Saturday, March 26, 2016

Cops foil bomb try in Maguindanao

From ABS-CBN (Mar 27): Cops foil bomb try in Maguindanao

Members of the Philippine Army's Explosive and Ordnance Disposal Team successfully defused an improvised explosive device (IED) planted along the national highway in Barangay Rebuken, Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao Saturday afternoon.

The IED was made out of flash powder mixed with metal fragments placed inside a plastic pipe, with an analog clock as a triggering device.

A concerned citizen called the police station around 1:30 p.m. about a suspicious item he found along the highway while he was looking for firewood.

Upon checking, authorities found the IED, which was promptly defused.

Authorities have yet to identify the perpetrators as well as the motive behind the crime, but Sultan Kudarat Mayor Datu Shameem Mastura told ABS-CBN News that he might be the target of the bomb attempt.

Mastura came from Northern Kabuntalan in Maguindanao at that time and was supposed to pass by the area where the bomb was recovered.

He also claimed the attempt might be connected to politics, adding that he has been receiving bomb threats.

Water Wars: In the South China Sea, Beijing Faces Twin Threats of New U.S. Military Presence and Pushback from an Old Friend

From Lawfare (Mar 25): Water Wars: In the South China Sea, Beijing Faces Twin Threats of New U.S. Military Presence and Pushback from an Old Friend

China suffered two major setbacks in the South China Sea this week. First, sparks flew between the PRC and its longtime ally, Indonesia, when the bungled seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel in Indonesian waters almost led to a direct conflict between the old friends. Later in the week, the United States and the Philippines announce a new decade-long pact that will allow American troops to rotate between five PH bases, many close to PRC installations in the South China Sea.

Indonesia Piles in on South China Sea Scrum

A China Coast Guard vessel patrols the disputed waters of the South China Sea (Photo: Erik de Castro/Reuters)

Jakarta found itself in the middle of the South China Sea disputes on Saturday after a patrol boat from the Indonesian Ministry of Fishery and Marine Affairs (KKP), KP Hiu 11, seized a Chinese fishing vessel, Kway Fey 10078, and arrested its eight crewmembers for illegally fishing less than three miles off the coast Natuna Island. While the Hiu was escorting the Kway Fey back to base, a nearby Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed the captured fishing boat near the limits of Indonesia’s territorial waters, forcing the KPP officers to abandon the Chinese vessel. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta issued a statement claiming that the fishermen were operating in “a traditional Chinese fishing ground” and “hoped that the Indonesian side could properly handle this issue.” On Monday PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying further alleged that the fishing vessel “was attacked and harassed by an armed Indonesian ship” and that the Coast Guard was sent to “ensure their personal safety,” but did not enter Indonesian territorial waters.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi summoned PRC Charge d’affaires Sun Weide to officially protest the Chinese Coast Guard’s violation of Indonesian sovereignty. KPP Minister Susi Pudjiastuti later said that Indonesia feels “interrupted and sabotaged in our efforts” to maintain peace in the disputed waters and warned that Jakarta “may take it to the international tribunal.” Deputy Naval Chief Arie Henrycus Sembiring also told reporters the Indonesian Navy would send larger vessels for future patrols in that region. Minister Pudjuiastuti demanded that China hand over the fishing vessel and rejected China’s request that she release the eight Chinese fishermen. On Wednesday Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan confirmed that the Chinese fishermen will be prosecuted in Indonesia.

The incident is perhaps most significant in how it differs from recent history. In 2008, the last time that China and Indonesia clashed over claims of illegal fishing by Chinese citizens around Natuna Island, Jakarta remained silent. This time around, however, Indonesian officials explicitly rebuffed pleas by a top Chinese diplomat to withhold information from the media hours after the confrontation. Given the historically close Sino-Indonesian relationship, a flurry of commentary has emerged assessing how this incident might impact bilateral relations. Aaron Connelly at AMTI considers whether Indonesia will abandon its non-alignment strategy of “rowing between two reefs,” and Jeremy Bender reflects on the possibility that the confrontation will presage Indonesia’s realignment with its harder-edged neighbors. Prashanth Parameswaran, however, argues that Jakarta’s policy shift resembles a recalibration more than a radically new approach.

U.S. Military Back in the Philippines

Map showing five PH bases where U.S. troops will be stationed and their proximity to PRC-held features (Wash. Post)

In a joint statement following the annual U.S.-PH Strategic Dialogue, Washington and Manila announced a deal allowing for a rotating American military presence at five Philippine bases. The agreement will initially be valid for ten years but does not allow for permanent U.S. bases, as existed before 1991. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg confirmed that supplies and personnel would move to the bases “very soon.” A number of the designated bases are close to PRC-controlled features: Antonio Bautista Air Base is only 186 miles from Mischief Reef, and Basa Air Base lies 205 miles from Scarborough Shoal. However, State Department spokesman John Kirby asserted that there is “nothing offensive or provocative” about these new troop deployments.

Philippine officials hailed the agreement as a major success. Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the pact would “ensur[e] both countries’ mutual defense and security.” Senator Gregorio Honasan, a candidate  for Vice-President, went further, expressing his hope that “China will blink so that when they blink, it will pave the way for negotiations.” Mr. Honasan also predicted that more bases would eventually be made available to U.S. troops.

Beijing was predictably less enthused about the pact. Responding to a question about the base agreement, PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying retorted, “Maybe they can explain whether their increased military deployment in the South China Sea and nearby areas is an action or militarization or not?” A Xinhua commentary also warned that “[m]uddying waters in the South China Sea and making the Asia-Pacific a second Middle East will do no good to the United States.”

In other news…

The Mainland was not alone in clashing with Jakarta this week, as Indonesian military vessels reportedly fired upon two Taiwanese fishing boats  in the Strait of Malacca. The Indonesian Navy denied  having any role in the incident and suggested instead that the civilian authorities may have been involved. Susi Pudjastuti, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, later confirmed her ministry’s involvement, alleging that the Taiwanese vessels were poaching within Indonesian waters and and that the trawlers were fired upon only after repeated warning. Taiwanese Fisheries Agency Director-General Tsay Tzu-yaw disputed these claims.

Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Bruce Linghu announced a media tour of Taiping (Itu Aba), which took place on Wednesday, as part of a larger diplomatic blitz in advance of the upcoming merits decision in the Philippines v. PRC maritime arbitration case. The trip was specifically designed to refute Manila’s contention that the island is merely a rock and therefore not entitled to an exclusive economic zone or continental-shelf rights. Taiwanese authorities highlighted the fact that the maritime feature has self-sustaining freshwater reserves and can independently support both human habitation and economic life—references to the criteria for an island established under UNCLOS. For a first-hand view of the disputed feature, join AMTI’s Gregory Poling on a virtual tour of what he saw on this visit.


