Category Archives: South China Sea

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anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, Chinese fishing boats were part of the ad hoc armada protecting the rig (which was later withdrawn).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

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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.

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~StMA

China builds artificial island in South China Sea

South China Sea China is stepping up its irredentist claim to ownership of islands in the sub-soil  oil and gas rich South China Sea, by constructing an artificial island in the Spratlys.

Kristine Kwok and Minnie Chan report for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, June 7, 2014:

China is looking to expand its biggest installation in the Spratly Islands into a fully formed artificial island, complete with airstrip and sea port, to better project its military strength in the South China Sea, a Chinese scholar and a Chinese navy expert have said.

Chinese artificial island in South China Sea The planned expansion on the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, if approved, would be a further indication of China’s change of tack in handling long-running sovereignty disputes from a defensive stance to an offensive one, analysts said.

They said it was seen as a step to the declaration of an air defence identification zone.

The Philippines last month protested against China’s reclamation activities at nearby Johnson South Reef, site of a 1988 skirmish between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies that was triggered by China’s occupation of Fiery Cross Reef.

With recent developments in the South China Sea having again focused the international spotlight on China, the analysts warned reclamation at the Fiery Cross atoll – which China, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim – would further strain Beijing’s relations with neighbours. South China Sea The proposal to build an artificial island there had been submitted to the central government, said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

The artificial island would be at least double the size of the US military base of Diego Garcia, a remote coral atoll occupying an area of 44 square kilometres in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Jin added.

The reef currently houses Chinese-built facilities including an observation post commissioned by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Li Jie, a naval expert from the Chinese Naval Research Institute, said the expanded island would include the airstrip and port. After the expansion the island would continue to house the observation post and to provide military supplies and assistance, he said.

A retired People’s Liberation Army senior colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the construction of a landing strip on Fiery Cross Reef would allow China to better prepare for the establishment of an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea.

Beijing’s declaration of such a zone over the East China Sea in December prompted concerns among Southeast Asian countries that a similar arrangement could be imposed in the South China Sea.

Fiery Cross Reef, known as Yongshu in China, Kagitingan in the Philippines and Da Chu Thap in Vietnam, is close to sea lanes and could serve as a strategic naval staging post, said Alexander Neill, a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow.

Jin said consideration of whether and how to go ahead with the Fiery Cross Reef proposal would depend on progress on reclamation at Johnson South Reef. “It’s a very complicated oceanic engineering project, so we need to learn from the experience” on Johnson South, Jin said.

Late last month, renditions of a proposed artificial island were circulated among Chinese media. Citing a report posted on the website of the Shanghai-based China Shipbuilding NDRI Engineering, the Global Times said the unidentified artificial island could include a landing strip and a 5,000-tonne berth.

Zhang Jie, an expert on regional security with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China had long been researching island reclamation. Institutes and companies had drafted various designs over the past decade, said Zhang, adding that she had attended deliberation of one proposal years ago. “We had the ability to build artificial islands years ago, but we had refrained because we didn’t want to cause too much controversy,” she said.

However, this year had seen a “turning point” in which Beijing appeared to be making more offensive moves in the area, said Zhang, citing the recent deployment of an oil rig to disputed waters near Vietnam.

“Building an artificial island can no doubt provide supplies to ships and oil rigs nearby, but this would also cause very severe negative impacts in the region.” Such moves, she added, would further deepen mistrust among China’s neighbours and cause instability in the region.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment.

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders

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~StMA

PLA officer says China must establish Air Defense Identification Zone in South China Sea

On Nov. 23, 2013, China announced that it had set up an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes the Japan-held Senkaku Islands, which Chinese call Diaoyutai and over which China also claims ownership.

China-Japan ADIZs

On Feb. 2, 2014, in a Foreign Ministry press release, Beijing dismissed Japanese media reports that said China was preparing to establish a South China Sea ADIZ, but seemed to leave open the possibility that China might do so in the future.

Beijing claims ownership of islands in the South China Sea, which is contested by a number of countries, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, and Taiwan.

South China Sea

However, 19 days later on Feb. 21, 2014, a senior researcher and officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said that establishing an ADIZ in the South China Sea is essential to China’s national interest.

Reuters reports that Senior Colonel Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy and frequent media commentator, said “The establishment of another ADIZ over the South China Sea is necessary for China’s long-term national interest.”

Li’s remark came in the context of a discussion about remarks made by U.S. Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations at the US Pacific Fleet. As The Diplomat reported, at a recent U.S. Naval Institute conference Capt. Fanell said that the PLA had held a drill to practice defeating Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces in the East China Sea as a prelude to seizing the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Fanell also predicted that China would establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea by 2015 at the latest.

See “Dir. of US Navy Intelligence: Chinese Navy in drills to take Senkaku and invade Okinawa.”

Col. Li characterized Fanell’s remark as America’s attempt to deter China from establishing a South China Sea ADIZ.

The Pentagon quickly distanced itself from Fanell’s remarks, with Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby saying that “those were his views to express. What I can tell you about what Secretary Hagel believes is that we all continue to believe that the peaceful prosperous rise of China is a good thing for the region, for the world.  We continue to want to improve our bilateral military relations with China.” Blah. Blah. Blah.

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~StMA

As China-VN relations worsen, U.S. Navy seeks stronger ties with Vietnam

South China Sea

Greg Torode reports for Reuters, May 15, 2014

The U.S. navy renewed calls on Thursday for more ship visits to Vietnam against the backdrop of a dramatic breakdown in relations between Vietnam and its giant neighbor, China.

