Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

China Launches New Class of Naval Destroyer — Type 055 destroyer — Or is it a cruiser?

June 28, 2017

BEIJING — China’s military on Wednesday launched a new type of domestically-built destroyer, state media said, the latest addition to the country’s rapidly expanding navy.

The 10,000-tonne warship was launched at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, the official Xinhua news agency said, making it the first of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s “new generation” destroyers.

“It is equipped with new air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons,” Xinhua said, without giving further details.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said the ship was believed to be the first Type 055 destroyer, which is considered to be a successor class to the smaller Type 052D guided missile destroyers.

China is still producing the latter and commissioned one, the Xining, in January.

Chinese media showed photos of the new ship covered in streamers and flags and flanked by rows of sailors.

The vessel will have to undergo planned testing before it is commissioned into use.

China is producing warships at a rapid clip as it modernizes its navy, which has been taking an increasingly prominent role among the country’s armed forces.

State media has said that the navy commissioned 18 ships, including destroyers, corvettes and guided-missile frigates in 2016.

In April, China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier, a conventionally powered ship that likely won’t enter service until 2020.

China’s naval build-up, and it’s increasingly assertive stance over disputed territory in the South China, has unnerved its neighbors.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and has been building up military facilities like runways on the islands it controls.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry)


The images from Changxingdao show the module that will contain the forward vertical launch system (VLS) cells, with a second grid of cells set to be positioned forward of the hangar.

The forward grid appears to be divided into 16 sections, four across and four deep, with overall dimensions of 13 m in length and 10.5 m in width.

Comparison with the dimensions of the two 32-cell VLS grids fitted to the Type 052D suggests that the VLS in the Type 055 will have 64 cells in the forward grid.


China has a new larger Type 055 destroyer. I has an estimated displacement of 12,000 tons and and overall length of 180 meters. The latest USA Arleigh Burke Flight IIA weighs in at 9,200 tons, with an overall length of 155 meters. The proposed Flight III upgrade adds an estimated 600 tons displacement without any changes to LOA or beam dimensions.

Initial cost estimates for the first of the four planned Type 055 DDGs is in excess of $5 billion Yuan ($750 million USD). The GOA reported in 2016, that the per-unit cost of an Arleigh Burke Flight IIA is approximately $1.19 billion USD.

Satellite imagery taken of the Jiangnan Shipyard show the Type 055’s under construction.

The Eastpendulum site has satellite imagery from November 2016. It seems to show a third Type 055 Destroyer is being built at Dalian shipyard in Northern China. The first two hulls are currently under construction at Jiangnan Changxing naval shipyard new Shanghai. Type 055 is the next generation class of Guided-Missile Destroyer (DDG) for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy).

The first vessel is likely to be launched in early 2017 while delivery to the PLAN (navy) should not happen until 2018 at the earliest.

The chinese navy is still building the current Type 052D destroyer which is half the size. Both Dalian and Jiangnan naval shipyards are showing several under construction. This is a sign that the Type 055 will not replace the role of Type 052D: The Chinese navy will acquire and operate destroyers of both types displacing 6,000 and 12,000 tons. Sources indicate that Type 052D and Type 055 seem to share a great deal of systems, such as phased array radars, vertical launch systems, main gun, CIWS, as well as possibly the hull mounted and towed sonars.

Satellite imagery of JNCX shipyard near Shanghai over the last few months has shown an impressive pace of work on the first unit of the 055 class large destroyer. Current estimates for the launch of the first unit project it to occur by mid 2017 at the earliest, but also possibly later on in the year.

A not insubstantial volume of defence media hoopla and speculation has surrounded this ship over the last few years since the first photos of the 055 class land based mock up surfaced in mid 2014. Some outlets have even taken the questionable route of comparing 055 to the US Navy’s Zumwalt class destroyer or jumping the gun even further and describing the 055 as a “dreadnought”.

Needless to say, once the first 055 destroyer is launched later this year and once photos of its launch spread their way across the internet, it is likely that the defence media will write even more rabid articles about the 055, and it is likely mainstream news media will report on this as well. One can also expect the launch of the first 055 to be linked with current geopolitical tensions in the Western Pacific (or at least placed within that context), and will also likely be described within the overall modernization effort the Chinese military is engaged in.

This write up therefore will seek to establish a few clear parameters for the 055 itself, including what we know (and don’t know) about its physical characteristics, role, the number to be built, and what its overall capabilities may look like. This will be followed by cautionary statements about how the 055 destroyer should be viewed within the larger framework of the (virtually inevitable) media excitement that will likely engulf this topic.


But first – why do we care?

It is a natural question to ask – why is the 055 news-worthy, and why has there been media chatter about this ship at all over the last few years? Sure, it is a new class of Chinese warship, and any new Chinese military development over the last few years has been met with a decent flurry of media activity, but what’s so special about the 055?

The answer, is size. Prior to the 055, the largest indigenous and modern surface combatant that the Chinese Navy has inducted is the ~7,000 ton full displacement 052D class destroyer, the first of which was launched in 2012 and entered service in 2014 (as of March 2017, five such ships are in service with another six in various stages of sea trials or fitting out and additional ships under construction). The 055 class destroyer on the other hand, is likely to be a significantly larger destroyer than the 052D class. Current estimates based on its dimensions and reliable rumours put its full displacement well over 12,000 tons and likely approaching 13,000 tons (more on this later) – in other words, the 055 will be the largest surface combatant the Chinese Navy has ever inducted up to that point.

Furthermore, at 12,000-13,000 tons full displacement, the 055 would also be one of the largest modern surface combatants built in recent memory. Only the Zumwalt class destroyer would be larger, with a full displacement of over 15,000 tons. Size does matter when judging a warship’s capability and potential, and large size also conveys a more psychological and headline grabbing factor as well. Calling the 055 a “super destroyer” or “cruiser” or (wincingly) a “dreadnought” plays to the imagination of the reader.


