Two US warships in South China Sea amid China-Malaysia standoff

The USS America amphibious assault ship, above, has been deployed and were operating in the South China Sea. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 21 April 2020

Two US warships in South China Sea amid China-Malaysia standoff

  • China’s Haiyang Dizhi 8 was spotted last week conducting a survey close to an exploration vessel operated by Petronas
  • Incident prompted the United States to call on China to stop its ‘bullying behavior’ in the disputed waters

KUALA LUMPUR: Two US warships are operating in the South China Sea, the Navy said on Tuesday, with three regional security sources saying they were near an area of a standoff between China and Malaysia.
The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese government research ship, was spotted last week conducting a survey close to an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas, months after it undertook a similar patrol off Vietnam.
The incident prompted the United States to call on China to stop its “bullying behavior” in the disputed waters, citing concern over Beijing’s provocative actions toward offshore oil and gas developments there.
The US State Department has said China was taking advantage of the region’s focus on the coronavirus pandemic to “coerce its neighbors.”
The USS America amphibious assault ship and the USS Bunker Hill, a guided missile cruiser, have been deployed and were operating in the South China Sea, US Indo-Pacific Command spokeswoman Nicole Schwegman said on Tuesday.
“Through our continued operational presence in the South China Sea, we are working ... to promote freedom of navigation and overflight, and the international principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific,” Schwegman said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
“The US supports the efforts of our allies and partners to determine their own economic interests.”
Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group, told Reuters that his forces had interacted with Chinese naval forces in the South China Sea this week.
“All our interactions continue to be safe and professional with them,” Kacher said in a telephone interview from the USS America.
Schwegman did not state the exact location of the warships but security sources said they were close to the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and the Petronas-operated West Capella drillship. The sources declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The area is near waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia as well by China, through its sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea within its U-shaped ‘nine-dash line’ that is not recognized by its neighbors or most of the world.
China has denied reports of a stand-off, saying that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities.
“The ‘confrontation’ at sea you mention did not happen,” the foreign ministry said in a faxed response to Reuters’ questions on Monday.
Petronas and Malaysia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Chinese survey vessel’s moves this month come as Beijing ramps up coronavirus diplomacy, donating large supplies of medical equipment and aid to Southeast Asian countries.
A team of Chinese medical experts arrived this week in Malaysia, which has reported more than 5,400 coronavirus infections.
The United States has accused China of taking advantage of the distraction of the pandemic to advance its presence in the South China Sea.
On Sunday, Vietnam protested after China said it had established two administrative districts on the Paracel and Spratly islands in the disputed waters.


France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

Updated 21 min 12 sec ago

France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

  • Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a ‘double standard’ by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members

JEDDAH: France on Friday backed Cyprus’ calls for the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won’t suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.

French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

“But we consider that the union should also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, among them one of sanctions, if the situation didn’t evolve positively,” Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.

A European Parliament resolution has called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with Greece and Cyprus.

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now analyst at Carnegie Europe, said the resolution reflected the views of a democratically elected parliament from across the bloc. “This is not ‘country X against country Y,’ it is the aggregated view of the European Parliament,” he told Arab News.

EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus insist are only theirs to explore.

Turkey triggered a naval stand-off with NATO ally Greece after dispatching a warship-escorted research vessel in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says is over its continental shelf. Greece deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.

Greek and Turkish military officers are also holding talks at NATO headquarters to work out ways of ensuring that any standoff at sea doesn’t descend into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s withdrawal of its survey ship and warship escorts was a positive step, but that Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.

He said a list of sanctions will be put before EU leaders at next week’s summit and whether they’ll be implemented will depend on Turkey’s actions. “I’m hoping that it won’t become necessary to reach that point,” Dendias said.

Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a “double standard” by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.

Meanwhile, the EU is set to announce sanctions on Monday against three companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan which are accused of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomats told AFP.