Activities of the Claimants


China responds to Japanese comments on ADIZ

In a press conference on December 9th, responding the comment of Japanese Defense Minister calling international community to oppose China's establishment of an ADIZ in the South China Sea, Chinese Spokespman Hong Lei said: “China is resolute in upholding national security and all other countries should not make irresponsible remarks. China firmly opposes relevant countries' words and deeds which deliberately provoke regional confrontation regardless of the security of others.”

Chinese envoy cuts short PH duty; replacement up

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing will leave her post as envoy less than three years after she was posted by the Chinese foreign ministry to handle the relations between Beijing and Manila. A source, who requested anonymity because he was not in a position to speak about the latest development in the diplomatic front, said Ma’s replacement, a man, will arrive before January 2014 ends.

New missile frigate joins Chinese navy


Guided missile frigate Sanya officially joined the service of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy during a delivery ceremony held December 13th, according to military sources. Independently developed and made by China, the Sanya is capable of attacking enemy ships and submarines, and is especially adept for use in long-distance vigilance and aerial defense combat. The ship will serve as a new-generation leading battleship for the PLA Navy, the sources said.

The Philippines

Chinese vessels beef up patrols in South China Sea

Chinese surveillance ships and missile cruisers have increased the frequency of their maritime patrols in the South China Sea, a Philippine senior maritime security official said December 14th. “This encounter happened in international waters in the South China Sea on Dec. 5,” said the defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They have increased the frequency of their maritime patrols that even extended toward the territorial waters of Malaysia.”

Philippine warship now patrolling sea off Palawan


The Philippines’ second warship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), has arrived in Palawan province for what military officials described as a “routine patrol” of the South China Sea. “This is a routine mission… She will stay here on the side of Sulu Sea,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the military’s Western Command based in Palawan. Deveraturda refused to discuss the Alcaraz’ specific mission in Palawan.


Japan-China ties crucial for Asia


A working relationship between Tokyo and Beijing, embroiled in a bitter territorial row, is "critical" for the region, Indonesian president said on December 13th. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said China needed "an open line of communication to avoid miscalculation" in its various sovereignty disputes, including that with Japan over a chain of islands in the East China Sea. Speaking in Tokyo where he is due to attend a special summit hosted by Japan, Yudhoyono said disagreements in Northeast Asia are "pertinent" for the rest of the continent. "In particular, it must be said that good relations between China and Japan are critical to the future of our region," he said. "When the border negotiations are still ongoing, having an open line of communication is crucial to avoid miscalculation that may occur in and around the disputed area," he added, without naming a specific location.

The U.S.

Further US ship deployments planned in Singapore

The U.S. said on December 12th that it will deploy two more combat ships to Singapore in the next two years as part of America's commitment to deepening its military engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen at the Pentagon, and said they also discussed how to expand military cooperation in areas such as cyber and maritime security. The U.S. has just completed the first, seven-month deployment of a littoral combat ship to the Southeast Asian city state. Up to four deployments are planned by the end of 2016. The next ship will arrive in late 2014, followed by a third in late 2015, a joint statement said.

Regional Snapshots

Vietnam, Indonesia boost naval ties


Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Defence and Navy Command Admiral Nguyen Van Hien had a meeting with Indonesia’s naval Chief of Staff, Admiral Marsetio, on December 11th in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss ways to intensify bilateral naval relationship in tandem with the two countries’ strategic partnership. Speaking at the meeting, Hien spoke highly of the role of Indonesia in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as in the region and the world, and called for the two navies to expand and deepen cooperation through the framework of their bilateral mechanism as well as those of the ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM+. The Deputy Minister also suggested several collaborative initiatives including exchanging delegations at all levels between the two naval forces, sharing experience and mutual support on training and using the modern technical equipment.

Malaysia "understands" Japan's concern about Chinese air defense zone

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his understanding December 12th of Japan's protest at China's newly declared air defense identification zone that covers the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on the eve of a summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Najib said he "understands Japan's concern" about Beijing's action, according to a senior Japanese official. Referring to China's indication that it will set up an ADIZ in the South China Sea, where Beijing has territorial disputes with some ASEAN members, Abe was quoted as telling Najib that such a move "could affect ASEAN."

