Posts Tagged ‘James Shoal’

South China Sea: Will China’s Moves Toward the Scarborough Shoal be the “red line” for the Philippines and the United States?

May 15, 2016

 (The Philippine Star) |

Will the Scarborough Shoal be the “red line” for the Philippines and the United States against China’s intention to create a new artificial island in the West Philippine Sea?

The phrase “to cross the red line” is used worldwide to mean a line in the sand or “a limit which safety can no longer be guaranteed.” If the Scarborough Shoal is declared as a “red line” it means that any Chinese incursion into the area will be prevented with force by the Philippine-American alliance.

Although American naval forces have been sailing within the 12-mile limit in other Chinese held artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, the United States and China have so far avoided direct confrontation. It has also been noticeable that the United States has avoided any explicit statement that it would commit its forces to defend any attack on Filipino maritime vessels and fishing boats that are harassed by Chinese naval vessels. There has been no clear official assurance to the Philippine government by the United States of any US naval or military assistance to prevent any territory from being permanently taken over by China.

American foreign policy has been to declare neutrality on the issue of sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea. Historically, the US position started in the 1930s when Japan annexed these two island groups. But the Scarborough is a different story. Professor Jay Batongbacal, Filipino maritime law expert, outlines the history of Philippine sovereign claim to the Scarborough Shoal.

The 1900 Treaty of Washington between Spain and the United States stated that all territories administered by Spain as part of the Philippine Islands, even if they were located outside the original 1898 Treaty of Paris, were ceded to the United States. In 1938, the United States Department of State official again officially recognized that the US acquired title to Scarborough Shoal from the basis of the 1900 Treaty.

The State Department allowed the Scarborough’s transfer to the then Philippine Commonwealth with concurrence of the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Commerce. Upon its declaration of independence in 1946, the Philippines took over the administration of Scarborough Shoal. In fact, in 1963 the Philippine Navy destroyed a smugglers’ base in the shoal. The Scarborough area was also turned into a gunnery range for the US bases in the Philippines. However, Philippine fishing and survey vessels were allowed to operate in the area.

Chinese fishermen

China did not intrude into the area until after the American bases were closed in 1991. In the early 2000s, China asserted that it had traditional fishing rights in the area. Finally in 2012 China coerced the Philippines into leaving the area and harassed Philippine fishing vessels entering the area.

Political science Professor Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University, recently wrote a paper entitled “Asia’s New Battlefield: The Philippines’ South China Sea Moment of Truth.” Here are excerpts from his article:


China dredger Tian Jing Hao — “The Coral Reef Eater”

“A spectre is haunting Asia – the spectre of full Chinese domination in the South China Sea. Latest reports suggest that China would soon move ahead with building military facilities in the Scarborough Shoal, a contested land feature it has occupied since 2012….This is nothing short of a nightmare for the Philippines which is already struggling to protect its supply lines in the Spratly chain of islands due to growing Chinese military assertiveness in contested waters.

Unlike most of Chinese occupied features which lie well beyond the immediate shores of other claimant states, the Scarborough Shoal is located just about 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines, well within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – and also its continental shelf. To put things into perspective, the shoal lies 900 kilometers away from the closest Chinese coastline. For Manila, the contested land feature is arguably what James Shoal is to Malaysia and Hainan is to Mainland China.”

Professor Heydarian concludes his paper stating: “In the Scarborough Shoal, America is expected to come to the Philippines rescue if the Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific” come under attack by a third party ( China) in an event of armed clashes. The United States, along with allies such as Japan and Australia, are also expected to assume the de facto role of enforcers once the arbitration is out. Whether it wants it or not, the Philippines is now at the center of Asia’s new strategic battlefield.

Will the Philippines be willing to deploy its frigates and coast guard vessels to block any efforts by China to build military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal? This may sound like bravado at this point. But if Vietnam was willing to draw a red line in the Paracel island, then the Philippines could also draw its own red line in the Scarborough shoal.

Role of Japan

Japan will not only play a greater role but will even be the decisive factor in the geopolitical conflicts in East Asia including the disputed territories in the South China Sea. Japan has actually more at stake in ensuring that the South China Sea is not completely dominated by China.

Japan has almost no natural resources. Its resource needs, from Africa and the Middle East, must be transported through the South China Sea. In the past, Japan depended on the United States for military protection. But Japan must now prepare for a future where the United States might not be willing to accept full responsibility to serve as the region’s policeman. The third largest economy in the world must now assume the burden of also becoming a military superpower in order to maintain a balance of power in East Asia.

http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2016/05/15/1583297/scarborough-red-line

South China Sea Moment of Truth

April 30, 2016

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By Richard Javad Heydarian
The National Interest

A specter is haunting Asia—the specter of full Chinese domination in the South China Sea. Latest reports suggest that China could soon move ahead with building military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, a contested land feature it has occupied since 2012. This would allow China, according to a Mainland source, to “further perfect” its aerial superiority across the contested waters. By building a sprawling network of dual-purposes facilities, and more recently deploying advanced military assets to its artificially created islands, China is inching closer to establishing a de facto Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area. Integrating the Scarborough Shoal into its burgeoning defensive perimeter across the South China Sea will not only give it an upper hand in the contested waters, but also allow China to place the Philippines’ capital and industrialized regions within its strategic reach.

This is nothing short of a nightmare for the Philippines, which is already struggling to protect its supply lines in the Spratly chain of islands due to growing Chinese military assertiveness in contested waters. Unlike most of Chinese occupied features, which lie well beyond the immediate shores of other claimant states, the Scarborough Shoal is located just about 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines, well within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—and also its continental shelf. To put things into perspective, the shoal lies nine hundred kilometers away from the closest Chinese coastline. For Manila, the contested land feature is arguably what James Shoal is to Malaysia and Hainan is to Mainland China.

Manila lost control over the shoal after a tense standoff with Chinese coast guard forces in the middle of 2012. But for more than a century, the Philippines has treated Scarborough Shoal as its northernmost outpost in the South China Sea. In fact, as far back as the Spanish colonial era, the Southeast Asian country has treated the shoal as the natural extension of its national territory. During Cold War years, it was a gunnery range and regular area of naval exercises for American forces, which accessed military bases in the Philippines.

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As a leading Filipino maritime-law expert, Jay Batongbacal, explains, it was only after the departure of American military bases (1991) that China began to “take concrete action to assert its long-dormant paper claim to the shoal, beginning with the issuance of amateur-radio licenses to hobbyists in 1994,” the year China wrested control of the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef. In short, China’s assertion of its (supposedly) historical claim on the land feature was hinged on coldblooded balance-of-power calculations. Cognizant of the Philippines’ minimal-to-nonexistent deterrence capability and the Obama administration’s equivocations on the extent of its defense obligations to Manila, China felt confident enough to usurp control over the shoal.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has been drenched in the ecstasy of presidential elections, with growing indications that the next government could be on a much more friendly footing with China, which giddily expressed its hope that the “new [Philippine] government can adopt positive and well-thought policies towards China, properly deal with relevant disputes, and improve bilateral relations with concrete actions.”

Yet it’s far from assured that the next Filipino president will continue the incumbent administration’s alignment with America as well as its tough posturing against China. With the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague expected to issue its final verdict on the Philippines’ case against China in coming months, the predisposition of the incoming Filipino president has gained greater salience. Above all, however, everyone is wondering about the United States’ next move: Will it stand by its ally and try to prevent China’s prospective militarization of the Scarborough Shoal, or, alternatively, will it continue its futile—if not counterproductive—policy of strategic ambiguity on the issue? Time is of essence.

Tightening Noose

China is beginning to feel the heat. Earlier this year, the usually meek Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), after a retreat with U.S. president Barack Obama at Sunnylands, released a joint statement, which can be interpreted as a collective support for the Philippines’ arbitration case and, more explicitly, growing regional worry over China’s revanchist activities in the South China Sea.

Both American and ASEAN leaders expressed their shared “commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal [author’s emphasis] and diplomatic processes, without resorting to threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law,” specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They also reiterated the centrality of “non-militarization and self-restraint” in the disputed waters, in accordance to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, which (Paragraph V) discourages China and ASEAN claimant states from “inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.”

Shortly after the Sunnyland Summit, the ASEAN foreign ministers reiterated their earlier joint statement with America, expressing how they have “remained seriously concerned over the recent and ongoing developments [in the South China Sea] and took note of the concern expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area.” During the recently concluded Group of 7 (G7) summit, the world’s leading Western powers and Japan were even more specific in supporting the Philippines’ arbitration case against China.

In their joint statement, foreign ministers of the leading industrialized countries expressed their vigorous opposition to “intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions,” an unmistakable jab against China’s activities in the South China Sea. They also emphasized the centrality of the “peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes . . . through applicable internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration,” an unmistakable endorsement of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, which has boycotted the whole proceeding.

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A besieged China lashed back, urging “the G7 member states to honor their commitment of not taking sides on issues involving territorial disputes.” Worried about isolation in the region, China has also stepped up its efforts to divide-and-conquer ASEAN, urging Brunei, Laos (the current ASEAN chair) and Cambodia to decouple the South China Sea disputes from the regional agenda. China’s continued foray into Malaysian and Indonesian fishing grounds has also provoked a massive diplomatic backlash, with Jakarta threatening to revisit its relations with Beijing in light of what it views as a direct assault on its territorial integrity and sovereign rights within its EEZ. Malaysia may follow suit. China has practically alienated all key ASEAN states, including (ethnic-Chinese-majority) Singapore, which has openly accused Beijing of undermining regional unity on the South China Sea issue.

Though China’s plans for dominating the so-called First Island Chain go back decades—mainly based on the strategic vision of Beijing’s Mahan, Liu Huaqing, who was the commander of the Chinese navy from 1982-88—it is only in recent years that China has developed the requisite capabilities and mustered sufficient political will to push across its adjacent waters. But China is also beginning to realize that it can’t dominate its adjacent waters without losing the good will of its smaller neighbors. Relations with the Philippines have been particularly toxic in recent years. In fact, under the Aquino administration, the Southeast Asian country has been on the forefront of efforts to build international pressure on China.

Great Uncertainty

The leaders in Beijing, however, seem optimistic that the upcoming elections in the Philippines may lead to some favorable recalibrations. And it has a lot of cards to play. For one, the shadow of an impending Chinese military base just 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines is hovering above the Filipino presidential elections. One can’t rule out the possibility that China is trying to coax the Filipino presidential candidates into compromise by raising the prospect of militarizing the Scarborough Shoal.

More specifically, with the arbitration verdict expected soon, Beijing may be trying to intimidate the incoming Filipino administration against fully using the likely favorable outcome for the Philippines. Many legal experts expect the Arbitral Tribunal to nullify China’s claims over low-tide-elevations (LTEs) such as Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, providing a perfect legal pretext for expansive American-led Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) against China. The arbitration panel may even go so far as deciding on the validity of China’s notorious nine-dashed-line claims, which covers much of the South China Sea, as well as the validity and legal basis of its ‘historical rights/waters’ claims.

At the very least, China may be seeking to cajole the next Filipino president into keeping mum on the arbitration outcome, that is to say, to treat it as an advisory opinion and a relic of the past administration’s strategy rather than a binding legal decision under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Interestingly, both leading presidential (Rodrigo Duterte) and vice-presidential (Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) candidates have signaled their interest in engagement rather than confrontation with China.

On his part, Marcos Jr., the only son of the late dictator, has consistently called for robust engagement and compromise with China. Even before taking the lead in the vice-presidential race, he called on the Philippine government to “make arrangement with China”, which involves negotiations on the Philippines’ fishing rights in contested waters but, crucially, “not the contentious issue of who owns the territories,” essentially, he expressed openness to a compromise over the sovereignty question. Echoing the vice-presidential frontrunner, Duterte has not only expressed his openness to direct talks with China as well as a possible joint development deal, but recently even stated that if China will “build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol . . . build me a train [going to] Batangas, for the six years that I’ll be president, I’ll shut up [on the sovereignty disputes].”

Both candidates don’t seem to be gung-ho on the Philippines’ arbitration case against China. So it’s possible that the next Philippine government will not fully leverage the arbitration outcome against China, and in exchange might seek guarantees from the latter on the nonmilitarization of Scarborough Shoal. But given the great anti-China sentiment in the Philippines, coupled with bitter experiences with join-development arrangements with China in the past, the Aquino administration’s successor will have relatively limited room for maneuver, especially if China decides to build military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal and/or escalate its para-military and fishing activities within the Philippines’ EEZ.

At this point, everything boils down to how far the United States is willing to go to aid its beleaguered ally. There is growing pressure on the Obama administration to openly extend the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty to Scarborough Shoal in order to deter further Chinese belligerence. After all, America’s current policy of strategic ambiguity doesn’t seem to have worked. As America ramps up its military presence in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, it has no interest in seeing China establishing military bases eerily close to Philippine shores.

More directly, the Philippines also has the option of deploying frigates and coast-guard vessels to block any efforts by China to build military facilities on the contested shoal, with America providing back up support—through reconnaissance missions and aerial patrols, inter alia—by maintaining a robust presence ‘just over the horizon’. The two allies have been already conducting joint patrols in contested waters. America is currently augmenting its military footprint, particular air power, in the Philippines, signaling preparations for potential contingency interventions in coming months. In the Scarborough Shoal, America is expected to come to the Philippines’ rescue if Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific” come under attack by a third party (China) in an event of armed clashes. The United States, along with allies such as Japan and Australia, are also expected to assume the de facto role of enforcers once the arbitration verdict is out. Whether it wants it or not, the Philippines is now at the center of Asia’s new strategic battlefield.

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Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in political science at De La Salle University, and formerly a policy adviser at the Philippine House of Representatives (2009-2015). The Manila Bulletin, a leading national daily, has described him as one of the Philippines’ “foremost foreign policy and economic analysts.” He is the author of Asia’s New Battlefield: The US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific (Zed, London), and a regular to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Image: Philippine Marines at an exercise. US military photo, public domain.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/asias-new-battlefield-the-philippines%E2%80%99-south-china-sea-15985

Related:

 (SCMP)

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

 (Contains links to several related articles)

 (Washington Post)

 (The Wall Street Journal)

China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies: China says it has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands since the Ming Dynasty

January 30, 2016

Tensions in the South China Sea have intensified over maritime disputes, especially between China, the Philippines and Vietnam. China says it has indisputable sovereignty over islands there and the adjacent waters. But there are overlapping claims by other countries.

Our reporter Han Bin talked with Professor Wu Shicun, President of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in southern China’s Hainan Province. Professor Wu explained China’s official position. Some of the archives he showed us are being released to the media for the very first time.

Studying and collecting the historical evidence of Chinese sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea. This has been the focus of Professor Wu Shicun’s work for two decades. The deeper he goes, the more he believes that China needs to present its claims clearly and publicly.

“The ‘U shaped line’, or the ‘nine-dash line’, is a line of ownership of the features and historical waters. It indicates China’s claim of sovereignty over all the islands and reefs within the line, and China’s historical rights in fishing, navigation and exploitation in the South China Sea,” Wu said.

This Chinese map was drawn by the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of China in 1946. The 8 dashes mark what’s known as China’s “traditional maritime boundary line”.

And this text book published in 1936 marks the island groups within China’s domain, and China’s southernmost boundary at Zengmu Ansha, known as James Shoal in the West, at 4 degrees north latitude.

Wu Shicun stresses that China was the first country to discover and name these island groups. The history of continuous use and exercise of authority spans over 2,000 years.

This map identifies some island groups as “Wanli Changsha”, literally meaning “long sandy banks tenth of thousands of miles afar.” They are marked as the territory of the Ming Dynasty.

The Institute has collected some rarely seen historical documents, which trace a period of history which is not well known.

Wu Shicun says no other country can provide more definitive evidence to support a claim. But today, the stakes are much higher.

“Due to various reasons, such as the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the pursuit for marine resources, and the increasing US pivot to Asia, the South China Sea disputes have developed from the original disputes over islands and surrounding waters, to a geopolitical contest of politics and interests, resource exploitation, and navigation control, involving both the claimant and non-claimant states, within this region and far beyond,” Wu said.

Wu Shicun believes that handling the South China Sea disputes requires prudence, and the eventual resolution will take a very long time.

He says the only choice for all the claimant states is to put aside their disputes, and agree to common exploitation through dialogue and cooperation.

The background of the South China Sea disputes is complex. That’s why mapping the differences and their historical basis is vital in the analysis of the situation in region. These historical documents from China, may help provide the context in which current tensions are unfolding.

Contains Video:

http://english.cntv.cn/2016/01/30/VIDEqeftZo9gWmicUZXYTfXn160130.shtml

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A scene from a video taken by a Vietnamese fisher shows a foreign boat shooting water at his on January 6, 2016. The boat has the markings of Taiwan’s coast guard. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre, Vietnam
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 (Bill Hayton says China’s claims to the South China Sea are not legally valid)

 

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PLA Navy gains use of port in Malaysia close to Spratly islands

November 20, 2015

Granting stopover rights to China in Kota Kinabalu – which is already open to Western navies – is a gesture of neutrality, analysts say

By Zhen Liu
South China Morning Post

Malaysia will allow the Chinese Navy to use its port in Kota Kinabalu. Photo: AFP

Malaysia has allowed the Chinese navy to use its Kota Kinabalu port, close to the Philippines and the Spratly Archipelago, in what analysts say is an effort not to take sides in the territorial disputes in the region.

The agreement was made when Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, visited Malaysia last week. Chinese ships would be able to use the port in Malaysian Borneo as a “stopover location”, reported US magazine the National Interest.

Having ports as supply stops along significant routes has been a long-term plan for the Chinese navy, said Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong.

The plan includes building its own naval bases, like China has been doing on the man-made islands in the Spratly and Paracel islands, as well as acquiring access to ports in other countries in strategic locations.

One day after the Kota Kinabalu agreement, China also secured usage rights to land for state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan – situated at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

Read more: China’s navy has edge over US through sheer weight of numbers in dispute over South China Sea, say analysts

In the South China Sea, Malaysia did not want to directly confront China, according to Hoo Tiang Boon of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. He said this was in contrast to the Philippines and Vietnam, which were strengthening ties

with the United States in the face of China’s increased military presence.

“The Malaysians are still relatively cautious about trying to confront the Chinese about this,” Hoo said. He added that some Malaysians were displeased about Chinese naval and coastguard vessels entering the waters near the disputed Luconia Shoal and James Shoal, and that fishermen were complaining about their Chinese competitors exploiting the region.

Allowing the Chinese navy to dock and refill in Kota Kinabalu did not mean turning it into a base of the Chinese, he added.

It was a gesture of neutrality, Hoo said, since the same port was already open to international powers such as the US and the French.

Last month, US guided-missile destroyer Lassen stopped over at Kota Kinabalu after conducting a patrol less than 12 nautical miles from China’s man-made facilities on the Subi Reef, a move strongly protested by the Chinese side.

Read more: Hague court claims jurisdiction over South China Sea dispute in defeat for Beijing

Admiral Wu on Thursday told US Admiral Scott Swift that his forces had closely monitored the provocative US actions and had shown “enormous restraint”, while warning that they stood ready to respond to breaches of China’s sovereignty.

From a Chinese perspective, being able to use the Kota Kinabalu port would certainly make the Americans unhappy, Ni said.

Such cooperation would also show that China was able to peacefully interact in the South China Sea with countries in the disputed region, and was not bullying smaller nations, Ni added. “It is also good for the Malaysians. By demonstrating good relations with China, they will be more confident when dealing with the Filipinos and Vietnamese when it comes to their respective disputes with each other,” he said.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the region.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/1881300/pla-navy-gains-use-port-malaysia

Sheer number of Chinese ships gives China an advantage in many scenarios

October 31, 2015

Reuters

HONG KONG When a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near one of Beijing’s artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea this week, it was operating in a maritime domain bristling with Chinese ships.

While the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its technological edge in Asia for decades, China’s potential trump card is sheer weight of numbers, with dozens of naval and coastguard vessels routinely deployed in the South China Sea.

Asian and U.S. naval officers say encounters with Chinese vessels, once relatively rare, are now frequent, even at the outer edges of the controversial nine-dash line Beijing uses to stake its claim to 90 percent of the waterway.

Such encounters will only increase after U.S. officials said the U.S. Navy would conduct regular freedom-of-navigation operations akin to the patrol by the USS Lassen, which penetrated the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit of Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago on Tuesday.

 
USS Lassen

“They are everywhere … and are always very keen to let you know they are there,” said one U.S. naval officer in Asia, requesting anonymity, referring to the Chinese Navy and coastguard.

“If you’re in the South China Sea, you can expect to be shadowed.”

In an actual conflict, the U.S. technological advantage could be crucial, but China’s numerical superiority had to be taken into account, particularly in any stand-off at sea, security experts said.

Chinese warships followed the USS Lassen as it moved through the Spratlys.

While the vessels kept their distance, China’s patience could be tested by repeated challenges to the 12-nautical-mile limits Beijing effectively claims around its seven man-made islands, experts said.

Beijing rebuked Washington over the patrol, calling in the U.S. ambassador to protest. U.S. officials have repeatedly said the United States would fly and sail anywhere international law allowed.

Despite the tensions, the two navies held talks on Thursday, and a U.S. official said both sides agreed to maintain dialogue and follow protocols to avoid clashes.

With one airstrip completed and two more under construction, China’s man-made islands will give Beijing a springboard to extend power deep into maritime Southeast Asia and beyond. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia also hold fortified islands and reefs in the Spratlys.

This 10,000 ton Chinese coast guard ship “Haijing” is among the finest in the world

HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

A Pentagon study published in April showed that China’s South Sea Fleet, which deploys in the South China Sea, was the largest of the country’s three fleets with 116 vessels.

It said China also had more than 200 coastguard ships over 500 tonnes, including many above 1,000 tonnes. China’s coastguard fleet alone dwarves those of Asian rivals combined.

The U.S. Seventh Fleet by comparison operates 55 vessels, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group, from its base in Yokosuka, Japan, where it covers the Western Pacific and much of the Indian Ocean.

“China has homefield advantage,” said Sam Bateman, a retired Australian naval officer and an adviser to Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“At any given time they’ve got the numbers … and quantity not quality can be important in some situations”, including confronting perceived intruders, he said.

Bateman and some other regional security analysts believe U.S. warships could find themselves surrounded if China sought to prevent future freedom-of-navigation patrols.

Some Chinese analysts have warned of blocking and ramming operations against U.S. warships, according to reports in China’s state media.

China already demonstrated its willingess to use ramming. Here a Chinese coast guard ship rams a Vietnamese coast guard ship during the summer 2014 oil rig stand off.

Standard rules of engagement mean U.S. vessels would be reluctant to open fire and risk escalation, forcing them to withdraw, Bateman said.

The U.S. Navy had no comment.

But Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has made increasing the number of ships in the U.S. Navy a priority in recent years. In many speeches he has said: “Quantity has a quality all its own”.

FIXTURE IN HOTSPOTS

China’s presence in the South China Sea has grown steadily, regional naval officers say, reflecting an expansion of the South Sea Fleet and the merging of various law enforcement agencies into a unified coastguard.

While the coastguard performs many traditional patrolling duties of the navy in the South China Sea, advances in Chinese radar means the navy is never far away, they say.

Analysts and naval officers who have seen satellite images of the South China Sea over the past two years have described Chinese vessels keeping a semi-permanent presence at several disputed locations.

The list includes the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal off the Philippines, several isolated shoals in the Paracel islands to the north of the Spratlys, and the South Luconia Shoals off the Sarawak coast of Malaysia.

The Chinese Navy has also staged high-profile patrols off James Shoal close to Malaysia.

Chinese navy has practiced amphibious landings near James Shoal in Malaysia

Scott Bentley, a researcher at the Australian Defence Force Academy who has studied the South Luconia situation, said China had rotated coastguard vessels to maintain an almost constant presence there since January 2013.

“China is now for the first time in history not only clearly claiming the entirety of the nine-dash line, but is actively attempting to enforce its expansive claims within that area,” he wrote recently.

(Reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Martin Petty in Hanoi and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Dean Yates)

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China’s construction work on islands in the disputed South China Sea is “unwarranted provocation”, Malaysia’s armed forces chief says

October 18, 2015

China’s construction work on islands in the disputed South China Sea is “unwarranted provocation”, Malaysia’s armed forces chief said on Sunday, in a rare public comment about the spat from a country which has its own claims in the seas.

BEIJING: China’s construction work on islands in the disputed South China Sea is “unwarranted provocation”, Malaysia’s armed forces chief said on Sunday, in a rare public comment about the spat from a country which has its own claims in the seas.

China’s relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam who have competing claims in the South China Sea, have been strained by Beijing’s increasingly assertive tone in an area through which US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually.

Beijing’s move last year to step up the creation of artificial islands, which it says are mostly for civilian purposes, has also drawn strong criticism from Washington.

“I would like to address the issue of the unwarranted provocation by the Chinese over the construction on the garrisoned islands of the South China Sea,” Malaysia Armed Forces chief Zulkefli Mohd Zin told a security forum in Beijing.

Malaysia’s Gen Zulkifeli Mohd Zin

China has offered assurances that their building work is also for civilian purposes, maritime research and to facilitate safe navigation of ships in that area, he added.

“So time will tell as to what China’s intention is. In the meantime we have got to accept the reasons given by the government of the People’s Republic of China as to the purpose of the development of these islands,” Zulkefli said.

“I hope that it is for good purposes and the purposes of all human kind.”

Malaysia has generally adopted a cautious line in its dealings with Beijing over disputed territory in the South China Sea, in contrast to Vietnam and the Philippines, which have railed against perceived Chinese expansionism.

But two Chinese naval exercises in quick succession around the James Shoal, which lies inside Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, prompted Kuala Lumpur to change its approach last year, senior diplomats have previously told Reuters.

Earlier this month China said it had completed lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the Spratly islands which will help maritime search and rescue, navigational security and disaster relief.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, speaking to the same military forum late on Saturday, said these lighthouses would greatly help safety in the South China Sea.

China will continue to build such facilities, he added, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Philippines ramps up military spending in face of China threat — A small but growing Asian arms race is brewing

July 7, 2015

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Philippine Air Force FA-50 jets from South Korea

MANILA |

The Philippines plans to ramp up military spending over the next 13 years, earmarking more than $20 billion to modernize its forces in the face of Beijing’s maritime ambitions in the disputed South China Sea, a top air force official told Reuters.

Major-General Raul del Rosario, military chief of plans, said the blueprint includes installing radars and sensors, and buying equipment such as submarines, frigates, fighters, surveillance planes and missile systems.

“By the time, we complete this plan, we will have complete coverage of the South China Sea,” said del Rosario, a former fighter pilot, showing the military’s detailed plan that was approved on Friday.

“We will have 24/7 awareness of what is happening in the disputed area and we’ll be able to respond quicker to any contingency in our own exclusive economic zone.”

He said the ambitious plan was initiated in 2013, but top brass had only approved overall spending of 998 billion pesos ($22.11 billion) last week.

Del Rosario said 83 billion pesos had been earmarked for the first five years, 444 billion pesos for the second five years and 471 billion pesos for the last five years.

In 1995, Congress had earmarked 364 billion pesos for a similar 15-year plan. Less than one-tenth of that sum was actually spent by 2010.

Photo: A Japanese P-3C Orion watches over the east China sea islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The Philippines may buy P-3s from Japan to boost their maritime surveillance efforts.

The modernization program is designed to strengthen Manila’s claims in the South ChinaSea, believed to be rich in energy deposits.

China has become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, building artificial islands in areas over which the Philippines and other countries have rival claims. The moves have sparked alarm regionally and in Washington.

SUBMARINES, MISSILES AND SURVEILLANCE PLANES

President Benigno Aquino has promised the military about 34 billion pesos this year, which will fund the purchase of two frigates and a twin-engine long range maritime aircraft.

So far, the government has given the military 9.4 billion pesos in 2014. This has been used to purchase eight combat utility helicopters and as a downpayment for 12 FA50 fighter-trainers from South Korea. Two of the aircraft are expected in 2016.

Del Rosario said that between 2018 and 2023 the Philippines would buy electric-diesel submarines and advanced missile systems.

Vietnamese Navy Kilo attack submarine HQ-182 “Hanoi.”

Three aerial surveillance radars with a range of 350 nautical miles will also be installed in Ilocos Norte, Lubang island and Mount Salacot in Palawan, all facing the South China Sea to detect movements in the disputed area.

These will complement the navy’s two surface sensors capable of detecting ship activities 200 miles away. Three surveillance planes will also be on constant patrol in the area.

“We do not aim to defeat China,” del Rosario said. “But our goal is make any state think twice before attacking. We will make sure anybody attacking us would end up with a bloodied nose.”

($1 = 45.1300 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Related:

Chinese Navy’s amphibious landing ship Jinggangshan near James Shoal called Beting Serupai in Malaysia

Philippines: Filipino activists protest against China’s reclamation in disputed waters of the South China Sea. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/KIRK RONCESVALLES

Vietnam’s Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh – Photo: Vietnam Dung

This 4,000-tonne 3401-class China coast guard ship has been near Malaysia since February 2015.

 

Chinese maritime patrol officers stop and search a fishing boat in international waters — a violation of international law

Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have long complained of rough and unlawful treatment from the Chinese Coast Guard and fishermen….

China’s coast guard ship ramming and using a water cannon in the South China Sea to chase away Vietnamese vessels last year

This photograph taken on May 2, 2014 and released on May 7, 2014 by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry shows a China Coast Guard ship (L) using a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea. (AFP)

Do Van Nam, the captain of the fishing boat QNg 90226, is pictured gesturing on his boat reportedly damaged by Chinese ships in Vietnamese waters on November 26, 2014.

Fishing boat fishing boat Dna 90152 from Vietnam was rammed by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and sunk last May.

Screenshot of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel ramming a Vietnamese vessel in May 2014

Damage to a Vietnam Coast Guard vessel after it was intentionally rammed by a Chinese vessel, May 2014.

Nguyen Chi Thanh, the owner and captain of fishing boat QNg96093, is seen on his vessel after it was attacked by Chinese forces on January 7, 2015.
Tuoi Tre

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.

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.

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File photo: A China Coast Guard ship (left) blocks the way of a Vietnam Coast Guard ship near to the site of a Chinese drilling oil rig (right, background) being installed at the disputed water in the South China Sea, 14 May 2014
Chinese and Vietnamese vessels — usually coast guard ships — have confronted each other in disputed waters in the South China Sea
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Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Warships from China are frequently seen near the disputed islands.

Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Recent photographs of the reefs and islands in the South China Sea show extensive Chinese construction. Ownership of the islands is a matter before the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the U.N.

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

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. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

 

Malaysia Toughens Stance With Beijing Over South China Sea

June 8, 2015

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National security minister says Malaysia will protest “intrusion” of Chinese Coast Guard vessel

A Malaysian ship approaches a ship belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard in the South China Sea on March 15, 2014 in Kuantan, Malaysia. Malaysia said Monday it will protest a recent “intrusion” of a Chinese Coast Guard ship into its waters north of Borneo.
A Malaysian ship approaches a ship belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard in the South China Sea on March 15, 2014 in Kuantan, Malaysia. Malaysia said Monday it will protest a recent “intrusion” of a Chinese Coast Guard ship into its waters north of Borneo. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
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By Jason Ng and Trefor Moss
The Wall Street Journal
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KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia said Monday it will protest what it called the intrusion of a Chinese Coast Guard ship into its waters north of Borneo, an unusually assertive step by the country amid tensions in the South China Sea.

“This is not an area with overlapping claims. In this case, we’re taking diplomatic action,” National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim said in an interview, adding that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will raise the issue directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Malaysia has generally taken a low-key approach in South China Sea disputes, in contrast to that of the Philippines and Vietnam, which have both railed against perceived Chinese expansionism in disputed areas. The three Southeast Asian countries claim parts of the sea, as do Brunei, Taiwan and China.

Last week, Mr. Kassim posted pictures on his personal Facebook page of what he said showed a Chinese law-enforcement ship anchored at Luconia Shoals, an area of islets and reefs about 150 kilometers north of Malaysian Borneo—well inside the approximately 400-kilometer exclusive economic zone claimed by Malaysia. The shoals are about 2,000 kilometers from mainland China.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesmen Hong Lei said Monday he was unfamiliar with Malaysia’s claim that a Chinese ship was anchored at Luconia Shoals.

China claims about 90% of the South China Sea. Luconia Shoals lie near the southern extreme of the so-called Nine-Dash Line, which China uses to demarcate its territorial claim.

Beijing has never defined the precise extent of its claim, however, and the Philippines is attempting to have the Nine-Dash Line declared illegal at an international tribunal in The Hague.

The Luconia Shoals are “rich in oil and natural gas,” Mr. Kassim noted in his Facebook post.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein sounded the alarm over the worsening South China Sea disputes at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore last month, warning that “if we are not careful, it could certainly escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not our history.” The summit was monopolized by discussion of China’s island-building activities in contested waters.

China dispatched a three-ship flotilla to James Shoal, another area claimed by both China and Malaysia around the southern limit of the Nine-Dash Line, in January 2014 for the second time in a year. At the time, Malaysian officials denied local media reports that the country was planning to build a new military base on Borneo to counter the growing Chinese threat.

Malaysian Armed Forces Chief Gen. Mohd. Zin criticized China at last month’s Shangri-La Dialogue for keeping its neighbors guessing about its intentions. “We do not know what they are trying to do [in the South China Sea],” he said. “It would be good if China can come out publicly and announce what they are doing.”

Write to Jason Ng at jason.ng@wsj.com and Trefor Moss at Trefor.Moss@wsj.com

Related:

China’s threat to the world — And will nations obey international law or not?

June 1, 2015

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Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in Zambales province, The Philippines

 (The Philippine Star) |

China’s rapidly growing military structures in the Spratly Islands is causing great concern around the world. Last week, when the US Navy Poseidon spy plane flew over the Spratlys, the Chinese Navy issued eight warnings to leave the restricted area. But China and the rest of the Southeast Asian countries have claims to these islands, reefs, and shoals. Sanamagan! It looks like China is back with a revenge to defy the world.

Is China ready to fight? She has increasingly been assertive and has just warned us that World War 3 is “inevitable” unless the United States stops meddling in the South China Sea affairs. China will not threaten us this way if it does not have the capacity to do so. But through the recent years, it has vowed to strengthen its military powers to pursue its territorial claims.

Don’t forget China is a communist nation. It is the world’s most populous country having more than 1.3 billion people. It has the world’s largest army with a large arsenal of short and medium range missiles. And to date it has just built the world’s largest navy with an increasing airpower. By the way, it also just built a new artificial island (in the disputed seas) to expand its territorial claims.

During an international security conference with Asia-Pacific leaders in Singapore last week, tensions between the two superpowers China (over its activities in the South China Sea) and the US (with its surveillance flights over the islands) started to intensify. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters that the US would “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and that the United States has been flying and operating ships in the region for decades and opposes.” He urged China to stop trying to convert artificial reefs in the South China Sea into a military airfield. He also made clear the US has no intentions of ending air-and-sea operation in that region.

The Philippines tries to resupply a Philippine Marine platoon posted at Ayungin Shoal onboard BRP Sierra Madre on March 29, 2014. The larger ship in this image is a Chinese ship trying to interfere with the smaller Filipino re-supply boat.

China’s territorial claims of the man-made islands (biggest reclamation is in Mischief Reef) could further militarize the region. There have been major dredging operations happening to create the artificial island. They have reclaimed over 800 hectares in the last 18 months. Their actions have clearly violated environmental laws causing damage to biodiversity and ecological balance.

Although China denies it, there are militarization activities in these islands. The construction includes runways that are 10,000 feet long capable of receiving military fighter jets and surveillance planes; port facilities that could harbor military planes and warships; and the presence of 2 lighthouses.

The clear and present danger is that China doesn’t see a problem. They believe they have the right to do whatever they want to do without respecting international laws even if the world sees that they are already violating them.

China Ministry of National Defense spokesman Colonel Yang Yujun, May 26, 2015, announcing China’s new maritime focused strategy. Reuters photo

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By the way, my dad, the late Maximo V. Soliven, happened to be at that meeting with Chairman Deng Xiaoping held at the Fujian Room of the Great Hall of the People in 1986. He was with our former Vice President Doy Laurel. Deng smoking incessantly and punctuating his remarks with occasional spitting with admirable accuracy into a spittoon beside his left foot, had humorously asked: “What do you call our Nansha islands?”

VP Laurel whispered: “Nansha? Saan ba yan? (Where’s that?) What do we call it?” Ambassador Luis Moreno, one of our most brilliant and seasoned diplomats (he had been Ambassador to Vietnam, Moscow, etc.) replied: “Sir, it’s the Kalayaan islands – the Spratlys.”

“Well,” Deng retorted, with a mischievous smile in Mandarin characterized by a strong Sczechwan accent, “your so-called Kalayaan, which is our Nansha islands, belong to us but we won’t argue about that at this time. We can leave it to another time.”

And that time has come. From Cory’s Administration, Ramos, Estrada, GMA and now P-Noy, we have only had one rickety military boat in the disputed area. We haven’t increased our military power, only ourkili-kili power. Susmariosep! So, now we turn to Uncle Sam and our neighbors for help and support. How pathetic, isn’t it? We have no sense of nationhood at all. Lest I even speak about the current state and future of Mindanao (thru the BBL). What message are we sending out to the world? In one part of our country, we are claiming our islands. In another part of the country, we are giving it away to terrorists in a silver platter. Salamabit!

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Philippine President Aquino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario have been alerting the world to China’s activities in the South China Sea. Here, Mr. Del Rosario (right)  chats with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh as they arrive for the 26th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center in Malaysia. AP

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio has taken the lead in the Philippines’ claim of the islands in the South China Sea. He said that all the ancient maps of China show that since the start of the Song Dynasty in 960 AD until the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1912, the southernmost territory of China has always been Hainan Island with ancient names of Zhuya, Qiongya and Qiongzhou.

Rubbing of an 1136 A.D. map engraved in stone showing Hainan (at the bottom of the map) as the southern limit of China

Rubbing of an 1136 A.D. map engraved in stone showing Hainan (at the bottom of the map) as the southern limit of China (South China Morning Post image of map submitted to the U.N.)

On the other hand, all the maps of the Philippines, from 1936 to 1940, consistently show Scarborough Shoal, whether named or unnamed, as part of the Philippines. After the Philippines filed in January 2013 its arbitration case against China before an international tribunal, invoking UNCLOS to protect the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines (we are losing 80% of EEZ), China again stressed “historical facts” as basis for its maritime claim in the South China Sea.

According to the Lowly Institute for International Policy, “The South China Sea is a critical commercial gateway for a significant portion of the world’s merchant shipping, and hence is an important economic and strategic sub-region of the Indo-Pacific.

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It also said that, “The defining characteristic of the South China Sea and a significant source of tensions in the region are the competing legal claims of territorial sovereignty over its islands. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was concluded in 1982 and came into force in 1994, was meant to establish a series of legal measures and laws on the economic rights of nations based on their territorial waters and continental baselines. This is encompassed in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200 nautical mile area that extends from the baseline of the coastal nation and gives the nation sole natural resource exploitation rights within the zone.

Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio shows an ancient map that depicts the Scarborough Shoal as part of the Philippines to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. MATIKAS SANTOS/INQUIRER.net

The Philippines invokes its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the main basis of its claim. If you talk about respecting the UNCLOS clearly, the Philippines has the legal right to the island because the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China) is a little more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China.

A Chinese Coast Guard ship keeps an eye on China’s oil rig near Vietnam in May 2014. Vietnam said China placed the rig within Vietnamese territorial waters, in violation of international law. Does this move signify that China will just take what it wants in the South China Sea?

China’s “nine-dashed line” (now increased to ten-dashed) is a clear violation of the law and has major implications that will affect the Philippines. Aside from losing about 80 percent of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (including part of the Malampaya gas field) and losing 40% of our fish source and energy assets, it will also weaken the country’s security and defense.

The threat of China is a serious one. We need to deeply think about it. I am sure our World War II veterans know the pain and sorrows a war a can bring. Let us pray for God to continue to protect our people and our sovereign land.

http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2015/06/01/1460897/chinas-threat-world

Maybe the Philippines is a greater thorn in the side of China that the U.S. is just now. Above: U.S. President Barack Obama talks during a joint news conference with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines at the Malacanang Palace in Manila on April 28, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Related:

 (Russia has decided to ignore international law on freedom of navigation)

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 (Contains many links to related articles)

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

May 19, 2015

Reuters

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


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