Category Archives: US-China

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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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

China builds military base on offshore island to reclaim contested Senkakus

At the end of the Ryukyu archipelago in the East China Sea is a cluster of small islands called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyutai by the Chinese, the ownership of which is contested by Beijing and Tokyo. The waters surrounding the islets are believed to contain sub-soil oil and natural gas deposits.

On November 24, 2013, China made a bold move toward its claim by declaring an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes the air space over the contested islands.

At first, the United States appeared to challenge China’s ADIZ by flying B-52 bombers over the area. Two days later, China demonstrated its resolve by sending warplanes into the ADIZ. The Obama administration then backed off, told U.S. commercial airlines to abide by China’s rules in the ADIZ, then seemed to signal that the U.S. would accept China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea although the U.S. official position is that it does not recognize the Chinese air defense zone as it covers large areas of international airspace and waters.

Now China has made another move to reclaim the islands.

China vs. Japan ADIZs

Bill Gertz reports for The Washington Free Beacon, Jan. 27, 2015, that recent satellite photos of an island off the coast of China confirm Beijing’s buildup of military forces within attack range of the Senkaku islands.

In October 2014, construction of a helicopter base on Nanji Island was observed by a commercial spy satellite. The island is off the coast of China’s Zhejiang province—some 186 miles northwest of the Senkakus. The imagery, obtained from the Airbus Defense and Space-owned Pleaides satellite, reveals China is constructing an airfield with 10 landing pads for helicopters on Nanji Island.

Click images below to enlarge

Nanji1Nanji2Military analysts say the new military base on Nanji Island appears to be preparation by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for an attack or seizure of the Senkakus. Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said:

“China’s new heli-base on Nanji Island demonstrates that the PLA is preparing for an offensive military operation against the Senkaku/Daiyoutai Islands. If you want to rate the level of tension, this is the PLA reaching for its holster. When forces start deploying to Nanji Island, that means the hammer is cocked.

The military buildup on Nanji was first disclosed by Japan’s Kyodo News Service last month. Kyodo, quoting Chinese sources, said a landing strip was being built. However, the satellite photos, reported last week by IHS trade publication Jane’s Defence Weekly, did not indicate construction of an airstrip, only helicopter landing pads. The helicopter base construction is new because photos taken earlier than October 2013 do not show any visible construction. In addition to the helicopter pads, wind turbines on a ridge on the southeast part of Nanji also are visible additions to the island. Radar and communications equipment also is visible. The helicopter pads are an indication that China plans to use the base for transporting troops and forces by helicopter and not for longer-range air transports or fighter jets.

China has been engaged in a tense confrontation with Japan over the Senkakus since 2012, when Tokyo, in a bid to clarify the status of the uninhabited islands, purchased three of the islands from private owners in a bid to prevent Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from buying them. Since then, Chinese ships and warplanes, as well as unmanned surveillance drones, have been flying close to the islands, prompting numerous Japanese maritime and aerial intercepts.

Yang Yujun

Yang Yujun

China’s Defense Ministry did not dispute the military buildup on Nanji.

On Dec. 25, 2014, at the same time as he called Japanese news reports of the construction on Nanji “irresponsible,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman PLA Sr. Col. Yang Yujun told reporters in Beijing that “There is no doubt that China has the right to conduct activities and construction on its own territory. Some media in Japan make irresponsible speculations on China’s legitimate activities and construction and play up tensions in the region. It is pure media hype.”

Questions were raised during the discussion with Yang as to whether the buildup is part of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that covers the Senkakus.

Retired PLA Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser at China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a Beijing-based research group, told Singapore’s Today newspaper on Dec. 23, that the Nanji military construction was “normal” and that “China has military bases in several strategically important coastal islands and the Nanji is one of them. The Japanese media is only singling out the Nanji and making a big fuss, [and] this can be misleading.”

Jane’s said the Nanji construction appears to be part of a “quiet military buildup around the Senkaku/Daioyu islands by both sides. For its part, Japan is putting aside funds to buy land for a coastal surveillance radar unit on Yonaguni island, which is the westernmost of its islands and only 150 kilometers from the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while it is also training up and kitting out a small marine corps-style force that will be based in Nagasaki.”

The lack of an airfield is a “gap” in Chinese plans for military operations against the Senkakus, Jane’s said. The closest PLA air base to the Senkakus currently is located at Luqiao, some 236 miles from the Senkakus, where J-10 fighters are based.

Fisher, however, said Nanji could be used by the PLA to base its large Zubr air-cushioned hovercraft that are capable of moving troops and tanks in a takeover of the Senkakus or an assault against Taiwan.

