Chinese Bombers Patrol S. China Sea Island Claims

PLA H-6 bomber (2008 file image courtesy Li Pang)

Published Dec 12, 2016 9:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the People's Liberation Army dispatched a nuclear-capable strategic bomber to conduct an overflight of China's "nine dash line" maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The line encircles disputed island holdings in the Spratly and Paracel chains. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague declared it invalid earlier this year, but China has refused to recognize the ruling.

In addition, U.S. defense officials told Fox News, China is preparing to ship more advanced surface to air missiles to disputed islands. The SA-21 missiles were spotted at Jieyang, Guangdong, a jumping off point for Chinese shipments to the South China Sea. 

The SA-21 is based on the advanced, long range Russian S-400 air defense system. 

Analysts suggest that the recent moves are intended as a show of force in advance of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. Among other controversial statements, Trump has questioned the continuation of America's decades-long adherence to the "One China" policy, which holds that Taiwan is not an independent state. Taiwan’s status is a core issue for for Beijing.

"I fully understand the 'one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," Trump told Fox on Sunday. 

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial that Trump was "naive like a child on diplomacy" and that the 'one China' policy "could not be bought or sold".

"China is more likely to let the whole relationship with the United States deteriorate in order to show its resolve on the Taiwan issue," said Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert in Chinese nationalism.

Thursday’s bomber overflight also passed through airspace near Taiwan, defense experts told Fox.

India and Indonesia affirm commitment to UNCLOS, maritime security cooperation

On Monday, India and Indonesia reached a new agreement on bilateral maritime cooperation – notably, a commitment to "maintaining a maritime legal order based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

Specifically, the two nations endorsed the primacy of UNCLOS for the resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea. 

“Regarding the South China Sea, the two sides stressed the importance of resolving disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the UNCLOS," the joint statement read. 

The Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision in July hinged on UNCLOS' definitions of land features and the maritime rights accorded to such features; China has forcefully rejected the ruling and has refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. 

The rights accorded to coastal states under UNCLOS include economic rights, notably fishing. Chinese fishermen, accompanied at times by China Coast Guard vessels, have allegedly crossed over into Indonesian waters near the Natuna Islands multiple times in the past year. 

In the statement, "both Leaders affirmed the need to combat . . . illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. Both Leaders recognized transnational organized fisheries crime as . . . an ever-growing threat to the world."

Indonesian forces have confronted Chinese vessels in the area several times since March, including one instance in which an Indonesian Navy vessel opened fire and one in which a Chinese Coast Guard ship intervened to prevent an arrest.

The new pact with India will help the Indonesian military to improve its capabilities, officials say. 

“The new agreement will cover everything from joint exercises including among special forces, joint production and sale of equipment and technology,” an unnamed official told India's The Wire.