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Posts tagged ‘South China Sea’

Malaysia Prime Minister: ‘Deliberate Action’ Caused Jet to Disappear.

Investigators searched the home of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet Saturday as the probe focused on possible sabotage.

Officials now believe someone on board deliberately shut off its communications and tracking systems, turned the plane around, and flew for nearly seven hours after it vanished from radar, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday.

“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” Razak said.

A Malaysian official, who was not named because he was not authorized to brief the press, went further, telling The Associated Press that hijacking was no longer a theory. ”

“It is conclusive,” the official said.

The move on the pilot’s home came in after analysis of data indicating the plane made erratic changes in altitude and course — and that manual changes attempted to mask the jet’s location.

“Increasingly, it seems to be heading into the criminal arena,” Richard Healing, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, told the Wall Street Journal Friday.

The latest bits of information from the probe “indicate the emphasis is on determining if a hijacker or crew member diverted the plane,” he said.

A U.S. official told the Associated Press investigators are now examining whether the baffling disappearance may have been ‘‘an act of piracy.’’

The New York Times reported radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military show Flight 370 — which took off from Kuala Lumpur last Saturday with 279 people aboard — climbed to 45,000 feet soon after it disappeared from civilian radar, then made a sharp turn to the west.

The radar track showed the plane then dropping to just 23,000 feet as it approached the island of Penang, one of the country’s largest.

Military radar last recorded the plane flying at 29,500 feet some 200 miles northwest of Penang and headed toward India’s Andaman Islands, the Times reported.

An unidentified Malaysian official told The Associated Press only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea.

An Asia-based Boeing pilot told the Times flying above the plane’s service limit of 43,100 feet, along with a depressurized cabin, could have knocked out passengers and crew — and could have been a deliberate maneuver by a pilot or hijacker.

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The Journal reported investigators suspect two systems were shut off after the Beijing-bound plane took off: First, the plane’s transponders stopped functioning about an hour into the flight, making it difficult for air-traffic controllers to track the craft on radar.

Then, a second system sent a routine aircraft-monitoring message to a satellite indicating someone made a manual change in the plane’s heading that turned it sharply to the west, The Journal said.

The plane is now also believed to have continued flying for more than four hours after diverting its course — based on automated “pings” sent by onboard systems that try to connect with satellites.

One of the most chilling findings came from investigators examining data transmitted from the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines, showing the aircraft descending 40,000 feet in the space of a minute, the Times reported.

Investigators don’t believe it.

“A lot of stock cannot be put in the altitude data” sent from the engines, the Times quoted one unnamed official saying. “A lot of this doesn’t make sense.”

Aviation lecturer Cengiz Turkoglu of City University London said dramatic changes in altitude can happen because of a deliberate act in the cockpit, but that “it is extremely difficult for an aircraft to physically, however heavy it might be, to free fall,” the Times reported.

Initial fears, later discounted, were that terrorists might have brought the plane down after it disappeared.

Investigators also considered, but dismissed, the possibility that hijackers landed the plane somewhere for later use in a terrorist attack, the Times reported.

But one official told the Times that current information “leads them to believe that it either ran out of fuel or crashed right before it ran out of fuel.”

Meanwhile, CNN reported a classified analysis by the United States and Malaysian governments calculates the flight likely crashed into the Indian Ocean on one of two possible flight paths.

In one flight path scenario, the plane went down in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India; another scenario has the plane traveling southeast and crashing into the Indian Ocean.

Still another theory being considered has the plane coming down in the remote Andaman Islands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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By Cathy Burke

China Confirms Near Miss With US Ship in South China Sea.

BEIJING — China Wednesday confirmed an incident between a Chinese naval vessel and a U.S. warship in the South China Sea, after Washington said a U.S. guided missile cruiser had avoided a collision with a Chinese warship maneuvering nearby.
Experts have said the near-miss between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese warship operating near China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was the most significant U.S.-China maritime incident in the disputed South China Sea since 2009.
China’s Defense Ministry said the Chinese naval vessel was conducting “normal patrols” when the two vessels “met.”
“During the encounter, the Chinese naval vessel properly handled it in accordance with strict protocol,” the ministry said in a statement on its website (
“The two defense departments were kept informed of the relevant situation through normal working channels and carried out effective communication.”
Washington said last week its ship was forced to take evasive action on December 5 to avoid a collision.
The incident came at a time of heightened tensions in the region following Beijing‘s declaration of an air defense identification zone further north in the East China Sea, which prompted protests from Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.
China’s Defense Ministry said, however, there were “good opportunities” for developing Sino-U.S. military ties.
“Both sides are willing to strengthen communication, maintain close coordination and make efforts to maintain regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.
The Liaoning aircraft carrier, which has yet to be fully armed and is being used as a training vessel, was flanked by escort ships including two destroyers and two frigates during its first deployment into the South China Sea.
Friction over the South China Sea has surged as China uses its growing naval might to assert a vast claim over the oil-and-gas rich area, raising fears of a clash between it and other countries in the area, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
The United States had raised the incident at a “high level” with China, according to a State Department official quoted by the U.S. military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.
Beijing routinely objects to U.S. military surveillance operations within its exclusive economic zone, while Washington insists the United States and other nations have the right to conduct routine operations in international waters.
China deployed the Liaoning to the South China Sea just days after announcing its air defense zone, which covers air space around a group of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing as well.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

US: Chinese Warship Nearly Struck Navy Cruiser.

U.S. military officials say a Chinese warship nearly collided with an American Navy guided missile cruiser operating in international waters.

U.S. Pacific Fleet says it happened Dec. 5 in the South China Sea, and that the USS Cowpens maneuvered to avoid the collision.

The State Department has raised the matter at a high level with the Chinese government.

The incident comes amid heightened tension over China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Despite strenuous objections from Washington, Beijing recently declared a new air defense zone over parts of the East China Sea.

Pacific Fleet says it’s not uncommon for navies to operate in close proximity and that’s why it is paramount they all follow international standards for maritime “rules of the road.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

US, Chinese Warships Narrowly Avoid Collision in South China Sea.

Image: US, Chinese Warships Narrowly Avoid Collision in South China Sea

The USS Cowpens

A U.S. guided missile cruiser operating in international waters in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid a collision with a Chinese navy ship maneuvering nearby, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement on Friday.

The incident on Dec. 5 involving the USS Cowpens came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China following Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea.

The Pacific Fleet statement did not offer details about what led to the near-collision. But it did say the incident underscored the need for the “highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.”

Beijing declared the air defense zone over the East China Sea late last month and demanded that aircraft flying through the area provide it with flight plans and other information.

The United States and its allies rejected the Chinese demand and have continued to fly military aircraft into the zone, which includes air space over a small group of islands claimed by China but currently administered by Tokyo.

In the midst of the tensions over the air defense zone, China deployed its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the South China Sea for maneuvers. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea and is involved in territorial disputes in the region with several of its neighbors.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


US, Vietnam Sign Nuclear Trade Agreement.

Image: US, Vietnam Sign Nuclear Trade Agreement

Thursday, 10 Oct 2013 07:14 AM

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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — The United States and Vietnam on Thursday signed a pact that would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to the Southeast Asian nation and open the way for U.S. investment in the burgeoning industry, in another sign that Washington is seeking stronger economic and strategic ties in the region.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S.-Vietnam Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement would allow U.S. firms to tap Vietnam’s future nuclear power market, although the State Department said the deal will not allow Vietnam to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin nuclear materials.

“This agreement will create numerous opportunities for our businesses,” Kerry told Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Brunei. “Obviously our nuclear cooperation is quite significant.”

Vietnam is working with Russia to build its first nuclear plant in 2014 for completion in 2020 in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, as demand for energy grows rapidly in response to economic growth of around 5 percent a year.

It has also signed an agreement with a Japanese consortium to develop a second nuclear power plant in the same province, with two reactors to become operational in 2024-2025.

Vietnam has the second-largest market after China for nuclear power in East Asia, which was expected to grow to $50 billion by 2030, according to Kerry.

The United States has moved to improve economic and security ties with Vietnam, part of its strategic rebalancing towards Asia that some see as a policy to counter China’s rising clout. China’s assertive claims over the South China Sea have raised tensions with Vietnam, as well as other Southeast Asian nations.

Vietnam’s poor human rights record is a major obstacle to closer ties and U.S. labor and human rights groups have urged Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics.

Analysts say a sharp increase in the past few years in arrests and convictions of government detractors, in particular, bloggers, could complicate the nuclear deal as Congress needs to be convinced Vietnam is changing its tack.

The deal will be submitted to President Barack Obama for his review before it is sent to Congress for its approval by the end of the year, a U.S. official said.

“Getting to this stage moves us closer to an expanded civil nuclear cooperation with Vietnam,” the official, who briefed reporters in Washington, said.

“Vietnam is actively taking steps now toward development of a robust domestic infrastructure to support a nuclear energy program,” the official added.

With Vietnam at an early stage of nuclear development, the official said the agreement provides the basis for U.S. firms to enter the market early as it builds nuclear power plants and for the U.S. government to ensure the proper safeguards.

The U.S. official said the agreement “will also strengthen the Obama administration’s long-standing policy of limiting the spread or enrichment and reprocessing capabilities around the world.”

The deal stems from Obama’s Prague initiative, a drive for global nuclear security which he launched in his first term.

Asked whether the provisions of the deal would ward off any concern that Vietnam might someday seek nuclear weapons capability, the official said: “That certainly would close off one path toward that.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


China Accuses US of Intensifying Asia-Pacific Tensions.

BEIJING — China’s defense ministry made a thinly veiled attack on the United States on Tuesday for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region, days after the top U.S. diplomat visited Beijing.

China is uneasy with what the United States has called the “rebalancing” of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention in the Asia-Pacific.

China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes.

China faces “multiple and complicated security threats” despite its growing influence, the Ministry of Defense said in its annual white paper, adding that the U.S. strategy meant “profound changes” for the region.

“There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser,” the ministry said in the 40-page document, in a clear reference to the United States.

Such moves “do not accord with the developments of the times and are not conducive towards maintaining regional peace and stability”, ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

The official People’s Liberation Army Daily went further, saying in a commentary on Monday China needed to beef up its defenses to deal with a hostile West bent on undermining it.

“Hostile Western forces have intensified their strategy to westernize and split China, and employed every possible means to contain and control our country’s development,” it said.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the re-orientation of U.S. foreign policy towards Asia as he ended a trip to the region dominated by concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s behavior, including its third nuclear test in February, it has also made clear it considers U.S. displays of force in response to Pyongyang’s behavior to be a worrisome development.

China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic and financial backer – the two fought together in the 1950-53 Korean war – although the ministry’s Yang would not be drawn on the subject aside from repeating a call for peace and dialogue.


China’s own military moves have worried the region, too.

China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure last month, to 740.6 billion yuan ($119 billion) for 2013, and is involved in protracted and often ugly disputes over a series of islands in the East and South China Seas.

“On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighbouring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue,” the white paper said.

The dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku, has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets and patrol ships shadow each other.

The waters around the islands in the East China Sea are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines also have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

The U.S. shift comes as China boosts military spending and builds submarines, surface ships, and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

China has repeatedly said the world has nothing to fear from its military spending, which it says is needed for legitimate defensive purposes in a complex and changing world, and that the sums spent pale in comparison with U.S. defense expenditure.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

10 things you need to know today: January 22, 2013.

