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DUTERTE: REDS ARE READY TO DIE FOR ME
[RELATED: Philippines’ Duterte Seeks Peace?]


DECEMBER 13 -In this Nov. 23, 2016 photo, New People's Army guerrillas with faces painted to conceal their identities, march during ceremonies at their rebel encampment tucked in the harsh wilderness of the Sierra Madre mountains, southeast of Manila, Philippines. AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File Despite his differences with communist rebels over their demand to free more than 130 prisoners, President Rodrigo Duterte believes that the leftist insurgents are loyal to his administration and are even ready to die for him. Duterte belied notions that the political left is plotting his ouster, noting that he has established a relationship with them when he was still mayor of Davao City. “Let me tell you frankly, in every demonstration, it’s the yellow who’s shouting for my ouster. But you will never hear it from the communists because I am the president belonging to the left actually,” Duterte said during the Wallace Business Forum dinner in Malacañan Monday night. “The Reds would never demand my ouster. They will die for me believe me. That’s the reason why I was able to convince them for a talk,” he added. READ MORE...RELATED,
Philippines’ Duterte Seeks Peace?...

ALSO Joma, Reds: We won’t die for Duterte
(Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman, said although the Left may not die for Duterte, it could forge an agreement with his administration so long as it is sincere in pushing reforms.)


DECEMBER 16 -Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman, said although the Left may not die for President Duterte, it could forge an agreement with his administration so long as it is sincere in pushing reforms. AP/Peter Dejong, file
Members of the progressive bloc in the administration-dominated House of Representatives yesterday reiterated their collaborative support for President Duterte, but clarified they are not ready to die for him. “We are not ready to die for the President. Handa kaming ialay ang buhay namin para sa mga inaapi at pinagsasamantalahang Pilipino (We are ready to offer our lives for the oppressed and abused Filipinos),” Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, who heads the House committee on public information, told reporters. Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman, said although the Left may not die for Duterte, it could forge an agreement with his administration so long as it is sincere in pushing reforms. “An alliance with the Left is possible to combat opportunists, rightist bloc and yellow group who want to oust him. But Duterte has to lay the foundation of such alliance with the Left, forwarding foremost the interest and welfare of the toiling masses,” Sison said. READ MORE...

ALSO YASAY: won’t question China over ‘weapons systems’ in Spratlys
[RELATED: US to work with Duterte despite threat to scrap VFA]


DECEMBER 17 -The Philippines will not question China over its reported construction of weapons systems on disputed features in the South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay indicated on Friday. In a press briefing in Singapore amid President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit, Yasay was asked if the Department of Foreign Affairs would file a note verbale to ask China about the construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands. "There is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up," Yasay said. "We cannot, we cannot stop China at this point in time and saying do not put that up, we will continue to pursue peaceful means at which all of these can be prevented," he added. Yasay said he would leave countries such as the United States, Japan, the European Union, and other concerned about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to act based on their national interests. READ MORE...RELATED, US to work with Duterte despite threat to scrap VFA...

ALSO: China 'seizes US vessel' in S China Sea
[RELATED: Rody ready to set aside ruling on sea dispute]


DECEMBER 17 -The USNS Bowditch was in the region to conduct research
.The Chinese navy seized the US underwater research vessel in the South China Sea on Thursday, the US alleges. The incident took place just as the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was about to retrieve it. The device, dubbed an "ocean glider", was used to test water salinity and temperature, officials say.
The data was part of an unclassified programme to map underwater channels, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis told reporters."It was taken" by China, Capt Davis said during a press briefing on Friday.
"The UUV [unmanned underwater vehicle] was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea," he added. READ  MORE...RELATED, Rody ready to set aside ruling on sea dispute...

ALSO: PH keeps distance from US-China row
[RELATED: China said last Saturday it would return US naval probe seized near Subic Bay]


DECEMBER 18 -PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT DUTERTE The Philippine government opted to keep distance from the issue of confiscation of a United States-owned underwater drone by Chinese authorities in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana would not comment on the incident that happened Thursday, some 50 miles off the shores of Subic. “That is between the US and China,” said Lorenzana when asked to comment on the issue. The underwater vehicle was taken around 50 nautical miles (90 kilometers) northwest off Subic Bay late Thursday in a non-violent incident, said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. READ MORE...RELATED,
China said last Saturday it would return US naval probe seized near Subic Bay...

ALSO: China will return U.S. naval drone. Trump told them to ‘keep it.[RELATED: 5 Takeaways on China's Theft of a US Drone in Philippine Waters in the South China Sea]


DECEMBER 18 -What an unmanned U.S. Navy drone looks like.© U.S. Navy The Chinese government said Saturday it will return a U.S. naval drone seized last week in the South China Sea, a step toward defusing maritime tensions between the two Pacific powers. President-elect Donald Trump reacted to the news by telling them he doesn’t want it back. “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!” he tweeted Saturday evening. The comment could prolong one of the most serious incidents between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in recent memory, potentially complicating ties ahead of Trump’s inauguration. The latest spike in U.S.-Chinese maritime tensions occurred Thursday, when a Chinese submarine rescue ship close to the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey vessel operating about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, took possession of the U.S. drone. READ RELATED, 5 Takeaways on China's Theft of a US Drone in Philippine Waters in the South China Sea...


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Reds are ready to die for me, Duterte says


In this Nov. 23, 2016 photo, New People's Army guerrillas with faces painted to conceal their identities, march during ceremonies at their rebel encampment tucked in the harsh wilderness of the Sierra Madre mountains, southeast of Manila, Philippines. AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, DECEMBER 19, 2016 (PHILSTAR) By Alexis Romero December 13, 2016 - Despite his differences with communist rebels over their demand to free more than 130 prisoners, President Rodrigo Duterte believes that the leftist insurgents are loyal to his administration and are even ready to die for him.

Duterte belied notions that the political left is plotting his ouster, noting that he has established a relationship with them when he was still mayor of Davao City.

“Let me tell you frankly, in every demonstration, it’s the yellow who’s shouting for my ouster. But you will never hear it from the communists because I am the president belonging to the left actually,” Duterte said during the Wallace Business Forum dinner in Malacañan Monday night.