055 – characteristics

Speculation surrounding the 055’s physical characteristics have begun to consolidate after the initial wide range of estimates in 2014-2015, partly due to the prevalence of satellite photos over the last year showing the first ship advancing in construction, but also partly due to greater clarity from credible rumour sources and insiders. An initial overview made by yours truly here in 2016, and while most of the information remains relevant, it is wise to update some of it in light of new evidence.

For now, the current consensus of 055’s physical dimensions appear to hover around:

  • Length: over 175 meters but under 180 meters
  • Beam: about 20 meters, perhaps a little bit more but not likely more than 21 meters
  • Full displacement: over 12,000 tons but probably not above 13,000 tons, given the ship’s physical dimensions and the ship’s topside hull and superstructure configuration
  • Draft: hard to judge at this stage but likely proportional to the ship’s length and beam

By comparison, the Ticonderoga class cruiser has a length of 173 meters, a beam of 16.8 meters, and a full displacement of 9,600 tons, while the Flight IIA Burke class destroyer has a length of 155 meters, a beam of 20 meters and a full displacement of 9,200 tons. The Zumwalt class destroyer has a length of 180 meters, a beam of 24 meters  and a full displacement in excess of 15,000 tons. It is worth mentioning that Chinese language media (both official and non-official) have often referred to the 055 destroyer as a “10,000 ton class destroyer” however this is a translation of the term “wan dun qu hu jian” or “ten thousand ton destroyer” which is more a reflection of the ship being in the “10,000 ton” weight class rather than having its empty, standard, or full displacement be at 10,000 tons exactly.

In terms of armament, the 055 is expected to field the same universal VLS first fielded aboard the 052D class destroyer, but in greater numbers. Consistent estimates based on rumours and based on 055’s configuration suggest a likely VLS number of 112-128 VLS cells, though there have been less credible suggestions that it may be as low as 96 cells, but at present the consensus suggests a 112-128 VLS count. Some seemingly official state media outlets have also suggested that the 055 will have a VLS count of 128, however we won’t know what the situation really is until we get pictures of the real thing. Other secondary armament that is widely expected to be present includes the H/PJ-38 130mm main gun, the H/PJ-11 30mm CIWS, and the HHQ-10 missile CIWS, as well as torpedo tubes.

There have been suggestions that the 055 may field rail guns or lasers/DEWs in the future, however this would be dependent on the ship’s mode of propulsion. The “initial batch” of 055s are expected to field four QC-280 gas turbines (the same kind which partially powers the 052D) arranged in a COGAG fashion, however it is widely expected that a subsequent 055 variant will field an Integrated Electric Propulsion system that would enable more power hungry weapons like rail guns or DEWs Chinese Naval R&D into IEPS has been quite well known in the PLA watching community, where Rear Admiral Ma Weiming is a significant driver (he is the same person behind the the Chinese Navy’s EM catapult programme), so a future “055A” with IEPS is currently considered to be on the cards for the future.

In terms of sensors, the 055 is expected to adopt some sensors that have been fielded on previous ships like the Type 346A APAR from the 052D class destroyer, but also possibly new sensors like an X band APAR and potentially a new volume search radar, but these have yet to be confirmed. The 055 will likely field a similar ASW/sonar sensor suite to the 052D, including a towed sonar and a variable depth sonar (an aft hatch for a VDS may already have been sighted in the 055’s hull). The 055 has also consistently been suggested to field much enhanced command and control and combat management capability over its predecessors, and given it is a newer ship and a much larger ship allowing for more internal processing power and volume for command staff, this is not unexpected. However the relative advancement of software and hardware behind such advances would not likely to ever be known.

The 055 is confirmed to have two helicopter hangars, but the type of helicopter they are meant to employ is not known. Previous rumours have suggested they would employ the Z-18F large ASW helicopter, but recent pictures of the ship under construction seem to suggest the hangars would only be able to accommodate a medium helicopter like Z-9, Ka-27 or Seahawk sized aircraft.

The 055 is also expected to field advancements in signature management compared to its predecessors, and this can partly be seen even in the Wuhan mock up’s greater integration of topside structures like the deckhouse and the smoke stack. The 055’s bow/prow also appears to be the first major Chinese surface combatant to be “enclosed” where bow knick knacks like anchors are placed below decks. However the 055 almost definitely does not seek to achieve a level of stealth that the Zumwalt class destroyer does.

The 055s bow module, showing the enclosed nature of its foredeck


055 – numbers

A big part of the 055 media story will be about its size, but perhaps the bigger and more geopolitically important issue is just how many 055s will be built. After all, one only needs to look at the Zumwalt class destroyer to see a very advanced and potentially very capable ship that has had its numbers significantly cut and causing unit price and subsystem price to inflate, causing further consequences for each ship’s capability. Indeed, with only three Zumwalt class destroyers to be built and the Flight III Burke destroyer slated to supplement and replace the US Navy’s ageing Ticonderoga class cruisers in the post 2020 era, it is instructive to understand the importance of quantity rather than only quality.

Past rumours have suggested that the 055s will not be built in small numbers. Indications for an “initial batch” was placed at anywhere between 4 to 8 ships, with subsequent batch orders to be followed, and the ships would be built at least two shipyards: JNCX (Jiangnan Changxing) near the city of Shanghai, and DL (Dalian) at the city of Dalian. The pace of construction was expected to be respectable but not too fast or too slow. JNCX was expected to build a couple of ships first and launch them before DL began construction of them.

