Category Archives: South China Sea

International tribunal rejects China’s territorial claims in South China Sea

China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea were dealt a blow today when in a landmark ruling, an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, rejected Beijing’s claims.

Six regional governments have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, waters that are rich in fishing stocks and potential energy resources and where an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.

South China Sea - China's claim

South China Sea – China’s claims

The AP reports that China claims vast areas of the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times and demarcated its modern claims with the so-called nine-dash line, a map that was submitted under the U.N. treaty.

In 2013, under a U.N. treaty governing the seas, the Philippines had asked The Hague for arbitration on a number of issues it had with treaty co-signee China, on the grounds that China’s claims infringe upon the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

On July 12, 2016, the five-member panel from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, unanimously ruled against China. The tribunal also found the following:

  • Any historical resource rights China may have had in the South China Sea are nulled if they are incompatible with exclusive economic zones established under the U.N. treaty signed by both China and the Philippines.
  • China had violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating the regional dispute while the settlement process was ongoing.
  • By building up artificial islands in the Sea, China had caused “permanent irreparable harm” to the coral reef ecosystem.
  • China had violated the Philippines’ maritime rights by:
    • Disrupting Philippine’ oil exploration at Reed Bank.
    • Disrupting fishing by Philippine vessels within the country’s exclusive economic zone, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.

China, which boycotted the entire proceedings, immediately rejected the ruling as a “farce” and “a US-led conspiracy,” and declared it does not accept the panel’s jurisdiction. Beijing regards bilateral talks with the other claimants as the only way to address the South China Sea disputes.

China’s foreign ministry declared that “the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” and that “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards.” The ministry repeated China’s often-expressed stance that the Philippines’ move to initiate arbitration without China’s consent was in “bad faith” and in violation of international law.

The editor-in-chief of China.org.cn writes:

The U.S. actions near China, particularly those on the South China Sea issues, are part of its Asia-Pacific Rebalance strategies. Its intentions are no more than containing China to preserve its interests in the Asia-Pacific region and its global hegemony.

The U.S. motives are apparent to the world, especially to the Chinese people. The current China is nothing like the country it was one hundred years ago. Any act that tries to violate China’s territorial sovereignty will fail.

Although the tribunal has no power of enforcement, nor can its findings reverse China’s actions, nevertheless the ruling constitutes a rebuke with the force of the international community’s opinion. A professor of Asian political economy said the ruling could be a “transformative moment” in the region. Speaking outside the Peace Palace in The Hague, Leiden University professor Jonathan London said the decision will “give countries with a common interest in international norms something to point to and to rally around.” He said they can say to China: “Look, here are the results of an international organization that has found that your claims have zero historical basis.”

The tribunal’s decision also gives heart to small countries in Asia that have helplessly chafed at China’s expansionism, backed by its military and economic power.

In Manila, dozens of rallying Filipinos jumped for joy, wept, embraced each other and waved Philippine flags after news of their victory. One held up a poster that said: “Philippine sovereignty, non-negotiable.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay hailed the ruling as a “milestone decision” and “an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” and called on “all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.” For his part, Philippines’ former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who helped oversee the filing of the case at Hague, said the ruling underscored “our collective belief that right is might and that international law is the great equalizer among states.” He urged that the ruling be accepted by all relevant countries — without exception — in order to maintain international order “so that we can work together on how remaining issues can be peacefully resolved.”

Vietnam’s government also welcomed the ruling. Just today, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters. Nguyen Thanh Hung, a local fisheries executive in the central province of Quang Ngai, said two Chinese vessels chased and sank the Vietnamese boat around midday Saturday as it was fishing near the Paracel islands. The five fishermen were rescued by another trawler around seven hours later.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the tribunal’s decision is “final and legally binding” and that the two sides should comply with it. He said in a statement that “Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

The disputes have also increased friction between China and the United States. Washington has ramped up U.S. military presence in the region as China expands its navy’s reach farther offshore.

At a news conference in Afghanistan where he was meeting with U.S. commanders, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the ruling is an opportunity for everyone in the region to act in a sensible way in accordance with the rule of law in order to settle disputes. The United States has not taken sides in the South China Sea disputes but has worked to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

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China announces biggest overhaul of military in 60+ years

Xi Jinping, President & head of PLA

Xi Jinping, President & head of PLA

Citing China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Bloomberg News reports on Nov. 26, 2015 that at the end of a three-day meeting in Beijing attended by about 200 top Chinese military officials, President Xi Jinping Xi announced a major overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest army, to make it more combat ready (“an elite combat force”) and better equipped to project force beyond China’s borders by 2020.

Upon taking power in 2012, Xi also became chairman of the Central Military Commission. He is directly managing the overhaul.

“This is the biggest military overhaul since the 1950s,” said Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department. “The reform shakes the very foundations of China’s Soviet Union-style military system and transferring to a U.S. style joint command structure will transform China’s PLA into a specialized armed force that could pack more of a punch in the world.”

The overhaul of the PLA will include:

  1. All branches of the PLA would come under a joint military or forces command. In its annual report to the U.S. Congress in May, the Pentagon said creating joint-command entities “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949.”
  2. China’s seven military regions may be merged into four. (The PLA’s last major overhaul — carried out under Deng Xiaoping in 1985 — had reduced the number of military regions to 7 from 11.)
  3. The PLA will be leaner by shedding 300,000 troops. (The reform of 1985 reduced the PLA by some 1 million soldiers.)
  4. Stronger top leader: Yue said “The reform enhanced the power of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and its chairman [Xi Jinping] . . . as the former CMC chairman had little real power over the armed forces.” Xi Jinping has made the military one of the targets of his anti-corruption campaign as he consolidates his power over the PLA. Two former CMC vice-chairman were both expelled from the party since Xi took power in 2012, as were dozens of generals accused of everything from embezzling public funds to selling ranks.
  5. Strengthen the Communist Party’s grip on the military by building a new disciplinary structure and a new legal and political committee to make sure the army is under “the rule of law”.

Under Xi, China has been more assertive over territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, raising tensions with neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as with the United States. In the South China Sea, the PLA is constructing artificial islands with military installations.  Xi’s policy marks a shift from China’s previous approach under Deng Xiaoping of keeping a low profile and not attracting attention on the world stage.

The overhaul of the Chinese military into “an elite combat force” also includes armed attack robots.

PLA armed attack robotAs reported by Neil Connor for The Telegraph, Nov. 26, 2015, “armed attack” robots that carry rifles and grenade launchers were recently unveiled at the 2015 World Robot Conference in Beijing. China’s state media called the robots the latest line of defense in the fight against “global terror”.

Xinhua news agency said the toy-sized attacker is one of a trio of new “anti-terror” machines that “can coordinate with each other on the battlefield.”

The first model is known as a “reconnaissance” robot, which scouts for poisonous gases, dangerous chemicals and explosives before transmitting its findings back to base. If this initial investigation detects a simple bomb is the source of danger, the second robot model – a small explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) machine – would be sent in to diffuse it.

But with other, more complicated threats, an attacker robot would start its mission, armed with “minor-caliber weapons, recoilless rifles and grenade launchers”. Xinhua said, “With a sighting telescope, a trigger and a safe installed, the attacker can hit its target from a long distance.

The local police force in Beijing was reported to be among the buyers for the three robots, which are priced at 1.5 million yuan (£156,000) for the set by manufacturers HIT Robot Group, based in the northern city of Harbin. The company’s sales manager Chen Deqiang said, “Apart from anti-terror operations, they can also be applied in fire fighting, public security, forestry and agriculture.”

-StMA

Japan’s Parliament passes legislation allowing military to fight in foreign wars

Both the Chinese government and people long have feared and accused post-WWII Japan of “remilitarization” — a revival of and return to its imperialist military aggression.

Now that Beijing has declared its sovereignty (via an Air Defense Identification Zone) over the disputed Sengaku or Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, as well as over the South China Sea, that Chinese accusation is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. On July 16, 2015, the Japanese Parliament approved of legislation that, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, empowers the military to fight in foreign conflicts.

China-Japan ADIZsJonathan Soble reports for the New York Times, July 16, 2015, that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party and its allies in the lower house of Parliament approved the package of 11 security-related bills after opposition lawmakers walked out in protest and as demonstrators chanted noisily outside, despite a gathering typhoon. The upper chamber, which Abe’s coalition also controls, is all but certain to endorse the legislation as well.

The legislation would allow the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to cooperate more closely with United States forces by providing logistical support and, in certain circumstances, armed backup in international conflicts. It complements guidelines in a bilateral agreement governing how Japanese and United States forces work together, which was signed by the two governments this year.

The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression. It was a significant victory for Abe, who has devoted his career to moving Japan beyond guilt over its militarist past and toward his vision of a “normal country” with a larger role in global affairs.

But Abe’s agenda goes against the wishes of much of the Japanese public, and his moves have generated unease across Asia, especially in countries Japan once occupied and where its troops committed atrocities. Final passage of the bills would represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by the Japanese military in the decades since the war.

Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China. In an address to a joint meeting of the United States Congress in April, Abe had pledged that he would enact the legislation to strengthen Japan’s already close ties to the United States.

Abe’s success pushing through the vote has political costs: Voters oppose the legislation by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys. The Abe government’s support ratings, which were once high, have fallen to around 40% in several polls taken this month.

Katsuya Okada, head of the largest opposition party, said before the opposition walkout, “It is a huge mistake to set aside a constitutional interpretation built up by governments for 70 years without sufficient public understanding and debate.”

Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them if it had been free to act. “These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe,” he said after Thursday’s vote.

China condemned passage of the bills, describing them as a potential threat to peace in Asia and invoking Japan’s wartime aggression. Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history, stick to the path of peaceful development, respect the major security concerns of its Asian neighbors, and refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability.”

With opposition lawmakers boycotting the vote, the bills passed with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, and its smaller coalition partner, Komeito, which control a majority of seats in the legislature’s lower house, the House of Representatives. To become law, they must still be approved by the upper chamber, but in the unlikely event that the package is rejected, the lower house can override that decision. Japanese judges are mostly unwilling to overrule the government on matters of security.

The upper house is scheduled to debate the legislation for 60 days, keeping the issue in the public eye and potentially fueling more protests.

Abe has long argued that the Constitution should be amended to remove its restrictive antiwar provisions, but changing the charter would require a national referendum that he would probably lose. For now, at least, a contested reinterpretation of the Constitution appears to be the most he can hope for.

On Wednesday night, large crowds gathered outside Parliament after the bills were approved by a committee in an emotional and chaotic session. The crowds were estimated by organizers to number some 100,000, which would make the protest the largest antigovernment demonstration in Japan since protests in 2012 against the proposed restart of nuclear power plants, a year after the nuclear accident in Fukushima.

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~StMA

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

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-StMA

Explosion shut down China’s first aircraft carrier in recent sea trials

liaoning

Robert Beckheusen writes for Medium, Oct. 19, 2014, that China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning, a potent symbol of the growing naval power of the revived Middle Kingdom, is prone to engine failures.

The 53,000-ton, 999-foot-long carrier’s previous incarnation was as the ex-Soviet carrier Varyag that China had bought from a cash-strapped Ukraine in 1998. An unnamed PLA officer told the Chinese media site Sina.com that Varyag was a “basket case.”

In 2005, the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy began modernizing the warship into the Liaoning by rebuilding the carrier from the inside. New electronics, self-defense anti-aircraft guns and new engines were just some of the upgrades.

But on at least one occasion during recent sea trials, Liaoning appeared to suffer a steam explosion that temporarily knocked out the carrier’s electrical power system.  Sina.com says the engine failure was due to a leak in “the machine oven compartment to the water pipes.”

Outsiders, however, know very little about the carrier’s engine problems, what’s inside the ship, or even what kind of engines Liaoning has. Adding to the opacity is the fact that the Chinese government doesn’t like to admit to problems with its military hardware. When it does, the admissions often come months or years after problems come up.

