Monthly Archives: February 2017

China Wants to Turn Water Into Territory in the South China Sea (and Beyond)

China’s longstanding campaign to redefine water as territory—territory where the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) fiat is law—proceeds apace. Lovers of maritime freedom must reject this campaign in all its forms. In other words, all nations that use the world’s oceans and seas to transact diplomacy, trade and commerce, and martial enterprises must rally against it. Exhibit A: last week the CCP-affiliated tabloid Global Times reported that Beijing plans to amend its Maritime Traffic Safety Law (1984). The revised law will empower the authorities to “designate specific areas and temporarily bar foreign ships from passing through those areas according to their own assessment of maritime traffic safety.” Among other provisions, it will require foreign submarines to pass through “China’s waters” on the surface while flying their national flags to identify themselves. CCP potentates are apt to take an extravagant view of what constitutes “China’s waters.” The Legislative Affairs Office of the ruling State Council further declared that the amendments conform to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), often dubbed a “constitution for the oceans.” And so they may—if China restricts the law to the territorial seas authorized by UNCLOS. For instance, Article 20 of UNCLOS explicitly states: “In the territorial sea, submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.”

PH, China agree to further advance maritime cooperation

THE Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the China Coast Guard (CCG) have agreed to further strengthen the two countries’ maritime cooperation amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In its official website, the PCG said both sides have agreed to cooperate in the sectors of preventing and combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes; search and rescue (SAR); environment protection and emergency response through, among other modalities; information exchange; and pragmatic empowerment activities unique for coast guard and enforcement agencies. The agreements were made during the Second Organizational Meeting and the inaugural meeting of the Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) in Subic, Zambales from February 20 to 22. The PCG said a hotline mechanism to facilitate the communication in agreed areas was also established. The PCG and CCG also settled to conduct bilateral exchange activities this year, which include the following: high-level visits, maritime operations and related exercises, vessel visit and capacity building. In October 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the establishment of the JCGC on maritime cooperation between the two countries. Under the new leadership of Duterte, Manila started to seek a warmer relationship with Beijing, which has been constrained due to the disputed territories in the South China Sea. Based on a “nine-dash-line,” China has claimed sovereignty on almost all of the South China Sea, resulting in territorial conflicts with its neighboring countries including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

China’s Big Missile Defense Move in the South China Sea: A Game Changer?

Satellite imagery appears to confirm that China has nearly completed construction of new fortification that could be used to house advanced surface-to-air missiles batteries such as the HQ-9. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the fortifications are being built on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs. “Eight of these buildings are being constructed on each of the three outposts. Each measures about 66 feet long and 33 feet wide,” the CSIS posting reads. “Unnamed intelligence officials who spoke to Reuters indicated that the roof of each concrete building is retractable. This could allow transporter-erector-launcher vehicles carrying missiles—like the HQ-9 SAM systems China has already deployed on Woody Island—stationed within the structures to fire from inside without exposing themselves.” For the Chinese, the fortified launch positions are an advantage because systems such as the HQ-9—which would normally move as part of their survival strategy–don’t have room to maneuver on the small artificial islands. “Unlike the HQ-9s on Woody Island, which are covered only by camouflage netting, those deployed to the Spratlys would enjoy some protection from the elements, especially corrosive seawater,” the report states. “With the roofs closed, the shelters would also conceal launchers from view, thwarting overhead surveillance and preventing adversaries from knowing how many launchers (if any) are present at any given time. Finally, in the event of actual conflict, the structures could withstand indirect strikes or small weapons fire.”

Report: China Nears Completion of Militarizing Island Chain

WASHINGTON — China is almost finished building military structures on its artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS), Reuters reports, in a development that is sure to test the new Trump administration. Unnamed U.S. officials told the news service construction is almost complete on nearly two dozen structures with retractable roofs designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on the Spratly Island chain. The new development could be considered a military escalation on China’s part, several experts told VOA, and could serve as an early test for President Donald Trump, who took a hard line against China throughout his campaign. “This is part of their effort to eventually control that first island chain in the SCS and assert their claim, even though they have been completely repudiated by the International Court of Appeals, The Hague, based on the Law of the Sea Treaty, of which they are a member,” Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told VOA. Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Hawaii-based security think tank Pacific Forum, told VOA this was another step in China’s recent attempts to further militarize the islands.

U.S. Flexes Its Military Muscle Off China

As China flexes its military muscle in the South China Sea, the U.S. is responding with its own show of force that includes ships, fighter jets and submarines, as well as the test launch of nuclear-capable missiles. According to internal military reports reviewed by NBC News, almost every week brings another display of U.S. hardware in the waters off China, in a response that has only grown more aggressive since the inauguration of President Trump. A U.S. Navy carrier battle group centered on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is now moving through the South China Sea, the stretch of Pacific bounded by China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Three attack submarines, the USS Alexandria, USS Chicago and USS Louisville, have deployed in the Western Pacific in the past month, and at least one has entered the South China Sea. Also in February, the U.S. sent a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to Tindal AB in northern Australia, the closest Australian military airbase to China, for coalition training and exercises. It’s the first deployment of that many F-22s in the Pacific. And if that didn’t get the attention of the Chinese government, the U.S. just tested four Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles during a nuclear war exercise, sending the simulated weapons 4,200 miles from the coast of California into the mid-Pacific. It’s the first time in three years the U.S. has conducted tests in the Pacific, and the first four-missile salvo since the end of the Cold War.

