China builds new aircraft carrier; China oppose US aircraft carrier group’s operations in the South China Sea; Vietnam, Philippines forge stronger partnership; Indonesia to raise prospect of joint patrols with Australia in South China Sea…
Activities of Related Parties
China is close to completing its second aircraft carrier, which will begin service by 2020, experts said. China is looking into catapult technology, Li said, and the technology will likely be adopted on the 002, China's third aircraft carrier, which is being built in Shanghai. "In other words, 002 is entirely different from the Liaoning (001) and 001A, and it will look like US aircraft carrier rather than a Russian one," Li Jie, a naval military expert said. Most advanced aircraft carriers use the Electromagnetic Catapult System, or Electromagnetic launcher (EML), to launch carrier-based jets, but China is still testing steam catapults, Li said. "The main difference is that EMLs are more flexible and the system's speed can be controlled, so it can launch aircraft of different sizes." Yin Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Center said "in order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers."
The Chinese navy on February 21st commissioned a new training ship at a military port in Lyushun, northeast China's Liaoning Province. With hull number 83, the Qijiguang naval training ship is 163 meters long and 22 meters wide, with a full load displacement of 9,000 tonnes and maximum speed of 22 knots, making it the largest and most advanced training ship in the Chinese navy. Designed and built by China, the training ship can accommodate over 400 navy cadets or officers for training in offshore waters and high seas. It can also be used in foreign exchanges, natural disaster rescue and other non-military operations.
China has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters. The structures on Xu Bi (Subi), Vanh Khan (Mischief) and Chu Thap (Fiery Cross) reefs appeared to be 20 meters (66 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) high. The officials said the new structures were likely to house surface-to-air missiles that would expand China's air defense umbrella over the islands. They did not give a time line on when they believed China would deploy missiles on the islands. According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), China appears to have begun construction on the buildings between late September and early November 2016. This indicates they are not reactions to the political cycle in Washington, but rather part of a steady pattern of Chinese militarization.
Speaking at a press conference on February 21, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said that: “China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy in the South China Sea under international law. But we oppose relevant countries threatening and undermining the sovereignty and security of coastal states under the pretext of such freedom. We hope that relevant countries can do more for regional peace and stability.” China’s Ministry of Defense on February 23 also raised concerns about US aircraft carrier group’s operations. In another press conference on February 22, regarding the report that China is building structures on the South China Sea islands which could be used to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, Spokesperson Geng Shuang said that: “We have seen these reports. I want to reiterate that China carrying out normal facility construction, including deploying necessary and appropriate national defense facilities, on its own territory, is exercising a right bestowed by international law to sovereign states.” With regard to Philippine Foreign Secretary Yasay's remarks that China had promised President Duterte that it would not build structures on Scarborough Shoal, Spokesperson Geng Shuang on February 23 said that: “Mr. Yasay's recent remarks apparently deviate from the consensus of the two leaders, go against the current trend of the sound and rapid development of China-Philippine relations. China finds them baffling and regrettable. We hope that Mr. Yasay can follow the consensus reached by the two leaders and the shared desire of regional countries, exercise prudence, and make concrete efforts to uphold China-Philippines relations and regional peace and stability.”
On the sidelines of ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on February 20 met with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay. On bilateral relations, the two sides agreed to hasten the approval of the Vietnam-Philippines action programme for 2017-2022 to forge stronger bilateral cooperation. Regarding the East Sea (South China Sea) issues, the two sides will cooperate to strengthen solidarity and the central role of ASEAN in major matters related to security and the interests of each country and the region, while reaffirming the need to ensure peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea as well as the settlement of maritime disputes based on international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Also on February 20, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Referring to East Sea issues, the two ministers attached significance to maintaining peace, stability, maritime and aviation security and safety. They agreed on the need to address disputes using peaceful measures with respect for international law, including the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea 1982. The two nations will work with other ASEAN nations to effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea and hasten the formation of a Code of Conduct for the East Sea.
In responding to reporters’ question on Vietnam’s reaction to reports that China has almost completed the construction of more than 20 structures which could be storage facilities of long-range surface-to-air missile on artificial islands in the East Sea, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh stated that: “Vietnam has reiterated its sovereignty over the Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracels) archipelagoes, and held that all construction and reclamation at the two archipelagoes without Vietnam’s permission are illegal.” Vietnam urges related parties to behave in a responsible manner and refrain from taking any action that can further complicate the situation, particularly militarization that threatens peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea, he said.
During his confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments’ committee on foreign affairs on February 22, Philippine Foreign affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. admitted that the country’s territorial disputes with China may not be resolved anytime soon or even during “our lifetime.” “But the option is not war, the option is not to engage ourselves in forcibly enforcing our claims in this respect so I feel that the tact under the legal and diplomatic processes available to us is to set to this aside. Maybe perhaps the future generation will probably be able to find a solution to this dispute,” he said. Later on February 23, the Philippines' top diplomat said any move by China to transform a Manila-claimed shoal into an island would be a "game-changer" in blossoming relations, however, he added that Beijing has pledged not to undertake any construction in the strategically located area of the South China Sea.
During a speech delivered at the turnover of a drug rehabilitation facility in Davao del Norte, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that he don’t know for what reason China’s Secretary of Commerce postponed his trip to the Philippines and Foreign Secretary Yasay’s remarks on China’s activities in the South China Sea was misunderstood by the Chinese government. Duterte assured China that it would not yet raise the United Nation’s arbitral tribunal ruling on the sea row. “There will be a time, sa aking pagka-presidente (in my presidency) that I will raise the issue of the arbitral judgment with China, but not now,” he said. “Let me assure everybody, and this is what I have committed to do, that we will talk as friends, we cannot go to war because we cannot afford it, and that as much as possible, the bilateral relations between the two countries would be enhanced and improved,” he added. Earlier on February 20, in his meeting with visiting Chinese delegation led by Song Tao, minister of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Duterte said that his country expects to have pragmatic and comprehensive cooperation with China.
Speaking to The Australian newspaper ahead of his visit to Australia, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that he will discuss the prospect of joint patrols with Australia in the South China Sea when he meets his counterpart Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. "If there is no tension I think it's very important to have the patrols together. We will discuss this with PM Turnbull," said Widodo. Speaking to a press conference after the meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull, President Widodo stated that the two countries are committed to promote stability and prosperity in the region. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Turnbull said that: “President Widodo and I have agreed on the full restoration of Defence cooperation, training exchanges and activities. As maritime trading nations, Australia and Indonesia are natural maritime partners with common interests. We have agreed a joint declaration on enhancing maritime cooperation which will be underpinned by a Plan of Action to increase the benefits from our maritime partnership.”
Speaking on the sidelines of a two-day ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting at the Philippines' Boracay island on February 21, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that ASEAN foreign ministers are set on completing a framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea by June this year. But for that to happen, "there is some urgent homework that needs to be done." According to him, “We can’t control the agenda of the superpowers. But we do need to make sure, to the best extent possible, that we maintain an oasis of peace and stability in this part of the world.” “We have a deadline, in the first half of this year, to try to complete the framework for the COC In the South China Sea,” he added. He said the framework for COC, along with progress made in 2016 - such as the proposed “hotlines” and the Code on Unplanned Encounters at Sea - are “confidence-building measures”.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is building six large vessels in an effort to improve its maritime security supervision and monitoring of the country's waters. MMEA director-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said two of the vessels would be deployed in the waters of Sarawak and Sabah and the remaining in the waters of Peninsular Malaysia to cover areas where the country shared its maritime borders with Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on February 22 released a statement today following reports that China has completed new structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea for the purpose of holding surface-to-air missiles. “Despite claims to the contrary, China is continuing to change the facts on the ground in the South China Sea,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “Building two dozen structures designed to house surface-to-air missiles clearly violates China’s previous promises not to militarize this vital region, where $5.3 trillion of trade – $1.2 trillion of it from the U.S. – passes each year. The U.S. military should continue to fly, sail and operate in the South China Sea, and everywhere else international law allows. China’s attempts to restrict access to this critical region should not be tolerated by the U.S. or our allies.”
In an interview with Reuters on February 24, responding to a question regarding Chinese military activity in the south china sea, US President Donald J. Trump said that: “I know exactly what's going on between China and North Korea and everybody else. But I don't like talking about military strategy in newspapers ... I'm not liking it. This didn't take place under the Trump administration, this took place under the Obama administration. Many things took place that should not have been allowed. One of them is the building of a massive, you know, massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea. And don't forget I've only been here for four weeks. This is something that took place and has been started three years ago and you were in a much better negotiating position three years ago. I am not happy about it.”
Speaking to reporters on February 24, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the dispute in the South China Sea is directly connected with peace and security in the region. Suga said Japan has consistently supported the rule of maritime law in the region. He added that all the parties involved should work for a peaceful settlement of the issue based on international law.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat took place in Boracay, the Philippines from February 20 to 21. The Retreat is the first gathering of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers under the Philippines’ ASEAN Chairmanship in 2017 with the theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” The press release after the meeting read: “A number of Ministers expressed concern over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region. At the same time, they noted the need to sustain the momentum of dialogue in order to ease tensions in the region. he Ministers underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety, and efforts within the ASEAN-China process to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct (COC), in order to facilitate the early adoption of the COC.
During a briefing after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on February 21, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that “A number of ministers expressed concern over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area, which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region. Yasay said the ASEAN member countries see the need to “sustain the momentum of dialogue in order to ease tensions in the region.” He said the officials also highlighted the importance of efforts of the Asean and China to complete the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea by June this year in order for the adoption of the COC. He added that the South China Sea issue is not the "sum-total" of relations between the Philippines and China, and the two countries should focus on economy and investment.
China's commerce minister decided at the last minute to postpone an official trip to the Philippines on February 23 to sign about 40 joint projects worth billions of dollars, sources at the Philippines trade and finance ministries said. Two Philippines officials, who asked not to be identified, suggested Beijing may have been irked by comments of foreign minister Perfecto Yasay about China's robust activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
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