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‘US imposed media ban on Balikatan to avoid riling China’

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By Redempto D. Anda
Inquirer Southern Luzon
12:37 am | Sunday, April 29th, 2012

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.

Live fire exercises were held at Crow Valley in Tarlac and at El Nido in Palawan.

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.

“It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough,” the source said.

Source

China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas

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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 2:21am EDT

(Reuters) – China‘s top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.

The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”

Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.

In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.

Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.

Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.

The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.

“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.

“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

South China Sea Spat Threatens Region’s Future

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, rich in oil and natural gas reserves, require a quick and peaceful resolution to boost energy production and meet growing regional demand, a US official said.

“You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,” Robert Hormats, US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said today at a briefing in Hanoi. “These are long-term investments, so you really need to start now if you’re going to have the energy five years or 10 years out.”

Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint oil and gas development, leading to clashes in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the waters, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom OAO are exploring.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said March 15 that Cnooc’s moves to develop the oil- and gas-rich northern areas of the South China Sea violates its sovereignty. China’s biggest offshore oil explorer opened bids to foreign companies last year for 19 blocks near the disputed Paracel Islands, according to its Web site.

The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the US Energy Information Agency.

Bloomberg

South China Sea Spat Threatens Region’s Future | The Jakarta Globe.

Watching World Energy: Turmoil in the South China Sea

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Even as world attention is mesmerized with the Strait of Hormuz, worrisome problems are now arising in the South China Sea, a region along the all-important energy sea lane of communication out to Asia Pacific.

‘You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,’ said Robert Hormats, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment.

Hormats’ remarks came after the Philippines said that it has the right to invite foreign companies to explore for oil and gas in waters located between its western coast and the South China Sea – remarks dismissive of China’s own claims.

‘It is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government‘s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,’ said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

EXPLORATION ANNOUNCED

The dispute arose after the Philippines’ Energy Secretary Jose Almendras announced that his country had invited international oil companies to explore for oil and gas offshore Palawan province in two areas that fall within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Palawan province faces the South China Sea, which is claimed entirely by China. But other nations in the region, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have competing claims of their own.

Claims over portions of the sea can have immense bearing on ownership of any oil or gas that lies under the region’s waters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But no one knows for sure just how much oil and gas is actually there.

According to EIA, one Chinese estimate suggests potential oil resources as high as 213 billion barrels of oil (bbl), but EIA also mentions a 1993/1994 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey which put reserves at just 28 billion bbl.

EVIDENCE QUESTIONED

EIA notes speculation that the Spratly Islands could be an untapped oil-bearing province, but it said that, ‘There is little evidence outside of Chinese claims to support the view that the region contains substantial oil resources.’

Of course, there is only one way to find out and that is to explore, explore, explore. The problem, though, is that overlapping claims to the region are hindering exploration.

That was certainly true a year ago when two Chinese vessels threatened to ram the Veritas Voyager, a survey ship hired by U.K.-based Forum Energy PLC.

The Philippines government dispatched a surveillance plane, patrol ships and light attack aircraft to the disputed area, known as Reed Bank. By then, though, the Chinese vessels had vanished and Forum decided to suspend its exploration activities.

Now, a year on, Forum Energy apparently is planning to return to Reed Bank, aiming to drill its first well for oil and natural gas, an event that some analysts say could spark a military crisis if China responds more aggressively than it did last year.

TOP PRIORITY

Still, that year has seen a significant change in the posture of the U.S. in the region, with President Barack Obama announcing in January that Asia Pacific is now his country’s top priority in terms of global defense.

That view was underlined in early March by Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, who said that the America’s military must be present in the South China Sea.

China was less confrontational in 2011 in asserting its claims in the South China Sea than it was in 2010, Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Willard also noted that China continues to challenge vessels conducting oil and gas exploration within space that it claims as its own. In a word, he said, ‘They remain aggressive.’

LITMUS TEST

Just how aggressive they will remain is yet to be determined, perhaps by U.S. plans for war games in April with the Philippine navy near Reed Bank – war games that one analyst suggests will be viewed by China as provocative.

‘This will be a litmus test of where China stands on the South China Sea issue,’ said Ian Storey, a fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

According to Storey, the Chinese ‘could adopt the same tactics as they did last year and harass the drilling vessels, or they might even take a stronger line against them and send in warships.’

Contribution by Eric Watkins from Oil Diplomacy
Link to original article

Source

US plan to deploy combat ships in PH spark protest

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A group of Philippine Marines wait to board a navy ship inside a navy headquarters in Manila

Manila : Philippines | Dec 16, 2011 at 9:04 PM PST
By GerryAlbert

By Handog Malaya Vera, Gerry Albert Corpuz and Himala dela Cuesta

MANILA, Philippines-The alleged plan of US President Barack Obama to deploy combat ships in the Philippines to offset China’s growing military presence in South China Sea and the Southwast Asian region sparked outrage among groups in Manila highly critical of US military aggression and intervention.

The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Saturday protested what it called an upcoming intervention in Manila as they urged Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to clarify reports about a US plan to station American combat ships in the disputed Spratlys group of islands.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap cited an online report published by Interkasyon, the website news of ABC 5 which said the US Navy is planning to deploy combat ships in Singapore and in the Philippines to check China’s threatening presence in Spratlys.

“President Aquino should tell all about this US military project in Spratlys. Is he aware of this upcoming deployment of Washington combat ships inside the territorial waters of the Philippines? Did he agree with this military escapade of US President Barack Obama? What is the real score Mr. President,” asked Hicap in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya leader also asked officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila to shed light on the report, which Hicap said is a direct affront to the country’s national sovereignty.

Hicap said the report likewise merits a full-blown congressional inquiry by the Philippine Senate and the oversight committee of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), saying the deployment of combat ships is tantamount to allowing Washington to use the country as a launching pad to attack countries which the US categorized as rival powers like the China and other nations highly critical of American interests in Asia and the Pacific.

The report said regional defense analysts said the ships were small, but agreed the symbolism of the moves, which come after Washington announced it was increasing its engagement in Asia, would upset Beijing.

Last November, the United States and Australia announced plans to deepen the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with 2,500 U.S. Marines operating out of a de facto base in Darwin in northern Australia.

A report published by the U.S naval Institute said in coming years, the U.S. Navy will increasingly focus on the strategic “maritime crossroads” of the Asia-Pacific region, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert wrote in the December issue of Proceedings.

The plan highlights the deployment of several of US newest littoral combat ships at Singapore’s naval facility and will help the American navy sustain its global forward posture with what may be a smaller number of ships and aircraft than today.

Greenert described littoral combat ships as shallow draft vessels that operate in coastal waters and can counter coastal mines, quiet diesel submarines and small, fast, armed boats. Greenert admitted the ships would focus on the South China Sea, conducting operations to counter piracy and trafficking, both of which are endemic in the area.

“Similarly, 2025 may see P-8A Poseidon aircraft or unmanned broad area maritime surveillance aerial vehicles periodically deploy to the Philippines or Thailand to help those nations with maritime domain awareness.”

Defense experts argued that the disputed ownership of the oil-rich reefs and islands in the South China Sea is one of the biggest security threats in Asia. The sea is claimed wholly or in part by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

They agreed that the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through it.

At a regional summit held in November, US President Obama told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that the United States wanted to ensure the sea lanes were kept open and peaceful. But Jiabao lashed back declaring “outside forces” had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute, a veiled warning to the United States and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue.

Source

Is War in the South China Sea Inevitable?

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If China is not actually preparing for conflict in the South China Sea over disputed archipelagos and islets and their rich offshore resources, from fish to hydrocarbons, then consider the comments made on 6 December by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the Central Military Commission, as reported by Xinhua. Hu said that China’s navy should “make extended preparations for warfare,” adding that the navy should “accelerate its transformation and modernization in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security. Our work must closely encircle the main theme of national defense and military building.”

Is Beijing’s big nautical stick about to be deployed against other Southeast Asian nations contesting China’s South Sea sovereignty claims?

At issue are the Spratly islands’ 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays, which China, along with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are claimed by all. While there are no native Spratly islanders, about 45 archipelago’s islands are now occupied by Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Filipino forces, hardly a recipe for concord.

Whatever China’s intentions, what is beyond doubt is the exponential growth of the Chinese navy, which can now field 66 submarines, an undersea arsenal the Chinese government is intending to increase to 78 by 2020 as planned, putting it roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy’s submarine forces in numbers, if not in quality. Furthermore, China’s defense budget is growing nearly 10 percent annually and China’s first aircraft carrier, a renovated Soviet vessel, has begun its second set of sea trials from its Yellow Sea port in Dalian in northeastern China. The 990-foot-long former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, originally called the Varyag and now apparently renamed the Shi Lang, was completely overhauled and is currently based in China’s northeast Dalian port. It is perhaps not coincidental that “Shi Lang” was a famous 17th century Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan.

China is applying some not so subtle gunboat diplomacy to advertise its new maritime capabilities. Last month a delegation composed of 42 military attaches from 37 countries including the United States, Canada, Britain and Germany make a two-day-long goodwill visit to the North China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, visiting a ship-borne aircraft regiment of the aviation force under the North China Sea Fleet.

Their Chinese hosts demonstrated a number of capabilities, including platform-based flying and overland rescue. Lest the attaches be in any doubt about the Chinese Navy’s new capabilities, they also visited the Shenyang guided-missile destroyer.

But at least one contestant in the South China Sea is rising to the challenge. Later this month the Philippine Navy will deploy its biggest and most modern warship, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, to the South China Sea, which Manila labels the West Philippine Sea.

Regional diplomats are still trying to defuse the situation. Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said that the Bali Concord III, signed last month, could serve as a guide for East Asian countries in dealing with the dynamic situation in the South China Sea, commenting, “We are aware of the dynamic situation in the South China Sea. However, we must remember that now we have the Bali Concord III that was signed by the heads of state/government during the East Asia Summit last November 19.”

Washington’s take on the squabble? Pentagon spokesman George Little said, “They (China) have a right to develop military capabilities and to plan, just as we do.”

Translation for Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Seri Begawan – you’re on your own. It’s worth remembering that the People’s Republic of China fought two brief but savage border wars with both India (1962) and Vietnam (1979.)

For those with a sense of history, today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred prior to a declaration of war. For those with a greater sense of history, Dalian is close to the Chinese port of Lushunkou. Previously known as Port Arthur, it was the major base of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet and attacked on 8 February 1904 by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Without a formal declaration of war.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Source – Oilprice.com

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