U.S. BOOSTING PHL MARITIME DEFENSE VS 'PROVOCATIVE' CHINA - U.S. ENVOY

By Vincent Cabreza - The United States is helping improve the Philippines’ maritime defense capability now that the American government has described as “dangerous” a new Chinese fishing law in disputed Asian waters, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said here on Saturday. Brushing aside another query about the resumption of American military bases in the Philippines to address a “provocative” China, Goldberg said what has been put on the table is “a framework agreement on enhanced rotational presence which would involve a greater cooperation between our two militaries.” This framework, which was proposed to the Philippines in August last year, would increase American naval presence in contested sea lanes to keep these waters free for commerce and navigation, according to the Philippines’ defense department. “Our two militaries have deep, long-standing, historical relationships and what we are talking about doing is not about the 20th century and the bases, but about the 21st century and the kind of cooperation we can have to work together as we confront 21st century problems,” Goldberg told reporters after he was honored by the Philippine Military Academy here. “Don’t dwell on the past but think about what the future holds,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to do regionally.”

ALSO: ‘Temporary basing’ of US soldiers now in 12th year

The temporary deployment of US forces in Zamboanga City to help the Philippines
ight terrorism is now in its 12th year. A top military official in Zamboanga City has confirmed that American soldiers remained in the city, Basilan and other parts of western Mindanao. The deployment started in 2002, with the US military shuffling the members of its contingent here to prolong its presence, the official said. “[The] US troops never left,” Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, told reporters. Firearms training: “They remain to provide technical support and training such as in the use of firearms and other techniques,” Guerrero said. The government buys firearms from the United States but Filipino troops need training in handling those weapons, he said. “They have the expertise and we learn from them,” Guerrero said. The Inquirer recently saw two American soldiers aboard a vessel—apparently coming from patrolling the seas off Tabiawan in Isabela town, Basilan province.

ALSO: US backs rule of law in sea row

A visiting United States official has reaffirmed the US government’s support for international law and the rules of discipline in the disputed territories of the West Philippine Sea (a portion of the South China Sea), saying that America’s focus remained on maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also reiterated US support for a peaceful means of resolving the dispute, including the Philippines’ right to take its case against China to a United Nations arbitral tribunal to clarify maritime boundaries in the contested waters. “What we’ve emphasized is the importance of all claimant states following international law, and kind of agreed-upon rules of behavior during the period when these disputes were under way,” Marciel said in an interview at the US Embassy on Monday. Marciel is on a visit to the region for a “reorientation” on the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam), touching base with his counterparts in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and with observers of developments in the Philippines. He left the country on Tuesday.

ALSO: China Hits Back at U.S. Over South China Sea

Beijing is refusing to back down in a verbal stand-off with the U.S. over China’s territorial ambitions in South China Sea, with China’s foreign ministry rejecting comments by a U.S. diplomat that Chinese moves threatened stability in the region. The U.S. has recently cranked up rhetoric around Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, urging the country to respect international law and warning China against establishing an air defense zone in the area. “As a sovereign state, China is fully entitled to take any measures it sees fit as regards air security, including the establishment of an air-defense identification zone, to safeguard national security,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said during a regular press briefing on Friday, calling U.S. comments on the issue “irresponsible.” Mr. Hong’s comments came two days after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel said in testimony on Capitol Hill that the U.S. did not recognize a similar air-defense zone China recently announced over the East China Sea and said China “should refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region.”

ALSO: Why China and the Philippines are Battling Over Rocks, Reefs

The Philippines cried foul this week when China announced plans to begin regular
patrols of the South China Sea, known here as the West Philippines Sea. The two countries have been engaged in a tense dispute over the region since 2012, when Chinese ships took control of Scarborough Shoal, which is just one of the areas Beijing and Manila contest. Government spokesman Raul Hernandez insisted any such patrols would be illegal because the area in question is Filipino, not Chinese, territory: Under international law, he said in a statement sent by text message to reporters on Jan. 22, China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, “cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles” from the Chinese mainland and Hainan Island, a province at the southernmost end of China.


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U.S. BOOSTING PH MARITIME DEFENSE VS 'PROVOCATIVE' CHINA - U.S. ENVOY


US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. AFP FILE PHOTO

FORT DEL PILAR, BAGUIO CITY, FEBRUARY 17, 2014 (INQUIRER) GlobalNation, By Vincent Cabreza - The United States is helping improve the Philippines’ maritime defense capability now that the American government has described as “dangerous” a new Chinese fishing law in disputed Asian waters, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said here on Saturday.

Brushing aside another query about the resumption of American military bases in the Philippines to address a “provocative” China, Goldberg said what has been put on the table is “a framework agreement on enhanced rotational presence which would involve a greater cooperation between our two militaries.”

This framework, which was proposed to the Philippines in August last year, would increase American naval presence in contested sea lanes to keep these waters free for commerce and navigation, according to the Philippines’ defense department.

“Our two militaries have deep, long-standing, historical relationships and what we are talking about doing is not about the 20th century and the bases, but about the 21st century and the kind of cooperation we can have to work together as we confront 21st century problems,” Goldberg told reporters after he was honored by the Philippine Military Academy here.

“Don’t dwell on the past but think about what the future holds,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to do regionally.”

China had declared that all fishing vessels venturing into areas it considered part of Chinese territory must secure its permission.

The West Philippine Sea, the name Manila uses for that part of the South China Sea it considered part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, is among the areas China now wants to control.

“The announcement by the Chinese is a provocative action, one that is again… a unilateral decision as opposed to a consensual one that is [reached by] discussion with other goverments in the region and in the Pacific area,” Goldberg said.

“We don’t consider this a welcome step. It is not consistent with those principles we have articulated of free navigation in the air, free navigation in the seas.”

Goldberg did not discuss the status of the framework talks, except to stress that these involved “more trainings, more prepositioning” for the Filipino and American soldiers.

“The kind of things we do to help the Philippines as it moves toward a credible minimal defense, as it builds up its ability to do maritime security [and] maritime domain awareness,” he said.

Goldberg was given a parade by the PMA cadets. He spent the weekend in the summer capital to host the annual New Year cocktails at the US ambassador’s residence in Camp John Hay.

Earlier in a radio interview, Goldberg said multinational peace forged on consensus was the solution to 21st century problems.

“I think the Philippines has taken a wise decision to handle these matters peacefully, legally, through the legal channels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and alternatives that the convention offers,” he said.

He said the Philippines also excelled when it tried to “put together a code of conduct as to how countries should operate in the region and to do that together.”

But when countries make decisions on their own, the resulting action may lead to dangerous situations, he said, adding that is “something [that] should be avoided.”

‘Temporary basing’ of US soldiers now in 12th year By Julie Alipala Inquirer Mindanao 1:57 am | Saturday, January 11th, 2014


US and Philippine Marines simulate an amphibious landing as part of RP-US Amphibious Landing Exercise on a beach in the Philippines. AFP FILE PHOTO

The temporary deployment of US forces in Zamboanga City to help the Philippines fight terrorism is now in its 12th year.

A top military official in Zamboanga City has confirmed that American soldiers remained in the city, Basilan and other parts of western Mindanao.

The deployment started in 2002, with the US military shuffling the members of its contingent here to prolong its presence, the official said.

“[The] US troops never left,” Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, told reporters.

Firearms training

“They remain to provide technical support and training such as in the use of firearms and other techniques,” Guerrero said.

The government buys firearms from the United States but Filipino troops need training in handling those weapons, he said.

“They have the expertise and we learn from them,” Guerrero said.

The Inquirer recently saw two American soldiers aboard a vessel—apparently coming from patrolling the seas off Tabiawan in Isabela town, Basilan province.

Guerrero said the US forces also trained Filipino troops in civil-military affairs.

“And they conduct humanitarian missions. They have been doing great things,” he added.

Temporary presence

Guerrero said even if it was taking the US military longer to leave, “they are here not for permanent basing. It’s a temporary presence.”

As to how long the temporary presence would last, Guerrero appeared to be uncertain.

“Personally, I am against the permanent basing (of American soldiers) here,” he said.

Guerrero would not say how many US forces were here and in nearby areas but he said their conduct was strictly monitored and regulated.

“So far, there had been no violation of any kind. The policy is very strict. Any violator will immediately be relieved,” he said.

Local affairs

A military official in Basilan, who asked not to be named, said the presence of US forces there was quite a headache, as some of them had relationships with local women.

“When we call their attention to it, they would say they were just establishing better civil-military relations,” the official said.

Given that reason, the Philippine military would not press the issue, he said.

“We don’t want them to have this perception that we have malicious ideas about them,” the official said.

US backs rule of law in sea row By Tarra Quismundo, Nikko Dizon Philippine Daily Inquirer 6:21 am | Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—A visiting United States official has reaffirmed the US government’s support for international law and the rules of discipline in the disputed territories of the West Philippine Sea (a portion of the South China Sea), saying that America’s focus remained on maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also reiterated US support for a peaceful means of resolving the dispute, including the Philippines’ right to take its case against China to a United Nations arbitral tribunal to clarify maritime boundaries in the contested waters.

“What we’ve emphasized is the importance of all claimant states following international law, and kind of agreed-upon rules of behavior during the period when these disputes were under way,” Marciel said in an interview at the US Embassy on Monday.

Marciel is on a visit to the region for a “reorientation” on the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam), touching base with his counterparts in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and with observers of developments in the Philippines. He left the country on Tuesday.

“So whenever you look at what we say publicly, it’s always about maintaining the peace, the stability that’s critical to prosperity in the region but also urging all the claimants, including China, to follow sort of rules and international law,” the US official said.

It was amid these escalating tensions that Washington announced its “pivot” to the Asia Pacific, which Marciel said represented the Obama administration’s commitment to be “intensively engaged with the region in every way—diplomatically, economically, [through] people-to-people relations, security,” among others.

He said the United States remained a neutral player in the dispute but it was supportive of efforts to peacefully resolve the matter, including the push for a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea and legal remedies such as the Philippines’ arbitration case before the UN tribunal.

Marciel said the United States continued to value its relationship with China, underlined by the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Beijing this week as part of a four-city swing through Asia, Kerry’s fifth visit to the region as America’s top diplomat.

As it builds up its defense capability amid regional security concerns, the Philippines is now negotiating an agreement with Washington for greater US military presence in the country.

While not involved in the negotiations, Marciel described the talks as an “overall effort” to find “21st century ways” of ensuring “interoperability” between the Philippine and US militaries in the areas of defense and disaster response.

“It’s really an effort by both sides to build a very modern and effective defense relationship or to strengthen what’s already a good relationship,” he said.

In a related development, the Department of National Defense (DND) on Tuesday made the rare move of reacting to a statement by a ranking US general who criticized President Aquino’s recent call for international support against China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

On Monday, US Gen. Herbert Carlisle cautioned Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe against making provocative statements amid the rising tensions between China on one side and the Philippines and Japan on the other.

“We believe the Philippines’ defense and military establishments have exercised maximum restraint with respect to the situation in the West Philippine Sea. Based on previous occurrences, it is clear the Philippines has been the object of harassment,” the DND said in a statement released Tuesday.

“We believe that in opposing aggressive and expansionist behavior, the Philippines is not only serving its national interests, but also serving the region’s as well, including all states that have a stake in freedom of navigation and clear territorial rights as defined under the principles of Unclos (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the DND said.

The four-paragraph statement was probably the strongest that the defense department has directed at a US military official commenting on the dispute with China.

China Hits Back at U.S. Over South China Sea 4:04 pm Feb 8, 2014 China Real Time RO THE ALL SEE JOURNAL


China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, approaches the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao after a training mission in the South China Sea. Reuters

SOUTH CHINA SEA -Beijing is refusing to back down in a verbal stand-off with the U.S. over China’s territorial ambitions in South China Sea, with China’s foreign ministry rejecting comments by a U.S. diplomat that Chinese moves threatened stability in the region.

The U.S. has recently cranked up rhetoric around Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, urging the country to respect international law and warning China against establishing an air defense zone in the area.

“As a sovereign state, China is fully entitled to take any measures it sees fit as regards air security, including the establishment of an air-defense identification zone, to safeguard national security,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said during a regular press briefing on Friday, calling U.S. comments on the issue “irresponsible.”

Mr. Hong’s comments came two days after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel said in testimony on Capitol Hill that the U.S. did not recognize a similar air-defense zone China recently announced over the East China Sea and said China “should refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region.”

Mr. Russel also questioned the legality of the so-called “nine-dash line” by which both China and Taiwan have laid claim to much of the South China Sea and asked China to clarify the reasoning behind it.

“China’s lack of clarity with regard to its South China Sea claims has created uncertainty, insecurity and instability in the region,” he said.

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of a number of its neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Beijing has grown increasingly aggressive in asserting its claims, stoking tensions in waters important for fishing, shipping and oil exploration.

Mr. Hong brushed aside criticism of the nine-dash line on Friday, saying it was established in 1948, a year before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and had been “supported by successive Chinese governments.”

He also criticized the U.S. for helping to spread “rumors” about issues pertaining to the South China Sea drummed up by “right-wing forces in Japan.”

He did not clarify what those rumors were, though presumably he was referring to Japanese media reports saying China planned to establish an air-defense zone in the South China Sea.

“It’s very irresponsible behavior,” Mr. Hong said.

FROM WALL STREET JOURNAL SOUTH EAST ASIA NEWS

Why China and the Philippines are Battling Over Rocks, Reefs By Trefor Moss January 25, 2014, 7:04 AM

MANILA—The Philippines cried foul this week when China announced plans to begin regular patrols of the South China Sea, known here as the West Philippines Sea.

The two countries have been engaged in a tense dispute over the region since 2012, when Chinese ships took control of Scarborough Shoal, which is just one of the areas Beijing and Manila contest.

Government spokesman Raul Hernandez insisted any such patrols would be illegal because the area in question is Filipino, not Chinese, territory: Under international law, he said in a statement sent by text message to reporters on Jan. 22, China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, “cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles” from the Chinese mainland and Hainan Island, a province at the southernmost end of China.

* What does that mean?
Every country with a coastline has ownership of the seas immediately around it. This area of “territorial sea” extends 12 miles from the coast, and foreign ships are not allowed to enter those waters without permission.

Every country with a coastline also has an EEZ. This zone stretches 200 miles from the coast, and the controlling country has exclusive rights to exploit the resources within that area. That includes fishing and undersea drilling.

Foreign ships are free to sail through an EEZ.

* And beyond that?
These are the high seas, and global commons: All nations have the right to sail them and to exploit their natural resources.


Reuters

A Hamilton class high cutter from the United States in the seas around the northeastern Philippines on Aug. 2, 2013. The country has been working to update its naval fleet amid increased tension with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

* Says who?
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is the main piece of international law that sets out maritime rules. Not all countries have ratified UNCLOS, but both China and the Philippines have.

So, in theory, both are committed to respecting the system it prescribes.

* How does this apply to the small islands in the South China Sea?
There are three types of features to think about – islands, rocks and reefs.

An island is an inhabitable, though not necessarily inhabited, feature. Whichever country owns it also own 12 miles of territorial sea plus a 200 mile EEZ – even if the island is hundreds of miles from the mainland. That explains their great value to the claimants – a remote spec of land can potentially yield a huge EEZ, complete with all the resources it contains.

Only about 20 of the 150 features comprising the Spratly Islands – a scattered South China Sea group claimed by China, the Philippines and others – can be classed as proper islands.

A rock, on the other hand, is an uninhabitable feature. It gives the country that owns it 12 miles of territorial sea, but no EEZ; so rocks have limited value.

A reef, or other submerged feature, provides neither territorial sea nor an EEZ – even if you build a structure on the reef that protrudes from the water (a tactic that some countries have tried).

* So are Chinese patrols in the South China Sea legal, or not?
China claims about 90% of the South China Sea, even areas that lie well beyond 200 miles from the mainland.

Beijing says it has controlled these waters for centuries. Other claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, reject that argument.

If we accept China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, then of course China can patrol wherever it wants within that area, since a ‘patrol’ is an obvious way of staking claim to those waters.

If we reject China’s claim, Chinese ships still have the right to sail through the South China Sea, provided they stay out of the 12-mile territorial waters surrounding any islands or rocks owned by the Philippines, or other countries. Active ‘patrols,’ however, would be seen as a statement of ownership, and therefore potentially provocative.

* Is there a way to settle whether China or the Philippines owns the disputed islands?
The Philippines has taken the matter to arbitration at the United Nation’s International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

It argues that China’s broad-brush claim to most of the South China Sea is arbitrary and unlawful, since it is based on a vague, broken line drawn around the claimed area, which Beijing has never properly defined.

The Philippines says that the line is not recognized under UNCLOS, and that China’s claim therefore has no legal basis.

The U.N. court is expected to rule on the case between March and September of this year. However, China has refused to take part in the process, and is unlikely to accept the verdict if it loses.

* So will the dispute just rumble on?
 And on, and on.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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