Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’

US, UK hold rare joint drills in the South China Sea

January 17, 2019

The US and the UK finished six days of coordinated drills in the South China Sea on Wednesday, in a move likely to antagonize Beijing, which views a large swathe of the contested sea as its territory.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the US military announced the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll conducted operations in the South China Sea between January 11 and 16.
According to the US, the two vessels conducted communications drills, division tactics and a personnel exchange during the week, to help “develop relationships” between the two navies.
“Professional engagement with our British counterparts allows us the opportunity to build upon our existing strong relationships and learn from each other,” US Cmdr. Allison Christy said in the release, adding it was a “rare opportunity” to work with the UK navy.
It is only recently that the UK has ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea.

The US regularly holds freedom of navigation operations and exercises in the South China Sea to emphasize its rights to travel in the region, but the UK has only recently ramped up its presence in the contested sea.
UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson even floated the idea of a new British military base in the Asia region in an interview earlier this year with the Sunday Telegraph.
The Chinese government would likely take a dim view to an increased UK presence in the region, given historical tensions between the two countries’ navies and the intimate role the UK played in China’s “century of humiliation.”
The release said the Argyll was deployed to the region to “support … regional security and stability.” Both the US and the UK conducted anti-submarine warfare drills with the Japanese military in the region in December.
Tensions have been steadily rising again in the South China Sea in the past year after a period of calm following US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

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Red dots show Chinese military bases in the South China Sea

At least five countries claim territory in the highly strategic region, but Beijing has reinforced its wide-ranging claims with militarized artificial islands which are capable of hosting missiles and bombers.
The news of the drills comes less than a week after Beijing reacted furiously to the USS McCampbell sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the Paracel Islands. The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the US of trespassing in its territorial waters.
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On January 8 Chinese state media CCTV announced Beijing had deployed DF-26 ballistic missiles to China’s remote northwest plateau, which it claimed were “capable of targeting medium and large ships.”

Philippine Defense Secretary: China’s South China Sea Military Bases “Changed the Equation” of Philippine National Security

January 16, 2019

Beijing’s military facilities in the South China Sea, part of which is the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), changed the equation in the country’s military security, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted on Wednesday.

This change occurred since China installed its facilities on its artificial islands in the Spratlys a few years ago, the Defense chief said in a Senate hearing.

In this Oct. 2, 2018 photo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana attends the Senate hearing on the proposed budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File

“It’s very clear that the Chinese is trying to extend its influence in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea and the fact that they have built, reclaimed islands there, buit islands out of shoals and reefs and turned them into practically a military base or naval base,” Lorenzana told the Senate.

Lorenzana noted that China has been discouraging navy ships, including those of the Philippines, from sailing near the artificial islands.

“It’s very clear that they would like to have some hegemony or control over the… West Philippine Sea,” the secretary said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, meanwhile, raised alarm over Beijing’s capacity to intercept the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ radio frequencies from its military outposts in the Spratly Islands.

There have been reports that Beijing is likely using Manila-claimed Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef as its intelligence hub in the area. Satellite imagery obtained by Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported that China completed a large communications or sensor array on Fiery Cross Reef in 2017.

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Red dots show Chinese military bases in the South China Sea

“That doesn’t sound too comfortable for us to be able to sleep solidly at night and soundly and knowing that if there is trouble they could be here, for example if something should break up between Taiwan and China it’s too close to us,” Gordon told Lorenzana.

From Mischief Reef, one of China’s “Big Three” islands, the Chinese could reach Manila in approximately 20 minutes, according to Lorenzana.

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Asked about the Philippine government’s game plan in case of trouble with other countries, Lorenzana said: “Our game plan is to at least prevent loss of lives by our people.”

This is the reason the military is investing on some assets as deterrence for any attack, the Defense chief added.

The Philippine Air Force is looking to acquire Black Hawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin this year. The Air Force is also set to purchase attack helicopters from Turkey.



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FILE PHOTO – China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Gen. Li Zuocheng, center

Peace and Freedom Note:
Chinese military officers have been making increasingly bellicose remarks of late.


The Chinese government has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes

U.S. eyes Taiwan risk as China’s military capabilities grow

January 16, 2019

The United States is closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan, concerned that Beijing’s growing military prowess may increase the risk it could one day consider bringing the self-ruled island under its control by force, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The senior U.S. defense intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not predict that China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would take such a step but said such a possibility was the top worry as China expands and modernizes its military capabilities.

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“The biggest concern is that … they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities,” the official said, referring to China’s president.

Pressed on whether the official was referring to Chinese confidence in its capabilities to be able to successfully win a battle with Taiwan, the official said, “Well, specifically that would be the most concerning to me.”

Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, including a trade war between the countries, U.S. sanctions on the Chinese military, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

However, in meetings with Pentagon leaders, PLA officials have long described Taiwan as China’s most sensitive issue.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

It has also strongly objected to U.S. warship passages through the Taiwan Strait this year, and issued a terse warning about Taiwan after talks in Beijing on Tuesday with the U.S. Navy’s top officer, Admiral John Richardson.


In the talks, Chinese General Li Zuocheng, chief of China’s Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department, stressed that Taiwan was “China’s internal affairs” and that Beijing would allow “no external interference.”

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General Li Zuocheng

“If someone tries to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will do whatever it takes to safeguard national reunification, national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to an English-language statement here by China’s defense ministry on the talks.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

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U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson

Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016.

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On Jan. 2, Xi said in a speech that China reserved the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but would strive to achieve peaceful “reunification.”

Still, the U.S. defense intelligence official cautioned against over-reacting, noting Xi could believe he has plenty of time to achieve reunification with Taiwan.

The official also cautioned that China’s military still faced gaps in its capabilities.

“They could order them to go today, but I don’t think they’re particularly confident in that capability,” the official said.

Also on Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.

U.S. defense officials have become particularly alarmed about China’s advances in super-fast “hypersonic” technology, which could allow it to field missiles that are far harder to detect.

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Artists depiction of a possible China hypersonic missile

“The result … is a PLA on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world. In some areas, it already leads the world,” the report said here

Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Will Dunham and James Dalgleish



See also:

US report says rapidly modernizing Chinese military has set sights on Taiwan

All-out trade war between China and the US leaves no room for optimism

January 15, 2019

S. George Marano says disputes over trade practices are only part of the larger power struggle between the two. Despite recent conciliatory remarks, the conflict is unlikely to wind down any time soon. Expect it to drag on, if not escalate

South China Morning Post
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2019, 1:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2019, 1:41am

Much is being discussed with regard to the US and China seeking a resolution to the ongoing trade war. With representatives meeting, commentators seem optimistic about a solution. Though the optics look encouraging, any agreements should be viewed as short-lived. A resumption of harsher measures, especially from the US, is the most likely scenario.

First, this trade war should be viewed as a tactic in the overall China containment strategy; the ultimate aim of the US is to halt China’s rise. Yet America has never had an economic peer competitor. Its previous conflict with the USSR was fought on ideological grounds.

What’s more, winning or losing the trade war has different requirements for each party. From a US perspective, to win, it needs full Chinese capitulation. From a Chinese perspective, winning means the ability to remain standing. It is hard to see the latter submitting.

On the whole, the US is in the unenviable position of being damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t, with respect to the rise of China. Fundamentally, the US believes China is stealing from it.

The rhetoric around forced technology transfers is one of the major sticking points,according to the Trump administration. It should be noted that the World Trade Organisation encourages developed economies to transfer technology to developing economies, of which China is one.

Conversely, the Chinese believe it is time for their return as a major global power, previously enjoyed before Western intervention. The US’ actions are seen in China as an attempt to suppress this rise. The memories of the “century of shame” are still vivid for many Chinese. More rhetoric from the US will further stoke such sentiment.

The current round of talks, in which US negotiators visited China, have sent some commentators into a spin with suggestions that the trade war might end soon.

Observers should be careful that their optimism doesn’t turn into a denial of the obvious. With the impending March 1 deadline, meaningful approaches to resolving the trade war are still lacking, with token gestures being presented. Any agreements in the interim can be viewed as mere window dressing.

With the instigation and continuation of the dispute by US President Donald Trump and his administration, and the likelihood of Trump extending his presidency to a second term unless impeached, it appears likely that the trade war will continue into the unforeseen future.

Furthermore, with the US economy beginning to suffer, as is to be expected, such a downturn will be presented as China’s fault. This will provide further ammunition for the Trump administration’s bellicose stance towards China.

Moreover, the extraterritorial reach of US law, the threat of economic sanctions, and exporting the trade war to US allies can be interpreted as the next phase. The Huawei case, involving its isolation by US allies and the arrest by Canadian authorities of its chief financial officer on behalf of the US, has set the direction.

These US allies are also major trading partners with China and thus they are at risk from China inflicting severe economic pain in response, which it has done before. These nations are being forced to choose the politics of the US over the economics of China.

Given all these factors, we should expect a continuation, and even an escalation, of the US-China trade war. The only thing that will reverse the US’ current direction is a harsh realisation that it is fighting a losing battle. Nonetheless, with the current pervasive anti-China sentiment, Washington is likely to keep applying pressure.

Overall, any discussion of an agreement to minimise the trade war will only be short-term. We should expect a long and protracted battle as the US doubles down on its approach to China.

While all parties will suffer immensely, it is the US that faces the greatest risks. The implications include a permanent shift in the global order, along with the possibility of global instability for decades.

S. George Marano holds a PhD from the School of Management at RMIT University, Australia, and has an MBA and Master of Commerce from RMIT University


Liu He Will Attend Next Round of US-China Trade Talks — But U.S. Sees “No Progress” on Structural Trade Issues

January 15, 2019

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He has accepted an invitation to lead a delegation to Washington at the end of this month with the purpose of reaching a deal to end the trade war, according to a source who has been briefed on the arrangement.

Liu, who is overseeing China’s trade negotiations with the United States, is expected to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during the two-day visit, the source said.

Liu He.    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The trip will take place on January 30 and 31, dates first reported by Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. Mnuchin subsequently confirmed in an interview that he expected Liu to visit Washington this month. The visit comes on the heels of 2½ days of “vice-ministerial” negotiations in Beijing.

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

“It’s a positive development to show that enough progress was made in talks earlier this month,” said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based think tank. “But the chance is still slim that a complete resolution will be reached in this round.”

The fact that the next round of talks is scheduled to take place before the Chinese New Year, when the country takes off for a week in celebration, suggested “that both sides tried to take advantage of the momentum in order to move ahead,” Lardy said. The plans also were made as parts of the US government remain shut down amid a stalemate between US President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress about funding for a wall along the Mexican border.

Since the two sides wrapped up talks earlier this month, China has made a number of concessions, including addressing intellectual property theft and lifting the maximum in foreign ownership in the financial services sector.

“The most likely outcome [in this round] is that the US accepts all the concessions China has made and takes off the tariffs for a period of time to allow China time to enforce on its promises,” Lardy said. “But most importantly, the US ultimately needs to implicitly accept that China was never going to eliminate ownership restrictions by foreign owners in certain sectors such as media.”

Liu, the top economic aide to President Xi Jinping, made a surprise appearance on the first day of the negotiations in Beijing.

After the talks, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that they were conducted in a “comprehensive, in-depth and detailed manner” that “laid the foundation” for the two sides to solve their long-standing problems.

The USTR issued a statement saying that the sides had touched on issues of “forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial purposes, services and agriculture”.

Also included was China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods and other products and services from the US.

Before the negotiations wrapped up, Trump tweeted that “talks with China are going very well!”

It will be Liu’s first visit to Washington since May. Liu told Chinese state media after that trip that Beijing and Washington had reached a consensus on “not fighting a trade war”, but the relationship quickly soured.

The US introduced the first round of punitive tariffs on Chinese products in July, which triggered immediate retaliation from Beijing, starting a trade war that roiled global markets and dampened economic outlooks.

The USTR on Monday said operations including “trade negotiations and enforcement” would continue despite the partial government shutdown.

Liu’s trip is also the latest leg in Beijing’s efforts to flesh out the agreements reached by Trump and Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

The two presidents met in Buenos Aires on December 1 and agreed a 90-day “truce” period, during which they would conduct negotiations.

Read the rest:


China Is a Dangerous Rival, and America Should Treat It Like One

January 15, 2019

Enough with the endless talks and handshakes. We need to untie the American economy from China.

By Derek Scissors and Daniel Blumenthal

Mr. Scissors and Mr. Blumenthal are experts on China at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Trump administration has been clear about its view of China. A 2017 national security strategy document called China a “revisionist” power attempting to reorder international politics to suit its interests. It’s difficult to think otherwise given Beijing’s military buildup, its attempts to undermine American influence and power, its retaliations against American allies such as Canada, and its economic actions.

How to respond is more controversial. After years of unsuccessful talks and handshake deals with Beijing, the United States should change course and begin cutting some of its economic ties with China. Such a separation would stop intellectual property theft, cut off an important source of support to the People’s Liberation Army and hold companies that are involved in Chinese human rights abuses accountable.

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This will be no easy task. Some industries will have problems finding new suppliers or buyers, and there are entrenched constituencies that support doing business with China. They argue that any pullback could threaten economic growth. But even if American exports to China fell by half, it would be the equivalent of less than one-half of 1 percent of gross domestic product. The cost of reducing Chinese imports is harder to assess, but there are multiple countries that can substitute for China-based production, none of them strategic rivals and trade predators.

The United States economy and its national security have been harmed by China’s rampant theft of intellectual property and the requirement that American companies that want to do business in the country hand over their technology. These actions threaten America’s comparative advantage in innovation and its military edge.

Even uncoerced foreign investment in technology can strengthen the Chinese military-industrial complex, especially since the Communist Party has moved, since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, to a defense industrial policy that translates in English to “civil-military fusion.” In practice, many Chinese and foreign “civilian” companies serve as de facto suppliers for the Chinese Army and its technological-industrial base. Residents and visitors are subject to constant visual surveillance, and a nascent “social credit program” in which disobedience to party dictates is reflected in credit scores, which could affect everything from home purchases to job opportunities. These forms of social control often use technology developed by Western companies.

The United States should make major adjustments to its economic relationship with China. Comprehensive tariffs, which harm American consumers and workers unnecessarily, are not the right reaction. But neither are admonishments to “just let the market work.”

The scale of China’s industrial-policy distortions, technology thievery and efforts to modernize its army are too significant for such superficial responses. The American government must intervene in the market when it comes to China, although that intervention should be limited to areas that are genuinely vital to national security, prosperity and democratic values.

For example, the United States government should impose sanctions on the Chinese beneficiaries of intellectual property theft and coercion, in cooperation with our allies. This was the legitimate target of the United States trade representative’s original inquiry in August 2017 under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, but the policy steps chosen — tariffs — focus on the trade deficit instead of loss of intellectual property.

Rather than across-the-board tariffs, Chinese companies receiving stolen or coerced intellectual property should not be allowed to do business with firms in America or, with our allies’ cooperation, in Europe and Japan. The United States should also intervene to halt foreign investment in any technology that assists the Chinese Army or contributes to internal repression and limit the access to global markets of any Chinese company that is tied to human rights abuses and army modernization.

Taking these actions would require an enormous amount of intelligence collection by American security agencies as well as crucial information from American companies. The latter is difficult to obtain: Out of fear of Chinese retribution, the foreign business community will cooperate only if there is a clear, bipartisan and long-term commitment by the American government.

While the United States must act unilaterally if necessary, the cooperation of allies such as Japan, Germany and Britain would make these steps more effective. Such countries have their own interests in China. Imposing sanctions in the name of national security on the European Union and China, as the Trump administration has threatened, would unwisely give them common cause.

Previous efforts to assert America’s influence against China, such as the discarded Trans-Pacific Partnership, did not push back effectively on Chinese economic aggression. Working with allies to directly address China’s malfeasance would.

All this means putting China at the top of American international economic priorities and keeping it there for years, without overstating or overreacting to trade disputes with our allies.

The administration has demonstrated some good instincts on China, but it must not be distracted by the next round of Beijing’s false economic promises. Protecting innovation from Chinese attack makes the United States stronger. Hindering the Chinese security apparatus makes external aggression and internal repression more costly for Beijing.

China is our only major trade partner that is also a strategic rival, and we should treat it differently from friendly countries with whom we have disputes. If Washington wants the global free market to work, it must intervene to blunt Beijing’s belligerence.

Derek Scissors (@DerekScissors1) is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where Daniel Blumenthal (@DAlexBlumenthal) is the director of Asian studies.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on FacebookTwitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Treat China Like the Danger It Is.

China won’t tolerate interference in Taiwan, military chief warns US

January 15, 2019

General Li Zuocheng also called for efforts to strengthen trust and communication and manage risks during meeting with US Navy commander Admiral John Richardson in Beijing

Two military leaders have ‘deep exchange’ of views over the self-ruled island and the South China Sea, according to Chinese defence ministry

South China Morning Post
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 11:28pm


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FILE PHOTO – China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Gen. Li Zuocheng, center

A top Chinese military official on Tuesday called for efforts to strengthen trust between China and the United States, but said Beijing would not tolerate “outside interference” in Taiwan affairs.

General Li Zuocheng, the PLA’s chief of the Joint Staff Department, made the remarks during a meeting with Admiral John Richardson, the US chief of naval operations, in Beijing.

Richardson is in China on a three-day visit that also includes a stop in the eastern city of Nanjing, headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command.

The two military leaders also had a “deep exchange” of views over Taiwan and the South China Sea, according to a statement released by the Chinese defence ministry.

Li warned that China would defend its sovereignty at all costs.

“The Taiwan issue is a matter of China’s internal affairs which concerns China’s core interests and the feelings of the Chinese people across the Taiwan Strait, and China will not allow any outside interference,” Li said, according to the statement.

“If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But Li also said military ties were a key component of China-US relations, and called on both sides to improve communication.

“The ups and downs experienced during the 40 years since the establishment of Sino-US ties have shown that the mutual interests between China and the US far outweigh the differences, and that cooperation is the best choice for both sides,” said Li, who is also a member of the Central Military Commission, the military’s ruling body.

“The two militaries should respect each other, strengthen mutual trust and communication, properly manage risks, and work to make military exchanges a stabiliser of the Sino-US relationship,” he said.

Under US President Donald Trump, Washington has increased its support for self-ruled Taiwan with renewed arms sales and upgraded contact between officials, drawing repeated protests from Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sees reunification with Taiwan as central to his vision of the nation’s rejuvenation and said Beijing would “not promise to abandon the use of force” to achieve this, in an address earlier this month.

Relations with the US have also deteriorated over China’s military build-up in the contested South China Sea, where two warships came close to collision in September.

During the meeting, the US Navy commander said the United States highly valued a constructive, results-oriented relationship between the two militaries, according to the Chinese statement.

He also expressed willingness to increase high-level military exchanges, strengthen mutual understanding and reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation.

It is Richardson’s second visit to China since he became the US Navy chief in 2015. His last visit in 2016 focused on frictions over the South China Sea.

Peace and Freedom Note:
Chinese military officers have been making increasingly bellicose remarks of late.


China Says It Will Fight For Taiwan “At Any Cost”

January 15, 2019

A senior Chinese military official warned the US Navy Tuesday against any “interference” in support of Taiwan’s independence, saying that Beijing would defend its claim to the island “at any cost”.

General Li Zuocheng, a member of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks during a meeting in Beijing with Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US naval operations.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson meets with senior Chinese defense officials at the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) headquarters in Beijing. US Navy Photo

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since they split in 1949 after a civil war won by Mao Zedong’s communists.

The self-ruled island has its own currency, flag and government, but is not recognised as an independent state by the UN.

Beijing has said it will not hesitate to use force if Taipei formally declares independence, or in the case of external intervention — including by the United States, the island’s most powerful unofficial ally.

“The Taiwan issue is an internal matter of China, concerns China’s fundamental interests and the national feelings of the Chinese people, and no outside interference will be tolerated,” Li Zuocheng said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence.

“If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will defend the unity of the motherland at any cost,” he told the the US Navy chief.

In recent months, US Navy ships have repeatedly passed through the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China from the island.

Beijing views any ships passing through the straits as essentially a breach of its sovereignty — while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

A recent US law encouraging mutual visits between US and Taiwanese officials has also angered Beijing.

Washington, which broke diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979 to recognise Beijing remains the island’s most powerful ally, and its main arms supplier.


Why Trump’s America is rethinking engagement with China

January 15, 2019

The more aggressive US approach is part of a strategic shift that goes well beyond the trade war

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By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

When Donald Trump sat down to dinner with Xi Jinping last month at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the US president did not know about the diplomatic bomb that was about to explode. At about the same time, police in Canada arrested a Chinese telecoms executive after an extradition request from Washington.

The detention of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, was extraordinary because the US justice department had not told the White House about the warrant to arrest the daughter of the founder of the telecoms group, one of China’s most successful and influential companies.

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at a dinner meeting on Dec. 1 Photographer: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

But the importance of the arrest went well beyond the immediate circumstances. It is the most striking symbol yet of the dramatic deterioration in relations between China and a US that is increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s motives and actions. Reinforcing the rupture, the US several weeks later charged two Chinese nationals with conducting a global hacking campaign to assist the Chinese intelligence services.

While the trade war has received the most attention, the economic tussle is part of a much more profound shift in the US that has seen Washington reverse important elements of the strategy of engaging with its Asian rival that was first introduced more than 40 years ago by Richard Nixon.

East meets West.  Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

Support for this change in approach has a broad base in the US. Officials across the US government have become significantly more hawkish towards China— over everything from human rights, politics and business to national security. At the same time, US companies and academics who once acted as a buffer against the harshest views are now far less sanguine.

“China has for some time underestimated the extent to which the mood in the US has shifted,” says Hank Paulson, the former US Treasury secretary. “

The attitude that they would implement reforms at a timetable that made sense to them missed the fact that this was no longer sustainable if they wanted the US to keep its markets open to them. And the US business community now supports a harder line.”

Hank Paulson at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore on Nov. 7.
Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg


While Mr Trump likes to describe China’s president Mr Xi as his friend, his White House signalled a major shift away from China when it labelled the nation a “revisionist power” in its December 2017 National Security Strategy.

In October, Mike Pence, vice-president, hammered home that message in a speech at the Hudson Institute that charged China with a litany of offences — from political repression at home to coercive diplomacy abroad. The rhetoric has been matched with action.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute,  October 4, 2018

In the South China Sea, the US Navy is now conducting frequent freedom of navigation operations to push back against Chinese sovereignty claims over disputed reefs and islands. Meanwhile, the justice department created a “China initiative” task force to crack down on espionage.

While Ms Meng was arrested for allegedly helping her telecoms company violate US sanctions on Iran, US officials have long worried that Huawei could help China spy on rivals.

Those concerns escalated last year, culminating in the US convincing its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners — Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain — that they needed to take a much tougher line on Huawei, according to one person familiar with the situation.

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While concerns about China have risen in parallel with its emergence as a rival to the US, Washington has concluded that it has underestimated the speed at which it has caught up with the US in terms of technology — particularly technology with military applications.

Dennis Wilder, former head of China analysis at the CIA, says that as the US war on terror has receded in urgency, intelligence and national security officials have now woken up to the fact that China was using a “whole-of-society” approach to collecting intelligence, and that the openness of the west to Chinese scientists, students and business people had become an “Achilles heel”.

“The Chinese intelligence operations were astoundingly successful in providing the military and other state-owned enterprises with the secrets to enable technological leaps that could only be possible with the theft of advanced critical technology from the US, Japan and Europe,” Mr Wilder says.

Mr Trump and his trade war have done a lot to change the mood but many experts say China would have faced a harsher climate regardless of whether he had won the 2016 election. One of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans are united is over the need to adopt a tougher stance towards Beijing.

Lindsey Ford, a former Pentagon official under Barack Obama, says US military officials started to become much more concerned about China in the second half of his administration, when it appeared that Mr Xi was abandoning the “hide and bide” low-profile approach espoused by former leader Deng Xiaoping.

This was most striking in the rapid land reclamation in the South China Sea, where it installed weapons systems on some islands despite Mr Xi having pledged to Mr Obama in 2015 that China had “no intention to militarise” them.

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U.S. President Donald Trump with his guest Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, April 2017

Ms Ford says the South China Sea activity was “the clearest signal that the game seemed to have shifted and that China’s own calculations about how much risk it was willing to accept . . . was no longer the same”.

At the same time that its navy has become more assertive, China has developed weapons-related technologies at a much faster pace than many US analysts once thought likely. Underscoring how the gap between the US and China has shrunk, General Paul Selva, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, warned in June that “if we sit back and don’t react, we will lose our technological superiority in 2020”.

The Pentagon is also concerned about the vulnerability of its military supply chains because of components made in China. Washington is raising red flags about activities aimed at stealing US technology — whether via Chinese nationals working in American university labs or cyber espionage.

One person familiar with the situation says US officials realised how much more vigilant they needed to become when they discovered just how much similarity there was between the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jet and the American F-35. To tackle the threat, the US has significantly stepped up the vetting of Chinese nationals who apply to study sensitive subjects in America.

Christopher Wray, FBI director, last year warned Congress that US universities were naive about the potential for Chinese nationals to collect intelligence on their campuses.

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John Demers, assistant attorney-general for national security at the justice department, says 90% of economic espionage cases against the US in the past seven years have involved China © Bloomberg

John Demers, head of the justice department’s China Initiative, recently told the Senate judiciary committee that 90 per cent of economic espionage cases over the past seven years involved China. When the US charged the hackers in December, it said Beijing had breached a 2015 deal that neither nation would steal intellectual property for commercial advantages.

The US is also concerned about China trying to recruit American spies. In his testimony, Mr Demers said the justice department had an “unprecedented” three cases against former US intelligence officers accused of spying for China. In May, the US charged a former CIA operative named Jerry Lee with illegally possessing secret information.

The CIA believes he provided Beijing with details about its spying operation in China. One person familiar with the situation says his actions dealt a catastrophic blow to the CIA’s network — as many spies were arrested or executed.

Mike Pence, US vice-president, has hammered home the American message that China is a ‘revisionist power’ © AP The US also believes that two suspected Chinese cyber attacks — one in 2015 on the Office of Personnel Management which maintains government employee records, and another later on the Marriott hotel group — were part of an operation designed to help China identify covert US intelligence operatives in the country.

As the US strikes a tougher tone, China is losing constituencies that once helped balance the more hawkish views in security circles. US academics who were seen as friendly to China are becoming warier as Beijing cracks down on human rights — such as the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, failures to follow through on economic pledges, pressures on US scholars to toe the party line and moves backwards in terms of political reform.

“People I’ve known for decades have given up on China,” says Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st century China Center at the University of California San Diego.

“There’s a widespread view in the academic community that the overreaching China has done both domestically and internationally is hard-baked into the system and that there’s no hope of getting them to adjust their behaviour to our interests and values.”

A turning point that alarmed Washington came in late 2017 when Mr Xi did not name a successor at the Communist party’s 19th congress. He also pledged that China would become a fully modern economy by 2035 — picking a date that some saw as another sign that he intended to remain in power following his second five-year term. In a further sign of centralising power, the National People’s Congress approved last March a change in the constitution to remove the two-term limit on the presidency.

More recently, Mr Xi reignited concerns that he was moving backwards on promised reforms when he used a speech commemorating China’s economic opening 40 years ago to stress the primacy of the party. “No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done,” he said in December. One senior US administration official says China has misread the change of mood in the US, adding that “even more disturbingly, they just don’t care”.

The official says the fact that Mr Xi’s speech had focused on “the growing role of the Communist party in every aspect of economic, political and personal life in China” suggested that Beijing was not taking the US concerns seriously.

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F-35B stealth fighter

“I don’t see signs of a course shift by the top leadership,” says the official. “I never thought China would aspire to be a Jeffersonian democracy or espouse the western liberal order,” says Mr Paulson.

“I always thought the Communist party would be paramount, but I didn’t see the clock being turned back.” Ms Shirk says a major reason for the growing US backlash is that the business community has “really soured on China”. “Right now, it is totally out of balance because the national security concerns are completely dominating the process and the business community isn’t resisting,” she says.

Ryan Hass, a former White House official now at the Brookings Institution, says many US companies had “promise fatigue”. While many did not agree with the approach Mr Trump was taking on trade, they wanted him to be tough on China on market access and were “trying to use Trump’s instincts for disruption [to] their advantage”.

“The Chinese leadership has promised for years that reform was around the bend and then you see things like President Xi’s speech where he emphasised the central role of the party,” says Mr Hass. “Members of the business community see the Trump administration as an opportunity for the US to rattle the cage in Beijing.”

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Former state department official Susan Thornton says the wider relationship with China is being ignored inside the administration © Bloomberg

Susan Thornton, the top Asia official at the state department until last summer, says many of the grievances had existed for years but Mr Trump was giving them impetus because there was no one inside his administration who was weighing those concerns against the broader China relationship.

“There is no one imposing discipline right now. Everybody has now got a hunting licence. It is open season on China,” says Ms Thornton. One reason the Chinese may have been blindsided by the changing US approach is that Mr Trump rarely raises security issues.

“Trump never brings up any of that stuff in meetings with the Chinese,” she says. “He won’t bring up Taiwan or the South China Sea, or nuclear missiles or arms control, or espionage.”

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Mr Trump tweeted that he had spoken to his Chinese counterpart and that there had been “big progress” on trade.

But the landscape has changed so dramatically that most China experts believe the relationship will become much more rocky even if there is an agreement on trade. “I am cautiously optimistic that President Trump will be able to declare a trade victory and end the tariff war,” says Mr Paulson.

“But there will still be so many intractable economic and security issues that this will continue to be a very fraught relationship.”

South China Sea: Vietnam leans toward U.S., risks Beijing’s ire

January 13, 2019

Hanoi typically performs a balancing act in its relations with Beijing and Washington, but opportunity presented by row over USS McCampbell was too good to miss

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 2:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 2:03am

South China Morning Post

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As China and the United States continue to wrestle over trade disputes and geopolitics, Vietnam is performing a balancing act in the stormy South China Sea as it seeks to maintain its strong ties with Washington while not upsetting Beijing, experts said.

Earlier this week, Hanoi used the latest row over a US freedom of navigation operation in the disputed waterway to not only show its support for its Western ally but also reaffirm its territorial claims there.

“Vietnam has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence testifying to its sovereignty over the Hoàng Sa [Paracel] and Truong Sa [Spratly] archipelagoes in conformity with international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said on Wednesday.

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Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at Rand Corporation, said that while the statement was fairly typical of the way Vietnam tended to align itself with Washington on issues like freedom of navigation, its timing was surprising given the current high levels of tension between the US and China.

“The growing closeness of US-Vietnam defence ties is remarkable as Hanoi typically likes to remain below the radar to avoid unnecessarily antagonising Beijing,” he said.

On Monday, Beijing slammed Washington after the USS McCampbell, a guided missile destroyer, sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands, which are claimed not only by Vietnam, but also mainland China and Taiwan.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing that Beijing had issued “stern representations” to Washington as a result of the US operation which, he said, violated China’s law.

US Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said in a statement that the freedom of navigation operation, which saw the McCampbell sail within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel chain, was intended to “challenge excessive maritime claims”.

Collin Koh, a maritime security specialist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that while Hanoi’s support for the US freedom of navigation exercise came as no surprise, it was influenced by the fact that it took place close to islands it claims.

“Vietnam’s response to exercises in the Spratlys, for example, tend to be more muted, in part because the disputes [over them] are multilateral and Hanoi doesn’t want to get involved in a complicated situation.”

The Spratly Islands are claimed by Vietnam, China, the Philippines and Malaysia.

While Hanoi had used the McCampbell incident to restate its claims in the South China Sea, it did not want to antagonise or upset China, its largest trading partner, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and an expert on the Vietnam.

Hanoi wanted to remain “equidistant in its relations with the major powers”, he said

A recent study by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore found that among Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam was the biggest supporter of US power in the region.

Of the 1,000 academics, analysts and other experts polled, more than half of the respondents from Vietnam expressed either “strong” or “some” confidence in the US as a strategic partner and provider of regional security.

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Pham Binh Minh

On Tuesday, Washington’s ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink met Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Pham Binh Minh and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh to discuss trade, diplomacy and security cooperation.

He said the US hoped to strengthen collaboration on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.


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Admiral John Richardson

Indonesian President Joko Widodo looks out to sea in a December 2018 government handout photo.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo looks out to sea in a December 2018 government handout photo.

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Above chart shows China’a “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid and is not recognized under international law.

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A fighter jet from Taiwan keeps a close watch on a Chinese bomber. Xinhua photo

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Philippine fisherfolk in the South China Sea