Posts Tagged ‘China’s land reclamation’

South China Sea, Update — China Air Forces Exercises, Indonesia Makes its Claim

July 17, 2017

BEIJING — Jul 17, 2017, 2:55 AM ET

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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INDONESIA RENAMES PART OF SOUTH CHINA SEA TO SECURE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE

Indonesia has named waters in its exclusive economic zone that overlap with China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, an assertion of sovereignty that has angered Beijing.

The decision announced Friday by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs has been in the works since mid-2016 and was vital to law enforcement at sea and securing Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, said Arif Havas Oegroseno, the deputy minister for maritime sovereignty.

He said the name would reduce confusion and is already used by the oil and gas industry for the waters.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at a regular news briefing that the “so-called change of name makes no sense at all.”

“We hope the relevant countries can work with China for the shared goal and jointly uphold the current hard-won sound situation in the South China Sea,” he said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, putting it in dispute with many Southeast Asian nations, and has carried out extensive land reclamation and construction on reefs and atolls to bolster its claims.

Indonesia doesn’t have a territorial dispute with China, but Beijing’s nine-dash line, which signifies its claims, overlaps with Indonesia’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone extending from the Natuna islands.

“The map of Indonesia has clear coordinates, dates and data, and the government would not negotiate with other nations that make unconventional claims … including those who insist on a map of nine broken lines,” Oegroseno said.

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A YEAR AFTER HAGUE ARBITRATION RULING, CHINA REMAINS DEFIANT

Filipino officials behind an arbitration case in which the Philippines won a resounding victory over China last year are expressing alarm that Beijing continues to defy the decision, in what they are calling a setback to the rule of law.

Last week, they urged President Rodrigo Duterte, who has indefinitely set aside the decision that invalidated China’s sweeping historic claims in the South China Sea, to explore diplomatic and legal means by which to pressure China into complying.

Duterte has promised to take up the arbitration ruling with China before his six-year term ends in 2022, but is also courting China as an economic partner and possible security ally. His administration says his pragmatic outreach has calmed tensions, revived dialogue and reaped pledges of huge Chinese investments and other benefits.

“Despite its friendlier face, we do not see restraint in China’s militarization and unlawful activity in the West Philippine Sea,” said former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who spearheaded moves to bring the Philippines’ disputes with China to international arbitration in 2013. He cited China’s moves to fortify its seven man-made islands in the Spratly group with missile defense systems.

Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said China is reneging on its treaty obligation because it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea under which the arbitration decision was based.

China last week marked the anniversary of the ruling with the relatively mild language it has adopted toward the Philippines in recent months. “With the joint efforts by China and the Philippines over the past year, the dispute has been brought back to the peaceful settlement through dialogue and consolation, and bilateral ties have improved overall,” spokesman Geng Shuang said.

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PHILIPPINES SEES TRADE BENEFITS IN LOW-KEY APPROACH TO DISPUTES WITH CHINA

Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez has predicted faster growth of economic ties with China following Manila’s decision to effectively shelve their territorial disputes.

Lopez said in an interview with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post last week that the Philippines’ “realistic and practical” approach to those controversies would encourage Chinese trade and investment and help the country meet its ambitious economic growth target of 7-8 percent over the coming five years.

“I credit it to the wisdom of (Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte) to really be more realistic and practical, to consider the positive points of having a relationship with China renewed,” Lopez told the newspaper.

“He has mentioned in many of his statements that, ‘Why fight China when we can set aside the differences and focus on areas of cooperation, focus on how China and the Philippines can help in mutual growth?'” Lopez said.

Exports of Philippine bananas and mangos to China and Hong Kong grew by 34 percent in the first five months of this year following the lifting of Chinese restrictions, he said, much higher than the 14 percent rate for the rest of the world.

Lopez said he also backed allowing Chinese to visit for a week visa-free as a further boost to business ties.

“If you want to explore business opportunities and therefore you want to visit the Philippines and meet the people, that is something we can look at,” he said.

