Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

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

June 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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China’s gigantic oil rig, Haiyangshihou 981

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

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

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

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

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


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

U.S., Australian Leaders Discuss Commitment in Asia

June 5, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Sydney, Monday, June 5, 2017. In their first joint appearance abroad, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Tillerson pledged unity with longtime ally Australia in fighting Islamic extremists who seek to intimidate the West. AP/Rick Rycroft

MANILA, Philippines — Australia and the United States accused China of using its economic power to evade issues such as the dispute over the South China Sea and the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

The two countries reiterated its opposition against China’s construction of artificial islands and militarization of features in the Spratly Islands, which are similarly claimed by the Philippines, a longstanding US ally.

“We desire productive relationships, but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether its militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a joint statement.

The 2016 award issued by an international arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the useful basis to peacefully resolve the sea dispute, the two officials said.

The statement, among the strongest yet under new US President Donald Trump, was issued after the annual Australia-US Ministerial consultations in Sydney.

RELATED: Challenging China, US launches first South China Sea operation under Trump

It also came came weeks after Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” that aims to bridge what it perceives as an “infrastructure gap” in Asia.

The Philippines’ infrastructure projects under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has warmed up with China by shelving the arbitral ruling that ruled in his country’s favor, are poised to be among the beneficiaries of the China-led financing spree.

Tillerson and Bishop, meanwhile, also emphasized the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight and adhering to rules-based order, particularly in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis shared the same sentiments during their defense ministerial talks in Singapore at the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

“They expressed strong opposition to the use of coercion to unilaterally alter the status quo in the South China Sea, and their opposition to the use of disputed features for military purposes,” the Australian, US and Japanese defense ministers said in a joint statement issued on June 3.

The three defense ministers urged all South China Sea claimants to exercise self-restraint, take steps to ease tensions, stop land reclamation activities, demilitarize disputed features and refrain from provocative tensions that ay escalate tensions.

They also called on all concerned governments to clarify maritime claims as reflected in the UNCLOS.

The UN-backed tribunal ruled that China violated its commitment under the UNCLOS upon building artificial islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Beijing refused to honor the landmark ruling while the Philippines, under the Duterte administration, opted to set the award aside.


In Australia, Mattis and Tillerson address growing concerns about American isolationism

The Washington Post
June 5 at 3:34 AM
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed growing concerns about American isolationism during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Sydney on June 5. Tillerson stressed that the United States and Australia will remain closely aligned on many issues, despite President Trump withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and then the Paris climate agreement. (The Washington Post)

SYDNEY – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met here Monday with senior Australian officials, stressing that despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from key environmental and trade agreements, the relationship between their countries will remain strong.

Tillerson, asked what he will do to address “pockets of doubt” about American isolationism under President Trump, said “that’s why we’re here.” Despite Trump withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and then the Paris climate agreement last week, the two countries will remain closely aligned on many issues, Tillerson said.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, pose with Governor of New South Wales, David Hurley, center, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, second right, and Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne at Government House in Sydney before the 2017 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) Monday, June 5, 2017. The annual meeting brings together the Australian ministers for foreign affairs and for defense with the U.S. secretaries of State and defense, along with senior officials from both portfolios. (Mark Metcalfe/Pool Photo via AP)

“In terms of addressing those concerns, this is how we address them: To travel to the region to meet with our counterparts and to talk about all the issues that are important to them, and to hear concerns they have about the administration and its position, relative to whether it be security issues, or economic and trade issues,” he said.

Mattis, citing Australia’s early assistance to the United States in the war in Afghanistan, said that Australia always is “punching above its weight” in protecting values, and indicated that Australia is not shy about expressing its point of view.

“This is an alliance that tells us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear,” he said.

Mattis and Tillerson appeared together at a news conference for the first time, standing with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne amid the Gothic architecture of Sydney’s Government House, an iconic building down under. They were to meet afterward for dinner with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull before Mattis returned to Washington and Tillerson moved on to visit officials in New Zealand.

Tillerson, addressing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, put distance between himself and the president on the issue. But he also stressed that Trump is still willing to discuss new deals on trade and the climate that he believes are more beneficial to the American public.

“I think the president’s decision to leave the climate accord was his judgment that the agreement did not serve the American people well, and that it did not serve their future economic interests, either,” he said.

Bishop said that she “should point out” that Australia has its own views on its priorities and interests, and “as it happens, they align so often with those of the United States.”

