Category Archives: West Philippine Sea

Has China Bought Brunei’s South China Sea Silence?


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An abundance of oil has supported the extravagant and famous lifestyles of Brunei’s royal family and their coterie of well connected elites for decades. But it now appears the tiny sultanate has fallen on hard times, a situation that has been setting off alarm bells not only among some within the country, but also in Southeast Asia and beyond. In particular, recent reports of growing investment from outside actors – particularly China, though also from other sources like Saudi Arabia – have led to speculation that this could affect the conduct of Brunei’s foreign policy. The South China Sea is one particularly troubling case. Brunei has long been a quiet claimant in the disputes, with much more limited claims than the other three Southeast Asian claimants: Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month. But recent developments have increased the scrutiny on the tiny, oil-rich sultanate. As the maritime dispute in the South China Sea heated up following Beijing’s assertiveness, members of ASEAN reacted differently, failing to present a united front. That no doubt pleased China, which wants a better bargaining position by negotiating with its neighbors on a bilateral basis as opposed to multilateral through ASEAN. Throughout, Brunei has been dubbed the “silent claimant.” That characterization has long begged the question of what exactly might be behind that silence. It is now being seen through the prism of the country’s dwindling economic fortunes and uncertain political future. Brunei is no doubt aware of its dwindling oil reserves and the problems that creates for the sustainability of political power. It is therefore no surprise that we have seen developments over the past few years such as the institution of sharia law, sweeping changes to the cabinet, and crackdowns on the press and other freedoms. But as these changes have occurred, one factor has loomed larger than others: China. Commentators have noted how the influx of investment from Beijing in recent years has coincided with the suppression of anything that might be deemed mildly critical of China as well as the silence by the sultanate on anything that might offend Beijing, including the South China Sea.


China coercing neighbours to reorder Indo-Pacific region: Pentagon

WASHINGTON: China is coercing its neighbours to reorder the Indo-Pacific region, the Pentagon told Congress in its annual budget proposals for the fiscal 2019, beginning October 1 this year. Trump administration today released their proposal for the fiscal year 2019 budget. Fiscal years are different from calendar years. The budgetary proposal covers October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019. “China is leveraging military modernisation, influence operations and .. Read more at:


British warship to sail through disputed South China Sea

SYDNEY, Australia – A British warship will sail from Australia through the disputed South China Sea next month to assert freedom of navigation rights, a senior official said Tuesday in a move likely to irk Beijing. China claims nearly all of the resource-rich waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities such as runways and equipment on them. PH will thank China for artificial islands someday – Roque China construction continues in disputed sea: think tank British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, would arrive in Australia later this week. “She’ll be sailing through the South China Sea (on the way home) and making it clear our navy has a right to do that,” he told The Australian newspaper after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra. He would not say whether the frigate would sail within 12 nautical miles of a disputed territory or artificial island built by the Chinese, as US ships have done. But he said: “We absolutely support the US approach on this, we very much support what the US has been doing.” In January, Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to drive away a US missile destroyer which had “violated” its sovereignty by sailing close to a shoal in the sea. China says U.S. warship violated its South China Sea sovereignty Williamson said it was important that US allies such as Britain and Australia “assert our values” in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and through which US$5.0 trillion in trade passes annually. “World dynamics are shifting so greatly. The US can only concentrate on so many things at once,” he said. “The US is looking for other countries to do more. This is a great opportunity for the UK and Australia to do more, to exercise leadership.” China in December defended its construction on disputed islands, which are also claimed by Southeast Asian neighbors, as “normal” after a US think tank released new satellite images showing the deployment of radar and other equipment.


South China Sea Photos Suggest a Military Building Spree by Beijing

China has spent years building military outposts on a group of contested islands in the South China Sea — a project that has left the country at odds with many of its neighbors and the United States. First, there was the dredging, in which ships sucked sediment from the seabed and pumped it atop formerly undeveloped reefs. Then came the buildings — once said to be for civilian purposes but which analysts now say are small military installations — followed quickly by international uproar. But the building continued. Now, some of the islands that are part of the group known as the Spratlys, where China began large-scale development in 2013, have been transformed from barren reefs into military outposts, as seen for the first time in great detail in a series of new photos. The images, which were obtained by The Philippine Daily Inquirer from an unnamed source, offer the clearest views yet of the scale of construction and the nature of the military development. The Pentagon and the Philippine military both declined to comment on the images. The New York Times has been unable to independently verify these photos, which were released with annotations that indicate they were taken between June 2016 and December 2017. But experts who monitor development in the South China Sea say the photos show the islands in dispute and are consistent with satellite imagery of the development that they have been monitoring for years.


