Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

China’s PAFMM grey zone maritime challenge to the Philippines

Hand out file photo dated 27 October, 2019 of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Akizuki-class destroyer JS Fuyuzuki (DD 118) are underway in formation while conducting a bilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea. An unknown number of sailors onboard the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which forward-deployed in Japan and presently pier-side there, have tested positive for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. This comes just a day after the U.S. Navy announced it had quarantined the entire crew of another aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, on their ship in port in Guam after a number of sailors contracted the virus (Photo: Reuters/Codie L. Soule).

Author: Christian Vicedo, Manila

China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is key to understanding Beijing’s grey-zone operations in the South China Sea (SCS). The PAFMM is organised and linked to the People’s Liberation Army chain of command through the People’s Armed Forces Districts. PAFMM members are trained in maritime claims enforcement, logistics support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and sabotage. Operating about 84 large vessels with reinforced hulls and water cannons, the PAFMM serves as China’s third force in the SCS.

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Demystifying Australia’s South China Sea stance

An F18 fighter takes off from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt while transiting the South China Sea, 10 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Karen Lema).

Author: Sam Bateman, University of Wollongong

On 23 July, Australia lodged a note verbale to the UN Secretary-General setting out its position on China’s claims in the South China Sea. This was part of a series of notes verbale from countries bordering the South China Sea that was triggered by a December 2019 Malaysian submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) claiming a partial outer continental shelf in the South China Sea. Read more…

Vietnam rejects Chinese aggression in the South China Sea

Vessels from the U.S. Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Philippine Navy sail in formation at sea, in this recent taken handout photo released by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on 9 May 2019 (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Nguyen Khac Giang, Victoria University of Wellington

As countries in the region are busy dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, China is stirring the pot in the South China Sea. This includes harassing other claimants’ normal economic activities, conducting large-scale drills, consolidating military bases on artificial islands, and sending research ships into other countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Vietnam — as one of the claimants and perhaps the most stubborn — has become the chief target.

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Strengthening the Philippines’ approach to maritime security

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, 29 March 2014 (Reuters/ Erik De Castro/File Photo).

Author: Ellaine Joy C Sanidad, Philippine National Coast Watch System

Over the last decade, a lack of expertise among countries in managing their maritime domain has allowed lawlessness and crime on the seas to proliferate. Emerging criminal networks have become more complex and harder-to-quell. The relationship between various security threats, such as maritime piracy and terrorist financing, is also becoming increasingly interconnected. Read more…

Laying down the law in the South China Sea

The Royal Australian Navy guided-missile frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154) (L) is underway with the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and the Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) in the South China Sea 18 April, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Nicholas Huynh).

Author: Donald R Rothwell, ANU

Australia’s 23 July statement to the UN Secretary-General in formal response to a series of diplomatic exchanges between Malaysia, China and other states is the clearest to date on legal issues associated with China’s South China Sea maritime claims. Diplomatically the statement is unremarkable, legally though, it makes Australia’s position on some key issues very clear.

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COVID-19 accelerates maritime insecurity

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s guided-missile frigate Yueyang takes part in a China-Thailand joint naval exercise in waters off the southern port city of Shanwei, Guangdong province, China, 6 2019 (Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Asyura Salleh, Pacific Forum

COVID-19 is showing the world how a health crisis can exert disproportionate pressure on existing social and political fissures. The Asia Pacific maritime environment is no exception, with hybrid challenges persisting and non-conventional incidents on the rise. As state budgets adjust to accommodate the health crisis, non-state actors are escalating violence on land that is spilling over into the maritime domain. Read more…

Is ASEAN ready to stand up to China in the South China Sea?

Navy personnel of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Lee YingHui, RSIS

As the pandemic dominates international media headlines, tension in the South China Sea has slowly intensified in the background. Recent incidents include the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel after being hit by the Chinese Coast Guard near the disputed Paracel Islands and the dispatching of Chinese seismic survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 into Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing’s also taken steps to institutionalise control over disputed waters, announcing in April the establishment of two administrative districts under the authority of Sansha city. Read more…

Standing up for ASEAN in the South China Sea

Warships and fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: China Stringer Network via Reuters).

Author: Collin Koh, RSIS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that the United States considers Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal. This is a fundamentally new stance. While scholars and pundits are trying to make sense of what the statement means for the dispute, more interesting is how ASEAN will respond as it is inevitably caught in the eye of the South China Sea storm.

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Australia’s new defence geography

Commander Peter Lockwood from the Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Darwin watches from the Bridge as (L-R) HMAS Hobart, the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Mana, HMAS Arunta and HMAS Anzac sail out of Sydney Heads 28 February on their way to intensive warfare training off the coast of New South Wales (Photo: Reuters/Tan).

Author: Hugh White, ANU

In one of its bolder steps, Australia’s new Defence Strategy and Force Structure Review is proposing a radical redefinition of the geographical reach of Australia’s strategic priorities. It rejects the expansive view of Canberra’s last major defence policy statement — the 2016 Defence White Paper — which accorded equal priority to local, regional and global missions and commitments.

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Gauging Indonesia’s interests in the South China Sea

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base at Natuna, Indonesia, near the South China Sea, 9 January 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Antara Foto).

Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah, University of Indonesia

In June, four years after the Hague’s 2016 South China Sea tribunal ruling, Indonesia put forward a formal diplomatic note to the UN. This was in response to Malaysia’s 2019 continental shelf submission that objected to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the area bounded by China’s nine-dash line. It said that ‘Indonesia is not bound by any claims made in contravention to international law’.

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China’s claim to traditional fishing rights in the North Natuna Sea does not hold up

China Coast Guard ship is seen from an Indonesian Naval ship during a patrol at Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone sea in the north of Natuna island, Indonesia, 11 January, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Antara Foto/M Risyal Hidayat).

Author: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, University of Indonesia

Tensions between Jakarta and Beijing have been flaring following a January 2020 incident in the North Natuna Sea in which the Chinese Coast Guard escorted illegal fishing vessels into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Indonesia responded seriously to the illegal action conducted by China by sending military patrols to the North Natuna Sea. Read more…

United Southeast Asian front against China unlikely

Indonesian Airforce's F-16 Jet Fighter flies over Indonesian navy warship during an operation in Natuna, near the South China Sea, Indonesia, 10 January 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Antara Foto).

Author: Mark J Valencia, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

According to the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency, in late December 2019, 63 Chinese fishing boats escorted by two Chinese Coast Guard vessels entered Indonesia’s claimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the south central part of the South China Sea. Indonesia protested vehemently, sending warships and jet fighters to the area. Some analysts are predicting that Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and maybe even the Philippines will form a united front that actively opposes China’s claims in the South China Sea. Read more…

Turbulence on the horizon in the South China Sea?

The Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan operates with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo in the South China Sea, 11 June 2019 (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Shicun Wu, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

The South China Sea remains a focal concern within the international community, grabbing headlines and placed firmly on the agendas of many bilateral and multilateral political and academic summits. While likely to remain relatively stable in 2020, worrying developments and uncertainties are on the rise. Read more…

Xinjiang and the South China Sea complicate Malaysia–China relations

A worker adjusts his safety helmet at the tunnel constructions site of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project in Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia, 25 July 2019 (Photo:Reuters/Lim Huey Teng).

Author: Ngeow Chow Bing, University of Malaya

After a historic 2018 election victory, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and his Pakatan Harapan coalition seemed to be rolling back Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) deals forged under his predecessor Najib Razak. Mahathir suspended the mostly China-financed US$20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and several similar smaller projects. Foreign pundits quickly lauded Malaysia’s apparent pushback against China’s BRI. Read more…

Should Indonesia take China’s ‘historic fishing rights’ seriously?

Author: Sourabh Gupta, Institute for China-America Studies

Indonesia–China maritime ties are once again embroiled in rising tensions over traditional Chinese fishing practices occurring in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) adjacent to Indonesia’s Natuna regency. This time, as many as 63 trespassing vessels have been spotted across 30 locations within Indonesia’s waters, backed by the presence of Chinese coast guard ships. China’s encroachment is not a matter that can or should be taken lightly.

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