Initial photos of the first 055 unit under construction at JNCX appeared on the Chinese internet in June 2016, as expected. However, subsequent satellite photos from a number of sources then indicated that the pace of construction at JNCX was faster than expected. Indeed, by early October, the modules for the first 055’s hull were all identified by satellite, but a new module appeared at that same time and it was realized this module was likely for a second 055 unit. Subsequent photos in November and December then showed the first 055′ major hull modules joined and assembled together and placed under cover for further work, while additional modules for the second 055 unit at JNCX also emerged and began assembly, and starting to look like what the first 055’s modules looked like in June, six months earlier.

Initial satellite photo of modules for the first 055 at JNCX, taken in July 2016, highlighted in red
Satellite photo taken of JNCX in August, 2016, showing the same modules of the first 055 unit
Satellite photo of JNCX taken in October 2016, depicting modules for the first 055 unit (red) showing the bow module and amidships/aft module, as well as an additional module for the second 055 unit (green)
Satellite photo of 055 taken in November 2016. The modules for the first 055 unit have been fully joined and partially placed under cover with elevated side structures for work. An additional module for the second 055 unit is also indicated compared to October (green)
Satellite photo taken in December 2016, showing further work on 055 unit 1 and assembly/joining of the two previously separate modules of 055 unit 2

Even more surprising than JNCX’s relatively fast pace of construction, was work at DL, which presented a surprise when satellite photos in late November 2016 appeared to show a large number of 055 modules in its staging yard, corresponding with insiders who confirmed with ground based photos that the modules were indeed for 055s. Photos in December 2016 and January 2017 further confirmed additional 055 modules being placed in the staging yard, with enough 055 modules estimated for at least 2 055s, potentially up to 3. While it was expected that DL would start construction of 055s eventually, it came as a surprise to see so many 055 modules at such a stage of relative completion, before JNCX had yet to even launch the first 055 unit.

A number of 055 modules were seen at DL in late Novemer 2016
A satellite photo of DL in early December 2016 indicated advancements, where some additional modules were added to the staging area. Yellow indicates modules judged to be necessary for one full 055 hull, while blue indicates modules that may be for a second hull
A satellite photo of DL in late January 2017 confirms that additional 055 modules have been moved to the staging area in the shipyard, now with enough modules for at least two, potentially nearly three full 055 hulls, indicated in yellow, blue and purple. It is suspected that the modules may be moved and assembled into hulls in the large drydock adjacent to the staging area

Accompanying the emergence of these satellite photos in late 2016 and early 2017, were rumours that the Chinese Navy has increased the order of 055s in its initial batch, beyond the initially suspected 8 units (which was the high end estimate anyway), to potentially double digits (a number thrown around so far as been 12). Whether it means more ships will be inducted in the same amount of time (i.e.: increased production/commissioning rate), or if it the rate of construction will remain the same, is not yet known, but seeing the pace of construction at both JNCX and DL shipyards, it is easy to think it may be the former.

As of present, at least four 055 hulls (or modules for that many ships), have been positively identified. The final number of 055s to be built will not be known for many years, however it can be safely assumed to be significantly more than three (re: Zumwalt). The 055 is likely to spawn subsequent variants with advanced subsystems as they mature, such as IEPS, new sensors and exotic weapons like rail guns and DEWs. One only needs to look at how the original 052 class destroyer later gave way to the 052D.


055 – role

With the 055’s characteristics and numbers out of the way, one is able to make more informed speculation about the 055’s role. And in a way, this is perhaps the easiest task to do. When looking at the Chinese Navy’s missions and requirements over the next few decades, an increased demand for long range blue water operations becomes very apparent.

The 055 will take up the role of a traditional long range surface combatant – or as it may be called, a “cruiser”. The 055 will take the responsibility for being the primary “shield” of a task force like a carrier strike group, with the most capable air defence and command and combat management facilities among all the escorts in the group (which would include medium weight destroyers like 052C/Ds and 054As and the future frigate). 055s will also be large enough to conduct independent long range patrols when necessary, as well as likely able to be arranged with other 055s and smaller 052Ds to form surface action groups for missions if they demand it.

Numbers matter – if the Chinese Navy only had a handful of 055s at its disposal, the ability for the Navy to conduct those missions will be limited due to low availability of the ship type. However, over the next decade it is likely that a fairly large number of 055s will enter service. While they will definitely not be the most numerous ship type in the Chinese Navy by any means, they will likely be built in significant enough numbers to complement the large number of blue water capable air defence frigates and aegis-type medium weight destroyers to fill a much needed capability gap in the Navy.

It is also rather surprising that an official PLA affiliated news outlet was quite candid and accurate in describing the role of the 055, stating “Type 055 undertakes multiple combat functions and is also responsible for escorting aircraft carrier battle group”. This of course is entirely sensible and consistent with what would be expected from this ship.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the PLA has been sensitive about how English language defence media have been portraying the 055 class as a “cruiser” as well as its potential to be a “game changer” in naval warfare.

From the same previous article, published in late February 2017:

The reporter noticed that this wasn’t the first time that western media call China’s Type 055 guided-missile destroyer a cruiser.

Regarding this, Li Jie replied that in terms of tonnage alone, Type 055 is larger than many serving cruisers. America’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser, for instance, has a full load displacement of less than 10,000 tons. As a matter of fact, destroyer and cruiser aren’t that different today, and most countries don’t even develop cruiser anymore.

Going forward, destroyers will have ever larger tonnage and stronger functions with particular strength in a specific aspect, whereas cruiser has limited functions and is not as flexible as destroyer when carrying out missions.

“The fact that western countries call China’s Type 055 destroyer a cruiser indicates that they are looking at China’s military development with colored glasses and magnifying the function and role of China’s equipment. It’s a manifestation of the China Threat theory,” Li Jie added.

