Posted tagged ‘Freedom of navigation’

Beijing Adopts New Tactic for S. China Sea Claims

September 21, 2017

Beijing Adopts New Tactic for S. China Sea Claims, Washington Free Beacon, September 21, 2017

All the islands are claimed by other states in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as by China.

The United States does not recognize China’s control over the island groups and insists the sea, which sees an annual transit of an estimated $3.37 trillion in trade, is international.

The Pentagon and State Department have said the South China Sea is international waters and that American vessels and aircraft will transit the area unimpeded by Chinese claims of control.

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The Chinese government recently unveiled a new legal tactic to promote Beijing’s aggressive claim to own most of the strategic South China Sea.

The new narrative that critics are calling “lawfare,” or legal warfare, involves a shift from China’s so-called “9-Dash Line” ownership covering most of the sea.

The new lawfare narrative is called the “Four Sha”—Chinese for sand—and was revealed by Ma Xinmin, deputy director general in the Foreign Ministry’s department of treaty and law, during a closed-door meeting with State Department officials last month.

China has claimed three of the island chains in the past and recently added a fourth zone in the northern part of the sea called the Pratas Islands near Hong Kong.

The other locations are the disputed Paracels in the northwestern part and the Spratlys in the southern sea. The fourth island group is located in the central zone and includes Macclesfield Bank, a series of underwater reefs and shoals.

China calls the island groups Dongsha, Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha, respectively.

Ma, the Foreign Ministry official, announced during the meetings in Boston on Aug. 28 and 29 that China is asserting sovereignty over the Four Sha through several legal claims. He stated the area is China’s historical territorial waters and also part of China’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone that defines adjacent zones as sovereign territory. Beijing also claims ownership by asserting the Four Sha are part of China’s extended continental shelf.

U.S. officials attending the session expressed surprise at the new Chinese ploy to seek control over the sea as something not discussed before.

State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the department does not comment on diplomatic discussions.

The United States, he said, has a longstanding global policy of not adopting positions on competing sovereignty claims over land features in the South China Sea.

“The United States does take principled positions, and has been clear and consistent, that maritime claims by all countries in the South China Sea and around the world must be made and pursued in accordance with the international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” Higgins said.

All the islands are claimed by other states in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as by China.

The United States does not recognize China’s control over the island groups and insists the sea, which sees an annual transit of an estimated $3.37 trillion in trade, is international.

The Pentagon and State Department have said the South China Sea is international waters and that American vessels and aircraft will transit the area unimpeded by Chinese claims of control.

The State Department in December formally protested China’s unlawful maritime claims in a diplomatic note.

The Trump administration’s recent focus on pressuring North Korea to denuclearize has given China a green light to step up its South China Sea control efforts.

Chinese coast guard and navy vessels successfully blocked the Philippines from repairing a runway on one of the Spratly islands, and in July China pressured Vietnam into halting natural gas drilling in the Paracels.

The Chinese Four Sha legal maneuver follows the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in July 2016 that legally nullified China’s claim to historically own all waters and territory within the Nine-Dash Line.

The international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines government, which disputed the Chinese claim to the Spratlys.

The tribunal noted “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” according to a statement by the court last year.

China has rejected the international ruling, which has the force of international law.

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, said the latest maritime maneuver by the Chinese is lawfare—one of China’s three information warfare tools. The two others are media warfare and psychological warfare.

Pillsbury noted that the U.S. government lacks both legal warfare and counter legal warfare capabilities.

“The Chinese government seems to be better organized to design and implement clever legal tactics to defy international norms with impunity,” Pillsbury said.

“It may ultimately require congressional legislation to mandate our executive branch to build a better capacity to counter the Chinese use of lawfare,” he added. “If we had such a unit, it would be easy to counter China, especially when we have the United Nations on our side.”

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, said if confirmed the Four Sha program appears to be “Beijing’s next logical step in their ‘salami slicing,’ asserting the PRC’s claims to the South China Sea.”

“Given that an announcement of claims to the entirety of the Nine-Dash Line raised alarms throughout the region, it makes sense for the PRC Foreign Ministry to float this notion of an incremental step forward with the concept of the Four Sha approach to the eventual restoration of the entirety of the South China Sea.”

Fanell said the Trump administration should first remind Beijing and the rest of the world about the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that found China’s sovereignty claims to the sea both illegal and illegitimate.

“Second, the U.S. would do well to permanently deploy a carrier or expeditionary strike group to the South China Sea in order to make sure Beijing knows that our words are backed up by more than mere words,” he said.

The United States has been pushing back against China’s maritime claims in the sea by conducting Navy warship freedom of navigation operations around the disputed islands.

The naval operations were stalled during the Obama administration in a bid to avoid upsetting China. Under President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, warship freedom of navigation operations have resumed with regularity but without formal public acknowledgement of the operations.

In August, the destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed with 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, drawing criticism from China.

China denounced the warship passage as a provocation and violation of Chinese sovereignty.

China over the past several years has reclaimed some 3,200 acres of islands in the sea and in recent months began militarizing the islands with missile emplacements and other military facilities.

China also created a new governing unit over the sea called the Sansha administration in 2012. Sansha, or Three Sha, includes the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank, and the Spratlys and covered a total of 20 square kilometers of land, more than 2 million square kilometers of water, and a population of around 2,500 people.

A State Department notice at the end of what was billed as an annual U.S.-China Dialogue on the Law of the Sea and Polar Issues made no mention of the new Chinese lawfare tactic.

The statement said only that officials from foreign affairs and maritime agencies “exchanged views on a wide range of issues related to oceans, the law of the sea, and the polar regions.”

The U.S. delegation was led by Evan Bloom, State Department director for ocean and polar affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Bloom declined to comment on the talks.

Trump Launches First FONOP in South China Sea

May 26, 2017

Trump Launches First FONOP in South China Sea, American Interest, May 25, 2017

This patrol has been a long time coming. Along with others, we have been wondering whether the Trump administration had so far declined to approve FONOPs in a gambit to solicit China’s cooperation on North Korea. If that logic indeed held sway early on, it seems that the administration has now changed its tune, rightfully recognizing that going easy on China in one dispute won’t guarantee its cooperation on another.

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For the first time since President Trump took office, the U.S. Navy has conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea, provoking a predictable protest from Beijing. Reuters:

A U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.

China said its warships had warned the U.S. ship and it lodged “stern representations” with the United States. China said it remained resolutely opposed to so-called freedom of navigation operations.

This patrol has been a long time coming. Along with others, we have been wondering whether the Trump administration had so far declined to approve FONOPs in a gambit to solicit China’s cooperation on North Korea. If that logic indeed held sway early on, it seems that the administration has now changed its tune, rightfully recognizing that going easy on China in one dispute won’t guarantee its cooperation on another.

The exercise also sends an important signal in its own right that the U.S. refuses to recognize China’s claims, and that it will not remain passive as Beijing seeks to expand its maritime reach. That message comes none too soon, as China has lately been working out bilateral deals with its rival claimants while the U.S. has appeared missing in action. Let’s hope this is not a one-off but the start of a more active and engaged phase of the Trump administration’s South China Sea policy.

More, please.

China Puts Advanced Missiles on Disputed Southeast Asian Island

February 17, 2016

China Puts Advanced Missiles on Disputed Southeast Asian Island Obama: U.S. military will sail, fly freely in South China Sea

BY:
February 17, 2016 5:00 am

Source: China Puts Advanced Missiles on Disputed Southeast Asian Island

President Obama defended U.S. naval and aircraft operations near disputed South China Sea islands claimed by China on Tuesday as new intelligence revealed Beijing recently placed advanced air defense missiles in the Paracels.

“Freedom of navigation must be upheld,” Obama said, adding “the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same.”

The remarks followed a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, in Sunnylands, Calif. Obama and leaders from 10 ASEAN nations agreed to defend the sea from Chinese encroachment.

“We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas,” Obama said.

The president said the United States would continue to help regional states bolster maritime capabilities and resolve disputes peacefully and legally.

