Tuesday, April 17, 2012

War games in Asia-Pacific as tensions rise

The US today begun a series of war games with Filipino forces in a practice run to counter a possible military conflict with China. The military exercises begun as tensions between the Philippines and China rose. Only last week a Filipino warship attempted to arrest two Chinese fishing boats operating in a disputed part of the South China Sea. Two Chinese surveillance ships arrived and began to shield the fishing boats, preventing the arrests. There has been heated rhetoric coming from both Manila and Beijing, and despite talks there is heightened concern that the situation could escalate [BBCBBC / IBT / RT].

Meanwhile, Taiwan, another territory which China fiercely claims as being a part of Mainland China, also begun military exercises on Tuesday, something which will also ratchet up tensions between Taiwan and Beijing. Military helicopters and several navy vessels took part in drill at the southern military port of Zuoying in Kaohsiung as part of the ongoing annual Han Kuang exercises that started on Monday [Taipei Times / China Post].

Sensitive area

Some 4,500 US troops are participating in the annual military exercise in the Philippines. Simultaneously, thousands of Taiwanese troops are repelling a simulated Chinese attack on the island. The 12-day military exercise. China has protested to the holding of the exercises which were announced several weeks ago. Many commentators in China eye the manoeuvres with suspicion. While acknowledging that that exercises were, in themselves nothing unusual, Li Guoqiang, director of the Research Center of Chinese Borderland History and Geography in China's Academy Social Science, told the China Daily that the Philippines were likely to have hidden motives. "In such a sensitive area and at such a sensitive moment, the drill conducted by a country that has disputable claims with China and no other maritime threat speaks to a hidden motive," Li said.


The territorial disputes are hinged around historical claims made by China, but are further complicated following recent discovery of natural resources. The South China Sea is potentially rich in oil, and already provides valuable shipping lanes and fishing stocks. China claims that it is entitled to treat the sea as its own on the basis of a sixty-year-old claim, and in apparent violation of standard international maritime treaties. This position has brought the region close to conflict and precipitated many incidents which have created diplomatic incidents between China and the US.

Previous crises

In 1996 the so-called Third Taiwan Strait Crisis saw massive naval exercises conducted by the Chinese which was seen as a practice run for a possible invasion of Taiwan. Only after the US fleet moved towards the strait did China wrap up its operation. In April 2001 an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft collided with a Chinese jet that was sent out to intercept. The Hainan incident resulted in a tense stand-off and diplomatic talks last several weeks. There were accusations by the Chinese that the US aircraft had crossed into Chinese airspace, while the US maintained they were in international airspace. Calls by China for the US to apologize for the death of a Chinese pilot whose plane had collided with the EP-3 did not come for many days and the crew of the plane was not returned until the United States accepted responsibility.

"Flexing muscles"

With territorial disputes growing between Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, there are fears that the region could become a powder keg.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama signed an order to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific [BBC]. The move was not welcomed by Beijing which called the scaling up of American forces in the region as warmongering. China's state media warned the US against "flexing its muscles" and said any US militarism could create ill will and "endanger peace".

Cyberwar exercises

It has also emerged that the US and Chinese have taken part in war games, apparently in bid to prevent military escalation from cyber attacks. The Guardian, in an exclusive report, says that the US and China discreetly engaged in "war games" amid rising anger in Washington over the scale and audacity of Beijing-co-ordinated cyber attacks on western governments and big business.

The state department refused to speak about the war games, or say which officials took part, but the fact that there is some cooperation between the US and China, may indicate a realisation at how dangerous a cyber attack could be for either side.

After recent suggestions in the US that a cyber attack could be considered an act of war, China may be concerned that America could respond in more than a diplomatic response and harsh words, as seen up until now.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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