Posts Tagged ‘S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’

Malaysian Minister Azmin Ali Says China Seen with “Admiration and Trepidation”

October 11, 2018

Praise for Chinese leadership, but South China Sea dispute and Trump’s trade war top the list of concerns on second day of SCMP’s China Conference

BY BHAVAN JAIPRAGAS

Malaysia is looking to China to provide “global leadership” in the economic sphere and beyond, a top lieutenant to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday, in the latest signal that bilateral ties are thriving after the brief uncertainties that followed the country’s shock election result in May.

Delivering the closing address at the South China Morning Post ’s China conference in Kuala Lumpur, economic affairs minister Azmin Ali’s optimistic tone about Beijing echoed a common refrain among other speakers at the forum that focused on the role Asia’s biggest economy is playing in Southeast Asia.

However, the South China Sea dispute between China and regional countries remained a potential flash point, speakers said. The conference also heard that stability in the region could be compromised if the US-China trade war intensified into a geopolitical conflict and countries were compelled to take sides in a cold war-esque scenario.

Azmin Ali, Malaysia’s economic affairs minister, says the country is looking to China to provide ‘global leadership’ in the economic sphere and beyond. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The two-day forum – the Post’s first outside its Hong Kong base – was attended by 800 business leaders, diplomats and academics.

Azmin said the new Malaysian government that came to power after the May 9 general election would increasingly see China as a “country to learn from” as it revived a decades-old “Look East” foreign policy first promoted by Mahathir during his 1981-2003 stint in power.

US-China tensions make Asian free-trade deal ‘a priority’

Investors should refrain from judging Kuala Lumpur’s policy through the prism of its recently cancelled Beijing-backed infrastructure projects, said the minister, who is widely viewed as one of Mahathir’s most trusted lieutenants.

Mahathir caused anxiety in Beijing after he announced the cancellation of some US$23 billion worth of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects after he came to power, citing inflated costs and a lack of need.

THE REGION MUST REMAIN A ZONE OF PEACE, FREEDOM AND NEUTRALITY AND MUST NOT BE MILITARISED
Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali

“Rather than viewing the new Malaysia with anxiety, I urge Chinese businesses to view us through the prism of hope and opportunity,” Azmin told the conference. “Now, more than ever before, Malaysia is one of the most attractive places in Southeast Asia to do business.”

He added: “Today, we expect China to provide global leadership not just in the economic sphere but in soft power by advancing universal values such as freedom of conscience, mutual respect and justice.”

Azmin said the world was watching geopolitical developments in Southeast Asia closely because of its status as a “bellwether” of the effects on trade, diplomacy and security that China’s rise is likely to have on other countries.

But while Malaysia and its neighbours view China with “genuine admiration”, there is also “some trepidation because of its military might”, the minister said.

Chinese construction in the Spratly Islands chain. There are fears the dispute over the waterway are emerging as a proxy for US-China rivalry. Photo: AP

Amid concerns that the South China Sea dispute was resurfacing as a potential proxy platform for US-China rivalry, Azmin maintained his country’s stance that freedom of navigation through the waterway must not be impeded.

“The region must remain a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality and must not be militarised,” he said.

US versus China? Put that cold war talk on ice

Hotly debated by the forum’s 65 speakers were the opportunities springing up because of the current tense geopolitical landscape.

Malaysia’s top trade negotiator, Norazman Ayob, told the conference that the trade tensions gave Southeast Asian countries reason to move quickly to conclude the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership, which has been in the works for five years.

The partnership will create the world’s largest free-trade zone with involvement from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Japan.

“The conflict between the US and China has provided an impetus [for] an early conclusion of [the partnership],” Norazman said.

The South China Sea dispute and the wider US-China rivalry was vigorously discussed by leading regional security experts in a panel earlier on Thursday.

Shahriman Lockman, a senior analyst with Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, challenged speculation that the US and China were headed towards a full blown cold war.

The Malaysian researcher said the current situation was far less severe than the decades-long conflict between the US and the Soviet Union.

That conflict involved “hot wars” – such as the Korean war, Vietnam war and the Cambodian civil war – as well as the Cuban missile crisis and a long campaign against communists in Malaysia, the researcher pointed out.

China-SE Asia’s cultural ties are as binding as economic ones

“That was the cold war. It was serious stuff. What we are seeing here today is what I would say is an uneasy peace,” Shahriman said. “It would be hysterical … if you see it as [if] we are entering the kind of intense security condition that we saw in the cold war.”

He added: “The United States does not believe that China can be contained, nor does it want to contain China.”

Still, the region’s countries must resist any pressure to take sides if the US-China rivalry does intensify, said Joseph Liow, the dean of Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Liow said: “As the saying goes, if we don’t hang together, we will hang individually.”

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2168164/asia-looks-china-admiration-and-trepidation-malaysian-minister

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Towards a world-class Chinese military by 2050

November 5, 2017

 Image may contain: 7 people

Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre), who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, visiting a joint battle command centre in Beijing last Friday, where he issued a directive to the People’s Liberation Army high command to “work hard at combat readiness, and lead our military to be able to fight and win wars”.  PHOTO: XINHUA

President Xi rallies the troops in sign that nation will take more muscular military stance

Improve your combat capabilities, and be ready for war.

President Xi Jinping delivered this directive to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) high command on Friday, during a visit to a joint battle command centre in Beijing, the latest indication yet that China will adopt a more muscular military stance in the coming years.

“The Central Military Commission (CMC) should strengthen the troops’ sense of crisis and war, work hard at combat readiness, and lead our military to be able to fight and win wars,” said Mr Xi, who is also chairman of the CMC, the supreme military decision-making body in China.

Turning the PLA into a more capable, synchronised and obedient force is clearly a top priority in the coming years, said analysts who noted that Mr Xi understands well that China’s strongest leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping owed their political longevity to absolute authority over the PLA, which is the military wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China’s growing overseas interests and geopolitical ambitions also mean the PLA has to evolve to meet an ever wider range of demands, the experts added.

Odds are good that Mr Xi, who sees himself as an equally epochal leader, can achieve these goals, having overseen in his first term an unprecedented restructuring of the PLA to reduce its focus on ground troops, even as he lessened the influence of the generals and concentrated more power in himself.