Obama said “the United States will continue to stand with those across Southeast Asia who are working to advance rule of law, good governance, accountable institutions, and the universal human rights of all people.”

At the Pentagon, defense officials said recent intelligence revealed that China deployed advanced HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, in the Paracel island chain in the northwestern part of the sea.

The missile deployment was detected in the past several days, said officials familiar with reports of the deployment.

The buildup of air defense missiles highlights what defense officials said is China’s continuing militarization of disputed islands in the sea.

China has demanded a halt to all U.S. warship transits through the sea, and aerial reconnaissance flights over it.

The HQ-9 is an advanced anti-aircraft system that can also shoot down short-range missiles.

The missiles are likely to heighten tensions as they could be used against U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that frequently fly over the sea.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, said the HQ-9 is a formidable air defense missile that can cover 125 miles.

“We should not be surprised in the least about this turn of events, as it is in keeping with the strategic trend line of China’s ‘maritime sovereignty campaign’ that has been in place since 2010,” Fanell told the Washington Free Beacon.

China’s Navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, announced last month that that China would determine when and how to justify the militarization of new islands. The missiles on Woody appear to be a first step, Fanell said.

“The question now remains whether or not the U.S., Japan, Australia, and the representatives of ASEAN will continue to accede to Beijing’s bullying or will they band together in a ‘unified front’ and begin conducting joint patrols within China’s unofficially asserted territorial seas,” he said. “The time to act is fleeting, each hour, each day of delay will render the situation more dangerous or untenable.”

Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said the advanced missile deployment is a major military escalation by China in the South China Sea.

“China’s deployment of up to 64 HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island just before the ASEAN summit in California constitutes a major slap against ASEAN and the Obama administration,” said Fisher, who is associated with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“It should now be clear that Obama administration diplomacy and freedom of navigation operations are useless in stopping China from militarizing its islands in the Paracel and Spratly island groups,” he said.

China’s military has said the recent passage of a warship near Triton Island in the Parcels could trigger a further military buildup.

Fisher said China could supplement the HQ-9s with long-range YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles or DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, which have a range of 870 miles.   

“Nobody is suggesting that the U.S. attack China’s dangerous island bases, but the administration can deploy sufficient counterforce to deter China from using its bases,” Fisher said.

China deployed J-11 jet fighters to Woody Island  last October.

Two months later a U.S. B-52 bomber overflew the disputed Spratly Islands, drawing a sharp rebuke from China’s government.

The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, has rejected China’s expansive South China Sea claims. Harris said in a recent speech that the South China Sea is “no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s.”

The Pentagon has said some $5.3 trillion in international trade passes through the sea each year.

China is claiming some 90 percent of the South China Sea as its maritime domain, and has built up some 3,200 acres of new islands where military facilities, including deepwater ports and airfields, are being built.

Woody Island, called Yongxing Island by China, is located about 100 miles southeast of Triton Island, where the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur made a close-in passage on Jan. 30. The Pentagon said the transit was designed to demonstrate freedom of navigation to three claimants to the island, China, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

China has denied it is militarizing the sea and has criticized the United States for what it says are provocative freedom of navigation operations. In addition to the Curtis, the USS Lassen passed within 12 miles of Subi Reef in the Spratlys last October.

The HQ-9 deployment was first reported by Foxnews.com on Tuesday.

The missiles were revealed on commercial satellite imagery along a beach on Woody Island. The missiles were sent there between Feb. 3 and Feb. 14.

During a summit meeting between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Beijing leader promised not to militarize newly-created South China Sea islands.

It is not clear if the September commitment included Woody Island, about 1 square mile in size that has had a military garrison since 2012.

The Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times published a commentary Saturday criticizing U.S. military operations in the South China Sea as a serious political and military provocation.

“On the surface, Washington calls for international laws and norms, such as freedom of navigation, to be the guiding principle in the South China Sea,” wrote Zhang Tengjun, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing.

“In fact, it tries to hype up China’s ‘threat’ to regional security and ASEAN’s interests so more ASEAN members will join a US-led front to counter China.”