“We have shared values, shared interests,” she said. “But Australia always takes our own interests into account.”

Trump got off to a rocky start with Australia, with the president abruptly ending a testy phone call with Turnbull within days of taking office, U.S. officials said. The president was frustrated about a deal that former president Barack Obama made with Australia to take about 1,200 refugees after security vetting.

On Friday, Turnbull appeared at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a defense conference in Singapore, and said that while Trump’s decision to withdraw from the TPP trade deal and the Paris agreement were “disappointing,” other Pacific nations should “take care not to rush to interpret an intent to engage on different terms as one not to engage at all.”

Mattis, meanwhile, sought to reassure allies in the Pacific about Trump’s decisions in Singapore. Asked about Trump’s withdrawal from TPP and the Paris agreement and his brusque stance toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mattis said that “fresh approaches will be taken” following the U.S. election, but that the United States will continue to be a world leader.

Mattis cited American lessons learned following isolationism before World War II and cited a quote often attributed to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“To quote a British observer of us from some years ago: Bear with us. Once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing” Mattis said. “So, we will still be there. And we will be with you.”


SYDNEY, Australia — In their first joint appearance abroad, America’s top diplomat and its Pentagon chief offered public reassurances to a longstanding ally at odds with President Donald Trump’s abandonment of the Paris climate agreement.

With Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at his side, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a news conference Monday that Trump is interested in “perhaps a new construct of an agreement,” signalling that Trump believes the climate change issue “is still important and that he wants to stay engaged on the issue.”

“He’s not walking away from it,” Tillerson said. “He’s simply walking away from what he felt was an agreement that did not serve the American people well.”

Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign minister, deflected any suggestion of a loss of confidence in U.S. leadership, saying, “We have a similar world view, we have shared values and shared interests” in other areas.

Tillerson also took a swipe at China, criticizing what he called its militarization of disputed islets and reefs in the South China Sea and suggesting that Beijing has failed to persuade North Korea to ends it nuclear weapons program.

“China is a significant economic and trading power, and we desire a productive relationship,” he said. “But we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failure to put appropriate pressure on North Korea. They must recognize that with a role as a growing economic and trading power come security responsibilities as well.”

A reporter asked Tillerson to reconcile the administration’s emphasis on strengthening alliances in Asia and elsewhere with what some perceive as isolationism in Trump’s rejection of multilateral trade agreements, criticisms of NATO and abandonment of the Paris climate deal.

“That’s why we’re here,” Tillerson said. “That’s why we travelled here. That’s why we engaged with our counterparts,” adding, “So I hope the fact that we’re here, demonstrates that it certainly is not this administration’s view or intention to somehow put at arm’s length the important partners and allies in the world.”

Mattis called Australia “a beacon of hope for people and the world.”

Even as the U.S. and Australian officials were meeting behind closed doors, news broke of a growing political rift among key American allies in the Persian Gulf.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar over that country’s support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran. Qatar is home to a U.S. military base that is central to the co-ordination of its air campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

“I think what we’re witnessing is a growing list of irritants in the region that have been there for some time, and obviously they have now bubbled up to level that countries decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those differences addressed,” Tillerson said, noting that he had just heard news of this development. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.”

Tillerson said he did not believe this would have any impact on the fight against Islamic extremism.

Mattis was even more emphatic on the point.

“I am confident there will be no implications coming out of this diplomatic situation at all,” Mattis said.

In earlier remarks at the start of their talks, Mattis pledged unity with longtime ally Australia in fighting Islamic extremists who seek to intimidate the West.

“We are united, as I said, in our resolve, even against an enemy that thinks by hurting us they can scare us,” Mattis said. “Well, we don’t scare.”

The meeting, held annually, touched on a range of subjects including defeating the Islamic State, stabilizing Afghanistan and dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threats.

Tillerson stressed the enduring U.S.-Australian alliance and said it will prevail in “this common fight we share against the most heinous of actions we’ve seen most recently in London yet again.” He did not elaborate on the London attack.

Police say three men drove a van over London Bridge on Saturday and struck pedestrians before crashing the vehicle outside a pub. The attackers, wielding blades and knives, ran to a well-known fruit and vegetable market and there they stabbed people in several different restaurants. Seven people were killed and at least 48 were hospitalized. Police fired 50 bullets to stop the violence, killing the three attackers and wounding one member of the public.