A Japanese Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the Chinese military construction: “We are in the process of gathering information on this, and thus not able to comment.” A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to an email request for comment.

Note: The United States has a mutual defense treaty with Japan, and a Congressional act with the Republic of China on Taiwan called the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), wherein the U.S. states it is committed to the maintenance of peace and security in the Western Pacific (which includes the Taiwan Strait).

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~StMA

China deploying troops to Africa to protect its investments & nationals

Red Star over AfricaPeter Dörrie reports for Medium.com, Jan. 22, 2015, that China will increase its military presence in Africa as Chinese economic activities in the continent have expanded massively during the last decade.

According to David Shinn, a former American ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, and an expert on China-Africa relations, China is realizing it can’t keep relying on African governments to protect its economic investment in Africa and the thousands of Chinese nationals who’ve moved to the continent.

China’s economic growth and internal stability relies on free and open trade routes. In 2008, when Somali pirates began abducting merchant ships on a weekly basis—and jacking up insurance costs—China joined the international naval mission to stop the hijackers.

Since China’s initial contribution to anti-piracy activities, it has greatly increased maritime cooperation in with Africa, holding exercises with Tanzania.

Officially, China abides by a strict hands-off policy when it comes to the internal affairs of other countries. And to be fair, Chinese intervention in Africa is nowhere near the scale practiced by the United States, France and some African countries. But Beijing hasn’t followed this practice consistently.

Beijing has relied on local governments to handle security for Chinese nationals in Africa. But this approach has met its limits. As an example, when civil war broke out in Libya four years ago, Beijing had to evacuate 36,000 Chinese nationals living in the country because Muammar Gaddafi wasn’t willing or able to do it. “China had to do the entire evacuation on its own without any assistance whatsoever,” recalls Shinn. “That was a wake-up call for the Chinese.”

Then there’s China’s considerable economic interests in Africa. As an example, China procures about 5% of its oil imports from South Sudan in east Africa. In 2013, South Sudan collapsed into civil war. China soon embarked on its first major military intervention in Africa—deploying 700 soldiers as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. Beijing’s diplomats also took on the role of direct mediators between the warring parties. On Jan. 12, the South Sudanese government and the rebels signed a Chinese-brokered cease fire.

China’s economic interests in Africa also include its most important business with African countries—the arms trade.

China has exported massive amounts of heavy and light weapons to the continent in recent years. In the 1960s and ’70s, Chinese weapons accounted for about 3% of all arms going into Africa, Shinn said. By 2011, around 25% of all arms going Africa, by dollar value were Chinese, a lot of which go to effectively pariah countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan, both of which are under European Union and U.S. arms embargoes.

Some examples of Chinese arms sales to Africa:

China's FDI in Africa 2005china_africa-trade_2006

In an interview with RT in July 2014, “‘Cold battle’ for Africa: China’s economic interest vs. U.S. military activity,” Asia Times journalist Brendan O’Reilly said China and the United States are engaged in an ongoing rivalry for influence in Africa. US troops are in a broad swath of Africa from Mali in the west all the way through to the Central African Republic, Ethiopia into Somalia, as well as a major US military base in Djibouti. Since 2008 the US has established the US Africa Command to coordinate military activities in Africa.

O’Reilly said the US does roughly about 85 billion dollars a year in trade with Africa; China does 200 billion dollars in trade with Africa. So China is already dominating the continent economically, and that influence will only deepen.

See also Thompson Ayodele & Olusegun Sotola, “China in Africa: An Evaluation of Chinese Investment,” IPPA Working Paper Series (2014).

~StMA

Dir. of U.S. Navy Intelligence sacked for warning about China’s aggressive designs in East China Sea

Capt. James FanellCapt. James Fanell

In February of this year, at the U.S. Naval Institute’s WEST 2014 conference, Capt. James Fanell, 52, the director of intelligence and information operations at U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that the Chinese Navy was practicing for a “short sharp war” against Japan.

According to Fanell, the PLA Navy had been carrying out amphibious assault drills to practice taking territory in the East China Sea, specifically the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands that are claimed by both Japan and China. Once the uninhabited islands come under Chinese control, the PLA could then attack Okinawa to remove the facilities of the US Air Force and Marine Corps from the island. (See my post “U.S. Navy intelligence chief: China training for a quick war against Japan”)

Fanell also stated that China is at the center of virtually every maritime territorial dispute in the Asia-Pacific and that the Chinese were engaging in a blatant land-grab of islands that would enhance their exclusive economic rights to fishing and natural resources.

“I do not know how Chinese intentions could be more transparent,” he said, adding that when Beijing described its activities as the “protection of maritime rights,” this was really “a Chinese euphemism for the coerced seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors.”

Now comes news that Captain Fanell has been removed from his position as director of Navy Intelligence by Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) boss Adm. Harry Harris and reassigned within the command.

David Larter reports for Navy Times, Nov. 10, 2014, that Capt. Fanell’s remarks about China preparing for a “short sharp war” with Japan ran counter to the Pentagon’s talking points on building ties to the increasingly assertive Chinese navy, which forced top defense officials, including the 4-star head of the Army and the Pentagon spokesman, to respond to his comment in the following days.

PACFLT did not disclose the relief, saying that Fanell was not a commanding officer and therefore was entitled to increased privacy. “It is inappropriate to publicly discuss the internal reassignment of non-command triad personnel,” PACFLT said in an Nov. 7 statement.

The reasons for Fanell’s firing are cloudy, but two sources said the relief stems from alleged mishandling of classified information and fostering a negative command climate. Capt. Darryn James, top spokesman for PACFLT, declined to say whether Fanell’s relief was related to his controversial views, citing privacy concerns.

Fanell’s relief is the latest turmoil in the Navy’s intelligence community, and has raised questions about whether an intel officer was cashiered for publicly voicing a view that contradicted Pentagon public statements.

Fanell’s views have supporters inside naval intelligence, and he has become a high-profile spokesman for a more alarmist view of the rise of China than those espoused by Navy senior leadership, an intelligence source who spoke to Navy Times said. Fanell’s articles on China have been published by Hoover Digest, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly and the U. S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings.

But his public remarks stirred a major controversy and forced both the Pentagon’s top spokesman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to repudiate his comments.

John Kirby

John Kirby

Pentagon Press Secretary and Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that Fanell’s comments were his to express and that they weren’t reflective of the organization’s stance on China: “What I can tell you about what [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] 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.”

Ray Odierno

Ray Odierno

Fanell’s comments in early 2014 came at an awkward time, coinciding with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno‘s trip to Beijing in February, when he was asked by a reporter to respond to Fanell’s analysis. Odierno said, “I’ve seen no indications of that at all,” referring to Fanell’s analysis that China was preparing for war with Japan.

The comments also ran contrary to the messaging from Adm. Jon Greenert, who has made engagement with China one of

Jonathan Greenert

Jonathan Greenert

the hallmarks of his time as chief of naval operations. Later in 2014, Greenert stated that talking openly of war with China — and a Chinese war with Japan would almost certainly trigger a war with the U.S. — was unnecessarily antagonistic. “If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” Greenert said at a forum in Newport, Rhode Island. “You probably have a sense about how much we trade with that country. It’s astounding. ”

Fanell is a California native and nearly 29-year career intelligence officer commissioned in 1986. He was responsible for damage assessments for Pacific Fleet during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He served as a China maritime watch officer at Joint Intelligence Center Pacific in 1991, and served on board the carriers Kitty Hawk, Carl Vinson, as well as the amphibious command ship Blue Ridge.

He has been reassigned as an aid to Rear Adm. Randy Crites, head of the maritime headquarters at PACFLT.

See also:

~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 sinks VN fishing boat; deploys 3 nuclear subs to South China Sea; troops on VN border

South China Sea

Bill Gertz reports for The Washington Free Beacon, May 28, 2014:

[Note: Maps, pictures and side notes are inserted by StMA]

China has deployed three nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to a naval base in the South China Sea, according to a recent photo of the vessels that appeared on the Internet.

Chinese nuke subs

The three Type 094 missile submarines were photographed at the Yalong Bay naval base on Hainan Island, located at the northern end of the South China Sea.

The submarines appear to be part of China’s plan to begin the first regular sea patrols of nuclear missile submarines.

Adm Samuel Locklear III

Adm. Samuel Locklear III

Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, voiced concerns about Chinese missile submarines in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in March.

“China’s advance in submarine capabilities is significant,” Locklear said. “They possess a large and increasingly capable submarine force. China continues the production of ballistic missile submarines. … This will give China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent, probably before the end of 2014.”

Disclosure of the strategic submarine deployment comes as China sharply increased tensions over the weekend after one of its naval vessels rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters claimed by both countries in the region.

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For more on the sinking of the fishing boat and Vietnamese reaction, see “China Sinking Vessel Raises Tensions With Vietnam,” Bloomberg News, May 27, 2014.

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Meanwhile, China on Tuesday called recent Japanese military aircraft incursions during joint Chinese-Russian war games in the East China Sea both dangerous and provocative, further escalating tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

The photograph of the three missile submarines is the latest example of state-controlled media signaling new strategic nuclear capabilities by China.

