Philippines Gives Hefty Jail Terms to 12 Chinese Fishermen


 FILE - Protesters wearing snorkels and masks show the thumbs-down sign during a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consular office at the financial district of Makati city, metro Manila, April 10, 2013.   Related Articles  Philippines Seeks Pause in S. China Sea Development Activities FILE - Protesters wearing snorkels and masks show the thumbs-down sign during a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consular office at the financial district of Makati city, metro Manila, April 10, 2013.


FILE – Protesters wearing snorkels and masks show the thumbs-down sign during a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consular office at the financial district of Makati city, metro Manila, April 10, 2013.

A court in the Philippines has given long jail sentences to 12 Chinese fishermen for fishing illegally in the South China Sea.

It is the latest incident likely to raise tensions between Manila and Beijing, which have competing claims in the resource-rich region.

The Chinese fishermen were arrested in April 2013 after their boat ran aground at the Tubbataha Reef in the western Philippines.

The coral reef is well within Philippine territory and is not claimed by China. The fishermen say they were taking refuge there during a storm.

The captain of the boat was given 12 years in prison. The 11 others received jail sentences ranging from six to 10 years.

The men face possible additional jail time because they were found in possession of a protected species of mammal called a pangolin.

The men, who also received a $100,000 fine each, pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, putting it at odds with several of its neighbors, including the Philippines.

The Philippines earlier this year challenged the legality of China’s claims at an international tribunal in The Hague. Beijing was angered by the move and has refused to participate in the case.

Source: Voice of America “Philippines Gives Hefty Jail Terms to 12 Chinese Fishermen”

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U.S. lawmakers call Chinese actions in South China Sea ‘troubling’


A Chinese ship (R) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 5, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine  Credit: REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

A Chinese ship (R) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 5, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine
Credit: REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

Six U.S. senators urged their colleagues on Friday to support legislation reaffirming U.S. support for freedom of navigation, saying they consider China’s recent actions in the South China Sea troubling.

China this week accused Vietnam of intentionally colliding with its ships in the South China Sea after Vietnam asserted that Chinese vessels used water cannon and rammed eight of its vessels during the weekend near an oil rig China deployed in a disputed area.

“These actions threaten the free flow of global commerce in a vital region,” Democratic Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Jim Risch of Idaho and John McCain of Arizona said in a joint statement.

China’s movement of the rig and “subsequent aggressive tactics” by its ships are “deeply troubling,” they said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Friday of stoking tensions in the disputed region.

China claims almost of the South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts or all of the oil- and gas-rich waters from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The six senators introduced a resolution in April affirming U.S. support for freedom of navigation in the region and urging the parties involved in any territorial disputes to seek peaceful democratic resolutions.

Separately on Friday, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, termed China’s action “needless provocations.”

Source: Reuters “U.S. lawmakers call Chinese actions in South China Sea ‘troubling’”

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Southeast Asia group calls on China to speed up maritime security talks


A Chinese ship (R) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 5, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine  Credit: REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

A Chinese ship (R) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 5, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine
Credit: REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters

Southeast Asian foreign ministers voiced “serious concerns” on Saturday over naval clashes between Vietnam and China as the regional group’s top official urged Beijing to step up efforts to advance talks on maritime security.

Foreign ministers and heads of state of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are facing a test of unity at their summit this weekend as some members express alarm over China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and push for a strong joint statement.

Tensions ratcheted up in the past week after China positioned a huge oil rig in an area also claimed by Vietnam, with each country accusing the other of ramming its ships in the region close to the disputed Paracel Islands.

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh, who is Vietnamese, told Reuters the incident added urgency to concluding talks between ASEAN and China on agreeing a code of conduct in the resource-rich sea – a set of maritime rules to ease tensions.

But he pointedly said China’s efforts to conclude the talks had fallen short of ASEAN’s. Despite holding three rounds of talks since last year, the discussions had yet to focus on “substantive issues,” he said.

“We need efforts on both sides,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.

“On ASEAN, we have made great efforts. We need efforts on the part of China.”

Tensions over the sea, which is claimed in part by four ASEAN members as well as China and Taiwan, have strained the group’s unity in recent years, resulting in an embarrassing breakdown of a summit in Cambodia in 2012.

In their statement, ASEAN foreign ministers on Saturday called for “an early conclusion” of the code of conduct and expressed concern about “increased tensions in the area”.

At the summit, which ends on Sunday, countries including Vietnam and the Philippines are pushing for a strong statement, while others – mindful of China’s economic weight – are reluctant to directly criticize Beijing, diplomats say.

Myanmar, which is chairing ASEAN for the first time this year, signaled a softer approach to China.

Myanmar’s government spokesman, Ye Ht, said ASEAN and China have a “very good relationship” and both recognize China’s continued growth as a political and economic power should not be marred by conflict with its neighbors.

“China is not only big friends with Myanmar, but China is also the biggest trade partner with most of the ASEAN countries,” he told reporters in Naypyitaw. “So China’s peaceful rising is very important for the ASEAN region.”

TERRITORIAL CLAIMS

Both Vietnam and staunch U.S. ally the Philippines have insisted the South China Sea be discussed at the summit.

Philippine diplomats told Reuters some member states were opposed to issuing a separate statement on the latest South China Sea dispute or mentioning the tensions in the final communiqué due to be released on Sunday.

China says territorial disputes should be discussed on a bilateral basis. It claims the entire South China Sea, putting it in conflict with Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. The last four are ASEAN members.

Speaking to reporters in Manila, Philippine President Benigno Aquino rejected calls from China for bilateral talks to resolve territorial issues and said dialogue will not resolve the issues that are also affecting other regional countries.

Tensions spiked in another part of the South China Sea over the past week when Beijing demanded the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands, which both countries claim.

Source: Reuters “Southeast Asia group calls on China to speed up maritime security talks”

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Philippines jails Chinese fishermen for infringing wildlife law


Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) stand guard next to some of the 11 Chinese fishermen, who were arrested by Philippine officials, as they arrive at PNP Maritime Special Boat Unit Palawan headquarters in Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa, western Philippines May 8, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Liezel Chiu

Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) stand guard next to some of the 11 Chinese fishermen, who were arrested by Philippine officials, as they arrive at PNP Maritime Special Boat Unit Palawan headquarters in Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa, western Philippines May 8, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Liezel Chiu

The Philippines has jailed 11 Chinese fishermen caught with endangered sea turtles off a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said on Saturday, rejecting demands from China to free the men.

China has claims on the South China Sea, an area rich in energy deposits and an important passageway traversed each year by $5 trillion worth of ship-borne goods. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the area.

The Philippine National Police on Tuesday intercepted a Chinese fishing boat carrying about 350 marine turtles off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys, arrested its crew and took them to the southwestern province of Palawan to face charges of violating wildlife protection laws.

If found guilty, the fishermen, who were transferred to a provincial jail late on Friday, face prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years. But each can post bail of 150,000 pesos ($3,400) to secure temporary liberty while facing trial.

“They will remain in detention until the office of the provincial prosecutor has determined whether there is probable cause for the filing of formal charges,” said Allen Ross Rodriguez, a government lawyer.

China’s embassy in Manila on Thursday sent a diplomat to Palawan to interview the fishermen and work for their early release. But authorities said they must go through the judicial process.

A panel of Philippine officials has to decide separately on charges of illegal entry after the fishermen were caught about 60 miles off Palawan, but within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

China has demanded the release of the vessel and its crew, saying it has undisputed sovereignty over the area and adjacent waters in the South China Sea.

Tension is also rising in the Paracel islands after China parked its biggest mobile oil rig 120 miles off the coast of Vietnam, with each country accusing the other of ramming its ships in the area, in the worst setback for Sino-Vietnamese ties in years.

The incidents in the Paracel and Spratlys islands are likely to be taken up by Southeast Asian leaders who are due to hold an annual summit in Myanmar’s capital on Sunday.

Source: Reuters “Philippines jails Chinese fishermen for infringing wildlife law”

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US says concerned about China-Vietnam incident in South China Sea


Chinese oil rig

Chinese oil rig

The United States said on Wednesday it was concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation in the South China Sea after reports of a Chinese vessel ramming Vietnamese ships. It called for restraint on all sides.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated the U.S. view that China’s deployment of an oil rig in a disputed part of the South China was “provocative and unhelpful” to security in the region.

“We are strongly concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area,” she told a regular news briefing.

“We call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and appropriate manner, exercise restraint, and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law.”

Psaki said the United States had seen reports that Philippine police had seized Chinese and Philippine fishing boats carrying illegally harvested sea turtles in the South China Sea and detained their crews.

“We urge both sides to work together diplomatically,” she said. “Given the United States works with the international community to combat wildlife trafficking, we are concerned that the vessels appear to be engaged in direct harvest of endangered species of sea turtles.”

China has demanded that the Philippines release its boat and

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed two of its ships in a part of the South China Sea where the giant oil rig was deployed.

It said the collisions took place on Sunday and caused considerable damage to the Vietnamese ships. Six people sustained minor injuries, it said.

The dispute comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Asia to underline his commitment to allies there, including Japan and the Philippines, locked in territorial disputes with China.

China has not yet responded to the Vietnamese allegations of ramming, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said earlier on Wednesday that the deployment of the rig had nothing to do with the United States, or Vietnam.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Source: Reuters “U.S. says concerned about China-Vietnam incident in South China Sea”

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Philippines, U.S. begin war games focusing on maritime threats


U.S. and Filipino military officers salute during the opening ceremony of the Balikatan 2014 Joint Exercise inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila May 5, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

U.S. and Filipino military officers salute during the opening ceremony of the Balikatan 2014 Joint Exercise inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila May 5, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Thousands of Philippine and U.S. soldiers began annual war games on Monday, the first under a new security pact with the United States, focusing on maritime security in the face of China’s growing naval presence in the disputed South China Sea.

The joint exercises “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) would test the combat readiness of the two oldest allies in this part of the world to respond to any maritime threats, including piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The new security pact was signed last week just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama visited. Obama said the agreement was a testament to Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and was an “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines.

The Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which is said to be rich in energy deposits and carries about $5 billion in ship-borne trade every year. The Spratlys in the South China Sea are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to excessive and expansive maritime and territorial claims, undermining the rule of law,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said at the opening ceremony at the main army base in Manila.

“The aggressive patterns of behavior aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region. Balikatan 2014, with its focus on maritime security, strongly supports our capabilities to address these challenges.”

Asked about the exercises, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said all sides needed to work “constructively” to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

“We hope that the relevant U.S.-Philippines drills can work in this direction,” she told a daily news briefing.

On Saturday, a navy plane dropped food and water to troops stationed on a transport ship that ran aground on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. Chinese coast guard ships have set up a blockade around the shoal.

Nearly 5,500 American and Filipino troops are taking part in the two-week drills in different parts of the main island of Luzon. The war games will see U.S. F-18 fighters rehearse bombing runs and troops involved in live fire drills.

Under a new security pact, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed last week during Obama’s visit, the U.S. will have wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store supplies and equipment for 10 years in exchange for increased support on maritime security and humanitarian assistance.

The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War.

Dozens of leftwing activists protested outside the main army base in Manila, saying the Americans were using China as a bogeyman to gain a forward base in the Philippines.

“Our armed forces will not modernize just because we conduct war games with U.S. forces,” said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of leftwing group Bayan (Nation).

“Our capacity to defend our territory against China will not be improved just because there are training exercises.”

Source: Reuters “Philippines, U.S. begin war games focusing on maritime threats”

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Philippines says U.S. obligated to help in case of attack


Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers a statement during a news conference in Manila March 30, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers a statement during a news conference in Manila March 30, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

The United States has a treaty obligation to help the Philippines in case of an attack on its territory or armed forces in the South China Sea, the Philippine foreign minister said on Wednesday, rejecting questioning of a security pact.

The United States and the Philippines on Monday signed a 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing U.S. forces wider access to Philippine bases and to position ships, aircraft, equipment and troops for maritime security.

The deal was testimony to an “ironclad” U.S. commitment to defend its oldest Southeast Asian ally, U.S. President Barack Obama told troops from both countries this week while on a visit to Manila.

But Obama did not say categorically the United States would defend the Philippines in its territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, leading to some questions in the Philippines about the scope of the pact.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario issued a statement on Wednesday apparently aimed at dispelling doubts about the deal.

“Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the U.S. will come to the assistance of the Philippines if our metropolitan territory is attacked or if our armed forces are attacked in the Pacific area,” del Rosario said.

“In 1999, in a diplomatic letter, the U.S. affirmed that the South China Sea is considered as part of the Pacific area.”

China claims virtually the whole of the South China Sea and has in the past couple of years been much more assertive in staking its claim.

In 2012, China seized control of a disputed reef known as the Scarborough Shoal, preventing Filipino fishermen from getting near the rocky outcrop.

Last month, the Chinese coastguard blocked two civilian Philippine ships from delivering food and water to soldiers deployed aboard a Philippines navy transport vessel at another disputed spot, Second Thomas Shoal.

They continue to blockade the area.

HARD WORK

The Philippines in March lodged a case against China at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague to try and settle the festering territorial dispute.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims on the South China Sea, where $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year and is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

China’s Foreign Ministry said maintaining peace and stability “accords with all sides’ interest” and would require hard work by all sides.

“The (Chinese) people have reason to demand that any agreement signed by the United States and the Philippines accords with this principle and does not harm mutual trust with other countries in this region and regional peace and stability,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing.

Some Philippine legislators and non-government organizations have criticized the security deal with the United States as unconstitutional and said it unfairly favors the United States.

“Through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the Philippine government has surrendered our sovereignty to free-loading U.S. forces,” said Renato Reyes of the left-wing Bayan (Nation) group.

Source: Reuters “Philippines says U.S. obligated to help in case of attack”

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Obama looks to salvage Asia ‘pivot’ as allies fret about China


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

When a Philippine government ship evaded a Chinese blockade in disputed waters of the South China Sea last month, a U.S. Navy plane swooped in to witness the dramatic encounter.

The flyover was a vivid illustration of the expanding significance of one of Asia’s most strategic regions and underscored a message that senior U.S. officials say President Barack Obama will make in Asia next week: The “pivot” of U.S. military and diplomatic assets toward the Asia-Pacific region is real.

Washington’s Asian allies, however, appear unconvinced.

During Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia that begins on April 23, his toughest challenge will be to reassure skeptical leaders that the United States intends to be more than just a casual observer and instead is genuinely committed to countering an increasingly assertive China in the region.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula – and perceptions of limited U.S. options to get Moscow to back down – has heightened unease in Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere about whether Beijing might feel emboldened to use force to pursue its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

There is also suspicion among some Asian allies that if they come under threat from China, the United States – despite treaty obligations to come to their aid – might craft a response aimed more at controlling damage to its own vital relationship with China, the world’s second-biggest economic power.

For Obama, the tricky part of the trip, which will include stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, will be deciding how to set limits on China in a way that soothes U.S. allies in Asia but avoids stoking tensions with Beijing.

“Obama’s upcoming visit will be the most critical test of this administration’s Asia policy,” said Richard Jacobson, a Manila-based analyst with TD International, a business risk and strategic consulting firm.

U.S. officials say the Obama administration’s long-promised “rebalancing” of America’s economic, diplomatic and security policy toward Asia is on track, largely unaffected by the attention demanded by the crisis in Ukraine or persistent troubles in the Middle East.

The Asia “pivot” – as the White House initially dubbed it – represented a strategy to refocus on the region’s dynamic economies as the United States disentangled itself from costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But doubts about Washington’s commitment to Asia are simmering in some allied capitals.

“It was a welcome policy change, but will they do it?” Yukio Okamoto, a former Japanese government adviser on foreign affairs said of the strategic shift toward Asia that Obama announced in 2011. “We do not see any actual sign” of its implementation.

When Obama announced the eastward shift, the most dramatic symbol of the new policy was the planned deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia, where they would be primed to respond to regional conflicts. It took until this month to build up forces to 1,150 Marines based in Darwin, and the full contingent is not due to be in place until 2017.

“The U.S. pivot towards Asia has had very few tangible, concrete outcomes so far,” said Adam Lockyer, a foreign policy and defense analyst at the University of New South Wales.

A SIGN OF ANXIETY

Obama will try to put those concerns to rest while in Manila, where Philippine officials say he is expected to sign a security pact that will allow for increased use of Philippine bases by U.S. ships, aircraft and troops.

Manila’s acceptance of a beefed-up U.S. military presence, a politically sensitive issue in the independent-minded archipelago nation, would reveal the scale of Philippine anxiety over China.

The Philippine Senate voted to evict the U.S. military from their bases in 1991, ending 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines, and has only gradually allowed the return of U.S. forces for limited operations during the past decade.

The Philippine government is struggling to keep control of Second Thomas Shoal, where it has a military outpost on a reef surrounded by Chinese coastguard ships. The outpost itself is a huge, rusting World War Two transport vessel that the Philippine navy intentionally ran aground in 1999 to mark its claim.

Eight or so Filipino soldiers live there for three months at a time in harsh conditions on a reef that Manila says is within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. China, which claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, says the shoal is part of its territory.

Last month, a U.S. surveillance plane was spotted overhead as a Philippine vessel dodged Chinese coastguard vessels to deliver supplies and fresh troops to the outpost.

Such U.S. aircraft normally conduct their missions at higher altitudes, so the fact that its flyover was in full view of journalists monitoring the incident on the surface below suggested that the United States wanted to make its presence known. A Chinese plane and a Philippine military aircraft also flew above the area at different intervals.

The administration has promised that the United States will reposition naval forces so that 60 percent of its warships are based in Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade, up from about 50 percent now. But as the U.S. military budget contracts, that likely would represent part of a shrinking U.S. defense pie.

Obama’s aides brush aside complaints about the U.S. follow-through on the pivot strategy, saying that no matter how much attention Washington devotes to friends and partners in the region, the allies will always want more from their superpower friend.

“Questions by Asia-Pacific allies about the degree of American commitment has been a constant component of our relationship for 60-plus years. It’s not new,” said a senior U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “It doesn’t mean the U.S. won’t do more to work with them.”

MAKING UP FOR OBAMA’S NO-SHOW

Obama himself helped to fuel some of the skepticism about the United States’ commitment to Asia when he abruptly canceled a long-planned trip to Asia to attend two regional summits last fall and stayed home to deal with a U.S. government shutdown.

Since then, negotiations have dragged on over a proposed U.S.-led trans-Pacific trade pact that is widely seen as the economic centerpiece of Obama’s pivot strategy.

In this tense regional climate, Obama can be expected to appeal directly to Asian leaders to have faith in America’s resolve to keep China in check and discourage any notion that Beijing could emulate Russia’s takeover of Crimea by seizing contested islands and shoals from its neighbors.

“Among countries in Asia, there has been an increase in the level of anxiety about what lessons China may be drawing from Russia and Ukraine,” the senior U.S. official said.

While sticking to a U.S. refusal to take sides in the maritime disputes, Obama will seek to reassure South Korea, Japan and the Philippines that Washington is “fully committed to our defense treaties” with them, the official said.

Obama’s Japanese hosts likely will only be satisfied if the president takes a tough stand against China and in solidarity with Japan amid growing concern that Washington’s defense commitment may be wavering.

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a bitter row in the East China Sea over tiny, uninhabited isles administered by Japan, especially since China announced the creation of a controversial new air defense zone covering the area, which the Japanese call Senkaku and the Chinese call Diaoyu.

Relations between Japan and China have been further poisoned by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial shrine for war dead seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism – a move that drew U.S. criticism as well.

Obama, the U.S. official said, will send a message during his Asian tour to China that “it should not use intimidation or coercion” against its neighbors.

That is not likely to go down well in Beijing, where visiting U.S. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel faced harsh accusations last week from Chinese officials who claimed that Washington’s regional agenda was aimed at blocking China’s rise.

Source: Reuters “Obama looks to salvage Asia ‘pivot’ as allies fret about China”

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China fires shot across U.S. bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland April 7, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland April 7, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

In one of the many frank exchanges U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had in China this week, General Fan Changlong told him how one of his uncles died as a slave in a Japanese mine during World War Two.

Fan, deputy head of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, spoke about the lessons of history, signaling Beijing’s concerns that the United States was siding with Japan against China.

Hagel replied by saying his own father had helped fight Japanese forces in World War Two.

“The secretary made it very clear that we should be informed by history but not driven by it,” a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to recount a conversation on Tuesday that he described as terse.

The exchange sums up the frustration in China over America’s role in Asia, where in the eyes of Beijing, Washington is increasingly supporting Japan as well as other countries over territorial disputes with China. The United States has said it is not taking sides but stands ready to defend its allies.

China, some experts said, appeared to be getting anxious that recent tough talk from U.S. officials over the disputed East and South China Seas could be a preview of what U.S. President Barack Obama would say when he visits Asia this month.

Dispensing with diplomatic protocol, China has made clear this week that it does not want Obama jumping in with both feet when he travels to Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

While Beijing has territorial disputes with all three, its ties with Japan and the Philippines, both U.S. allies, are in the deep freeze. Obama will also visit South Korea, with whom Beijing is enjoying warm relations.

China is at loggerheads with Japan in the East China Sea over uninhabited islets that are administered by Tokyo. China also claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of those waters.

“Obama needs to pay serious consideration to this issue when he comes to Asia…China has already put this message across during the meetings with Hagel,” said Ruan Zongze, a former diplomat with the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry.

“The United States is moving in a direction we don’t want to see, taking sides with Japan and the Philippines, and China is extremely unhappy about this.”

An Obama administration official acknowledged to reporters traveling with Hagel that the tone was sharper on issues surrounding the South and East China Seas than it had been on the last visit by a U.S. defense secretary to China. That was when Hagel’s predecessor Leon Panetta visited in 2012.

“But in other areas the tone was actually improved,” the Obama administration official said, pointing to discussions on Sino-U.S. military cooperation and even North Korea.

CHINA DISSATISFIED

On Tuesday, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan told Hagel that Washington should restrain Japan and chided the Philippines.

Fan told Hagel outright that the “Chinese people are dissatisfied” with U.S. support for Japan and Southeast Asia, according to a statement carried on the Chinese defense ministry’s website.

The influential tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Wednesday that such strong words “have not been seen much in the past”.

China’s ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two. Japan’s repeated official apologies for wartime suffering are sometimes undercut by contradictory comments by conservative politicians.

For its part, China has alarmed the region, and Washington, with its increasingly tough line on territorial disputes.

It announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years last month, a signal from President Xi Jinping that China is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness.

China’s military spending has allowed Beijing to create a modern force that is projecting power not only across the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas, but further into the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and who has advised the government on diplomatic issues, said the last thing Beijing wanted was for Obama to round on China when he is in Asia.

“They hope that the Obama visit will not be used to rally other countries against China. If you listen to the harsh rhetoric of senior (U.S.) administration officials, this is a genuine concern.”

Much of the tough comments from U.S. officials have come since China announced the creation of a controversial new air defense identification zone that covers the disputed Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea.

“They (Chinese officials) are trying to figure out whether it’s the lower level (U.S.) people coming out and making these comments so the boss doesn’t have to, or whether it’s moving to a crescendo,” said Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“I think there is a concern that this debate could be swayed substantially if Obama were to make very forthright comments on this trip and that could tip the balance internally and make it more difficult for Xi to emphasize the Sino-U.S. relationship as paramount.”

Source: Reuters “China fires shot across U.S. bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip”

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US Defense chief prods ‘great power’ China to respect neighbors


U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (L) testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on ''The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense'' on Capitol Hill in Washington March 6, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (L) testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on ”The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense” on Capitol Hill in Washington March 6, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on the eve of a trip to China, called on Beijing to use its “great power” responsibly and said he would urge its leaders to respect neighbors increasingly anxious over its posture in territorial disputes.

“Great powers have great responsibilities. And China is a great power,” Hagel said, adding he wanted to talk with China about its use of military power, and encourage transparency.

Hagel was speaking during a visit to ally Japan, where there is growing concern over China’s military buildup and its increasingly assertive posture in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea.

“Something else that … I will be talking with the Chinese about is respect for their neighbors. Coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict,” he said.

“All nations, all people deserve respect.”

In unusually strong language almost certainly meant to reassure Japan, a treaty ally that the United States has pledged to defend, Hagel pointed to the example of Russia’s annexation of Crimea as the kind of action that would not be tolerated.

“You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation, whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific, or in large nations in Europe,” he said.

Japan has drawn parallels between Russia’s actions in Crimea and what it sees as China’s challenge to the status quo in East China Sea.

Hagel, who leaves for a three day visit to China on Monday, hosted talks last week with Southeast Asian defense ministers where he also warned of growing U.S. concern about territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Source: Reuters “Defense chief prods ‘great power’ China to respect neighbors”

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