 

Last month’s 19th party congress saw Mr Xi elevated to the stature of Mao and Deng within the CCP after his political thoughts, bearing his name, were inscribed in the party Constitution.

BEYOND JUST DEFENCE

In sum, those priorities are not purely just for defence – we need to understand that naval power is a flexible instrument for a country’s pursuit of its national interests in whichever form possible… It’s often a mixture of practical defence, security needs and the quest for prestige.

MARITIME EXPERT COLLIN KOH, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, on China’s growing naval ambitions.

Also at the national congress, he set out a two-stage plan to complete the PLA’s modernisation by 2035, and for it to become a world-class force by 2050.

The mid-century goal is likely an ambition to achieve “peer capability with the US military”, the US Department of Defence said in a recent report.

“The military reforms seek to enhance the PLA’s ability to conduct joint operations, improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland, and strengthen the CCP’s control over the military,” it said.

The key here is the ability for the PLA to operate effectively far away from the Chinese mainland, said experts.

Mr Xi’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure and trade routes across much of the world has increased China’s clout, but it has also opened up major vulnerabilities that the PLA needs to safeguard, said Mr Timothy Heath, a senior researcher at the US-based Rand Corporation.

This is why China has made significant strides in expanding its naval prowess, rolling out this year alone its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, a new generation landing helicopter dock and Asia’s largest destroyer, even as it streamlined its coastal forces.

  • MILITARY MILESTONES

  • China has been steadily improving its combat capabilities and military hardware across all its armed services. These are the milestones the PLA has hit in the past year:Feb 1: China tests a new version of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Dongfeng-5C, carrying 10 dummy nuclear warheads. It comes a week after another ICBM, the DF-41 (the world’s longest range missile), is spotted in Heilongjiang.

    March 10: China’s latest stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20, enters service in the PLA air force and takes part in drills with troops, rocket forces and the navy. It has a longer range, more internal fuel capacity and a larger weapons capacity than the US F-22 and F-35 fighters. March 29: China is reported to have started building a new generation of large amphibious assault vessels. The 40,000-tonne Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock is twice as large as its predecessor and can deploy and house 30 helicopters.

    April 26: China launches its first domestically built aircraft carrier in Dalian, the Type 001A. In the same month, China ramps up test flights for its Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter prototype.

    May 22: Z-19E “Black Whirlwind” makes its maiden flight in Harbin. The gunship is China’s first attempt at a locally produced, advanced attack helicopter intended for the export market.

    June 28: China launches the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, billed as Asia’s largest and most advanced warship, and second only to the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer in capabilities.

    July 25: A high-tech weapons research agency, the Scientific Research Steering Committee, is set up. It is modelled after the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

    Sept 22: Troops at the Djibouti military base complete their first live-fire drills. The Horn of Africa naval base, China’s first overseas military base, is formally opened on Aug 1.

    Oct 29: China successfully trials a new electric propulsion motor at a naval base on Hainan Island. It is significantly quieter and thus stealthier, and will likely be used on nuclear submarines. Its designers say the breakthrough will put China’s submarines ahead of those in the US and Britain.

    Lim Yan Liang

This is to support what China calls “active offshore defence” of its territorial interests and expand its “envelope of deterrence” in the East and South China seas and the Yellow Sea into the western Pacific Ocean, said maritime expert Collin Koh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

The hardware enhancements also come as China takes a more aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, having built fighter jet hangars and runways on artificial islands it controls there and conducted naval exercises in the nearby Paracel Islands.

China is also using its growing “blue water” navy – a maritime force capable of operating globally – to secure its overseas interests and demonstrate its ability to be a bigger global security provider, such as when it evacuated civilians from Yemen in 2015, said Dr Koh.

“In sum, those priorities are not purely just for defence – we need to understand that naval power is a flexible instrument for a country’s pursuit of its national interests in whichever form possible,” he said.

“It’s often a mixture of practical defence, security needs and the quest for prestige.”

But Dr Koh noted that the next stage of China’s military overhaul goes beyond just hardware or software modernisation, to a military that can operate together as a coherent force.

This means pushing through holistic reforms that reach “the level of training and doctrinal development to make full use of the hardware and software capabilities”, he added.

RSIS China specialist James Char agreed, noting that Mr Xi will likely be able to effect these deeper changes having stacked the new CMC membership with his favoured generals, all of whom either share a long association with him, or have been groomed by him.

Mr Xi’s promotion of PLA anti-graft chief Zhang Shengmin to full general last Thursday also signals that the anti-corruption campaign to eliminate resistance within the ranks to sweeping reforms will continue apace, China analyst Charlotte Gao wrote in The Diplomat.

“The next phase will be to inculcate the troops with what I like to refer to as the ‘heartware’ – military ethos and operational doctrine, especially with regards to conducting joint informationised warfare,” said Mr Char.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story attributed a quote wrongly to Ms Charlotte Gao. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline ‘Towards a world-class Chinese military by 2050’.
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China’s New Strategy for North Korea

April 21, 2017

 If China were to assert more pressure on North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile programmes, it would not be at the behest of United States President Donald Trump.

Rather it would be because North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons poses an immense threat to China, Professor Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said recently.

The view of several analysts, both within and outside China, is that Beijing is already adjusting its North Korea policy because of this and other reasons.

Xi Jinping listens to Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Florida. Reuters

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The shift has been evident in recent months, in Beijing’s decision to back heavier sanctions against Pyongyang by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the steps it took to more fully implement existing sanctions. That is significant because China had in the past expressed “reservations over the sanctions and even objected to some of them”, said security analyst Wang Xiangsui of Beihang University.

Security analyst Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University summed up the change as one of emphasis. Whereas in the past, Beijing placed greater emphasis on regime survival in Pyongyang and stable relations with its close neighbour and less on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, it now places equal emphasis on the two, he said.

But why has Beijing adjusted its stance now when Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions have been clear for years?