The Philippines has become “much safer” to do business in since Duterte launched his bloody war on drug dealers and addicts, with the crime rate dropping 53 percent over the past year, Lopez said. Some 5,000 suspects have died so far in the campaign, and human rights group have called for an independent investigation into Duterte’s possible role in the violence.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

Related:

 (Contains links to several more related articles)

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Dominance of the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean would solidify China’s One Belt One Road project
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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” (what Bill Hayton calls the U-shaped line) was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.
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China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning at Hong Kong
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 (Contains links to information about Vietnam’s renewed efforts to extract oil and gas from the sea bed)

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China-Vietnam agreement signals regional shift in the South China Sea

September 25, 2016

By 

China-Vietnam agreement signals regional shift in the South China Sea

Amidst China’s land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea, what does its recent ‘agreement’ with Vietnam represent and what are the broader regional and global implications?

China has shown clear disregard for the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that it had no legal jurisdiction to back up its tendentious 9-dashed-line claim. Such disregard has alarmed the Philippines (who filed the arbitration case), and drawn the ire of the other states in Southeast Asia.

According to China, that ruling – based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – is unjust and biased in the west’s favour. China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, stated that China seeks ‘to resolve relevant disputes through bilateral consultations and negotiations’. But how exactly will these negotiations work, against a backdrop of growing geopolitical friction in those disputed waters?

Vietnam reflects new outlook

The recent agreement between China and Vietnam provides the strongest clue yet as to the nature of China’s ‘diplomacy’. Last Tuesday, China and Vietnam agreed to manage their territorial dispute in the South China Sea in order to safeguard regional stability. But this agreement, according to Forbes’ Ralph Jennings, means that China will now push to build infrastructure in Vietnam.

The relationship between China and Vietnam is a precarious one. Whilst Vietnam is wary of China’s growing influence (and has responded by significantly increasing its defence procurement spending), China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner.

China’s agreement with Vietnam reflects its nuanced outlook to the South China Sea dispute. It is forging key economic arrangements with Southeast Asian states that will afford China greater access to that region over the long term.

Last January, two Chinese firms were involved in multi-billion-dollar bailouts of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the embattled sovereign investment fund. In Indonesia, Chinese investment jumped fivefold between 2015 and 2016. As previously reported, China has surpassed the U.S as Indonesia’s chief source of foreign investment in infrastructure. Whether concerning investment, trade or otherwise, there are many other recent examples showing how China has used its politico-economic power to gain regional influence.

Edging out the U.S.

These agreements reflect a shift in China’s foreign policy outlook, as it seeks to gain respect from its neighbours vis-à-vis articulating a distinct, anti-U.S rhetoric. Effectively, what is being witnessed is a contest between China and America to be perceived as the stabilising power in the region. Each party has attempted to cast doubt over its rival, which has led to escalating tensions and growing mistrust.

With neither American presidential candidate showing interest in ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, there are signs that it may fall through. America is not winning the hearts and minds battle, in this respect. This will be particularly true if Donald Trump prevails in November.

China will also be delighted about Duterte’s recent fallout with President Obama, which reflects latent anti-American sentiment in Manila. The U.S Department of Justice’s investigation into 1MDB can also hardly have helped relations between Putrajaya and Washington.

China is seizing the moment to edge U.S out and transform the regional status quo, reflecting the bid to reclaim its historical preeminence. At least, it is trying to strong-arm its way into that position. This is a vision infused with a mixture of nationalistic sentiment and strong outrage at state humiliation, thinly veiled as President Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’.

As far as China is concerned, the U.S is not (or ought not to be) a relevant partner in these maritime border negotiations. The notion that it must conduct military patrols to ensure the peace of the region is just political pretext that reinforces regional aggression and tension.

The Russia-China joint naval drills that recently concluded in the South China Sea, hint at Moscow’s support for Beijing in light of the Hague ruling. But they equally connote the anti-American solidarity that bonds these two countries.

‘One Belt, One Road’: a classic quid-pro-quo

China has put forward the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) project as a contrast to the US-centric TPP – which had sought to exclude China. In essence, OBOR involves sending companies to develop key infrastructure overseas in return for Chinese access – extending Beijing’s global influence. The ‘belt’ will feature key economies across Eurasia, whereas the ‘road’ will occupy Asia and parts of Africa – and crucially the majority of Southeast Asia.

