China wants military drills with ASEAN in disputed sea, excluding US

Tensions have escalated in recent years due to Beijing building artificial islands that can host military bases. Above, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on screen, delivers his opening statement at the ASEAN summit in Singapore. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2018
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China wants military drills with ASEAN in disputed sea, excluding US

  • Beijing’s suggestions are part of efforts to expand its influence in the South China Sea
  • Beijing also suggested that China and ASEAN could carry out joint oil and gas exploration in the waters

SINGAPORE: China wants military exercises and energy exploration with Southeast Asian nations in disputed waters, according to a draft document, but insists on outside countries being excluded in what analysts said was a bid to diminish US influence.
Beijing’s suggestions are part of efforts to expand its influence in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely, and push back at Washington which has backed countries with overlapping claims to the waters.
A code of conduct between Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to govern behavior in the strategic sea has been years in the making.
The draft document, seen by AFP, outlines different countries’ bargaining positions as they work toward an agreement, and analysts said it represented some initial progress.
In the text, Vietnam offers the strongest opposition to Beijing’s activities — calling for countries to stop building artificial islands and establishing military installations.
But there was little sign of serious resistance from other countries, signaling how opposition to China’s aggressive expansion in the resource-rich waters has ebbed in recent years in Southeast Asia.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims to China’s in the sea.
Tensions have escalated in recent years due to Beijing building artificial islands that can host military bases.
Meanwhile the US — traditionally the dominant military power in the area — has more frequently carried out patrols aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation.
In the draft text, Beijing suggests that China and the 10 ASEAN states should carry out joint military exercises regularly.
However, the drills should not involve countries outside the region “unless the parties concerned are notified beforehand and express no objection.”
The suggestion to exclude outside countries “is obviously targeted at the US which has been dominating the waters of the Western Pacific and the South China Sea in particular,” Hoang Thi Ha, from the ASEAN Studies Center, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said.
By proposing joint military exercises, China is trying to send a “subtle message to the world that ASEAN and China could work together and things are progressing well, hence there is no need for external involvement in the South China Sea issue,” said Ha.
Beijing also suggested that China and ASEAN could carry out joint oil and gas exploration in the waters but again proposed that firms from countries outside the region be excluded from such activities, the document showed.
At a meeting of foreign ministers in Singapore on Thursday, Beijing and ASEAN announced they had agreed on the negotiating text for the code.
Vietnam has offered some of the stiffest resistance to China in the sea in recent times, regularly complaining about Beijing’s activities on contested islands and in disputed waters.
Tensions reached fever pitch in 2014 when China moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi.
However, opposition has weakened in other parts of Southeast Asia, with analysts saying that countries are keen to attract Chinese investment and are worried about US commitment to the region under President Donald Trump.
The Philippines, under previous president Benigno Aquino, had been a leading voice against China’s expansion in the sea and used ASEAN events to pressure Beijing — but current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has reversed that policy.


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.