Tag Archives: South China Sea

India Continued Activity in the South China Sea

A STRATFOR ANALYSIS
Indian state-owned energy company ONGC Videsh Ltd. announced July 19 that it would continue participating in a joint oil and natural gas exploration project with Vietnam in Block 128, one of several potentially exploitable oil blocks in the South China Sea. The company withdrew from the project in May — purportedly over unfavourable exploration conditions — but it reconsidered its position after Hanoi reportedly pledged to give ONGC Videsh additional data and other incentives.

Complicating the project was China, which claims sole domain over the South China Sea and has long opposed joint exploration in its waters unless it includes China. Many observers considered ONGC Videsh’s initial withdrawal to be a bow to China’s demands, despite New Delhi’s claims to the contrary. But with the decision to renew the contract, India has shown its willingness to align with Vietnam amid tensions in the South China Sea, even at the risk of hurting its relations with China. Still, a number of questions remain over the commercial viability of the venture and over the implications of Beijing’s response.

China’s objections to the project are twofold. With tensions rising amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea, smaller countries in the region are turning to outside actors to help reinforce their territorial claims. Beijing’s opposition is meant to warn Vietnam against joint exploration with non-claimant countries. This complicates Beijing’s efforts to contain the disputes among claimant countries. At the same time, China wants to prevent India from increasing its presence in the South China Sea.

For its part, India wants to operate in the South China Sea as a means to counterbalance China’s regional influence and as a way to divert Beijing’s attention from New Delhi’s immediate strategic interests. By cooperating with Vietnam, India could gain some leverage in the South China Sea disputes. Engaging Beijing close to its own turf in this way could serve to keep China at bay while also enhancing New Delhi’s role in the growing regional competition for energy resources.

Vietnam wants to counter China’s claim to the South China Sea; increasing its presence through resource-exploration projects is one way it can achieve that goal. However, Vietnam lacks the technological capability needed to explore deeper waters, so it is courting the assistance of other countries. By locking in such collaborations, Vietnam could mitigate the financial and political risks involved with resource exploration in the South China Sea. Therefore, India’s withdrawal on the project dealt a major setback to Vietnam’s goal of countering Beijing’s territorial claims.

A NEW AUCTION

To counter Vietnam’s offer to India and to facilitate its claim to the South China Sea, Chinese state-owned energy firm China National Offshore Oil Corp. in late June opened nine offshore oil blocks to joint operation with foreign companies. The move marked the first auction in the area by the Chinese firm in two decades. Notably, the oil blocks Beijing opened are close to the western fringe of China’s nine-dash line — a loose boundary line demarcating China’s maritime claims — near the Vietnamese coast, and most blocks appear to overlap with those of Vietnam. The area of Blocks Yiqingxi 18 and Danwan 22 directly overlap with Block 128, where the Vietnam-India joint venture is located.

Underlying China National Offshore Oil Corp.’s auction is Beijing’s desire to exercise its right to energy exploration in the disputed waters. As the firm’s deep-sea technological capabilities grow, Beijing could become the only country with a territorial claim to the South China Sea that can conduct exploration projects without the help of other countries. As a result, the company will be uniquely positioned to lead future explorations in the disputed waters, and that ability will give credence to China’s territorial claims.

China National Offshore Oil Corp.’s auction marks a significant development in Beijing’s maritime strategy. Previously, Beijing protested any activity in the South China Sea and performed somewhat low-level naval harassment manoeuvres against those active in the waters. Now, it has opened the sea to competition over energy and mineral resources. By initiating joint exploration projects, Beijing is attempting to force Vietnam to reconsider its strategy of working jointly with outside countries like India to the exclusion of China.

CONCERNS OVER VIABILITY

However, the prospects for exploiting resources in the sea are unclear. ONGC Videsh has been engaged in exploratory projects with Vietnam since 2006 and has invested more than $50 million in block 128 alone. India earlier relinquished the nearby block 127 after finding insufficient production potential, and the hard seabed terrain in block 128 complicates prospects for recovering oil. If the venture with Vietnam does not produce oil, ONGC Videsh will have to carry at least some of the burden. Importantly, any move by India and Vietnam will inevitably provoke strong opposition from China.

Each country’s decision to operate in the South China Sea derives largely from their strategic interests rather than their economic interests. For China, the auction is largely a political move intended to pre-empt outside countries interested in exploring the blocks, thereby buying time for China’s own exploration even while opening up energy competition in the sea. Despite the fact that the auction has yet to attract interest from foreign companies, Beijing has little intention of backing off from its position. Meanwhile, China will continue to pressure other countries with claims in the South China Sea to not explore the disputed waters. And as pressure from China mounts, India, Vietnam and any other country looking to explore without Chinese participation will have to weigh the political implications.

