Posts Tagged ‘Fiery Cross Reef’

Philippines begins upgrading military facilities on South China Sea island

November 7, 2017


MANILA (REUTERS) – The Philippines has started upgrading military facilities on the biggest features it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, its defence secretary said on Tuesday (Nov 7), asserting Manila’s claims in the strategic waterway.

Mr Delfin Lorenzana said a contractor was building a beach ramp on Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa (hope), the largest of nine features the Philippines holds in the Spratly islands.

“While construction is ongoing, albeit intermittently, depending on good weather, we expect its completion by early 2018,” Mr Lorenzana said, adding that monsoon rains have been hampering the building of the beach ramp.

“No construction can proceed without a good beaching ramp.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waterway where more than US$5 trillion (S$6.82 trillion) worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.

Filipinos living in Philippine occupied (Pagasa) Thitu island, in disputed South China Sea, sing the country’s national anthem April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Recent satellite imagery has shown Chinese vessels gathering around Thitu, in what some experts say could be an attempt to deter the Philippines from cementing its claim. China’s ambassador has played that down, insisting his country has no ill intent.

The two countries have long been at odds over the South China Sea, although ties have warmed substantially under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who says it is smarter to do business with China than pick a fight with its far superior military.

Image result for Vietnamese fishing boat Dna 90152 sinking May 2014 after being rammed intentionally by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel

Chinese coast guard ships an frequently be seen from Pagasa

Mr Lorenzana said the ramp was important to allow large naval ships to deliver construction materials to repair and upgrade the island’s airfield, fix structures and build a new port for fishermen.

A small community lives on Thitu, ostensibly to prop up the country’s claim, although conditions are basic compared to those enjoyed by Vietnamese and Chinese on other islands in the Spratly chain.

Chinese structures and an airstrip on Zamora or Subi Reef in the Spratly islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane, April 20, 2017. AP

Defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the government would spend more than 1.3 billion pesos (S$34.49 million) for the upgrades on Thitu.

The military has defended the work, saying almost of all South China Sea claimants have been doing the same.

China has built seven artificial islands, installing radar and anti-aircraft guns and missiles on several. Experts have predicted fighter jets will soon be deployed on those islands.


China installs rocket launchers on Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef)—report

May 17, 2017
/ 04:13 PM May 17, 2017
KAGITINGAN REEF  China is expanding construction on Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, as seen in this June 28 satellite image. A 3,000-meter airstrip is nearly complete. China continues to pave and mark the airstrip and an apron and taxiway have been added adjacent to the runway. Personnel are now visible walking around the island. A sensor array has also been constructed and additional support facilities are being built. CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITAL GLOBE

Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, as seen in this June 28 satellite image. CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITAL GLOBE

China has installed rocket launchers in the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) in the Spratly Islands, according to a report by the state-run Defense Times.

The report said a Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems “with the capability to discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers” had been installed in the disputed reef.

The report, however, did not detail when the rocket launchers were installed, but said that it was in response to Vietnam’s installation of fishing nets in the Paracel Islands in May 2014.

The Kagitingan Reef is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. In January last year, China has allowed a group of civilians to visit the newly built airport on the island, which the Chinese have been calling “Yonshu Island.”

The development comes in the wake of upcoming bilateral talks between China and the Philippines on May 19 to discuss the South China Sea Dispute.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who recently attended the One Belt One Road forum led by Xi in Beijing, has forged friendlier ties with China since he assumed office.

Beijing has ignored an arbitral ruling by the United Nations-backed court in The Hague that favored Manila and invalidated China’s claims to almost all of the South China Sea. JE

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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

China installs rocket launchers on disputed South China Sea island: report

May 17, 2017


China has installed rocket launchers on a disputed reef in the South China Sea to ward off Vietnamese military combat divers, according to a state-run newspaper, offering new details on China’s ongoing military build-up.

China has said military construction on the islands it controls in the South China Sea will be limited to necessary defensive requirements, and that it can do what it likes on its own territory.

The United States has criticized what it has called China’s militarization of its maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing.

The state-run Defense Times newspaper, in a Tuesday report on its WeChat account, said Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems with the capability to discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers had been installed on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Fiery Cross Reef is administered by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The report did not say when the defense system was installed, but said it was part of a response that began in May 2014, when Vietnamese divers installed large numbers of fishing nets in the Paracel Islands.

China has conducted extensive land reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef, including building an airport, one of several Chinese-controlled features in the South China Sea where China has carried out such work.

More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year. Besides China’s territorial claims in the area, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

(Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Ben Blanchard)

South China Sea: Defense Secretary’s visit in islands “just routine” for the Philippines — But China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip

April 23, 2017
Pag-asa Island, part of Palawan province, in the disputed West Philippine Sea is controlled by the Philippines despite Chinese claims of sovereignty over it. STAR/File photo

MANILA, Philippines — The visit of security officials to Pag-asa Island was routine and was in line with international law, Malacañang said Sunday after China expressed alarm over their trip to the island in the disputed Spratly chain.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials visited Pag-asa Island in Palawan province on Friday to inspect the facilities in the area, which is inhabited by about 200 people.
The visit was meant to enable officials to assess what improvements can be done in the island, the second largest in the Spratlys.
The government has earmarked around P1.6 billion to develop Pag-asa and is planning to build a beaching ramp, fish port, radio station, ice plant, water desalination facility, sewage facility and houses for soldiers.
The visit did not sit well with China, which claims historical rights over almost 90 percent of areas in the South China Sea, including Pag-asa.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip, which he claimed went against the consensus reached by Manila and Beijing “to properly deal with the South China Sea issue.”
Image result for Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, photos
Lu Kang — File Photo
Lu also urged the Philippines to “faithfully follow the consensus” between the two countries, “maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea” and “promote the sound and steady development of China-Philippine relations.”

Routine patrol

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Lorenzana’s visit to Pag-asa was just part of a “routine” patrol in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines has long been undertaking customary and routine maritime patrol and overflight in the West Philippine Sea which are lawful activities under international law. Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella said the visit was also in line with the government’s aim to improve the quality of life of Filipinos in the island.
“The visit of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to Pag-asa Island is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan which is part of the province of Palawan,” the presidential spokesman said.
China has used a similar argument to justify reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

China challenges PAF planes

While on its way to Pag-asa, the military plane carrying Lorenzana and military officials were warned by Chinese forces to leave the area but the pilot insisted that they were in Philippine airspace.
Lorenzana has downplayed the incident, saying Philippine air assets conducting resupply operations usually receive warnings from Chinese forces.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China last October, Manila and Beijing agreed to hold dialogues on the South China Sea dispute, a move that Chinese officials claimed signaled the “full recovery” of the friendship between the two countries.
The Duterte administration’s decision to hold dialogues with China on the dispute is a departure from the policy of former President Benigno Aquino III, who preferred that the issue be tackled through multilateral channels.
In 2013, the Philippines challenged the legality of China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea before an international arbitral tribunal in Hague.
The court decided in favor of the Philippines last year, ruling that China’s maritime claim has no legal basis.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, dismissing it as a “mere piece of paper” that would not affect its territorial rights.
Duterte has said he is ready to set aside the arbitral ruling to enhance the Philippines’ ties with China. He stressed, though, that he would not bargain away the Philippines’ maritime claims and that there would be a time when he would bring up the arbitral ruling before the Chinese government.

 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

What is China so passionate about in the Philippine Seas?

April 23, 2017

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Philippine soldier stands guard over the South China Sea.

By: Artemio V. Panganiban – @inquirerdotnet — Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:20 AM April 23, 2017

Why is China so passionate in owning Scarborough Shoal and several maritime features in the Spratlys in the South China Sea (SCS)? And yet, so easily conceded the Philippines’ rights over Benham Rise?

No controversy. The short answer is that Benham Rise is outside the so-called nine-dash line under which China claims historic title and sovereignty over almost the entire SCS.

But unlike the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal, Benham Rise is totally submerged in water ranging from 50 to 5,000 meters in depth. This submarine status makes the exploitation of its vast resources extremely expensive and difficult to undertake.

On the other hand, the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal are located in much shallower waters; in fact, China has enlarged some of the isles and rocks therein, not only to extract mineral resources but also, more visibly, to construct airports, seaports, buildings and other structures.

Mendoza’s primer. Superlawyer Estelito P. Mendoza recently wrote a primer on this subject, published by the UP Law Center. As one of the two vice chairs of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which convened during martial law in December 1973, he had an insider view of the negotiations.

