China vows to back claim to disputed islands with its military
China’s military on Thursday vowed to defend the country’s territory amid a stand-off with the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency said.
China is locked in a maritime dispute with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which is considered a potential Asian flashpoint due to the overlapping claims of several nations.
“China’s armed forces bear the responsibility for the task of defending the nation’s territorial sovereignty and safeguarding maritime rights and interests,” defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng was quoted as saying.
China claims all of the South China Sea as a historic part of its territory, even waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
from AFP, via google news
south china sea/spratley islands
The South China Sea is rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas. These resources have garnered attention throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Until recently, East Asia’s economic growth rates had been among the highest in the world, and despite the current economic crisis, economic growth prospects in the long-term remain among the best in the world. This economic growth will be accompanied by an increasing demand for energy. Over the next 20 years, oil consumption among developing Asian countries is expected to rise by 4% annually on average, with about half of this increase coming from China. If this growth rate is maintained, oil demand for these nations will reach 25 million barrels per day – more than double current consumption levels — by 2020.
Almost of all of this additional Asian oil demand, as well as Japan’s oil needs, will need to be imported from the Middle East and Africa, and to pass through the strategic Strait of Malacca into the South China Sea. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region depend on seaborne trade to fuel their economic growth, and this has led to the sea’s transformation into one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Over half of the world’s merchant fleet (by tonnage) sails through the South China Sea every year. The economic potential and geopolitical importance of the South China Sea region has resulted in jockeying between the surrounding nations to claim this sea and its resources for themselves.
Military skirmishes have occurred numerous times in the past three decades. The most serious occurred in 1976, when China invaded and captured the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, and in 1988, when Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, sinking several Vietnamese boats and killing over 70 sailors.
What’s undeniable are the short-term and provocative political implications. The exercises also take place with heightened anxiety over a North Korea rocket test — which dunked into the Yellow Sea earlier this month — and a possible impending nuclear test. Joint U.S. and South Korean exercises, and the U.S. sending the George Washington into that same Yellow Sea, raised hackles in Beijing. Now these joint operations might be tit-for-tat.
“This exercise is a political message,” e-mails Abe Denmark, with the National Bureau of Asian Research. “China in recent years has expressed disapproval of [U.S.-South Korean] joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those that involve an aircraft carrier. Chinese officials object to the proximity of American air and naval power to their economic and political centers, and want to make the case (especially to Seoul) that these exercises are uncomfortable when they’re just off your shores.”
Of course, these are shores that the U.S. Navy wants to spend more time around. The President and the Pentagon have declared that American forces are pivoting to the Pacific, in part to counter a rising China. That job could get a lot tougher, if Beijing and Moscow start to collaborate more often.
For the moment, though, that doesn’t seem to be happening. “In political terms, I don’t see this exercise as a harbinger of things to come in the Western Pacific,” says Holmes. “It’s a lot easier to list things keeping Beijing and Moscow apart than it is to list things tending to unite them in some sort of seagoing entente or alliance.”
US imposed media ban on live-fire exercises with Philippines
The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made “several changes in the program of activities” apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.
“They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.
The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.
“Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities,” the source said.
Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was “reached by both sides.”
“There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety,” Estrella said.
The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided “unilaterally” that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.