In her opening remarks, Bishop said “countering terrorism” would be high on the meeting’s agenda.

“The global terrorist threat is ever evolving, we’ve seen brutal attacks in a number of European cities, we’ve thwarted attacks here in Australia, and so we want to discuss with you, the links back into the Middle East, the role we’re playing with you in Iraq and Syria and also Afghanistan,” Bishop said. “We are united in our resolve to defeat ISIS, the Islamic State terrorist organization and its ilk.”


Trump’s opportunity in South-East Asia

June 4, 2017

By Patrick M. Cronin For The Straits Times

No American president sought to charm South-east Asia as much as Mr Barack Obama. Yet his vaunted pivot left the impression that the United States had over-promised and under-delivered.

President Donald Trump can flip that equation. His unorthodox leadership style may extract greater effort on both sides. An America-first mantra will rankle with many. Yet it may also require Asians to shoulder more local security burdens and negotiate fairer trade deals, while prodding the US to replace hoary promises with hard returns on investment.

For the new US policy approach still under review, success will be measured by demonstrable progress on a short list of big wins.

Despite a challenging domestic political transition, the US has striven to reiterate its ascending interests in South-east Asia. During his April visit to Indonesia, Vice-President Mike Pence trumpeted the strategic partnership with the world’s third-largest democracy and praised the Muslim-majority country for a tradition of tolerance.

Early last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touted the importance of the half-century-old Asean when he hosted its foreign ministers.

These high-level exchanges may not match the Obama administration’s hyperactivity in regional diplomacy. But results matter. With sufficient focus, the Trump administration can showcase real benefits for both the US and its friends in South-east Asia.

President Trump’s catchphrase for the region should be simple and durable. US-South-east Asian relations should keep “peace, prosperity and people” at the centre of joint endeavours.

AFP Photo — US President Donald Trump’s catchphrase for South-east Asia should be simple and durable, says the writer. Relations should keep “peace, prosperity and people” at the centre of joint endeavours. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


Peace is the indispensable precondition for moving forward. While this region of enormous human and geographical diversity has known its share of war and turmoil, it is relatively tranquil today. But political violence and terrorism, maritime tensions and North Korea’s missile programme threaten to spread conflict and thereby transform what should be a bulwark of stability into a sea of troubles.

Working together, the US and regional actors can prevent groups affiliated with the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from permanently terrorising South-east Asia.

America’s military clout can also peacefully support the rule of law, as seen recently through a routine freedom of navigation exercise near the artificially built-up Mischief Reef. And both the region and the world profit when South-east Asian nations think beyond their borders and join the US and others in helping to curb Pyongyang’s dangerous nuclear and missile proliferation.

Prosperity is a second pillar of US policy towards South-east Asia. After China and India, the Asean Economic Community has been the region’s fastest-rising economy, growing 66 per cent between 2006 and 2015. Last year, its GDP approached the US$2.5 trillion (S$3.5 trillion) mark (three times that in purchasing power parity).

Individual countries offer unique prospects, as suggested by high US foreign direct investment in Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere. Indonesia alone accounts for more than US$90 billion in total annual bilateral economic relations with the US, and that figure could top US$130 billion by 2019.


America’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has left China in the driver’s seat with its Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Fashioning an alternative long-term geo-economic strategy is vital. But the US administration need not wait for a full-fledged strategy before identifying smart deals.

Specific investments should underscore the US commitment to shared economic growth and job creation: breaking down unfair trade barriers and leveraging America’s competitive advantages in areas such as information technology, finance and energy.

People comprise the essential third leg of a Trumpian triad for South-east Asian policy.

While critics of the Republican leadership may prefer to focus on the amount of public funding for foreign assistance, the Trump administration should look afresh at how to focus public-private partnerships where they will do the most good. A decade from now, there should be an exponential growth in the educational, business and military networks of people linking the US and key partners in South-east Asia. People remain the surest bonds that will matter over the long haul.

It is easier to speak about peace, prosperity and people than to ensure their advancement. A Trump administration may leave regional relations in worse shape than it found them. Surely disengagement from the region’s security challenges and trade opportunities would accelerate the erosion of America’s power and attraction throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

President Trump must either surprise the region by his determination to make his mark or retreat from South-east Asia, thereby leaving it to the arresting gravitational pull of Chinese influence or local divisions.

Fortunately, senior US officials have started down a path for rewarding engagement. Vice-President Pence and Secretary Tillerson took foundational steps.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary of Defence James Mattis can reinforce a message of American strength and restraint. After the Secretary of State visits the Philippines in August for the Asean Regional Forum, the stage will be set for President Trump to hammer home broad themes such as peace, prosperity and people.

The White House has confirmed his participation this November in both the East Asia Summit in Manila and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Da Nang.

In these, as well as intercessionary talks, the US must keep a laser-like concentration on achieving tangible returns on security cooperation, trade and investment, and benefits for the people of both the US and Asean countries. Whatever “peace, prosperity and people” lacks in ambition or vision can be more than recouped by delivering results.

  • Dr Patrick M. Cronin directs the Asia programme at the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington, DC-based national security think-tank .

China Cancels Xiangshan Forum, Asian Military and Security Seminar and Rival of Shangri-La Dialogue — Contentious issue among China’s neighbors blamed

June 4, 2017

Major leadership reshuffles this year, clashes with other events, and a desire to allay fears of Asian neighbours cited as reasons

By Minnie Chan
South China Morning Post

Saturday, June 3, 2017, 11:09pm

Beijing’s annual high-level forum to discuss Asia-Pacific security and defence issues has been cancelled this year due to pressure at home and abroad, a military official familiar with the event told the South China Morning Post.

The Xiangshan Forum, held each September or early October and dubbed Asia’s “new security architecture” by Beijing to voice China’s view on regional disputes, will not be held this year, an official from the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science, the key sponsor of the event, told the Post.

The forum, started in 2006, has widely been seen as Beijing’s move to rival the Asia Security Forum in Singapore, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel venue where it is staged.

“The main reason is the Academy of Military Science will undergo a major reorganisation and leadership reshuffle as part of the ongoing military overhaul and the upcoming 19th party congress [later this year],” said the official, on the condition of anonymity.

“There are so many uncertainties at the military academy. For example, no one knows who will be its new president, and who will take care of foreign issues, and which departments will be cut.”

General Cai Yingting, the academy’s former president, was among 50 senior officers to leave their positions amid the massive military reshuffle, according to an exclusive report by the SCMP in January.

 PLA Navy Admiral Sun Jianguo led Beijing’s delegation to the Asia Security Summit in Singapore last year. China’s Xianghan Forum is largely regarded as a rival to the Singapore event. Photo: AP

Another source close to the PLA said the cancelled decision was made three weeks ago because senior leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which usually assisted hosting the event, were all occupied by several other big occasions such as the BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, in September.

“The forum, which is co-organised by the Academy of Military Science and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies, was staged with the help of the foreign ministry in the past years,” the source said.

The forum will resume next year, the source said.

As a high-level platform to discuss Asian security and defence issues, the Xiangshan Forum was initially held every two years but was upgraded to an annual event in 2014.

It is widely believed the forum was designed to rival the Asia Security Forum in Singapore.

A Beijing-based retired senior colonel said Beijing wanted to downplay its miliary role this year to pacify its neighbours in the hope of attracting more support for “One Belt, One Road” initiatives of President Xi Jinping.

“China realised that it should not frighten its Asian neighbours but create a stable security situation in Asia-Pacific that will help Beijing convince other small countries to join the Belt and Road initiatives,” the veteran, who also requested anonymity, told the Post.

The Xiangshan Forum has sparked controversy due to its role as a rival to the Shangri-la Dialogue.

Huang Jing, a professor and director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee K uan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said that it was not appropriate for China to host a regional security forum.

“Regional security forums shouldn’t be launched by big powers, but small countries like Singapore,” Huang said.

“China is now powerful enough to pose a security threat to other Asian countries in the region. Its involvement in territorial disputes in the East and South China seas with neighbouring countries cannot convince other Asian countries to join a sensitive discussion about regional security.”

Last year, the spat between China and Singapore over an international tribunal ruling against Beijing’s South China Sea claims, and Seoul’s decision to allow the staging on its soil of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system, overshadowed the Xiangshan forum.


Shangri La Dialogue Military Leaders Meeting: India’s Defence Minister Arun Jaitley caught up with work; China delegation smaller than in years past

June 3, 2017

By Manu Pubby

NEW DELHI: India has skipped Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, which is addressed by top defence ministers from across the world. Defence minister Arun Jaitley could not go due to work-related commitments. The annual conference will not have any Indian speaker unlike last year, when the defence minister had delivered an address on the country’s security concerns.

Pakistan, however, has got a slot to speak at the conference on the challenges for crisis management in Asia-Pacific region. Chairman of Join Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat to speak alongside the defence ministers of Canada and Malaysia. Other speakers at the conference include defence ministers of Australia, Japan, France and the US Secretary of Defence. The Chinese side is also not participating at the defence minister-level.

Officials told ET that initially Arun Jaitley was expected to address the conference. “Due to work-related commitments, the minister was not able to go for the event,” defence ministry sources said. Subsequently, the Indian side was in talks with organisers of the conference for a speaking slot for Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre. The junior minister was scheduled to attend the conference as of last week, sources said.

Read more at:
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Chinese Lt-Gen He Lei (R) attends the first plenary session speech by US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis at the 16th Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ShangriLa Dialogue Summit in Singapore on June 3, 2017.

China sent a smaller-than-usual delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, and it’s really not a big deal

Not everything needs to be over-analysed, guys.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is a once-a-year high-powered military summit that often sees high-ranking military officials from all over the world convene in Singapore, at the Shangri-La Hotel in Orange Grove Road.

The three-day event consists of panel sessions helmed by ministers, and senior military officials, as well as break-out groups for further discussion on issues pertinent to Asia-Pacific regional security.

Various countries’ delegations have also increasingly used the summit to meet and broker deals or agreements with other countries’ officials, so it can be said to be a fairly important part of an Asia-Pacific country’s military calendar.

As a matter of fact, this year’s summit is attended by defence ministers from Australia, the U.S., Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines, according to The Diplomat. It’s also headlined by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who gave the event’s opening remarks.

But we’re here to talk about China.

Always a fixture

Now, every year (the Dialogue is now in its 16th), China does send a delegation of military officials to attend and participate in it. In 2011, for instance, it sent its then-defence minister General Liang Guanglie — the most high-ranking military official ever to lead a delegation to the summit.

Here he is shaking hands with our very own DPM Teo Chee Hean:

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Teo Chee hean (L), Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, minister for home affairs and co-ordinating minister for national security shakes hands with Liang Guanglie (R), Chinese Minister of Defense at the Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore on June 4, 2011. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday vowed the US military will maintain a “robust” presence across Asia backed up with new high-tech weaponry to protect allies and safeguard shipping lanes. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

But, as it turns out, this regal gracing of the forum was not an event that would be repeated — China would never send any of its future ministers, or even anyone from its defence ministry in the years that would follow.

Why, you might wonder? Even people studied in international relations can only make educated guesses at the reasons, but it’s possible this is because:

1) At the 2011 edition of the dialogue, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the importance of, and emphasised that America will maintain a “robust” military presence in the Asia-Pacific region — of course, not something the Chinese enjoy hearing. This became known as the “pivot to Asia”: the focus on growing relations with ASEAN and other countries in Asia, a charge led by former U.S. president Barack Obama himself.

2) In several subsequent years, one headlining topic everyone tends to speak out about, and also obsess over, is the South China Sea dispute — for obvious reasons, of course, for folks like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. And while China is content to send an official to share a carefully-worded toe-the-line safe and friendly-to-all speech, they’d prefer not to have to handle questions in response — especially not hostile-sounding ones about the South China Sea.


So yes, the point we’re trying to make here is, China reduced its presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue over years before our Terrex chias got stuck in Hong Kong on the way home from Taiwan.

As The Diplomat points out in an op-ed piece, its delegation to Singapore was from 2013 to 2016 led by a deputy chief-level officer from the People’s Liberation Army.

This year’s group is smaller, even, than in previous years’, and is led by Lieutenant General He Lei, vice president of the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science. He has no formal government position, but let’s see what the South China Morning Post found when they asked Beijing officials why they sent such a “small-time” team to the summit:

“Military sources said the People’s Liberation Army had scaled down its presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue to focus on domestic reforms and prepare for a key Communist Party congress later this year.

A spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry rejected suggestions by overseas media that the low-key presence at the forum was due to the diplomatic spat with Singapore at the end of last year.”

The diplomatic spat, of course, refers to our Terrex chias once again, by the way.

The article does, in fact, go on to cover quite extensively more reasons why we shouldn’t worry at all about this —

1) One military source quoted said this year is the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army’s foundation, so everyone’s busy with that.

2) There’s also a series of ongoing sweeping military reforms happening, chiefly surrounding the need to cut the size of China’s military to make it leaner and more efficient.

These were outlined by a Chinese military analyst named Zhou Chenming, who said military reform in China is now “at a critical point”, with military officials working to ensure a smooth operational start at the end of the reform process.

3) The next Communist Party congress to elect China’s new top leadership is happening this autumn in Beijing, and they’re busy preparing for that too.

In fact, a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow was quoted saying a group visiting Beijing was informed beforehand that we would be receiving a smaller delegation this year, also for the above-mentioned reasons. They even said they will send a higher-ranking group to the dialogue next year, after their internal reforms are complete.

North Korea and South China Sea to Dominate Defense Secretary’s Asia Trip

June 2, 2017

‘I will emphasize the United States stands with our Asia-Pacific allies and partners,’ Mattis says

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June 2, 2017 4:13 a.m. ET

SINGAPORE—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived here Friday to reassure allies that the U.S. remained committed to the Asia-Pacific region as the Trump administration grapples with the dual challenges of North Korea and China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

His arrival in Singapore comes as the U.S. Navy conducts a three-day exercise in the Sea of Japan with two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, a rare show of force not seen there for more than two decades. The U.S. is seeking to send a message to Pyongyang to curb its increasingly aggressive ballistic missile program.

And just days ago, the Pentagon conducted its first freedom of navigation operation near one of a chain of islands in the South China Sea meant to challenge what the U.S. says it China’s excessive territorial claims there.

Mr. Mattis is in town to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major annual regional security conference sponsored by the Institute for International Strategic Studies. In recent years, Beijing’s South China Sea claims have dominated the discussions.

Coming into the meeting, North Korea’s ballistic missile launches and nuclear program have made more urgent the security challenges posed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“At the Shangri-La Dialogue, I will emphasize the United States stands with our Asia-Pacific allies and partners, reinforcing the international order necessary to secure a peaceful, prosperous and free Asia with respect for all nations upholding international law,” Mr. Mattis told reporters traveling with him Thursday.

Mr. Mattis will meet with a number of his counterparts, including those from Australia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. His trip this week also includes a stop in Australia, where he will join Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In his overseas trips in the past few months, Mr. Mattis—while taking pains not to appear at odds with his boss—has quietly sought to reassure allies by saying the U.S. is supportive of them, while pushing nations to do more for their own security. His message to allies in Asia will be the same, defense officials said.

“The Department of Defense is focused on strengthening alliances, empowering countries to be able to sustain their own security, and strengthening U.S. military capabilities to deter war,” Mr. Mattis told reporters.

But there are particular challenges for the U.S. in Asia since the security situation requires the U.S. to perform a balancing act with Beijing. While urging China to live up to President Xi Jinping’s pledge not to militarize islands in the Spratly chain, the U.S. at the same time leans heavily on Beijing to persuade North Korea to limit its ballistic missile and nuclear program.

Those efforts to push North Korea, with Beijing’s help, are mostly diplomatic and economic, U.S. defense officials have stressed. The role of the military, for now, is to “support the diplomatic effort and create the conditions for success of diplomacy,” said David Helvey, the Pentagon’s top policy official for the region. But, he said, that approach won’t bring immediate success.

“It’s going to take time for the actions that China is taking to have effect in terms of North Korea,” Mr. Helvey, who is traveling with Mr. Mattis, told reporters aboard the military jet. “China clearly has a lot of influence over North Korea, and we expect China to play its part.”

China’s delegation is led by Lt. Gen. He Lei, vice president of the Academy of Military Science, rather than one of the more senior military figures who have attended in recent years.

Some diplomats and analysts say that is because Beijing wants to keep a low profile this year and to avoid the testy public exchanges between senior U.S. and Chinese figures that have occurred at the event in the past.

Mr. Mattis will have another task while he is in the region. The deployment of a missile defense system in South Korea, in response to North Korean threats, has caused domestic political problems for new President Moon Jae-in.

This week, he expressed alarm that multiple launchers were being deployed to the site in South Korea and demanded an investigation into the matter, even if the system was always expected to include six individual launchers.

American defense officials have insisted they were clear about the scope of the deployment, but Mr. Mattis will likely have to reassure South Korean officials on that issue as well.

“We consulted with them throughout,” Mr. Helvey said of the South Korean government. “We’ve been transparent the entire process.”

—Jeremy Page contributed to this article.

Write to Gordon Lubold at

Photo at the top:
USS Carl Vinson with USS Ronald Reagan

170601-N-GD109-200 SEA OF JAPAN (June 1, 2017) The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112), operates with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, including USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), CVW-5, USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS Barry (DDG 52), USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Mustin (DDG 89), and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships (JS) Hyuga (DDH 181) and JS Ashigara (DDG 178) in the western Pacific region. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and U.S. Navy forces routinely train together to improve interoperability and readiness to provide stability and security for the Indo-Asia Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/Released)

Mattis arrives in Singapore as North Korea tensions swirl

June 2, 2017


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Mattis’s visit, his second to the region, is the latest in a string of appearances by top US officials who have scrambled to reassure partners about US commitments AFP/SAUL LOEB

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Singapore on Friday (Jun 2) ahead of a key defence summit where longstanding US allies will look for clear messages about America’s regional security goals under President Donald Trump.

Mattis’s visit, his second to the region, is the latest in a string of appearances by top US officials who have scrambled to reassure partners about US commitments.

While campaigning, Trump sparked broad anxiety by calling into question long-standing security assumptions and mutual defence treaties with Japan and South Korea.

But the US leader’s views have shifted since he took office, and Mattis told reporters he would be underscoring American support for the region.

“I will emphasize the United States stands with our Asia-Pacific allies and partners,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him, “reinforcing the international order necessary to secure a peaceful, prosperous and free Asia with respect for all nations upholding international law.”

Mattis will deliver his message at a policy speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday.

The summits have in recent years been dominated by concerns over China’s rapid build up of islets and maritime features in the South China Sea, where Beijing has reclaimed thousands of acres of land and installed military fortifications.

The issue remains front and center, but this year the focus is also on North Korea and its accelerating push to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Pyongyang on Monday test-fired another rocket, the latest in a series of launches and atomic tests that have ratcheted up tensions over its quest to develop weapons capable of hitting the US – something Trump has said “won’t happen”.

Since taking office, Trump, who laced his campaign rhetoric with anti-China sentiment, has made an about-face and turned to China to apply pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons program.

After meeting with President Xi Jinping in April, Trump, who once accused China of “raping” the US, praised its leader as a “good man”, saying it would be inappropriate to pressure Beijing while Washington is seeking its help with Pyongyang.

The posture shifts have left some in the region seeking clarity on US policy.

“There’s concern over China’s rise and it’s assertive behaviour, particularly in maritime space,” said David Helvey, a top Pentagon advisor for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

“And there’s also questions about where the United States is going to be in the Asia-Pacific region in the new administration.”


Mattis’s challenge is to reassure allies that America can apply pressure on China over the South China Sea, while at the same time convincing Beijing that controlling North Korea is in its own security interests.

Underscoring the point, the US Navy on May 25 conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation in the South China Sea, when the USS Dewey guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

It was the first such procedure since October, leading some to speculate America was going easy on China to secure concessions on North Korea.

But Helvey insisted US views have not shifted.

“We remain concerned about any effort to further militarize those islands,” he said.

“We would oppose any action that would impinge upon the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation.”

While such sailings in the South China Sea have in recent years been conducted only sporadically, albeit with great fanfare, the Pentagon wants to ramp up the pace so they become viewed as routine.

North Korea meanwhile has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year.

The US military last week successfully tested a ground-based missile defense system that for the first time intercepted a dummy intercontinental ballistic missile, destroying it in space.

“The Department of Defence is focused on strengthening alliances, empowering countries to be able to sustain their own security, and strengthening US military capabilities to deter war,” Mattis said.

In another signal to Pyongyang, the United States is currently conducting joint operations with two aircraft carrier strike groups and the Japanese navy in the Sea of Japan.

Source: AFP/mn

Singapore Defense Talks Focus on Online Terror Fight

June 2, 2017

SINGAPORE — Five countries in a longstanding defense pact met in Singapore on Friday and said that they will continue working together and use the internet to fight terrorism.

Officials from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore held a joint news conference after meeting in the city-state. The countries are part of the Five Power Defense Arrangements, which was put in place in 1971 for the joint defense of Malaysia and Singapore, then newly independent.

Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that terrorism, extremism and militancy in the region were key areas of concern.

The group is “looking at social media on how to counter the narrative that is coming out from this very evil group of people who are determined to establish in the region,” he said.

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said that the grouping would “move with the times” and work together to counter the threat of extremism being spread online.

The officials were meeting ahead of an international security conference kicking off Friday in Singapore.

