Posts Tagged ‘south china sea’


September 17, 2015

Wall Street Journal on September 16, 2015, reported that satellite images showed that China continued building on Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Excerpts below:

A report published earlier this week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies contains high-definition photos of Chinese-controlled reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands taken in early September. The images suggest China’s island-building efforts are ongoing, and that China could soon have three airfields in the area, according to CSIS.

China reclaimed hundreds of acres of land at seven different reefs it occupies in the Spratlys in 2014. The U.S. and other countries in the region fear China might use the reefs as bases for military aircraft in an attempt to enforce an air-defense identification zone in the South China Sea. The U.S. has called for a moratorium on land reclamation in disputed areas as a way to reduce tensions. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s statement at a summit of regional leaders in Malaysia last month that China had halted reclamation efforts appeared designed to calm anxieties in the region.

The satellite images released this week indicate dredging activity continues on two Spratly features: Subi Reef and Mischief Reef.

The northernmost of the Spratly reefs where China is reclaiming land, Subi Reef was a barely visible speck in the ocean as recently as 2012 (see interactive above). According to CSIS’s Bonnie Glaser, images from early September show dredgers widening an access channel to the inner part of the reef and dumping the sediment onto areas next to recently rebuilt sea walls. The images also show sand grading on Subi that could indicated construction of an airstrip, CSIS says.

Like Subi, Mischief Reef existed mostly underwater in 2012. Now, it boasts multiple buildings, at least two concrete plants and a flat rectangular area roughly 3,000 meters long that could be the site of a future airstrip, according to CSIS. Here, too, photos show dredgers working to widen an access channel, Ms. Glaser writes.

Earlier satellite photos confirmed that China has already built one airstrip on the Spratlys’ Fiery Cross Reef that could be big enough for fighter jets, transport planes and surveillance aircraft. CSIS researchers Michael Green and Zack Cooper write that the U.S. could “neutralize” China’s bases in the Spratlys in the event of a conflict, but “doing so would require a concerted effort from U.S. forces.”

The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. The U.S. thus has an interest in ensuring freedom of navigation in the area, Washington argues.

Comment: The Wall Street Journal article has an excellent map of the Spratly Islands and presents fact on the different reefs and islands in the group. The aggressive construction by China on the Spratlys could be the first step in a strategy of geopolitical expansion into the Pacific Ocean. A common forward strategy of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines to monitor and challenge this is necessary and something the next US president will have to deal with in 2016.


August 27, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 26, 2015, published a commentary by Aaron Friedberg on US China strategy. The Obama administration is evidently divided over how to respond to provocative Chinese actions in cyberspace and the South China Sea. Intelligence community leaders warn that unless the U.S. retaliates, it will continue to face damaging computer network attacks of the sort China appears to have carried out against the Office of Personnel Management. Yet the administration has refused even to identify China as the culprit in the theft of over 20 million sensitive personal files. Excerpts below:

Regarding the South China Sea, similarly, the Navy favors taking a tough stance, challenging China’s claims of sovereignty by sending ships and planes close to the artificial “islands” that Beijing has created by dredging sand from the ocean bottom.

These disputes involve disagreements over tactics, but they are also the latest indications of an intensifying debate over the future of America’s long-standing, two-part strategy for dealing with Beijing.

For a quarter century successive administrations have sought to engage China through trade and diplomacy. They hoped to give its rulers a stake in the existing liberal international order while reinforcing tendencies—especially the growth of a new middle class—that could lead to democratizing political reforms.

Engagement and balancing were supposed to work hand in hand, but recent events have begun to raise questions about both halves of this strategy. Thanks in no small measure to its economic ties with the U.S., China has grown far richer and stronger since the end of the Cold War. Instead of liberalizing, however, its politics have become more repressive and more militantly nationalistic.

To help consolidate power at home, the regime has more openly challenged key elements of the existing order in Asia. China’s increasingly forceful attempts to assert its claims over most of the waters and resources off its shores are only the most visible manifestation of this tendency.

Beijing has also intensified its opposition to U.S. alliances and begun to build new institutions and infrastructure networks designed to enhance its influence at America’s expense. Mr. Xi’s declaration that Asia’s affairs should be left to “the people of Asia” makes clear his vision for a region in which the U.S. presence has dramatically diminished and in which China will finally be able to emerge as the preponderant power.

Thus U.S. engagement has so far failed to transform China into a liberal democracy or even a “responsible stakeholder” in the existing international system.

The modernization and expansion of China’s nuclear and conventional “anti-access/area-denial” forces is beginning to raise doubts about the ability of the U.S. to defend its allies by projecting power into the Western Pacific. Beijing’s growing air, naval and maritime forces are giving it new options for enforcing territorial claims.

…in the U.S. government decisions are taken on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis with little attempt to take a longer view, reexamine existing assumptions or integrate policy across various domains. High-level attention is fleeting, short-term considerations dominate and marginal adjustments are the order of the day.

Post-Cold War policy toward China has never been the product of a comprehensive strategic planning process or a serious, presidential-level interagency review.

Whoever is elected president in 2016 should therefore begin with a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach and conduct an open-minded examination of the potential costs, benefits and risks of available alternatives. This process could be modeled on the 1953 Solarium Project, in which the newly elected Eisenhower administration organized teams of government and private-sector experts to explore the economic, technological, military and diplomatic implications of different approaches toward the Soviet Union.

Mr. Friedberg, who served as a national-security adviser to the U.S. vice president from 2003 to 2005, is a professor at Princeton University.

Comment: The article by Mr. Friedberg is important. The Putin aggression in Europe against Ukraine since 2014 has created a new Cold War climate. History since 1917 has clearly shown that communist regimes do not liberalize. These regimes loose power if they loosen the grip.

The US pivot to Asia has to be strengthened. The West now has two great semi-totalitarian regimes to cope with. Only a new president in 2016, who can manage a forward strategy both for Russia and China, will be able to guarantee freedom and security. The Eisenhower Solarium Project of 1953 is a useful model for a new strategic approach.


June 17, 2015

Wall Street Journal on June 16, 2015, reported that China said it is shifting work on disputed South China Sea islets from the dredging of land to the construction of military and other facilities as it pushes forward with a program that has aggravated tensions with the U.S. and neighbors. Land reclamation in Spratly islands will be completed in the coming days. Excerpts below:

Beijing lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a stretch of resource-rich waters that carries more than half the world’s trade. Its claims overlap with those of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines—several of whom have criticized China’s rapid and extensive construction program in the Spratlys as the latest in a series of aggressive Chinese efforts to assert territorial rights.

According to U.S. estimates, China has expanded artificial reefs in the Spratlys to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year. U.S. officials have said that China’s island-building program includes transforming semi-submerged reefs into forward bases with airfields fit for military use, while U.S. surveillance recently detected two motorized artillery pieces on one of the Chinese-controlled artificial islands.

Other claimants to the Spratlys—including Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines—have all expanded the geographical features they control, but not as quickly as China, analysts say.

Washington says it doesn’t take sides in the South China Sea disputes, but that it has an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the area. To this end, the Obama administration is considering ways to challenge the island-building campaign, weighing whether to deploy Navy vessels or aircraft close the islands to signal to China that it can’t close off international waters.

China’s statement came on the final day for Beijing to submit comments to an international arbitration tribunal that is considering the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will hold a hearing next month on whether it has jurisdiction in the matter and whether Manila’s claims are admissible for arbitration. The appeal to the court has angered Beijing, which has said it would neither accept nor participate in the process, arguing that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the dispute.


May 20, 2015

Wall Street Journal on May 14, 2015, published an article by Michael Auslin on China expansionism in the South China Sea. The Pentagon has announced that it is considering deploying military ships and planes to patrol territory near China’s newly built islands in the South China Sea. Such a plan, if approved by the White House, would open a new phase in the struggle to shape Asia’s balance of power. Excerpts below:

Reshaping China’s international environment is a far more likely way to influence Beijing’s policy choices than is changing the nature of Chinese government or waiting for a democratic uprising in the country.

Already opposition to China’s expansionary behavior has caused Beijing to alternate between assertive action and attempts to calm its neighbors’ suspicions.

U.S., no less than China’s neighbors, has generally been too timid in responding to Beijing’s coercive behavior.

Such reticence may be changing thanks to Beijing’s land reclamation in the disputed Spratly Islands. Incoming U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris says Beijing is trying to build a “great wall of sand” in the Spratlys. Adm. Samuel Locklear, the outgoing Pacific Commander, has warned that Beijing’s island-building spree may give it “de facto” control over the waters around the Spratlys through new airstrips and port facilities.

In response, Washington has been gradually expanding its links with the Philippines and is close to finalizing an agreement that will allow U.S. forces to use up to eight bases on the islands on a rotational basis. Japan also is conducting naval drills with the Philippines, following its agreement to give 10 maritime patrol vessels to Manila, and has pledged to provide an unspecified number to Hanoi.

No one should be lulled into thinking that Beijing’s core policies will change anytime soon. Yet the fact that China feels it needs to try and allay suspicions at all shows that it is concerned about the growing response to its moves. Japan’s indications that it will continue to expand its role in regional security, possibly including joint sea or air patrols with U.S. forces in the South China Sea, is of particular concern to Beijing.

Washington must further maintain its pressure to send Beijing the message that the new constellation of opposition will not disappear just because China offers a few conciliatory messages. At the same time, Washington will have to make clear to other nations that they, too, cannot unnecessarily exacerbate tensions with China and expect stability in the regional security environment.

Pressing China to adopt liberal norms will always falter on the rocks of the Communist Party’s self-interest. Yet by reshaping the environment surrounding China, liberal states have a much better chance of curbing some of the policies that cause them to fear Beijing’s growing power and influence.

Mr. Auslin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a columnist for, is writing a book about risk in Asia.


April 29, 2015

AP on April 24, 2015, reported that the Philippines accused China of aggressive maneuvers against its reconnaissance plane and fishermen in disputed seas where Beijing has stepped up construction of artificial islands, but China reiterated its claim on the strategic waterways. Excerpts below:

A Chinese vessel flashed powerful lights and radioed the Philippine navy plane to leave the area near one of the islands in the Spratlys chain in the South China Sea, Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

“This is an aggressive action on the part of the Chinese vessel,” Cabunoc said. “They said, ‘You’re entering Chinese territory, leave.'”
He said the incident happened on Sunday closed to Subi Reef, which is near Pag-asa — also called Thitu — Island, which has been occupied by Philippine troops since the 1970s. Among the hundreds of Spratly isles, coral reefs and shoals, less than 50 are occupied by troops from countries with competing claims — the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

China claims most of the South China Sea on historical grounds and in recent years has dispatched more vessels and patrols to stake its claim, alarming neighbors.

The Philippines filed a case in 2013 with the international arbitration tribunal challenging China’s claims.

The head of the Philippine Fisheries Bureau, Asis Perez, called on global action to stop China’s reclamation activities, saying they caused massive coral destruction — about 311 hectares (768.6 acres) — that will take thousands of years to repair.

“This is not a simple dispute over territory, but there is actually a huge environmental impact that will affect not just us,” he said.


April 22, 2015

Wall Street Journal on April 21, 2015, reported on the geopolitics of the South China Sea and the existing territorial claims…it is now on the front lines of U.S.-China strategic rivalry. There is also the claim to Spratly Islands by “Admiral” Tomas A. Cloma Sr., a Philippine fishing magnate…Excerpts below:

As it is, the micronation he set up in 1956 among the Spratly Islands he claimed to have discovered—the “Free Territory of Freedomland”—is an important link in a chain of events that is now causing regular diplomatic fireworks over those far-flung reefs and rocks.

