Posts Tagged ‘Philippine bases’

South China Sea: U.S. protests Chinese military operations

April 19, 2016

U.S. protests after Chinese military jet lands on South China Sea island

U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s leader Xi Jinping at the White House,  September 25, 2015. AP photo

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U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Aircraft Carrier in South China Sea With Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin

April 15, 2016

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Philippines defense minister Voltaire Gazmin, far left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter observe carrier launches of F/A-18 Super Hornets aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a sail through the South China Sea Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo credit Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes

ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS, SOUTH CHINA SEA/BEIJING

The chief U.S. defense official visited an American aircraft carrier transiting the disputed South China Sea on Friday, as China said one of its top military officers had visited islands and reefs in the region to oversee building work.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter flew to the nuclear-powered USS John C. Stennis for a two-hour visit as it sailed 60 to 70 miles west of the Philippines island of Luzon.

While there, he dismissed China’s characterization of a more robust U.S. military presence in the region as being the cause of heightened tensions.

“What’s new is not an American carrier in this region,” Carter said aboard the Stennis, where he met U.S. troops and observed flight operations. “What’s new is the context of tension which exists which we want to reduce.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

An F/A-18F fighter jet launches off the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. Credit REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Benjamin Crossley

The carrier visit, while not unprecedented, was still likely to inflame tension with China, which says the United States is “militarizing” the South China Sea and endangering security.

Carter made a similar stop at the USS Theodore Roosevelt in November as it transited the South China Sea near Malaysia.

On Friday’s visit, Carter was accompanied by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

The United States has already conducted what it calls “freedom of navigation” patrols in the area, sailing within 12-nautical mile territorial limits around disputed islands controlled by China to underscore its right to navigate the seas.

In a brief statement, China’s defense ministry said Fan Changlong, one of the vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission which controls its military, had recently visited some of China’s islands and reefs there.

While not saying where or when he went, it did say he met soldiers and inspected building work. He also visited islands in the contested Spratly archipelago, the ministry said.

China had earlier denounced plans announced in Manila on Thursday to deepen U.S.-Philippine military ties, including joint patrols in the South China Sea, saying they reflected a “Cold War mentality”.

CHINA SAYS U.S. PROMOTING MILITARIZATION

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the U.S. move was proof of “who was the real promoter of the militarization of the South China Sea.”

The United States had never been able to give an example of civilian freedom of navigation being affected in the South China Sea, he told a daily news briefing.

“In reality, what the U.S. is probably talking about is military freedom of navigation and safety. If that’s the case, then many countries, not only in this region, will hope that these big countries can act in accordance with international law.”

The Stennis has been on a routine deployment in the Western Pacific for three months, said the carrier strike group’s commander, Rear Admiral Ronald Boxall. Their ships interact with Chinese ships on a near-constant basis, he said, though he characterized the Chinese operations as professional.

“We see quite a presence out here,” Boxall said. “It’s more than I’ve seen in the past but that’s reasonable considering they have grown as a navy.”

During the course of a six-day trip to Asia, Carter has maintained that U.S. strategy was aimed at maintaining peace and lawful settlement of disputes, not provoking a conflict with a major world power.

“We have been here for decade upon decade,” Carter said. “The only reason that question even comes up is because of what has gone on over the last year and that’s a question of Chinese behavior.”

The carrier stop caps a trip designed to highlight the expanding partnerships the United States is building with countries in the region, which Carter said had been asking for a greater U.S. role in response to anxiety over Chinese actions.

In addition to the joint U.S.-Philippines patrols announced on Thursday, hundreds of U.S. troops and some aircraft will stay behind in the Philippines on a temporary rotation.

In India this week, Carter won a preliminary but long-awaited agreement to share military logistics, considered a necessary step to deeper security cooperation between the two countries.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

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ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS — U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Friday made a second sail of the South China Sea, underscoring the U.S. commitment to its Asia-Pacific allies amid increasing tensions with China.

Carter said his presence on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, which was sailing about 60 to 70 miles West of the Philippines’ main island, Luzon Island, was to send “a message to the region.”

“The United States intends to continue to play a role in keeping peace and stability in this region’” said Carter, who was accompanied by Philippines defense minister Voltaire Gazmin.

During the two-hour sail, the defense chiefs observed take-offs and landings of U.S. F/A-18 Super Hornets and addressed a gathering of troops in the Stennis’ hangar bay.

The Stennis’ location during the patrol put it in between the Philippines and the Paracel Islands, which China has built up over the last year on natural reefs and has placed landing strips, air defense systems and advanced fighters.

The Stennis, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 3, has been deployed to the region for the last three months, said Rear. Adm. Ron Boxall, the strike group commander.

The carrier has spent the last three weeks in the South China Sea performing routine patrols, but not the freedom-of-navigation operations that involve a U.S. vessel sailing within the 12-mile waters that border any of the Chinese-claimed man-made islands. Even so, Boxall said, the strike group has experienced “significant interaction with the Chinese navy” during its patrols.

“The Chinese navy has gotten a lot bigger,” Boxall said. “We see quite a presence out here.”

China has sharply criticized the deployment, accusing the U.S. of returning to a “Cold War” mentality and threatening to resolutely defend the reclaimed and militarized Islands, according to The Associated Press.

Carter said the idea that the U.S. was the one escalating tensions in the region was “not only incorrect, it’s backwards.”

 
USS John C. Stennis. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ronald Reeves
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“The only reason the question even comes up is because of what has gone on over the last year. And that is a question of Chinese behavior,” Carter said, noting that U.S. aircraft carriers have patrolled the South China Sea for decades. “What’s new is not an American carrier in this region. What’s new is the context of tension which exists, which we want to reduce.”

