U.S. hopes Chinese island-building will spur Asian response

admin   •   May 28, 2015   •   2282

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

By releasing video of Beijing’s island reclamation work and considering more assertive maritime actions, the United States is signaling a tougher stance over the South China Sea and trying to spur Asian partners to more action.

The release last week of the surveillance plane footage – showing dredgers and other ships busily turning remote outcrops into islands with runways and harbors – helps ensure the issue will dominate an Asian security forum starting on Friday attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter as well as senior Chinese military officials.

As it pushes ahead with a military “pivot” to Asia partly aimed at countering China, Washington wants Southeast Asian nations to take a more united stance against China’s rapid acceleration this year of construction on disputed reefs.

The meeting, the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, will be overshadowed by the tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing has added 1,500 acres to five outposts in the resource-rich Spratly islands since the start of this year.

“These countries need to own it (the issue),” one U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity, adding that it was counterproductive for the United States to take the lead in challenging China over the issue.

More unified action by the partners, including the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), needed to happen soon because “if you wait four years, it’s done,” the official said.

While some ASEAN members, including U.S. ally the Philippines and fellow claimant Vietnam, have been vocal critics of Chinese maritime actions, the group as a whole has been divided on the issue and reluctant to intervene.

But in a sign of growing alarm, the group’s leaders last month jointly expressed concern that reclamation activity had eroded trust and could undermine peace in the region.

Experts dismiss the idea of ASEAN-level joint action any time soon in the South China Sea. “It’s absolute fantasy,” said Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute on South East Asian Studies.

But stepped-up coordination between some states is possible. Japan’s military is considering joining the United States in maritime air patrols over the sea. Japan and the Philippines are expected to start talks next week on a framework for the transfer of defense equipment and technology and to discuss a possible pact on the status of Japanese military personnel visiting the Philippines.

Carter, speaking in Honolulu en route to Singapore, repeated Washington’s demand that the island-building stop, saying China was violating the principles of the region’s “security architecture” and the consensus for “non-coercive approaches.”

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

SHOWING CHINA SOME “RESOLVE”

As part of Washington’s drive to energize its allies, a U.S. Navy P-8 reconnaissance plane allowed CNN and Navy camera crews to film Chinese land reclamation activity in the Spratly islands last week and release the footage.

“No one wants to wake up one morning and discover that China has built numerous outposts and, even worse, equipped them with military systems,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said.

Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said the U.S. goal was to convince China to buy into the international system for dispute resolution rather than impose its sweeping territorial claims on the region.

But in the near term, he added: “I think the Americans are going to have to show China some resolve.”

U.S. officials have said Navy ships may be sent within 12 miles (19 kms) of the Chinese-built islands to show that Washington does not recognize Beijing’s insistence that it has territorial rights there.

Washington is also pressing ahead with its rebalancing towards Asia, four years after President Barack Obama announced the strategic shift, even as some countries say it is slow to take shape.

The United States has updated its security agreements with treaty allies Japan and the Philippines and is bolstering missile defenses in Japan with an eye on North Korea.

U.S. Marines are training in Australia on a rotational basis, littoral combat ships are operating out of Singapore and new P-8 reconnaissance planes stationed in Japan have flown missions across the region.

Overall, defense officials said, the Navy will increase its footprint by 18 percent between 2014 and 2020. The aim is to have 60 percent of Navy ships oriented toward the Pacific by 2020, compared to 57 percent currently.

Military officials in the Philippines say the U.S. shift has been noticeable, including military exercises, training and ship and aircraft visits. The emphasis has shifted from anti-terrorism to maritime security, one official said.

China has not shown any sign of being deterred. On Tuesday it held a groundbreaking ceremony for two lighthouses in the South China Sea, vowed to increase its “open seas protection,” and criticized neighbors who take “provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.

(Additional reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong, Nobuhiro Kubo in Tokyo, Manuel Mogato in Manila, Sui Lee Wee in Beijing; editing by David Storey and Stuart Grudgings.)

DOF orders tighter watch on rice imports following tariff cuts

Robie de Guzman   •   June 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Monday ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to keep a tighter watch on incoming rice imports to ensure the proper collection of taxes following the implementation of tariff rate cuts.

In a statement, the DOF said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III issued the directive pursuant to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 135, which mandates the temporary adjustment of tariff rates on rice imports to offset the effect on consumers of the continuous increase in the price of rice from other countries, particularly those coming from ASEAN countries, and thereby reduce inflationary pressures.

The DOF said the EO 135 would enable the country to diversify its market sources for rice and maintain the stable supply and affordable price of the cereal for Filipino consumers.

Dominguez cited India as a possible source of cheap rice imports.

“I think there will be a shift in the imports of Thai and Vietnamese rice, and Burmese (Myanmar) rice, to rice from other countries where the value is much lower. Just keep an eye on that,” Dominguez told Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent executive committee meeting.

During the meeting, Guerrero said the BOC is currently reviewing the valuation of rice shipments from Vietnam, noting that most of the imports from there were “declared with values lower than the published prevailing prices for such exports from that country.”

“We discovered that many of these importations are under a tentative assessment so we are reviewing the payments,” Guerrero said.

He said the average value of rice imports, coming mostly from Vietnam, dropped 12.7 percent to P19,312 per metric ton (MT) in May 2021, compared to P22,119 per MT in the same month last year.

The average value of rice in May was also lower than the P21,066 per MT recorded in April and P22,119 per MT in March.

Guerrero previously reported increasing tariff collections despite lower import volumes because of a steady improvement in the BOC’s valuation system.

Preliminary data showed that from January 1 to April 30, a total of 804,360MT of rice shipments worth P17 billion entered the country, representing a 9.2-percent decline from the 885,645MT valued at P16.4 billion that were imported during the same period last year.

ASEAN leaders push for cessation of Myanmar coup crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   April 26, 2021

The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have reached a five-point consensus on the Myanmar coup crisis during their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia over the weekend.

In a joint statement, ASEAN leaders demanded, “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and (that) all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.”

“Constructive dialogue among all parties shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people,” the statement read.

A special envoy of the ASEAN chair shall “facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary-General of ASEAN,” in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian bloc added.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah from Brunei is the current chair of the regional bloc.

“The special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned,” it said.

“ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Center,” it added.

More than 700 people have been killed since the military coup in Myanmar began on February 1.

In a separate statement, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the five-point consensus reached by the ASEAN leaders seek to improve the situation in Myanmar.

Locsin stressed that Brunei’s role as ASEAN chairperson “puts it in a strong position to lead ASEAN as it offers assistance to Myanmar in ending violence, restoring peace, and facilitating its return to political normalcy.”

The regional bloc also reiterated calls for the immediate release of political prisoners in Myanmar, as well as the importance of Myanmar’s continued efforts to address the situation in Rakhine State, including the repatriation of Rohingya Muslim minority group.

Some one million Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, and the ASEAN leaders said their repatriation should be done in a safe and dignified manner in accordance with its bilateral agreements with Bangladesh.

In response to the ASEAN leaders’ call, Myanmar’s newly former National Unity Government welcomed the five-point consensus on the coup crisis, and stressed that they are waiting for a firm action by ASEAN to de-escalate the conflict.

“We eagerly await the engagement by the ASEAN Secretary General as mandated by this meeting. We look forward to a firm action by ASEAN to follow up it decisions and restore our democracy for our people and for the region,” it said.

Myanmar’s Chairman of the State Administration Council, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, also said that his country is focused on restoring peace and stability to improve the current situation, and that they would consider ASEAN’s positive and sound proposals, taking into account their domestic situation.

The ASEAN leaders’ meeting held on April 24 was presided by Bolkiah, and attended by Hlaing, ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

President Rodrigo Duterte skipped the summit but he designated Locsin as his Special Envoy to the meeting. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Duterte to skip April 24 ASEAN Leaders’ meeting in Jakarta – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   April 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will not be attending a summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 24, Malacañang said Thursday.

“Ang president po, hindi personally mag-a-attend. But I’m sure that our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be there,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a media briefing.

Roque did not say why Duterte would be skipping the meeting but the DFA said in a statement that the president “decided to remain in the country to attend to pressing domestic concerns in light of the surge of COVID-19 cases.”

“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has designated Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. as his Special Envoy to the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting to be held on 24 April 2021 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia,” the DFA said.

“The Philippines strongly supported the convening of the Meeting even without the full attendance of all ASEAN Leaders,” it added.

The department said the special leaders’ meeting will “address urgent matters in the region, including recovery efforts, the situation in Myanmar, ASEAN community building efforts, external relations, and regional and international issues.”

“The President, through Secretary Locsin, will convey the Philippines’ commitment to ASEAN’s collective efforts in addressing threats and challenges to peace and stability in the region,” the DFA said.

“Secretary Locsin will also express the Philippines’ strong support to the initiative of Brunei Darussalam and the Secretary-General of ASEAN to use their good offices, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, to visit Myanmar and spearhead ASEAN’s response to the crisis in Myanmar,” it added.

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