Of course, this is not a cushy arrangement for those states concerned. President Xi likely believes that the particularly dependent states will accept China’s geopolitical domination in return for extensive economic investment. Xi is using his country’s financial influence as a bargaining chip in a quid-pro-quo arrangement that encourages those countries to subdue their reactions to China’s territorial aggression.

Around this time last year Xi made a vow not to militarize the Spratly Islands. But he was far from transparent about his actual intentions in the region. Beijing has possibly been biding its time. Reports even suggest that it will pounce to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal, during the conclusion of the U.S presidential elections – when America’s back is turned. Whether or not this happens, what has been taking place is a key geopolitical shift in the South China Sea and more broadly Southeast Asia. China is making key arrangements to consolidate its regional bargaining power, for if and when a real ‘crisis’ does eventually materialise.

Conclusion

When Liu Xiaoming met with key political officials on 25 July, at Chatham House, he painted an admirable picture of Chinese diplomacy. ‘[W]hat unite China and the United States is more important than what divides us’, he asserted. But faced with increasingly difficult questions, and pushed for clarification on his country’s aspirations, Liu became increasingly defensive and accused his questioner of a ‘Cold War mentality’.

If this is anything to go by, then tensions are palpable between China and the West regarding this dispute. As the new U.S. president is inaugurated [sic] on 8 November, the world will be keen to know how they plan to respond to China and her resurgent quest for Pax Sinica. This first test for the infant government will be a stern one; any miscalculation could result in a sudden escalation of conflict.

Source http://globalriskinsights.com/2016/09/china-vietnam-agreement-south-china-sea/

Related:

 (Ties to South China Sea, giant clams, pangolins, coral reef destruction, etc)

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Chinese Joint Sea 2016 with Russia featured this taskforce led by the Type 052C destroyer Zhengzhou, consisting of some of China’s most modern warships. Credit Xinhua
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool
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Vietnam has long worried about China’s theft of Vietnamese natural resources, including fish and oil. In this photos a Chinese Coast Guard vessel (R) passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (L) in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam June 13, 2014. REUTERS/Nguyen Minh

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Fishing boats set sail from Tongling port in Dongshan County, southeast China’s Fujian Province, Aug. 1, 2015.

 (“China risks becoming a pariah nation because of its overfishing, illegal fishing and damage to the global ocean environments….”)

China Coast Guard — In this photo released by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters of Japan, a Chinese coastguard vessel sails near the disputed islands in the East China Sea on August 6, 2016. Japan said this ship was watching over more than 200 Chinese fishing boats fishing illegally in Japanese waters. AP

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South China Sea: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Says U.S. Has Not Been Able To Change China’s Plan, Maybe U.S. Needs To Revise Its Own Strategy

April 30, 2016

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By Victor Beattie

The United States has increasingly carried out whathave been called freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

This month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited a warship in the South China Sea in an effort to show America’s commitment to security in the area.

The exercises involve Navy ships and military aircraft. In a freedom of navigation operation, they are sent toareas where other countries have tried to restrict flightsor shipping. The aim is to demonstrate that theinternational community does not accept such restrictions.

The freedom of navigation operations have brought strong reactions fromChina.

Now, some U.S. lawmakers have called on the Obama Administration to carry out more operations close to artificial islands China is developing in the disputed waterway.

Bob Corker of Tennessee is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He expressed his ideas on Wednesday.

He spoke before Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the committee.

Testifying on US-China relations before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on all parties in the South China Sea – not just China – to resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner and with adherence to international law and standards. AP file photo

Corker said the freedom of navigation exercises have not slowed China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea.

Neither the rhetoric nor the freedom of navigation operations have deterred or slowed down China’s land reclamation activities, including the stationing of military-related assets on these artificial islands.”

He said that China could take further actions if an international court rules against it in its maritime territorial dispute with the Philippines. And he warned such a ruling could place American interests at risk.

“But merely managing differences with China is not a successful formula,particularly when such management cedes U.S. influence and places American interests at risk in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

In his comments, Blinken said the number of freedom of navigation operationscarried out by the U.S. military has increased. He added that they willcontinue.

Recent news reports, notably in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, say China may be considering plans to develop other areas beyond the Spratly Islands

The reports say the U.S. Pacific Command has sent warplanes close to Scarborough Shoal, west of the Philippines. China is believed to have carried out survey work in that area. Those U.S. flights brought a sharp response from China.

