Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Navy’

South China Sea: China’s Illegal Message to Outsiders is ‘Leave immediately and keep far off’ — This is International Airspace Over International Waters

August 11, 2018

A U.S. Navy ocean surveillance aircraft recently visited the South China Sea on a routine maritime patrol in international airspace over international waters. China told the U.S. P-8 to leave — an illegal order since the claim of sovereignty by China in the South China Sea was disallowed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12, 2016.

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China has ignored international law in the South China Sea, much as Russia has done in Georgia and the Ukraine (Crimea).

Are we becoming a world where nations take what they want? Is the concept of international law dead? The answers could be “yes”.

Above: CNN Video

See also:

BBC Video:

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-45152525/south-china-sea-leave-immediately-and-keep-far-off

The Full CNN report:

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

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Above: China has built seven military bases near the Philippines in the South China Sea

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Philippines, China work on framework of joint oil hunt

http://manilastandard.net/news/top-stories/272639/philippines-china-work-on-framework-of-joint-oil-hunt.html

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Above: military intelligence planners say China may next declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea

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Banners declaring the Philippines a province of China appeared in various parts of Metro Manila on July 12. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the apparent prank.(Contributed photo)

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Wang Yi

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  (This is what China cares about what people think….)

(Why give away what you own?)

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One of the islands China built at Subi Reef — and then built a huge military base on top. This is an area china claims but that claim was not allowed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague in 2016

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China sends warning to US ocean surveillance plane flying over South China Sea—report

August 10, 2018
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A US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flying 16,500 feet from China’s man-made islands over South China Sea was warned six times by Chinese military to get out of their territory.

The flight included CNN International, which was able to witness the exchanges between the US and Chinese military.

“US military aircraft, this is China. Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,” a voice said.

The US Navy crew responded with: “I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state. In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.”

The US plane flew over four of China’s artificial islands — Fiery Cross, Subi Reef, Mischief Reef and Johnson Reef.

 / 09:21 PM August 10, 2018

“What we saw [include] an incredible amount of infrastructure and development in the three years since CNN last boarded one of these planes and was able to fly through that area,” said CNN correspondent Ivan Watson in his report.

China claims most parts of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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The ruling on a challenge brought by the Philippines, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claim in July 2016.

But the Duterte administration set aside the ruling in exchange for economic opportunities and friendly ties with Beijing.

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Early this year, the Inquirer published close-up surveillance images of China’s reclaimed features now equipped with runways, radar towers, missile shelters and other military facilities. The photos showed that the bases are almost operational and awaiting the deployment of personnel and aircraft.

China insists that the facilities on its man-made islands in the Spratlys are primarily for civilian purposes and they have “indisputable sovereignty” over the area. /jpv

RELATED STORY
EXCLUSIVE: New photos show China is nearly done with its militarization of South China Sea

Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/168969/china-sends-warning-us-spy-plane-flying-south-china-sea-report-navy-china-us-military-afp-cnn#ixzz5Nn4wRIz6
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

China Warns Away US Navy Aircraft Over South China Sea — International Waters, International Air Space

August 10, 2018

High above one of the most hotly contested regions in the world, CNN was given a rare look Friday at the Chinese government’s rapidly expanding militarization of the South China Sea.

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Aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane, CNN got a view from 16,500 feet of low-lying coral reefs turned into garrisons with five-story buildings, large radar installations, power plants and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft.
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During the flight the crew received six separate warnings from the Chinese military, telling them they were inside Chinese territory and urging them to leave.
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“Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,” a voice said.
The US Navy jet flew past four key artificial islands in the Spratly chain where China has built up fortifications: Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef and Mischief Reef.
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On Subi Reef, the Poseidon’s sensors picked up 86 vessels, including Chinese coast guard ships, moored in a giant lagoon, while on Fiery Cross Reef rows of hangers stood alongside a lengthy runway.
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“It was surprising to see airports in the middle of the ocean,” said Lt. Lauren Callen, who was leading the air combat crew aboard the Navy flight.
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Each time the aircraft was challenged by Chinese military, the US Navy crew’s response was the same.
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Chinese military base at Subi Reef. Under international law, this area is owned by the Philippines
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“I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state,” the response said.
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“In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.”
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CNN has reached out to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
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CNN gets rare access on board a US military surveillance flight over the hotly-disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Competing claims

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The Chinese government staunchly maintains large areas of the South China Sea have been part of the country’s territory “since ancient times.”
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Beijing’s “nine-dash line” extends more than one thousand kilometers from its southernmost province, taking in more or less the entirety of the waters, through which the United Nations estimates one-third of global shipping passes.
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The South China Sea is also believed to contain rich oil and natural gas reserves that have yet to be fully explored.
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Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei all claim overlapping portions of the sea which spans 3.6 million square kilometer (1.4 million square miles), but the most far-reaching claims have been made by China.
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Beijing’s sovereignty claims are considered by most other countries as unsubstantiated, a view backed by an international tribunal in 2016.
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Despite this however, little has changed in China’s approach to the region in recent years.
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To reinforce its claims of sovereignty, Beijing has been reclaiming land on and around reefs and shoals to construct artificial islands which are then militarized with airfields and radar equipment.
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China has spent much of the past two years fortifying these islands, including placing missiles on the Spratly island chain during naval exercises in April.
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This is despite a promise made by President Xi Jinping to then-US President Barack Obama in 2015 that the Chinese government would not be militarizing the artificial islands.
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The US Navy's P8-A Poseidon plane which carried a CNN crew from Okinawa, Japan, over the South China Sea on August 10.

Rapid expansion

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The last time CNN was given access to a US Navy mission over the South China Sea was in September 2015, when the aircraft was also warned off by Chinese military.
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Since then, Beijing’s island building in the contested waters has moved forward at a rapid pace.
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Flying over Fiery Cross Reef on Friday, a five-story building was visible, as well as a large radar installation, which looked like neatly arranged golf balls on the Navy plane’s infrared camera.
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Though no Chinese missiles were seen on Friday’s flight over the South China Sea, Navy officers said some of the structures seen could potentially be used to house them.
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Cmdr. Chris Purcell, who leads Patrol Squadron Four which undertook Friday’s mission, said the US has been doing these flights for five decades and they show US commitment to maintaining free passage in international waters.
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“The reason we’re here hasn’t changed,” Purcell said. “The reason (the Chinese) are here has changed.”
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Within hours of the trip, Chinese state tabloid Global Times posted a reaction to CNN’s report on its Chinese-language website. The article called for all readers to “give a thumbs-up to Chinese servicemen” for their defense of China’s territory.
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Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi. Some say the problem is Chinese arrogance while ignoring international laws and norms….

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China claims US sparking militarization

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Beijing says its growing military presence in the South China Sea is necessary to protect its sovereignty, blaming Washington and its allies for tensions in the region.
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Source: CNN reporting
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Chinese military exercises in April included the largest naval parade in the country’s history, with President Xi Jinping overseeing drills that included 10,000 troops, 48 naval vessels and 76 fighter jets.
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Beijing points to the regular US Navy patrols and flyovers of the South China Sea as an example of US militarization and provocations, and a justification for the increased Chinese military presence.
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“By playing up the so-called China’s militarization in the South China Sea, certain people in the US are staging a farce of a thief crying “stop thief”,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in May. “It is self-evident to a keener eye that who is militarizing the South China Sea.”
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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying
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In the past year, the US has stepped up freedom of navigation operations in the region, sailing US naval vessels within miles of China’s artificial islands across the South China Sea.
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The exercises, which the US also conducts in other parts of the world, assert the navy’s right to travel wherever it pleases in international waters, a vital component of Washington’s naval power across the world.
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Time may be running out to effectively challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea however.
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Adm. Philip Davidson, the recently installed head of the US Pacific Command, told Senators during a confirmation hearing in April that China is already very firmly entrenched.
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“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” Davidson said.
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  (propaganda)

  (This is what China cares about what people think….)

(Why give away what you own?)

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Above: China’s seven military bases near the Philippines in the South China Sea

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

South China Sea: ASEAN actions not cause for celebration — “War clouds could be closer, not further away…”

August 7, 2018

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed on a so-called single  working text to continue negotiations for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed South China Sea.

“I am pleased to announce yet another milestone in the COC process,” said Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday, Singapore’s foreign minister, who is hosting the meeting of regional leaders.

They have also agreed on the “key modalities” for future rounds of negotiations, he said in opening remarks at the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting, one of several related meetings held alongside the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore this week.

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Balakrishnan said that the single draft negotiating text will be the basis for future COC negotiations and a living document, which means it will be continually edited and updated as needed. He added that ASEAN and China settled on the negotiating text in June when both sides held talks in Changsha in China’s Hunan province

Both sides hailed the development and said that COC negotiations will accelerate.

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Premature celebration

However, any celebrations that this is a major breakthrough should be carefully examined. ASEAN members have been trying to persuade China for several years to agree to a COC, which merely sets force non-enforceable rules on how each party should conduct itself in the South China Sea.

Related: Russia’s High Risk Global Oil Strategy

As far back as July 2012, China said it was open to launching negotiators over the COC. However, the same year China seized and took possession of Scarborough Shoal, which clearly lies within the Philippines’ (an ASEAN member) UN-mandated 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Since 2012, China has mostly waffled at agreeing to a COC, as it continued to develop installations on reefs and islets in the South China Sea, including putting in place military assets, in an obvious attempt to militarize and control the area. The South China Sea includes shipping lanes that send vital crude oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other goods to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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The fact that China, the master at delaying tactics, has agreed to a working text on a COC after several years of artificial island building is disingenuous at best. Moreover, a formal and completed COC is still likely many years away, allowing China even more time to continue its building in the area.

China’s South China Sea actions has also set Beijing and Washington on a potential collision course as the US navy continues to send what it calls “freedom of navigation voyages” near China’s disputed claims. Angst over China’s moves have also caused the US, Japan, India and Australia to work together to find ways to challenge Beijing’s South China Sea assertions. However, at the end of the day, occasional naval voyages pale in comparison to actual infrastructure and military assets already in place.

Going forward, it appears that China will remain unchecked in its claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, referred to as its nine-dash line, at the dismay of rival claimants in the body of water: Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

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Pushing back

Despite diplomatic efforts by ASEAN over Beijing’s South China Sea buildup, several ASEAN members seem to be taking a different approach by strengthening their coastguards as a way to maintain a presence in the region without risking direct military engagement.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report published on Wednesday that in an effort to stop maritime encounters, with China or each other, escalating into military conflicts, countries with claims to the disputed waterway have been transferring security forces from their navies to their coastguards. “The coastguards have become important strategic cushions between navies in ASEAN,” it said.

The primary reason for nations increasing their coastal forces has been “China’s aggressive maritime strategy,” including the construction of military outposts and distant fishing activities in other countries’ exclusive economic zones, the report said.

Related: A Price Spike Looms For Natural Gas

The use of civilian and coast guard maritime vessels however is already used to great effect by China. Often instead of sending its regular navy, officially called the People’s Liberation Army Navy, China sends its maritime defense vessels or coast guard to do its bidding.

Of the 45 major incidents reported in the South China Sea between 2010 and 2016, 32 involved at least one China Coast Guard or other Chinese maritime law enforcement vessel, the ASPI report added.

Concurrently, China is continually building up its so-called Blue Ocean navy. Peter Jennings, the ASPI director, and a former head of strategy for the Australian Defense Department, said in mid_July that China’s navy could challenge the supremacy of the U.S. Navy in the region within a year.

Oil and gas lurks in background

Oil and gas reserves set the backdrop for this ongoing and potentially explosive geopolitical quagmire. One Chinese estimate places potential oil resources in the South China Sea as high as 213 billion barrels, though many Western analysts have repeatedly claimed that this estimate seems extremely high. A conservative 1993/1994 US Geological Survey (USGS) report estimated the sum total of discovered reserves and undiscovered resources in the offshore basins of the South China Sea at 28 billion barrels – yet, this estimate, for its part, seems particularly low.

Moreover, the 1993/1994 USGS estimate states that natural gas is actually more abundant in the area than oil. According to the USGS, about 60 percent-70 percent of the area’s hydrocarbon resources are gas while the sum total of discovered reserves and undiscovered resources in the offshore basins of the South China Sea is estimated at 266 trillion cubic feet (tcf).

State-owned oil major China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), responsible for most of China’s offshore oil and gas production, claims that the area holds around 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 tcf of gas in undiscovered areas, although the figures have not been confirmed by independent studies.

By Tim Daiss for Oilprice.com

https://oilprice.com/Geopolitics/International/The-Next-Big-Energy-Standoff-Will-Happen-Here.html

Related:

  (propaganda)

  (This is what China cares about what people think….)

(Why give away what you own?)

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Above: China’s seven military bases near the Philippines in the South China Sea

No automatic alt text available.

China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

 

U.S. warships pass through the Taiwan Strait

July 7, 2018

Two U.S. warships passed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday on a voyage that will likely be viewed in the self-ruled island as a sign of support by President Donald Trump amid heightened tension with China.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the ships were moving in a northeastern direction, adding that the situation was in accordance with regulations.

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Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. China regularly says Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.

The U.S. military declined to comment. U.S. officials told Reuters a Strait passage had been planned but declined to elaborate on the timing of such an operation, which would be the first by a U.S. Navy ship in about a year.

The mission follows a series of Chinese military drills around the island that have stoked tensions between Taipei and Beijing.

China claims Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what it sees as a wayward province. Taiwan has shown no interest in being governed by the ruling Communist Party in Beijing.

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89)

The move comes as a U.S.-China trade fight is seen as dragging on for a potentially prolonged period, as the world’s two biggest economies flex their muscles with no sign of negotiations to ease tensions.

Friday marked the start of the U.S. duties that were promptly met with retribution by China, as Beijing accused the United States of triggering the “largest-scale trade war.”

Reuters first reported last month that the United States was considering sending a warship and had examined plans for an aircraft carrier passage, but ultimately did not pursue that option perhaps because of concerns about upsetting China.

The last time a U.S. aircraft carrier transited the Taiwan Strait was in 2007, during the administration of George W. Bush, and some U.S. military officials believe a carrier transit is overdue.

U.S. overtures towards Taiwan, from unveiling a new de facto embassy to passing the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages U.S. officials to visit, have further escalated tension between Beijing and Taipei.

China has alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its carrier through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating it from Taiwan.

In recent months, China’s air force has held military maneuvers near the island, which Taipei has called intimidation.

China’s hostility toward Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.

Reuters

Reporting By Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Peter Graff and Helen Popper

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USS Benfold (DDG-65) and Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) RSS Endurance (LST 207), participate in a PHOTOEX during Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017. US Navy Photo

Taipei Times (Taiwan)

Two US guided-missile destroyers, the USS Mustin (DDG-89) and the USS Benfold (DDG-65), transited the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s southern exclusive economic zone earlier yesterday on an apparent northeasterly course, the Ministry of National Defense said last night.

The ministry in a news release said that the Republic of China Navy monitored the passage of the two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in accordance with regulations.

Military personnel remain vigilant and are at their stations, the ministry said, adding that it is confident of its capability to maintain regional stability and protect the nation.

The crossing follows a statement by US officials last month that the US was considering sending warships through the Strait.

As far as is known, US Navy ships last crossed the Strait under then-US president George W. Bush in 2007, when the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its battle group sailed through the waterway.

The Presidential Office last night said that Taiwan has always valued peace and stability in the Strait and in the region.

As a responsible member of the international community, Taiwan will continue to work to maintain the “status quo” with China and to ensure peace, prosperity and development in the Asia-Pacific region, it said.

The passage of US military vessels through the Strait and the USS Ronald Reagan previously patrolling the South China Sea are strategic preventive actions adopted by the US under its Indo-Pacific strategy, an anonymous source familiar with the matter said.

The purpose is to draw a line to prevent China from damaging the regional “status quo,” as Beijing attempts to challenge it, the source said.

The American Institute in Taiwan was not available for comment as of press time last night.

Additional reporting by Stacy Hsu

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2018/07/08/2003696303

South China Sea: USS Ronald Reagan On Patrol Near The Philippines

June 26, 2018

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USS Ronald Reagan

US ‘supercarrier’ in Philippine waters for routine patrol

Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) – June 26, 2018 – 5:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — A nuclear-powered “supercarrier” of the United States Navy arrived in Manila on Tuesday as part of its routine patrol in the Pacific.

USS Ronald Reagan, the US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, will be in Philippine waters for four days.

The American aircraft carrier is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, which includes guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin and guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville.

The carrier and the strike group have been training in the area of operations of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet while “supporting security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

A photo released by the US Navy showed a Phalanx close-in weapons system being used during a live-fire exercise aboard the aircraft carrier.

Ronald Reagan has officially been on patrol since May 29, when it sailed out of the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.

Its deployment last month came days after China called out the US after USS Antietam and USS Higgins sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the act a “serious infringement on China’s sovereignty.”

Ronald Reagan’s deployment in the region appears to be part of the US’ show of force as China seeks maritime dominance in the South China Sea.

“As we get underway for these operations we will continue to represent the United States as the security partner of choice in the region, to ensure freedom of the seas, drive stability and security and to promote adherence to a rules-based international order,” US Navy Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, Task Force 70 commander, said.

FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION OPERATIONS, SOUTH CHINA SEA, US NAVY, US-PHILIPPINES TIES

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/06/26/1828101/us-supercarrier-philippine-waters-routine-patrol#O7pS36eXtyCQCPdh.99

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Above: China’s stealth fighter

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See also:

Understanding China’s perpetual wars against its neighbours.

https://survivaltricks.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/%E2%80%8Bunderstanding-chinas-perpetual-wars-against-its-neighbours/

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President Duterte walks with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano during the 120th anniversary of the Departmernt of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City.
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Collisions reveal a Navy tragically undone by its can-do spirit

June 25, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the first of seven stories reported as part of a joint project by the Medill News Service and USA TODAY.

YOKOSUKA, Japan — The USS John S. McCain sits in dry dock at the home port of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, where workers swarm in and around the warship, urgently working to get it ready to return to sea. They will repair and paint over the gaping hole in the port side, where last summer a massive oil tanker punched into sleeping spaces, setting off a desperate scramble for survival. The 10 sailors who died had less than a minute to escape as seawater and fuel poured into their sleeping area.

The task is much the same 6,932 miles east, where the destroyer Fitzgerald is being extensively repaired in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Just two months before the McCain collision, the Fitzgerald — then homeported here in Yokosuka — was operating off the coast of Japan when it crossed into the path of a merchant ship. As with the tragedy aboard the McCain, the seven sailors who perished on the Fitzgerald had no warning and little time to get out.

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Damage to the port side is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore on Aug. 21, 2017. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s top officer — Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations — labeled the incidents a “trend” after the McCain collision and ordered a one-day fleet-wide stand-down, a pause to ensure safe operations.

Navy-directed investigations would determine that the collisions that killed 17 sailors were the avoidable, tragic results of disturbingly inept ship handling, communications and decision-making by numerous crew members. Moreover, they would reveal that the Navy long had institutionalized trade-offs on training and maintenance of forward-deployed forces to keep ships and sailors at sea. The increasingly hectic operations tempo — the frequency and duration of deployments — was demanded even as the number of ships and sailors was whittled down.

“As standards begin to drop, they then become acceptable and normal. I think that’s what happened,” said retired admiral Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, in an interview. Roughead, directed by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, led a strategic readiness review into the collisions and the issues affecting fleet operations.

One year after the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, prosecutions continue against commanders and crew members of the two destroyers. Navy leaders implemented a series of changes to restore readiness to the Japan-based fleet, and more are to come. But the demand for Navy presence throughout the vast and volatile region is relentless and the stakes there are higher than in generations, particularly as China seeks to usurp long-held U.S. geopolitical dominance.

Beijing is “attempting to establish itself as a global power and a regionally dominant hegemon,” said Bryan McGrath, a former destroyer commander and managing director of the national security consultancy FerryBridge Group.

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USS Fitzgerald is seen in a dock in Yokosuka, Japan before repairs began

It is “a security environment not seen since before the collapse of the Soviet Union,” concluded the strategic readiness review led by Roughead. It said that “failing to recognize and prepare for its very different challenges will have severe consequences.”

‘That’s just the 7th Fleet for you’

“Despite whether or not we should go, we were going to go — because someone needed a ship,” Lt. Cmdr. Ritarsha Furqan testified during proceedings against two officers on the Fitzgerald’s bridge during the June 17th collision. “Sometimes, it felt unsafe.”

Furqan, who left the Fitzgerald before the collision, portrayed a ship put to sea without the proper training and certification for the crew and its equipment.

She had been called as a defense witness in the May 9th preliminary hearing for Lt. Natalie Combs and Lt. Irian Woodley, the tactical action officer and the surface warfare coordinator on duty on the Fitzgerald the morning of the June 17 collision. Combs faces court-martial on charges of negligent dereliction of duty resulting in death and negligent hazarding of a vessel, according to a Navy statement. Charges were dropped against Woodley, but he will have to appear before an administrative board to determine whether his Navy career should be ended.

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Ashton Cato, who at the time of the collision was in the ship’s Combat Information Center — where radar operators and others work with bridge watch standers to monitor shipping traffic — testified he had worked 13 hours before his watch.

“I felt tired, of course,” he said. “But that’s just the 7th Fleet for you.”

Cato’s testimony echoed concerns raised in the comprehensive review — that ship commanders were demanding longer and longer hours from their sailors, due to the long and frequent periods of sea time served by Japan-based ships and in spite of research showing the negative effects on safety and job performance. The exhausting pace of operations grew year over year even as the number of ships and sailors sharply declined.

Cuts to the fleet began after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall; in the years since the number of ships plunged from nearly 600 to 283 today, and active-duty personnel went from about 600,000 to 325,000 sailors, according to Navy figures. But an evolving shift in focus of U.S. security strategy — from countering the Cold War-era threat of the Soviet Union to responding to a wider range of conflicts, such as civil wars and rogue regimes — has increased the demand on Navy forces to do more over broader areas.

In an interview, Roughead pointed out the great increase in mission demand placed a heavy burden on a 7th Fleet that was “cut in half,” yet responsible for an area that stretched from the West Coast of the U.S. to the western border of India.

Seventh Fleet ships are hard-pressed to meet demand that has grown, especially since operational control was shifted from the Navy to combatant commanders answering to the secretary of Defense. Data on combatant command mission requests, many of which involve classified operations, is not available. A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Navy met about 44 percent of COCOM requests and that fulfilling them all “would require 150 more ships.”

Much of the problem was Navy pride in its “can-do” culture, meaning commanders were often reluctant to use channels to push back against mission requests.

“We need to rebalance the demand side and the supply side,” Roughead said. “And I think that the weight of the [combatant commander] and the desire to accomplish the mission has been trumping the supply side. And the supply side should’ve been saying not ready, don’t have the numbers to go.”

Which is exactly what Furqan, the former Fitzgerald officer, testified she told her leadership.

“I was told ‘they know,’” she said. “We were still told to go.”

In just one year — from 2015 to 2016 — the pace of operations for 7th Fleet cruisers and destroyers increased 40 percent, from 116 days underway to 162 days. The intensifying pace cut into time available for crew training and ship maintenance, leaving much of that to be done on the fly — or sometimes not at all. A 2015 GAO report found incidents of “degraded or out-of-service equipment” doubled from 2010 to 2015 and the material condition of overseas-based ships “decreased slightly” faster than U.S.-based ships. Further, the report pointed out limited training and maintenance periods for overseas ships “resulted in difficulty keeping crews fully trained and ships maintained.”

That was underscored in the comprehensive review of the collisions, ordered by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran. It said cuts in available training time led to a steep decline in completed warfare certifications — necessary qualifications in areas such as navigation and damage control. They plunged across the 7th Fleet, from 93 percent in 2014 to 62 percent in 2016, largely because 7th Fleet ships were widely allowed waivers of certifications if obtaining them conflicted with the need to send a ship on a mission.

A 2017 GAO report found that 37 percent of warfare certifications for cruisers and destroyers based in Japan had expired — including those for seamanship.

60 seconds until impact

The story of the Fitzgerald crash is one of stunning inaction. Just after midnight on June 17, 2017, the destroyer was proceeding across a nautical traffic lane off the coast of Japan, a busy shipping channel in which situational awareness was of paramount importance. One of the ships proceeding perpendicularly to the destroyer was the hulking ACX Crystal, a Filipino container ship over three times the size of the Fitzgerald. The Crystal had the right of way, but the Navy watch team became confused and steered directly into its path.

A Navy report on the collision was particularly critical of the unnamed officer of the deck – in charge of the watchstanders and responsible for safe maneuvering – for not being aware the ship was on a collision course or taking action to avoid it “until it was too late.” That officer, later identified as Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock, failed to try to contact the Crystal’s operators or sound a collision alarm.

The Crystal smashed into the warship’s right side, ripping a 220-square-foot hole through the gray decks and into the spaces where sailors worked and slept.

The sailors trapped inside mangled spaces aboard the destroyer had less than a minute to escape. The seven sailors who died were trapped in their sleeping space, called Berthing 2, as it filled with seawater in about 90 seconds. Accounts of the scramble for survival are harrowing.

One of the Berthing 2 sailors to survive the crash struggled to escape, as the space filled not only with water but also mangled metal and other debris. Finding a small, final air pocket, the sailor took a last breath — and lost consciousness. He told investigators that he does not remember how he escaped from the area, but was ultimately found emerging from the flooded berthing into the sleeping space above.

The Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was trapped in his cabin by the impact, which demolished his sleeping quarters, blocking the exit door and exposing the CO to open sky. Sailors scrambled to force open the door of his ruined quarters, but by the time they were able to recover him, Benson was left hanging from the side of the ship.

Benson awaits court-martial on charges including negligent dereliction of duty resulting in death, negligent hazarding of a vessel and negligent dereliction of duty, the Navy announced. The officer overseeing all disciplinary matters regarding both the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions tossed out the more serious charge of negligent homicide.

According to USNI News, Benson’s attorneys have argued that he never was alerted that the ship was in danger, “in direct contravention of his standing orders,” and had only been in command of the ship for five weeks. His attorneys also accused senior Navy leaders of having “repeatedly used public forums to assign guilt, foreclose legitimate defenses, and cast unwarranted aspersions.” Benson declined his right to a preliminary hearing. A date for his court-martial has not yet been announced.

Coppock pled guilty to dereliction of duty at a court-martial in May and was fined six weeks’ pay and issued a letter of reprimand. She waived her right to an administrative discharge, meaning the Navy could end her service.

The Navy has also pressed charges against multiple sailors on the USS McCain, including its commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez. The official Navy report on the McCain collision was released jointly with that of the Fitzgerald last October.

Shortly before dawn on Aug. 21, McCain’s navigation team was attempting to maneuver a busy shipping channel east of Singapore when Sanchez issued a series of bungled orders to his watch team in an attempt to divide up speed and throttle control duties. Sanchez’s orders resulted in mass confusion among the sailors steering the ship as well as an inadvertent turn to the left — directly into the path of an oil and chemical tanker. Navigation team members attempted to right the ship about three minutes before the collision, but it was already too late. The tanker, the Alnic MC, bore a hole into the McCain’s left side that was 28 feet in diameter.

As with the Fitzgerald, the impact site included berthing spaces, where sailors sleep. Ten sailors were unable to escape in time and perished in the accident.

Investigators determined that the collision was the result of “poor judgment and decision making of the Commanding Officer,” as well as a crew that was “unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation.”

Sanchez pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty on May 25, 2018, after negligent homicide charges were dropped. As part of the agreement, he has also announced his plans to retire.

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Jeffery D. Butler, a 20-year Navy veteran, pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty for his failure in training crews on the system used to steer the ship. He was busted down a rank at court-martial May 24, restricted for 60 days and fined two-thirds of a month’s pay.

Sanchez pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty on May 25 and was given a letter of reprimand and fined a total of $6,000 and will submit a retirement request.

Though prosecutions related to the two collisions continue, they have already ended the careers of the top commander in the Pacific, the commander of the 7th Fleet and other of the Navy’s most senior brass in its forward deployed forces in Japan.

Searching for solutions

Navy leadership now is tasked with confronting the complex challenges of restoring its forward deployed forces to a condition where they can meet threats posed by China and other regional flash points without unduly risking ships and lives.

“The United States is in the midst of a long-term strategic competition with China, and they’re playing chess while we’re playing checkers,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a member of the House Armed Services Committee.  “It’s time to get our act together… as quickly as possible to ensure the next century is an American one.”

Many of the recommended improvements outlined in the strategic review and comprehensive review are dependent on Congress granting the Navy additional funding, Navy officials say.

The Navy’s base budget for fiscal 2018 is $171.5 billion, a seven percent increase over the 2017 level. The Navy has requested $194.1 billion for the coming fiscal year. Some members of Congress plan to push for funding in the 2019 defense budget, including new readiness evaluation requirements, and instructions to bring ships deployed overseas back to the United States every 10 years.

However, without the time to wait for legislation to pass, the 7th Fleet has already begun implementing improvements, racing to reset crew training and ship conditions with an urgency not seen for a long time. That has meant easing the pace of operations, at least in the near term.

“Before [the collisions] happened, it was a rarity to see ships in port,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, an officer stationed in Yokosuka. “And I’ve heard that over and over before, that before it was uncommon to see multiple [ships] here. If you look around you, there are ships everywhere, and they’re here doing training, they’re here doing maintenance.”

After the collisions, Navy leaders established the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific to oversee the maintenance, training, and certification needs of Japan-based ships. Ships and crews now will receive dedicated training and maintenance time. If the new NSG determines a particular ship is not ready for a mission, it will remain in port until it is.

At the same time, the Navy has lengthened the time sailors are assigned to forward-deployed ships to reduce turnover and take advantage of skills gained over time.

Capt. Wilson Marks, commanding officer of the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, said longer 7th Fleet tours allow for better consistency within the unit.

“Now we get people on board for four years, as opposed to the two or three years we’d get them before. So you’d get them all trained up and then they’d leave,” Marks said. “Now we’re going to be able to have them for a longer period of time and consistency

Vice Adm. Woody Lewis, a vice chief of the Navy, is directing many of the changes being implemented across the service and to forward-deployed forces. One of the key changes is in ensuring sailors no longer are routinely worked to the point of exhaustion. New schedules provide for more rest.

“Some of the understanding of what came out of the Fitzgerald and McCain mishaps — there were watch standers that weren’t getting enough sleep,” he said. “[You have to] be able to rest so you can operate and perform at a standard that is needed in that environment.”

Lewis says the quick fixes are having an impact, but acknowledges the longer challenge facing the entire Navy as other world powers ambitiously build up their navies and seek control of global waterways.

“To basically be more lethal, have more power, have more capability, to beat the potential adversaries and competitors out there — that is going to take time,” he said.

Why China’s Anti-Air Exercises in the South China Sea Should Spook the U.S. Military

June 23, 2018

China’s Navy recently conducted anti-air exercises in the South China Sea.

The drills were reported by the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post (SCMP), which cited an article in the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the Chinese military’s official newspaper. The drills simulated defeating an aerial attack, the SCMP said, and including “three target drones making flyovers of a ship formation at varying heights and directions.” The PLA Daily report said that the drones were used to “precisely verify the feasibility and effectiveness to ensure a close stimulation of an aerial attack target.” The Chinese military’s paper added that drones had been used during exercises at least thirty times before. As the SCMP pointed out, the Chinese military didn’t release many details about the drills, including the precise timing, location or what Chinese Navy ships participated.

As others have noted, these anti-air drills come on the heels of two U.S. B-52 bombers challenging China’s claims of sovereignty over artificial islands it built in the South China Sea. On June 5, two B-52 bombers—which, unlike the B-1, are nuclear capable—flew within twenty miles of the Spratly Islands, according to CNN. The exact parts of the Spratly Islands weren’t mentioned in the report. The United States has repeatedly sent warships to sail in the vicinity of China’s artificial islands as a way to challenge Beijing’s excessive sovereignty claims. The Spratly Islands are also claimed in part or in whole by Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.

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In 2013, Washington also used B-52s to challenge China’s claim of an air-defense identification zone around the East China Sea. The decision to use bombers to challenge China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea is unusual but may have been a response to reports that Beijing had landed its own bombers on the artificial islands in recent weeks.

It is unclear if the anti-air drills were related to the B-52 overflights given that China has been ramping up the number and intensity of its military exercises. On the same day that China’s media reported the exercise in the South China Sea, President Xi Jinping visited a naval base where he once again emphasized the need for more, realistic combat training. “How is simulation-based training going? Can the facilities meet the demands? Are there any challenges?” Xi said to submarine units during the visit. Chinese media reports added that “Xi said the intensity of training needs to be enhanced, its modules to be innovated, and its supervision to be strengthened. He stressed the need for targeted training, training for commanders, and training under combat conditions.” To that end, Chinese military commentators have been claiming recently that one-third of Beijing’s defense budget goes to training.

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The increased training tempo has been seen repeatedly. Just this week the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted its first competitive live-munition underwater anti-mine warfare exercise. “Bombers, minesweepers and mine-hunting ships of multiple PLA theater commands participated in ‘back-to-back’ tests in the East China Sea, which included covert installation of underwater mines by air units, navigational path clearance by surface ships, and mine detection and sweeping,” news reports said. Meanwhile, in April of this year President Xi oversaw what was described as the “largest naval parade” in Chinese history. The two days of drills in the South China Sea included forty-eight naval vessels, seventy-six fighter jets and at least 10,000 personnel.

One drill that China will not be taking part of is the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The biannual exercise—held around Hawaii and California—is the world’s largest international maritime exercise. The exercise will begin this year on June 27 and end in early August. Around twenty-five nations are scheduled to participate including Brazil, Israel, Sri Lanka and Vietnam for the first time. China participated in the noncombat parts of the drills in 2014 and 2016. It was scheduled to join them again this year but the United States withdrew the invitation, citing China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region. As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense said last month. “We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea. China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.” The spokesperson added that these moves have violated President Xi’s pledge not to militarization the artificial islands Beijing built in the South China Sea.

Zachary Keck (@ZacharyKeck) is a former managing editor of the National Interest.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/why-chinas-anti-air-exercises-should-spook-the-us-military-26387

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Trump’s Order on Migrant Families Sends Administration Scrambling

June 23, 2018

Confusion over executive order resembles travel ban’s aftermath

A Honduran woman and her child on a border bridge into Brownsville, Texas.
A Honduran woman and her child on a border bridge into Brownsville, Texas. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

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WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s executive order to end the separation of undocumented families at the southern border was written in a day, but it’ll take months to take effect as agencies fight over how to implement it.

The confusion that followed Wednesday’s hastily signed order at the White House was reminiscent of one of Mr. Trump’s first acts in office—issuing a travel ban that was aimed largely at immigrants and visitors from Muslim-majority countries without allowing agencies to prepare for its implementation.

The ban created chaos at airports and sparked protests across the country. Lower courts blocked it, and much of a successor order, from taking effect. A third version was allowed to take effect as a Supreme Court case is pending.

Mr. Trump’s ability to throw off his agencies was laid bare at a meeting at the White House Thursday night, when Homeland Security officials expressed skepticism that the zero-tolerance policy was legally and logistically feasible, while Justice Department officials insisted prosecutions of undocumented adults who entered the U.S. could and should continue, a person familiar with the meeting said. There was lingering disagreement during another White House meeting Friday afternoon.

“It would be very helpful to the White House, at this point, to create a task force that can implement it and the president knows what he signed is going to be carried out with the intent that he signed,” said Bradley Blakeman, who served as a senior White House adviser to President George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Trump’s approach—while popular among his die-hard supporters—creates headaches for his advisers well beyond those implementing immigration policies. For instance, Mr. Trump’s tweet last year declaring a ban of transgender service members caught senior military leaders off guard. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded with an internal memo to military service chiefs stating that, for now, “there will be no modifications” to current policy.

And Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser on immigration, frequently abandoned conventional interagency agenda items during immigration meetings with administration officials, opting instead to deliver campaign-style speeches about the perils of weak immigration laws, according to administration officials.

Mr. Trump’s latest order on immigration puts heavy demands on federal agencies, which scramble to interpret the president’s directives, at times, with little or no precedent, and the prospect of their efforts being upended by congressional or legal action. They are also being asked to implement a challenging new program immediately and with fewer key staff in place at the White House or elsewhere to guide them.

Senior administration officials spent much of Thursday and Friday trying to establish what the executive order means, getting closer to consensus but not reaching it yet. This delayed any prospect of concrete guidance to agencies.

Under the existing immigration and custodial system, the Department of Health and Human Services has been responsible for the care of immigrant children, while the Justice Department sets prosecutions policy and overseas units such as the U.S. Marshals, while the Department of Homeland Security’s agencies handle enforcement and detention.

“The government is so big and complicated and there are so many moving pieces to a policy like this one that has both an international and domestic policy component,” said Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of staff under former President Barack Obama. “You have to have someone bringing together all the agencies of the government to consider the options, analyze and weigh those options and bring them to the president for consideration.”

The U.S. Navy is now crafting plans to house tens of thousands of immigrants on bases in California, Alabama and Arizona, a sign that the Pentagon anticipates a growing role for itself in the detention of migrants, according to a U.S. defense official.

The plans, detailed in an internal Navy memo, call for building facilities that could include tent cities for as many as 25,000 people for six months at one site, the official said. Existing facilities at two other military installations could each hold thousands of additional detainees, the memo states, according to the official. The memo’s contents were first reported by Time.

The plans don’t specify whether the space would hold children, adults or families. Rather it plans for bed space, the official said.

The Pentagon declined to offer any details about its planning, but noted it had not received any formal request for space from the White House or any other agency struggling to respond to the immigration order.

“The Department of Defense is conducting prudent planning and is looking nationwide at DoD installations should DHS ask for assistance in housing adult illegal immigrants. At this time there has been no request from DHS for DoD support to house illegal migrants,” Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-order-on-migrant-families-sends-administration-scrambling-1529716811

China’s Pacific Islands Push Has the U.S. Worried

June 18, 2018

In the gritty, steamy streets of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, signs of China’s push into the Pacific island nation are inescapable.

A Chinese worker stencils a logo for China Railway Group outside the new national courthouse it’s building; China Harbor Engineering Group laborers tar roads under the searing midday sun.

“Little by little they are taking slices of our businesses,” said Martyn Namorong, who campaigns to protect local jobs and communities as China ramps up infrastructure spending in the resource-rich nation, often bringing its own workforce. “My people feel we can’t compete.”

The nation of 8 million people is the latest frontier in Beijing’s bid for global influence that’s included building artificial reefs in the South China Sea, a military base in Africa and an ambitious trade-and-infrastructure plan spanning three continents.

Advertisement for China Construction Bank outside the airport in Port Moresby.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

China’s thrust into the Pacific islands region, a collection of more than a dozen tiny nations including Fiji, Niue and Timor Leste scattered across thousands of miles of ocean, has the U.S. and its close ally Australia worried. The region played a key role in World War II and remains strategically important as Western powers seek to maintain open sea lines and stability. For Beijing, it offers raw materials, from gas to timber, and a clutch of countries who could voice support for its territorial claims.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in China’s state-directed economic investment and mobilization of an enormous amount of capital in the Pacific which clearly has a strategic intent,” said Eric B. Brown, a senior fellow in Asian affairs at Washington-based think tank the Hudson Institute. “The sovereignty of these nations could be compromised by these predatory economic methods. And that could create a military threat to countries such as Australia and effect the ability of the U.S. Navy and its allies to maintain freedom and order in the Pacific.”

Debt Trap

China’s lending practices related to the Belt and Road Initiative have raised concerns among the International Monetary Fund and the Trump administration that poorer countries wouldn’t be able to repay heavy debts. Sri Lanka is considered an example of what could go wrong for developing nations: China received a 99-year lease for a strategic port after the government in Colombo couldn’t repay loans.

Read more: Costly Lessons for Leaders Eyeing China’s Belt-and-Road Billions

Indeed China has overtaken Japan as Papua New Guinea’s largest bilateral creditor and by the end of the year PNG will owe it about $1.9 billion in concessional loans — almost a quarter of its total debt burden. Standard & Poor’s in April lowered the nation’s sovereign credit rating to B from B+, citing rising costs of servicing debt that’s climbed above 30 percent of gross domestic product and is expected to reach about 40 percent by 2021.

The IMF warns that other recipients of Chinese money in the region — tiny nations such as Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu — have moderate to high risks of debt distress.

While the largess flowing into the Pacific from Beijing is a fraction of the $350 billion of Chinese aid distributed globally since 2000, it’s still big money for the nations, most with populations under 1 million. In April, the French Polynesian government approved construction of a $320 million Chinese fish farm.

Military Presence

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, says “there’s no doubt” China could seek to establish a military presence in the Pacific in the future, cashing in its influence with “one of these small, vulnerable states.”

“It intends to become the primary power in east Asia and the western Pacific,” White said.

Governments in the region have sought to strike a balance between accepting China’s cash and resisting moves that would raise concern among Western military powers. Vanuatu in April denied media reports that China had approached it to build a permanent military base in one of its harbors.

Peter O’Neill and Xi Jinping in July 2016.
Photographer: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Getty Images

The office of PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who’s due to meet President Xi Jinping in China later this week, didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment. When O’Neill visited Beijing in 2016, he pledged support for China’s military build up in the South China Sea. In December, a month after China promised to construct $3.5 billion of roads, O’Neill said PNG will continue to be a “staunch partner.”

Beijing’s push into the Pacific islands risks further straining ties with key trading partner Australia — which views the region as its own diplomatic backyard and has been increasingly critical of China’s economic and military muscle-flexing.

During a visit to the region this month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said “we want to continue to be the partner of choice for nations in the Pacific.” Her government on June 13 signed an agreement to build a new undersea telecommunications cable to the Solomon Islands, squeezing out a bid by China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd.

Papua New Guinea has traditionally looked to Australia — from which it won independence in 1975 — for a helping hand. Outside of the capital, the nation’s woeful roads network has helped push prices of food staples beyond what many can afford. It’s also struggling with an illiteracy rate of 35 percent, poor tax collection and endemic corruption.

Australia is still its largest donor, contributing more than three-quarters of total aid and loans compared to China’s 14 percent. Yet the majority is directed to improving corporate governance, while Beijing has focused on infrastructure and major works.

‘Red Carpet’

Nursing a cool drink at a sports club in Port Moresby, British-born business adviser Paul Barker said China was stepping into a vacuum left by the west.

“The government in Beijing has rolled out the red carpet and our leaders seem to be a bit intoxicated by the experience,” said Barker, who’s lived in his adopted nation for more than four decades.

Australia’s assistant trade minister Mark Coulton acknowledged the merits of China’s investment as he sat in one of Port Moresby’s few five-star hotels near the Beijing-gifted convention center where APEC leaders will meet in November.

“You can’t deny your neighbor if someone is looking to build something they really need,” he said. “Our role is to give the PNG government and people the ability” to “handle influxes of foreign aid like those that are now occurring.”

China’s foreign ministry, which didn’t respond to a request for comment, in April said Pacific island nations weren’t in the “sphere of influence of any country” and called on Australia not to interfere.

China Railway Group signage at the construction site of the new national courthouse.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University, dismissed concerns that large concessional loans leave nations vulnerable to “debt-trap diplomacy” and said China’s expanded role in the Pacific is a natural consequence of its growing economic clout.

“It’s scaremongering to think this will lead to any military design or ambition in the Pacific,” Wang said in a phone interview from Beijing. “We will see China increase its presence there and it will keep helping these countries build their infrastructure.”

China is in the region to stay, said Jonathan Pryke of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

“China has entered the Pacific in a significant way,” said Pryke. “It’s upended the status quo and caused anxiety, because no-one knows what its end-game is.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-17/china-s-pacific-islands-push-has-the-u-s-worried