Monthly Archives: December 2015

China building second aircraft carrier: defense ministry

The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, in September 2012 file photo. China is building its second aircraft carrier, the defense ministry said Thursday, as Beijing expands its naval capabilities amid maritime disputes with neighbors in the East and South China Seas. AFP FILE PHOTO BEIJING – China is building its second aircraft carrier, the defense ministry said Thursday, as Beijing expands its naval capabilities amid maritime disputes with neighbors in the East and South China Seas. “This aircraft carrier is being developed according to entirely domestic designs,” defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a regular briefing, adding it was under construction in Dalian, a northeastern port. The official confirmation comes after months of rumors and hints from military officials. Beijing has rapidly expanded its military in recent years, rattling its neighbors and attracting the attention of the United States, which is making a foreign policy “pivot” towards Asia. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was a second-hand Soviet ship built more than 25 years ago. It was commissioned in 2012 after extensive refits. Read more:

U.S. shifts from détente to deterrence in South China Sea

SAN FRANCISCO–In geopolitics, when détente fails, it’s time for deterrence, and nowhere more so than in the South China Sea. China’s expansionist designs on the region’s strategic shipping lanes and untapped natural resources are turning it into the next global hotspot. Last month, the U.S. – signaling its determination to assert its presence– sent one of its guided missile destroyers within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-built artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago. Beijing was so rattled it warned of a potential war. Two weeks ago, Japan reported that four Chinese coast guard ships with cannon-like weapons entered its contiguous waters near the disputed Senkaku Island. More than half of the world’s trade and five trillion dollars worth of goods traverse the region’s waters yearly. Beneath it are untold pockets of oil, natural gas and rare earth minerals. Millions of people in the surrounding Southeast Asian nations depend on it for their living. Today, China claims dominion over nearly all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims, but it is China who has played the aggressor in the absence of the American empire. It has repeatedly rammed Vietnamese fishing boats and arrested Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen in open waters over the last decade. Read more:

The Interpreter’s best of 2015: South China Sea

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2015. More to come between now and January 4 when The Interpreter will be back for 2016. South China Sea: Does Xi have a grand strategy?, by Linda Jakobson, 13 January. I do want to emphasise, however, that the word ‘chaos’ or ‘chaotic’ does not appear anywhere in the report. I do not view Chinese maritime security decision-making as chaotic. This brings me to an observation made by Michael McDevitt. On the basis of Xi’s willingness to make politically ‘courageous’ moves in his anti-corruption campaign, McDevitt questions my argument that Xi and other top leaders find it difficult to publicly disagree with officials or entities that announce or execute counterproductive stances associated with ‘safeguarding China’s sovereignty’. This is an important and possibly a valid point, which I have contemplated while watching one senior official after another being investigated. Nevertheless, on the basis of discussions this past September and November in Beijing about the anti-corruption drive, I came to the conclusion that there are different dynamics at play. The ‘rights consciousness’ movement (which Xi himself has spurred on) is so strong that it does at least to a degree deter Xi from going against the tide on matters involving sovereignty. Obviously, time will tell if I am mistaken. Finally, I do not claim that China’s maritime actors can behave in any way they choose. Xi’s guidelines box them in. As I have written in The Australian, it is entirely possible that Xi approves of most (or all) of the actions taken in China’s name. My point is that Xi is not deciding on myriad actions; numerous maritime actors are.   Read more:

The End of China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’?

For decades, the world has been debating whether China’s rise will be peaceful or threatening, or perhaps a combination of both. This is a relevant discourse, precisely because China’s rise is perhaps the question of the century. “It’s not possible to pretend that [China] is just another big player,” Singapore’s legendary leader Lee Kuan Yew argued in the early years of the post-Cold War period. “This is the biggest player in the history of man.” In the economic realm, China has arguably been a net-positive force for Asia and the global economy, reinforcing the ‘peaceful rise’ narrative forwarded by Beijing and its sympathizers. Much of the world has accepted the fact that China, poised to become the largest economy in the near future and already the world’s largest trading nation, is the new center of gravity in economic terms. This proud civilization can once again credibly claim to be the Middle Kingdom. The Philippines’ 11th hour decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a poignant reminder of how even Beijing’s most alienated neighbors can’t ignore its economic pull. Despite vigorous American lobbying against the fruition of the AIIB, all of its major allies, with the exception of Japan, have joined the China-led multilateral institution. But the ‘peaceful rise’ narrative is severely under question when one looks at China’s behavior in the geopolitical realm, particularly with respect to its weaker neighbors. In an effort to augment its sovereignty claims over what it considers as its national “blue soil,” China has inadvertently encouraged a growing number of nations to coalesce against it. One could argue that China has overplayed its hand, unleashing a dangerous strategic dynamic that threatens the whole region.   Read more:

Japan ‘regrowing’ tiny island in territorial challenge to China

KUMEJIMA (Okinawa) • Japan is growing an island in a bathtub as part of a struggle with China for control of Asia’s oceans, reported the Financial Times. The island is called Okinotorishima, or “distant bird island”; a remote, storm-wracked coral atoll 1,700km south-west of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea, where two small outcrops protrude at high tide, FT said. Japan regards the atoll as its southernmost point; China says it is merely a rock and hence not entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Now Okinotorishima is dying and threatening Japan’s claim. Climate change is raising the sea level and killing the coral that grew on top and kept the atoll’s head above water. Typhoons bite at what remains. Japan is therefore on a desperate quest to regrow the reef, FT said in a report last weekend. The results will decide the fate of a strategic redoubt, with legal repercussions in the South China Sea, it said. Japanese authorities have brought coral from Okinotorishima to the Deep Seawater Research Institute on the island of Kumejima and harvested eggs. They will grow the baby corals in a bathtub in a greenhouse at the facility for a year, then transplant them back to the atoll. Read more:

China irked at India’s South China Sea stand

Beijing has conveyed to New Delhi its concern over India’s growing clamour on the South China Sea dispute, particularly in reference to the row in the joint statement issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe earlier this month. China is understood to have conveyed its concerns to India through diplomatic channels, both in New Delhi and Beijing, making it clear that it would expect “the countries outside the region” to respect efforts being made by “the countries in the region” to maintain security and stability of South China Sea, rather than “provoking tension and confrontation”. Modi and Abe on December 12 last urged all states to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in South China Sea–apparently a call to Beijing to refrain from building new islands and air-strips in the disputed waters and from efforts to curb freedom of navigation and over flight. China, according to the diplomatic sources, conveyed to India that it always respected the freedom of navigation and over-flight for all states in the South China Sea in accordance with international laws and would continue to do so.   Read more:

South China Sea: Filipino teens camp on disputed island

(CNN)China and Taiwan are expressing their displeasure with a ragtag band of Filipino activists who have waded into a regional dispute over territory in the South China Sea. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said the Chinese government is “strongly dissatisfied” with protestors from the Philippines, who landed Saturday on a small island that is a source of tension between the two neighbors. “We once again urge the Philippine side to withdraw all its personnel and facilities from the Chinese islands and reefs it is illegally occupying,” Lu said. Some 47 young activists from the group Kalayaan Atin Ito landed on the island to protest China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, according to Joy Ban-eg, a spokesperson for the group. Read more:

Russia opposes militarization of sea disputes, continues arms support for Vietnam

Russia has expressed its opposition to the militarization of the East Vietnam Sea situation and will keep providing military assistance for Vietnam in the future. Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Konstantin Vasilievich Vnukov hosted a press conference in Hanoi on Monday to review the results of the two countries’ comprehensive cooperation in 2015. Russia has every reason to consider Vietnam an essential link in the country’s effort to cement ties with the region, primarily the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is a ten-member organization that includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Russia objects to the militarization of the issues in the East Vietnam Sea and promises to work with Vietnam and relevant countries to settle the disputes in a peaceful manner, Ambassador Vnukov said. Moscow is interested in the development of peace and stability in the East Vietnam Sea because several Russian oil companies are operating in the maritime area, he explained. Read more:

More Chinese ships join naval force in South China Sea: Report

China has deployed three new ships to naval forces stationed in the South China Sea, suggesting an enhanced capability for maritime support, a media report said on Tuesday. The three ships – the transport and supply ship Luguhu, electronic reconnaissance ship Haiwangxing and pelagic survey ship Qianxuesen – began servicing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy stationed in the Nansha Islands area in the South China Sea, according to Navy Today, the PLA Navy’s official magazine. The magazine said the supply ship can also provide medical aid at sea, while the reconnaissance ship is capable of reconnaissance missions under any weather condition, the Global Times reported. The survey ship will mainly carry out measurement missions at sea and on the islands, and can do so for an extended period of time, the magazine added.   Read more:

Asian fix needed for South China Sea problem

The island of Ly Son lies 32 km off the Vietnamese coast, on the edge of China’s claim to some 90% of the South China Sea. The population here of about 20,000 is so isolated that electricity was only installed last year. For as long as anyone can remember, the island’s fishing boats have worked unhindered in the open waters that stretch east toward the Paracel Islands, just over 320 km away. But China’s South China Sea claim has put the fishermen of Ly Son at the center of an increasingly tense international issue. It has also created an opportunity for Asia to prove that it is sufficiently robust and developed to fix the problem within the region, avoiding a superpower showdown between China and the U.S. That would mean persuading Beijing that its future lies in compromise and not confrontation. The Ly Son fishing boats are out of port  for up to 10 days at a time, each bringing in catches worth about $5,000. Once fuel, costs and crew wages are taken into account, the fish provide an adequate but by no means lavish living.   Read more: