Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Taiwan and the South China Sea Must Be Taken Off the Back Burner

June 20, 2018

U.S. needlessly giving China irreversible gains
By Paul J. Leaf
National Interest
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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves as she boards Hai Lung-class submarine (SS-794) during her visit to a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The United States recently focused its efforts in Asia on improving trade with China and securing a denuclearization agreement with North Korea. While Washington correctly prioritized these important goals, it appears to be neglecting other pressing regional issues. These other issues include China’s increasing militarization of man-made islands in the contested South China Sea and its growing aggression towards Taiwan. The trouble is that these regional problems are interconnected, with Chinese gains on certain issues potentially irreversible. What this means is that the U.S. cannot myopically focus on only two of the many challenges it faces in Asia.

Following President Trump’s election, America has shown signs of taking tough positions on a range of security issues in Asia. For instance, consider the following examples:

First, Trump added $15 billion to his predecessor’s last military budget and proposed a ten percent increase in defense spending for the next year. In addition, much of this additional funding would bolster America’s missile defense and naval presence in Asia. In its first National Security Strategy (NSS), the Trump administration also called China a “revisionist power” and “strategic competitor.” Moreover, the NSS also pledged to halt China from remaking Asia in its favor, whereas the Obama administration emphasized cooperating with China.

Second, in January 2017, then Secretary of State nominee Tillerson declared that China should be denied access to the islands it has manufactured in the South China Sea. A third of the globe’s maritime traffic traverses those waters, where five countries plus China have competing claims. In 2017, Washington executed four freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) to contest Beijing’s territorial claims in those waters. In eight years, the Obama administration conducted only six FONOPs there.

Third, American support for Taiwanese independence from China appeared to harden. In December 2016, then President-elect Trump accepted a call from Taiwan’s president, the first such call between that island’s leader and an American president or president-elect since the countries’ diplomatic ties and high-level contacts ended in 1979. In June 2017, President Trump also approved a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, whereas before leaving office, the Obama administration blocked a smaller arms package to that country. Furthermore, in December 2017, President Trump signed a defense funding bill with clauses suggesting port calls and military drills between the U.S. and Taiwanese navies.

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A fighter jet from Taiwan follows a Chinese bomber

But since Washington grew optimistic about its trade and denuclearization negotiations with Beijing and Pyongyang, it has appeared to neglect other pressing regional issues. For instance, China has recently deployed radar and communications jammers along with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on its artificial islands in the South China Sea. The aim is to halt U.S. military operations and enhance China’s territorial claims there. This year, China has also applied greater pressure on Taiwan, such as by cutting tourism to and trade with that country. Additionally, China encircled the island with fighter jets and an aircraft carrier group, compelled foreign airlines to refer to Taiwan as part of China, and convinced two of the island’s dwindling allies to change their allegiance to China. Beijing seeks to punish Taipei for its pro-independence tilt. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not consistently and firmly responded to these troubling events.

The Trump administration may have put the South China Sea, Taiwan, and other issues on the backburner in the hopes of securing Chinese cooperation on trade and North Korean denuclearization. Presumably, the rationale is that by at least temporarily eliminating some friction between Washington and Beijing, China is more likely to find common ground on issues that the U.S. deems more important.

This approach is not unreasonable. Indeed, President Trump says that Beijing’s involvement helped Washington secure a preliminary pledge from Pyongyang “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” (I will not assess here the value of that oft-repeated and broken promise.) Still, the approach poses risks.

First, most issues in Asia are interconnected given the hegemonic competition between the U.S. and China. As China seeks to replace America as the dominant power in Asia, weaker countries in the region are pressured to side with Washington or Beijing. This contest for allies often means that a win for one country is an automatic loss for the other, and that progress on one issue impacts an ostensibly unrelated matter.

For example, what if Beijing squeezed Pyongyang to sign and follow a denuclearization deal with Washington, but the U.S. had to ignore China militarizing islands or bullying Vietnam and the Philippines as the cost of Beijing’s assistance? This would mean that Southeast Asian countries sparring with China in those contested territorial waters are more likely to succumb to China in the future. After all, eliminating the North Korean threat benefits countries like Vietnam and the Phillippines little because Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were not aimed at them. But Washington allowing Beijing to fortify its presence in contested waters near their coasts makes Southeast Asian countries feel they have to acquiesce to or else stand up to a significantly more powerful China possibly without American backing. In other words, the U.S. must avoid compartmentalizing issues.

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Second, failing to contest China on specific issues—even temporarily—can give it irreversible gains.
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For instance, Beijing will not withdraw the new weapons it has deployed in the South China Sea. Even worse, China will likely escalate its island militarization given the weak responses it has faced so far. U.S. inaction has thus permanently boosted Beijing’s military position and bid for regional supremacy. Indeed, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command recently deemed China “capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the U.S.”

The U.S. is right to seek improved trade with China (assuming that includes stopping China’s theft of U.S. technology) and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. But Washington must simultaneously progress on other challenges in Asia, irrespective of Beijing’s reaction. Of course, the tempo and forcefulness of America’s responses should be calibrated as the strategic landscape requires. This means the risks of American inaction on certain matters must be carefully considered before that approach is adopted as part of an exchange for purported Chinese cooperation on other issues. Moreover, as shown by Beijing’s vacillating commitment to sanctioning Pyongyang—even after Washington let several Chinese transgressions on other issues slide—the U.S. should ensure that such cooperation is verifiable and tough to reverse before it makes concessions that are difficult to rollback.

