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Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

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January 2023

Asia

South China Sea

Philippines and China signed economic deals despite differences over South China Sea (SCS), while U.S. and Beijing continued maritime activity in region.

Philippines and China struck agreements amid SCS tensions. Philippine President Marcos Jr. 3-5 Jan visited Chinese capital Beijing and met President Xi, signing agreements on issues including fisheries, infrastructure and finance; meeting followed late Dec announcement of new SCS hotline between two states. Philippine Supreme Court 11 Jan declared 2005 joint oil exploration pact between China, Philippines and Vietnam unconstitutional; Philippine foreign ministry said it would take ruling into account when resuming talks with China over possible cooperation on oil and gas in disputed waters. Former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos 13 Jan said Philippines was examining Chinese partnership proposal with fishing villages in West Philippine Sea; Marcos 15 Jan clarified Philippines and China only have agreement, not partnership, allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in SCS.

U.S. and Chinese ships continued maritime activity in region. China late Dec sent its largest coastguard vessels to patrol Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, which remained present during month; vessels arrived as Indonesia and Vietnam finalised their 12-year negotiation to delimit overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones late Dec, which may challenge China’s “nine-dash-line” claims. Indonesia mid-month deployed warship to North Natuna Sea to monitor Chinese Coast Guard vessel. U.S. Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and accompanying warships 12 Jan entered SCS and conducted routine operations; in response, Chinese Shandong aircraft carrier group held series of “confrontational drills” in SCS. Media reports mid-month suggested Beijing turned down U.S. offer to hold military talks on SCS ahead of U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken’s visit to China in Feb. Meanwhile, Japanese Coast Guard 13 Jan concluded four-day security drills training with Malaysian counterpart on repelling foreign intruders in SCS.

December 2022

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions surfaced between Philippines and China over disputed claims, as new imagery revealed alleged Chinese construction in Spratly Islands.

Philippines asserted South China Sea (SCS) claims amid ongoing tensions with China. Philippine President Marcos Jr. 1 Dec reiterated Manilla could still exploit SCS energy resources even without reaching deal with China, as ongoing talks on joint energy exploration stalled amid overlapping territorial claims and sovereignty concerns. Philippines 14 Dec expressed “great concern” over “unacceptable” continued Chinese presence near Iriqouis Reef and Sabina Shoal in disputed Spratly Islands. U.S. 19 Dec echoed concern over “escalating swarms” of unsafe Chinese Coast Guards vessels encountering Philippines navy; China next day slammed remarks as “unfounded accusation”. Manilla 22 Dec ordered military to strengthen presence in SCS, citing “Chinese activities” in disputed waters close to Pagada (Thitu) Island. Meanwhile, satellite images released 20 Dec showed newly developed formations appearing over previously unoccupied land formations over past year at Eldad Reef in northern Spratlys and neighbouring Lankiam Cay, Whitsun Reef and Sandy Cay; China next day dismissed allegations it was responsible as “completely untrue”. U.S. military 29 Dec said that Chinese fighter jet performed unsafe maneuver during intercept of U.S. Air Force jet.

November 2022

Asia

South China Sea

U.S. VP Kamala Harris visited Philippines, deepening military ties between allies, while negotiations on South China Sea (SCS) Code of Conduct made no progress.

U.S. VP reiterated commitment to Philippines, visiting island on rim of SCS. U.S. VP Kamala Harris 20 Nov commenced visit to Philippines, meeting Philippine President Marcos Jr. to discuss expanding U.S.-Philippine security ties, including Coast Guard partnership and maritime law enforcement cooperation, as Harris reaffirmed U.S. commitment toward Philippines under 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in case of “armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific”. Harris 22 Nov became highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit Palawan – western Philippine island near disputed Spratly Islands in SCS. U.S. Navy ship USS Chancellorsville 29 Nov conducted freedom of navigation operation near Spratly Islands; China’s eastern theatre command same day rebuked operation as “trespassing” into Chinese waters. Earlier, Philippine military 21 Nov said Chinese Coast Guard forcibly seized suspected Chinese rocket debris being towed by Philippine Navy off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island.

SCS Code of Conduct negotiations remained stalled. President Marcos, Jr. 13 Nov reiterated urgency of concluding negotiations on Code of Conduct as conclusion of regional body ASEAN’s East Asia Summit brought no progress on finalising draft. ASEAN and China same day released joint statement pledging to make SCS “sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation” and conclude early adoption of Code of Conduct. Chinese President Xi 18 Nov reiterated pledge during meeting with Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. U.S. President Biden same day affirmed freedom of navigation and overflight must be respected in East and South China Seas.

October 2022

Asia

South China Sea

U.S. and allies held naval drills in South China Sea (SCS), while Chinese hospital ship sailed to more than dozen Chinese-occupied islands.

U.S. conducted joint exercises with allies and announced new initiative. U.S., Japan, and Canada maritime forces 1 Oct concluded “Noble Raven 22” joint exercises in SCS. U.S., Japan, and Australia 7 Oct held manoeuvres, while all four countries 19 Oct participated in joint exercises for first time, including surface, subsurface, and air defence exercises. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas 18 Oct announced $60mn investment in new maritime initiatives in Indo-Pacific, with aim to increase presence involving Coast Guard assets and personnel capable of rapid deployment on request of partner.

Chinese naval vessel visited SCS islands. Chinese state media 11 Oct reported naval hospital ship Youhao had completed 18-day voyage, including visit to 13 Chinese-occupied islands in Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, providing “medical services to more than 5,000 people” located on islands. Chinese oil company 20 Oct claimed to find first “deep-deep” gas field in western SCS, with gas reserve exceeding 50bn cubic metres.

In another important development. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sec Gen Dato Paduka 19 Oct said regional body and China were currently working on second draft of SCS Code of Conduct.

September 2022

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions remained high as Philippines revealed it had filed numerous protests against China’s maritime incursions and Beijing expressed readiness to agree Code of Conduct.

Philippines revealed it had repeatedly protested Chinese maritime incursions in 2022. Manilla 8 Sept said it had filed 178 protests against Chinese incursion into territorial waters as of 31 Aug, including 48 since President Marcos Jr. took office on 30 June; incursions included illegal fishing, harassment of fisherman and unauthorised marine research.

Amid ongoing activity, China pledged support for finalising maritime Code of Conduct. Chinese FM Wang 20 Sept spoke to Vietnamese PM Pham Minh Chinh, affirmed China was ready to work with countries from South East Asia regional body ASEAN to reach early agreement on Code of Conduct in South China Sea (SCS). Philippine Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Senator Imee Marcos 14 Sepy suggested Code of Conduct should only be negotiated among claimant countries, instead of all ASEAN states, to speed up process. Australian Navy chief Mark Hammond 9 Sept said Australian warships were regularly shadowed by Chinese military vessels in SCS, describing behaviour as “unusual”.

U.S.-Philippines negotiations on security arrangements continued. Philippine Ambassador to U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez 5 Sept said in event of Taiwan conflict, Manila would only let U.S. forces use its military bases if conflict affected Philippines’ security; also said Manila and Washington were negotiating increase of bases available to U.S. forces under bilateral Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Philippine President Ferdinand Marco Jr. 22 Sept met U.S. President Biden at UN General Assembly, where pair pledged support for freedom of navigation and overflight.

