South China Sea thoughts?


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Post 1 of 2
My view - this is turning into a self fulfilling prophecy.

5 years ago there was a prevailing perspective that this would get ugly 2025-2030 - i think quite a few would be advancing that to 2020-2025 now

1 year after the more positive assessment (2030) the chinese ramped up their posturing in region
1. ASEAN member states seek to engage with China but not as vassal states. Unfortunately, China's vessels have a track record of operating as maritime harassment vessels (and documented by Geoffrey Till in the 2012, "Asia’s Naval Expansion. An Arms Race in the Making?" and Bernard Cole’s 2013 "Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters"), to be used against the US or ASEAN claimants in the South China Sea (SCS), namely, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. In particular, the Philippines and Vietnam have been targets of China's displeasure. Like the US, ASEAN itself is not a party to the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. ASEAN member states (see these comments on ASEAN by Tim Huxley for details):-

(i) are finding a way to move on to manage the issue with China (including the crucial task of keeping the lines of communications open between China and ASEAN member states). Most ASEAN members seek to improve their relationship with the US and China at the same time with some more beholden to aid from one side; and

(ii) have given voice to concerns at numerous international events, to assist member states in voicing its concerns.​

2. Singapore as a member of ASEAN is not a claimant state and takes no position on the merits or otherwise of the various claims in the SCS. But as a trading nation, Singapore (like Australia, NZ, UK, France, South Korea, Japan, and India) have an interest in freedom of navigation in all international sea lanes, including those in the SCS. The biggest change being India's active support (see: U.S., Japan, India and Philippines challenge Beijing with naval drills in the South China Sea - Reuters).

3. In the 2014 to 2016 time frame, a few of us looked forward to 2030 and I even offered a 15 year perspective (till 2026) on SCS developments. What I saw and predicted then, may not hold true today (round 2: 2017 to 2021). It looks like China's emerging military capability development and island building efforts in the SCS exceeded all prior expectations. Further, FPDA as an organisation is increasing lacking in relevance to matters relating to the South China Sea, as UK is engrossed with Brexit and Malaysia has engaged in acts of renewed hostility directed at Singapore and managing this troubled peace, is all that can be hoped for in 2019 to 2021. Dr M said that although Malaysia is a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA), with the five countries deciding to work together, it does not mean that Malaysia has to follow their policies. "We can have our own (defence) policies," he said. Dr Mahathir also said that he would not like to have foreign countries having a military base in Malaysia. "We want to be free from any involvement of other countries," he said (Read more at Dr M: Malaysia wants to be independent, does not want military alliances - Nation | The Star Online). However, Australia and Singapore as FDPA members have enhanced their bilateral cooperation levels since then and are increasing in lock-step in their common approach to emerging regional security issues (see: The lion and the kangaroo: Australia’s strategic partnership with Singapore).

4. For background, one year ago in May 2018, Singaporeans wished our Malaysian friends well, as they held their general election that ushered an new government. Instead of the two countries working together, Malaysia’s government under Dr Mahathir, often as a hostile party, sought to start new quarrels or renegotiate every deal made on better terms. We in Singapore can only hope this hostility can be managed. With regard to our relations with Malaysia, Singapore’s Defence Minister spoke once and then he refrained from openly making a further public stand. That said, we have to let actions speak for itself rather than issue statements. Take note of the fact that Singapore's defence budget has increased, in response to an urgent need to recapitalise certain categories of ageing defence assets - such as the retirement or upcoming end of life of the following:

(a) the retirement of the 11 Fearless Class Patrol Vessels (replaced with 8 LMVs), the pending retirement of the Challenger and Archer classes of submarines (replaced with 4 Type 218SG submarines) and the planned replacement of the 6 Victory Class Corvettes (to be replaced with the 5,000 ton MRCV),
(b) the retirement of the F-5s (replaced with the acquisition of a 2nd squadron of F-15SGs and 4 F-35s for testing),
(c) the retirement of the 4 KC-135R (replaced with six A-330 MRTT), and the Searcher UAVs (replaced with the Heron-1 and Hermes 450 UAVs),
(d) the retirement of the older suite of air defence radars, including the FPS-117A (replaced by the ELM-2084 Multi Mission Radar, the existing Giraffe AMB, the SHIKRA radar and the Ticom 55 aerostat); which will provide a extremely high resolution air picture for Singapore's air defenders,
(e) the retirement of older ground based air defence missiles, like I-Hawk missiles (replaced with the Spyder air defence missile firing units and the ASTER 30),
(f) the retirement of the fleet of V-200s (replaced with the Protected Response Vehicle) and the 5 tonners (replaced with the Belrex Protected Combat Support Vehicle to support the Terrex motorised infantry battalions),
(g) the retirement of old AEVs, ARVs and VLBs like the M728 AEVs (replaced with the AEV, known as the Pionierpanzer 3 Kodiak), the old ARVs (replaced with the Buffel Armoured Recovery Vehicle), and the old M60 based VLBs (replaced with the Biber Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge),
(h) the phasing out of old land-rover vehicles (slowly being replaced with the Ford Ops Utility Vehicles, the URO VAMTAC and the Ford 550 ambulances),
(i) the retirement of older sat com 3 tonner (replaced with the MAN 5 Ton Very Small Aperture SAT Comm),
(j) the pending retirement of the two Super Puma squadrons (to be replaced with the H225M) and the Chinook squadron’s CH-47D/SDs (to be replaced with the CH-47F model), and
(k) the replacement for the AMX-13S1 and so on (too lazy to list further).​


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Post 2 of 2
5. The ‘free and open Indo-Pacific strategy’ most stridently championed by the US is to some extent supported by members of the Quad security bloc, but ASEAN refuses to be drawn into any configuration which focuses on a putative China threat (see: America and Japan's vision of an Indo-Pacific free from Chinese threat runs into deep waters). We should note that Indian navy chief Adm. Sunil Lanba "made it quite clear that there wasn't an immediate potential for a quad." The issue or concern for ASEAN members isn’t about the development of self defence for China to protect its trade routes. Rather, the concern is with recent Chinese attempts to take (by force) maritime features or interfere with ‘freedom’ of navigation - which is well documented (see this discussion thread: Indo Pacific strategy). In 2013, President Xi Jinping took office and pushed for China to play a larger role in global affairs. Xi set a national agenda to achieve the two milestones of centennials of the founding of China in 2049 and the CCP in 2021 (round 2: 2017 to 2021 of our 15 year perspective from my 2016 post in this thread). Military spending increased exponentially from US$41 billion in 2000 to US$204 billion in 2015. China also became more assertive in its position in the South China Sea, now defined a core interest.
Indeed. Malaysia is very worried. I have friends in the RMN and MMEA; a few months ago they told me that incursions by Chinese ships in Malaysia's EEZ in the Spratlys have been on the rise.
How is China modernizing its navy? | ChinaPower Project
6. This rapid development and growth in tonnage has seen the PLA(N) surpassing the combined naval fleets of S. Koreans and the Indians in JUST one decade.
  • Bernard Cole in 2013 explains that a civilian analyst in Beijing stated that China’s naval rivals were, strategically, the US Navy but “Japan was highlighted as the more immediate concern, in light of ‘naval hatred stretching over 100 years, Diaoyu Islands sovereignty, maritime boundaries in the East China Sea, and the possibility of Japanese military interference in the Taiwan issue and the South China Sea’.”
  • Additionally, Vietnam and the Philippines “were listed as ‘local tactical opponents’ and India as a ‘potential blue water opponent’. The PLA(N) is building warships at an unprecedented rate. It now operates an aircraft carrier, 33 destroyers, 50 frigates, 41 corvettes, 109 missile boats and 75 submarines – a fleet three-to-five times the size of India’s.
Cole then briefly describes the PLAN’s force structure, and concludes, “China’s naval building program supports the PLA’s doctrine. Right now IMHO, China has the second most capable navy in Asia after the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (海上自衛隊 or JMSDF). The JMSDF has a fleet of 154 ships and 346 aircraft and consists of approximately 45,800 personnel.
A 15 Year Perspective on Developments in the South China Sea (Post 2 of 2)
8. Coupled with the December 2015 deployment of US P-8 Poseidon to Singapore, the number of US military assets proximate to the South China Sea is increasing incrementally. This will hopefully reduce the chance of miscalculation by one party until round 3 in the 2022 to 2026 time frame, when new naval and air power capabilities will be introduced by both the US and China. By that time, the US Marines, USAF and the USN would be well on their way in recapitalising their forward deployed fighter (F-35A/B/C), tanker (KC-46A), long endurance MQ-4C Triton and maritime patrol aircraft (P-8A) fleets. Likewise the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, the ROKAF, the RAAF and the RSAF would have started operating F-35s at that time, over and above an increased pace for developments in maritime domain awareness.

9. Beyond the respective FPDA navies providing an enduring naval presence, the recent additions and announced plans for the RAAF (Super Hornets, the addition of 12 Growlers, Wedgetails, 7 A330 MRTTs, the upcoming acquisition of P-8As, along with the MQ-4C Triton combo for maritime domain awareness and so on) and RSAF (an increase of the number of F-15SGs to 40, G550 AEWs, Fokker-50 MPAs, along with the Heron-1 UAVs for maritime domain awareness and upcoming acquisition of 6 A330 MRTTs, and so on) the combat power available in theatre and force multipliers of these two air forces to boost to the capabilities of the FPDA, to be superior in any fight for control of the air, in preparation of the upcoming round 2 in the 2017 to 2021 time frame (who have the option of operating out of air bases in Butterworth or Singapore). This will be of interim comfort to a budget constrained RMAF, who have limited ability to make new air power related acquisitions in the next few years.
7. This year Minister of National Defence for China General Wei Fenghe (see: Minister of National Defence for China General Wei Fenghe’s IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2019 speech “highly anticipated”), along with US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan will present their views at the Shangrila Dialogue. This approach signals s balanced approach by the organisers of the Shangrila Dialogue 2019 (held from 31 May to 2 June) with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering the Keynote Address on 31 May 2019. The presence of Shanahan's address in the first plenary session should provide an insight into the US administration’s current thinking about the challenges from China and North Korea, as well as other regional security problems. While verbal fireworks can be expected between the American and Chinese speakers, this can also be an opportunity to explore cooperation in fisheries and disaster management in the South China Sea region.

8. Under tremendous military, economic and diplomatic pressure globally amid the multi-front brinkmanship of the Trump administration, China and the US find themselves in the middle of a trade war, and a growing conflict over the South China Sea makes matters worse (see: America Changes The Tone In South China Sea Disputes).
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warns an escalation of the trade war would hurt the US economy and damage the rest of the world, shaving 0.7% from global growth by the year 2021. That's roughly US$600 billion. The OECD sees the potential for new trade barriers between the United States and the European Union and Brexit-related uncertainties, as well. To provide context to this trade war, from 2000 to 2017, China recorded an average annual GDP growth of 9% and accounted for 13% of global trade in 2017. This is more than a three-fold rise from 4% in 2000, while the US’ and EU’s share declined – US has declined from 12% to 9% and the EU’s share declined from 39% to 33% in the same period.
  • Trade tariffs against China cause “collateral damage,” including to American farmers and companies who have lost export markets, and American consumers who are paying higher prices for goods. By trying to reduce US interdependence with China, the Trump administration has made the US the supplier of last resort to what is fast becoming the world’s largest consumer market. The consequences for American manufacturers of “losing” the China market are worsened by the issue of scale. Chinese companies, based in a domestic market of unparalleled size, have economies of scale that give them major advantages in international competition.
  • American companies producing goods – for example, construction equipment or digital switching gear – have just been put at a serious tariff disadvantage in the China market. One side effect of the new handicaps US companies now face in the China market is more effective competition from Chinese companies, not just in China but in third country markets.
  • Further, if the tariffs on all Chinese goods go into effect, it may be the highest increase in taxes on Americans since the early 1990s. Import tariffs are also highly regressive, disproportionately affecting low-income populations.
  • But as long as there was a chance China could be brought to the negotiating table to reach a good deal, these costs may have been worth the risk. But is the risk calculus being managed? There is no longer an orderly policy process in Washington to coordinate, moderate, or control policy formulation or implementation. Instead, a populist president has effectively declared open season on China. This permits everyone in his administration to go after China as they wish. Every internationally engaged department and agency – the U.S. Special Trade Representative, the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security – is doing its own thing about China. The president has unleashed an undisciplined onslaught.
9. Further, in the middle of a Sino-American trade war, Marco Rubio, Republican Senator is leading the drive to introduce the legislation (reported by Hong Kong based South China Morning Post), by a bipartisan group of senators that would reintroduce the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Bill in the US Senate. The bill would entail the government to seize US-based financial assets and revoke or deny US visas to anyone engaged in “actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability” of areas in the South China Sea that are contested.


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I presume by now members will have read about the fact that Australian naval helicopters operating in the SCS were targeted by lasers aimed from Chinese 'fishing' vessels.

I know there are precedents for this behavior directed against US vessels (outside the SCS if I recall), but it seems to raise a number of questions (to say the least).

One certainly is whether, now the threat is clear, any eye protection is available to mitigate against such attacks.
Another is when such attacks become an act or war, or if disguised as a non-state action, something that can be categorized as a terrorist attack and thus subject to full retaliation against the offending vessel.
Finally is there some other kind of non fatal retaliation in kind that can be imposed upon the offending vessel (assuming a laser attack on a surface vessel to be of limited use).


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Post 1 of 2

1. ASEAN member states seek to engage with China but not as vassal states. Unfortunately, China's vessels have a track record of operating as maritime harassment vessels, to be used against the US or ASEAN claimants in the South China Sea (SCS), namely, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam...
Thanks OPSSG. I really enjoy your analysis of this situation and appreciate the effort that goes into it. It is a very valuable and cogent insight.
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I presume by now members will have read about the fact that Australian naval helicopters operating in the SCS were targeted by lasers aimed from Chinese 'fishing' vessels.

I know there are precedents for this behavior directed against US vessels (outside the SCS if I recall), but it seems to raise a number of questions (to say the least).

One certainly is whether, now the threat is clear, any eye protection is available to mitigate against such attacks.
Another is when such attacks become an act or war, or if disguised as a non-state action, something that can be categorized as a terrorist attack and thus subject to full retaliation against the offending vessel.
Finally is there some other kind of non fatal retaliation in kind that can be imposed upon the offending vessel (assuming a laser attack on a surface vessel to be of limited use).
Here is a link to an article for anyone that hasn't read something of the incident:

In my opinion China has become increasingly belligerent and if the trend continues in the South China Sea, there will be an armed attack by Chinese forces on a non-Chinese military vessel or aircraft.


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Providing some background on ASEAN and events in the region
1. Asia is a complex region that has regional dynamics that is often poorly understood by outsiders. No other maritime region combines the geographic and political complexity of the South China Sea, making it and it’s surrounding seas one of the world’s most challenging maritime security environments. The maritime security challenge is especially daunting around the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Here, the region’s three most populous states, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, converge in a tri-border area with a complex political history and a long legacy of illicit maritime activity. Often in discussion threads, we see the simple urge to ask ASEAN members (esp. it’s non-aligned members) to enter into formal alliances or utter the word 'containment.' Any expressed desire for 'containment' would indicate that the speaker does not understand the complexity of the region. From an individual member state's perspective, Beijing can be a useful counter-weight to Washington and vice-versa. As Lee Kuan Yew put it in his memoir:

“While ASEAN’s declared objectives were economic, social and cultural, all knew that progress in economic cooperation would be slow. We were banding together more for political objectives, stability and security.”​

Currently, the ten members of the ASEAN, have a population of over 600 million and combined are the fourth largest economy in Asia. Placed between the giants of China, Japan and India, ASEAN countries have to combine their markets to compete and be relevant as a region. There is no other choice. ASEAN is also playing a major role in shaping a wider security architecture of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. ASEAN sits astride some of the world’s most important trading routes and sea lines of communication, including the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Even treaty allies with the US in ASEAN (namely Thailand and the Philippines) have different interests, with regards to disputes in the South China Sea. Thailand does not have a maritime dispute with China. As to whether Japan, India, Australia and the US – known as the Quad – would become an “Asian NATO” or "SEATO II" we know that isn’t going to happen. People who post and suggest an “Asian NATO” or SEATO type alliance, demonstrate a deep, deep lack of understanding of the regional dynamics.

2. By way of background, the current problem/dispute goes as far back as the Taiwanese claim (from November 1946) and occupation of Taiping Island (from June 1956), which ensures that Taiwan has grounds for claiming a EEZ around Taiping Island and its sister features. These Taiwanese acts pre-date the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The history of China’s administrative presence in the South China Sea predates the 24 July 2012 establishment of Sansha City by the PRC. In 1959, the PRC had established a government office and party committee (also based on Woody Island) with authority over the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, and Zhongsha Islands. It was only in 1970, the Philippines occupied five features in the Spratlys, claiming the western portion of the island group. China is continuing a tradition of spanking the Philippines that was initiated by the Vietnamese (by establishing a permanent presence in disputed shoals viz-a-viz the Philippines). The Vietnamese now occupy more than 20 islands in the area, and they have built lighthouses on nine of them; and the Malaysians have stationed troops on a number of features in the Spratly Islands in 1983 and 1986, including Pulau Layang Layang (which ensures Malaysian ability to claim waters there too). The April 2012 stand-off between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal is one incident in a long list of incidents between the parties (or for that matter by either party with other claimants). Therefore, the current issues between China and Philippines or China and Vietnam in that area, is not a new trend.

3. An important role of ASEAN, in its diplomatic efforts, is also preventing intra-ASEAN armed conflict (See the 2018 Defence Economic Trends, published by the Australians, for details of Asian defence spending trends). Through the ADMM Plus mechanism, ASEAN has created a platform to host multilateral military exercises with its Plus Eight partners - WITH CHINA included as one of the Plus Eight. So while ASEAN members do have disagreements and squabble from time to time, they also have a history of cooperation. More importantly with regard to maritime boundaries, such as the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan, and the Malaysia-Singapore dispute over Pedra Branca have been settled with reference to the International Court of Justice.
Here is a link to an article for anyone that hasn't read something of the incident:

In my opinion China has become increasingly belligerent...
4. IMHO not likely for the PLA(N) to engage in an armed attack against another navy, as this is not in China's interest. Let me list two examples where it demonstrates that both the US and China do not have the will to go to war with each other, as follows:

(i) on May 7, 1999, the US accidentally bombed China's embassy in Belgrade (no war resulted); and

(ii) on April 1, 2001, in the Hainan Island incident, where China detained 24 US Navy EP-3 crew members until a statement was delivered by US government regarding the incident. The exact phrasing of this document was intentionally ambiguous and allowed both countries to save face while simultaneously defusing a potentially volatile situation.​

5. But it is likely that civilian flagged vessels may jostle or ram each other, as this is the norm (See link where Indonesia detains Vietnamese fishermen after high seas clash, for details of the ramming incident between Vietnam and Indonesia).