Beijing cements South China Sea land grab with missile defense sites while the world awaits US response

New satellite photography from the South China Sea confirms a nightmare for the US and champions of free navigation everywhere — Beijing has reinforced surface-to-air missiles sites in the Spratly Islands. For years now, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarizing them with radar outposts and missiles. The latest move seems to have been months in the making, so it’s not in response to any particular US provocation, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. China previously deployed close-in weapons systems, which often serve on ships as a last line of defense against incoming missiles, and have toggled on and off between positioning surface-to-air missiles on Woody island in the Paracel Islands chain. But this time it’s different, according to CSIS’ Bonnie Glasser, director of the China Power Project. China has not yet deployed the actual launchers, but Satellite imagery shows the new surface-to-air missile sites are buildings with retractable roofs, meaning Beijing can hide launchers, and that they’ll be protected from small arms fire.

China continues to militarize South China Sea—experts

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Recent satellite imagery appears to show China is completing structures intended to house surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on a series of artificial islands in the South China Sea, a Washington think-tank said Thursday. According to images published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the structures are being installed on Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. The AMTI, which is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said China appears to have begun construction on the buildings between late September and early November 2016. “This indicates they are not reactions to the political cycle in Washington, but rather part of a steady pattern of Chinese militarization,” the group wrote. China has already installed HQ-9 SAMs on Woody Island, but these are only covered by camouflage netting, AMTI said. The new structures would provide the SAMs with better protection from seawater and the elements. Beijing has created seven islets in the Spratly Islands in recent years, built up from smaller land protuberances and reefs. Although Beijing insists it does not wish to militarize the contested waters of the South China Sea, ongoing satellite imagery has shown the installation of military equipment and longer runways. China continues to militarize South China Sea—experts

How to Stop China in the South China Sea Flight operations aboard USS Carl Vinson in January.

All eyes on Taiwan, America’s ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ China has once again raised the stakes in one of the world’s most fiercely contested waterways — this time, for the first time, on Donald Trump’s presidential watch. New satellite photos have revealed that China is building surface-to-air missile (SAM) facilities on Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross Reefs in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. These are part of the network of artificial islands, or the Great Wall of Sand, that China has been building in the Spratlys since 2014. The construction project has now grown to more than 3,000 acres and includes airstrips and hardened structures for military aircraft, mobile anti-aircraft batteries, and radar units, and hardened sites for aircraft. In an NRO article in December, I predicted that the stage was being set for installing SAM batteries as the next step to militarizing the Spratlys — something China’s president, Xi Jinping, swore in 2015 would never happen. Now it’s coming to pass. All of it is part of China’s strategy of imposing its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea — by force if necessary. The key question is, What can the Trump administration can do about it? Read more at:

South China Sea: Why Global Markets Ignore China’s Repeated Warnings

China is getting noisier and noisier in the South China Sea, sending warnings to every nation that challenges its ambitious agenda—to write the navigation rules for the world’ busiest sea trade route. Like a warning Beijing sent to Taiwan and the US last December in the form of a naval force demonstration, as a group of Chinese warships that included the country’s only aircraft carrier made its way to the South China Sea after passing south of Taiwan in a “routine” exercise. Then there are warnings to Japan in the form of “red lines,” to South Korea in the form of import bans and boycotts of Korean products, and to India by not supporting New Delhi’s bid to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). The trouble for China is that nobody seems to take its warnings seriously. At least global financial markets aren’t, for the time being. In fact, global markets have been in a rally mode in recent months. Even as Beijing’s South China Sea protests intensified in recent months. With one exception: the Philippines’ financial markets that have been confused by the President Duterte’s flip-flops.

West Philippine Sea Primer (15 July 2013)

THE PRIMER is an initiative of independent researchers. The facts and analyses presented herein represent the authors’ own appreciation of published material and primary sources that were accessible to them during the course of the research. They do not represent any position of the government of the Republic of the Philippines, unless stated otherwise, nor of the publisher. The purpose of this Primer is to make available in a single updated volume a simplified and objective rendering of the historical background, current conditions, pertinent issues and policy questions regarding the territorial and maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. It is intended to assist students, researchers, media practitioners, non-specialist members of the civil service, as well as the general public, in deepening their understanding of the many different issues of the West Philippine Sea disputes. The questions and answers are framed from a Filipino perspective that focuses on information that the authors considered to be most important and of interest to citizens of this country, rather than information that may be highlighted by various foreign authors, organizations or governments. The contents are not intended as advocacy of any particular position or policy recommendation. The authors would like to thank Lucio B. Pitlo III for his invaluable research assistance in the preparation of this Primer. For inquiries and comments, please contact the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman. Aileen S.P. Baviera, PhD Jay Batongbacal, JSD UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES