Activities of the Claimants


Chinese ambassador to Phl: Beijing has right to set another air zone


China has a sovereign right to establish a maritime air defense zone over another region as it did in the East China Sea, the Chinese envoy to the Philippines said on December 9th. When asked to comment about concerns that China might set up a similar zone over the South China Sea, Ambassador Ma Keqing said in a news conference that it was within the right of the Chinese government to decide "where and when to set up the new air identification zone." But she added she could not tell at this time if China would do so. Ma said that the East China Sea zone's designation should not spark concerns.

The Philippines

Philippines to upgrade Navy, Air Force facilities

The Philippine government is planning to spend almost P480 million (11.2$ million) to upgrade the Air Force and Navy facilities in Thi Tu Island of Spratlys. Defense department data showed that the project costs P479.75 million and would be undertaken through public bidding. Details of the project were not immediately available. Sources, however, said the multi-million project would cover the upgrade of naval facilities and the repair of the eroding airstrip.

Philippines: China envoy statement over air zone ‘hypothetical’


The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on December 4th dismissed Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing’s statement that China has “sovereign right” to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea as “a hypothetical circumstance.” “On the statement that China may [establish an ADIZ in] the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as may have been expressed by Ambassador Ma, we would view this as a hypothetical circumstance which does not merit our comment,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a text message replying to queries from reporters. “We have called on China to ensure that its actions should not jeopardize regional security and stability,” he said.

Philippines to oppose China’s air zone

The Aquino administration will oppose through diplomatic channels any “air defense identification zone” to be put up by China over the South China Sea, Malacañang said on December 9th. Speaking to reporters at the Palace, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Philippines would insist on freedom of navigation in the disputed maritime territory, “whether air transport or maritime transport” and “the airspace above it.”

Philippines launches rescue mission for Pinoy fishermen in Spratly islands

The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on December 7th has deployed naval and air assets to rescue 10 Filipino fishermen reported stranded east of Recto Bank in the South China Sea.


“Indonesia wants to avoid Chinese tensions in Southeast Asia”


Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he did not want to see tensions in Southeast Asia following the Chinese government’s establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which has escalated tensions between China and some Pacific nations including Japan and South Korea. “I don’t want to specifically refer to the [ADIZ] but I think Indonesia, just like other nations, is interested in ensuring there are no tensions in our region,” Marty said at his office after meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on December 5th.

The U.S.

US envoy to Philippines: Washington neutral in sea disputes

Newly-appointed United States Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldber stressed on December 2nd that Washington cannot take sides in the ongoing disputes between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea. “We don’t take sides and we are not a claimant state on any of these territorial features. But at the same time, we strongly support the countries of this region coming together for a Code of Conduct, which will help set out the rules of the road or the rules of the sea, and will be a way for tensions to decrease. The same is true of any legal recourse that the Philippine government has taken,” he said, referring to the arbitration case filed by Manila before the Internatinal Tribunal on the Law of the Seas or ITLOS.

Regional Snapshots

Vietnam, China officials talk border, territory issues


Vietnamese and Chinese Governmental negotiating delegates on border and territory gathered at a plenary session in Hanoi on December 5th-7th. On maritime issues, both sides came to terms on seriously carrying out common perceptions reached by leaders of the two countries and the Vietnam-China agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues, properly settling maritime issues for peace and stability at sea. The two sides officially set up a Working Group to discuss cooperation for mutual development at sea in the framework of governmental negotiations on Vietnam-China border and territory and agreed on the group’s operation mechanism. They agreed that the group will convene the first meeting early next year to devise the specific content and guiding principles for discussions on cooperation for mutual development at sea.

Japan to Boost Defense Ties With Philippines Amid China Concern


Japan and the Philippines pledged to boost defense ties with both nations expressing concern over China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. “Both of us have affirmed that China’s unilateral action to change the status quo by force or coercive action will bring back tension in this region,” Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Manila Dec. 7 after meeting with Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin. They agreed to “expand and deepen” cooperation on “defense authorities,” he said.

Vietnam, Brunei navies establish hotline

The navies of Vietnam and Singapore have agreed to establish a hotline as part of their future cooperation, according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) freshly signed in Brunei. The document was inked at the talks on December 5th between Commander of the Royal Brunei Navy, Rear Admiral Dato Paduka Hj Abd Halim bin Hj Mohd Hanifah and Commander of the Vietnamese People’s Navy Admiral Nguyen Van Hien. During the talks, the two sides reviewed defence and military ties and sought measures to further promote it.

Commentaries & Analyses

Chinese Aircraft Carrier’s Debut: Gunboat In South China Sea?

By Koh Swee Lean Collin


The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), as reported by Xinhua, deployed its first aircraft carrier Liaoning to the South China Sea on 26 November 2013, accompanied by some of its most capable surface combatants. With this new development, the PLAN will expand its force projection capabilities in the South China Sea, augmenting the array of new surface and sub-surface warfare, and land-based maritime aerial strike and amphibious assault capabilities accumulated by the PLAN South Sea Fleet. Its carrier-borne aviation capabilities will bridge the limitations of land-based airpower staged from the Chinese southern coastal aerodromes including those on Hainan Island. Future deployments of the Liaoning to the South China Sea will certainly add to the complexity of ongoing disputes in the area. This has the potential of upping the ante of regional gunboat diplomacy which has so far been restricted to small numbers of regular naval ships but mostly civilian maritime law enforcement vessels. A Chinese version of the American deployment of a pair of carriers in response to tensions in the Taiwan Strait back in 1996, but in the South China Sea context, is not a remote possibility. An aircraft carrier is long recognised as a credible instrument of coercive diplomacy and Beijing, having been at the receiving end of such an exercise in 1996, is cognisant of this utility. Nevertheless, it may be worth noting that PLAN’s carrier capabilities can have benign effects for Southeast Asia. If past experience of US Navy’s carrier deployments in response to natural calamities – including the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the latest Super Typhoon Haiyan – are any guide, the PLAN may well utilise its newfound capability to contribute significantly towards stronger regional resilience against future common security challenges.

A New Washington Naval Conference for Asia?

By Bruno Hellendorff and Thierry Kellner

The “Washington Naval Conference” or the “Washington Disarmament Conference” was convened by U.S. President Warren Harding on November 12th, 1921 to February 6th, 1922. Nine countries attended: the U.S., Japan, China, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, Portugal and Belgium, but not the USSR. Negotiations were primarily geared towards naval disarmament in the Pacific Ocean and East Asia, and gave way to three major treaties. These treaties helped to curtail the naval buildup in the region for a period and supported a fragile peace throughout the 1920s and 30s, up to their renunciation by Japan in 1936. Almost a century later, could a modernized version of the Washington Naval Conference be useful, or even necessary, to deal with the competing programs and patterns of naval modernizations being witnessed in Asia? The situation in Asia is worrying because there is no international arms limitation regime in the region. Is it possible to prevent regional security dilemmas from spiraling into costly and destabilizing arms races? There is no diplomatic magic formula to adequately address and resolve this question. What is certain though is that international collaboration is essential. To date, multilateral forums such as ASEAN and its offshoots have demonstrated an uneven commitment by regional actors to institution-building and to the multilateral management of security issues. Is a new version of the Washington Conference therefore possible, or even desirable? Perhaps not. Resistance would certainly be strong. In pursuing such an agenda, the U.S. would appear to be both judge and jury, and a revamped Washington Conference an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of Asian countries that would also run counter to the ASEAN centrality principle of Southeast Asia. Worse, it could easily be interpreted as part of a China containment strategy. Nevertheless, the results of the Washington Conference, its very limitations and weaknesses as much as its successes, offer a valuable source of information and inspiration.

Gang of Two: Russia and Japan Make a Play for the Pacific

By Fiona Hill


On November 2nd, Russia and Japan held their first-ever “two plus two” meeting, which brought together their respective foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo to discuss security cooperation. The meeting grabbed few headlines, but was far from routine: such gatherings are typically reserved for close allies, and for most of their modern history, Moscow and Tokyo have been anything but. Now, however, the two countries find themselves linked by a shared predicament in the Asia-Pacific. Both are secondary players in a region overshadowed by an increasingly assertive China, which has not hesitated to push against the boundaries of its neighbors. New ties between Russia and Japan would mark not only a breakthrough in their relations but also a significant shift in Northeast Asia’s political dynamic. Although the two countries have demonstrated their political will, a real partnership between Russia and Japan is hard to envisage. Both countries are looking for ways to enhance their respective positions in the Asia-Pacific, but not to create binding commitments. Given the complexity of balancing China and other regional players, both countries will find it difficult to pursue a consistent course. Indeed, for Russia, inconsistency is an integral part of its foreign policy strategy, particularly under Putin. Moscow wants its counterparts to remain confused about its intentions. The Kremlin purportedly suggested the two plus two meeting, for example, but then asked Tokyo to make the official request so as to minimize any diplomatic blowback from Beijing. In discussions with Japan, Russia has repeatedly stressed the importance of inviting China to participate in any regional exercises that might come out of the new agreements. Russia also maintains its assertive military posture against Japan, and regularly sends Russian aircraft close to Japanese airspace. These displays of force are a useful signal to the United States, as well as to China, that Russia still means business in the region and will defend its territory. The displays are likely to continue even as Moscow and Tokyo grow closer. Alliances may be shifting in the Asia-Pacific, but these regional relationships will remain opaque and unpredictable for some time to come.

