Monthly Archives: March 2018

Chinese air force holds drills over South China Sea, Western Pacific in ‘preparation for war’


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H-6K bombers, Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets were among the aircraft involved in the combat patrols and drills, and they also passed over the Miyako Strait, which lies between two Japanese islands, the air force said in a statement on Sunday. It called the exercises the air force’s best preparation for war. The air force did not say when or specify where the drills took place. Beijing’s muscle flexing came days after lawmakers approved changes to the Chinese constitution and confirmed a new government line-up. During his closing speech to the legislature on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping sent a strong nationalist message, saying China would crush any attempt to “divide the nation” and highlighting Beijing’s hardline stance towards any talk of independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong. Beijing accuses US of ‘serious provocation’ after destroyer sails through disputed South China Sea The air force released footage of the drills, as Japan’s defence ministry on Friday confirmed that eight Chinese military aircraft – including six H-6K bombers, a Tu-154 reconnaissance plane and a Yun-8 transport plane – had passed over the Miyako Strait that day. Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi province, said the scale of the exercise was unusual for China’s air force. “Rather than a fighter jet or two, numerous military aircraft with multiple functions passed over the Miyako Strait before they carried out this mission – this is by no means something that happens regularly,” Zeng said. The Su-35 fighter jet was among a number of military aircraft involved in the exercises. Photo: PLA Air Force The country is in the midst of an ambitious military modernisation programme overseen by Xi, with a heavy focus on its air force and navy, from building stealth fighters to adding aircraft carriers. Beijing insists it has no hostile intent, but its sabre-rattling in the busy South China Sea, and around Taiwan, has touched a nerve in the region and in Washington.

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U.S. Destroyer Sails Near Chinese-Held Island

On Friday, as the U.S. and China sparred over trade and tariffs, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mustin conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in proximity to Mischief Reef, a Chinese-occupied feature in the Spratly Islands. In a statement, a spokesperson for U.S. Pacific Fleet declined to confirm the specific operation. “We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” Lieutenant Commander Nicole Schwegman told Reuters. The last published instance of a U.S. Navy FONOPS surface patrol near a Chinese claim was a transit by the USS Hopper within 12 nm of Scarborough Shoal, a disputed feature also claimed by the Philippines and Taiwan. Beijing objects to the U.S. Navy’s presence near its island claims in the South China Sea, and China’s defense ministry described the latest FONOPS as “illegal.” “The provocative behavior by the U.S. side will only cause the Chinese military to further strengthen building up defense abilities in all areas,” the ministry said in a statement. In remarks carried by Chinese state media, defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said that the PLA(N) warships CNS Huangshan and CNS Liupanshui were dispatched to warn off the USS Mustin. He asserted that China’s sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea is “without question.” “The U.S. should stop making trouble out of nothing,” Ren said. “Its provocations would only urge the Chinese military to further enhance our defense capabilities to protect sovereignty and security and regional peace and stability.” In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague dismissed China’s broad claims to the South China Sea, finding China’s assertions of sovereignty to be inconsistent with UNCLOS. Mischief Reef, a coral atoll in the Spratly Islands, is the site of a 1,400-acre Chinese installation built upon reclaimed land. It features an 8,500-foot runway and is believed to have close-in weapons systems (CIWS) and anti-aircraft guns on site. It is also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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‘Serious harm to sovereignty’: Beijing angry after US destroyer sails near disputed islands

The passage of a US Navy destroyer near the Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea was a major political and military provocation against Beijing, the Chinese Defense Ministry has warned. The USS Mustin came within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago, known as Nansha Islands in China, Reuters reported Friday, citing unnamed officials. The Chinese Defense Ministry was quick to confirm the report, coming up with a fiery rebuff of Washington’s behavior in the region. The Chinese Navy vessels Huangshan and Zhenjiang “took immediate action… to warn off and dispel” the US warship, Ren Guoqiang, the ministry’s spokesman, said in a statement.

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US warship sails near disputed islands in South China Sea, officials say

WASHINGTON – A US Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation on Friday, coming within 12 nautical miles or about 22 kilometers of an artificial island built by China in the disputed South China Sea, US officials told Reuters. Friday’s operation, a move likely to anger China. was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Mustin traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands and carried out maneuvering operations. China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the area, including the Philippines. Neither China’s Foreign nor Defense Ministries immediately responded to a request for comment. In the past, Beijing has reacted angrily to such moves, saying they are provocative. The US military has a longstanding position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations. However, the latest operation, the first since January, comes just a day after US President Donald Trump lit a slow-burning fuse when he signed a presidential memorandum that will target up to $60 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs, but only after a 30-day consultation period that starts once a list is published.

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US Navy warship closely sails off Mischief Reef

The US Navy carried out a freedom of navigation operation in one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea on Friday, news agency Reuters reported, citing US officials. The USS Mustin sailed 12 nautical miles off Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in the Spratly Islands, a group of islands also being claimed by the Philippines. The warship also “carried out maneuvering operations” there, the report said. The US military said it was part of their “routine and regular freedom of navigation operations” that they have done in the past and “will continue to do in the future.” An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in 2016 that Mischief Reef belongs to the Philippines. China has reclaimed land and massively constructed artificial islands on several reefs in the South China Sea to bolster its claims. The islands are capable of supporting military facilities, which has become a concern for several nations. Also on Friday, China announced that it will carry out combat drills in the South China Sea as part of its annual exercises, China’s Defense Ministry said. Quoting the PLA Navy’s [People Liberation Army] staff department, the ministry said in its website that the exercises is a “routine arrangement within the PLA Navy’s annual plan and it aims to test and improve the troops’ training level and comprehensively enhance the capability to win.” It said that the drills are not aimed at any specific country or target. A military expert told Chinese publication Global Times that Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, may participate in the drills for the first time. Details of the drills or its specific location in the South China Sea were not discussed, but the report said it will be held “in China’s territorial waters.” /jpv US Navy warship closely sails off Mischief Reef

