Archive for the ‘South China Sea’ category

How Trump’s tweets and three fleets can help move the North Korea needle

October 26, 2017

How Trump’s tweets and three fleets can help move the North Korea needle, Washington ExaminerTom Rogan, October 25, 2017

OPINION

The Nimitz transit route will translated in Beijing as: “if you don’t help us with North Korea, we are going to escalate against your interests.”

President Trump’s public skepticism about diplomacy lends threat credibility to this CSG posture. Under Trump’s authority, the international community cannot assume these CSGs are just for show. At the strategic level, Trump’s potential to move the diplomatic needle rests in external perceptions that he will use military force absent that movement. Again, this is especially important in Beijing, which is reflexively predisposed against making concessions to the United States.

I recognize that sending three CSGs into potential conflict zones isn’t without risk. Still, considering that we only have a few months to reach a diplomatic agreement with North Korea, a show of muscle with these deployments is the right call.

Put simply, Trump must roll the dice, and CSGs roll well.

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In a rare occurrence, three U.S. Navy carrier strike groups (CSGs) are now in the Indian Ocean or western Pacific Ocean. While the Navy claims these deployments were pre-planned, its heavy publicity of this news suggests it was told to make a show of its presence.

As such, I suspect the Trump administration is attempting to raise Chinese and North Korean concerns that the U.S. is preparing to use force against the latter.

In specific terms, Trump wants China to put additional economic pressure on North Korea. While President Xi of China has made some limited efforts in this regard, he could do much more to restrict the financial intermediaries that deliver Kim Jong Un his foreign capital. And whether coincidental or not, these three arrivals align well with the news that diplomats are struggling to make headway. The timing and contrast between diplomats and carriers allows the U.S. to present a binary choice between the carrot of diplomacy and the stick of military power.

Still, the pressure on China is also extended by basic geography. After all, unless it takes a big detour, the Nimitz CSG will navigate past China’s artificial islands in the East and South China Seas in order to get to the Korean Peninsula. We know this because the Navy’s press release makes clear the Nimitz is sailing from the Middle East and asserts that the CSG “will be ready to support operations throughout the [Western Pacific area of operations].” Seeing as North Korea is the primary threat contingency in that area, we should assume the Nimitz will head towards the peninsula.

The Nimitz transit route will translated in Beijing as: “if you don’t help us with North Korea, we are going to escalate against your interests.”

Yet Trump himself is also crucial here.

That’s because President Trump’s public skepticism about diplomacy lends threat credibility to this CSG posture. Under Trump’s authority, the international community cannot assume these CSGs are just for show. At the strategic level, Trump’s potential to move the diplomatic needle rests in external perceptions that he will use military force absent that movement. Again, this is especially important in Beijing, which is reflexively predisposed against making concessions to the United States.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that sending three CSGs into potential conflict zones isn’t without risk. Still, considering that we only have a few months to reach a diplomatic agreement with North Korea, a show of muscle with these deployments is the right call.

Put simply, Trump must roll the dice, and CSGs roll well.

FULL MEASURE: October 22, 2017 – South China Sea

October 24, 2017

FULL MEASURE: October 22, 2017 – South China Sea, via YouTube, October 23, 2017

The blurb beneath the video notes,

U.S. Navy ships are stepping up patrols in the South China Sea. So what’s our interest in a place more than 8000 miles away? It’s one of the busiest and most important trade routes in the world. What happens there affects prices on store shelves here. For the last few years, China has been taking control, building bases, asserting territorial claims. Sharyl Attkisson traveled to Southeast Asia and in the Philippine capital, Manila, found one man who took China on, and won.

Beijing Adopts New Tactic for S. China Sea Claims

September 21, 2017

Beijing Adopts New Tactic for S. China Sea Claims, Washington Free Beacon, September 21, 2017

All the islands are claimed by other states in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as by China.

The United States does not recognize China’s control over the island groups and insists the sea, which sees an annual transit of an estimated $3.37 trillion in trade, is international.

The Pentagon and State Department have said the South China Sea is international waters and that American vessels and aircraft will transit the area unimpeded by Chinese claims of control.

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The Chinese government recently unveiled a new legal tactic to promote Beijing’s aggressive claim to own most of the strategic South China Sea.

The new narrative that critics are calling “lawfare,” or legal warfare, involves a shift from China’s so-called “9-Dash Line” ownership covering most of the sea.

