Former CIA deputy director: Absolute risk of US-China war over South China Sea

This evening, May 20, 2015, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CNN’s Erin Burnett that the confrontation of U.S. and China over the latter’s increasingly aggressive moves in the South China Sea indicates there is “absolutely” a risk of the U.S. and China going to war sometime in the future.

South China Sea - China's claimChina’s territorial claims in the South China Sea

Jim Sciutto reports for CNN, May 20, 2015, that today, the Chinese navy issued warnings eight times as a U.S. surveillance plane swooped over islands in the South China Sea which are used by Beijing to extend its zone of influence.

The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims. The militarized islands have also alarmed America’s regional allies.

A CNN team was given exclusive access to join in the surveillance flights over the contested waters, which the Pentagon allowed for the first time in order to raise awareness about the challenge posed by the islands and the growing U.S. response.

CNN was aboard the P8-A Poseidon, America’s most advanced surveillance and submarine-hunting aircraft, when the Chinese navy issued warnings to the U.S. surveillance plane. “This is the Chinese navy … This is the Chinese navy … Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding,” a voice in English crackled through the radio of the aircraft in which CNN was present.

This is the first time the Pentagon has declassified video of China’s building activity and audio of Chinese challenges of a U.S. aircraft.

The aircraft flew at 15,000 feet in the air at its lowest point, but the U.S. is considering flying such surveillance missions even closer over the islands, as well as sailing U.S. warships within miles of them, as part of the new, more robust U.S. military posture in the area.

Soon after the Chinese communication was heard, its source appeared on the horizon seemingly out of nowhere: an island made by China some 600 miles from its coastline.

The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival territorial claims over an area that includes fertile fishing grounds and potentially rich reserves of undersea natural resources. China sees itself as having jurisdiction over the body of water.

South China SeaThe U.S. surveillance plane’s mission was specifically aimed at monitoring Chinese activities on three islands that months ago were reefs barely peaking above the waves. Now they are massive construction projects that the U.S. fears will soon be fully functioning military installations.

China’s alarming creation of entirely new territory in the South China Sea is one part of a broader military push that some fear is intended to challenge U.S. dominance in the region. Beijing is sailing its first aircraft carrier; equipping its nuclear missiles with multiple warheads; developing missiles to destroy us warships; and, now, building military bases far from its shores.

That’s exactly what former CIA deputy director Morell warned may be coming if China continues down its current path. He warned on CNN that “there’s a real risk, when you have this kind of confrontation, for something bad happening.”

He added that China’s aggressive growth hints at a broader trend as the Asian economic superpower continues to expand its influence and strength — one that Morell said could “absolutely” lead to war between the U.S. and China: “China is a rising power. We’re a status quo power. We’re the big dog on the block … They want more influence. Are we going to move a little bit? Are they going to push? How is that dance going to work out? This is a significant issue for the next President of the United States.” Morell acknowledged that war is “not in their interests, (and) it’s not in our interests. But absolutely, it’s a risk.”

Capt. Mike Parker, commander of the fleet of P8 and P3 surveillance aircraft deployed to Asia, told CNN aboard the P8, “I’m scratching my head like everyone else as to what’s the (Chinese) end game here. We have seen increased activity even recently on what appears to be the building of military infrastructure. We were just challenged 30 minutes ago and the challenge came from the Chinese navy, and I’m highly confident it came from ashore, this facility here,” as he pointed to an early warning radar station on an expanded Fiery Cross Reef.

In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres — the equivalent of 1,500 football fields — and counting, an engineering marvel in waters as deep as 300 feet.

The video filmed by the P8’s surveillance cameras shows that, in addition to early warning radar, Fiery Cross Reef is now home to military barracks, a lofty lookout tower and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military. Some call it China’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

In a sign of just how valuable China views these islands to be, the new islands are already well protected. From the cockpit, Lt. Cmdr Matt Newman told CNN, “There’s obviously a lot of surface traffic down there: Chinese warships, Chinese coast guard ships. They have air search radars, so there’s a pretty good bet they’re tracking us.”

The proof of the tracking is in the Chinese navy ordering the P8 out of the airspace eight times on this mission alone. Each time, the American pilots told them calmly and uniformly that the P8 was flying through international airspace.

In this military-to-military stand-off in the skies, civilian aircraft can find themselves in the middle. The pilot of a Delta flight in the area spoke on the same frequency, quickly identifying himself as commercial. The voice on the radio then identified himself as “the Chinese Navy” and the Delta flight went on its way.

U.S. commanders also told CNN that the more China builds, , the more frequently and aggressively the Chinese navy warns away U.S. military aircraft.

Over Fiery Cross Reef and, later, Mischief Reef, fleets of dozens of dredgers could be seen hard at work, sucking sand off the bottom of the sea and blowing it in huge plumes to create new land above the surface, while digging deep harbors below. “We see this every day,” Parker said. “I think they work weekends on this because we see it all the time.”

Chinese building military installations on Fiery Cross Reef

Chinese building military installations on Fiery Cross Reef

See also:


13 responses to “Former CIA deputy director: Absolute risk of US-China war over South China Sea

  1. Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
    I agree that there is a major issue here that the Obama administration is incapable of addressing as he down sizes the US military to unheard of levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Brittius.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Fellowship of the Minds.