China seeks to name sea features in Philippine Rise

MANILA, Philippines — Why is China interested in conducting research in the Philippine Rise, an area in the Western Pacific where it has no maritime territorial claim? One possible answer, according to official sources: Beijing is seeking naming rights for seven or eight submarine mountains or seamounts and ridges in Benham or Philippine Rise and the surrounding Philippine Sea. The official names will be part of the internationally recognized official bathymetric chart of the oceans, which aims to provide an accurate map of the sea floor. The first edition of the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, based on about 20,000 soundings, came out in 1904, but the map is a work in progress. A GEBCO Digital Atlas was published in 1994. Experts estimate that it will take 200 years to complete mapping of the planet’s entire ocean floor, so research contributions from various countries are accepted by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the UNESCO. Those who “discover” ocean features with the required supporting research get to name them. The Chinese Navy Hydrographic Office submitted to the GEBCO Sub-committee on Undersea Feature Names proposed names for undersea features including a seamount that it wants to call Jujiu in Benham Rise and other parts of the Philippine Sea in the Western Pacific. All are in the Philippine Basin and within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, as defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The IHO-IOC website, in its record of China’s undersea feature name proposals, shows one filed for a ridge in the Philippine Basin that Beijing says a Chinese vessel called Li Siguang Hao “discovered” in September 2004 following a survey from July to September of the same year. Beijing reportedly converted the naval vessel into a fishery law enforcement ship called Yuzheng 203 sometime in 2012.


Freedom of navigation in South China Sea

The United States Navy (USN) conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea on Jan 17 and, as anticipated, it created a current of excitement among security analysts. The main bugbear being that the operations were conducted within the 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal that China claims as part of her territorial seas. China’s Ministry of National Defence warned the US military not to threaten peace and stability by such operations in the South China Sea. The question arises as to whether US FONOP activities are posing a threat to peace and stability as stated by China or contributing to the maintenance of peace in the maritime area. The US Department of Defence’s National Security Strategy 2018 suggests that China has built facilities and militarised outposts in the South China Sea, endangered the free flow of trade, threatened the sovereignty of other nations, and undermined regional stability. China’s activities are directed towards militarisation of the features in the South China Sea and to have firm control over the sea lanes of communication there. This development is in line with China’s aspirations to gain geopolitical mileage in the new world order. The US views China as pursuing major military modernisation plans aimed at minimising the former’s presence in the region and facilitating the latter’s ability to act freely. Prior to the strategy document, the US had warned China of severe consequences if reclamation continues. FONOPs are used as an instrument to reinforce the US’ position on freedom of the seas and is a component of her strategy in dealing with China in the South China Sea. China’s protest over the FONOP is based on her claim that Scarborough Shoal is within its maritime area and that the USS Hopper had illegally entered Chinese waters. China has vowed to safeguard its interests and this has been repeatedly reiterated in policy statements and strategic goals. China’s grand strategy envisages her emergence as one of the world’s top eight maritime powers by 2030 and a mid-level maritime nation among the top five maritime powers. In 2049, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the People Republic of China, China is expected to be among the top three maritime powers. To achieve this, China has to protect her territorial integrity, maritime interests and expand her influence in the maritime front to beyond her shores. The speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China highlighted the Chinese dream of building a powerful military and its wish to make every effort to modernise its national defence and armed forces. The Chinese leadership has been promoting “law-based governance” to ensure Chinese characteristics are guaranteed in the way global and regional issues are managed. The Chinese government intends to implement this at “every point in the process and over every dimension of law-based governance”. In this regard, although Article 58 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that “all states have high seas freedom of navigation and over-flight, and may conduct other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms…”, China and many other coastal states interpret it differently. China holds that it is not a blanket definition and freedom of navigation does not mean freedom to conduct military exercises and intelligence activity in the area of a coastal state. Hence, China’s attempt to deny the US from conducting navigation within the area.


Protect the ‘Philippine Rise’; Prevent the ‘Philippine fall’

By Fidel V. Ramos Former Philippine President “It would be ‘dumb’ of the Philippines to allow China to explore Philippine Rise despite Beijing’s disrespect for a UN-backed arbitral court ruling recognizing Manila’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea…..” — Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 15 January 2018) “Benham, or Philippine, Rise is part of our EEZ and the exploitation of its resources is exclusively ours…..” — Rafael Alunan III (Business World, 30 January 2018) Our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over which the Philippines has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. It stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles (nmi) from the coast. THE TERM “EEZ” DOES NOT INCLUDE EITHER THE TERRITORIAL SEA OR THE CONTINENTAL SHELF BEYOND THE 200 NMI LIMIT. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TERRITORIAL SEA AND THE EEZ IS THAT THE FIRST CONFERS FULL SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE WATERS, WHEREAS THE SECOND IS MERELY A “SOVEREIGN RIGHT” WHICH REFERS TO THE COASTAL STATE’S RIGHTS BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE SEA. THE SURFACE WATERS ARE INTERNATIONAL WATERS. LISTEN TO THE SUPREME COURT SENIOR ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SUPREME COURT SENIOR ASSOCIATE JUSTICE ANTONIO CARPIO WAS QUOTED IN THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER (15 JANUARY 2018), THUS: “Carpio, the leading figure in the Philippines’ fight to nullify China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, said the Duterte Administration should stop Beijing from conducting marine scientific research in the Philippine Rise until it accepted the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. “The ruling invalidated China’s sweeping claim and declared Beijing had violated Manila’s sovereign right to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the Philippines’ 200 nmi EEZ in the South China Sea. “China, which did not take part in the arbitration, ignored the ruling and went on to build artificial islands on reefs in the Spratly archipelago, topping some of them with runways and military installations…..” President Rodrigo Duterte, however, refused to assert the Philippine legal victory, preferring loans, investments and development assistance from China. The ruling would benefit other claimants to territory in the South China Sea – through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. THE REFUSAL OF CHINA TO COMPLY WITH THE ARBITRAL AWARD OF THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL IS NOT A “NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCE,” AND THUS THE PHILIPPINES SHOULD REFUSE CHINA’S REQUEST FOR MARINE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IN BENHAM RISE, CARPIO ADDED. WHAT IS THE PHILIPPINE RISE? PRESIDENT DUTERTE ISSUED EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 25 IN MAY 2017 CHANGING THE NAME OF “BENHAM RISE” TO “PHILIPPINE RISE.” THE PHILIPPINE RISE IS A 13-MILLION-HECTARE UNDERWATER PLATEAU IN THE PHILIPPINE SEA, 250 KILOMETERS EAST OF ISABELA PROVINCE, BELIEVED TO BE RICH IN RESOURCES. IN 2012, THE U.N. OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED THE RISE AS PART OF THE PHILIPPINE CONTINENTAL SHELF, GIVING OUR COUNTRY “SOVEREIGN RIGHTS” TO EXPLORE AND EXPLOIT RESOURCES ON THE…


China to bring 4G+ telecom services on man-made islands in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines — China’s navy and telecommunication corporations are reportedly working to improve communications system in Chinese-occupied features in the disputed South China Sea by bringing 4G+ services in the area. The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea. On Friday, state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the Chinese navy has signed an agreement with Beijing’s three largest telecom operators to “comprehensively upgrade” civil communication system on Chinese reefs in Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) islands. The project is targeted to be completed in May. “The project will greatly increase the number of telecommunication base stations on some islands and reefs, such as Yongxing (Woody), Yongshu (Kagitingan), and Meiji (Panganiban),” Xinhua reported. “The operators also promised more affordable service packages for users,” it added.


PH govt, being the steward of the national patrimony, needs to be transparent on Benham Rise

THE news that the Philippines has given its consent to China to conduct scientific research in Benham Rise, renamed Philippine Rise, has provoked much controversy. The Benham Rise, with a submarine area roughly the size of Greece, is believed to be rich in gas deposits. There is, therefore, great anxiety, in being informed about the measures that the Philippines is taking to ensure that the Philippines is adequately safeguarding its sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources in this submarine area. As a maritime country located in the center of the archipelagic continent, the Philippines actively participated in the three UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea, to advocate the creation of new maritime zones for coastal states and lobby for the emergence of a New International Economic Order. The Philippines has been a leader of the Group of 77, which emerged at the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) as a negotiating bloc to reflect the perspectives of developing countries. UNCLOS III was conducted over a nine-year period between 1973 and 1982 with 11 negotiating sessions spread across 585 days and held in three countries. One of the beneficial outcomes for the Philippines from this conference was the recognition of its sovereign rights to the Benham Rise. Concept of sovereign rights Benham Rise is located in the Philippine Sea near Aurora province. This submarine area is the “natural prolongation” of the land territory of the Philippines, and by virtue thereof, the Philippines has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit its natural resources under the doctrine of the continental shelf. However, Benham Rise is not part of the Philippines’ territory over which the Philippines enjoys sovereignty or the full plenitude of powers to control the activities in the area. The concept of sovereign rights means that the coastal state should exercise its rights without unjustifiably interfering with navigation and other rights and freedoms of other states in the area as provided in the convention. PH govt, being the steward of the national patrimony, needs to be transparent on Benham Rise

South China Sea claimants urged to ‘set aside’ row for environment’s sake

MANILA – Sovereignty issues in the South China Sea should be set aside to protect the environment, as years of unregulated fishing and China’s recent island-building caused fish catch to drop, an analyst said Friday. Over 160 square kilometers of coral reefs were “severely damaged or destroyed” due to “giant clam harvesting, dredging, and artificial island building,” a 2017 report from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said. “All countries should set aside for the time-being arguments over sovereignty and argument over the limitations of their maritime claims and economic shelf because under international law, you have the obligation to protect the environment and fish even when disputes are outstanding,” AMTI Director Gregory Poling said.