China to build first underwater platform in South China Sea; Taiwan to strengthen its presence in the South China Sea; Vietnam rejects China’s new fishing regulations; Trump budget plan boosts Pentagon…
Activities of Related Parties
China will build its first long-term national underwater observation platform in key waters in the South China Sea to observe underwater conditions in real time, scientific news portal sciencenet.cn reported. Construction work on a long-term observation network covering key areas in the South China and East China seas will be done with the help of Shanghai's Tongji University and the Institute of Acoustics under the CAS. According to the sciencenet.cn report, the observation platform will probe the undersea physical, chemical, and geological dynamics, and will also be used for other purposes.
The Changle Gongzhu, or Changle Princess, sailed from Sanya on March 2, with 308 passengers on board. The new ship is capable of carrying 499 people with a range of 3,000 nautical miles. It has 82 guest rooms and offers dining, entertainment, shopping, medical treatment and postal services aboard. The first voyage will last four days and three nights, said an official with Hainan Strait Shipping, owner of the vessel.
Speaking at a press conference, Wang Guoqing, spokesperson for the fifth session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that China values freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea more than any other country, adding that China is a major trading nation and meanwhile the largest littoral country of the South China Sea. Stressing that the South China Sea islands are an integral part of China's territory, Wang said that it is "perfectly normal" for China to build facilities, including those for necessary defense purposes, on its own territory. International law entitles sovereign states to do so, he added. "We have set up cooperation mechanisms with many other countries to ensure safe navigation," he said.
Speaking at a parliamentary session on March 2, Taiwan's defence minister Feng Shih-kuan said its navy would step up regular patrols around the South China Sea and conduct joint training with the air force in response to China's growing military power in the disputed waterways. "Looking ahead at the transformation of China's strategy and its investment in new weapons equipment, our military will practise new reforms in our training. The navy, during its regular South China Sea patrols, will conduct joint training with the air force in protecting fishermen and supply transports, and in humanitarian rescue drills to expand the combat readiness of our sea and air patrols.” The need for China to conduct drills in bigger air and sea space, particularly in the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan's east, represented "an increase in threat", Feng said.
Speaking a press conference ahead of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) annual session, spokesperson Fu Ying said that China's 2017 defense budget will expand by about 7 percent comparing to the number of 7.6 percent last year. Fu also noted that China's defense spending accounts for about 1.3 percent of the country's GDP. However, the actual defense spending target for this year was not included in the country's budget released at the opening of parliament's annual session on March 5, as it has been in previous years. Also according to Fu Ying, “the overall situation in the South China Sea tends to have improved at the moment and where it is heading will be decided by the US intent [because] American activities in the sea serve as a signpost to some extent. Fu also downplayed the impact of Trump’s unpredictability and his lack of consistency on China-related policy issues. “US policy changes will have global impact and will surely affect its relations with China. We hope to see positive implications, but China will remain calm to deal with possible challenges,” she said.
China has put into service what it claims is the world’s largest and deepest-operating offshore oil exploration platform, the Bluewhale I. The rig has a total deck area about the size of a soccer field with a sophisticated drilling system that can reach the seabed at a depth of 3,658 metres and bore a further 15,240 metres into the earth’s crust. The Bluewhale I is designed specifically for the South China Sea, where untapped oil reserves can lay buried 3,000 metres and more below sea level. The rig cost more than US$700 million, or about the price of two Airbus A380 jumbo jets. It weighs 42,000 tonnes and is as high above water as a 37-storey building.
In response to reporters’ queries about the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture’s official announcement on the application of the regulations on a fishing break at sea, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Le Hai Binh stressed that: “Such unilateral decision made by China is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracels) as well as her legal rights and interests over her waters, and international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS and relevant international legal documents. It runs counter to the spirit and wording of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, and makes the South China Sea situation continuously complicated and tense.”
The White House will send federal departments a budget proposal on February 27 containing the defense spending increase President Donald Trump promised, financed partly by cuts to the U.S. State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other non-defense programs, two officials familiar with the proposal said. One of the officials said Trump's request for the Pentagon included more money for shipbuilding, military aircraft and establishing "a more robust presence in key international waterways and chokepoints" such as the Strait of Hormuz and South China Sea. A second official said the State Department's budget could be cut by as much as 30 percent, which would force a major restructuring of the department and elimination of programs. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang on February 28 said that: “We hope that relevant policies and measures of the US will be conducive to world peace, stability, development and prosperity. China advocates an outlook of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. We will work with other countries in the world to make this outlook a reality.”
Speaking on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as it steamed through the gentle blue waters, Rear Adm. James Kilby stressed: “We will be here. We have operated here in the past, we’re going to operate here in the future, we’re going to continue to reassure our allies. We will continue to demonstrate that international waters are waters where everyone can sail, where everyone can conduct commerce and merchant traffic, and that’s the message we want to leave with people.”
On February 27, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Brunei’s Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Lim Jock Seng co-chaired the first meeting of their Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. On maritime issues, both sides committed to the maintenance and promotion of peace, security, stability, maritime and aviation safety and freedom in the South China Sea, urging parties concerned to exercise restraint and refrain from the threat of force or use of force, fully respect diplomatic and legal process, settle disputes by peaceful means in line with basic principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both sides reaffirmed their support to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the early formulation of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II visited the USS Carl Vinson along with three Philippine security officials, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said on March 4. The visit shows continuing top-level engagements between Philippine officials and the U.S. military despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to scale back engagements with American forces while reaching out to China and Russia.
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