Japan eyes providing patrol ships to Vietnam amid S. China Sea row

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on December 15th that Japan will begin discussing with Vietnam providing patrol ships to its coast guard in light of China's growing assertiveness over contested reefs and islands in the South China Sea. "Our countries' cooperation is extremely important for regional peace and stability, especially for maintaining maritime order as well as international aviation order," Abe said at a joint press conference with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung after their talks in Tokyo. In an effort to boost Vietnam's economy, Abe pledged about 96 billion yen in new loans mainly for highway and port construction projects.

Vietnam, Russia hold first strategic defence dialogue

In the future, Vietnam and Russia will continue exchanging delegations at all levels, as well as promoting cooperation in defence, education, strategic studies and military science and technology. The agreement was reached at the first Vietnam-Russia Deputy Ministerial Strategic Defence Dialogue between the Vietnamese high-ranking military delegation led by Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of National Defence, and the Russian Defence delegation led by Deputy Defence Minister A.Antonov, in Moscow on December 12th. During the dialogue, the two sides briefed each other on the security situation in the Asia-Pacific region and issues relating to their relations, and highlighted the role and significance of the first dialogue, seeing it as a step to implement the contents of comprehensive strategic partnership.

Japan, ASEAN to seek "freedom of overflight"


At a summit in Tokyo on December 15th, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "agreed to enhance co-operation in ensuring freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety". "We underscored the importance of maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the region and promoting maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation... and resolution of disputes by peaceful means."

Commentaries & Analyses

China Adopts Board-Game Strategy to Blunt U.S. Pivot to Asia      


Potential next steps following last month’s imposition of an air defense zone over the East China Sea in the face of U.S. condemnation include more vigorously challenging aircraft that enter the area, imposing a similar zone over disputed territory in the South China Sea and asserting naval control over islands also claimed by other nations. “Such actions, if they occur, will cause greater worries in the region and increase calls for the U.S. to strengthen its military, diplomatic and economic presence,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior Asia adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The risk is of greater U.S.-China strategic competition.” A year into his term as head of the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping is taking measures to bolster his nation’s standing in the region and counter an increased U.S. military deployment to Asia. The strategy features such steps as the air-zone declaration that fall short of direct confrontation yet in time alter spheres of geographic influence, according to Douglas Paal, director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “China is playing the classic game of weiqi, wherein it slowly expands influence through steps that are not a threshold to violence and do not trigger a forcible response,” Paal said, referring to the strategic board game known as Go in English. “Next steps are likely in the South China Sea, but this will be delayed as China builds out its radar and intercept infrastructure.” China’s actions are aimed at sending a message to the U.S. that it’s serious about challenging an Asian order in which America has been the dominant power for 40 years, said Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at Australian National University in Canberra. “They’re saying to America that we’re so serious about this that we’re prepared to take the risks of being provocative, in order to persuade you to take seriously that we want to change the order,” said White. “We will have to see what the U.S. will do to shore up the idea that they are in Asia to stay,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, professor emeritus of Chinese politics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That they’re not going to quit the stage and leave it to China, and that they’re not going to desert their friends and allies.”

USS Cowpens: Why China forced a confrontation at sea with US Navy

US naval officials note that the USS Cowpens – a guided missile warship – was “lawfully operating” in waters near the South China Sea when it had an encounter with a People's Liberation Army (PLA) vessel “that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” according to an article in the Washington Free Beacon. While US Navy officials confirm the episode, they also caution that these sorts of standoffs with China happen with relative frequency in the Pacific and that, according to one Navy officer with knowledge of the event, it’s important not to “overhype” the incident. That said, the recent run-in holds a larger message, analysts say. The chief one may be that the US will not be able to comfortably troll the waters of the western Pacific. “The Chinese are trying to make it clear that, if the US wants to operate in these waters, then it should be prepared to be operating under a high state of tension,” says Dean Cheng, senior research fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation. “If the US doesn’t want tension, then it’s very simple: leave.”  The confrontation, he adds, was “a deliberate effort to intimidate.”  If this is the case, then to what end? After all, a majority of elites in China prefer to strengthen the bilateral relationship with the United States rather than to pursue "hawkish," hegemonic ambitions, according to a recent report from Michael Swaine, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. One possible answer is that recent PLA moves indicate that the “Chinese are now trying to establish a much greater presence in the western Pacific,” says Dr. Swaine. “In a sense, they want to convey to other countries that they are out there, they’re operating, and other people need to recognize this and abide by their desires.” The USS Cowpens was conducting surveillance of China’s new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, at the time. According to the Washington Free Beacon, a Chinese ship that was accompanying the carrier moved in front of the Cowpens to try to make it come to a full halt – hardly a safe maneuver. The bottom line is that China is out “to make sure that the US shows respect to China – that they acknowledge a sphere of influence,” says Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

