Friday, August 15, 2014

US Vietnam Military Cooperation

August 15, 2014 6:24 am JST

Former foes US, Vietnam move closer on defense

MANABU ITO, Nikkei staff writer
HANOI -- America's top-ranking military officer met with his Vietnamese counterpart here Thursday, underscoring their countries' rapidly deepening military relationship.
     Martin Dempsey became the first U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman to set foot in this country since the Vietnam War in 1971. At the outset of his meeting with Do Ba Ty, Vietnam's army chief of staff, Dempsey said his visit showed Vietnam's importance.
     Military contact between the two countries remained infrequent even after they normalized diplomatic relations in 1995. In 2011, they signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation, agreeing to work more closely in maritime security and other areas. China's growing blue-water presence has hastened their rapprochement. Last December, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced $18 million in aid to Vietnam for maritime security, including five high-speed patrol ships.
     Washington ended its ban on exports of nonlethal military equipment to Vietnam in 2007. An embargo on weapons sales may be lifted soon, Sen. John McCain told reporters here this month. At first, the arms trade should be limited to "defensive capabilities, such as coast guard and maritime systems," McCain said.
     Vietnam's defense spending grew roughly fourfold in the past decade. But diversifying military procurement remains a challenge. The armed forces still rely mostly on Soviet-era and Russian-made gear.
     The U.S. and Vietnam share concerns about Chinese assertiveness in the region. From May to July, Vietnamese and Chinese ships were locked in a standoff around an oil rig in the South China Sea. It was put there by China amid Vietnamese claims of territorial encroachment. Hanoi sees the U.S. as a shield against China, behind which Vietnam can build up its own forces. America, meanwhile, has recently forged a new military pact with the Philippines, another Southeast Asian country embroiled in territorial disputes with China.
     Four decades since the end of the Vietnam War, Hanoi hopes that a visit by President Barack Obama will show both Vietnamese and the rest of the world that the two former foes are now bound by friendship. But Washington insists Vietnam must show more respect for human rights if it wants access to American weaponry. Troublingly, bloggers critical of Vietnam's one-party Communist rule have wound up behind bars recently.
     The Obama administration is also concerned about inconsistency in Vietnam's stance toward China. Vietnamese criticism of its huge neighbor to the north has diminished since the offending oil rig was removed, leaving Washington struggling to discern Hanoi's true intentions.

Monday, August 11, 2014

NY Times Report from Vietnamese Ship


Fishermen in Da Nang. On a two-day trip from that port, a Vietnamese vessel encountered some 70 Chinese ships. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times
Continue reading the main storyShare This Page
ABOARD CSB-8003, in the South China Sea — As the large white Chinese ship closed in, the smaller Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel could only veer off, black exhaust billowing from its stack. The Vietnamese vessel had advanced to within 13 miles of the Chinese offshore oil rig, and the Chinese decided it could come no closer.
With the rig barely visible on the horizon but the Chinese ship looming close behind, the Vietnamese patrol boat, CSB-8003, blasted a two-minute recorded message in Chinese, from loudspeakers on the back of the boat. These waters belong to Vietnam, the message said, and China’s placement of the rig had “hurt the feelings of the Vietnamese people.”

About six hours after the encounter on July 15, one of the last in a two-and-a-half-month standoff over the rig known as HD 981, China began moving the rig north toward the Chinese island of Hainan and out of waters Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone. Three weeks later, analysts are still debating whether China, facing international pressure, blinked in its standoff with Vietnam — or whether this was just a tactical retreat before a more aggressive campaign.


Vietnamese and Chinese vessels near a Chinese oil rig.CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

While Vietnam claimed success in forcing the departure of HD 981, China National Petroleum Corporation, which managed the project, said the rig had completed its exploration work and was moving as planned.
The relocation of the rig just ahead of the approach of a typhoon in the area also prompted speculation that the storm may have forced its early departure. But the $1 billion rig, which is owned by the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation, was moved to a spot about 60 miles southeast of Hainan Island that is also exposed to typhoons.
While the Vietnamese Coast Guard celebrated the departure of the Chinese rig, some officers said they were worried that the episode represented a more aggressive attitude by China.
“From the moment that they installed the rig near the islands, the Chinese began more and more and more attacks, in words and in actions,” said Lt. Col. Tran Van Tho of the Vietnam Coast Guard as he stood smoking a cigarette on the deck of CSB-8003. “Why? It is a part of a Chinese strategy to control the sea. This is a first step to try to make a new base to expand farther south. This not only threatens Vietnam, but the Philippines and other countries. This has been organized systematically, as part of a strategy. It is not random.”
Lyle J. Goldstein, an associate professor at the United States Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, said that China has long taken an assertive stance toward its claims in the South China Sea, but was now much more able to uphold them.
“If anything is changing it is that China has capabilities to enforce and explore more carefully and it has money to field the cutters — that to me is what is driving the situation,” he said.
Vietnam invited groups of foreign reporters to embed with its Coast Guard vessels in an effort to focus international attention on the standoff over the rig. On the water with CSB-8003, the superior numbers of the Chinese vessels were clear.
On its two-day trip from Da Nang in central Vietnam, CSB-8003 encountered some 70 Chinese vessels, including fishing boats, Coast Guard cutters, patrol ships from other Chinese maritime organizations and two vessels that the Vietnamese Coast Guard identified as Chinese Navy missile corvettes.
Vietnam says there were about four to six Chinese military vessels among the more than 100 Chinese ships that patrolled around the rig, along with the Chinese Coast Guard, other maritime agencies and dozens of fishing boats.
As recently as two years ago, many observers said China’s policy in the South China Sea was dominated by an array of poorly coordinated agencies.
Some encounters showed organizational ability, as when Chinese ships harassed the Impeccable, a United States Navy surveillance ship, in the South China Sea in 2009. But many analysts argued that the Chinese Navy, China Marine Surveillance, the Bureau of Fisheries Administration, local governments and state-owned energy companies operated with high levels of autonomy and fueled regional tensions as they sought to increase their own influence and opportunities.

Continue reading the main story

Map: Territorial Disputes in the Waters Near China

The standoff over the rig shows how things have changed. “The idea that China lacks a coherent policy, that’s clearly not the case with this oil rig,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “It shows a high degree of interagency coordination involving civilian maritime agencies, the People’s Liberation Army and the oil companies.”
Efforts to streamline China’s maritime law enforcement agencies saw significant advancement last year when four of them were joined under the State Oceanic Administration to form a unified Coast Guard.
The placement of the rig indicates the will of China’s leadership to push maritime claims, Mr. Storey said. “Clearly this was sanctioned at the highest level of the Chinese government,” he said. “This is another indication of how Xi Jinping has very quickly consolidated his power in China and is calling the shots.”
Chinese energy companies backed away from plans to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea after Vietnamese protests in 1994 and 2009. Now it is not so hesitant. HD 981 should be seen as a starting point for future exploration, said Su Xiaohui, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a research institute run by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “China is sending out a signal to the related countries that it is legal and natural for China to conduct energy exploration and development in the South China Sea,” said Ms. Su.
The Chinese placement of the rig caught Vietnam off guard, and set off protests and riots targeting Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam. Factories owned by Taiwanese, Japanese, South Korean and Singaporean firms were also hit. Four Chinese workers at the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics steel plant were killed by rioters in May.
The rig was first parked about 120 miles off the coast of Vietnam and 17 miles from the farthest southwest islet of the Paracels, islands held by China but claimed by Vietnam.
Both sides have exchanged accusations over who had been the aggressor in the standoff over the rig. In June, China said that over the first month of operations, Vietnamese ships had rammed Chinese ships 1,400 times. But Vietnam appears to have suffered the worst of the skirmishes at sea, with more than 30 of its vessels damaged in collisions during that same period.
The most severe clash was on May 26, when a Vietnamese fishing boat sank after a collision with a Chinese fishing boat. Video later released by Vietnam showed the much larger Chinese boat ramming the wooden-hulled Vietnamese vessel.
The movement of the rig to waters farther north will help defuse the conflict between Vietnam and China. But the broader issues over sovereignty in the South China Sea, and who has the rights to extract oil and gas in the region, remain far from resolved.
At talks among senior diplomats from the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday in Myanmar, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated a suggestion by the United States that countries in the region refrain from taking steps that would further heighten tensions in the South China Sea. “We need to work together to manage tensions in the South China Sea, and to manage them peacefully, and also to manage them on a basis of international law,” Mr. Kerry said at the regional forum of Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
China said it would consider proposals to resolve disputes, but said that China and Asean “had the ability and wisdom to jointly protect peace and stability in the South China Sea,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The statement did not mention the United States, but in the past China has criticized Washington for getting involved in its maritime disputes with other countries. In addition to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.
China announced last month that it would place four more rigs in the South China Sea, and Vietnam’s inability to block HD 981 will likely give China confidence about its ability to drill in contested locations. “I think China feels it got its point across,” said Bernard D. Cole, a retired United States Navy officer and a professor at the National War College. “I would not at all be surprised to see them do it again.”

Sovereignty Not Resources at Stake


It's Not About the Oil -- It's About the Tiny Rocks

What everyone gets wrong about Beijing's bullying in the South China Sea.

As China jousts with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other neighbors over contested maritime territory, the conventional wisdom is that energy concerns are a motivating force. China claims virtually the entire South China Sea -- a claim disputed by its neighbors (most notably Vietnam and the Philippines) -- and there have been an increasing number of conflicts in recent years over who has the right to exploit the energy resources under the seabed in disputed waters. China's introduction of a deep-water drilling rig into contested watersaround the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea -- an unprecedented effort by China to unilaterally move forward with energy development in these areas -- has reinforced the notion that energy is at the core of these disputes.
In reality, however, the pursuit of oil and gas in the East and South China seas is simply one manifestation of the more fundamental conflict over sovereignty in the region. China has a multipronged strategy to assert its dominance over the disputed maritime areas, including enhancing its military capability, research to show the historic basis for China's claims, and diplomacy to ensure that the Southeast Asian claimants do not unite against China. A tactic that China has been utilizing more recently has been to act as if China is the unquestioned sovereign in the contested areas, by doing what a country does in its own territory -- exploring for energy and building infrastructure. This is clear in the Aug. 4 comments by Yi Xianliang, deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs departments regarding building activities in the South China Sea: "The Spratly Islands are China's intrinsic territory, and what China does or doesn't do is up to the Chinese government." In other words, China has sovereign control over the disputed territory -- and intends to exercise it.
Why isn't energy the key to the disputes? One regularly sees the words "vast" or "huge" applied to the hydrocarbon endowment of the South China Sea, and "resource-rich" has become a ubiquitous adjective when describing these waters. But the truth is, nobody knows: The contested areas around the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea have seen little exploration -- and without seismic soundings and experimental drilling, there is really no way of knowing how much oil and gas lies below the seafloor. That said, there's probably not all that much of it there. One of the most definitive sources of information on these topics is the U.S. Energy Information Agency's (EIA) 2013report, entitled "Contested areas of the South China Sea likely have few conventional oil and gas resources." The EIA estimates that in disputed areas around the Spratly and Paracel islands, there is likely no oil and less than 100 billion cubic feet of gas -- a miniscule amount roughly equivalent to one week of China's gas consumption. The East China Sea -- where China and Japan spar over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands -- is even more negligible in terms of hydrocarbons. The EIA estimates it contains 60 million to 100 million barrels of oil -- roughly two weeks of oil for China -- and between one and two TCF (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas, or about three to six months' worth of gas consumption in China.
As the world's largest energy importer, China should want the greatest possible development of global energy resources -- without worrying greatly about ownership. Because of the liquid nature of global energy markets, any additional molecule developed contributes to greater global supply and to lower prices, both of which directly benefit China as the world's largest energy consumer -- even if none of those molecules go to China.
In other words, if energy were truly Beijing's concern, its obstruction of other states' development of their oil and gas resources -- which prevents new supplies from coming online -- is self-defeating. Not to mention that it comes at the cost of alienating a number of Southeast Asian nations, which would otherwise be much more accommodating of China's rise in the region. Simply put, there are far easier ways to procure energy in the 21st century than occupying territory or starting conflicts with one's neighbors.
Beijing's territorial plays are not about energy security, either. One often reads -- in both Chinese and Western sources -- that China has unique energy security vulnerabilities that must shape its strategic thinking. This may come from mistaken analogies with other Asian "tigers" like Japan, Taiwan, or Singapore that instituted export-dependent industrialization in part because of their resource scarcity. Or it may come from reading too much into ex-president Hu Jintao'spronouncements in the mid-2000s that China faces a "Malacca dilemma." Because the majority of China's energy imports flow through the Malacca Strait, a narrow waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia, China is vulnerable to a crippling energy blockade -- or so the thinking goes.
But both of these are misleading. China is far from resource-poor: It has the world's fourth-largest oil production, the largest oil reserves in Asia, and probably the world's largest shale gas reserves. China's status as the world's largest oil importer stems not from a paucity of domestic resources but from the enormity of its domestic demand. Even so, China is still able to supply 90 percent of its overall energy needs.
Moreover, while nearly 80 percent of China's imported oil passes through the Malacca Strait, that amount represents only about half of its total oil consumption. And while the U.S. Navy could execute a blockade, that would have enormous consequences for U.S. allies in the Pacific, which are even more dependent on the Malacca Strait for energy. Further, because most oil is shipped by private fleets, which would refuse to go through the Pacific in the face of a U.S. blockade, this glancing blow to the Chinese economy would devastate the economies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In other words, if the United States were to attempt to blockade China's oil, it too would face its own "Malacca dilemma."
Any country that is a net importer of energy has some inherent energy security vulnerabilities, because it relies on global markets and sea-lanes it doesn't control. But China is in some ways much better off than other net importers -- both because it has a large domestic energy endowment and because it has methodically diversified its energy supply routes. Since 2006, China has signed major supply deals for overland pipeline oil and gas imports from Central AsiaMyanmar, and most recently, Russia, minimizing the disruption that can be caused by any one chokepoint.
Developing the resources of the South Sea or East China Sea would do virtually nothing to alter China's energy situation, particularly because China has been the main engine of energy demand growth and thus any new energy resource -- what the industry calls "incremental barrels" -- developed can be considered destined for China. In other words, China doesn't need to fight wars to secure its energy; it can simply purchase it from willing suppliers on the global market.
Maintaining that China's territorial disputes are about sovereignty rather than energy is a pessimistic view. If energy were the primary issue in China's territorial disputes, it would be easier for the claimant states to find win-win solutions. But China's energy exploration efforts are about demonstrating sovereignty and control, and not vice versa.
Energy resources are dividable and shareable; sovereignty is not. Viewing the South and East China Seas through the lens of sovereignty rather than energy makes these issues zero-sum and much more intractable; it also makes clear why efforts at joint development are likely to fail.