The new lawfare narrative is called the “Four Sha”—Chinese for sand—and was revealed by Ma Xinmin, deputy director general in the Foreign Ministry’s department of treaty and law, during a closed-door meeting with State Department officials last month.

China has claimed three of the island chains in the past and recently added a fourth zone in the northern part of the sea called the Pratas Islands near Hong Kong.

The other locations are the disputed Paracels in the northwestern part and the Spratlys in the southern sea. The fourth island group is located in the central zone and includes Macclesfield Bank, a series of underwater reefs and shoals.

China calls the island groups Dongsha, Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha, respectively.

Ma, the Foreign Ministry official, announced during the meetings in Boston on Aug. 28 and 29 that China is asserting sovereignty over the Four Sha through several legal claims. He stated the area is China’s historical territorial waters and also part of China’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone that defines adjacent zones as sovereign territory. Beijing also claims ownership by asserting the Four Sha are part of China’s extended continental shelf.

U.S. officials attending the session expressed surprise at the new Chinese ploy to seek control over the sea as something not discussed before.

State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the department does not comment on diplomatic discussions.

The United States, he said, has a longstanding global policy of not adopting positions on competing sovereignty claims over land features in the South China Sea.

“The United States does take principled positions, and has been clear and consistent, that maritime claims by all countries in the South China Sea and around the world must be made and pursued in accordance with the international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” Higgins said.

All the islands are claimed by other states in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as by China.

The United States does not recognize China’s control over the island groups and insists the sea, which sees an annual transit of an estimated $3.37 trillion in trade, is international.

The Pentagon and State Department have said the South China Sea is international waters and that American vessels and aircraft will transit the area unimpeded by Chinese claims of control.

The State Department in December formally protested China’s unlawful maritime claims in a diplomatic note.

The Trump administration’s recent focus on pressuring North Korea to denuclearize has given China a green light to step up its South China Sea control efforts.

Chinese coast guard and navy vessels successfully blocked the Philippines from repairing a runway on one of the Spratly islands, and in July China pressured Vietnam into halting natural gas drilling in the Paracels.

The Chinese Four Sha legal maneuver follows the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in July 2016 that legally nullified China’s claim to historically own all waters and territory within the Nine-Dash Line.

The international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines government, which disputed the Chinese claim to the Spratlys.

The tribunal noted “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” according to a statement by the court last year.

China has rejected the international ruling, which has the force of international law.

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, said the latest maritime maneuver by the Chinese is lawfare—one of China’s three information warfare tools. The two others are media warfare and psychological warfare.

Pillsbury noted that the U.S. government lacks both legal warfare and counter legal warfare capabilities.

“The Chinese government seems to be better organized to design and implement clever legal tactics to defy international norms with impunity,” Pillsbury said.

“It may ultimately require congressional legislation to mandate our executive branch to build a better capacity to counter the Chinese use of lawfare,” he added. “If we had such a unit, it would be easy to counter China, especially when we have the United Nations on our side.”

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, said if confirmed the Four Sha program appears to be “Beijing’s next logical step in their ‘salami slicing,’ asserting the PRC’s claims to the South China Sea.”

“Given that an announcement of claims to the entirety of the Nine-Dash Line raised alarms throughout the region, it makes sense for the PRC Foreign Ministry to float this notion of an incremental step forward with the concept of the Four Sha approach to the eventual restoration of the entirety of the South China Sea.”

Fanell said the Trump administration should first remind Beijing and the rest of the world about the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that found China’s sovereignty claims to the sea both illegal and illegitimate.

“Second, the U.S. would do well to permanently deploy a carrier or expeditionary strike group to the South China Sea in order to make sure Beijing knows that our words are backed up by more than mere words,” he said.

The United States has been pushing back against China’s maritime claims in the sea by conducting Navy warship freedom of navigation operations around the disputed islands.

The naval operations were stalled during the Obama administration in a bid to avoid upsetting China. Under President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, warship freedom of navigation operations have resumed with regularity but without formal public acknowledgement of the operations.

In August, the destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed with 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, drawing criticism from China.

China denounced the warship passage as a provocation and violation of Chinese sovereignty.

China over the past several years has reclaimed some 3,200 acres of islands in the sea and in recent months began militarizing the islands with missile emplacements and other military facilities.

China also created a new governing unit over the sea called the Sansha administration in 2012. Sansha, or Three Sha, includes the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank, and the Spratlys and covered a total of 20 square kilometers of land, more than 2 million square kilometers of water, and a population of around 2,500 people.

A State Department notice at the end of what was billed as an annual U.S.-China Dialogue on the Law of the Sea and Polar Issues made no mention of the new Chinese lawfare tactic.

The statement said only that officials from foreign affairs and maritime agencies “exchanged views on a wide range of issues related to oceans, the law of the sea, and the polar regions.”

The U.S. delegation was led by Evan Bloom, State Department director for ocean and polar affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Bloom declined to comment on the talks.

EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s Pentagon Plans to Challenge Chinese Claims in South China Sea

July 21, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s Pentagon Plans to Challenge Chinese Claims in South China Sea, BreitbartKristina Wong, July 20, 2017

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

The Trump administration has already conducted three FONOPs in the South China Sea since May. The Obama administration conducted three during all of last year.

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President Trump approved a Pentagon plan this year that will require regular challenges to China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea, Breitbart News has learned.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent the plan to the White House in April that outlines a schedule for the whole year of when U.S. Navy ships will sail through international waters China illegally claims, according to a U.S. official.

Although the U.S. Navy has routinely conducted these “freedom of navigation operations” all around the world for decades, the Obama administration put a stop on them in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015, with only a few in 2016, out of concern for upsetting China.

Under Obama, the Pentagon would send requests for FONOPs to the National Security Council, where they would stall. There was a concern “of doing anything that would cause anybody to get their feathers ruffled,” the official said.

During that time, China began aggressively building up islands and reefs in the South China Sea and increasingly placing military equipment on them, even though the territory is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.

Under the new plan, the White House will already be aware of the planned operations so that they will not be “a surprise” every time a request comes up the chain of command, and they will be approved faster than before, the official said.

Having them approved faster will allow the operations to be conducted on a “very routine, very regular” basis, with the benefit of making each operation part of a regular program to keep the waters open, versus a “one-off event.”

Under the Obama administration, the operations were requested, considered, and approved in a “one-off” fashion, which took longer to approve and gave the impression that they were in response to something specific China had done, rather than part of routine naval operations.

It is not clear yet whether the plan is part of a larger Asia Pacific strategy or for the narrower purpose of making FONOPs more routine in the area. But one expert said the frequency of FONOPs do have importance in and of themselves.

“The frequency of FONOPs is often seen as a litmus test, for better or worse, of American commitment,” Joseph Liow, dean of comparative and international politics at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

The Trump administration has already conducted three FONOPs in the South China Sea since May. The Obama administration conducted three during all of last year.

“You have a definite return to normal,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White told Breitbart News.

“This administration has definitely given the authority back to the people who are in the best position to execute those authorities, so it’s a return to normal,” she said.

Although the U.S. does not take sides in the numerous South China Sea territorial disputes, the U.S. military conducts FONOPs there to ensure waters remain open to international commerce. An estimated $5 trillion in goods are transported through the area each year.

Under the plan, FONOP requests will begin with the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, go up to Pacific Fleet, to Pacific Command, to the Pentagon, and then to the National Security Council.

The Pentagon will also send the requests to the State Department the same time they are sent to the NSC, to make sure they do not undermine any concurrent diplomatic initiatives, the official said.

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, said, “having regular, steady deployments of U.S. naval assets conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea is a good thing – and something I support 100 percent.”

“China must know we will surely operate wherever allowed by international law, just like Beijing does when they conduct missions around Guam, Hawaii or near Alaska. This is standard military operating procedure and codified in international law. In fact, it shouldn’t even be controversial,” he said.

In May, a bipartisan group of senators urged the Trump administration to conduct FONOPs in the South China Sea, expressing concern that one had not been conducted since last October.

“In recent years, China, in particular, has taken a series of aggressive steps in disputed areas of the South China Sea,” they wrote. “We believe that United States engagement in the South China Sea remains essential to continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight and to uphold international law.”

Early on in the Trump administration, FONOP requests being sent to the Pentagon were not being approved and forwarded to the White House, as first reported by Breitbart News in March, and later by the New York Times in May.

The official said at the time that Mattis did not want to approve and send up any piecemeal requests to the White House until an overall plan could be devised.

The plan was approved before the first FONOP was conducted on May 24, when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. On July 2, the destroyer USS Stethem sailed within 12 miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands. On July 6, two Air Force B-1B Lancers flew over the East and South China Seas.

The official said FONOPs will still remain “a tool in our tool bag to show [when] we don’t agree with something.”

Kazianis warned, however, that FONOPs cannot be the sole instrument Washington uses to push back against China’s excessive claims, as was the case under the Obama administration.

“The Trump Administration needs to layout a comprehensive strategy to push back against China’s coercive and bullying actions that stretch from the East China Sea all the way to the depths of the South China Sea. If not, in a few years’ time, Beijing will be the unquestioned master of the Asia-Pacific – something Washington simply can’t allow,” he said.

Liow agreed: “The non-military toolkit … is also quite important and needs to be developed.”

Malabar Exercise: India, US and Japan deploy its biggest carriers in show of force against China’s growing naval power

July 10, 2017

Malabar Exercise: India, US and Japan deploy its biggest carriers in show of force against China’s growing naval power, South China Morning Post, July 10, 2017

(Please see also, Commentary: India must understand borderline is bottom line from Chinese official paper Xinhua. “India should rectify its mistakes and show sincerity to avoid an even more serious situation creating more significant consequences.” — DM)

Troops from the two nuclear-armed neighbours have for weeks been engaged in a stand-off on a disputed section of land high near what is known as the trijunction, where Tibet, India and Bhutan meet.

China has alleged that the Indian troops are on its soil, but both Bhutan and India say the area in question is Bhutanese territory.

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India began holding naval exercises with the United States and Japan off its south coast on Monday, seeking to forge closer military ties to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

India has a longstanding territorial dispute with its northern neighbour, which is also expanding its naval presence in the region.

It is the fourth consecutive year Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) has taken part in the Malabar Exercise, conducted annually by the US and India in the Bay of Bengal since 1992.

In a statement, the US said the exercises had “grown in scope and complexity over the years to address the variety of shared threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia Pacific”.

About 20 vessels including the world’s largest aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz, are participating in drills which will last until July 17.

Helicopter carrier Izumo, the biggest Japanese warship since the second world war, and India’s aircraft carrier Vikramaditya are also participating in the exercises.

China has stepped up its activities in the Indian Ocean in recent years, building ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The area also features heavily in Beijing’s new One Belt One Road initiative to revive ancient trade routes from Asia, which has caused concerns in New Delhi.

Troops from the two nuclear-armed neighbours have for weeks been engaged in a stand-off on a disputed section of land high near what is known as the trijunction, where Tibet, India and Bhutan meet.

China has alleged that the Indian troops are on its soil, but both Bhutan and India say the area in question is Bhutanese territory.

The maritime exercises come weeks after US President Donald Trump declared that ties between Washington and New Delhi had “never been stronger” as he held his first talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Beijing already claims large swathes of the resource-rich South China Sea and East China Sea, putting it in competition with Japan and other countries in the region.

China Is Ticking All the Boxes on Its Path to War

June 16, 2017

China Is Ticking All the Boxes on Its Path to War, American ThinkerDavid Archibald, June 16, 2017

(China has provided significant but inadequate help with the North Korea problem. If the war upon which China appears to be intent comes, will China consider continued cooperation as to North Korean nukes and missiles in her interest? — DM)

After trending down for two years, the rate of incursions [by China in the South China Sea] is now trending up. The Chinese government pays their fishing fleet to do this. Now, would any civilized country expecting to live in everlasting peace with its neighbors do this? None would, and so the Chinese are telling us that war is coming. Prepare accordingly

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There are currently three communiques that have guided U.S.-China relations for the last 45 years. These joint statements by the U.S. and Chinese governments were signed in 1972, 1979, and 1982. Among other things, the second communique states that, “Neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region or in any other region of the world”.

China has recently been attempting to have the U.S. sign onto a Fourth Communique under which the U.S. would no longer consider Taiwan as an ally or deal with it in any military or diplomatic terms. In effect, the U.S. would peacefully decline and leave the Western Pacific to China. The White House rejected it prior to the meeting of the U.S. and Chinese presidents on April 6-7 at Mar-a-Lago. It was raised again by Henry Kissinger, now in the pay of the Chinese government, at his meeting with President Trump on May 10.

It has been said that President Xi wants the Fourth Communique to crown his consolidation of power at the national congress of Communist Party of China in autumn this year. But he is likely indifferent. If the U.S. could be talked into abandoning the Western Pacific and all its allies in Asia, that would be a bonus. It is more likely that he is making a casus belli for the war that he wants and thus head off intra-party criticism for military adventurism with its attendant horrors. China expects to win a short, sharp, glorious war.

China, the U.S., Japan and Vietnam are all expecting war. China may have claimed all of the South China Sea but Vietnam still has 17 island bases there. These are a major long-term embarrassment to China. Vietnam will not give them up voluntarily so China will attempt to remove them by force – thus the current buildup of China’s amphibious warfare capability. China would also attack Vietnam along their land border to put maximum pressure on Hanoi.

Satellite imagery suggests preparations are being made to that end. For example at 22° 24’ N, 106° 42’ E, there are 12 large warehouses across the road from an army base that is six miles from the border with Vietnam. We can tell it’s an army base because it has a running track. China’s three major bases in the South China Sea and all have running tracks and 24 hardened shelters for fighter aircraft. The warehouses have red roofs when almost all the industrial buildings in the region have blue roofs, suggesting a central directive for their construction. The purpose of the warehouses would be to hide an armored force buildup prior to the invasion of Vietnam.

Warehouses at 22° 24’ N, 106° 42’ E, image date 8/25/2016

Along parts of the China-Vietnam border, there are areas with an abundance of roads leading up to the border and ending in pads suitable for artillery. These likely preparations give us an indication of what China’s war plans for Vietnam might include, just as the ten-pad, expeditionary helicopter base in the Nanji Islands at 27° 27’ N, 121° 4’ E provides China with an option to attack Japan in the Senkaku Islands.

Just because China hasn’t been involved in many wars in the last 60 years doesn’t mean that it is not belligerent. A case in point is the attacks China mounted on Vietnam from 1980 to 1990 seemingly just for the sake of it, after the 1979 China-Vietnam war. China’s then-leader, Deng Xiaoping, rotated army units through the front to give them combat experience. It didn’t matter that they were killing Vietnamese to do so. During the five-year period from 1984 to 1989, the Chinese fired over two million artillery rounds into Ha Giang Province, mainly into an eight-square-mile area. Chinese antipathy for its neighbors is essentially racist – if everyone else is a barbarian, their deaths will be of little consequence.

The Chinese dream of hegemony in Asia has been a long time coming. The map following is from a Nationalist primary school textbook from 1938:

A bit like Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, it has China extending as far south as Singapore. China’s ambitions now include incorporation of the Philippines.

China is now back to seeking hegemony of the Asia-Pacific region and so that voids the Second Communique. Fortunately President Trump’s advisers, recognizing the reality of the situation, have suggested that all three communiques be scrapped.

The question from here is the timing of China’s war. China’s bases in the Spratly Islands are now essentially complete. All they have to do from here is fly in the fighter aircraft. It is thought that China’s strategic petroleum reserve is near full after its stockpiling rate fell from the peak in March 2017 at 1.6 million barrels per day. Another sign that war is approaching and not receding is that the rate of Chinese incursions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands:

The big increase in mid-2012 was due to the ascension of President Xi.  After trending down for two years, the rate of incursions is now trending up. The Chinese government pays their fishing fleet to do this. Now, would any civilized country expecting to live in everlasting peace with its neighbors do this? None would, and so the Chinese are telling us that war is coming. Prepare accordingly.

Trump Launches First FONOP in South China Sea

May 26, 2017

Trump Launches First FONOP in South China Sea, American Interest, May 25, 2017

This patrol has been a long time coming. Along with others, we have been wondering whether the Trump administration had so far declined to approve FONOPs in a gambit to solicit China’s cooperation on North Korea. If that logic indeed held sway early on, it seems that the administration has now changed its tune, rightfully recognizing that going easy on China in one dispute won’t guarantee its cooperation on another.

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For the first time since President Trump took office, the U.S. Navy has conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea, provoking a predictable protest from Beijing. Reuters:

A U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.

China said its warships had warned the U.S. ship and it lodged “stern representations” with the United States. China said it remained resolutely opposed to so-called freedom of navigation operations.

This patrol has been a long time coming. Along with others, we have been wondering whether the Trump administration had so far declined to approve FONOPs in a gambit to solicit China’s cooperation on North Korea. If that logic indeed held sway early on, it seems that the administration has now changed its tune, rightfully recognizing that going easy on China in one dispute won’t guarantee its cooperation on another.

The exercise also sends an important signal in its own right that the U.S. refuses to recognize China’s claims, and that it will not remain passive as Beijing seeks to expand its maritime reach. That message comes none too soon, as China has lately been working out bilateral deals with its rival claimants while the U.S. has appeared missing in action. Let’s hope this is not a one-off but the start of a more active and engaged phase of the Trump administration’s South China Sea policy.

More, please.