IHS Jane’s reports that recently published imagery suggests that China has deployed and tested a land-based version of the 400 km YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile to Woody Island. This follows a flurry of activity on Woody Island, including Beijing’s confirmation that civilian flights will arrive within the year and the repositioning of two HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries on the artificial island.

Chinese officials have reacted strongly against Japan’s plan to place the South China Sea on the agenda for the upcoming G-7 summit in Hiroshima. The Japan Times reports, for example, that PRC Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou warned that how Japan addresses the issue with the G-7 will be a litmus test for whether bilateral ties can be improved. Mr. Kong also expressed doubt about whether Japan truly wants to improve Sino-Japanese relations. Tokyo rejected this criticism, arguing that the international community cannot accept Chinese construction and militarization in the South China Sea.

United States

PRC President Xi Jinping has agreed to discuss the South China Sea with President Obama next week on the sidelines of the fourth Nuclear Security Summit. Mr. Obama had previously invited his Chinese counterpart to the summit, which will be held in Washington from March 31 to April 1.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh demanded compensation for fishing nets, food, and fuel that were destroyed when PRC officials boarded a Vietnamese fishing vessel two weeks ago. Mr. Binh asserted that Hanoi “will not accept inhuman behavior, the use of force or threat to use force against Vietnamese fishermen.” He also denounced Chinese construction and tourism in the Paracels as serious violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty.


Filipino boats carrying eleven fishermen were rammed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels while fishing near Scarborough Shoal. The fishermen reported that they used knives and harpoons to defend themselves after being ordered to leave the area. PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying instead claimed that the fishermen “waved around machetes and flung fire bombs, carried out deliberate provocation, and attacked the Chinese law enforcers and official boats.” She further declared that these actions force China to “strengthen supervision” in waters around Scarborough Shoal. President Benigno Aquino III responded to the incident by establishing a “National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea” to coordinate policy across sixteen federal agencies and departments.


Sino-Japanese relations remained tense after diplomatic clashes last week. Citing North Korean missile tests and Chinese “invasion of our territory,” Japan’s military attaché to the United States, announced that Tokyo will expand its East China Sea surveillance network and build a new radar observation station south of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Although Colonel Masashi Yamamoto reiterated that there are no plans to station troops on the disputed islands, he stated that “in the near future we will have a 600-troop security force” on islands north of Okinawa in Japan’s southern island chain (Amami). Also this week, Japan’s governing and opposition parties jointly proposed a bill that would establish bases on seventy-one inhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Further stoking tensions, the Japanese Ministry of Education sanctioned new course materials that markedly increased coverage of disputed territories, including the Senkakus/Diaoyus. The new textbooks also incorporated Ministry-mandated changes that increased ambiguity over the scale of the Nanjing Massacre. Beijing lodged a formal protest in response. PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that Japan “can not change the fact that Diaoyu Dao belongs to China.” Regarding changes to the historic record, she added, “We strongly urge Japan to take a responsible attitude towards history.”


Australian media noted the increasing frequency with which Southeast Asian nations are looking to Canberra for deterrence against Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea. One example of this increasing collaboration took place late last week as the Singaporean Foreign, Defense, and Trade Ministers wrapped up a series of meetings in Australia. In a joint press conference, both foreign ministers reaffirmed the right of states to conduct freedom of navigation and overflight exercises in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later called China’s military deployments “counterproductive, regardless of the legal merits.”

The Australian Foreign Investment Review Board announced that it will heighten standards for leasing critical state infrastructure to foreign companies after Washington expressed unease concerning a Chinese company that was allowed to lease the Part of Darwin. The port is adjacent to a key Royal Australian Air Force base with a substantial U.S. Marine Corps presence.

Analysis, Commentary, and Additional Information

In a widely publicized editorial at Korea IT Times, Choe Nom-Suk lays the blame for militarization in the East China Sea on Beijing, with a shadow stretching back to the early 20th Century. Mira Rapp-Hooper has an excellent article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs that analyses the PRC’s short-term victory (and long-term problem) in the South China Sea.

The Brown Political Review’s Nelson Chou explores the new “Cold War in the South China Sea.” Brookings released a new paper by Jeffrey Bader that prescribes a framework for U.S. policy toward China. And five CNAS experts have collaborated on a report on “Networked Transparency,” which argues that a maritime domain awareness (MDA) network would alleviate the opaque nature of operations in the South China Sea and thereby lower the chance of conflict.

Over at The Diplomat, Tara Davenport dismisses the notion that China should denounce UNCLOS in the event it loses in the Philippines v. PRC maritime arbitration, in part responding to an op-ed from Stefan Talmon we covered in early March. Greg Austin explores what PRC President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government understand as “militarization” in the context of the South China Sea. And following up on the first segment of a two-part post, Jonathan Odom tests the Chinese “myth” about freedom of navigation based on the existing record of evidence, while Mark Valencia questions not only Commander Odom’s premises but also his data.

Water Wars is our weekly roundup of the latest news, analysis, and opinions related to ongoing tensions in the South and East China Seas. Please feel free to email us with breaking news or relevant documents.

[Zack Bluestone is a third-year student at Harvard Law School, where he is Managing Editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and Vice President of the National Security & Law Association. Zack has worked in all three branches of the federal government, including legal internships with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions at the U.S. Department of Defense, the Office of the President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Federal Courts. Zack graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University with B.S. in Foreign Service and earned his MBA from the University of Oxford.]

[Christopher Mirasola is a JD/MPP candidate at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, where he studies America's strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific. Prior to graduate school he worked in mainland China for over two years, much of that time focused on the Chinese legal system. Chris is currently an Executive Editor of the Harvard International Law Journal and has had legal internships at the Naval War College and Department of Defense.]

South China Sea: China Has Deployed Anti-Ship Missiles on Woody Island

From the Diplomat (Mar 26): South China Sea: China Has Deployed Anti-Ship Missiles on Woody Island

The People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile is now on Woody Island.

 South China Sea: China Has Deployed Anti-Ship Missiles on Woody Island

China has placed indigenously developed advanced anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) on Woody Island in the South China Sea. Based on images shared on Chinese social media websites, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reported earlier this week that YJ-62 ASCMs are now on Woody Island. The YJ-62 ASCM would allow China to potentially target any surface vessel within 400 kilometers of Woody Island, providing a powerful power projection capability. Jane‘s notes that the ASCM was deployed on Woody Island around the same time as China’s deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems there.

Woody Island is a major military outpost for China in the South China Sea and is unlike most other features occupied by Beijing. Notably, it is not quite comparable to China’s Spratly holdings, which have been in the headlines in recent months for Beijing’s extensive artificial island-building activities there. China has occupied Woody Island, which it calls Yongxing Island, since the 1950s. The island today hosts a population of 1,000, which primarily accounts for People’s Liberation Army troops that have been positioned there since 2012. Woody Island notably contains a nearly 3,000 meter airstrip and a harbor. China expanded its garrison on Woody Island beginning in 2012.

The YJ-62 has been a platform of interest for watchers of China’s indigenous defense industry for some time now. Developed and manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), the YJ-62 is a modern ship-launched ASCM, with a speed ranging from Mach 0.6-0.8, a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles), and a sea-skimming terminal attack ability with active guidance. Analysts of Chinese naval developments have noted that the YJ-62, while mostly designed for launch from coastal transporter erector launchers (certainly the case in its deployment on Woody Island), can also be affixed to China’s Type 052AC destroyers.

Beijing has operated Russian SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic ASCMs for some time on its Sovremenny-class destroyers. In its 2015 report to the U.S. Congress on China’s military capabilities (PDF), the United States Department of Defense highlighted the YJ-62 as China’s “most capable” anti-ship cruise missile. Land-based versions of the YJ-62 have been in use by the People’s Liberation Army-Navy since 2008, according to Jane’s. Beyond the YJ-62, China operates a range of other indigenously developed ASCM platforms, including the short-range YJ-62, the YJ-8, the YJ-83, and YJ-91.

Indonesian Lawmakers Call for New Base in S. China Sea

From the Maritime Executive (Mar 25): Indonesian Lawmakers Call for New Base in S. China Sea


Indonesia's House of Representatives has called for the construction of a new military base in the Natuna Islands as a bulwark against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. 

The House's Commission on Defense and Foreign Affairs called for a new base following a diplomatic incident on March 19, in which an Indonesian patrol boat attempted to arrest a Chinese fishing vessel allegedly operating illegally inside the Indonesian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natunas. The arrest was thwarted by a Chinese coast guard vessel, which allegedly rammed the fishing boat in order to prevent its capture. Indonesian forces retained the fishing vessel's crew in custody.

"The development of a military base on Natuna Island is important for the defense system in the central region of Indonesia, which shares its borders with many countries in the South China Sea," said Commission chairman Mahfud Siddiq on Thursday, urging action on an earlier plan from 2015 to construct a base.

Parts of the Natuna Islands' EEZ lie within China's “nine dash line” claim in the South China Sea, but in a surprise move in November, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei acknowledged Indonesia's administration of the archipelago as legitimate and uncontested - in stark contrast to Chinese policy towards the Spratly Islands and the Paracels. The Chinese acknowledgement followed a threat by Jakarta to join the Philippines' suit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague over occupation of geographic features in the Spratly archipelago.

Notably, Hong's acknowledgement did not mention Indonesia's EEZ, but by recognizing Indonesia's right to the Natuna Islands, the legimacy of the 200-mile boundary of the EEZ was implied. Indonesian lawmakers viewed the March 19 incident as an incursion on the legitimacy of that claim, in addition to the alleged illegality of the fishing vessel’s operations.

The proposed base in the Natuna chain would not be the first recent uptick in Indonesia's military presence there. Last year, President Joko Widodo ordered fighter planes and P3-C maritime surveillance aircraft to the islands. The army garrison on the islands has been growing as well, reinforced by American-supplied Apache attack helicopters.

In addition to its fisheries, the EEZ surrounding Natuna is home to multiple natural gas plays with commercial potential.

China to Join Naval Exercises off Indonesia

From the Maritime Executive (Mar 26): China to Join Naval Exercises off Indonesia

Chinese Navy

Chinese ships left the port of Qingdao on Saturday to take part in naval exercises off the coast of Indonesia, China's Ministry of Defence said, a week after a dispute between the two countries over contested waters in the South China Sea.

The second biennial Multilateral Naval Exercise Komodo (MNEK) exercise, run by the Indonesian navy, will begin on April 12. The theme for the exercises is "readiness and cooperation for peace," and they will be conducted in Padang, Indonesia, and its nearby islands. Around 50 vessels from China, the United States, Russia, France, Australia and 16 other countries will participate.

“Under President Joko Widodo’s administration, Indonesia has just launched a new maritime strategy based on five fundamental pillars, namely maritime culture, maritime economy, maritime infrastructure, maritime security and maritime diplomacy,” said Admiral Ade Supandi, Chief of the Indonesian Navy. “MNEK 2016 is part of the implementation of the fourth and fifth pillars and it is one of the efforts of the Indonesian Navy to realize Indonesia to become a global maritime axis.”

Last week, Indonesia attempted to detain a Chinese trawler it accused of fishing in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, prompting the Chinese coastguard to intervene.

Tensions have been rising in the South China Sea as China continues to reclaim land and stake claims over vast swathes of an important shipping corridor. Several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims in the area, including Vietnam.

The ministry said in a separate notice that Defence Minister Chang Wanquan was due to visit Vietnam on Saturday to participate in high-level talks.

Naval Fleet by our North Sea Fleet missile frigate ships and offshore lifeboat Weifang Changxing Island ship composed of 26 am from a military port in Qingdao pier sail, carried far from the sea and combat training to Indonesia to participate in code-named "Comodo -2016" in joint exercises.

Davao police to file raps against suspect possessing IED

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Davao police to file raps against suspect possessing IED

Police authorities in the city are set to file charges of illegal possession of explosives and for violation of the election gun ban against a person carrying components for Improvise Explosive Device (IED) intercepted at the Sirawan checkpoint on Friday night.

The suspect identified as Roy Bulat-ag Moreno alias “Steve”, 22 and a resident of 2nd Block, Sinsuat Street, Kidapawan City is set to face charges for carrying IED components.

Moreno who was on board a passenger van from Kidapawan to Davao City, was caught possessing IED and other bomb paraphernalia during a routine vehicle and passenger inspection at the Task Force Davao van inspection area in Sirawan checkpoint conducted by Sgt. Palao and Pfc Guiampaca.

This prompted Palao and Guiampaca to temporarily hold Moreno and turned him over to the Toril Police Station for further investigation.

Davao City Police Office (DCPO) spokesperson Milgrace Driz said Moreno was put under custodial debriefing and he is now in the custody of the police pending the formal filing of charges.

Driz said Moreno's arrest is a result of intensified intelligence monitoring of all police and army personnel with the active support of the community and other law enforcement agencies.

“We double our effort on alertness and vigilance here and our pro-active efforts which resulted to this apprehension,” Driz said.

More modern weaponry for PA this 2016

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): More modern weaponry for PA this 2016

The Philippine Army (PA) is expecting more modern weaponry this year.

This was disclosed by PA commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano in a speech he gave during the Army's 119th founding anniversary last March 22.

