Posts Tagged ‘James Shoal’

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.

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

October 31, 2015


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


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”.


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)


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


Philippine Air Force FA-50 jets from South Korea


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.


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)


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.


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

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


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
By Jason Ng and Trefor Moss
The Wall Street Journal

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 and Trefor Moss at


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

June 1, 2015


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

*  *  *

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!

*  *  *

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.


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/

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.

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


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


 (Contains many links to related articles)

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)


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