Chinese Territorial Strife Hits Archaeology

By Jeremy Page

With territorial disputes escalating in the waters off China, the Chinese government has begun asserting ownership of thousands of shipwrecks within a vast U-shaped area that covers almost all of the South China Sea, which it says has been part of its territorial waters for centuries. China has ordered its coast guard to prevent what it considers illegal archaeology in the waters it claims, and it is pouring money into a state-run marine-archaeology program. Chinese archaeologists are preparing their first comprehensive survey of undersea sites, including in disputed areas. Chinese officials say their efforts will curb the theft and treasure hunting they say has destroyed numerous sites and flooded the global market with looted Chinese antiquities. However, there is a political dimension to China's plans. Chinese archaeologists openly aspire to bolster their country's historical claims to the contested South China Sea. Foreign archaeologists mostly agree that Chinese-built ships and cargo account for many of the sites in the South China Sea because of the international trade in Chinese porcelain and silk. But many of the wrecks lie far from the Chinese mainland, around the reefs and rocks off the coast of Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, because ships used to hug those shores to help with navigation and avoid bad weather. Even if a wreck isn't in a disputed area, tracing its national "ownership" is often complicated. A ship, its owner, its cargo and its crew all may have originated in different countries. Internationally, the trend in recent years has been toward acknowledging "common heritage," pursuing joint excavation and sharing results among academics from different nations. Internationally, the trend in recent years has been toward acknowledging "common heritage," pursuing joint excavation and sharing results among academics from different nations. A 2001 Unesco convention on underwater cultural heritage encouraged states to cooperate when they had a shared interest in a site, but offered no guidance on jurisdiction and no mechanism for dealing with sites in disputed areas. None of the countries involved in the South China Sea disputes have ratified the Unesco convention, so only China has the resources to enforce its claims to wrecks in the area and to excavate them.

China’s ADIZ: Time For US To Take More Direct Approach?

By Pratnashree Basu

By sending first B-52 bombers over East China Sea airspace and now submarine-hunting jets to its Okinawa post, and instructing civilian aircraft to comply with the rules of notifying Beijing, the U.S has tried to send a mixed signal of neither entirely reproving the Chinese ADIZ rules nor accepting it. The US has thus tried to keep to its customary position of being neutral to the dispute between Japan and China while at the same time not bowing down to showing the will to face a challenge, should one arise. While this position may be a balanced one, the method (in this case of asking civilian aircraft to adhere to ADIZ rule of notifying Beijing) is not a good one to choose. This is simply because, these ADIZ rules are unlike the ADIZ rules of other countries because civilian aircraft also come under its purview. This indicates that Beijing wants its newly demarcated zone, which is crossing disputed waters, to be treated as Chinese territory. In other words, this is a step which runs contrary to any Chinese assurance of settling the dispute bilaterally, because it has refused to respect or acknowledge the water space as being ambiguous. For the U.S, the time may have come to position its stand on Chinese assertions in a manner that would help maintain stability in the long run. If Beijing’s move with its air defense zone is part of a piecemeal plan of consolidating its territorial claims and chipping away at international resolve to discourage Beijing’s efforts, then a less indirect approach is called for. Some hold that China’s policy of having legality back up its claims is indicative of its position of not upsetting the global order or the uncertainty of being able to do so in the near future. On the other hand, the same policy is being deployed to gradually reinforce its own territorial claims, given that China’s capability to do so is mounting. A measured response may not serve its purpose if the situation demands otherwise. It may not be judicious to create a war like situation. But it may also be time to reflect on how much discretion is necessary.