August 2022

Asia

South China Sea

China conducted minesweeping and training exercises, while regional body ASEAN announced intention to proceed with Code of Conduct negotiating text. Chinese navy 13 Aug commenced five-day minesweeping drill in South China Sea (SCS) with brigade including Type 082-II minesweepers Hejian and Chishui. China’s Shandong aircraft carrier battlegroup 24 Aug commenced training exercises. ASEAN FMs 5 Aug called for “maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation” in SCS during foreign ministers’ meeting, and announced aim to conclude second reading of Single Draft Negotiating Text for Code of Conduct by end of 2022. Taiwanese FM Joseph Wu 9 Aug warned China’s ambitions go beyond Taiwan, said it is “determined to link the East and South China Seas to the Taiwan Strait so this entire area would become its internal waters”. Australian Air Force chief Robert Chipman 22 Aug said Australia would continue surveillance operations in SCS despite “recent spate of unsafe incidences”, alluding to May confrontation between Australian and Chinese jets.

July 2022

Asia

South China Sea

China purportedly sought management of South China Sea (SCS) dispute with Philippines, while U.S. warned of risk of major incident with China and conducted naval operations near disputed islands. Chinese VP Wang Qishan 1 July said China and Philippines should “adhere to the proper handling” of SCS dispute while attending inauguration of President Marcos Jr; Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 July said “differences cannot be allowed to define the relationship between the two countries.” On occasion of sixth anniversary of SCS Arbitral Tribunal Ruling, U.S. 11 July reaffirmed its 2020 policy rejecting China’s maritime rights claims in SCS and that any attack on Filipino armed forces, vessels or aircraft would invoke U.S. commitments under Mutual Defence Treaty; Philippines FM next day said arbitral tribunal ruling was “final” (China previously judged it illegal, null and void). U.S. Navy 13 July conducted freedom of navigation operations near disputed Paracel Islands; China same day said it had “driven away” ship and called U.S. “destroyer” of regional peace and stability. U.S. 16 July conducted additional operation near disputed Spratly Islands; USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group same day entered SCS. U.S. media reports citing informed sources 14 July said Chinese fighter jet had “unsafe” and “unprofessional” interaction with U.S. special operations C-130 aircraft in June. U.S. 26 July accused China of increased provocations against other claimants in SCS and said that it was only matter of time before major incident because of China’s “aggressive and irresponsible behaviour.” On sidelines of Mekong-Lancang foreign ministers’ meeting in Bagan, Myanmar, Wang Yi and Vietnamese FM Bui Thanh Son 5 July agreed to advance maritime cooperation and promote talks to handle conflict over SCS.

June 2022

Asia

South China Sea

Australia accused Chinese aircraft of dangerous interception in South China Sea (SCS), while U.S. and China traded barbs during international Shangri-La summit. Australia 5 June reported Chinese J-16 fighter conducted “dangerous manoeuvre” close to Australian P8 military surveillance plane flying near Paracel Islands in SCS; China 7 June said Australian aircraft “seriously threatened China’s sovereignty and security” and Chinese countermeasures were “professional, safe, reasonable and legitimate”. Chinese Eastern Theatre Command 6 June announced beach landing exercises conducted by three landing ships in SCS waters. Philippines 11 June protested Chinese actions in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, including illegal fishing, shadowing Filippino vessels on rotation and resupply mission, and blocking shoal entrance with buoys and fishnets. Outgoing Philippines FM 23 Jun said talks over joint energy exploration with China in SCS were terminated. Philippines 28 June protested Taiwan’s live-fire drills near Itu Aba in Spratly Islands. SCS emerged as central topic during international summit Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore 10-12 June. Notably, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin 11 June called out China for building “outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims”; Chinese Defence Minister Wei Feng He 12 June called for SCS to be “sea of peace, friendship and cooperation” while condemning “some big power” who practised “navigation hegemony”; Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen same day compared SCS situation to currently blockaded Black Sea, while Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein cautioned tensions could degenerate into deadly conflict.

May 2022

Asia

South China Sea

U.S. and Southeast Asia regional body ASEAN pledged deeper cooperation in South China Sea (SCS), while China imposed annual fishing ban. U.S. and ASEAN 12-13 May held summit in U.S. capital Washington D.C., during which they elevated relationship to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership; 14 May published Joint Vision Statement recognising “benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity” and committing “to advancing our cooperation in the maritime domain through ASEAN-led mechanisms”. U.S. 12 May announced $60mn assistance, with which U.S. Coast Guard will train and help ASEAN countries combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. China 1 May began annual fishing ban covering waters of South China Sea north of 12 degrees latitude until Aug 16, Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea until 1 Sept, and East China Sea until 16 Sept, citing marine conservation; move proceeded despite Vietnam 29 April protesting ban, which they see as “violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction”. According to 13 May Nikkei Asia report, Indonesia considered making Natuna Islands special economic zone, in move likely aimed both at attracting investment and increasing maritime security against expanding Chinese activities in area. Philippines 31 May filed diplomatic protest over Chinese fishing ban in SCS, condemning Chinese Coast Guard activities as “clear violations of the Philippine maritime jurisdiction”. Meanwhile, Chinese naval frigates early May held “high-intensity multi-subject combat training exercise” at unannounced sea area. China and ASEAN due to finalise code of conduct agreement at meeting planned for June. U.S. navy’s USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group 9 May conducted deterrence exercises in Philippine Sea. “Quad” leaders of U.S., Australia, India and Japan 24 May reaffirmed commitment to meet “challenges to the maritime rules-based order” in “East and South China Seas” and condemned “militarisation of disputed features”.

April 2022

Asia

South China Sea

Beijing stepped up diplomatic engagement with Philippines, while Manila and Tokyo expanded defence cooperation. Ahead of Philippines election in May, Chinese FM Wang Yi 3 April met Filipino FM Teodoro Locsin, urging Manila to avoid external “disturbances” to its China policy and prevent tension over South China Sea (SCS) disputes. Filipino President Duterte 8 April spoke to Chinese President Xi; both leaders called for restraint in SCS. Meeting coincided with conclusion of U.S.-Philippines Balikatan Exercise on 8 April involving 8,900 troops and aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln – largest iteration of annual joint drill since 2015. Japan and Philippines 9 April agreed to expand defence cooperation following first “2+2” meeting of foreign and defence ministers; official statement condemned “unlawful maritime claims, militarisation, coercive activities and threat or use of force” in SCS, without naming specific countries. China’s J-20 stealth fighter manufacturer 13 April confirmed jets had begun to be used to patrol SCS, generating concern among regional powers over balance of air in region amid growing militarisation. Chinese navy 23 April celebrated its 73rd anniversary 23 April and announced commissioning second Type 075 amphibious assault ship and sixth Type 055 large destroyer, as well as hinting that third aircraft carrier will be revealed soon.

March 2022

Asia

South China Sea

China conducted military drills in South China Sea (SCS), while Philippines protested Beijing’s “incursion” in Sulu Sea and dangerous manoeuvres around disputed islands. China conducted naval drills 4-15 March in SCS approximately halfway between China’s Sanya city, Hainan province, and Vietnam’s Hue city, Thua Thien Hue province, with roughly half of area within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone; Hanoi 7 March beseeched China to “respect Vietnam’s EEZ” and stop “any act that complicates the situation”. Vietnamese journalist 6 March reported that Chinese air force Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft 1 March crashed into SCS during drills off Hainan; Taiwan’s Defence Ministry 10 March confirmed crash. China 23 March conducted aerial exercises over SCS with over ten recently upgraded J-11B fighter jets. Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said Code of Conduct on SCS could be concluded but urged South East Asia regional body ASEAN to resist “non-regional countries” that “meddle” in area and “do not want the South China Sea to be calm”. Philippines’ Foreign Ministry 12 March summoned China’s ambassador to explain “illegal incursion” by Chinese navy reconnaissance ship in Sulu Sea 29 Jan-1 Feb. Manila 27 March announced that Chinese Coast Guard ships had four times manoeuvred dangerously close to Philippine Coast Guard ships in vicinity of Scarborough Shoal, including incident 2 March when China Coast Guard ship drew within 20m of Philippine vessel. U.S. Admiral John C. Aquilino of Indo-Pacific Command 20 March decried Chinese militarisation of Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross in SCS. China 22 March said it had “a right … in line with international law” to develop islands “on its own territory”. U.S. and Philippine armed forces 28 March started annual Balikatan joint exercise, due to end 8 April.

February 2022

Asia

South China Sea

U.S. and its allies reiterated commitment to international law in South China Sea (SCS), calling on China to follow suit. U.S., Australian, Indian and Japanese FMs in 11 Feb Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) meeting reaffirmed commitment to “free, open and inclusive rules-based order” and “adherence to international law” in East and South China Seas. U.S. State Dept 12 Feb released study concluding that China “asserts unlawful maritime claims in most of the South China Sea, including an unlawful historic rights claim” and called on Beijing to “conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention” and “to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea”. Chinese naval vessel 17 Feb shone military-grade laser at Australian air force plane in Arafura Sea, within Australia’s exclusive economic zone; Australia’s defence ministry 19 Feb described action as “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct” while Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton called it “aggressive bullying”. U.S. House of Representatives 3 Feb passed non-binding resolution asserting that U.S. interest would be served by ratifying UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Following crash of F-35C fighter jet on deck of USS Carl Vinson operating in SCS last month, carrier 14 Feb returned to U.S.; as of 20 Feb, U.S. navy had not recovered jet in region.

January 2022

Asia

South China Sea

China protested U.S. military activities in South China Sea, while Washington issued report disputing basis of Beijing’s maritime claims. Chinese military 20 Jan said U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold sailing around Paracel Islands “illegally entered China’s Xisha territorial waters” and had been given “eviction” warning; U.S. Navy same day challenged claims, said Chinese move posed “serious threat to the freedom of the seas”. U.S. response comes on heels of 13-17 Jan joint training operations in South China Sea (SCS) between Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and Essex Amphibious Ready Group, including 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. U.S. State Dept in 12 Jan report said China’s declaration of “historic rights” over SCS “is deficient for its vagueness” and unlawful; Philippines 21 Jan welcomed report as “consistent with Philippines-U.S. Joint Vision Statement”. Chinese FM Wang Yi 17 Jan during virtual forum organised by Chinese embassy in Philippines stressed importance of not “imposing one’s own will on the other”, vowed to work with Philippines to resolve tensions in SCS. Philippine Defence Secretary Lorenzana 14 Jan said that Philippines had finalised deal to acquire shore-based anti-ship missile system from India. Chinese media 7 Jan claimed Vietnamese militia-armed fishing boats were being built in Da Nang town, Vietnam, and launched on trial voyages; Vietnamese foreign ministry 14 Jan said all activities in SCS adhered to international law. Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and Australian PM Scott Morrison 6 Jan signed reciprocal access agreement set to go into effect “as early as possible.” Malaysian FM Saifuddin Abdullah 19 Jan raised concern over Beijing’s shift from disputing “nine-dash line” water territories to disputing “Four Sha” land territories, which “is even more serious” than former.

December 2021

Asia

South China Sea

China conducted live-fire military drills, U.S. and EU voiced concern over Chinese actions, and South Korea and Australia reaffirmed commitment to international law. Chinese media 7 Dec reported that Chinese military practiced dropping live bombs and laying sea mines on South China Sea (SCS) islands using H-6J strategic bombers. Beijing think-tank South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative 14 Dec claimed U.S. Air Force sent spy plane on reconnaissance mission along Chinese coast, near locations of Chinese live-fire drills; at least two drills concluded 17 Dec near Hainan Island and in Beibu Gulf between China and Vietnam. Chinese media 19 Dec reported Chinese aircraft carrier set out for combat drills in SCS; 29 Dec reported exercises of amphibious assault ship Hainan in SCS. U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman and EU European External Action Service Sec Gen Stefano Sannino 3 Dec said China’s actions in SCS, East China Seas and Taiwan Strait “undermine peace and security in the region”, expressing “strong concern” over China’s “problematic and unilateral actions” in disputed seas in Indo-Pacific that “run counter to the shared values and interests of the United States and the EU”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken in 14 Dec visit to Indonesia said U.S. is “determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea”. Australian PM Scott Morrison and South Korean President Moon Jae-in 13 Dec adopted joint statement recognising “stability of the Indo-Pacific depends on adherence to international law in the maritime domain, including in the South China Sea”. Indonesian House of Representatives member Muhammad Farhan 1 Dec said China demanded Jakarta stop oil and gas drilling at sea, claiming drills took place in waters claimed by China, and that Beijing protested joint military exercises with U.S. held in Aug.

November 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Maritime incident between Philippines and China at shoal in Spratly Islands further crystallised regional tensions. Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin Jr 18 Nov condemned three Chinese coast guard vessels for 16 Nov blocking and using water cannons against two Philippine supply boats en route to Second Thomas Shoal/Ayungin Shoal, Philippines-controlled atoll in Spratly Islands also claimed by China. China’s foreign ministry same day said Philippine boats entered waters near shoal “without China’s consent” and its “coastguards, vessels, upheld China’s sovereignty in accordance with law”. Manila 17 Nov lodged diplomatic protest with Beijing, while U.S. 19 Nov reaffirmed “that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments”. After summoning Chinese ambassador in Oct over maritime incursions into its exclusive economic zone, Malaysia’s foreign ministry 11 Nov reported support for continuing code of conduct negotiations between regional body ASEAN and China; Chinese FM Wang Yi 14 Nov expressed desire to fast-track code of conduct negotiations. Summit between China and ten ASEAN countries partly focused on South China Sea held 22 Nov, with parties supporting “early conclusion of an effective and substantive [code of conduct] that is in accordance with international law including the 1982 UNCLOS, within a mutually-agreed timeline”. Two Japanese vessels 5-7 Nov conducted exercise with the Vietnam People’s Navy frigate Đinh Tiên Hoàng in Cam Ranh city, Vietnam, and Japanese navy 16 Nov held first joint anti-submarine drill with U.S. in South China Sea. Vietnam’s foreign ministry 18 Nov called patrols and military drills by Taiwan in sea surrounding Itu Aba island, part of Vietnam’s claim to Spratlys, “serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the islands” that risks “escalating and complicating the situation”. German Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach 6 Nov signalled willingness to dispatch vessel to Indo-Pacific every two years to maintain rules-based order. 

