31 January 2013


By Siti Diana Othman

Bolkiah Garrison, Wednesday 31 January 2013 –The 3rd Defence Policy Dialogue between the Ministry of Defence from Brunei Darussalam and Republic of Singapore that took place commencing 29 – 31 January 2013  in Brunei Darussalam, saw both sides reaffirming their commitments to strengthen further the defence ties between the two countries.

The Dialogue discussion that took place yesterday (30 January) at the Officers’ Mess in Bolkiah Garrison, Ministry of Defence was co-chaired by Colonel (R) Pg Dato Paduka Haji Azmansham bin Pg Haji Mohamad, Permanent Secretary (Defence Policy and Development), Ministry of Defence of Brunei Darussalam, and Mr. Chiang Chie Foo, Permanent Secretary (Defence), Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Singapore. The meeting was also attended by senior military and civilian officials from both sides.

The meeting discussed the progress and areas to further strengthen bilateral defence relations. Both sides also shared and exchanged views on regional security as well as Brunei Darussalam's ASEAN and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings Chairmanship 2013.

The Singaporean delegation also had a courtesy call with Deputy Minister of Defence Dato Paduka Haji Mustappa bin Haji Sirat.  

As part of their visit itinerary in Brunei Darussalam, they had the opportunity to visit the Royal Brunei Navy Headquarters in Muara.

The annual Defence Policy Dialogue between Brunei Darussalam and Republic of Singapore is aimed at fostering defence cooperation through discussion, information sharing and exploring new areas of practical cooperation, particularly at the strategic level.

The Dialogue was first held in 2009 in Brunei Darussalam. The next Defence Policy Dialogue will be held in the Republic of Singapore.


Existing Fearless class Patrol Vessel

Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (ST Engineering) today announced that the Group has been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) for the design and build of eight new vessels.  This new development attests to the Group’s core strength of providing integrated capabilities and solutions to support its customers.

The Group’s marine arm, Singapore Technologies Marine Ltd (ST Marine) will build the eight vessels at its Singapore Benoi Yard.  Singapore Technologies Electronics Limited (ST Electronics), the Group’s electronics arm, will supply the core combat systems and combat system integration solutions.  ST Marine will carry out the platform system integration as the lead system integrator.  

Design of the vessels will commence immediately and the delivery of these vessels is expected to be from 2016 onwards. These new vessels will replace the Republic of Singapore Navy’s existing Fearless-class Patrol Vessels, indigenously designed and built by ST Marine in the 1990s.

We are honoured to be awarded this contract by MINDEF, which reflects the excellent partnership between MINDEF and ST Engineering.  It also demonstrates our continuing efforts and commitment to develop indigenous capability to better support MINDEF in the area of design, construction, operations and support.” ~ NG Sing Chan, President, ST Marine

As we are under contractual obligation to observe confidentiality in respect of the contract, we are unable to disclose any further details.

This contract is not expected to have any material impact on the consolidated net tangible assets per share and earnings per share of ST Engineering for the current financial year.

News Report: Beijing flexes naval might in western Pacific

PLAN Frigate (File Photo)
Three Chinese warships have been deployed for “routine” drills in the west Pacific, where Beijing is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan. The move follows Tokyo’s creation of a naval task force to protect its disputed territory.

Advanced Chinese warships will visit the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel and the seas to the east of Taiwan, state news agency Xinhua reported. The fleet will carry out more than 20 separate exercises, the Chinese Defense Ministry said.

Though Chinese media has claimed the naval drills are routine, they are set to take place in a part of the Pacific Ocean where China has a number of unsettled border disputes with its neighbors. The drills come as China is engaged in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over a small uninhabited archipelago owned by Japan, which is known as the Senkaku Islands.

After the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner in September of last year, the dispute escalated into military saber-rattling on both sides. Neither China nor Japan has dispatched ships or planes to occupy the islands and claim ownership.

Historically, the islands belonged to China for centuries, but Japan assumed control of the territory following the 1894 Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan has also claimed ownership of the islands.

On Tuesday, Tokyo announced the creation of a special naval task force to protect the Senkaku Islands in its 2013 budget. The naval group will consist of 20 patrol ships and 13 aircraft; by 2015, the ships and planes will be staffed by 600 servicemembers.