China claims most of the South China Sea as its territory. However, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims to different parts of the area.

Nanjing University security expert Zhu Feng said he could not rule out Chinese construction of a lighthouse or a maritime monitoring post on Scarborough Shoal. However, he said a large land reclamation would there would be out of the question. The Wall Street Journal reported his comments.

Victor Beattie reported this story for VOA News.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/us-lawmaker-more-operations-south-china-sea/3307230.html

Related:

 (SCMP)

China’s missile destroyer CNS Harbin conducts live fire exercises during a joint naval drill with Russia in 2014. Credit Zha Chunming, China Daily

 (Contains links to several related articles)

 (Washington Post)

 (The Wall Street Journal)

Protecting the Rule of Law on the South China Sea

April 1, 2016

A decision at The Hague against China’s land reclamation would need the support of the U.S.

March 31, 2016 12:33 p.m. ET

Later this year, The Hague is expected to render its decision in a dispute over China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Most observers expect the court to rule against Beijing. Few expect Beijing to take such a verdict lightly.

The case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, argues that China’s Spratly Island activities violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Specifically, it maintains that Beijing has been building in and extracting resources from the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, making spurious claims to water and airspace, and that China’s “historical” claims to waters within the nine-dash line are invalid.

But not only has Beijing boycotted the proceedings, it has literally continued to cement its position by reclaiming land and building bases on the Spratly Islands. China will likely thus continue undeterred, and seek to undermine any ruling against it in defiance of the court.

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the Philippines’ military chief, points to a reference map of islands in the Spratly group of islands during his visit to Pag-asa Island in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines in May 2015. PHOTO:ASSOCIATED PRESS

In fact, the court’s decision could spark regional tensions. So far, Chinese reclamation, construction and militarization in the South China Sea have occurred only on features Beijing already controls. The concern now is that Beijing might start contesting control or building on features currently administered by other countries. A recent statement by U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson suggests that the geographically valuable Scarborough Shoal may be the next target. This would represent a major escalation.

Not only regional security, but U.S. interests are directly a risk. The U.S. has a stake in preserving international law, the freedom of navigation, the peaceful resolution of disputes and the upholding of U.S. treaty commitments. All of these are directly threatened if China continues unabated in the South China Sea.

The 1951 U.S.-Philippines mutual-defense treaty, for instance, pledges U.S. defensive aid if Manila’s “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft” are attacked. But U.S. leaders have been reluctant to repeat this pledge in official statements. Nor have they stated whether it applies to Philippine-held territory in the South China Sea.

With six claimants and hundreds of land features in the Spratly Islands, clarifying the U.S. commitment is not without risk. Washington’s relationship with Beijing could be damaged. But continued ambiguity could also lead to an unwanted crisis or conflict with an emboldened China.

To uphold regional security, the U.S. should therefore clarify that the mutual-defense treaty applies to Philippine forces operating in the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has an opportunity to do so during his visit to the Philippines later this month.

The U.S. should also declare that it will directly challenge any attempt to seize or build on features occupied by other countries. The Obama administration’s efforts to prevent reclamation, construction or militarization on Chinese-held features in the South China Sea have so far failed, but the U.S. must not tolerate the seizure of additional features.

Rumors of Chinese activity at Scarborough Shoal are particularly concerning. China wrested control of Scarborough from the Philippines in 2012 despite efforts by the Obama administration to mediate a resolution. Should it successfully build a base there, Beijing would gain a strong perch from which to enforce the northeast portion of a potential South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.

To support its commitment to the region, the U.S. should substantially increase its regional military presence in and near the South China Sea in advance of the court’s decision. There is good news on this front. The U.S. and the Philippines recently announced that U.S. forces will have access to five facilities in the Philippines as part of the bilateral Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. A robust, sustained, and visible presence by U.S. ships and aircraft will help demonstrate to China and the other states in the region that the U.S. has the capability and will to uphold the rules-based order.

This is a perilous time in the South China Sea. The Philippines has staked its claims on the outcome of its legal case before The Hague, and China has forewarned of its intent to thwart the decision. If Washington appears unwilling to affirm and legitimize the court’s decision, Beijing will likely continue to alter the regional status quo and Asian states will wonder whether the U.S. committed to actively upholding the rules-based order. China isn’t the only big country with vital interests in the South China Sea.

Mr. Cooper is a fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Ms. Rapp-Hooper is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/protecting-the-rule-of-law-on-the-south-china-sea-1459441981

China to expand maritime rescue mission amid military build-up in the South China Sea

February 29, 2016

By Teddy Ng and Stephen Chen
South China Morning Post

China is on a mission to expand maritime rescue facilities in the disputed South China Sea as it also pushes ahead with efforts to bolster its defences in the area, observers said.

After pursuing a major reclamation programme in the waters, it would focus on construction of facilities on the islands, they said, adding that vessels of different sizes and functions are ready for deployment to the waters.

Tensions on the South China Sea – which is largely claimed by Beijing but contested by Taiwan and its neighbours – are mounting over Beijing’s military deployments in the area, with reports suggesting it has stationed missiles and radars on both the Paracel and Spratly island chains.

Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, said on Wednesday that the US would increase freedom-of-navigation operations in the sea because of China’s military build-up. China’s defence ministry countered by saying Beijing could deploy whatever equipment it wanted on its territory because of US “militarisation” there.

China now has fighter jets deployed to Woody Island. Photo: J-11 Chinese fighter

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said China would continue installing military facilities in the South China Sea because the US had sent vessels and aircraft to 12 nautical miles of waters from islands controlled by China.

READ MORE: China’s land reclamation in South China Sea grows, claims Pentagon report

But he added that some of these facilities, such as lighthouses in Cuarteron Reef and Johnson Reef, and radars, would also be used for maritime rescue operations and weather services.

“Rescue facilities in the South China Sea are seriously inadequate, as reflected by the search for flight MH370 two years ago,” Wu said, referring to the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014.

“Rescue operations over the South China Sea are mainly handled by China under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue. China will build more facilities to ensure navigation safety.”

Some of the reefs would be used to expand maritime research with neighbouring countries, Wu said, adding that China will allow other countries to use facilities on the islands, such as hospitals.

“Hopefully, through such steps, China can show the international community that one of its main aims is to provide public goods,” he said.

Fishing and tourism would be central to development of the island chains, enabling bigger fishing vessels to use the area. And commercial exploration for deep-sea gas would be stepped up, Wu said.

An engineering researcher from Shanghai Jiao Tong University said China would also design and build bigger vessels and dredgers to develop the area.

READ MORE: US-China talks fail to ease tensions over South China Sea, but ‘progress’ made on North Korea nuclear test

Beijing sent the Tianjing, the world’s third-biggest self-propelled cutter-suction dredger, to the waters for reclamation projects in 2010, and more ships would be needed to make more of the South China Sea accessible, he said.

The researcher, who was involved in the design of Tianjing, said there were many problems in the early stages of the South China Sea land reclamation projects, and the experience made the government aware of the need for super-sized dredgers.

Many islands in the region sat on the top of very sheer sea mountains, complicating efforts to expand the land area. And huge waves often made engineering operations impossible, the researcher said.

But China had amassed a wealth of data through these activities, which would help with the design and construction of new vessels, the researcher added.

“So the most important role of a large dredger is not the labour-intensive work of land reclamation, but as a spearhead to tear an opening for other vessels to previously inaccessible areas,” he said.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/1918440/china-expand-maritime-rescue-mission-amid-build-south

Related:

One of China’s cutter suction dredgers:  Tian Jing Hao

Many well respected environmentalists and ocean experts have been critical of China for inflicting so much environmental damage upon the South China Sea.

Related:

 (Bill Hayton says China’s claims to the South China Sea are not legally valid)

Chinese vessel sank fishing boat in Vietnamese waters: authorities

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South China Sea islands: facts on a decades-long dispute

February 17, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Sunset in Sansha on Yongxing, one of the disputed Paracel Islands

BEIJING (AFP) – A decades-long, multi-pronged dispute over territory in the South China Sea escalated this week with the claim that Beijing has put missile batteries on a contested island in the region.

Commentators say the 3 million square kilometres (1.16 million square miles) of water is a potential flashpoint for regional conflict.

Here are five key questions about the sea and the issues around it.

– What’s there and who’s disputing it?