Fortunately, the Trump administration may be changing course. With John Bolton as the new National Security Advisor, no threat in Asia will go unexamined. Indeed, the U.S. is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, and the same day that President Trump met with North Korea’s leader, Washington opened a new de facto embassy in Tapei. Days ago, the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the South China Sea to contest China’s militarization there. The flyover followed Secretary of Defense Mattis accusing China of “intimidation and coercion” in the region, and confirming that the U.S. will “stay” in that “priority theater.” Secretary Mattis also recently rescinded China’s invitation to the world’s largest international naval drill (RIMPAC) and threatened “larger consequences” if China continues to militarize the South China Sea.

In addition to standing up to China more frequently, the U.S. must improve relations with its Asian friends. For example, partners’ confidence in America has ebbed since the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, imposed tariffs on Japan, threatened to end its free trade agreement with South Korea, and then offered to revive a failing Chinese telecommunications entity that illegally transferred American technology to North Korea and Iran.

Only if Washington assesses all opportunities and challenges in Asia collectively and understands their interplay can it execute the right strategy there.

Paul J. Leaf is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy. He worked on defense issues for a think tank and is now an attorney at an international law firm.

Image: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves as she boards Hai Lung-class submarine (SS-794) during her visit to a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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South China Sea: Malaysia Intends to Hold on to Its Island Possessions, Mahathir says

June 20, 2018

 

Prime Minister Mahathir told the South China Morning Post that Malaysia wants to retain these islands and is not interested in occupying any others.

“China claims the South China Sea is theirs, but those islands have always been regarded as ours for a long time. So we want to retain them,” Dr Mahathir told the Hong Kong publication.

“There are certain rocks which we have developed into islands. And we hope that we will stay on those islands, because it is a part of our keeping the sea safe from pirates and others.

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Malaysia wants to continue occupying the islands we have called our own in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic).

Malaysia has conflicting claims with China who has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through every year.

Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area.

Last month, China’s airforce landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Tensions escalated further when the United States sent warships to the area as part of “freedom of navigation” exercises.

Dr Mahathir suggested that one way to keep the peace in the disputed South China Sea was for the waters to be “patrolled by small boats” rather than warships.

The small boats, he says, should be “equipped to deal with pirates, not to fight another war”.

“I think there should not be too many warships. Warships create tension.

“Someday, somebody might make some mistakes and there will be a fight, some ships will be lost, and there might be a war. We don’t want that,” he said.

When asked who should be involved in these patrols, Dr Mahathir said countries from Asean were a natural choice because “the whole sea is surrounded by Asean countries”.

“But if China wants to participate with small boats, they are welcome. Anybody, even the US, if they want to participate, but don’t bring battleships here,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said that it would be to China’s benefit to keep the waters open.

“Because then, you will have more trade,” he said.

“You can’t expect all the goods going to China to change into Chinese ships before entering the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea.

“Goods from Europe and America, they will pass through the Strait of Malacca, and they should be free to pass through the Strait of Malacca, and then go to the South China Sea to reach China,” said Dr Mahathir.

He cited the narrow Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia as an example of a free waterway.

“We have never tried to stop ships from passing through. They are welcomed. Although between Malaysia and Indonesia, we could have named this Strait of Malacca the ‘Malaysia-Indonesia Sea’, we didn’t,” he said.

“We want it to be open because it’s good for trade. The South China Sea also is good for trading nations,” added Dr Mahathir.

Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/20/dr-m-let-malaysia-continue-occupying-islands-in-south-china-sea/#oVQZdReb2HCmZWOz.99

In Vietnam, distrust of government’s China policy fuels protests

June 19, 2018

Protests by thousands of people in cities across Vietnam are showing just how easy it is to unite public opinion and mobilize dissent when an issue has one key ingredient: China.

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FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold a banner which reads “No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime” during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

The demonstrations, which are technically illegal, sprung up for a second consecutive week on Sunday, stoked by fears that proposed coastal economic zones for foreigners would be beachheads for an invasion of Chinese businesses.

The proposal makes no mention of China. But political analysts say Vietnamese minds were already made up, with popular Facebook posts reinforcing deep-rooted suspicion that Chinese interests are influencing state policy.

Central to the issue is a combustible mix of generations of anger over perceived Chinese bullying, and a lack of faith in Vietnam’s ruling communist party to do anything about it.

“The government underestimated the amount of anti-China sentiment in the country,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“There’s a constant undertone among many in Vietnam that the government isn’t doing enough to protect the country’s sovereignty against China,” Hiebert added.

Social media such as Facebook, used by half of Vietnam’s 90 million people, makes such fervor easy to stoke and hard to contain.

After protests spanned cities nationwide, the National Assembly last week postponed its vote on the economic zones until October.

Security was tightened on Sunday to prevent protests in major cities, but thousands still gathered in central Ha Tinh province, many with signs saying “No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day.”

Tensions are likely to persist as long as China pushes its Belt and Road initiative to advance its overseas business, and takes stronger action to fortify its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

China has been accelerating construction and militarization in the Spratly and Paracel islands claimed by Vietnam, and in March pressured Hanoi to suspend some major offshore oil drilling for the second time in the space of a year.

‘PATRIOTISM’ APPRECIATED

The Vietnamese government’s resistance to Chinese pressure has been limited.

The communist party top brass rarely acknowledges anti-China sentiment even exists in Vietnam. On Friday, house speaker Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan skirted the issue, saying the legislature “appreciates the people’s patriotism and their profound concerns about important issues.”

Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong weighed in on Sunday to reassure the public about the economic zones, which have 99-year leases, but also made no specific mention of China.

“No one is that foolish to hand over land to foreigners for them to come and mess things up,” state media quoted him saying.