October 2021

Asia

South China Sea

U.S., UK and allies conducted joint maritime exercises throughout month, while Malaysia protested Chinese maritime presence in country’s exclusive economic zone. Maritime activity continued. Chinese research institute 4 Oct reported USS Carl Vinson and HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers had crossed Bashi Channel and entered South China Sea (SCS) for second time since July. USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson carrier strike groups, alongside UK Royal Navy carrier strike group and Japan Maritime Self-Defence Forces, 2-3 Oct conducted operations in Philippine Sea; drills included navy frigates and personnel from Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Connecticut 2 Oct collided with “unknown underwater object” in SCS. HMS Queen Elizabeth 9-10 Oct conducted joint exercises with Singapore military. Five Power Defence Arrangements nations – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and UK – 8-18 Oct conducted sea and air exercises in SCS to mark fiftieth anniversary of alliance. USS Carl Vinson strike group 25 Oct began joint training exercises with Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force’s JS Kaga in SCS. Meanwhile, Malaysian foreign ministry 4 Oct said it had summoned Chinese ambassador for second time this year to “protest against the presence and activities of Chinese vessels, including a survey vessel, in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak”; Chinese survey vessel left zone 18 Oct. Following high-level meeting in Indonesian capital Jakarta 18 Oct, Malaysian FM Saifuddin Abdullah expressed “concern and disturbance” over Australia-UK-U.S. “AUKUS” defence pact while Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi warned of tensions caused by “arms race and power projection”.

September 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Australia, UK and U.S. unveiled trilateral defence pact that provoked mixed reactions in region, while Chinese naval forces conducted military exercises. Australia, UK and U.S. 15 Sept announced “enhanced trilateral partnership” dubbed “AUKUS”, which includes key agreement to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and provisions to cooperate on emerging technologies. Chinese foreign ministry next day said AUKUS would “seriously damage regional peace and stability, exacerbate an arms race and harm international nuclear non-proliferation agreements”. Malaysian PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob in 17 Sept phone call to Australian PM Scott Morrison said agreement could “provoke other powers to act more aggressively, especially within the South China Sea”, while Indonesian foreign ministry same day said it was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”. Filipino FM Teodoro Locsin Jr 19 Sept expressed support, saying the “enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilise it”. Meanwhile, Chinese state media 8 Sept reported its naval forces same day conducted amphibious landing exercise in SCS, 9-10 Sept conducted live-fire exercises in western area of Leizhou Peninsula, and 18 Sept dispatched Y-20 large transport aircraft from mainland to airfields in Spratly Islands to conduct “amphibious landing drills”, marking first time China dispatched large transport aircraft near reefs according to Chinese media. Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi 11 Sept visited Vietnam, reportedly told Vietnamese Deputy PM Phạm Bình Minh that both countries should refrain from exacerbating maritime disputes. German foreign ministry 15 Sept said China had denied request for Shanghai port visit of its frigate embarking on six-month mission to SCS. U.S. Navy Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group returned to SCS 24 Sept for exercises and training. EU 16 Sept released Indo-Pacific strategy urging “cooperation to maintain and ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation”. Joint statement following first in-person leaders’ summit of “Quad” on 24 Sept noted commitment to “freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes” in Indo-Pacific.

August 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Region witnessed uptick in military activity as China as well as U.S. and its allies held naval exercises; Washington deepened diplomatic ties with claimant parties. U.S. 1 Aug concluded joint naval exercise off Australian coast, involving 17,000 military personnel from Australia, UK, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. U.S. 4 Aug announced further combined naval and amphibious exercise running until 27 Aug with Australia, Japan and UK, coinciding with global naval exercises, largest since 1981, that included two U.S. aircraft carriers and UK’s carrier; China 4 Aug announced military drills in SCS 6-10 Aug reportedly in response to “US military’s Indo-Pacific exercise”, according to state-run media. Malaysian military 6-12 Aug carried out exercise “Taming Sari” in SCS, including test-fire of three live anti-ship missiles. On diplomatic front, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 3 Aug announced launch of “strategic dialogue” with Indonesia and reaffirmed commitment to freedom of navigation. Blinken 9 Aug reaffirmed that “it is the business” of U.S. to resolve dispute in SCS and urged every member to “peacefully resolve disputes”; Chinese Deputy Ambassador to UN Dai Bing same day responded that U.S. failure to ratify UN Convention on Law of the Sea gave it “no credibility” and that U.S. is “biggest threat to stability” in region. U.S. VP Kamala Harris 22-24 Aug visited Singapore, affirming “commitment to a longstanding relationship...with the Indo-Pacific region”; Harris 24 Aug rebuked China for “coercion” in SCS. In Vietnam 24-27 Aug, Harris told Vietnamese officials that U.S. supports upgrading ties from comprehensive to strategic partnership. China 27 Aug issued new regulations requiring, from 1 Sept, range of foreign vessels to notify authorities when entering what Beijing claims are China’s territorial waters.

July 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Maritime tensions continued amid regional military activity, while Canada, Germany and U.S. voiced support for 2016 international court ruling. Maritime activity continued in region. U.S. navy 12 July announced that destroyer USS Benfold conducted freedom of navigation operation near Paracel Islands “to uphold rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of sea recognised in international law”; in response, China’s Southern Theatre Command same day claimed its forces “drove away” USS Benfold from waters and urged U.S. to stop “provocative actions”. China’s Southern Theatre Command 18 July announced it had recently conducted exercise in SCS that included planes, ships, submarines and land-based missiles. Philippines’ Coast Guard 13 July issued verbal challenge to Chinese naval vessel near Marie Louise Bank; Chinese vessel eventually moved away from area. UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth 30 July arrived in SCS to conduct freedom of navigation operations alongside U.S. navy. Earlier in month, think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 8 July reported China Coast Guard had regularly challenged Malaysian pipe-laying vessel contracted to Malaysian oil company Petronas at Kasawari gas field, off of Sarawak state coast, since its arrival in area early June. On diplomatic front, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer 6 July met with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe via video conference and discussed SCS; Kramp-Karrenbauer raised importance of upholding 2016 arbitration decision by Permanent Court of Arbitration that limited China’s claims to some sea areas, which China has called null and void. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 11 July issued statement to mark fifth anniversary of court’s ruling and reaffirmed U.S. support for verdict; Blinken also stated that “armed attack on Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments”. Canada’s foreign ministry 11 July issued statement expressing concern at “China’s escalatory and destabilising actions in the East and South China Seas” and support for 2016 arbitral tribunal award. U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin 26-30 July visited Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam; in Singapore, Austin 27 July said China’s SCS claims have “no basis in international law”.

June 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Regional defence ministers expressed support for legally binding code of conduct in South China Sea (SCS), while tensions persisted between China and claimant parties. During Defence Minister’s Meeting Plus of South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN and partner countries, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin 16 June highlighted China’s “unlawful behaviour” in SCS, while Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe said that “China is determined to safeguard the country’s core interests”. ASEAN ministers 16 June underlined in declaration need for “early conclusion of an effective and substantive [Code of Conduct]”. During visit to Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 3 June said EU supports “ASEAN-led process towards an effective and legally binding Code of Conduct” for SCS. China National Radio 10 June reported that Chinese Army Rocket Force had recently conducted exercises involving “carrier killer” DF-26 ballistic missiles. Following late May flight of 16 Chinese Air Force planes within 110km of Malaysia’s Sarawak state, near Malaysian-administered Luconia Shoals, Kuala Lumpur dispatched pair of combat aircraft to identify and intercept Chinese aircraft and 1 June said it would summon China’s envoy; Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur 1 June insisted aircraft were on “routine flight training” manoeuvre, while Malaysian FM Hishammuddin Hussein called Chinese action “breach of the Malaysian airspace and sovereignty”. U.S. Navy 10 June reported that guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Ballarat 6-11 June held exercises in SCS. U.S. and Indonesia 25 June agreed plans for maritime training centre on Indonesia’s Batam Island in Singapore Strait.

