Wednesday, May 27, 2015

WTF is Really up with The presence of the US military in the South China Sea ?

WTF is Really up with The presence of the US military in the South China Sea ?

The U.S. counts the Philippines as an ally even though the Philippines ordered U.S. to leave Strategic Navy Base at Subic Bay., but still the U.S. says it is obliged under U.S. law to help Taiwan defend itself. Both governments have claims in the area as well.

Beijing and Washington are at odds over whether the U.S. has the right to send military planes and ships close to the Spratly Islands, where China is in the process of building a set of artificial islands. International law – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — only goes so far in determining who’s right.

What are China’s claims?

China says it has sovereignty over virtually all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters. It hasn’t defined those waters, but it issued a map that has what is called a nine-dash line that swoops down past Vietnam and the Philippines, and toward Indonesia, encompassing virtually all of the South China Sea. It has also never clearly explained whether the nine-dash line represents a historical or a legal claim – an important distinction under international law. China says its claim won’t hinder commercial vessels from passing through what is one of the world’s most important shipping routes, but it says foreign military ships shouldn’t conduct operations in the waters it claims.

Why does that trouble the U.S.?

The U.S. claims the right for its warships and aircraft to conduct military operations in and over what it sees as international waters. Its forces regularly carry out surveillance and other missions close to China’s coast. China has suggested the U.S. would cross an important line if it sends warships too close to the Spratlys. Because China has been vague about its claims, U.S. officials say Beijing could in theory one day seek to restrict access to some foreign commercial vessels as well.

What does international law say?
International maritime law is complicated. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, every country has the right to control territorial waters stretching out 12 nautical miles from its coast. They can also claim an exclusive economic zone extending up to 200 nautical miles, within which they can regulate economic activity like fishing and mining. Foreign warships can pass through a country’s territorial waters in what the law calls innocent passage but can’t conduct operations there, according to the convention. It doesn’t specify what activities foreign warships can undertake in the exclusive economic zone.

How do the new islands change the equation?

The U.S. and China’s neighbors fear Beijing will use the artificial islands it is building to bolster its claims to the area – and assert those claims by force. The U.N. Convention says states can build artificial islands in their exclusive economic zones, but it says countries can base their claims to maritime rights only on naturally formed land features. The U.S., its allies and some of China’s neighbors are concerned that China will declare an air-defense identification zone over the South China Sea, which it could use to challenge other countries’ aircraft in the area. Facilities on the new islands could allow its military aircraft to police the skies. A secondary concern is that the islands could provide a backup airstrip for Chinese aircraft carriers. The islands are roughly 1,000 kilometers from the main Chinese coast.

What are the flashpoints?

The U.S. is continuing to conduct surveillance and other operations throughout the South China Sea, including waters close to the Spratlys. It is also considering plans to send navy ships and aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands, though U.S. officials say they haven’t done that yet. Meanwhile, the Philippines is challenging China at a U.N. tribunal, arguing that the nine-dash line has no basis in law. China is a signatory to the U.N. convention, but has rejected U.N. arbitration. 

The U.S., alone among major nations, hasn’t ratified the U.N. convention, which to some extent weakens its position in taking Beijing to task.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter answers reporters' question during a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart Han Min Koo at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Lee Jin-man
Analysts believe that recent US military activity is another example of how the US is struggling to maintain the status quo while coping with the rise of China as a global power. They urge the US to face up to the reality that China is becoming a maritime power and that China’s determination to protect its sovereignty should not be underestimated.

“The South China Sea issue makes up a small portion of Sino-US ties,” wrote Cen Shaoyu, an international relations commentator. “Leaders from both countries should understand that the future of China and the US, as well as the future of Asia, are far beyond just that.”

China electronically jammed Global Hawk long-range surveillance drones spying on China’s Nansha Islands, a possible attempt to capture a Global Hawk by causing one to crash in shallow waters, or to snatch one in flight using a manned aircraft, The Washington Free Beacon reported on Friday.

Disclosure of the jamming came as a US P-8A anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft flew over waters off China’s Nansha Islands for reconnaissance activities on Wednesday.

It is the US that travelled thousands of miles to China’s doorstep to force China to safeguard national territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, Peng Guangqian, a specialist in military strategy at the PLA Academy of Military Science, told the Global Times.

“China’s responses were justified acts of self-defense when the US flights approached China’s territory and were in accordance with international practice,” Tao Wenzhao, a research fellow with the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

China will very likely strike back if the US comes within 12 miles of the islands, Peng said, adding that the US was deliberately provoking China.

“The US provocation has boosted the chance of military confrontation between Beijing and Washington,” Zhu Feng, director of the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies under Nanjing University, told the Global Times.

Once China dispatches aircraft to drive away the US fighters, both sides are likely to exchange fire due to high flight speed, Zhu said.

“The reconnaissance conducted by the US military aircraft poses a potential threat to the security of China’s maritime features, and is highly likely to cause miscalculation, or even untoward maritime and aerial incidents,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a regular press conference on Friday.

The presence of the US military in the South China Sea also encouraged countries neighboring the waters to increase military build-up, making the region more unstable and deterring peaceful settlement through dialogue, said Jin Canrong, vice director of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China.

The Pentagon’s moves came after US Secretary of State John Kerry finished his two-day visit to China on May 17. Kerry reaffirmed the US government’s stance of not taking sides on the South China Sea issue and said the same stance will apply to other parties involved in the dispute, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

“The conflicting attitudes adopted by the US government and its military demonstrated the disunity within the US,” Jin said.

“Of course the involvement of great powers outside the region complicates the South China Sea situation. However, the involvement of major countries also means more convoluted interests are at stake when it comes to making the decision to enter military conflicts,” said Xue Li, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

As their Sanctions on Russia failed, The Plan C is a pivot to a new Asian theatre of conflict..

The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft, and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington's next phase in its Asia "pivot", deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region.

The Asia "pivot" has already seen U.S. Marines rotating through the Australian tropical city of Darwin, the country's closest city to Asia, for training.

At least eight locations in the Philippines have been identified as possible sites where U.S. troops, planes and ships will be rotated through a series of military training and exercises, Philippine General Gregorio Catapang, military chief, told local television network ABS-CBN.

But, the Americans will have to wait until after the Philippine's Supreme Court makes its rulings on the constitutionality of the military deal, called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last year between Manila and Washington. It may decide later this year.

"If we formalize (now) and they start putting up structures and it’s not constitutional, they will have to destroy those structures," Catapang said late on Friday, adding the list was finalised in October during a Mutual Defence Board meeting.

Four of the locations are on the main island of Luzon, where U.S. and Filipino soldiers usually hold exercises, two on the central Cebu island, and two more on the western island of Palawan, near the disputed Spratly.

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.

Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the Spratly islands, which drew concern from the United States and its allies in Asia.

"Once the U.S. rebalance to Asia policy is in full swing, the Philippines expect the Americans to seek more access to military bases on Mindanao island and civilian airstrips on Luzon," said a senior air force official familiar with the arrangements.

"The Americans are interested in Laoag airport and Batanes island, both in the northern part of Luzon," he said, adding U.S. planes had landed on Batanes during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

The United States is also interested to return to its two former military bases in Subic and Clark, which they left in 1992 after the Philippines terminated basing agreement.

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