China plans station on disputed South China Sea shoal; Wary of China, Duterte tells navy to build 'structures' east of Philippines; U.S. Senators introduce bill targeting Chinese aggression in South China Sea; U.S. Secretary of State visits China…
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The top official in Sansha, which administers China’s island claims, was quoted by the official Hainan Daily newspaper as saying such stations were being built on six islands and reefs, including Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines. Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie said preparatory work on the stations was among the government’s priorities for 2017, but gave no other details.
China has extended its maritime jurisdiction to cover all seas under its jurisdiction in an effort to resolutely safeguard the country's maritime rights and interests, said a work report of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) on March 12. This was achieved by the issuance of a regulation on judicial interpretation, said the report, to be delivered by Chief Justice Zhou Qiang to the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress, noting that the regulation contributed to China's strategy of becoming a major maritime power. According to the regulation in effect since last August, jurisdictional seas not only include inland waters and territorial seas, but also cover regions including contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones, continental shelves, and other sea areas under China's jurisdiction. Chinese citizens or foreigners will be pursued for criminal liability if they engage in illegal hunting or fishing, or killing endangered wildlife in China's jurisdictional seas.
After the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress, China’s Premier Li Keqiang held a press conference with Chinese and foreign media. On the South China Sea, he said: “China and ASEAN have been pushing forward the consultation on a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Substantive progress has been made in this regard and we will keep working on that. It is our hope that peace and stability in the South China Sea could be maintained, specific disputes be resolved through dialogue by the parties directly concerned and all countries in the region work together for peace, stability and development.” On China-US relations, he stressed: “China and the United States have been cooperating in many areas in the Asia-Pacific region. Many US multinationals place their Asia-Pacific headquarters in China. We hope that the areas of cooperation between the two countries will continue to widen, providing more opportunities for ASEAN countries instead of being a cause of concern for them.”
Speaking to reporters on March 12, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered to increase naval patrols in Benham Rise and put up structures "that says this is ours". He did not specify what structures would be erected. "We are concerned, they have no business going there." However, President Duterte on March 13 said "They [China ships] have no incursion because we have an agreement. Some people are just blowing it up. We previously agreed. It was a research ship. We were advised of it way ahead." According to him, “let’s not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time because things are going great for our countries.” China on March 13 welcomed and commended those remarks of President Duterte. Speaking to reporters at Davao before departing for a visit to Myanmar on March 19, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines or even the US would not stop China from building on Scarborough Shoal because it was too powerful. “What do you want me to do? Declare war against China? I can’t. We will lose all our military and policemen tomorrow and we [will be] a destroyed nation.”
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a lunch event with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said only the Philippines can build structures in Benham Rise and only the coastal state has the right to put up any structure in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf. "In the EEZ, we have exclusive rights to all the natural resources—the fish and the oil, gas and minerals but in the extended (continental shelf), we only have exclusive right to the oil, gas and minerals, not the fish," Carpio added. The Chinese are allowed to conduct survey on the water column if they were only doing research on the fishery and the water column, according to Carpio.
PhilippineDefense Minister Delfin Lorenzana had been scheduled to inspect an outpost on Thitu (Thi Tu) Island, one of the disputed Spratly Islands, but his trip was cancelled because of "safety issues" and he spent the day instead at a military base where he unveiled the development plans. "We will build a runway and a port, a pier, for our ships" on Thitu, Lorenzana told troops at the Western Command's 41st anniversary. "We are a bit blind in that area." The minister said Duterte had given approval to upgrade facilities not only on Thitu but on the eight other features in the South China Sea it occupies. Earlier on March 16, Philippine military has blocked a group of lawmakers and security chiefs from visiting Thitu Island due to safety issues. But Lieutenant-General Raul del Rosario, who heads the Philippine Western Command, said there were concerns about how China would view the trip to Thitu.
In an effort to protect the country's border areas against foreign territorial claims, the government has declared 111 outer islands, which include some previously not stated as border areas. Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti welcomed Presidential Decree No. 6/2017 on outermost islands, the new regulation signed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, which revises a 2005 decree that only named 92 islands. “The enactment of these  islands is to prevent issues of occupation or claims of possession by other nations,” said Susi. The latest government move comes after several disputes over peripheral islands with neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore.
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) on March 15 introduced the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act, which would sanction Chinese individuals and entities that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea. “China’s illegitimate actions in the South China Sea threaten the region’s security and American commerce,” said Rubio, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its East Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee. Meanwhile, Cardin, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stressed the U.S. must be crystal-clear with regards to its long-standing national interests in the free-flow of commerce.
Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two. The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July. It will return to Japan in August, the sources said. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying on March 14 responded by saying that: “If this is only about normal visits and normal transit through the South China Sea, we hold no objection and hope that such normal exchanges between relevant countries can help promote peace and stability in the region. But if it is going to the South China Sea for other motives, it would be a different story. As we have indeed seen the Japanese side stirring up troubles on the South China Sea issue, we hope the Japanese side can truly play a responsible role for peace and stability in this region.”
Delivering a lecture in Singapore on March 13, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the United States must increase its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region because the rise of China posed a risk to stability and prosperity. "Many regional nations are in a strategic holding pattern and waiting to see whether the United States and its security allies and partners can continue to play the robust and constructive role that they have for many decades in delivering the peace." Ms Bishop added China's refusal to embrace democracy meant it was unsuited to be a regional leader. Whereas the US, a country with no direct territorial disputes, was "uniquely placed to do so".
Regarding US Sectretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks that China’s island-building program in the South China Sea should be stopped, Russian Ambassador to China Andrei Denisov "This will not happen because this can never happen. Seriously speaking, I can only suggest that [US President] Donald Trump and his entourage are advocates of the business approach to foreign policy – first intimidating [the opponent] and then discussing real options from a position of strength.” He added that US-Chinese contacts are conducted particularly in a "business manner and friendly."
President Rodrigo Duterte on March 16 met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang amid concerns over a supposed deal between the chief executive and China allowing the latter to do research in Benham Rise. Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said, Wang and Duterte reaffirmed the stronger bilateral ties between the two countries and acknowledged the progress being made in broadening cooperation. On the South China Sea issues, Abella said Duterte and Wang “noted the need to focus on common interests that bring more benefits than differences,” and “reaffirmed the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes.” Wang and Duterte also witnessed the signing of the 6-year development program. Abella said this demonstrates the “sincerity of China which he (Wang) hoped will result in concrete outcomes.” The development plan is an offshoot of the memoranda of understanding signed by the two countries during Duterte’s visit to China in October.
U.S. Secretary of State on March 18 visited China on part of his visit to Asia. On the same day, he met with China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Yang Jiechi expressed that it goes without saying of the importance of China-US relations. The maintenance of a long-term, healthy and stable development of China-US relations and bilateral constructive cooperation conform to the common interests of both sides and the international community. On his part, Rex Tillerson stressed that both the US and China are able to make efforts to properly handle differences as well, ensuring both countries have no-conflict and no-confrontation and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation. The enormous development achieved by China is a positive factor for the world. On the same day, U.S. Secretary of State met with his China’s counterpart Wang Yi. Wang Yi noted that both countries should carry out high-level dialogues and practical cooperation in diplomacy, security, trade, economy, law enforcement, network, people-to-people and cultural engagement and other extensive fields. He also pointed out that it is normal for China and the US to have some differences and different views, but the two sides should handle, control sensitive issues and differences in a constructive way. On March 19, Chinese President Xi Jinping metwith U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Great Hall of the People. According to Xi, there are important development opportunities resulting from China-U.S. relations. To advance China-U.S. ties in a healthy and steady manner, both sides, Xi expressed, could enhance exchanges at high level and various levels; expand cooperation in bilateral, regional and global fields; and properly address and manage sensitive issues. On his part, Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
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