South China Sea thoughts?

OPSSG

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte calls on ASEAN countries not to choose sides between China and the United States, all while pursuing his 'independent foreign policy' which involves the Philippines' pivot to China. See: Duterte in ASEAN: Let's exercise 'self-restraint' in South China Sea

The rise of the China choice block within ASEAN has occurred with Malaysia and Philippines being prominent members that have shifted and aligned themselves with Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar as 5 states beholden to China. As many know and I mentioned before politicians like Duterte and Dr M are for sale and China has them in their pocket.

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. Under the erratic Trump administration, both Brunei and Thailand are countries that are keen to maintain good trade ties with China. This means that within the ASEAN 10, despite the understanding of ASEAN leaders of the need for ASEAN centrality, there are 7 votes to ensure that China’s interests are always considered, leaving Viet Nam increasingly isolated as a voice of concern as an involved party. See: Chinese ship leaves Vietnam's waters after disputed South China Sea surveys

Chinese vessels are patrolling Luconia, Second Thomas, and Scarborough most often belong to the Shucha II and Zhaolai classes. These vessels are largely unarmed, except for water cannons and small arms, but are much larger than the law enforcement or most navy ships of their neighbors. This makes them ideal for operations that might involve threatening collisions and, if necessary, shouldering other vessels to drive them away without using lethal force. See: Signaling Sovereignty: Chinese Patrols at Contested Reefs | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Meanwhile, a Liberia-flagged, Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura was transiting from Nongyao, Thailand, on its way to Longkou, China, when it was hailed by a Chinese warship near the Scarborough Shoal. On freedom of navigation and collision risk with China’s maritime militia issues see: EXCLUSIVE: Chinese ‘naval warship’ harasses Filipino-crewed ship near Scarborough Shoal and Seeking Clues in the Case of the Yuemaobinyu 42212 | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative
 
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Ananda

Well-Known Member
The rise of the pro-China block within ASEAN has occurred with Malaysia and Philippines being prominent members within that have shifted and aligned themselves with Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar as 5 states beholden to China
OPSSG if I may, I do believe Malaysia being 'friendlier' to China due to other International Investors being bit reluctant recently to Malaysia after 1MB fiasco. However I still not see that Malaysia will be in same league with likes of Myanmar, Cambodia or Laos which are much more depending with China.

I see the way Philippines and Malaysia tendencies on China policies more to 'oportunistics' behavior, rather than shifting paradigm. There are still too many different 'signs' domestically within Malaysia and Philippines.

https://amp-scmp-com.cdn.ampproject...ncerned-about-indonesias-new-defence-minister

This is just as example for Indonesia, which are much less dependency to China compared to Malaysia..still too many opposing sides that make any Policies to China more as 'balancing' between Chinese and Japan/US. After all Japan is still the biggest Investor and despite recent China increase in trade and Investment.. Indonesia still have 'choice' to balance.

The problem for many SEA nation's, they don't have 'balance' toward China in trade and Investment.
 

OPSSG

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I would say that Indonesia and Singapore are friendly to China but retain an ability to act in a sovereign manner. Less so with Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines or Malaysia — who do not have enough bargaining power to get really good deals. IMO, real defence capability or capacity gives a country real bargaining power. In ASEAN there are 4 countries that are developing increased defence capabilities and capacity to cope with change — Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Singapore.

Without capability, a country can easily become a client state with less scope for freedom of action. Under the Trump Administration with an ‘America First’ policy that rejects the TTP, ASEAN members can no longer hope even for American leadership from the back (of the prior administration).
OPSSG if I may, I do believe Malaysia being 'friendlier' to China due to other International Investors being bit reluctant recently to Malaysia after 1MB fiasco. However I still not see that Malaysia will be in same league with likes of Myanmar, Cambodia or Laos which are much more depending with China.

I see the way Philippines and Malaysia tendencies on China policies more to 'oportunistics' behavior, rather than shifting paradigm. There are still too many different 'signs' domestically within Malaysia and Philippines.
I waited about half a year before I was willing to say Malaysia is ‘beholden to China’ and having ‘shifted’ (viz a viz Western countries and the US in general) but I also accept your perspective. Your prediction may be more accurate in 2019, but my prediction will be more accurate by 2022 to 2026, as this is a long term trend. Unlike Indonesia with a huge domestic market, Malaysia is an exporter in a middle income trap and losing ground as FDI destination of choice when compared to Viet Nam or Indonesia. Dr M needs China’s investments to fight his domestic enemies and be seen as delivering growth, at any price, as a long term trend. See:
11 projects that show China’s influence over Malaysia

IMHO, Dr M is also asking and getting price reductions for Najib’s deals but asking for unimportant concessions, to deliver a quick political win. For example:
  • China and Malaysia resumed construction of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project in peninsula Malaysia on 25 Jul 2019 after a year-long suspension and following a rare agreement to cut its cost by nearly a third to about US$11 billion; and
  • the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, headlines say RM1.77 billion or 36 per cent less,
when the concessions are all made by Malaysian parties. The headlines say Malaysia gets a better deal but the reality is small changes in the margin for both China and Singapore. Behind these headlines are deals to reduce the level of Malaysian corruption or profits. Malaysians have to ask themselves, how much Chinese and Singaporean investments were held back for the period of renegotiations with the Malaysian Government, just for the Malaysians to sort out their internal disagreements for their cut of the deal.

In late Sep 2019, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in front of the UN General Assembly that India has now “invaded and occupied” Kashmir and Jammu. In response to Mahathir’s comments, on October 21, a major trading body in India called for its members to stop purchasing palm oil from Malaysia. The decision from Indian palm industry leaders to shroud a fundamentally economic debate in nationalist rhetoric is a clear example of using nationalism to promote a trade agenda and sets a dangerous precedent that threatens any leader who might call out an economic superpower for violations of international law. In the case of Palm oil, China is the only viable export alternative for Malaysia (to India).


In Jan 2019, a H-6K operated by the PLANAF buzzed a Malaysian operated oil platform off Sarawak. See blog post here. As a result during Ops Iring Malaysian Hawks made a low flypast to indicate their presence and to boost the morale of those on KD Lekiu and PFLNG 2.

Dr M knows that Chinese ships are parked in Malaysia’s disputed EEZ. See my prior post, where he is quoted as saying Malaysia has to be subservient: “... we have to accept the fact that China is a big power... We don’t go around trying to be aggressive when we don’t have the capacity... 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: 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.
The littoral mission ship deal, signed in 2017 at a revised contract price of RM1.047 billion (US$254 million), has underscored China’s rising status as a key player in the arms market in Southeast Asia. After some negotiations, China is supplying Malaysia with warships with a ‘price reduction’ (but it is via cutting out the Malaysian middle man). China’s arms sales to ASEAN members will grow — giving them even more influence. This is a clear trend with Thailand buying VT-4 tanks, VN-1 armoured vehicles, an S-26T submarine and a Type 071E landing platform dock too. See: Thailand to acquire amphibious ship from China
 
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StingrayOZ

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Dr M and Duterte have different priorities, the see China as a potential for change or at least support.
I worry about Thailand. The situation is difficult.
 

OPSSG

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Easy to understand why the Malaysians and Pinoys have chosen Dr M and Duterte at the ballot box but they have to be prepared for the consequences. These two are in the politics of looking for scape goats to look good before their domestic audience. Once these two were elected, their need for China’s support naturally arises due to their domestic politics. Given their lack of desire to properly raise, train and sustain their respective armed forces and that magnifying disputes in the South China Sea is not in their interest, their ‘shift’ towards China is expected. Without the proper naval capability, they also lack options and have to accommodate China in a manner that makes outsiders wonder about their capability or capacity to defend their sovereignty.

For Thailand, we just have to wait and see — how the Chinese arms sales translate into influence.
 
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Ananda

Well-Known Member
For Thailand, we just have to wait and see — how the Chinese arms sales translate into influence.
Agree, Thailand defense procurement seems not entirely due to Chinese Influence. Based on What media put (bit difficult to find english Thai sources), seems being influence on two thing:

1. After latest Military Coup (and continuity of Military Dominance on present Administration), Thai's military and defense relationship with West was 'bit' sour.
2. They are looking for bargain. Seems looking on latest Thai's defense procurement (except Gripen), many comes from sources that provide bargain (Ukraine) plus relative 'easy' Financing package (China).

Still Thai's seems keeping 'balance' with continues defense relationship with US, altough from what I see a 'bit' reduce compared what they used to have (can be wrong on that, since more difficulty to read english source on Thai's defense).
In sense so far don't see 'yet' changing policy paradigm on Thai's international policies. China does promissed and provide increasing Investment and Trade..However so does Japan and other existing Thai's foreign investors.

The 'high profille' potential investment with China is the potential 'Kra' Isthmus Canal which many in Thai's believe it will cut traffic between Indian Ocean to Pacific. In turn they hope will translate to provide 'hub' business for the Kra's port that they are going to build with the cannal.

Still from some business analysts, by passing Malaca's straight still not provide enough financial insentive on building cannal in Kra isthmus/peninsula. Thus, beside Kra, I still not see something that are significant enough that China can offer to Thai's to make them changing their policies paradigm.

West need to take bit of reality that current Military dominated regime will stay for some time, due to strong suport from Royal Family toward military backed administration.
They have to engage this regime more if they want to 'balance' rising Chinese influence.
 
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OPSSG

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Ananda said:
The 'high profille' potential investment with China is the potential 'Kra' Isthmus Canal which many in Thai's believe it will cut traffic between Indian Ocean to Pacific. In turn they hope will translate to provide 'hub' business for the Kra's port that they are going to build with the cannal.

Still from some business analysts, by passing Malaca's straight still not provide enough financial insentive on building cannal in Kra isthmus/peninsula. Thus, beside Kra, I still not see something that are significant enough that China can offer to Thai's to make them changing their policies paradigm.

West need to take bit of reality that current Military dominated regime will stay for some time, due to strong suport from Royal Family toward military backed administration. They have to engage this regime more if they want to 'balance' rising Chinese influence.
1. Kra Isthmus at its minimum is only 44 km (27 miles), but the height of the interior mountain chain is 75 m (246 ft), which means they need to go by a longer route, making it more costly. This will also affect the return on investment which needs to be recovered by charging canal fees to make the 102km (63 miles) project viable over the long term. Thus far, Chinese and Thai entities signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2015 to advance the project, according to the online magazine The Diplomat, despite denials of official government involvement at the time. China notoriously uses purportedly private Chinese companies to run government-funded infrastructure projects. The China-Thailand Kra Infrastructure Investment and Development company, based in Guangzhou, China, and Asia Union Group, headed by former Thai Premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, signed the agreement. In addition, a feasibility study was completed in 2016.

2. Security analysts are worried construction of the canal could divide the country into two and, because of its location, increase tensions in southern Thailand. The waterway would create a geographic split between Buddhist regions and mainly Muslim provinces in the south. “The construction of the Kra Canal would further exacerbate the volatile region, creating further divisions within the country,” Rhea Menon, a researcher at Carnegie India, wrote in the April 6, 2018, issue of The Diplomat. Before talking about technical and engineering challenges to build the canal, I suspect that the human and project security issue may be insurmountable. Estimated to take 10 years to build, what can go wrong? This is an area with an unhappy and significant Muslim population and for the project to succeed, it needs to support for over a long period — longer than a term of any elected Thai administration. Further, importing tens of thousands Chinese workers to stay in this economically deprived area does not look like a great idea. Not sure of the scale of bomb attacks targeting these Chinese workers or the build route and construction sites that will occur.

3. When attacks occur, will the Thai Government response create more resentment? If the response is not swift, will the Chinese investors pass the costs onto Thailand for delays? The Thai Government is not noted for their competence in handling the restive South of Thailand. Plus a 1 to 5 year delay will make a huge difference in cost of building and canal fees. China’s focus is typically on geopolitical value of overseas projects rather than their economic value, according to a May 2017 report in the Diplomat, an online magazine, by Hong Kong-based journalist Spencer Sheehan. “China’s drive to build its political influence in Africa and Asia through infrastructure has resulted in faulty power plants in Botswana and loss-making railway projects in Laos,” he wrote. Poorly selected and poorly executed projects also increase the chance that a debtor nation will default on the loans by China and cede control of the assets to China, Sheehan explained.

4. Who will bear the risk for delays and cost over runs to a project (that may only be marginally economically viable)? If the canal fees is too high, shipping companies can simply elect to go by the Straits of Malacca, which charges no canal fees. In this respect, I note that Panama Canal fees are being reduced due to the current US-China trade war and competition from Suez Canal. Further, China often pushes for political deals that lack transparency in the contracting process and give its state-owned enterprises exclusive bidding rights to projects, which contributes to poor management. In Kenya, Chinese companies delivered the high-profile Standard Gauge Railway to connect Kenya’s largest port city, Mombasa, to its capital, Nairobi, at a cost of US$5.6 million per kilometer, which was roughly triple the international standard and four times the original estimate, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

5. In Feb 2018, this unpopular Thai Government has brought the Kra Canal proposal back to life. To be precise, it has ordered a study on a project it has officially renamed as Klong Thai. The new name is presumably a minor celebration of the new eternal Thai-ness campaign, Thai Niyom Yangyuen. A study may be in order, but all it can do is update the literally hundreds of studies, papers, recommendations and proposals of the past 341 years. The reality is that the Kra Canal by any name is Thailand’s phoenix for modern times.

6. Unless you are a Chinese investor pushing for this, do the rest of the Thailand look keen to defer other spending for 10 to 15 yrs to fund this US$30 billion or more canal? The canal plan also features the creation of a US$22 billion special economic zone that includes building cities and artificial islands to bolster Thailand’s infrastructure in the region, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. Thailand would then incur almost double the original debt burden to bring the project to fruition.

7. Worldwide, Chinese projects are notorious for putting environmental concerns second to Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. The canal project could hurt Thailand’s tourism industry and damage its fisheries. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, the deputy dean of the fisheries faculty at Kasetsart University, raised concerns over the impact on tourism and environment if a canal was dug as proposed. The proposed route will pass some tourist attractions in the South, including Phuket and Krabi. The proposed canal route would run past tourist areas in the Andaman Sea that generate about 40 per cent or almost 2 trillion baht of the total revenue from the tourism industry. A local opponent of the canal project, Admiral Jumpol Loompikanon, a deputy permanent secretary at the Defence Ministry, said the country needed to balance geo-politics and geo-economics. Jumpol, a Royal Thai Navy spokesman and a member of the marine and coastal resources strategy panel, added that judging from the past he was worried about disputes arising between super powers and neighbouring countries. He cited the conflict over the Spratly Islands between China and the Philippines. He said it was difficult for security agencies to decide whether to pursue the project because more comprehensive information was still needed. Concern that Chinese control of the project could erode Thailand’s sovereignty is widespread, however, even if engineers determine it to be technically feasible. The history of the Panama and Suez canals shows, despite the advantages of a canal, one country’s funding of its construction on the territory of another country usually leads to the spread of significant influence by the first country.

8. “In theory, the Kra Canal could benefit India and the region by taking pressure off the overcrowded Malacca Straits,” a senior Indian naval commander told the Business Standard, an Indian English-language daily newspaper, in April 2018. “In practice, there’s reason to worry about what Chinese involvement in this project will mean for the balance of power in the Indian Ocean.” Moreover, China would predictably militarize the canal, the senior Indian naval commander told the Business Standard. China militarized many of its infrastructure investments in the Indo-Pacific, despite repeated denials of its intentions and ongoing activities to build military facilities and install military equipment on such sites. Prime examples include the artificial features China built in recent years in the South China Sea, replete with air and naval bases, and various dual-use port projects from Gwadar in Pakistan to Djibouti in Africa for which China is using sovereign debt traps to gradually usurp control.

9. Bangkok’s relations with Singapore, KL and Jakarta “will figure prominently in its decision over whether to follow through with the project,” according to a November 2017 analysis by Stratfor, a digital publication that provides a geopolitical intelligence platform. China will benefit the most from such a canal because it will build it and control it, most observers and analysts agreed. Although China is likely the only investor that could bring the project to life, according to Stratfor, “it has kept its interest in the new waterway as quiet as possible to avoid jeopardizing its ties with other countries in the region.” See: Canal Conundrum | Indo-Pacific Defense Forum
 
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Ananda

Well-Known Member
The waterway would create a geographic split between Buddhist regions and mainly Muslim provinces in the south.
Thanks for thorough assesment on Kra's Canal project OPSSG. I admit to look more on financial feasibility of this project, rather on Securities issue that might arise.

Building Suez Canal and Panama Canal means provide substantial alternative distance saving route to southern tip of Africa and South America. While Kra's canal only provide detour that not really substantial in range. The canal at most only provide 2 days (some argue up to 3 days) saving compare to Malaca strait, which don't see it can justified commercial investment. Thus only 'political motive' investment can justified that.

Off course, if China financing it Thailand as you put will have to bear the debt burden that have 'questionable' commercial return. Make it very hard to justified. Unless China wiling to take 'Investment loss' for the price of 'independent defense' access.

Still, Thai's as you put will split their country in Budhist and Moeslem parts, with the Canal. This will create situation that are potentially more volatile than what Philipines faces in Mindanao. Perhaps the Moeslem insurgence will let the canal builds, and then attack and harass it after that to force Thai's in giving political solution to them. Not a pretty scenarios for Thai's.

Anyway, if Thai due go ahead on the project with Chinese backing, then I do see it as sign changing paradigm of Thai's policy to Chinese influence. Because it's a project that are more to the need of Chinese Geopolitical needs, then Thai's commercial justification.
 
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OPSSG

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Post 1 of 3: Start of Finlandization
Dr M and Duterte have different priorities, they see China as a potential for change or at least support.
Thanks for your comments. Let me expand on my point:

1. Finlandization is the slow process by which one powerful country makes a smaller neighboring country abide by the former's foreign policy rules, while allowing it to keep its nominal independence and its own political system. The reason Finland engaged in Finlandization was primarily to survive. On the other hand, the threat of the Soviet Union was used also in Finland's domestic politics in a way that possibly deepened Finlandization (playing the so-called idänkortti, "east card"). Finland cut a deal with Stalin in the late 1940s, and it was largely respected by both parties—and to the gain of both parties—until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

2. I would say that China has achieved its goals in round 1 (in the period from 2012 to 2016) with regard to its actions in disputed waters off Vietnam and the Philippines. China's highly effective use of 'white ships', as strategy to manage its maritime disputes with its South China Sea neighbours and island building in the South China Sea, results in a win for China. IMHO, it can be argued that the process of Finlandization (in the 2017 to 2021 time frame) has started for two ASEAN countries like the Philippines and Malaysia (viz a viz a rising China). Instead of using a hedging strategy, they have started the process of Finlandization. In this regard, there are 2 relevant updates on the Philippines and Malaysia for the start of their journey:

One, on 3 Dec 2019, the Philippines welcomed veteran diplomat Huang Xilian as China's new ambassador to the country. Huang said he was "very honored and grateful" to serve in the Philippines, where he felt "back at home." "Since I was a little child, my families have kept telling me that the Philippines which faces China across the sea is our relative with close kinship and cultural bond. Therefore the natural affinity with the Philippines has grown in my heart," he said. Huang likewise expressed his "astonishment" over achievements seen in the Philippine under the Duterte administration. "Neighbors wish each other well, just as loved ones do to each other (see: Chinese new envoy promises to keep boosting Sino-Philippine ties - Xinhua | English.news.cn). Since President Duterte took office, the Philippines has made impressive achievement at various areas.... I have every reason to believe and expect that the country will achieve greater strength and prosperity in the coming years and decades," he added. IMO, the improved relations between Manila and Beijing came after President Duterte failed to enforce an international tribunal ruling back in 2016.

Two, on 2 Dec 2019, a defence White Paper was tabled to transform the country’s defence. Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said committees would be formed by the government in order to reform of Malaysia’s defence industry. Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu told a press conference later said that he would propose that the country’s military spending be set at one per cent of the country’s annual GDP. “This was also agreed upon by the opposition MPs in the Dewan Rakyat today (yesterday),” he said. Last year, Malaysia’s GDP stood at US$354.35 billion (RM1.48 trillion). The government had increased the Defence Ministry’s allocation from RM13.9 billion this year to RM15.6 billion next year (See: NST and DWP Tabled and Approved - Malaysian Defence). Mohamad Sabu also addressed the concerns of several quarters and gave an assurance that the DWP would not compromise defence secrets or the country’s sovereignty. In explaining this point, he said there was a difference between the DWP and the existing National Defence Policy (NDP). “The DWP is an open document containing the direction and priorities of defence for a period of 10 years, from 2021 to 2030, spanning the 12th and 13th Malaysia Plans.“As the DWP is an open document, it is accessible to the people.” The 90 page document, however, lacked details on the value of funding needed, and other specifics on Malaysian defence.​

3. More troubling than Finlandization is Malaysia’s support (or in-direct support) for a Hamas rocket engineer, Dr Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, to operate with impunity in KL (who was assassinated on 21 April 2018 near his residence in KL). Malaysia tries to brand itself as a moderate Islamic country but its leaders’ words and actions show otherwise — where Malaysian Muslims are given jail terms for skipping Friday prayers (picnicking with their families instead of being at the mosque) sparking concerns about rising religious conservatism in the multi-ethnic country.
  • In Oct 2019, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani voiced Iran's readiness for developing ties with Malaysia in a meeting with that country's Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the sidelines of NAM Summit in Baku.
  • Throughout 2019, Malaysia also witnessed a series of successive visits by high-ranking delegations from Hamas and it also maintains links with both Iran and Hezbollah, indicating the growing ties between these parties. Hamas’ most recent visit to Malaysia came under the chairmanship of its former head of office, Khaled Meshaal. The program was crowded with meetings between Hamas’ leaders, the Malaysian government and opposition political leaders, in a rare scene among the movement’s visits to various countries. See also: Hamas considers Malaysia its gateway to Asia and Malaysia to open embassy to Palestine.
I dislike the fact that KL exploits its ties with radical groups for domestic political purpose and these groups use Malaysia as a base to conduct attacks on the Israeli embassies in Thailand (Feb 2012) or in Singapore (Mar 1985 and Dec 1986). Further, the suicide attacks in Medan on 13 Nov 2019, in Surabaya on 14 May 2018, and the Jun 2016 Puchong nightclub attacks in Malaysia, are grave warnings that terrorism can become endemic in this region.

4. In Dec 2019, the Philippine government is supposedly trying to verify — the presence of an aerostat on Mischief Reef. The presence of an aerostat mounted radar enhances China's ability to monitor the Spratly Islands and the surrounding waters. This eye in the sky increase the range for Chinese surveillance systems, including seeing every activity in Philippine-occupied features. In reality, the Pinoys are turning a blind eye for as long as possible (See: ImageSat Intl. on Twitter).
  • Without a capable navy (with 4 or more frigates and 6 or more corvettes) and an airforce trained to fight in the littorals (with 2 or more fighter squadrons and equipped with anti-ship missiles), this Finlandization process is inevitable. The Philippine Navy may acquire platforms, but they don't have the disciplined organisational culture to maintain all the new gear acquired. Back in 1997, the Philippine Navy bought 3 second hand Peacock Class vessels from the Royal Navy. With a year, one of the 76mm guns did not work, and no one in their navy knew how to fix it.
  • Like the Peacock Class saga, it’s navy has again under invested in training their sailors and their personnel organisation, leading to sub-standard practices. Their US Navy adviser, who observed them on BRP Gregorio del Pilar, commented that while they 'mimic procedures' from the US, they 'lack the discipline to do them properly'; and it is clear that these problems can be traced to defective organisational culture, where there is an over reliance on junior officers for the requisite technical competence. To some degree and at an organisational level, they have not learnt from past mistakes and are incapable of making the required changes.
  • The Philippines bought 2 C-130Hs in the 70s and was gifted 2 C-130Ts (recently) and 1 C-130B (decades ago) by Americans. But 1 C-130T is out for maintenance, 1 C-130H was damaged by fire, the sole C-130B is also out of service for unknown reasons. The Pinoys were gifted 3 C-130s (to restore their fleet to 5 aircaft) and 3 Del Pilar class ships by the Americans but only 1 of each still works (See Mar 2019 news: C-130 catches fire before takeoff at Clark Air Base). The BRP Gregorio del Pilar is out of action until mid-2020 (since hitting a reef in Aug 2018). Until the US Coast Guard helped the Pinoys in Oct 2019 to troubleshoot and repair routine engineering issues of the class, the BRP Andres Bonifacio was not properly maintained, with 5 of the 6 fire fighting pumps not working. They also have a system that does not train their junior sailors to do their jobs properly, and the leadership still wonders why things don't work after a while.
 
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OPSSG

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Post 2 of 3: Likelihood of State on State Conflict delayed but the battle against ISIS has started

5. But the term Finlandization does not suit Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, as client states of China without the ability to choose an independent foreign policy. In contrast, the Philippines and Malaysia are in the process of making an active ‘China choice’ in their respective policies — giving China a guarantee of 5 out of 10 votes within ASEAN by the 2022 to 2026 time frame (see: Building stronger ASEAN-China relations in new era - The Jakarta Post). For example, Dr Mahathir, as Malaysia’s PM visited China twice (August 2018 and April 2019); sang praises about the BRI at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing; successfully renegotiated ECRL, a signature BRI project; and brought back Bandar Malaysia (Read more at Commentary: A change of heart? Under Mahathir, Malaysia makes bold move to embrace China). Given the unresolved maritime tensions (including at Ambalat, the Straits of Malacca and in the South China Sea) between Indonesia and Malaysia, it is no surprise that Malaysia would choose to grow closer to China.

6. Due to fears that the US Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy could divide the region, ASEAN launched its own ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. This is an initial step towards incorporating ASEAN centrality in the evolving Indo-Pacific concept. It will give ASEAN a good start in managing strategic competition and the document also clarifies ASEAN’s perception of the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean not as contiguous territorial spaces, but rather as a closely integrated and inter-connected region. Indonesia’s Jokowi argued for the need to cooperate with China within ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific framework and to build connectivity between ASEAN and China. In recent years, the South China Sea issue has been divisive.
  • Against this backdrop, it was significant that on 31 July 2019, China revealed that ASEAN and China had completed the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for a Code of Conduct ahead of schedule. I have revised my view to 2032 to 2036 (round 5), as a period where a miscalculation by one party can occur.
  • This Dec 2019 Forbes article explains: The Chinese Navy Is Building An Incredible Number Of Warships. A single image of a Shanghai shipyard shows nine newly constructed Chinese warships. Nearest the camera, a line of four newly constructed destroyers catch the sunlight. Two are Type-052D air-defense destroyers, two more are larger Type-055 Class ships that are air-defense cruisers. But the most impressive vessel is hidden in the background haze, barely discernible to the untrained eye. Beneath several massive gantry cranes in a purpose-built construction area is China’s next-generation aircraft carrier. China already has two carriers in service. China’s Navy, is modernising at an impressive rate. And on a vast scale.
I suspect that without the Americans serving as an effective counter weight or effective leadership by Indonesia as the de facto leader of ASEAN, a ‘China Choice’ is only a matter of time for more ASEAN countries, beyond the Malaysians or the Pinoys.

7. In contrast to the Philippines and Malaysia, I foresee three ASEAN countries, with improving naval capabilities, that may continue using hedging as their strategy in the 2027 to 2031 time frame (round 4), namely, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia — by being more friendly and growing their ties with the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the Indians, the Japanese and the Koreans, where appropriate. Not sure about how to classify Thailand or Brunei, at this time, as they seem not to fit either classification. But it is clear that all claimant states (including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines) in the South China Sea have started planning to have a response plan for a range of contingencies relating to conflict arising from the South China Sea.

8. Beyond the risk of state to state conflict, ISIS is using access to the sea to establish their Caliphate in the Philippines. In May 2017, the Philippines received credible information that the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf may be about to conduct kidnaps in the Sulu Sea, including around the islands of the Sulu archipelago (Philippines) and the seas/islands off the east coast of Sabah (Malaysia). Any vessels sailing in this area could be targeted. In addition, 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. The 2017 Battle of Marawi also demonstrated that it takes night fighting equipment, a high standard of C3, combat trauma management and interoperability with supporting arms (such as, precise joint fires and armoured engineers) to fight and win in the urban environment — sadly things which are lacking for the AFP. For a US SOTF 511 perspective, see: Experimenting With the Art of Mission Command. Externally, SOTF 511 sent liaisons to the Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) Logistics Support Facility in Singapore to ensure smooth logistics support. This helped build trust and cooperation between SOCPAC, SOTF 511 and its interagency partners. There are 3 points to note on this battle:

One, a company from the AFP’s 2nd Infantry Division employed over 10,000 mortar rounds in 3 months. It took the Philippines at least twice as long as comparable urban battles and attributable to capability shortfalls, and training, which the AFP acknowledged. Before AFP troops went sent into retake the city, troops were given 2 weeks of urban warfare training. To make matters worse, AFP platoons had not conducted extensive training in combat trauma management, and their Role 2 and Role 3 equivalent medical facilities were not accustomed to the very high volume of casualties during urban fighting—a significant number of which were non-battle injuries.

Two, in the Battle of Marawi, the Pinoys ran out of certain types of ammunition and was fortunate that the US was willing to resupply them at short notice. The AFP also have very limited access to military grade UAVs, encrypted communications and most crucially, night fighting equipment (NFE); indeed, the only forces well equipped with NFE were those from Philippine SOCOMD and MARSOG. This meant the majority of forces were static at night. Lack of proper equipment slowed operational tempo and also resulted in 53 unnecessary AFP deaths in the Battle of Marawi. There were instances where their initial reinforcements were trapped for up to 5 days.

Three, with the help of outside partners such as Australia, Singapore and the US, the AFP sought to address their short comings. SAF's assistance included sending a C-130H to transport humanitarian supplies, use of the SAF's urban training villages for AFP troops, and a detachment of UAVs.
9. Given the complexity of the region, it is accurate to say that the security problems faced by states with claims in the South China Sea go beyond the traditional need for intelligence on state actors from the past. There is also scope for multilateral cooperation in maritime security like the Malacca Straits Patrol (initiated by Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia) and the Trilateral Maritime Patrol Indomalphi (by the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia) that was "initiated and implemented" by the governments of the "three in order to face the security challenges associated with each country's border waters," according to the 2017 joint statement. As stated in the 2003 Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II):

“Maritime issues and concerns are transboundary in nature, and therefore shall be addressed regionally in holistic, integrated and comprehensive manner.”
But all the joint statements cannot hide the fact that the Philippines military is a paper tiger. Just as the Gulf Wars I and II exposed Iraq, the erstwhile Soviet client with the world’s fourth-largest military, as a paper tiger. By the end of 40 days of aerial bombing and 100 hours of ground combat operations, on Feb 28, 1991, it was clear to the US possessed the military edge against Iraq, just as China has the military edge in the South China Sea against the Philippines as an American client.
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 3 of 3: Reality check on China’s capability for domination

10. In relation to the recent maritime disputes, we must not narrow the prism through which China relationship with ASEAN is debated and assessed. STUPID machismo makes for desirable headlines but it must be asked: Why do some scribes evince so little faith in the institutional strength of existing regional frameworks and organisations? By ramping up the China threat, and disregarding ASEAN as an institution, journalists with too much machismo risk undermining the rapidly growing middle class in ASEAN countries and the very democracies they claim to defend. But I caution the need for constant vigilance, to strike the correct balance between concern and cooperation, as the examples listed below illustrate:-

One, while the Philippines has won its case against China (but choosing to set aside the 2016 ruling awarded in favour of the Philippines) over its disputes in South China Sea with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, the Japanese on the other hand pretend that there is no dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands or Diaoyu Islands (see here for a view from China) - there is so much hypocrisy at work by all parties involved in these disputes - while the US administration encourages the Philippines to sue China, US Congress has stubbornly resisted all attempts by to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both US and China engage in coercive diplomacy. At various times, the Philippines has been subject to either of their efforts. Due to the May 2013 Guang Da Xing No. 28 incident, Philippines was subject to coercive diplomacy from Taiwan and it is a fact of life for many third world nations.​

Two, China set a precedent that intimidates other nations bordering the South China Sea into similar concessions. Interestingly, the embargo on the import of bananas from the Philippines has had an effect on the retail price of bananas in Tokyo in 2012, when it refused to import bananas and other fruits from the Philippines, claiming to find bugs in shipments. It tells ASEAN members that the China-ASEAN free trade agreement only works, if they follow Beijing's lead.​

Three, a major strategic achievement of President Xi has been his ability to learn how to push the boundaries to the limit without fatally overstepping. China’s management of the South Luconia Shoals incident with Malaysia is a case in point. In September 2013, a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel dropped anchor in the Malaysian-claimed shoals, sparking hearings in Malaysia’s parliament and extensive complaints from government officials. The CCG finally withdrew the vessel in November 2015, just before Malaysia hosted the ASEAN and East Asia Summits. This adroit timing prevented the issue from becoming a central feature of public discourse during the high-profile summits, which could have led to significant momentum being garnered against China. The salient Chinese achievement was that CCG vessels returned to the shoals almost immediately after the summits.​

Four, Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 along with its coast guard escorts left Vietnam’s EEZ on 23 Oct 2019 ending the 4 month standoff. The de-escalation seems to have been in response to the departure a day earlier of the drilling rig Hakuryu 5 from Vietnam’s oil and gas Block 06-01, which is operated by Russia’s Rosneft. The standoff began on 16 Jun 2019 when a CCG ship started harassing the Hakuryu 5 and the offshore supply vessels servicing it. As ships were relieved, they often traveled to the Chinese outpost on Fiery Cross Reef to resupply before either joining the escort mission around the Haiyang Dizhi 8 or heading back to China. During the 18th ASEAN–China Senior Officials’ Meeting in Oct 2019 Hanoi expressed its displeasure at Chinese actions. This might have helped terminate the Vanguard Bank standoff and influenced China’s decision to withdraw its survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8.

Five, in Jan 2019, China’s President Xi said China "reserves the option to use all necessary measures to unite Taiwan with the mainland, including use of force." It is easy to lay blame for growing tensions squarely with Beijing. But the reality is more complex. Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, asserted in a speech marking the island's national day that opposition to China's "one country, two systems" solution -- the same solution now proving so incendiary in Hong Kong -- is "the overwhelming consensus among Taiwan's 23 million people... regardless of party affiliation or political position."Chinese coercion is a response to Taiwan's increasing estrangement. Over 70% of the island's inhabitants said they believed that Taiwan was an independent country and escalations continued in Mar 2019 when two Chinees fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait and then in Aug 2019 when Beijing suspended individual travel to Taiwan. By Sep 2019, the number of mainlanders traveling to Taiwan dropped nearly 50%.
In an example of Intra-ASEAN cooperation, Malaysia and Vietnam in 2009 made a joint submission for a portion of the two countries' continental shelf in the southern part of the South China Sea. For contrast, China has filed a diplomatic protest against Malaysia filing a submission with the United Nations in Dec 2019 seeking to establish the limits of Malaysia's continental shelf. Within a single generation, ASEAN became the most successful regional integration experience in the post-colonial world. Astonishingly, ASEAN achieved this with a skeletal bureaucracy. To put things into perspective, while the EU enjoyed a 30,000-strong civil service staff, with a multi-billion-dollar budget (equal to 1% of EU budget), the ASEAN secretariat has had just over 200 staff operating on, until recent years, a meager US$10 million budget. Even more impressively, ASEAN established a peace regime, or a de facto “security community,” where even the threat of use of force, never mind actual military hostilities, became unthinkable as an instrument of inter-state relations.

11. China’s naval modernization effort, is aimed at developing capabilities for domination over the South China Sea and to protect its SLOCs. China’s navy is a force that can deter US intervention in a conflict over Taiwan or some other issue by 2032 to 2036 (round 5). The South China Sea is of great strategic importance to China: it contains China’s major naval base at Sanya in Hainan and is vital for China’s access to the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean. As well as installing missile systems in the Spratlys, China has previously installed anti-air and anti-surface missile systems in the Paracel Islands and in Hainan. Looking at all the China-controlled features in 2014, China has reclaimed land on seven reefs, and built three runways. The runway on Fiery Cross was completed in January 2016, and is the southernmost of the three at Mischief and Subi reefs. Many China-controlled features also contain large underground structures, possibly to store munitions and other supplies. Fiery Cross Reef is equipped with communications and sensors array which can function as a signals intelligence hub. And just recently, a maritime rescue centre was also added there. Administrative infrastructure has been built, in particular on Sansha, on Woody Island, the largest island of the Paracels which the Chinese upgraded from county to prefecture, just below that of a province.
  • In sum, China has established a forward defence line some 800 km from its mainland coast. And this development from the Chinese perspective is in direct response to the encirclement policy articulated in the early 1950s through the three island chains.
  • Despite the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 on the SCS dispute, no one that thinks that any country, at this point anyway, would attempt to forcibly push the PLA out of the SCS features. As such, the South China Sea situation appears to have settled into a “new normal” that neither China nor the United States are likely to disturb. In this new normal, both will continue their naval and air force displays of power in the South China Sea; defend their policies, positions, and actions; criticize each others’; and enhance relations with regional countries, including military relations. The Americans will continue sporadic freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) against China’s claims and China will continue to respond by sharply criticizing them and using them as an excuse to further militarize its features.
12. From an individual member state's perspective, Beijing can be a useful counter-weight to Washington and vice-versa. My longer term concern is for individual ASEAN countries to retain the ability to act in a sovereign manner for matters relating to the South China Sea.
 
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OPSSG

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Post 1 of 4: Developments affecting the Indonesians and Pinoys

1. Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea, which resulted in a diplomatic spat, with Indonesia saying it would never recognize China’s nine-dash line, nor would it negotiate with China. This has agitated Indonesian authorities, who have said China violated Indonesia’s sovereign rights in its EEZ. China may exercise freedom of navigation in the EEZ but may not fish in the waters legally. In response to the illegal activity, Jakarta issued a diplomatic protest against Beijing and deployed its warships to the North Natuna Sea to face China. China argued that the waters around Natuna had been their fishing grounds for generations. See: Indonesia deploys 4 additional warships to Natuna amid standoff with Chinese vessels. On the diplomatic front, the 6 Dec 2019 joint statement from the Australia–Indonesia foreign and defense ministers’ meeting expressed “serious concerns” about developments in the South China Sea. The rare united statement is a starting point for more discussions on how both countries could work together on strengthening sovereignty. Efforts with Indonesia’s diplomatic traditional partners might be more complicated. Under the chairmanship of Vietnam at a retreat session of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jan 2020, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said all ASEAN countries voiced their concerns on land reclamations and serious incidents in the South China Sea. He called for countries to enhance mutual trust, "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation", as well as pursue peaceful resolutions of disputes in accordance with international laws, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

2. 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. 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. Unfortunately, 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; and fourteen months later, that "unshakable resolve" collapsed when a Filipino was abducted. In GMA administration's attempt to get the abductee released, Philippines gave in to the demands of the abductors and ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines' 51-strong contingent from Iraq.

3. The above incident clearly demonstrated to the Americans 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 upgraded its relations with Beijing. This included annual defence talks and a visit to China by GMA in September 2004. In the remorseless logic of self-help, whereby nation-states bear primary responsibility for their own defense, still rules international affairs. Appearances count in alliance politics. A lesser ally, like the Philippines, that covets help from a stronger one, like the US, the Pinoys must demonstrate that they merit the effort. Keep in mind that this is a country that disbanded the air combat arm of its tiny air force by budget choice in 2005 (retiring their F-5s without replacement). Having just regained the ability to train fighter pilots, there has been some discussion on acquiring F16s or Gripens. Thus far, lots of heat, talk over many months but no contract signature. Thus far, the Philippines has demonstrated that it has not tried hard enough. For those that are interested, read this 2012 CNAS article by Richard D. Fisher, Jr. (which I have cited before), namely, "Defending the Philippines: Military Modernization and the Challenges Ahead" and also our old discussion thread on Philippines to Re-Focus on Territorial Defence in 2012.

4. Duterte's foreign policy is a pivot away from the US (whose officials have criticized some of Duterte's policies). Further, on 24 Jan 2020, the Philippine government started the process of terminating its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US upon the orders of President Duterte, who wanted to end the military deal after Washington canceled the visa of his former police chief, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. Military analyst Jose Custodio said the VFA, which was ratified in 1999, was a result of China’s occupation of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in mid 1990s. “As a response to that, we have the VFA. The existence of the VFA was triggered by the Chinese,” he said.
  • Under the VFA (that was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999), the accord will only be deemed terminated 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party a notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.
  • As an offshoot of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the VFA provided that "from time to time elements of the United States armed forces may visit the Republic of the Philippines" for capacity building among others. See: PH begins termination of visiting forces accord with US. Should such a move to cancel the VFA succeed, it will hinder the future ability of the US to help the Philippines fight ISIS and to deliver aid during natural disasters — on the plus side, this VFA termination will also reduce the likelihood of great power conflict between China and the US over the Philippines.
Instead of using a hedging strategy, the Philippines have started another step in the process of Finlandization by making a choice. I congratulate President Rodrigo Duterte for his China choice but note that there will be consequences to follow for his increasingly anti-American stance.
 
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ngatimozart

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Verified Defense Pro
As good as any place to post it. The great, glorious, and all wise leader of the Philippine Nation, Duterte, has ordered his minions to notify the US that the Philippines is intending to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philipinnes and the US. Philippines notifies US of intent to end major security pact. Next thing PLAN and VMF ships will tying up at Subic Bay.
 

OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 2 of 4: Context of the VFA termination
As good as any place to post it. The great, glorious, and all wise leader of the Philippine Nation, Duterte, has ordered his minions to notify the US that the Philippines is intending to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philipinnes and the US. Philippines notifies US of intent to end major security pact. Next thing PLAN and VMF ships will tying up at Subic Bay.
5. On 11 Feb 2020, it was reported that the Philippine President Duterte has ordered his executive secretary to instruct Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin to serve the notice of termination to the US. A day earlier, Locsin had warned the Philippine Senate that abrogating the agreement would undermine the country’s security and encourage aggression in the South China Sea. Unfortunately, it appears that the Philippine president is ignoring his foreign secretary’s plea for a vigorous review rather than termination. Duterte seems to be forcing a binary choice (i.e. for us or against us) upon his domestic audience — in his attempt to create greater distance between the Philippines and the US. This is what he calls an “independent foreign policy” — to which I disagree with this attempted characterisation, as the Philippines has started the process of Finlandization (to China) and the loss of control over foreign policy.
  • The VFA termination announced on 11 Feb 2020, was called by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper as "unfortunate"; and takes effect in 180 days of the issue of such notice. The US President was asked if he would try to persuade Duterte to reconsider, Trump said: "Well I never minded that very much, to be honest. We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS ... I don't really mind if they would like to do that, it will save a lot of money. My views are different from others."
  • Joint exercise between Philippine and US forces will end with the termination of the VFA in Aug 2020, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. “Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them,” Lorenzana said in his first public statement since the Philippines formally served notice of the termination of the VFA to the US. Lorenzana, however, said their American counterparts “may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up.” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Felimon Santos said around half of the 318 activities laid out this year with their US counterparts will be affected once the VFA is terminated.
6. As I have argued in prior posts, the Philippines as a fragile state (ranked 50 on the fragile state index) is an unnecessarily active agent of its own Finlandization (to China), in the most cynical way possible — with their leaders often acting without courage or conviction. Philippine President Duterte has made a ‘China choice’ in his administration’s effort to develop stronger economic and diplomatic ties with China, but fails to follow-up on needed the details to increase Chinese investments. Duterte has consistently parroted Beijing’s rhetoric, including by blaming outside interference for destabilizing the South China Sea and insisting that American forward-deployed forces in the region are no longer necessary, while members of team Duterte are simultaneously hoping that the Americans will take out their cheque book to rescue the VFA. But he fails to appreciate that Trump will call his bluff — leaving Duterte’s administration with no face saving way to back down. Duterte is mistaken if he hopes to play a role in making the region more accommodating for China — the fact is that the Philippines is poorly regarded within ASEAN for their policy flips — resulting in the AFP continuing to push back with diminishing force against China’s encroachment of its EEZ in the South China Sea. To my mind, the cancellation of the VFA in next 180 days, reduces the prospect of future conflict between China and the Philippines — due to loss of American ISR support (on PLA and and China’s maritime militia’s activities in the South China Sea) — but increases the likelihood of the resurgence of ISIS and gives other rebel groups courage. See this 12 Feb 2020 Q&A from CSIS for details: What Is the Philippines-United States VFA, and Why Does It Matter?

7. We must not narrow the prism through which China relationship with ASEAN is assessed and avoid STUPID machismo. As a country that had endured a 29 year maritime dispute with Malaysia (in the grey zone) over Pedra Branca (that began in 1979 and was largely resolved by the ICJ in 2008), Singapore understands the applicability of naval and legal options, in managing the disputes in the South China Sea, and the downsides of each option during times of tension. The real art of public policy is not treating security and prosperity as strict alternatives but finding ways that get the most for both. Countries in ASEAN that are seeking both close economic ties with China while retaining the ability to act in their own interests with regard to security matters include Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. These 3 countries are doing so by being more friendly and growing their security ties with the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the Indians, the Japanese and the Koreans, where appropriate. Without the requisite military capability to conduct regular naval patrols of its EEZ and territorial waters, a country can easily become a client state with less scope for freedom of action. In this respect, I respect and understand President Duterte’s China choice but note that this choice cannot easily be undone in the future. Decisions like this will have consequences.
  • Without active American support, no other ASEAN Government can consider standing with the-government-of-the-day in the Philippines over any future conflict between China and the Philippines. Without the VFA, the American military will also not be able to effectively provide support for the Philippines, at a time of crisis, with the AFP chronically underprepared. Speaking in a media conference call on Feb. 10, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper said the United States annually conducts around 300 exercises and engagements bilaterally with the Philippines and that it was necessary to have a VFA to ensure that these activities continue unimpeded. “Absent that agreement, we do put at risk those activities that the different defenses, the different services in the Philippines very much value,” he said.
  • But even if the VFA is not cancelled, Philippine President Duterte cannot hide the fact that the AFP is nothing more than a paper tiger in any potential state-to-state conflict. All parties (including China), know that. Therefore, no one really cares about their moribund armed forces modernisation efforts — for details see: Philippine Air Force Discussions and Updates and Philippine Navy Discussion and Updates.
“Why would any U.S. president make such a commitment to such a country?

The defense treaty dates to early in the Cold War, when Japan was seen as a possible return regional threat and the Soviet Union was emerging as a global threat. Manila now welcomes increased Japanese military activity and Russia is a non-factor. The only plausible substitute threat is China. Yet it is far different than the “Evil Empire,” as Ronald Reagan called Moscow... the PRC wants to gain predominant influence in its region, not threaten America... Washington’s continued determination to treat the Asia-Pacific as a U.S. sphere of interest — convenient, but unsustainable at reasonable cost as the PRC continues to grow. Beijing’s more limited territorial ambitions seem concentrated on plausibly Chinese territories — Taiwan, Hong Kong, and nearby islands. Nothing suggests a desire for aggressive war to conquer other lands... China has far greater interest in its own neighborhood, something the U.S. should understand...

America does not depend on Manila for security. Nothing that happens to the Philippines is important to America. If Manila doesn’t want the U.S. military to stop by, Washington should say thanks and goodbye, eliminating any reason for American personnel to visit... Rodrigo Duterte is no friend of America. But in this case he would force America to do the right thing, giving Washington an excuse to end an obsolescent military guarantee to a nation of little security importance to the United States. It’s time for the Philippines to take over responsibility for its own defense.”​
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 3 of 4: Taking a broader view beyond the Finlandization of the Philippines

8. For the broader context of Sino-American relations, I note that on 15 Jan 2020, US and China signed a “Phase One” U.S.-China trade deal. As part of the deal, China has agreed to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services by at least US$200 billion over the next two years compared to 2017 imports. For its part, the United States will trim some tariffs but maintain them on US$360 billion worth of Chinese imports, the bulk of the bilateral trade. The deal is written like a traditional trade agreement, with a range of substantive and process commitments by both sides. IMHO, the reality is that the American public is more concerned about:

(i) the spread of the cornavirus in 7 states (eight in California; two in Illinois; and one in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Texas); or​

(ii) the Sino-American trade war (that just had a truce declared),​

than the Philippines’ EEZ dispute with China.

9. More importantly, thanks to US bases in South Korea, Japan (the mainland and Okinawa), Australia, and Singapore, US presence in the region is assured, with or without Philippine participation or support. Further, in Dec 2019, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and United States (US) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed another MOU concerning the establishment of a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Fighter Training Detachment at Andersen Air Force Base (AAFB), Guam, after their bilateral meeting. This MOU lays out the framework for the RSAF's detachment in Guam for training. This builds on the SAF's longstanding training in Guam since the 1990s and the periodic deployments of RSAF fighter aircraft to Guam since 2017. Guam would be the fourth RSAF detachment on US territory after the Peace Carvin II F-16 fighter detachment at Luke Air Force Base (Arizona), Peace Carvin V F-15SG fighter detachment at Mountain Home Air Force Base (Idaho) and Peace Vanguard AH-64 Apache helicopter detachment at Marana (Arizona). Further, as a burden sharing partner with the US, the SAF has supported the multinational coalition against the extremist threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since 2014, the SAF has contributed assets and deployed SAF liaison officers, intelligence fusion officers, imagery analysts, tanker aircraft and SAF medical teams in support of the Defeat-ISIS efforts. In 2018, the SAF Counter-Terrorism Training Unit (CTTU) deployed to Iraq to partner the:

(i) Australian Defence Force to train the Iraqi Security Forces in tactical-level weapons and combat tactics; and​

(ii) British Armed Forces to train the Iraqi Security Forces in counter-improvised explosive devices.​

10. Despite being occasionally critical of China, Singapore has better bilateral military-to-military relationships with both the Chinese and the Americans, when compared to the Philippines. In Oct 2019, China and Singapore entered into an enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation (ADESC). In addition to formalising ongoing defence activities between Singapore and China, the enhanced ADESC includes these new areas of cooperation:
  • Commitment to regularise and scale up bilateral exercises and interactions across the Army, Navy and Air Force
  • Setting up of a Visiting Forces Agreement for troops participating in bilateral exercises
  • Setting up of a mutual logistics support arrangement with China
  • Establishment of a regular Singapore-China ministerial-level dialogue and continued high-level cross-attendance at multilateral conferences and dialogues, such as Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue and the Beijing Xiangshan Forum
  • Establishment of a bilateral hotline
  • Conduct of exchanges among military academies and think-tanks
11. Singapore’s capable military and consistent strategy enables the SAF to engage and build bridges with both the Americans and the Chinese, while being trust-worthy to each. As an indication of international standing and as host of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore’s Defence Minister attends and speaks at panels at both the Beijing Xiangshan Forum and the Reagan National Defence Forum to share Singapore’s perspective on emerging regional security issues.

12. On 16 February 2019, Dr Ng spoke on the topic "Bridging Troubled Waters – Deconflicting the South China Sea Disputes", as part of a Maritime Security Roundtable, alongside Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Senior Advisor to the China Association of Military Science Major General (Ret) Yao Yunzhu. The session was moderated by Royal Institute of International Affairs Associate Fellow Dr Bill Hayton. Dr Ng pointed out that China, or more precisely, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), has established a forward defence line in the South China Sea. This included military bases with "hardened hangars, helipads, full-length runways that can accommodate Chinese fighters, naval patrol aircraft, and military transport aircraft". Speaking on the topic "Bridging Troubled Waters: Alleviating Conflict Potential in the South China Sea" at a closed door session of the Maritime Security Roundtable, at the Munich Security Conference, on 14 Feb 2020, Dr Ng Eng Hen again stressed the importance of upholding the principles of freedom of navigation despite these claims, and proposed resource-sharing mechanisms to reduce the risk of conflict. He said: "I think as leaders, we have to deal with the situation at hand and agree on a workable roadmap to avoid conflict. And the question is asked - what might such a productive, or at least de-escalatory, roadmap look like?" Dr Ng said that in this closed-door meeting, the Chinese representatives provided insightful and honest assessments, which all interested parties will take note. For updates on the activities of the China Coast Guard, see also: Gone Fishing: Tracking China's Flotilla from Brunei to Indonesia | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

13. Beyond growing the bilateral military-to-military relationships between (a) the PLA and the SAF; and (b) the Pentagon and Mindef, Singapore also engages both China and the US through ADMM-Plus. Singapore–US ties are so close that one US official noted that the Philippines, a formal US ally, acts more like a partner, while Singapore is a partner that acts like an ally.

14. Not just a “talk shop”, the ADMM-Plus has become a veritable “workshop” for cooperation involving the armed forces of all 18 of the ADMM-Plus member states. Indeed, the fact that both China and the US insisted on conducting maritime exercises with ASEAN ─ China in 2018 and the US in 2019 ─ underscores the importance both superpowers place on their respective ties with ASEAN. Keen observers would recognise the progress of the ADMM-Plus Experts' Working Groups (EWGs), namely:
  • Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (Indonesia and India);
  • Maritime Security (Thailand and United States);
  • Military Medicine (Brunei and Australia);
  • Counter-Terrorism (Myanmar and Russia);
  • Peacekeeping Operations (Viet Nam and Japan);
  • Humanitarian Mine Action (Cambodia and China); and
  • Cyber Security (Malaysia and Korea).
15. The dialogues and exercises within the framework of ADMM-Plus put in place practical cooperation amongst ASEAN Member States to collectively prevent miscalculation and respond to regional security threats. But ASEAN, in its current form, is ripe for strategic hijack by China. Barry Desker, as a Distinguished Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and a Singapore diplomat holding the rank of non- resident Ambassador, rightly points out this troubling dynamic when highlighting the “ability of external parties to shape the positions of ASEAN members on regional issues,” most especially when “China exerts its influence on ASEAN members to prevent any decisions which could affect its preference for bilateral negotiations” over multilateral engagement with the ASEAN collective. In recent years, China has rapidly transformed from a strategic partner to a de facto veto-player within the ASEAN.
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 4 of 4: Vietnam’s response within the ASEAN context

16. During the ADMM Retreat on 19 Feb 2020, the ASEAN Defence Ministers expressed support for Vietnam's ADMM and ADMM-Plus Chairmanship. They also discussed the ADMM's progress since its establishment and exchanged views on the regional and global security environment. The Defence Ministers discussed the impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (2019-nCoV) on the region and emphasised the need for ASEAN Member States to work closely together.
  • Singapore’s Defence Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen and the other ASEAN Defence Ministers also adopted a Joint Statement on Defence Cooperation Against Disease Outbreaks, which Singapore co-sponsored with Vietnam, which reaffirms the ADMM's commitment to promote defence cooperation, including military medicine cooperation, in light of the current outbreak of 2019-nCoV. The Joint Statement also calls on defence establishments to do their part for public health and social cohesion by supporting the efforts of national health authorities, including leveraging the ASEAN network of Chemical, Biological and Radiological defence experts.
  • Dr Ng also spoke about the ASEAN Defence Ministers' views regarding 2019-nCoV. He said, "It was important that we expressed that all defence establishments are committed to remain together as one ASEAN, that we would not be divided. Even though ASEAN defence establishments are not directly in the frontline against 2019-nCoV, the ASEAN Defence Ministers affirmed that the fight is against the virus, which must not allow to divide our people internally or ASEAN.”
  • Singapore pledged to utilise the recently stood up network of Chemical, Biological and Radiological experts to share information, and to protect our militaries and citizens — Singapore’s DSO National Laboratories coordinates this network and will leverage on it to the benefit of all. The shortage of test kits in China and in many countries, like Cambodia, is delaying diagnoses. As tens of thousands have flocked to Chinese hospitals for testing, the authorities have declared developing more test kits a priority. A made-in-Singapore diagnostic test kit that detects 2019-nCoV was rolled out at select Singapore hospitals on 9 Feb 2020 — these kits deployed are enough to do 5,000 tests. On 7 Feb 2020, Singapore has also sent to China test kits that can conduct 10,000 tests and three polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines to screen people for 2019-nCoV. MiRXES Pte Ltd, a Singapore headquartered biotechnology company will scale up production said the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), whose scientists developed the pre-packed reagents.
  • During a meeting with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he hopes the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Coronavirus Disease, held on 20 Feb 2020, will not only explore on ways to cope with the epidemic, but also push forward the cooperation on public health. Wang Yi thanked the support Singapore has provided to China in fighting the disease which once again embodies the excellent tradition between the two countries of always supporting and helping each other in difficult times.
  • Sharing of information by Singapore will prevent a repeat of the 13 Feb 2020 mistake (where 1,455 passengers and 802 crew were allowed to disembark from Westerdam) by Cambodia from happening again. Efforts are now being made to track down those who have left Westerdam, a cruise ship owned by Holland America Line (which was declined entry in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines). One passenger - an 83-year-old US woman - took a plane to Malaysia along with 144 other passengers. She recorded a high temperature on landing in Kuala Lumpur and tested positive for the virus. Dr Asok Karup from the Infectious Diseases Care clinic in Singapore described the process of self-certifying on a form that the cruise ship passengers were symptom-free as "completely inappropriate." Further, spending 2 weeks aboard did not count as a proper quarantine because passengers could have come into contact with an infected person at any point during that period, he added.
17. With the geopolitical fault lines in the South China Sea, ASEAN is also under scrutiny for managing the delicate dancing act between the US and China. Another conspicuous development that raised eyebrows was Malaysia’s submission to the UN for a greater share of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles of its EEZ, which happened to overlap with China’s claim on the entire Spratly islands (nine-dash line). Currently, Malaysia occupies five islands in Spratlys and lays claims to 12 islands. The submission is linked to a related application that Malaysia and Vietnam made 10 years ago, which met staunch opposition from China’s UN mission. In the wake of the Philippines, Cambodia, and Brunei openly courting China, the US seeks to warm up to Vietnam, the most vocal adversary to China.
  • In a much more detailed fashion than past defense white papers, Vietnam’s 2019 defence white paper refers to the escalating nature of threats in the East Sea as well as Hanoi’s position toward them. Hanoi explicitly declared support for innocent passage, congruent with the principle regularly invoked by the US and its allies to justify freedom of navigation operations, as well as the security and safety of navigation and overflight.
  • Vietnam is sticking to non-reliance but emphasizes an important caveat: Any form of defense is acceptable with the nation under attack. The latest defense paper of Vietnam indicates that it is going to call on the foreign powers to assist their regional endeavours in constraining China’s outreach in the region.
  • After the long confrontation with China in 2019 over its survey vessels into Vietnam’s EEZ near Vanguard Bank, and Beijing’s coercion of Hanoi to prevent hydrocarbon drilling in its own territorial waters with foreign partners, Vietnam introduced maritime militias which will escort the fishing fleets in the strategic resource-rich waterway to counter China’s fishing militias ships. The white paper describes Vietnam as a maritime nation and so says that it pays special attention to the safety and protection of the seas, committing itself to freedom of navigation and overflight, free trade, and peaceful economic activities in accordance with international law. One especially notable paragraph reads: “Vietnam welcomes vessels of navies, coast guards, border guards, and international organizations to make courtesy or ordinary port visits or stop over in its ports to repair, replenish logistics and technical supplies.” This sounds like a direct rejection of some of the propositions that suggest limiting regional actors’ joint activities with external powers—something that China suggested be included in a dispute management mechanism between the Chinese and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that is currently under negotiation, the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
18. The white paper declares Vietnam’s willingness to cooperate on border protection, both land and maritime, which includes joint patrols and exchanges—an issue of particular importance given the tensions over the maritime disputes and threats to its sovereignty by China’s incursion into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in July. This position is also an implicit rejection of China’s position in the South China Sea, which seeks to frame the disputes as purely bilateral and rejects multilateral arrangements and the involvement of third parties, such as the United States.

19. The 2019 white paper conveys Hanoi’s perception of critical threats and declares Vietnam’s commitment to cooperation with all nations and readiness to expand defense relations, regardless of political differences or economic disparity. It also signals Hanoi’s red line—its sovereignty—and reasserts the country’s historical track record of resisting foreign invasion. It will also be interesting to see how Vietnam presiding this year’s ASEAN chair handles the South China Sea dispute balancing the economic and strategic priorities of the group.

20. Meanwhile, claimant states and ASEAN should continue to persuade Beijing that the pressure tactics it has adopted in the disputed sea are inimical not only to its own interests, but also to regional desire for peace and stability. While China may be genuinely concerned about maritime commercial ventures (oil and gas projects) or military engagements (exercises between ASEAN countries and other powers) providing bases for other powers to harm its interests in its near seas, it should also realize that ASEAN maintains an equal or greater level of concern about losing its autonomy and being overly exposed to one major power. Southeast Asian littoral states should reassure China that their commercial and security engagement with other countries or major powers are not directed against Beijing. China’s openness toward joint exploration and development as well as other practical measures in the South China Sea may represent an opportunity to foster cooperation and release tension. These prospects are especially appealing because such arrangements could be pursued in a way that does not prejudice the sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of participants.
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Updates on movements of Haiyang Dizhi-8

1. On 18 Apr 2020 it was reported that China's Hainan Province established two districts, Xisha District and Nansha District, which overlap the Paracel and Spratly islands. The two districts are under the control of China's Sansha city, according to Global Television Network. "The establishment of the so-called Sansha City and related activities seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty," Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement.

2. Further, on 20 Apr 2020, USNI News reported that USS America (LHA-6) was operating in the vicinity of the Malaysian-Vietnamese Joint Development Area, the site of a tiff between China and Malaysia over mineral-rich territory in Malaysia’s EEZ. Chinese survey ship the Haiyang Dizhi-8 has been seen near a Malaysian leased drilling ship, the West Capella, that is conducting exploration work in that area.

(a) The Malaysian exploration triggered a flurry of patrols and presence operations by China Coast Guard and maritime militia ships, Vietnamese maritime militia ships and ships of the Royal Malaysian Navy and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). China Coast Guard ships have also been maintaining a continuous presence at the Luconia Shoals, which lies in Malaysia’s EEZ and also claimed by China. These ships have also made patrols close to Malaysian oil platforms in Malaysia’s EEZ. Despite all the activity, no at-sea incidents have been reported, and all three governments are content to keep matters out of the public eye.
(b) It is expected that every country puts its own interests first. The important question is how broadly or narrowly those interests are defined. The US under the Trump Administration has shown an inclination toward short-term, zero-sum transactional interpretations with little attention to institutions, or reciprocity. As such, it has declined in moral authority, annoyed its allies, and shown itself to be mercurial. Despite this ‘America First’ approach, the US has managed to issue a statement against the Chinese operations in the region.​

“The United States is concerned by reports of China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement over the weekend. China “should cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activity.”​
(c) The MMEA has verified the sightings of HD-8 and its escort flotilla within the Malaysian waters the Director General of the MMEA said.​

3. IMO, Haiyang Dizhi-8’s presence in the ND-1 and ND-2 LNG/oilfield is simply a statement made by China to Malaysia that it controls the South China Sea and that there is nothing that Malaysia could do about it. Such a statement is underscored by the presence of five Chinese naval militia boats and two China Coast Guard cutters, the Zhongguo Haijing 4203 and CCG 5901.


4. To escort their own platforms, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) is conducting Ops Iring. Whether it’s a mere coincidence and had nothing related to the intrusion of Chinese ships in Malaysian controlled LNG/oilfields in the South China Sea, the RMN has tweeted a video of its Scorpene submarine, KD Tun Razak completing its refit works and joining its sister ship, the KD Tunku Abdul Rahman at their home base in Kota Kinabalu Naval Base near Teluk Sepanggar, Sabah.

5. As a show of support, an Australian Navy ANZAC-class frigate HMAS Parramata joined the US Navy's America Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) in the South China Sea. The ESG consist of USS America (LHA-6), USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and USS Barry (DDG-52). For details see also:
 
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Ranger25

Active Member
Staff member
During the same Period the USS America (Aviation Centric F35 equipped LHA) has been operating in the SCS a USAF B1 has done a long range patrol from CONUS around Japan and returned to CONUS. It was escorted by JSDF and USAF fighters in the region.

The B1 could prove to be formidable in the anti shipping role It’s capable of carrying up to 24 of the new LRASM and this shows it can deploy safely from outside A2D2 ranges and threaten shipping




Data on the new LRASM, has reached IOC with both the FA18 as well as the USAF B1


 

buffy9

Active Member
Is the use of USS America and its F-35 wing part of anything in particular? Obviously there are readiness concerns with the supercarrier fleet and there has been a wider push to increase naval air power in the region, but I can help shake the view that it may come down to either no wanting to put a supercarrier at risk due to PLA A2AD or due to more diplomatic concerns with engaging with regional countries (a CSG conducting exercises with Thailand is more major than an ESG).

Either way it certain maintains a presence and provides some assurance to partners/allies in the region that may be wavering (Malaysia, the Philippine, Thailand, Vietnam, etc). The ability to rapidly deploy marine elements in the region amidst a COVID contingency, may also be of note.
 

Ranger25

Active Member
Staff member
The USS AMerica was built as an ”aviation centric” LHA and does not have a traditional well deck for amphibious operations but uses that space for extra aviation support facilities. Those are ideal for the F35B and this LHA routinely deploys with a full complement of the F35B (USMC aircraft to support a USMC MAGTF)


That said, I don’t believe their deployment was specific to this particular mission
 
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