In the pipeline for this year are additional infantry fighting and fire support vehicles, brand-new 155mm howitzers, light utility vehicles, 60mm mortars, 40mm grenade launchers, rocket launcher light units and 50-watt armored vehicle configured radios.

This is aside from the completed delivery of 56,844 R-4 carbine units, which are the replacement of the Vietnam-era M-16 automatic rifles, 124 additional armored vehicles, six armored personnel carriers fitted with .50 caliber remote-controlled weapon systems, 60 field ambulances and 300 light utility vehicles.

Ano said these additional equipment will make the PA more responsive and capable in its security and disaster alleviation missions.

Aside from these, 2,000 assorted radio and communication equipment were also acquired by the PA, giving it much effective command-and-control over its various units.

Philippines Creates New South China Sea Task Force

From The Diplomat (Mar 25): Philippines Creates New South China Sea Task Force (By )

National Task Force designed to better coordinate policy among agencies

On Wednesday, the Philippine government said that it had created a new task force to coordinate its policy on the South China Sea – which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea – amid rising tensions with China and ahead of a verdict on a case which it has filed against Beijing.

According to a document issued by the presidential office and seen by The Diplomat, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) will be chaired by the national security adviser and consist of undersecretaries from 15 different agencies including foreign affairs, national defense, environment and natural resources, energy, trade and industry, transportation and communications, the military, the police and fisheries and aquatic resources. The body will essentially perform the functions of the current Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee.

“Given the country’s national interest, national policies, and evolving strategic landscape, a more deliberate and coherent approach in addressing the West Philippine Sea issue is needed for the purpose of orchestrating the national effort and achieving unified action in the West Philippine Sea,” Memorandum Circular No. 94, which was signed on March 17, reads.

Among the four Southeast Asian claimant states in the South China Sea, the Philippines has been bearing the brunt of growing Chinese assertiveness over the past few years, with Beijing seizing Scarborough Shoal from Manila following a three-month standoff back in 2012 and effectively enforcing what Philippine officials say is a de facto air defense identification zone (ADIZ) within which it routinely harassing ships, planes and fishermen (See: “China Enforcing Quasi-ADIZ in South China Sea: Philippine Justice”).

Last week, a Chinese coast vessel rammed the boat of Philippine fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, with Manila alleging that the fishermen had bottles thrown at them and Beijing claiming that the fishermen had retaliated with fire bombs. U.S. navy chief Admiral John Richardson also said last week that Washington had picked up activity around Scarborough Shoal that could be a precursor to Chinese land reclamation there (See: “US Submarine Visits Former Philippines Base Amid South China Sea Tensions”).

The recent move to better synchronize policy comes ahead of a much-anticipated verdict on a South China Sea case that the Philippines has filed against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, expected in May or June (See: “Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?”). Close observers of the Philippines’ South China Sea strategy have long noted that the lack of coordination between various agencies, including the coast guard and the navy.

In that vein, the document states that NTF-WPS will be responsible for “orchestrating and synchronizing” the employment of different national government agencies’ capabilities to achieve Philippine objectives in the South China Sea and in providing recommendations to outgoing Philippine president Benigno Aquino III and his successor following upcoming elections in May. The National Security Council will provide technical and administrative support, while the president will also provide guidance through the cabinet cluster on security, justice and peace.

The NTF-WPS will create an area-level task force (ATF) which will coordinate efforts between agencies at the area level. But it can also organize tactical-level task forces (TTFs) comprised of units, assets, capabilities and elements of different agencies.

China’s Rift With Indonesia in the Natunas: Harbinger of Worse to Come?

From The Diplomat (Mar 25): China’s Rift With Indonesia in the Natunas: Harbinger of Worse to Come? (By

A closer look at the Chinese ship involved in the incident suggests some worrying signs about what to expect from Beijing.

China’s Rift With Indonesia in the Natunas: Harbinger of Worse to Come?

An Indonesian Navy rigid-hull inflatable boat (far left) confronts a Chinese Coast Guard vessel near Natuna Island. Source: KKP

The recent Sino-Indonesian standoff in waters close to the Natuna Islands reflects the growing capabilities of the China Coast Guard (CCG). The incident on March 19-20, which has precipitated the most serious diplomatic rift between Indonesia and China in recent years, saw a CCG ship ramming and preventing a Chinese fishing boat from being towed by an Indonesian task force in charge of countering illegal fishing. These and other recent actions indicate the enhanced confidence of CCG personnel in operating increasingly farther from mainland coasts for longer durations.

The Chinese patrol ship involved could offer some hints about Beijing’s capabilities. Except for a low-resolution picture of that vessel released by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fishery, we cannot determine with absolute certainty which CCG ship it was. However, a visual comparison of the ship’s exterior profile with those of vessels operated by the CCG South China Sea Branch suggests that it was CCG3210.

So what’s interesting about this ship then? Some background is necessary here. CCG3210’s previous incarnation was Yuzheng-310 – a 2,580-tonne patrol ship built in 2010 for the Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC). This ship participated in the March 2013 incident off Natuna Islands. In fact, prior to this incident, Yuzheng-310 participated in patrols off Scarborough Shoal after the standoff with the Philippines in April 2012. In July the same year, this ship escorted a 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet to waters off Fiery Cross, sailing for a total of 78 hours from Hainan Island.

Indeed, Chinese coastguard vessels often perform escort duties for Chinese fishermen to venture along the furthest extent of China’s so-called nine-dash line or U-shaped line claim. Not only can these escorts deter or resist other countries from harassing the fishermen; they can also support the use of these fishermen as proxies in enforcing the U-shaped line, as was the case with Yuzheng-310 which had made several forays into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Natuna Islands.

When CCG subsumed FLEC, the Yuzheng-310 was re-designated CCG3210 – the first digit “3” denoting the South China Sea Branch, second digit “2” denoting displacement between 2,000 and less than 3,000 tons, and the last digits inherited from the hull number used in previous service. That the CCG3210 was again involved in the latest standoff with Indonesia demonstrates some form of possible state-organized institutional continuity wherein a specific ship and its crew would be assigned to individual areas of responsibility.

That CCG3210 has been involved in more than one incident off the Natuna Islands illustrates a certain level of confidence and familiarity that the ship’s crew has accumulated thus far within this specific operating area. That confidence is illustrated by the sheer fact that CCG3210 travelled at 25 knots to intercept and ram the under-tow Kwey Fey. It would not have made sense for an inexperienced crew, unfamiliar with the ship’s capabilities and operating area, to sail CCG3210 at such high speed in waters so far away from mainland coasts.