Since the beginning of the territorial dispute, Chinese ships have frequently skirted the islands’ coastal waters, and Chinese planes also breached the islands’ airspace several times. The Japanese military scrambled fighter jets over the intrusions, and then vowed to shoot down intruders

China also recently found itself at the center of a different kind of territorial dispute. In late November, Beijing unveiled new microchip-equipped passports with the nation’s map printed on its pages, which depicted some of the territory of China’s neighbors as its own, including India, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. 

This story first appeared on RT & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: US-Indonesia Expand Defense Partnership

Sara Schonhardt

JAKARTA — The United States is furthering its defense partnership with Indonesia by committing to securing the waters in Southeast Asia against threats posed by terrorism, piracy and renewed territorial tensions. China, too, is building its naval presence in the region.

Some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes cross through Indonesia, a country of more than 17,000 islands. With billions of dollars in trade moving through the waters each year, U.S. officials say the country is key to maintaining regional peace and stability.

As part of a pivot toward the Asia-Pacific announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last June, the United States is looking to enhance its partnership with Indonesia in several areas, including maritime security.

The goal is to work with regional allies to combat common threats, says Captain Adrian Jansen, the naval attaché at the U.S. Embassy, who spoke at a public gathering in Jakarta this week.

“Indonesia and the U.S. face many common threats - the threat of conflict in the South China Sea, the threat of piracy on the seas, natural disasters that injure our nations, the threat of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction that the threaten our very existence,” Jansen stated.

Analysts warn the United States needs to use those common threats to engage more with China. Otherwise, the increased American  presence could spark conflicts with Beijing, which is also expanding its regional influence.

Collin Koh is an associate research fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“If we look at the sort of actions that we see to date, it seems pretty evident that the U.S. pivot is primarily targeted at containing China’s emergence," he said. "Which coincided with China’s growing power and its growing assertiveness.”

As part of its naval engagement, the United States has conducted training exercises focused on counter-piracy and enhanced warfare techniques. Those exercises have grown significantly since the U.S. resumed military ties with Indonesia in 2005.  

Meanwhile, China has also expanded its trade and defense relations. Indonesian media reported the recent sale of C-705 missiles to equip more than a dozen Indonesian warships. The two countries are also set to sign a technology-transfer contract that would allow Indonesia to produce the missiles domestically.

The increased cooperation comes as disputes intensify among China and several members of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations.

Four of the 10 members of that regional grouping claim sovereignty of parts of the South China Sea. But China claims nearly the entire area. In the past, Philippine and Vietnamese fishing fleets have had dramatic standoffs with Chinese vessels in the remote waters, sparking worries that the dispute could lead to open conflict.

On Tuesday, Hao Yinbiao, an official at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta, said China is committed to diplomatic negotiations and refuted concerns that China’s increasingly aggressive actions would lead to confrontation.

“A growing country tends to be believed by other people to have some conflicts with the existing powers and influences. We have no other agenda, like sentiments against the United States of America,” Yinbiao noted.

Indonesia does not claim any of the contested territory and, in the past, has played a key role as a broker in the dispute.  But, after failing to reach any substantive agreement on the South China Sea during the last ASEAN summit, there are some analysts who worry the dispute could become a battle for regional influence that could compromise ASEAN unity - despite Indonesia’s efforts to broker a deal.

This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.

News Story: China, Japan scholars seek way out in islands row

As fears grow over a simmering island dispute between China and Japan, scholars from both nations are hoping to lower the temperature with expansive talks in Washington in search of common ground.

The academics acknowledged that Tokyo and Beijing have major differences over the territories in the East China Sea but they saw one fundamental point in common -- neither side wanted the conflict to escalate into war.

A pair of US-based scholars from the two countries brought together experts -- four from China, three from Japan -- all day Sunday to hear out views on the islands known as the Senkakus in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The Chinese co-convener, Zheng Wang, found a "huge perception gap" between the two sides and said that rising nationalism in Asia's two largest economies made it difficult for leaders to take any action that could be seen as weak.

Read the full story at SpaceDaily

News Story: India test fires cannon launched laser-guided missile

Model of cannon launched laser-guided missile (File photo)

By Hemant Kumar Rout

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Monday conducted the tests of an advanced version of Cannon-launched Laser Guided Missile (CLGM) from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) off the Odisha coast.

Altogether three rounds of the missile were test-fired from a specially built launcher at the launching complex-II of Chandipur based test range. A defence official said the mission was successful as the missile perfectly destroyed the targets as expected.

“The tests were conducted in between 3.30 pm to 4.30 pm during low tide period. There will be one more round of test on Tuesday. All the data have been collected and would be evaluated after the completion of the mission,” he said.

Read the full story at The New Indian Express

News Story: Philippines Nears $443 Million Deal for South Korea Fighter Jets

By Daniel Ten Kate and Norman P. Aquino

The Philippines is close to reaching an 18 billion peso ($443 million) deal to purchase 12 fighter jets from South Korea as it moves to bolster its defenses amid tensions with China over disputed territory.

Defense Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez today said the government intends to finalize a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (047810) by the end of February and two could be delivered in the next six months. The Philippines hasn’t had an operating fighter jet since 2005.

“The military upgrade is already a priority before our incident with China,” Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, told reporters today. “It is not aimed at any particular country. It is our obligation to modernize our military hardware.”

Asian countries including China and Japan are increasing military spending as the region grapples with maritime disputes involving oil, natural gas and fishing rights. The Philippines has tussled with China over control of areas in the South China Sea where both claim sovereignty, leading to a standoff over the Scarborough Shoal last year.

Read the full story at Bloomberg Businessweek

Editorial: China’s New Militancy

By Gordon G. Chang

Chinese leaders' repeated calls for the PLA to be ready to plan, fight, and win wars is an ominous sign.

 “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully—not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,”President Obama said in his second inaugural address

How exactly does the international community “engage” hostile states?  Take China, for instance. 
Xi Jinping, named Communist Party general secretary in November, reflects a new militancy.  On Tuesday, he delivered a hard-edged speech to the Politburo in which he effectively ruled out compromise on territorial and security issues.  His tough words were in keeping with the ever-more strident tones of his messages to the People’s Liberation Army about being ready to plan, fight, and win wars. Chinese leaders have traditionally addressed the army and urged improvement in general readiness, but, as veteran China watcher Willy Lam notes, Xi has put a special emphasis on it.  Moreover, his calls on preparing for conflict go well beyond those of his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. 
In the past, the military’s war talk contrasted with soothing words from senior civilian leaders.  Now, with Xi, the aggressive comments from flag officers are consistent with what he, as top leader, is saying.  Worse, as the Financial Times notes, Xi’s words of war are now “being bundled” with his rhetoric, which seems calculated to “fan nationalism.” 
In this environment, Chinese military officers can get away with advocating “short, sharp wars” and talking about the need to “strike first.”  Their boldness suggests, as some privately say, that General Secretary Xi is associating with generals and admirals who think war with the U.S. might be a good idea.
China looks like it is taking one of its periodic wrong turns.  Is it because Xi Jinping is a nationalist who wants to lead the country down a path of high profile force projection?  Or is he succumbing to pressures from elements inside a regime increasingly in disarray?
Read the full 3 page story at The Diplomat

30 January 2013

Think Tank: Sanctions do not lead to Nuke abolition in Asia

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SINGAPORE (IDN) - North Korea’s response to the United Nations Security Council's expanded sanctions on January 22 by threatening to resume nuclear tests and last November’s failure by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to persuade the five recalcitrant nuclear powers to sign the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) have focused attention on the atomic threat facing the Asian region that is fast emerging as the centre of the global economy.

Posited very much in the midst of these developments is the Obama Administration’s so-called US “pivot” or “rebalance” policy towards Asia, which is increasingly seen in the region as a security issue rather than an economic or political re-engagement.

Since this policy announcement two years ago there has been increased tension in the region with regards to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea that has prompted some analysts in Asia to question whether the US is trying to provoke Asian countries like Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam into confrontation with China.

With North Korea’s recent posturing, the threat of a nuclear confrontation – though remote – is rather worrisome to Asia that is emerging from centuries of economic subjugation by the West.

A looming confrontation with China in Asia may be one of the major reasons why the three nuclear powered states Russia, France and Britain could not agree to sign the SEANWFZ as planned at the 21st ASEAN Summit in Cambodia in November 2012. France voiced its reservations on the right of self-defence, United Kingdom on “new threat and development”, and Russia on the right of foreign ships and aircraft to pass into the nuclear free zone, a concern similar to that of the US.

The notion of a SEANWFZ dates back to November 27, 1971, when the original five members of ASEAN signed a Declaration on a (ASEAN) Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in Kuala Lumpur. The first major component of the ZOPFAN pursued by ASEAN was the establishment of a SEANWFZ.

However, due to the unfavourable political environment in the region, the formal proposal for the establishment of such a zone was tabled only in the mid-1980s. After a decade of negotiating and drafting efforts by the ASEAN Working Group on a ZOPFAN, the SEANWFZ Treaty was signed by the heads of states of all 10 ASEAN member countries in Bangkok on December 15, 1995 and it took effect two years later. The negotiations between ASEAN and the five nuclear powers on the protocol have been under way since May 2001 with no progress achieved.

Among a number of rules and conditions laid out by the treaty, the main components are that signatory States are obliged not to develop, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over nuclear weapons; station nuclear weapons; or test or use nuclear weapons anywhere inside or outside the treaty zone.

The protocol also stipulates that Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) must abide by articles of the Treaty and not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against States parties. China has previously expressed its willingness to ratify the protocol, but the other four NWS cite the geographical scope of the Treaty as an obstacle. The treaty zone covers the territories, continental shelves, and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the States Parties within the zone.

Malaysian political scientist, Dr Chandra Muzzafar, Executive Director of the International Movement for a Just World says that while ASEAN states must be commended for drafting and signing the SEANWFZ, at the same time “all the five nuclear weapons states are determined to ensure that their nuclear advantage is preserved at all costs, ‘self-defence’ is just a camouflage”.

“Britain and France are US allies and the US through various military and diplomatic moves is reinforcing its agenda of containing China. So it should not surprise anyone if its two European allies are seeking to bolster the US position in the region,” he said in an interview with IDN-InDepthNews.

Non-governmental actors

Asked if the Asian countries should make US access to their markets conditional on the nuclear powers signing the treaty, Dr Muzzafar said: “ASEAN and other countries in Asia should first demonstrate a strong collective commitment towards the control and abolition of nuclear weapons before they make demands upon outside powers. Such a commitment does not exist at the moment. This is why I do not see them asking these powers to sign the Bangkok Treaty as a condition for access to the expanding markets in Asia.”

Dr Muzzafar is of the view that governments in the region will not be able to persuade the nuclear powers to sign the treaty and it will have to be non-governmental actors that need to mount a concerted campaign for it to happen. “In the ultimate analysis, it is only a powerful citizens’ movement that can rid the continent of present and future nuclear weapons”, he argues.

In a speech at the University of Iceland in October 2012, Dr Gareth Evans, the former Australian Foreign Minister and the Convener of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN) [PDF]argued that the spirit of optimism that existed about three years ago that nuclear disarmament could be achieved in the Asia-Pacific region has evaporated.

“If the existing nuclear-armed states are serious about non-proliferation, as they all claim to be, and sincerely want to prevent others from joining their club, they cannot keep justifying the possession of nuclear weapons as a means of protection for themselves or their allies against other weapons of mass destruction, especially biological weapons, or conventional weapons,” he argues. "All the world hates a hypocrite, and in arms control as in life generally, demanding that others do as I say is not nearly as compelling as asking them to do as I do."

Dr Evans also pointed out that nuclear weapons would not deter terrorists, as many nuclear weapons states tend to argue. "Terrorists don't usually have territory, industry, a population or a regular army which could be targeted with nuclear weapons," he argues.

On September 13, 2012, APLN expressed deep disappointment [PDF] at the evaporation of political will evident in global and regional efforts toward nuclear disarmament over the previous year. The statement was signed by 25 political, diplomatic, military and scientific leaders from 14 Asia Pacific countries.

Professor Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the Australian National University, writing in Japan Times noted that plans for upgrades, modernization or increased numbers and destructive power of nuclear arsenals by all the nuclear-armed states indicate that none is serious about nuclear disarmament.

“All countries that have and seek nuclear weapons, or are increasing the size and modernizing the quality of their arsenals, should be subjected to international opprobrium,” he argues.

Tactical Nukes

Rather than subjecting nukes to international scorn, several commentators in regional publications in recent months have argued that the US may need to be persuaded to re-deploy tactical weapons in the Korean peninsula, which the Bush administration withdrew in 1991 – in order to respond to the North Korean threat.

“Tactical nukes on South Korean soil would enhance the credibility of the US nuclear umbrella against North Korea and also reassure the South Korean public of the US security commitment” argues Seongwhun Cheon [PDF], a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in a commentary published by GlobalAsia.

“As North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles, alliance dynamics in Northeast Asia will come to resemble that of Europe in the late 1950s.” he argues. “When the Soviet Union first fired its Sputnik missile and opened the intercontinental missile age, Western European allies began to worry that America might decouple its own security from alliance security in fear of a Soviet attack on the US mainland. Similar concerns on decoupling will become widespread in South Korea, and cause ripple effects in Japan. To allay looming concerns about such a possible decoupling, redeploying tactical nukes in South Korea is essential,” says Cheon.

Yet, China may play a crucial role in decreasing tension in the region. Ties are expected to become warmer between China and South Korea under the new leaderships. The newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has already sent a special envoy to Beijing and China’s new Community party chief Xi Jinping has called for a resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea.

While Park has indicated that she would take a more conciliatory stance towards North Korea compared to her hawkish predecessor, China’s Jinping was reported by the Korean Times as saying that he opposes the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

Professor Shen Dingli, Director of the Centre for American Studies at the Fudan University in Shanghai says that if the US wants stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region it could work with China to achieve it, like what South Korea is now embarking on.

“Rebalancing by ganging up on China will undermine stability in East Asia, and may ultimately backfire and cause damage to the US' own interests,” he argues in a commentary published by China Daily. “So far the US has insisted on ignoring the facts, confusing right and wrong and taking sides in disputes that don't directly concern it," he says.

He advises the new Obama administration, that “the power shift in the Asia-Pacific is unstoppable, and the US can only go with the flow, respect the legitimate and reasonable demands of the emerging powers, and help seek a fair and proper settlement of major disputes in the region”. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 29, 2013]

This story first appeared on InDepthNews & is reposted here under a Creative Commons license.

AUS: Final Giraffe (C-RAM Radar) arrives in Australia

Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare today announced that the final of three Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) Giraffe radars has arrived in Australia.

Mr Clare said two radar systems are currently operating in Tarin Kot. This third system will be used to train troops ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan.

“The Giraffe radars provide our troops with early detection of attacks from enemy rockets, artillery and mortars, protecting Australian and ISAF forces,” Mr Clare said.

“This early warning system has proven to be an important force protection capability for our troops, giving them vital seconds of advanced warning so they can take shelter.

“The addition of a third Giraffe radar to train our soldiers before they deploy means they will be trained to use the full range of the radar’s capabilities from the time they hit the ground.”

Australia assumed responsibility for early detection against rocket, artillery and mortar attacks at Tarin Kot from 28 December 2010.

The new Giraffe radars have replaced leased radars and were manufactured in Sweden by SAAB AB under an $86.2 million contract, which includes support services.

Australia’s C-RAM Sense and Warn capability consists of Giraffe radars, a number of lightweight counter mortar radars, and Command and Control, and warning equipment.

The new radars are the latest in a range of force protection initiatives that over the past few years has delivered $1 billion in equipment to protect our troops in Afghanistan including:

  • Up-armouring the Bushmasters;
  • New combat body armour;
  • Heavier calibre weapons; and
  • New ground-penetrating radar trucks to clear roads of IEDs before troops travel on them.

AUS: Australian (financial) assistance for Mali

Stephen Smith Minister for Defense

Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defence Minister Stephen Smith today announced that Australia would provide $10 million in assistance to Mali to support peace, security and humanitarian needs.

Australia will provide a financial contribution of $5 million to the UN Trust Fund to support the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).

This support will help fund AFISMA’s operational costs such as military staffing, logistics requirements, and acquisition of equipment to support the AFISMA mission.

As part of the package Australia will also provide a further $5 million in assistance to help meet Mali’s growing humanitarian needs.

This includes $2 million for critical humanitarian assistance including emergency medical, food, water and essential household items for people displaced by the conflict within Mali and the region.

$3 million will go to the World Food Programme and UNICEF in Niger for emergency treatment for children under the age of five as well as addressing the root causes of their chronic malnutrition.

The situation in Mali is one of the most serious peace, security and humanitarian challenges facing Africa, with regional and global consequences given the involvement of terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the backdrop of food insecurity across the Sahel.

