Posts Tagged ‘James Shoal’

U.S. Marines in Amphibious Training With Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam — But No China

May 19, 2015


TOKYO —The U.S. Marine Corps is bringing together foreign commanders from amphibious forces deployed mostly in the Asia-Pacific for a conference aimed at taking initial steps to integrate their operations, with China excluded from the event, according to officials and planning documents.

The effort centers on a first-of-its-kind conference between the Marine Corps and military officials from 23 countries that opens in Hawaii on Monday. More than half the nations attending are from Asia, including some embroiled in territorial disputes with China such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

On the agenda will be amphibious assault tactics, including ship-to-shore assaults, and a demonstration of shore landing tactics, said a USMC spokesman in Hawaii.

A planning document prepared by a consultant to the U.S. military and reviewed by Reuters notes that China should “not be invited” because it’s a “competitor” to the United States and some of the countries attending.

U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) in the South China Sea during training with The Philippines, April 21, 2015. Reuters photo

Washington has grown increasingly critical of China’s assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, especially its land reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly chain. Satellite images show at least one airstrip under construction.

A U.S. official said that the Pentagon was considering sending U.S. military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around the reefs.

Asked about China’s exclusion, the Marine spokesman said U.S. law prohibited military-to-military exchanges with China at such events.

U.S. defense officials added that it was not unusual to exclude Chinese military personnel from participating in some training hosted by U.S. forces.

China took part in U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises last year with more than 20 countries, but one defense official noted its participation was limited to things like humanitarian relief and search and rescue operations.

China’s Defense Ministry had no immediate comment.

Amphibious forces specialise in launching maritime operations including beach landings from boats and helicopters and are often used to deliver and coordinate aid following natural disasters. The vast island-dotted and disaster-prone geography of Asia lends itself to such operations.

A key goal of the Hawaii meeting would be to lay the groundwork for multilateral amphibious exercises, including drills between participant nations, even without U.S. involvement, the planning document said.

On Tuesday, the visiting military officials will observe a U.S. Marine exercise involving helicopter carriers, landing ships and other vessels that will create an offshore sea base that could be used in combat or to coordinate disaster relief.

Brigadier Richard Spencer, deputy commander of the British Royal Marines, who will attend the conference, said it would be a success if it paved the way for participating nations to run joint disaster relief efforts using marine forces.

“My inclination would be to start with a relatively realistic level of ambition … I would rather set a low bar and achieve it,” Spencer told Reuters on the sidelines of a defense conference in the Japanese city of Yokohama.

The U.S. Marines were the “logical integrator” for amphibious capabilities in Asia, which would interest allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, said Michael Green, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“(It would) also be helpful to other partners dealing with vulnerabilities from natural disasters to encroachment and coercion by large maritime claimants,” he said.

China claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway.

China last month defended its Spratlys reclamation, saying the new islands would provide civilian services such as search and rescue facilities.

Beijing is also at loggerheads with Japan over uninhabited isles in the East China Sea.

U.S. military planners are concerned that bilateral exercises between American forces and friendly nations around Asia have done little more than show off the U.S. Marines.

In such drills the Marines are like the Harlem Globetrotters, the basketball entertainers who outmatch their hapless opponents, said the consultant to the U.S. military, who declined to be identified.

With some 80,000 personnel or almost half its strength in Asia, the U.S. Marines are the biggest amphibious force in the region. Most are based on Japan’s Okinawa island on the edge of the East China Sea.

With around 12,000 Marines, China is a formidable potential foe, say military experts.

Countries in dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea don’t have large amphibious forces.

Two late entrants to amphibious warfare training are close U.S. allies: Australia and Japan.

Australia last year launched the Canberra, the first of two planned amphibious ships, each able to land 1,000 troops. Japan, which under Prime Minister .e is pursuing a more muscular defense policy, is training its first marines since World War Two.

Melding an integrated amphibious force in Asia able to divide tasks between nations and operate seamlessly would take time, said Ben Schreer, senior defense strategy analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“The challenges are military complexity, capability standards, limited funding, competing priorities and, in some cases, overlapping claims in the South China Sea,” he said.

Chinese amphibious ship Changbai Shan near James Shoal, an area also claimed by Malaysia, January 26, 2014 Photo by AP

Why China’s South China Sea Plan Will Fail

May 7, 2015

By Leszek Buszynski

While China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea might shock and surprise today’s observers, its behavior has actually been remarkably consistent over recent decades.

China first exercised its power in the region in January 1974 when it ejected South Vietnam from the Crescent Islands. In March 1988, the Chinese Navy clashed with Vietnamese vessels, which resulted in Chinese occupation of seven islands in the Spratlys.

In 1995, China occupied Mischief Reef which fell in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines. It then began building and reinforcing structures on neighboring reefs. In April 2012 China’s clashes with the Philippines continued over Scarborough Shoal, which was eventually occupied by China. Chinese attention then moved to Second Thomas Shoal. In March 2014, Chinese coast guard vessels prevented Philippines cargo vessels from resupplying a contingent of marines stationed in a wrecked vessel there.

In April 2014 China moved the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig into an area claimed by Vietnam, creating conflict with Vietnam that was only settled when the rig was removed ahead of schedule.

 A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam. The US says it is concerned at China’s aggressive exertion of sovereignty in the sea.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (HS 981) in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam, in May 2014. Photograph: Reuters/Reuters

Since late 2014, China has engaged in extensive reclamation projects in eight locations across the Spratly Islands. Dredging work taking place on Fiery Cross Reef—which was previously under water—has been of notable concern. Chinese dredgers have been piling sand on the reef, raising it above the water level to allow for an airfield of 3,000 metres along its length. The reclaimed land could be transformed into an airfield that could support Chinese operations in the Spratlys. With air support for its coast guard, China would be able to threaten Vietnam and intimidate the Philippines.

With an increased presence in the Spratlys, China may also be in a position to impose its own resolution of maritime disputes upon the ASEAN claimants. That would entail a voluntary surrender on the part of the ASEAN claimants and their recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea. Beijing would be in a position to offer the inducement of good relations and the benefits of trade and investment in infrastructure projects through the recently created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Despite the pressure that China is placing on the ASEAN claimant it’s unlikely to achieve its goals. This is because its actions have increasingly involved external powers in the dispute. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have reached out to the US for support against China.

The Philippines and the US have a long history of military cooperation. In 1999 a Visiting Forces Agreement was concluded and in April 2014, when President Obama visited Manila, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement was finalised. The agreement allows the US Navy increased access to ports of the Philippines and provides for the rotation of US troops through their bases and airfields.

Vietnam has also been developing security ties with the US for the past decade in an effort to balance its relationship with Beijing. Constrained by its proximity to China, Vietnam can’t form too close a security relationship with the US, but the Vietnamese government hopes that a relationship with the US would have a restraining effect upon China.

While Malaysia and Indonesia have previously stood on the sidelines, Chinese activities in the area have stimulated their anxieties. Malaysia was jolted by Chinese naval patrols which reached James Shoal, the southernmost point of the Chinese claim falling within the Malaysia’s territorial claim. Publicly Malaysian leaders continue to bandwagon with China but defense officials are worried. Malaysia intends to construct a naval base in Bintulu in Sarawak—close to James Shoal—and the Malaysian defense ministry is now seeking US assistance and training to develop a marine corps based on the American model.

Chinese Navy’s amphibious landing ship Jinggangshan is seen during a training mission with a hovercraft near James Shoal in March, 2013. Photo: Xinhua

Indonesia previously regarded itself as a mediator of the dispute as a non-claimant. Recently, however, it’s become concerned about the sovereignty of the Natuna Islands. China’s claims clash with Indonesia’s “global maritime axis” doctrine. Indonesia’s defense chief General Moeldoko has drawn attention to the dangers of instability in the South China Sea and has announced that additional Indonesian air units will be deployed to the Natuna Islands.

What does all of this have to do with us Australia? Some would argue that Australia should avoid entanglement in East Asian affairs that could draw it into conflict between the US and China. The time when Australia could define its strategic interests so narrowly has passed; instability in the South China Sea would have consequences for Australia’s security environment.

Relentless Chinese pressure on the ASEAN claimants would draw in not only the US, but also Japan, which has its own concerns about Chinese intentions in the East China Sea, and specifically around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. (Japan has also been seeking to strengthen the maritime capabilities of both Vietnam and the Philippines.) As external powers increasingly become involved, there’s the potential for ASEAN—which has been divided on the South China Sea dispute as non-claimant like Cambodia and Thailand prioritize relations with China—to fragment. ASEAN would continue with business as usual, but its lack of power would become more apparent.

A second result could be the polarization of the region between China and its few allies, and the US–Japan relationship, to which disaffected states, fearful of Chinese rise and ambitions, would gravitate toward an alliance with the U.S.

This situation could be averted if external powers voiced their concern about the South China Sea, and pressed China to cease its provocative actions and negotiate a code of conduct with ASEAN. In the past, China has responded to external pressure; a fear of external involvement has moderated its behavior. China withdrew the oil rig from Vietnam’s EEZ in July 2014 after Vietnam launched an international shaming campaign to expose China’s actions. Indeed, Australia should contribute its voice to this cause in recognition of the fact that a united ASEAN is in its interests.

This piece was first posted in ASPI’s The Strategist here

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

South China Sea: Malaysia Proposes Joint Asean Peacekeeping Force

March 19, 2015


Plan aims to build trust among members amid conflicts over how to handle Beijing

Malaysian defence minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein

By Trefor Moss
The Wall Street Journal

LANGKAWI, Malaysia—Malaysia proposed that Southeast Asian countries form a joint peacekeeping force, saying it would help rebuild trust after bitter arguments over how to handle China’s territorial challenges in the South China Sea.

Members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations —not all of which have interests in the South China Sea—have been anything but united in recent years over how to deal with Beijing.

The Philippines and Vietnam have accused of China of aggressive behavior in the sea’s disputed areas, a characterization China disputes. The disagreements between Asean members have spilled out at recent Asean summits, and cast doubt on a project to form a new “Asean Community” in December designed to usher in an age of regional unity.

“We need to find matters where we can unite,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Wednesday at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition. “If we continue to look only at dotted lines and competing claims, the future looks very bleak.”

Malaysia said a joint peacekeeping force could be deployed to regional trouble spots such as the Cambodian-Thai border, where the two neighbors clashed over a disputed temple in 2011.

Even if not aimed at resolving tensions around South China See issues, the Malaysian proposal could exacerbate tensions between Asean and China, which has long maintained that territorial disputes should be resolved bilaterally between claimant states, rather than through multilateral bodies.

China’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Recently it has strongly objected to criticism of China’s occupation of disputed islands in the South China Sea by Asean’s top official, Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

Photo: ASEAN Secretary-general Le Luong Minh at the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, Jan. 9, 2013. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

“We support the building of the Asean community, but Asean is not a party concerned to relevant disputes over the South China Sea,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, told a regular March 11 news briefing. He urged Mr. Minh to “strictly abide by the neutral stance that Asean takes on the South China Sea issue.”

Ms. Zhang Jie, an international-relations expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing will need to observe how Asean moves ahead with the force before drawing any conclusions. “My understanding is that the so-called Asean peacekeeping force is not very relevant to or targets the South China Sea,” Ms. Zhang said.

Establishing the force will be a key focus of Malaysia’s 2015 Asean chairmanship, said Mr. Hishammuddin. Its size and makeup have yet to be determined, he said.

Malaysia will find it difficult to persuade other Asean members to join, said Tim Huxley, executive director of IISS-Asia, a Singapore-based security think tank. “There isn’t a great deal of trust on security matters between Asean members,” he said. “The trust has to come first, then the cooperation.”

Malaysia is also working to establish joint monitoring and patrols of the Sulu Sea involving Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Mr. Hishammuddin said, in hope of replicating a similar joint effort in the Strait of Malacca.

—Charles Hutzler in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Trefor Moss at


Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has downplayed the security implications of the growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, pointing to threats posed by non-traditional security sources as potentially bigger risks for Southeast Asia.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein speaks on board KD Jebat at Langkawi. (IHS/Ridzwan Rahmat)

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein speaks on board KD Jebat at Langkawi. (IHS/Ridzwan Rahmat)

In the past 18 months China has conducted a large land reclamation project at reefs and other features in the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Beijing has also conducted naval manoeuvres near James Shoal in an area also claimed by Malaysia as part of its territory, despite China repeatedly referred to James Shoal as its most southern land feature.


18th March 2015 – 2:00 by Gordon Arthur in Langkawi

Speaking aboard the frigate KD Jebat on the eve of LIMA 2015, Malaysian defence minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein told Shephard, ‘I am concerned,’ when referring to the current security situation in Eastern Sabah.

He continued, ‘apart from making sure of maritime security in the Strait of Malacca, which involves Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, we need to now focus on the Sulu Sea, and that will involve Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and also Brunei.’

In February 2013, more than 200 militants from the so-called Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo landed in Lahad Datu in Sabah. After defying Malaysian security forces, Kuala Lumpur initiated operations against the group of insurgents. Military action concluded the following month.

Hishammuddin outlined various measures the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) are taking to improve the security situation. ‘What we are doing in Malaysia, as afar as Sabah is concerned, we have moved our AV-8 armoured carriers to Tawau, and we have moved our Hawks [jets] to Labuan.’ The Malaysian Army is also forward-basing and arming its AgustaWestland AW109 helicopters with Gatling guns so they can provide close fire support to troops on the ground.

Hishammuddin added that the country is converting decommissioned oil rigs to be used as offshore bases. ‘The first will be ready by next month,’ he confirmed. These rigs can be used by helicopters and boats as floating bases that will considerably reduce response times during any contingency.

‘We’re also looking at mother ships,’ the defence minister revealed. Referring to cooperation with neighbours such as Indonesia and the Philippines in establishing further offshore basing, he pondered, ‘imagine if we could work together to build a wall, but let’s see how things come.’

In addition, Malaysia is establishing an air force facility at Lahad Datu airport. Later this year, Brunei is transferring four Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopters to the MAF for use in the region as well.

Subsequent to the incursion in Lahad Datu, the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) and ESSZONE were established. The Eastern Sabah Security Zone encompasses a coastline 1,733km long, 361 islands and 31,158km².

The security situation in Eastern Sabah is also directly affecting Malaysian defence spending priorities. ‘Asset acquisition will be based on perceived threats and affordability due to the current economic situation,’ Hishammuddin said.

Regarding regional threats such as Islamic State, (IS) the defence minister said, ‘It’s important for us to think outside the box and to work in tandem with ASEAN.’ He noted that the defence ministers of all ten ASEAN nations were represented at LIMA for the first time, and that all member countries have categorically taken a stand against IS.




(Contains links to several related articles)

South China Sea Arms Race? Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam Modernize Their Military

January 24, 2015

By Carl Thayer
The Diplomat

Over the last two months there have been several significant developments in improving the maritime capabilities of three Southeast Asian states: the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The Philippines

In December 2014 President Benigno Aquino enacted the 2015 General Appropriations Act, approving governmental expenditure of Pesos (P) 2.6 trillion ($59 billion).

On December 17, Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad, head of the Philippine Navy’s weapons systems, announced that as part of his country’s 15-year P90 billion force modernization program, P39 billion ($885 million) would be allocated for the procurement of three guided missile fast attack craft, two guided missile stealth frigates, and two anti-submarine helicopters. The admiral also indicated that the Philippines was planning to acquire three submarines in future.

Admiral Taccad reported that France, South Korea, and Spain had submitted tenders for the frigates. Shipyards in Taiwan, India, Spain, France, and South Korea were in the running to provide the three multi-purpose missile attack craft, while Indonesia and Italy submitted bids to provide the two helicopters.

According to Admiral Taccad, “The events in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) actually gave some urgency on the acquisition.”

Five days later, the Philippines took possession of two AgustaWestland AW109 Power maritime helicopters. This particular model is capable of operating from small ships at sea and performing a variety of naval missions such as surface surveillance, search and rescue, economic zone protection, and maritime security.

AW-109 ‘Power’ helicopters undergo training

On December 23, Captain Alberto Carlos, Chief of Naval Staff for Logistics, revealed that AgustaWestland was the sole eligible bidder for the two anti-submarine helicopters. AgustaWestland offered to sell its AW159 Wildcat, helicopters that can operate from stealth frigates.

On January 9, the Department of National Defense was allocated P 144.5 billion ($3.3 billion) in funding. On the same day, the Philippines signed a contract with the U.S. Navy for the purchase of two used C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft. This will bring the total number of mission-ready C-130s to five.

Finance for this purchase is being assisted by $20 million in U.S. foreign military financing plus $35.6 million from the Philippines. The Hercules are expected to be delivered next year.  The new Hercules transport craft will enhance the ability of the Philippines to deploy forces quickly for territorial defense and humanitarian operations.


In October 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia’s defense budget would be increased to $5.4 billion in 2015, a hike of ten percent.  At the same time, the defense procurement and research budgets were increased by six percent to over $1 billion. This increase in defense funding, however, did not include the replacement of aging major weapons platforms such as MiG-29 jet fighters.

Malaysia’s increased defense spending was designed to meet two concerns: security threats from the southern Philippines and Chinese assertiveness in the seas around James Shoal. For example, defense funds will be used to relocate 19 light combat fighter planes to Labuan island. The airstrip at Labuan will also see the basing of the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft on a case-by-case basis.

US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft

It is significant within this context that the Chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy, Admiral Aziz Jaafar, revealed in his New Year address on January 7, the navy had requested $2.86 billion in funding under the 11th Malaysia Plan, 2016-2020.

These funds, if approved, would be used primarily for the procurement of eight guided missile corvettes and six anti-submarine helicopters as well as for the acquisition of small craft and the replacement of obsolescent torpedo and missile systems on navy ships.


Vietnam was involved in an intense round of defense diplomacy in December 2014-January 2015 involving naval port visits, defense dialogues, and the exchange of high-level delegations involving four regional states in addition to Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Two Republic of Korea warships, destroyer Choe Yeong (DDH 981) and combat support ship Cheonji (AOE 57), visited Ho Chi Minh City for a four-day goodwill port visit from December 3-6. The warships were embarked on an international voyage to 12 countries and a Vietnamese naval cadet was included in the tour.

South Korean destroyer ROKS Choe Yeong in Ho Chi Minh City on December 3, 2014. Photo by Van Khoa

In early December, Vietnam hosted two military delegations, one from Indonesia and the other from Cambodia. Brigadier General Haryoko Sukarto, Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces’ Centre for Strategic Studies, held working-level discussions with the Institute for Military Strategy. Sukarto also met with Deputy Minister of National Defense Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh on December 1. General Vinh requested that the two sides work out a specific plan of action for future cooperation, including stepping up the exchange of delegations. He also suggested that their bilateral defense dialogue be upgraded to deputy minister level.

Immediately after Sukarto’s visit, Vietnam hosted General Nieng Phat, Cambodia’s Minister of State for Defense, from December 4-5. General Phat met with General Vinh and Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh. Vinh and Phat reached agreement on future cooperation in education and training, research and sharing information, personnel exchanges, and consulting each other in multilateral forums. Both sides agreed to establish an annual dialogue mechanism on defense policies at deputy minister level as soon as possible.

On January 8, Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense hosted the third annual defense cooperation meeting with the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry’s Defense Working Group. The U.K. delegation announced that it would increase its English-language program for Vietnamese military personnel by 300 percent commencing in March and fund two Vietnamese senior officers to attend a training course the Defense Academy at Shrivenham. The two sides also greed to cooperate in three new areas: exchange of bathymetric data, geospatial interaction, and cyber security.

More substantial defense cooperation emerged in Vietnam’s relations with Russia, India and the United States.


On December 4, the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, Russia and Vietnamese officials signed a technical acceptance agreement for the official turn over of the third of six Project 636.1 advanced Kilo-class submarines to Vietnam. The new submarine, named HQ 183 Hai Phong, is currently being transported to Cam Ranh Bay and is expected to arrive at the end of this month.

The fourth Kilo-class submarine, HQ 185 Da Nang, is currently undergoing sea trials, while the fifth submarine, HQ 186 Khanh Hoa, was launched on December 20. Construction on the sixth submarine, HQ 187 Ba Ria-Vung Tau, commenced in late May 2014 and is expected to be delivered in 2016.

Vietnam’s Kilo-class submarine Khanh Hoa ready for delivery in Russia

Vietnam’s ambassador to the Russian Federation told Interfax, a non-government Russian news agency, “Although the U.S. lifted part of its embargo on the sale of weapons and ammunition to Vietnam last month, Russia is still our priority partner in this sector.”

President Truong Tan Sang meets officers of Submarine Brigade 189 at the naval base in the central province of Khanh Hoa’s Cam Ranh City


India’s Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag visited Vietnam from December 17-20. This was the first visit by an Indian chief of staff since 2007 when the two countries raised their relations to a strategic partnership. General Suhag and his counterpart, Lt. General Nguyen Quoc Khanh, deputy chief of the general staff, reviewed recent defense cooperation activities and agreed on a future plan of cooperation comprising exchanges of delegations, education and training, information exchanges and peacekeeping operations.

India’s Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag meeting with Sen Lt Gen. Do Ba Ty, CGS, Vietnam People’s Army at Hanoi

In January, India hosted Vietnam for their Ninth Defense Dialogue at deputy minister level. Defense Secretary Shri R. K. Mathur represented India and Deputy Minister for National Defense Senior Lt. General Nguyen Chi Vinh represented Vietnam.

General Vinh was quoted by the Indian media as stating, “Because of very drastic change in regional security, it has set the need for a closer cooperation between our two countries. Mostly in terms of strategic partnership.”

Vietnam’s Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh

Vinh declined to comment in public on whether or not India should play a role in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He did observe, however,

“Other nations must be respectful over the issue of sovereignty. We won’t retreat over sovereignty… (although) we believe differences must be resolved through international laws in a peaceful manner… The international community sees a new and powerful India which is peaceful in nature and can contribute to regional peace and stability.”

The two sides reached agreement to continue to cooperate on regional strategic security issues in multilateral forums such as the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. (ADMM Plus). India and Vietnam currently co-chair the ADMM Plus Expert Working Group on Humanitarian Mine Action.

Mathur and Vinh also agreed that future defense cooperation priorities would include exchanges of delegations, education and training, naval exchanges, advanced technology, defense industry and information technology. Mathur offered India’s assistance in Vietnam’s preparations for United Nations peacekeeping missions.

In an interview with The Economic Times General Vinh elaborated on future defense cooperation:

“Another field of cooperation is the defense hardware industry. There are possibilities of cooperation in shipbuilding, weapons system modernization and research and application of hi-tech defense systems. A new field of cooperation is hi-tech and information technology cooperation.”

General Vinh announced that the first phase of the Indian-funded Center for Information Technology and English Language at the Defense Ministry’s University of Telecommunications had been completed. Mathur and Vinh agreed to initiate the second phase during the second quarter of 2015 with the goal of developing the center into a major software hub in central Vietnam.

Mathur and Vinh also discussed operationalizing India’s offer of the $100 million line of credit. In December, prior to Vinh’s visit, NDTV reported that the Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers (GRSE), a Defense Public Sector unit, would supply at least four patrol vessels to Vietnam. It quoted the chairman and managing director of GRSE as saying that “Vietnam needs at least seven more such ships and GRSE is expected to get the order for the rest of the ships as well.”

During Vinh’s visit the Indian media issued conflicting reports. Official Indian sources were quoted as stating, “Vietnam has agreed to buy four patrol vessels for its Navy… but is yet to formally identify the shipyard it wants them from.” General Vinh was quoted as stating, “Vietnam is yet to decide on the number of vessels to be bought but said it was not just four.”

Before leaving New Delhi, General Vinh paid courtesy calls on National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag.

Vietnam-United States

On December 24, the new American ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, gave an interview to Tuoi Tre newspaper. Osius was asked what weapons the U.S. was prepared to sell Vietnam now that it had partially lifted its arms embargo. Ambassador Osius responded, “[I]n the area of maritime security, we can have the fullest possible cooperation and security. It’s really up to the Vietnamese government to decide what weapons are most appropriate for its strategic challenges.”

Ambassador Osius then went on to reveal that he had heard the Vietnamese government was “thinking very deeply and carefully about what weapons are most appropriate and we will be very respectful of the decisions that the government of Vietnam makes about which weapons are the most appropriate one for its situation.”

On January 19, General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, paid a working visit to Vietnam for discussions with his counterpart Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA). The two sides reviewed progress under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral defense cooperation. They also set priorities for the future including cooperation in humanitarian assistance, search and rescue, military medicine, and sharing of experiences on U.N. peacekeeping.

Before departing, General Brooks met with General Do Ba Ty, chief of staff of the VPA.  General Ty suggested that Vietnam and the United States step up the exchange of delegations at all levels and enhance collaboration in sharing information, maritime search and rescue, salvage operations at sea, and English language training. He also raised a perennial request for further U.S. assistance in “overcoming post-war consequences” such as dioxin poisoning from Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The day after General Brooks left Hanoi, Patrick Dewar, the executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International, visited Hanoi and met with Senior Lt. Gen. Truong Quang Khanh, Deputy Minister of National Defense. General Khanh expressed his appreciation for Lockheed Martin’s role in cooperating with Vietnam in the field of information technology. No further details were reported.

There has been considerable speculation that Vietnam is interested in procuring maritime surveillance aircraft and other technology related to maritime domain awareness. Lockheed Martin produced the P-3 Orion which is now being phased out by the United States, Australia, and other countries.

P-3 Orion

The developments of the past two months indicate that Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all given priority to modernizing their naval forces. Malaysia seeks to replace outdated platforms and weapons systems to keep pace with the introduction of new military technologies, platforms, and weapon systems into the region. The Philippines is starting from a lower base and seeks to acquire the capacity for territorial defense, especially in its maritime domain.

Vietnam’s force modernization program has been underway since the mid-1990s and is now maturing with the acquisition of six advanced Kilo-class submarines. Vietnam also pursues a robust program of defense cooperation with neighboring states as well as major powers to enhance its political and diplomatic leverage. A possible guide to Vietnam’s next phase of force modernization might be revealed when its postponed new Defense White Paper is finally released.

Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also seek to enhance their capacity for maritime security to meet South China Sea contingencies.


(Contains links to several related articles)

South China Sea: China’s own ancient maps disprove Beijing claims

October 23, 2014

Beijing’s big lies shame their great nation before the world.

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)

“Ancient historical facts.” That’s Beijing’s basis to claim islets, rocks, reefs, shoals, sandbars, and waters of the South China (West Philippine) Sea. If asked what those ancient historical facts are, Beijing snorts, “Maps, of course. Yet it can’t present any such map.

So Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio dug up 52 relevant ancient maps the world over, categorized into three:

• ancient maps of China (15) made by Chinese officials or civilians;

• ancient maps of China (three) made by foreigners; and

• ancient maps of the Philippines (34) made by Westerners, or Filipino officials or civilians.

Invariably the 52 old maps show two things:

One, China’s southernmost territory has always been Hainan island-province.

Two, Scarborough Shoal consistently was part of the Philippines.

* * *

Replicas of the ancient maps will be on display for all to see. The exhibit, “Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in Ancient Maps,” is on Oct. 23 to Nov. 14, 2014. Venue: University of the Philippines-Diliman, Asian Center, GT-Toyota Hall of Wisdom, Quezon City.

This is a rare treat for Chinese officials and subjects, including the ambassador. Never will Beijing’s communist despots ever show the maps together in their true context.

Justice Carpio will deliver a lecture at the exhibit’s 2 p.m. opening on the 23rd. Chinese journalists might wish to cover it, if only to learn how Beijing’s big lies shame their great nation before the world.


Art depicting Chinese Admiral Zheng He

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Justice Carpio enumerated the 52 ancient maps in a talk last June at De La Salle University, Manila, prior to month-long exhibit there. They can be viewed at the Institute of Maritime & Ocean Affairs website:

The 15 maps of China by Chinese officials or citizens show Hainan Island by its ancient names Zhuya, Qiongya, or Qiongzhou. Then part of Guangdong, Hainan became a separate province in 1988. The maps are:

(1) A stone engraving from Fuchang, in 1136 AD during the Song Dynasty, published circa 1903 in France. Entitled “Hua Yi Tu” or “Map of China and the Barbarian Countries,” the engraving is now in the Forest of Stone Steles Museum, Xi’an, China. It shows Hainan as the southernmost territory of China.

(2) “Da Ming Hun Yi Tu” or “Great Ming Dynasty Amalgamated Map,” published 1389 (?) during the Ming Dynasty. Painted in color on silk, the original is with the First Historical Archive of China in Beijing. It shows Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

(3) “Da Ming Yu Di Tu” or “Atlas of the Ming Empire,” published between 1547 and 1559 by the Ming Dynasty. It shows China’s then 13 provinces, Taiwan un-included, with Hainan as southernmost territory.

(4) “Tian Di Tu” or “Atlas of Heaven and Earth,” published 1601 by Junheng Zuo during the Ming Dynasty. It shows Hainan Island as China’s southernmost territory.

(5) “Kunyu Wanguo Quantu” or “Map of the Myriad Countries of the World,” published in Beijing, 1602. Jesuit friar Matteo Ricci, with Chinese scholars Zhong Wentao and Li Zhizao, drew this world map on request of Ming Emperor Wanli. To not offend the Chinese who believed China to be the center of the world, Ricci moved China from the eastern fringes of his world map towards the center, placing the Americas to the right and Europe-Africa continents to the left. The map has six panels that can be rearranged, so any part of the world can be center. It shows Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

(6) John Selden bequeathed a 1 x 1.5-meter map to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 1659. Published between 1606 and 1624 during the Ming Dynasty, it was made by an unknown Chinese. It shows China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. The South China Sea is at the center, with Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

The map had gathered dust for 350 years in the basement files of the Bodleian, until rediscovered in 2008. Two things make it unique: First, China is not shown as world center but part of East and Southeast Asia. So it probably is not an official map of the Ming Dynasty. Second, it shows shipping trade routes, with compass bearings, in South, East, and Southeast Asia. Trade routes had not appeared before in any Chinese map. The routes traverse Japan, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Borneo, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia (Java and Sumatra), Myanmar, Goa in India, and beyond. Meaning, the South China Sea was a free and open international trade waterway used by all coastal and trading nations during the Ming Dynasty.

A jurist and philosopher, Englishman Selden (1584-1654) was a polymath and prolific writer. He wrote in 1635 Mare Clausum under the King’s patronage. Mare Clausum, or closed sea, refutes Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum, or free sea. It articulated England’s position then that oceans and seas were subject to appropriation and ownership by individual states. The same view was held by Spain and Portugal. Mare Clausum was written in answer to The Netherlands position, expressed by Grotius in 1609, that the oceans and seas belonged to all states.

Ironically Selden, advocate of the closed sea, bequeathed to the world the Selden Map of China, which shows that international shipping trade waterways like the South China Sea should be free and open for all. Ironic too, Selden wrote Mare Clausum after he acquired the map.

(7) “Da Qing Wan Nian Yi Tong Tian Xia Quan Tu” or “Great Qing Dynasty Complete Map of All Under Heaven,” published 1811 by Qing Emperor Jiaqing. It shows Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

(8) “Da Qing Wan Nian Yi Tong Di Li Quan Tu” or “Complete Geographical Map of Great Qing Dynasty,” published between 1814 and 1816 by Qianren Huang. It shows Hainan as the southernmost territory.

China’s Great Qing Dynasty Flag 1889

(9) “Guangdong Tong Sheng Shui Dao Tu” or “Map of Waterways of Guangdong Province,” published sometime after 1815 by an unknown Chinese. It shows Hainan Island as the southernmost part of Guangdong.

(10) “Guangdong Quan Tu” or “Complete Map of Guangdong,” published 1864 in Wuchang by Hubei Sheng and Guan Shu Ju. It shows Hainan as the southernmost part of Guangdong.

(11) “Da Qing Er Shi San Sheng Yu Di Quan Tu” or “Complete Map of Twenty-Three Provinces of the Great Qing Dynasty,” published sometime after 1885 by the Qing Dynasty. It shows Hainan Island as the southernmost territory of China.

(12) “Guangdong Quan Sheng Shui Lu Yu Tu” or “Map of Waterways and Roads in Guangdong,” published 1887 (?) by Li Zhongpei. It shows that Hainan Island is the southernmost part of Guangdong province. On the upper left side of the map, the annotations of Li Zhongpei state: “Qiongzhou (name of Hainan at the time) is far from the mainland, has a coastline of more than 1,400 li (Chinese unit of distance), and the territory that ships navigating to China will encounter coming from Southeast Asia.”

(13) “Huang Chao Zhi Sheng Yu Di Quan Tu” or “Qing Empire’s Complete Map of All Provinces,” published 1896 by Guangxu Bing Shen. It shows Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

(14) “Zhong Hua Guo Chi Di Tu,” published 1929 in Beijing by Hebei Sheng and Gong Shang Ting. It mentions treaties signed by China and the harbors opened to foreign powers, with Hainan Island as the southernmost territory.

(15) “Zhonghua Min Guo Fen Sheng Xin Tu,” published 1933 (?) in Wuchang by Ya Xin Di Xue She. It shows Hainan as China’s southernmost territory.

(See also Gotcha, 4, 6, and 8 Aug. 2014)

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook:, or The STAR website

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A 1906 map drawn in China shows that country without the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.


The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

South China Sea: Is China Working To Grab Indonesian Territory and Natural Gas?

October 14, 2014


By Shiwen Yap

Is Beijing targeting Indonesia? According to The Diplomat, the Natuna Islands may be the next claim of China in the South China Sea. But the difference this time is the fact that it belongs to Indonesia.

Beijing recently promulgated a map with certain boundaries that claims parts of the South China Sea, including the Natuna Islands as part of its territory. Unfortunately, Beijing faces negligible resistance to the ongoing annexation of the South China Sea.


2013 map by SinoMaps Press. Dashes in pink denote Beijing’s claimed “nine-dashed line” (now comprising ten dashes). Superimposed black dashed lines indicate hypothetical ways of connecting the two southernmost dashes in Beijing’s self-proclaimed southern boundary. All three hypotheticals overlap with Indonesia’s claimed territory around the Natuna Islands.

Over the last two years, China has reinforced its territorial ambitions via intimidation, coercion, military force, naval patrols, localised blockades, oil rig placements, construction of facilities on numerous small islands and sub-surface shoals, as well as antagonistic and hostile actions directed to ASEAN claimants.

Until recently, Indonesia seemed immune to China’s territorial ambition, with Indonesia’s government offering itself as an honest broker and neutral mediator for conflicts amongst its neighbours – China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan.

But China’s recent inclusion of the Natuna region in newly sanctioned maps and Chinese passports, Indonesia’s newly elected President, Joko Widodo, may have to answer China’s aggression as part of a foreign policy response and in order to protect Indonesia’s territorial integrity.

In March 2014, Indonesia acknowledged — for the first time — that China’s unilateral claims on most of the South China Sea include parts of Indonesia’s Riau province, to which Natuna and other islands belong. Despite Indonesia’s attempts to avoid the South China Sea conflicts, it finds itself the latest victim of China’s territorial ambitions.

The Natuna archipelago has been the subject of Indonesia-China conflicts. Until the 1970′s, most Natuna residents were ethnic Chinese. Deadly anti-Chinese riots plagued Indonesia from the 1960s through to the 1980s.  A major eruption occurred in 1998, leading to a decline of the ethnic Chinese population on Natuna.

The decline was more than 80 percent, with many ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia believing that a rumoured secret meeting was held between Deng Xiaoping and Natuna islanders of Chinese origin. The assumption is they asked that Deng to back their bid for independence from Indonesia, or to incorporate the region as a Chinese territorial possession.  Neither happened.

As part of a nationwide transmigration initiative, the Indonesian government started to relocate ethnically Malay Indonesians to Natuna in the 1980s, for the stated reasons of “importing skills and relieving population pressures on the overcrowded main island of Java”. This was perceived by local Indoesian Chinese as a way of diluting Chinese influence locally.

In 1996, Indonesia perceived that China had signalled territorial claims on the seas near Natuna. In response, it conducted a major naval exercise, deploying almost 20 000 personnel to the Natuna Sea.

Jakarta wished to demonstrate resistance to any perceived Chinese attempts at controlling their territories, which were being developed for natural gas production. The private entities involved in this infrastructure project were US energy companies.

At the time,  the military efforts of Indonesais appeared to deter China’s ambitions. But after 18 years of military expansion, China is unlikely to be deterred by  Indonesian efforts, nor perceive it as a credible deterrent.

In 1996, Indonesian military exercises in the Natuna area motivated a regional specialist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Dewi Fortuna Anwar,to state “China respects strength. If they see you as being weak, they’ll eat you alive.”

The late Deng Xiaoping’s wait-it-out mantra regarding the East and South China Sea disputes was: “This generation is not wise enough to settle such a difficult issue. It would be an idea to count on the wisdom of following generations to settle it.”

This sentiment has been superseded by Xi Jinping, who has effectively dominated the South China Sea by virtue of China’s navy. Apparently, the dictum of Mao Zedong, who said that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, will hold true for any future developments.

It might be wise for the Singapore government to review its diplomatic positions and foreign policy. China is many thousands of kilometres away. But for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to be a part of Southeast China. Any perception of Singapore as a Chinese enclave weakens our strategic position in Southeast China, economically and politically.


Chinese Navy’s amphibious landing ship Jinggangshan is seen during a training mission with a hovercraft near James Shoal in March, 2013. Photo: Xinhua

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

South China Sea’s littoral states will fight in the museums, in the archives and on the maps

October 2, 2014

The Economist

THE countries around the South China Sea have long engaged in competitive cartography. It is now becoming a spectator sport. In June, at an exhibition in Haiphong, Vietnam showed off some of its maps. In September exhibitions opened in both Manila and Taipei of material that the governments of the Philippines and Taiwan hope will bolster their respective claims in the sea. On paper, Taiwan’s claim is identical to that of China, whose assertion of sovereignty over most of the sea, within a vast mysterious U-shaped line around its edges, has alarmed its neighbours. So Taiwan’s archives have attracted keen interest. What is more, Taiwan’s elucidation of its claim is a setback for China.

The Taipei exhibition for the first time put on display a small portion of the archives that accompanied Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist party, when they fled Mao Zedong’s victorious Communists to the island in 1949. At the exhibition’s opening, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, clarified what the KMT government was claiming in 1947 when it asserted sovereignty over islands held during the second world war by the Japanese. Unlike China, which has never spelled out whether it is claiming everything inside its U-shaped line—islands, rocks, shoals, reefs, fish, oil, gas and water—or just the islands, Mr Ma was clear that the claim was limited to islands and 3 to 12 nautical miles of their adjacent waters. There were, he said, “no other so-called claims to sea regions”.

This matters, because in theory it means the line could be interpreted as compatible with current international law. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), “the land dominates the sea”. Land features are entitled to 12 miles of territorial waters; habitable islands have an additional 200 miles of “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ). So even if all the islands were China’s—and besides Taiwan and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims—its EEZ would be subject to painstaking demarcation and might not cover the whole sea.

Mr Ma’s intervention will have pleased America. Bonnie Glaser, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, says the Americans have been secretly urging Mr Ma to clarify what the KMT meant when it drew up the map. The hope was that this would put pressure on China to spell out and even modify its own stance. It is part of America’s efforts to avert conflict in the sea, a vital maritime thoroughfare for a big proportion of world trade. America does not explicitly take sides in the territorial disputes but blames China for raising tensions.

Ms Glaser says the American request put Mr Ma and his aides in an extremely uncomfortable position. China insists that Taiwan is part of its territory, to be retaken by force if, for example, it declares formal independence from China. And one of the last vestiges of the fiction that there is but “one China” is Taiwan’s adherence to China’s sweeping territorial claim.

Mr Ma has ruled out co-operating with China on the shared claim, but cannot redraw Taiwan’s boundaries without being seen in China as guilty of separatism. His six-year presidency has been marked by vastly improved relations with China. He would not want the South China Sea to ruin this. Under him, Taiwan is quietly building a new port big enough to host warships on Itu Aba, or Taiping, the largest island in the Spratly chain. But otherwise Mr Ma has been silent. He must hope now that China will regard his clarification as legalistic and trivial.

Many of the archives are still secret, and the Chinese have long pleaded in vain for a glimpse. Some senior Chinese officials were in the audience at the exhibition opening. But Michael Gau, a maritime-law expert at National Taiwan Ocean University, says they were barely interested in the exhibits, which were all declassified, and included a grainy black-and-white photograph of a sovereignty tablet on Itu Aba from 1946. Instead, they wanted to hear “whether Taiwan has embraced the U-shaped line or has been scared by the Americans.”

The answer, it seems, is a bit of both. Mr Ma did not mention the line and is not challenging its validity. It has become an article of patriotic faith in China—appearing, for example, on maps in Chinese passports—as if it were some ancient, well-documented historic proof. In fact, as a new book (“The South China Sea”, by Bill Hayton) makes clear, its origins are unhistorical, unscientific and haphazard. Many older Chinese maps show the country’s southern borders as the Paracel islands, also claimed by Vietnam, but at the north end of the South China Sea. In 1933 Chinese mapmakers, angered by the French assertion of sovereignty further to the south in the Spratly islands, extended the claim right down to the James shoal, which they apparently thought was above water but is in fact a submerged feature near Borneo.

In 1936, the U-shaped line appeared. This, drawn with 11 dashes, was the basis of the line the KMT claimed. In 1953, to be nice to Communist brethren in Vietnam, China’s new Communist rulers erased two dashes, in the Gulf of Tonkin. So when, in 2009, China for the first time submitted the map officially to the United Nations, it was as a “nine-dashed line”. Last year, a tenth dash was added, to make clear that Taiwan falls within the U.

My map is better than yours

If China were to accept Mr Ma’s interpretation it would at least add clarity to the complex interlocking disputes. But though many Chinese scholars tend to agree with him, China seems in no hurry officially to commit itself. Even if it did, a resolution to the disputes would be no closer. UNCLOS can adjudicate on the waters attached to pieces of land, but not on sovereignty over the land itself. And China’s are not the only maps, nor necessarily the most credible. Among those on display in Manila is one showing as Philippine territory the Scarborough shoal, a rocky outcrop in effect annexed by China in 2012. The map dates from 1636, predating the nine-dashed line by a good three centuries.

New book dips into toxic waters of the South China Sea

September 13, 2014

The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia. By Bill Hayton. Yale University Press; 298 pages; $35 and £20. Buy from,

THE rocks and coral known as James Shoal are not much: just a raised stretch of seabed 22 metres (72 feet) below the surface and 107km (67 miles) off the coast of Malaysian Borneo. Yet China, 1,500km to the north, regards it as the southernmost point of its territory, at the base of a vast U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, demarcated by a “nine-dash line” on maps that now appear even in Chinese passports. To compound the apparent absurdity, the shoal’s inclusion on Chinese maps seems the result of a mistake by Chinese cartographers in the 1930s, who thought it was a land feature. But from such historical accidents and blunders has emerged an interlocking network of disputes in the South China Sea that poses one of the most serious threats to peace in Asia, and indeed to the American-led world order.

Bill Hayton’s splendid book lucidly covers these disputes in all their complexity from virtually every angle—historical, legal, political, economic and strategic. A journalist with the BBC and author of a previous book on Vietnam, he tells a good yarn, even when the topic is as dry as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Indeed, he may be the first person ever to have written an exciting account of a meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The book is nonetheless sobering, since it discerns no credible solution to the disputes. The Chinese nine-dash line is claimed also by Taiwan, as the descendant of the “Republic of China” whose mapmakers produced it. It sweeps through the “exclusive economic zones” asserted under UNCLOS by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Philippines is challenging its legal validity. But even if it wins, UNCLOS cannot adjudicate on sovereignty over islands, rocks or shoals. And China will ignore it anyway.

Tiny islands and otherwise uninhabitable rocks dotting the sea have been turned into mini-fortresses to bolster territorial claims. China and Vietnam fought a bloody sea-battle in 1988 in the Spratly Islands, named after the captain of a British sailing barque who visited in the 1840s in the hope of filling her hold with whale oil. And earlier this year a different sort of oil provoked water-cannon skirmishes and boat-rammings, when a Chinese rig drilled in waters near another set of islands claimed by Vietnam, the Paracels.

Yet it may not be resources that are fuelling dissension. Mr Hayton reports that oil-industry experts are sceptical of claims that the sea’s hydrocarbon reserves will make it “the next Persian Gulf”. Most of the recoverable oil and gas reserves are under undisputed waters in any case. And the sea’s once fabulous fish stocks are, in the absence of any mechanism to manage them, frighteningly depleted.

What makes the disputes so dangerous is a toxic mix of domestic and international politics. In China the nine-dash line has been elevated into a nationalist symbol of the country’s efforts to overturn the humiliations it suffered at foreign hands in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But in Vietnam, for example, about which Mr Hayton writes with particular perceptiveness, the government faces pressure from critics eager to seize on any instance of “softness” towards China. Criticism of China has become a proxy for criticism of Vietnam’s own ruling Communists.

Most alarming is the fact that the sea has become the theatre for a battle of nerves between China and America. China believes America is encouraging the littoral states to stand up to it over its territorial claims, and bitterly resents America’s insistence that it has the right to send its spy ships to the edge of China’s territorial waters, 22km off its coast. American power depends on the freedom of navigation, both for its navy and for commercial traffic through the sea. The South China Sea has become the test of America’s strategic “rebalancing” towards Asia and of its willingness to protect its friends and allies from Chinese bullying. As Mr Hayton sombrely notes: “The logic is towards conflict.”

The author adds, however, that in the final stage of his research he changed his mind. When Mr Hayton began working on his book, he believed that some kind of conflict over the sea was imminent. He subsequently became convinced that Chinese leaders understand they would lose a shooting war and are desperate to avoid it, using instead what they call “the period of strategic opportunity” to build up China’s strength. Since they know the other side must grasp this, however, they have to appear belligerent. This is an intriguing argument. But this strategy is so vulnerable to miscalculation, misperception and sheer bad luck, that it is not a very reassuring one.


China’s rise has upset the global balance of power, and the first place to feel the strain is Beijing’s back yard: the South China Sea. For decades tensions have smoldered in the region, but today the threat of a direct confrontation among superpowers grows ever more likely. This important book is the first to make clear sense of the South Sea disputes. Bill Hayton, a journalist with extensive experience in the region, examines the high stakes involved for rival nations that include Vietnam, India, Taiwan, the Philippines, and China, as well as the United States, Russia, and others. Hayton also lays out the daunting obstacles that stand in the way of peaceful resolution.

Through lively stories of individuals who have shaped current conflicts—businessmen, scientists, shippers, archaeologists, soldiers, diplomats, and more—Hayton makes understandable the complex history and contemporary reality of the South China Sea. He underscores its crucial importance as the passageway for half the world’s merchant shipping and one-third of its oil and gas. Whoever controls these waters controls the access between Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific. The author critiques various claims and positions (that China has historic claim to the Sea, for example), overturns conventional wisdoms (such as America’s overblown fears of China’s nationalism and military resurgence), and outlines what the future may hold for this clamorous region of international rivalry.

Bill Hayton is a longtime reporter with BBC News, specializing in contemporary Asia. He has also written for the Times, Financial Times, and Bangkok Post. He lives in Colchester, UK.

Will Vietnam Seek International Arbitration Like The Philippines, Now That China Has Renewed Its Interest in Vietnam’s Oil?

May 9, 2014


If China continues its current activities in the Paracels without let-up, it is providing a pretext for key countries in Southeast Asia to unite in pushing harder for the immediate conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea

By Rommel C. Banlaoi

Security tensions in the South China Sea have flared up again when Vietnam’s naval vessels collided with Chinese ships on Wednesday, May 7, in a serious attempt of Hanoi to prevent Beijing from stationing a US$1-billion oil rig, HD-981, in the Northwest Triton Island of the Paracels.

For Vietnam, the location of China’s oil rig belongs to Hanoi’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (EEZ/CS). Therefore, Vietnam considers the oil drilling activities of HD-981 as an apparent derogation not only of the sovereignty of Vietnam but also of the United Nations Convention of the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).

Both Vietnam and China are parties to UNCLOS. Vietnam warned China that it would take “all necessary measures” to compel China to remove the oil rig.

For China, however, the activities of HD-981 were normal petroleum activities of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) in China’s territorial waters. China warned Vietnam not to disrupt CNOOC’s oil drilling projects in the Paracels, which the Chinese call the Xisha Islands.

The oil rig incident started on May 1, 2014, at around 5:22 am, when Vietnam discovered the deep water activities of HD-981, which was supported by 3 Chinese vessels. The location of the oil rig is around 130 nautical miles from the coast of Vietnam and 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s Ly Son Island, which represents the 1 base point of Vietnam. This point falls within Vietnam’s petroleum Lot. 143 that belongs to its 200 nautical miles EEZ/CS.

To protect the activities of HD-981, China has deployed at least 80 vessels in the waters surrounding Triton Island.

Tipping point?

Tensions in the South China Sea are high again as the oil rig incident in the Paracel Islands can provide the tipping point of military encounters between the two parties. This military situation is something that all littoral states and user states in the South China Sea do not want to develop.

But China and Vietnam had the history of military battle in the Paracels in 1974, which started when Vietnam’s navy attempted to expel Chinese fishing vessels from the waters surrounding the Paracels. China retaliated by sending the warships of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the contested island.

China won the battle resulting in China’s control of the Paracels. The battle caused the death of more than 50 Vietnamese soldiers and almost 20 Chinese soldiers. But Vietnam never surrendered its claims to the Paracels. In fact, Vietnam entered into direct negotiations with China to settle their territorial disputes peacefully in accordance with existing international laws, particularly the UNCLOS.

Since China started the operation of HD-981, Vietnam has conducted 6 bilateral meetings with China at various levels both in Hanoi and Beijing. But China remains intransigent in its position and reiterates its stand that the location of the activities of HD-981 is under the sovereign jurisdiction of China.

There is no doubt that the ongoing oil rig incident in the Paracels is destroying both countries’ strategic trust with each other. It is therefore imperative for Vietnam and China to rebuild their strategic trust if they want to maintain their good political relationship.

Otherwise, the deterioration of their political relationship will push Vietnam to follow the international arbitration option chosen by the Philippines. Vietnam can either join the Philippines in the case or submit a separate case.

If China continues its current activities in the Paracels without let-up, it is providing a pretext for key countries in Southeast Asia to unite in pushing harder for the immediate conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, particularly in the context of China’s activities in the Second Thomas Shoal being claimed by the Philippines, James Shoal being claimed by Malaysia, and Natuna Island being claimed by Indonesia.

What will Beijing do if Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam build a united front to deal with China in the South China Sea? Will China pursue strategic restraint or will it push more strategic assertions of its sovereignty claims?

Let’s continue to watch how this whole saga in the South China Sea will unfold. –

Rommel Banlaoi is the vice president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and Head of the Center for Intelligence National Security Studies (CINSS) of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).


A Chinese ship (L) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 2, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine Guard on May 8, 2014. REUTERS-Vietnam Marine Guard-Handout via Reuters

A Chinese ship (L) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 2, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine Guard on May 8, 2014.  REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters



China deployed as many as 80 ships to accompany the oil rigs, including 7 military ships, 33 marine patrol boats and surveillance ships


A Chinese ship, right, used a water cannon on a Vietnamese flotilla on May 3. Credit Vietnam Marine Guard, via Reuters

Vietnamese sea surveillance officer injured by China’s water cannon attack. Screen shot from Vietnam TV

The South China Sea (called the east Sea by the Vietnamese) is rich in resources — and not just fish.

Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea

Vietnam Navy warship HQ-011 Dinh Tien Hoang
Vietnam’s Navy is capable and growing. Pictured: a Kilo class submarine built in Russia

Photo: Chinese marine surveillance officers stop and search fishermen in international waters in the South China Sea

A Vietnamese naval soldier stands guard at Thuyen Chai island in the Spratly archipelago, which is closer to Malaysia, the Phillipines and Vietnam, than it is to China. – Reuters pic, February 27, 2014.

Vietnamese naval soldier stands guard at Thuyen Chai island in the  Spratly archipelago, which is closer to Malaysia, the Phillipines and  Vietnam, than it is to China. – Reuters pic, February 27, 2014.


Photo: Captain Pham Quang Thanh on the fishing boat that was fired at by a Chinese naval boat off Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands of Vietnam on March 20, 2013

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.


Vietnamese boat captain Vo Van Tu said his boat was attacked by China early in 2014

In recent years, Vietnamese protesters have become more outspoken in accusing China  of piracy and lawlessness in the South China Sea.

Photo: Protesters in Hanoi object to China’s claim to take over the South China Sea last year

A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. The largewr Chinese ship seems to totally out class the Filipino craft. (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )


The chart above shows how Vietnam views the South China Sea (which many Vietnamese call the East Sea)

China views the South China Sea and East China Sea as vital areas with “must have” resources. And China also wants to control the maritime domain to protect the free movement of what it needs from the sea — even in a crisis or war.

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.


The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

The Philippines Seeks Support from International Law in the South China Sea — But It Could Be Sailing into the Wind Against China

April 26, 2014



The Philippines has put its disputed territorial claims before an arbitration tribunal in The Hague. According to Gregory Polin, Manila’s arguments against China’s ‘nine-dash line’ and rival claims are entirely justified. It’s now up to the tribunal to weigh in and convince Beijing of these ‘facts’.

By Gregory Poling for Pacific Forum CSIS

Editor’s note: This article was reposted from PacNet #28 published by Pacific Forum CSIS and originally appeared in “Southeast Asia from Scott Circle” on April 3, 2014.

On March 30, the Philippines submitted a memorial detailing its arguments and evidence against China’s nine-dash line and other aspects of Beijing’s South China Sea claims to an arbitration tribunal at The Hague. The 10-volume, nearly 4,000-page document marks a bold step by Manila, and one that Beijing seems to have believed never would actually happen. The Philippines chose the right course. Now the international community must weigh in and convince China of that fact.

China has refused to take part in the case since it was first brought by the Philippines in January 2013. It has also exerted considerable pressure on Manila to abandon the arbitration proceedings. As the deadline for the memorial approached and pressure failed to alter the Philippine position, Beijing switched to the carrot. It reportedly offered Manila incentives to drop the case, including trade benefits and a mutual withdrawal of ships from Scarborough Shoal, which China occupied in April 2012. But the Philippines did not budge. An incident near a reef in the Spratly Islands on March 29 helps explain why.

Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef, part of which breaks the waterline at low tide. It lies on the Philippines’ presumed continental shelf but, like every feature within the nine-dash line, is claimed by China. The Philippine Navy intentionally grounded the BRP Sierra Madre on the reef in 1999 to garrison troops as a deterrent to further Chinese expansion in the area.

Every few months for 15 years, the Philippine Navy has sent fresh troops and supplies to Second Thomas Shoal. Last year, with memories of the Scarborough Shoal seizure still fresh, Chinese ships began regularly patrolling near Second Thomas and harassing Philippine ships that approached. It escalated these provocations in early March by running off a vessel carrying supplies and, allegedly, construction materials, for the Filipino garrison. Manila responded by dropping supplies to its troops from the air.

On March 29, the Philippines sent another ship, but this time it invited foreign press along to document the Chinese response. The resupply ship was harassed by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that demanded it leave the area and repeatedly turned across the smaller boat’s path, forcing it to veer away to avoid a collision – all while foreign journalists watched. Eventually the Philippine ship entered shallower waters and escaped, delivering long-overdue supplies and troops to replace the garrison at Second Thomas Shoal.

The incident underscored a lesson that the Philippines learned well after Scarborough Shoal: China has no intention of compromising on its claims, restricting them to the bounds of international law, or treating fellow claimants as equal parties to the disputes.

Despite frequent insistence from Beijing that its claims in the South China Sea are based on international law and encompass only the “islands and adjacent waters” within the nine-dash line, Chinese actions tell a different story. Second Thomas Shoal is not an island or even a rock. It is a low-tide elevation that is not subject to any independent territorial claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or customary international law. The shoal belongs to whomever has sovereignty over the continental shelf on which it rests – by all indications the Philippines.

China has not restricted its underwater claims to the continental shelf of the Philippines. In January three Chinese ships patrolled James Shoal, a completely submerged feature on Malaysia’s continental shelf, and held a ceremony swearing to defend Chinese sovereignty over it. Where Beijing makes tenuous legal arguments for its claims to Scarborough Shoal and disputed islets in the Spratlys, it offers none for its claims to Second Thomas or James Shoal.

Such claims, along with increasingly aggressive tactics by Chinese maritime forces, have pushed more complacent nations closer to the Philippine position. Malaysian officials have grown increasingly vocal in meetings with ASEAN counterparts since the Chinese patrols at James Shoal. Even in Indonesia, which had previously tried to distance itself from the dispute, officials appear to be growing concerned. On March 12, an official with the office of the coordinating minister for political, legal, and security affairs acknowledged that the nine-dash line does in fact illegally overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone north of the Natuna Islands. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa tempered that statement a week later, but reiterated that Indonesia considers the nine-dash line unacceptable. Officials in Jakarta seem to be recognizing that, if allowed, Beijing will stake claim to everything within the nine-dash line – islands, waters, and the seabed beneath.

Negotiations have failed so far to make much progress on managing, much less resolving, the South China Sea disputes. No other claimant has the military capabilities to resist determined Chinese aggression, the Philippines least of all. And the United States will not intervene militarily except in the case of an outright act of war. That leaves the Philippines only one recourse – the law. Manila is paying a cost for its case, but it has correctly determined that the cost of complacency would be higher.

Many of the Philippines’ neighbors, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have vouched for Manila’s right to pursue legal action but have shied away from more forthright support for the arbitration case. Extraregional players have been more vocal, especially Japan and the United States. The US government grew more explicit in its criticism of the nine-dash line this year, with Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel calling it illegal during testimony before Congress. On the same day that the Philippines filed its memorial, the State Department issued a press statement supporting the effort for “greater legal certainty and compliance with the international law of the sea.”

US support for the Philippines’ case against China is about more than supporting a treaty ally or curbing the atavistic tendencies of a rising power. It is about defending an international system of law and norms. Nearly every nation, including China, is a signatory to the Law of the Sea. Even those that have not ratified it, including the United States, operate under its rules. And the most fundamental of those rules have been recognized by the International Court of Justice and others as customary international law.

Nations large and small have restricted their maritime claims to the bounds of international law, even in those areas where they consider themselves to have a special prerogative, such as the Caribbean for the United States and the Arctic for Russia. If China, by virtue of size or force of arms, is free to ignore that framework, then the entire edifice risks being discredited. And no nation, China included, would find its security and prosperity better served by a return to the pre-20th-century system of might-makes-right relations.

Whether the arbitration tribunal will find that it has jurisdiction in the Philippines’ case is uncertain. But if it does, the judges will rule at least partially in the Philippines’ favor. That ruling will not restrict China’s claims to above-water features in the nine-dash line, but it will likely invalidate its claims, such as to Second Thomas Shoal, that clearly violate customary international law.

Beijing maintains that it will not abide by any such ruling. The Philippines can only hope to protect its interests by pursuing the case anyway. That leaves the international community, and the United States in particular, to convince China that preserving the international rule of law and playing the part of a responsible power will serve its interests better than will thumbing its nose at the community of nations.

Gregory Poling is a fellow at the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS. This article originally appeared in “Southeast Asia from Scott Circle” on April 3, 2014.

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.


The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.


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