It’s mostly empty, and hundreds of the small islands, islets and rocks are not naturally able to support human settlement. Significant chains include the Paracels in the north, and the Spratlys in the south.

But everyone surrounding the sea — Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, tiny Brunei, Taiwan and, most significantly, China — lay claim to some part of it. Beijing says it has sovereignty over almost the whole area, citing an ill-defined “nine-dash line” originating in 1940s-era maps as proof.

– If there’s nothing there, why is there any dispute?

Scientists believe that the seabed could contain unexploited oil, gas and minerals, which would be a boon to any country that can establish their claims to the region’s waters, especially in resource-hungry Asia. It’s also home to abundant fisheries that feed growing populations.

But the sea’s key value is strategic. Shipping lanes vital to world trade pass through it, carrying everything from raw materials to finished products, as well as enormous quantities of oil.

Beijing views the South China Sea as its own backyard, a place where it is entitled to free, uninterrupted rein and where its growing navy should be able to operate unhampered.

– How are these disputes playing out?

For years now, various claimants have been fortifying and building up the tiny reefs and islets to bolster their claims to ownership.

China’s land-reclamation programme has been particularly aggressive. Satellite pictures now show inhabited islands where there was once only submerged coral.

Many have multiple facilities, including some with runways long enough for huge commercial or military planes.

Beijing insists its intent is peaceful and the features it is constructing are for civilian use, such as maritime rescue, as well as military purposes.

The US and others suspect China is trying to assert its sovereignty claims by changing the facts on the ground, and say that it could pose threats to the free passage of ships through the region’s waters and air space.

– What’s happened this week?

Commercial satellite operators have published pictures that reportedly show the presence of missile launchers on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain over which China has had control for decades.

Taiwan Wednesday confirmed it believed Beijing had moved batteries there.

When challenged, China did not deny the claims, but insisted anything it had done was “consistent with the right to self-preservation and self-protection”.

Reports on the weapons said they were surface-to-air missiles with a range of about 200 kilometres (125 miles), which would suggest they are not targeted at anything on land.

– What will happen next?

The United States and its ally Australia have carried out a number of so-called “Freedom of Navigation” overflights and sail-bys in the region.

They say they are asserting the right of any sovereign nation to use international waters and skies. China calls these operations “provocations” and insists they are violations of its territory.

With the South China Sea home to runways capable of launching fighter jets that could patrol over the sea, and now missiles that could threaten wayward planes, the stakes in the dispute have got higher.

South China Sea: Japan, Allies Must Remain Vigilant

December 14, 2015

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi arrive for a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi December 12, 2015. India and Japan are likely to finalize an agreement on protection of military information during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip beginning on Friday that will the lay the ground for Japanese arms sales to India, including seaplanes. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By Masanori Nishi
The Defense News

2015 was a fruitful year for Japanese security policy; the coming year will be an absolutely critical one for the region.

The Guidelines for the Japan-US Defense Cooperation were significantly revised in April, the Ministry of Defense organization was streamlined in June with the new Acquisition Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) becoming operational on Oct. 1 and — most importantly — new regulations for security policy were passed by the Diet in September.

It is important to note that Japan over the decades has regularly reinterpreted its Constitution to match its changing security environment. The guidelines were first adopted in 1978 to draft joint Japan-US operational plans for the first time after the nations concluded their bilateral security treaty in 1952. They were revised in 1997 to meet the new security environment after the end of the Cold War together with the emerging threat of a nuclear North Korea.

The new guidelines make alliance management smoother by introducing the new bilateral consultation mechanism to meet the evolving security situation in the Far East. For the first time, they include cooperation in joint research, development, production, and testing and evaluation of equipment; and in mutual provision of components of common equipment and services.

Since April 2014 Japan can have codevelopment of weapon systems with allies, like highly capable conventional submarines with Australia.

The “Legislation for Peace and Security” enabled the Abe administration to modestly expand the concept of “collective self-defense” to enlarge Japan’s role and options in the region through its alliance with the US. The goal is to improve Far East stability and security.

Japanese and Philippine ships take part in a joint naval exercise May 13, 2015. AFP photo

The New National Defense Program Guidelines, scheduled to be revised in 2018, will present a new concept for the defense of Japan.