The other notable ship of the South China Sea Branch is CCG3184, whose previous incarnation was the 1,500-tonne Haijian-84 of China Marine Surveillance which was later also subsumed under the CCG. Haijian-84 was involved in South China Sea incidents earlier than Yuzheng-310 which performed its first patrols in the area in 2012. Not long after being commissioned into service, Haijian-84 severed the cables of Vietnamese seismic survey vessel Binh Minh-02, some 43 miles southeast of Con Co Island in May 2011. The incident took place well within an area where Chinese and Vietnamese EEZs overlap. Furthermore, the location is within 200 miles of Hainan.
Evidently, Haijian-84 managed to project further out eastward into the South China Sea. It was one of the ships that prevented the Philippine Navy frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar from arresting Chinese fishermen during the Scarborough Shoal standoff in April 2012, this time at least 500 miles from Hainan. And it has recently gone further south too, having last shown up on on 22 March 2016 which indicated its presence in Malaysian EEZ.

Together, CCG3210 and CCG3184 would appear to illustrate institutionalized continuity within CCG of deploying hardware and crew to specific areas of responsibility. That CCG3184 was able to operate from waters near mainland coasts further east and deeper south within the South China Sea suggests the CCG’s accumulation of skills and confidence in sustained long-duration missions far away from its home bases. At least some of its ships and crews are likely designated to specialize in certain areas, becoming better at their tasks in the process.

Growing specialization can have significant implications not just for training and technical competence of Chinese personnel, but arguably their boldness in engaging with other South China Sea claimants as well. Potentially trained and inspired by the senior officers who might have served longer on board, this newfound confidence could also be increasing the crew’s tendency for pushing the envelope incrementally and testing the resolve of other claimant states. Over time, these coastguard units would gain familiarity with how each claimant reacts to every incident and plan their counter-reaction accordingly while avoiding any chance of uncontrollable escalation.

These patchy details notwithstanding, some regional implications can be discussed here. As a strategic policy instrument, if these assumptions hold and trends continue, the CCG will become more effective at both enforcing the U-shaped line and deterring escalation at the same time, with Beijing’s highest diplomatic support ready in the background.

If CCG ships and crews had already long begun to learn progressively from operating close to mainland coasts to waters further away, then the fortification and militarization of Beijing-occupied features in the South China Sea would further augment and enhance this nascent but significant institutionalized capacity in terms of ship and crew.

Practically, these fortified features should allow the ships and their crews to rest and replenish, negating the need for regular returns back to mainland bases.

Psychologically, it assures the crew that there are nearby installations that will provide needed support in times of emergency, including inclement weather that requires them to seek shelter. It is therefore reasonable to expect a steadily rising presence of Chinese fishing fleets in disputed areas of the South China Sea, backed by an increasingly well-equipped, experienced and assertive CCG. The reported presence of over 100 China-flagged vessels – most probably a fishing fleet backed by the CCG – in Malaysia’s EEZ  near South Luconia Shoals on 24 March 2016 is indicative of what’s to come. In the near future, encounters such as those off Natuna may well happen with greater regularity and intensity.

[Ristian A. Supriyanto is Indonesian Presidential PhD Scholar with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University; Shahriman Lockman is a Senior Analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia; and Koh Swee Lean Collin is associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.]

Man with bomb nabbed at Davao checkpoint (Photo)

From Rappler (Mar 26): Man with bomb nabbed at Davao checkpoint (Photo)

The suspect claims he carried the improvised explosive device in his backpack upon orders of the New People's Army

APPREHENDED. Roy "Steve" Bulat-Ag Moreno is arrested for illegal possession of explosives. Photo from Task Force Davao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A man carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) and other bomb paraphernalia was arrested at a checkpoint in Barangay Sirawan around 6 pm on Good Friday, March 25.

Task Force Davao Commander Colonel Cristobal Zaragoza identified the suspect as Roy "Steve" Bulat-Ag Moreno, 22, a resident of Sinsuat Street, Kidapawan City.

"He was riding a tricycle from Barangay Catigan. When he reached our checkpoint, he disembarked together with the van passengers. But when my personnel noticed his backpack, his attention was called. It was at this moment that the explosives were discovered," Zaragoza told Rappler.

Zaragoza said it was Private First Class Salman Guipacan who noticed the suspect walking through the passenger lane of the checkpoint with the backpack.

He added that during the investigation, Moreno had admitted that he was carrying the IEDs allegedly upon orders of the New People's Army (NPA).

"He admitted he was ordered by Commander Bobby of the New People's Army front 54, who ordered him to carry the backpack to Barangay Toril, then somebody would accompany him and deliver the IEDs to Barangay Tamayong," Zaragoza said.

Barangay Toril proper is just a kilometer away from the checkpoint.

Toril police are now preparing to file a complaint against Moreno for the illegal possession of explosives, and violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

Commentary: The Sulu side of the story

Commentary from The One Man's Meat column of Philip Golingai in The Star Online (Mar 26): The Sulu side of the story

Sulu Sultanate claimant  Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram (raised hand)

Sulu Sultanate claimant Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram (raised hand)

A self-styled sultan attempts to clear his name and explain the role of his people in Sabah.

LAST week, I received a polite “royal” rebuke from one of the claimants to the Sulu throne.

Via Facebook messenger, “sultan” Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram wrote, “Dear Philip, I read your write-up and it makes me sad. I was condemned without trial and so were my people.”

The “sultan” was referring to my article, “It’s actually not as bad as it sounds” published last Saturday. Quoting a Malaysian intelligence officer, I wrote that people in Sabah claiming to be panglima (commanders) of Sultan Muedzul-Lail were criminals and not a threat to internal security, unlike the family of the late self-styled Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

“Can I interview you to write about your side of the story?” I replied to the Tausug man I met in Jolo, Sulu province in 2013.

Here’s the 50-year-old self-styled sultan’s side of his story.

Muedzul-Lail lives in Jolo island, southern Philippines.

He has many rivals – some of whom are conmen – claiming to be the legitimate Sultan of Sulu. One of his main rivals is the family of “Sultan” Jamalul. The family hit the headlines when the “crown prince” Agbimuddin led some 200 followers in the occupation of Kg Tanduo in Lahad Datu, Sabah in 2013.

Muedzul-Lail’s claim to royal legitimacy is that he’s the son of the 34th Sultan of Sulu Mahakuttah Kiram. He was Sultan from 1974 to 1986.

Now that the two interim Sultans, the brothers Jamalul Kiram III and Sultan Esmail Kiram II are both dead, I hereby assert my birth right as a legitimate Sultan of Sulu archipelago and North Borneo, being the son of the late Sultan Mahakuttah Kiram, the last Sultan recognised by the Philippines Government, and the grandson of the late Sultan Ismael Kiram,” he said.