(The other vice chair was then Foreign Undersecretary Jose Ingles. Alternating as chairs were then Sen. Arturo Tolentino and then Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos. All are now deceased.)

In 1982, the UN finally adopted the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that came into force in 1994. Mendoza related that our delegation was able to include the “archipelagic principles” in the Unclos, and eventually the “ultimate compromise … to have a 12-mile territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles…”

On March 10, 2009, Republic Act No. 9522 was approved. It defined the baselines from which to measure our 1) 12-nautical-mile (NM) territorial sea, 2) 24-NM contiguous zone, 3) 200-NM exclusive economic zone, and 4) 350-NM continental shelf. (See my column on 4/2/17 for details.)

Thereafter, the Philippines notified the UN Secretary General (UNSG) of the baselines defined under RA 9522. It claimed the status of an “archipelagic state,” composed of the “Philippine archipelago” (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) plus two “regimes of islands,” the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal (or Bajo de Masinloc).

Soon after, China submitted to the UNSG a “Note” dated April 13, 2009, alleging that RA 9522 “illegally claims Huangyan Island (referred to as ‘Bajo de Masinloc’ in the Act) and some islands and reefs of Nansha Islands (referred to as ‘The Kalayaan Island Group’ in the Act) of China… The Chinese Government hereby reiterates that Huangyan Island and Nansha Islands have been part of the territory of China since ancient time.”

Notably, it did not contest our rights over the “Philippine archipelago” and implicitly its corresponding territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf including Benham Rise.

No ruling on land. Mendoza opined, “Considering that … China had taken possession and occupied several of the islands (or features) within the Kalayaan Group of Islands and over Bajo de Masinloc,” the Philippines should have initiated a proceeding “in regard to these matters.”

As it is, however, our arbitral claim and the arbitral award itself did not settle the issue of Chinese occupation and sovereignty over these islands or features. In fact, the arbitral tribunal had no jurisdiction to award title or sovereignty over land territory. Consequently, China cannot be expected to surrender its occupation or sovereignty over them.

Mendoza recalled that in a conversation with then President Ferdinand Marcos, then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, during a state visit here in June 1975, advised that negotiation is the only solution. And if no agreement is reached, how should the matter be resolved? His answer was simply “to talk some more, and more until agreement is reached.”

Consistent with this “talk, talk, talk” approach is the Duterte administration’s pursuit of the proposed Code of Conduct between Asean and China, spoken about by Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in a recent Inquirer Forum. Is this a better strategy to resolve the impasse in the SCS? (To be continued.)

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 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

South China Sea: on the Small Toehold of the Philippines, China’s Military is over the horizon but only 24 km away — Three Chinese airbases, seven total militarized land masses

April 23, 2017


Filipinos living in Philippine occupied (Pagasa) Thitu island, in disputed South China Sea, sing the country’s national anthem April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

If the Filipinos on the remote South China Sea island of Thitu had binoculars, they might just be envious of how their neighbors on the next island live.

Just 15 miles (24 km) across the shimmering sea from this rundown outpost of the Philippines lies a different world shown by an unbroken line of new, four-storey white buildings. Radar towers and a lighthouse complete Subi Reef, a mini city China has raised from the sea at an astonishing pace since 2013.

Subi symbolizes China’s increasingly assertive claim to most of the South China Sea, a claim it reinforces in building manmade islands from dredged sand and equipping them with runways, hangars and surface-to-air-missiles.

For the 37 Filipino families who call Thitu their home, however, life is basic with just a few buildings, no television or internet, and no shops or street-side eateries.

There isn’t even a street, just a dirt track used by the island’s one vehicle – a small truck.

At only 37 hectares (0.37 sq km) the coral-fringed Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, 280 miles away from the mainland.

Image result for Vietnamese fishing boat Dna 90152 sinking May 2014 after being rammed intentionally by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel

Chinese coast guard ships an frequently be seen from Pagasa

But Thitu’s inhabitants have a strategic purpose – preserving a Philippine claim of sovereignty in the face of a resurgent China.

According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China will soon be capable of deploying fighter jets on three reefs, including Subi.

Chinese structures and an airstrip on Zamora or Subi Reef in the Spratly islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane, April 20, 2017. AP

By comparison, Thitu’s military muscle is a few dozen rotating troops with small arms, and a dirt runway through a patch of grass.

Jenny May Ray, 24, has taught for one year at the island’s school. She says Thitu’s residents are heroes.

“We should be thankful for their sacrifices for staying on an island far away from civilization, away from their loved ones and families and I hope some day, something can be written about them in our history,” she said.

“Pagasa will see progress one day and they will not be forgotten because they have a big role in protecting the island.”


But the islanders want more in return. Ray said the school needed improvements, the childrens’ diets are poor, and they are short on books.

The Philippine government is wary of China’s ambitions and knows life needs to be better for the Filipinos who get free food and housing in exchange for maintaining the four-decade Philippine occupation.

Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have communities in the Spratlys, but they enjoy far better living standards

Defence minister Delfin Lorenzana visited Thitu with journalists aboard a C-130 plane on Friday to inspect sites earmarked for 1.6 billion pesos ($32.1 million) of development, including a small fishing port, a beaching ramp, desalination facilities, and runway repairs.

“You saw Subi Reef a while ago and we really lagged behind,” he said.

China has built up and militarized seven reefs – Fiery Cross Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson South Reef, McKennan Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef – in the South China Sea

“We are now the last. You saw Vietnam’s (islands) when we passed by the area, it’s already very built-up a long time ago. We should have done this before.”

Lorenzana and a planeload of day-tripping troops and airmen joined villagers for a ceremonial raising of the national flag, a staple of daily life in the Philippines’ most isolated village, where patriotism comes before anything else.


Within an earshot is a school of just over 30 children. A teacher leads fifth-grade students in reciting songs about their pride in Thitu belonging to the Philippines.

Change comes slowly on the island, in sharp contrast to China’s activities. Since Reuters last visited Thitu two years ago, Subi Reef has transformed from a single building and cranes on an artificial sand bank to what looks look a forward operating base with its own town.

China insists these islands are for defensive purposes and objects strongly to planes or boats that come near them.

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

Lorenzana said his plane received a warning over the radio from Chinese on Subi as it approached Thitu.

He described it as “procedural”.

Thitu islanders seem less concerned about China’s military buildup than they do the storms that could delay the next boatload of supplies of food, or petrol needed for generators that support the tiny output from its few solar panels.

For many islanders, boredom is the biggest problem.

Daniel Yungot, an army private, says he plays a lot of basketball now.

“We entertain ourselves,” he said. “We do anything just for the day to pass.”

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; Writing by Martin Petty)


 (FROM 2013)

 (Contains links to related articles)

See also:


 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Indonesia must lead for sake of its interests in South China Sea

April 5, 2017

Sydney | Wed, April 5, 2017 | 10:32 am


Over the past quarter century, Indonesia has sought to play the role of an honest broker in the South China Sea disputes, facilitating negotiations over a proposed Code of Conduct for claimants to the sea, and hosting workshops on technical issues and other barriers to cooperation. These efforts, though admirable, are no longer equal to the challenge presented by Chinese actions, which now pose a much broader risk to Indonesian interests.

Since 2013, Beijing has constructed three large air bases and four smaller islands on top of coral reefs in the South China Sea, and has begun to place military personnel and weapons systems on them. The total area reclaimed is 15 times greater than that of Merdeka Square, and far greater than that reclaimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

China’s increased presence will help it to enforce its maritime claims for example, by pressuring other claimants to allow Chinese fleets to fish in their waters, or by restricting the operation of foreign survey vessels in international waters.

Were it not for the United States’ Navy’s continued presence in the area, Beijing would be close to achieving a dominant position in nearby waters.

Such extensive Chinese maritime claims, encompassed by Beijing’s “nine-dash line,” have no basis under international law. When China had an opportunity to offer arguments in support of its claims before an arbitral tribunal in The Hague from 2013 to 2016, its fundamentals were so flawed that the Chinese leadership chose not to mount a case.

The tribunal’s decision dismissing the claims is now international law, yet Beijing continues to disregard it.

These developments have security implications for Indonesia. The new Chinese airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, built to accommodate military jets, is 1,000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland in Hainan, but only 750 km from Indonesian territory in the Natunas.