May 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions persisted between Philippines and China over Chinese maritime presence at disputed reef in South China Sea (SCS). Following heated exchanges in April over incursion by Chinese vessels at disputed Whitsun Reef, Philippines 3 May confirmed it had lodged diplomatic protest over Chinese Coast Guard harassment of Philippine Coast Guard ships 24-25 April; Philippines 29 May confirmed it had filed 100 protest notes against China’s maritime presence in SCS since 2016. Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin 3 May tweeted that Chinese vessels should leave Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Manila 5 May rejected annual summer fishing ban imposed by China in northern SCS. Philippine Navy 12 May reported that 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels were in Philippine waters as of 9 May. At 27th Southeast Asia Regional Group (ASEAN)-China Senior Officials’ Consultation, Philippine Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Elizabeth Buensuceso 18 May called on member states and China to comply with 1982 UN Convention on Law of Sea and to uphold 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties. Meanwhile, Chinese Navy 2 May said that its Shandong aircraft carrier task group conducted routine training exercises in SCS. U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur 20 May conducted Freedom of Navigation operation in vicinity of Paracel Islands; Beijing same day said U.S. warship had illegally entered its territorial waters. Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga 11 May said Japan “strongly opposes” China’s growing maritime assertiveness in region during phone call with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 27 May spoke with Vietnam’s FM Bui Thanh Son, affirming “shared commitment to protecting and preserving the rules-based order in the South China Sea”.

April 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Heated exchanges continued between Philippines and China over Chinese maritime presence at disputed reef in South China Sea (SCS). Following late March diplomatic protest over continued presence of some 200 Chinese vessels at disputed Whitsun Reef, Filipino FM Teodoro Locsin 2 April met Chinese FM Wang Yi in Nanping city in China; Wang said China is willing to work with Philippines to fully abide by 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties. Filipino Secretary of Defence Delfin Lorenzana next day demanded that Chinese ships at Whitsun Reef “get out”; in response, Chinese embassy in Manila reiterated assertion that Chinese fishermen have traditionally fished at reef; Filipino MFA 5 April denounced Chinese embassy’s attempt to promote “clearly false narrative of China’s expansive and illegitimate claims”. U.S. Sec State Blinken 8 April spoke with Filipino FM Locsin about Whitsun Reef and again affirmed Mutual Defence Treaty applied to SCS. U.S. and Philippine armed forces 12 April commenced annual two-week “Balikatan” joint military exercises. Philippines 12 April summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to convey Manila’s dismay over “illegal lingering presence” of Chinese ships at Whitsun Reef, after which “both sides affirmed the use of peaceful settlement of disputes”; 14, 21 April filed further diplomatic protests concerning disputed reef. President Duterte 19 April said in public address that he would send navy ships to SCS to “stake a claim” to resources. EU 24 April issued statement noting presence of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, opposed “unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability”.  Filipino coast guard 26 April deployed numerous vessels for training in SCS; in response, Beijing 28 April protested; Lorenzana same day said China has “no authority” to prevent drills. Meanwhile, U.S. military activity in region continued: aircraft carrier strike group USS Theodore Roosevelt 6-7 April conducted exercises with Malaysian navy in SCS; U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt then 9 April carried out exercises with USS Makin Islandamphibious group; China’s MFA 9 April called on U.S. to stop “inciting quarrels and sowing discord”. 

March 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Amid ongoing regional tensions and military activity, U.S. and China traded critical comments while Philippines protested Beijing’s maritime presence near disputed reef. Beijing late Feb announced naval military exercises in South China Sea (SCS), west of Leizhou Peninsula, from 1 to 31 March. Chinese MFA 3 March said freedom of navigation in SCS “should not be used as an excuse to endanger the sovereignty and security of littoral countries” and Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said instability and security risks in SCS “come mainly from outside the region”. Leaders of U.S., India, Japan and Australia 12 March held virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting, vowing to “prioritise the role of international law in the maritime domain.” Following meeting with Japanese counterparts, U.S. Sec State Blinken and Sec Defence 16 March expressed serious concerns over China’s “destabilising actions” in South and East China Seas; Blinken warned Beijing that U.S. “will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way”; Chinese MFA 17 March called statement “malicious attack on China’s foreign policy” and asserted China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over SCS. Philippines 21 March lodged diplomatic protest against China for deploying hundreds of maritime militia ships in “clear provocative action” at Whitsun Reef in Spratly Islands; Chinese MFA next day rejected claims, stating that ships were fishing vessels sheltering from rough seas; U.S. embassy in Manila 23 March issued statement saying: “We stand with the Philippines”. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 25 March reportedly expressed concern to Chinese ambassador. Vietnam, which also claims reef, same day said China must cease violating Vietnam’s sovereignty. Philippine defence secretary 27 March said more Navy and Coast Guard vessels would be deployed to area, as well as light fighter aircraft. U.S. tech firm 25 March reported new Chinese construction on Subi Reef, near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. Taiwanese defence minister 17 March confirmed govt increased personnel and armaments on Itu Aba island in SCS, warning “[China is] capable of starting a war”; U.S. and Taiwan 25 March signed agreement to enhance coast guard cooperation (see Taiwan). Germany 2 March announced it will send frigate to Asia in Aug, which will transit through SCS on its return.

February 2021

Asia

South China Sea

New Chinese Coast Guard Law prompted concern amid continued military activity in South China Sea (SCS) region. China’s Coast Guard Law adopted late Jan came into effect 1 Feb; law authorises use of “all necessary means” to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters “under China’s jurisdiction”. After Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin in Jan filed diplomatic protest with Beijing against law, Chinese embassy in Manila 1 Feb defended it as “domestic legislation” that did not increase the risk of war. Filipino Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana 9 Feb said law was “alarming” and 19 Feb announced Manila will strengthen its naval presence in SCS; U.S. State Dept 19 Feb said it was “concerned” by law. Military activity continued. Chinese MFA 9 Feb denounced U.S. Freedom of Navigation operations in SCS as inconducive to regional peace and stability; USS Russell 17 Feb conducted Freedom of Navigation operation in Spratly Islands. French Defence Minister Florence Parly 8 Feb said French nuclear attack submarine and naval support ship completed patrol through SCS; French Navy Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and La Fayette-class frigate 18 Feb set sail on deployment to South China Sea and Japan ahead of joint exercise with Japan and U.S. in May. Chinese state media 24 and 27 Feb announced armed forces recently held maritime strike exercises. UK Royal Navy 27 Feb suggested carrier strike group will conduct freedom of navigation operation in SCS in May. Meanwhile, Locsin 8 Feb said SCS code of conduct currently being negotiated by South East Asia regional group ASEAN and China will not exclude Western powers such as U.S. from region. U.S. Sec Def Lloyd Austin 10 Feb reiterated commitment to uphold Mutual Defense Treaty with Philippines. In conversation with General Secretary of Vietnamese Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, Chinese President Xi Jinping 8 Feb said that both countries must resist outside interference. In first meeting since Oct, top diplomats of Australia, India, Japan and U.S. 18 Feb held virtual conference for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; according to Japanese FM Toshimitsu Motegi, parties agreed to oppose any Chinese actions to alter status quo in region by force.

