Defense & Security Clippings: Post Osama Security in Southeast Asia

Post Osama Security in Southeast Asia, Nov 5th 2011
IN THIS UPDATE:
  • ASEAN
  • US Policy
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Looking Ahead...

For more information about the Council's Defense working group, please contact Anthony Nelson at anelson@usasean.org

ASEAN

Southeast Asia’s post-Osama security concerns, Asia Sentinel, May 4 th

The region's security forces responded quickly to the news of bin Laden's death by increasing their alert status and strengthening – where required – their defensive and offensive postures against known and assumed threats. This entailed an even greater concentration of resources against suspect individuals or groups, all of whom would have been taken as unawares as the intelligence and security apparatus in their respective countries. The security forces may well have already detained known dissidents and activists as a precautionary measure, as well as demonstrating their resolve and support to allies such as the US.

The threat from such groups is most credible in Indonesia, where radical Islamic groups have served both as a source of concern to and support for the various and often conflicted elites that permanently vie for advantage or resources. Efforts by the security services to suppress or deter such groups have disrupted a cycle of bombings that began in Bali in 2002, but there is no doubt that at least some retain the capability to strike at iconic or sensitive targets.

Islamic extremists in the Philippines have shown a capability of operating beyond their political and ancestral heartlands in Mindanao, but in general they direct their efforts against the Philippine state on more familiar territory. Similarly, the insurgency in southern Thailand's Muslim majority provinces has remained an exclusively parochial conflict. There have been no credible examples of attacks beyond the four southernmost provinces, despite the proximity of such resorts as Phuket and Ko Samui and their huge populations of western tourists. Whatever the motivation for such reticence, there is no indication Philippine or Thai Islamic insurgents will seek softer targets in response to bin Laden's death

The self-radicalised, either operating alone or in small groups, are harder to detect but generally less able to mount a major operation. While explosives and firearms may be relatively easily obtained in some regional countries, it is often extremely difficult to deploy them in prime target locations. For example, moving weapons and munitions readily available in Cambodia to Singapore would prove a huge challenge for experienced and highly trained terrorists and realistically beyond the capabilities of 'amateurs.'

Time for an ASEAN peacekeeping force, The Diplomat, May 2

Indonesia, as chair of ASEAN, has played an outstanding role in trying to broker a resolution to the dispute, but it can only do so much. For example, it put proffered the suggestion of dispatching a team of Indonesian observers to monitor the disputed area to avoid further clashes. This proposal was reportedly actually agreed on by the political leaders of both sides in the dispute, but there have been suggestions that objections from the Thai military, which feels uneasy with the idea of having a third party present in the conflict zone, have meant the idea is still on hold.

The latest clash started late last month, and many observers believe it is the most serious so far. At the time of writing, the official death toll stood at 17, although this is expected to increase. A temporary, fragile ceasefire was reached between the two militaries last Thursday, but quickly broke down after only 10 hours, leaving a tense situation and the prospect of war looming over the border.What can ASEAN do to prevent all-out conflict? It could start by pooling the resources of all member states—including Thailand and Cambodia—to establish and deploy a peacekeeping force at the first opportunity.

This wouldn’t be the first time such a force has been considered. Back in March 2004, Indonesia’s then-Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda moved to propose the establishment of a regional peacekeeping force. Indonesia’s current foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, voiced his support back then, saying: ‘ASEAN countries should know one another better than anyone else, and therefore we should have the option for ASEAN countries to take advantage of an ASEAN peacekeeping force to be deployed if they so wish.’ However, the idea was opposed by a number of other foreign ministers, who noted ASEAN’s stated principle of non-interference in countries’ domestic affairs.

Global security requires ASEAN’s role, The Jakarta Post, April 28

Increasingly complex and unpredictable global security challenges require the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) to play a bigger role in helping create peace on earth, an official said.

Speaking at the opening of a three-day ASEAN Defense Senior Officials’ Meeting (ADSOM) in Yogyakarta on Wednesday, Indonesian Defense Ministry’s Secretary General Vice Marshal Eris Haryanto said the global security issues that influenced the region tended to be varied and complex.

“As an entity that exists in the Asia Pacific region, ASEAN is required to play a bigger role and contribute more to the creation of world peace,” Eris said.

He added that, in the field of defense, ASEAN was responsible for preparing and developing solid defense cooperation through practical coordination to implement in the future. “This, I think, is the substance of today’s meeting,” he said.

The 10 ASEAN countries were represented by 66 senior defense officials at the meeting. ASEAN comprises Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The meeting in Yogyakarta is the third of a series of meetings on defense cooperation this year as Indonesia chairs ASEAN.

The first was in Surabaya, East Java, in February and the second was in Jakarta in March.

Themed “Strengthening defense cooperation of ASEAN and the global community to face new challenges”, the meeting will address annual defense cooperation programs including a peacekeeping network and industrial defense collaboration. Also attending are ASEAN dialog partners the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and New Zealand.

They will attend the ADSOM Plus on Friday to finalize defense cooperation concepts including maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping operations, counter terrorism and military medicine.

“The results of the meeting will be further discussed during the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Jakarta on May 18-21,” Eris said.

Speaking separately on the sidelines of the meeting on Wednesday, ADSOM’s spokesperson, Col. Penny Radjendra, said the exercise in the practical implementation of ASEAN defense cooperation in July would be co-hosted by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Singaporean Armed Forces.

“We will have it twice, one in Indonesia and the other in Singapore, in the form of table-top exercises,” Penny said.

He said the exercises would be within the framework of the ASEAN Disaster Management Emergency Response, which is a standard operating procedure for ASEAN members in dealing with disasters.

Extending cooperation in ASEAN to combat Sea Piracy, The Jakarta Post, April 25

Initially, a regional initiative to cover piracy as a security issue began in 1997, when representatives of ASEAN governments signed the Declaration on Transnational Crime.

The Declaration, followed by the ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime in 1999 and the Work Program in 2002, widened the definition of transnational crime to cover sea piracy as well as drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and arms smuggling.

In the case of sea piracy, the Work Program recommends six fields of cooperation, including information exchange, legal and law enforcement cooperation, training, institutional capacity-building and extra-regional cooperation.

On a more practical and technical basis, three Southeast Asian countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore — launched a coordinated patrol under the name Malsindo in July 2004. The patrol, focused on securing the Malacca Strait, at first only involved 17 warships. Later, Malaysia proposed additional air patrols through the Eyes in the Sky (EiS) initiative. Through this mechanism, each state was to designate maritime patrol aircraft to monitor the area around the Malacca and Singapore Straits.

The initiatives were considered a success. At least in terms of quantity, the number of reported attacks taking place in the Malacca Strait dropped significantly from 11 in 2006 to merely 2 in 2010. While it is difficult to gauge the impact of the decline to economic development, it is safe to say that the joint or coordinated patrols succeeded in securing the Malacca Strait. Learning from the success of the Malsindo project, we may expand the cooperation to other areas prone to pirate attacks.

The 2010 IMB report notices that areas such as the South China Sea and Vietnam waters are dangerous, with 31 and 12 attacks in those areas. The lack of resources and armada would obviously be the major obstacle to countries that wish to work alone to secure their territories. However, it must be admitted that sovereignty will raise a big problem when conducting joint patrols.

To complicate the matter, Southeast Asian countries also have been unable to resolve numerous disputes over maritime borders among themselves. Even among the Malsindo participants, such disputes created difficulties, especially when designing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Each country’s fleet would have to be very careful not to cross the borders and enter its neighbors’ jurisdiction.

One possible solution is to adopt a mechanism where entering the neighbor’s territory to a certain distance and in specific circumstances will not be considered a breach of sovereignty, for instance in the event of a chase of a pirate ship.

Once again, it must be admitted that there is a huge gap between Southeast Asian countries’ fleets’ and patrol units’ capabilities, especially in terms of speed and equipment. The pirates know this very well and quite often this situation helps them to avoid arrest.
Therefore, such a mechanism should be taken into account in order to combat piracy.

Economic development alone will be insufficient to curb the number of transnational crimes in Southeast Asia, including piracy. For that reason, law enforcement and, when necessary, military frameworks must be implemented.

A regional cooperation then would be inevitable, now that piracy has become a shared concern.

US Policy in ASEAN

Flournoy: Asia will be heart of U.S. Security Policy, American Forces Press, April 29

U.S. officials “think our posture in Northeast Asia is about right,” Flournoy said, but there’s need to expand efforts in Southeast Asia. Rather than building more bases, she said, the U.S. military is focused on working more closely in military-to-military relationships to include combined training, joint patrols, and shared medical and civil engineering missions.

As for alliances, Flournoy said Japan remains a cornerstone of U.S. security policy in the region. U.S. officials are confident of Japan’s ability to recover fully and continue to play a vital role in the region, she said, despite the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, resulting tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis it has endured since March 11.

The United States will continue to strengthen its ties with South Korea to ensure interoperability of their military forces to preserve stability on the Korean peninsula, she said.

The rise of Asia has made Australia an increasingly strategic location, Flournoy said, which led the United States as the end of last year to establish a working group with the Australians for combined military force posture.The United States is strengthening alliances with the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, Flournoy said, and must do more with Indonesia and Vietnam. She noted that a small group of U.S. forces have worked quietly in the Philippines since 2001 “in a model of successful counterinsurgency” to prevent al-Qaida from gaining a foothold there.

Flournoy highlighted the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. civilians in the region and said they will remain critical to U.S. relations in Asia.

Despite its challenges elsewhere in the world, Flournoy said, the United States will stay engaged in Asia.
“The United States has proven repeatedly -- over decades --that is it fully committed to upholding its strategic obligations throughout Asia. No one in Asia -- anywhere in Asia -- needs to ask if the U.S. will show up when it is needed.”
 

Willard outlines US military interest in SE Asia, The Irrawaddy, April 7

Willard said that focused efforts by the US president, defense secretary and secretary of state have set the conditions for increased security cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Accordingly, the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) now actively seeks opportunities to support Asean initiatives that complement developing coordinated, multilateral approaches to maintaining regional security, he said.

Asean and USPACOM have several convergent interests that include humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief, maritime security, terrorism and peacekeeping. “With an evolved scope and influence, Asean and its offshoots—Asean Regional Forum, Asean Defense Ministers Meeting Plus, and the East Asia Summit—offer a framework to guide regional efforts to secure the commons and underpin cooperation across governmental institutions,” Willard said in an April 6 statement.

“I think the assertions made last year by the United States, in particular (Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates and Secretary (of State, Hillary) Clinton's very strong statements, within Asean and the Shangri La dialogue series, had an effect,” he said in response to a question. Willard said the US has extensive interests across the rest of Southeast Asia, and USPACOM seeks to continue maturing military relations with Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and Timor-Leste.

“Malaysia maintains a strong leadership role in the region, especially combating terrorism and enhancing maritime security,” he said.

“Military relations with Vietnam continue to grow in areas such as disaster management, conflict resolution, personnel recovery, medical capability, and trafficking in persons. Cambodia is emerging as a strong supporter of US policy in the region, and activities with Laos, Brunei and Timor-Leste have expanded over the past year,” Willard said.

Indonesia

Indonesia urged to cooperate on piracy, Jakarta Post, May 4

The House of Representatives has called on the Indonesian Military (TNI) to cooperate with neighboring countries’ military forces to secure Somali waters, where piracy has become a growing threat to vessels in the area.

“Now there must be a comprehensive solution to this problem. It should be considered to cooperate with other countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and India,” TB Hasanuddin, deputy chairman of House’s Commission I overseeing defense, said on Monday.

“Each country contributes warships and takes turns escorting cargo vessels and securing seaways.”

He said the European Union countries were using the same strategy. The highly organized piracy industry in Somalia threatens international shipping in the Indian Ocean. Currently, around 40 ships with more than 600 crew members from various countries are estimated to be hijacked by pirates in Somali waters. Last year, 53 ships were hijacked worldwide, of which 49 were hijacked by Somali pirates.

On March 16, Indonesian cargo ship MV Sinar Kudus and its 20 crew members were captured by Somali pirates as it approached the Gulf of Aden. Bound for Rotterdam, the relatively small vessel traveled from Pamala, West Sulawesi, carrying 8,300 tons of ferronickel worth an estimated Rp 1.5 trillion (US$174 million).

The 20 Indonesian sailors’ 46-day-long ordeal ended on Sunday with the payment of an undisclosed ransom amount to their captors for their release. The TNI said a gun fight broke out between the Indonesian troops and the Somali pirates who took the Sinar Kudus crew hostage after the ransom money was paid. Four pirates were killed in the incident but the Indonesian soldiers failed to recover the ransom money. The troops only managed to seize the speedboat that the pirates had used, he added.

MV Sinar Kudus was reportedly back underway on Sunday afternoon, headed for the nearest port, Salalah, Oman, escorted by 20 naval vessels.

While Hasanuddin urged the TNI to cooperate with other countries to fight the pirates, TNI commander Adm. Agus Suhartono considered deploying warships and navy troops in Somali waters. He said several other countries had made similar assignments in the pirate-infested area.

T-50’s to be exported to Indonesia, Donga, April 12

Indonesia has selected Korea Aerospace Industries, which produces the supersonic T-50 trainer jet, as the preferred bidder for the Southeast Asian country’s trainer jet replacement project. This has paved the way for Korea to become the world`s sixth country to export supersonic military aircraft. After beating Italy, which outdueled Korea lost in the bid to export aircraft to Singapore, Korea rallied to beat Russia in the finals for the Indonesian project. Korea also became the world’s sixth exporter of nuclear power generation technology by besting France to land a contract to build nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates.

A combined 16 T-50s will be exported for 400 million U.S. dollars. The price of 25 million dollars for each trainer jet is deemed proper. The T-50 was selected for its superb performance. Unlike Italy and Russia, which produce only trainer jets, Korea manufactures the TA-50 tactical trainer jet armed with precision-guided weapons and radar. The T-50 is solely aimed at training. Indonesia has selected Korea as Jakarta wants to import the TA-50.

Along with the state-run aircraft manufacturer, the Korean government has played a significant role in exporting the T-50. President Lee Myung-bak, who led the landing of the UAE export contract for Korea’s nuclear power plants in 2009, also helped by visiting Indonesia in December last year to build cooperation with Jakarta in the defense industry. Bilateral relations seemed to suffer, however, after Korean spies broke into a room of an Indonesian goivernment delegation in February. Seoul handled the incident wisely, however, leading to the success in the T-50 bid.

Indonesian airforce to reposition old radars, Antara, March 17

Air Force Chief of Staff Air Marshal Imam Sufaat said he planned to reposition or replace a number of old radars with new ones, including the radars in Congot, Ngliyep and Ploso.

He made the statement after inaugurating Merauke`s Radar 244 here in Papua on Wednesday.

He said Indonesia has now 18 radar units in different parts of Indonesia, with some of them already more than 20 years old, and needed replacement.

"Several local and foreign companies had already offered their products, and that is a very good thing," Imam said.

He also pointed out that Indonesia with such a vast territory obviously needs most effective eyes and ears to protect its sovereignty and detect any threats to its air space.

"We need at least 32 radars to cover out territory," he said

Marines equipment needs quality improvement, Jakarta Post, March 16

Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono says that the Indonesian Marines needs to improve the quality of its equipment.

“In terms of quantity, there is enough. but the quality of equipment needs to be increased,” he said Wednesday during a visit to the Marine Corps headquarters in Jakarta as quoted by tempointeraktif.com.

Most of the equipment on display, such as tanks, were aging. One tank was produced 35 years ago.

Jakarta has new military commander, Jakarta Post, March 10

Maj. Gen. Waris has been appointed as Jakarta Military Commander, replacing Maj. Gen. Marciano Norman, a spokesman for the Indonesian military (TNI) says.

The replacement was part of a series of job transfers and promotions for a number of soldiers, TNI spokesman Col. Minulyo Suprapto said Tuesday as quoted by tempointeraktif.com.

Waris was formerly the commander of the Presidential Security Forces. His predecessor, Norman, has been appointed as the commander of the Armed Forces Training Center.

Malaysia

Malaysia’s Army Chief gets U.S. honor, The Star, May 2

Malaysia's 23rd army chief Jeneral Datuk Seri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin (pic) has been inducted into the prestigious National Defence University (NDU) of the United States.Jen Zulkifeli, who graduated from NDU in 2001 with a Master's degree in national resource management, received his certificate and plaque from NDU president Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau at the university's Eisenhower Hall at Fort McNair here on Thursday.He was inducted in the university's International Fellows Hall of Fame, which was established on May 1, 2000, in recognition of his outstanding military achievements in the Malaysian armed forces.

The first Malaysian military officer to be inducted was former army chief Jen Datuk Ismail Hassan 10 years ago.Jen Zulkifeli left for Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday where he visited Colt Defence LLC headquarters.Colt designs, develops, and manufactures small arms and weapons systems for US law enforcement agencies and the military.It was reported in March that Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that a US$231mil (RM700mil) deal had been inked with Colt to produce 130,000 new weapons for the Malaysian armed forces and police.The purchase included the 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine to replace the Austrian-made Steyr AUG assault rifle.

Once the technology transfer comes into effect, Malaysia would be given the rights to market the locally produced carbines to Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries.

Ministry of Defense looking at new salary scheme, Bernama, April 26

The Ministry of Defence is looking at a new salary scheme for military personnel at all levels in line with the transformation being implemented in the armed forces generally.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the new scheme was being drawn up in recognition of the role played by the military so that the scheme would at least be similar to other civil service schemes in the country.

He said as there were officers with professional status in the armed forces such as pilots, engineers, medical officers and various others, a new salary scheme was appropriate to give recognition to this group.

"Almost half of the military personnel are involved in the professional and technical fields, so the salary scheme for them should not lag far behind compared to the professionals outside the government service," he said when addressing Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) personnel of various ranks at the Gong Kedak RMAF Base, here yesterday.

Malaysia most suited to track piracy in Arabian sea: expert, Deccan Herald, april 17

Malaysia's geographic location and political stability are ideal for the establishment of an international data-processing centre for maritime satellite tracking of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a leading expert has said.
Innovation Strategies International founding president Harold J. Raveche said Malaysia was already playing its crime-watch role with the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre and the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Counter Terrorism, both of which are based here.

"Now, you can look a step further with the setting up of an international centre that provides high-resolution satellite data for maritime tracking of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

"This facility will greatly boost international efforts to combat the menace which is threatening the global commercial shipping industry and the lives of many mariners," he said during a presentation at the Armed Forces Defence College here.

He added that advanced high-resolution satellite imagery and radar technology, with improved sensors and new algorithms for signal processing, could relay vital information for enforcement agencies to detect pirate vessels, called skiffs, within one minute as compared with the present 30 minutes.

"We understand that defence technology is being limited in view of security and safety concerns, but the time has come for a unified global effort for non-sensitive commercial applications to safeguard maritime cargo vessels and for disaster-relief humanitarian operations."

Raveche said there were 445 pirate attacks reported worldwide last year, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

Malaysia to purchase, re-sell U.S. weapons, New Straits Times, March 29

Malaysia has sealed a deal for American weapons that will come with rights to produce locally and to re-sell them to other Southeast Asian neighbours.

The defence ministry has inked a RM700 million ($231 million) deal with the US to purchase 130,000 new weapons for the armed forces and police, Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced.

The purchase includes the 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine, which can accommodate the M203 grenade launcher, to replace the Austrian-made Steyr AUG assault rifle.Malaysian arms manufacturer SME Ordnance Sdn Bhd (SMEO), which began local production of the Steyr in 1991, had in 2007 undertaken the deal with American firm Colt Defence LLC to initially acquire 14,000 carbines, which were all delivered by June 2008.The company followed it up with a second contract with the same firm in February this year for the supply of 116,000 carbines over a seven-year period.p>

Once the technology transfer comes into effect, Malaysia would also be given the rights to market the locally produced carbines to Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries using them.

"This will enable SMEO to become a centre of excellence for the manufacture of small-bore firearms in Asia," the New Straits Times quoted the minister as saying.

Philippines

Return of U.S. forces to Subic possible, Daily Inquirer, April 28

High-level visits here by American officials have raised the prospect of a return of the United States’ military presence in this former naval base in the wake of disasters that hit Japan, which have delayed the planned US military build-up in Guam.

US Senators Daniel Inouye and Thad Cochran visited this free port on Tuesday and met with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and Olongapo City officials.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer learned of the visit but was told that it was “not open to press coverage.”

In March, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. also met with local officials and briefed them about the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on the transfer of US military bases in Okinawa to Guam. The visit was not announced to reporters here.

Inouye and Cochran, chair and ranking member, respectively, of the US Senate committee on appropriations, appeared to be interested in the possibility of an increased presence of the US military in the country, a source present at the luncheon meeting for the visiting senators hosted by Subic and local officials told the Inquirer.

The source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said: “Their official reason for being here was to obtain a situationer of developments in the area and to consult with local officials about these. They even brought their technical staff. During the discussion, they were curious about the reception in the country of an [increased presence of the US military] here.”

Philippines ‘invaded’ Spratlys, china tells UN, Yahoo, April 21

China has countered a Philippine diplomatic protest at the United Nations by saying it has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands that the Southeast Asian country "started to invade" in the 1970s.

China's diplomatic note to the UN, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press, said the Philippine occupation of some islands and reefs in the Nansha islands infringes on China's sovereignty. The Spratlys are known to the Chinese as Nansha islands.

A Philippine protest filed to the UN earlier this month said China's claim to islands, adjacent waters, seabed and subsoil in the South China Sea had no basis in international law. The territorial claims were detailed in a map submitted to the UN in 2009.The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Viet Nam claim in whole or in part the Spratlys - a group of islands, reefs and atolls in the South China Sea believed to be sitting atop vast oil and gas reserves.

Viet Nam and Malaysia filed protests in 2009 against China's map, and Indonesia, a nonclaimant to the disputed territory, also protested last year.The protests are registered with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which will help mediate conflicting claims on territories.

'China said the contents of the Philippine diplomatic note "are totally unacceptable to the Chinese government".The Philippines has said the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys was an integral part of the country, which has sovereignty and jurisdiction over nearby waters and geological features under the international law principle that land dominates the sea.China said the Kalayaan Island Group was part of its Nansha islands and its sovereign and related rights were supported by abundant historical and legal evidence.It said before the 1970s, the Philippines never made any claims to the islands in a series of treaties defining its territory.

"Since the 1970s, the Republic of the Philippines started to invade and occupy some islands and reefs of China's Nansha islands and made relevant territorial claims, to which China objects strongly," said China's April 14 note to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

China said the doctrine that a legal right cannot arise from an unlawful act applied, thus the Philippines could not rightfully claim the islands.Asked for comment, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines said the note verbale sent by the Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN "speaks for itself".

Philippines to boost Spratly patrols, AFP, April 16

The Philippine military said Friday it planned to use a new US-made vessel to boost patrols in disputed South China Sea waters, amid a flare-up in tensions with China over rival claims.

The navy was looking to use the modern Hamilton-class patrol craft, recently bought from the United States, around the Philippine-claimed area of the Spratly archipelago, military spokesman Brigadier-General Jose Mabanta said.

"That's one of the possible areas. We really have to secure some of our possessions, and the Spratlys is one of our possessions," Mabanta told AFP when asked where the vessel would be deployed.

Mabanta said a Philippine navy crew was currently in the United States training to operate the patrol craft, and that it was expected to arrive in June.The US navy describes the Hamilton as a high endurance cutter with close-in weapons systems.The Philippine navy has a tiny and old fleet compared with China.

The Philippine fleet is made up of recommissioned former US navy vessels, headlined by Rajah Humabon, a Cannon-class destroyer escort that was built during World War II and is one of the world's oldest operational warships.

Thailand

China and Thailand vow to advance military ties, Xinhua, April 29

China and Thailand vowed to enhance their military relations on Friday.The pledge came during a meeting between Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, and Thai Minister of Defence Prawit Wongsuwan.

Guo hailed the friendship between the two countries, saying that friendly relations have brought substantial benefits to the people of both nations.

Under the joint efforts of both sides, bilateral relations between China and Thailand have become a model of friendship between countries with different social systems, said Guo, adding that China appreciates Thailand's long-term understanding and support of China on issues concerning its core interests.China and Thailand have enhanced cooperation on international and regional issues in recent years, which has played a positive role in maintaining regional and world peace, he said.Guo spoke highly of the two nations' military cooperation and called on the armed forces of both countries to make further efforts to increase cooperation even further.

Defense Council nod for submarines, Bangkok Post, April 25

The Defence Council on Monday approved the navy's plan to buy six used Type U206A submarines from Germany for 7.7 billion baht.Defence spokesman Col Thanathip Sawangsawng said navy chief Adm Kamthorn Poomhiran  spent one hour and 40 minutes explaining the acquisition plan to the council, chaired by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

Council members were satisfied with the reasons given by the navy for the purchase - to protect the country's interests in the sea, to increase the Asean submarine force potential and to help keep military power in the region in balance.If the acquisition plan is also approved by the cabinet, the submarines are expected to be put in commission in mid-2013.

Col Thanathip said a detailed plan will be presented to the Defence Council for next month.  A special conference may also be held for the press.

Thai PM vows to back army to defend territory, The Nation, April 25

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared that the government will launch full support to the Army to defend Thai territory in the border dispute with Cambodia.

"As the prime minister, I hereby affirm that the government is ready to support the Army to defend our territory," Abhisit said during his weekly Sunday program broadcast live on NBT channel.

Five Thai soldiers have been killed so far and 27 wounded in the latest round of clashes that started on Friday.Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Thailand's artillery fire had landed only 22 km into Cambodian soil and had not targeted anything but military installations and fire support bases. Meanwhile, United Nations SecretaryGeneral Ban Kimoon has called on Cambodia and Thailand to halt fighting along their disputed jungle border as troops exchanged fire for a third day.

Thailand’s military on the offensive, Wall Street Journal, April 19

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised to dissolve parliament next month, meaning a general election will likely be held in late June. But Mr. Abhisit's insistence on restoring Thailand's battered democracy has infuriated his backers in the army. They are worried that proxies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will win the election, thus jeopardizing the army's interests.

Against this backdrop, the military has gone on the political offensive in the past few weeks to intimidate and discredit key opposition figures and institutions. And one of its key tools is the lese-majeste law.Since becoming army chief in October last year, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has repeatedly stated that the military's top priority is protecting the monarchy. Under this doctrine, respect for the royal family is the key to the security of the nation. Making this linkage between the palace and the army explicit is designed to guarantee the military's special role and prerogatives in Thai politics.

Gen. Prayuth recently appeared on national television promising to crack down on anti-monarchy elements, specifically in the pro-Thaksin red-shirt movement. And this was no idle threat. An army officer filed a lese-majeste complaint on behalf of Gen. Prayuth against the opposition Puea Thai MP Jatuporn Prompan and two key red-shirt supporters who allegedly made inappropriate remarks about the monarchy at a rally on July 10.Gen. Prayuth instructed the Office of the Judge Advocate-General to hand over a recording and transcripts of the allegedly defamatory speeches to the police as evidence. Deputy Police Chief Amnuay Nimmano later stated that the initial examination of Mr. Jatuporn's speech found "some parts are inappropriate and risk offending the institution (monarchy)." Mr. Jatuporn denies this.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay: Geopolitical power in play, The Straits Times, April 16

THE large Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, once a symbol of Cold War rivalry in South-east Asia, is set to assume an important role in the unfolding geopolitical competition between China and the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.The base is about to undergo a US$200 million (S$250 million) refurbishment, after which the facilities will be made available to foreign warships on a commercial basis. The upgrade is part of a US$2 billion deal signed with Russia in 2009 to provide the Vietnamese navy with six Kilo-class submarines, the first of which will be delivered in 2013 and based at Cam Ranh Bay.

The submarine acquisition is part of Hanoi’s military modernisation programme, which has been accelerated in recent years due to escalating tensions with Beijing over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Once operational, the submarines will provide Vietnam with a potent deterrent aimed at China’s increasingly powerful navy.Located in Khanh Hoa province, 400km north of Ho Chi Minh City, Cam Ranh Bay is one of the finest deep-water anchorages in South-east Asia, and provides convenient access to the commercially and strategically vital sea lanes which pass through the South China Sea.

The base has a long association with foreign navies. Established by the French in the late 19th century, it was occupied by Japan during World War II and used as a launching pad for military operations across South-east Asia. With the onset of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, Cam Ranh Bay became a major base of operations for the US military. In 1978, Vietnam handed a 25-year rent-free lease of the base to its ally, the Soviet Union. Moscow repaired and expanded the facilities at Cam Ranh Bay and in the 1980s, home-ported approximately 25 warships there, including submarines. When Hanoi asked for US$300 million per year to renew the lease, the Russians baulked and finally withdrew in 2002.

Following Russia’s departure, the naval base fell into disrepair, and the provincial authorities focused on improving the nearby commercial infrastructure. In 2004, Cam Ranh airport was opened. Last year, state-owned Vietnam National Shipping Lines announced that US$40 million would be spent on Ba Ngoi port to treble its handling capacity to 3 million tonnes of cargo per year.

But at the close of the East Asia Summit in Hanoi in October last year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made the surprise announcement that Cam Ranh Bay would once again be open to port calls by foreign navies.

Mr Dung did not single out which navies would be welcome to visit Cam Ranh Bay. But opening the base to foreign naval vessels is clearly part of a larger strategy by Vietnam to strengthen defence ties with America and facilitate the US military presence in South-east Asia as a counter to China’s rising power.

The regular presence of US warships at Cam Ranh Bay might make China think twice about using coercive military diplomacy against Vietnam, even though Washington does not take sides in the sovereignty dispute.

For its part, the US military has long been interested in regaining access to Cam Ranh Bay as part of its ‘place not bases’ strategy whereby its warships regularly visit Asian ports for resupply and repairs without the need for expensive and politically sensitive basing rights.

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