FROM HOPE TO REALITY

A key factor tilting the balance is how North Korea’s desire for nuclear weapons and missiles has in recent years gone from mere hope to concrete fact. Pyongyang has conducted five nuclear bomb tests to date, and is said to be getting close to building nuclear warheads small enough to mount on missiles. It has also tested ballistic missiles with increasing frequency and success.

Members of the Korean People’s Army at a military parade on April 15 to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. North Korea’s desire for nuclear weapons and missiles has in recent years gone from mere hope to concrete fact. That has been a key factor in tilting Beijing’s stance towards its neighbour. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

Professor Wang said it is now obvious that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and “China has no room to be ambiguous”.

“It needs to express its stand clearly, that it opposes the North’s possession of nuclear weapons and wants it to give them up,” said Prof Wang.

The possibility that Japan and South Korea will follow suit by arming themselves with nuclear weapons as protection against the North, would also work against China’s interests.

China’s punitive measures are likely to stop short of acts that could cause the Kim regime to collapse. That is because Beijing wants to keep North Korea as a strategic buffer zone against the US, which has a military presence in South Korea. A regime collapse in Pyongyang could mean reunification of the two Koreas with the possibility of American presence at the Chinese border.

Another factor causing Beijing to recalibrate its North Korea policy is external pressure, noted Associate Professor Li. China’s ties with South Korea have deteriorated as Seoul thinks Beijing is not doing enough to rein in the North. That has led to Seoul aligning itself more closely with the US.

The US for its part has used the North Korea nuclear issue to justify enhanced military deployment in North-east Asia, said Prof Li. An example is the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system, an advanced anti-missile system, in South Korea, he added.

China vehemently opposes the deployment of Thaad on the Korean peninsula because it believes the system’s powerful radars undermine its security interests. It has reportedly used various measures to discourage Seoul from deploying Thaad, including reducing the number of Chinese tourists going to South Korea, blocking Korean music videos on streaming services, and closing several of Lotte’s stores in China supposedly for breaching fire regulations. Korean conglomerate Lotte had turned over its land to be used for Thaad.

With South Korea due to hold a presidential election next month, the Thaad system now hangs in the balance although deployment has begun.

China is worried that Thaad could also be deployed in Japan.

As tensions on the Korean peninsula rose in recent months, the Chinese sought to revive diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Last month, Beijing called on the US and South Korea to suspend their large-scale military exercises and for the North to halt its nuclear and missile tests, so that both sides could come to the negotiating table in multilateral talks.

Beijing has also suggested a two-track approach of negotiating denuclearisation and a peace treaty simultaneously.

There has been little progress to date on this front.

It does not help that China’s own ties with North Korea have deteriorated since Mr Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012, said Prof Li. Mr Kim launched a series of political purges whose targets included his uncle Jang Sung Taek, who had been China’s main interlocutor.

In power for five years, Mr Kim has yet to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping or travel to China.

CHINA’S NEXT STEPS

If Pyongyang continues to disregard Beijing’s calls to halt its nuclear and missile tests, the latter could put more economic pressure on the North, said Chinese analysts such as Prof Wang.

North Korea’s bilateral trade with China now accounts for about 90 per cent of its total trade. It is also almost entirely dependent on China for the oil that keeps its economy going as well as for food and other essential goods.

The tougher measures at China’s disposal include tightening up on trade, cross-border activity and finance, which will increase hardship on North Koreans but are unlikely to cause the collapse of the Kim Jong Un regime.

China had in February announced that it would halt all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year. Coal is estimated to make up some 40 per cent of North Korea’s exports to China and coal exports are a vital source of foreign exchange for Pyongyang.

Still, these punitive measures are likely to stop short of acts that could cause the Kim regime to collapse. That is because Beijing wants to keep North Korea as a strategic buffer zone against the US, which has a military presence in South Korea. A regime collapse in Pyongyang could mean reunification of the two Koreas, with the possibility of American presence at the Chinese border.

Moreover, North Korea is a socialist state and China may not want to see the disappearance of such a comrade in arms, said Prof Li.

He is optimistic that with the concerted efforts of the Chinese squeezing the North Koreans economically and the US putting immense military pressure on them, Pyongyang may be compelled to at least freeze its nuclear and missile programmes.

This could take a few months, he said, as economic measures need time to take effect.

Even if Pyongyang is reluctant to suspend the programmes, they could be significantly slowed down for want of funds and supply of parts and technology, he said. That would be a small step forward.

But some like Prof Jia are more pessimistic. Achieving a nuclear-free and turmoil-free Korean peninsula may be difficult given that North Korea has refused to cooperate.

“In the end, China may have no choice but to assert even greater pressure – even if it means instability or regime collapse,” said Prof Jia.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/china-adjusts-its-north-korea-policy

Relayed:

South China Sea casts a shadow over China’s ties with Singapore

August 14, 2016

China dismayed by city state’s response to Hague ruling and support for US role in Asia

By Laura Zhou
South China Morning Post

Monday, August 15, 2016, 2:02am
 

Uncertainty hangs over ties ­between China and Singapore in the aftermath of a landmark international tribunal ruling on ­disputes in the South China Sea.

Even though Singapore was not a claimant in the disputed waters, recent gestures by the city state in relation to the ruling appeared to have dismayed Beijing, observers said.

China and Singapore have had close ties, especially economic ones, over the past few decades, with Singapore becoming a training ground for Chinese officials and often cited by Chinese leaders as an example of how a city should be managed.

But recent remarks by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has raised concerns in Beijing on how far the relationship between the two nations can go.

After the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s claims to the South China Sea, Lee said the verdict was a “strong statement” about international law in maritime disputes.

Beijing responded by calling on Singapore to have an “objective and fair position”, given its role as a coordinator of relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

Beijing was furious when, backed by the United States, the Philippines lodged the case in 2013. It ignored the ruling.

Shen Shishun, senior researcher at the China Institute of International Studies Asia-Pacific Research Centre, said if Singapore took a similar position as the US, China would see it as “playing around with issues of major ­principle”.

“China believes Singapore can balance major powers but it should not toy with these issues,” Shen said.“As an Asian nation, Singapore should become closer to China.”

China believes Singapore can balance major powers but it should not toy with these issues
SHEN SHISHUN, CHINA INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Tensions also surfaced earlier this month when Lee told US President Barack Obama that he hoped the US would continue its active engagement in the region. Obama responded by saying ­Singapore and the US were “rock-solid partners”.

Global Times, published by People’s Daily, said in an editorial that Lee’s trip in the US made some Chinese “very uncomfortable”, especially when Obama praised Singapore as “an anchor” of US presence in Asia. Previously the “two anchors” referred to Japan and Australia, the US’ two allies in the Asia-Pacific, it said.

Ties with China were not always strained. When late leader Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in 1978, he was so impressed by the way it was run that he asked the then Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew for advice on how China could be prosperous. Lee Kuan Yew said China should open up to the capitalist world, and over the next three decades, China benefited from such ­market reforms.

The two countries also have strong economic links, with China becoming Singapore’s biggest trade partner and the city state a key component in Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road scheme. Government-to-government projects, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-city, are also key points of cooperation.

In addition, the Communist Party has sent cadres to study in Singapore over the past two decades, and many of them are now mayors or even provincial leaders back in China. They include Vice-Premier Wang Yang who, as Guangdong Communist Party boss, headed delegations to Singapore to study its social and economic developments, according to Nanfang Daily.

Singapore also hosted the “Wang-Koo summit” in 1992 between semi-official organisations from the mainland and Taiwan, as well as November’s historic meeting between President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou, the first meeting between leaders from the two sides in nearly 70 years.

Most of us see arbitration or adjudication as an ordinary and effective resolution to international disputes by means of law
OH EI SUN, S RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Singapore took a similar position on the South China Sea ­disputes as other Southeast Asian nations.

“Most of us see arbitration or adjudication as an ordinary and effective resolution to international disputes by means of law. So we see nothing wrong with an Asean leader voicing these sentiments,” he said.

Du Jifeng, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing may be more alert to Singapore’s role in the US strategic presence in Asia-Pacific, but economic ties between China and Singapore would remain strong.

“Singapore is not a claimant nation [in the South China Sea,” Du said.

“Lee’s comments may not influence the direction taken to solve the South China Sea disputes between China and the Philippines.”

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2003813/south-china-sea-shadow-over-beijings-ties-singapore

Related:

 (Contains links to several related articles)

 (July 12 court decision)

 (July 27, 2016 — Philippine Star)

 

Bloated Malaysia Civil Service Presents Headache for Najib

August 11, 2016

By 

Bloomberg News

August 10, 2016 — 6:09 PM EDT — Updated on August 11, 2016 — 2:00 AM EDT
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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Photographer Mohd Rasfan, AFP via Getty Images
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  • Public workforce large relative to other Asian peers
  • Civil servants indispensable support base for Najib’s party

Malaysian Nor Mohamad loved her job with a major Western tech company. But she gave it up after two years, tired of bickering with her parents who felt she’d be better off in the public service.

“It’s boring but stable,” said the master’s degree holder, who is in her thirties and asked not to be fully identified, citing government policy. “Even though I’m not so in love with the job, I’m thankful that in this economic situation there’s no bad impact to my career.”

Malaysia’s civil service employs 1.6 million people, or about 11 percent of the labor force. The jobs provide stability and security, including for ethnic Malays who are the majority of the population. Now the bloated bureaucracy presents a challenge to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib, whose ruling coalition Barisan Nasional has been in power for nearly 60 years with the help of the Malay vote, has pledged to gradually narrow a budget deficit the country has been running since the Asian financial crisis. The commodity-driven $296-billion economy is expected to grow at the slowest pace in seven years in 2016, with lower oil prices eating into revenue.

But trimming the public workforce to improve the government’s coffers is difficult. While Najib has survived a year of political turmoil over funding scandals, he needs the support of Malays to win the next election due by 2018. His party, the United Malays National Organisation, has for decades propagated policies that provide favorable access to education, jobs and housing for Malays and indigenous people, known collectively as Bumiputeras.

“The civil service in Malaysia is intricately jived in with the ethnic policies” of the government, said Jayant Menon, an economist at the Asian Development Bank. “This is a form of ensuring not just employment, but relatively attractive employment.”

About 79 percent of the civil service was made up of Malays as of the end of 2014, with over 11 percent from indigenous Bumiputera groups, the official Bernama news agency reported in March 2015, citing a government minister. About 5.2 percent of public servants were Chinese and 4.1 percent were Indian.

Malaysia’s civil service relative to population is large, at more than double the average in the Asia-Pacific region by some measures, according to Menon. The cost of maintaining it is draining resources at a time government revenues are falling.

Salaries, pensions and gratuities account for about a third of the budget every year, the biggest expenditure item. The government doesn’t regularly publish data on the size of the public service.

Najib has weathered a year of graft allegations over hundreds of millions of dollars that appeared in his personal bank accounts before the last election in 2013, with the claims putting some pressure on his leadership. He denies wrongdoing and was cleared by the country’s attorney-general earlier this year.

Najib’s office didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the civil service. The office of the chief secretary to the government also did not reply to an e-mailed request for comment.

Malaysian officials have previously defended the size of the civil service, which includes teachers, doctors, soldiers and police. Idris Jala, then-minister in the Prime Minister’s office, said in 2014 that it wasn’t bloated even though it could be made more efficient to save the government money.

Najib’s government spent 1.1 billion ringgit ($275 million) to raise salaries for civil servants last month — the biggest rise since 2013 — and increased their minimum starting pay to 1,200 ringgit a month. Like in previous years, public employees received a 500 ringgit special allowance just before the Eid al-Fitr holidays in July, a celebration marking the end of the Muslim fasting month.

‘Support Base’

“The civil service forms an important support base for the government and can usually be counted upon to show up and vote for the ruling party during elections,” said Chia Shuhui, an Asia analyst at BMI Research in Singapore. “The government is not going to cut benefits to their support base, and therefore it is unlikely to make significant changes in terms of its expenditure on the civil service.”

The government has been taking steps to streamline the civil service and improve the efficiency of the public sector as part of its long-term efforts, Chia said.