“The Reds would never demand my ouster. They will die for me believe me. That’s the reason why I was able to convince them for a talk,” he added.

READ MORE...

Yellow is the campaign color of people associated with the Aquino administration and the Liberal Party, the political opposition. It was also the color of groups opposed to the dictatorship of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte said he was able to cross ideological borders even before he became a mayor. He said this allowed him to facilitate the release of soldiers and policemen who were kidnapped by rebels.

“They will never go for the ouster. Look at their posters. They would just condemn the burial of Marcos. But that was really their line, their favorite lines actually because Marcos was their enemy,” the president said.

Duterte, however, stood firm on his decision not to yield to the demand of the rebels to release more than 130 of their comrades who are facing criminal charges.

“Do not make too much demands because I am the Republic and you are the rebels,” the president said.

“And if you are not ready to accept that kind of mindset at this time, I am ready to, you know, terminate the talks.”

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has demanded that the government release more than 400 persons it claims to be political prisoners. CPP warned that failure to do so could lead to the collapse of the unilateral ceasefire declared by the two parties.

READ: Lorenzana rejects Reds' condition for cease-fire

Duterte has said he would not order the release of any rebel prisoner until the two parties sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement. He is open though to freeing dozens of elderly and sick communist detainees for humanitarian reasons.

----------------------------------------------

RELATED INQUIRER GLOBAL RESEARCH

Philippines’ Duterte Seeks Peace? By Marjorie Cohn Global Research, November 27, 2016
Consortium News 25 November 2016 Region: Asia Theme: Police State & Civil Rights


Rodrigo_Duterte_June_2016

Filipino President Duterte oversaw a brutal anti-drug campaign but is now seeking peace with leftist revolutionaries and rejecting U.S. pressure for more counterinsurgency warfare, writes Marjorie Cohn.

In April 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidential election by a landslide, with more than 6 million votes. He openly declared that he was the nation’s first Left president, calling himself a socialist but not a communist. So far, his regime has been controversial, to put it mildly.

The U.S. press has focused on Duterte’s vicious war on drugs that claimed upwards of 2,000 lives and led to the incarceration of tens of thousands of people. His decision to allow former Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s burial in the National Cemetery of the Heroes also has drawn the ire of those who recall Marcos’s brutal two-decade regime that killed more than 3,000, tortured tens of thousands, and stole $10 billion from the Philippines.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo credit: rodrigo-duterte.com)

But, significantly, Duterte is engaging with revolutionary forces in the peace process that aims to end 47 years of armed struggle against the repressive Filipino government. And Duterte has taken actions that, for the first time, challenge the longstanding military and economic power of the United States in the Philippines.

Peace Process With Opposition

Since 1969, a civil war has been raging in the Philippines. The roots of the armed conflict can be traced to the colonial and neocolonial domination of the Philippines by the Spanish, then U.S. imperialism, feudal exploitation by big landlords and capitalist interests, as well as widespread bureaucratic corruption. After Duterte’s election, he cited peace as a top priority of his administration, vowing to engage in peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

According to JustPeacePH, an international platform that supports the Philippine peace process and takes its name from its Internet site, “justpeace.ph,” “The daily, systematic and systemic injustice experienced by the people drive them to desire and seek fundamental changes in society through various means. But because the forces against fundamental social change use all means including the instruments and violence of the state to defend the status quo, many Filipinos over many generations have embraced armed struggle to overthrow the ruling system.”

The NDFP “is the alliance of progressive forces seeking to bring about fundamental change in the existing social system in the Philippines through armed revolution,” JustPeacePH states in its Primer on Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines. The NDFP alliance includes trade unions, peasants, youth, women, national minorities, teachers, health workers, religious clergy, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the New People’s Army.

Duterte’s Peace Initiative

Two rounds of peace negotiations have already occurred since Duterte took office, with a third scheduled for January 2017 in Oslo, Norway.

In May, Duterte declared he would release all political prisoners, which number more than 400, through a presidential declaration of amnesty, provided both houses of congress approve. Nineteen NDFP consultants, who have been involved in the revolutionary movement for years, have already been released.

Duterte offered four cabinet positions to the CPP, but they declined, stating there must first be a comprehensive peace agreement. The CPP, however, recommended a veteran peasant leader who was appointed Secretary of Agrarian Reform and a veteran academic activist leader who was named secretary of social welfare and development.

“These are major appointments,” Luis Jalandoni, NDFP’s Senior Adviser on the Peace Negotiating Panel, told me at a recent conference of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Lisbon, Portugal.

NDFP has a people’s army and organs of political power with mass organizations in 71 out of the 81 provinces in the country, Jalandoni said. He noted that landlessness and poverty afflict the 100 million people in the Philippines.

“The NDFP insists on addressing the roots of the armed conflict in order to achieve a just and lasting peace,” Jalandoni said.

The demands in the peace talks are: Release of all political prisoners; Land reform for the peasantry (70% of the population); National industrialization to develop the economy using available human and natural resources; Protect the environment and ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples; and Philippine national sovereignty and abrogation of all unequal treaties with the United States.

Challenging U.S. Power

U.S. domination and interference in the Philippines date back to 1898, when the United States annexed the Philippines. The U.S. continued to exercise colonial rule over the country until 1946, when the Philippines gained its independence although the United States retained many military installations there and the Filipino economy maintained its dependence on the U.S.

President George W. Bush announcing the start of his invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.
President George W. Bush, seen announcing the start of his invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, included the Philippines in his “global war on terror.”

With U.S. assistance, Marcos ruled the Philippines with an iron fist from 1965 through 1986, under martial law from 1972 to 1981. In 2002, the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government developed Oplan Bayanihan, a counterinsurgency program modeled on U.S. strategies. After 9/11, the Bush administration gave Arroyo $100 million to fund that campaign in the Philippines.

Oplan Bayanihan led to large numbers of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cruel treatment. Many civilians, including children, have been killed. Philippine military and paramilitary death squads murdered hundreds of members of progressive organizations. Communities and leaders opposed to large-scale and invasive mining have been targeted. Even ordinary people with no political affiliation have not escaped the government’s reign of terror.

From 2001 to 2010, the U.S. government provided more than $507 in military assistance to the Philippine government, facilitating tremendous repression.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Philippine police, military and paramilitary forces perpetrated extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and forced evacuation, many to enable extraction by mining companies.

The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which President Barack Obama negotiated with Duterte’s predecessor, gave U.S. troops the right to prolonged deployment in the Philippines. The agreement is widely seen in the Philippines as a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

In September 2016, Duterte declared, “I am not a fan of the Americans … Filipinos should be first before everybody else.” He added, “In our relations to the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy. I repeat: The Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy.”

The United States has not apologized for all the atrocities it committed against the Filipino people, Duterte said. Responding to U.S. criticism of the Philippines for its human rights violations, he stated, “Why are you Americans killing the black people there, shooting them down when they are already on the ground.”

Duterte promised to end joint military maneuvers with U.S. forces and expel the hundreds of U.S. troops currently stationed in the Philippines. He also expressed his intention to end bilateral agreements concluded by his predecessor with the United States and reverse permission for the United States’ use of five Philippine military bases.

“I will break up with America,” Duterte said. “I would rather go to Russia and to China.” He vowed to rescind joint patrols with U.S. and Filipino forces against Chinese expansion in the disputed South China Sea. Indeed, Duterte recently traveled to China and secured valuable fishing rights for Filipinos in the South China Sea.

Hope for Peace Prospects

In an unprecedented development, both the government and the opposition declared unilateral ceasefires in August. But there are still problems with the government’s ceasefire, says Jalandoni, as Duterte doesn’t have full control of the military. The military and paramilitary forces, which are protected by the military, have engaged in several violations that imperil the ceasefire, he said.

“There is high optimism that the peace talks will prosper under the presidency of Duterte,” according to JustPeacePH. “Unlike past presidents who harbor strong anti-communist bias, Duterte seems capable of rethinking the government’s peace strategy since he claims to be a socialist.”

Opposition forces are not uncritical of the excesses in Duterte’s war on drugs. The CPP declared the campaign is becoming anti-people and anti-democratic. Due process must be respected, human rights must be upheld; the drug users and small drug dealers, who come from poverty, require rehabilitation and care, the CPP maintains.

“Understandably, Duterte’s war on drugs and other crimes is given more coverage by the global media,” JustPeacePH wrote in its primer. “But Duterte’s aim to establish a lasting peace in the provinces deserves even more attention as this strikes at the root causes of the problem of illegal drugs and related crimes.”

Jalandoni said, “Duterte is not a saint but he stands for an independent foreign policy. His stand against the United States is respected and has received a lot of support.”

The NDFP, Jalandoni noted, says that “if there are threats against Duterte by U.S. imperialism, the Left will be a reliable ally to him,” adding, “He is the first president to stand up to the United States.”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. She is a member of the International Legal Assistance Team that advises the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on human rights and humanitarian law in their peace negotiations. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn.

The original source of this article is Consortium News
Copyright © Marjorie Cohn, Consortium News, 2016


PHILSTAR

Joma, Reds: We won’t die for Duterte By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 16, 2016 - 12:00am 2 145 googleplus0 0


Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman, said although the Left may not die for President Duterte, it could forge an agreement with his administration so long as it is sincere in pushing reforms. AP/Peter Dejong, file

MANILA, Philippines - Members of the progressive bloc in the administration-dominated House of Representatives yesterday reiterated their collaborative support for President Duterte, but clarified they are not ready to die for him.

“We are not ready to die for the President. Handa kaming ialay ang buhay namin para sa mga inaapi at pinagsasamantalahang Pilipino (We are ready to offer our lives for the oppressed and abused Filipinos),” Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, who heads the House committee on public information, told reporters.

Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman, said although the Left may not die for Duterte, it could forge an agreement with his administration so long as it is sincere in pushing reforms.

“An alliance with the Left is possible to combat opportunists, rightist bloc and yellow group who want to oust him. But Duterte has to lay the foundation of such alliance with the Left, forwarding foremost the interest and welfare of the toiling masses,” Sison said.

READ MORE...

He clarified that the Left could not fight alongside the government when the military itself violates an outstanding ceasefire and with more than 400 political prisoners remaining in jail.

“How can the Left fight against those who want to oust him when his military men are rabid in their operations in communities despite declaring ceasefire? How can the Left fight for him when there are still 401 political prisoners languishing in jail?” Sison added.

Tinio, who belongs to the super majority coalition in the chamber, told the Filipino community in Cambodia Tuesday night that communists are not willing to die for Duterte but would kill those who will remove him from office, referring to the President’s statements that the “yellows” or those from the Liberal Party of former president Benigno Aquino III wanted him out of the presidency because they “cannot accept defeat.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, chairman of the House committee on environment and natural resources, said the pronouncements might be another case of making an emphatic point.

“Probably it’s part of another hyperbole of the President,” Zarate added, pointing out that the Chief Executive knows fully well where the support of the left-leaning blocs are anchored in his administration.

But Duterte, who is on state visits in Cambodia and Singapore, did not specify which group wants him booted out of office.

“The Left – they would kill you if you remove me because I am also from the Left. I came from a poor family and the first Left-leaning President. But I am not under or I am not a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” the President said.

The CPP will celebrate its 48th founding anniversary on Dec. 26 with a national assembly inside the guerrilla zone in Davao City, Duterte’s bailiwick. – With Art Dumlao, Jose Rodel Clapano, Ramon Efren Lazaro


GMA NEWS NETWORK

YASAY SAYS PHL won’t question China over ‘weapons systems’ in Spratlys Published December 16, 2016 5:54pm By TRISHA MACAS, GMA News

The Philippines will not question China over its reported construction of weapons systems on disputed features in the South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay indicated on Friday.

In a press briefing in Singapore amid President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit, Yasay was asked if the Department of Foreign Affairs would file a note verbale to ask China about the construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands.

"There is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up," Yasay said.

"We cannot, we cannot stop China at this point in time and saying do not put that up, we will continue to pursue peaceful means at which all of these can be prevented," he added.

Yasay said he would leave countries such as the United States, Japan, the European Union, and other concerned about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to act based on their national interests.

READ MORE...