The Seventh Fleet, which guards U.S. interests in the Pacific, restated its desire for stronger naval ties with Vietnam in a statement sent to Reuters, just as Hanoi looked to be running out of options in its territorial row with Beijing.

Anti-China riots broke out this week in Vietnam, killing more than 20 people and setting fire to factories perceived to have been Chinese-owned, after China towed a giant oil rig into waters claimed by both nations in the South China Sea.

“We are interested in engaging with all our partners in the South China Sea and would welcome increased port visits with Vietnam,” fleet spokesman Commander William Marks said in an emailed response to questions about U.S. naval relations with Vietnam.

The United States and Vietnam have been gradually deepening military ties in the face of what they perceive as Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, but Hanoi has so far limited U.S. port calls to one visit of up to three ships each year.

Vietnamese military officials say they are intensifying talks with U.S. counterparts over deeper naval engagement, but are sensitive to China’s reaction to this development.

“We’re talking to U.S. but it is too early to say how the tensions now will change our approach,” one Vietnamese military source said. “We have a lot to consider.”

Alarmed at China’s military rise and territorial assertiveness, Vietnam has broadened a host of military relationships in recent years, most notably with its Cold War-era patron,Russia, and India.

Vietnamese military officials also keep close ties with the Philippines, which is also locked in a worsening territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979, and clashed at sea in 1988, when China occupied its first holdings in the strategic Spratly islands.

The U.S. navy is also keen for more extensive exercises with Vietnam’s expanding navy, which now includes state-of-the-art Russian-built ships and Kilo-class submarines.

A search-and-rescue exercise off Vietnam’s central coast last year marked the first time ships from the two navies had maneuvered together.

“Any time we can increase the complexity of an exercise, it improves the communication and interoperability between our navies,” Marks said.

“The overall goal is improved security and stability in the region, and working together is a big part of that.”

U.S. military officials said the U.S. navy had not changed deployments due to the Sino-Vietnamese crisis but was conducting daily surveillance flights over the South China Sea.

The Seventh Fleet’s command ship, the USS Blue Ridge, and a destroyer are also currently in the South China Sea.

Carl Thayer, an expert on the Vietnamese military at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said he believed Hanoi should seize any opportunity to expand military engagement with the United States, including intelligence sharing.

“At this point, kissing up to the U.S. has got to be in Vietnam’s long-term interests, as well as being a vital tactic in the short-term,” he said. “It is one of the only options Vietnam’s got right now.”

~StMA

US-China military chiefs openly clash; U.S. blamed for troubles in South & East China Seas

dempsey-fangPLA Gen. Fang Fenghui (l); U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey (r)

Richard Sisk reports for Military.com, May 15, 2014:

A top Chinese general Thursday strongly defended Beijing’s territorial claims over disputed islands in the South and East China Seas and charged that the U.S. rebalance of forces to the Pacific was encouraging unrest in the region.

Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said “the rebalancing strategy of the U.S. has stirred up some of the problems which make the South China Sea and the East China Sea not so calm as before.”

Fang warned that China would respond to any attempts by Vietnam, Japan or other neighbors to assert their own claims over the disputed islands and reefs.

“We do not create trouble but we are not afraid of trouble,” Fang said at a Pentagon news conference after meetings with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey appeared to be slightly irritated as he waited to comment while listening to a long-winded response by Fang on the current dispute with Vietnam over offshore oil drilling rights.

“Thank you for giving me the time to formulate my answer,” Dempsey told Fang.

When his turn finally came, Dempsey dismissed Fang’s objections to the so-called “Pacific pivot” and said the U.S. was committed to the policy.

“We’ll go because we can and should, and we’ll go because we have to,” Dempsey said of the rebalance. Dempsey also told Fang “We will respond to threats.”

However, Dempsey mostly stuck to his long-held position that the U.S. must build better military-to-military relations with China to avoid miscalculations that could lead to conflict in the region. 

Fang came to the Pentagon after meeting at Naval Base San Diego with Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the Pacific Command. Dempsey met with Fang, China’s No. 3 military leader, last year in China and was returning the favor by inviting him to Washington.

At the opening of the news conference, Dempsey noted that China’s claims in the South China Sea could be seen as “provocative,” the same term used in recent days by the State Department.

Fang responded at length, blaming Vietnam for the current dispute over China’s movement of a $1 billion oil rig into territorial waters claimed by Hanoi. The action by China triggered widespread protests in Vietnam in which foreign factories were set ablaze and a Chinese national allegedly was killed. 

Fang charged that other nations he did not name had drilled for oil in the same region but complaints only surfaced when China sought to do the same.

“We believe the ones provoking those issues in the South China Sea are not China,” Fang said in an apparent rebuff to Dempsey. “When China does drill, we instantly become a threat.”

Vietnam officials have charged that Chinese ships have rammed Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels attempting to patrol near the oil rig, but Fang said the Vietnamese ships were attempting to interrupt the drilling.

“That is something that we cannot accept,” Fang said. “We will make sure that this well will be successfully drilled,” he said.

Fang also made China’s case in a separate dispute over disputed reefs and shoals with the Philippines, and accused Japan of reverting to World War II militarism in asserting its claims to disputed uninhabited islands called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.

Fang said the Japanese claims were also encouraged by the U.S. rebalance of forces. “This is something that we can never agree (upon),” Fang said.

Despite their disagreements, both Dempsey and Fang noted that China next month for the first time will send ships to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises off Hawaii.

See also:

~StMA