Monday, April 23, 2012

Russia & China Hold Navy Drills Amid Showl Row.

PH-US military exercises seen as provocative

CHINA and Russia launched their first joint naval exercises with war games in the Yellow Sea on Sunday, amid China’s tensions with Manila over the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

China said the six-day military exercises off its east coast were designed to improve regional stability, but they come at a time when Beijing is flexing its muscles over its territorial disputes with its neighbors.

China’s army newspaper warned Saturday that the other military exercises now taking place  between the United States and the Philippines could lead to armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

China and several of its neighbors have rival claims to the uninhabited islands in the strategic maritime region, which is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade.

Sixteen vessels and two submarines from the Chinese navy will participate the drill, including five missile destroyers, five missile frigates, four missile boats, a support vessel and hospital ship.

The drills will also involve 13 aircraft, five shipboard helicopters, and more than 4,000 Chinese servicemen, navy sources said.

On Saturday, a Russian naval task force arrived at the naval base in Qingdao with four warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet and three supply ships from their home port in Vladivostok.

Russian missile cruiser. Russian Pacific Fleet’s flagship Varyag, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser, arrives at a naval base in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province. China and Russia are scheduled to hold a maritime exercise on April 22 to 27.

The Russian warships include the Pacific Fleet’s flagship Varyag, a slava-class guided missile cruiser, Marshal Shaposhnikov, Admiral Panteleyev and Admiral Vinogradov, three Udaloy-class destroyers.

China said the exercises would focus on joint air defense, anti-submarine tactics and search and rescue, as well as simulated rescue of hijacked vessels and anti-terrorism drills.

“This joint military exercise is a long scheduled one between China and Russia in order to uphold regional peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a news briefing on Thursday.

China and Russia had together participated in four military exercises since 2005, some involving other countries, state media said.

Earlier this month, China and the Philippines dispatched vessels to enforce rival claims to the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines and the United States also started their annual war games near the disputed waters, triggering a warning Saturday from the People’s Liberation Army.

“The mentality behind this sort of military exercise will lead to the road of military confrontation and armed force as a resolution,” the newspaper said.

The commander of the US Marines in the Pacific, Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, on Sunday said the Philippines and the US were bound by a military agreement that would be activated in the event of an attack on Filipino forces.

“The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty which guarantees that we get involved in each other’s defense and that is self explanatory,” he told reporters in Puerto Princesa.

China-Russia military exercise. Rear Adm. Du Xiping, deputy commander of China’s Beihai Fleet, and Captain First Rank Sergei Yuriyevich Zhuyga, of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province.

A general from the Philippine Marines on Sunday described China’s warning as “war- mongering.”

“It appears that they [China] are the ones who are war-mongering. The Balikatan exercise will not affect the Panatag [Scarborough] Shoal issue because the sites of the exercises are very far from there,” said Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Puerto Princesa City-based Western Mindanao Command.

“The Balikatan exercise in the West Philippine Sea is purely field-training exercises and civil-military operations and disaster response.”

The Philippines on Sunday said it would unilaterally raise its sovereign claim on the West Philippine Sea, including the Panatag Shoal, to the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea if Beijing refused to accept Manila’s invitation for arbitration.

“We can go there unilaterally if China is not prepared to come with us to validate its claims at this proper forum. Our legal team is now studying this option,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

China claims all of the West Philippine Sea as a historic right, even those well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone recognized by the United Nations, such as the Panatag Shoal.

The tribunal is an independent judicial body established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising from the interpretation and application of maritime laws and agreements.

The tribunal, however, requires the concurrence of both parties involved in a dispute before an arbitration process can begin.
Hernandez said bringing the issue to the tribunal unilaterally would result in a validation of Philippine sovereignty, but not in a ruling on the territorial dispute.

Earlier, MalacaƱang said it will not be intimidated by China’s deployment of its most advanced fishing patrol vessel in the Panatag Shoal after Manila pulled out its biggest warship, the Gregorio del Pilar, from the area.

With Joyce Pangco Panares

(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/April/23)