Unfortunately, the security environment in East Asia is not peaceful. An issue causing great security anxiety is North Korea’s development of nuclear and missile capabilities. Although this has not escalated to cause an urgent crisis, it is of growing concern.

China’s land-reclamation activities in the South China Sea are another difficult issue that most likely will stay unsolved in 2016. How China will respond — other than with strong words — to the USS Lassen’s recent freedom of navigation operation near one of these “islands” is not clear yet.

Closer to home, we have concerns with Chinese challenges regarding the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

China is very anxious about taking any action that would or might lead to a serious deterioration of relations with the US. Despite tough talk, Beijing has tended to avoid direct conflict and preferred to respond indirectly. How, exactly, remains unclear, but it is worth looking at its island-building as a guide. After China declared a large air defense identification zone over the East China Sea in 2013, Washington sent a B-52 bomber through the “blind” part of the zone. Learning lessons from that case, China is building islands in the South China Sea on which to put radars and air defense missiles, an initiative that might be for a future ADIZ announcement in the South China Sea.

It is important that Tokyo, Washington and our allies coordinate and adjust day-to-day, as what China will do next is beyond our imagination. China is continually testing boundaries. In this escalating game, we must be vigilant.

An equally major concern is the slowdown of the global economy that will have serious implications for China and might still shake the global economy. The US Federal Reserve is going to raise interest rates in the near future and this will have some impact on China. The 1997 Asian fiscal crisis teaches an important lesson on how closely the economy and security are related.

To end on a positive note, I hope that 2016 will see the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement become a reality, and a demonstration of American and Japanese leadership and cooperation.

Nishi is Japan’s former vice minister of defense.

http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/commentary/2015/12/13/commentary-japan-allies-must-remain-vigilant-south-china-sea/76935916/

China to Obama: Back off from South China Sea dispute

November 19, 2015

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President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino III in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, ahead of the start of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. AP/Susan Walsh

MANILA, Philippines – Beijing on Wednesday warned United States President Barack Obama to keep out of the South China Sea issue.

“The United States should stop playing up the South China Sea issue, stop heightening tensions in the South China Sea and stop complicating disputes in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press briefing.

Obama earlier called on China to halt all reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea and South China so as to ease tensions in the disputed seas.

READ: Obama: China must stop all reclamation

The Chinese official, however, stressed that no country has the right to “point fingers” at China’s massive reclamation activities.

The American leader said in a statement after a bilateral meeting with President Benigno Aquino III that they discussed the impacts of China’s reclamation and construction activities on regional stability.

“We agreed on the need for bold steps to lower tensions including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea,” Obama said.

Obama earlier assured the commitment of the US to defend its longtime ally, the Philippines.

The US president is in the country for the 23rd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

RELATED: Obama: US has ‘rock solid’ commitment to defend Philippines

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/11/19/1523660/china-obama-back-sea-dispute

Related here on Peace and Freedom:

Obama ups pressure on China

November 18, 2015

‘STOP BUILDING ARTIFICIAL ISLANDS IN DISPUTED SEA’

Ny Nikko Dizon
The Philippine Inquirer

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday told China to stop building artificial islands in the hotly contested South China Sea, increasing the pressure on Beijing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Leaders’ Meeting in Manila.

Obama and President Aquino met on the sidelines of the summit, and agreed that “bold steps” were needed to ease tensions that had been heightened by China’s land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago to bolster its claim to nearly the whole of the West Philippine Sea.

President Aquino said freedom of navigation and overflight in the area must be continuously ensured, consistent with international law.

The annual Apec gathering is meant to forge unity on trade issues among 21 Pacific Rim economies of 3 billion people.

But the territorial row over the strategically vital sea, as well as terrorism concerns following Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, have dominated the buildup to this week’s meeting in Manila.

China has repeatedly insisted its rows with its Southeast Asian neighbors over the disputed waters, home to some of the world’s most important shipping routes and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast oil and natural gas reserves, should not be on the Apec agenda.

But just hours before the two-day summit started, Obama voiced concerns over giant land reclamation works by China that have created new islands close to the Philippines.

“We discussed the impact of China’s land reclamation and construction activities on regional stability,” Obama told reporters after meeting President Aquino.

“We agree on the need for bold steps to lower tensions, including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas,” Obama said.

On Tuesday, Obama announced more than $250 million in maritime aid to the United States’ Southeast Asian allies, including two warships for the Philippines.

China claims nearly all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer West Philippine Sea, even waters close to the shores of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Apec members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have rival claims to parts of the sea.

US challenge

The United States refuses to recognize China’s expansive claims, challenging these recently with a US Navy patrol near at least one artificial island that China had built in the Spratlys and flying two B-52 bombers near the contested islands.

Chinese state media hit what it described as US meddling over the sea.

“Washington’s recent provocative moves have infringed upon Beijing’s maritime sovereignty and security in the South China Sea,” the China Daily wrote in a commentary.

“But China is not one to give in when it comes to its territorial, maritime and security interests, and the US is unlikely to succeed in its designs by instigating Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to challenge China’s maritime rights in the South China Sea,” it said.

Defense cooperation

Obama and President Aquino emphasized that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), the legality of which has yet to be decided by the Supreme Court, would boost their strategies to ensure maritime security in the area

“We recognize, with the deepest appreciation, the significant contribution to our efforts by the United States’ contribution that help us ensure that we can ably respond to current security challenges, particularly in the area of maritime security and maritime domain awareness,” President Aquino said after his meeting with Obama.

Mr. Aquino said Edca would make defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States “that much more real,” adding that the agreement would allow the Philippines access to “the most modern technology that [would give] us . . . higher capabilities.”

“That is why we welcome now with very open arms this agreement pending in our Supreme Court,” Mr. Aquino said.

He said US access to Philippine military bases would enable it to project its power in the Asia-Pacific, helping to bring order and stability and diffusing tensions in the region.

‘Rock-solid commitment’

Obama reiterated the United States’ “rock-solid commitment to the defense of the Philippines,” and promised to help build up the Philippine military and establish a “more effective cooperation for defense and humanitarian work.”

“We think that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is going to help us do that,” he said.

Still, both leaders said the disputes should be resolved peacefully.

President Aquino said he and Obama discussed how “international law should remain the framework for the behavior of all countries and for the peaceful resolution of disputes.”

The Philippines has taken its territorial dispute with China to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for resolution, angering China, which has refused to participate and said it would not recognize any decision of the tribunal.

Mr. Aquino said other claimants had shown interest in arbitration as a way of resolving the disputes and they had indicated they were “very close to a decision whether or not to join us in arbitration.”

Obama backed the Philippines’ decision to seek UN arbitration in its dispute with China.

“Disputes need to be resolved peacefully,” he said.

China angry

China reacted angrily to Obama’s efforts to bolster US allies in the dispute, as it insisted its construction work in the South China Sea was “lawful, justified and reasonable.”

“If there is something that should stop, it is the United States’ playing up the South China Sea issue, stop heightening tensions in the South China Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lie said in Beijing.

In a speech at the CEO forum of the Apec summit ahead of the leaders’ meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping did not directly mention the territorial disputes.

But he did call on Pacific nations to “resolve our differences through dialogue and consultation.” (See story on this page.)

Better late than never

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. welcomed Obama’s reiteration of support for the Philippines but said the United States should have acted more decisively much earlier against China’s incursions into Philippine territory.

“I guess it’s better late than never. The right time was before China started infringing on our territory, which led to the conversion of reefs and sandbars into islands with military capability,” Belmonte said.

Magdalo Rep. Ashley Acedillo said Obama’s words were “reassuring,” especially with China practically having its way on Philippine territory.

“Although the US has not always acted with urgency ever since they announced their ‘pivot to Asia’ policy in 2011, allowing China to commence reclamation in the West Philippine Sea even as early as 2013, at least now they see the threat that China’s reclamation and construction poses not only to the Philippines but also to other countries in the region and to freedom of navigation for all countries,” Acedillo said.

 ‘Mere reiteration’

But Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon belittled Obama’s remarks as a mere “reiteration” of the US pivot to Asia that he said should be a cause for concern among Asean countries.

“This readiness to help is shorthand for readiness to intervene in the regions’ internal affairs,” Ridon said. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan, AFP and AP

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U.S. admiral says sailing past Chinese isles not a threat

November 3, 2015