BEIJING – A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
MANILA’S DEFENSE CHIEF SAYS PLANNED PHILIPPINE-US NAVAL EXERCISES ON HOLD
The Philippine defense chief said he told the U.S. military that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold, the first concrete break in defense cooperation after months of increasingly strident comments by the country’s new president.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said that 107 U.S. troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave the southern part of the country once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.
President Rodrigo Duterte also wants to halt the 28 military exercises that are carried out with U.S. forces each year, Lorenzana said. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing U.S.-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the U.S.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. government is not aware of any official notification on curtailing military exercises. He said the U.S. remains focused on its security commitments to the Philippines, with which it has a mutual defense treaty.
INDONESIA DISPLAYS AIR FORCE IN FLIGHT OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA
Indonesia’s air force flew over the South China Sea in a show of its determination to prevent foreign encroachment into territory rich in energy and fishing resources.
Dozens of aircraft including fighter jets and helicopters and more than 2,000 air force personnel joined in the operation Thursday near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The intended audience appeared to be China, whose claim to virtually the entire waterbody stops just short of the islands.
Although it does not claim disputed territory in the South China Sea, Indonesia has shown a growing determination to confront Chinese and other foreign ships poaching fish in the area, destroying dozens of them in recent months.
Chinese fishing boats are frequently assisted by the country’s coast guard and navy and some operate as a form of seagoing militia. China considers the area its traditional fishing ground.
China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement of protest in June after the Indonesian navy fired on one of its fishing vessels, saying it had “abused its military force.” It said one fisherman was injured in the incident.
Indonesia responded by saying it would continue to take “decisive” action against foreign ships operating illegally in waters under its jurisdiction.
SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE OVERSHADOWS INTERNATIONAL MILITARY FORUM IN BEIJING
The South China Sea dispute is overshadowing an international military forum in Beijing that China hopes will boost its regional influence in military affairs.
The seventh Xiangshan Forum gets underway Monday with a keynote address by a member of the Central Military Commission that oversees China’s 2.3 million-member armed forces. While China generally tries to avoid friction at such events that it hosts, the three days of meetings will offer plenty of opportunities for discussion of the dispute.
Adding to its anger over a ruling by an international arbitration panel favoring the Philippines in its challenge to China’s territorial claims, Beijing is now feuding with Singapore over a Chinese state newspaper’s accusations that the city-state is becoming inappropriately involved in the dispute.
Singapore accused the Global Times, a nationalist Chinese state-run newspaper, of fabricating details in a report that it said falsely depicted the city-state’s conduct at a recent summit in Venezuela.
The report triggered an unusually public dispute between Singapore’s ambassador to China and the chief editor of the tabloid newspaper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
The forum also comes less than two weeks after South Korea announced the site for an advanced U.S. missile defense system, further stoking outrage in Beijing, which says the system’s radars can peer deep into northeastern China, threatening its security.
China hopes the Xiangshan Forum can be a challenger to the annual Shangri-la Dialogue held in Singapore. Its theme this year is “Build a New Type of International Relations through Security Dialogue and Cooperation.” Topics for its panels include increasing maritime security cooperation and counter-terrorism work.
SOUTH KOREAN COAST GUARD, CHINESE FISHERMEN CLASH IN YELLOW SEA
Seoul said it has lodged a formal complaint with Beijing accusing Chinese fishing boats of ramming and sinking a South Korean coast guard vessel.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned a senior Chinese diplomat and complained about the sinking last Friday.
Seoul said the incident happened when the coast guard vessel was trying to stop Chinese fishing boats from fishing illegally off South Korea’s west coast. No injuries were reported.
South Korean media reports said coast guard officers fired shots at the Chinese fishing boats as they approached the South Korean vessel.
The coast guard confirmed that warning shots were fired into the sky, but said it does not know if any were fired at the Chinese boats.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano in San Antonio, Philippines, and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.