Posts Tagged ‘Strait of Malacca’

Singapore in Beijing’s Cross Hairs Over Taiwan Ties — “It’s getting really hard for Asian nations to balance between China and the U.S.”

December 1, 2016
November 30, 2016 — 4:00 PM EST November 30, 2016 — 9:27 PM EST
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  • Protest over military shipment from Taiwan seen as warning
  • Beijing concerned Singapore moving too far into U.S. orbit
Singapore’s military vehicles seized in Hong Kong on Nov. 24.

Photographer: Kin Cheung/AP Photo

For decades, Singapore has walked a careful line between the U.S. and China. Now, the tiny Southeast Asian state is finding itself in Beijing’s cross hairs.

China has gone public in recent months to chastise Singapore for a perceived alignment with the U.S. against China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea. For Singapore, which the American Navy uses as a launch point for patrols of the strategic Strait of Malacca, the tensions cast doubt on its long-cherished ability to steer clear of political spats and focus on trade and investment.

The latest episode has the added wrinkle of Taiwan, which China considers its territory. Nine Singaporean armored personnel carriers were seized by Hong Kong customs last week, with the vehicles en route from Taiwan on a commercial ship after being used in training exercises. Singapore army chief Major General Melvyn Ong said the military was still seeking to ascertain the exact reason the vehicles were impounded.

While Ong said Hong Kong was a common port of call for foreign militaries and noted “there have been no issues in the past,” the shipment elicited a formal protest from Beijing, which warned Singapore to abide by Hong Kong law and the One-China principle that China uses to guide its affairs with Taiwan.

“This is not the first time Singapore ships equipment from Taiwan through Hong Kong,” said Bilahari Kausikan, an ambassador-at-large for Singapore. The fact this particular consignment was picked up shows China wants to “send a signal not only to us, but to all” Southeast Asian nations. China’s long-term strategy is to turn Singapore into an ally and “mouthpiece” for its positions, he said.

China might be seeking to gain the advantage ahead of Donald Trump’s January inauguration as U.S. president — and amid questions about the future of President Barack Obama’s military and economic “pivot” to Asia — by prodding countries like Singapore to stay out of political disputes like the South China Sea.

The spat highlights the difficulty for smaller Asian nations amid the broader tussle for regional influence between China and the U.S. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned several times that the region’s nations don’t want to take sides. While countries are building economic links with China, some have also sought the buffer of strategic relations with America.

Taiwan Summit

Singapore has strong historical and cultural ties to China, since the ancestors of many residents were traders from the mainland. The late Lee Kuan Yew — the former prime minister and current leader’s father — was regarded as a conduit for China to the rest of the region. Singapore last year hosted the first summit between presidents of China and Taiwan since their civil war.

“For quite some time, Singapore has been pretending to seek a balance between China and the U.S., yet has been taking Washington’s side in reality,” China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Monday. “This has turned Singapore into a platform for Washington to contain and deter Beijing.”

Singapore has strengthened military ties with the U.S. over the past year, allowing Poseidon surveillance aircraft to operate out of its territory, as well as littoral combat ships. Neither Singapore nor the U.S. are claimants in the South China Sea.

Read more: A QuickTake explainer on maritime disputes in Asia

The Global Times warned that Singapore’s actions could deal a “huge blow to bilateral ties, result in a possible adjustment to Beijing’s foreign policies and profoundly impact Singapore’s economy.” Singapore has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the maritime disputes, and for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a joint position.

China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, closely followed by the U.S. More than a fifth of Singapore’s gross domestic product is linked to China, according to Natixis SA. Singapore has a growing role as a gateway to Southeast Asia for President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which aims to revive ancient trading routes to Europe. Still, the tensions won’t necessarily hit economic ties.“The issue between Singapore and China needs to be handled between the two governments in accordance with the applicable laws and in the context of a deep and wide-ranging relationship,’’ Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said in a statement.

The military vehicles seized in Hong Kong lacked appropriate permits, and weren’t specifically declared on the ship’s manifest, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday, citing an unnamed person with knowledge of the matter. Importing undeclared cargo would be a violation of Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance.

Deep Relationship

For now, Singapore is reacting cautiously. No single issue would hijack Singapore’s “longstanding, wide-ranging relationship with China,” Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at a forum this week in Singapore, according to the Straits Times.

Singapore hasn’t said it if plans to alert or stop military training in Taiwan. It has used the island for decades, in part because of its own limited size. China’s relationship with Taiwan has deteriorated since January, when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party swept the more conciliatory Kuomintang from power.

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the seizure “kills two birds with one stone by demonstrating China’s displeasure with Taiwan’s military engagement with other countries.”

The risk now is other behavior that was previously tolerated becomes a problem, said Jia Xiudong, former counselor for political affairs with the Chinese embassy in Washington.

“It’s getting really hard for Asian nations to balance between China and the U.S. when the two powers have shown growing signs of friction,” said Jia, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies under the foreign ministry. “One may have to pick a side, or at least it has to be very careful to not damage the core interest of any side.”

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and David Roman

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-30/china-singapore-tensions-spill-into-public-view-via-customs-spat

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China, Russia eye closer friendship amid tensions with West

June 25, 2016

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Putin and Xi shake hands at the end of a joint press briefing in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on June 25, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin promised ever-closer cooperation and oversaw a series of deals on Saturday, as the two countries deepen ties in the face of growing tensions with the West.

In what was Putin’s fourth trip to China since Xi became president in 2013, the two men stressed their shared outlook which mirrors the countries’ converging trade, investment and geopolitical interests.

“Russia and China stick to points of view which are very close to each other or are almost the same in the international arena,” Putin said.

The Russian leader added that the two had discussed “strengthening together the fight against international terrorism”, the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, Syria, and stability in the South China Sea.

Russia and China have been brought together by mutual geopolitical concerns, among them wariness of the United States.

The two countries often vote as a pair on the UN Security Council, where both hold a veto, sometimes in opposition to Western powers on issues such as Syria.

China has raised tensions with its neighbours and the US over its claims to virtually all of the South China Sea, where it has built militarised artificial islands to bolster its claims in the contested but strategically vital region.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and support for other Ukrainian separatist movements have led to the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

At loggerheads with the West, Moscow is seeking to refocus its gas and oil exports from Europe – its main energy market – towards Asia and is diligently building an energy alliance with Beijing.

Xi emphasised that this year marked the 15th anniversary of the China-Russia treaty of friendship and hoped that the two countries might remain “friends forever”.

“President Putin and I equally agree that when faced with international circumstances that are increasingly complex and changing, we must persist even harder in maintaining the spirit of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership and cooperation,” he said.

The two sides signed over 30 cooperation deals in areas such as trade, infrastructure, foreign affairs, technology and innovation, agriculture, finance, energy, sports and the media.

Notably, Russian oil giant Rosneft inked a deal with China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) on developing a gas processing and petrochemical plant in East Siberia, as China seeks energy to fuel its economic growth.

Xi and Putin signed two joint statements themselves, one “to strengthen global strategic stability” and one to promote the development of information and cyberspace.

Putin said that 58 different deals worth a total of around S$50 billion (S$67 billion) were currently in discussion, adding that the two countries will seek to secure an agreement on building a high-speed rail line in Russia by the end of the year.

Xi also called for closer cooperation between news agencies in Russia and China so that both countries could “together increase the influence” of their media on world public opinion.

Under Xi, Communist China has mounted crackdowns on dissidents and tightened restrictions on the media, while critics accuse Putin’s Russia of rights abuses.

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Hot off Brexit, Vladimir Putin goes to China

June 25, 2016
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As the whole planet attempts to digest the implications of Brexit, the real heart of 21st century action once again shifts to Beijing, where President Vladimir Putin on Saturday pays a visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Business will include clinching a $6.2 billion high-speed rail deal; increased supply of Russian wheat to China – by building a Trans-Baikal grain terminal; and steps towards deeper military cooperation. They are already cooperating on an engine that will power the new Russia-China airliner.

Everything connected to the Russia-China partnership spells out Eurasia integration. It starts with the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. One Belt, One Road (OBOR), which will progressively interplay with the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU), as Putin emphasized at the St. Petersburg forum. It involves the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); the immediate future of BRICS, including the New Development Bank (NDB); projects to be financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); and Russia-China coordination inside the G20.

OBOR and the EEU naturally merge as Eurasia will be slowly but surely fashioned into a massive emporium – an interlocking trade and infrastructure network stretching from Russia’s Far East and the Chinese east coast to Western Europe, including the Middle East and Africa on the way.

Geopolitically, the expansion of OBOR-EEU is Eurasia’s response to the lame duck Obama administration-peddled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes both Russia and China. Xi Jinping has visited Central Asia and Eastern Europe recently – from Serbia to Uzbekistan – selling OBOR. Moscow, considering its influence over Balkan states, will add extra support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, is greeted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Saturday, June 25, 2016. (Greg Baker, Pool Photo via AP)

One just needs to look at some numbers to gauge the power of the multi-pronged Chinese offensive. Beijing is rolling out up to $100 billion to the NDB; between $50 billion and $100 billion to the AIIB; $40 billion to the Silk Road Fund; $40 billion to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These multilateral financial investments will roll out in stages – and can be easily paid out of the yearly surplus in cash of Beijing’s myriad current operations.

Additionally, Beijing has as much as a $4 trillion pile of cash to be used at the discretion of Xi and the collective leadership. This is the reality – not the usual US ‘Think Tankland’ blabbering about China’s imminent implosion. Compare it with the Fed printing so many new US dollars, about $60 billion a month, as the US would have a really hard time committing to any possible financial investment (apart from war) in the $100 billion range.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. © Sergey Guneev
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Supply chain geopolitics, anyone?

Beijing and Moscow inevitably would have come to the conclusion that their strategic partnership creates leverage and thus increases its value as it translates into multi-vector supply chain geopolitics.

‘Pipelineistan’

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Siberian deals – is an essential node of the whole package, as Russia will ensure the supply of natural gas to China bypassing the dreaded Strait of Malacca, which Beijing well knows the US Navy could easily block at will. The interpenetration also translates, for instance, into Gazprom offering CNPC a stake in the monster Vankor gas field.

Moscow for its part does not need to rely exclusively on the West for foreign investment – on top of it controlled/sanctioned by Washington. Chinese investment will be key, as under OBOR-EEU synergy, Russia should be well on its way of developing its full potential as a global supplier of energy and agriculture and a privileged transit corridor across the whole of Eurasia.

Russia may even profit from climate change. Few may know that Russia – with permafrost fast retreating – is warming up faster than any other nation. That opens the vista of new fertile soils that could allow poultry and fish to be exported to – where else – China. Not to mention torrential amounts of freshwater. Chinese companies are buying large stakes in Russian fertilizer companies such as Uralkali as well as becoming partners of Singapore-based companies to go all out into food processing in Russia.

Contrary to what US ‘Think Tankland’ never ceases to parrot, the Russia-China strategic partnership goes way beyond a mere supply-demand alliance of convenience. Were the Kremlin to take the fateful decision, Chinese companies could certainly rebuild creaking parts of Russian infrastructure in only a few years.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

https://www.rt.com/op-edge/348214-hot-off-brexit-vladimir-putin/

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South China Sea: U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the U.S. approach is “one of commitment, strength and inclusion.”

June 4, 2016
Sat Jun 4, 2016 11:57am EDT

The United States stepped up pressure on China on Saturday to rein in its actions in the South China Sea, with top defense officials underlining Washington’s military superiority and vowing to remain the main guarantor of Asian security for decades to come.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. approach to the Asia-Pacific remained “one of commitment, strength and inclusion”, but he also warned China against provocative behavior in the South China Sea.

Any action by China to reclaim land in the Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop in the disputed sea, would have consequences, Carter said.

“I hope that this development doesn’t occur, because it will result in actions being taken by the both United States and … by others in the region which would have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating China,” Carter told the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security forum in Singapore.

“The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come – and there should be no doubt about that.”

The South China Sea has become a flashpoint between the United States, which increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific under President Barack Obama’s “pivot”, and China, which is projecting ever greater economic, political and military power in the region.

Carter however said he would welcome China’s participation in a “principled security network” for Asia.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 4, 2016. Reuters photo by Edgar Su

“Forward thinking statesmen and leaders must … come together to ensure a positive principled future,” he said, adding that the network he envisaged could also help protect against “Russia’s worrying actions” and the growing strategic impact of climate change.

The deputy head of China’s delegation to the forum said the United States should reduce its provocative exercises and patrols in the region and said any attempts to isolate China would fail.

“This is a time of cooperation and common security,” Rear Admiral Guan Youfei told reporters. “The U.S. action to take sides is not agreed by many countries. We hope the U.S. will also listen to the other countries.”

REGIONAL WORRIES

Other Asian leaders said the situation in the South China Sea was viewed with concern across the region.

“All countries in the region need to recognize that our shared prosperities and the enviable rate of growth that this region enjoys over past decades will be put at risk by aggressive behavior or actions by any one of us,” Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told the forum.

Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said his country would help Southeast Asian nations build their security capabilities to deal with what he called unilateral, dangerous and coercive actions in the South China Sea.

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“In the South China Sea, we have been witnessing large-scale and rapid land reclamation, building of outposts and utilization of them for military purposes,” Nakatani said. “No country can be an outsider of this issue.”

A Chinese official responded by saying Japan should be careful “not to interfere and stir up problems” in the waterway, while China’s foreign ministry also weighed in regarding the U.S. and Japanese comments.

“Counties outside the region should stick to their promises and not make thoughtless remarks about issues of territorial sovereignty,” the ministry said in a statement.

Trillions of dollars of trade a year passes through the South China Sea, which is home to rich oil, gas and fishing resources. Besides China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have claims in the area, and rising tensions have been fuelling increasing security spending in the region.

“The uncertainty of China’s future trajectory is arguably the main driving concern about possible military competition now and in the future,” Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

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Carter said that for decades some critics had been predicting an impending U.S. withdrawal from the region, but this would not happen.

“That’s because this region, which is home to nearly half the world’s population and nearly half the global economy, remains the most consequential for America’s own security and prosperity.”

TRUMP COUNTER

In an apparent counter to “America-first” policies expounded by prospective Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including suggestions that U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Asia, Carter stressed bipartisan support for continued engagement.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is being held ahead of a significant ruling expected in coming weeks on a case filed by the Philippines in the International Court of Arbitration challenging China’s South China Sea claims, which Beijing has vowed to ignore.

The United States has been lobbying Asian and other countries to back the judges’ statement that their ruling must be binding, a call echoed by Japan on Saturday.

China has lobbied on the other side for support for its position that the court lacks jurisdiction in the case.

(Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia, Masayuki Kitano, Lee Chyen Yee and Paige Lim in Singapore and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lincoln Feast)

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U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter urges China to quit ‘self-isolation’ and join ‘principled security network’ for Asia — Accuses China of saber-rattling

June 4, 2016

SINGAPORE – US  delivered a message balancing warning and conciliation to China on Saturday (June 4), urging Beijing to join a “principled security network” in the Asia-Pacific region and stop erecting a “Great Wall of self-isolation” in the South China Sea.

“This Asia-Pacific security network is more than some extension of existing alliances…more importantly, this is a principled security network,” said Mr Carter in his address at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit.

“The United States welcomes the emergence of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in the region’s principled security network.

“Unfortunately, there is growing anxiety in this region, and in this room, about China’s activities on the seas, in cyberspace, and in the region’s airspace…If these actions continue, China could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation,” Mr Carter told 600 defence ministers, scholars and business executives at the three-day forum organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

China claims some 80 per cent of the South China Sea, which hosts a vital global shipping route, and has been conducting reclamation works on reefs in the waterway, putting it in direct conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei which have overlapping claims.

Manila has taken China’s claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. The verdict is expected to be out some time in June – but Beijing has said it will not recognised the ruling.

Mr Carter signalled that the US will stand with the Philippines, its long-time ally, as well as Vietnam, with which Washington is reestablishing ties 40 years after the Vietnam War, to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

The US military has conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations in which the a ship or plane passed by a Chinese-claimed island in the South China Sea, much to Beijing’s displeasure.

Mr Carter warned that the US and other countries in the region will take “actions” should China build an outpost on Scarborough Shoal. China reportedly plans to establish an outpost on the shoal, located 230km off the Philippines,  which Beijing seized in 2012.

“I hope that this development doesn’t occur because it will result in actions being taken both by the United States, and actions being taken by others in the region that will have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating
China,” the Pentagon chief said when asked about Scarborough Shoal in the Q&A session after his speech.

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, who heads the Chinese office of international military cooperation, quickly attacked Mr Carter’s remarks, telling journalists they reflected a “Cold War mentality”, Agence France-Presse reported.

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei. File photo

Territorial disputes aside, Mr Carter insisted that the US will be in Asia for the long haul, in comments seen as an attempt to counter some concerns in Asia about US’ policy on the region after President Barack Obama steps down.

“The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come,” he said, noting that Mr Obama has travelled to Asia 10 times in eight years.

He said the US and Laos had agreed to co-host an informal meeting of Asean defence ministers in Hawaii in September to follow up on commitments made at a Asean-US summit in February that territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully and through legal means.

He also mentioned the work the US had undertaken to strengthen security ties with countries including Japan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia as part of the “principled security network”. He used the word “principled” no fewer than 37 times.

He also cited the growing US-Singapore relationship as reflective of a “growing trend” of US engagement in the region.

“Just yesterday, I flew over the Strait of Malacca with my counterpart Minister Ng [Eng Hen] in one of the American P-8 surveillance aircraft that is now part of a rotation here.

“That rotation is one of the many examples, including Singapore’s hosting four American littoral combat ships, of how our two countries are working together to build cooperation, provide security, and respond to crises around South-east Asia.”

Mr Carter also addressed the problem of nuclear-armed North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and regularly threatens to annihilate the US and Japan.

The US, Japan, and South Korea will conduct a trilateral ballistic missile warning exercise later this month, the Pentagon chief announced. Seoul and Washington want to deploy the US’ sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD) that would counteract North Korean missiles, but Beijing worries about any such deployment in its backyard.

Mr Carter devoted the bulk of his speech to China. Despite differences between the US and China, he said, they have a long-standing cooperative relationship, including between their militaries.

He noted that China will be back at RIMPAC or Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international maritime war games, this year.

“In fact, the United States and China plan to sail together from Guam to Hawaii for RIMPAC, conducting several exercise events along the way, including an event to practice search-and-rescue,” said Mr Carter.

“By networking security together, the United States, China, and all others in the region can continue to ensure stability and prosperity in a dynamic region.”

Dr Oh Ei Sun, an analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Bloomberg the tone of the meeting so far appeared more positive than last year’s summit, when China and the US traded barbs.

“There’s a more conciliatory mood all around,” Dr Oh was quoted as saying. “You can tell there’s a willingness to engage each other diplomatically, with less saber-rattling.”

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/us-defence-chief-carter-urges-china-to-quit-self-isolation-and-join-principled

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As India collaborates with Japan on Islands — Nations Looking To Check China

March 13, 2016

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PORT BLAIR, India: India and Japan are in talks to collaborate on upgrading civilian infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago seen as a critical asset to counter China’s efforts to expand its maritime reach into the Indian Ocean.

The first project being discussed is a modest one — a 15-megawatt diesel power plant on South Andaman Island, as described in a proposal submitted late last month to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But the collaboration signals a significant policy shift for India, which has not previously accepted offers of foreign investment on the archipelago. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are northwest of the Strait of Malacca, offering control of a so-called choke point that is one of China’s greatest marine vulnerabilities.

It is also testimony to the unfolding relationship between India and Japan, which is also funding a $744 million road building project in the northeastern Indian border regions of Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya. Like the Andaman and Nicobar chain, the northeastern region is a strategic area that has remained relatively undeveloped because of its separation from the mainland.

Japan’s marshaling of official development assistance in the region has drawn less attention than the effort that China calls “One Belt, One Road,” a network of roads, railways and ports intended to link China to the rest of Asia and to Europe.

Part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago seen as critical in countering China’s growing influence in the area. Japan has proposed building a power plant on one island. CreditGautam Singh/Associated Press

But it fits logically into the web of strategic projects taking shape as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India enters into closer relationships with Japan, Australia and the United States, as well as regional powers like Vietnam, to counter China’s growing influence.

A senior Indian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that China’s project would be answered by “a more decentralized, local but organic response.”

The official described proposed infrastructure projects in the Andamans as “not of a big scale, and not of a big value,” but added that New Delhi is intent on developing its “frontier” regions.

“The idea that the frontier should be left undeveloped, I think people have rejected that approach,” the official said. “There is a realization that it doesn’t help to leave part of any part of India undeveloped.”

Japan’s vision for contributions in the island chain goes far beyond the proposed power plant. The plan was submitted in Tokyo more than a year after Japan’s ambassador made a visit to Port Blair on South Andaman Island and, in a meeting with the territory’s top official, offered financing for “bridges and ports.”

Akio Isomata, minister for economic affairs in the Japanese Embassy, said the country’s aid agency, Japan International Cooperation Agency, could only respond to “formal requests” from the Indian government.

He added that Japan would consider “any other requests” on the Andaman and Nicobar chain or elsewhere and was eager to use official development assistance to enhance India’s “connectivity” with countries that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

“We usually start with small projects and go bigger,” he said.

He said construction of the power station could start in the next fiscal year, which begins in April.

The Andaman and Nicobar chain is made up of 572 islands, all but 34 of them uninhabited, stretching around 470 miles north to south.

Used as a penal colony by the British Raj, the island chain was occupied by Japan for three years during World War II, a period that older islanders recall with dread. Jawaharlal Nehru, a former prime minister of India, secured the archipelago for his country in the hurried distribution of property that accompanied the British withdrawal from the subcontinent, beating out bids by Australia and Pakistan.

The islands’ importance has increased along with China’s naval expansion. The chain’s location makes it an ideal base for tracking naval movements in the Strait of Malacca, a long, narrow funnel between Malaysia and Indonesia. The strait provides passage for China’s fuel imports from Africa and the Middle East, around 80 percent of its total fuel imports.

Nevertheless, change has come slowly to the islands, where almost all the undeveloped land is set aside for indigenous tribes and wildlife. A plan to lay undersea optical fiber cable from Chennai on India’s east coast, so that residents can finally have high-speed Internet access, has been under discussion for more than a decade. Until last year, no flights landed after dark because there were no runway lights at the Port Blair airport.

Defense analysts from the West regard the island chain with envy and a degree of confusion.

“Almost every year, I see some senior Indian military official say we have major, major plans in store for the Andamans, and you’re going to see them soon,” said Jeff M. Smith, author of “Cold Peace,” a book on the Chinese-Indian rivalry. “Everybody waits for the big story to hit on the Andamans, year after year, and it doesn’t happen.”

A decision to accept Japanese investment there, he said, “would be a sign that the Modi government is getting out of this feedback loop and moving on some of these aspirations.”

India has taken “serious note” of the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean in recent years, Adm. Robin K. Dhowan, the chief of India’s navy staff, told a news channel in 2014. In January, India announced that it would deploy Israeli-made aerial “Searcher” drones and two Boeing P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft, developed for anti-submarine warfare, to the Andaman and Nicobar chain.

Boeing P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft

Airstrips at the northern and southern tips of the archipelago are being lengthened to accommodate the long-range surveillance planes.

Japan is hardly the only country interested in taking a role in developing the island chain. India and the United States are said to be close to concluding a maritime logistics agreement, meaning that U.S. ships might be allowed to make port calls in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the future, defense analysts say.

The chain’s location provides a “perfect geographic position” for maritime aerial surveillance, said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University.

“If India were more open to allowing friendly foreign countries access and awareness in the Andamans, it would find them more forthcoming as well,” he said.

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The front page of the Andaman Express, a daily newspaper, is typically devoted to small-town news about motorcycle accidents and stove explosions. But a recent report on the presence of a Chinese naval submarine in Andaman waters mentioned, almost as an aside, that the archipelago “would become the primary target of the People’s Liberation Army if China and India go to war.”

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Talk like that has brought an edge of apprehension to the quiet life on the island, said R V R Murthy, a professor of history at Mahatma Gandhi Government College. Murthy lives on a hilltop, and in January, when officials in New Delhi announced the positioning of aerial drones at Port Blair’s airport, he could peer down from his house and spot them.

“In the old days,” he said, a little wistfully, “this was the safest place in the world.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/As-India-collaborates-with-Japan-on-Islands-it-looks-to-check-China/articleshow/51369470.cms

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USS Theodore Roosevelt, right, and Japanese Maritime Self-defense Force JS Fuyuzuki, center, transit alongside the Indian tanker INS Shakti during a replenishment-at-sea exercise Oct. 18, 2015, in the Indian Ocean.

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China President Xi Jinping meets Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, January 23, 2016. Photo by Reuters

China’s Behaviour in South China Sea May Require Military Pressure, Additional Diplomacy

February 28, 2016
 

China’s aggressive behaviour has to be curbed, but not just by giving the giant a bloody nose, writes Brian Toohey.

by Brian TooheyThe main goal of the defence white paper from Malcolm Turnbull’s government is to support a military build-up by United States and its allies to restrain China’s provocative behaviour as a rising power in the South China Sea. The intention is laudable. But it is not always easy to prevent heightened military preparations on all sides from escalating into an arms race that ends badly. Which is why a bigger, indisputably difficult, international diplomatic effort is needed in parallel with the arms build-up to lower the risks of an unintended full-scale war that crashes the global economy and kill millions.

Without this two-track approach, the overwhelming focus will remain on exerting more military pressure to modify China’s behaviour. The danger is that China will believe exaggerated claims about its military capacity to act with immunity. There are no guarantees, but an intense diplomatic effort could reinforce the US-led military message that China has more to gain by pursuing its professed commitment to Confucian notions of international harmony.

Australia has a lot of stake, not least in maintaining China as its biggest trading partner. This is not a matter of letting “grubby” commercial considerations override grand strategic thinking. It is merely a reminder that glib talk about giving China a “bloody nose” in an offshore battle will not automatically make it skulk off and hide forever. Prudent planning must take account of the possibility that a humiliated China could respond by greatly improving its relatively weak forces and retaliate much more damagingly in future.

Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation published estimates in 2015 showing China spent 1.3 per cent of GDP on defence in 2014 and the United States, 3.5 per cent. DIO concedes other estimates for China are higher. Even so, the white paper’s projected Australian spending of 2.0 per cent is not trivial in comparison.

China faces two big strategic disadvantages. One is that 80 per cent of its oil imports go through the easily blockaded Strait of Malacca. The other is that the combined military strength of its potential adversaries is superior beyond its borders. (This doesn’t apply to the horrendous task of invading the mainland.)

BEHAVIOUR COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

China would attract less concern if it had not become much more assertive in pushing claims to disputed territories in the South China Sea that it inherited from the previous Nationalist government. Although it has a right to make these claims, as do other countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, there is no excuse for installing missiles on artificially created islands.

Turnbull correctly notes that China’s behaviour is counterproductive. Convincing its leadership otherwise will be hard, but stranger things have happened in international relations.

Perhaps Turnbull helped by saying the US should ratify the Law of the Sea Convention if it wants China to follow international dispute settlement procedures. His own white paper’s stress on a rules-based global order would also be more convincing if he conceded Australia violated these rules in the invasion of Iraq.

Given its heavy reliance on international trade, China has no motive to interfere with commercial shipping. Yet this is often conflated with its objections to military ships passing within a 12-mile limit of disputed territory. While these particular disputes don’t directly threaten Australia, it has a strong interest in helping avoid a war.

The US is a strong opponent of Australia’s claim to 40 per cent of Antarctica. But Australia reduced the temperature in this dispute by ratifying the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, which put the existing claims on hold for almost 90 years. Something similar would be a tremendous help in the South China Sea.

Given the prevailing ill will, the prospects look poor. Nor will they improve if the US elects a belligerent president dismissive of diplomacy. But a military build-up alone mightn’t sway China, even if it cops a “bloody nose”.

AFR Contributo

Read more: http://www.afr.com/opinion/diplomacy-as-well-as-military-might-needed-in-south-china-sea-20160228-gn5mdn#ixzz41UvJfM6S
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South China Sea: Vietnam’s Submarines Patrol as Deterrent To China’s Navy

January 7, 2016

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Vietnamese Navy Kilo attack submarine HQ-182 Hanoi.

By 

SOUTH-EAST ASIA CORRESPONDENT FOR FAIRFAX MEDIA

Bangkok: The first of Vietnam’s new advanced Kilo-class submarines have begun patrolling disputed waters of the South China Sea, as deterrents to China’s 10 times-bigger navy, Vietnamese officials and diplomatic sources say.

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Vietnam is also expanding use of its strategically important Cam Ranh Bay deep-water harbour, where six of the submarines will be based by 2017.

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A submarine can be seen in the middle pier at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. Photo: Google Maps

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The arrival of the submarines from Russia is a key part of Vietnam’s biggest arms build-up since the height of the Vietnam War, which could significantly change the balance of power in the flashpoint South China Sea, analysts say.

As concern has increased about China’s aggressive claims to almost all of the disputed water, Vietnam has been spending billions of dollars developing a submarine fleet, shore-based artillery and missile systems, multirole jet fighters and fast-attack ships, most of which have being bought from Russia and India.

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Vietnam was also seeking more Russian jet-fighter bombers and was in talks with European and US arms manufacturers to buy fighter and maritime patrol planes and unarmed surveillance drones, Reuters said, quoting unnamed sources.
Cam Ranh Bay has been described as Vietnam’s “ace up its sleeve” against China’s vastly larger and better-equipped navy, air force and army.


Cam Ranh Bay has been described as Vietnam’s “ace up its sleeve” against China’s vastly larger and better-equipped navy, air force and army. Photo: Google Maps

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The country has also recently upgraded and expanded air defences, including obtaining early-warning surveillance radar from Israel and advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia.

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Vietnam’s military spending had outstripped its south-east Asian neighbours over the past decade, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.

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Carlyle Thayer, a professor from Australia’s Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said when all six of Vietnam’s submarines were operational they would provide a potent strike capability with Vietnam’s anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles, adding greatly to the country’s ability to confront an enemy in its waters.

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“These weapons systems should enable Vietnam to make it extremely costly for China to conduct maritime operations within a 200 to 300-nautical-mile band of water along Vietnam’s coast, from the Vietnam-China border in the north-east to around Da Nang in central Vietnam, if not further south,” Professor Thayer said in a Thayer Consultancy background briefing paper.

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Professor Thayer, an expert on Vietnam’s military and the South China Sea dispute, said Vietnam’s ability to deploy stealthily would be put at risk if China permanently stationed anti-submarine warfare aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China has built a 3000-metre airstrip and some basic infrastructure.

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China landed a civilian plane on the strip on January 2, sparking a furious response from Vietnam, which labelled it a “serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam”.

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Analysts said it was difficult to gauge Vietnam’s actual capabilities and how well they were integrating complex new weapons systems.

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But Professor Thayer said when all of Vietnam’s current and future arms acquisitions were taken into account, “it is evident that Vietnam has taken major steps to develop a robust capacity to resist maritime intervention by a hostile power”.

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The diesel-electric submarines, also known as Varshavyanka-class, are designed for anti-submarine warfare, anti-shipping and anti-surface ship warfare, patrol and reconnaissance, and for the defence of naval bases and coastlines.

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They can operate in the South China’s Sea’s shallow water.

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Analysts said Cam Ranh Bay was Vietnam’s “ace up its sleeve” against China’s vastly larger and better-equipped navy, air force and army, against which it fought a bloody war in 1979.

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Vietnam has signalled it will invite non-Chinese navies such as Russia, the United States and Japan to send ships and submarines to the harbour for maintenance and logistics support.

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The harbour, which was the US’s centre of naval operations during the Vietnam War, provides ships easy access to the disputed water and the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca.

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The International Crisis Group has warned that the South China Sea risks becoming a theatre of big-power competition in 2016, as the US challenges China’s large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed reefs, which has set Beijing on a collision course with several south-east Asian nations.

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A tribunal in The Hague is expected to announce its verdict in a landmark case filed by the Philippines accusing China of violating international law in the South China Sea, further raising tensions.
Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and China have overlapping claims to the territory.

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More than $US5 trillion ($7 trillion) of trade passes every year through the South China Sea, which is also believed to hold huge deposits of oil and gas.

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The Kilo-class submarines are considered one of the quietest and have been upgraded constantly since the 1980s. Analysts say they are more technologically advanced than other Russian-made submarines in China’s fleet.

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– with Reuters

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/vietnamese-subs-deployed-to-south-china-sea-20160107-gm0z6a.html#ixzz3wWq4BX3f
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

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A Vietnamese fishing boat Dna 90152 sinking May 2014 after being rammed intentionally by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel. Vietnam and the Philippines have reported numerous acts of violence against them at the hands of Chinese nationals during 2013- 2015. On January 1, 2016, Vietnam accused China again of intentionally ramming (twice) a Vietnamese fishing boat that sank but was salvaged.

The fishing boat QNg 98459 (R) of Huynh Van Thach is pictured being towed ashore after it was rammed by a Chinese vessel (twice) and salvaged. The boat seen here one the left towed the damage craft into port.
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Chinese-led group to build Indian Ocean port, industrial park, on the Bay of Bengal

January 6, 2016

MOTOKAZU MATSUI, Nikkei staff writer

The Kyaukphyu economic zone has an oil and gas pipeline to China.

YANGON — Myanmar has chosen a consortium of mostly Chinese companies to develop a special economic zone sitting near plentiful offshore natural gas reserves.

The Kyaukphyu zone, in the western state of Rakhine, already has an oil and gas pipeline connecting it to China, whose influence over southern neighbor Myanmar could grow as a result of the new investments.

Situated on the Indian Ocean coast, roughly 1,700-hectare site was one of three special economic zones designated in 2014. Companies investing there can qualify for tax incentives.
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To speed up the zone’s development, Myanmar’s government in 2014 decided to hold tenders for an industrial park and a deep-water port to be built and operated as public-private partnerships.

The Chinese-led consortium beat 10 or so other bidders to win the development rights late last year. The six companies in the group include state-owned conglomerate Citic, China Harbour Engineering and the Charoen Pokphand group, a Thai conglomerate.

By 2025, the consortium plans to build a roughly 1,000-hectare industrial park and Myanmar’s highest-capacity port, with facilities able to handle 7 million 20-foot-equivalent-units of cargo a year. Total project costs are seen running to a few billion dollars. The projects are expected to lead to the creation of some 100,000 jobs.

Kyaukphyu holds strategic importance for Chinese energy security. China National Petroleum Corp. completed a pipeline linking the coast there with the Chinese inland city of Chongqing in January 2015. Middle Eastern crude and gas drilled offshore flow through it to China, slashing transport time compared with the heavily plied Strait of Malacca shipping route. The Citic-led consortium’s bid thus accords with China’s desire to solidify its foothold in Kyaukphyu.

China sidled up to Myanmar during the Southeast Asian nation’s long years of international isolation under military rule, providing investment in pipelines, hydropower plants and other infrastructure. But Chinese influence over Myanmar has waned in relative terms since the latter embraced civilian government in 2011 and renewed relations with the international community.

This shift could accelerate with the opposition National League for Democracy’s landslide in this past November’s parliamentary elections. The NLD will form a new government this spring, and its leader, Western-leaning democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to seek to move the country out of China’s orbit. For China, Kyaukphyu represents a way to stay connected after the change in government.

Work is underway on Myanmar’s two other special economic zones. The Thilawa zone sits near Yangon, the country’s most populous city, while Dawei is in the southeast, near the Thai border. Japan’s public and private sectors are cooperating in industrial park development and other aspects of these projects.

http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Chinese-led-group-to-build-Indian-Ocean-port-industrial-park

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Xi Jinping in Royal Carriage, London, UK, October 20, 2015

Why Is the South China Sea So Important?

December 25, 2015

map-malaysia

The South China Sea region

Located in the center of the South China Sea is a small, innocuous group of uninhabited island atolls named the Spratly Islands.

From first observation, this island group would be deemed worthless and uninhabitable. This observation would be grossly in error…

Exactly why is the South China Sea important?

These islands sit on the edge of the most lucrative fishing area in the South China Sea. They are also on the edge of one of the most oil- and gas-rich areas yet discovered.

And the Spratlys are claimed by no fewer than six different countries.

“This is definitely a situation you want to watch closely,” Money Morning Executive Editor Bill Patalon told readers on Dec. 8. “Any kind of a major ‘incident’ there will clearly have a big – and negative – impact on the world financial markets.”

Here’s a look at the irresistible treasures that make ownership of the South China Sea crucial…

Why Is the South China Sea Important? It’s a Vital Shipping Route

china-sea

Louisa Reef, in the southern reaches of the Spratly Islands

The South China Sea region includes more than 200 small islands, rocks, and reefs, with the majority located in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains. Many of these islands are partially submerged islets, rocks, and reefs that are little more than shipping hazards not suitable for habitation; the total land area of the Spratly Islands is less than 3 square miles.

The islands are important, however, for strategic and political reasons. Ownership claims to them are used to bolster claims to the surrounding sea and its resources.

To that end, the region is the world’s second-busiest international sea lane – more than half of the world’s supertanker traffic and 30% of all global maritime trade passes through its waters. Tanker traffic through the Strait of Malacca leading into the South China Sea is more than three times greater than Suez Canal traffic, and well over five times more than the Panama Canal.

Virtually all shipping that passes through the Malacca and Sunda Straits must pass near the Spratlys. The large volume of shipping in the South China Sea/Strait of Malacca littoral has created opportunities for attacks on merchant shipping. With the exception of 2007 to 2012, when piracy in East Africa spiked, the South China Sea has been the most piracy-prone region in the world, with up to 150 attacks annually, according to the Center for International Maritime Security on Sept. 6, 2014.

Shipping (by tonnage) in the South China Sea is dominated by raw materials en route to East Asian countries. Tonnage via Malacca and the Spratly Islands is dominated by liquid bulk such as crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), with dry bulk (mostly coal and iron ore) in second place. LNG shipments through the South China Sea constitute two-thirds of the world’s overall LNG trade. Nearly two-thirds of the tonnage passing through the Strait of Malacca, and half of the volume passing the Spratly Islands, is crude oil from the Persian Gulf. Rising Asian oil demand could result in a doubling of these flows over the next two decades.

Additionally, the Spratly’s themselves contain oil and gas resources strategically located near some of the world’s largest energy-consuming countries, such as China, India, and Japan.

In its World Oil Outlook released on Dec. 23, 2015, OPEC estimated that global energy demand will increase 50% by 2040, with gas and oil expected to supply roughly 53% of energy demands.

The Asian region accounted for much of that total demand. In 2015, total global oil demand reached 94.6 million barrels per day (BPD). Nearly a third of total demand went to the Asian-Pacific and Americas regions, according to Statista.

Imports to sate Asia’s growing energy needs will largely pass through the strategic Strait of Malacca into the South China Sea. As it is, over half of the world’s merchant fleet (by tonnage) sails through the South China Sea every year.

Read the rest:

http://moneymorning.com/2015/12/23/why-is-the-south-china-sea-important/

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