…it is the basis for Manila’s present-day claims to the Spratlys. China disputes those claims, along with those from four other rivals, and is reinforcing its own claims by churning up the seabed and using the sand and rubble to balloon the bits of territory it controls there.

The South China Sea is where Chinese naval and law enforcement armadas run up against the U.S. Seventh Fleet. Accidents can—and do—happen.
Rhetoric is ratcheting higher all the time. President Obama accused China a few weeks ago of using “sheer size and muscle” to get its own way. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman retorted that Beijing’s actions are “beyond reproach.”

Some who have laid claim to reefs in the Spratlys
• The “Free Territory of Freedomland” was set up in 1956 by Tomas A. Cloma Sr., who claimed to have discovered some islands in the Spratlys. This is the basis for Manila’s present-day claims.
• The “Kingdom of Humanity” was established in 1914 by Franklin N. Meads, the son of a British ship captain who claimed to have discovered the Spratlys, according to a legal affidavit.
• The breakaway “Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads” was founded in 1959 by Christopher Schneider, according to a legal affidavit. (The Kingdom of Humanity and the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads were merged in 1963.)

Over the years, other private claimants than Cloma have sought to plant flags over the monsoon-whipped archipelago. In 1914, Franklin N. Meads, the son of a British ship captain who also purported to have discovered the Spratlys, established the “Kingdom of Humanity,” according to a legal affidavit. A breakaway “Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads” was founded in 1959 by one Christopher Schneider.The two entities merged in 1963.

Bizarre as all this may appear, it’s arguably no more far-fetched than China claiming the Spratlys partly on the strength of sovereignty established by Ming Dynasty seafarers. Historians point out that the concept of sovereignty didn’t even exist then: Countries with fixed borders were a 17th-century European invention.

Besides, Arab and Southeast Asian traders were plying the South China Sea long before the Chinese arrived.
The Vietnamese approach in the South China Sea, meanwhile, also smacks of opportunism. Hanoi appeared to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracel Islands in 1958, but later changed its mind and claimed them back

For decades, the Spratlys were regarded as little more than navigational hazards until the discovery of oil and gas suddenly enhanced their value. That triggered a free-for-all in the 1980s as rival claimants built fortifications on minuscule outcrops. China is now following that playbook.

There’s no easy way out of this mess. It’s questionable whether the U.S. can ever act as an honest broker, even though it claims to be neutral. The disputes are now mixed up in America’s broader fears that China seeks to push its forces out of the Western Pacific. In China, the issue is too deeply enmeshed in the politics of nationalism. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is silent on the question of who owns what; it concerns itself solely with maritime rights.

What’s urgently required, as former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argued last week in a Harvard study, is a regional security organization that can mediate such disputes. China, however, has ruled out multilateral solutions. Frightened neighbors have joined an arms race.


February 6, 2014

Washington Times on February 5, 2014, published an article by Kim R. Homes on China’s rise that has the Obama administration looking as uncertain as the proverbial deer in the headlights. Caught between the unappealing alternatives of embracing or containing China, it largely chooses inaction. Excerpts below:

Its famous “pivot” to Asia has stalled — a casualty of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s near obsession with the Middle East. There has been little meaningful response to China’s aggressive territorial claims against U.S. allies. Meanwhile, widespread defense cuts have led, inevitably, to a depletion of American military power in the region.

China’s a tough issue, no doubt, but that’s no excuse for not having a coherent policy. America’s interests in East Asia are simply too important to be managed as an afterthought. The United States needs to demonstrate, clearly and concretely, that America plans to stay involved in Asia as a great power.

China has clearly been upping the ante. Its most recent move was to announce that all foreign fishing boats must obtain clearance from Beijing before sailing in areas of the South China Sea that we recognize as international waters. China essentially is laying claim to the entire South China Sea, putting it at odds with Washington and with our ally the Philippines, as well as Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

This move follows an even more brazen assertion in November 2013. Amid tension with Japan over the Senkaku islands, China declared an “air-defense identification zone” over a large swath of the East China Sea that it claims as a maritime exclusive economic zone. China also angered South Korea by incorporating an undersea mountain.

By pressing territorial claims across the board, China is trying to force us to decide between it and our allies.

Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, has some suggestions on how to respond effectively to China’s assertiveness.

First, we must revert to the “pivot,” only this time we should mean it. We should reverse Mr. Kerry’s neglect of the region and show explicit high-level interest. Mr. Cheng says this should include “a consistent pace of visits and consultations by the secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury.”

Second, we need to put some military meat on the Asia pivot. The services are doing the best they can to deal with the budget cuts, but they worry privately about an inability to complete the missions that the nation assigns to them. At the very least, we should avoid gutting our naval capability in East Asia.

A third step Mr. Cheng recommends is to stop signaling weakness. The administration has reached out to Beijing repeatedly, yet all we get in return is more Chinese aggressiveness. A Chinese surface ship, for example, nearly rammed the USS Cowpens, which it claimed was getting too close to China’s new aircraft carrier.

At the very least, we should be insisting on more reciprocity from the Chinese. For example, we should demand the same access for the U.S. military to Chinese military exercises as we afford to China.

It’s true: Half the battle is showing up. But we can do better than that. We need to meet Chinese aggressiveness not in kind, but by firmly standing pat. This will calm allies and will show Beijing the limits to its aggressiveness.

Kim R. Holmes is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the author of “Rebound: Getting America Back to Great.”


January 10, 2014

Washington Times on January 9, 2014, published a commentary by James A. Lyons and Richard D. Fisher Jr. on China’s new president, Xi Xinping, having discarded former leader Deng Xiaoping’s cautious foreign policy of “bide our time, hide our capabilities,” by mounting increasing military challenges to America’s Asian allies and to U.S. leadership. Excerpts below:

China’s bullying tactics in the East China Sea and South China Sea will only increase with its expanding military might despite President Obama’s much-heralded pivot to Asia. The pivot is not enough. Washington must elevate regional military cooperation if China is to be deterred.

Coming on the heels of China’s declaration of an air-defense identification zone over the East China Sea, Beijing continued its bullying tactics in its Dec. 5 direct challenge to the USS Cowpens, an Aegis guided-missile cruiser, exercising its freedom of navigation rights in the East China Sea. The Cowpens was forced to take immediate evasive action to avoid a collision with a Chinese naval ship that “stopped” dead ahead of the cruiser. According to reports, the Chinese navy was trying to enforce a 28-mile moving “exclusion zone” around its first operational carrier, the Liaoning. Such action is totally unacceptable. Likewise, China’s attempt to force all aircraft entering into its declared identification zone to provide preflight routing plans even if just transiting the area is also unacceptable.

Our current strategy of not confronting China directly and hoping China will change its aggressive tactics is clearly not working. Therefore, a new strategy is required if we are to retain our leadership position as the key element in maintaining peace and stability in the Western Pacific and to force China to change direction from its path of increasing military belligerence.

An “Asian NATO” would be ideal, but it is simply unrealistic today.

However, during the mid-December summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations, Japan and Southeast Asian nations showed some positive signs that they are ready to work more closely together to counter China’s aggressive actions. Yet, though regional security was a major concern of the summit, more formal security arrangements will not come about soon.

Many of the ASEAN nations prefer informal defense cooperation that allows the United States to act as a regional stabilizer. However, this situation is also advantageous for China. For decades, China has waged a low-intensity conflict in disputed maritime zones while politically isolating Taiwan. It has illegally built facilities on contested islands in the South China Sea, harassed the Philippines, and are trying to spark a confrontation with Japan in the East China Sea. With its massive military buildup, China will soon have the conventional military-power projection and nuclear-missile force capability to seize contested areas and potentially deter U.S. intervention.

To better deter such Chinese actions, we need to create informal mechanisms now that will enable future options for an Asian maritime alliance. The United States can take the lead by extending and deepening already existing bilateral mutual-defense treaties. We then need to extend our current informal patterns of cooperation with other nations in the region by leveraging our modern secure digital communications to build virtual cooperation that can prepare for actual expanded military cooperation.

A preliminary step would be to turn the biannual U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval, air and land force exercises into an annual exercise and offer participants the option of joining a continuous, ad hoc multilateral planning staff. This informal staff would deepen cooperative mechanisms and enable faster reactions to Chinese aggression. This organization ideally would meet in Guam, but it could also conduct most business over secure digital linkages. For that matter, many types of multilateral exercises could be performed by digitally linking military simulators in participant states.

Exercises should be conducted at two levels: first, military coordination and cooperation, and a second level for Coast Guard, humanitarian and disaster-relief operations. This should give Asian nations more palatable options for advancing cooperation.

Secure digital linkages can also be expanded to allow countries on China’s periphery to contribute radar and other sensor data to a “central server,” perhaps located in Guam, allowing access to the collected data by all participating nations. For instance, it would be possible for both India and Taiwan to share sensor data that could provide the other with nearly immediate advance warning of distant Chinese military preparations.

Until China changes its aggressive tactics, it should not be invited to participate in RIMPAC, which it has been for 2014. Including China is clearly inconsistent with the goal of preparing for an increasing Chinese threat. However, realizing such new levels of informal military cooperation will also require the United States to modernize and strengthen its military deterrent, reverse its nuclear disarmament and accelerate investments in new theater missiles and energy weapons. Such preparations would go far to reassure U.S. allies and friends that U.S. leadership is going to be backed by new strength.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.


December 14, 2013

Fox News on December 13, 2013, published a Washington Free Beacon report that a Chinese naval vessel tried to force a U.S. guided missile warship to stop in international waters recently, causing a tense military standoff in the latest case of Chinese maritime harassment, according to defense officials. Excerpts below:

The guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, which recently took part in disaster relief operations in the Philippines, was confronted by Chinese warships in the South China Sea near Beijing’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning, according to officials familiar with the incident.

“On December 5th, while lawfully operating in international waters in the South China Sea, USS Cowpens and a PLA Navy vessel had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” a Navy official said.

A State Department official said the U.S. government issued protests to China in both Washington and Beijing in both diplomatic and military channels.

The Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the Liaoning at the time. The carrier had recently sailed from the port of Qingdao on the northern Chinese coast into the South China Sea.

According to the officials, the run-in began after a Chinese navy vessel sent a hailing warning and ordered the Cowpens to stop. The cruiser continued on its course and refused the order because it was operating in international waters.


December 8, 2013

The Washington Times on December 8, 2013, published an AP report on Japan’s defense minister calling on the international community Sunday to oppose China’s recently declared maritime air defense zone over the East China Sea and possibly over the disputed South China Sea. Excerpts below:

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera discussed Japan’s concern over China’s action separately with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop. Onodera and Bishop separately visited central Tacloban city, which was ruined by Typhoon Haiyan last month.

“If any country would establish a similar air zone in the South China Sea, that would bring up tension in the region and I mentioned that should be stopped,” he told reporters in Tacloban, where he visited a school serving as a shelter for villagers who lost their homes in the Nov. 8 typhoon.

He said that the issue should be resolved by dialogue.

The United States, Australia, South Korea and other countries have also expressed alarm over China’s new air identification zone. Beijing says all aircraft entering the vast area must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions.

Onodera said that China’s unilateral action violates the spirit of the International Civil Aviation Organization treaty.