South China Sea

China and Russia launch joint naval exercise

Chinese and Russian naval forces have begun a joint exercise at a southern Chinese military port, China's Ministry of National Defense announced July 12. The "Maritime Joint-2024" exercise is taking place off Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, on the South China Sea. Its stated objectives include demonstrating the the two nations' ability to address maritime security threats, maintain regional stability, and deepen their strategic partnership.

Maritime collision escalates South China Sea tensions

Manila has accused Chinese military vessels of engaging in "dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing" a Philippine ship in an effort to disrupt a "routine" resupply mission to an outpost on Second Thomas Shoal (known to the Philippines as Ayungin Shoal) in the the disputed Spratly Islands (known to the Philippines as the Kalayaan Islands) June 17. By Philippine media accounts, the craft was fired upon with water cannon and boarded by Chinese troops, with several Filipino soldiers injured in the ensuing confrontation. (SCMP, Nikkei Asia, Inquirer, GMA)

Protesters surround Taiwan parliament

Some 30,000 Taiwanese demonstrators surrounded the Legislative Yuan, the island's parliament, on May 21, one day after Lai Ching-te (William Lai) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was sworn in as president. They were protesting against the legislative majority's attempts to enact new laws they say would unconstitutionally limit the power of the executive. Three days before the inauguration, physical conflict broke out among lawmakers on floor of the Legislative Yuan, with five briefly hospitalized. At the center of the controversy is a measure to create the new criminal offense of "contempt of the legislature," imposing penalties even on the president for failure to cooperate with Yuan investigations.

Podcast: geopolitics of the Barbie affair

In Episode 181 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the strange reality that the Barbie move has been banned in Vietnam over a brief image of a world map appearing to show the "nine-dash line" demarcating China's unilaterally claimed territory in the South China Sea. While US-China brinkmanship over Taiwan has won headlines recently, Beijing's maritime dispute with Hanoi holds unsettling potential for escalation. In a nearly surreal paradox (for those who remember their history) Vietnam has actually been tilting to the US in the new cold war with China. It has also been increasingly resorting to internal police-state measures to protect the interests of foreign capital in the country. All of this constitutes a rebuke both to the neoliberals, who cling to the discredited dogma that "free markets" inevitably lead to peace and democracy, and to the tankies, who rally around both the regimes in Beijing and Hanoi, in defiance of political reality. 

Taiwan extends military conscription period

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 27 announced a plan to strengthen and restructure the nation's military defense strategies, including extending the mandatory conscription period from four months to one year. Beginning in 2024, all males born after Jan. 1, 2005, will need to undergo a year-long period of military service. In light of China's expansionist military activities in the South China Sea and the firing of ballistic missiles into waters off Taiwan this year, Tsai stressed the need for Taiwan to be well-prepared for war as a means to avoid confrontation. "The decision is a difficult one, but as the head of the military and for the continued survival of Taiwan, this is an inevitable responsibility," Tsai said.

US-China brinkmanship over Taiwan

In an alarming tit-for-tat June 9, Taiwan's defense ministry said that several Chinese fighter jets briefly entered the country's air defense identification zone, and the US took the unusual move of flying a C-40A military transport plane over Taiwan. The US overflight was assailed by Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office as "an illegal act and a seriously provocative incident." This comes as the US is deploying two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific—the San Diego-based USS Nimitz and the Yokosuka-based USS Ronald Reagan. These join the USS Theodore Roosevelt, also based in San Diego but now patrolling the Philippine Sea near Guam. This marks the first time in three years that three US strike gorups have been simultaneously deployed to the Pacific, in what is being seen as an explicit warning to China. The triple deployment follows accusations by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US forces in Japan, that China is using the coronavirus crisis as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea. "Through the course of the COVID crisis we saw a surge of maritime activity," Schneider told Reuters. (The Hill, The Hill, USNI News, Reuters, AP)

Taiwan repudiates fascist world order

Following a bitter campaign dominated by "fake news" generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected in the Jan. 11 race, overwhelmingly defeating her main challenger, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received 8.17 million votes, or some 57% of the total, to Han's 5.52 million votes, or 39%. A third candidate, James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26%. Tsai's total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan.

China-Indonesia maritime stand-off

Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area Jan. 9, after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area in response to the presence of the Chinese vessels, and summoned Beijing's ambassador in Jakarta to complain. A military statement said: "Our Navy and air force are armed and have been deployed to the North Natuna Sea [to] drive out the foreign vessels." China was reported to have sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a particularly strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China's "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. 

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