Philippines, Vietnam press China over vessels massing in South China Sea
·2 min readRodrigo Duterte
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern to China’s ambassador about Chinese vessels massing in the South China Sea, his spokesman said, as Vietnam urged Beijing to respect its maritime sovereignty.
International concern has grown in recent days over what the Philippines has described as a “swarming and threatening presence” of more than 200 Chinese vessels that it believes were manned by maritime militia.
The boats were moored at the Whitsun Reef within Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
“The president said we are really concerned. Any country will be concerned with that number of ships,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, told a regular news conference.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which at least $3.4 trillion of annual trade passes.
Roque said Duterte reaffirmed to China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, that the Philippines had won a landmark arbitration case in 2016, which made clear its sovereign entitlements amid rival claims by China.
China’s maritime assertiveness has put Duterte in an awkward spot throughout his presidency due to his controversial embrace of Beijing and reluctance to speak out against it.
He has instead accused close ally the United States of creating conflict in the South China Sea.
China’s embassy in Manila did not respond to a request for comment on Duterte’s meeting.
On Wednesday it said the vessels at Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas. A Philippine military spokesman said China’s defence attache had denied there were militia aboard.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang on Thursday said the Chinese vessels at the reef, which Hanoi calls Da Ba Dau, had infringed on its sovereignty.
“Vietnam requests that China stop this violation and respect Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Hang told a regular briefing.
A Vietnamese coastguard vessel could be seen moored near the disputed area on Thursday, according to ship tracking data published by the Marine Traffic website.
Hang said Vietnam’s coastguard was “exercising its duties as regulated by laws”, including international law.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Phuong Nguyen and James Pearson in Hanoi; Editing by Martin Petty)
The Spratly Islands are contested territories in the South China Sea. China, which claims almost all of the 1.3 million-square-mile waterway, has built up its military presence in this area, constructing fortified outposts on artificial reefs.
The Spratlys are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines, some of which put restrictions on the operations of foreign military vessels, as China does.
The US Navy characterizes “unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea” as a “serious threat to freedom of the sea.”
The latest freedom-of-navigation operation “upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” the Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a statement.
“China, Vietnam, and Taiwan require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea,” the Navy said. “By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions.”
The Chinese Defense Ministry expressed frustration with the operation and said naval and air assets were deployed to drive away the US destroyer. China considers such operations to be violations of sovereignty.
As it has before, the Navy said in its latest statement that “the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” Freedom-of-navigation operations have become fairly routine for the service despite pushback from China.
In addition to the freedom-of-navigation operations, the US Navy sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait and had two carrier strike groups operating together in the South China Sea in recent weeks, sparking complaints from Beijing.
The Trump administration dramatically stepped up competition with China, and there are expectations that this will continue under the new Biden administration.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has called China the “pacing threat” for the US, and a planned force posture review is expected to focus heavily on the US position in the Indo-Pacific region.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby recently stressed how seriously the secretary takes the “pacing challenge that China poses,” telling reporters that it’s important to take a “fresh look as we come in at what is in the Pacific.”
“What is the footprint both fixed and rotational, and what’s the health of our alliances and partnerships there? In other words, from our perspective are we doing enough?”
Two American aircraft carriers accompanied by their flotillas have been crossing since Tuesday, February 9 in the South China Sea. This is the largest American deployment in this area claimed by Beijing for months. At almost the same time, a nuclear attack submarine and a French surface vessel were there. A political message that Washington intends to send to Beijing and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region. This Thursday, Joe Biden raised the subject directly with Xi Jinping in his first meeting with the Chinese president since his arrival at the White House.The aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz were accompanied by guided-missile cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Princeton and destroyers USS Russell and USS John Finn. Their presence aims to demonstrate the ability of the US fleet to maintain the peace and its commitment to uphold the principle of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region , the US Navy said in a statement. “The buildings and planes of the two attack groups coordinate their operations in an area where [maritime] traffic is very dense to demonstrate the ability of the US fleet to operate in challenging environments,” the statement said.“Through operations like this, we want to ensure that we are effective in meeting the challenges of peacekeeping and continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting.” peace in a free and open Indo-Pacific region, ” said Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander of Attack Group 9.Such a show of force in the area by the United States is unprecedented for seven months, when a combined operation of two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea itself became a first for six years. At the same time, the American guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain passed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday (February 4th).Beijing reacted rather moderately, using its usual rhetoric. ” The United States frequently sends boats and planes to the South China Sea in order to show its strength, which is not favorable to regional peace and its stability, ” said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the ministry. of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. China will continue to take the necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security, and will work together with countries in the region to firmly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. “
FRANCE SEES ITSELF AS AN “AUTONOMOUS ACTOR”
The entry of these two American naval groups comes exactly the day after the presence in these same waters of the French nuclear attack submarine Émeraude and the Seine support building. For Collin Koh, a researcher at the School of International Rajaratnam Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, quoted by the South China Morning Post, the American fleet wanted to send the message of its willingness to operate “wherever it wishes. and where international law permits, whatever the threat from Beijing ”. As for France, it intended “to show the French flag in support of the interests of Paris in the Indo-Pacific region” where France “considers itself an independent actor”in order to present an alternative for countries that do not wish to align too closely with China or the United States.“This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the South China Sea. A striking proof of the capacity of our national navy to deploy far and for a long time in connection with our Australian, American or Japanese strategic partners ”, for her part tweeted the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly.
France, an ally of the United States, particularly within NATO, and which has important exclusive economic zones in the Pacific because of its overseas lands, has considered for several years that the Indo-Pacific zone and the defense of the freedom of navigation are priorities. “Why such a mission? To enrich our knowledge of this area and to affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea where we navigate, ” the Minister developed on Twitter.
“NOT AN OUNCE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE BONES OF THE SKELETON”
As for US President Joe Biden, he, in a gesture of courtesy, chose the opening in China of the festivities that traditionally mark the Lunar New Year to finally phone this Thursday, February 11 to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, whom he made. lagging behind nearly three weeks since his inauguration on January 20.But if the Chinese number one hoped to receive from Washington the expression of a desire for appeasement in Sino-American relations, it was at its expense. Indeed, Joe Biden took advantage of this interview to urge his interlocutor to respect human rights, enumerating the repression against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the situation in Hong Kong and the multiple Chinese military maneuvers aimed at intimidating Taiwan.Xi Jinping replied that these various issues were all within China’s internal affairs and warned Joe Biden that the continuation of the confrontation between the two largest economic powers on the planet would constitute for them “a disaster”.Recall the terms Joe Biden used against Xi Jinping on February 26, 2020 on the American television channel CBS: this man is “a thug”, “a guy who does not have an ounce of democracy in his bones of his skeleton ”. Sunday February 9, he repeated these words, except for that of “thug”.
US Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka told Insider in an emailed statement that “the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group closely monitored all People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) activity, and at no time did they pose a threat to US Navy ships, aircraft, or Sailors.”
A defense official said that the Chinese aircraft did not come within 250 miles of the US Navy vessels, putting them outside the estimated range of the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles carried by the H-6K. There was a simulated attack run though, the official said.
Kafka said in the INDOPACOM statement, “the PLA activities highlighted here, are the latest in a string of aggressive and destabilizing actions.”
The spokesman said that “these actions reflect a continued PLA attempt to use its military as a tool to intimidate or coerce those operating in international waters and airspace, to include their neighbors and those with competing territorial claims,” adding that the “United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, demonstrating resolve through our operational presence throughout the region.”
The US Navy said in a statement last Sunday that the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group is on a routine deployment to the US 7th Fleet area of responsibility to conduct maritime security operations.
China objects to the regular presence of the US military in the South China Sea, even though it has operated in the area for decades.
The latest developments in the South China Sea highlight the challenges the new Biden administration will face as it deals with Beijing and China’s growing military power.
The new administration and China have already traded jabs over Taiwan. During Monday’s press briefing, Zhao told the US to “refrain from sending any wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces so as to avoid damaging China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” after the US State Department criticized China’s efforts to militarily, economically, and diplomatically pressure Taiwan.
Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesman Wu Qian said Thursday that Chinese military activities near Taiwan are necessary and warned that it would mean war if Taiwan pursued independence from China.
Speaking at the first Department of Defense press briefing of the Biden administration, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reaffirmed US support for Taiwan’s defense but said that tensions “need not lead to anything like confrontation.”
Australian military to continue patrolling South China Sea as Beijing warns Taiwan independence ‘means war’
Australia ‘monitoring developments’ as Taiwan reports an increase in Chinese aircraft in its defence zone
Australian Department of Defence says its ships and aircraft will ‘continue to exercise rights under international law’ including in the South China Sea, as tensions rise between China and Taiwan. Photograph: Australia Department Of Defence/Reuters
Australian military ships and aircraft will continue to patrol the South China Sea amid warnings from China that a declaration of independence by Taiwan would “mean war”.
With Taiwan reporting an increase in Chinese military aircraft in its air defence zone, and with Beijing cautioning independence forces against “playing with fire”, the Australian government is closely monitoring developments in the region.
The US military announced last weekend that a US aircraft carrier group had entered the South China Sea in a bid to promote “freedom of the seas”.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Defence said: “Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South China Sea, and we support others doing the same.
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“On Taiwan, we are aware of the situation and continue to monitor developments.”
The comments were in response to questions about the US aircraft carrier group’s arrival, and whether the new Biden administration had requested Australia join it in the South China Sea or whether it would carry out its own exercises soon.
The Australian government believes Australia has a substantial interest in the stability of the South China Sea, in part because of the vast volume of trade that flows through it.
While Australia routinely operates alongside the US and other partners, the government sticks to the position of not commenting on the specific details of Australian Defence Force operations.
Amid heightened tensions in the region, self-governed Taiwan has reported an increase in Chinese military aircraft in its air defence zone since last weekend.
Six such aircraft, including four J-10 fighter jets, flew close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea on Thursday, according to a Reuters report that cited Taiwan’s defence ministry.
Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s defence ministry, said on Thursday that Taiwan was “an inalienable part of China” and the Chinese military activities in the Taiwan Strait “a solemn response to the interference of external forces and the provocations by ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”.
According to a Chinese defence ministry summary of the monthly press conference, Wu also said he wanted to warn independence forces “that those who play with fire will set themselves on fire, and seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ means nothing but war”.
It is understood the Australian government’s position is to support a peaceful resolution of differences over Taiwan and other regional issues through dialogue and without the threat or use of force or coercion.
The government also maintains that American leadership in the Indo-Pacific is welcome in order to uphold rules, norms and standards in the region.
Australia’s defence minister, Linda Reynolds, said after her first phone call with her new US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on Wednesday that Australia and the US would “continue to work side by side with allies and partners to maintain a region that is secure, prosperous, inclusive and rules-based”.
The Pentagon issued a statement saying the US defence secretary had “emphasised the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, founded on existing international law and norms in a region free of malign behaviour”.
Neither the Pentagon nor Reynolds directly mentioned China, but Australia has been at odds with its largest trading partner over a range of issues including Beijing’s militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea and crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
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Greg Moriarty, the head of Australia’s defence department, said last month that China had acted in a “disturbing” manner and complicated Australia’s security environment through its activities in the South China Sea.
Moriarty also said a number of countries in the Indo-Pacific were deeply anxious about the future prospects for peace and stability, and the great powers to conduct themselves in a way that reassured the region.
The Australian government has been seeking a resumption of ministerial and leader-level talks with China, after Canberra’s call for a global inquiry into Covid-19 triggered a freeze in such dialogue. China subsequently targeted a range of Australian export industries with tariffs, suspensions or informal bans.
The new US president, Joe Biden, has been calling a range of world leaders since taking office last week and is expected to call the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, soon.
TAIPEI (Reuters) – A U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has entered the South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas”, the U.S. military said on Sunday, at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan have raised concern in Washington.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands.
The U.S. military said the carrier strike group was in the South China Sea, a large part of which is claimed by China, to conduct routine operations “to ensure freedom of the seas, build partnerships that foster maritime security”.
“After sailing through these waters throughout my 30-year career, it’s great to be in the South China Sea again, conducting routine operations, promoting freedom of the seas, and reassuring allies and partners,” Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of the strike group, was quoted as saying.
“With two-thirds of the world’s trade travelling through this very important region, it is vital that we maintain our presence and continue to promote the rules-based order which has allowed us all to prosper,” Verissimo said in the statement.
The announcement comes just days after Joe Biden was sworn in as U.S. president.
Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to the United States of any nation.
China has repeatedly complained about U.S. Navy ships getting close to Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing claims.
The Theodore Roosevelt is being accompanied by the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Russell and USS John Finn, the U.S. statement said.
China conducts unusual military flights in Taiwanese airspace
It’s not unusual for China to conduct military flights between the southern part of Taiwan — which it claims as its territory — and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea, Reuters reports. In fact, the flights have occurred on a daily basis in recent months. But what happened Saturday does appear out of the ordinary.
Eight nuclear-capable Chinese bombers and four fighter jets entered the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s air defense identifications zone, Taiwan’s defense ministry said. Normally, China deploys just one or two reconnaissance aircraft at a time, so Saturday’s event was somewhat startling. Taiwan’s air force was able to warn the aircraft away and deployed missiles to monitor them.
While there’s been no word from Beijing yet, the seemingly aggressive move comes at a time when tensions between China and the United States are rising, with Washington’s strengthening support for Taiwan playing a significant role. The Trump administration, which left office last week, was particularly committed to a closer relationship with Taiwan, and the Biden administration doesn’t appear likely to reverse course on the issue, at least not drastically. Read more at Reuters.
China law empowers coast guard to use force amid disputes
BEIJING (AP) — China has authorized its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and destroy structures on features it claims, potentially raising the possibility of clashes with regional maritime rivals.
The Coast Guard Law passed on Friday empowers the force to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”
The law also authorizes the coast guard to demolish other countries’ structures built on reefs and islands claimed by China and to seize or order foreign vessels illegally entering China’s territorial waters to leave.
China’s coast guard is the most powerful force of its kind in the region and is already active in the vicinity of uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing, as well as in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety. Those activities have brought the coast guard into frequent contact with air and sea forces from Japan, its chief ally the U.S., and other claimants to territory in the South China Sea, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Both water bodies are considered potential flashpoints and the law’s passage may be a signal that China is preparing to up the stakes over what it considers its key national interests.
Controlling them is a strategic imperative if China wishes to displace the U.S. as the dominant military power in East Asia, while the resources they contain, including fish stocks and undersea deposits of oil and natural gas, may be key to maintaining China’s continued economic development.