The submarines, also called the Jin-class, are equipped with 12 multiple-warhead JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles that have a range of up to 4,900 miles.

Meanwhile, one of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarines based in Guam last week deployed for missions in the Asia Pacific and likely will conduct surveillance of China’s submarine forces in the region.

The submarine was monitoring a large Chinese-Russian joint naval exercise in the northern East China Sea that ended this week.

The Air Force also has begun long-range Global Hawk drone flights over Asia as part of a summer deployment of two of the unmanned surveillance aircraft to Japan.

China-Japan ADIZs

On Tuesday, a Chinese general called the intrusion into military exercises by Japanese warplanes “dangerous” and “provocative.”

“Japan unilaterally stirred up the military jets’ encounter over the East China Sea,” Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told Xinhua, referring to the Japanese jets’ confrontation by Chinese jets.

The jets flew in the unilaterally declared Chinese air defense identification zone that Tokyo, Washington and other Asia states do not recognize.

The incident occurred as Chinese and Russian warships were engaged in naval maneuvers.

“Japan’s move, like its decision to purchase the Diaoyu [Senkaku] Islands in 2012 so as to change the status quo, is very dangerous and provocative,” Sun said

The encounter between Japanese and Chinese jet fighters took place May 24 over open waters as the Japanese sought to monitor the military exercises.

The Vietnamese fishing boat sank Monday after colliding with a Chinese patrol vessel near the disputed Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea, where China raised tensions by beginning undersea oil drilling.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the vessel sinking is troubling.

“We remain concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels operating in this area by the Chinese,” she said. “We continue to call on all parties to exercise restraint and take steps to lower the tensions and conduct themselves in a safe and, of course, professional manner.”

Relations between Hanoi and Beijing remain tense over the maritime dispute. Protests were held recently in communist Vietnam against communist China.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Chinese military forces were massing near the Chinese border with Vietnam. The two nations fought a brief conflict early 1979, after Chinese forces invaded and captured several cities before retreating.

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For more on the PLA massing near the Sino-Vietnamese border, see “Chinese Military Said to be Massing Near the Vietnam Border,” Epoch Times, May 18, 2014.

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Regarding the missile submarines, Andrei Pinkov, a military analyst with Kanwa Defense who reported on the submarines May 1, said the three submarines at Hainan are a sign Beijing is speeding up the pace of deployments. Also, a review of the photo indicates that one of the three submarines could be a more advanced missile submarine called the Type 096, based on an analysis of the length of missile submarines, he stated in his journal Kanwa Defense Review.

The deployment is “intended to give the new SSBN better protection in the deep waters of the South China Sea,” Pinkov stated, using the military acronym for ballistic missile submarine.

Hans M. Kristensen, an analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, said China now has three or four Type-094s.

China over the past decade has built an extensive naval infrastructure for its underwater forces, including upgraded naval bases, submarine hull demagnetization facilities, underground facilities and high-bay buildings for missile storage and handling, and covered tunnels and railways to conceal the activities from prying eyes in the sky.

It is not known if the Chinese will deploy actual nuclear warheads with the submarines or continue the past Chinese practice of keeping warheads in central storage sites for deployment in a crisis.

The South Sea Fleet naval facilities on Hainan Island are under significant expansion,” Kristensen stated in a recent blog post. “The nuclear submarine base at Longpo has been upgraded to serve as the first nuclear submarine base in the South China Sea.

The base also includes a submarine tunnel that is part of an underwater complex of nuclear facilities on Hainan.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported in July that China would begin the first sea patrols of the Type 094 some time this year.

China conducted a test flight of the JL-2 missile, the system to be deployed on the Type 094, in August 2012.

A report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center last year stated that the JL-2 “will, for the first time, allow Chinese SSBNs to target portions of the United States from operating areas located near the Chinese coast.”

China’s jingoistic Global Times on Oct. 28 published an unprecedented report that revealed a nuclear missile strike on the western United States with JL-2 missiles could kill up to 12 million Americans.

The Obama administration and senior Navy officials were silent regarding the nuclear attack threat, which included graphics showing nuclear plumes and collateral damage caused by radiation.

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See “China’s state media boast of Chinese nuclear subs attacking U.S. cities,” Nov. 3, 2013.

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The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a report several years ago that China is planning to deploy an anti-satellite missile on its missile submarines.

Anti-satellite missiles are key elements of China’s anti-access, area denial capabilities designed to drive the U.S. Navy out of Asia.

China only recently began publicizing its nuclear missile submarine forces, mainly through semi-official disclosures on so-called military enthusiast websites.

See also: