and the Philippines this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the signing of memoranda of understanding for joint oil and gas exploration and development with the two countries, promising to share the costs.

Critics in the region were quick to condemn China’s offer on energy, a core economic issue at the heart of the multiple territorial disputes in the region. They warned it risked creating new legal facts on the ground as tangible and permanent as the artificial islands and airstrips China is building in the sea.

“Signing the Chinese draft will make the Philippines recognise an unlawful ‘co-ownership’ with China of the West Philippine Sea,” two political opponents of the pro-Beijing President Rodrigo Duterte said in a resolution opposing the MoU as unconstitutional, and pressing the government to release a draft.  Journalists also pressed the government to release the full text of the MoU.

Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, the country’s foreign minister, demurred, saying that he would need China’s permission to release the full document. Brunei, an oil-rich sultanate that holds claim to many of the most promising portions of the sea, has also not released its MoU.

China, Philippines deepen ties in South China Sea

Mr Locsin described the Sino-Philippine MoU as “an agreement to agree”. He confirmed that the two governments would establish an inter-governmental steering committee and one or more “inter-entrepreneurial working groups” meant to pave the way for future joint exploration.

Industry specialists said that while joint exploration — much less drilling for oil and gas in partnership with Beijing — were still a distant prospect, the fact that the MoU was signed at all was a victory for Beijing.

“The MoU is politically significant,” said Eufracia Taylor, managing consultant for Asia-Pacific with Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy. “It stands as a win for Beijing in particular, which has successfully pushed its neighbour to prioritise exploration within its own exclusive economic zone on China’s terms.”

The Philippines needs the sea’s oil and gas more than China does. The country’s main gas deposit at Malampaya, off Palawan island, is due to run out of reserves by 2030, while Manila has been unable to explore a promising region in the South China Sea known as the Reed Bank because of Chinese pressure.

Underscoring the country’s weakness vis-à-vis China, Mr Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said that while a 2016 arbitration agreement recognised Manila’s claim over the EEZ, it was powerless to enforce it alone.

“There must be a collective action by the countries of the world either to persuade or pressure China into respecting [the arbitration] decision,” Mr Panelo said at a briefing before Mr Xi’s red-carpet welcome to the Malacañang Palace.  The agreements signed this week will have been watched elsewhere in the region, including Vietnam.

Hanoi has been more strident than most of its neighbours in rejecting China’s maritime claim, but is also struggling to get its offshore oil and gas plans in gear. Vietnam, under pressure from China, has since 2017 suspended two projects involving Repsol, the Spanish producer. Russia’s Rosneft in May began drilling on a gasfield in another part of the sea, but this brought a public reprimand from China’s foreign ministry.

Recommended Asia maritime tensions China and Philippines sign offshore oil and gas deal Mr Xi’s signing of the MoUs with the Philippines and Brunei came after Mr Xi’s stop in Papua New Guinea for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, where US-China rivalry and Beijing’s designs on the sea were on display.

China and the US are pushing south-east Asia to endorse very different visions of a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea. In its draft, China included wording that would exclude any country bordering the sea from undertaking joint military exercises with countries from outside the region, or from granting companies outside the region undersea mineral rights, without the approval of others.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said last week in Singapore that China hoped to conclude the code within three years.

Additional reporting by Stefania Palma in Singapore

Pence says South China Sea doesn’t belong to any one nation

November 16, 2018

The South China Sea does not belong to any one nation and the United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday, in a challenge to China which claims the waterway.


Li Keqiang, from left, Vladimir Putin, Lee Hsien Loong, Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Mike Pence.  Photographer: Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via Getty Images


The United States has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the contested South China Sea, angering China, which says the patrols threaten its sovereignty.

“The South China Sea doesn’t belong to any one nation, and you can be sure: The United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said.

China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have claims in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year.

Pence on Thursday told leaders of Southeast Asian nations there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that could be interpreted as a reference to China’s rise.

Speaking to a regional summit, Pence directly criticized China’s action in the South China Sea, according to a transcript of his remarks.

“Let me be clear: China’s militarization and territorial expansion in the South China Sea is illegal and dangerous. It threatens the sovereignty of many nations and endangers the prosperity of the world,” he said.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said no country, including the United States, had ever provided any evidence of problems with freedom of navigation or overflight in the South China Sea.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

“May I trouble you to remind Mr Pence, that the United States has yet to ratify the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS),” Hua told a daily news briefing.

“If the United States can at an early date ratify and abide by UNCLOS, then I think this will benefit even more the protection of peace and stability in the South China Sea area.”

The 1982 convention defines how coastal states are allowed to establish sovereignty over territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. China has signed and ratified it.

Pence’s comments follow a major speech in October in which he flagged a tougher U.S. approach toward China, accusing it of “malign” efforts to undermine U.S. President Donald Trump and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.

Reporting by John Geddie; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel



See also:

Without Trump, U.S. Gives Way to Putin in Asian Summit Line-Up

Calls for open trade to greet Pence as Trump skips Asia summit

November 11, 2018

Asia-Pacific leaders will join the heads of Southeast Asian states this week in Singapore to renew calls for multilateralism and fresh pledges to resolve regional conflicts ranging from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to tensions in the South China Sea.

Notably absent when regional powers such as China, Japan and India seek to enlist support for a multilateral trading system will be U.S. President Donald Trump, whose decision to skip the Asia summit has raised questions about his commitment to a regional strategy aimed at checking China’s rise.

Vice President Mike Pence will attend instead of Trump, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those expected to join leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Image result for mike pence, photos

Mike Pence

Li is expected to rally support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact now being negotiated, showcased to be the free trade deal that will encompass more than a third of the world’s GDP.

The pact includes 16 countries, including China, India, Japan and South Korea, but not the United States.

Trump has demanded trade agreements that are fair and enforceable and based on the principle of reciprocity. He has re-negotiated an existing pact with South Korea and the three-way deal with Mexico and Canada, and pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which involved four Southeast Asian states.

The United States is also in the midst of a bitter trade war with China which has undermined global markets.

China is pushing the RCEP deal – Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong told reporters on Thursday it “will be of great significance for deepening regional cooperation, coping with unilateralism and protectionism, and promoting an open, inclusive and rules-based international trading system.”

However, Li is expected to appeal in Singapore for the need for the world’s two largest economies to work together to resolve trade disputes, reiterating commitment made by Beijing’s top leaders last week for market opening and lowering tariffs.

It was not clear if Li and Pence will hold separate talks on the sidelines of the Singapore meetings, which would be a prelude to a summit scheduled between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the month in Buenos Aires.

The encounter, if it happens, would come on the heels of high-level talks in Washington where the two sides aired their main differences but appeared to attempt controlling the damage to relations that has worsened with tit-for-tat tariffs in recent months.

Many of the leaders in Singapore will also meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea next weekend.

ASEAN, which will hold its own summit on Tuesday before being joined by other leaders, also faces the challenge of working through sharp differences over the handling of the Rohingya minority by Myanmar whose military has been accused of “genocidal intent” by the United Nations.

Leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to attend the Singapore meetings this week while Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, attending his first multilateral summit since returning to power in May, has served notice he has lost faith in the Nobel peace laureate over the issue.

The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967, and it is one of the thorniest issues yet faced by a group that traditionally works by consensus.

Many diplomats and rights activists say ASEAN’s credibility is at risk if it fails to tackle the matter head-on.

At the meetings, ASEAN and China will try to make headway in negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety while ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the area. Taiwan is also a claimant.

But an agreement is unlikely to be announced.

Also, ASEAN members states may announce the successful conclusion of agreements with Russia and the United States on cooperating on cyber security.

Reporting by Jack Kim; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Roberta Rampton in Washington



Philippines join Asean-China maritime drills later this month

October 8, 2018

The navies of Asean nations and China will launch its first-ever maritime drills later this month amid ongoing maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines will join the exercises hosted by China in Zhanjiang from Oct. 22 to 29, Defense spokesperson Dir. Arsenio Andolong told reporters Monday.

philippine flag


It is still undetermined which vessel the Philippine Navy would be sending for the exercises.

“At the moment, the only thing certain are the dates which is Oct. 22 to 29 and the Philippines is participating,” he said, adding that Navy chief Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad is likely to attend the exercise.

Asean and China navies conducted tabletop exercises in Singapore last August but the actual drills would only take place this October.

Andolong said that defense ministers earlier agreed that the drills, which was originally proposed by China, would not take place in contested areas. Hence, it was decided to be held in Zhanjiang, located in the southwestern end of Guangdong province.

The drills would focus on cooperation and responding to maritime incidents at sea.

“We hope to deepen our understanding [with them] and we are also exploring the possibilities of finding ways to improve the unexpected encounters and sea protocols,” Andolong said.

China continues to assert its “indisputable sovereignty” over almost the entire South China Sea despite its massive claims being invalidated by an international arbitration court in The Hague in 2016, in a case filed by the Philippines.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei are the other Asean member states which have claims in the South China Sea, aside from the Philippines, China and Taiwan.

Non-claimant Asean states include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

A defense analyst told early this year that the Asean drills with China was “tantamount to rewarding Beijing for its bad behavior.”

“The Chinese military will also use these exercises to establish direct contacts with their military not for confidence-building measures but more on networking to co-opt and influence Asean militaries, with the Philippine military fast turning into the most vulnerable one for cooptation due to the pro Beijing policy of Duterte and the willingness of some within the Philippine military institution to advance their careers by advancing pro-China policies within the services,” Jose Custodio said in June.

He added that confidence-building measures have been “abused” by China since the 1990s when it lied about its presence in Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) by saying that they only built fishermen shelters.

International maritime security expert Collin Koh said that the drills would be confidence-building measures at best but would not actually help in the ongoing sea disputes.

“Even where it concerns confidence-building, I also have reservations about the impact it has on actually moderating behavior of the claimants, not least China. If I can just be blunt: even if this exercise takes place and becomes a regular event, the claimants will still most plausibly continue with their respective activities to maintain and even enhance their possessions in the disputed waters, including militarization,” he said. /je


Hope, skepticism over first-ever Asean-China maritime drills this year

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