    Michael Morell, 56, was the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration, and served as acting director twice in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. His work in the agency centered on Asia. Before that, he served as the CIA’s first associate deputy director from 2006 to 2008 in the Bush administration. He also managed the staff that produced the Presidential Daily Briefings for President George W. Bush and was the latter’s briefer during the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    Morell retired from his post on August 9, 2013, and has been CBS News’ Senior Security Correspondent since January 2014. Morell’s 2015 book is The Great War of Our Time; The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism–From al Qa’ida to ISIS.


  4. Cant we let the Philippines, Australia, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand wage it?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It has been public knowledge since the 1980s that China has articulated a coherent defense strategy that involves several constituent parts:

    (1) the rapid enhancement of its military forces, to include aircraft carriers (at least one is now in service), enhanced missile capabilities (that now include tactical ship and aircraft launched missiles as well as “multiple, independently targeted missiles” on road mobile and submarine launch platforms), together with air superiority aircraft that compare favorably with our most current inventory;
    (2) a program of security in depth by controlling the space between the Chinese mainland and the “first island chain”–that runs from the Japanese home islands (hence the preoccupation with the Sengaku islands) through Taiwan (hence the demand for the restoration of Taiwan and its associated islands to the “Motherland), through the South China Sea to the waters of Indonesia (hence the construction of artificial bases on the reefs and shoals of the region).

    Once that region is secure, the plan is to extend the defense perimeter of the PRC to the “second island chain” which would bring the Chinese to Guam. With its construction of a missile capable submarine fleet (it is not certain how many of such weapons platforms are currently in service), the PRC military poses a serious threat to US naval vessels and their bases in the Pacific.

    For twenty years we have watched this program unfold. Only now has the present administration, with its “pivot to Asia,” responded to the challenge by warning us we must take the threat of global warming seriously. [Sarcasm]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If just by challenging US P-8 which flew over another’s head (Instigated by US) , will cause war, then US had to be prepared for war ALL THE TIME!!!!


  7. Pingback: US vs Bullying China - China, new world order

  8. Is this a modern variant of Quemoy and Matsu made possible with our arming Communist China and destroying ourselves to fulfill the goals of those seeking total global Mastering of the Human Domain? What would happen were we to create geography for military purposes in locations suitable for protection and development of democracy and freedom? Try not to laugh too hard at that last sentence, those who know that the vulnerable puppet masters have no interest in freedom and democracy.


  9. Pingback: Former CIA deputy director: Absolute risk of US-China war over South China Sea | necltr

  10. A similar article reporting on the P-8 surveillance flight and the South China Sea situation is found here:

    I know there are many such commentaries. The reason I point this one out is because of a detail of the flight that is found in the second-from-last paragraph:
    “The P-8 that captured the video was part of Patrol Squadron 45, a unit based out of Okinawa, Japan. The specific mission over the Spratly Islands originated from Clark Air Base in the Philippines.”

    I am very happy to see that Clark AB has been restored to some degree of useability. I definitely hope we are working with the Philippine Air Force to restore that location as much as possible. It would prove absolutely critical in any South China Sea conflict (and extremely useful even in a Taiwan invasion scenario, for that matter).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Looks like the US is itching for war wit h China. Oh Freedom of navigation will be threatened. The Us can fly ,sail and operate where international law allows: words of a gangster.
    China 2015 will be different from China 1996.Yes the US can destroy the PLA navy but the price will many times that of the Vietnam war.
    Get real. The US is millions of miles from China yet operates its it s navy in China’s backyard. What would the US do if China has carriers in the Carribean SEA.
    China is building up the defence so that it wont as easy as before. The price for defeating China is going up .Soon it will reach an intolerable limit.
    Don’t believe me. It will be a matter of time. All good things must come to an end as with complete dominance. There is no need for China to seek parity. The capability to wreak intolerable damage will serve a s a deterrent.


  12. “Millions of miles,” George? You obviously flunked either geography or math. The USA and many other nations have an economic interest in the freedom of the seas. Chinese ships can and do operate in the Caribbean Sea and have done so for many years. If the PLAN decided to send a carrier into the Caribbean, we would not attack it unless it took some kind of offensive action against us or one of our regional allies. Russian warships have entered the Caribbean and our warships have entered the Black Sea. Russian warships operate in the Mediterranean and the North Sea without interference. Chinese warships have transited the Behring Sea where Russian and American waters overlap without interference by either party.

    The South China Sea is NOT Chinese territorial waters. Warships and merchant ships of all nations have operated there for centuries, just as they have in the Caribbean, North Sea, Mediterranean and other recognized international waters.

    And how does an American or Japanese warship peacefully sailing in the South China Sea threaten the PRC? Are you paranoid enough to think that the US Navy is going to conduct an amphibious assault on Hainan? It seems that the PRC is determined that it owns every island that a Chinese ship has visited over the past 2000 years. Nobody outside China recognizes that claim nor will they ever. We have evidence that Chinese ships in the 1600’s and 1700’s visited the coast of California and Oregon. Does the PRC claim the US West Coast on the basis of these visits?

    Liked by 2 people

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