Vietnam Taking Long-Term Hard Line Toward China on Maritime Claims


FILE - A Vietnamese floating guard station is seen on Truong Sa islands, or Spratly island.

FILE – A Vietnamese floating guard station is seen on Truong Sa islands, or Spratly island.

TAIPEI —
Vietnam is lengthening a military runway on a tiny islet to help hold off a larger, more aggressive China for control in Asia’s widest-reaching sovereignty dispute as other claimants keep quiet or seek negotiations.

The government in Hanoi is extending the runway on one of the Spratly Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, from 762 to 1,005 meters and building new hangars, according to the U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The longer runway would allow easier access for the air force’s maritime surveillance aircraft, it said.

Historic use of the sea, strong national pride and a history of deadly conflicts are motivating Vietnam to fortify more than two dozen islands in the chain.

“The Vietnamese have to play a very careful game,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist at Mekong Economics in Hanoi. “They don’t really want to provoke China, but they also can’t just let China do whatever it wants to do.

China has also irritated Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines since 2010 with its quick expansion into the 3.5-million-square-km (1.4 million-square-mile) ocean.

Standing up to China

But other governments normally keep quiet when China passes ships through their maritime zones. Malaysia, for one, hopes to protect its extensive trade and investment relations with the world number two economy, while Brunei is also quiet.

The Philippines, once hostile enough to take the maritime dispute to a world arbitration court, began making peace with China in August. The two sides may now explore jointly for undersea fossil fuels.

Vietnam has already done landfill work on 27 South China Sea islets, more than any other claimant, though China’s land reclamation is grabbing more headlines.

Vietnam has also acquired submarines and spent heavily on military expansion over the past eight years, analysts note.

Unique cause for concern

Vietnam is uniquely wary of China for historical reasons, analysts say. The two sides fought a border war in 1979 and have reported three major clashes at sea. An incident in the Paracel Islands in 1974 sank a South Vietnamese navy ship with the captain on board, killing a total 71 from both sides. A 1988 naval battle left 64 Vietnamese dead.

From 1992 to 1996, Vietnam staved off China’s efforts to explore some of the sea’s islets, but China has taken an upper hand since then despite a 2007 plan in Vietnam to link maritime resources to its coastal economic development.

Two years ago Vietnamese and Chinese vessels rammed each other in the Gulf of Tonkin after China allowed an offshore oil driller to position a rig in overlapping waters. The oil rig incident sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam and left 21 dead. Vietnam protested a Chinese rig using the same waters in April.

“I think, number one, they have very unfortunately experienced in the past that they have had actual military confrontation with China in terms of protecting their maritime interests,” said Andrew Yang, secretary general with the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan.

Historic claims

Vietnamese people have used the South China Sea for hundreds of years, stoking the nationalism behind today’s dispute with China. Before North and South Vietnam were unified in the 1970s, the south maintained military and civilian communities in the Spratlys. Its claims to the ocean now also overlap with Malaysia and the Philippines.

“The Vietnamese leadership still has to be very sensitive and responsive to what the Vietnamese people really feel and want,” he said. “There’s a strong anti-China sentiment and there’s very strong nationalism in Vietnam, so they have to be seen to be pushing back against China but at the same time they realize you can’t poke the bear too often or you get a really bad backlash.”

Vietnamese officials once believed the South China Sea to hold oil and natural gas reserves off their south coast, McCarty said, but they eased away due to the cost of exploration. The country is not “sophisticated” in deep-sea fishing, another common economic reason countries cite for their interest in the South China Sea, he said.

As China builds up tiny disputed islets with the capability of launching planes, Vietnam fears its claims will be harder to defend, McCarty said.

Hanoi seeks peace with Beijing

Still, the country counts China as its top supplier of raw material for a fast-growing manufacturing sector. China is also Vietnam’s top trading partner.

The Communist government in Hanoi squelched the 2014 riots in part to keep peace with Beijing. In September, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc pledged to manage their differences over maritime issues.

At the same time, Vietnam is pursuing closer security ties with Japan, India and the United States as a bulwark against China.

“They’ve gone much further than Malaysia and much, much further than the Philippines to be able to represent a deterrent [to China],” said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia.

In May the U.S. government lifted a 30-year-old embargo against selling lethal weapons to Vietnam and separately it has offered $18 million in military aid. Japan is also sending maritime patrol boats to Vietnam.

China prefers two-way talks with rival maritime claimants to solve disputes and has lashed out at the United States for intervention.

“Vietnam had long been negotiating bilaterally with China, but Vietnam is different in saying that where third party interests are involved, then they have a right to be involved,” Thayer said.

Source: VOA “Vietnam Taking Long-Term Hard Line Toward China on Maritime Claims”

Note: This is VOA’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Vietnam expanding South China Sea runway: U.S. think tank


A ship (top) of the Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of the Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Nguyen Minh/File Photo

A ship (top) of the Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of the Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Nguyen Minh/File Photo

Vietnam is extending a runway on an island it claims in the South China Sea in apparent response to China’s building of military facilities on artificial islands in the region, a U.S. think tank reported on Thursday.

Satellite images taken this month showed Vietnam had lengthened its runway on Spratly Island from less than 2,500 feet (760 meters) to more than 3,300 feet (1 km), Washington’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said.

AMTI, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said continued reclamation work would likely mean the runway was extended to more than 4,000 feet (1.2 km).

It said the upgraded runway would be able to accommodate maritime surveillance aircraft and transport planes, as well as combat aircraft.

The report said Vietnam had added about 57 acres (23 hectares) of land to Spratly Island in recent years, but its reclamation work remained modest by Chinese standards.

China has built military-length runways on three artificial islands it has built up in the South China Sea since 2013.

Reuters reported in August that Vietnam had discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route.

Military analysts said the deployment of the launchers was the most significant defensive move Vietnam has made on its holdings in the South China Sea in decades and it underscored Hanoi’s concerns about China’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the disputed region.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has called the information “inaccurate”, without elaborating.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Source: Reuters “Vietnam expanding South China Sea runway: U.S. think tank”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Report: China Could Make a Big Move in the South China Sea Starting Next Month


China's J-10 fighter jet. Image: Creative Commons.

China’s J-10 fighter jet. Image: Creative Commons.

By Harry J. Kazianis August 14, 2016

It seems if the People’s Republic of China is going to make a push to radically alter the status-quo in the South China Sea—by reclaiming the hotly disputed Scarborough Shoal that is clearly within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines—we now have a good idea of when that might happen: sometime between early September, after the G-20 summit being hosted in China, and the U.S. presidential election on November 8th.

The idea was laid out in a recent article in the South China Morning Post in an article dated August 13th. The report, quoting “a source familiar with the matter”, said that Beijing would not carry out any reclamation work on the Shoal before hosting the G-20 next month but could begin construction before America goes to the polls. “Since the G20 will be held in Hangzhou next month, and regional peace will be the main topic among leaders of the great powers, China will refrain from [acting on the] reclamation plan,” explained the source, who was not identified.

As I noted in a recent piece, if China were to make a big move in the South China Sea, especially to counteract the recent ruling in the Hague that nullified any possible claims to almost the entirety of this important body of water, after the G-20 and before the U.S. presidential election makes the most sense. As I explained:

“Always looking to enhance its status as a rising superpower as well as play the part that China is the ultimate partner nation and never one to start trouble, Beijing will follow a carefully well scripted playbook in the South China Sea — lots of fiery talk and signaling, but no escalatory steps for the time being. China would not want to risk having any drama at this prestigious gathering — beyond what could occur already when it comes to tensions in Asia. Why rock the boat and lose face? Now is simply not the time for a squabble. I would argue Beijing has every incentive to hold its fire until after the summit.

But the plot thickens from there, adding more reason to the argument that Beijing is holding back for the right time to respond. Why not take advantage of the daily media drama show that is the U.S. Presidential election cycle and save any escalatory moves in the South China Sea so they simply get buried in the news cycle?

There could not be a better time to start trouble in the South China Sea, at a time when the United States—truly the only nation that could really deter Beijing from troublemaking — will be very much distracted in the business of selecting its next Commander-in-Chief. American as well as global media will be very much focused on the battles to come between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton…”

But there is also now another reason such an anonymous source might want to come forward and reveal such information, stating such a move “is a must for China”, especially right now: it puts pressure on Manila to reach a settlement. With reports like the above advancing a narrative of possible reclamation as well as recent deployments of large numbers of ships around the shoal as well as ‘bomber selfies’ over the area, China is signaling it may be getting ready to act boldly. And with newly appointed Philippines envoy, former President Fidel Ramos, just concluding talks in Hong Kong, in what was described as an ice-breaking session, pressure is mounting on Manila to not only speed up negotiations, but agree to a settlement on China’s terms.

How Washington responds to the gathering storm clouds over the South China Sea is critical. The Obama Administration should continue to make clear—it has done so now on at least a few occasions, according to press reports—reclamation at Scarborough would be a mistake, signaling the creation of what Center for New American Security (CNAS) scholar Patrick Cronin called a “pink line”, essentially that Washington could, and I emphasize could, consider such a move a game changer, and act according. But such statements, with this administration having such little time in office left and likely unable to react decisively unless staring down the possibility of a major crisis—knowing it would need to hand off any major policy shifts in Asia to a new administration—could ring hollow. Considering this, China might decide now is the time to lock in its gains in the South China Sea.

One thing is for certain, it stands to reason Asia watchers here in Washington may very well have a very busy fall indeed.

Harry J. Kazianis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest and Senior Editor at The National Interest Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter: @grecianformula.

Source: National Interest “Report: China Could Make a Big Move in the South China Sea Starting Next Month”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


U.S. flexes muscles as Asia worries about South China Sea row


U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The United States stepped up pressure on China on Saturday to rein in its actions in the South China Sea, with top defense officials underlining Washington’s military superiority and vowing to remain the main guarantor of Asian security for decades to come.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. approach to the Asia-Pacific remained “one of commitment, strength and inclusion”, but he also warned China against provocative behavior in the South China Sea.

Any action by China to reclaim land in the Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop in the disputed sea, would have consequences, Carter said.

“I hope that this development doesn’t occur, because it will result in actions being taken by the both United States and … by others in the region which would have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating China,” Carter told the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security forum in Singapore.

“The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come – and there should be no doubt about that.”

The South China Sea has become a flashpoint between the United States, which increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific under President Barack Obama’s “pivot”, and China, which is projecting ever greater economic, political and military power in the region.

Carter however said he would welcome China’s participation in a “principled security network” for Asia.

“Forward thinking statesmen and leaders must … come together to ensure a positive principled future,” he said, adding that the network he envisaged could also help protect against “Russia’s worrying actions” and the growing strategic impact of climate change.

The deputy head of China’s delegation to the forum said the United States should reduce its provocative exercises and patrols in the region and said any attempts to isolate China would fail.

“This is a time of cooperation and common security,” Rear Admiral Guan Youfei told reporters. “The U.S. action to take sides is not agreed by many countries. We hope the U.S. will also listen to the other countries.”

REGIONAL WORRIES

Other Asian leaders said the situation in the South China Sea was viewed with concern across the region.

“All countries in the region need to recognize that our shared prosperities and the enviable rate of growth that this region enjoys over past decades will be put at risk by aggressive behavior or actions by any one of us,” Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told the forum.

Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said his country would help Southeast Asian nations build their security capabilities to deal with what he called unilateral, dangerous and coercive actions in the South China Sea.

“In the South China Sea, we have been witnessing large-scale and rapid land reclamation, building of outposts and utilization of them for military purposes,” Nakatani said. “No country can be an outsider of this issue.”

A Chinese official responded by saying Japan should be careful “not to interfere and stir up problems” in the waterway, while China’s foreign ministry also weighed in regarding the U.S. and Japanese comments.

“Counties outside the region should stick to their promises and not make thoughtless remarks about issues of territorial sovereignty,” the ministry said in a statement.

Trillions of dollars of trade a year passes through the South China Sea, which is home to rich oil, gas and fishing resources. Besides China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have claims in the area, and rising tensions have been fuelling increasing security spending in the region.

“The uncertainty of China’s future trajectory is arguably the main driving concern about possible military competition now and in the future,” Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Carter said that for decades some critics had been predicting an impending U.S. withdrawal from the region, but this would not happen.

“That’s because this region, which is home to nearly half the world’s population and nearly half the global economy, remains the most consequential for America’s own security and prosperity.”

TRUMP COUNTER

In an apparent counter to “America-first” policies expounded by prospective Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including suggestions that U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Asia, Carter stressed bipartisan support for continued engagement.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is being held ahead of a significant ruling expected in coming weeks on a case filed by the Philippines in the International Court of Arbitration challenging China’s South China Sea claims, which Beijing has vowed to ignore.

The United States has been lobbying Asian and other countries to back the judges’ statement that their ruling must be binding, a call echoed by Japan on Saturday.

China has lobbied on the other side for support for its position that the court lacks jurisdiction in the case.

(Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia, Masayuki Kitano, Lee Chyen Yee and Paige Lim in Singapore and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lincoln Feast)

Source: Reuters “U.S. flexes muscles as Asia worries about South China Sea row”


Kerry Wise to Know Lifting Arms Ban on Vietnam Cannot Hurt China


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh pose for a photo before a signing ceremony at the Government Guesthouse as part of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh pose for a photo before a signing ceremony at the Government Guesthouse as part of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

Reuters reports today that US Secretary of State Kerry said that Lifting of Vietnam arms ban not aimed at China.

Kerry knows well improving ties with Vietnam aims at China but knows well that it cannot hurt China; therefore, he said lifting arms ban is not aimed at China to cover US true intention.

Anyway, it is good for the US to lift its stupid ban. US can make lots of profit in its sales to Vietnam.

US imposed sanctions on China after China defeated it in Korea but lifted the sanctions on its own later.

US imposed sanctions on Cuba after the invasion of Cuba supported by it was defeated but lifted sanctions on its own later.

US imposed sanctions on Vietnam after Vietnam defeated it but lifted sanctions on its own later.

Sanctions have been proved ineffective on China, Cuba and Vietnam but the US remains stupid in imposing sanctions on Russia now. Obviously, the sanctions do not work. Russia is more aggressive in Ukraine and even extends its aggression to Syria. Will the US not lift the sanctions soon as it hurts not only Russia but also itself and its EU allies?

Sorry, since the US has been defeated by China, Cuba and Vietnam and has no alternative to stop Russian aggression, sanctions are its only option perhaps though not effective.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters report. Full text of Reuters report can be viewed at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-vietnam-obama-kerry-idUSKCN0YF1MV.


China Conducting Land Reclamation in Paracels in Addition to Spratlys


North and Middle Islands before and after land reclamation

North and Middle Islands on January 9 when land reclarmation began and on March 2 when much land reclamation had been done.

The Diplomat says in its report on March 7 titled “Satellite Imagery: China Expands Land Filling at North Island in the Paracels”, “Satellite imagery from March 2, 2016 shows a marked expansion of China’s dredging and land filling at North Island in the Paracels.”

The dredging did not begin until January 2016 and the report says, land reclaimed links North Island with Middle Island to accommodate a runway. The report believes that China may build an airstrip there though there is an airfield in nearby Woody Island. China will have three airstrips in the Spratlys. Two in the Paracels are not too many.

Source: The Diplomat “Satellite Imagery: China Expands Land Filling at North Island in the Paracels”

Full text of the report can be viewed at http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/satellite-imagery-china-expands-land-filling-at-north-island-in-the-paracels/


China Built Largest Island to Deal with US Warplanes from Filipino Bases


The artificial island at the southern end of Mischief Reef showing a newly-built seawall on its north side and a completed dock are shown in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative January 8, 2016 satellite image released to Reuters on January 15, 2016. REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe/Handout via Reuters/Files

The artificial island at the southern end of Mischief Reef showing a newly-built seawall on its north side and a completed dock are shown in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative January 8, 2016 satellite image released to Reuters on January 15, 2016. REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe/Handout via Reuters/Files

I said in my post “Too Late for Philippines’ Two-way Talks with China on Maritime Dispute” on February 13:

China has developed enough anti-ship missiles to resist the attack from US aircraft carrier battle groups, but the US is still able to attack China with its attack nuclear submarines from the South China Sea where sea is deep enough for such submarines to maneuver. However, the submarines will be detected by China after they have launched the attack. They need the protection of fighter jets from Philippine military bases. In order to deal with US air force from the Philippines, China has been building its largest artificial island on Mischief Reef.

Note: The island on Mischief Reef is the largest at the South China Sea with an area of 5.52 square kilometers now. It is located the nearest to the Philippines.

In fact, before China realized the need to deal with such submarine attack with air protection from Filipino bases, China focused on building its artificial island on Fiery Cross Reef for control of the South China Sea. The construction of the artificial island on Mischief Reef began much later, but due to the strategic importance of the artificial island on Mischief Reef for China’s national security, the construction there has become China’s first priority. As a result, China said it would soon complete its land reclamation on some reefs in mid July 2015 and according to satellite photos, it had indeed finished the reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef by September 2015. However, it continued to conduct large-scale land reclamation on Mischief Reef.

In its report “U.S. admiral warns against Chinese fighter flights from South China Sea runways” yesterday, Reuters provides a photo taken in January that shows how much China did in its land reclamation there since June 2015. We provide the photo on top of this post.

The photos below show the artificial island in May and June last year. Compared with the above photo taken in January, we see how much land reclamation had been done since May 2015.

Mischief Reef in May and June 2015

Mischief Reef in May and June 2015

China is building a runway 2.6 km long on the artificial island on Mischief Reef according to Wikipedia. China said its artificial islands were mainly for civil purposes. Do you believe that? No one will build a civilian airport on an island without civilian population. Even if there is civilian population the size of the island of only 5.52 square kilometers does not justify the construction of a civilian airport there. Therefore, it is very clear that the artificial island on Mischief Reef has been built for China’s national security.

Reuters says in its report:

Any move by China to fly jet fighters from runways on its new man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea would be destabilizing and would not deter U.S. flights over the area, a senior U.S. naval officer said on Monday.

 

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, also urged Beijing to be more open over its intentions in the South China Sea, saying it would relieve “some of the angst we are now seeing”.

The island can be turned into a military base whenever necessary as China can build all the necessary facilities there now mostly secretly. The US can do nothing no matter what angst it has.

The fact now is that with its artificial islands, China has geographical advantages at the South China Sea if a war breaks out there.

Comments by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, the full text of which can be viewed at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-china-idUSKCN0VO1BP