Friday, July 26, 2013

Vietnam leader opposes China sea claims

Vietnam's president on Thursday voiced firm opposition to China's claims in the South China Sea but declined to back a Philippine bid to take the row to a UN tribunal.

On a visit to Washington, President Truong Tan Sang rejected China's so-called "nine-dash line" through which it claims virtually all of the strategic sea including islands close to neighbouring countries.

"We cannot find any legal foundation or scientific basis for such a claim and therefore it is the consistent policy of Vietnam to oppose the nine-dash line plan by China," Sang told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But Sang declined comment when asked if Vietnam would join the Philippines which in January said it was asking an arbitration panel of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to declare China's claims invalid.

"As a member of the United Nations, the Philippines has the legal right to carry on with any proceedings they would like," Sang said.

The Philippines and Vietnam have led criticism of what they consider increasingly assertive claims by China in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has had especially tense relations with China, which seized the Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop claimed by Manila, after a two-month naval standoff last year.

But friction has eased slightly between Vietnam and China, with Sang visiting Beijing last month and agreeing to set up a hotline to try to prevent mishaps from escalating.

China separately has increasingly butted heads with Japan, which fears that Beijing is trying to exert control over resource-rich waters in the East China Sea.

Sang earlier Thursday met US President Barack Obama, who encouraged calm in the South China Sea.

Sang and Obama in a joint statement called for "the settlement of disputes by peaceful means" and renewed support for a code of conduct to manage potential mishaps. - Channel News Asia

Japan PM to talk Abenomics with M'sia, S'pore, Philippines

Fresh off his coalition's upper house victory, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is setting off on a three-nation tour on Thursday that will take him to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

He is set to discuss Abenomics -- his economic revitalisation plan -- with the leaders of those countries, and meet US Vice President Joe Biden, who will also be visiting Singapore on Friday. Economics will be top of the agenda during Abe's tour.

According to Japan's foreign ministry, Abe wants to promote Japan's revitalisation by tapping on the ASEAN economies.

The three nations he is visiting are strong economies that offer good opportunities for collaboration with Japanese firms in areas such as high speed bullet trains, sewage and water systems.

Abe's first overseas trip was to Southeast Asia -- namely to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. He sent his Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to Myanmar, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to the Philippines and Singapore, which shows he places great importance on the region.

Japan hopes that Singapore will help its small and medium sized firms boost exports to developing countries such as China and India.

Besides business, some political watchers feel that this trip also highlights the strengthening of security ties.

Hideki Kato, president of Japan Initiative, said: "I think Mr Abe has great interest in foreign affairs and he is good at it. So there are ways he can rebuild ties. What's important is to focus on the present and to look ahead.

“It's the same towards South Korea, China and Southeast Asia. On the so-called understanding of history, it's an issue of perception, so I don't think that should be put on the table as a set."

Toshio Nagahisa, research fellow at PHP Institute, said: "He puts importance on East Asian countries. He visits these countries surrounding China to keep better relations and deepen better relations. That could be a good step to approach China, which has a dispute with Japan."

However, it is still unclear whether Abe will be able to hold his first bilateral summit with China or South Korea. - Channel News Asia

China wary as Japan likely to mull pre-emptive strike ability in defense update

Japan is likely to start considering acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes in an update of its basic defense policies, the latest step away from the constraints of its pacifist constitution.

The expected proposal, which will almost certainly sound alarm bells in China, is part of a review of Japan's defense policies undertaken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, an interim report on which could come as early as Friday.

The hawkish Abe took office in December for a rare second term, pledging to bolster the military to cope with what Japan sees as an increasingly threatening security environment including an assertive China and unpredictable North Korea.

Article 9 of Japan's constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation forces after its defeat in World War Two, renounces the right to wage war and, if taken literally, rules out the very notion of a standing army. In reality, Japan's Self-Defense Forces are one of Asia's strongest militaries.

The Defense Ministry is likely to call in the report for consideration of acquiring the ability to make a pre-emptive strike when an enemy attack is imminent, and creating a Marines force to protect remote islands such as those at the core of a dispute with China, Japanese media said.

"The acquisition of offensive capability would be a fundamental change in our defense policy, a kind of philosophical change," said Marushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies.

Obtaining that capability, however, would take time, money and training, meaning any shift may be more rhetorical than real. "It's easier said than done," Michishita added.

The updated guidelines could also touch on Abe's moves toward lifting a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or helping an ally under attack, such as if North Korea launched an attack on the United States.

The defense review may also urge replacing a self-imposed ban on arms exports, that has been eased several times, making it easier for Japan's defense contractors to join international projects and reduce procurement costs.

Some experts stressed that the changes were evolutionary rather than a sudden transformation in Japan's defense posture.

Questions over hardware, cost

"It's all part of a process of Japan edging away from the most restrictive interpretation of Article 9," said Richard Samuels, director of the MIT-Japan program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Still, given Japan's strained ties with China over disputed isles and how to frame the narrative of Japan's wartime history, China is likely to react strongly to the proposals, which come after Abe cemented his grip on power with a big win in a weekend election for parliament's upper house.

"No matter how Japan explains things, China will attack it pretty harshly," said Michael Green of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Although China has been a nuclear power for decades and North Korea is developing nuclear arms, Japan says it has no intention of doing so.

Support has grown in Japan for a more robust military because of concern about China, but opposition also remains.

Japan last updated its National Defense Program Guidelines in 2010 when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

Those changes shifted Japan away from defending areas to its north, a Cold War legacy, to a defense capability that could respond with more flexibility to incursions to the south, the site of the row with China over tiny, uninhabited islands.

Japan has for decades been stretching the limits of Article 9 and has long said it has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy's intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defense options.

But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in June urged the government to consider acquiring that capability.

Just what hardware might come under consideration is as yet unclear. And with a huge public debt, Japan may be in no position to afford the bill.

Japan already has a very limited attack capability with its F-2 and F-15 fighter jets, mid-air refueling aircraft and Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance kit. Tokyo also plans to buy 42 Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth fighters, with the first four due for delivery by March 2017.

Acquiring the ability to hit mobile missile launchers in North Korea - the most likely target - would require many more attack aircraft as well as intelligence capability for which Japan would most likely have to rely on the United States, Michishita said. Cruise missiles might also be considered.

Obtaining the ability to strike missile bases in mainland China would be an even bigger stretch, experts said, requiring for example intercontinental missiles. "It would cost lots of money, and take time, training and education to acquire a robust and meaningful capability," Michishita said. - GMA News

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Japan scrambles jets after China plane flies by southern islands

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Wednesday after a Chinese military aircraft flew for the first time through international airspace near its southern islands out over the Pacific, in a move seen by Japan as underlining China's maritime expansion.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained by a territorial dispute over uninhabited East China Sea islets and hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a decisive victory in upper house elections on Sunday.

Japan's Defense Ministry said a Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning plane flew through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller Miyako island in southern Japan out over the Pacific at around noon and later took the same route back over the East China Sea.

"I believe this indicates China's move toward further maritime expansion," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters, in comments carried on public broadcaster NHK.

Chinese government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

The waters around the disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and which are to the west of Okinawa's main island, are rich fishing grounds and the sea floor around them could hold big oil and gas reserves.

Tension between China and Japan escalated last September when Japan bought three of the disputed islands from a private Japanese owner.

Since then, patrol ships and aircraft from both countries have been shadowing each other in the sea and skies around the islets.

That has raised fears of an unintended collision leading to a broader clash.

Abe has pledged to take a firm stance in the territorial dispute, but said in his news conference following the upper house election win that Japan's door was open to dialogue. - GMA News