Posts Tagged ‘Malaysia’

Coal on the Rise in China, US, India After Major 2016 Drop

June 26, 2017

BEIJING — The world’s biggest coal users — China, the United States and India — have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from last year’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions.

Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6 percent, for the three countries compared to the same period last year. The change is most dramatic in the U.S., where coal mining rose 19 percent in the first five months of the year, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.

Coal’s fortunes had appeared to hit a new low less than two weeks ago, when British energy company BP reported that tonnage mined worldwide fell 6.5 percent in 2016, the largest drop on record. China and the U.S. accounted for almost all the decline, while India showed a slight increase.

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Russian underground coal mine. Credit Sputnik

The reasons for this year’s turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in U.S. energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the U.S. has played at most a minor role, they said.

The fuel’s popularity waned over the past several years as renewable power and natural gas made gains and China moved to curb dangerous levels of urban smog from burning coal.

Whether coal’s comeback proves lasting has significant implications for long-term emission reduction targets, and for environmentalists’ hopes that China and India could emerge as leaders in battling climate change.

While the U.S. reversal is expected to prove temporary, analysts agree that India’s use of coal will continue to grow. They’re divided on the forecast for China over the next decade.

Industry representatives say the mining resurgence underscores coal’s continued importance in power generation, though analysts caution its long-term growth prospects remain bleak.

The U.S., China and India combined produce about two-thirds of the coal mined worldwide, and the latter two nations also import coal to meet demand. India’s production expanded even during coal’s global downturn.

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“If you look at those three countries, everyone else is irrelevant in the scheme of things,” said Tim Buckley, energy finance director for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Burning coal for power, manufacturing and heat is a primary source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say is driving climate change. Reducing such emissions was a critical piece of the 2015 Paris climate accord that Trump announced this month he wants to exit.

Almost every other nation continues to support the deal, including China and India. China, India and the U.S. produce almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal accounts for almost half of greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the Global Carbon Project. China is by far the world’s largest coal user, consuming half the global supply.

China has committed to capping its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and some have suggested it might accomplish that up to a decade earlier. Xizhou Zhou, a senior energy analyst with IHS Markit based in Beijing, said the recent uptick in coal production that the AP identified raises doubts about such optimism, but he added that China is still expected to meet its 2030 deadline.

“Coal consumption will continue to increase, mainly driven by Asian countries,” Zhou said. “We’re seeing a recovery starting this year and an increase until the mid-2020s before you see coal plateau globally.”

China’s production rose more than 4 percent through May, according to government figures, compared to a drop of more than 8 percent for the same period a year earlier.

Hundreds of mines shut down in China last year and the government forced others to cut back hours in a bid to reduce an oversupply of coal and boost prices. The government has since relaxed that policy and production is rebounding.

Also, as China continues to recover from a 2015 economic slowdown, it’s seeing increased manufacturing and new investments in roads, bridges and other projects. That creates more demand for electricity, most of which continues to come from coal even after huge Chinese investments in wind and solar power.

Despite the announced cancellation or suspension of 100 coal plants, others remain under construction, meaning consumption of coal for power will continue to rise, Zhou said. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Pakistan also are building new plants.

In India, where 70 percent of electricity comes from coal, production has long been increasing in defiance of global trends. The country has long argued it has both a right and an obligation to expand power generation as it extends electricity access to hundreds of millions of people who still have none. India also is seeking to reduce its reliance on imported coal by mining more of its own reserves.

An AP review of reports from the Coal Ministry of India found that mining among state-owned companies, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the nation’s production, grew 4 percent in the first five months of this year.

In the U.S., the bulk of the increase occurred in major coal-producing states including Wyoming, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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Photo: A dragline uncovers a stretch of coal seam at the North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, Campbell County, Wyoming, where 235 employees were laid off earlier this year.  Peabody Energy, Inc.

Prices for natural gas, a competing fuel in power generation, edged up in early 2017, helping coal, said Andy Roberts of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That’s expected to be a temporary boost given the nation’s huge natural gas supplies. A cold winter in parts of the U.S. also benefited coal by increasing power demand.

World Coal Association Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Sporton acknowledged that it’s been “a difficult few years for coal” but argued that the market remains strong, particularly in China and India.

“All the signs point to (a) positive upward trend,” Sporton told the AP.

Still, coal’s dominant role in providing electricity has been eroding. China now has more renewable energy than any other nation. Its Communist Party leaders have vowed to invest $360 billion in the sector through 2020.

India’s government has said it needs no more coal-powered power plants and last month canceled 13.7 gigawatts in proposed plants, enough to power more than 10 million homes if the plants ran at full capacity. It has promoted renewables with a raft of incentives and declared that power from some solar installations should be used first when demand goes up.

Analysts said India is struggling to adjust to what appears to be a “new normal” — with its growth in electricity capacity outstripping the rise in demand. Manufacturing has not grown as quickly as hoped, and though transmission is steadily expanding to reach more households, 260 million Indians are still off-grid.

As a result, the country’s power plants are running at below 60 percent of capacity on average — down from 2009, when India was using 75 percent of its capacity.

“The private sector is not undertaking any new investment in thermal energy” such as coal plants, said Ashok Khurana, director general of the Association of Power Producers in India. “There’s no sense in it.”

Trump’s advocacy for reviving the coal-mining industry stands as an exception among the three nations’ leaders. Yet the U.S. also is where coal’s rebound could be briefest.

Cheap natural gas, a growing appetite for renewable energy and stricter pollution rules spurred utilities to shut down or announce retirements for several hundred U.S. coal plants. U.S. utilities that invested heavily in alternatives are considered unlikely to revert to coal, Roberts said, meaning market forces and not Trump’s politics will play the biggest role in determining the industry’s future.

Buckley, the energy finance specialist, said he expects the mining increases of 2017 to emerge as an anomaly and global declines will soon resume. But he noted that many existing coal plants will continue operating for years to come.

“We’re not talking about the end of coal tomorrow or the end of coal next decade. We’re talking about a 40-year transition,” he said.


Daigle reported from New Delhi.

Muslims in Asia Pray for Peace as Ramadan Holy Month Ends — “I think we need to go back to the basis of Islam which is to give peace to all mankind”

June 25, 2017

SINGAPORE — Muslims in Asia celebrated the Eid-al-Fitr religious holiday on Sunday with prayers for peace as they marked the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

As at the start of Ramadan, during which believers abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, Eid-al-Fitr depends on the sighting of the moon and its celebration varies in different countries.

The day begins with early morning prayers and then family visits and feasts.

In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, residents said they hoped the spirit of Eid would overcome fears about rising militancy in the country with the largest number of Muslims.

A police officer was killed on Sunday in an attack by suspected Islamist militants in the city of Medan.

Islamic State sympathizers have carried out a series of mostly low-level attacks in Indonesia over the past few years.

“I think we need to go back to the basis of Islam which is to give peace to all mankind,” Samsul Arifin told Reuters Television.

In the Philippines, fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels in the southern town of Marawi eased on Sunday as the military sought to enforce a temporary truce to mark the Eid holiday.

Small skirmishes took place early in the day in parts of Marawi, where fighters loyal to Islamic State were clinging on for a fifth week.

Muslims attended prayers at a Marawi mosque in an emotional gathering. The fighting has displaced some 246,000 people, and killed more than 350 people, most of them rebels, and about 69 members of the security forces.

“This is the most painful, the most sorrowful occasion, Eid al-Fitr, that we have experienced for the last hundreds of years,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a spokesman for the provincial crisis committee.

In Malaysia, the civil war in Yemen was on the minds of two refugees who prayed at the main mosque in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Sisters Sumayah and Nabila Ali said they sought refuge in Malaysia after fleeing Yemen where more than 10,000 people have died in two years of conflict.

“When we say poor people, children who are not safe, are always in danger, we hope that one day it will be safe again and people will be happy again. Inshallah,” said 28-year-old Sumayah.

(Reporting by Reuters Television, writing by Darren Schuettler, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)


 Iranians hold a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Shahab-3 long range missile during a rally marking Quds Day. Photo: EPA

US wanted terror leader may have fled Philippine city

June 24, 2017


© PA/AFP / by Ted ALJIBE | Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in Marawi and the entire southern region of Mindanao

MARAWI (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – One of America’s most wanted terrorists may have escaped a five-week battle with Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city, which began with a raid to capture him, the military said Saturday.Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia, has not been seen in the battle zone in Marawi City, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

An attempt by government troops to arrest Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered a rampage by Islamist militants flying black IS flags and backed by some foreign fighters who seized parts of the mainly Muslim city.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Marawi and the entire southern region of Mindanao, unleashing an offensive to crush what he said was an attempt by the jihadist group to establish a province in the area.

“He (Hapilon) has not been seen in the area. We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere but as of now we are still confirming the reports,” Galvez said in an interview with DZBB radio station.

Asked if Hapilon was on the run, he said: “Yes, yes because reportedly he suffered a lot of casualties. Majority of his group, more than half, were casualties.”

– $5 million bounty –

Hapilon was indicted in Washington for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines, and has a $5-million bounty on his head from the US government, which has his name on its “most wanted” terror list.

He leads a faction of the Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf that has pledged allegiance to IS.

Security analysts say he has been recognised by IS as its “amir”, or leader, in Southeast Asia, a region where the group wants to establish a caliphate.

The military says Hapilon’s group had joined forces with another armed militancy, the Maute Group, to launch the Marawi siege, now on its second month.

On Saturday, security forces continued intense air raids and artillery fire on pockets of Marawi still occupied by the militants, while troops fought house-to-house gunbattles on the ground.

“The operation is going on, the firefights are intense. We have gained substantial ground,” said Galvez, the military commander.

Nearly 300 militants and 67 government troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.

Galvez said there are “strong indications” that two or three of the Maute brothers — among the key players in the siege — had been killed, including Omarkhayam Maute, believed to be the group’s top leader.

Only one brother, Abdullah, has been visible in the fighting, Galvez added.

– Foreign fighters –

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in Manila the military is “validating an intelligence report” that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, who helped lead and finance the Marawi siege, died from wounds he had sustained in the early days of the fighting.

Abella said he would not officially confirm the death unless government troops recovered the remains.

When asked about Mahmud’s reported death, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told AFP in a text message in Kuala Lumpur: “Not true. He is still alive.”

Abella said authorities were also verifying another intelligence report that 89 foreign fighters are in Mindanao, entering the region through the Philippines’ porous maritime borders with Malaysia and Indonesia.

Galvez said troops on Friday recovered two decomposing corpses that bore features of people from the Middle East.

Eight other militants, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, had been killed earlier in the fighting, defence chief Delfin Lorenzana has said.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on June 19 launched joint patrols on their maritime borders to block the movement of the militants.

Australia said Friday it will send two high-tech spy planes to help Filipino troops fight the militants, joining the US which has also provided similar help.



Financier of Islamic State Related Maute Group Killed in Philippine Battle — ISIS Inspired Fighters “Shattered” — Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia Assisting the Philippines

June 23, 2017

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Malaysian “financier” Mahmud bin Ahmad —AP

MARAWI—A Malaysian militant who helped lead and finance the siege of Marawi and one of the Maute brothers who carried out the violence are believed to have been killed in the fighting, with the Islamic State (IS)-backed terrorists now constricted in a section of the besieged city after a month of fighting, the military said on Friday.

Gen. Eduardo Año told The Associated Press (AP) by telephone that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad was wounded in the fighting in Marawi last month and reportedly died on June 7 of his wounds.

He said the military had a “general idea” of where the militant was buried, and troops were trying to locate the exact spot with the help of civilians to recover the remains and validate the intelligence that was received.

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Maute brothers Abdullah (left) and Omarkhayam Maute.

A local militant leader, Omarkhayam Maute,  is also believed to have been killed in the early days of intense fighting, he said.

Año, citing intelligence shared by foreign counterparts, said Mahmud was suspected of channeling more than P30 million  from IS to acquire firearms, food and other supplies for the attack, which began late May.

A former Malaysian university professor who received training in Afghanistan, Mahmud appeared in a video showing terrorist leaders planning the Marawi siege in a hideout, a sign of his key role in the uprising.

The video, since made available to the press, was seized by Filipino troops in a militant hideout on

May 23.

Malaysian security officials have also received information of Mahmud’s killing in Marawi and were trying to confirm it.

Two other leaders of the uprising, top Abu Sayyaf fighter Isnilon Hapilon and Maute’s brother, Abdullah, were still with other gunmen fighting in Marawi, Año said.

A month ago, about 500 local militants, along with several foreign fighters, stormed into Marawi, a bastion of Islamic faith in the south.

Troops since then have killed about 280 gunmen, recovered nearly 300 assault firearms and regained control of 85 buildings.

Many of the high rises were used as sniper posts to slow down the advance of government forces, the military said.

At least 69 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have also perished in the fighting.

Of the 19 of 96 villages across the lakeside city of 200,000 people that the black flag-waving militants occupied, only four villages remain under their control, the military chief said.

“They are constricted in a very small area. They’re pinned down,” Año said. He also said three boatloads of gunmen, who tried to join the militants, were blasted by navy gunboats three days ago in Lanao Lake, which borders Marawi.

The gunmen may have either been terrorists repositioning from nearby areas or rebel reinforcements from elsewhere, he said.

Still, the audacious uprising by the heavily armed fighters and their ability to hold on to large sections of a city for weeks had surprised the government and the military, and sparked fears among Southeast Asian governments that IS was seriously moving to gain a foothold in their region.

Australia said on Friday the Philippines had accepted an offer of assistance. Defense Minister Marise Payne said Australia would deploy two AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support to the Philippine military.

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Australian AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support to the Philippine military

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts met in a closed-door conference with top security officials in Manila on Thursday to discuss the Marawi crisis.

They agreed on a plan of action to combat terrorism and rising extremism and deal with the prospects of Asian fighters returning to their region from Syria and Iraq, where IS has been losing territory in a protracted conflict.

Año said that the battle in Marawi was taking longer than usual because the militants were using civilians as human shields and had no qualms destroying an entire city and killing anyone on their path.

“We can just bomb them away or use napalm bomb to burn everything, but then, we will not be any different from them if we do that,” he said.

Maute killed?

Army 1st Division  spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said there were indications that Omarkhayam Maute had been killed “in one of the four conflict areas that we have been talking about,” referring to the villages of Lilod, Raya Madaya, Marinaut and Bangolo.

Herrera said they still could not categorically say if Omarkhayam was indeed killed “because we do not have the body.”

“We can’t say what day he was killed, what caliber (of firearms) had killed him or where was the cadaver buried. But we have been reporting as early as two weeks ago that he was a fatality. There’s a strong indication and we continue to make validations,” Herrera said.

As this developed, Herrera said the military continued to seize more areas from the extremists, who are now numbering between 90 to 100 fighters. “We have killed a large number of them so their size had shrunk,” he said.

But Herrera maintained the military could not say when the fighting would end.

“We did not establish or say anything on deadlines. Our goal is to continue our combat clearing operations. Our battlefield is very fluid and dynamic. Every day, the location of the enemy changes,” he said.

Airstrikes continued on Friday, and soldiers continued their push into the enemy location inside the city. Herrera said the terrorists were now “desperate because their area continues to diminish.”

“They continue to use the hostages as human shields and they maximized their use of explosives to slow us down,” he said.

Local officials involved

Also on Friday, government security forces recovered about 2 kilograms of “shabu” from the house of a former mayor who was also tagged as a supporter of the Maute gunmen.

Chief Insp. William Santos of Philippine Drug Enforcement Group for Mindanao, told reporters the shabu, with an estimated street value of P10 million, was recovered around

10 a.m. from the house of former Marawi Mayor Omar Solitaio Ali.

Santos said Ali was suspected to be a financier of the Maute group.

Ali’s brother, Fahad Salic, also a former mayor of Marawi, was arrested in Misamis Oriental on June 7.

In Pantao Ragat in Lanao del Norte, Mayor Lacson Lantud said he wasn’t surprised to learn that his brother, Hata Macabanding Lantud, was arrested in August along with some Maute members.

“Prior to that, he was talking to my wife Eleonor. My wife thought of calling him for a vacation travel to Vigan. But my wife got surprised when he said he was not in Manila but in Butig (Lanao del Sur) and he was in the middle of a firefight between soldiers and the Maute,” Lantud told the Inquirer.

He said it remained a puzzle how his brother was convinced to join in the fight.

Lantud said Hata, a graduate of the Philippine School of Business Administration in Manila, had just passed the board exams for public accountants then and they did not know the reason behind his joining the terrorist group.

“We didn’t have any clue that he had been radicalized. The months before that, we even regularly saw him in Manila and we didn’t see any indication. I helped him go through college and he was close to me,” Lantud said.

He said that when news came to them that eight Maute members, who were transporting explosives, had been arrested in the village of Nanagun in Lumbayanague, Lanao del Sur—they still had no idea that Hata was among them. —WITH A REPORT FROM AP

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Japan’s largest warships heads into South China Sea, in defiance of China

June 23, 2017


Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) soldiers aboard JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo take part in a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 22, 2017. Picture taken June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo
By Nobuhiro Kubo | SOUTH CHINA SEA

Japan’s largest warship steamed into the South China Sea this week in defiance of Chinese assertiveness, with Asian military guests on board to witness helicopters looping over the tropical waters and gunners blasting target buoys.

China claims most of the energy-rich sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, much of it to and from Japanese ports. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

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 JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo

Japan worries that China is cementing its control in the South China Sea with manmade island bases, arms sales and development aid.

“We are not just here to show our presence, but from the outside that is what it looks like,” Rear Admiral Yoshihiro Goga, the commander of the mission, said aboard the Izumo-class helicopter carrier.

Military officers from the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) boarded the 248-metre carrier in Singapore on Monday. It returned on Friday after demonstrating naval skills and kit Tokyo hopes will help it bolster alliances in the region.

The Izumo turned back to Singapore before crossing a boundary known as the nine-dash-line into what China claims are its waters.

The high-profile cruise was part of a hitherto unseen coordinated push by Japan’s Self Defense Forces and defense bureaucrats to bolster ties with countries ringing the contested waters. It also marked a concerted push into military diplomacy by hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan last week held a military technology seminar near Tokyo for representatives from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore and this week invited ASEAN officers to a disaster relief drill in Tokyo.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) helicopter carrier Izumo (L) receives fuel replenishment from JMSDF Takanami class destroyer Sazanami during a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 20, 2017. Picture taken June 20, 2017.REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) SH-60 Seahawk helicopters are seen on JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo as they take part in a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 21, 2017. Picture taken June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo

Abe’s government believes Japan may be better placed to prise Southeast Asian nations away from Chinese influence than its U.S. allies with a gentler approach that emphasizes a common Asian heritage, two sources with knowledge of the diplomatic strategy told Reuters earlier.

While the U.S. has confronted China directly by sending warships close to China’s island bases in the South China Sea, Japan so far has shied away from similar provocations.

As the Izumo neared the nine-dash line, the crew were on lookout for Chinese aircraft or ships sent to shadow the flag ship. Apart from brief radar contact with an unidentified aircraft announced by the ship’s public address system the carrier, however, sailed on unmolested.

(For a graphic on leading aircraft carriers, click

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.

China’s Walk Out of Vietnam Meeting Highlights Illusion of South China Sea Calm

June 23, 2017

On Thursday, news surfaced that a China-Vietnam defense meeting had been unexpectedly canceled, reportedly due to private disagreements over the South China Sea rather than the logistical issues publicly mentioned by Chinese defense industry. If true, this would be far from surprising given the past record of saber-rattling between Beijing and Hanoi. But more broadly, it should also serve as a warning to the international community that despite Chinese attempts to downplay the South China Sea issue, Beijing’s actions could quickly help escalate tensions once again for one reason or another.

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The incident itself broke out as China and Vietnam were due to hold the fourth iteration of their border defense friendship exchange program, which was scheduled to be held in both countries June 20-22. Though the lead up to the engagement had been proceeding as scheduled, with Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Fan Changlong meeting with high-level Vietnamese officials and both sides talking up recent advances such as an agreement inked on personnel training, on June 21 Chinese defense ministry told state media that Fan had cut short his visit and Beijing had decided to cancel the meeting due to “working arrangements.” Other news outlets quickly speculated that it could be due to disagreements over the South China Sea.

General Fan Changlong walked out of a South China Sea meeting in Vietnam and returned to China unexpectedly…

If this is true, this is far from surprising. Sino-Vietnamese saber-rattling in the South China Sea is not new. Of the four Southeast Asian claimants – which also include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines – Vietnam has been in the South China Sea disputes the longest and has felt Chinese assertiveness the hardest, with Chinese troops seizing control of the Western Paracels from Hanoi as far back as 1974. For Vietnam, the disputes are just a slice of a centuries-old problem of managing its giant northern neighbor China, which occupied it for nearly 1,000 years from first century BC till tenth century AD.

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China’s gigantic oil rig, Haiyangshihou 981

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.Over the years, Vietnam has become by far the most militarily capable among the four claimants within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and, along with the Philippines (until recently), has tended to be the most forward-leaning on the issue within the region. This is despite feeling the heat of occasional bouts of Chinese assertiveness, with a recent case in point being Beijing’s decision to place an oil rig within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the summer of 2014 which sparked a crisis in the bilateral relationship. Despite this, both sides have continued proceeding with some confidence-building measures, including in the defense realm with the annual border defense meeting.

This round of Sino-Vietnamese saber-rattling could well be the product of simmering tensions that eventually came to a head. With the weakening of the Philippines’ South China Sea position under President Rodrigo Duterte, Vietnam has essentially become the sole forward-leaning Southeast Asian claimant in the disputes (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s ASEAN South China Sea Blow”). This has naturally impressed upon Hanoi the importance of strengthening ties with countries like the United States and Japan, and that exactly what it has been doing, even though Vietnamese officials have continued to carefully calibrate that with engagements with China as well (See: “US-Vietnam Relations Under Trump in the Spotlight with Premier Visit”).

But for China, which has sought to capitalize on the loss of ASEAN momentum on the South China Sea as well as what it perceives as a distracted United States, this is an opportune moment to put pressure on individual states – whether it be Vietnam as a claimant or Singapore as the ASEAN-China country coordinator – on their specific behavior and existing alignments under the guise of lowering tensions (See: “Beware the Illusion of China-ASEAN South China Sea Breakthroughs”). And ASEAN officials say that is exactly what some Chinese officials have been doing, even issuing warnings against so-called “unconstructive actions”. Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert, told Radio Free Asia that China had also been pressuring Vietnam to stop energy exploration activities in Vanguard Bank in the South China Sea.

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These contending viewpoints between Beijing and Hanoi were bound to collide at some point. Thayer noted that tensions could flare up if not properly managed, with China reportedly deploying ships and aircraft to the area which increased the possibility of a military clash. But more broadly, for the rest of the international community, this episode should also serve as another warning that despite Chinese attempts to downplay the South China Sea issue, the very actions that Beijing is taking to allegedly deescalate the situation could once again help escalate it sooner than one might expect.

This is also consistent with a broader pattern in China’s South China Sea behavior which I have termed “incremental assertiveness,” where temporary bouts of charm or signs of calm from Beijing have been followed by yet another round of coercion (See: “Will China Change its South China Sea Approach?”). In the context of Sino-Vietnam relations, it is worth recalling that just seven months after unveiling a new strategy for ASEAN-China relations as part of a charm offensive in Southeast Asia that was received with great fanfare, Beijing moved the oil rig into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the summer of 2014. Though this incident is not nearly as serious as yet, it should give serious pause to those who are once again looking for the calm in the South China Sea that never quite sustains.


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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.

SE Asian nations commit to cohesive approach to terrorism, militants

June 22, 2017


By Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato | MANILA/MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed on Thursday to pool intelligence and tackle militant financing as fears grow that protracted fighting in a southern Philippine town could be the prelude to an Islamic State infiltration of the region.

Foreign ministers and defense officials of the three neighboring countries agreed to work together to share information, track communications and crack down on the flow of arms, fighters and money, amid what experts says is the biggest security threat facing Southeast Asia in decades.

Despite signs that the rebels battling government forces in Marawi City were on the back foot, authorities are worried that the fighting – now in its fifth week – might be the beginning of a wave of violence as the ultra-radical Islamic State group tries to establish a foothold.

Militants holed up in Marawi were cornered and their firepower was flagging, the military said on Thursday, estimating the number of remaining fighters at just over 100, and all within a 1 square kilometer area.

Malaysia Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told the meeting the that extremism needed an immediate response, and constant engagement between the three countries that must be a “cohesive unit”.

“This is an urgent task that we need to undertake as clearly evidenced through the current situation in Marawi,” he said.

“This means our enforcement agencies must constantly engage with one another, not only in intelligence sharing but new active and innovative measures.”

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control militant movements across their archipelagic region.

Smoke billows are seen as government troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over parts of Marawi city, Philippines June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

But experts point to how they have previously failed to work together to prevent festering militancy and banditry from worsening, plagued as they are by mistrust, dormant territorial disputes and limited capabilities.

The Philippines in particular is widely seen as the weaker link.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Thursday’s meeting aimed to revisit existing security programs between the three and draw up a plan to strengthen and implement them.


His country was now a clear target for extremists, he said, and the region only needed to look at how quickly Islamic State, or ISIS, managed to recruit fighters and carve out strongholds in Iraq and Syria

“These jihadists will be looking for land bases or areas outside Iraq and Syria,” Cayetano told reporters.

“Everyone has their vulnerability, no one is perfect.

“If other countries have nationals in Marawi and Mindanao and are extremists, they are as much a threat to their home country as here.”

A Philippine officer, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Tampus, said troops were blocking escape routes out of Marawi and rebels were hemmed-in and using civilians dressed in black as human shields.

“Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Tampus said the militant snipers were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques, and their bombs were hampering his troops’ operations.

Malaysia is worried that militants could flee to its eastern state of Sabah.

Malaysia has a wanted list that includes two militants who spearheaded the attempt to capture Marawi.

They are a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group, Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed by Islamic State last year as its “emir” of Southeast Asia, and Abdullah Maute, whose followers accounted for a large number of the estimated 400-500 fighters who overran parts of Marawi, killing Christians and taking dozens of civilians hostage.

According to official estimates, 369 people have been killed, three-quarters of them militants. The number of security forces and civilians killed stood at 67 and 26, respectively.

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in MARAWI, Karen Lema in MANILA, Rozanna Latiff in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by John Chalmers and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Chinese General’s Unexplained Early Exit From Vietnam Visit Raises Concern Over Rift

June 22, 2017

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

A Chinese coast guard ship (L) uses a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 2, 2014.

AFP/Vietnamese Foreign Ministry

A truncated visit this week by a Chinese military officer to neighboring Vietnam has raised eyebrows among foreign affairs analysts who are questioning whether the incident could indicate an about-face in relations between the two communist allies who are embroiled in a territorial dispute.

Chinese General Fan Changlong, who is part of the delegation visiting the capital Hanoi this week, abruptly left Vietnam on Tuesday after a private meeting with Vietnamese defense officials.

Public and private accounts of the incident vary. Chinese and Vietnamese state media report that defense relations are going well and that the parties reached an agreement on personnel training between their defense ministries.

But analysts, citing government sources, said a discussion over disputed territory in the South China Sea, where China is building artificial islands and military infrastructure, may have prompted a row leading to Fan’s early departure, which caused him to skip a cross-border exchange program.

They cited Vietnam’s efforts to form strategic military partnerships with the United States and Japan, and a recent move by Vietnam to allow a foreign company to exploit oil in the Vanguard Bank area of the South China Sea where a Chinese fishing vessel cut a Vietnamese boat’s cable in May 2011, triggering street protests in Hanoi.

Vietnam has long claimed Vanguard Bank is part of its continental shelf, and not part of the disputed territory with China. The two countries, however, have agreed not to explore or exploit oil in disputed areas of the sea.

Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore and an international relations scholar at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, said he could only speculate on the matter since there is no official information about it.

“In the past, Vietnam has been under pressure to maintain its growth rate, so it has had discussions on enhancing oil exploration on the South China Sea,” he said.

“Vietnam’s activities in the South China Sea have touched China’s interests, and as usual, China will find ways to discourage the country from pursing them,” he said.

“It is therefore not difficult to understand if the conflict in the South China Sea is related to the exploitation of marine resources,” he said. “And perhaps this is the reason why Fan Changlong cut short his visit to Vietnam.”

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert based in Australia who has taught at several defense universities, said it is likely that Fan asked Vietnam to stop the oil exploitation in Vanguard Bank, which indicates that the country has not complied with an agreement with China not to explore and exploit oil reserves in the disputed area.

Le Hong Hiep agreed with Thayer’s assessment and said China wants to put pressure on Vietnam to stop its activities and to comply with the two parties’ agreement so as to not complicate the situation.

This also depends on each side’s interpretation of the agreement, he said.

“Vietnam’s exploration and exploitation of oil on its continental shelf does not complicate the situation, because Vietnam has sovereignty over that region,” Hiep said. “However, China sees it as a disputed area, so actions such as unilateral oil exploration and exploitation may be a complication.”

Possible miliary clash

Thayer, who noted that China is deploying 40 ships and several Y-8GX6 turboprop anti-submarine warfare aircraft to the area, raised the possibility that a military clash between China and Vietnam could occur during the next few days.

Hiep, however, declined to forecast the outcome, but added that if hostilities did occur, they would pose a major challenge to the countries’ bilateral relations, which could have the same or even a greater effect than did the oil rig crisis of May 2014.

In that crisis, China deployed a giant oil-drilling rig in the South China Sea about 120 miles from Vietnam’s coast near islands claimed by both countries and within Hanoi’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone set by international law.

The event sparked a bitter bilateral row, with both sides accusing the other of ramming ships patrolling the area.

Thayer also said that Fan’s rumored cancellation of activities in connection with the fourth Vietnam-China friendly border exchange in Lai Chau and Yunnan provinces on June 20-22 would be the “most significant setback in bilateral relations” since the 2014 incident.

“This setback would also be a sign that China is being more assertive in response to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visits to Washington and Tokyo in order to curtail the development of Vietnam’s defense and security relations with these two countries,” he said.

Phuc and high-raking delegations visited the U.S. in May, and Japan in early June.

“If true, this would be a clumsy and counterproductive act by China,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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

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


Philippines: Islamist fighters trapped in corner of besieged town

June 22, 2017


Thu Jun 22, 2017 | 2:27am EDT

Damaged buildings and houses are seen as government forces continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of the Marawi City, Philippines June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
By Manuel Mogato and Simon Lewis | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said on Thursday, as the five-week battle for control of Marawi City raged on.

Despite signs that the insurgents are now on the back foot, Southeast Asian governments are worried that the siege could be just the prelude to further violence as the ultra-radical Islamic State group tries to establish a foothold in their region.

Jolted by the May 23 attack on Marawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region and their foreign ministers gathered in Manila on Thursday for talks.

Malaysia is worried that militants who are flushed out of Marawi City by the fighting may try to cross from the Philippines to its eastern state of Sabah.

“We fear that they may enter the country disguised as illegal immigrants or foreign fishermen,” said Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) chief Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid, according to state news agency Bernama.

It said Esscom had drawn up a “wanted” list that included two militants who spearheaded the attempt to capture Marawi.

They are Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed by Islamic State last year as its “emir” of Southeast Asia, and Abdullah Maute, whose followers accounted for a large number of the estimated 400-500 fighters who overran part of the town, killing Christians and taking dozens of civilians hostage.

The fighting in Marawi broke out on May 23.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said on Thursday the number of militants holding out in Marawi had dwindled to “a little over 100”.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Tampus said: “Their area has been reduced to 1 km square only.” Tampus’ troops are blocking escape routes across bridges spanning a river to the west of the militants.

“Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Tampus told reporters that the militants were still using snipers who were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques, and homemade bombs were hampering the progress of Philippine troops as they advanced house by house.

He said he had seen at least five civilians dressed in black who appeared to have been forced to stand in the street as human shields.

According to official estimates late on Wednesday, 369 people have been killed during the month of hostilities, three-quarters of them militants. The number of security forces and civilians killed stood at 67 and 26, respectively.

For graphic on Philippines hostage drama, click:

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales in MANILA and Rozanna Latiff in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by John Chalmers)

Philippine Military Tightens The Noose Around Remaining Islamic Terrorists

June 21, 2017
Soldiers help evacuated residents disembark from a military vehicle after arriving at a processing center near a hospital in Marawi City yesterday. AFP

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines  – Government troops have breached the remaining defensive positions of remnants of the Maute terror group in Marawi City, the military announced yesterday.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman for Task Force Marawi, said the soldiers have recovered the bodies of several slain terrorists along with their armaments.

He said bodies of civilians were also recovered, but did not say how many.

Herrera said there are still terrorists occupying buildings and mosques in four barangays in the commercial district of Marawi.

The military said the terrorists’ resistance continues to wane and the areas they hold are getting fewer as government security forces press their advance.

Sustained air strikes have also softened the areas held by the terrorists.

Herrera said the troops have cleared 16 buildings and soldiers have entered two more to flush out the terrorists.

Advancing troops have taken control of strategic vantage points in tall buildings, according to Herrera.

“Troops continue to get deeper into once enemy held positions as evidenced by the recovery of cadavers of terrorists and their firearms; computers and peripherals as well as communications equipment and accessories,” Herrera said.

“If we will not clear this properly it will post danger not only to our troops but also to the civilians who want to go back to their homes,” Herrera said.

Herrera said the military has not set Eid’l Fitr or the end of the holy month of Ramadan as another deadline for troops to clear Marawi.

“Wala po tayong (we have no) deadline” for clearing operations,according to Herrera.

The military is now preparing to assist the local government in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding phase of Marawi as soon as the terrorist threat is quelled, he said.

He said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Eduardo Año reiterated that the military is prepared to embark on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.

Marine Col. Edgardo Arevalo, public affairs chief of the AFP, said the government now controls most of Marawi City, but that government forces would not stop using air assets against the terrorists.

“Generally, nandiyan na sa atin yung (we now have) control, so ngayon (now), we continue to use our air assets or assets of the government including our artillery,” Arevalo said during the weekly “Insider Exclusive” forum of radio dzRJ in Makati City.

Two Army engineering battalions would be deployed to Marawi City for the reconstruction of damaged parts of the city as soon as hostilities between government troops and the Maute terror group stop, according to the military.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. General Restituto Padilla said that military engineering equipment are now deployed to Marawi to prepare for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas destroyed by fighting and air strikes since the terrorists attacked the city last May 23.

Clashes between troopers and the bandits have resulted in the death of some 258 Maute fighters, 66 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians.

President Duterte announced yesterday in Iligan City that P20 billion has been set aside for the rebuilding of the city and construction of housing for residents whose houses were destroyed.


Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the agency is on standby and ready to help with the reconstruction of Marawi City once the military has completed its operations against the terrorists.

Villar has alerted the regional offices, especially in Mindanao, to be prepared for rebuilding Marawi.

“After this incident is done, we would be able to focus on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi. We are ready, our regional offices in the area. Once the military has completed its operation, we will come in,” said Villar.

He said they would help in the rebuilding of roads and schools to help restore normalcy in the lives of residents.

Villar assured the residents that there are funds to spend for Marawi but admitted that they still do not know how much the total rehabilitation would cost. “We would only know the exact cost of the damage when we have entered the city,” he said.

He said the department has funds for calamities and President Duterte is prioritizing the rebuilding of Marawi.

“Our disaster budget would be replenished by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). We started at P1 billion, but it will be replenished. The DBM is well equipped. The President has announced P20 billion for Marawi,” he added.

Arevalo said the military is now conducting clearing operations and searching each building and house in Marawi to flush out remnants of the terrorists.

He added that troops are not only clearing the areas, but also securing buildings and houses to make sure all improvised explosive devices have been removed.

Despite the government’s control over most parts of war-torn Marawi, Arevalo said the military would not stop operations against the remaining terrorist snipers.

“They are still capable of delivering sniper fire. Mayroon pa rin silang (they still have) improvised explosive devices at ganun din kahit nagpapaputok ng (and when they fire) rocket-propelled grenade, which could disable our tanks,” he said.

As of yesterday, the AFP had secured 18 to 20 buildings in Marawi City and cleared all the terrorists inside.

He said they were able to rescue some 1,645 civilians in Marawi City, including eight residents only yesterday morning.

Meanwhile, Lanao del Sur Gov. Soraya Alonto Adiong has coordinated with the Philippine National Police and the Army to save whatever is left in the houses and buildings that the Maute groups and their Abu Sayyaf allies have looted.

Adiong said the Provincial Security Force have started inspecting and securing the buildings and houses in the affected areas.

Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is assisting the local government in the rehabilitation of Marawi City.

Arevalo said the military is prepared for terrorist threats in other key cities nationwide.

“That is part of our training. We have been practicing for this. We have been studying this. That’s part of our preparation but as much as possible, we don’t want to execute it. But if push comes to shove, if the need calls for it, we can execute all these trainings. We are ready to do it,” said Arevalo.

There were recent reports that the Maute terrorists plan to launch attacks in key cities nationwide on June 30.

Arevalo described the report as unverified and therefore untrue.

But just the same, he stressed the military needs the support and help of the public in order to combat terrorist threats.  –  With Robertzon Ramirez, Evelyn Macairan, Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño, Lino de la Cruz

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