Posts Tagged ‘James Shoal’

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)

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

October 23, 2014

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

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)

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

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

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

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

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

Invariably the 52 old maps show two things:

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

Two, Scarborough Shoal consistently was part of the Philippines.

* * *

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

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

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


Art depicting Chinese Admiral Zheng He

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s Great Qing Dynasty Flag 1889

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Gotcha archives on Facebook:, or The STAR website

* * *



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

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

Map of South China Sea

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

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

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

October 14, 2014


By Shiwen Yap

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Map of South China Sea

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

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

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

October 2, 2014

The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My map is better than yours

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


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