In the case of Liaoning‘s recent accident, according to Sina.com, hot water and steam began “spewing” out of the engine’s oven compartment. One cabin became “instantly submerged in water vapor.” The crew immediately evacuated the cabin, with one officer apparently pulling a sailor out by his collar to save him from the boiling hot steam. The carrier then lost power, but the crew “eventually restored power to ensure the smooth operation of the ship.” That suggests that the accident wasn’t a catastrophic boiler failure of the kind that would unleash almost instantaneously lethal, high-pressure steam. Instead, it appears Liaoning suffered a low-pressure steam release involving a faulty heat exchanger. Vessels commonly use heat exchangers to control water temperature necessary for regulating internal power and heating.

Engine failures are not an unknown phenomenon aboard ex-Soviet carriers. As examples:

  • Two years ago, India’s 40,000-ton displacement carrier Vikramaditya—first a Soviet Kiev-class carrier commissioned in 1987 and sold in 2004—temporarily shut down at sea after a boiler overheated.
  • The 50,000-ton Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov goes nowhere without a tug escort in case her engines break down.

As Beijing’s first serviceable carrier, the Chinese navy isn’t going to get rid of Liaoning any time soon. The ship is a valuable resource for naval flight operations. Even if China never sends her into battle, she’s useful for training and learning how carriers work.

But powerplant problems can also make it so China can do little else. Failures can add costly repairs, shorten the vessel’s lifespan and force her to crawl along the water at slow speeds. Beijing also lacks large overseas naval bases—a necessity if trouble arises while Liaoning sails far from China’s shores.

Given all that, Liaoning is more similar to its ex-Soviet cousins than different—confined to home ports and restricted from challenging rivals like India.

In 2010, writing in the Chinese-language Global Times, military analyst Liu Zhongmin admitted that although “China began to send navy convoys on anti-piracy missions to the Gulf of Aden and the Somali coast in 2008, the lack of overseas bases has emerged as a major impediment to the Chinese navy’s cruising efficiency.

To this must now be added Liaoning‘s engine problems.

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~StMA

Taiwan to replace Navy with all domestic production

Clearly alarmed by China’s increasingly assertive irredentism in the South and East China Seas, the surrounding Asia-Pacific countries are beefing up their military. (See “China threatens war in South and East China Seas“)

According to naval analysts at AMI International, the Asian-Pacific region is currently the No. 2 market for naval arms sales globally. AMI estimates that Asian and Pacific nations will build upwards of 1,100 warships during the next 20 years, and spend $200 billion building them.

More interesting than the new Asian-Pacific arms race is the fact that, instead of purchasing them from the United States, some countries are seeking to build their own arms — a commentary on their perception that Washington is unreliable and undependable. (See “U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Locklear says China is eclipsing U.S. in Asia”)

As an example, Japan is considering building its own fighter jets.

Now, it is Taiwan.

Taiwan StraitMilitary experts say that the Taiwanese Navy, once the island nation’s most neglected military service, has lately come to be viewed as “the most important” arm of the Taiwanese military because the Navy holds the power to save Taiwan from an invasion by mainland China. Accordingly, the Navy is now the focus of Taiwanese military investment.

Last month, Taiwan’s government released preliminary details on a new 20-year plan to modernize its Navy. Currently composed primarily of hand-me-down U.S. and French warships (Perry-, Knox-, and La Fayette-class frigates, and Kidd-class destroyers) and domestically-built supporting Kuang Hua 6 fast-attack missile boats and Ching Chiang-class missile patrol boats.

Taiwan plans to replace this current fleet with one that’s entirely domestically built, by relying on the combined efforts of its Ocean Industries Research and Development Center for design, the Taiwanese military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) for systems and integration, and the Taiwan-based China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. for construction.

Producing them in Taiwan creates jobs and skills, reduces reliance on restrictive US government export policies, and reduces corruption, the Navy official said. US and European defense companies have a history of hiring local agents with ties to organized crime and Beijing’s intelligence apparatus.

Taiwan’s plan is to spend the next 5 to 10 years designing:

  • a new 10,000-ton destroyer
  • a 3,000-ton catamaran-like frigate
  • an amphibious transport dock (often dubbed an “LPD” or “landing platform/dock”)
  • a new 1,200-3,000-ton diesel submarine.

After that, Taiwan will spend the succeeding 10-15 years building:

  • 4 destroyers
  • 10 to 15 frigates
  • perhaps 11 LPDs
  • 4 to 8 submarines

Details of Taiwan’s naval modernization program will be released in November, but Navy officials provided some information about the scope of the massive build plan during the live-fire field training event during the annual Han Kuang exercises off the east coast of Taiwan on Sept. 17.

The fact that Taiwan wants to invest in developing its homegrown defense industry, and build these ships entirely at home, means there’s precious little opportunity for foreign defense contractors such as General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls — America’s two biggest military shipbuilders — to participate in the project. The loss in revenues to U.S. defense contractors is estimated to be $6.9 billion — about a year’s worth of business for General Dynamics’ Marine Systems unit, or a year’s worth of revenues for all of Huntington Ingalls.

All is not lost.

While they might not get a chance to build Taiwan’s ships, they might very well be able to play a role in building the weapons and electronics systems that go into those ships.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is still open to the idea of hiring foreign defense contractors to provide “assistance on various components and systems” that will be installed in its new navy. Taiwan has shown particular interest, for example, in acquiring RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 anti-aircraft missiles built by Raytheon, to replace the Standard Missile 2s that currently outfit its Kidd-class destroyers (now dubbed “Kee Lung-class” destroyers).

The Taiwanese navy’s modernization program will face hurdles from budget declines in coming years. The military’s finances will also be put to the test as it reduces personnel and implements an all-volunteer force. (See “Taiwan military to be downsized and all-volunteer“)

Sources: Defense News; The Motley Fool

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~StMA

China stakes claim to South China Sea by building islands in the Spratlys

South China SeaThe South China Sea, believed to hold large deposits of oil and natural gas, is contested by the governments of countries surrounding the Sea, as well as by China.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia all control islands in the South China Sea. But China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

South China Sea - China's claimIn 2012, China declared the region a “core national interest,” and it has been increasingly aggressive in asserting control over it, deploying an aircraft carrier in 2013, and moving an enormous oil rig into the area earlier this year.

Now, China is building its own islands, including a suspected air base, by dredging millions of tons of rock and sand and piling it on top of submerged reefs in the Spratlys.

Below is a BBC news video on some of China’s construction sites projects on five different reefs, including one that appears to be a concrete runway long enough to accommodate fighter jets.

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~StMA

China is using its world’s largest fishing fleet as surrogate Navy

Adam Pasick reports for Defense One, July 28, 2014, that China has the world’s largest commercial fishing fleet, totaling 695,555 vessels. That fleet is more than double the size (pdf, pg. 36) of the next biggest, from Japan. That’s primarily because China eats a lot of fish per capita, and catches more fish than any other country in the world by a huge margin.

But it’s not just about keeping Chinese bellies full. According to an excellent in-depth report from Reuters, Beijing is increasingly equipping fishing boats with geolocation devices, filling them up with subsidized fuel, and dispatching them to the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where they are clashing with rival fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines.

When China stationed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in May, provoking violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, Chinese fishing boats were part of the ad hoc armada protecting the rig (which was later withdrawn). At one point a Chinese fishing vessel rammed and sunk one of its Vietnamese counterparts (paywall), according to video evidence published by Hanoi.

South China Sea

“It’s pretty clear that the Chinese fishing fleet is being encouraged to fish in disputed waters,” Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Reuters. “I think that’s now become policy as distinct from an opportunistic thing, and that the government is encouraging its fishing fleet to do this for geopolitical as well as economic and commercial reasons.”

China has laid claim to about 90% of the South China Sea, most notably the tiny island chains know as the Spratlys and Paracels, which are claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively, along with many other countries in the region. The disputes encompasses issues of sovereignty and energy exploration, but it’s also about fishing rights. And as China’s near coastal waters become increasingly over-fished, its vast armada of fishing boats will have to travel even further to fill their nets, to sate their countrymen’s ever-growing hunger for seafood.

By 2030, the UN projects that China’s fish consumption will increase more than 60% from 2008 levels, to 57.4 million tonnes (63.3 million tons)—more than a third of the global total (pdf, pg. 205).

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~StMA

China “thinks” it can defeat America but will be thwarted by U.S. “Silent Force” of submarines

David Axe, “China thinks it can defeat America in battle: But it overlooks one decisive factor,” The Week, July 7, 2014

The bad news first. The People’s Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong — and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America’s nuclear-powered submarines.

Moreover, for economic and demographic reasons Beijing has a narrow historical window in which to use its military to alter the world’s power structure. If China doesn’t make a major military move in the next couple decades, it probably never will.

The U.S. Navy’s submarines — the unsung main defenders of the current world order — must hold the line against China for another 20 years. After that, America can declare a sort of quiet victory in the increasingly chilly Cold War with China.

How China wins

The bad news came from Lee Fuell, from the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, during Fuell’s testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 30.

For years, Chinese military planning assumed that any attack by the People’s Liberation Army on Taiwan or a disputed island would have to begin with a Pearl Harbor-style preemptive missile strike by China against U.S. forces in Japan and Guam. The PLA was so afraid of overwhelming American intervention that it genuinely believed it could not win unless the Americans were removed from the battlefield before the main campaign even began.

A preemptive strike was, needless to say, a highly risky proposition. If it worked, the PLA just might secure enough space and time to defeat defending troops, seize territory, and position itself for a favorable post-war settlement.

But if China failed to disable American forces with a surprise attack, Beijing could find itself fighting a full-scale war on at least two fronts: against the country it was invading plus the full might of U.S. Pacific Command, fully mobilized and probably strongly backed by the rest of the world.

That was then. But after two decades of sustained military modernization, the Chinese military has fundamentally changed its strategy in just the last year or so. According to Fuell, recent writings by PLA officers indicate “a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more-readily withstand U.S. involvement.”

The preemptive strike is off the table — and with it, the risk of a full-scale American counterattack. Instead, Beijing believes it can attack Taiwan or another neighbor while also bloodlessly deterring U.S. intervention. It would do so by deploying such overwhelmingly strong military forces — ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers, jet fighters, and the like — that Washington dare not get involved.

The knock-on effects of deterring America could be world-changing. “Backing away from our commitments to protect Taiwan, Japan, or the Philippines would be tantamount to ceding East Asia to China’s domination,” Roger Cliff, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, said at the same U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Jan. 30.

Worse, the world’s liberal economic order — and indeed, the whole notion of democracy — could suffer irreparable harm. “The United States has both a moral and a material interest in a world in which democratic nations can survive and thrive,” Cliff asserted.

Fortunately for that liberal order, America possesses by far the world’s most powerful submarine force — one poised to quickly sink any Chinese invasion fleet. In announcing its readiness to hold off the U.S. military, the PLA seems to have ignored Washington’s huge undersea advantage.

(Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

The Silent Service

It’s not surprising that Beijing would overlook America’s subs. Most Americans overlook their own undersea fleet — and that’s not entirely their own fault. The U.S. sub force takes pains to avoid media coverage in order to maximize its secrecy and stealth. “The submarine cruises the world’s oceans unseen,” the Navy stated on its Website.

Unseen and unheard. That why the sub force calls itself the “Silent Service.”

The Navy has 74 submarines, 60 of which are attack or missile submarines optimized for finding and sinking other ships or blasting land targets. The balance is ballistic-missile boats that carry nuclear missiles and would not routinely participate in military campaigns short of an atomic World War III.

Thirty-three of the attack and missile boats belong to the Pacific Fleet, with major bases in Washington State, California, Hawaii, and Guam. Deploying for six months or so roughly every year and a half, America’s Pacific subs frequently stop over in Japan and South Korea and occasionally even venture under the Arctic ice.

According to Adm. Cecil Haney, the former commander of Pacific Fleet subs, on any given day 17 boats are underway and eight are “forward-deployed,” meaning they are on station in a potential combat zone. To the Pacific Fleet, that pretty much means waters near China.

America has several submarine types. The numerous Los Angeles-class attack boats are Cold War stalwarts that are steadily being replaced by newer Virginia-class boats with improved stealth and sensors. The secretive Seawolfs, numbering just three — all of them in the Pacific — are big, fast, and more heavily armed than other subs. The Ohio-class missile submarines are former ballistic missile boats each packing 154 cruise missile.

U.S. subs are, on average, bigger, faster, quieter, and more powerful than the rest of the world’s subs. And there are more of them. The U.K. is building just seven new Astute attack boats. Russia aims to maintain around 12 modern attack subs. China is struggling to deploy a handful of rudimentary nuclear boats.

Note: See “China in a frenzy to build nuclear attack submarines” and “China’s new map includes ‘Second National Territory’ of oceans

Able to lurk silently under the waves and strike suddenly with torpedoes and missiles, submarines have tactical and strategic effect greatly disproportionate to their relatively small numbers. During the 1982 Falklands War, the British sub Conqueror torpedoed and sank theArgentine cruiser General Belgranokilling 323 men. The sinking kept the rest of the Argentine fleet bottled up for the duration of the conflict.

America’s eight-at-a-time submarine picket in or near Chinese waters could be equally destructive to Chinese military plans, especially considering the PLA’s limited anti-submarine skills. “Although China might control the surface of the sea around Taiwan, its ability to find and sink U.S. submarines will be extremely limited for the foreseeable future,” Cliff testified. “Those submarines would likely be able to intercept and sink Chinese amphibious transports as they transited toward Taiwan.”

So it almost doesn’t matter that a modernized PLA thinks it possesses the means to fight America above the waves, on land, and in the air. If it can’t safely sail an invasion fleet as part of its territorial ambitions, it can’t achieve its strategic goals — capturing Taiwan and or some island also claimed by a neighboring country — through overtly military means.

That reality should inform Washington’s own strategy. As the United States has already largely achieved the world order it struggled for over the last century, it need only preserve and defend this order. In other words, America has the strategic high ground against China, as the latter must attack and alter the world in order to get what it wants.

In practical military terms, that means the Pentagon can more or less ignore most of China’s military capabilities, including those that appear to threaten traditional U.S. advantages in nukes, air warfare, mechanized ground operations, and surface naval maneuvers.

“We won’t invade China, so ground forces don’t play,” pointed out Wayne Hughes, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. “We won’t conduct a first nuclear strike. We should not adopt an air-sea strike plan against the mainland, because that is a sure way to start World War IV.”

Rather, America must deny the Chinese free access to their near waters. “We need only enough access to threaten a war at sea,” Hughes said. In his view, a fleet optimized for countering China would have large numbers of small surface ships for enforcing a trade blockade. But the main combatants would be submarines, “to threaten destruction of all Chinese warships and commercial vessels in the China Seas.”

Cliff estimated that in wartime, each American submarine would be able to get off “a few torpedo shots” before needing to “withdraw for self-preservation.” But assuming eight subs each fire three torpedoes, and just half those torpedoes hit, the American attack boats could destroy all of China’s major amphibious ships — and with them, Beijing’s capacity for invading Taiwan or seizing a disputed island.

(Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas/U.S Navy via Getty Images)

Waiting out the Chinese decline

If American subs can hold the line for another 20 years, China might age right out of its current, aggressive posture without ever having attacked anyone. That’s because economic and demographic trends in China point towards a rapidly aging population, flattening economic growth, and fewer resources available for military modernization.

To be fair, almost all developed countries are also experiencing this aging, slowing and increasing peacefulness. But China’s trends are pronounced owing to a particularly steep drop in the birth rate traceable back to the Chinese Communist Party’s one-child policy.

Another factor is the unusual speed with which the Chinese economy has expanded to its true potential, thanks to the focused investment made possible by an authoritarian government… and also thanks to that government’s utter disregard for the natural environment and for the rights of everyday Chinese people.