— STRATFOR  www.stratfor.com

As tensions mount with China US shifting bulk of Navy ships to Asia-Pacific

U.S. Navy and Singapore ships in the South China Sea
By Patrick Martin

The United States will deploy the majority of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region over the next decade, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Saturday in a speech to a security conference in Singapore. The move is part of a major shift in the global strategy of American imperialism that puts China at the top of the US target list.

The mobilization of warships will be accompanied by an increase in the number of military exercises conducted by the Pentagon in the region, involving air, sea and land forces. Most will be carried out in conjunctions with countries that are openly or tacitly allied with the US against China, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.

In his speech to the conference, Panetta elaborated on the “pivot to Asia” announced by Obama last year, in which he indicated that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the beginning of a drawdown from Afghanistan would allow the US military to deploy far greater resources to the Far East.

“All of the U.S. military services are focused on implementing the president’s guidance to make the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Panetta said, adding: “While the U.S. military will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.”

The current deployment of the US Navy is approximately a 50-50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific. This will change by 2020 to a 60-40 split in favor of the Pacific, Panetta said: “That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.” He called these forces “the core of our commitment to this region.”

Panetta singled out for praise the agreement last fall with the Australian government for the deployment of US Marines in northern Australia, calling it “a critical component” of the US military buildup.

“This Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be capable of rapidly deploying across the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, thus confirming that it will be able to intervene at key choke points like the Strait of Malacca, vital to China’s export and import trade, particularly oil supplies from the Middle East and Africa.

The US is negotiating a similar agreement for stationing ground forces on a rotating basis in the Philippines, he said, and is pursuing such arrangements with other countries in the region, although he did not name them. In 2011 the US military conducted 172 military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region, and that number will increase considerably this year.

Panetta claimed that the US buildup was not directed against China, and even made the Orwellian claim that “increased US involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future.”

There is no mistaking the meaning of the measures he announced, however. More than half the US Navy is to be deployed to the Asia-Pacific. What other country could be the target?

North Korea has a handful of coastal vessels that are no threat to South Korea, let alone the United States. Nearly every other country in the region is either a formal US ally, like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia, a client state like Taiwan and Singapore, or a prospective partner in military action against China, like India.

When Panetta declared, referring to US relations with China, “We in the United States are clear-eyed about the challenges,” all the conference participants, as well as Beijing, undoubtedly got the message.

If there were any doubts, Panetta closed his address with an invocation of the history of US wars in the region. “Over the course of history, the United States has fought wars, we have spilled blood, we have deployed our forces time and time again to defend our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region,” he declared.

iscuss joint operations against North Korea.

TPanetta followed up his appearance in Singapore with a visit to two countries that have fought wars with China in the past 50 years—Vietnam (which fought a war with China in 1979) and India (in 1962). In Vietnam Sunday he spoke to US sailors on board a naval supply ship anchored at Cam Ranh Bay, which was the biggest US Navy base in Asia during the US war in Vietnam.

Besides the public posturing, Panetta had closed-door meetings on the sidelines of the Singapore conference with a series of defense ministers and other top officials from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. The defense ministers of Thailand and Cambodia invited Panetta to visit their countries.

Panetta held a trilateral meeting with South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin and Japan Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister of Defense Shu Watanabe to dhe meeting follows a press report in the United States that US and South Korean special forces have conducted infiltrations operation into North Korea to gather intelligence on secret underground military facilities.

Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of US special forces in South Korea, told a conference in Florida that North Korea has dug thousands of tunnels in the 60 years since the end of the Korean War. “The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” Tolley said. “So we send ROK soldiers and US soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.”

While an aide to Tolley later claimed that he “misspoke,” the general’s remarks, as reported by the press, were unequivocal. According to The Hill web site, “Tolley told attendees during a special operations industry conference in May that elite US troops have been dropped behind North Korean lines to pinpoint the specific locations of Pyongyang’s vast network of underground military bases. American commandos have identified hundreds of underground munitions facilities, along with thousands of subterranean artillery positions…”

The report gives a glimpse of the real posture of the United States military in the region, behind the usual diplomatic blather about peaceful intentions and defending the “free world.” US imperialism is the most powerful and aggressive military force on the planet.

Panetta’s bilateral meeting with Singapore Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen finalized the agreement for the stationing of four US littoral combat ships in the island state. These ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments, particularly against mines, submarines and small, light surface craft.

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the ships would be rotated in and out of Singapore for six to ten months at a time. The sailors will live on board and not stationed or home-ported in Singapore. But the result is that at any one time, some 300 US navy personnel will be in Singapore, keeping watch over the adjacent Strait of Malacca. The ships will also move about the region, to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere in southeast Asia.

Following the Singapore conference, Dempsey traveled to the Philippines for meetings with President Benigno Aquino III and Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Philippine naval forces recently confronted Chinese vessels over access to the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of islets and reefs in the South China Sea.

(Courtesy: wsws.org)