Prince Harry gives a TV interview at the British controlled flight-line in Camp Bastion last November in Afghanistan.
Prince Harry gives a TV interview at the British controlled flight-line in Camp Bastion last November in Afghanistan.

On Monday, President Obama used his inaugural speech to articulate a decidedly liberal vision for his second term. Drawing inspiration from the most important events in American history — from the Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement — Obama proclaimed that the Founding Fathers’ dream of equality and liberty would not be fulfilled until the country reduced income inequality, ensured equal rights for gays and women, protected the most vulnerable citizens from the inequities of laissez-faire capitalism, and found a better way to welcome “striving, hopeful immigrants.” [The Week]

Three U.S. citizens — Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan, and Frederick Buttaccio — were killed in last week’s hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria, while seven Americans made it out safely, the State Department said Monday. “The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. The desert siege began last Wednesday when Mali-based, al-Qaeda-linked militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled, and then seized the gas refinery. Algeria says 38 hostages of all nationalities and 29 militants died in the standoff. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for. [CBS News]

Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday in an election that will almost certainly assure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another term. Polls in recent weeks have predicted a victory for Netanyahu’s ticket, a combination of his conservative Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu. The polls have also shown the joint ticket declining in strength, from the 42 seats it holds in the current parliament to perhaps 32 or 35, and losing support to the Jewish Home, a party further to the right. [New York Times]

An Indonesian court sentenced British woman Lindsay June Sandiford, 56, a grandmother, to death for smuggling cocaine worth $2.5 million in her suitcase onto the resort island of Bali. Prosecutors had only sought a 15-year sentence. Sandiford — who had claimed in court that she was forced to take the drugs into the country by a gang that was threatening to hurt her children — wept as the sentence was read and declined to speak to reporters. Sandiford’s lawyer said she would appeal, a process that can take several years. Condemned criminals face a firing squad in Indonesia, which has not carried out an execution since 2008, when 10 people were put to death. [Associated Press]

Speaking for the first time about his nude romp in a Las Vegas hotel room last year, Prince Harry said he had “probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down.” Still, he said, “I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect.” Photographs of Harry in that hotel room went viral just weeks before he was set to begin his tour of duty in Afghanistan. The 28-year-old noted that his lack of judgment in the situation was “probably a classic example of me… being too much army and not enough prince.” [CNN]

Groupon, the largest daily deals site in the U.S., has suspended gun-related offers in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. “The category is under review following recent consumer and merchant feedback,” Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based Groupon said. The suspension includes deals for shooting ranges and clay shooting. [Bloomberg]

The Philippines says it will challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea at a U.N. tribunal. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that the country had exhausted “almost all political and diplomatic avenues” to resolve the dispute with China. China claims a U-shaped swath of the South China Sea, claims which overlap those of several South East Asian nations. In a statement, China maintained its sovereignty over the disputed waters. [BBC]

A new study of health records by the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group suggests that rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have jumped by 24 percent since 2001. “That is a very significant increase,” says Darios Getahun, a research scientist with group. The apparent rise in diagnoses is likely caused by growing awareness of the condition among parents and doctors, he and other specialists say. The study looked at health records of more than 840,000 children, ages 5 to 11, who were diagnosed by an expert. It found that 2.5 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD at the start of the study in 2001, vs. 3.1 percent in 2010. [USA Today]

New research indicates that Google search fell 3 percent in 2012, and growth in the Android mobile operating system is slowing. Meanwhile Microsoft’s Windows Phone is experiencing strong European growth, particularly in Britain and Italy, with shares hitting 5.9 percent and 13.9 percent respectively — up from 2.2 percent and 2.8 percent a year ago. Microsoft Bing search rose by 0.19 percent to 4.99 percent. [Telegraph]

Los Angeles police responded to a call alleging a domestic violence dispute at the home of singer Chris Brown, but the alert turned out to be false. (Brown was arrested in 2009 for attacking then-girlfriend Rihanna.) The call about Brown’s home is the latest so-called “swatting” prank that’s intended to get multiple officers, including specialized SWAT teams, sent to the home of a celebrity.  Last week, Beverly Hills police responded to a fake armed robbery call at Tom Cruise’s house. [Associated Press]


By Frances R. Catanio

Taiwan undersea oil plans raise neighbors’ eyebrows.

The island’s exploration efforts in the South China Sea could fuel tensions with China and other nations with territorial claims there. Heated rhetoric last year prompted the US to intervene.

Taiwan, a normally quiet claimant to portions of the disputed South China Sea, plans to explore for undersea oil there, a move likely to test fragile relations with China and upset major Southeast Asian nations.

Ringed by China, Vietnamthe PhilippinesIndonesia and others, the waters are believed to hold as many as 213 billion barrels of oil but competing claims from the six bordering nations have fueled tensions, prompting US officials to step in last year to urge calm.

Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines and its top energy company plan to explore this year for some of that oil near an islet that the government holds in the Spratly archipelago, a spokesman for the company said.

Taiwan’s search for oil would remind five competing nations that it still has clout, despite old foe China. The more powerful Beijing forbids its allies around Asia from talking to Taipei and has its own ambitions in the disputed 3.5 million-square-kilometer (1.4 million-square-mile) sea.

“Taiwan seems to be seeking ways to remind other nations of its sovereignty claims,” says Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia adviser with the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Taiwan doesn’t want to be ignored or forgotten.”

Recommended: How much do you know about China? Take our quiz.

China has considered self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, chilling ties until 2008 when the two sides put aside political differences to discuss trade and economic links.

But new incidents have challenged the fragile détente, and Taiwan is already angry about last year’s Chinese passports that claim two Taiwanese landmarks. Oil could be next, as Taiwan says it has no plans to share its search with China.

Vietnam and the Philippines also staked claims in the sea. Vessels from China and the Philippines were locked in a standoff last year, and 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a clash in 1988.

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But even as both countries periodically make what’s thought of as aggressive moves in the region, both would stop short of forcing Taiwan out from the waters near Spratly where it already has an airstrip, analysts say. Too much bluster might push Taiwan closer to China, which wants more economic ties with Taiwan and which Southeast Asian claimants see as a bigger threat to their maritime interests.

“Lacking much naval power, Manila would have a hard time actually physically preventing any oil exploration by Taiwan,” says Scott Harold, associate political scientist at the RAND Corp., a policy research nonprofit in the United States.

Hanoi would have a better prospect of reacting militarily, but any stand-off would potentially put them on the wrong side of both Washington and Beijing,” he says.

But much of the oil is already spoken for. China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd. began drilling undersea last year, and its peer in Hanoi, PetroVietnam, has started surveying. The Philippines is also contracting out other exploration tracts.

Fellow claimant Malaysia currently produces about half the South China Sea’s oil, which is estimated at 1.3 million barrels per day. Brunei also claims parts of the ocean.

Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines will draw up a budget this year and hire CPC Corp. Taiwan to look for oil, CPC spokesman Chen Ming-hui says. Officials told parliament that exploration would cost at least $562,000.

Taiwan needs the oil as 99 percent of energy sources are now imported, Mr. Chen says. “The South China Sea is a place where Vietnam and others have sighted oil, so we think the opportunities there are good,” he says.


By Ralph Jennings | Christian Science Monitor

Philippines sees Japan as balance to China ambitions.

MANILA (Reuters) – A stronger Japan would act as a counterbalance to the military rise of China, something that is worrying smaller Asian nations as tensions grow over conflicting territorial claimsin the region, the Philippines said on Monday.

Rivals claims to the South China Sea, and its likely oil and gas wealth, have made it Asia’s biggest potential flashpoint. China claims the largest area, putting it at loggerheads in particular in recent months with Vietnam and the Philippines.

Other claimants are Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

“(We are looking for Japan) to support the peaceful process of resolving the issues here and to be one of the partners as far as security alliances and partnership is concerned,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

He said no one country has the capacity to address the security requirements of the region, and it is in the Philippines’ interest to have stronger alliances.

The comments echo those of Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper published on Monday, when he said that Japan “could be a significant balancing factor.”

The dispute is testing the unity of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and also dragged the United States into the debate just as it is pushing to raise an already strong military profile in the region.

On Tuesday, the Philippines will hold strategic talks with the United States, its closest security ally, on ways to strengthen their alliance, including increasing rotational presence of U.S. forces in its former colony.

Carlos Sorreta, foreign ministry assistant secretary for American affairs, said the increased U.S. presence in Asia and Pacific region “sends the right signal that states must behave in a reasonable and lawful way”.

Last week, Vietnam claimed that Chinese fishing boats sabotaged one of its oil and gas research vessels, while the Philippines and China were involved in a two-month-long standoff earlier this year at Scarborough Shoal near the Philippine coast.

Adding to tension, authorities in China’s Hainan island have passed laws allowing police to search vessels deemed to be operating illegally in what it considers its Hainan’s waters, drawing protests from its neighbours and concern from the United States.

Asked about the Philippine comments on Japan as a balancing force, China’s foreign ministry said the idea of “containment” was out of date.

“Now it’s no longer the era of the Cold War. The issue of one country containing another one does not exist,” spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.

Another Philippine foreign ministry official said Manila does not share the concerns of some others in the region of Japan’s military past because it has shown in the years since World War Two that it has become a democratic and responsible member of the international community.

Japan will hold a general election on December 16 that is expected to be won by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). LDP leader Shinzo Abe has promised to loosen limits on the military in Japan’s pacifist constitution and stand up to China over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING,; Writing by Jonathan Standing,; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)


By Manuel Mogato | Reuters

Analysis: As China’s clout grows, sea policy proves unfathomable.

  • A Chinese marine surveillance ship is seen offshore of Vietnam's central Phu Yen province May 26, 2011 and released by Petrovietnam in this May 29, 2011 file handout photo. REUTERS/Handout/Files

    Enlarge PhotoReuters/Reuters – A Chinese marine surveillance ship is seen offshore of Vietnam‘s central Phu Yen province May 26, 2011 and released by Petrovietnam in this May 29, 2011 file handout photo. REUTERS/Handou …more 


SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Imagine if the U.S. state of Hawaii passed a law allowing harbor police to board and seize foreign boats operating up to 1,000 km (600 miles) from Honolulu.

That, in effect, is what happened in China about a week ago. The tropical province of Hainan, home to beachfront resorts and one of China’s largest naval bases, authorized a unit of the police to interdict foreign vessels operating “illegally” in the island’s waters, which, according to China, include much of the heavily disputedSouth China Sea.

At a time when the global community is looking to the world’s second-biggest economy and a burgeoning superpower for increasing maturity and leadership on the international stage, China’s opaque and disjointed foreign policy process is causing confusion and escalating tensions throughout its backyard.

Vietnam and the Philippines, which claim sovereignty over swathes of the South China Sea along with Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, have issued verbal protests against the Hainan rules.

India, which jointly conducts some oil exploration with Vietnam in the South China Sea, said last week it was prepared to send navy ships to the region to safeguard its interests. And the United States has publicly asked Beijing for clarification as to what, if anything, the new rules mean — thus far to no avail.

“It is really unclear, I think, to most nations (what the regulations mean),” U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Gary Locke told Reuters last week. “Until we really understand what these things are, there is no way to comment. First we need clarification of the extent, the purpose and the reach of these regulations.”

The fact that a provincial government can unilaterally worsen one of China’s most sensitive diplomatic problems highlights the dysfunctionality, and potential danger, of policymaking in this arena, analysts say.

“It shows what a mess Chinese foreign policy is when it comes to the South China Sea,” said a Western diplomat in China, speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) earlier this year, no fewer than 11 government entities — from the tourism administration to the navy — play a role in the South China Sea. All, the ICG said, have the potential to take action that could cause diplomatic fallout.


That’s precisely what happened in the case of the Hainan regulations. In an interview with Reuters, Wu Shicun, the senior official in the province’s foreign affairs office, said he thought the rules passed by the local People’s Congress would have been passed up the chain to Beijing for comment.

But when pressed, he said because he’s not a part of the People’s Congress he couldn’t say for sure if Beijing had, in fact, even seen the new rules before they became official.

Attempts to coordinate between the myriad agencies have so far failed, and while there is a growing recognition in official circles that a problem exists, change will not likely be swift, despite a recent leadership transition, most analysts believe.

Meanwhile, disputes in the volatile Sea continue to arise. Last week, Vietnam claimed that Chinese fishing boats sabotaged one of its oil and gas research vessels. The ICG report says Chinese fishing boats have been encouraged in some cases to press outward by provincial governments.

Another source of recent, regional irritation was a map printed in new Chinese passports depicting sections of disputed territory, including the South China Sea, as belonging to China.

Zhu Feng, at Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies, said the passports, which were for ordinary citizens, were issued by China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

“I think the MPS saw that they needed to do something to show their support for China’s sovereign claim, but I don’t think they won any support from the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry issues passports for government officials, and Zheng noted that their passports were unchanged and carried no such map.

That points towards a big part of the problem: the Foreign Ministry has a mandate to coordinate among the various players, but it doesn’t have the bureaucratic clout to do so effectively.

“The Foreign Ministry is low down on the pecking order and there are competing departments making different decisions. It’s not joined up at all,” said the diplomat.

In recent news conferences, ministry spokesman Hong Lei has appeared poorly briefed on the Hainan maritime rules, giving the impression the ministry itself may be playing catch-up.

A Reuters correspondent asked specifically on Friday which agency was in charge of South China Sea policy coordination. Hong gave a one-sentence response: “What I want to point out is that China manages the sea in accordance with the law.”


Another complicating factor in the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea is that Beijing itself has left ambiguous exactly what the “nine-dash line” on Chinese maps of the region implies. The line, which loops south along Vietnam and back up by the Philippines, appears to delineate China’s territorial claims.

But it’s not so simple. Carlyle Thayer, a South China Sea specialist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said in 26 academic conferences he has attended in the past two years, repeated questions to multiple Chinese scholars about just what the line means yielded no clear answer.

“No one in China can tell you what that means,” he said. “You have competing actors all backing Chinese sovereignty in an area where no one knows where it is, so it’s inherently ambiguous.”

Chinese government agencies had different opinions, said a senior diplomat, who has been assigned to a Southeast Asian embassy in Beijing.

“China does not even have the exact coordinates of its expansive claim in the area, making it quite difficult to determine where its claims begin and end,” he said. “We have been asking them for their exact coordinates and they cannot present them to us.”

Ambiguity may, some analysts argue, leave Beijing a little wiggle room to make some compromises should the disputes escalate, as diplomats in the region now fear they may. But “on the other hand,” said Thayer, “they are under extraordinary pressure” now to communicate clearly and specifically what China’s position is.

The government has recognized the need for better coordination, but progress is likely to be halting at best.

For the foreseeable future, the new leadership under Communist Party boss Xi Jinping would focus mostly on domestic issues, with foreign policy taking a back seat, said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, author of the International Crisis Group’s report on China’s South China Sea policy.

“In that context, we are going to pretty much expect to see no substantial changes in China’s foreign policy.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing, Manny Mogato in Manila and Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi; Editing by Bill Powell and Nick Macfie)


By John Ruwitch | Reuters

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