South China Sea: Vietnam ‘scraps new oil project’

The two countries had a tense stand-off in 2014 when China drilled for oil in disputed waters Vietnam has cancelled a major oil project in the South China Sea for the second time in a year, in the wake of Chinese pressure, the BBC has learned. State-owned PetroVietnam ordered Spanish energy firm Repsol to suspend a project off the south-east coast, a well-placed industry source said. It means Repsol and partners could lose up to $200m of investment already made. The news is unexpected as final preparations for commercial drilling were under way. China is likely to regard this move as a significant victory. The Vietnamese decision seems to demonstrate that the recent show of force in the South China Sea by the United States has not changed Vietnam’s strategic calculations.

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Philippines plans marine base on island near Taiwan to deter poaching

MANILA, March 22 (Reuters) – The Philippines will start building a marine base next month on its northernmost uninhabited island, near Taiwan, to boost defence arrangements and discourage poachers from its fishing grounds, a military spokesman said on Thursday. The two nations’ coast guard ships have confronted each other in the rich fishing waters where their exclusive economic zones overlap, and the neighbours nearly cut ties in 2013, after a Philippine vessel fired on a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing a fisherman. “We need to have a presence there,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Isagani Nato, spokesman of the Northern Luzon Command of the Philippines, adding that building work on Mavulis island would start next month. “It’s still uninhabited, that is why we are going to put up a facility to guard our maritime domain, and against poaching during the fishing period.” Nato said a small marine unit would be stationed on the island, also known as Y’Ami, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) distant from Taiwan, to increase the military presence and improve information gathering. He did not give details of the size of the unit, but added that the structures on the island would also afford shelter to fishermen. The base will help monitor ships passing through the Balintang Channel, an international trade route in the northern Philippines used by vessels crossing from the busy waterway of the South China Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Taiwan and the Philippines also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with Brunei, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. More than 20 years ago, Philippine defence officials said Taiwan had proposed to lease the uninhabited island as a gunnery range for its military, promising to donate a secondhand fighter as part of the deal. Nothing came of the agreement as Manila recognises Beijing’s one-China policy, although it has a de facto embassy in Taipei, where thousands of Filipinos work in homes and factories. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Indonesia pushes for Southeast Asian patrols of disputed waters

SYDNEY – Indonesia has lobbied Southeast Asian countries to carry out maritime patrols in the disputed South China Sea, claimed in most part by China, to improve security, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Friday. Indonesia says it’s a nonclaimant state in the South China Sea dispute, but has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands and expanded its military presence there, and also renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone, asserting its own maritime claim. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne held talks with their Indonesian counterparts Retno Marsudi and Ryacudu in Sydney, ahead of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. Australia is hosting the meeting, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China’s rising influence. “For the South China Sea, I went around to friends – ASEAN defense ministers – so that each country that faces the South China Sea patrols up to 200 nautical miles, around 230 kilometers,” Ryacudu told reporters at a joint press conference.

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Eastern Mediterranean starting to resemble disputed South China Sea

The eastern Mediterranean Sea has become a very busy place, and pressure abounds among coastal neighbors there. Governments are declaring exclusive economic zones (EEZs), but they overlap. States are granting duplicate licenses for natural gas exploration and drilling. Mammoth energy corporations and coastal states are signing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of hydrocarbon agreements. Frequent maritime safety broadcasts are informing of endless military exercises. Israel and Lebanon are on edge over hydrocarbon reserves. Lebanon awarded bids last month to France’s Total SA, Italy’s Eni SpA and Russia’s Novatek to drill for oil and gas in Blocks 4 and 9 within Lebanon’s EEZ. Israel doesn’t recognize these bids and claims that all of Block 9 is within its EEZ. Then there is the crisis between Turkey and Greek Cyprus, which is becoming progressively militarized. A tense military standoff took place Feb. 9 between the Turkish navy and Eni’s Saipem 12000 drilling ship, which is licensed by the Greek Cypriot administration to explore hydrocarbon reserves south of the island. In my Al-Monitor Feb. 15 opinion piece “Tempers flare over gas exploration in Mediterranean,” I wrote, “Ankara thinks the tensions in the Aegean [Sea] and eastern Mediterranean Sea aren’t coincidental. Ankara feels the natural gas alliance of Greece, Greek Cypriots, Israel and Egypt — being aware of the Turkish military’s capacity shortcomings since the July 2016 coup attempt, its military involvement in Syria and its increasing isolation — is scheming for diplomatic, economic and military faits accomplis.” Ankara still believes that. Read more:

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China is ramping up its presence in the South China sea — and it’s all about oil

While it’s no secret that China has been intensifying its building frenzy, including military installations on islands, reefs and inlets in the heavily disputed South China Sea, it is also becoming increasingly clear that Beijing is not afraid to draw a line in the sand over these mostly dubious claims. Late last week, while downplaying his country’s geopolitical ambitions, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi still couldn’t resist plugging the party line. “Beijing’s resolve to protect the peace and the stability of the South China Sea cannot be shaken,” Wang said, adding that the problems in the region are due to “foreign forces” which “have sent fully armed warships and fighters to the South China Sea to flaunt their military might.” His reference to so-called foreign forces include increased freedom of navigation voyages by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, which is for all intent and purposes, an U.N.-mandated international waterway. Lately, Australia and even the U.K. have started to challenge Beijing’s claims in the troubled water way. China, which has over-lapping territorial claims in the South China Sea with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, claims nearly 90 percent of the sea in what is commonly referred to as its nine-dash line.

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