Carter was in the Philippines this week to meet with his defense counterparts and observe the closing ceremonies of Balikatan, an annual joint exercise involving more than 5,000 U.S. personnel. During his visit, Carter announced the U.S. would begin regular rotations to at least five Philippine bases here and leave a contingent of Marines, airmen and aircraft behind following the exercise.

Initially, U.S. forces will operate out of two additional locations, Clark Air Base and Camp Aguinaldo, Carter said Thursday. The rotations are meant to reassure the Philippines in light of China’s build-up on the islands, several of which were little more than rocks and submerged reefs before China began reclaiming the land.

“With each Balikatan and each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise and each new defense agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region’s security network. This is the network — peaceful, principled, and inclusive — America continues to stand for, and stand with.”

Ownership of the South China Sea territories is disputed among several nations in the region. China claims about 90 percent of the sea based on historical claims, while others, including the U.S., advocate settling ownership claims based on international law.

It is Carter’s second South China Sea sail. Last fall, he boarded the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt shortly after the destroyer USS Lassen conducted a freedom-of-navigation transit within 12 nautical miles of a China-occupied island.

http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/carter-to-uss-stennis-for-second-south-china-sea-sail-1.404592

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter:@TaraCopp

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U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, answers questions beside his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin during their joint press conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on April 14, 2016. The United States on Thursday revealed for the first time that American ships have started conducting joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, a somewhat rare move not done with many other partners in the region. Romeo Ranoco/Pool Photo via AP

By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press
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POSTED: 04/14/16, 10:53 AM EDT

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MANILA, Philippines —  In a military buildup certain to inflame tensions with China, the United States said Thursday it will be conducting joint South China Sea patrols — and eventually air patrols — with the Philippines, while dispatching U.S. troops and combat aircraft there on more frequent rotations.

The announcement by Defense Secretary Ash Carter was the first time the U.S. revealed that its ships had conducted patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, a somewhat rare move not done with many other partners in the region.

While Carter insisted the U.S. was “trying to tamp down tensions here” and not provoke anyone, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin — standing beside him at a news conference in Manila — said he expects that U.S. forces, “with their presence here, will deter uncalled-for actions by the Chinese.”

While the military boost doesn’t include permanent basing for U.S. troops, any increased U.S. military presence and activities in the region is viewed as a threat by Beijing and will likely trigger an angry response.

During the news conference, Carter said the United States will be keeping nearly 300 troops, including U.S. Air Force commandos armed with combat aircraft and helicopters, in the Philippines through the end of the month. The U.S. will also increase troop rotations to strengthen training and support increased military operations in the region.

Speaking in the guest house of the presidential complex, Carter said the joint patrols will improve the Philippine’s navy and “contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters.”

The increase in military support comes just days after a Philippine diplomat asked that the U.S. help convince China not to build in the nearby Scarborough Shoal, which is viewed as important to Filipino fishermen. Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. said the Philippines is not capable of stopping China from constructing there. China has built man-made islands in other contested spots in the South China Sea.

Charlito Maniago, the leader of a northwestern Philippine village where many fishermen lost access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal after China seized it in 2012, said the joint will spark hope that they can sail freely again to the rich fishing ground.

“This will boost the confidence of our fishermen because they think the U.S. has the capability to defend them,” Maniago told The Associated Press by telephone from the coastal village of Cato in Pangasinan province. “The presence of America will make China think twice.”

Maniago, however, expressed concern that if China takes a more hardline position because of Washington’s increasing involvement in the disputed waters “a dangerous situation may happen and our fishermen may all the more lose the chance to fish in those waters.”

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. forces that will remain here are already in the Philippines participating in the Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder combat exercises which will end Friday. About 200 airmen, including special operations forces will remain at Clark Air Base, along with three of their Pave Hawk attack helicopters, an MC-130H Combat Talon II special mission aircraft and five A-10 combat aircraft.

This initial contingent will provide training to increase the two militaries’ ability to work together, laying the groundwork for forces to do joint air patrols as well as the ship movements.

Also, up to 75 Marines will stay at Camp Aguinaldo to support increased U.S. and Philippine combined military operations in the region.

The troops and aircraft are expected to leave at the end of the month, but other U.S. forces and aircraft would do similar rotations into the Philippines routinely in the future. Carter would not say how frequently those rotations would happen, but called it a “regular periodic presence.”

The increased troop presence is part of a broader U.S. campaign to expand its assistance to the Philippines, as America shores up its allies in the Asia Pacific. And it comes as territorial disputes with China, including Beijing’s increasing effort to build manmade islands in the South China Sea, roils nations across the region.

The U.S. and others have consistently said the military exercises and assistance packages are not aimed at China but represent America’s continued support for its allies in the region.

Last week the Pentagon announced that the U.S. will send about $40 million in military assistance to the Philippines to beef up intelligence sharing, surveillance and naval patrols. Carter said the aid will include an enhanced information network for classified communications, sensors for patrol vessels and an unmanned aerostat reconnaissance airship.

The patrol sensors and surveillance equipment will help the Philippines keep a watch over its territory, including areas where there are overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

The U.S. will also get access to five Philippine military bases to house American forces that will rotate in and out of the country for training and other missions.

Scarborough Shoal is at the center of a case that Manila filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international panel, in January 2013 after Chinese coast guard ships took effective control of the disputed land following a tense standoff with Filipino ships.

The shoal sits about 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of the Philippines, and 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the Chinese coast.

The court has agreed to take the case and is expected to rule in the coming months. Beijing has objected, saying the panel has no jurisdiction in the matter.