It was his grandfather who transferred the sovereign authority of North Borneo (renamed to Sabah after it formed Malaysia in Sept 16, 1963) to the Philippines government in 1962.

Muedzul-Lail is related to the late Jamalul, as his uncle is the first cousin of Mahakuttah. He said his uncles – Jamalul and Esmail – stole the sultanship from him after his father died in 1986.

“That time I was a minor. Now it’s time to regain that sultanship from them,” he said.

There were so many fake sultans coming out like mushrooms, according to Muedzul-Lail, because Jamalul and his brothers didn’t respect the law of succession.

“All the fake sultans want to gain United States support to claim back Sabah and Sarawak by all means. But for me as a legit sultan, I don’t want to wage war with Malaysia and Sabahans as I want respect, peace and harmony.”

The three Kiram brothers – Jamalul, Esmail (who succeeded him as Sultan) and Agbimuddin – are dead. Their brother Phugdalun is now the family’s self-styled Sultan of Sulu.

Muedzul-Lail claimed that Phugdalun wants Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay to win the presidential elections in May because Binay is committed to help him claim Sabah.

“But I can assure Malaysia that I’m the biggest blocking force and opposed to their moves,” he said.

(“Princess” Jacel Kiram, the daughter of the late Jamalul and the niece of Phugdalun, is with Binay and she’s using the Sabah claim as her campaign promise in her bid to be a Senator.)

On Feb 13, Malaysian security forces launched a massive pre-dawn operation in the Telipok Filipino refugee settlement, about 25km from Kota Kinabalu. Armoured personnel carriers entered the settlement, known to harbour criminals, as early as 3am.

The settlement was built in the 1970s for Muslim refugees fleeing southern Philippines during the Moro National Liberation Front war against Manila. Six people, linked to Muedzul-Lail, were among 520 people arrested.

“Who are the six people? What is their link to you?” I messaged the sultan.

“The six people are my panglima and maharaja and their families,” he said. “My only sentiment is the Sabah authority has no respect for my stature.

Let me be clear that all my officials are of good moral character and law-abiding citizens and whenever we find one violating the law, we immediately remove him from our roster.”

According to Muedzul-Lail, his panglima told him that they were arrested due to false intelligence that they were supporters of the family of Jamalul who launched the Tanduo intrusion.

That’s not the perspective of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

On Tuesday in Parliament, the Home Minister revealed that Sulu terrorists had appointed a commander for each state constituency in Sabah, towards establishing a Sulu sultanate in the state. Bernama reported him as saying that “the information was derived during interrogation of six terror suspects arrested by security forces in Sabah, besides evidence like thumb drives and several documents”.

“What’s your response?” I asked Muedzul-Lail.

The panglima is just like a district officer. According to our tradition, their duty is to maintain the good relationship of the people within that region, to maintain peace and order of the region and they are not a commander or a terrorist,” he said.

Muedzul-Lail then explained the roles of the titles that he had bestowed to his followers.

The panglima’s duty is to promote good relationship with the fellow Tausugs (the major ethnic group in Sulu province) monitoring the bad elements in Sabah. The maharaja is the deputy to the panglima. And the paduka are the community leaders who will update the panglima on the situation in their respective areas.

“How do you recruit your panglima, maharaja and paduka in Sabah?” I messaged.

“Before the standoff in Lahad Datu I would always come and go to and from Sabah and Sulu. I would choose a poor person but with good moral character who can be of help to fellow Tausug, convincing others not to be involved with lawbreakers.”

After the Tanduo standoff, Muedzul-Lail stopped visiting Sabah as he was instructed by “some top officials in KL to clear my name first because all Kirams were branded as conspirators”.

Muedzul-Lail might be out of Sabah but some of his panglimas are still in the state.

Film showing, photo exhibit mark second anniversary of CAB signing

From MindaNews (Mar 26): Film showing, photo exhibit mark second anniversary of CAB signing

A photo exhibit, a film showing, and presentation of plaques of appreciation will mark the observance of the second anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The CAB was signed by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the gardens of Malacanang on March 27, 2014 but the OPAPP’s anniversary activity will be held on March 28 at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City with the theme “Stand up for Peace! Long live the CAB!”

The activity will start at 1 p.m. but at 10 in the morning, a series of short films produced under “The Long Reach of Short Films- Telling Stories of Peace in Mindanao” supported by forumZFD –Civil Peace Service will be shown, along with other films on the Bangsamoro.

The photo exhibit on the ill effects of war as well as the efforts to bring about peace will be open for public viewing by 10 a.m.

The press release from the OPAPP said plaques of appreciation will be presented to “the peace mechanisms, past chairs of the negotiating panels, and other local and international actors involved in the Bangsamoro peace process.”

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, will be at the event along with representative/s of the MILF Central Committee, GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel_Ferrer; Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair and chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission; members and representatives of the ceasefire mechanisms, mechanisms under the program for Normalization; representatives of the Third-Parties in the GPH-MILF peace process and the Diplomatic Corps.

“Other expected guests include Members of the National Peace Council, people from the academe, religious communities, security sector, civil society, indigenous people organizations, and Royal Houses,” the OPAPP said.

Under the CAB, a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro”  is supposed to be set up by 2016 but Congress adjourned on February 3 without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The dream “Bangsamoro” two years after the signing of the CAB

From MindaNews (Mar 27): The dream “Bangsamoro” two years after the signing of the CAB

At the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 in the gardens of Malacanang, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebraim looked forward to 2016 as the inauguration of the “Bangsamoro” political entity.

Two years later, however, there is no “Bangsamoro” to inaugurate and celebrate.
Aquino, under whose administration the government finally concluded a peace agreement with the MILF 17 years and three administrations after the negotiations started in 1997, envisioned that that if the momentum for peace is sustained, “by 2016, the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections.”

May 9, 2016 is supposedly the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro. Instead, it will be the 8th election of officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which the Bangsamoro political entity would have replaced had the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) been passed.

The draft BBL, crafted by the 15-member joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014.

“I expect the deliberations in Congress to be characterized by a sincere desire to improve on the Bangsamoro Basic Law—and not by self-interest that only aims to perpetuate an untenable status quo,” Aquino said.

Both parties had agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that will be “less than independence but more than ARMM.” That entity would have adopted a ministerial form of government.

Congress adjourned on February 3 this year without passing the basic law.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would have taken over from the ARMM had the BBL been ratified. And if political milestones had been met, the decommissioning of firearms and combatants would have continued beyond the symbolic decommissioning of 75 weapons and 144 combatants on June 14, 2015.

MILF chair Murad told the crowd of over a thousand guests from government and the MILF, civil society, diplomatic community, religious leaders, indigenous peoples and ‘bakwits’ (internally displaced peoples): “We celebrate today the shared victory of the Bangsamoro and the Filipino people.”

The CAB, he said, “finally brings with it the restoration of the identity, powers and resources of the Bangsamoro.”

“These three things which have been ours since time immemorial, unjustly taken through colonization and occupation, are now returned to us,” Murad said.

He said the CAB is the “crowning glory of our struggle… to find the final answer to the Bangsamoro Question,” a negotiated political agreement “that not only promises but guarantees mutual recognition, respect and restoration of the legitimate rights of the people in the Bangsamoro,” he added.

“With sincerity in our hearts, we offer the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to the Filipino people as the fullest articulation of our aspirations, and by it our unyielding belief that no more cause worth pursuing by force is left for others to take,” said Murad, who was long-time MILF vice chair for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who concurrently served as MILF peace panel chair when the peace talks resumed in 2001 following the “all-out war” declared by the Estrada administration in 2000.

Murad assumed the post of MILF chair following the death of founding chair Salamat Hashim in July 2003.

Murad envisioned that “upon the establishment of the new Bangsamoro Political Entity,” the role of the MILF “may be likened only to a gatekeeper for the duration of the transition period, where after such period the keys to the gate will be willingly handed over to the democratic will of the Bangsamoro. To be overly emphatic, it will not be a government of the MILF, but the government of the Bangsamoro.”

Aquino, who personally sought a meeting with Murad in Japan on August 4, 2011 to fast-track the peace process, called on the Filipino people to “widen the avenues for trust and positive engagement,” to “cast aside past prejudices, and contribute to the atmosphere of optimism that has, for the first time in a long while, become prevalent in Muslim Mindanao.”

“It should be the paramount concern of all people of goodwill to do their part: Let us exchange our bullets for ripening fruit, our cynicism for hope, our histories of sorrow for a future of harmony, peace, and prosperity,” the President said.

He said the Bangsamoro “shall form a perimeter of vigilance against the spread of extremism; it shall act as a bridge of moderation among the great faiths of the various constituencies in ASEAN. From this shared security, we shall enhance the era of prosperity that is dawning upon our region, and harness its energies towards creating a regime of opportunity and inclusivity where no one is left behind.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sir Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, whose country has been facilitating the GPH-MILF peace talks since 2001, noted that in signing the CAB, “the two sides have looked not to the problems of the past, but to the promise of the future.”

“After so many years of conflict, and so many lives lost, it is a momentous act of courage. And it will change their nation’s history,” he said.

Authorities begin ‘intelligence review’ of two Filipino terror leaders

From the Gulf News (Mar 27): Authorities begin ‘intelligence review’ of two Filipino terror leaders

Philippine authorities began intensified intelligence gathering on two Filipino terror leaders after 15 suspected terrorists were arrested and prevented from channelling funds from Malaysia to a group in the southern Philippines which has links with Daesh militants, sources said. “Assessment of data gathered on the two terror leaders and their groups which have declared allegiance to Daesh is being reviewed for stronger pre-emptive response in the Philippines,” a source from the defence department who requested anonymity told Gulf News. “The updated report will be shared with all nine other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),” said the source. ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Placed under “deep intelligence scrutiny” was Shaikh Esmael Abubakar, alias Commander Bongos, who became head of the eight-year old Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato died in 2015, said the source, adding that Abubakar had sworn allegiance to Daesh.

Also under “thorough review” was Isnilon Hapilon, alias Abu Abdullah, of the Abu Sayyaf Group who declared allegiance to Daesh in a recent video uploaded at Achived on January 4, the source said. Hapilon was named in the video as the new leader of the “Harakatul Islamiyah (Islamic Movement}”. There were 30 followers in the video including Abu Harith Al-Filibbieni, alleged deputy commander of Daesh’ Al-Ansar Infantry Division; and Mohd Najib Hussain, alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, alleged division head of Daesh’ Ansar Al-Sharia. Also in the video were other Malaysians namely Mahmud Ahmad, Mohammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil. They went to the southern Philippines to recruit fighters for Daesh’ campaign in Iraq and Syria, intelligence reports said. Last February, the Philippines army’s western Mindanao command claimed Hussain was killed during operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. The US government has offered a $5 million (Dh18.36 million) reward for Hapilon’s head. Philippines security forces have denied earlier allegations that Daesh has recruited young Filipino fighters in Mindanao to join the campaign for Daesh in Syria and Iraq.The 15 recently arrested Malaysians, including a police officer whose nationality was not identified, were allegedly collecting funds for the Philippines group, and for arranging the exit of two foreign terrorists from Malaysia to another ASEAN member country that was not identified, Malaysia’s inspector general Khalid Abu Bakar said in a report. The key person along the 15 arrested terrorists was identified as Mohammad Wanndy Mohammad Jedi, a Malaysian national recruiting for Daesh in Syria, and the brains behind plans to launch terror attacks in Malaysia, Khalid said.

Taiwan’s perspective on the South China Sea dispute

From the Journal of Turkish Weekly (Mar 25): Taiwan’s perspective on the South China Sea dispute (by Kamer Kasim)

Taiwan’s perspective on the South China Sea dispute

The South China Sea dispute has become a widely discussed problem in the international platform due to its potential to cause armed conflict in the region. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have clashing sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. In fact, $5.3 trillion USD of trade passes through the South China Sea each year. Correspondingly, the rising economic and political weight of the regional countries increased the international importance of the South China Sea. As one of the actors in the region, Taiwan has the most potential to influence the developments of the discussions regarding the South China Sea dispute due to its economic and military power.

The conflict takes place around Spratly (Nansha) and Paracel (Shisha) islands as well as the Pratas (Tungsha), Natuna and Scarborough Shoal. The PRC claims sovereignty on the map of U shaped line referred to as the “Nine-dash line”. But, Taiwan presented a similar arguments regarding sovereignty over the South China Sea. Taiwan argument bases itself on historical grounds to justify its claims over the area. However, there are differences between the PRC’s and Taiwan’s positions. In fact, the KMT government of China released a map titled ‘position of the South China Sea Islands’ in 1947. The eleven-dash line was used to define a scope of Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea. After Chinese Communists took power of the mainland, they cancelled the two intermittent lines and the PRC started to use the nine-dash line to support its sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. Taiwan upholds its claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea. However, Taiwan does not fully support the PRC’s South China Sea policy.  Taiwan adheres to the notion that the dispute be solved through international law since it does not support territorial sovereignty through the man-made islands. Taiwan promotes cooperation among regional countries to solve the dispute and does not support unilateral extraction of sand from the seabed or the reclamation of land from underwater reefs.

Overlapping claims regarding the Paracel (Shisha) islands have caused conflict between Vietnamese troops and the PRC. As a result, the PRC seized the Paracel (Shisha) killing more than 70 Vietnamese soldiers in 1974. In 1988, 60 more Vietnamese soldiers died in the conflict.  Natural resources, especially oil and gas reserves, are the key factors that triggered the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea. In May 2014, the PRC’s drilling operations near Paracel (Shisha) island carried out by maritime vessels were intercepted by Vietnam’s vessels. Thus, a collision occurred between the Vietnamese and the PRC vessels and caused riots targeted against the Chinese living in Vietnam. As a result, Taiwanese factories were also attacked. Similar problems have occurred between the PRC and the Philippines over Spratly Islands (Nansha). The Philippines applied to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and called for a halt on all construction projects in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea dispute caused tension among the US, the PRC and even Taiwan. In October 2015, the US’s destroyer vessel passed through the PRC’s artificially constructed islands, and the PRC intercepted their vessels. The Obama administration established a rebalancing strategy towards Asia-Pacific region and increased their military presence. The PRC perceived this policy as a type of containment strategy against them; especially since the Trans-Pacific Partnership is also regarded as an economic tool of containment. The tension between the US and the PRC has created a potential military confrontation, thus Taiwan proposed the South China Sea Peace Initiative on May 26th, 2015. By urging all parties to comply with international law and reduce tension, Taiwan’s initiative has been supported internationally because of its peaceful proposal to shelve peace and create stability in South China Sea.  As of 2013, Taiwan and Japan managed to sign a fishing agreement over the East China Sea that grants Taiwanese vessels access to the disputed waters of Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Taiwan’s initiative for the South China Sea bore its first fruit on November 5th, 2015, when Taiwan and the Philippines signed the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fishery Matters agreement that reduced fishery tension between the two.

The South China Sea Peace Initiative suggested the development of a cooperative mechanism to ensure equal participation and resource sharing among all parties of the dispute. This cooperation mechanism aims to prevent undermining the rights and interests of any party. In the short term, the South China Sea Peace Initiative aims to launch multilateral dialogue and consultations. The initiative strives to create a code of conduct to avoid unexpected sea or air encounters in the South China Sea. In the medium term, the agreement envisages all parties to jointly engage in coordination and cooperation on important issues such as the conservation and management of living resources, and exploration and exploitation of non-living resources. The cooperation mechanism should include scientific research, environmental protection, crime prevention, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. In the long term, the plan aims to establish a mechanism for zonal development. Through joint effort, the parties could designate specific maritime areas for provisional cooperative development. It aims to establish joint management and monitoring mechanisms to enable cooperation and development on the allocated areas and in a stage-by-stage basis.

The South China Sea Peace Initiative has provided the base groundwork for a peaceful solution to the disputes, rather than pressure for the parties to change their position. Its objective has been to enable parties to benefit from dispute areas through joint action. However, Taiwan’s historical claims over the South China Sea have not changed. Historically, Taiwan claimed that Taiping (Itu Aba) Island qualified as an island according to the specifications of article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Taiwan argued that Taiping Island can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own. But, the Philippines argued that Taiping is not an island because of its lack of water supply and fertile soil making it inconvenient for habitants. However, Taiwan stated that Taiping Island is the only island in Spratly (Nansha) Islands to have its own sources of potable water. Since the island has four wells, one of the well’s water is used to raise tilapia, while the other three provide 65 tons of freshwater daily. Taiping Island boasts an excellent ecological environment with an abundance of natural vegetation. In the Island, there are also facilities such as mobile communication systems, post office and satellite television system, which all are essential for modern life. Taiwan completed the renovation of a wharf and the construction of a lighthouse in Taiping Island. The wharf has the capacity to accommodate 3,000-ton ships and a lighthouse to ensure navigational safety of around Taiping Island. In 2000, the Coast Guard Administration took over defense of Taiping Island from the Marine Corps. This indicated a transition to Taiwan’s stance against the militarization of the South China Sea.

Regarding the Philippines application to the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea disputes, Taiwan stated that the Philippines did not extend an invitation to Taiwan to participate in its arbitration with mainland China, since the arbitral tribunal did not solicit Taiwan’s views. Therefore, Taiwan refuses to recognize the arbitration or any agreements since it will not affect Taiwan. Taiwan excluded from the sovereignty dispute between Philippines and the PRC.

Taiwan’s special ties with the US have provided a continued security guarantee for Taiwan. However, Taiwan’s dispute over the South China Sea with the US allies in the region has at times created a clash of interests between the US and Taiwan. The US implied that it disagrees with Taiwan’s active involvement over the South China Sea dispute and it openly criticized Taiwanese President’s visit to Taiping Island. Although US President Obama has followed an active policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, the US approach to Taiwan regarding South China Sea is inconsistent and unclear. Nevertheless, the US and Taiwan continued to have special ties  since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 and President Reagan’s the Six Assurances act in 1982. Therefore, the US should take Taiwan’s position in South China Sea into consideration.

 Furthermore, the US re-balance strategy in the region requires closer ties with Taiwan. However, the rebalancing strategy cannot be evaluated as a type of Cold War containment. Joseph Nye argued that the US containment strategy of the Soviet Union refers to virtually no trade and little social contact. Yet the US currently maintains a massive trade agreement with the PRC and extensive social contact including 157,000 Chinese students at American universities (Joseph S. Nye Jr, “Our Pacific Predicament”, The American Interest,, March/April 2013).

In conclusion, it is possible to expand on a dialogue for a peaceful solution on the dispute and reduce tension within the South China Sea. In order to achieve this, Taiwan’s active involvement in any type of negotiation related to the South China Sea is necessary. As one the most important economic and military powers in the region, Taiwan’s perspective on the South China Sea dispute should not be neglected.

*Slightly different Turkish version of the article was published in Analist (March 2016, p. 90-93.)

Military doubts authenticity of beheading video in Sarangani

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 25): Military doubts authenticity of beheading video in Sarangani

Military authorities debunked the authenticity of a video footage posted on a social media which showed the beheading of a man by ISIS sympathizers in nearby Sarangani province.

Colonel Ronald Villanueva, 1002nd Army Brigade commander, described the video footage as a mere propaganda by a terrorist group with the use of the social media.

He said they have already verified the authenticity of the footage with police authorities in Sarangani, who denied that the incident took place.

The footage showed the beheading of a man from this city who was held captive for espionage by ISIS sympathizers, led by Kumader Tokboy Maguid , a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chieftain based in Maasim, Sarangani.
Maguid led a group of armed followers who figured in an encounter with government troops in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat in November last year.

Maguid managed to flee during the military operation but seven of his cohorts were killed during the firefight.

Troops recovered several firearms and flag with marking of ISIS at the scene of encounter.

Villanueva said the video footage could have been altered to make it appear that it was taken in Sarangani.