6. The New York Times reported that on 9 May 2013, a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel fired on a Taiwanese fishing boat at 10:30 am, killing a fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, aged 65, on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28. The incident took place 164 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan's southernmost tip, in waters in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and the Philippines. I understand that a total of 52 bullet holes were found on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28. The late Mr. Hung Shih-cheng is also not the first Taiwanese fisherman to be killed. Another Taiwanese fishing boat named Man Chun Yi was also attacked by a Philippine vessel in 2006, causing the death of Chen An-lao, the 68-year-old captain, and injuries to his 62-year-old brother Chen Ming-te (see additional link 1 and link 2). When the Philippine law enforcement agencies start shooting at civilians of another country, they cannot claim to want to settle maritime disputes peacefully. This is such a own goal.
.... if the trend continues in the South China Sea, there will be an armed attack by Chinese forces on a non-Chinese military vessel or aircraft.
7. Let us not over state the risk, while recognizing the risk of miscalculation or simple stupidity in this "grey zone" conflict. The only trigger happy clowns with a track record of irrational behavour in the area are the Pinoys.

8. During the ASEAN-China Maritime Field Training Exercise (FTX) held in October 2018, the ADMM Plus members as participants agreed to apply the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). CUES is an agreement reached in 2014 with the aim of reducing incidents at sea. As part of the FTX, the parties developed a joint search and rescue operation plan to assist civilian or merchant ships under distress in international waters (and not in relation incidents within 12 n. miles of the disputed reclaimed islands or outposts in the South China Sea). Applying CUES, they developed plans on how their respective ships should manoeuvre together towards the incident location. They also worked out plans for the transfer of people or supplies from one ship to another via helicopters.
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OPSSG, you make a convincing case for reasoning minds. I do hope your optimism is proven justified. You mentioned the Hainan Island incident and that very incident is why I hold concerns. The EP-3 was struck by a Chinese F-8 fighter flying in a dangerous manner. It appears as an effort to force US military aviation from the Chinese claimed 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. In this case the Chinese and US disagreed over the application of article 58 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982). Would it be too long a bow to draw in believing that a similar scenario could play out over contested sea and airspace elsewhere? The nature of the military and political leaders of the day is IMHO an important factor for both policy settings on 'protective measures' and responses to incidents.

The situation isn't new 'It would be shame if a plane fell from the sky': China's warning to RAAF over South China Sea flights but it's enduring nature is a risk factor in itself.

Let's hope for cool heads and conversations.


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Post 1 of 2: Defence diplomacy prevents shooting
OPSSG, you make a convincing case for reasoning minds.
1. I think at the Ministerial level, it is well reasoned.

2. It's at the grunt level that I worry (and people do die in relation to these incidents located in the South China Sea). Beyond CUES in my above post, we also have Guidelines for Air Military Encounters (GAME) which will cover air encounters (See:Dr Ng: Significant Progress made at 12th ADMM and 5th ADMM-Plus ).
I do hope your optimism is proven justified.
3. After the 2001 Hainan Island incident (where the Chinese pilot died), US-China have entered into more elaborate documents (than GAME). For example, their documents contain provisions for annual assessment meetings to review their effectiveness, and specific communications rules. The existence of such agreements between the US and China did not ensure total compliance (See this 2018 RSIS article).

(i) In May 2016, two Chinese J-11 fighter jets flew within 15m of a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft east of Hainan island, in what US authorities described as an “unsafe” encounter, and a violation of the inked agreements.

(ii) In February 2017, another “unsafe” aerial incident happened, in the general vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, when a US Navy P-3C maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese KJ200 airborne early warning plane flew within about 304m of each other.​

So I do worry (but that is not the subject of my prior post).
You mentioned the Hainan Island incident and that very incident is why I hold concerns. The EP-3 was struck by a Chinese F-8 fighter flying in a dangerous manner. It appears as an effort to force US military aviation from the Chinese claimed 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
4. No. The Chinese claims are not related to only EEZ rights. Each specific warning the given by the PLA for "intruding" aircraft implies a claim of sovereign rights (and not just EEZ rights). In the South China Sea, the large-scale land reclamation activities and the militarisation of contested archipelagos have changed the status quo and increased tensions.
Would it be too long a bow to draw in believing that a similar scenario could play out over contested sea and airspace elsewhere?
5. Taiwan and Japan face more complex multi-aircraft scrambles for frequent air-space intrusions (especially the PLA testing of the Japanese ADIZ).
The nature of the military and political leaders of the day is IMHO an important factor for both policy settings on 'protective measures' and responses to incidents...
6. There are various options to protect this freedom of navigation or over-flight, let me list 2 to illustrate.

(i) The Japanese F-15Js intercept with a total force package (with armed over-watch or a covering force to provide over match).


(ii) Use an exercise (as an excuse) to bring a larger force package - at a time of our choosing. It is not a coincidence, the timing of these exercises - where there is no need to talk too much - omni-directional deterence is an effective strategy often used. It is about numbers deployed for over match as a 'protective measure' and response:

(a) The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently berthed at Changi Naval Base as part of a five-month deployment (from its home port and just in time before SLD 2019). During its time in Singapore, the French Navy will participate in bilateral exercises including an amphibious exercise involving the SAF's naval units and fighters (See: France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier arrives in Singapore).

(b) On 23 May 2019, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia have kicked off “first-of-its-kind” naval drills near Guam, the U.S. Navy said. The “Pacific Vanguard” exercise brings together more than 3,000 sailors from the four countries to “sharpen skills and strengthen practical cooperation at sea,” the U.S. Seventh Fleet said in a statement. The drills will focus on “live fire exercises, defensive counter-air operations, anti-submarine warfare, and replenishment at sea,” added the statement.

(c) On 27 May 2019, the Australian Navy finished its task force deployment, called Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Four RAN ships visited 13 ports in seven countries and covered approximately 16,000 nautical miles. The naval flotilla, which embarked air force and army personnel, together with Seahawk, MRH-90 troop transport and Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters, travelled from Sri Lanka right through Southeast Asia and into the South China Sea. Part of the rationale for the task force going through the South China Sea is to affirm international law because of the aggressive militarisation of that body of water by Chinese forces in recent years (see also: Australian pilots hit with lasers during Indo-Pacific exercise | The Strategist and Permitting aggressive tactics in the South China Sea is in no one’s interests | The Strategist).
7. In certain cases, the actions of our ASEAN neighbours may not be defendable and they have to bear the consequences of their choices. Please keep in mind the following intra-ASEAN incidents of concern or outright acts of hostility, all of which are below the threshold of armed conflict:

(i) Over the years, there were numerous maritime incidents near Pedra Branca, involving non-uniformed armed men, testing the alertness of the Singapore Navy. Further, in 1989 Dr M made an unannounced visit to the vicinity of the island, with his boat was intercepted by Singapore naval vessels. To avoid an international incident, he directed his boat to leave.

(ii) On 26 March 1991, Singapore Airlines flight SQ 117 was hijacked on from Kuala Lumpur. Instead of offering to increase counter-terror cooperation, on 9 August 1991 Malaysia and Indonesia conducted a joint military exercise, codenamed Malindo Darsasa 3AB. It involved an airborne assault by paratroopers in southern Johor. If the name of the airborne assault, codenamed Pukul Habis (Malay for 'Total Wipeout'), as well as the choice of a drop zone just 18km from Singapore, were not sufficiently provocative, the scheduling of the airdrop on Aug 9th - Singapore's 26th National Day - most certainly was. The SAF's response was measured and we triggered an open mobilisation in response.

(iii) According to a senior Malaysian military officer, the MAF was put on alert in late 1998 as politicians on both sides of the Causeway argued over the status of a CIQ checkpoint. News articles from the period chronicle the public exchanges, but say nothing of the defence postures that the SAF and MAF adopted during this period.

(iv) From Dec 2018 till Apr 2019, numerous Malaysian vessels entered Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas in a dispute engineered by a hostile Malaysian government under Dr M.​

Further, as far back as 1999, the Philippine Navy has been ramming and/or sinking Chinese fishing boats (incidents reported on 23 May 1999 and on 20 June 1990). Beyond the 2013 Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 incident (affecting Taiwan and Philippine relations), other reported incidents include the Philippine Navy ramming a Chinese fishing boat on 19 October 2011 (which resulted in Manila issuing an apology to the Chinese embassy). While most are concerned about law enforcement officials in claimant states engaging in criminal behaviour, the Australian, French, Indian and Japanese navies are equally concerned that the destiny of the South China Sea does not become a Chinese lake (with one dominant power that calls all the shots, prior to 2026).