ADIZ stirs fears for South China Sea

By Richard Javad Heydarian

China's recent controversial announcement of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) covering disputed island features in the East China Sea has raised concerns in Southeast Asia that Beijing will soon invoke a similar measure for the hotly contested South China Sea. Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have reportedly been alarmed by China's expressed willingness to "adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions".  Both countries have thus carefully watched the response of Washington and its powerful northeast allies in the East China Sea, hoping that China will re-examine its apparent planned moves in the South China Sea.  "There's this threat that China will control the air space [in the South China Sea] ... It transforms an entire air zone into China's domestic air space," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said in response to China's ADIZ announcement. "That is an infringement and compromises the safety of civil aviation ... it also compromises the national security of affected states." There are no signs so far that China will back down from its new regulations. Indeed, the Xi administration seems determined to stand up to external powers and assert China's national security and territorial interests. The Philippines and Vietnam, on the other hand, hope that the widespread criticism of China's ADIZ will deter the imposition of a similar measure in the South China Sea. Otherwise, they will have to hope Washington and Tokyo launch similar challenges to any southern extension of China's new aerial ambitions.

Can Indonesia Lead ASEAN?

By Brad Nelson


How ASEAN, as an entity, responds to the rise of China, as well as any of the other issues and problems it faces, is in part a function of the makeup of the ASEAN member countries. However, the bloc isn’t particularly cohesive. States have different interests and self-identity, all of which bleeds into policy. Additionally, ASEAN lacks a major player with the bloc. Instead, what we have are mostly middle powers and developing countries. Some might suggest that having countries roughly on the same plane is a good thing. The downside, though, is that there isn’t a leader to mobilize support and action within the group. As a result, ASEAN is often rudderless, aimless.  Indonesia bills itself as a leader within ASEAN, and it has done some good things. Unfortunately, Indonesia often acts passively and seeks to avoid controversy, within and beyond ASEAN, which means that it doesn’t give ASEAN the kind of steady leadership it needs on tough issues. For instance, it is hard to envision Indonesia standing up to China on its maritime claims and pressing Beijing to begin negotiating in earnest on a code of conduct for the South China Sea. Sure, economic ties with China will inevitably restrain Indonesia’s desire to get tough with Beijing. But beyond that, Indonesia is reluctant to exert the kind of pressure on China that’s needed at times. If Indonesia wants to be the leader that it thinks that it is – and that the bloc desperately needs – then it needs to step up its game and fill the power vacuum that exists within the bloc. This doesn’t mean that it has to throw its weight around Southeast Asia, or flex its economic or military muscles. Instead, it can take the initiative by proactively putting ideas to solve the host of problems and difficulties that plague ASEAN – both the institution and its member countries – into action and galvanizing domestic and regional support. This requires political will and persuasive skills, attributes compatible with Indonesia’s preference for conflict avoidance, inter-state policy coordination and regional consensus building. Alas, with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s term in office soon to end and a new parliament ready to take power, change in Indonesia’s role within ASEAN is unlikely to be imminent. It will be up to the next set of leaders to decide whether to take Indonesia in a more proactive direction. Whichever direction they decide for Indonesia, let’s hope they recognize what’s at stake for ASEAN and Indonesia.

Asians Hedge Against China

By Richard Fontaine, Patrick Cronin, Ely Ratner

Today's sovereignty disputes in Asia are taking shape against rapid changes in regional security arrangements. Government-to-government security agreements are proliferating, including between Singapore and Vietnam, Japan and Australia, and India and South Korea. However, there are clear limits to these relationships. Firm treaty commitments require constant reassurance and practice to remain credible, and these less-than-alliance ties do not imply a mutual defense arrangement. Yet American policy makers should expect them to deepen, particularly in the wake of the kinds of unilateral Chinese moves that the region has witnessed in recent days. American policy should aim to provide a foundation for Asian countries to deepen security ties with one another in ways that contribute to U.S. national security, which in turn is linked to a peaceful and prosperous region. This includes promoting greater interoperability between militaries, working more closely with highly capable allies and partners like Australia, Japan and Singapore to build capacity in third-party countries, and resisting unilateral attempts to change the existing rules of the road in Asia. With very few exceptions the appetite for greater American presence in Asia, and for closer relations among countries of the region, is larger than at any time in recent memory.