Given that nothing much could be done to the civil service because of political and ethnic sensitivities, the government should focus on cutting its business exposure through the government-linked corporation divestment program to increase revenue, the ADB’s Menon said.

 

While UMNO has worked to retain Malay voters, the opposition has also sought to support the bureaucracy. The opposition-controlled Selangor state government pledged a 1.5 month bonus to its civil servants to mark Eid.

In neighboring Thailand, the ruling junta gave the nation’s two million civil servants and soldiers a four percent salary increase in December 2014 at an expected cost of 22.9 billion baht ($659 million). Many civil servants took part in anti-government protests that led to the May 2014 military coup and the junta has since emphasized the need to give bureaucrats greater power over elected officials.

“Civil servants are indeed an indispensable support base for Barisan Nasional in general and UMNO specifically,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “Hence the need to constantly improve their welfare.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-10/jobs-for-life-malaysians-hard-to-budge-as-najib-eyes-voter-risk

Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague Says Beijing “has no historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea”

July 12, 2016

By Goh Sui Noi, East Asia Editor; Raul Dancel, Philippines Correspondent;

The Straits Times

In a landmark ruling on Tuesday (July 12), a UN-backed arbitral tribunal concluded that China has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” to resources in the South China Sea and it has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the disputed waters.

Manila, which lodged a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague against Beijing in 2013, welcomed the ruling. But Chinese President Xi Jinping said while China is dedicated to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, it will not accept any positions or actions based on the outcome of the arbitration case.

In a 497-page ruling that overwhelmingly favours the Philippines, the five-member tribunal said Beijing “had no historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea”.

It said “such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention”, referring to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, by constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone,” said the ruling, which is legally binding but not enforceable.

China’s nine-dash line map of the 1940s claims nearly the entire South China Sea.  It protrudes from China’s southern Hainan island, loops 1,611 km away towards Indonesia, and then links back to the mainland in a cow-tongue shape.

China’s claims overlap those of four Asean states – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – as well as Taiwan, in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea. The sea is also a vital waterway through which some US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) of ship-borne traffic passes each year.

The tribunal also found that none of the features in the Spratly islands – including Itu Aba which is controlled by Taiwan – is capable of generating extended maritime zones, and that the islands as a unit is also not capable of generating maritime zones collectively.

CHINA INSISTS IT HAS HISTORIC RIGHTS

The Chinese President said China is dedicated to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea but will not accept any positions or actions based on the outcome of the arbitration on the long-running spat with the Philippines.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi had stronger words for the arbitral case, calling it a “farce and saying it has put the dispute into dangerous territory of worsening tensions and confrontation.

The foreign ministry had earlier dismissed the ruling and reiterated China’s sovereignty over the waterway. It said China “does not accept and does not recognise” the ruling.

“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” the foreign ministry said.

China had refused to take part in the case, saying it involves a determination of who owns what in the South China Sea – that is, sovereignty – which falls under the purview of the International Court of Justice.

Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday that a Chinese civilian aircraft successfully carried out calibration tests on two new airports in the Spratly Islands.  It said the two airports were on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, and the facilities will help with personnel transfers to the Spratlys.

An analyst in Singapore said although the ruling is unfavourable to the Chinese, they are unlikely to withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Asean-China expert Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said this is because China has other interests in the oceans, including in Indian Ocean, that require protection from the Convention.

He added that China was unlikely to do more than what it has already been doing in the South China Sea, but said all parties, including claimant states and powers such as the United States, should act with restraint in order not to provoke stronger action from the Chinese after the ruling.

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/no-legal-basis-for-china-to-claim-historic-rights-to-resources-in-sea-areas-within-nine

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South China Sea: Despite Tough Talk, China and U.S. Not Close To A Shoot Out At Sea

October 31, 2015

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On Tuesday, the United States Navy sent its state-of-the-art guided-missile destroyer, USS Lassen, into waters within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, which China claims. Chinese naval vessels shadowed the USS Lassen until it left the waters around Subi Reef and Mischief Reef. These actions have drawn attention to the risk of incidents at sea leading to growing tensions and even conflict in the South China Sea.

China has built a helipad, wharves, a weather observation station and a four-storey building on Subi Reef after extensive land reclamation. China also appears to be reclaiming land for the building of a runway, as well as a parallel taxiway, capable of meeting any military requirements.

The possibility that such a combat-capable runway is being built, as well as similar facilities on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys and Woody Island in the Paracels, has raised concerns among defence analysts that China would be well placed to enforce an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea if it chooses to establish such a zone, as it has done over contested waters in the East China Sea. China’s extensive land reclamation in the South China Sea was described by the Malaysian Chief of Defence Forces,

General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, as “provocative” when he spoke at the defence-focused Xiangshan Forum in Beijing on Oct 18.

U.S. AND CHINESE CONCERNS

The US move was an attempt to assert freedom of navigation in the contested South China Sea, an important waterway that carries almost 30 per cent of global trade, including nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports. The US Navy has reiterated that it will continue with such patrols in the South China Sea.

ST ILLUSTRATION : CHNG

 

On Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the US Ambassador to China Max Baucus to protest against the US action. Executive Vice-Minister Zhang Yesui told Mr Baucus that the US had acted in defiance of repeated Chinese objections and had threatened China’s sovereignty and security. Chinese public opinion has also been critical of the US action, highlighting the risk that growing nationalist sentiments, especially among younger Chinese, could reduce the Chinese government’s freedom of action in future.

For South-east Asia’s littoral states, the American and Chinese positions draw attention to the increased risks of conflict in the South China Sea. There is also the possibility that regional claimant states could miscalculate and take stronger action to pursue their claims in the belief that they would have the support of the US. The firmest support for the US came from Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who saw “no issue” with the US exercising freedom of navigation.

Although other regional claimant states probably welcomed the American initiative, they avoided statements indicating that they supported it.

Among American allies, Australia’s Defence Minister, Ms Marise Payne, strongly endorsed the right of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr Yoshihide Suga, declined to comment directly on the patrol but highlighted Japan’s general commitment to “the aim of preserving free and peaceful waters” and opposition to land reclamation, militarisation, and other unilateral attempts to change the status quo.

More worrying for the US is the wariness of its ally South Korea, which did not address the issue but only made a general statement supporting freedom of navigation and stressed the importance of the 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

China has never defined whether it claims all the waters within its “nine dash lines” map or only the features within it. South-east Asian states would question whether artificial “islands”, such as Subi Reef, are entitled to territorial waters of 12 nautical miles around the land features from the low water elevation, based on the definitions in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both China and South-east Asian states have ratified the convention. But the US, which has not acceded to it, will rely on its interpretation of customary international law.

China’s strategy of creeping de facto control over the South China Sea has resulted in growing resistance by the Philippines and Vietnam among claimant states. They have moved closer to the US, which is seen as the only power capable of balancing China. It has encouraged rising defence expenditures, especially for the navy and air force, a trend also seen in other regional states such as Indonesia.

WAR IS UNLIKELY

However, as major powers, the US and China will focus on the management of their differences. Already, on Thursday, the US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, had a video conference with the Chief of the Chinese Navy, Admiral Wu Shengli. Although Adm Wu told Adm Richardson that there is a risk of “a minor incident that sparks war”, significantly, both sides agreed to maintain the dialogue and to follow agreed protocols to prevent clashes. Scheduled port visits by US and Chinese ships and planned visits to China by senior US Navy officers remain on track.

Regional claimant states hoping for a strong American response should bear in mind that it will be difficult to convince a weary American public to embark on another major overseas conflict. This factor, together with China’s interest in avoiding war so that its leadership can continue to focus on economic development, make it unlikely that China and the US will miscalculate and head blindly into war.

My assessment is contrary to the view of those scholars and policymakers who believe in the considerable risk of war as China, the rising power, challenges the dominance of the US, the global superpower.

An increasingly confident China has promoted economic policies designed to strengthen South-east Asian linkages with itself, popularising the slogan “One Belt, One Road” to establish a Maritime Silk Road linking East Asia to the Middle East.

On the other hand, China’s security strategies run the risk of alienating regional opinion and have made it easier for competitors such as the US and Japan to reinforce their ties with states in the region.

The exceptions are states bordering China, such as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, which regard the conflicting claims in the South China Sea as a distraction for Asean and have been happy to receive Chinese aid and investments.

WARINESS OF CHINA

While Myanmar has shared the perspective of other mainland South-east Asian states on South China Sea issues and sought to maintain excellent ties with China during the years of diplomatic isolation, it has recently been critical of China for interfering in attempts to reach an umbrella peace agreement with separatist groups on Myanmar’s border with China. A senior Myanmar negotiator claimed that China had persuaded the Kachin Independence Organisation and the United Wa State Liberation Army not to sign the peace agreement.

South-east Asian states should anticipate that they will have to deal with a more assertive China in the years ahead.

One harbinger of this trend was a warning by the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, Mr Huang Huikang, during a visit to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown last month, that “the Chinese government opposes terrorism and any form of discrimination against races and any form of extremism”.

China has historically focused westwards towards Central Asia, the source of land-based threats to Chinese regimes. However, today the primary risk westwards lies in support for Uighur separatism by their co-religionists speaking similar Turkic dialects, and demands for the independence of Tibet. These two threats are primarily domestic and containable, even though there is a worry that groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may incorporate Uighur nationalism within their radical framework for global extremism.

On the other hand, as Chinese power rises, Chinese policymakers recognise that the only power with the capacity to threaten Chinese interests is the US, the sole superpower, and its web of alliance relationships. This has resulted in a Chinese rebalancing with a tilt eastwards towards the Pacific.

In the decade ahead, there will be a strengthening of Chinese air and sea defence capabilities and a growing emphasis on building closer economic and political ties with the littoral states on the Maritime Silk Road.

However, as the US will remain a Pacific power, the effective management of the US-China relationship will be the critical issue for maintaining global peace and security.
•The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Bakrie Professor of South-east Asia Policy, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/war-unlikely-even-as-us-china-test-waters-in-contested-seas

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South China Sea: China, ASEAN Nations Urged To Share the Natural Resources From The Sea — Stop Activities That Risk Violence, Bloodshed, War

October 19, 2015

By Walter Sim
Straits Times

SINGAPORE – Countries with conflicting claims in the South China Sea should strive for a positive outcome instead of a zero-sum one, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Monday (Oct 19).

Should they seek a zero-sum outcome, he said, the disputes will be difficult to solve and may even lead to a negative outcome should a conflict erupt, or a continuing state of tension prevail.

“No one would be able to benefit from access to the potentially vast resources,” he said.

“While sovereignty is non-divisible, resource sharing is infinitely divisible. Joint development of the rich resources would allow claimants to share the wealth of the sea.”

This is not a novel idea, he said, noting that agreements have been made for joint development or exploration of natural resources in areas subject to overlapping claims. One such example is the Gulf of Thailand, which saw claims involving Malaysia and Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and Thailand.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was speaking at a conference themed “Southeast Asia and the United States: A Stable Foundation in an Uncertain Environment”.

The full-day conference at the Fullerton Hotel is co-hosted by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and The Brookings Institution, one of the oldest Washington D.C. think-tanks.

Mr Teo broached the subject of the South China Sea, where tensions have made headlines recently, in a wide-ranging speech that sought to offer a framework to better assess the significance of individual incidents and events. He spelt out three pillars that he saw as crucial for continued stability, peace and growth in the region.

They are trade and economic cooperation, defence and security engagements, and people-to-people exchanges.

In trade and economic cooperation, Mr Teo noted that the number of regional trade agreements worldwide has risen about four times in 25 years – from about 70 in 1990 to more than 270 today.

He added that the successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) covering 40 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product “looks set to be a game changer”.

It is critical that the US Congress ratify the TPP to send a clear signal of the US’s continued presence and commitment to the region, he said, adding that China too has expressed hope the TPP will “contribute to the development of trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific”.

Singapore looks forward to the day China is ready to join the TPP, he said, even as other regional pacts such as the Asean-China free trade agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership bring trading partners closer.

In defence, there is room for cooperation in areas such as piracy, counter-terrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. These affect not just individual countries but the world, said Mr Teo.