The three-day Shangri-La Dialogue will be attended by defense ministers and experts from 40 countries. It covers topics that include terrorism, nuclear dangers and emerging technologies. Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will deliver the keynote address.

New substances fast emerging — Fueling international illegal synthetic drugs markets

June 1, 2017


© AFP | Heroin and methamphetamine are the product of choice for the region’s narco-gangs, but new substances are fast emerging


Southeast Asian drug cartels are diversifying the narcotics they produce, the UN’s crime agency warned Wednesday, with more than 160 new highs hitting the market in the last eight years.

The Golden Triangle — where Laos, southern China, Thailand and Myanmar intersect — is the world’s second largest drug producer after Latin America.

It is notorious for churning out heroin and methamphetamine.

But cartel chemists are now also making new drugs to hook customers on cheap compounds that have yet to be made illegal.

So-called New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are appearing at an alarming rate with 168 new drugs detected since 2008 across 11 Southeast Asian nations and China, according to a report released Wednesday by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“The world of drugs has become much more complex,” Martin Raithelhuber, an expert on synthetic drugs at the UNODC, told AFP.

“We are seeing a lot of new substances around, substances you may not even have heard of but they’re there.”

While heroin and meth remain the product of choice for the region’s narco-gangs, new substances are fast emerging with just three detected hitting the streets in 2008 compared to 80 last year.

The new compounds act as stimulants, hallucinogens, sedatives and opioids and can be taken alone or cut with existing drugs on the market to save costs or intensify the high.

Many NPS are so new that governments struggle to ban them — and when they do chemists can simply tweak the formula to create a fresh compound with similar properties.

With little research on new highs, the risks to the user rise.

One of the most famous new highs in recent years is fentanyl and its many derivatives.

An opioid that is 100 times more powerful than heroin, fentanyl is wreaking havoc across North America.

An estimated 2.6 million Americans are hooked on prescription opioid painkillers with 33,000 fatal overdoses a year.

Raithelhuber said most of the new highs detected in Southeast Asia, many of them fentanyl type substances, were aimed at European or North American consumers.

But some of the new compounds were turning up in drugs for the domestic market.

In Thailand and Malaysia ecstasy tablets are increasingly been cut with chemicals like ketamine, mephedrone and alpha-PVP.

Meanwhile tablets in Indonesia are turning up with PMMA and DOC, new compounds with similar properties to the active ingredient of ecstasy: MDMA.

John McCain calls for joint exercises to challenge ‘bully’ China

May 31, 2017
U.S. Sen. John McCain delivers a speech at the invitation of the United States Studies Centre in Sydney, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. In February, the Republican senator leaped to Australia’s defense after President Donald Trump got into a heated discussion with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over an Obama-era agreement on the resettlement of refugees. AP/Rick Rycroft

MANILA, Philippines — An American senator suggested that United States-led multilateral exercises could be a good way to push back against Beijing’s excessive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

“If the Chinese are able to prevent us from exercising freedom of navigation then I think that has a profound consequences for the entire region,” Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in a speech in Sydney.

McCain, chair of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, stressed that China’s vast territorial claims have no basis in international law.

“The challenge is that as China has grown wealthier and stronger, it seems to be acting more and more like a bully,” McCain said.

McCain’s remarks in Australia comes days before delegates from the US and China are scheduled to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue or the 16th Asia Security Summit in Singapore.

The US senator noted that Australia has become entangled in a strategic competition between America and China.

The senator, however, did not directly urge Sydney to take part in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

“I would not try to tell the Australians what they need to do, but there are exercises where a number of nations join together — we call it RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific Exercise]— that the Australians participate in. They’re broad naval exercises,” McCain said.

Hosted by the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, the RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise.

Countries that participated in maritime exercises last year were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, China, Peru, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the US.

McCain added that the joint naval exercises would be an opportunity to exercise freedom of navigation.

“But I also wanna emphasize I understand the importance of trade with China and Australia. I understand the importance of their relationship,” the American senator said.

Washington recently launched its first freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea under the Trump administration.

Irking Beijing, a US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of China’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.

Mischief or Panganiban Reef, also being claimed by the Philippines, is included in the ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The tribunal considered Mischief Reef as a low-tide elevation, which gives no entitlement to any exclusive maritime zone under international law.

RELATED: Analyst: US South China Sea operation a sign of support to Philippines


 (The “Project of the Century” is, at heart, an imperial venture.)


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