China has reiterated that it wants to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea through talks between nations that are directly involved, rather than involving other countries.
Multinational talks will not help and may make the issue even more complicated, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman at a daily press meeting.
The remarks came after Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba proposed a multilateral framework to settle maritime disputes in the South China Sea during a tour of Indonesia and other South-east Asian countries.
Last weekend, China and Vietnam issued a joint statement pledging to settle maritime disputes through negotiations and friendly consultation. The statement was issued as Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong concluded his China visit.
But the Philippines criticised the China-Vietnam joint statement, calling for a multilateral approach to the dispute rather than a bilateral agreement.
Several countries in the region have overlapping claims over islands and reefs in the area, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The South China Sea contains critical naval routes, is important for fishing, and is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and natural gas.
Report: FM calls for direct talks in sea disputes [China Daily, 18 Oct 2011]
Report: Nations vow to talk on South China Sea [China Daily, 17 Oct 2011]
China Warns India to Stay Out of South China Sea
Over the weekend, a major Chinese newspaper also warned India against cooperating with Vietnam on oil exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
Last week, India's state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp said its overseas investment arm had signed a three-year deal with PetroVietnam.
The China Energy News, published by the state-run People's Daily, said cooperation between India and Vietnam in the disputed waters was a bad idea, and could lead to confrontation between China and India. The front-page editorial urged the Indian firm to pull out of the deal.
Report: China paper warns India against Vietnam oil deal [Reuters, 16 Oct 2011]
Vietnam Slams Google Maps
Yesterday, Vietnamese media also attacked Google for depicting disputed territory as belonging to China on its Google Maps service. In August 2010, Google amended most of its maps following a request from Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But Google's Chinese-language map still depicts the Chinese claims to the region.
Report: Google Maps again falsely depicts Vietnamese territory as China's: scholar [Thanh Nien, 17 Oct 2011]
Philippines Criticises Taiwan Missile Deployment
Over the weekend, a Philippine military spokesman said proposed plans by Taiwan to deploy surface-to-air missiles on Taiping Island in the South China Sea could be seen as an act of aggression by other countries claiming territory in the area. The plan was discussed by Taiwanese officials and legislators last week.
Report: Philippines airs concerns over missile plan [Taipei Times, 17 Oct 2011]
US-Philippine War Games
Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States opened their latest joint military exercises yesterday. But military officials stressed that holding part of this year’s Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 2012) in Palawan, close to the disputed area, was unrelated to territorial tensions with other countries.
Philippine officials said the choice of training venue was based on where troops were already deployed, and Palawan also offered a good training ground with beaches and forests. About 1,000 Philippine marines and 2,000 US troops are participating in the exercises.
The opening of the exercises coincided with a daylong forum on the South China Sea held in Manila, organised by Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation.
Speaking on the sidelines of the forum, former Philippine Foreign Secretary and chairman of the foundation named after his late father, Roberto R. Romulo, warned against “a tendency in the Philippines — and we have to be careful about this — to be too macho-like” in dealing with the territorial dispute. He said confrontation was not wise.
Former US Ambassador to the Philippines Frank Wisner told the forum that countries need to arrive at a legally-binding code of conduct to resolve the dispute.
Report: US, Philippines start war games [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 Oct 2011]
Japan to Upgrade Air Force
While growing tensions on the high seas have been the main focus in recent territorial disputes, a report released by Japan's Defence Ministry shows prickliness is escalating in the skies as well.
Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, but has its own territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Tensions have risen since a controversial collision in September 2010 between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese patrol boats.
According to officials, Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force has scrambled 83 times in the first half of 2011 to intercept military aircraft from China coming close to Japan’s airspace, more than triple the amount compared to the same six-month period in 2010.
In 2008, only one interception occurred in the first half of the year.
While Japanese officials said no Chinese aircraft actually entered Japanese airspace, a Chinese Y-8 skirted the border on 8 September, coming within 150 kilometres of airspace north of the disputed islands. Japanese pilots were scrambled again two weeks later when another Chinese plane came close to the area, though not as near as in the previous incident.
There is increasing concern in Japan about the air force's ability to defend Japanese airspace. On Sunday, Japan held its air review, a grand once-every-three-years event meant to showcase aerial capabilities. But embarrassingly, most of Japan's fighters were grounded for the event, either parked on the runway or allowed to taxi but not take off.
A week ago, the country's entire F-15 fleet was ordered into hangers for safety checks following a mid-air accident with a fuel tank, the second such order in three months. In July, an F-15 out of Okinawa crashed into the ocean; the pilot is listed as missing and presumed dead.
The accidents have reinforced Japan's need to overhaul its air force, especially in light of competition from its neighbours.
"With the provocative actions of North Korea, and the rapid growth of China's military, along with its increased activity in nearby waters, the security situation around our country is becoming murkier," said new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at Sunday's air review. "We must ask you to tighten the strings on your samurai helmets."
After years of delays and budget battles, Japan is expected to announce a new fighter deal by the end of December. Reports say Japan is considering three jets for its new main fighter, the Lockheed F-35, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The order is expected to be worth over US$8 billion, with the first planes arriving in 2016.
China recently rolled out its own next-generation stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20. Though the J-20 may be years from actual operations, it is far superior to what Japan currently operates.
But in response to Mr. Noda's speech, China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Beijing's national defence growth is in line with China's need to maintain national security over a long coastline, and is not targeting any other country.
Report: Japan Jet Scrambles Related to China Planes Tripled [Wall Street Journal, 14 Oct 2011]
Analysis: Japan's Air Force Plans Major Overhaul [TIME/AP, 17 Oct 2011]
Report: MSDF planes flying over diplomatic flashpoint Senkaku Islands every day [Mainichi Daily News, 17 Oct 2011]
Earlier this month, the Japan Coast Guard also deployed a new patrol vessel to the Ishigaki port in Okinawa, roughly 170 kilometres away from the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu archipelago in the East China Sea.
Japan-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation
According to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan and ASEAN will also pledge to increase maritime security cooperation at Japan-ASEAN summit talks in November, a move made with an eye on China's accelerating maritime activities in the region.
Japanese officials intend to call for free and safe navigation and the observation of international laws in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
The pledge will reportedly be part of the Japan-ASEAN Joint Declaration to be issued at the summit meeting in Indonesia, scheduled for mid-November. Countries are also expected to promise increased cooperation on disaster management and early warning.
Report: Japan, ASEAN to boost sea security [Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 Oct 2011]