Meanwhile, soft power can also be generated through people-to-people exchanges that build greater understanding and trust, he said. Such exchanges include government-to-government collaborations – and DPM Teo said there are areas such as water conservation, sustainable agriculture and fire mitigation where more can be done.

These can bring benefits not only to individual countries but can have region-wide benefits as well, he added.

Other forms of people-to-people exchanges also include overseas internships and exchange programmes for tertiary institutions.

“These links offer countries a valuable means to project soft power, and to win hearts and minds, through good deeds and the power of ideas, in a way that the projection of military or economic might cannot achieve,” said Mr Teo.

Such multi-dimensional interactions, he added, have to be consistent and enduring to have long-term impact.

They also have to be based on international law, and mutual respect for all countries, big and small, to have legitimacy and broad support.

Crucially, the regional architecture must remain open and inclusive, with Asean at its centre, he said.

“The US has been an integral part of this regional architecture for the past 70 years. And we hope that the US will continue to be present in the region, as this will benefit the US, the region, and the world,” he added.

Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott, in his opening remarks, stressed that the Asia Pacific a region of great importance to the world as a whole.

Asia Pacific is characterised by dynamic economic growth, the strategic importance in preserving freedom of navigation, its contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Asean’s role as a multi-lateral institution.

The success of Asean in “forming an ever tighter community of nations”, he said, can be an example to the world in light of the struggles encountered by blocs such as the European Union.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/countries-with-overlapping-claims-in-south-china-sea-should-aim-for-win-win-outcome-dpm

Vietnam Goes Shopping for U.S. Military Hardware

May 15, 2015

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Anniversary Of The Fall Of Saigon

Soldiers march during a parade marking the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on April 30. Photographer: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

By John 
Bloomberg

Vietnam’s military is going shopping.Anxious about a more assertive China on its doorstep and frictions over territory in the South China Sea, officials in Hanoi recently hosted a group of foreign defense contractors looking to sell the Communist nation everything from radar systemsto night vision technology and aircraft.The military’s top officers were not present because of the sensitivity of hobnobbing with U.S. defense companies eight days beforecelebrations for the 40th anniversary of the defeat of America and its allies. But the meeting shows how Vietnam’s leaders are looking past ideology to practical realities.

Warships of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy

“There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests,” Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the  in Hawaii, said by phone.

Squeezed by slower U.S. military spending, defense firms are looking to Southeast Asian nations for new markets, capitalizing on their concerns about China’s outlays on long-range planes, ships and submarines. The April roadshow, organized by the U.S. embassy, follows Washington’s easing of curbs on sales of nonlethal defense systems to Vietnam last October.

China’s at-sea oil rigs have angered Vietnam — The Vietnamese claim that China placed this oil rig inside Vietnam’s territorial  limits last May.

“In the coming months there will be more conversations, meetings and trips back-and-forth between American companies and their potential Vietnamese clients,” said Vu Tu Thanh, chief Vietnam representative of the U.S.-Asean Business Council, who attended the day-long symposium. “There is a surge of interest among American defense contractors.”

More than a dozen defense companies, including Boeing Co., BAE Systems Plc, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. were invited to the April 22 event, according to the agenda for the meeting. “The symposium sought to promote U.S. firms in Vietnam,” U.S. embassy spokeswoman Lisa Wishman said in an e-mail.

Defense Slides

Vietnam’s procurement of defense equipment is in line with its policy of pursuing “peace and self-defense,” Le Hai Binh, foreign ministry spokesman, said in an e-mail.

“This activity reflects a truly normal development of the comprehensive partnership between the two countries,” Binh said. “It’s not contrary to international laws nor harms peace and stability in the region.”

Companies made pitches using PowerPoint presentations and slides of helicopters, boats and communications systems, Thanh said.

“Any defense related sales to Vietnam will follow development of U.S. government policy on Vietnam,” Boeing spokesman Jay Krishnan said in an e-mail. “We believe Boeing has capabilities in mobility and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance platforms that may meet Vietnam’s modernization needs.”

The meeting was attended by “multiple top-ten defense companies,” Karen Adams, director of international business development at Exelis Inc., which provides night-vision technology, said in an e-mail. “New markets only occasionally open up,” Adams said. “There was obvious interest from both the U.S. and Vietnamese side.”

Spare Parts

Vietnam’s military will be eager to buy spare parts for U.S. military aircraft left behind after the war, Tuong Vu, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, said by phone. Vietnam will spend one or two years reviewing what the U.S. has to offer and what fits with the country’s current systems, Tuong said.

“They got the ban lifted and they have started shopping for weapons,” he said. “The military is especially happy about that.”

Vietnam’s military spending has risen 128 percent since 2005, reflecting its territorial tensions with China, according to an April report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Its defense budget jumped 9.6% in 2014 to $4.3 billion, it said.

Nguyen Tan Dung taling to Vietnamese air force Su-30 pilots  when he visited Yen The Air Force Division in Thanh Hoa province together with Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh on January 26 2013. Photo: VNA

The U.S. is providing Vietnam with six patrol boats, part of an $18 million military aid package.

Paracel Islands

Vietnam is expected to continue its pace of military spending, Siemon Wezeman, a seniorSipri researcher, said by phone. “Its economy is not in a crisis and there are security issues,” he said. “They are increasing.”

China placed an oil rig in the South China Sea last May near the Paracel islands claimed by both countries, triggering a diplomatic row. Its work to create artificial islands in the region, with satellite photos showing dredgers reclaiming land in seven areas, has drawn criticism from Vietnam and other countries.

Still, Vietnam, which has long relied on Russia for weapons, is unlikely to become a major U.S. client, Collin Koh, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said by phone. Russia supplies Vietnam with planes and submarines — the third of six kilo-class submarines was delivered in January — and is helping build a nuclear-power station.

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One of Vietnam’s Kilo-class submarines

“Russia has always been willing to get them whatever they required,” Koh said. “Vietnam is not going to want to jeopardize that relationship.”

Surveillance Systems

Vietnam is interested in U.S. technology such as advanced surveillance systems, he said.

“The Vietnamese do have short-range surveillance systems on its coast,” Koh said. “They may be able to spot a huge target, but they have no idea what it is. It could be an aircraft carrier or a large tanker.”

The U.S. places conditions on weapons sales which could hinder efforts to sell systems to Vietnam, whose human rights record has been criticized by members of the U.S. Congress, Wezeman said. More than 150 dissidents are detained in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch.

Warships from Vietnam visited Manila last year

‘Very Businesslike’

Vietnam faces a steep learning curve on how to navigate the complex process of purchasing U.S. military equipment, Murray Hiebert, a Washington-based senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an e-mail.

The Hanoi symposium provided U.S. companies with an understanding of Vietnam’s procurement process, Thanh said. There were one-on-one huddles between company representatives and officials from the defense ministry, though no deals were announced, Thanh said.

“It was very businesslike,” he said. “The Americans were excited. One of the Americans stood up and asked, ‘Can you tell us the annual defense budget?’ The general at the podium said, ‘I know it, but I can’t tell you.’”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-13/vietnam-turns-to-u-s-to-buy-weapons-40-years-after-war-s-end

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Cận cảnh tàu ngầm Hải Phòng chuẩn bị vào quân cảng Cam Ranh

Above: A Russian Kilo class submarine is delivered to Vietnam

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on the deck of Hanoi Kilo-class submarine on May 13, 2013

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung meeting the Vietnamese crew of the submarine “Hanoi” May 13, 2013

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

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

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

South China Sea: U.S. and China Disagreement Over Freedom of Airspace and the Sea Starts To Boil

May 15, 2015

By Greg Torode
Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) – When the U.S. navy sent a littoral combat ship on its first patrol of the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea during the past week, it was watching the skies as well.

The USS Fort Worth, one of the most modern ships in the U.S. navy, dispatched a reconnaissance drone and a Seahawk helicopter to patrol the airspace, according to a little-noticed statement on the navy’s website.

While the navy didn’t mention China’s rapid land reclamation in the Spratlys, the ship’s actions were a demonstration of U.S. capabilities in the event Beijing declares an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area – a move experts and some U.S. military officials see as increasingly likely.

A U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.

“It’s not inevitable but if we are betting paychecks I’ll bet that they will eventually declare one, I just don’t know when,” said a senior U.S. commander familiar with the situation in Asia.

ADIZs are not governed by formal treaties or laws but are used by some nations to extend control beyond national borders, requiring civilian and military aircraft to identify themselves or face possible military interception.

China sparked condemnation from the United States and Japan when it imposed an ADIZ in the East China Sea, above uninhabited islands disputed with Tokyo, in late 2013.

Chinese military facilities now under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, including a 3,000-metre (10,000-foot) runway and airborne early warning radars, could be operational by the year-end, said the U.S. commander, who declined to be identified.

China’s newly built runway and buildings still taking shape on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. It is not at all clear that China owns this land….

Recent satellite images also show reclamation work on Subi Reef creating landmasses that, if joined together, could make space for a similar sized airstrip.

Growing concern in Washington that China might impose air and sea restrictions in the Spratlys once it completes work on its seven artificial islands is likely to be on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets Chinese leaders in Beijing this weekend for previously scheduled talks.

TOUGH TO ENFORCE

Asia’s rising power claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

China has said it had every right to set up an ADIZ but that current conditions in the South China Sea did not warrant one.

Enforcing such an ADIZ would be difficult even with two airstrips capable of handling fighter planes in the Spratlys, as well as an expanded airstrip on Woody island in the disputed Paracel island chain further north because of the distances involved, regional military officials and experts said.

The Spratlys for example lie more than 1,100 km (680 miles) from the Chinese mainland, putting China’s well-equipped airbases along its coastline well out of reach.

“Even with the new reclamations, it is going to be a stretch for China to routinely enforce such a zone that far south,” said Richard Bitzinger, a regional security analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The Japanese and U.S. military ignore the ADIZ above the East China Sea, as does Japan’s two major carriers, ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines.

A study produced by the independent U.S. Congressional Research Service earlier this year noted that while China’s air force actively monitors that zone with ground radar from its coastline, it had generally shown restraint in enforcement.

U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers could be moved closer to the Asian/South China Sea environment.

China’s planes were unlikely to maintain a constant presence over the East China Sea, the study noted, citing a U.S. air force assessment.

RISK OF ESCALATION

The South China Sea might prove more problematic for China given the complexity of the dispute and the possibility of challenges from the U.S. navy and air force.

Indeed, on Tuesday, a U.S. official said the Pentagon was considering sending military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around the Chinese-made islands.

China’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying Beijing was “extremely concerned” and demanded clarification.

A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C Orion surveillance plane flies over disputed islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

On Friday it accused the Philippines of working together with the United States to “exaggerate the China threat” over the Spratlys.

China had recently warned Philippine air force and navy planes at least six times to leave the Spratlys, the Philippine military commander responsible for the region said last week. The planes refused.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, said he was worried about the risk of confrontation from any U.S. show of force.

“It’s reckless,” he said, referring to Washington’s latest plans.

“It has a built-in dynamic for unintended escalation,” he added. “Are they willing to take the consequences of this escalation?”

At sea, tensions are already apparent.

The naval statement about the USS Fort Worth, which can also hunt submarines and support amphibious landings, noted the ship “encountered multiple People’s Liberation Army-Navy warships” during its patrol. It did not go into detail.

“Our interactions with Chinese ships continue to be professional and (the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea) helps clarify intentions and prevent miscommunication,” Commander Matt Kawas, the Fort Worth’s commanding officer, said in the statement.

(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kobu in YOKOHAMA, Japan; Editing by Dean Yates)

Related Stories

  1. Pentagon weighs sending planes, ships near disputed South China Sea reefsReuters
  2. South China Sea watch: New islands rising, ASEAN worried Associated Press
  3. [$$] U.S. Military Proposes Challenge to China Sea Claims The Wall Street Journal
  4. China fires back at South China Sea claimants with reclamation accusationsReuters
  5. China pursuing huge South China Sea land reclamation: US AFP

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