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Minggu, 12 September 2021

Former US admiral says China 'their own worst enemy' as tensions rise in South China Sea - ABC News

The Olympics, the fall of Kabul and the damage wrought by Delta have all occupied the world's focus in the past few months.

But in the waters to Australia's north, foreign navies have been gathering and critical diplomatic deals have been done. 

All to ensure China does not control the South China Sea through direct force or by intimidation.

Admiral Harry Harris speaking.
Retired Admiral Harry Harris says Australia and its allies should be concerned about China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea and elsewhere. (

Reuters: Yuri Gripas

)

"I think that it behooves all of us who are like-minded countries, who support the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific," former US Indo-Pacific Commander and former US ambassador to South Korea, retired Admiral Harry Harris, told 7.30.

"We should be concerned about China's aggressive actions, not only in the South China Sea, but elsewhere."

Beijing's new rules for navy and coast guard

Man wearing a black suit jacket and white shirt, sitting in a park.
Michael Shoebridge says China should expect pushback in the Indo-Pacific "because that part of the globe is not theirs". (

ABC News

)

Beginning on September 1, Beijing's state-run media reported the nation's coast guard now has the power to demand foreign ships declare certain cargoes when travelling through waters it claims.

The Global Times reported China's navy or coast guard had "the power to dispel or reject a vessel's entry … if [it] is found to post a threat to China's national security".

It seemed innocuous – a safety measure.

But it is being interpreted as a threat to interdict and board ships in waters deemed international by the United Nations.

Just as China engaged in economic coercion with Australia, on the high seas a Chinese ship could target one country's ships to send a signal to others.

Three men stand on a boat overlooking the water and another boat nearby.
The Philippines government has beefed up its military presence in the South China Sea. (

AP via Philippine Coast Guard

)

The Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told CNN: "I'm very concerned about this law because it might cause miscalculations and accidents."

Former deputy head of Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation, Michael Shoebridge, told 7.30 it was "incremental intimidation and coercion from China".

"The real problem is that the individual commanders on Chinese ships and aircraft can think that they're doing exactly what Xi Jinping wants, by creating confrontation and escalation," Mr Shoebridge said.

"And then you get things like pride, face and nationalism, that when an event starts to happen, leaders find it hard to back down."

International pressure building

China borders South China Sea
China's claims cut through the majority of its neighbours' claims.(

ABC News: Illustration/Jarrod Fankhauser

)

The South China Sea is a strategic water way through which an estimated third of world shipping travels -- more than $4 trillion in trade. 

China has already cemented itself – figuratively and literally – on more than 20 islands in the region via navy and air bases or through continuous patrols. 

Despite a UN ruling five years ago, Beijing still holds claim to its so-called nine-dash line deep into waters off ASEAN nations – the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Chinese coast guard has menaced and harassed its counterparts and regional fishermen while supporting the actions of its own fishing militia.

Now the US, Europe, the ASEAN nations and Australia are pushing back.

A warship with a helicopter on it on the open ocean with a smaller warship behind it
Last year, Japanese and Australian warships conducted exercises together in the South China Sea.(

Twitter: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

)

Britain has sent a carrier strike group to the region, led by the HMS Elizabeth aircraft carrier with a Dutch warship alongside.

US fighter jets have been doing exercises to test interoperability if it comes to a crisis.

Earlier this year, it was the French and later this year the Germans will send a warship to the region.

"I think we're going to see an increasing naval maritime presence and aerial surveillance presence out of powerful countries, particularly European countries now, being much more present in the Indo Pacific," Mr Shoebridge said.

"It's a reaction against China's growing power, but also the way China is using that power. They should expect pushback because that part of the globe is not theirs."

Diplomatic deals done

Men and women pose for a photo in front of an image that includes the US Coast Guard emblem.
Indonesia has begun building a coast guard base on Batam Island.(

Supplied: Bakamla

)

The United States managed to convince Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to recommit to locating American soldiers and sailors on its territory.

Even more eyebrow raising is that Indonesia, which has been a long-time member of the non-aligned movement (it sends its officers to China and the US and Australia for training), has signed a deal with the US to build a coast guard base at Batam Island, a strategic location.

"This is a significant move that the Training Center in Batam engages United States directly," former advisor to two Indonesian vice presidents, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, told 7.30.

"So increasingly, the coast guards [are] at the front of the non-traditional security threats in the South China Sea, which involves civilian elements like maybe fishing vessels."

Harris Asia
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore and Vietnam in August to deliver a clear message.(

Reuters: Evelyn Hockstein

)

"Well, I don't think that we can avoid saying that this is probably part of this soft-balancing against China."

Last month, US Vice-President Kamala Harris toured Singapore and Vietnam, warning China: "We welcome stiff competition — we do not seek conflict. But on issues like you raise, the South China Sea, we're going to speak up.

"We're going to speak up when there are actions that Beijing takes that threaten the rules based international order."

Forward positioning American military and other deals

Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks with her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi
Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton with their Indonesian counterparts Retno Marsudi (right) and Prabowo Subianto (rear right) in Jakarta last week.(

Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP

)

Last week, Australia signed a deal with Jakarta on what Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto described as historic firsts. Discussions included the possibility of joint military training in Australia and Indonesian cadets attending Australian academies.

It is not just Indonesia. Australia's defence and foreign ministers will have met with their counterparts from India and South Korea before heading to Washington for the annual AUSMIN talks later this week.

Australia can expect more American military presence at the port in Darwin and Stirling in WA.

"[They] more than just support our navy, which is growing itself, but can really work with powerful European partners," Mr Shoebridge said.

Upgraded airfields across Australia's north and even west of Christmas Island — Cocos Keeling Islands — could be home to regional air surveillance flights.

"Cocos Keeling is at the hinge of the Indo Pacific. And it's quite credible to think of that as a place that the quad nations maritime patrol aircraft could operate out of."

Expect to hear more from "the Quad" — India, US, Japan and Australia.

"I think it's very important that we do everything that we can to prevent an escalation and open warfare with the PRC [People's Republic of China]," retired Admiral Harris said.

"I think no one wants that. We don't want that. The Chinese don't want it. No one wants it, really. But we have to be alert to aggressive Chinese behaviour, both in the military space and in the economic space.

"The PRC, its own bad behaviour, that demonstrates to others just how bad it is. And so, you know, they are their own worst enemy."

The Chinese embassy in Canberra said its spokesman was not available to do an interview with 7.30 because of the ACT lockdown and COVID-19 situation.

Last year, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman declared "China never seeks to build a maritime empire in the South China Sea."

And "we always treat our South China Sea neighbours as equals and exercise maximum constraint when safeguarding our sovereignty, rights and interests in the South China Sea".

Watch this story tonight on 7.30 on ABC TV and iview.

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2021-09-12 19:15:40Z
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