January 2021

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions continued between China and U.S. amid military activity, targeted sanctions on both sides, and new Chinese law authorising coast guard’s use of force. Outgoing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross 14 Jan announced blacklisting of China National Offshore Oil Corporation and imposed visa restrictions on Chinese navy officials, ruling party and state-owned enterprises, citing “China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea”; U.S. Dept of Defense same day released names of nine additional blacklisted “Communist Chinese military companies”. China 20 Jan imposed sanctions on 28 U.S. individuals, including former Sec of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien and former Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, citing actions that “gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs”. Japan 19 Jan submitted note verbale to UN Sec-Gen rejecting China’s claims of sovereignty in SCS as contravening international law. In significant policy change, Chinese govt 22 Jan passed Coast Guard Law allowing coast guard to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights”. Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin 27 Jan said he filed diplomatic protest over China’s Coast Guard Law, calling it “verbal act of war to any country who defies [it]”. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 24 Jan said that U.S. aircraft carrier group led by USS Theodore Roosevelt had entered SCS to promote “freedom of the seas.” China 26 Jan announced military drills held 27-30 Jan in SCS. New U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 27 Jan told Locsin that U.S. stands with South East Asian claimants in SCS and underscored importance of U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty for security of both nations. UK and Japan 14 Jan vowed to “strongly oppose” unilateral changes to status quo in SCS through force. Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency 14 Jan reported intercepting Chinese survey ship, Xiang Yang Hong 03, 13 Jan as it conducted unauthorised activities in Sunda Strait; vessel’s automatic identification system had been switched off three times 8-12 Jan in violation of requirements for transit through strait; Xiang Yang Hong 03 13 Jan exited Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. 

December 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Amid high-level military activity in region, tensions persisted between China on one hand, and U.S., Taiwan and claimant parties on the other. Amid strained relations between Australia and China, Chinese state news outlet Global Times 1 Dec called Australia “warhound of the US” and warned “its warships must not come to China’s coastal areas (…) or else it will swallow the bitter pills”. Following 14th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and 7th ADMM-Plus conference 10-11 Dec via video conference, all parties said in summary of discussions that they supported “maintenance of peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in and over the South China Sea” and would “settle all the disputes and differences peacefully in accordance with the international law”. Tensions heightened between Taiwan and China throughout month. Taiwan 20 Dec staged live-fire drill in Pratas Islands, Beijing-claimed northernmost islets of South China Sea (SCS), as part of anti-aircraft and anti-sea-landing exercise. Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy 21 Dec announced that newest carrier Shandong had sailed through Taiwan Strait on 20 Dec to hold stage exercises in SCS; Taiwan’s defence ministry said Shandong 17 Dec sailed from northern Chinese port of Dalian escorted by four warships; Taiwan 20 Dec sent six warships and eight aircraft to monitor Chinese ships (see Taiwan Strait). Beijing 22 Dec claimed its military had “expelled” U.S. Navy destroyer John S. McCain after it had “trespassed” in disputed waters near Spratly Islands in SCS; U.S. Navy 23 Dec called statement false and Chinese effort to assert its illegitimate claims. Following 21 Dec virtual summit between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc, both sides called for enhanced security and maritime cooperation for stability in Indo-Pacific region, as part of which Indian Navy Ship Kiltan 26-28 Dec undertook “passing exercise” with Vietnam People’s Navy in SCS. 

November 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions persisted between China and claimant parties. Filipino National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon 5 Nov said that plan to establish maritime militia forces to help counter China’s own use of maritime militias was yet to be finalised over concerns that it would be “misconstrued”. China’s National People’s Congress 4 Nov posted draft law that would allow Chinese Coast Guard to use weapons against foreign ships involved in illegal activities in Chinese-claimed waters if they fail to obey Chinese orders. At 37th summit of regional organisation ASEAN, Vietnamese PM Phuc 12 Nov opened meeting by affirming bloc’s commitment to maintain South China Sea (SCS) as zone of “peace, stability, and security”; Vietnamese govt 18 Nov released statement as chair of committee noting that they had discussed situation in SCS, “during which concerns were raised by some leaders”. Netherlands MFA 13 Nov issued statement calling on EU to “express itself more often and more strongly on developments in the South China Sea that violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien 23 Nov reaffirmed U.S. support to Philippines and Vietnam so as to “deter China”; China’s embassy in Manila 24 Nov criticised O’Brien’s remarks as reflecting “Cold War mentality and wantonly [inciting] confrontation”. Indonesia’s navy chief 23 Nov announced move of naval combat force (Guspurla) headquarters to Natuna islands from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta to better protect interests in SCS. Asia Maritime Transparency Institute 25 Nov reported that China Coast Guard ship 5402 19 Nov harassed drilling rig in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, 44 nautical miles from Malaysia’s Sarawak state; Royal Malaysian Navy ship KD Keris manoeuvred around 5402 near Luconia Shoals for several days.

October 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions continued between China and U.S. amid military exercises on both sides. China began five simultaneous military exercises late Sept which continued in Oct, including two near Paracel Islands, one in East China Sea, and another in Bohai Sea. Japanese FM 6 Oct hosted Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Indian, Australian and U.S. counterparts, which China 2 Sept denounced as “mini-NATO”. Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force 9 Oct conducted anti-submarine drills in SCS and in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam 10-11 Oct; Chinese state-backed news outlet Global Times 10 Oct criticised drills. Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency 9 Oct detained six Chinese fishing vessels in waters east of Johor state along with some 60 crew members for alleged illegal fishing. Chinese People’s Liberation Army 12 Oct accused U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain of trespassing in Chinese territorial waters near Paracel Islands and warned vessel to leave area, dispatching ships and planes to track it; U.S. 7th Fleet responded that vessel had “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” in area. Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi 13 Oct said during visit to Malaysia that Beijing and members of South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN should cooperate to remove “external disruption” in SCS. China-backed South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative think tank 12 Oct alleged U.S. aircraft conducted 41 reconnaissance flights over SCS last month. U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group 15 Oct returned to SCS to conduct flight operations, maritime strike exercises and training between surface and air units. U.S., Japan and Australia 19 Oct conducted trilateral naval exercises in South China Sea. During visit to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Japanese PM Suga 19 Oct confirmed that Japan had agreed to export military equipment, including patrol planes and radar, to Vietnam. Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds 19 Oct met with Japanese Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo during visit to Tokyo, agreeing that countries would enhance maritime cooperation in SCS. Chinese and U.S. military officials 28-29 Oct held video conference to discuss crisis communication mechanisms.

September 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tense exchanges continued between China and U.S. During annual meeting of South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN, Chinese Vice FM Luo Zhaohui 4 Sept met with ten envoys and accused U.S. of threatening peace and stability in South China Sea (SCS); Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe 7-11 Sept travelled to meet with leaders of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Philippines. In address to ASEAN forum, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 10 Sept said U.S. “will be here in friendship to help” and urged countries to cut ties with state-owned Chinese companies. During ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting with Pompeo, Vietnamese FM Pham Binh Minh 10 Sept said U.S. “role and contribution to maintaining peace, stability and security in the region are encouraged”; Vietnamese MFA 17 Sept reaffirmed Vietnamese sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands; China 28 Sept conducted military drills near Paracel Islands. Chief of Indonesian maritime security agency 15 Sept stated that Indonesia would increase maritime security operations near northern Natuna islands after reports of Chinese coastguard vessel 12-14 Sept entering area. Philippines FM Teodoro Locsin 16 Sept said that Philippines would push for conclusion of Code of Conduct in SCS amid ongoing ASEAN talks on subject. In pre-recorded address delivered to UN 22 Sept, Philippines President Duterte affirmed 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration decision that rejected legality of China’s maritime and territorial claims based on historic rights, marking shift from his earlier stance downplaying the ruling. France, Germany and UK 18 Sept submitted note verbale to UN stating that China’s exercise of “historic rights” in SCS contravened UN Convention on Law of Sea. U.S. defence dept 1 Sept reported that China has world’s largest navy; Chinese defence ministry 13 Sept called report “wanton distortion” and described U.S. as “destroyer of world peace”. U.S. state dept 27 Sept issued statement concluding U.S. will “stand with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in resisting China’s coercive efforts to establish dominion over the South China Sea”.

August 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions continued between China and U.S., while Malaysia rejected China’s claims to historic rights in SCS. Chinese People’s Liberation Army 25 July to 2 Aug conducted live-fire drills in north-western SCS off Leizhou Peninsula. Following U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo’s July statement that China’s claims in SCS were “unlawful”, U.S. continued sizable military presence and operations in SCS: U.S. 11 Aug deployed two B-2 bombers to military base on Diego Garcia island in Indian Ocean; U.S. Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 14 Aug conducted maritime air defence operations in SCS. U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper 6 Aug spoke with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe for 90 minutes; Pentagon same day confirmed that Esper had “expressed concern about [Chinese military’s] destabilising activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on [China] to honour international obligations.” Malaysia 29 July issued note verbale to UN rejecting “China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction”, move follows Chinese opposition to Malaysian 12 Dec 2019 note to UN that sought to establish limits of Malaysia’s continental shelf in northern part of SCS pursuant to UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Philippine’s Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo 19 Aug stated that Chinese navy was attempting to provoke Philippines and urged Philippines’ President Duterte to file diplomatic protest to Beijing over presence of two Chinese survey ships at Reed Bank, in north-eastern SCS. Manila 20 Aug filed diplomatic protest with China over Chinese coast guard’s “illegal confiscation” of Filipino fishermen’s fishing equipment in May. China 26 Aug test-fired two missiles – DF-21D and DF-26B – from its mainland into SCS. U.S. 26 Aug imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies involved in building artificial islands in SCS. Malaysia 27 Aug filed note verbale at UN that rejected Philippines’ claim over Kalayaan/Spratleys island group and state of Sabah.

July 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions heightened between China and U.S, while SCS claimant parties stressed need to resolve dispute based on international law. Following June announcement of Chinese military exercises around Paracel Islands 1-5 July, U.S. 3 July expressed concern and noted exercises in Philippines’ waters would be met with “severest response”. Chinese survey ship Hai Yang Di Zhi 4 departed region of Vietnam’s EZZ 4 July; Vietnamese coast guard ship and U.S. Navy ship USS Gabrielle Giffords 2 July sailed nearby. Chinese coast guard ship 5402 2 July sailed north of Vanguard Bank, within 200 nautical miles of Vietnam’s coast. U.S. military continued series of exercises in SCS: Nimitz and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups 4 July began four days of exercises; at least one U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber 5 July participated in operation; guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson 14 July conducted freedom of navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Spratly Islands; Nimitz and Reagan strike groups 17 July linked up in SCS; Chinese defence ministry 9 July called exercises “provocative acts” in pursuit of “navigational hegemony”. Two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers 21 July conducted maritime integration operation with Reagan carrier group in SCS. China’s military 27 July commenced week-long live fire drills in SCS off Leizhou peninsula; 30 July completed bomber drill over SCS. In shift in U.S. stance, U.S. Sec of State Mike Pompeo 13 July said China’s claims to offshore resources “completely unlawful”; move puts U.S. in line with position of South East Asian claimants and UN Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In response to U.S. statement, Malaysian FM 16 July said disputes must be resolved based on international law. Vietnamese MFA 15 July affirmed support for UNCLOS; 16 July dismissed China’s claims of historical activities in SCS. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 27 July said China is “in possession” of SCS. Australia 23 July submitted Note Verbale to Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf, aligning with U.S. position on UNCLOS and 28 July agreed to “increased and regularised maritime cooperation” with U.S. in SCS and Indian Ocean; Canberra 25 July rejected Beijing’s claims in SCS.

June 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions between China and SCS claimant parties continued amid U.S. reiteration of its rejection of China’s claims in region. In notable toughening of rhetoric, South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN 27 June affirmed UN Convention on Law of the Sea as “basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones”. Beginning mid-June, three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups – USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan – simultaneously patrolled Western Pacific for first time since 2017; U.S. 17 June stated that deployment was to “promote security, stability and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific region”. U.S. media Fox News 9 June reported that U.S. B-1B Lancer bombers operated over SCS. U.S. envoy to UN Kelly Craft 2 June reiterated in note to UN Sec Gen Guterres that U.S. rejects Chinese claims as “inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.” Meanwhile, reports of regular Chinese activity in SCS continued. Chinese ship 8 June began laying undersea cables between its outposts in disputed Paracel Islands; satellite imagery suggested that cables were laid between Tree Island, North Island and Woody Island. U.S. media Radio Free Asia (RFA) 10 June reported Chinese research and survey vessel entered waters close to Pratas islands, which Taiwan controls and China claims; 16 June reported that two separate vessel-tracking tools detected other Chinese survey vessel within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Vietnamese FM 14 June stated that two Chinese ships 10 June rammed Vietnamese fishing boat near Chinese-occupied Lincoln Island in Paracels before seizing its catch and equipment. Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana 9 June marked completion of construction work on Thitu island in disputed area of Spratlys. Australian High Commissioner to India 2 June raised concern over maritime militias in SCS and 17 June noted that China “not as committed” to existing international order as Australia and India. After Indonesia 28 May stated China’s “nine dash line” claim in region lacks basis in international law and violates Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, China 2 June offered boundary negotiations with Jakarta; Indonesian MFA 5 June rejected offer.

May 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Amid heated diplomatic exchanges between U.S., China and claimant states, U.S. military forces intensified activity in South China Sea (SCS), and reports emerged that China had deployed military aircraft to Spratly Islands. Following rising tensions in April after reported Chinese incursion into Malaysian exclusive economic zone, U.S. military forces increased their activity in SCS, including U.S. bombers 7-8 May flying over maritime area; U.S. Navy 2-8 May conducting reconnaissance and surveillance exercises; and U.S. Submarine Forces Pacific 8 May announcing that all of its forward-deployed submarines were underway in Western Pacific, including Philippine Sea. Meanwhile, China 1 May started campaign for enforcing unilateral fishing ban for all in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in SCS; fishermen’s groups in Philippines and Vietnam 4 May protested against China’s summer fishing moratorium; Vietnamese ministry of agriculture and rural development 13 May rejected “unilateral decision”, said Vietnam has sovereignty over its waters. Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi 6 May expressed concern over escalating tensions between U.S., China and claimant parties and urged all to exercise restraint and abide by international law; Indonesia 26 May sent diplomatic note to UN Sec Gen Guterres reiterating support for compliance with international law, and particularly UN Convention for Law of the Sea, and expressed support for 2016 ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of Philippines against China over SCS territorial dispute. Chinese vessel 15 May left Malaysian area according to shipping data after exploration vessel from Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas 12 May withdrew from same zone; Philippine Navy 19 May announced docking of landing craft at Thitu Islandas work on a port nears completion. A defence intelligence group 11 May disclosed that satellite imagery showed two kinds of surveillance aircraft on Fiery (Yongshu) Reef in the Spratly islands; Chinese media 14 May reported that China had deployed KJ-500 airborne early warning and control system and KQ-200 maritime patrol aircraft on the reef’s base; Chinese FM Wang Yi 24 May stated there is “nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea”.

April 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions mounted between China and Vietnam following incident near Paracel Islands, and in response to Chinese decision to create new administrative units near area. Chinese vessel 2 April hit Vietnamese fishing boat, which sank near Paracel Islands, with no casualties; Vietnamese FM 4 April lodged official protest with China, stating Chinese vessel “violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago”; U.S. State Department 6 April called on China “to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea”; Radio Free Asia reported Chinese Coast Guard 3 and 8 April deployed two ships to monitor China-Philippines contested islands. Chinese vessel 14 April accompanied by China Coast Guard ship was reportedly spotted 158 km off Vietnam’s coast, within its exclusive economic zone; Vietnam FM next day announced following closely China’s activity, and Chinese foreign ministry said same day that ship was “conducting normal activities in waters administered by China”. Chinese vessel reportedly entered Malaysian waters 16 April, apparently following exploration vessel from Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas; U.S. State Department 18 April called on China to refrain from “provocative and destabilizing activity”; three U.S. warships and Australian frigate 22 April held joint exercise near same area. Chinese state media reported “major administrative move” when Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs 18 April announced creation of two new subdivisions of Sansha city on Hainan Island: Xisha district, controlling Paracel Islands and surrounding waters, and Nansha district, governing Spratly Islands and surrounding waters; Vietnam 19 April submitted formal protest against new Chinese units. Philippine Foreign Secretary 22 April tweeted that Manila issued two protests with China’s embassy over new districts and “pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in PH waters”; U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo same day said U.S. “strongly opposes China’s bullying”. Chinese military 28 April accused U.S. warship of intruding “without permission” into Chinese territory waters near Paracel Islands, and that China had set in action procedure to track, identify and expel U.S. ship; U.S. Navy 29 April asserted rights under international law to use sea.

March 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Following U.S. claim in late Feb that Chinese military warship fired military grade laser at U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft flying over Pacific Ocean, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang 6 March stated that U.S. statement do not “accord with reality”, accused U.S. plane of “long-period circling reconnaissance at low altitude despite repeated warnings from the Chinese side”. Chinese Communist Party newspaper 11 March said that Chinese military expelled a U.S. guided-missile destroyer “trespassing” into Chinese waters near Xisha (Paracel) Islands; U.S. warships also reportedly in South China Sea, including for expeditionary strike force drills, 12-13 and 15 March. During meeting in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Chief of Staff of Japan’s Self-Defence Force General Koji Yamazaki and Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Defence Phan Van Giang 2 March agreed to bolster bilateral ties through promotion of existing cooperation mechanisms and strengthening of bilateral defence cooperation activities. U.S. Embassy in Hanoi 11 March announced second aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, apparent spread of virus on U.S. carriers signalled potential significant reduction in U.S. power-projection capabilities in Western Pacific; U.S. Navy reported 30 March that more than 40 sailors aboard the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for COVID-19, the carrier docked at Guam on 27 March following operations in South China Sea. Philippines 6 March sent note verbale to UN Secretary-General Guterres rejecting Malaysia’s Dec 2019 claims over Kalayaan Island Group and China’s Dec 2019 claims of “historic rights in the South China Sea”.

February 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Following China’s incursion in Jan into Indonesian exclusive economic zone, Japanese govt 14 Feb announced provision of $20 million in funding to Indonesia in order to upgrade its national coast guard, along with fishery patrol vessel, in effort to promote Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”. Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Philip Davidson 13 Feb said at meeting in Sydney, Australia, that China is “seek[ing] to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and the way of life in the Indo-Pacific”. Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu 15 Feb called on U.S. and Europe “to not bring proxy wars to Asia, especially in the South China Sea” during Munich Security Conference in Germany. U.S. and India 25 Feb issued joint statement noting “efforts toward a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and solemnly urged that it not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of all nations according to international law”.

January 2020

Asia

South China Sea

Tensions rose between China and Indonesia over islands near disputed South China Sea (SCS). In response to Chinese incursion 19 Dec into Indonesian exclusive economic zone off coast of northern Natuna island on southern edge of SCS, Indonesia 3 Jan increased patrol to “anticipate territorial violations, and also illegal fishing” around area. Indonesian govt 6-7 Jan deployed four fighter jets and eight warships; Chinese Foreign Ministry 7 Jan stated both countries have been communicating and are “comprehensive strategic partners”; Indonesian President Widodo 8 Jan visited island saying “De facto, de jure, Natuna is Indonesia”. Indonesian military spokesperson 9 Jan said Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats had departed from waters near Natuna islands as soon as Indonesian President arrived. Widodo 10 Jan called on Japanese FM to invest in Natuna islands to bolster coast guard coordination; China’s Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian 16 Jan said Chinese fishermen had been operating in waters near islands to catch fish, adding that both countries can solve dispute “in a friendly manner”. U.S. Navy 25 Jan carried out freedom-of-navigation operation near Fiery Cross Reef, Chinese-occupied feature in Spratly Islands, through waters claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. Chinese media 28 Jan reported that Chinese military had “expelled” U.S. vessel from area.

December 2019

Asia

South China Sea

Amid ongoing tensions over South China Sea (SCS), Japanese Defence Minister Tarō Kōno speaking at Doha Forum 15 Dec criticised China for “engaging in unilateral and coercive attempts to alter the status quo” based on assertions that are “incompatible with the existing international order”; also said Japan is “concerned about China’s rapid enhancement of its military power without transparency, including its nuclear and missile capabilities”. Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review 28 Nov reported Japanese officials are concerned China is trying to implement code of conduct that would require U.S. and Japan to request China’s approval before executing military drills with ASEAN countries, saying it would “tie ASEAN’s hands with rules that are convenient for Beijing, and to eliminate or restrict outside influence on the South China Sea”. During lecture in Singapore, Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister Nguyen Quoc Dung 17 Dec stated he hopes China will show restraint during Vietnam’s 2020 ASEAN chairmanship; also called China’s actions in SCS alarming to both Vietnam and other countries who feel they might be threatened by China in the future. Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral John Aquilino 13 Dec criticised China’s involvement in SCS and announced that U.S. is “in competition with the People’s Republic of China”; also suggested partnership with “like-minded nations” will keep nations in region secure. Malaysia 12 Dec filed claim with UN to extend its continental shelf in northern section of SCS; Beijing condemned Malaysia’s actions as infringing on China’s sovereignty and violating international law. Jakarta 25 Dec sent diplomatic note to China protesting alleged Chinese Coast Guard vessel incursion into its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands; Chinese govt spokesperson 26 Dec claimed that zone was part of China.

November 2019

Asia

South China Sea