China challenged Australian warships in South China Sea, reports say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

China challenged Australian warships in South China Sea, reports say

Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Toowoomba docked at Saigon port in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on April 19.

(CNN)Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asserted the right of the Australian navy to travel the South China Sea, after local media reported three Australian warships were challenged by the Chinese navy earlier this month.

As the three vessels traversed the hotly contested waters on their way to Vietnam, they were confronted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Friday.
The ABC said that one Australian defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, “insists the exchanges with the Chinese were polite, but ‘robust’.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in London for a meeting of the heads of Commonwealth nations, refused to confirm or deny the report.
“All I can say to you is that Australia asserts and practices its right to freedom of navigation throughout the world’s ocean, including the South China Sea,” he told reporters.
In a statement to CNN, the Australian Defense Department acknowledged the three vessels were in the South China Sea in recent weeks but wouldn’t comment on “operational details” on the ships.
“The Australian Defense Force has maintained a robust program of international engagement with countries in and around the South China Sea for decades,” the statement said. CNN has reached out to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
The Australian ships are now conducting a three-day goodwill visit in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
While Australian air force jets have been challenged by the Chinese in the past, this was the first time, Carl Thayer told CNN, that he’d heard of any reports of navy vessels being confronted.
“That doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred … (But) the challenge is political, it’s intimidatory and if you don’t counter challenge then China can make the argument that the international community has acceded to China’s claims,” said Thayer, regional security analyst and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales.

Australia, China relations in deep chill

The reported confrontation comes at a moment of frosty relations between Beijing and Canberra. Turnbull admitted to the diplomatic chill on April 12.
“There has been a degree of tension in the relationship which has arisen because of criticism in China of our foreign interference laws,” he told local radio station 3AW at the time.
His remarks followed reports in local media that Australian ministers had been denied visas that would have allowed them to attend China’s signature Boao Forum in Hainan province.
The Chinese government has objected strongly to a new set of laws being considered by Australia to tackle interference by foreign nations in their politics.
Although Turnbull stressed that those laws weren’t targeted at any one country, the legislation came after a series of scandals over large donations to Australian politicians by Chinese businessmen.
“I would like to stress hereby again that we hope the Australian side will abandon the cold-war mentality and ideological bias, stop making irresponsible remarks and work with China,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in February.

China tightens hold on volatile region

The South China Sea is one of the most hotly contested regions in the world. China claims a huge swathe of territory across the sea, overlapping the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines, among others.
Only last week the Chinese navy held its largest ever drills in the South China Sea, including a huge military parade overseen by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China’s only aircraft carrier the Liaoning took part in the display, launching J-15 fighter jets from the enormous ship’s flight deck.
Speaking from the PLA destroyer Changsha, Xi called for further modernization of China’s military to further his goal of creating a “world-class” force under the Communist Party’s leadership.
To reinforce their claims in the region, China has constructed and militarized a series of artificial islands across the South China Sea, building airfields and radar stations.
The United States regularly conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations close to China’s artificial bases. Last year, Arizona Senator John McCain suggested Australia’s Navy take part alongside the US in those exercises.
“I would not try to tell the Australians what they need to do, but there are exercises where a number of nations join together — we call it RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific Exercise]— that the Australians participate in. They’re broad naval exercises,” he said during a visit to Australia.

Recent Developments Surrounding The South China Sea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

BANGKOK — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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PHILIPPINES DOESN’T WANT TO BE USED FOR U.S. FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION MISSIONS

The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S., its longtime defense ally, saying it won’t be used as a springboard for U.S. ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for U.S. patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.

Lorenzana said U.S. ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana’s remarks as she hadn’t seen them, but added: “Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the U.S. Army’s I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the U.S. military was prepared to change next year’s joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.

“If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there,” he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines’ territorial defense.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines’ military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.

But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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US, CHINA REACT TO VIETNAM’S REPORTED ISLAND DREDGING

The United States has called on Vietnam and other claimants to refrain from reclamation and militarization activities in contested South China Sea waters following reports that Hanoi has carried out dredging on one of the features it occupies in the Spratlys.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters that the U.S. is aware of the reports.

“We have consistently warned that reclamation and militarization in contested areas of the South China Sea will risk driving a destabilizing and escalatory trend. We encourage all claimants to take steps to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences,” she said.

Vietnam’s government has not commented on satellite imagery purportedly showing dredging activities inside a channel on Ladd Reef, about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) west of Spratly Island where Hanoi recently began extending a runway and building hangers. It wasn’t clear if the latest activity was meant as repair or construction work.

Ladd Reef, which is submerged at high tide, has a lighthouse, which also serves as quarters for Vietnamese troops.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Vietnam to “respect China’s sovereignty and rights, stop illegal invasion and construction activities, and not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”

He repeated Friday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

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CHINA WARNS BRITAIN AGAINST SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

China has reacted angrily to Britain’s announcement that its four Typhoon fighter jets on a training visit to Japan will patrol the skies over the East and South China sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbors.

The British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, also said last week that his government plans to conduct freedom of navigation operations involving its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, when it becomes operational in 2020. He said that Britain “absolutely shares” the U.S. objective to protect freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters despite China’s claiming virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, in an opinion piece, said Darroch was perhaps trying to impress his Japanese colleague and that his remarks create the impression that London may soon deviate from “a largely aloof attitude” toward the South China Sea issue and start to meddle like the U.S. and Japan.

“Should a British warplane embark on a so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ mission in the South China Sea, it would only serve to further complicate the issue and weigh on thriving China-Britain ties,” Xinhua said.

It says China has never denied any legitimate passage of ships or planes in the area.

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CHINA ADDS SECOND CRUISE IN THE PARACELS

China is adding a second cruise ship to the Paracel Islands, a tropical paradise of pristine beaches and little else.

The new cruise ship called Nanhai Zhi Meng will start its maiden four-day voyage in late December from Sanya, a port on southern Hainan Island, to Yinyu, Quanfu and Yagong islands in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The first cruise was launched in April 2013 and so far has attracted 23,000 Chinese tourists.

The tours only serve islands with no military installations and are only open to Chinese nationals. Unlike the largest island in the Paracels, Woody Island, which is also an administrative center founded in 2012, the coral reefs on the cruise tour have no accommodation or any significant infrastructure.

Prices range from $580 to $1,450 per person.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.