Friday, November 29, 2013

Philippines fears China wants South China Sea air control

The Philippines expressed concern on Thursday that China may seek control of air space over contested areas of the South China Sea, after Beijing declared an air defence zone above other disputed waters.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said China's announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea on the weekend raised the prospect of it doing the same for the South China Sea.

"There's this threat that China will control the air space (in the South China Sea)," del Rosario said in an interview on ABS-CBN television.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the strategically vital and potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the sea, even waters and islands close to its neighbours. 

China has been steadily increasing its military and coast guard presence in the sea in recent years to assert its claim, causing diplomatic tensions to rise and stoking concerns in the Philippines about perceived Chinese bullying.

Del Rosario also voiced concern over China's declaration of the air defence zone in the East China Sea, where it is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.

"It transforms an entire air zone into China's domestic air space. And that is an infringement, and compromises the safety of civil aviation," del Rosario said.

"It also compromises the national security of affected states."

The air defence zone requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face "emergency defensive measures".

The zone covers Tokyo-controlled islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other. - Channel News Asia

Thursday, November 28, 2013

South Korea, Japan send planes into China's new defence zone

Japan and South Korea said Thursday they have defied China's newly-declared air defence zone, showing a united front to Beijing after US B-52 bombers did the same.

Meanwhile Chinese authorities are coming under internal pressure to toughen their response to incursions into the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) they declared last weekend.

The zone includes disputed islands claimed by China, which knows them as the Diaoyus, but controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus.

The move triggered US and Japanese accusations of provocation as global concerns grew.

China's ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication -- or face "defensive emergency measures".

But Tokyo said its coastguard and air force had flown unopposed in the zone without complying with Beijing's rules.

"We have been operating normal warning and patrol activities in the East China Sea including that area," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. "We have no intention of changing this."

South Korea's military said it encountered no resistance when one of its planes entered the area -- which also overlaps Seoul's ADIZ -- unannounced on Tuesday.

A day earlier two giant US Stratofortress bombers flew into the zone, an unmistakable message from Washington before a pre-planned visit to the region by Vice President Joe Biden.

China's defence ministry issued a statement 11 hours after the US announcement saying its military "monitored the entire process" of the B-52 flights, without expressing regret or anger or threatening direct action.

The Global Times, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party and often takes a nationalist tone, criticised the reaction as "too slow" in an editorial Thursday.

"We failed in offering a timely and ideal response," it said, adding that Chinese officials needed to react to "psychological battles" by the US.

The China Daily added that Washington's move risked increasing Tokyo's "dangerous belligerence" and putting China and the US on a collision course "which will prove much more hazardous than sending military aircraft to play chicken in the air".

Asked about the South Korean flight, China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "China identifies any aircraft within the ADIZ and must have noted the relevant situation you have mentioned."

He reiterated criticism of US and Japanese responses to the zone, urging both countries to "immediately correct their mistakes and stop their irresponsible accusations against China".

The Communist Party seeks to drum up popular support by tapping into deep-seated resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of China in the 1930s.

Such nationalist passions are quickly aroused, and Chinese social media users called for Beijing to retaliate against Washington.

"The US's bomber wandered around the edge of our ADIZ, I figure we should respond in kind. One good turn deserves another, right?" wrote one commentator on Sina Weibo, a social media service similar to Twitter.

Senior administration officials in Washington said Wednesday that Biden will raise Washington's concerns about the zone while in Beijing.

The trip will allow him to "make the broader point that there's an emerging pattern of behaviour by China that is unsettling to China's own neighbours and raising questions about how China operates in international space", an official said.

China's relations with South Korea have recently improved but the zone covers a disputed South Korean-controlled rock -- known as Ieodo in Seoul and Suyan in Beijing -- that has long been a source of tensions between them.

South Korea's Vice Defence Minister Baek Seung-Joo expressed "strong regret" at China's ADIZ announcement, which he said was "heightening military tension in the region."

Australia on Thursday refused to back down from criticism of the air zone after summoning China's ambassador earlier this week and prompting an angry response from Beijing.

The Philippines voiced concern that China may extend control of air space over disputed areas of the South China Sea, where the two nations have a separate territorial dispute.

Japanese passenger airlines said after government pressure they will not obey Beijing's rules, while the State Department has taken an ambiguous position, saying it was advising US carriers "to take all steps they consider necessary to operate safely in the... region".

Thai Airways said Thursday it will comply with Beijing's directive.

China for its part has accused the US and Japan -- which both have ADIZs -- of double standards, saying the real provocateur is Tokyo.

Defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement Thursday that Japan established its ADIZ in 1969, so Tokyo had "no right to make irresponsible remarks" about China's.

"If there are to be demands for a withdrawal, then we invite the Japanese side to first withdraw its air defence identification zone, and China may reconsider after 44 years," he said.

The islands dispute lay dormant for decades but flared in September 2012 when Tokyo purchased three of the uninhabited outcrops from private owners.

Beijing accused Tokyo of changing the status quo and has since sent surveillance ships and aircraft to the area, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets 386 times in the 12 months to September.

After an unidentified drone flew towards the islands, Tokyo threatened to shoot down such aircraft, which Beijing warned would amount to an "act of war".

The manoeuvres have raised fears of an accidental clash. - Channel News Asia

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Beijing's aircraft carrier heads for South China Sea

China's first aircraft carrier left on Tuesday on a training mission to the South China Sea, escorted by missile destroyers and frigates, state media said.

The newly-commissioned Liaoning left its home port of Qingdao accompanied by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between China and its neighbours over disputed waters, with Beijing declaring air defence rights over islands controlled by Japan at the weekend, provoking a furious international reaction.

Beijing took effective control of Scarborough shoal, claimed by Manila and just 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Philippines, last year.

It keeps up nearly daily pressure in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety and where Vietnam and others have competing claims to some of the islets.

China's vessels also frequently patrol near the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Tokyo, which controls them, and in China as Diaoyu.

The Liaoning's latest mission is to test the equipment it carries and is "a normal arrangement in the carrier's scheduled training", Xinhua said, citing Chinese navy authorities.

The carrier is a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine. It went into service in September 2012, and top naval commanders have promised the country will have more such ships. - Channel News Asia

Singapore high commissioner meets Malaysian official amid spying allegations

Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong on Tuesday met Othman Hashim, the secretary-general of Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry, to clarify allegations that Singapore spied on Malaysia.

Mr Ong was summoned by Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs after fresh media reports surfaced, alleging that Singapore had aided an intelligence group in spying on Malaysia.

Malaysia said it is deeply concerned by the allegations, adding that such activities should not be carried out amongst partners and close neighbours.

Mr Ong is the third international diplomat to be summoned by the Ministry this month, after Australia and the United States, following leaked reports from American whistleblower Edward Snowden of an alleged global espionage network.

According to Mr Ong, the meeting lasted for just over 10 minutes, during which Mr Othman sought clarification from him regarding media reports alleging Singapore's spying on Malaysia.

Mr Ong said he was unable to comment on the allegations because he did not have any specific information and has referred the media reports to the relevant agencies in Singapore.

Mr Ong also took the opportunity to reaffirm that Singapore values good relations with Malaysia and that both countries have an excellent bilateral relationship and cooperate closely on many matters of common interest.

He added that Singapore has no interest in doing anything that might harm its partners or the friendship between the two countries.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had already summoned the heads of the US and Australian missions earlier in November in protest over reports that a vast US-led surveillance network included a listening post in America's Malaysian embassy.

Mr Anifah has, in a statement, expressed grave concerns over the alleged spying and promised a thorough investigation.

It is a serious matter, he said, if the allegation is proven to be true, adding that spying on a neighbour is unacceptable and goes against the true spirit and commitment of good neighbourly relations.

Malaysian ministers have condemned the alleged spying activities as an infringement of the country's sovereignty.

Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Malaysia’s multimedia and communication minister, said: "Of course, we cannot tolerate any form of spying, especially among the… friendly nations. I'm not referring to anybody in this case, unless you come up with the proper evidence and proof.”

Lawmakers have tried to raise an emergency motion to condemn the alleged spying, but the motion was rejected by the speaker as non-urgent.

Protest notes were also handed over to Australia and the US on November 1.

Both countries have declined comments on issues of security.

Monday's report in the Sydney Morning Herald said Singapore and South Korea were playing key roles in a "Five Eyes" intelligence network involving the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

It quoted a top-secret US National Security Agency (NSA) map that it said was published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

As a major hub for regional telecommunications traffic, Singapore was an important link in the surveillance network, it said. -Channel News Asia

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Myanmar President to undertake state visit to Philippines

Myanmar President Thein Sein will be in Manila for a two-day state visit next week, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

Thein Sein, whom Philippine President Benigno Aquino III invited to visit,  will be in the country from December 4 to 6, a DFA statement said.

This will be the first visit to the Philippines by a Myanmar leader since the former military-ruled state undertook reforms in 2010. The last state visit by a Myanmar head of state was by Prime Minister Soe Win in 2005.

The Philippines has been one of the harshest critics of the military junta that formerly ruled Myanmar, aggressively calling for the nation’s democratization and the release of thousands of political prisoners then led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Western nations led by Europe and the US have imposed tough financial and economic sanctions against the former Myanmar regime since the 1990s amid allegations of gross human rights violations and failure to heed its call to institute democratic reforms.

But Thein Sein, a former junta general who was appointed president of Myanmar to head a nominally civilian government following a rare election in 2010, stunned the international community by embarking on a surprising array of reforms that included the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi - a move that earned instant recognition from its staunchest critics like the United States.

The DFA said Aquino and Thein Sein will discuss issues of mutual concern, particularly in the areas of trade and investment, agriculture, energy, cultural exchanges and information cooperation.

They will also take up regional issues, including Myanmar’s historic chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

Apart from the Philippines and Myanmar, ASEAN comprises Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

The two leaders had their first bilateral meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on June 7, 2013, when Aquino attended the World Economic Forum on East Asia hosted by Myanmar.
Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Myanmar was established in 1956.

In response to an international call for aid to typhoon-ravaged Philippines, Myanmar donated seven tons of relief goods and $100,000. - GMA News