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Home Weekly Bulletin Weekly Bulletin 17/4-23/4

Weekly Bulletin 17/4-23/4

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Vietnamese Deputy PM Pham Binh Minh visits China; Philippines Defense, military chiefs visit disputed South China Sea island; US reaffirms  a rules-based order at sea; Philippines, US to hold military drills…

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Activities of the Related Parties

China

World leaders to attend Belt and Road forum in May

The upcoming Belt and Road Forum will be held in Beijing in the middle of next month, and will be the highest level forum since the Belt and Road initiative proposed in 2013. A press release on April 18 confirmed that 28 heads of state and government leaders will attend the forum. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony. He will also host a roundtable meeting on policy and strategic development. Various topics will be discussed during the forum, including infrastructure, economic cooperation, and energy resources. “The purpose of holding this forum in Beijing is to collect the intelligence of all parties involved, summarize the successful experiences, plan the new trajectory and create this cooperation platform that will open a new chapter for the initiative," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

China responds to Philippine top officials’ visit to Thitu Island

In a press conference on April 21, regarding the information that the Philippine Defense Secretary and the Military Chief of Staff had landed on Thitu Island, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said: “We still need to verify the facts. Since President Duterte to China last year, the two sides have been keeping good communication on properly managing and resolving maritime issues. We hope that this momentum can continue. We hope that the Philippines can work with China to jointly maintain regional peace and stability as well as the sound momentum of moving bilateral relations forward.” On late this day, Lu Kang added: “This move runs counter to the important consensus reached between the two leadership which is to properly deal with the South China Sea issue. Gravely concerned about and dissatisfied with this, China has lodged representations with the Philippine side. We hope that the Philippine side could cherish the hard-won sound momentum of development the bilateral relations are experiencing, faithfully follow the consensus reached between the two leadership, maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea, and promote the sound and steady development of China-Philippine relations.”

Vietnamese Deputy PM Pham Binh Minh visits China

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh is leading a Vietnamese delegation on a trip to China from April 16-18 to conduct the 10th meeting of the Vietnam – China Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation in Beijing. The visit is made at the invitation of Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi. During the meeting on April 17, the two sides discussed sea-related issues in a straightforward manner, and agreed to observe important shared conceptions reached by their Party and government leaders as well as the Vietnam-China agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea issues.  They agreed to push negotiation mechanisms regarding sea-related issues towards achieving substantial outcomes, comprehensively and effectively carry out the DOC, soon finalise a COC, control sea disputes well, not to take actions that may complicate the situation or expand disputes, and maintain peace and stability in the East Sea (South China Sea). During a meeting with Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Yu Zhengsheng on the same day, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Minh streesed well controlling disagreements and peacefully settling maritime disputes in line with international law and the UNCLOS 1982 are conformable with the basic and long-term interests of the two countries and people and beneficial to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region and the world.  Yu, for his part, affirmed that China attaches importance to promoting friendly neighbourliness and comprehensive cooperation with Vietnam. On April 18, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Minh said the two bodies should continue upholding their role as permanent agencies of the Vietnam-China Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation, and make good preparations for bilateral visits and meetings of senior officials of the two countries.  The ministries also need to push negotiation mechanisms for border and territorial issues in order to achieve substantive outcomes and join hands in maintaining peace and security in the East Sea, Minh added. For his part, Wang Yi shared his guest’s recommendations on developing bilateral relations. He said the Chinese Foreign Ministry is willing to work with the Vietnamese side to gear up for high-ranking visits and enhance the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.

Vietnam, US talk to strengthen bilateral ties

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh paid an official visit to the US from 20-21 April. During a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Advisor of the US National Security Council Herbert Raymond McMaster, Minh stressed the two sides should sustain and strengthen economic and trade links, describing these links as key to bilateral relations. Regarding South China Sea disputes, Tillerson and McMaster underlined the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation in the sea. The US backs the settlement of disputes in the sea by peaceful measures based on diplomatic and legal processes, in line with international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the DOC, they stressed.  At the meeting, Minh conveyed President Tran Dai Quang’s invitation to US President Donald Trump to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2017 and visit Vietnam.  Tillerson and McMaster affirmed President Trump will attend the event in Vietnam.

The Philippines

Philippine Ambassador’s views on challenges and opportunities in bilateral ties

The Global Times on April 16 had an exclusive interview with Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana (Sta. Romana), the Philippine Ambassador to China. Regarding Philippine President Duterte’s order to occupy and fortify some islands in the disputed South China Sea, Ambassador Sta. Romana said the Philippines has occupied those features since the 1970s and 1980s. The Duterte administration just wants to improve the living conditions of the soldiers that are occupying these islands. The president's decision is that the Philippines are not going to occupy new islands or get involved with territories that are being occupied by other countries. Regarding the relations between the Philippines and China and the US, the Ambassador said the Philippines do not wish to be allied to either power. This is not an easy course and there will be changes along the way. So it is, in a sense, choosing the path of an independent foreign policy, proceeding from the interests of the Filipino people. Regarding Sino-Philippine relations, the Ambassador admitted that there is a lot of distrust toward China. What is important here is to show that the approach of discussion and dialogue can actually ease the tension and can work to benefit both the Philippines and China. He added the Philippines were identified with our traditional ally almost to the extent that we were in a hostile relationship with China. Now the country is steering away, because its foreign policy has to be based on its own interestsBecause of that, there's recognition that there may be a divergence with the national interests between the Philippines and other countries, but the Philippines tries to promote cooperation with its convergence in the national interests.

Philippines Defense, military chiefs visit disputed South China Sea island

The trip led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on an air force C-130 aircraft to Thitu Island on April 21. With Lorenzana were the military chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Ano and other military top brass with about 40 journalists. According to Lorenzana, Chinese Coast Guard elements, from Subi Reef, some 30 to 40 nautical miles away from ThiTu Island, had challenged the military transport planes. “We replied that we are flying over Philippine territory,” Lorenzana said when asked for details regarding the Chinese challenge. Aside from the challenge, nothing untoward happened.  Philippine Palace on April 23 defended Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s high-profile visit Thi Tu Island, saying the trip was part of government efforts to improve the lives of Filipino residents in the municipality of Kalayaan.

Filipino fishermen accuse China of firing on their vessel

A group of Filipino fishermen have accused China’s coast guard of shooting at their vessel in disputed South China Sea waters, authorities said on April 21. Officials said they were investigating the reported attack on the Princess Johann boat, which the crew said occurred near a Chinese-occupied section of the Spratly archipelago on March 27. There were no casualties during the incident, authorities added. “(Princess Johann) was reportedly fired upon seven times by a Chinese speedboat with seven Chinese coast guards on board,” the Philippine Coast Guard statement said. Representatives at the Chinese embassy in Manila could not be reached for comment.

Philippine President toured a Russian guided missile cruiser

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte along with Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovayev toured a Russian guided missile cruiser docked in Philippine waters on April 21. While taking a photo with some of the ship's officials, Duterte was heard saying, "The Russians are with me, so I can't be afraid."

Indonesia

Indonesia to ratify EEZ agreement with Philippines

The government and the House of Representatives of Indonesia are set to ratify a historic maritime agreement pertaining to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Indonesia and the Philippines to safeguard the two countries’ maritime security from threats such as the Abu Sayyaf group. The maritime deal, signed in 2014 after 20 years of negotiations, draws a boundary between Indonesia and the Philippines’ overlapping EEZ in Mindanao Sea and Celebes Sea. In a hearing with representatives of the Coordinating Legal, Political and Security Affairs Ministry, Law and Human Rights Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Indonesian Navy on April 18, lawmakers of the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing defense and foreign affairs agreed to ratify the maritime deal.

Indonesia arrested Chinese ship flees Navy guard

A gigantic Chinese-flagged hopper dredger was caught by the Indonesian Navy for allegedly scavenging valuable items from a shipwreck on April 20. Yet after arresting the dredger’s crew, the Navy only sent one personnel to guard the vessel. In less than six hours after the arrest, the vessel had fled the crime scene around Anambas Islands, Riau Islands province. MV Chuan Hong 68 is a 8,352 gross ton vessel, measuring 122 meters in length and 32 m in width. The ship was allegedly caught carrying out the illegal activity at around 6:30 p.m. In response, four navy personnel were deployed to the ship and arrested 20 crew members, consisting of 16 Chinese citizens, three Indians and one Malaysian. “Our resources are limited and the ship is huge. We secured the crew members first,” Navy deputy chief of staff Vice Adm. Achmad Taufieqoerroch-man said during a press conference at the residence of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti on April 22.

US reaffirms  a rules-based order at sea

Speaking to U.S. and Japanese troops on board the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base, Yokosuka City, Japan on April 18, US Vice President Mike Pence said: “Together, we will defend the rules-based order upon which the region’s progress, past and future, depends.  We will protect the freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and we will ensure the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce on the Seven Seas.”

US Vice President visited Indonesia

During a two-day official visit to Indonesia, US Vice President Mike Pence met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on April 20. Speaking after the meeting, Vice President Pence stressed: “We will also continue to work with Indonesia to defend the rules-based system that is the foundation for Southeast Asia’s peace and prosperity.  The United States will uphold the fundamental freedoms of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and throughout the Asia Pacific; will ensure the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce; and promote peaceful diplomatic dialogue to address issues of regional and global concern.” Also on the same day, Vice President Pence visited ASEAN Secretariat. He affirmed: “We’ll continue to work closely with ASEAN to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea by upholding a rules-based order, ensuring the lawful and unimpeded flow of commerce, and encouraging the peaceful and diplomatic resolution of disputes.  For 40 years, the United States has worked side by side with ASEAN to foster peace and prosperity on these seas and between our lands; and President Trump and I are confident that through our continued partnership, which even now, today, is growing stronger, together we will build on our firm foundation to reach even greater heights in the next 50 years of this great organization.”

Regional Snapshots

Philippines, US to hold military drills

The Philippine military said on April 16 it would hold annual exercises with US troops next month. The annual military exercises, known as Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), will now go ahead in May, focusing on counter-terrorism and disaster response as the Philippines battles Islamic militants in their lawless southern strongholds. "It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism," Balikatan spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson told AFP. In previous years Balikatan had evolved from counter-terrorism maneuvers against Islamic militants to simulations of protecting or retaking territory, as a dispute with Beijing over islands in the South China Sea escalated.

Vietnam and New Zealand look forward to stronger ties

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and visiting Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully have agreed to continue working to lift bilateral relations to a higher level during their talks in Hà Nội on April 24. The officials expressed their joy at flourishing Vietnam – New Zealand ties in recent years, especially in defence-security, agriculture, development assistance, tourism, education and people-to-people exchanges. The two sides underlined the importance of settling international disputes, including those in the East Sea (South China Sea), by peaceful measures, on the basis of respect for diplomatic and legal processes, in line with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS. They also called for the full implementation of the DOC and the finalisation of a COC.

Duterte is to visit Japan in June for summit

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to visit Japan in June for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Philippine government officials say the 2 countries are working to adjust the leaders' schedule for early June. The trip will be Duterte's second to Japan since he became president in June last year. His previous visit was in October. Duterte is expected to update Abe on discussions with China regarding disputes in the South China Sea.


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