And from an earlier article in 2015:

The U.S. media recently reported that the new type-055 guided missile destroyer of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) and the U.S. Aegis warship are on a par with each other in terms of power and strength and that the type-055 destroyer is one of the five weapons China might use to change rules of the game in the future.

  However, Yin Zhuo, a Chinese military expert, said in an interview that the so-called type-055 destroyer is not the world’s largest guided missile destroyer and speculation that it will change the rules of the game is just an exaggeration.

There are two rather interesting points to takeaway from this. First, is that the Chinese military is well aware of the cultural connotations of the word “cruiser” and the precedents for calling large surface combatants as “destroyers,” most notably by the quite large Zumwalt class destroyer. Naturally, if the Zumwalt class is referred to as a destroyer, the 055 which is about 2,000 tons lighter, would also rightly be called a destroyer.

Second, is the Chinese military’s sensitivity to the portrayal of the 055’s capabilities as a significant development. They continue to be averse to insinuations that their military capability is that great, and that is likely part of their distaste to the portrayal of Chinese military developments in a “threatening” manner by foreign media, but also at the same time is partly a reflection of their desire to maintain high operational security which seeks to cause foreign adversaries to miscalculate and often underestimate the true capabilities and true level of development of their various weapons programmes.


So what about the media?

Equipped with the above knowledge, one is able to hopefully view the media’s inevitable reporting on 055 in a more accurate and even handed light.

If an article or website sensationalizes the 055 as a “dreadnought” then one should be able to respond very skeptically to such a claim. If an article compares the 055 with the Zumwalt class, one should be able to think of the differences in role, size, and number between the two warship types and realise how I’ll advised such a comparison would be. If an article compares the 055 with the Burke class, one should also be able to consider the differences in role, size and number between the two warship types.

If an article tries to discuss the role of the 055 in the Chinese Navy and the geopolitical consequences of it, one should be able to take a step back and view the 055’s role in the Navy alongside other, smaller blue water capable ships like frigates (054A, and future 054B), and medium weight destroyers (052C, 052D). If an article tries to compare how capable an 055 is versus a Ticonderoga or a Sejong or an Atago or a Burke, one should hopefully be able to also understand such a “match up” is immensely unlikely to occur in a realistic conflict scenario as the navies of the opposing side’s will be fielding their warships as a “system of systems” rather than sending them piece meal, one against another in an equal fashion.

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean one should be blind to the rather unprecedented nature of the 055 both in context of the Chinese Navy and in context of global naval trends.

In the Chinese Navy, one needs to recall that this is the single largest class of surface combatant ever developed and produced, much larger than the previous 7,000 ton 052D. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that at least four 055s are currently under various stages of construction well before the first 055 unit has yet to be even launched, which is a significant departure from previous classes of major surface combatants where they were either variants of preceding existing hull types that were first produced in small numbers (such as the heritage of 052D/052C/052B/052, and 054A/054).

In terms of the world’s naval context, one only needs to look at how few navies are producing modern surface combatants with displacements well over the 10,000 ton class in the numbers that the 055 will be expected to be, to see how unique the 055 is simply as a class of warship in its own weight and capability category. The Zumwalt class as a 15,000+ ton class destroyer is advanced and impressive but is limited to only three units. The Flight III Burke which will likely succeed the Ticonderoga class in the near future makes advancements over the Flight IIA Burke but has a smaller VLS load than the Ticonderoga class and will only displace 10,000 tons full, which pushes at the end zones for the ship’s growth margins, and the US Navy’s “Future Surface Combatant” programme is only projected to produce a new warship in the 2030s. The Sejong class destroyer of South Korea is a very impressive ship as well, displacing at about 11,000 tons with three in service and another three looking to be commissioned over coming years and is technically one of the most heavily armed destroyers with 128 VLS as well as 16 dedicated slant AShM launchers, but their number will likely not exceed six in total by the mid 2020s. The Russian Navy is looking to build the formidable 17,500 ton Lider class “destroyer” to replace their ageing Soviet era large surface combatants, but the number of warships to be built and how reliably they can be delivered is a very open question, especially in light of difficulties and delays suffered by other surface combatant projects like the Gorshkov class frigate.

Thus, it is perhaps the psychological and cultural impact of the Chinese Navy fielding a large, modern surface combatant in significant numbers by the early to mid 2020s, which will be of most interest to media and may result in significant re-evaluation of the Chinese Navy’s stature. Of course, such developments do not directly translate to advances in warfighting capability in an immediate sense, as it would take a number of years for commissioned ships and commanders to fully learn how to best operate at the various levels of warfare (tactical, operational and strategic). However when one starts to look around the world and see how many navies are fielding a class of modern surface combatant with displacement well in excess of 10,000 tons, one is able to put the Chinese Navy’s own ambitions into context.


India, US call for freedom of navigation, rule by international law amid South China Sea disputes

June 27, 2017


US President Donald J. Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump (R) walk to the Oval Office with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) after his arrival to the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 26 June 2017
US President Donald J. Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump (R) walk to the Oval Office with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) after his arrival to the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 26 June 2017 CREDIT: EPA

WASHINGTON: With an eye on China and the disputes in the South China Sea, India and the US today called for freedom of navigation and resolving of territorial and maritime disputes peacefully in accordance with international law.

“In the Indo-Pacific region, in order to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region, this is also another objective of our strategic cooperation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told reporters at the Rose Garden of the White House after his maiden meeting with President Donald Trump.

Later, a India-US joint statement on the meeting said as responsible stewards in the Indo-Pacific region, Trump and Modi agreed that a close partnership between the United States and India is central to peace and stability in the region.

“Recognising the significant progress achieved in these endeavours, the leaders agreed to take further measures to strengthen their partnership,” the joint statement said.

In accordance with the tenets outlined in the UN Charter, they committed to a set of common principles for the region, according to which sovereignty and international law are respected and every country can prosper, the statement said.

To this end, Trump and Modi reiterated the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region, it said.

The statement comes amid China being engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region.

China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea.

Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.

Modi and Trump called upon all nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.

Read more at:

Coal on the Rise in China, US, India After Major 2016 Drop

June 26, 2017

BEIJING — The world’s biggest coal users — China, the United States and India — have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from last year’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions.

Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6 percent, for the three countries compared to the same period last year. The change is most dramatic in the U.S., where coal mining rose 19 percent in the first five months of the year, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.

Coal’s fortunes had appeared to hit a new low less than two weeks ago, when British energy company BP reported that tonnage mined worldwide fell 6.5 percent in 2016, the largest drop on record. China and the U.S. accounted for almost all the decline, while India showed a slight increase.

Image result for coal mine, photos

Russian underground coal mine. Credit Sputnik

The reasons for this year’s turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in U.S. energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the U.S. has played at most a minor role, they said.

The fuel’s popularity waned over the past several years as renewable power and natural gas made gains and China moved to curb dangerous levels of urban smog from burning coal.

Whether coal’s comeback proves lasting has significant implications for long-term emission reduction targets, and for environmentalists’ hopes that China and India could emerge as leaders in battling climate change.

While the U.S. reversal is expected to prove temporary, analysts agree that India’s use of coal will continue to grow. They’re divided on the forecast for China over the next decade.

Industry representatives say the mining resurgence underscores coal’s continued importance in power generation, though analysts caution its long-term growth prospects remain bleak.

The U.S., China and India combined produce about two-thirds of the coal mined worldwide, and the latter two nations also import coal to meet demand. India’s production expanded even during coal’s global downturn.

Related image

“If you look at those three countries, everyone else is irrelevant in the scheme of things,” said Tim Buckley, energy finance director for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Burning coal for power, manufacturing and heat is a primary source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say is driving climate change. Reducing such emissions was a critical piece of the 2015 Paris climate accord that Trump announced this month he wants to exit.

Almost every other nation continues to support the deal, including China and India. China, India and the U.S. produce almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal accounts for almost half of greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the Global Carbon Project. China is by far the world’s largest coal user, consuming half the global supply.

China has committed to capping its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and some have suggested it might accomplish that up to a decade earlier. Xizhou Zhou, a senior energy analyst with IHS Markit based in Beijing, said the recent uptick in coal production that the AP identified raises doubts about such optimism, but he added that China is still expected to meet its 2030 deadline.

“Coal consumption will continue to increase, mainly driven by Asian countries,” Zhou said. “We’re seeing a recovery starting this year and an increase until the mid-2020s before you see coal plateau globally.”

China’s production rose more than 4 percent through May, according to government figures, compared to a drop of more than 8 percent for the same period a year earlier.

Hundreds of mines shut down in China last year and the government forced others to cut back hours in a bid to reduce an oversupply of coal and boost prices. The government has since relaxed that policy and production is rebounding.

Also, as China continues to recover from a 2015 economic slowdown, it’s seeing increased manufacturing and new investments in roads, bridges and other projects. That creates more demand for electricity, most of which continues to come from coal even after huge Chinese investments in wind and solar power.

Despite the announced cancellation or suspension of 100 coal plants, others remain under construction, meaning consumption of coal for power will continue to rise, Zhou said. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Pakistan also are building new plants.

In India, where 70 percent of electricity comes from coal, production has long been increasing in defiance of global trends. The country has long argued it has both a right and an obligation to expand power generation as it extends electricity access to hundreds of millions of people who still have none. India also is seeking to reduce its reliance on imported coal by mining more of its own reserves.

An AP review of reports from the Coal Ministry of India found that mining among state-owned companies, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the nation’s production, grew 4 percent in the first five months of this year.

In the U.S., the bulk of the increase occurred in major coal-producing states including Wyoming, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Image result for coal mine, photos

Photo: A dragline uncovers a stretch of coal seam at the North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, Campbell County, Wyoming, where 235 employees were laid off earlier this year.  Peabody Energy, Inc.

Prices for natural gas, a competing fuel in power generation, edged up in early 2017, helping coal, said Andy Roberts of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That’s expected to be a temporary boost given the nation’s huge natural gas supplies. A cold winter in parts of the U.S. also benefited coal by increasing power demand.

World Coal Association Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Sporton acknowledged that it’s been “a difficult few years for coal” but argued that the market remains strong, particularly in China and India.

“All the signs point to (a) positive upward trend,” Sporton told the AP.

Still, coal’s dominant role in providing electricity has been eroding. China now has more renewable energy than any other nation. Its Communist Party leaders have vowed to invest $360 billion in the sector through 2020.

India’s government has said it needs no more coal-powered power plants and last month canceled 13.7 gigawatts in proposed plants, enough to power more than 10 million homes if the plants ran at full capacity. It has promoted renewables with a raft of incentives and declared that power from some solar installations should be used first when demand goes up.

Analysts said India is struggling to adjust to what appears to be a “new normal” — with its growth in electricity capacity outstripping the rise in demand. Manufacturing has not grown as quickly as hoped, and though transmission is steadily expanding to reach more households, 260 million Indians are still off-grid.

As a result, the country’s power plants are running at below 60 percent of capacity on average — down from 2009, when India was using 75 percent of its capacity.

“The private sector is not undertaking any new investment in thermal energy” such as coal plants, said Ashok Khurana, director general of the Association of Power Producers in India. “There’s no sense in it.”

Trump’s advocacy for reviving the coal-mining industry stands as an exception among the three nations’ leaders. Yet the U.S. also is where coal’s rebound could be briefest.

Cheap natural gas, a growing appetite for renewable energy and stricter pollution rules spurred utilities to shut down or announce retirements for several hundred U.S. coal plants. U.S. utilities that invested heavily in alternatives are considered unlikely to revert to coal, Roberts said, meaning market forces and not Trump’s politics will play the biggest role in determining the industry’s future.

Buckley, the energy finance specialist, said he expects the mining increases of 2017 to emerge as an anomaly and global declines will soon resume. But he noted that many existing coal plants will continue operating for years to come.

“We’re not talking about the end of coal tomorrow or the end of coal next decade. We’re talking about a 40-year transition,” he said.


Daigle reported from New Delhi.

China ‘deploys submarine-hunting aircraft to South China Sea’ in defiance of US warnings

June 25, 2017
SATELLITE imagery has indicated unmanned aircraft and China’s newest Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft have been deployed to the fringes of the South China Sea.

PUBLISHED: 05:39, Sat, Jun 24, 2017 | UPDATED: 06:14, Sat, Jun 24, 2017

China aircraftDigitalGlobe

Satellite imagery has indicated Chinese aircraft have been deployed to the South China Sea

Photos taken by commercial firm DigitalGlobe in May show four submarine-hunters, three Harbin BZK-005 recon unmanned aerial vehicles and two KJ-500 early warning jets parked at Lingshui Air Base on Hainan Island.The Y-8X aircraft were put into service in 2015 but have not been documented at the Lingshui Air Base until now, according to Defense News.​The submarine-hunter is the first combat-ready maritime patrol plane to be commissioned by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N).

The Lingshui Air Base gained huge attention in 2001 when a US Navy EP-3 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft crashed with a Chinese aircraft in midair, killing the Chinese pilot involved.The US Navy aircraft was reportedly forced to send out a “mayday” signal and make an emergency landing at the Linshui Air Base.Earlier this month, the US issued a stark warning that it would not accept China’s militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea.

South China SeaGETTY

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are contested by other countries

Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said such moves undermined regional stability and would not be tolerated.China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea – through which about £3.9trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year – are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.President Donald Trump and other senior US officials have repeatedly stated that they would protect its interests in the South China Sea – a key shipping route.


James Mattis has warned against Chinese militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea

A tumultuous history of the South China Sea dispute

During his nomination hearing earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the US was “going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops, and second your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed”.

In response, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would “remain firm to defend its rights in the region”.


Vietnamese Blogger Pham Minh Hoang Deported To France for “Attempted Subversion” Aimed at Overthrowing the Government

June 25, 2017


© AFP/File | French-Vietnamese blogger and lecturer Pham Minh Hoang was convicted in 2011 of “attempted subversion” for publishing a series of articles that prosecutors said were aimed at overthrowing the government

HANOI (AFP) – A Vietnamese blogger with French citizenship has been deported to Paris, the wife of the former political prisoner said Sunday, in a rare move by authorities in the one-party state.

Former math lecturer Pham Minh Hoang was put on a plane to Paris late Saturday, after the Vietnamese government stripped him of his citizenship last month.

“My husband left Vietnam at 11:30 last night, on a direct flight to Paris,” Le Thi Kieu Oanh told AFP Sunday.

Oanh said Hoang was granted access to a lawyer before boarding the plane, but that she was not given a chance to see him.

“I feel totally defeated… when my husband left, I couldn’t say any farewell words, I also feel very angry,” she said.

The French Embassy in Hanoi also confirmed Hoang departed on Saturday evening.

While authoritarian Vietnam routinely jails critics of its regime, 62-year-old Hoang is the first Vietnam-based dissident to have his citizenship revoked in recent history.

Hoang found out his Vietnamese citizenship had been revoked after he was sent a letter dated May 17 and signed by the president.

He was convicted in 2011 of “attempted subversion” for publishing a series of articles that prosecutors said were aimed at overthrowing the government.

He was released from jail after 17 months and ordered to serve three years house arrest. He continued to post articles critical of the government on social media since he was released from jail.

Hoang moved to France in 1973 and lived there for 27 years before returning to Vietnam to work as a mathematics lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City.

He told AFP this month he had to stay in Vietnam to care for his disabled brother and elderly mother in law.

US stand on South China Sea remains unchanged amid China dialogue

June 24, 2017
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis appear at news conference following a Diplomatic and Security Dialogue Meeting with a Chinese delegation including State Counselor Yang Jiechi and military Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui, at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. AP/Cliff Owen

MANILA, Philippines — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it clear to Beijing that Washington’s position on the South China Sea remains unchanged during a security dialogue between the two countries.

Tillerson and Mattis hosted Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department, for the first session of the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington.

Tillerson said he and Mattis had a frank exchange of views on the disputed waters with the Chinese leaders.

“We oppose changes to the status quo of the past through the militarization of outposts in the South China Sea and excessive maritime claims unsupported by international law, and we uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight,” Tillerson said in a press conference.

Mattis said that they also discussed the importance of freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of maritime disputes and ways to decrease tension in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon chief stressed that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.

“On South China Sea, this is a dialogue where we identify areas where we can work together and to understand those areas where we have, I would call them disconnects, where are our understanding of the problem is very different from theirs,” Mattis said.

Mattis added that Beijing and Washington will continue to work on “closing gaps” in their understanding in the future.

“But I would say for right now that’s the whole purpose for the dialogue that we held here today, and we will be holding more in the future,” Mattis said.

A few weeks ago, Tillerson accused China of using its economic power to evade issues such as the South China Sea dispute.

“We desire productive relationships, but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether its militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his visit to Sydney.

Irked by Tillerson’s remarks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that China and Southeast Asian countries have been making efforts to uphold peace and stability in the contested waters.