The deployment of French military forces to Mali, at the invitation of Mali’s transitional government, has been successful in halting the extremist advance from the north and restoring some stability to Mali.

As Australia has argued in the UN Security Council, it is now imperative that African forces under the AFISMA banner deploy quickly to Mali to solidify these gains.

Australia’s financial contribution to AFISMA will help ensure this happens. It builds on a long tradition of Australian peace and security assistance to Africa, including support for the development of African peacekeeping capabilities, the current Australian deployment to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

It is essential that a reinvigorated political process moves in tandem with this military effort. Australia urges leaders in Bamako and non-extremist elements in the north to embrace negotiations in good faith and make the compromises necessary for a durable political settlement.

Mali has experienced significant population displacement since the Malian Government declared a State of Emergency on 11 January, and continues to be adversely affected by regional food insecurity and malnutrition.

This contribution builds on Australia’s humanitarian assistance of over AUD$10 million in 2012 for Mali, out of a total of AUD$44 million in Australian humanitarian support for the Sahel region of West Africa.

  • AU$4m to the United Nations Refugee Agency for essential humanitarian assistance including providing food, water and shelter to Malian refugees fleeing the violence in Burkina Faso and Niger (announced 26 September)
  • AU$3m for emergency operations including refugee assistance and protection in Mali (announced 26 September)
  • AU$1.3m to the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide emergency food assistance to IDPs in Mali and to Malian refugees in neighbouring Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger (announced 30 May).
  • AU$2m to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to provide nutrition support as well as water, sanitation and hygiene activities. (announced 9 February).

Australia will be represented at the Mali Donors’ Conference in Addis Ababa on 29 January (morning January 30 AEDT) by its Ambassador to the African Union.

The Mali Donors’ Conference has been convened to raise funds, and secure pledges of support, equipment and training for AFISMA’s efforts to assist Malian authorities to restore sovereignty and unity across the country.

News Report: South China Sea Dispute Poses Challenge for US

Scott Stearns

STATE DEPARTMENT — President Barack Obama begins his second term facing fresh tensions in the South China Sea as the Philippines takes its maritime dispute with China to the United Nations.

China's navy patrols the disputed waters. The Philippines rejects Chinese authority over the area.

"We want the arbitral tribunal to establish the rights of the Philippines to exclusively exploit the resources in our continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea," Philippine Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary Gilbert Asuque explained.

China says Manila's move complicates the dispute. 

​​"China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters," insisted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei. "The root of the dispute is caused by the Philippines' illegal occupation of some of the Chinese areas."

Justin Logan at the Cato Institute says involving the United Nations runs counter to how China wants to handle the issue.

"The Chinese have been trying as much as possible to keep this bilateral between itself and all the disputed parties and to prevent it from being internationalized in a systematic way," noted Logan.

Even if the U.N. Law of the Sea tribunal rules in favor of Manila, Logan questions who would enforce the decision.

"If enforcing findings means a shooting war with China, you may see findings that go unenforced," Logan said. "It may be a bargaining a chip that the Philippines say: 'Look, the balance is sort of tipping away from us. We can play this card and then have something that we can appear to give up if China makes a concession.'"

Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea were part of confirmation hearings for John Kerry, President Obama's choice as secretary of state. Republican Senator Marco Rubio questioned the administration's handling of the standoff.

"China is being increasingly aggressive about their territorial claims and their neighbors are looking to the United States and U.S. leadership as a counter balance," Rubio said.

Senator Kerry said China is reacting to more U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific.

"The Chinese take a look at that and say, 'What's the United States doing? Are they trying to circle us? What's going on?'" noted Kerry.

Given China's disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, Kerry says it is critical that Washington strengthen ties with Beijing.

"China is the other significant economy in the world and obviously has a voracious appetite for resources around the world, and we need to establish rules of the road that work for everybody," Kerry said.

China says it is working to resolve the rival claims through dialogue but opposes U.S. support of greater involvement by an alliance of South East Asian nations.

This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: N. Korea Threatens 'Merciless' War

North Korea issued new threats against the South and its allies on Tuesday, saying it views a recent expansion of United Nations Security Council sanctions as an act of war.

In a commentary filled with typically inflammatory language, the official Korean Central News Agency promised "merciless retaliatory blows" and a "grand and just war for national reunification" in response to the sanctions.

The commentary did not mention the nuclear test threatened by North Korea last week following the unanimous Security Council decision, which punished Pyongyang for a December rocket launch.

South Korea's foreign ministry on Tuesday again denounced the nuclear test threat. It urged its communist neighbor to "pay heed to the continued warnings from the international community and not push ahead with any further provocations."

Seoul on Tuesday announced the creation of a special task force to monitor North Korea's nuclear test site. Recent satellite photos suggest increased activity at the site. South Korean officials have said they believe a test could be carried out at any time.

North Korea also conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 following U.N. condemnations of earlier long-range rocket launches. It is barred from conducting nuclear or ballistic missile tests under international sanctions.

This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: Along Korea's DMZ, Lone Forward-Deployed US Division Stays Prepared

Steve Herman

POCHEON, SOUTH KOREA — At a time of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, a quartet of U.S. Army “Abrams” M1-A2SEP tanks rolls onto the frozen ground of the Rodriguez Live Fire Range near the DMZ during one of the coldest days of the winter.

The tanks and their crews, from Dragon Company of the 1st Battalion’s 72nd Armor Regiment (1-72 AR), are a small but lethal component of the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division stationed close to the tense border separating North and South Korea.

The division has the unenviable task of holding off - until reinforcements arrive - a much larger enemy force, should there be an invasion similar to the one that began the Korean War in 1950.

The tankers' advanced qualification exercise (known as a gunnery table XII) not only involves the crews inside the 70-ton 1,500-horsepower vehicles, but 400 other support personnel scattered across the range, including those in an observation tower and a large heated tent that serves as the battalion tactical operations center.  

Inside the tent, a situation report arrives from a tank platoon that they have completed movement from one map reference to another.

“Moving forward phase line blue, phase line crimson,” shouts a soldier.

“Phase line blue, phase line crimson!” echoes a chorus of other uniformed personnel to ensure everyone in the center is aware of the location of the units.   

"Currently the second platoon from our Dragon Company, an armored company, has occupied the range and is conducting their engagement area development and is going to move down the lane to engage enemy targets and destroy them," explains Capt. Joshua Jones, an assistant operations officer with the 1-72 AR.

Minutes later huge booms resonate across the range. The Abrams are firing their 120 millimeter cannons. The explosions can also be faintly heard by the North Korean military just a dozen kilometers away.

The big rounds are also accompanied by bursts from the tanks' 50 caliber heavy and 7.62 millimeter coaxial machine guns.

Keeping watch over key route to Seoul

These tanks, with a top speed of 68 kilometers per hour, are in the range of North Korean artillery.

Should there be an enemy invasion, the Abrams of Dragon Company, presumably at that point under heavy fire, would stand between one of the largest armies in the world and some 25 million civilians in the Seoul metropolitan area, just 30 kilometers to the south.

These qualification trainings are meant to ensure that the North Koreans would face some of the U.S. Army's highest-rated tank crews.

They are being graded on “the time it takes to acquire the target, the time to shoot the target and then accuracy,” explains battalion commander Lt. Col. Matthew Holly. “For tanks it's pretty easy. They either fire and hit it and it goes down or they missed, in which case they have to re-fire. And that re-fire will subtract points away from the total score."

​​The platoon fires 18 rounds and hits all 18 targets - an infrequent occurrence - earning praise from the 2nd Infantry Division's commander, Major General Edward Cardon.

"Out here on these tank ranges when you saw the way that these tankers were shooting that's exactly the kind of formations that we need that are a strong, credible deterrent, “ Cardon says during a VOA interview. “I don't know what the North Koreans will do. But I do know one thing. When we're asked to do something, I want to make sure we can deliver and deliver with the expectation that American fighting forces are known for."

Unique division with a long history in Korea

The 2nd Infantry is one of the U.S. Army's most decorated divisions, having engaged in four wars, going back to World War I.

It was the first unit to reach the Korean peninsula directly from the United States after the North Koreans crossed into the South on June 25, 1950, sparking three years of devastating combat that ended in a stalemate.

The 2nd Infantry has been patrolling close to the DMZ since 1965, as the decades continue to roll by with the two Koreas remaining divided and technically still in a state of war.  

It is the Army's only remaining forward-deployed division and unlike any other U.S. Army division, the 2nd Infantry is composed partly of foreign soldiers.  