...continued below
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Post 2 of 2: Shifting sands of power
8. John C. Law, Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in the Philippines, said in May 2019 that aside from the security and military assistance, which are already here, “the US government is also providing the Philippines some US$60 to US$70 million a year mainly for the conduct of exchange programs”. In 2018, the US gave US$110 million to the country for the procurement of US military equipment, the biggest financial assistance that the US has provided to an Indo-Pacific region country. The US official said that after the infamous Marawi City siege, the USAID provided $59 million to help the displaced families with their basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter.

9. On 28 Dec 2018, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, called for a review of the agreement, saying the Philippines should decide whether to “maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it.” Lorenzana seemed to suggest that the third of those options may be best. Lorenzana’s statements parallel comments President Duterte made during a visit to China in October 2016. “The foreign policy gears now towards here,” he said in Beijing. “No more American interference. No more American [military] exercises. … China has been a friend of the Philippines, and the roots of our bonds are very deep and not easily severed. Even as we arrive in Beijing, close to winter, this is a springtime of our relationship” (see: US-Philippine defense tensions weaken regional security - AEI). The US should be investigating whether Philippine skepticism of the treaty is predominantly a product of Duterte’s anti-American animus or reflective of a broader shift. If there is a broader movement at work — Washington will have to begin grappling with the prospect of a slow unwinding of the alliance with Manila.
Let's hope for cool heads and conversations.
10. Singapore and China have agreed on an updated defence agreement that could see them increase the scale of existing military exercises, with new areas of cooperation between troops. The revised Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation (ADESC) is expected to be signed later this year, Singapore’s Defence Ministry said in a media release on 29 May 2019. This comes as Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen formally met his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe on Wednesday, ahead of the latter’s attendance at the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue. Another proposed exchange under the enhanced ADESC is the stepping up of high-level dialogues as well as academic and think-tank exchanges. General Wei's visit comes on the heels of Premier Li Keqiang's official visit to Singapore in November 2018 to attend the 33rd ASEAN Summit. China and Singapore's military to military relationship is growing but starts from a very low base (when compared to the close military to military ties with Australia and NZ). So these ties with China have room to slowly grow within certain limits. In addition to enhancing ADESC (first signed by China and Singapore in 2008), Dr Ng also invited the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Ba Yi aerobatics team to participate at the Singapore Airshow 2020 (see: Singapore, China to boost defence cooperation, engage in larger military exercises). Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe has reaffirmed that his country does not want any confrontation with the US in the South China Sea, Dr Ng said. This is a statement that we will certainly welcome.
I think that before you talk capability, you have to talk the strategy behind it. Try as I might I simply can’t think of any plausible scenario that would see a power try to destroy merchant ships wholesale on the high seas.

When we discuss this of course, we are really discussing China. While Russia has the ability to cause a nuisance in places like the middle east that will disrupt trade (and drive up oil prices to their own benefit) they certainly don’t have the moxy to destroy trade anywhere relevant to Australia. So that leaves China.

But how does China making a concerted effort to destroy international trade, like Germany in the world wars, possibly align with their national interest? They want to control the world trade, not destroy it. International trade, and the prosperity it brings to China, is the only thing keeping the domestic population happy and content (and stopping them getting all finger-pointy at the government). Take away that prosperity and China’s own population would become a much bigger problem than any external aggressor (hence why China are trying to develop their domestic consumer appetite, and reduce reliance on exports for their growth).

I can certainly see China deliberately disrupting trade, in an un-attributable way, as a cassius bellito stick their nose where is doesn’t belong (‘the continued disruption of international trade has forced us to deploy a naval task group to the Malacca Straights to secure trade in the region…’), but wholesale destruction of the world’s merchant ships can’t possibly be in their national interest.

Comparisons to the world wars aren’t very helpful, in my opinion.
11. Raven22 has an excellent post in another thread and with regard to disputes in the South China Sea, let me add 2 points:

(i) If China keeps its goals moderate from 2019 till 2021, they win. If China's goals are slightly less than moderate but freedom of navigation for trade is not impeded prior to 2026, they will also win - where the ‘new normal’ is tense and China continuously pushes the ‘red line’. Not only has China built military facilities in the South China Sea; it also deploys offensive capabilities, conducts exercises and actively prevents other vessels and aircraft (be they reconnaissance, civilian fishery or commercial resource exploitation) from conducting their activities. Operations in the South China Sea have developed into ‘grey zone’ warfare, employing a mixture of military coercion, economic inducement, information warfare, and even historical narratives. More importantly, non-claimant stakeholders with vital interest in the region are also targeted. Involvement of these third parties provides Beijing with a pretext to continue its militarisation; for instance, Beijing continuously calls-out US conducted FONOPs as military escalations.

(ii) But if China starts shooting prior to 2026 they lose (continuing from our 2016 post on round 3: 2021 to 2026, of the disputes in the South China Sea). Their goals in the South China Sea till 2026 are achieved, all without firing a single shot, as per Sun Tzu - ‘The biggest victory is the one that requires no battle’. So shooting is something China does not intend on doing. They don't need to.​

12. By 2049, everything between China and the other claimant states can be re-negotiated in China's favour (especially if Trump wins a second term and keeps US on its current trajectory). The rise of China and the US' retreat from multilateralism has provoked widespread anxiety over the future of the “liberal international order.” At the annual Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore this week, Shanahan is expected to lay out his vision for the Asia-Pacific, with a particular focus on China, and what specifically the Pentagon is doing to implement its National Defense Strategy. IMO, whoever is the US President after Trump will have a much weaker hand against China, due to the Trump administration's self inflicted wounds.


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Post 1 of 2: Minor Updates from the Shangrila Dialogue 2019 (SLD 2019)
1. For China, the view is that current situation in the South China Sea is improving towards greater stability by 2020. This stability is attributed to the common efforts of the countries in the region to make progress on the ASEAN and China code of conduct (COC) to manage the South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes (see: A Blueprint for a South China Sea Code of Conduct | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative). Southeast Asia is no stranger to the great game of nations, and Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong offered a historical perspective at SLD 2019. The US-China bilateral relationship is the most important in the world today and as PM Lee noted: How the two work out their tensions and frictions will define the international environment for decades to come. Before SLD 2019, Gen. Wei Fenghe also paid a visit to Vietnam and Singapore and reached broad consensus with these countries. Gen. Wei Fenghe, China's State Councilor and Minister of National Defense of China met with Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich of Vietnam and Dr. Ng Eng Hen of Singapore, respectively, to discuss means of maintaining stability in the South China Sea. Whereas Shanahan had dialled the volume down on US-Chinese rivalry, the Chinese defence minister dialled it up. He was forthright and uncompromising at SLD 2019, making it clear that in China’s eyes accommodation is a one-way street and took questions from the delegates with confidence.

2. Gen. Wei Fenghe said China is ready to fight the US on trade but the door is still open for talks (See: China ready to fight US on trade but door open for talks: Defence minister). In addition, Gen. Wei Fenghe, said on 2 June 2019 (see: IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2019, for links to the speeches):

"First, which should we choose, peace and development or conflict and confrontation? Peace and development remain the call of our times and the trend of history. However, global and regional hotspots flare up one after another and the risk of conflict and war persists. What is the cause for regional wars and conflicts, the spread of terrorism, the chaos in the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe? Who are behind all these and what is the root cause? These are the questions to be reflected on. Some deliberately create division and hostility, provoke confrontation, meddle with regional affairs, interfere in internal affairs of others, and frequently resort to arms. Whose interests on earth do they serve and whose do they harm?

Second, which should we choose, openness and inclusiveness or isolation and exclusiveness? See the world with an open and inclusive mind, and there will be friends and partners everywhere. See the world with a narrow and exclusive mind, and there are only enemies and adversaries. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, lately we see a growing backlash against globalization and a surge of protectionism. A certain country champions unilateralism, puts its own interests before others, withdraws from international treaties and organizations. Aren’t there many countries suffering from the willful infringement and sanctions?

Third, which should we choose, win-win cooperation or zero-sum game? Win-win cooperation makes the pie bigger and brings more benefits to all. However, zero-sum game makes no winner and harms the interests of both sides. Currently, over 150 countries and international organizations have proactively joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Not long ago, over 6,000 delegates from 150 countries and 92 international organizations gathered in Beijing for the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. People can tell what is right.

Fourth, which should we choose, mutual learning among civilizations or arrogance and prejudice? A few days ago, China successfully hosted the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations. We believe that human civilizations are and should be colorful, equal, inclusive and willing to learn from each other. Not a single civilization should be worshiped or belittled. There are scars and tragedies in the history of human civilization which do not go away, to name only a few, the enslavement of Africans, the expulsion of native American Indians, the colonization in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the killing of Jewish people. Unfortunately, some people recently pick up the decadent idea of “clash of civilizations”. As racist and narrow-minded as it is, this is not right. How can we tolerate such a regress of history?"​

3. On 1 June 2019 speaking at SLD 2019, Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned China that “behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end.” At the same time, America’s top defense official stopped short of demanding countries take sides in the US-China economic and military face-off and said that there is still a chance for the two superpowers to come to terms. “The United States does not want any country in this region to have to choose or forgo positive economic relations with any partner,” Shanahan said, adding in a veiled reference to China that “some in our region are choosing to act contrary to the principles and norms that have benefitted us all” (see: Asia Times for their report). In addition, Shanahan said: "The Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision is an effective guide for regional contributions because it is based on enduring principles of international cooperation:

• Respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations, large and small;
• Peaceful resolution of disputes;
• Free, fair, and reciprocal trade and investment, which includes protections for intellectual property; and
• Adherence to international rules and norms, including freedom of navigation and overflight."​

4. Without naming China, Shanahan cited a “a toolkit of coercion” – listing US grievances about Chinese activity in the region, including “deploying advanced weapons systems to militarize disputed areas” and “state-sponsored theft of other nations’ military and civilian technology.” “No one nation can – or should – dominate the Indo-Pacific,” Shanahan said. Asked if the US-China face-off was deteriorating, Shanahan replied “Is there face-off?” “I pick up a newspaper and I see a trade war, I don’t see a trade war, I see trade negotiations that are going on.”

5. In addition to Shanahan's speech at SLD 2019 on 1 June 2019, the US DOD updated its "Indo-Pacific Strategy Report," which reflects the attention of the US to the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. The Indo-Pacific", originally a geographic concept that spans two regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is not a new concept in itself. 11 years ago, Gurpreet s. Khurana, who used the word" Indo-Pacific Strategy." He was a marine strategist and executive director of the New Delhi National Marine Foundation. While an Indian came up with the idea, it is the US that is the leader of the " Indo-Pacific Strategy" (see this DOD pdf). This IPSR paper will hopefully reduce the chance of miscalculation by one party until round 3 in the 2022 to 2026 time frame (following from our 2016 discussion in this thread), when new naval and air power capabilities will be introduced by both the US and China. This 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR) affirms the enduring U.S. commitment to stability and prosperity in the region through the pursuit of preparedness, partnerships, and the promotion of a networked region.
  • Preparedness – Achieving peace through strength and employing effective deterrence requires a Joint Force that is prepared to win any conflict from its onset. The Department, alongside our Allies and partners, will ensure our combat-credible forces are forward-postured in the region. Furthermore, the Joint Force will prioritize investments that ensure lethality against high-end adversaries.
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Post 2 of 2: The meat of the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR)
  • Partnerships – Our unique network of Allies and partners is a force multiplier... The Department is reinforcing its commitment to established Alliances and Partnerships, while also expanding and deepening relationships with new partners who share our respect for sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law.
  • Promotion of a Networked Region – The Department is strengthening and evolving U.S. Alliances and Partnerships into a networked security architecture to uphold the international rules-based order. The Department also continues to cultivate intra-Asian security relationships capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains.
6. We should note that in 1988, Deng Xiaoping and Liu Huaqing set three governing goals for the development of the PLAN (see: Facing China's Sea Power: Strategic Culture & Maritime Strategy | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative):
  • By 2000 China would develop naval forces sufficient to defend its maritime interests out to the First Island Chain, which runs from the Kuril Islands through Japan and the Ryukyu Islands, down through the Philippines, and ends in the Indonesian archipelago.
  • By 2020 China’s maritime interests would be secured by the PLAN’s capability to command the “near seas” out to the Second Island Chain, which runs from the Kurils through Japan and the Bonin Islands, then on through the Mariana Islands, Palau, and the Indonesian archipelago with the likely embrace of Java, Singapore, and the Malacca Straits.
  • By the time the PRC celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2049, the PLAN would be capable of deploying aircraft carriers with battle fleets and realizing China’s national interests on a global basis.
7. China’s naval modernization and military deployments in its near seas show that the Deng-Liu strategy remains. China also became more assertive in its position in the South China Sea, now defined a core interest. Since 2014, China has launched more submarines, warships, principal amphibious vessels and auxiliaries than the total number of ships currently serving in the navies of Germany, India, Spain, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

  • In terms of individual hulls, the most prevalent type of vessel built by China during this time is the Type-056 (Jiangdao I/II) corvette, with 28 launched since 2014 (out of a total build of 46 to date) at four different shipyards. At approximately 1,300 tonnes full-load displacement (FLD), China has been able to produce these corvettes at a faster rate and on a larger scale than any other comparable vessel since the end of the Cold War. And this output is all just for the PLAN.
  • As well as in quantity, PLAN vessels being built now are much bigger compared to older classes of ships. This enables them to accommodate modern weapon systems and sensors, and more of them, and also means they have better seakeeping and endurance for undertaking more distant operations, more often.
  • For example, the Type-053 (Jianghu and Jiangwei) series of frigates, built from the 1970s up until the early 2000s, typically had a FLD of approximately 2,000 tonnes. The new Type-054/A (JiangkaiI/II) frigates weigh in at twice that.
  • Significantly, just since 2014, China has launched naval vessels with a total tonnage greater than the tonnages of the entire French, German, Indian, Italian, South Korean, Spanish or Taiwanese navies (see: China’s naval shipbuilding: delivering on its ambition in a big way).
  • In addition, the construction of a third Chinese aircraft carrier – the Type 002 – appears to be underway at China’s Jiangnan Shipyard, based on commercial satellite imagery collected on 17 April 2019 (see: Tracking the Type 002 - China's third aircraft carrier | ChinaPower Project).
8. In Asia trade is strategy and Trump is hostile to trade. Three years ago, then-US Defence Secretary Ash Carter described the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a high quality trade deal, as the economic equivalent of having one more aircraft carrier battle group. Then Mr Trump came along and pulled the US out of TPP on his first day in office. Dr Ng said countries will hedge first in trade ties and "inevitably" in security alliances, highlighting the example of how 11 countries chose to proceed after the US pulled out of the TPP (See: US, China should offer ‘moral justification’ for countries to accept their dominance: Ng Eng Hen). The new trajectory is now that of a US foreign policy to redress the perceived imbalances accumulated over the past two decades – encapsulated in America First, and according to this narrative, an America that has been taken advantage of. While we appreciate the underlying motivations but the implications are as troubling as they are unpredictable. It is, in essence as Dr Ng noted in his speech, "a disruptive change, not only for the US and its allies, but indeed the world." Under the Trump Administration, thanks to his policies, it is no longer assured that the US will win in any contest for influence in Asia.

9. More than two years into a presidency in which Congress and US companies have shown extraordinary patience in allowing Trump to try to make good on his promise - showing the depth of support for Trump against Chinese policies that discriminate against American business. But it is also clear that Trump has been unable to change the laws of trade negotiating physics. One-sided negotiations of the sort he prefers are likely to fail simply because they are one-sided. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the US trade relationship with Japan. No leader has done more than Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to try to placate Donald Trump. When the US slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March 2018, Japan was the one of the few countries—and the largest US trading partner—not to retaliate. But US companies and farmers have less than nothing to show for these Japanese gestures. Instead, because of Trump's decision to pull out of the TPP on the claim that he could get better bilateral deals, US farmers are quickly losing market share in Japan. With the US outside of TPP, and the Japan-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement that entered into force 1 February 2019, other countries are now capturing market share from the US (see: Trump Versus Abe: The Trade End Game). Just this week for instance, the US Department of Treasury accomplished the unbelievable when it put Singapore, which runs a large trade deficit with the US, on a watch list of countries that manipulate their currencies to gain an unfair trade advantage. Other nations on the list include treaty allies Japan and South Korea, as well as Vietnam and Malaysia. In addition, the US will end preferential trade status for India in June 2019, President Donald Trump has confirmed amid a deepening row over protectionism, with American and Indian trade issues growing (see: US ends special trade treatment for India amid tariff dispute).

10. To provide context to my perspective from Singapore, let me repeat what Lee Kuan Yew once said. A small country like Singapore seeks a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation. Both parts of the equation – a maximum number of friends and freedom to be act - are equally important and inter-related. This is why the SAF's mission in furtherance of Singapore's forward defence posture, in relation to land based threats, is as follows:-

"To enhance Singapore's peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor."

We live in a 3rd world region and we do not delude ourselves in thinking that our neighbours will always act in our country's interest. To gain friends and the freedom to act, Singapore's Defence Minister invests significant effort to host the annual Shangri-La Dialogue that occurred last weekend. With a nominal GDP of US$361.36 billion (or S$487 billion) in 2018, Singapore shares a moral obligation to steer away from Thucydides's Trap with regard to Malaysia under Dr M, as we watch Malysia’s rise to a US$1 trillion economy in the 2030 period and beyond. Singapore should continue to spend prudently on defence and drag out the timeline required for Malaysia to reach parity with us in capability (well into the 2040s - 2060s), with good planing and execution of the NEXT GEN SAF, whose roll out we witnessed with the launch of the Type-218SG (For details see: The best strategy to defending Singapore Island).


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Post 1 of 3: Reading the news but thinking for ourselves
Some Taiwan armed forces updates.
And a quite complete overview, but nothing about a Ching Kuo upgrade.
Taiwans Force Modernization: The American Side
1. Thank you for the link. In this link you provide, it says that despite China’s ominous military buildup across the strait, defence modernization and American sale of key weapon systems (which have a negative effect on Sino-American relations) to Taiwan had been sabotaged by Taiwanese politics for years – in some cases, since 1997. The KMT party’s flip-flops and determined stalling tactics eventually created a crisis in US-Taiwan relations, which finally soured to the point that the prior Bush administration had to refuse a Taiwanese request for 66 F-16C/D aircraft.

2. Over the years, as I learn more about defence from other members my opinion has slowly shifted (from a blind consumer of news to thinking more deeply about our geo-political future in Asia). 12 to 15 years ago, I used to believe in the so-called analysis presented by news outlets, which often is coloured by a lens (that at times lack objectivity or the willingness to speak truth-to-power). But over time, in the last 5 to 10 years, I have learnt that the news cycle is not useful as a lens to review military capability developments in Asia. This is why I started writing posts here, to store as summaries of what I have read. Hopefully, this input of data will enable these data points, over a period of years, will serve as a basis for better analysis (by me and others using the same data). It is this realization that gives value to sharing and learning from others here. That is why I share and exchange links with the discussion community here.

3. I thank all of you for the encouragement and giving me an opportunity to learn from you.
According to the Manila Times report dated 20 May 2013... It seems that Philippines and Taiwan were so close and yet so far apart over the details of the apology letters... Taiwan claims that the shooting was “a disproportionate response by the Philippine authorities.”

By way of background, the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel - PCG-BFAR MCS-3001... killed an unarmed Taiwanese citizen by firing over 50 rounds...

This is why external parties like the US, welcome the conduct of a transparent Philippine investigation... Taiwan's ability to apply military and economic levers against Philippines is limited; but their are not without options. One of options that I mentioned earlier...
4. One conclusion that I have arrived at, is that some countries, like the Philippines and Taiwan (despite their huge difference in defence budget allocations), are both not really serious about taking the incremental and progressive steps necessary to build military capability for deterrence in the face of their stated threat matrix. In the third period mentioned in my prior 2016 post (from 2022 to 2026 - round 3), theoretical ship building plans of these 2 weak powers, with their limited defence budget (and tiny fleet - relative to their threat matrix), no longer matter. What matters is the build rate for new hulls and these hulls will be shagged from conducting routine patrols, everyday, during that period. Anything less than 2 new hulls, per year, for Taiwan (aka 10 new vessels or boats); and 1 new hull, per year, for the Philippines (aka 5 new vessels), will make them a joke. In this respect, the Taiwanese navy has to execute its build plans for another 10 Tou Chiang-class corvettes (for a class of 12) and their new class of 8 indigenous submarines, whereas the Pinoys are still lost at sea in terms of a continuous build programme, despite the 2016 contract to supply two vessels between the Philippine Department of National Defense, and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) with the future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) launched in May 2019.

5. With proliferation of SSMs and submarines we can say that by design, many ASEAN navies are designed to be threats to blue water navies in the littorals and at choke-points, along with an Adjacent Shipping Protection (AjSP) capability. They have no need to fight only conventionally. Notwithstanding this home court advantage of the littoral forces, China's naval buildup resulted in a huge disparity of naval forces between ASEAN navies and the PLA(N). This disparity allowed China to takeover of the Paracels, Money Island, Pattle Island, and Robert Island away from Vietnam. By 1984, the Philippines was unable to defend the area, or conduct maritime patrols of these contested areas and China took over Mischief Reef, claimed by the Philippines. In June 2012, the Chinese Coast Guard in conducted an effective fishing blockade of the Scarborough Shoals.

6. On 9 May 2013, in Guang Da Xing No. 28 fatal shooting incident, initiated by the Philippines law enforcement, the outcome of that confrontation was humiliation for the idiots (who started the economic and military escalation cycle arising from a shooting at sea). There was real diplomatic consequences (in terms of forcing the Pinoys to arrive at a fisheries agreement - Taiwan also came to a fisheries agreement with Japan). This incident also showed China, the correct way forward in managing the Philippines, which they are using today.
Using a soccer analogy, Taiwan 4: Philippines 0 - with at least 2 own goals. Pinoy pride and inability to crisis manage at the start made things worse...

Given that all four Taiwanese demands are met, it is a demonstration that coercive diplomacy works against the Philippines. Taiwan's diplomatic moves will serve as a useful template for other countries in the region to manage future at sea incidents with the Philippines...

The immediate crisis at hand was that Philippines law enforcement authorities in a bigger and faster boat... killed an unarmed Taiwanese citizen in a smaller fishing boat... However, the search for justice for the Taiwanese dead fisherman does not tell the complete story. This story is in essence a fisheries dispute between Taiwan and Philippines, with Taiwan applying economic sanctions to motivate the Philippines authorities to prosecute eight members of the Filipino coast guard for their criminal acts and to get the parties started on a fisheries agreement with certain preconditions - that there should be no use of force in disputed waters and that a mechanism should be set up to inform each other of any fishery incidents.
7. For me, buying equipment or building new vessels is the start of the raise, train and sustain equation - to build credible military capability. The acquisition of new gear is important (which feeds the news cycle); but that is not the end point to have a national capability that can be deployed everyday to further deterrence against a needlessly hostile party. It's not the number of ships alone that determines capability. It is also the crewing concept and maintenance cycles. In the case of Singapore, our Navy's retirement of the 11 Fearless Class and their replacement with 8 Independence Class LMVs will result in significantly more days at sea in the Straits of Singapore and beyond with these 80m long LMVs - in part, because of the dual crew concept for the LMV class and its design for maintainability (eg. the enclosed mast to house the radar).
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Post 2 of 3: Looking Beyond News Cycles
Shangri-La Dialogue: Vagueness from US disappoints many - DN - Defence Notes - Shephard Media

Shephard Media describes the US position at the Shangri-La Dialogue as vague and 'wishy-washy'.

OPSSG - thanks for the detailed commentary, that I am still working my way through.
8. Thanks for the link. Instead of following the news cycle on China and its disputes with other ASEAN members (or the US), we should also worry that the two countries that came closest to failing at escalation control. Taiwan and the Philippines.

9. IMHO, there is very, very limited sympathy within ASEAN for a country that chose to disband it's air combat capability in 2005 by budget choice, with a navy that has 2 corvettes being built in South Korea. In late 2016 the Philippines ordered two 2,600 ton corvettes, to be in service by 2020 to 2021. Beyond the fact that the Philippine Senate voted not to renew the lease to US bases in 1991 (resulting in their closure), we also have to look back to some events in the 2003 to 2004 period for another example of this lack of reliability by the Philippines. Unfortunately:-

(i) On 20 May 2003, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) spoke of "unshakable resolve" in their support for the US in the White House on the 'War on Terror' (after the US invasion of Iraq on 19 March 2003). In return, the Bush II Administration provided Philippines with US$1 billion in benefits on the generalised system of preferences, increased quotas on textiles from the Philippines and a US$200 million special line of credit. James Tyner (2005), writing on "Iraq, Terror and the Philippines will to War", described their approach at page 94, as "a member of the Coalition of Opportunists", who tried to capitalize on the Iraqi reconstruction efforts and angle for a piece of the action. Tyner quoted the then Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo as saying: "We have the names of 1 million workers, from skilled mechanical engineers to crane operators, with passports and are ready to go... But, when it comes to skilled labour, we definitely have the value added..."; and fourteen months later, that "unshakable resolve" collapsed. In April 2004 a Filipino was abducted and in July 2004, another Filipino truck driver was abducted, and Philippines gave in to the demands of the abductors and ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines' 51-strong contingent from Iraq. Subsequently, the GMA administration also banned Filipinos from working in Iraq;

(ii) The lack of Philippine naval capability leads Bernard Cole to conclude that "without US support, Manila has little hope of prevailing against Chinese, Malaysian, or Vietnamese sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Instead, it likely will use its 2002 agreement with Beijing as a first step in accommodating Chinese demands, as the Philippine oligarchy throughout history has accommodated itself to the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese, and again the Americans." This is a damning prediction for the Philippines if there ever was one in Cole's 2013 "Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters;" and cited by Thomas Luna in his 2017 Master's Thesis on "THE PHILIPPINE NAVY’S STRATEGIC SAIL PLAN 2020". Cole's damming prediction was demonstrated in June 2016. Philippine President Duterte opted to ‘set aside’ the South China Sea tribunal ruling supporting the Philippines’ submission to that body and nullifying most of China’s territorial claims to the South China Sea. Duterte did not want ‘to impose anything on China’ and has ignored the Hague decision. During his first visit to Beijing in October 2016, Duterte proclaimed his country’s strategic ‘separation’ from the US by seriously reducing or even ending joint US–Philippines military exercises and by abrogating the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement signed by the previous (and more pro-American) Philippine Government and the Obama administration in April 2014.​

10. The analysis in these two books clearly demonstrate that when the going gets tough, the Philippines get going. Following the short but sharp down turn in the relations with the US (after the withdrawal of the AFP contingent from Iraq), Manila under GMA upgraded its relations with Beijing and likewise under President Rodrigo Duterte, he too has turned away from the US towards China (where or when it suits him).

11. The reality that the Philippines, as a country, as a department of defence, cannot manage itself well enough to act on intelligence or produce planned outputs without significant external help, now or in the near future (as shown here and in my 2013 truth-to-power, posts in this thread) - until they become more capable and gain the ability "to walk and chew gum" at the same time like other normal countries (i.e. to stop terrorists from creating strong-holds in undisputed territory, to conduct occasional maritime security patrols in their EEZ, and to develop basic surface and sub-surface warfare capabilities to help secure their SLOC). Back in 2014 with regard to the Philippines, Robert Kaplan writing "Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific", notes that:

“Perhaps no other large country in the world has seen such a political, military, and economic investment by the United States for decades on end. Perhaps nowhere else has it made so little difference.”​

In addition, the May 2017 Marawi crisis 'is a failure of government to act based on sound and timely intelligence,' terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said (See: 'PH failed to detect signs that led to Marawi' – expert).
  • The government had, as early as 2014, prior knowledge of the links between ISIS and extremist groups in Mindanao, but down played it in the media. The military had also been monitoring Isnilon Hapilon, and knew when in 2016 he convened a meeting with other ISIS aligned groups on mainland Mindanao (See: this pdf). In 2016 June Hapilon was appointed Emir in the Philippines. In April 2017, a month before the siege, it was learnt that the military had intelligence suggesting that the terrorist group would dispatch militants. In a speech, Gunaratna pointed out that the Marawi siege is not an intelligence failure, but ‘an operational failure.’ He explained that before the Marawi siege, the Philippine intelligence community had already produced 4 reports on the "build-up" in Marawi.
  • ASPI has a report, The Marawi crisis—urban conflict and information operations, that examines both the capability aspects of kinetic hard power and the lessons from soft-power information operations, and how they intersect in the urban environment. It took the Philippines at least twice as long as comparable urban battles. The protraction to 5 months was attributable to capability shortfalls, especially training, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) acknowledged and, with the help of outside partners sought to address. The resulting tendency for outside observers to understand the Marawi operation through a lens of AFP training shortfalls discounts some AFP strengths and experience and also risks underestimating both inherent and emerging challenges. Official death toll for the battle in Marawi stood at 1,131 and it was the longest urban war in Philippine history.
12. President Trump’s ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy suffers from more of the same credibility problems as his predecessor’s ‘rebalancing strategy’. US regional allies and partners remain uncertain about American staying power in their neighbourhood. For Robert Kaplan, in 2019 the future for Asia has arrived, and it is nothing less than a new cold war.

13. For their sake, I hope that the Philippines will learn from past failures, of not acting on intelligence and learn not to switch sides so frequently and easily during this new cold war (as a client state of the US and of China, at various times). Compounding national impotence, the weak consensus of all ASEAN countries in negotiating with China is partly the result of the numerous u-turns by the Pinoys in policy with regards to China. Despite the commonly recognized perception that consensus is key for ASEAN to address challenges in the South China Sea, a narrow understanding of individual members’ national interests has constrained attempts at enhancing regional cooperation. This triggers concern that ASEAN’s consensus norm is no longer supportive of new security realities, and that other members, like Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines may endorse Beijing’s preferences and stop ASEAN from taking decisions. No one should have to pay for or defend Pinoy interests, if they don't make the effort.
...continued below
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Post 3 of 3: Going forward from 2019 onwards
@OPSSG Many thanks. As usual, a thought provoking and thoroughly informative article.
14. You are most welcome, it's my pleasure.

15. The capital intensive nature of naval expansion has reinforced the tendency to neglect naval development in ASEAN countries. For the often neglected ASEAN navies, we note as follows:

(a) Bernard Cole’s 2013 "Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters, summarizes that “most of the region’s nations are embarked in a naval modernization effort, although none of them realistically aspires to more than an increase in defensive capability." With regard to the traditional burden on the US that is the Philippines (and its Strategic Sail Plan 2020), there are some answers to the 5 key questions to ask:​

Q1: What does Cole say about the Philippines Navy?
  • Well, primarily that it is “more a vision than a fleet in being.”
Q2: Will the Philippines have a credible Navy that the Philippines can be proud of by 2020 or 2026?
  • The answer must be no.
  • The Philippine navy (with a total 2017 defence budget for all services of USD4.9 billion – a 33.7 per cent real increase on the 2016 defence budget) finds itself in the position where its ships are continuing to rust away while the need for maritime capability remains important in maintaining it's claims in the South China Sea.
  • There is inadequate funding for the 2012 Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix - for the acquisition within a 15-year-period of six frigates configured for anti-air warfare, 12 corvettes for anti-submarine warfare; and 18 OPVs. Continued piss poor planning and illogical setting of priority will ONLY squander the scarce amount of money allocated. With only 2 new corvettes being built in South Korea, it is likely only to improve from a constabulary navy, to a navy capable of inshore territorial defense. IMO, the approach matters - with the need to focus on key priorities for weak powers, rather than just an aspiration (without the necessary resources) or an unrealistic vision.
Q3: Who are the top ASEAN Navies to watch?
  • The ASEAN navies to watch closely for dramatic capability improvements going forward, are those of:
(1) Vietnam with a 2017 defence budget of USD4.3 billion – a 4.7 per cent increase on the 2016 budget with their plans to fight in the littorals;
(2) Thailand with a 2017 defence budget of USD6.1 billion – a 5 per cent real increase on the 2016 defence budget; and
(3) Indonesia's Minimum Essential Force concept with a 2017 defence budget of USD7.7 billion – a 3.5 per cent real increase on the 2016 defence budget.
(b) China has “since the mid 2000s expressed concern over its so-called ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ whereby a vast majority of its imported energy resources passes through... the Malacca Strait.” China has a “desire for independence of strategic decision making by developing the PLA(N). Commenting on the South China Sea navies in 2013, Geoffrey Till noted that "the Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Philippine navies all know they would have no hope of prevailing, or even of surviving, against a much more powerful and implacably resolute Chinese navy." But things are not so simple. "Such a victory by China would simply confirm ‘the China threat theory’ and undermine its claim to be rising peacefully." It could spark counteractions by others. Moreover all three navies know that in any such calculation, were such an extremely unlikely event ever to come to pass, PLA(N) campaign planners would have to keep back, the bulk of their naval forces to guard against the possibility of American intervention. Vietnam with its acquisition of six Kilo submarines is plainly investing in its own version of an anti-access and sea denial strategy.

Q4: What is Southeast Asia Navy Rankings, circa 2014?
  • Rank 5: Adjacent Shipping Protection or AjSP (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand)
- offshore territorial defense capabilities and some ability to project force beyond its EEZ​
  • Rank 6: Offshore Territorial defence (Indonesia, Vietnam)
- some offshore territorial defence capabilities and some ability to project force beyond its EEZ​
  • Rank 7: Inshore territorial defence (Brunei, Myanmar)
- limted territorial defence capabilities up to EEZ limits​
  • Rank 8: Constabulary (Philippines, Cambodia)
- basically a coast guard​

16. The differences between the US and China are fundamental. They can be managed by negotiations in the 2022 to 2026 time frame (round 3) of our 15 year perspective (from my 2016 post in this thread) and can never be really solved, even in the 2037 to 2041 time frame (round 6) as we look forward. The Chinese are committed to reducing US influence in the South and East China Seas, whereas the US military is determined to stay put. The Chinese commitment makes perfect sense for them. Robert Kaplan predicts that the new cold war may be permanent. And because the US-China relationship is the world’s most crucial—with many second- and third-order effects—a cold war between the two is becoming the negative organizing principle of geopolitics. China sees the South China Sea the way American strategists saw the Caribbean in the 19th and early 20th centuries (see: A New Cold War Has Begun). The fact is, since President Richard Nixon went to China in 1972, US policy has been notably consistent whatever party has held the White House, and the turn against China is a bipartisan affair—and thus unlikely to be dramatically affected by any presidential election.Therefore, under present circumstances:

(a) there may be no sweet spot Singapore or other small ASEAN states can occupy that will keep both the Chinese and the Americans simultaneously happy. As a former Singapore diplomat observed, there is no silver bullet, and it is a fool's errand to look for one. Neither can Singapore just lie low and hope for the best. As a small country, we may not look for trouble but trouble may come looking for us. And trouble is all the more likely to seek us out if either China or the US thinks we are, or can be, intimidated. Singapore must have the courage to pursue our own national interests. Sometimes our national interests may lead us to tilt one way, sometimes the other without switching sides. But the tilt must always be in our national interest.

(b) I note that both the US (with long standing and strong security related ties with a number of ASEAN countries) and China (with strong economic ties with ASEAN and as a rising global economic power in its own right) are resident powers in the South China Sea. They are both members of ADMM Plus. Both have legitimate and respective roles to play in the region. The reality should not be about binary choices.
It's no longer plain sailing going forward and I am grateful that the Australian defence budget, in future, will be more 2% of GDP. The Australian defence budget will hit that milestone in 2020–21, meeting its government’s White Paper commitment. But more importantly, I hope that small states, like Singapore, can work more with trusted partners like Australia and that choice can exist for small states after 2026.
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It's a funny sort of rising dread empire when it's afraid of Whinny the Poo and Wikipedia? Perhaps that points to one of the vulnerable points of the PRC. I agree very much with the comment above, there is no 'sweet spot' for any country in SE Asia and environs. I think the nature of the PRC is pretty clear under President Xi and sadly it will shortly be time to choose sides. I heard someone say that we have actually been at war for more than a decade, only one side hasn't realised it.


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Updates on Indonesia and China in context

1. China’s expanding maritime reach have caused Indonesian concern — to which the Indonesians have signalled discomfort. Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea runs up against Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, thus eliciting disagreements over what China sees as overlapping fishing rights. As a result of incidents with Chinese fishing boats and Coast Guard vessels, since September 2015 Indonesia has been shifting more military resources toward the Natuna Islands, including opening a military base on one of the islands in December 2018. For the TNI, the base—dubbed the Natuna Integrated TNI Unit—is a pioneering project to develop greater tri-service integration and joint operational capabilities and to relieve internal organizational pressures. As the TNI gradually completes the Natuna unit between 2027 to 2031 (round 4), it also plans to establish other tri-service integrated units in Saumlaki, Morotai, Biak, and Merauke as part of a larger eastern rebalance of the TNI’s force structure. These five joint units will form the backbone of the TNI’s new Joint Regional Defense Commands (Komando Gabungan Wilayah Pertahanan or Kogabwilhan) — While the plans for 5 bases might take till 2037 to 2041 (round 6) to complete, the Natuna unit will be an important 1st test for the TNI leadership in preparing the necessary personnel, assets, and organizational infrastructure. Why Indonesia’s New Natuna Base Is Not about Deterring China | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

2. Indonesia has sound relations with Beijing in the past, and even conducted its first joint military exercise with the PLA in June 2011 — with the TNI having good reason to be more suspicious of the US. But a March 2016 incident was a reminder to Indonesian officials and generals of China’s assertiveness in Indonesia’s EEZ. On 19 March 2016, a maritime incident between China and Indonesia occurred when a 300-ton Chinese fishing vessel – Kway Fey – was seized by the Indonesian Ministry of Fishery and Marine Affairs (KKP) for fishing within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). While the KKP vessel Hiu was towing the fishing boat back to base, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel arrived and rammed the Kway Fey, forcing it to stop in waters on the edge of Indonesia’s 12-nautical-mile sea territory off Pulau Natuna Besar. During this time, a second Chinese Coast Guard vessel appeared on the scene, forcing Indonesian officers on the Kway Fey to abandon the boat and allow Chinese Coast Guard personnel to commandeer the ship and sail it out of Indonesian waters.

3. Let me share an update by DSM Forecast on the Indonesian 2020 defence budget, where President Joko Widodo has proposed a 3 percent increase to the national budget, with defense earmarked for a boost of 16% percent in year-on-year nominal investment. The defense budget – currently receiving an outlay of IDR109.6 trillion (US$7.68 billion) – is set to rise to IDR127.4 billion (US$8.9 billion) under the government proposal and will equal 5 percent of total spending. Currently, Indonesia’s defense budget accounts for roughly 4.3 percent of total governmental expenditure. With regard to the TNI AU:
  • In 1990 Indonesia acquired 8 F-16As and 4 F-16Bs from the US — 10 of which remain operational.
  • Since 2010, Indonesia have started executing its MEF plans. From 2013 onwards, the TNI AU acquired 16 Su-27/30 from the Russians.
  • It operates 16 T-50i, which were delivered by KAI between September 2013 and January 2014. One of which crashed in December 2015, were procured under a USD400 million contract signed in 2011.
  • Indonesia acquired another 19 F-16Cs and 5 F-16Ds ending a five-year program that has brought the former US Air Force and Air National Guard jets up to modern standards before all 24 jets were delivered to Indonesia. By 2020, the TNI AU is expected to order another 2 squadrons of F-16Vs.
  • In a contract supposedly signed on 14 February 2018, the Russians are supposed to start delivery of the 1st of 11 Sukhoi Su-35S for the TNI AU end of this year (but details are lacking or stalled).
Thanks to the above aircraft acquisition programs, the TNI AU has 4 squadrons (growing to 6) of fighters.

4. Beyond US and Russia, from 2003 to 2016 PLA military diplomacy has focused on Asian countries on China’s periphery.
  • China’s most frequent partners are Russia (4.8 percent of all interactions), the US (4.4 percent), Pakistan (3.9 percent), Thailand (3 percent), and Australia (2.9 percent), all of whom participate in a full range of military diplomatic activities with the PLA.
  • PLA military diplomacy places a strong emphasis on Asia, which accounts for 41 percent of all interactions. Southeast Asia (22 percent) and South Asia (9 percent) are higher priority subregions than Northeast Asia (4.8 percent) and Central Asia (5 percent).
  • PLA interactions with U.S. treaty allies in Asia have increased since the 2011 U.S. rebalance to Asia and the ascent of Xi Jinping to power in 2012. The PLA has frequent military contacts and a strategic partnership with South Korea but rarely engages the Japanese military.
  • The volume of Chinese military diplomatic activity with a particular country generally conforms to the hierarchical priority that the Chinese foreign policy apparatus has assigned to that country.
5. Military diplomatic activity does not necessarily translate into influence, and many routine activities may not be significant. Activity may reflect the quality of bilateral relations rather than be a means of developing them. Much of China’s military diplomatic activity consists of formal exchanges of scripted talking points in meetings, occasional port calls, and simple scripted exercises focused on nontraditional security issues.Chinese military relations are also constrained by what activities their foreign counterparts are willing or able to conduct with the PLA.

6. What is my prediction for Southeast Asia Navy Rankings, circa 2027 to 2031 (round 4)?
  • Rank 4: Regional force projection navies with active sea denial capabilities (Singapore, Indonesia)
- impressive territorial defence capabilities and some ability to project force in the adjoining ocean basin
- Adjacent Shipping Protection (AjSP) up to 1,000 km from nearest naval base​
  • Rank 5: AjSP with sea denial capabilities (Vietnam)
- offshore territorial defense capabilities and some ability to project force beyond its EEZ​
  • Rank 5B: Basic AjSP with sea denial capabilities (Thailand)
- limited offshore territorial defense capabilities and some ability to project force beyond its EEZ​
  • Rank 6: Offshore Territorial defence (Malaysia)
- some offshore territorial defence capabilities and some ability to project force beyond its EEZ​
  • Rank 7: Inshore territorial defence (Brunei, Philippines, Myanmar)
- limited territorial defence capabilities up to EEZ limits​
  • Rank 8: Constabulary (Cambodia)
- basically a coast guard​
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Geographically, the South China Sea plays a significant role in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. The South China Sea is bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Their recent economic growth has contributed to a large portion of the world’s commercial merchant shipping passing through these waters. China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea rely heavily on the South China Sea for their supply of fuels and raw materials and as an export route, although the availability of diversionary sea lanes bypassing the South China Sea provides non-littoral states with some flexibility in this regard. A Chinese survey vessel in Sep 2019 extended its activities to an area closer to Vietnam's coast, ship tracking data showed, after the United States and Australia expressed concern about China's action in the disputed area. The Pentagon said China had "resumed its coercive interference in Vietnam's longstanding oil and gas activities in the South China Sea" (see: China says US 'maliciously hyping up' South China Sea issue).

BenarNews (BN) sat down with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (Dr M) on 26 Sep 2019 (Thurs) for an interview in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Below is a relevant extract of the interview, which shows that China has gained another new ASEAN client state, Malaysia (beyond Cambodia, the Philippines, and Laos, who are already client states). This is not a surprising development as Malaysia is in the process of acquiring 4 new Keris-class littoral mission ships (LMS) being built in China by China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co. Ltd (CSIC). The LMS being built by CSIC have a length of 69 meters, a beam of 9.2 meters and a displacement of 710 tons.

BN: ASEAN and China have been talking about a code of conduct in the South China Sea for two decades, and now Malaysia and China, as we recently reported, have agreed to a bilateral mechanism to resolve sea disputes. Are ASEAN states abandoning the multilateral approach?

Dr M: No. We are still wanting to work together but our response depends on how much we are exposed. When we find that we ourselves singled out by China for some action, I don’t think the other ASEAN countries have the capacity to put a stop to it. So like it or not, we have to deal with China by ourselves. The same applies to the Philippines. Because although ASEAN wants to work together, there are things that it’s not able to do. So because of that, well, even working together without any violence, that’s possible, we can have a firm stand on something, but if the Chinese take action, we are not in a position to resist or to act against them.

BN: I hear you speaking very pragmatically and fatalistically, that you cannot speak out against China if it’s a moral wrong, or if it has to do with territory; that economic matters and the sheer might of China make that impossible.

Dr M: Yeah, we have to accept the fact that China is a big power. You know, the Malay states have existed near China for the past 2,000 years. We have survived because we know how to conduct ourselves. We don’t go around trying to be aggressive when we don’t have the capacity, so we use other means. In the past we use to send to China gold and silver flowers every year as a symbol of our being practically, well, subservient to them.

BN: Another question about China. Chinese survey ships that reportedly conduct research related to oil and gas exploration have been sighted in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone north of Borneo. Do they have your government’s permission to operate in Malaysian waters?

Dr M: No. They don’t have. And well, we watch what they are doing, we report what they are doing, but we do not chase them away or try to be aggressive.
Some background on one of the factors behind Malaysia’s swing towards China — as an alternative to Europe or the West (in general). I note that the EU passed an act earlier in 2019 to phase out palm oil from renewable fuel by 2030 due to deforestation concerns. While demand for palm oil used in EU biodiesel accounts for a fraction of global supply, palm oil producers in Malaysia and Indonesia, who produce 85% of the world supply worry that the law could spur calls for regulation of the oil's usage in food. Malaysia has led the public-relations offensive since the EU began working on the law, as it is far more reliant on exports than larger rival Indonesia. Malaysia ships about 85 percent of the palm oil it produces overseas annually. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr M has said the EU law was "grossly unfair" and was an attempt to protect alternative oils that Europe produced itself.

It was also reported that Duterte stands by China, doubts own Fishermen in Sea Collision (see: Bloomberg - Philippine’s Duterte to stand by China). As many know, politicians like Duterte and Dr M are for sale and China has them in their pocket.
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