The June 10 protests were in large part peaceful, but turned violent in central Binh Thuan province, where vehicles were set ablaze and angry mobs hurled rocks and charged at riot police.

Tran Vu Hai, a prominent lawyer, said the anger had been festering for years in Binh Thuan, where China is blamed for assaulting fishermen, polluting the land with a Chinese-built power plant, and for deforestation to mine minerals exported primarily to China.

Hai said people were venting fury not only at China, but at a local government, which is perceived as being corrupt and enslaved by destructive Chinese commercial interests.

“They don’t investigate why people are irritated and they don’t solve the people’s problems,” he said. “The trust in the authority in that area has already been lost.”

Analysts say the turnout and coordination of protests is now emboldening ordinary Vietnamese, but also complicating the party’s difficult balancing act of tolerating some dissent while keeping it under control.

That risks angering a vital trade partner that can hold Vietnam’s fast-growing economy hostage.

SKILLED INSTIGATION

The protests are being taken seriously by China; its diplomatic missions in Vietnam held meetings last week with Chinese business groups, local government and local media.

In one of several postings on the embassy’s website, it said charge d’affaires Yin Haihong “demanded” that Vietnamese authorities protect Chinese businesses and citizens.

Yin said the embassy had been informed by the Vietnamese authorities that people with “ulterior motives” had “deliberately misrepresented the situation and linked it to China.”

The recent rallies follow similar protests in 2014 after China’s deployment of an oil rig off central Vietnam, and months of demonstrations in 2016 over an environmental disaster at a steel plant run by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics.

Responding to questions from Reuters, Vietnam foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang made no mention of China but said “extremists” had “incited illegal gatherings.” He added that Vietnam’s policies served its peoples’ interests and supported business and investment.

Nguyen Van Quynh, a well-known lawyer followed widely on Facebook, said it was clear that the rallies were organized and violence had been instigated. He said they showed meticulous planning and knowledge of state security procedures, and suggested Binh Thuan was a weak spot.

“The scale, organization, sophistication of the protests, riots are increasing, proving that there must be a person or a leading group with knowledge and skill for it to be organized this way,” Quynh said.

Some current and former lawmakers say it is time to revisit a long-delayed law to regulate demonstrations. The constitution allows freedom of assembly, but protests are often broken up by police and participants held for “causing public disorder.”

Others say it’s time to listen more to public opinion.

“The administration needs to care for what its people care for,” said Nguyen Si Dung, a former deputy head of the National Assembly office.

Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Thousands hold peaceful protests in Vietnam against Chinese economic zones

June 17, 2018

Thousands of people in central Vietnam demonstrated peacefully on Sunday against government plans to lease new economic zones to foreign investors, witnesses told Reuters, a few days after protesters in a nearby province clashed with police.

Protesters fear the leases may be snapped up by investors from powerful neighbor China, with which Vietnam has a rocky history, and were also upset about a recently-passed cybersecurity law that they worry would limit free speech.

Public protests in Vietnam are usually quickly quelled by the police. The ruling Communist Party, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, retains tight media censorship and tolerates little criticism.

Vietnam has seen a surge in protests over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites.
Vietnam has seen a surge in protests over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites. PHOTO:STR/EPA

Security on Sunday was tight in many cities and provinces in Vietnam, with large presence of police in public areas.

But in central Ha Tinh province, thousands of people attending a Sunday mass protested peacefully against the laws, three witnesses told Reuters, confirming livestream footages on Facebook.

Protesters held signs that said “No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day” or “Cybersecurity law kills freedom”. The protest in Ha Tinh province lasted for two hours on Sunday morning without clash with the police, witnesses said.

Earlier this week the Vietnamese government vowed to punish “extremists” it said had instigated rare clashes with police where protesters hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails at police and damaging some government buildings in Binh Thuan province.

Vietnam’s National Assembly chairwoman on Friday said the lawmakers condemned “the acts of abusing democracy, distorting the truth, provoking, causing social disorder and greatly affecting the people’s life,” she said in a televised session.

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in a talk with Hanoi citizens on Sunday called for the people to be calm and trust the Communist party and the government, state-run radio news website Voice of Vietnam reported.

“(We) do this for the nation, for the people and no other purpose and no one is that foolish to hand over land to foreigners for them to come and mess things up,” Trong was quoted as saying.

China Ramps Up Military Exercises in the South China Sea — Introduces new weapons

June 15, 2018

China’s navy carried out drills in the South China Sea to simulate fending off an aerial attack, state media said on Friday, as China and the United States trade barbs over who is responsible for heightened tensions in the disputed waterways.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern during a visit to Beijing on Thursday over China’s efforts to militarise the seas.

His remarks came after a flurry of US activity in the region, including reports last week that US Air Force B-52 bombers had flown near disputed islands.

China’s navy carried out a simulated missile attack in an unspecified area of the South China Sea using three target drones making flyovers of a ship formation, the official army newspaper said.

The drills were part of efforts by an also unspecified training base to prepare for real-life combat against aerial targets after China’s leadership said some training failed to prepare troops effectively, the paper said.

The United States and China have frequently sparred over who is militarising the South China Sea, with Beijing blaming tensions on actions such as the “freedom of navigation” operations carried out by the US Navy.

Washington says such operations are necessary to counter China’s efforts to limit nautical movement in the strategic waterway.

A US Navy destroyer sailed through waters claimed by China in May just days after the United States uninvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill.

Critics have said these operations have little impact on Chinese behaviour and are largely symbolic.

Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up and its use of South China Sea islands to gather intelligence.

China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims in the South China Sea.

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China Adds Advanced Missiles to South China Sea Islands

This photo shows an aerial shot of part of mischief reef in the disputed Spratly islands

This photo shows an aerial shot of part of the undeveloped islands in the disputed Spratly islands / Getty Images

BY: 

China’s military has stepped up militarizing disputed islands in the South China Sea by deploying advanced missile systems on the Spratly islands, according to the Pentagon.

Defense officials disclosed to the Washington Free Beacon that the militarization has raised alarm bells about China’s creeping takeover of the strategic waterway used for some $5 trillion annually in international trade.

The officials previewed Defense Department concerns detailed in the forthcoming China military power report. The annual report to Congress is expected to be made public in the near future.

“China is continuing its gradual deployment of military equipment to its Spratly Islands outposts in the disputed South China Sea,” said one senior official.

“These deployments involve the delivery of military jamming equipment as well as advanced anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems to the outposts.”

The most worrisome weapons are missiles.

“The missile systems are the most capable land-based weapons systems deployed by China in the South China Sea,” the official said.

The missiles have been identified as YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles that give the Chinese military the ability to hit ships within 340 miles—enough to target U.S. warships that frequently transit the waters in conducting freedom of navigation operations.

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The Pentagon has stepped up Navy warship passages near the disputed islands as part of a policy of asserting international freedom of navigation.

During the most recent operation May 27, two Navy missile ships, the cruiser USS Antietam, and the destroyer USS Higgins, Chinese navy vessels unsuccessfully attempted for force the ships out of the area.

Missile emplacements were first identified several years ago on the Spratlys by the Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time, the missiles assessed as very short-range coastal anti-ship missiles with ranges of a few miles.

The DIA, however, reported internally that the missile emplacements were built on the same infrastructure as could be used for longer-range anti-ship missiles, an indication China eventually planned to swap out the short-range systems and replace them with the more lethal weapons.

That appears to have happened with the recent deployment of the YJ-12Bs.

The air defense missiles were identified by the Pentagon as either HQ-9A or HQ-9B long-range surface-to-air missiles with ranges of up to 184 miles.

The HQ-9s are capable of shooting down aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles.

U.S. military forces recently flew two pairs of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers near the contested South China Sea in a show of force.

Two B-52s were dispatched from the Navy support base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and flew close to the South China Sea on June 5.

Two days earlier, another set of B-52s, this time from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flew to the Indian Ocean but did not pass over the sea.

On Wednesday, another two B-52s flew from Guam to the East China Sea, passing close to Japan’s Senkaku Islands north of Taiwan. China is claiming the uninhabited Senkakus as its territory.

The defense official said the missiles remain in place on the Spratlys.

Fox News reported recently that China appeared to remove air defense missiles from Woody Island, part of another set of disputed islands, the Paracels, in the northern part of the sea.

The South China Morning Post, however, reported this week that the missiles were back.

China is claiming 90 percent of the South China Sea based on vague historical map claims. The islands are claimed by several other nations, including Philippines and Vietnam.

The international Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines and against China’s expansive claims to own most of the South China Sea in July 2016. China has refused to observe the court’s ruling and continues to claim sovereignty of the sea.

China is building up military bases on a trio of Spratly islands located close to the Philippines, a U.S. ally in the region.

Fox News reported, based on satellite images May 9, that two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles appeared from photographs to have been removed from Woody Island.

The senior official said the Pentagon is preparing to respond to Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea and elsewhere with a series of actions, the official said.

In addition to the missile emplacements, China angered the Pentagon by firing lasers at U.S. military cargo aircraft flying near the Chinese military base on the Horn of Africa at Djibouti.

The laser illumination injured the eyes of air crew members on two flights.

China also has been linked to cyber attacks, most recently a cyber intrusion against a Navy contractor engaged in cutting edge weapons research, including a new submarine-launched cruise missile.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis first outlined the Pentagon’s concerns about Chinese militarization of the islands during a June 2 speech at a defense conference in Singapore.

“China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island,” Mattis said.

“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” he stated.

To press the issue, Mattis noted that the militarization directly contradicted promises made by current Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping in 2015 that China had no plans to militarize the islands.

In response to the weapons deployments, Mattis said the initial response was to disinvite the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the upcoming Rim of the Pacific international naval exercises involving forces from more than 40 militaries.

“China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest Naval exercise, an exercise in which transparency and cooperation are hallmarks,” Mattis said.

Mattis announced in Singapore he plans to travel to Beijing soon as part of efforts to expand the dialogue with China.

The new Pacific Command chief, Adm. Philip Davidson, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written statement in April that the electronic weapons deployed on the disputed Spratlys include a variety of radar and electronic attack capabilities on Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef.

“These facilities significantly expand the real-time domain awareness, [intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance], and jamming capabilities of the PLA over a large portion of the South China Sea, presenting a substantial challenge to U.S. military operations in this region,” Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written answers to questions.

The Chinese military bases on the seven islands include hangars, barracks, underground fuel and water storage facilities, and bunkers for “offense and defensive kinetic and non-kinetic systems,” he said.

With the weapons systems on the islands, Davidson issued this stark warning: “The PLA will be able to use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region, and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants. In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Rick Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the missiles in the Spratlys could have been stored on Woody Island and moved south

“To deter China in the South China Sea it is necessary for the U.S. to base long range offensive ballistic and cruise missiles in that region,” Fisher said.

“If they cannot be based in the Philippines, we need to have them on ships, or quickly develop our own intermediate-range ballistic missiles to base on Guam.”

Fisher said Chinese Communist Party leaders “must be made to understand that any use of weapons from its South China Sea islands will result in the immediate destruction of its illegal island bases.”

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell said if the missile deployments on the Spratlys are confirmed it would represent a significant increase in the military threat to the region.

“The PRC’s ultimate objective is to drive the U.S. military out of Asia and replace it with a PLA that is able to force the restoration of what Beijing believes is their sovereign territory—the entirety of the Nine Dash Line in the South China Sea,” Fanell said.

The failure of the Obama administration to confront China has limited U.S. options, Fanell said.

“However, the use of force should not be discounted,” he said. “As we’ve seen with this administration’s use of ‘maximum pressure’ against North Korea, the same approach can yield results against the Chinese Communist Party.”

http://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-adds-advanced-missiles-south-china-sea-islands/

US top diplomat talks South China Sea with China

June 15, 2018

 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second from left, talks to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, fourth from right, during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, June 14, 2018.

AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) – June 15, 2018 – 10:17am

MANILA, Philippines — In his first visit to Beijing, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo reiterated Washington’s concern over the militarization of features in the South China Sea.

Washington’s top diplomat visited China after US President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

In a press briefing, Pompeo said Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi confirmed China’s willingness to resolve the South China Sea dispute in a peaceful manner.

“As Councilor Yang mentioned, I reaffirmed our concern with respect to China’s efforts to build a militarized outpost in the South China Sea, endangering the free flow of trade and threatening the sovereignty of other nations and undermining regional stability,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo added that he was confident that the US and China could work together to resolve the dispute “without resort to threats, coercion or intimidation.”

The US has been insistent on its position against China’s expanding militarization in the South China Sea.

The US Department of Defense withdrew its invitation for China in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise as an “initial response” to the latter’s deployment of anti-cruise ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment in the Spratly Islands.

China’s landing of a nuclear-capable bomber on Woody Island in the Paracels also caused alarm for the US.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, insisted that the weapons on the artificial islands are not directed to any country.

Beijing accused Washington of “hyping” the South China Sea issue.

“We urge certain people in the US to give up all the meaningless hyping up surrounding the situation and do more in a responsible way to enhance trust and cooperation between regional countries and promote regional peace and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said earlier this month.

MIKE POMPEO, MILITARIZATION, SOUTH CHINA SEA

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/06/15/1824875/us-top-diplomat-talks-south-china-sea-china#V2Edmhk1Bt382oZi.99

Philippines/China: Senate Minority Leader says time to review ‘policy of appeasement’ toward China

June 14, 2018

The government should review its policy of “appeasement and accommodation” toward China, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, saying that such a stance did not necessarily translate into economic benefits for the country.

Drilon issued the statement amid reports of increasing China’s militarization of the South China Sea conflict and of its coast guard’s taking of Filipino fishermen’s catch on Scarborough Shoal.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to their bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, May 15, 2017.

Etienne Oliveau/Pool Photo via AP

According to Drilon, President Rodrigo Duterte should reevaluate his policy of appeasement toward China as records showed that it was not resulting in increase in trade and investments and in tourist arrivals in the country.

“I think the government should review the policy of appeasement and accommodation on China,” Drilon said during the Kapihan sa Senado forum.

Drilon cited the case of Vietnam which had been vocal in asserting its rights and condemning China for its aggressiveness in staking its claim to the disputed waters, a region believed to be holding vast reserves of natural resources.

Drilon said that foreign direct investments from China for the year 2017 stood at $31 million, “very minimal” compared to the $600 million from Japan and $160 from the United States.

“Vietnam, in 2017, got from Chinese direct investment was US$2.170 billion contrasted to our US$31 million. That indicates the non-connection between the policy of appeasement as contrasted to Vietnam’s policy of confrontation,” he said.

Bilateral trade between the Philippines and China stood at $21.94 billion in 2016 while that between Vietnam and China was at $71.85 billion, he said.

Tourist arrivals in Vietnam from China reached four million in 2017 while in the Philippines it was only 968,447.

Duterte has been trying to forge closer ties to China in an effort to court Chinese money and investments in the country.

He has also chosen to take a non-confrontational approach to China’s increasing militarization of the South China Sea dispute and to back-burn a 2016 United Nations-backed tribunal ruling invalidating much of Beijing’s expansive claims to the disputed seas.

Drilon also urged the Senate to conduct an audit of the country’s foreign policy, saying that the chamber is the partner of the executive department in conducting the country’s foreign relations.

“It is only correct that the Senate be informed of how foreign relations are being conducted; otherwise we will be in the dark, and therefore, I support that proposed review of our relationship with China,” Drilon, a former justice secretary and Senate president, said.

“We are making the call addressed to the chair of the committee to assert the Senate’s role as a partner in the conduct of foreign affairs. The Senate lead should take a serious look at this and assert the role of the Senate in this area.”

Drilon said that the Philippines should be more assertive of its rights in the South China Sea and of the 2016 ruling.

Aside from China and the Philippines, a host of regional countries also have competing claims to the seas, through which $3 trillion worth of trade annually passes.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/06/14/1824572/drilon-philippines-should-review-policy-appeasement-toward-china#ZmcSTjwm30jYT3Xj.99

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Pakistan Warned: Chinese Investment is Not A Gift

June 13, 2018

Pakistan should not take CPEC for granted, writes Dr. Jia Yu. Both public and private sectors must take ownership of the opportunities.

THE economic relations between the two countries have been phenomenal, especially since the turn of the century. Early economic cooperation was based on political and security interests, like Karakoram Highway, nuclear capability, arms trade etc. Also, it was focussed on energy and mining, but there is now a need for diversification. Pakistan has to take advantage of China’s rise on the global scene. There is a tendency towards having even better economic relations based on market forces and there is a lot of under-exploited potential.

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Dr. Jia Yu

When it comes to win-win cooperation, of course there is a lot at stake for both countries. Pakistan’s interests lie in promoting growth, private sector investment, employment, exports, technology and transfer of skills as well as in the relocation of Chinese firms. China’s interests lie in overseas production bases, new export markets, energy cooperation, and its need for production capacity relocation.

A successful execution of CPEC will ensure economic progress and stability for both the countries, particularly along the border region.

The two countries signed the FTA in 2006 which came in to effect a year later. The FTAs play a major role in the general tendency of increasing trade. Surprisingly, the trade has been relatively low compared to the other neighbours (India, Vietnam, Philippines etc.). And there is a large and widening trade imbalance that needs to be worked on.

There has been a considerable increase in FDI since 2014 which is a positive sign for both China and Pakistan. The main FDI sectors by priority are: power, construction, financial services, and communication. There is, however, very little FDI in the light manufacturing sector.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a $900 billion investment, with finance channels targeting green development. It connects more than 60 countries, 60pc of the global population, 30pc of global GDP, and 35pc of global trade.

CPEC, a central link of BRI, cuts 10,000 miles of shipping by sea, and connects ports from Shanghai to Africa and Europe through Gwadar.

PAKISTAN AND CPEC

If things work out smoothly, Pakistan could use the FDI in its power and transport infrastructure and then in the manufacturing sector with the experience of leveraging SEZs to unlock this trio’s potential for rapid gains in job-rich industrialisation. This can be done without unrealistic pre-requirements as the work to lay the foundations for industrialisation has already begun.

The potentials are outlined below along with policy options needed to convert them into actions. At regional level, Pakistan has been growing steadily in terms of GDP per capita since 2010, according to the World Bank. Investors are very keen to a growing economy. Consistent growth of purchasing power (GDP per capita) really matters for domestic consumption; therefore the growth rate must be maintained to catch up with competitors.

Pakistan is one of the world’s largest reservoirs of human capital and has a tremendous potential consumer base. In 2016, the country was home to 193,203,476 people, being the world’s 6th most populous country. World Economic Forum estimates that it will be among the top five populous countries in the world by 2060.

However, a large population is necessary but not sufficient to attract investors. The population has to be equipped with adequate skills to meet industrialisation needs. Effort is also needed to attract global buyers.

Thirdly, China and Pakistan have long hailed each other as “all-weather friends”, or “iron brothers” as close as “lips and teeth” in the words of The Economist. There is already solid trust between the two countries, but the Pakistani officials need to visit China more often to convince the private investors for investment opportunities in Pakistan.

The CPEC will improve road, air, sea, and energy infrastructure. It will ensure land, sea and air security. It will enhance trade and investment facilitation and will establish free trade areas that meet high standards, maintain closer economic ties, and deepen political trust. Also, it will enhance cultural exchanges and promote mutual understanding, peace, and friendship between the people of the two countries.

Having said that, the CPEC should not be considered just a ‘gift’ from China, but the Pakistani government should also establish an FDI Advisory Board that shall promote the new image of the country. This includes visiting China more often and ensuring that investors understand the opportunities and benefits available under the CPEC.

Besides, according to the State Bank of Pakistan in November 2017, the country received net FDI worth $207 million out of which $206 million came from China. Potential investors pay significant attention to first movers, other Chinese investors may follow and eventually stay in Pakistan if the government helps the pioneers to be successful.

In terms of binding constraints, a study case of Malaysia estimates that FDI can effectively contribute to growth if it is at least 3.14pc of GDP. Pakistan should be able to compete. This requires overcoming the binding constraints by addressing security issues and risks, hard infrastructure challenges, especially SEZ-specific constraints like energy, roads to SEZs etc. Soft infrastructure challenges include corruption, rule of the law, coordination among institutions, inadequate capacity and cultural biases. Absorption capacity can be adjusted by setting yearly realistic targets of FDI amount.

There are six steps to identify the right industries, as narrated by Prof. Justin Lin. They include identifying countries with consistent growth, with GDP per capita three times as Pakistan’s or was at the same level as Pakistan 30 years ago.

Next comes investigating the existing private investment in those target industries and encourage its development by leasing the market regulations. Attracting global investors into the target industries which lack existing domestic private investment is the third step, followed by paying attention to new enterprises and supporting innovation in the target industries.

Establishing and developing SEZs to eliminate entering barriers, attracting foreign investment, and encouraging industrial cluster. And, finally, providing policy incentives for the first movers, including tax reduction, foreign exchange access, etc.

THE WAY FORWARD

Development can start from ‘low-hanging fruit’ through SEZs. The government should attract first movers to invest and help the pioneers succeed.

CPEC should not be taken for granted. Proactive and systematic approach is needed for attracting investors, together with strong market factors.

Despite long-term and solid trust at the government level, more mutual dialogues and exchanges need to be enhanced in the private sector. Let the peoples get to understand each other.

CPEC and SEZs are open for all investors, including those from other countries beyond China.

The writer is a professor at the Institute of New Structural Economics (INSE), Peking University, China.

How Beijing is winning control of the South China Sea

June 13, 2018

Erratic US policy and fraying alliances give China a free hand

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Chinese warships and fighter jets take part in a military display in the South China Sea on April 12.   © Reuters

Even by his outspoken standards, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was startling.

During a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing in May 2017, the subject turned to whether the Philippines would seek to drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Duterte said he was given a blunt warning by China’s president.

“[Xi’s] response to me [was], ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” Duterte recounted.

A year later, Duterte was asked for a response to news that China had landed long-range bombers on one of the South China Sea’s Paracel Islands — a milestone that suggests the People’s Liberation Army Air Force can easily make the short hop to most of Southeast Asia from its new airstrips. “What’s the point of questioning whether the planes there land or not?” Duterte responded.

His refusal to condemn China’s military buildup underlines China’s success in subduing its rivals in the South China Sea. Since 2013 China has expanded artificial islands and reefs in the sea and subsequently installed a network of runways, missile launchers, barracks and communications facilities.

These military advances have led many to wonder if Beijing has already established unassailable control over the disputed waters. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea and its islands – claims that are looking increasingly forlorn in the wake of China’s military buildup.

“What China is winning is de facto control of nearly the entire South China Sea, including all activities and resources in it, despite the other surrounding Southeast Asian states’ respective legal rights and entitlements under international law,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

At stake is the huge commercial and military leverage that comes with controlling one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, through which up to $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis insists that China faces “consequences” for the “militarization” of South China Sea, which he says is being done for “the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”

“There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they do not find the way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations,” Mattis said on June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a security conference organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Mac Thornberry, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, added that the U.S. naval presence means China does not have a free hand in the South China Sea.

“I think you will see more and more nations working together to affirm freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and other international waters,” Thornberry told the Nikkei Asian Review.

But what those consequences might be was left unsaid by Mattis, who suggested that there was little prospect of forcing China to give up its growing network of military facilities dotting the sea.

“We all know nobody is ready to invade,” he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis talked up the “Indo-Pacific” strategy in his June 2 speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “There is no reasonable basis for the U.S. to use military force to push China off its outposts, nor would any country in the region support such an effort.”

The U.S. pushback so far has included disinviting China from a major Pacific naval exercise. It also continues to carry out so-called freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, the most recent of which took place on May 27. This was followed by U.S. military aircraft flying over the Paracel Islands in early June, a move that prompted a countercharge of “militarization’” against the U.S. by China’s Foreign Ministry.

China regards the FONOPs as sabre-rattling and “a challenge to [our] sovereignty,” according to Lt. Gen. He Lei, Beijing’s lead representative at the Singapore conference.

He restated the government position on troops and weapons on islands in the South China Sea, describing the deployments as an assertion of sovereignty and said that allegations of militarization were “hyped up” by the U.S.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stopped short of endorsing the FONOPs but told the Nikkei Asian Review that “it is our belief that those sea lanes should be left open and free.”

In contrast to Duterte’s reluctance to confront China, his predecessor as president, Benigno Aquino, was frequently outspoken about China’s increasing control of the sea. He pressed a case against Beijing to an arbitration tribunal in 2013 after a protracted naval stand-off the year before around Scarborough Shoal, a rock claimed by both countries and lying about 120 nautical miles off the Luzon coast.

In mid-2016 the tribunal dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the South China Sea and its artificial island-building and expansion, all of which the tribunal said contravened the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Duterte said he would not “flaunt” the tribunal outcome, in contrast with his campaign pledge to assert the country’s sovereignty — he even vowed to ride a jet ski to one of China’s artificial islands and plant the Philippine flag there. Manila hopes for significant Chinese investment in roads, rail and ports, as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multicontinent plan outlining China-backed infrastructure upgrades.

Filipino activists rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila in February to protest Beijing’s continued reclamation activities in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

Defense Secretary Lorenzana emphasized in remarks to the media in Singapore that good relations with China remain a priority, regardless of bilateral disputes. “It is just natural for us to befriend our neighbor. We cannot avoid dealing with China, they are near, [and] many Filipinos, including me, have Chinese blood.”

For the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally, there are growing doubts about whether the American navy would protect them in a conflict with China, something Duterte, a brusque critic of the U.S., has questioned publicly.

Mattis, like former President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sidestepped a question on that issue in Singapore, saying, “The reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues.”

American evasiveness is a reminder to the Philippines that the U.S. might not risk war with China over its old ally. “It is debatable whether Filipinos believe that the U.S. will have its back in a conflict with China,” Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines said. “Duterte’s repeated statements against the reliability of the U.S. as an ally tends to undermine this further.”

Duterte’s reticence has left Vietnam as the sole claimant willing to speak up. Discussing recent developments in the South China Sea, Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich told the Singapore conference, “Under no circumstances could we excuse militarization by deploying weapons and military hardware over disputed areas against regional commitments.”

Lich did not name-check China in his speech, but described “a serious breach to the sovereignty” of another country that “violates international laws, complicates the situation and negatively affects regional peace, stability and security.”

As well as hindering oil and gas projects in waters close to Vietnam, China’s navy has for several years harassed Vietnamese fishing boats — as it does around the Philippines — and continues to occupy islands seized from Vietnam nearly five decades ago.

In 2014, anti-China riots kicked off across Vietnam after China placed an oil rig in South China Sea waters claimed by Hanoi. In early June there were demonstrations against proposals that protesters claimed will give Chinese businesses favored access in so-called Special Economic Zones in Vietnam.

The Lan Tay gas platform, operated by Rosneft Vietnam, sits in the South China Sea off the Vietnamese coast. China has been hindering Vietnam’s oil exploration activities in the sea.   © Reuters

Vietnam’s response to potential isolation has been a cautious dalliance with the U.S. In late 2016, shortly before the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, American warships docked in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base, the first such visit since the former antagonists normalized ties in 1995. That landmark was followed in March this year by the arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the central Vietnam city of Danang.

Hanoi recently called for greater Japanese involvement in the region’s maritime disputes, perhaps signalling an interest in a wider effort to counter China. But unlike the Philippines, Vietnam, which like China is a single party communist-run state, is not a U.S. treaty ally. Historical and ideological differences mean that there are limits to how closely Vietnam will align with the U.S.

“I think there is a good momentum with defense cooperation with the U.S. But I don’t think that it would immediately mean jumping into the ‘American camp,’ whatever it means,” said Huong Le Thu, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

From Bollywood to Hollywood

The U.S. has sought to widen the array of countries it hopes will join it in countering China’s rising influence. During his 12-day swing through Asia in late 2017, Trump peppered his speeches with references to the “Indo-Pacific,” dispensing with the long established “Asia-Pacific” label in favor of a more expansive term first used by Japan.

The “Indo-Pacific” was then mentioned throughout the U.S. National Security Strategy published soon after Trump’s Asia trip — a document that alleged China aims to “challenge American power” and “is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.”

Three days before his Singapore speech, Mattis announced in Hawaii that the U.S. Pacific Command would be renamed the Indo-Pacific Command, describing the expanded theater as stretching “from Bollywood to Hollywood.”

Mattis later added some gravitas to the cinematic catchphrase, saying in Singapore that “standing shoulder to shoulder with India, ASEAN and our treaty allies and other partners, America seeks to build an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded — the promise of freedom fulfilled and prosperity prevails for all.”

The Trump administration clearly hopes for greater Indian involvement in its efforts to counter China’s growing influence. Kori Schake, deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that while “Indo-Pacific isn’t yet an established part of the lexicon,” the implications of the term are clear.

“India is an Asian power. The countries adopting the term are encouraging India into greater cooperation in maintaining the maritime commons in the Indian and Pacific oceans,” said Schake, a former U.S. State Department official.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference, in Singapore on June 1. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

Modi enthusiastically echoed American rhetoric about a “shared vision of an open, stable, secure and prosperous” Indo-Pacific, which he described as “a natural region” — countering those who wonder if an area stretching from Bollywood to Hollywood might too vast and disparate to be cast into a geopolitical fact on the ground.

But Modi also heaped praise on China, despite its border dispute with India and increasingly close economic ties with Pakistan, India’s neighbor and nuclear rival.

“Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border,” Modi said.

China’s foreign ministry described Modi’s speech as “positive,” while one of its military delegation at the Singapore conference gloated that India and the U.S. “have different understandings, different interpretations, of this Indo-Pacific.”

China’s first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier   © Kyodo

It is perhaps no surprise then that China’s rivals in the South China Sea do not yet regard the nascent Indo-Pacific alliance-building as something to pin their hopes on when it comes to control of the sea.

“We are witnessing the great power shift toward Asia-Pacific with the ‘Indo-Pacific strategy,’ Belt and Road Initiative and a series of country grouping[s] in the region,” Lich said, cautioning that “the outcomes for the region and the world are somewhat yet to be unveiled.”

Lich’s Philippine counterpart was even more circumspect, particularly regarding the Indo-Pacific concept. “I have to study it some more,” Lorenzana said. “This is a new construct in this area.”

Nikkei staff writers Mikhail Flores in Manila and Atsushi Tomiyama in Hanoi contributed to this article.

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Cover-Story/How-Beijing-is-winning-control-of-the-South-China-Sea

Vietnam Tightens Grip on Internet With Data-Storage Law

June 12, 2018

New cybersecurity law requires internet companies to store Vietnam-based users’ data on servers in the country

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Vietnam’s plans to vigorously police the internet took a step forward Tuesday when it adopted a cybersecurity law that requires internet companies such as Facebook and Google to store their Vietnam-based users’ data on servers in the country.

Critics say the new law could make it easier for authorities in the one-party communist state to track down critics online. Legislation passed by the National Assembly also requires internet companies to open offices in the country, which they have been hesitant to do, in addition to removing content within 24 hours at the government’s request.

Last year, China enacted a law requiring that cloud data from China-based consumers be stored in the country, sparking worries about privacy. And Vietnam has steadily increased scrutiny of what is posted online as Facebook’s reach has grown.

Vietnam has seen a surge in protests over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites.
Vietnam has seen a surge in protests over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites. PHOTO:STR/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Both Facebook Inc. and Google, owned by Alphabet Inc., have long flagged their opposition to the law through the Asia Internet Coalition, which also includes companies such as Apple Inc., Yahoo and Twitter Inc. The group has warned that the measures could deter investment and undermine local businesses that have profited from a boom in social media in recent years.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, meanwhile, warned last week that the law “might not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments,” notably with the World Trade Organization.

Tuesday’s vote at the National Assembly, which is widely regarded as a rubber stamp for the government, was conducted amid strict security, with police placing barricades at the roads leading to the building. Vietnam has seen a surge in protests in recent days over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites. Many of the thousands demonstrators who took to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and other cities said they were worried that companies from Vietnam’s historic rival, China, would use the proposals to get a foothold in the country.

In some areas, cars were torched outside police stations. The government pledged to review the plans.

Some of the demonstrators had also railed against the cybersecurity law, but there was little prospect of Vietnam’s government relenting on that measure.

Late last year, Hanoi introduced a new 10,000-strong cyber unit called Force 47 to patrol the web to counter what it described as any “wrongful opinions” about the government.

The country has increased the penalties for anyone using Facebook as a platform to attack the government.

In November, a young blogger was given a seven-year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the state.” Another, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, has begun a hunger strike against her treatment in prison, according to her mother. Ms. Quynh was sentenced to a 10 years in June last year for protesting the government’s inaction on environmental issues.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com