China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conducts first live-fire drill; Vietnam opposes China’s celebration of so-called island recovery; Duterte says he’ll set aside South China Sea feud ruling against Beijing; Philippines, China coast guards meet…
Activities of Related Parties
China’s first aircraft carrier has for the first time taken part in a live-fire drill, which included the launch of several missiles as Beijing showed off its military might. Footage of the military exercise – which involved the Liaoning carrier and dozens of other ships and aircraft in the Bohai Sea – was broadcast by state-run China Central Television on December 15. During the drill, the Liaoning and several destroyers carried out tasks including an air interception, a sea assault, and anti-air and anti-missile exercises, aided by J-15 carrier-borne fighters. According to CCTV, the J-15s launched several missiles, which all hit their targets.
In a statement posted on the PLA air force microblog, People’s Liberation Army air force spokesman Shen Jinke said that the country would continue training and patrols in the air space over the East and South China seas, following recently intensified drills that have rattled Taiwan and Japan. “The drill and patrol missions in the East and South China seas are regular, legitimate and responsible military activities that reflect the Chinese air force’s mission and duties in the region.”
With regard to new satellite images showing that China is installing weapon systems on seven islands in the South China Sea, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang on December 15 said: “The South China Sea are China's inherent territory. It's completely normal for us to build facilities and deploy necessary defense equipment there, a right of a sovereign state recognized by international law.” Regarding the comments made by the head of the US Pacific Command who said that the US is willing to confront China if it must over the South China Sea, Geng Shuang said: “Thanks to the concerted efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea is easing up and moving towards a positive direction. We also hope that the US can honor its pledge of not taking sides on the sovereignty disputes over the South China Sea.”
On December 12, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokeperson Le Hai Binh said: “After the World War II, the international community rejected China’s claim on these islands. “China’s above-mentioned activity is unable to alter Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, runs counter to the current development trend of the two countries’ relations, and complicates the situation. Vietnam resolutely opposes that activity”. In response to queries about new satellite images of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) which show that China appears to have installed weapons on seven geographic features in the South China Sea, Binh emphasized: “Vietnam opposes all activities that violate its sovereignty as well as militarise and threaten peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.”
Speaking in a news conference after arriving from visits to Cambodia and Singapore, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tole the U.S. to prepare for repeal of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), signed in 1998, accorded legal status to thousands of U.S. troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and humanitarian assistance operations. "Bye, bye America and work on the protocols that will eventually move you out of the Philippines," he said, adding his decision would come "any day soon" after reviewing another military deal, Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement. The firebrand leader was visibly upset and vented his anger on Washington because of a decision by the Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC) board to defer vote on the re-selection of Manila for compact development due to human rights issues.
Speaking to reporters in Singapore, while accompanying President Duterte on a visit to the country, Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said the U.S. to reconsider a decision to withhold humanitarian aid, asking for the assistance to be provided without any conditions. “Treat us with mutual respect, and treat us as a sovereign equal,” he said. If Washington finally decided to withhold the aid because of human rights concerns, Yasay said it would not have a "great impact" on Manila's economic situation.
When asked in a news conference if a US think tank report that China apparently installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its new artificial islands in the disputed waters would affect his perception of Beijing, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on December 17 said he would “set aside” a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea, because he doesn’t want to impose on China. Earlier on December 15, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Manila’s disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea are on the back burner for now, instead, the Philippines is focused on improving other areas of its relationship with the Asian giant, including trade, commercial and political affairs.
In a speech in Sydney, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command said that the U.S. has called on China to respect the findings of the arbitration court in The Hague, But Beijing continues to act in an "aggressive" manner, to which the United States stands ready to respond. “We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea," he said. "We will cooperate when we can but we will be ready to confront when we must." "The U.S. fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation," he added. "This is an enduring principle and one of the reasons our forces stand ready to fight tonight."
In a statement on December 16, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said: “Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Department of Defense has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that China unlawfully seized on Dec. 15 in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.” On December 19, Peter Cook noted: “the People's Liberation Army-Navy vessel 510 returned a U.S. Navy Ocean Glider Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) to the United States. The U.S. remains committed to upholding the accepted principles and norms of international law and freedom of navigation and overflight and will continue to fly, sail, and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law allows, in the same way that we operate everywhere else around the world.”
In a statement sent to Fairfax Media, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stressed: “"The building of artificial islands and the possible militarisation is creating an environment of tension and mistrust between claimants and other regional states. We urge claimants to refrain from coercive behaviour and unilateral actions designed to change the status quo in disputed areas.” "This is not in the interest of any state and will lead to reputation and other costs for claimants engaging in such behavior,” she added.
Vietnamese officials underlined the importance of border and territorial issues to relations between Vietnam and China at the two countries’ governmental-level negotiation on border and territory in Beijing, China, on December 12-13. The Vietnamese delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung, head of the National Boundary Commission, while the Chinese side was headed by Trung’s counterpart Liu Zhenmin. The proper settlement of border and territorial issues will be an important foundation for enhancing the countries’ relations, Trung said, reiterating Vietnam’s consistent policy on border and territorial matters, including sea-related issues. He also voiced concerns about recent complex developments in the South China Sea.
Cambodian and Chinese armed forces on December 15 started a joint military drill at Kampong Speu province’s Army Institute which will last until next December 23. The exercise, code named Dragon Gold 2016, aims to enhance both countries’ humanitarian rescue efforts as well as disaster relief skills and will involve 97 Chinese army personnel and 280 of their Cambodian counterparts. This is the first military drill aimed specifically at humanitarian rescue and disaster relief operations conducted between Cambodia and China.
The Chinese and Philippine coast guards met for the first time on December 15 and agreed to move forward on maritime cooperation, officials said. The two-day meeting in Manila on establishing a Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) came just days after new images showed China had apparently installed defensive weapons on artificial islands in the hotly contested South China Sea. In a joint statement, the coast guards said possible areas for cooperation included fighting drug trafficking and other maritime crimes, environmental protection and search and rescue.
India, Japan and the US are set to focus on "anti-submarine warfare" by deploying "different machines" during the next round of their marine wargames named the Malabar Exercise. The three countries will come together in the Indian Ocean for the 21st edition of the Malabar exercise - Malabar 2017, aiming for a "bigger" and "more complex" exercise than before. "We want to (use) different machines especially now that India flies the P8I (Poseidon). We fly the P8A," Commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph P Aucoin said. "I would like those two aircraft working together and to hunt submarines. So anti-submarine warfare is one area which I think would be very beneficial. So I am looking forward to that in Malabar," he told reporters here.
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