 

China blasts ‘Cold War mentality’ in US-Philippines cooperation

April 15, 2016
This photo provided by the Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense shows an aerial view of Taiwan’s Taiping island, also known as Itu Aba, in the Spratly archipelago, roughly 1600 kms. (1000 miles) south of Taiwan, Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Taiwan flew international media to the 46 hectares (110 acres) Taiping Island, its largest island holding in the South China Sea, on Wednesday in a bid to reinforce its territorial claims in the disputed and increasingly tense region. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense via AP

BEIJING — China will “resolutely defend” its interests in the face of stepped-up U.S.-Philippine military cooperation, the Defense Ministry said, accusing the two allies of militarizing the region and harboring a “Cold War mentality.”

The ministry’s comments came shortly after the announcement Thursday that the U.S. would send troops and planes to the Philippines for more frequent rotations and will increase joint sea and air patrols with Philippine forces in the South China Sea.

In a move likely to further anger Beijing, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he will be visiting an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during his current visit to the region that does not include a stop in China.

“The joint patrols between the United States and the Philippines in the South China Sea are militarizing the region and are non-beneficial to regional peace and stability,” said a statement posted to the ministry’s website late Thursday.

“The Chinese military will pay close attention to the situation, and resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” it said.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory and is building manmade islands there topped with airstrips and other infrastructure. The Philippines, Vietnam and others also claim territory controlled or claimed by China and increased military and coast guard deployments by all sides are seen as increasing the potential for conflict.

The statement also referenced China’s long-standing opposition to U.S. military alliances in the region which it regards as a form of unwelcome interloping that challenges its desired status as the pre-eminent military power in the Asia-Pacific.

“Strengthening the U.S.-Philippine military alliance, boosting front-line military deployments and staging targeted joint military exercises is a sign of a Cold War mentality that is unbeneficial to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the statement said.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/04/15/1573155/china-blasts-cold-war-mentality-us-philippines-cooperation

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South China Sea: U.S.-Philippines enhance military alliance — U.S. presence “will deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese.” — China adamantly opposed

April 15, 2016

Updated 11:41 PM ET, Thu April 14, 2016

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Philippines defense minister Voltaire Gazmin announce on Thursday, April 14, 2016, that new rotational forces will operate out of the Philippines. Credit Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes

Hong Kong (CNN) U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has announced an “enhanced military alliance” between the U.S. and Philippines and expressed concerns over China’s activities in the South China Sea.

Carter is visiting the Philippines where American and Filipino troops are holding annual joint military drills.
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Speaking at a news conference with Philippines Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin Thursday, Carter said the two countries have been conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea and will increase them going forward to ensure security for the region’s waters.
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Carter also said U.S. aircraft will remain behind at Clark Air Base after the drills, and 200 airmen will continue joint training, conduct flight operations and lay the foundation for joint air patrols, to complement ongoing maritime patrols.
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Carter added U.S. and Philippines have agreed to upgrade infrastructure at five locations in the Philippines. The U.S. has already released the first batch of money — $42 million — to support this program.
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A HIMARS (High Mobility Advanced Rocket System) fires at a target during the annual joint military exercises.

“This is a time of change in the region,” Carter said. “We want to continue upholding stability and security in the region.”
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Meanwhile, a U.S. official told CNN that Carter will visit the USS John C. Stennis — an aircraft carrier — currently crossing the South China Sea.
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The visit will take place Friday as part of his trip to Asia and Middle East.
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Freedom of navigation

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The Philippines and a number of other countries in South East Asia have territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea. China claims the whole of the South China Sea as its territory. China also has a territorial dispute with Japan over a set of islands in the East China Sea — referred to by China as Diaoyu but called Senkaku by Japan.
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“There’s no question that there’s concern in the region about China’s behavior,” Carter said. “The U.S. values peaceful resolving of disputes. The U.S. values freedom of navigation. Countries that don’t stand for those things will be isolated. That is self-isolation, not isolation by us.”
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Two V-22 Osprey aircraft hover above armored personnel carriers of the Philippine army and U.S. marines during the drills.

He added: “With respect to Chinese claims in the South China Sea and to all other parties, the American position is very clear, that these things should be settled peacefully and lawfully. We don’t take sides in them per se. We are on the side of peaceful resolution.”
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Philippines Defense Minister Gazmin added the U.S. presence “will deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese.”
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China, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of taking a “lopsided approach favoring China’s rival claimants.”
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In a commentary published by the state-run Xinhua news agency, Washington was accused of “going back on its words.”
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But it warned that “neither muscle-flexing nor arbitrary intervention will shake China’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty and maritime rights.”
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Then taking aim at Manila, the piece went on to state that “provocations, maneuvers, attempts to involve outsiders, or showing off a military alliance with Washington won’t alter the historical fact of China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters.”
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 (Includes links to several related previous articles)

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US to rotate more aircraft, troops through Philippines

By Tara Copp
Stars and Stripes

MANILA, Philippines — The U.S. is deploying nine aircraft and hundreds of U.S. troops and special operators to at least seven bases in the Philippines as part of a new, regular presence there, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Thursday.

The first dispatch of forces, totaling about 275 people, will be pulled from the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops now in the Philippines as part of the bilateral Balikatan annual exercise, which ends Friday.

Additionally, the Defense Department announced that the U.S. and Philippines have twice conducted joint patrols in the disputed South China Sea, once in March and once in April, and said it plans to continue regular joint patrols in the future.

The 275 servicemembers will remain in the Philippines through the end of the month, but are expected to be replaced by follow-on personnel.

“There is going to be regular, periodic presence here of American forces,” Carter said. “But it may change in its nature, and timing and duration depending on what we and the Filipinos decide is optimal.”

Follow-on forces also could include different aircraft than those remaining this month, a senior defense official said.

“Follow-on rotations of additional aircraft will be determined in consultation with our Philippine allies,” said a Defense Department fact sheet provided to reporters.

Up to 75 Marines will be assigned to Camp Aguinaldo in greater Manila, headquarters of the Philippine armed forces, where they “will support increased operations in the region and will enhance our combined [command and control] capabilities,” according to the fact sheet.

The rotating forces also will include 200 airmen who will operate out of Clark Air Base, a former U.S. Air Force installation about 60 miles north of Manila on the main Philippine island of Luzon.

The U.S. based about 20,000 personnel at Clark prior to the base’s closure in 1991, after it suffered catastrophic damage from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption. Then in 1992, the U.S. Navy left Subic Bay — once among the largest overseas U.S. bases — after the Philippines rejected a new lease.

However, the Philippines now finds itself in an escalating conflict with China over territory and fishing rights in the South China Sea. It’s one of a handful of countries in the region that has grown wary of China’s rapid militarization of the sea, which includes newly built artificial islands equipped with weapons, radar systems and military-ready airstrips.

The additional American forces announced Thursday build on a growing U.S. military footprint in the Philippines.

The deployments “will ensure safety for military and civilian activities in international waters and airspace,” according to the fact sheet.

The 200 U.S. airmen will deploy from various bases in the Pacific to support five A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft from the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, in South Korea; three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan; and a MC-130H Combat Talon II special operations aircraft.

Defense officials would not specify where the Talon was based. The Talon specializes in delivering and extracting special operators into contested areas and has a suite of sensors that can be used to support rescue and humanitarian missions.

In March, the U.S. announced it would rotate troops to the following five Philippine bases: Antonio Bautista Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, Basa Air Base and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base. The announcement came after a Philippine court earlier this year approved the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which the two sides signed in 2014.

One of the bases, Antonio Bautista Air Base, is on Palawan Island. It is about 100 miles away from some of the Spratly Islands, a collection of rocks and small islands claimed by several countries in the region.

Carter announced Wednesday that the U.S. plans to expand its presence beyond those five bases to include Clark Air Base and Camp Aguinaldo.

Clark Air Base, where U.S. air assets are to be positioned, is about 120 miles from Scarborough Shoal, a Philippines reef that was seized by China in 2012. Recent activity by China suggests it may build up and militarize that formation as it has in other man-made islands in the South China Sea.

“For the Philippines, we expect the U.S. Forces to help us in our maritime awareness,” Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said. “With the presence here it will deter uncalled for action by the Chinese.

Carter said the deployment of U.S. aircraft and forces so close to China’s own build-up is not meant to provoke or raise tensions in the region. China has already sent advanced fighters and air defense systems to the nearby and already-militarized man-made Woody Island.

“We do not want incidents associated with these land disputes,” Carter said. “We’re trying to tamp down tensions here.”

http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/us-to-rotate-more-aircraft-troops-through-philippines-1.404418

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter: @TaraCopp

U.S. Stationing Warplanes in Philippines as Part of South China Sea Buildup

April 14, 2016

Move comes amid growing concern that China plans to build a military base within striking distance of Manila

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is greeted by his Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, during their joint news conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is greeted by his Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, during their joint news conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on Thursday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
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By Trefor Moss
The Wall Street Journal
April 14, 2016  2:28 p.m. ET
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MANILA—The U.S. will start stationing warplanes in the Philippines this week as the vanguard of a major deployment to the Southeast Asian country against a backdrop of Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

The U.S. and the Philippines also began joint patrols of the South China Sea last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday. These moves come amid growing concern that China has plans to build a military base at a disputed reef within striking distance of Manila.

“In the South China Sea, China’s actions…are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions,” Mr. Carter told reporters at the presidential palace, where he met President Benigno Aquino III.  The U.S. deployment is designed “to tamp down tensions here” and wouldn’t provoke a showdown with Beijing, he said.

China’s defense ministry strenuously objected to the latest announcements of U.S.-Philippines military cooperation, saying it would exacerbate tensions. In a statement, it said that the joint-patrol plan “promotes the militarization of the region” and called the strengthened military alliance and recent joint exercises “the embodiment of Cold War thinking and not conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The U.S. and the Philippines have been holding 10 days of joint drills that end Friday. Mr. Carter said five American A-10 Thunderbolt ground-attack jets, three H-60G Pavehawk helicopters and one MC-130H Combat Talon special forces infiltration aircraft will remain behind at Clark Air Base north of Manila along with 200 crew members. A command and control team would also remain in the Philippines after the exercise, he said.

Mr. Carter was in the Philippines ahead of the deployment of thousands of American troops and for talks with his Filipino counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, who said he hoped the U.S. move would “deter uncalled-for actions by the Chinese.”

Last month, the Philippines said it would make five military bases available to U.S. forces under the terms of a new defense pact signed in 2014, designed to refresh the long-standing U.S.-Philippine alliance as part of the American strategy of rebalancing forces to the Asia-Pacific. The two sides are discussing adding more bases to the list, Mr. Carter said.

The concluding exercises involved 8,500 American and Filipino troops, during which U.S. Marines test-fired an advanced long-range rocket system. Earlier in the week, Mr. Carter visited India—which is also upgrading its security ties with Washington—but canceled a planned stop in China, citing scheduling reasons.

In recent days, the Obama administration has faced calls from Sen. John McCain (R., Az.) and others to offer explicit guarantees to defend the Philippines in the face of growing Chinese assertiveness. Mr. Carter and other U.S. officials have been criticized for expressing an “ironclad” commitment to protect the Philippines without going into details, especially when it comes to America’s appetite for defending Manila’s remote island territories.

“The pressure is building up from the Senate and within the Pentagon towards an explicit American guarantee that Scarborough Shoal falls within the Philippine-U.S. mutual defense treaty, thus providing a pretext for a more robust American pushback,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a regional-security specialist at Manila’s De La Salle University.

Dismay about China’s plans deepened last month when U.S. Navy Chief Adm. John Richardson said the U.S. was monitoring increased Chinese activity at Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef less than 200 miles west of Manila. The activity might signal Beijing’s intention to build a base on what is currently a partially submerged reef, he said.

China has been in control of Scarborough Shoal since a maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

Tensions have been building in the run-up to a judgment expected in the next few weeks by an international tribunal petitioned by the Philippines to have China’s actions at Scarborough Shoal declared illegal. Beijing rejects the tribunal’s authority and has refused to take part. China contends that Scarborough Shoal is sovereign Chinese territory and warned the U.S. not to meddle in regional affairs.

China has reclaimed land and built facilities at seven other reefs in the South China Sea, ignoring the objections of neighbors. China says it owns most of the sea, which is also claimed in part by Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

Scarborough Shoal is much closer to the Philippines than the seven islets China has built so far, making any Chinese military base there a more overt threat to Philippine security.

The U.S. last year began performing what it termed freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge China’s claims. But those patrols won’t count for much if the U.S. fails to prevent China from fortifying Scarborough Shoal, said Gregory Poling of the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a U.S. think-tank.

“The stakes if China were allowed to build a military facility at Scarborough…are much, much higher than the decision of whether and when to perform a [freedom-of-navigation patrol],” Mr. Poling said.

If the tribunal in The Hague rules against China, Beijing would be flouting international law as well as threatening the Philippines—and with it the U.S. forces about to be stationed there—if it proceeds with construction at Scarborough, Mr. Heydarian said.

“Both international law and [U.S.-Philippine] mutual defense interests are at stake here,” he said.

Write to Trefor Moss at Trefor.Moss@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-stationing-warplanes-in-philippines-as-part-of-south-china-sea-buildup-1460636272

Philippines, Vietnam to explore joint patrols in South China Sea

April 13, 2016

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Vietnam’s new Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (right) shakes hands with Philippines’ Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras in Hanoi, on April 11, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

Reuters

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA, April 13 (Reuters) – Defence officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will meet this week to explore possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.

Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries as China’s assertiveness intensifies with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim.

Both states are also on the receiving end of a renewed charm offensive by the United States, which is holding joint military exercises in the Philippines to be attended this week by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Vietnam and the Philippines would discuss patrols and exercises, but a deal this week was unlikely, a senior military official told Reuters.

“These are initial discussions,” he said. “These may take time but we would like to move to the next level.”

Vietnam’s coast guard stops a vessel to make sure it has a legal right to fish and do business in Vietnamese waters.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. The information was confirmed by another defence ministry source in Manila.

Naval patrols between the Philippines and United States were proposed by Manila in January. They could happen within a year, a foreign ministry official said.

“The two sides are still talking about this,” the official told Reuters.

Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on a strategic partnership in November to boost security relations as China expands its presence in the strategic waterway and deploys military equipment in the Spratly and Paracel islands.

Their closer ties mark a bold step in a region where China’s economic influence has made some countries reluctant to take a joint stand against its maritime manoeuvring.

The meeting between Vietnam’s vice defence minister, Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Honorio Azcueta, the Philippine undersecretary of defense, is scheduled for Thursday and comes as a court in The Hague nears a decision in an arbitration case lodged by Manila.

The ruling in the case, which seeks to clarify parts of a United Nations maritime law, could dent China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, parts of which Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim.

The South China Sea will figure in the talks between the two countries, as will bilateral exchanges, information-sharing, military logistics and defence technology, the sources said.

Vinh would tour Philippine bases, including a major naval facility. Vietnam’s state media has not reported the visit.

Two Vietnamese frigates made port calls to Manila in 2014 and a Philippine warship may do the same in Vietnam this June. Troops from both sides have played sports together twice since 2014 on disputed islands they occupy.

On Monday, Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras was the first foreign dignitary to meet Vietnam’s new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)

Related:

Scarborough Shoal: The Next U.S.-China Showdown in the South China Sea

April 10, 2016

By Gregory B. Poling
April 9, 2016

U.S. chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson told Reuters on March 19 that the United States was monitoring increased Chinese activity around Scarborough Shoal. He warned, “I think we see some surface ship activity … survey type of activity … That’s an area of concern … a next possible area of reclamation.”

Satellite imagery from March 24 shows no Chinese dredging or construction activity at Scarborough Shoal. The only vessels present were a Chinese civilian ship anchored within the mouth of the lagoon, which has been typical for several years, and two Filipino trimaran-type fishing ships outside the shoal. But that does not mean that Chinese ships have not performed surveys in preparation for reclamation, as Admiral Richardson suggested.

Why Scarborough Shoal?

Given that Beijing is expected to lose at least part of the case that Manila has brought against it in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China might take action to demonstrate that it will not be constrained by the court’s decision. Potential escalations include re-imposing a blockade of Filipino troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, deploying military assets to the Spratly Islands, or announcing an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea—but undertaking reclamation work at Scarborough Shoal would be particularly concerning.

Scarborough Shoal lies about 120 nautical miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon and 185 nautical miles from Manila. It is situated in an otherwise empty area of the South China Sea more than 250 nautical miles from each of the region’s two disputed island groups, the Paracels to the northwest and the Spratlys to the southwest. Were China to undertake reclamation at Scarborough, it would allow the Chinese military to maintain a presence throughout the South China Sea and even extend its reach over parts of the Philippine home islands. That would have enormous strategic implications for both the Philippines and the United States, which just negotiated U.S. access to five Philippine bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Chinese land reclamation at Scarborough Shoal would present the Philippines and the United States with multiple challenges. From a security perspective, it would undermine perceptions of U.S. willingness to uphold regional security. This is particularly true because the Philippines lost access to Scarborough in 2012 after a failed U.S. effort to negotiate a mutual Chinese and Philippine withdrawal. An airfield or port at Scarborough would strengthen Chinese military capabilities in and around the South China Sea, as well as complicate U.S., ally, and partner planning for a crisis.

Reclamation at Scarborough would also carry enormous ecological costs. The arbitral tribunal will likely declare that the environmental devastation China caused with its reclamation in the Spratlys violated international law. Undertaking new reclamation at Scarborough would be another sign that Beijing is thumbing its nose at the court and the existing rules-based order more broadly.

From a diplomatic perspective, Scarborough reclamation might also be the final nail in the coffin for ASEAN’s stuttering efforts to diplomatically manage regional tensions. In the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the ASEAN states and China explicitly agreed to refrain from only one thing: “inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.” Reclamation at Scarborough would violate that cardinal rule; it would be a signal to the region that Beijing’s negotiations with ASEAN were a smokescreen—one which it no longer needs.

Crafting an Effective Response

Although Washington and Manila face constraints in responding to this type of “grey zone” tactic—in which China seeks to change the status quo without overt use of force, often employing civilian or paramilitary vessels—a coordinated three-part strategy could potentially deter reclamation. The security, environmental, and diplomatic costs of reclamation at Scarborough necessitate such a response.

The first step in countering Chinese reclamation is to ensure that Washington and Manila are sharing intelligence on potential Chinese actions. China’s preference has been to take advantage of regional states’ poor maritime domain awareness capabilities by presenting them with faits accomplis. Admiral Richardson’s statement to Reuters indicates that the United States is keeping a close eye on Scarborough Shoal, but statements from Philippine officials suggest they might not be briefed on U.S. intelligence. Both sides must not only collect intelligence, but share that information in order to response appropriately at the first sign of imminent reclamation.

The second key to a successful deterrence posture needs to be clearly communicated beforehand: the United States should state publicly that it will consider itself bound to intervene if Philippine troops or ships are attacked at Scarborough Shoal or other areas of the South China Sea. Article V of the U.S.-Philippines defense treaty commits the United States to respond to any attack on Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” That means the United States can, and should, remain neutral on the legitimacy of Manila’s territorial claims while still clarifying that any unprovoked attack on Philippine forces in disputed waters or territory would fall within the scope of the treaty commitment.

Filipinos have been looking for that kind of explicit commitment from Washington for several years, and the U.S. government’s refusal to give it has created an undercurrent of skepticism in the Philippines about just how “ironclad” the American commitment really is. When he visits Manila in April, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will have an opportunity to put those fears to rest. Doing so, and being willing to follow through if that commitment is challenged, is key to bolstering Philippine resolve to confront China in grey zone incidents, and to deterring China from escalating incidents into open conflict.

The final and most difficult step to blocking Chinese reclamation at Scarborough Shoal will be having Philippine assets prepared to intervene at short notice. Despite the severe gaps in its naval and coast guard capabilities, the Philippines, not the United States, must take the lead in confronting Chinese activities at Scarborough. The shoal includes several rocks that entitle it to a territorial sea. Sending a U.S. naval vessel into the territorial sea of a disputed feature in the absence of any use of force by China would violate (or at least seriously muddy) the very international laws and norms that the United States is looking to uphold. Even if successful in blocking Chinese reclamation, such a U.S. operation would be a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead, the best chance to stop land reclamation at Scarborough Shoal would be through the use of Philippine assets, with the United States just outside the territorial sea. The Philippines should be prepared to send assets—likely several smaller coast guard vessels and at least one of the Hamilton-class cutters its navy received from the United States—to prevent Chinese reclamation at the shoal. Doing so would not require overt aggression from the Philippine ships—blocking the entrance to the shoal or maneuvering to interfere with the operation of dredging ships could make a reclamation operation prohibitively difficult. In the meantime, U.S. Navy assets would need to remain in position over the horizon to signal that they would be prepared to intervene should China attack Philippine forces.

Despite its bullying and coercion, Beijing has been hesitant to risk a military clash, especially with the United States, but also with its neighbors. The key to a successful response, as shown by Vietnam during the Haiyang Shiyou 981 standoff or the Philippines when it ran a Chinese blockade of Second Thomas Shoal in early 2014, has been to force Beijing to choose between achieving its aims with force or backing off and trying again another day.

This piece first appeared in the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative website here.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/scarborough-shoal-the-next-us-china-showdown-the-south-china-15738

 

South China Sea: China Faces Twin Threats of New U.S. Military Presence and Pushback from an Old Friend

March 26, 2016
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By Zack Bluestone, Chris Mirasola

Friday, March 25, 2016, 11:45 AM

China suffered two major setbacks in the South China Sea this week. First, sparks flew between the PRC and its longtime ally, Indonesia, when the bungled seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel in Indonesian waters almost led to a direct conflict between the old friends. Later in the week, the United States and the Philippines announce a new decade-long pact that will allow American troops to rotate between five PH bases, many close to PRC installations in the South China Sea.

Indonesia Piles in on South China Sea Scrum

A China Coast Guard vessel patrols the disputed waters of the South China Sea (Photo: Erik de Castro/Reuters)

Jakarta found itself in the middle of the South China Sea disputes on Saturday after apatrol boat from the Indonesian Ministry of Fishery and Marine Affairs (KKP), KP Hiu 11, seized a Chinese fishing vessel, Kway Fey 10078, and arrested its eight crewmembers for illegally fishing less than three miles off the coast Natuna Island. While the Hiu was escorting the Kway Fey back to base, a nearby Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed the captured fishing boat near the limits of Indonesia’s territorial waters, forcing the KPP officers to abandon the Chinese vessel. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta issued a statement claiming that the fishermen were operating in “a traditional Chinese fishing ground” and “hoped that the Indonesian side could properly handle this issue.” On Monday PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswomanHua Chunying further alleged that the fishing vessel “was attacked and harassed by an armed Indonesian ship” and that the Coast Guard was sent to “ensure their personal safety,” but did not enter Indonesian territorial waters.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi summoned PRC Charge d’affaires Sun Weide to officially protest the Chinese Coast Guard’s violation of Indonesian sovereignty. KPP Minister Susi Pudjiastuti later said that Indonesia feels “interrupted and sabotaged in our efforts” to maintain peace in the disputed waters and warned that Jakarta “may take it to the international tribunal.” Deputy Naval Chief Arie Henrycus Sembiring also told reporters the Indonesian Navy would send larger vessels for future patrols in that region. Minister Pudjuiastuti demanded that China hand over the fishing vessel and rejected China’s request that she release the eight Chinese fishermen. On Wednesday Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan confirmedthat the Chinese fishermen will be prosecuted in Indonesia.

The incident is perhaps most significant in how it differs from recent history. In 2008, the last time that China and Indonesia clashed over claims of illegal fishing by Chinese citizens around Natuna Island, Jakarta remained silent. This time around, however, Indonesian officials explicitly rebuffed pleas by a top Chinese diplomat to withhold information from the media hours after the confrontation. Given the historically close Sino-Indonesian relationship, a flurry of commentary has emerged assessing how this incident might impact bilateral relations. Aaron Connelly at AMTI considers whether Indonesia will abandon its non-alignment strategy of “rowing between two reefs,” and Jeremy Bender reflects on the possibility that the confrontation will presage Indonesia’s realignment with its harder-edged neighbors. Prashanth Parameswaran, however, argues that Jakarta’s policy shift resembles a recalibration more than a radically new approach.

U.S. Military Back in the Philippines

Map showing five PH bases where U.S. troops will be stationed and their proximity to PRC-held features (Wash. Post)

In a joint statement following the annual U.S.-PH Strategic Dialogue, Washington and Manila announced a deal allowing for a rotating American military presence at five Philippine bases. The agreement will initially be valid for ten years but does not allow for permanent U.S. bases, as existed before 1991. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg confirmed that supplies and personnel would move to the bases “very soon.” A number of the designated bases are close to PRC-controlled features: Antonio Bautista Air Base is only 186 miles from Mischief Reef, and Basa Air Base lies 205 miles from Scarborough Shoal. However, State Department spokesman John Kirby assertedthat there is “nothing offensive or provocative” about these new troop deployments.

Philippine officials hailed the agreement as a major success. Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the pact would “ensur[e] both countries’ mutual defense and security.” Senator Gregorio Honasan, a candidate  for Vice-President, went further, expressing his hope that “China will blink so that when they blink, it will pave the way for negotiations.” Mr. Honasan also predicted that more bases would eventually be made available to U.S. troops.

Beijing was predictably less enthused about the pact. Responding to a question about the base agreement, PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying retorted, “Maybe they can explain whether their increased military deployment in the South China Sea and nearby areas is an action or militarization or not?” A Xinhuacommentary also warned that “[m]uddying waters in the South China Sea and making the Asia-Pacific a second Middle East will do no good to the United States.”

In other news…

Taiwan

The Mainland was not alone in clashing with Jakarta this week, as Indonesian military vessels reportedly fired upon two Taiwanese fishing boats  in the Strait of Malacca. The Indonesian Navy denied  having any role in the incident and suggested instead that the civilian authorities may have been involved. Susi Pudjastuti, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, later confirmed her ministry’s involvement, alleging that the Taiwanese vessels were poaching within Indonesian waters and and that the trawlers were fired upon only after repeated warning. Taiwanese Fisheries Agency Director-General Tsay Tzu-yaw disputed these claims.

Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Bruce Linghu announced a media tour of Taiping (Itu Aba), which took place on Wednesday, as part of a larger diplomatic blitz in advance of the upcoming merits decision in the Philippines v. PRC maritime arbitration case. The trip was specifically designed to refute Manila’s contention that the island is merely a rock and therefore not entitled to an exclusive economic zone or continental-shelf rights. Taiwanese authorities highlighted the fact that the maritime feature has self-sustaining freshwater reserves and can independently support both human habitation and economic life—references to the criteria for an island established under UNCLOS. For a first-hand view of the disputed feature, join AMTI’s Gregory Poling on a virtual tour of what he saw on this visit.

 

China

IHS Jane’s reports that recently published imagery suggests that China has deployed and tested a land-based version of the 400 km YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile to Woody Island. This follows a flurry of activity on Woody Island, including Beijing’s confirmation that civilian flights will arrive within the year and the repositioning of two HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries on the artificial island.

 
This image appeared in a blog posting on the popular Weibo web page, showing a CASIC YJ-62 long-range anti-ship missile on Woody Island in the South China Sea. Source: Via Weibo web page

Chinese officials have reacted strongly against Japan’s plan to place the South China Sea on the agenda for the upcoming G-7 summit in Hiroshima. The Japan Timesreports, for example, that PRC Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou warned that how Japan addresses the issue with the G-7 will be a litmus test for whether bilateral ties can be improved. Mr. Kong also expressed doubt about whether Japan truly wants to improve Sino-Japanese relations. Tokyo rejected this criticism, arguing that the international community cannot accept Chinese construction and militarization in the South China Sea.

 

United States

PRC President Xi Jinping has agreed to discuss the South China Sea with President Obama next week on the sidelines of the fourth Nuclear Security Summit. Mr. Obama had previously invited his Chinese counterpart to the summit, which will be held in Washington from March 31 to April 1.

 

Vietnam

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh demanded compensation for fishing nets, food, and fuel that were destroyed when PRC officials boarded a Vietnamese fishing vessel two weeks ago. Mr. Binh asserted that Hanoi “will not accept inhuman behavior, the use of force or threat to use force against Vietnamese fishermen.” He also denounced Chinese construction and tourism in the Paracels as serious violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty.

 

Philippines

Filipino boats carrying eleven fishermen were rammed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels while fishing near Scarborough Shoal. The fishermen reported that they used knives and harpoons to defend themselves after being ordered to leave the area. PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying instead claimed that the fishermen “waved around machetes and flung fire bombs, carried out deliberate provocation, and attacked the Chinese law enforcers and official boats.” She further declared that these actions force China to “strengthen supervision” in waters around Scarborough Shoal. President Benigno Aquino III responded to the incident by establishing a “National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea” to coordinate policy across sixteen federal agencies and departments.

 

Japan

Sino-Japanese relations remained tense after diplomatic clashes last week. Citing North Korean missile tests and Chinese “invasion of our territory,” Japan’s military attaché to the United States, announced that Tokyo will expand its East China Sea surveillance network and build a new radar observation station south of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Although Colonel Masashi Yamamoto reiterated that there are no plans to station troops on the disputed islands, he stated that “in the near future we will have a 600-troop security force” on islands north of Okinawa in Japan’s southern island chain (Amami). Also this week, Japan’s governing and opposition parties jointly proposed a bill that would establish bases on seventy-one inhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Further stoking tensions, the Japanese Ministry of Education sanctioned new course materials that markedly increased coverage of disputed territories, including the Senkakus/Diaoyus. The new textbooks also incorporated Ministry-mandated changes that increased ambiguity over the scale of the Nanjing Massacre. Beijing lodged a formal protest in response. PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunyingreiterated that Japan “can not change the fact that Diaoyu Dao belongs to China.” Regarding changes to the historic record, she added, “We strongly urge Japan to take a responsible attitude towards history.”

 

Australia

Australian media noted the increasing frequency with which Southeast Asian nations are looking to Canberra for deterrence against Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea. One example of this increasing collaboration took place late last week as the Singaporean Foreign, Defense, and Trade Ministers wrapped up a series of meetings in Australia. In a joint press conference, both foreign ministers reaffirmedthe right of states to conduct freedom of navigation and overflight exercises in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later called China’s military deployments “counterproductive, regardless of the legal merits.”

The Australian Foreign Investment Review Board announced that it will heighten standards for leasing critical state infrastructure to foreign companies after Washington expressed unease concerning a Chinese company that was allowed to lease the Part of Darwin. The port is adjacent to a key Royal Australian Air Force base with a substantial U.S. Marine Corps presence.

https://www.lawfareblog.com/water-wars-south-china-sea-beijing-faces-twin-threats-new-us-military-presence-and-pushback-old

Philippines, U.S. Coordinate on Bases Near South China Sea

March 21, 2016

March 21 at 3:00 PM
The Washington Post

The disputed South China Sea will soon see increased U.S. military activity from five Philippine bases, following the signing of a deal between Manila and Washington that will allow the Pentagon to deploy conventional forces to the Philippines for the first time in decades.

The deal — called an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — was reached Friday between State Department officials and the government of the Philippines, and will allow the Pentagon to use parts of five military installations: Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base. It comes at a time when the United States and its allies in the region have expressed concern about China increasingly deploying military assets to man-made islands in the South China Sea.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, a retired two-star Navy admiral, said that the United States has “made absolutely no bones about the fact that we take the rebalance to the Asia Pacific region very seriously.” But he added that there is “nothing offensive or provocative” about any of the Pentagon’s deployment of troops to the region.

[China testing Obama as it expands its influence in Southeast Asia]

“It’s not about selling it to the Chinese or to anybody,” Kirby said, under questioning during a media briefing. “It’s about meeting our security commitments in a serious alliance with the Philippines. That’s what this is about.”

The map above shows where the bases are. Antonio Bautista Air Base, on the island of Palawan, is a few dozen miles east of the disputed Spratly Islands, where China’s military buildup is underway. Basa Air Base is also near the South China Sea, and is in a rural area outside Manila. Bautista Air Base is the closest installation the Philippines has to the Spratlys, according to Philippine air force. Other bases were considered, according to Philippine media reports, but ultimately not included in the agreement.

China raised questions about the plan Monday, saying that cooperation between the United States and the Philippines should not harm the sovereignty or security interests of any other country.

“The U.S. has talked about militarization in the South China Sea. But can it explain whether its own increased military deployment in the region is equivalent to militarization?” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a media briefing, according to Xinhua, a state-run news agency.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (File photo)

The United States had a conventional military presence in the Philippines for nearly a century until 1991, when the country ordered the U.S. military to leave its naval base in Subic Bay after the countries could not reach an agreement on the extension of a lease. A U.S. Special Operations task force was based in the Philippines for 13 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but was phased out last year in favor of keeping a small amount of U.S. troops nearby to assist Philippine forces in their fight against Islamist militants.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.

Related:

 (Contains links to several related articles)

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South China Sea: China Criticises U.S.-Philippine Cooperation, Five Philippine Bases Plan

March 21, 2016

Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday agreements like the one reached last week by the United States and the Philippines allowing for a U.S. military presence at five Philippine bases raised questions about militarization in the South China Sea.

The United States is keen to boost the military capabilities of East Asian countries and its own regional presence in the face of China’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes.

The United States and its regional allies have expressed concern that China is militarizing the South China Sea with moves to build airfields and other military facilities on the islands it occupies.

Asked about the base deal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that U.S.-Philippine cooperation should not be targeted at any third party nor harm other nations’ sovereignty or security interests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (File photo)

“I also want to point out that recently the U.S. military likes to talk about the so-called militarization of the South China Sea,” Hua told a daily news conference.

“Can they then explain, isn’t this kind of continued strengthening of military deployments in the South China Sea and areas surrounding it considered militarization?”

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

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Related:

China and Indonesia Have an Ongoing Row

U.S.-Philippines Base Deal