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

Japan’s largest warships heads into South China Sea, in defiance of China

June 23, 2017


Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) soldiers aboard JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo take part in a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 22, 2017. Picture taken June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo
By Nobuhiro Kubo | SOUTH CHINA SEA

Japan’s largest warship steamed into the South China Sea this week in defiance of Chinese assertiveness, with Asian military guests on board to witness helicopters looping over the tropical waters and gunners blasting target buoys.

China claims most of the energy-rich sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, much of it to and from Japanese ports. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

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 JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo

Japan worries that China is cementing its control in the South China Sea with manmade island bases, arms sales and development aid.

“We are not just here to show our presence, but from the outside that is what it looks like,” Rear Admiral Yoshihiro Goga, the commander of the mission, said aboard the Izumo-class helicopter carrier.

Military officers from the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) boarded the 248-metre carrier in Singapore on Monday. It returned on Friday after demonstrating naval skills and kit Tokyo hopes will help it bolster alliances in the region.

The Izumo turned back to Singapore before crossing a boundary known as the nine-dash-line into what China claims are its waters.

The high-profile cruise was part of a hitherto unseen coordinated push by Japan’s Self Defense Forces and defense bureaucrats to bolster ties with countries ringing the contested waters. It also marked a concerted push into military diplomacy by hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan last week held a military technology seminar near Tokyo for representatives from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore and this week invited ASEAN officers to a disaster relief drill in Tokyo.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) helicopter carrier Izumo (L) receives fuel replenishment from JMSDF Takanami class destroyer Sazanami during a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 20, 2017. Picture taken June 20, 2017.REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) SH-60 Seahawk helicopters are seen on JMSDF’s helicopter carrier Izumo as they take part in a military exercise in South China Sea, near Singapore, June 21, 2017. Picture taken June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Nobuhiro Kubo

Abe’s government believes Japan may be better placed to prise Southeast Asian nations away from Chinese influence than its U.S. allies with a gentler approach that emphasizes a common Asian heritage, two sources with knowledge of the diplomatic strategy told Reuters earlier.

While the U.S. has confronted China directly by sending warships close to China’s island bases in the South China Sea, Japan so far has shied away from similar provocations.

As the Izumo neared the nine-dash line, the crew were on lookout for Chinese aircraft or ships sent to shadow the flag ship. Apart from brief radar contact with an unidentified aircraft announced by the ship’s public address system the carrier, however, sailed on unmolested.

(For a graphic on leading aircraft carriers, click

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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

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

June 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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China’s gigantic oil rig, Haiyangshihou 981

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chinese General’s Unexplained Early Exit From Vietnam Visit Raises Concern Over Rift

June 22, 2017

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

A Chinese coast guard ship (L) uses a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 2, 2014.

AFP/Vietnamese Foreign Ministry

A truncated visit this week by a Chinese military officer to neighboring Vietnam has raised eyebrows among foreign affairs analysts who are questioning whether the incident could indicate an about-face in relations between the two communist allies who are embroiled in a territorial dispute.

Chinese General Fan Changlong, who is part of the delegation visiting the capital Hanoi this week, abruptly left Vietnam on Tuesday after a private meeting with Vietnamese defense officials.

Public and private accounts of the incident vary. Chinese and Vietnamese state media report that defense relations are going well and that the parties reached an agreement on personnel training between their defense ministries.

But analysts, citing government sources, said a discussion over disputed territory in the South China Sea, where China is building artificial islands and military infrastructure, may have prompted a row leading to Fan’s early departure, which caused him to skip a cross-border exchange program.

They cited Vietnam’s efforts to form strategic military partnerships with the United States and Japan, and a recent move by Vietnam to allow a foreign company to exploit oil in the Vanguard Bank area of the South China Sea where a Chinese fishing vessel cut a Vietnamese boat’s cable in May 2011, triggering street protests in Hanoi.

Vietnam has long claimed Vanguard Bank is part of its continental shelf, and not part of the disputed territory with China. The two countries, however, have agreed not to explore or exploit oil in disputed areas of the sea.

Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore and an international relations scholar at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, said he could only speculate on the matter since there is no official information about it.

“In the past, Vietnam has been under pressure to maintain its growth rate, so it has had discussions on enhancing oil exploration on the South China Sea,” he said.

“Vietnam’s activities in the South China Sea have touched China’s interests, and as usual, China will find ways to discourage the country from pursing them,” he said.

“It is therefore not difficult to understand if the conflict in the South China Sea is related to the exploitation of marine resources,” he said. “And perhaps this is the reason why Fan Changlong cut short his visit to Vietnam.”

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert based in Australia who has taught at several defense universities, said it is likely that Fan asked Vietnam to stop the oil exploitation in Vanguard Bank, which indicates that the country has not complied with an agreement with China not to explore and exploit oil reserves in the disputed area.

Le Hong Hiep agreed with Thayer’s assessment and said China wants to put pressure on Vietnam to stop its activities and to comply with the two parties’ agreement so as to not complicate the situation.

This also depends on each side’s interpretation of the agreement, he said.

“Vietnam’s exploration and exploitation of oil on its continental shelf does not complicate the situation, because Vietnam has sovereignty over that region,” Hiep said. “However, China sees it as a disputed area, so actions such as unilateral oil exploration and exploitation may be a complication.”

Possible miliary clash

Thayer, who noted that China is deploying 40 ships and several Y-8GX6 turboprop anti-submarine warfare aircraft to the area, raised the possibility that a military clash between China and Vietnam could occur during the next few days.

Hiep, however, declined to forecast the outcome, but added that if hostilities did occur, they would pose a major challenge to the countries’ bilateral relations, which could have the same or even a greater effect than did the oil rig crisis of May 2014.

In that crisis, China deployed a giant oil-drilling rig in the South China Sea about 120 miles from Vietnam’s coast near islands claimed by both countries and within Hanoi’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone set by international law.

The event sparked a bitter bilateral row, with both sides accusing the other of ramming ships patrolling the area.

Thayer also said that Fan’s rumored cancellation of activities in connection with the fourth Vietnam-China friendly border exchange in Lai Chau and Yunnan provinces on June 20-22 would be the “most significant setback in bilateral relations” since the 2014 incident.

“This setback would also be a sign that China is being more assertive in response to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visits to Washington and Tokyo in order to curtail the development of Vietnam’s defense and security relations with these two countries,” he said.

Phuc and high-raking delegations visited the U.S. in May, and Japan in early June.

“If true, this would be a clumsy and counterproductive act by China,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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FILE photo provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac —  A Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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


China Cancels Military Meeting With Vietnam Over Territorial Dispute in South China Sea after “Heated Words”

June 21, 2017

HONG KONG — State-run newspapers in Vietnam and China reported in recent days that senior military officials from the two countries would hold a fence-mending gathering along a border where their militaries fought a brief but bloody war in 1979.

But Tuesday, the scheduled start of the gathering, came and went without any of the coverage in the state news media that readers in the two countries had expected. The Chinese Defense Ministry later said in a terse statement that it had canceled the event “for reasons related to working arrangements.”

Analysts, citing government sources, said that the Chinese delegation had unexpectedly cut short a trip to Vietnam after tempers flared during a closed-door discussion on disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The cancellation is highly unusual for the two Communist neighbors, and it comes as Beijing continues to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, where the Chinese seek to expand their military influence at a time of uncertainty over President Trump’s policies in the region.

“This was not what the Vietnamese expected from a polite guest,” said Alexander L. Vuving, a Vietnam specialist at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.

“You can say both sides miscalculated,” he added. But another interpretation is that both countries are “very committed to showing the other their own resolve” on matters of territorial sovereignty.

The dispute happened during a visit to Hanoi this week by Gen. Fan Changlong of China. It was unclear what precisely roiled his meeting with Vietnamese officials, much less whether the general’s actions had been planned.

Analysts said he appeared to have been angry over Vietnam’s recent efforts to promote strategic cooperation with the United States and Japan. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently visited those two countries in quick succession, and the Vietnamese and Japanese coast guards conducted joint drills in the South China Sea last week focused on preventing illegal fishing.

Another reason, analysts said, could be Vietnam’s apparent refusal to abandon oil and gas exploration in areas of the South China Sea that both it and Beijing claim.

Mr. Vuving said a specific source of the dispute may have been the so-called Blue Whale project, a gas-drilling venture in the South China Sea by Vietnam’s state oil company, PetroVietnam, and Exxon Mobil. The companies signed an agreement during a January trip to Hanoi by John Kerry, the secretary of the state at the time.

The drilling site, which is expected to produce gas for power generation by 2023, is close to the disputed Paracel Islands and near the “nine dash line” that shows expansive territorial claims on Chinese maps. Mr. Vuving said that China probably resents that Vietnam has formed a partnership with an American oil company, particularly one whose previous chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, is Mr. Trump’s secretary of state.

The project appears to set a “very damaging precedent for China’s strategy in the South China Sea,” Mr. Vuving said.

The Chinese and Vietnamese Foreign Ministries did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, and an Exxon Mobil spokeswoman in Singapore could not be reached for comment.

Other analysts said that the source of tension may have been Vietnam’s recent decision to resume oil exploration in another disputed part of the South China Sea.

Carl Thayer, a longtime analyst of the Vietnamese military and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said that if General Fan had indeed asked Vietnam to cease oil exploration in that area, Vietnam would have considered the request “inflammatory”; it would have implied Chinese territorial control in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Vietnamese coast.

“Vietnam’s leaders would have refused this request and responded by reasserting Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Mr. Thayer said in an email to reporters and diplomats.

There were unconfirmed reports on Wednesday that China had recently deployed 40 vessels and several military transport aircraft to the area. Vietnam accused Chinese ships of cutting the cables of one of its seismic survey vessels there in 2011.

Though China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and a longtime ideological ally, the neighbors have long been at odds over competing claims to rocks, islands and offshore oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

Tensions came to a head in 2014, when a state-run Chinese company towed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands and within about 120 nautical miles of Vietnam. No one was killed at sea, but a maritime standoff led to anti-China riots near foreign-invested factories in central and southern Vietnam, bringing relations between the countries to their lowest point in years.

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China’s gigantic oil rig, Haiyangshihou 981

A few days before General Fan’s Hanoi visit, Mr. Vuving said, China moved the same oil rig to a position in the South China Sea that is near the midway point between the Chinese and Vietnamese coasts, apparently seeking to pressure Vietnam to cease oil and gas exploration in disputed waters. Data from, a website affiliated with the Chinese Transport Ministry, showed that the rig has been about 70 nautical miles south of China and 120 nautical miles northeast of Vietnam over the past week.

The first fence-mending gathering, called the Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange Program, took place in 2014 and was intended to promote bilateral trust. The meeting this week was expected to include a drill on fighting cross-border crime.

Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who specializes in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, said that the countries were expected to disagree over territorial claims in the South China Sea. But they have established frameworks to defuse disagreements through government channels as well as through the two countries’ Communist parties, he added.

In the end, the two countries “will come out and resolve this problem since both want stability,” Mr. Xu said.

Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, agreed with that conclusion, but warned that new tensions could emerge in the short term. China appears increasingly eager to stop Vietnam from growing too close to Japan and the United States, he said.

“As Vietnam tries to achieve its economic growth targets, it is planning to exploit more oil from the South China Sea,” Mr. Hiep wrote in an email. “As such, the chance for confrontation at sea may also increase.”

See also: