Posts Tagged ‘U.S. missile defense’

China’s Secret Weapon in South Korea Missile Fight: Hackers

April 21, 2017

China denies it is retaliating over the Thaad missile system, but a U.S. cybersecurity firm says they are

This 2015 handout photo from the U.S. Department of Defense shows a terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor being test launched on Wake Island in the Pacific Ocean.

This 2015 handout photo from the U.S. Department of Defense shows a terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor being test launched on Wake Island in the Pacific Ocean. PHOTO: AFP PHOTO / DOD / BEN LISTERMAN

April 21, 2017 5:20 a.m. ET

Chinese state-backed hackers have recently targeted South Korean entities involved in deploying a U.S. missile-defense system, says an American cybersecurity firm, despite Beijing’s denial of retaliation against Seoul over the issue.

In recent weeks, two cyberespionage groups that the firm linked to Beijing’s military and intelligence agencies have launched a variety of attacks against South Korea’s government, military, defense companies and a big conglomerate, John Hultquist, director of cyberespionage analysis at FireEye Inc., said in an interview.

No automatic alt text available.

The California-based firm, which counts South Korean agencies as clients, including one that oversees internet security, wouldn’t name the targets.

While FireEye and other cybersecurity experts say Chinese hackers have long targeted South Korea, they note a rise in the number and intensity of attacks in the weeks since South Korea said it would deploy Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, a sophisticated missile-defense system aimed at defending South Korea from a North Korean missile threat.

China opposes Thaad, saying its radar system can reach deep into its own territory and compromise its security. South Korea and the U.S. say Thaad is purely defensive. The first components of the system arrived in South Korea last month and have been a key issue in the current presidential campaign there.

One of the two hacker groups, which FireEye dubbed Tonto Team, is tied to China’s military and based out of the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where North Korean hackers are also known to be active, said Mr. Hultquist, a former senior U.S. intelligence analyst. FireEye believes the other, known as APT10, may be linked to other Chinese military or intelligence units.

China’s Ministry of Defense said this week Beijing has consistently opposed hacking, and that the People’s Liberation Army “has never supported any hacking activity.” China has said it is itself a major hacking victim but has declined to offer specifics.

Mr. Hultquist said the two hacking groups gained access to their targets’ systems by using web-based intrusions, and by inducing people to click on weaponized email attachments or compromised websites. He declined to offer more specific details.


Recent cyberattacks attributed to Chinese state-backed groups.

  • Since February Spear-phishing* and watering hole** attacks were conducted against South Korean government, military and commercial targets connected to a U.S. missile defense system.
  • February, March Attendees of a board meeting at the National Foreign Trade Council were targeted with malware through the U.S. lobby group’s website.
  • Since 2016 Mining, technology, engineering and other companies in Japan, Europe and North America were intruded on through third-party IT service providers.
  • 2014-2015 Hackers penetrated a network of U.S. Office of Personnel Management to steal records connected to millions of government employees and contractors.
  • 2011-2012 South Korean targets, including government, media, military and think tanks were targeted with spear-phishing attacks.
  • *Sending fraudulent emails made to look as if they come from a trusted party in order to trick a target into downloading malicious software.
  • **A strategy in which the attacker guesses or observes which websites a targeted group often uses and infects them with malware to infect the group’s network..
  • Sources: FireEye, Trend Micro, Fidelis, PricewaterhouseCoopers and BAE Systems, WSJ reporting

Mr. Hultquist added that an error in one of the group’s operational security provided FireEye’s analysts with new information about the group’s origins.

South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last month that its website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack—one in which a flood of hacker-directed computers cripple a website—that originated in China.

A spokesman said that “prompt defensive measures” ensured that the attacks weren’t effective, adding that it was maintaining an “emergency service system” to repel Chinese hackers.

The ministry this week declined to comment further, or to say which cybersecurity firm it had employed or whether he thought the attacks were related to Thaad.

Another cybersecurity company, Russia’s Kaspersky Lab ZAO, said it observed a new wave of attacks on South Korean targets using malicious software that appeared to have been developed by Chinese speakers starting in February.

The attackers used so-called spear-phishing emails armed with malware hidden in documents related to national security, aerospace and other topics of strategic interest, said Park Seong-su, a senior global researcher for Kaspersky. The company typically declines to attribute cyberattacks and said it couldn’t say if the recent ones were related to Thaad.

The two hacking groups with alleged ties to Beijing have been joined by other so-called hacktivists—patriotic Chinese hackers acting independently of the government and using names like the “Panda Intelligence Bureau” and the “Denounce Lotte Group,” Mr. Hultquist said.

South Korea’s Lotte Group has become a particular focus of Chinese ire after the conglomerate approved a land swap this year that allowed the government to deploy a Thaad battery on a company golf course.

Last month, just after the land swap was approved, a Lotte duty-free shopping website was crippled by a denial-of-service attack, said a company spokeswoman, who added that its Chinese website had been disrupted with a virus in February. She declined to comment on its source.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to questions about the website attacks. The ministry has previously addressed Lotte’s recent troubles in China by saying that the country welcomes foreign companies as long as they abide by Chinese law.

The U.S. has also accused Chinese state-backed hacking groups of breaking into government and commercial networks, though cybersecurity firms say such activity has dropped since the two nations struck a cybersecurity deal in 2015.

The two Chinese hacking groups named by FireEye are suspected of previous cyberattacks.

FireEye linked Tonto Team to an earlier state-backed Chinese hacking campaign, identified by Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro Inc. in 2012, which focused on South Korea’s government, media and military. Trend Micro declined to comment.

Two cybersecurity reports this month accused APT10 of launching a spate of recent attacks around the globe, including on a prominent U.S. trade lobbying group. One of those reports, jointly published by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and British weapons maker BAE Systems, said the Chinese hacker collective has recently grown more sophisticated, using custom-designed malware and accessing its targets’ systems by first hacking into trusted third-party IT service providers.

Because of the new scrutiny from that report, FireEye said in a recent blog post that APT10 was likely to lay low, though in the longer run, it added, “we believe they will return to their large-scale operations, potentially employing new tactics, techniques and procedures.”

Write to Jonathan Cheng at and Josh Chin at



South China Sea: Recent Developments Reviewed After South Korean Coast Guard Vessel Rammed and Sunk by China in the Yellow Sea

October 10, 2016

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.



The Philippine defense chief said he told the U.S. military that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold, the first concrete break in defense cooperation after months of increasingly strident comments by the country’s new president.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said that 107 U.S. troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave the southern part of the country once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.

President Rodrigo Duterte also wants to halt the 28 military exercises that are carried out with U.S. forces each year, Lorenzana said. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing U.S.-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the U.S.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. government is not aware of any official notification on curtailing military exercises. He said the U.S. remains focused on its security commitments to the Philippines, with which it has a mutual defense treaty.



Indonesia’s air force flew over the South China Sea in a show of its determination to prevent foreign encroachment into territory rich in energy and fishing resources.

Dozens of aircraft including fighter jets and helicopters and more than 2,000 air force personnel joined in the operation Thursday near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The intended audience appeared to be China, whose claim to virtually the entire waterbody stops just short of the islands.

Although it does not claim disputed territory in the South China Sea, Indonesia has shown a growing determination to confront Chinese and other foreign ships poaching fish in the area, destroying dozens of them in recent months.

Chinese fishing boats are frequently assisted by the country’s coast guard and navy and some operate as a form of seagoing militia. China considers the area its traditional fishing ground.

China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement of protest in June after the Indonesian navy fired on one of its fishing vessels, saying it had “abused its military force.” It said one fisherman was injured in the incident.

Indonesia responded by saying it would continue to take “decisive” action against foreign ships operating illegally in waters under its jurisdiction.



The South China Sea dispute is overshadowing an international military forum in Beijing that China hopes will boost its regional influence in military affairs.

The seventh Xiangshan Forum gets underway Monday with a keynote address by a member of the Central Military Commission that oversees China’s 2.3 million-member armed forces. While China generally tries to avoid friction at such events that it hosts, the three days of meetings will offer plenty of opportunities for discussion of the dispute.

Adding to its anger over a ruling by an international arbitration panel favoring the Philippines in its challenge to China’s territorial claims, Beijing is now feuding with Singapore over a Chinese state newspaper’s accusations that the city-state is becoming inappropriately involved in the dispute.

Singapore accused the Global Times, a nationalist Chinese state-run newspaper, of fabricating details in a report that it said falsely depicted the city-state’s conduct at a recent summit in Venezuela.

The report triggered an unusually public dispute between Singapore’s ambassador to China and the chief editor of the tabloid newspaper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

The forum also comes less than two weeks after South Korea announced the site for an advanced U.S. missile defense system, further stoking outrage in Beijing, which says the system’s radars can peer deep into northeastern China, threatening its security.

China hopes the Xiangshan Forum can be a challenger to the annual Shangri-la Dialogue held in Singapore. Its theme this year is “Build a New Type of International Relations through Security Dialogue and Cooperation.” Topics for its panels include increasing maritime security cooperation and counter-terrorism work.


South Korean coast guard vessel sunk by China in the Yellow Sea


Seoul said it has lodged a formal complaint with Beijing accusing Chinese fishing boats of ramming and sinking a South Korean coast guard vessel.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned a senior Chinese diplomat and complained about the sinking last Friday.

Seoul said the incident happened when the coast guard vessel was trying to stop Chinese fishing boats from fishing illegally off South Korea’s west coast. No injuries were reported.

South Korean media reports said coast guard officers fired shots at the Chinese fishing boats as they approached the South Korean vessel.

The coast guard confirmed that warning shots were fired into the sky, but said it does not know if any were fired at the Chinese boats.


Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano in San Antonio, Philippines, and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.


South Korea complains to China over sinking of coast guard vessel

Mon Oct 10, 2016
This photo released by South Korean Defence Ministry shows South Korean soldiers on a patrol boat conducting an operation to drive out Chinese fishing boats from neutral waters close to the disputed sea border with North Korea on June 10, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
This photo released by South Korean Defence Ministry shows South Korean soldiers on a patrol boat conducting an operation to drive out Chinese fishing boats from neutral waters close to the disputed sea border with North Korea on June 10, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Seoul says it has lodged a formal complaint with Beijing over the alleged sinking of a South Korean coast guard vessel by Chinese fishermen.

The incident reportedly took place on Friday when the South Korean coast guard said its forces were trying to stop Chinese boats from allegedly fishing off South Korea’s coast.

The guard said one of its 4.5-ton speed boats was sunk when a 100-ton Chinese boat intentionally rammed it.

No causalities or injuries were reported, according to South Korea’s coast guard.

“The incident is regrettable,” South Korean presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk told reporters during a regular briefing on Monday.

On Sunday, the South’s Foreign Ministry and its Coast Guard separately summoned senior Chinese diplomats based in Seoul to lodge formal protests over the incident and urge Beijing to prevent recurrences.

This photo released by South Korean Defense Ministry on June 10, 2016 shows South Korean patrol boats forcing Chinese fishing boats from disputed waters.(Photo by AFP)


The Chinese side expressed regret over the incident, according to the ministry.

An official in Beijing said Chinese authorities were still looking into the incident and called on South Korea to exercise restraint over the incident.

“We hope the South Korean side can bear in mind the large picture of the bilateral relationship and regional peace, and handle the case reasonably with a level head,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular briefing.

South Korean military boat: North Korea abandons truce as tensions rise over nuclear test

A South Korean military boat (lower) powers out of its sea base off Yeonpyeong Island in disputed waters in the Yellow Sea Photo: AFP

Numerous incidents have occurred in recent years between South Korea’s coast guard and Chinese fishing boats venturing across international waters in search of fish.

Recently, three Chinese fishermen died after their fishing boat was set on fire by South Korean coast guards who threw grenades into their vessel.


 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)


China has all but ended the charade of a peaceful rise — Beijing’s demand for dominance in Asia is underway

September 1, 2016

China has all but ended the charade of a peaceful rise

Frank Ching says only in its own imagination can Beijing’s demand for dominance in the region be seen as friendly

By Frank Ching
South China Morning Post

There was a time when China tried hard to convince the world that its rise is peaceful. That pretence was abandoned seven years ago when, in the wake of the “Great Recession”, China thought its time had come to claim its place as controlling “all under heaven”, or tianxia, in Asia. Like all great powers in history, China’s emergence is accompanied not just by military expansion but also by assertion of its own law.

In China’s narrative, its rise is still peaceful. The nation built military installations on reefs and rocks in the South China Sea simply because it claims to have owned them from time immemorial. From the Chinese standpoint, the South China Sea is a core interest. There can be no backing down.

To justify its position on this and other issues, Beijing creates an imagined universe where, in the words of Bill Hayton, the BBC specialist on the South China Sea, “they start from the position that everything China does is virtuous and correct and therefore that anyone who disagrees must be wrong”. What China thinks is right must be the law. The day The Hague tribunal’s ruling on the Philippines’ South China Sea claims was made public, foreign minister Wang Yi (王毅) called it a “farce” and said that China, by refusing to accept the ruling, was “upholding international rule of law”.

 China’s Foreign minister Wang Yi (second from left) was in Tokyo attending trilateral talks with Japan and South Korea. Photo: EPA

China has emerged as the dominant power. Its neighbours have kept their mouths shut. A statement released by foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations did not mention the tribunal, though it did endorse rule of law. The fact is that China is seen as the key to economic development in the region. And while the US talks about maintaining “primacy” in the military realm, China is already dominant in much of the region.

While other countries may still occupy a reef here or a rock there, China is in overall control

Contrary to commonly accepted views, China sees no need to challenge the US militarily and wants to avoid such a confrontation unless pushed. The US is unlikely to push. China, through its artificial islands in the South China Sea, can project its air and naval power throughout the area and check American bases in the Philippines. While other countries may still occupy a reef here or a rock there, China is in overall control.

Since 2013, when Manila launched its case, Beijing has called for bilateral talks instead. The day the ruling was issued, Wang said: “Now the farce is over. It is time that things come back to normal.”

China is getting its way. The Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte, decided that war is not an option. The alternative, in the new leader’s words is “peaceful talks”. China and the Philippines, in effect, will agree to share economic resources. Joint development is theoretically on the table. Manila also hopes for vast inflows of Chinese investment.

 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has indicated that the Philippines will seek “peaceful talks” with China. Photo: AP

The ruling won’t deter China from plans to increase its dominance of Southeast Asia and the larger region. In its imagined world, the realisation of Xi Jinping’s ( 習近平 ) Chinese Dream will place China once again at the centre of the world, after a couple of centuries of being disrupted by Western imperialism. In the Chinese imagination, this is not subjugation of neighbours but simply restoration of the normal order. To some, this is a return to the traditional concept of tianxia, with barbarians benefiting from Chinese civilisation.

Of course, the biggest villain in the Chinese mind is the US

China’s leaders no longer refer to neighbours as barbarians, but they do recall that Confucian culture is embedded in many Asian countries and that the Chinese system of writing was borrowed by many, including Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Perhaps that is why Singapore, a predominantly Chinese society, draws disproportionate Chinese ire when it is seen as betraying the Chinese cause, not just Beijing’s interests. The elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew did this in 2009 by appealing to Washington to remain in Asia. “The size of China makes it impossible for the rest of Asia, including Japan and India, to match it in weight and capacity in about 20 to 30 years,” he said. “So we need America to strike a balance.”

The elder statesman’s words were followed two years later by Barack Obama’s policy of rebalancing to Asia, which China sees as containment. Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Washington, said that the rebalance had been “warmly welcomed by all Asean countries”. The Global Times accused him of siding with the US.

 A Chinese rescue helicopter and vessel take past in an emergency drill in the South China Sea. China sees its dominance as crucial because of its own development needs. Photo: Xinhua via AP

China sees its dominance as crucial because of its own development needs. It wants the resources in the waters as well as under the seabed. It will continue its sticks-and-carrots policy, using trade and investment as weapons. The China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with capital of US$100 billion, has begun approving its first projects, greatly elevating Chinese bargaining power. The “One Belt, One Road” plan will also bring investment to nearby countries.

China’s vital interests are engaged elsewhere as well, such as South Korea, Japan and India, and relations are strained.

The official Chinese media reprimanded South Korea for having agreed in July to deploy the US-developed THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-ballistic missile system. China considers the system a threat to its own security.

Beijing reminds Japan of its invasion of China more than 70 years after the second world war. In mid-August, the People’s Daily published a commentary warning that “Japan’s denial of past military aggression undermines world peace”. China also puts pressure on Japan by sending hundreds of vessels into areas near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

As for India, Beijing has campaigned for years to keep it from becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. More recently, China opposed Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Of course, the biggest villain in the Chinese mind is the US. Fu Ying ( 傅瑩 ), a spokesperson for the National People’s Congress, wrote recently that the problems in the South China Sea stem from 2009, when the Obama administration launched its rebalancing strategy. There is one problem with that explanation. The rebalance wasn’t announced until two years later, in late 2011. Fu’s explanation, like much else, was part of the Chinese imagination, and in that imagination, all that matters is the central role of China.

Frank Ching is a journalist and author of Ancestors: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family. Copyright: YaleGlobal and the MacMillan Centre. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online

Foreign Ministers of Japan, Korea and China To Meet

August 22, 2016

Meeting finally confirmed following earlier reports that disagreement over territorial issues would postpone it

By Catherine Wong
South China Morning Post
Monday, August 22, 2016, 6:19 p.m.

A file picture of Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) taken at a meeting in Beijing this month. Photo: AFP

Foreign ministers from China, Japan and South Korea will meet in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday to exchange views on cooperation and regional and international issues, their foreign ministries said on Monday.

“Cooperation among China, Japan and South Korea are significant to the region,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in the afternoon regular press conference. “We hope the trilateral meeting could [help ] maintain this cooperation and work towards the goal of setting up an economic community by 2020.”

Little chance of thaw in Sino-Japanese ties at G20 summit

A senior Japanese foreign ministry official said last month that Japan was considering hosting the annual trilateral meeting in late August, but a flare-up in Sino-Japanese tensions had stoked worries that the meeting may not take place.

Kyodo news agency reported on Monday afternoon, citing Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that the foreign ministers will have a dinner reception on Tuesday and their formal meeting on Wednesday.

Earlier on Monday, a Japan-based Chinese language media outlet reported that Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had delayed his Monday trip to Tokyo for the meeting.


The online news outlet reported that Wang delayed his trip to Tokyo “because both sides had failed to reach a compromise over how to handle their dispute” over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan controls the islands, which they call the Senkakus, but both nations claim sovereignty over the territory.

Chinese fighter ‘flies within 50km’ of disputed Diaoyu Islands

On Sunday, Japan’s deputy foreign minister Takeo Akiba told reporters after attending a working-level meeting with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo that the three sides had failed to fix a meeting of foreign ministers.

The working meeting was attended by China’s deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin and South Korea’s deputy foreign minister Kim Hyoung-zhin, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The Chinese government was initially lukewarm about the talks until recently, Yonhap reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Tokyo warns Beijing over Chinese maritime push near Diaoyu Islands

China has sent a record number of ships close to the Diaoyus in recent weeks, putting further strain on ties with Japan.

Relations between China and South Korea have also been tested in recent months over Seoul’s decision to deploy an advanced US-developed missile defence shield.

Seoul says the system is needed to defend against North Korea’s missile programme, but Beijing says it poses a threat to the China’s security.

Additional reporting by Reuters



From the Baltic to the South China Sea, Russia and China See One Foe — the U.S.

July 16, 2016

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — On July 8 and 9, at the NATO summit in Warsaw, leaders of the Western world met to “reinforce our collective defense … at a defining moment for the security of our nations and populations.” Just three days later in The Hague, an international tribunal on the law of the sea handed down a long-awaited ruling that determined China had no basis for its claim of ownership over the entire South China Sea.

These two events appear unrelated, but both will have the effect of pushing Russia and China closer in standing up to what they perceive as their shared foe — the United States.

It is absolutely clear to the Kremlin who the mastermind is behind these anti-Russian moves.

The NATO gathering left no doubt about the primary threat to its members — “Russia’s aggressive actions.” The Warsaw summit communique’s references to Russia read like a criminal indictment. Moscow is accused of, among others things:

[T]he ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea … the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine … provocative military activities near NATO borders … irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace.

The terrorist threat from the Middle East, which is also mentioned in the communique, comes a distant second to these threats. In order to deter Moscow, the allies agreed to deploy multinational battalion-size battle groups to the four NATO countries that border Russia — Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

nato missile shield romania

A Romanian officer at a ceremony for the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense base in Deveselu, Romania, on Oct. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Russia’s response was predictably furious. Moscow views the stationing of troops in Poland and the Baltic states as a major breach of the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations between NATO and Russia, in which both sides agreed to avoid stationing troops near each others’ borders. Russia is also seriously worried about NATO’s ongoing efforts to build a ballistic missile defense system in Europe. Moscow does not buy the alliance’s assurances that missile defense batteries in Romania and Poland are exclusively directed against potential threats emanating from the Middle East or North Korea.

The Kremlin was also offended by NATO’s invitation to the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, which has historically close ties to Russia, to join the alliance as its 29th member. Moscow fears that the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova may be next.

Putin and Xi’s June 24 meeting was remarkable because of the unusually high level of thinly disguised anti-American rhetoric.

Moscow denounced the Warsaw meeting as an attempt “to demonize Russia” in order “to draw public attention away from the destructive role of the bloc and some of its allies in provoking crises and fanning tensions around the world.” Even though NATO counts 28 members and all its decisions are based on collective consensus, it is absolutely clear to the Kremlin who the mastermind is behind these anti-Russian moves — the U.S., supported by a few Russophobic European nations like Britain, Poland, the three Baltic states and Romania.

Just as Russia and NATO are facing off in eastern Europe, there is another drama unfolding on the opposite edge of Eurasia — in and around the South China Sea. An international tribunal ruled that China’s expansive claims to sovereignty over the sea have no legal basis. Predictably, Beijing called the litigation and its outcome “a political farce” and declared it “null and void.” Similar to Russia, China seesWashington as the main culprit stirring up trouble in the South China Sea by inciting the Philippines and other countries to stand up to China. Incidentally, of the five-person arbitration panel, four judges represented America’s NATO allies (France, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands). Beijing has no doubt that the tribunal ruling is part of Washington’s plot to pressure, isolate and contain China.

south china sea

Chinese helicopter crew members practice near Sansha, in the South China Sea, on July 14. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In order to better deal with a rising China, even an Asian-style NATO may eventually be in the cards. The U.S. has been vigorously strengthening its bilateral alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific, expanding their reach and networking them into a U.S.-centered strategic web, with Japan, Australia and India assigned the role of the main regional bastions against China.

Given the geopolitical circumstances, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a lot to discuss at their recent summit in Beijing on June 26. Although overshadowed in the world media by the “Brexit,” the Putin-Xi meeting was remarkable because of the unusually high level of thinly disguised anti-American rhetoric. In their joint communique, Russia and China reaffirmed “mutual support on key issues of sovereignty, security and development.” They accused the U.S.-led West of undermining strategic stability while seeking “decisive military superiority,” and expressed their strong opposition to the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe and Northeast Asia. Putin and Xi also adopted a separate statement on collaboration in cyberspace, emphasizing the need to “respect state sovereignty in the information domain” and set up a bilateral mechanism to coordinate cyber policies.

Things have only gotten worse.

Rhetoric aside, Russia and China have continued to advance practical cooperation on a range of sensitive political and security issues. In May, Russian and Chinese militaries held their first joint exercises of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense units. In June, Moscow and Beijing reached an agreement on the joint production of liquid-fuel rocket engines, where Russia has a lot of expertise, in exchange for the supply of Chinese avionics for the Russian aerospace industry.

Last month, Chinese and Russian warships sailed simultaneously into the waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, ownership of which is a matter of dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, leaving the Japanese government wondering whether it was a coordinated move to put pressure on Japan. China and Russia might also be considering joint naval drills in the highly contested South China Sea. If Russian warships join the Chinese navy there, this would signify a major change in Moscow’s policy that has so far tried to maintain strict neutrality on the sovereignty disputes between China and Southeast Asian claimants.

Two years ago, I wrote that America’s policy of dual containment against both Russia and China was inevitably pushing them together to form an anti-Western quasi-alliance, possibly even recreating some conditions that, a century ago, led to World War I. Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse since then. World War III is still a remote risk, but the alarming naval and air brinksmanship in the Baltic, Mediterranean and the South China Seas is happening with increasing frequency.

xi obama sunnylands

Obama and Xi take a walk at the Annenberg Retreat in California on June 8, 2013. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

The opponents do keep communication lines open. Putin and Obama regularly talk over the phone, the NATO-Russia Council holds meetings, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Moscow. Xi and Obama have had several personal meetings, and senior Chinese and American officials are engaged in strategic security dialogues.

The problem is that those dialogues are not getting us anywhere, with the different sides talking largely past each other. The U.S. and its allies, as well as Russia and China, obviously need some shift in how they perceive and approach one another. But it remains an open question what it would take to execute such a shift.


Putin Visits Russian Orthodox Monastic Community in Greece — Is Putin Working to “Break Away” Greece From EU, US

May 28, 2016


The Associated Press, May 28, 2016

ARYES, Greece — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a Russian Orthodox monastery Saturday as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Greece, which is looking for more Russian investment and tourism as it copes with a prolonged financial crisis and a massive wave of migrants.

Putin, who has sought to capitalize on the strained relations between Greece and many other European Union members, said Russia seeks to cooperate with Greece in the energy sector. Several Russian ministers also expressed interest in the privatization of Greek railways and in the northern port of Thessaloniki, but no major deals were announced. Only lower lever “cooperation agreements” were reached during the visit.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had said the Russian president’s visit was a chance to “upgrade” relations.


Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Russian monastery St. Panteleimon at Karyes, on Mount Athos, Greece, Saturday, May 28, 2016. Russian President Vl...

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Russian monastery St. Panteleimon at Karyes, on Mount Athos, Greece, Saturday, May 28, 2016. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited an Orthodox Christian monastery on the northern Greek peninsula of Mount Athos on Saturday, a sacred place that is off-limits to women. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)


On Saturday, Putin visited a Russian Orthodox monastery Saturday on the northern Greek peninsula of Mount Athos. The Russian leader praised the spiritual uplift and moral guidance provided by the austere monastic community in a sacred place. Putin said the Orthodox tradition shared by Russia is particularly important at this moment in history.

“Today, as we resurrect the values of patriotism, historical memory and traditional culture, we hope for … a strengthening of relations” with Mount Athos, he said.

During his trip, Putin expressed gratitude for Greece’s friendship — and used his visit to blast U.S. policy toward Moscow. He described a newly expanded U.S. missile defense system in Europe as a threat to Russia’s national security and said his country would retaliate.

At the height of Greece’s financial crisis last year, Athens had sought aid from Russia as a counterbalance to its difficult negotiations with its EU and International Monetary Fund creditors. The limited concrete results of Putin’s long-anticipated visit left some disappointed.

Panagiotis Lafazanis, a former energy minister who has left the ruling Syriza party, said the Greek government had de-emphasized the Putin visit in order to curry favor with U.S. and NATO officials.

Greek opposition figures were pleased with Putin’s decision to meet opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Greek tourist officials said Putin’s visit would help encourage more Russians to visit Greece. Strained ties with Turkey and lax airport security in Egypt have reduced the number of Russian tourists going to those sun-drenched countries.

During his visit to Mount Athos, where women are not allowed to visit any of the 20 monasteries there, Putin repeatedly praised the spirit of the monastic community.

“Here in Mount Athos, there is great and important work done on moral values,” Putin said after a Mass in his honor, where he was seated in the bishop’s throne.

Russian St Panteleimon Monastery, in Mount Athos, Greece (28 May 2016)The St Panteleimon Monastery has benefited from Russian investment. AFP

Putin flew from Athens to Thessaloniki on Saturday morning, traveled by road to a port near Mount Athos and then took a boat — the only way to reach the isolated community. Instead of the usual small ferry, the Russian president used a 33-meter (110-foot) yacht provided by the Greek navy.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow traveled to the monastery with Putin to help celebrate 1,000 years of Russian presence at Mount Athos.

At Karyes, the administrative center of Mount Athos, Putin was greeted by the 20 abbots of the monasteries and 20 representatives of the monks on the peninsula, as well as a representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, under whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls.

Security in Mount Athos was extremely tight. Besides Putin’s large entourage, there was a heavy Greek police and coast guard presence, with divers guarding and inspecting the landing site and snipers deployed throughout Putin’s route.

Trips by other male pilgrims to the Russian St. Panteleimon monastery were canceled two weeks ago.

Putin headed to Thessaloniki on Saturday night for a flight back to Moscow.


Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.

Despite Summit Called By Obama, U.S., China remain divided over South China Sea — Missile defense, cybersecurity issues also not resolved

April 1, 2016


U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington March 31, 2016.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — China said talks on Thursday between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama were constructive, even as the two sides remained far apart on the South China Sea and U.S. missile defense plans for South Korea.

Meeting on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington, Xi and Obama agreed to step up cooperation to ensure nuclear security worldwide and to do more on cybersecurity. They also agreed to continue to work on a bilateral investment treaty, China’s assistant foreign minister, Zheng Zeguang, told a news briefing.

But Zheng made clear that China and the United States remained at odds over the contested South China Sea, where Beijing’s broad territorial claims have riled its neighbors, and over U.S. missile defense plans following North Korea’s recent nuclear and rocket tests.

Xi told Obama that he hoped Washington would “strictly” abide by its commitment not to take a position on sovereignty issues and instead play a constructive role to maintain peace and stability, Zheng said.

“The hope is that all parties will correctly view and handle the South China Sea and adopt an objective and impartial attitude … particularly countries outside this region,” he said.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency also quoted Xi as warning that China would not accept violations of its sovereignty in the name of freedom of navigation — a reference to air and naval patrols the United States has conducted within what China considers its territorial waters.

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

The United States says it takes no sides in the disputes but wants to ensure free navigation. It has said it will increase what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations by its navy ships through the waters.

Obama, speaking after an earlier meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, said the three countries shared a common vision for the Asia-Pacific based on “a rules-based order in which all countries, regardless of size, act according to shared norms and shared principles,” in an apparent criticism of China’s pursuit of territorial claims in East Asia.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that Beijing could declare an air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, in the region, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013.

Several issues unresolved at nuclear security summit:

US urges more nations challenge to China’s claims in South China Sea

February 22, 2016


Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin talks to journalists during a media roundtable aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, Jan 8, 2016.

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Australia and other countries should follow the US lead and conduct “freedom-of-navigation” naval operations within 12 nautical miles of contested islands in the South China Sea, a senior US naval officer was reported as saying on Monday (Feb 22).

Vice-Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, is in Australia for high-level talks with defence leaders and has discussed growing concerns over Beijing’s military expansion in the disputed region, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in global trade passes every year and which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Beijing has been angered by air and sea patrols the United States has conducted near islands China claims. Those have included one by two B-52 strategic bombers in November and by a US Navy destroyer that sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels group last month.

Aucoin told reporters it would be “valuable” if Australia and others sent warships to conduct similar operations within 12 nautical miles of disputed territories.

“What we’re trying to ensure is that all countries, no matter size or strength, can pursue their interests based on the law of the sea and not have that endangered by some of these actions,” Aucoin said, according to the ABC. “It’s up to those countries, but I think it’s in our best interests to make sure that those sea lines remain open, I’ll leave it at that,” he said.

Tensions between China and its neighbours have risen further since Taiwanese and US officials said last week Beijing had placed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, part of the Paracels archipelago it controls.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week urged claimants to refrain from island-building and militarisation in the South China Sea.



 (Bill Hayton says China’s claims to the South China Sea are not legally valid)

 (Contains links to many related articles)


Crisis? China signals no South China Sea backdown as foreign minister goes to U.S. — “The U.S. is not involved in the South China Sea dispute”

February 22, 2016

World | Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:27 am EST

A ship of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014.

China’s South China Sea military deployments are no different from U.S. deployments on Hawaii, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, striking a combative tone ahead of a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the United States this week.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on February 17, 2016

The United States last week accused China of raising tensions in the South China Sea by its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island, a move China has neither confirmed nor denied.

Asked whether the South China Sea, and the missiles, would come up when Wang is in the United States to meet Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Washington should not use the issue of military facilities on the islands as a “pretext to make a fuss”.

A unit of the People’s Liberation Army with their HQ-9 missile system. A unit like this one has been seen on Woody Island.

“The U.S. is not involved in the South China Sea dispute, and this is not and should not become a problem between China and the United States,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

China hopes the U.S. abides by its promises not to take sides in the dispute and stop “hyping up” the issue and tensions, especially over China’s “limited” military positions there, she said.

“China’s deploying necessary, limited defensive facilities on its own territory is not substantively different from the United States defending Hawaii,” Hua added.

U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out frequent, close-in patrols and surveillance in recent years is what has increased regional tensions, she said.

“It’s this that is the biggest cause of the militarization of the South China Sea. We hope that the United States does not confuse right and wrong on this issue or practice double standards.”


On Monday, a senior U.S. naval officer was reported as saying Australia and other countries should follow the U.S. lead and conduct “freedom-of-navigation” naval operations within 12 nautical miles (18 kilometers) of contested islands in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Beijing has rattled nerves with construction and reclamation activities on the islands it occupies, though it says these moves are mostly for civilian purposes.

The state-owned China Southern Power Grid Company will set up a power grid management station in what China calls Sansha City, located on Woody Island in the Paracels, which will be able to access microgrids in 16 other islands, according to China’s top regulator of state-owned assets.

In the long term, the station will be able to remotely manage power for many islands there, the statement added, without specifying which islands it was referring to.

Wang is scheduled to be in the U.S. from Tuesday until Thursday.

Hua said the minister is also expected to discuss North Korea, and she repeated China’s opposition to the possible U.S. deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system following North Korea’s recent rocket launch.

(Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Richard Borsuk)



 (Bill Hayton says China’s claims to the South China Sea are not legally valid)

 (Contains links to many related articles)



North Korea’s Launch Plan to Be Examined Closely

February 3, 2016

Governments and scientists will watch for any signs of technological advances

In a file photo from July 2013, North Korean soldiers examined model versions of the Unha-3 rocket, which successfully delivered the country’s first satellite into orbit. 
In a file photo from July 2013, North Korean soldiers examined model versions of the Unha-3 rocket, which successfully delivered the country’s first satellite into orbit. Photo: Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

SEOUL—North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite will give the outside world one useful outcome: a fresh opportunity to assess the secretive state’s potential missile threat.

Pyongyang surprised many when it put a satellite into orbit in 2012 from a long-range rocket after years of failure. The success elevated concerns that North Korea was making progress in developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads as far away as the continental U.S.

The United Nations has banned multistage rocket launches by North Korea because such technology can be adapted to create missiles able to deliver weapons.

The latest plan for a rocket launch, which Pyongyang said would come between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25 and would be the first since 2012, will be closely studied by foreign governments and scientists to gauge North Korea’s mastery of the technology and for signs any new advances.

Another successful launch will likely intensify debate in the U.S. and South Korea on how to tackle the missile threat, potentially increasing tension with China, North Korea’s only major ally. A successful launch could give momentum for the U.S.’s effort to build an integrated missile defense network with South Korea and Japan, a move strongly opposed by Beijing.

In recent days, several prominent political figures in South Korea, including the head of the ruling political party, have called for the introduction of an advanced U.S. missile defense shield known as Terminal High Altitude Defense, or Thaad.

One feature of the coming launch that would raise particular concern: if North Korea were to deploy a new rocket capable of traveling longer distances.

The expected launch is set to come from North Korea’s long-range rocket launchpad close to its northwest border with China. Over the past few years, Pyongyang has been working on enlarging the facility, known as Sohae. Satellite images show that in late 2014 a larger gantry for rockets was completed at the site, according to analysts who study the photos.

The upgrade gives North Korea the ability to support a rocket more than 50% larger than the 30-meter Unha-3 rocket that was successfully fired from the site in December 2012, according to analysts at 38North, a respected North Korea-focused website.

That has raised speculation that a new rocket may be used for a test-launch. Expectations have been fanned by the appearance of models of a bigger rocket labeled the Unha-9 on displays in Pyongyang.

The Unha-3 has an estimated range of around 6,000 miles, putting the West Coast of the U.S. in theoretical range if the rocket were used as a missile. A larger missile could in theory extend that range to more or all of the continental U.S.

However, in detailing where the three stages of the rocket planned for this month are expected to fall back to earth, North Korea said they would likely fall into the sea in locations close to where the Unha-3 rocket’s stages fell in 2012. That suggests the rocket to be used this time could be similar to the Unha-3, possibly indicating that North Korea isn’t ready to deploy a larger rocket.

“After looking at the splashdown zones, it doesn’t look like North Korea expects this launch to be much different from 2012,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the  James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.

Experts will also be looking for any evidence of a new type of rocket booster. In January, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran for its missile program and alleged that Tehran had sent technicians to North Korea in recent years to work together on a new 80-ton booster.

In addition to concerns about North Korea’s own threat, U.S. officials have for years been worried that Pyongyang is proliferating nuclear and missile technology. Testing of new technology would help North Korea with any efforts to sell it to clients in the Middle East.

Determining details such as the type of booster may rely on whether the rocket ends up crashing early in its flight. In April 2012, months before the successful launch, another Unha-3 crashed shortly after takeoff from Sohae and was partially retrieved by South Korean authorities from the sea.

Write to Alastair Gale at