Standoffs between Indonesian and Chinese security forces in the waters around the Natunas have increased as Chinese fishermen sail further and further south in search of a catch, backed up by a bigger and more aggressive Chinese Coast Guard.

Under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Indonesia has responded to these developments in a robust but narrow way, reinforcing the Indonesian base on Natuna Besar, seizing two Chinese vessels found fishing illegally in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) last year, and seeking to accelerate economic development in the waters around Natuna. The president’s two visits to Ranai last year left no doubt as to Indonesia’s claim to the islands.

These are important steps that will help protect Indonesian territory and maritime rights in the short-term. But it is not clear that they will prove a durable deterrent in the long term, as the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard grow increasingly powerful relative to Indonesia’s much smaller maritime forces.

Moreover, these steps will do little to address broader concerns about the nature of Chinese statecraft as China rises. Beijing’s approach to the South China Sea has always been characterized by a pattern of “talk and take,” as then Philippine defense secretary Orlando Mercado first put it two decades ago.

But since 2013 we have seen much more taking than talking.

China has worked through its client, Cambodia, to block tougher language by ASEAN on the situation, and it refuses to countenance a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Beijing’s increasingly aggressive behavior, disregard for international law, and refusal to negotiate in good faith portend more serious problems in the future.

As I have argued in a recent Lowy Institute Analysis, “Going it Alone” (available in English and Indonesian), it is time for Indonesia to define its interests in the South China Sea more broadly than in the past, by seeking not only to defend Indonesian territorial integrity in the short term, but also to lead the region in shaping Chinese behavior in the long-term.

Indonesia need not abandon its non-claimant status or honest broker role to do so, but it does need to take a much stronger stand in support of international law.

Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi could start by clearly and repeatedly articulating an expectation that China will adhere to the arbitral tribunal’s award in Philippines v. China, and end its use of the “nine-dash line” to outline China’s claims.

Doing so would give cover to other countries in the region to take a similar stand on behalf of international law, and — given critical mass over a sustained period — could lead China to reconsider its position.

Indonesians might reasonably ask why this duty should fall to them. After all, Indonesia is not a claimant like Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines; and the US has been active in challenging Chinese expansion and militarization of the South China Sea.

They might also worry that doing so would lead to the perception that Indonesia was taking sides in a dispute between China and the US. Indonesia could lie low and allow those on the front lines, like the Philippines and Vietnam, and great powers like the US, to take the lead on these issues.

But while taking a stand now could lead to tension with Beijing in the short term, it will lead to a more stable, peaceful region in the future.

Moreover, would it not contravene the spirit of a bebas aktif (independent and active) foreign policy to leave smaller, developing nations to the mercy of the great powers, or to leave the great powers to settle these issues themselves?

And would it not contravene the spirit of a bebas aktif foreign policy to allow Chinese anger to exercise a veto over Indonesian action?

Indonesia should maintain non-alignment between the great powers by rowing between two reefs, as founding father Mohammad Hatta said, but it must also be prepared to adjust its course if one of the great powers constructs an artificial reef ahead of it.

Indonesia is the only country in the region with the requisite moral authority and capacity for leadership on these issues. In the long-term, only principled and persistent Indonesian diplomacy can prompt the changes in Chinese behavior that will secure Indonesian territorial integrity and regional stability.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.


 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles


 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)


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China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster


 (Contains links to several previous articles on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

As Friend to China & Vietnam, Russia Would Be Perfect Mediator in Spratly Spat

August 16, 2016

From Sputnik

The dispute over islands in the South China Sea is deepening, with countries unable to reach a political settlement engaged in a military buildup in the area instead. For their part, Russian geopolitical analysts suggest that Moscow, a partner to both Beijing and Hanoi, can play a key role in resolving the two countries’ quarrel over the Spratlys.

The quarrel over the disputed Spratly Islands is intensifying. Last week, anonymous Western diplomats and military officials told Reuters that intelligence had confirmed that Hanoi was moving mobile missile launchers from mainland Vietnam to five separate facilities in the Spratly archipelago. According to experts, the Chinese facilities in neighboring islands are within the missiles’ range.

As expected, Chinese state media issued a blistering response, warning that the move would be a “terrible mistake,” and adding that Vietnam should “remember and draw some lessons from history,” alluding to the three week Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979.The Spratly archipelago consists of over a hundred small islets, their total area less than five square kilometers, with the largest, Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba and several other names), having an area of about 46 hectares. The archipelago sprawls over a total area of over 400,000 square kilometers.

“This jumble,” writes PolitRussia contributor Boris Stepnov, “is simultaneously claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei; and this despite the fact that most of the ‘islands’ can only be conditionally called as such.”

Discussing Hanoi’s decision to place missile launchers in the area, the journalist suggested that “this demarche is the largest Vietnam has made in this area in recent years.”

“It was obviously caused by the Hague Court of Arbitration’s July 12 decision on the illegality of China’s claim to the Spratly archipelago in favor of the Philippines,” he added.

Commenting on the missiles’ deployment for the Russian business newspaper Kommersant, Institute for Far Eastern Studies researcher Vasily Kashin suggested that the measure actually means very little in the conventional military sense.

“In real combat, the survival of these systems would depend on their ability to be quickly moved to avoid return fire.” Accordingly, “the aim, when placing them on 100×100 meter islands,” where there is literally no room for maneuvering, “can only be demonstrative,” Kashin said.

Chinese fishing vessel sails by Fiery Cross Reef, background, also known as Yongshu Reef, of the Spratly Islands in South China Sea. File photo.
Chinese fishing vessel sails by Fiery Cross Reef, background, also known as Yongshu Reef, of the Spratly Islands in South China Sea. File photo.

As expected, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the deployment by saying that Beijing “resolutely opposes [Vietnam] occupying parts of China’s Spratly Islands and reefs…[and] carrying out illegal construction and military deployments.”

However, Stepnov suggested that it’s worth noting, for fairness’ sake, “that China in its section of the Spratlys is building dual-use facilities that can be used for military purposes. Moreover, since 2013, China has been confidently carrying out engineering and the construction activities in the archipelago, building artificial islands, deepening waterways, and creating new berthing facilities…China, naturally, has said that the infrastructure has peaceful purposes – meant for search and rescue operations, as well as scientific research in navigation. Foreign analysts, however, have suggested that its main purpose is to strengthen China’s military potential in the region. Specifically, China is now completing the construction of an airstrip on one of its seven artificial islands.”

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015.
Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015.

Thankfully, the analyst noted, a hot war between China and Vietnam remains unlikely, for the moment. “If China puts too much pressure on Vietnam, the latter will likely run to the US for protection, which is clearly not something China wants. At the same time, the two countries have experience of cooperation – for example, via the recent joint anti-terrorism exercises.”

“The problem, as usual, has to do with oil,” Stepnov wrote. “According to the US Department of Energy, the archipelago contains the equivalent of some 5.4 billion barrels of oil, and over 55 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. What’s more, the region has a value as a fishery zone.”

“And that’s not the only problem,” the journalist noted. “take a look at the size of China’s claims: They are a bit immodest, aren’t they?”

Map showing countries' claims in the South China Sea.
Map showing countries’ claims in the South China Sea.

“As we can see, the disputed archipelago is China’s main sea route for access to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. About 60% of the country’s total trade, and nearly 80% of its imports of hydrocarbons, pass through the area. China simply cannot afford to lose control over this territory; otherwise whoever does come to control it will be able to block most of China’s maritime transport. Therefore, China is ready to buy the archipelago out from other claimants, and as can be guessed, is not enthusiastic about allowing the United States to serve as a ‘third party’ in the negotiations.”

The US, in turn, is not thrilled about the prospect of China strengthening its position in the South China Sea, Stepnov added. In fact, “ideally, Washington would like to see a war between China and an alliance of the other five claimants to the archipelago; if this were to occur, China’s maritime trade would be blocked, and the US could rejoice and sell weapons to the belligerents.”Beijing has decisively rejected the Hague Tribunal’s ruling in their spat with the Philippines, and vowed to defend China’s claims to sovereignty over the area. “As for Vietnam, it’s already been mentioned that their moves are a symbolic action. But here the US is a far more serious player, which has had a nearly constant presence in the disputed area recently.”

Last month, the US Navy deployed destroyers including the USS Spruance, the USS Momsen, the USS Stethem, and the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strikes group to the South China Sea, with US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden emphasizing that “US Navy forces have flown, sailed, and operated in this region for decades and will continue to do so.”

Against this massive force, the deployment of the Vietnamese missile launchers looks like “a mere trifle,” Stepnov suggested.

“It’s obvious that Washington is hoping for convergence with Hanoi and friendship against Beijing. The methodology is exactly the same as that which is used against Russia: surround China with unfriendly states loyal to the US.”At the same time, the journalist pointed out, “Hanoi is also steadily moving closer to Moscow and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, even while Washington attempts to attach it to its Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.”

As far as the dispute over the South China Sea is concerned, Stepnov noted that Russia’s position is very simple, and fair.

Last month, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharovanoted that “Russia is not a party in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and will not be dragged into them. We do not take any side as a matter of principle. We firmly believe that involvement of third parties in these disputes will only fan tensions in the region. Consultations and talks on territorial disputes in this region should be held directly by the parties involved in the format that they themselves deem appropriate.”

There’s a clear logic to the Foreign Ministry’s position, the journalist suggested. “Given that so many countries have territorial claims, the solution is political, not arbitration-based. States should negotiate with one another, rather than delegating to organizations which not all parties recognize.” This is what occurred in the case of the Hague’s arbitration effort, which China rejected long before they ever made their ruling.

Accordingly, Stepnov noted, while “there is no sense in Russia meddling in the conflict, we can and must maintain partnership relations with all the parties involved,” including by assisting countries militarily to ensure the maintenance of a military strategic balance. “This tactic is aimed precisely at preventing a military conflict from taking place.

Ultimately, while Moscow may not have the diplomatic or political capital necessary to help resolve the conflict between all parties to the Spratly dispute, at least as far as Beijing and Hanoi are concerned, Russia’s many decades of friendly relations with the two countries may be just what China and Vietnam need in an impartial go-between. Who else if not Moscow can the two countries turn to if they are seeking a fair mediator – one who has no interest in the dispute except to seeing its peaceful resolution?


 (July 11, 2016)


Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. Reuters photo

South China Sea: China builds hangars for fighter jets on Spratlys — Who needs aircraft carriers?

August 9, 2016
In this undated photo released Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, by China’s Xinhua News Agency, two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets take off from an unspecified location to fly a patrol over the South China Sea. China’s air force announced Saturday that it has conducted a combat air patrol over disputed areas of the South China Sea. Jin Danhua/Xinhua via AP

MANILA, Philippines — China recently built three operational runways on the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands, a part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Despite China’s claim that it are not militarizing the disputed South China Sea following the arbitral tribunal’s decision in favor of the Philippines, rapid construction of hangars in the Spratly Islands indicate that it is ready to deploy military aircraft to these outposts.

Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that each of the three islets will soon have hangars that can accommodate 24 fighter jets plus three to four larger planes.

Construction of fighter jet hangars at the Fiery Cross Reef appear complete at the southern end of the runway while construction of a final set of hangars is in the early stages at the northern end. CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

The smallest of the hangars can accommodate any fighter jet of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force while a medium hangar can provide space for a bomber, a refueling tanker, a transport aircraft and an Airborne Warning and Control System plane.

Chinese Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, PLAAF

“The largest of the hangars can accommodate the largest planes in the PLAAF fleet—the Y-20 and Il-76 transport planes, Il-78 refueling tanker, and KJ-2000 surveillance aircraft,” the AMTI report read.

The think tank also noted that unidentified hexagonal structures are being built at four locations on each of the three islets.

Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs also have a set of three towers that do not appear at any of China’s outposts in the Paracel nor the Spratly group. The towers, however, do not appear to have domes that indicate radar or other sensitive arrays, according to the report.

Despite the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that China violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it continued to build facilities in the disputed area.

Beijing had also recently conducted a combat air patrol over disputed areas of the South China Sea.

RELATED: China’s air force flies combat patrol over disputed islands


Two Opinions on China in The South China Sea: China Is Trying To Correct “Many Centuries” of Wrongs Committed Against China — And The Philippines Should Sue China For $177 Billion In South China Sea Rent And Damages

July 16, 2016

China’s territorial claims are driven by a sense of historical victimisation. Now the historical victim has turned into a contemporary bully.

A Chinese ship and helicopter are seen during a search-and-rescue exercise in the South China Sea [Reuters]

A Chinese ship and helicopter are seen during a search-and-rescue exercise in the South China Sea [Reuters]

By Salvatore Babones

Al Jazeera


The judges have spoken: China has no legal basis for its claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea. China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claims, which cover most of the South China Sea, will not be recognised under international law.

Vietnam and the Philippines have historically administered most of the rocks and reefs in the South China Sea, but in recent years China has aggressively pursuedterritorial claims in the area.

Since 2012 China has engaged in large-scale land reclamation efforts on islands it controls.

The July 12 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration resolves a case brought against China by the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. There are no enforcement provisions in this convention, so there is nothing to prevent China from continuing to expand its presence in the South China Sea.

Aggressive actions

But China’s aggressive actions have alienated all of its maritime neighbours. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei all dispute China’s expansive interpretation of its maritime borders.

The South China Sea is thought to harbour large reserves of oil and gas, but these are mainly located in undisputed coastal areas, not far out at sea.
ALSO READ: Hague ruling could spark China-Japan row
And while the South China Sea is strategically important to China, all countries in the region share China’s interest in keeping it open.

Protesters throw eggs at a picture of the US president outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong to protest about the Hague ruling in Hong Kong [EPA]


China’s true interest in the South China Sea has much more to do with history and politics than with oil and security. The South China Sea dispute is not about China’s interpretation of international law. It’s about China’s interpretation of itself.

From the Ming to Xi Jinping

Chinese politicians and China scholars like to pretend that China is a timeless civilisation that dates back past the dawn of history.

But the real roots of modern China can be found in the Ming dynasty that unified the Chinese empire under Chinese rulers nearly eight centuries ago, in AD 1368.

It was then that China recognisably assumed more or less its modern borders. Perhaps more importantly, it was under the Ming dynasty that China first encountered the Western world, emerged from feudalism, and formed many of the basic social structures that persist to today.


Ming China had no serious challengers among its neighbours. Unlike Europe, where many small states vied for territory – and survival – China reigned supreme over its region.

Ming China had no need for well-defined borders because all of East Asia was to some degree under Chinese control, contained within China’s “tianxia” or system of rule.

When the first Portuguese adventurers reached the mouth of southern China’s Pearl River Delta in 1513, this system began to break down.

China’s Wanli Emperor enjoying a lavish boat ride on a river with a large entourage of guards and courtiers.
— Unknown Ming court artist – Paludan, Ann. (1998). Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: the Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

At first the Portuguese were treated as just another minority group. Over time, the Western powers (and Japan) became more aggressive in asserting territorial claims.

Though they never conquered China itself, the Western colonial powers did carve up most of Southeast Asia.

They also carved up the oceans. Vietnam’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are based on old French colonial claims, and the Philippines traces its claims back to the Spanish colonial period.

Contemporary borders

Though the countries of Southeast Asia have every right to their contemporary borders, it still irks many Chinese people that those borders were drawn by others, mostly without China’s consent.
ALSO READ: China’s aggressive posture in South China Sea
The maritime borders of the South China Sea were set in stone (as it were) by strong Western countries at a time when China was too weak to contest them.

Now the Western powers are gone and China is the strong one, once again surrounded by a panoply of relatively weak neighbours, just as it was 500 years ago.

This must be very frustrating for Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s contemporary leaders. It is certainly frustrating for Chinese nationalists. But for good or for bad the borders are what they are.

Many Chinese people, perhaps the majority, feel that their country has been unfairly treated by history. They are probably right.

China is a great and ancient civilisation that experienced its weakest period just as the map of the world was solidifying into its current form.

Nonetheless, no one in Asia today wants to reopen the question of borders, not even China.


China has pushed its maritime claims over uninhabited rocks and reefs. It has gone so far as to install people on those rocks and reefs. But it has made no move to contest already-populated islands.

China may have been unfairly treated by history, but so were many other countries.

China may spend billions of dollars to populate artificial islands in the middle of the ocean. But it won’t change China’s history, and it won’t do much for China today.

China refutes the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and has vowed to ignore it.

The world shouldn’t pay much attention if it does. China will make no friends by changing itself from a historical victim into a contemporary bully.

Salvatore Babones is a comparative sociologist at the University of Sydney. He is a specialist in global economic structure.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.



 (China’s government needs to save face with the Chinese people or admit the long lasting lies)



 (Contains many links and references)