"For the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China. We wanna make sure that there will be no further actions that will heighten the tensions between the two countries, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal," Yasay said.

"And our efforts had paid off. As you can see, our fishermen are allowed to... not allowed—But out fishermen now have free access, insofar as Scarborough Shoal is concerned," he added.

Yasay said the Philippines would continue to engage China "insofar as the other aspects of our relationship is concerned – trade, investment, people-to-people contact, cooperation, infrastructure development and other such assistance that will have no strings attached."

Yasay said that such bilateral engagements were necessary for confidence building once Philippines and China are ready find peaceful means to resolve the sea dispute.

"In the meantime, we have placed this at the back burner without compromising our rights as declared by the arbitral tribunal insofar its decision of July 12, 2016 is concerned," Yasay said. —NB, GMA News

-----------------------------------

RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

US to work with Duterte despite threat to scrap VFA By Jim Gomez (Associated Press) | Updated December 18, 2016 - 11:01am 5 162 googleplus1 0


President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to the Filipino community in Singapore on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

MANILA, Philippines — The United States said Sunday it will work with the President Rodrigo Duterte to address any concerns after he threatened to terminate a pact that allows U.S. troops to visit the Philippines.

Duterte was enraged after a U.S. government aid agency deferred a vote on a renewal of a major development assistance package for the Philippines over concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte's war on illegal drugs, which has left thousands dead.

RELATED: Bye-bye America: Rody threatens to scrap VFA

Although no decision on the aid package has been taken, Duterte on Saturday launched an expletives-laden tirade, telling the U.S. to "prepare to leave the Philippines, prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement."

He was referring to a 1998 accord that governs American forces visiting the Philippines for joint combat exercises. The pact has helped the Philippines contain a violent Muslim insurgency in the south and train and equip Filipino forces facing an assertive China in disputed South China Sea waters.

"You know, tit for tat ... if you can do this, so (can) we. It ain't a one-way traffic," Duterte said, adding tauntingly, "Bye-bye America."

The U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement overnight that Washington will work closely with the Duterte administration to address any concerns it may have. It did not elaborate.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but spokesman Josh Earnest has said previously that the White House would not react publicly each time Duterte made an offhand remark.

The 71-year-old Duterte, who describes himself as a left-wing politician, has made similar threats before and after taking office in June, but he and his officials have walked back on many of his public statements, causing confusion.

While calling Americans "sons of bitches" and "hypocrites," Duterte on Saturday praised China as having "the kindest soul of all" for offering what he said was significant financial assistance. "So, what do I need America for?" he asked.

He also said Russia can be a very important ally. "They do not insult people, they do not interfere," he said.

The Philippines had been slated for another aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million poverty reduction program was successfully completed in May under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

A spokeswoman for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Laura Allen, said Thursday that it would continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March 2017.

The U.S. decision is among the first signs of how concerns about the rule of law and human rights under Duterte could entail economic costs.

The U.S. government, along with European Union and U.N. officials, has raised concerns about Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left more than 2,000 suspected drug users and dealers dead in purported gunbattles with police. More than 3,000 other deaths are being investigated to determine if they were linked to illegal drugs.

In a news conference in his southern hometown of Davao, Duterte was pointedly asked how many crime suspects he has killed in the past when he was still a crime-busting city mayor amid his vague and contradicting accounts of his exploits. The former government prosecutor again gave contrasting replies.

"Maybe one, two three ... I'm saying, maybe my bullets hit them, maybe not, but after the burumbumbumbum, they're all dead," Duterte said.

Replying to another question, he said that he indeed has killed, but did not provide details and tried to justify his act. "When I tell you now that I killed, do not term them as suspects because all of them died while they were fighting government people."

He asked God for forgiveness in advance, saying he may not have time to pray if he's assassinated. "God, forgive me for killing these idiots," Duterte said, then blamed God for the presence of criminals. "You create a human monster so if you are God, why do you have to create these idiots? That's why they die."


BBC UK ONLINE

China 'seizes US vessel' in S China Sea December 17, 2016 1 hour ago From the section China


The USNS Bowditch was in the region to conduct research

The US has issued a formal request to China to deliver an unmanned underwater drone that was seized in international waters, US officials say.

The Chinese navy seized the US underwater research vessel in the South China Sea on Thursday, the US alleges.
The incident took place just as the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was about to retrieve it.

The device, dubbed an "ocean glider", was used to test water salinity and temperature, officials say.

The data was part of an unclassified programme to map underwater channels, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis told reporters.

"It was taken" by China, Capt Davis said during a press briefing on Friday.

"The UUV [unmanned underwater vehicle] was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea," he added.

READ  MORE...

"It's a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water - that it was US property."

Analysis - Carrie Gracie, BBC China Editor

The Chinese seizure of a US navy drone only serves to increase uncertainty and tension between the US and China, coming in the same week as a US think tank published satellite images of anti-aircraft missiles on China's artificial islands in the South China Seas and in the aftermath of remarks from US President-elect Donald Trump criticising China for building what he called a "massive fortress" in the region.

Despite previous statements that China had no intention of militarising the islands, the Chinese Defence Ministry defended what it described as "necessary military facilities" which it called "proper and legitimate".

Since Mr Trump questioned the so-called "One China" policy which Beijing describes as the 'political bedrock' of the US China relationship, China has also mounted fighter exercises over the Taiwan Strait.

The Obama administration has reaffirmed what it called its "unwavering commitment" to the "One China" policy but the seizure of a US navy drone may be Beijing's way of sending a message to the incoming administration that it too has ways of disrupting expectations and upsetting the status quo.

The encounter occurred in the South China Sea about 50 miles (80km) northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, the US says.



"The Chinese navy ship ASR-510, a Dalang III-class ship, approached within 500 yards of the Bowditch, launched a small boat, and seized the UUV," the Pentagon said in a statement.

The Bowditch made radio contact with the Chinese ship to demand its immediate return but were "ignored".
"This is not the sort of conduct we expect from professional navies," Capt Davis added.

The seizure will likely add to US concerns about the growing military posture taken by China in the South China Sea.


Spratly island in S China SeaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The S China Sea has become a flashpoint between the two countries

A US think tank reported this week that aerial imagery shows that China has installed weaponry along seven artificial islands they have built at sea, despite US protests.

In November 2015, two US B-52 bomber planes flew over the man-made islands, known as the Spratly Islands.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the device was a "sovereign immune vessel of the United States" and demanded its immediate return from China.

RELATED:

Flying close to Beijing's new South China Sea islands

What is the "One China" policy?

------------------------------------

RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

Rody ready to set aside ruling on sea dispute By Alexis Romero and Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2016 - 12:00am 3 53 googleplus0 0


Surveillance photos released this week by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) showed that China installed what appeared to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on seven artificial islands it built in the disputed sea. Googlemaps

MANILA, Philippines – President Duterte said yesterday he was ready to set aside the arbitral ruling that voided China’s expansive maritime claim in the South China Sea following reports that Beijing had installed weapons systems in seven disputed areas it has occupied.

Surveillance photos released this week by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) showed that China installed what appeared to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on seven artificial islands it built in the disputed sea.

The artificial islands were built on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, areas located off the western province of Palawan.

AMTI said the gun and CIWS emplacements would show that China “is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea.”

The Philippines, which once challenged China’s expansive maritime claim before an international arbitral court, is not keen on stopping Beijing’s actions.

“In the play of politics, now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling,” Duterte said in a press conference in Davao City early morning yesterday upon arrival from state visits to Cambodia and Singapore.

“I will not impose anything on China. Why? Because the politics here in Southeast Asia is changing,” he added.

Duterte elaborated on the changing politics in the region by reiterating his threat to remove American troops from the Philippines. He first issued the threat after the United States raised concerns over his brutal war on illegal drugs, which so far left over 5,000 drug suspects dead.

“I will demand that they go out of my country. What’s the use of keeping, hosting them when they think we are a bunch of criminals?” the President said.

“Go, go out. If you do not believe in us, why deal with us?”

Duterte’s position on the South China Sea issue was a radical shift from that of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, who was very vocal in criticizing China’s expansion in the South China Sea.

China, which claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, has launched an ambitious land reclamation program in seven reefs that are also being claimed by the Philippines.

In 2013, the Philippines under Aquino challenged China’s expansive claim before an international arbitral court but Beijing refused to participate in the hearings.

The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines last July and declared that China’s claim in the South China Sea has no legal basis. China has described the ruling as “null and void” and dismissed it as a “mere piece of paper.”

Last Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the Philippines could not stop China from installing weapons in the artificial islands. He said the Philippines wanted to make sure that there would be no actions that would create tensions with China.

“We cannot, we cannot stop China at this point in time and saying ‘do not put that up’ – we will continue to pursue peaceful means at which all of this can be prevented,” Yasay said in a press conference in Singapore.

His remarks differed from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who expressed concerns over the CSIS report and said the government was attempting to verify it.

“If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” Lorenzana said Thursday. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good.”

Yasay maintained though that the Philippines would continue to stand on the arbitral tribunal’s decision.

Friendly coast guards

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) have agreed to form a Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) that would deepen friendly cooperation between the two maritime agencies.

In a statement, PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said once the JCGC was established it would serve as an avenue for both coast guards to strengthen mutual trust, deepen confidence, intensify communications and exchange, enhance friendly cooperation based on equality, reciprocity and consensus.

The agreement was reached during the first meeting between the two coast guard agencies on Friday since CCG was established in June 2014.

During the past few years there had been instances when the relationship between the two countries was strained due to conflicting claims over the West Philippine Sea.

In their first meeting, the PCG said the two agencies had a friendly exchange of views on the establishment of the JCGC, including the principles of the organizational structure, terms of references and operational procedures.

They also explored possible programs of maritime cooperation, including combatting drug trafficking and other maritime crimes, marine environmental protection, maritime search and rescue, and capacity-building in related areas.

It was also proposed that an interim arrangement for a hotline between the two agencies be put up to expedite the response during search and rescue operations.

Balilo cited the case of the two Filipino fishermen who went missing late November and were rescued by Chinese fishermen, who turned them over to the CCG.

He added there had been previous instances when the Chinese embassy would call the PCG and seek assistance to locate missing Chinese fishermen or when there were those requesting that they be allowed to take shelter during bad weather.

Once a hotline is created, the PCG official said they would be able to save on precious time since “during these search and rescue operations time is of the essence.”

Balilo said the PCG and CCG could dispense with the need to course their requests through their embassies and directly relay their request to their counterpart coast guard.

On the part of the PCG, the hotline can be set up at its action center.

The first organizational meeting took place last Dec. 15 to 16 in Manila. Representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Office of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also present.

The PCG and CCG meeting was the result of a memorandum of understanding signed in the presence of President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during Duterte’s visit to China last Oct. 18 to 21.

The second organizational meeting and the inaugural meeting of the JCGC is scheduled in February next year here in the country. – Evelyn Macairan, AP


MANILA BULLETIN

PH keeps distance from US-China row 236 SHARES Share it! Published December 18, 2016, 12:09 AM By Aaron B. Recuenco


PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT DUTERTE

The Philippine government opted to keep distance from the issue of confiscation of a United States-owned underwater drone by Chinese authorities in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana would not comment on the incident that happened Thursday, some 50 miles off the shores of Subic.

“That is between the US and China,” said Lorenzana when asked to comment on the issue.

The underwater vehicle was taken around 50 nautical miles (90 kilometers) northwest off Subic Bay late Thursday in a non-violent incident, said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

READ MORE...

The event unfolded as the civilian-crewed USNS Bowditch was retrieving a pair of “naval gliders” that routinely collect information on water temperatures, salinity, and sea clarity.


LORENZANA

A Chinese Dalang-III class submarine rescue ship then stopped within 500 yards (meters) of the Bowditch and snatched one of the probes. The Americans safely hoisted the other one back onto their ship.

Davis said he could not recall another time when something like this has happened, and the Pentagon issued a statement calling on Beijing to “immediately” return the probe that it had “unlawfully seized.”

The US personnel “were asking over bridge-to-bridge radio to please leave it there,” Davis said.

Other than a brief acknowledgment that it had received the message, the Chinese ship did not respond.

“The only thing they said after they were sailing off into the distance was: ‘We are returning to normal operations,’” Davis said.

‘It’s ours’

Washington has issued a formal request through diplomatic channels to ask for the probe back.

“It is ours. It is clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to happen again,” Davis said.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said China had acted unlawfully.

“The UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law,” Cook said in a statement.

Lorenzana said he is not aware that such underwater drone is being used at the West Philippine Sea amid the alliance of US and the country over China’s muscle-flexing in the West Philippine Sea.

“We did not know the US is using one in SCS (South China Sea), said Lorenzana.

The United States has been assisting the Philippines in strengthening its maritime patrol and defense capability on the West Philippine Sea following China’s reclamation in some of the disputed areas in the area through joint patrols or military hardware procurement.

Despite an international tribunal’s ruling that is favorable to the case filed by the Philippines against China, the latter continues its build up in the West Philippine Sea, the recent was the additional deployment of military equipment in one of the reclaimed reefs.

Heightened tensions

Davis said the seized vessel is off-the-shelf technology that is commercially available for about $150,000. Data it gathers are unclassified and can be used to help submarines navigate and determine sonar ranges in murky waters.

The incident comes as President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly infuriated Beijing, by questioning longstanding US policy on Taiwan, calling Beijing a currency manipulator and threatening Chinese imports with punitive tariffs.

“This was very likely a highly planned and escalatory move to show China will not take matters lightly when it comes to” Trump said Harry Kazianis, the director of defense studies at the conservative Center for the National Interest.

“Beijing is showing it has the capability to respond in a time and place of its choosing.”

Unless it is prepared to ramp up regional tensions, Washington has few options except to ask for the underwater vehicle back.

‘Brazen provocation’

Senior Republican Senator John McCain said the United States should not tolerate “such outrageous conduct.”

“This brazen provocation fits a pattern of increasingly destabilizing Chinese behavior, including bullying its neighbors and militarizing the South China Sea,” McCain said.

“This behavior will continue until it is met with a strong and determined US response, which until now the Obama administration has failed to provide.”

The incident comes amid broader tensions in the South China Sea, where China has moved to fortify its claims to the region by building out tiny reefs and islets into much larger artificial islands.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea, which is laced with the world’s most heavily traveled international trade routes.

While the United States takes no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, it has repeatedly stressed all maritime claims must comply with international law.

The US military has conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations in which ships and planes have passed close to the sites Beijing claims.

Such missions have provoked angry rebukes from China, which accuses Washington of provocation and increasing the risk of a military mishap.

The USNS Bowditch is a research and survey vessel, and does not look like a warship.

The Chinese ship’s hull number was ASR-510, the Pentagon said. (With a report from AFP)


INQUIRER

China said last Saturday it would return US naval probe seized near Subic Bay Agence France-Presse / 09:30 AM December 18, 2016


A Chinese submarine seized an undersea drone launched from the USNS Bowditch (picture) while it was in international waters off Subic Bay in the Philippines. US NAVY PHOTO

BEIJING, China — China said Saturday it would return a US naval probe seized in international waters, as it slammed the “hyping” of the incident as “inappropriate and unhelpful”.

The unmanned underwater vehicle was taken around 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines late on Thursday, according to the Pentagon, which called the capture unlawful and demanded its immediate return.

READ: US says Chinese warship seized Navy underwater drone

The incident comes amid escalating tensions between China and the United States, with President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly infuriating Beijing by questioning longstanding US policy on Taiwan, calling Beijing a currency manipulator and threatening Chinese imports with punitive tariffs.

China’s defense ministry said it would give back the device “in an appropriate manner”, without providing details of the handover.

“The hyping up from the American side is inappropriate and unhelpful to the swift resolution of the problem,” the ministry said.

China said it “strongly opposed” US reconnaissance activities and had asked Washington to stop them.

“The Chinese side will take the necessary steps in response,” the statement added.

READ: China says ‘appropriately handling’ US Navy drone issue

The Pentagon said it had registered its objection to the probe’s seizure. “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” spokesman Peter Cook said Saturday.

There are broader tensions in the South China Sea, where China has moved to fortify its claims to the region by building out tiny reefs and islets into much larger artificial islands.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea, which is laced with the world’s most heavily travelled international trade routes.

While the US takes no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, it has repeatedly stressed all maritime claims must comply with international law.

Its military has conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations in which ships and planes have passed close to the sites Beijing claims. CBB/rga


WASHINGTON POST

China said it would return a seized U.S. naval drone. Trump told them to ‘keep it.’ The Washington Post Missy Ryan and Emily Rauhala December 18, 2016


What an unmanned U.S. Navy drone looks like.© U.S. Navy

The Chinese government said Saturday it will return a U.S. naval drone seized last week in the South China Sea, a step toward defusing maritime tensions between the two Pacific powers.

President-elect Donald Trump reacted to the news by telling them he doesn’t want it back. “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!” he tweeted Saturday evening.

The comment could prolong one of the most serious incidents between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in recent memory, potentially complicating ties ahead of Trump’s inauguration.

The latest spike in U.S.-Chinese maritime tensions occurred Thursday, when a Chinese submarine rescue ship close to the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey vessel operating about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, took possession of the U.S. drone.

READ MORE...

The incident occurred within sight of the Bowditch, which tracks the drone as it collects unclassified data on water temperature, salinity and other factors that may affect U.S. naval operations. According to U.S. officials, the Chinese ship refused initial requests from the Bowditch to return the drone.

“We have registered our objection to China’s unlawful seizure of a U.S. unmanned underwater vehicle operating in international waters in the South China Sea,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

“Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the [drone] to the United States,” he said.

China’s Ministry of Defense on Saturday said they had decided to return the drone in an “appropriate” manner, but did not specify what that meant.

Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said in a statement that the Chinese said took the U.S. drone “in order to prevent the device from harming the navigation safety and personnel safety of the ship in the past.”

“The U.S. military has frequently dispatched naval vessels to carry out reconnaissance and military measurements in China’s water. China resolutely opposes this and urges the U.S. side to stop such activities,” he said.

The statement, which was published before Trump’s “keep it” tweet, called the U.S. response to the drone’s seizure “hype” that is “inappropriate” and “unhelpful for settling the problem.” Beijing has yet to respond to the president-elect’s latest comment.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese expert on military affairs who works as a commenter for Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, said the statement was an effort to warn the United States to not deploy this type of vessel in the South China Sea, “Otherwise, we will keep on picking them up whenever we see them,” he said.

Despite sharp words on both sides, official statements from Washington and Beijing suggest that the two governments are eager to avoid further intensifying tensions at a moment of deep uncertainty in U.S.-Chinese relations after Trump’s election.

Even as China asserts a right to areas of the South and East China seas also claimed by some of its neighbors, it has embarked on an ambitious program of constructing artificial islands, some of which appear to be intended as military outposts.

The U.S. military has conducted repeated shows of force, sailing ships or conducting surveillance flights near disputed areas, while seeking to avoid any serious military escalation with a key commercial partner.

Speaking after the Pentagon announced that the drone would be returned, a U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to comment freely, said that the Obama administration was “glad to get it back and put this behind us.”

“It’s somewhat reassuring that senior leadership in Beijing agreed that this was something that should be returned, regardless of the individual actions of their people at sea,” the official said. It is not clear who authorized the seizure of the drone.

The flap over the drone comes as Trump’s election generates concern among Chinese authorities, with the president-elect questioning long-standing U.S. policy on China and continuing his sharp criticism of Beijing’s trade and monetary policies.

Trump angered Chinese officials when he spoke by phone with the president of Taiwan, a thriving democracy that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

While it is not clear how the Trump administration will handle efforts by China to assert itself in the South China Sea, his stance toward Beijing suggests a hard line.

On Saturday morning, Trump issued a tweet that said: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”

In Beijing on Sunday, the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist town, poked fun at the mixed messages coming from the United States.

“Before Trump’s generous announcement that he didn’t want the drone back, the Pentagon had already announced publicly that they have asked China to return the ‘illegally seized’ [unmanned underwater vehicle] through appropriate governmental channels,” the paper wrote. “We don’t know, after seeing Trump’s new tweets, if the Pentagon should feel boggled.”

Emily Rauhala reported from Taipei and Luna Lin reported from Beijing.

---------------------------------------------

RELATED FROM THE DIPLOMAT ONLINE

5 Takeaways on China's Theft of a US Drone in Philippine Waters in the South China Sea IMG_7278 (4) By Ankit Panda December 17, 2016


Image Credit: Freezingmariner via Wikimedia Commons

The seizure of a U.S. underwater glider is an exceptionally brazen and illegal move by Beijing in the South China Sea.

Friday’s news of a People’s Liberation Army Dalang-III-class submarine rescue ship illegally seizing a U.S. underwater naval probe in international waters in the South China Sea earlier this week marks an unsettling and destabilizing moment in the evolution of U.S.-China disagreements over freedom of navigation and appropriate behavior at sea.

The United States has offered a fairly detailed account of what exactly transpired in the South China Sea between the USNS Bowditch, a civilian-crewed U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command Vessel, and the Chinese vessel. (The Bowditch was involved in a Bush administration-era altercation with Chinese vessels within China’s exclusive economic zone.)

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the probe — a buoyancy glider in more technical terms — was seized 50 nautical miles (roughly 90 kilometers) northwest of Subic Bay. A quick glance at a map of the Philippines’ Luzon coast and China’s nebulous nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea would suggest that the incident took place outside even China’s claimed waters, making it a particularly brazen act of unprofessional behavior at sea.

Below are five takeaways regarding the possible significance of the event.

Little Direct Precedent to Be Found

The development is effectively unprecedented in U.S.-China military-to-military interactions, but its occurrence during a presidential transition leaves one thinking of the 2001 Hainan EP-3 aerial encounter and the 2009 USS Impeccable incident. Neither of those occurred during a U.S. presidential transition, but came soon after the inauguration of a new president, with some analysts of Chinese strategic affairs convinced that they represented attempts by China to gauge the temperament of new U.S. administrations on security matters.

The Impeccable incident in 2009 offer some points of comparison. As Chris Cavas reminds us at Defense News, on “March 8, 2009, several Chinese trawlers operated by naval militia harassed the U.S. Navy’s intelligence ship Impeccable about 70 miles south of Hainan Island in the South China Sea, attempting and failing to cut off and steal its towed sonar array.” In June 2009, months after the original March 2009 tensions over the Impeccable, a Chinese submarine collided, “inadvertently” according to the U.S. Department of Defense, with the vessel’s towed sonar array near Subic Bay. The first Impeccable incident occurred within China’s EEZ, while the collision was reported to occur “off the coast of the Philippines,” with no specification of whether it took place within the country’s disputed EEZ with China.

In more recent years, there have been encounters that the United States has described as unprofessional, including unsafe aerial intercepts of U.S. surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea and a 2013 incident involving the USS Cowpens in the South China Sea.

Reports note that the Chinese submarine rescue ship did not respond to attempts by the USNS Bowditch‘s crew to communicate. The Bowditch‘s crew was “asking over bridge-to-bridge radio to please leave it there,” Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said. “The only thing they said after they were sailing off into the distance was: ‘We are returning to normal operations,'” Davis added.

Acknowledging the dangerous escalation possibilities presented by such incidents, the United States and China have agreed to both bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to increase inter-naval communication at sea and to prevent unsafe encounters at sea. Since their agreement to the 2014 Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium that year, both sides have finalized bilateral rules as well.

At the least, this week’s glider-seizure severely undermines existing protocols between the two navies in the South China Sea at a time of gradually intensifying mutual distrust. (I’d reflected on the moderate success of U.S.-China crisis management protocols early in 2016; that no longer remains true.)

Illegal by Any Measure

The glider-seizure was illegal by any measure of international law. International legal experts and South China Sea watchers Julian Ku and James Kraska have already offered two excellent looks at this aspect of the incident at Lawfare. In short, the behavior that the Chinese rescue ship engaged in was not only highly unprofessional, it was an illegal seizure of a U.S. vessel in violation of sovereign immunity. Moreover, the Chinese vessel violated high seas freedoms of the USNS Bowditch under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea — a treaty China has signed and ratified.

The legal aspect of this incident cannot be overemphasized given that it comes less than six months after China faced legal defeat at the hands of a five-judge tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration over its capacious claims in the South China Sea and its behavior therein. Unfortunately, given the change in government in the Philippines — the once-enthusiastic plaintiff in that case — the reputational costs that had been anticipated for Beijing for being found in transgression of international law never quite materialized.

A Chinese naval vessel engaging in what amounts to outright theft outside the nine-dash line should spur regional claimant states and certainly the United States to forcefully speak out in favor of international law.

Scope for a Response?

Speaking out in favor of international law cannot alone provide a fitting and proportionate response by the United States to an unusually provocative act by a Chinese naval vessel. While the fact that the Obama administration has barely a month in office before turning the keys over to the incoming Trump administration may complicate the ability to strategically react over the long term, various tactical options are available to administration in retaliation.

In a sense, this week’s incident provides an adequate impetus for a high-seas-assertion freedom of navigation operation by U.S. vessels within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef — a move that various commentators, including myself, have recommended for some time. Informed speculation suggests that the Obama administration has avoided this FONOP on the grounds that it would prove exceptionally provocative in Chinese eyes, but this unprecedented provocation may demand an exceptional response — especially to underline the important principles of the international law of the sea that are routinely violated by Chinese naval and coast guard vessels.

So far, Washington’s response has been to name China and insist on the return of the vessel by issuing a formal demarche, but doing so without emphasizing the centrality of freedom of navigation to U.S. interests in the South China Sea would be a missed opportunity. Beijing, in particular, differentiates between freedom of navigation for military and civilian vessels in exclusive economic zones — a distinction that does not exist under international law. If China faces no reputational costs over its unprofessional and illegal action in the South China Sea, it will have little incentive to alter its behavior.

A ‘Small Blind’ Bet By China Against Trump?

As mentioned above, this incident does leave one thinking of the 2001 Hainan and 2009 USS Impeccable incidents as tests by China of an incoming administration. Indeed, Donald Trump’s recent moves on China — including his call to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and repeated criticism of Chinese economic and security practices, including in the South China Sea — may well have caught Chinese policymakers off-guard. Trump’s flirting with a revision to the U.S. “one China” policy in particular has raised particular concern in Beijing, which regards U.S. compliance with its “one China” principle as a sine qua non for diplomatic relations.

Deriving Chinese intentions from the glider-seizure is but an exercise in speculation at this point, but it isn’t unthinkable that Beijing, recognizing Trump’s highly unusual diplomatic style, is choosing to test his rhetorical response thresholds at least before he enters office. For instance, Beijing may be interested in what — if anything — Trump tweets out publicly in reaction to the seizure. (As of this writing, Trump remains quiet on the incident.)

The Trump angle shouldn’t be over-considered here, however. This is not China necessarily placing its “small blind” bet, daring Trump to up the ante or lose credibility in Asia. Long-time Asia-Pacific security watchers will recognize a long pattern of unprofessional Chinese naval and aerial acts, designed to provoke Washington and slowly continue the assertion — and in this case expansion — of China’s claims. Beyond Trump, revelations regarding China’s deployment of anti-aircraft assets to its artificial islands in the Spratlys and a forceful speech by the commander of U.S. Pacific Command in Australia could both represent proximate causes for Chinese action.

Finally, there is the idea that the Chinese submarine rescue vessel somehow picked up the U.S. glider inadvertently, but this interpretation holds little water. U.S. accounts put the Dalang-III-class ship within 500 yards of the Bowditch, with the vessel actively seizing a “clearly marked” U.S. glider. (There were two submerged gliders, one of which was recovered by the Bowditch.) Additionally, there’s also a low likelihood that the Chinese vessel acted as a “rogue,” without direct authorization from above.

If there is a signal in all this for the incoming Donald Trump administration, it’s that China will continue to uncompromisingly push the envelope on what it’s willing to do to assert its claims in the South China Sea and it won’t “fold,” so to speak, on its core interests, which include territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

Update: Trump reacted to the incident early on Saturday, by tweeting the following: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.” The use of “research vessel” and “international waters” may suggest that the U.S. president-elect was briefed before this statement.

Stolen Tech?

In 2001, one of the reasons the Hainan incident involving a temporarily grounded U.S. EP-3 aircraft turned into a nightmare was because China was able to technologically survey U.S. technology, potentially abetting and accelerating its own development of advanced aerial surveillance technology. When early reports had emerged of a U.S. “unmanned underwater vehicle” captured by a Chinese vessel, a similar concern struck me. However, knowing that this is a buoyancy glider, the odds of a serious qualitative intellectual property edge being lost are moderate.

First, China has made fairly impressive domestic strides in underwater glider technology (see reports here and here). According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), gliders “may be equipped with a wide variety of sensors to monitor temperature, salinity, currents, and other ocean conditions.” As Sam LaGrone explained at the U.S. Naval Institute’s website, “gliders largely use unclassified means to collect data for the Navy’s charts and ocean models.” Submersible oceanographic data collection can also assist in anti-submarine warfare reconnaissance — an area where China’s Navy has devoted considerable resources, but lags behind the United States in general.

The uninhibited operation of U.S. gliders is naturally critical for maritime domain awareness and frictionless naval operations, but it is unlikely that China will draw any significant qualitative edge over the United States by way of the incident. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Beijing won’t choose to hold on to the U.S. glider for as long as it realistically can to survey its technology. (If you want to check out a Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider, which may have been involved in the incident, check out this video.)

Final Thoughts

The details around this incident will be subject to scrutiny in the coming days, as China responds and ostensibly works with the United States toward resolving what could easily become a major crisis and set the tone for U.S.-China confrontation in the early days of the Trump administration. The “big picture” takeaway is that this is the first instance of a Chinese naval vessel illegally seizing the assets of a third-party navy within the exclusive economic zone of another South China Sea claimant state — the Philippines in this case.

Above all, the signal sent this week cannot be misjudged. China’s plans for the South China Sea remain unchanged and its military will continue to assert its capacious, illegal claims with increasingly brazen tactics when necessary.


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