"When you have blood and treasure of the United States committed with the blood and treasure of (South) Korea, together that is a powerful symbol of unity that, I think, has helped the deterrence and the stability of this region of the world for decades," says Maj. Gen. Cardon.

Currently about 1,000 South Korean troops serve in the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division. That is a small fraction of the half million total active personnel in the South Korean military.

Collaboration key to South Korean security

Senior security strategy researcher Hong Hyun-ik, at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, says despite the huge economic disparity between the two Koreas, the South likely would not be able to repel the North without such American units as the 2nd Infantry Division.

Hong contends it would be relative easy for Seoul to be captured by the North should Pyongyang again start a war. Taking this into consideration, he explains, even though South Korea “desires to have an independent defense posture it knows it must rely on U.S. forces here to have a sufficient deterrence.”

Unlike the draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no such plans in South Korea.

But change is looming. Wartime operational control of all forces here is to shift from the U.S. military to South Korea by December, 2015.

In the meantime, 2nd Infantry has been receiving additional modernized heavy combat equipment and increasing combined training with South Korean forces.

This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: (North Korea) Checks for Deserting Soldiers

Hunger and cold drive North Korean soldiers to drop out of the army, sources say.

Authorities in North Korea have stepped up checks for army deserters as hunger and cold drive soldiers to drop out of the ranks, according to sources in the hard-line communist state.

Military police and State Security Department authorities have been combing train stations, markets, and other public places this month for deserting soldiers, a source in North Hamygong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The main train stations in North Hamgyong province including Cheongjin Station, Gilju Station, and Gimchaek Station are crowded with military policemen” looking for runaway soldiers, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“State Security Department authorities are checking people who look suspicious at the markets in Gimchaek city and Cheongjin,” the source said, adding that the officials were often in plainclothes disguise.

The stepped-up patrols began Jan. 18 following a rise in desertions from the army during the cold winter months, according to the source.

Short rations

The million-strong Korean People’s Army, which drafts males from age 17, is granted a primary position in North Korea’s political and social hierarchy under the country’s “military-first” policy, known as “songun.”

But amid the impoverished country’s chronic food shortages, low-ranking enlisted men go hungry, and suffer harsh cold during the winter, sources said.

Low-ranking soldiers receive mostly corn, instead of prized rice, in their rations, and often have only corn to eat when higher-ranking officers take their rice, another source in North Hamgyong province said.

Military police officers, on the other hand, receive rations with equal proportions of rice and corn, he added.

Winter cold

During the winter, soldiers also suffer from cold due to a shortage of firewood, another source in the province said.

“The sickrooms for the soldiers are as cold as the outside because of the lack of firewood. And moreover there is nothing to eat, so soldiers would rather desert from the armies than go hungry,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Soldiers have a greater incentive to desert the army during the winter, when many trains stop running, other sources said.

Since authorities won’t be able to transport deserters back to their assignments until the trains start running again, deserters run away in the winter hoping to rest until spring, they said.

Missile launch

North Korea, which relies on international food aid to feed its population of 24 million, has by far the world’s largest military in per capita terms, with around one in every 25 citizens enlisted in the military.

Although North Korea had its lowest staple food deficit in years last year, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the pariah state still faces widespread malnutrition, and sources say it struggles to feed even its soldiers.

Economically isolated North Korea’s food situation is unlikely to improve while Pyongyang threatens further nuclear tests, drawing strong criticism from the international community.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to retaliate against U.N. sanctions by preparing the country’s third nuclear test that was “aimed at the United States.”

New satellite images of ongoing activity at North Korea’s atomic test site suggest the facility would be ready to conduct the test “in a few weeks or less,” according to the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, the U.S.’s top envoy on North Korea dismissed hopes for an immediate diplomatic solution to the expected nuclear test, saying that Pyongyang was “bent on playing a game of risk.”

Sources in North Korea have reported authorities turning to drastic measures to feed the country’s soldiers.

Earlier this winter, sources said authorities had launched a “patriotic rice” campaign to feed soldiers and construction workers, asking farmers and would-be members of the ruling Workers’ Party to donate rice to the state.

The campaign followed an effort launched in February 2011 to combat malnutrition among soldiers by encouraging them to raise their own livestock and grow enough food to feed themselves.

Reported by Sung Hui Moon. Translated by Ju Hyeon Park. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink

Copyright © 1998-2011, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. http://www.rfa.org.