“The economic model that propelled China through three decades of meteoric growth appears unsustainable,” Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College analyst, told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

What Erickson described as China’s “pent-up national potential” could begin expiring as early as 2030, by which point “China will have world’s highest proportion of people over 65,” he predicted. “An aging society with rising expectations, burdened with rates of chronic diseases exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles, will probably divert spending from both military development and the economic growth that sustains it.”

Wisely, American political and military leaders have made the investments necessary to sustain U.S. undersea power for at least that long. After a worrying dip in submarine production, starting in 2012 the Pentagon asked for — and Congress funded — the acquisition of two Virginia-class submarines per year for around $2.5 billion apiece, a purchase rate adequate to maintain the world’s biggest nuclear submarine fleet indefinitely.

The Pentagon is also improving the Virginia design, adding undersea-launched dronesextra missile capacity, and potentially a new anti-ship missile.

Given China’s place in the world, its underlying national trends and America’s pointed advantage in just that aspect of military power that’s especially damaging to Chinese plans, it seems optimistic for PLA officers to assume they can launch an attack on China’s neighbors without first knocking out U.S. forces.

Not that a preemptive strike would make any difference, as the only American forces that truly matter for containing China are the very ones that China cannot reach.

For they are deep underwater.

China’s new map includes “Second National Territory” of oceans

On June 25, 2014, Reuters reports that China has unveiled a new official map of the country giving greater play to its claims on the South China Sea by making the disputed waters and its numerous islets and reefs more clearly seem like national territory.

Although previous maps published by Beijing included China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, that claim was depicted in a little box in a bottom corner to enable the rest of the country to fit on the map. That placement made the South China Sea’s islands appear more like an appendage rather than an integral part of China.

The new, longer map dispenses with the box, and shows continental China along with its self-declared sea boundary in the South China Sea — stretching right down to the coasts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines — on one complete map.

An unnamed official with the map’s publishers told the Chinese government’s official newspaper People’s Daily that the new “vertical map of China has important meaning for promoting citizens’ better understanding of … maintaining (our) maritime rights and territorial integrity.”

H/t CODA’s M.S.

New map of China 2014Click map to enlarge. Note the purple dashes marking the South China and East China Seas as parts of China.

Indeed, China’s recent aggressive moves in the South China Sea, as well as last November’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, are but indicators of an overall policy shift by the Chinese military from a land-based to an ocean defense strategy.

From p. 230 of Maria Hsia Chang’s Return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism (Westview, 2001):

An article in [Beijing’s Guofang journal] National Defense in 1995 explains that, “In the past, for a long period of time,” humanity primarily relied on land for their survival and development, thinking that “national territory (guotu ) only meant dry land.” But in today’s world, due to rapid increases in population and dwindling land and resources, “national territory” must mean more than “land territory” (lingtu ) but should include “territorial waters” (linghai ). This has led nation-states to turn to the “oceans” (haiyang ) — most of which are still “virgin territory” — in their search for new “living space” (shengchun kongjiang  ).

The PRC  now conceives oceans to be its “second national territory” (dier guotu  ). It defines “maritime national territory” (haiyang guotu ) as “the maritime portion of any land and space belong to or under the jurisdiction of a coastal country.” China’s “second national territory” includes 12 territorial seas (linghai ), 24 “maritime adjacent regions” (haili pilian qu ), 200 maritime economic exclusive zones and continental shelves — totaling more than 3 million square kilometers or one-third of China’s land mass.

Defense of its “national maritime territory” requires Beijing to shift its defense strategy from one of “coastal defense” (jin’an fangyu ) to “offshore defense” (jinhai fangyu ). National Defense maintains that since “the frontline of maritime national defense lies beyond China’s territorial waters . . . there will be times” when China’s defense of its seas “may require doing battle in farther maritime regions” including “international waters and seabeds.” China’s perimeter of “offshore defense” is conceived to include two “island chains.” The first chain stretches from the Aleutians to the Kurils, the Japanese archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the Philippine archipelago, and the Greater Sunda Islands. The “second island chain” comprises the Bonins, the Marianas, Guam, and the Palau archipelago.

See also:

~StMA