Posts Tagged ‘nine-dash line’

Philippines: “Stand Up To China,” Some Allies of President Duterte Urge Him To Change Course Before It Is Too Late

March 23, 2017

Posted at Mar 23 2017 03:25 AM

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President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA — A senator and ally of President Rodrigo Duterte is asking him to rethink his “hands-off” approach in dealing with the South China Sea.

Duterte has drawn criticism for his response to the alleged Chinese encroachment on Benham Rise and reports that Beijing is also planning to build a station in Scarborough Shoal.

Reacting to reports that China plans to build a monitoring station in Scarborough, Duterte recently said that the Philippines cannot do anything to stop China from altering the disputed shoal, located some 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

China has since denied the report.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Duterte’s approach on the issue is wrong and the president must stand up to China.

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A Vietnamese Coast Guard captain speaks to other ships as a Chinese Coast Guard vessel cuts across its path to prevent access to an oil rig situated west of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. | BLOOMBERG

“It is incorrect to say that there is nothing we can do to stop China. We still have several legal and diplomatic options, all of which must be exhausted in defending Philippine territory from foreign aggression,” Gatchalian said.

“The Philippines should never allow itself to be bullied by anyone, no matter how big and powerful that bully might be.”

Gatchalian said Duterte must also invoke the Philippines’ legal victory against China should Beijing step up its aggression in the South China Sea.

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A Filipino fishing vessel ventures into the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. —REM ZAMORA

Last July, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s so-called nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea. It also said, Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground of the countries surrounding it and China may be violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking access to it.

“The favorable decision in the Philippines vs. China case is a potent tool we can use to enforce our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. It is our duty to invoke this ruling and take action before international legal institutions to contest any further acts of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea,” Gatchalian said.

Philippines: President Duterte Foes Amend Impeachment Complaint, Call Duterte Stance on China ‘Dereliction of Duty’

March 20, 2017
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano holds a copy of the impeachment complaint he filed against President Duterte at the House of Representatives on Thursday. photo
MANILA, Philippines — Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said that his group is considering  filing a supplemental complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly being subservient to China.
Alejano’s statement came after Duterte claimed last week that he allowed China to send survey ships to Benham Rise as part of an agreement.
The Department of Foreign Affairs last week said it was not aware of an agreement or policy over the Benham Rise region.
In an interview on CNN’s ‘The Source,’ Alejano said that the president’s action is a matter of national security since there is a conflict of interest with China on the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that Manila claims.
“We’re talking about national interest here, we’re talking about national security here because we have a clear conflict of interest in West Philippine Sea,” Alejano said.
China has repeatedly reiterated its position over the South China Sea, saying it has a historical and legal claim over the vast area.
An international tribunal however, ruled in favor of the Philippines in an arbitration case against China, saying that China’s “nine-dash line” claim over a large part of the South China Sea, including part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, has no basis.
In a speech on Sunday, Duterte also said that he cannot stop China from setting up a reported monitoring station in the Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc.
“We cannot stop China from doing its thing. Hindi nga napara ng Amerikano,” Duterte said.
Duterte added that the country will lose all of its military and policemen if he declares war against China.
Alejano however, said that war is not the only solution, saying that the president could constantly raise issues in the West Philippines Sea.
“He’s not doing that because he’s afraid to offend China,” Alejano said.
He added that if Duterte said he cannot do anything to protect the country’s territory “then that’s dereliction of duty.”
 (Contains links to several previos articles on the South China Sea)

China denounces ‘relevant countries’ after US carrier deploys to South China Sea

February 22, 2017


Published: February 22, 2017

China has denounced “relevant countries” for threatening sovereignty and security in the South China Sea, following the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group on a routine patrol in the sea’s international waters.

“China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy in the South China Sea under international law,” China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday in a press conference transcript posted to the ministry’s website. “But we oppose relevant countries threatening and undermining the sovereignty and security of coastal states under the pretext of such freedom. We hope that relevant countries can do more for regional peace and stability.”

The Navy regularly patrols the South China Sea, where more than $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade transits annually. China maintains an ambiguous claim to about 90 percent of the sea through markings on a map known as the nine-dash line.

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 4, 2017.

The line was ruled noncompliant with international maritime law by an international tribunal in July, but China has ignored that ruling.

The Vinson carrier group began operations in the South China Sea on Saturday, according to a Navy statement.


 (President Trump says U.S. will respect “One China” policy.)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Former Australian defence force chief Angus Houston: It may be too late to stop Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea — Unless One Believes War Against China is Justified

January 31, 2017


Former Australian defence force chief Angus Houston has concluded it may be too late to stop Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea.

Instead the focus should shift to ensuring freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage, Sir Angus told a dinner conference on Australia-Japan-US strategic co-operation on Monday night in Canberra.

China claims most of the South China Sea, which is oil and gas rich and has $5 trillion in trade pass through every year. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

In the past four years, Beijing has been building islands to bolster its sovereignty and its so-called nine-dash line claim.

Satellite imagery suggests three of the islands could be developed to conduct air combat and air surveillance activities and other islands could be used for other military purposes.

This development will potentially enable China to extend its permanent military presence further south closer to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

‘In my view it is too late to stop the China program in the South China Sea,’ Sir Angus told the dinner at the Australian National University.

He said it was important to find ways to discourage nations from acting unilaterally as well as measures to resolve territorial disputes in accordance with international law.

His comments come after tough talk from key US Trump administration officials that America might deny China access to the islands or prevent it from taking over territory in international waters.

Sir Angus also offered up some advice for the new US administration about the importance of maintaining a strong permanent presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

‘Pulling back to Hawaii will leave a vacuum that will be filled by China, who will see herself as the predominant power in the region,’ he said.

Sir Angus believes the US also needs to engage with and make space for China.

He cited some good examples of inclusiveness – China’s participation in counter- piracy operations in the Arabian Sea, the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) and the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

‘We need more co-operation and less competition,’ he said.


– See more at:–houston.html#sthash.Z7aL94Uu.dpuf


Is War Against China Justified?

I cover international politics, security and political risk.


There is increasing talk of U.S. military options against China in military, economic, academic, and government venues. This discussion follows chiefly from China’s incrementalist military tactics of territorial acquisition in places like the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Arunachal Pradesh region of India. It also stems from China’s support of North Korea, which increasingly threatens the U.S., South Korea, and Japan with provocative statements and nuclear weapons development. China’s actions and allies threaten international stability and the rule of international law. Because China is increasingly powerful and takes an explicit position against values like democracy and universal human rights , China threatens foundational enlightenment principles, including as instituted in European and American forms of government.

This aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane on May 11, 2015 shows China’s alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China’s campaign of island building in the South China Sea might soon quadruple the number of airstrips available to the People’s Liberation Army in the highly contested and strategically vital region. That is bad news for other regional contenders, especially the U.S., the Philippines and Vietnam. Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP, File.

Defensive military options short of war, such as naval blockades and acquisition of nuclear weapons by Japan and South Korea, entail risk of uncontrollable escalation into military confrontation. So, states considering these risky steps should consider whether such risk of war is justified.

Just war theory finds that states have a responsibility to protect the territory of their citizens, uphold international law, and defend justice. Wars should have a just cause, be the last resort, have right intentions, possess a reasonable chance of success, and have a means proportional to the end.

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Chinese J-11 fighter jet. Satellite photography indicates that China has already militarised the islands it developed in the South China Sea

Consider one example — China’s continued occupation of Mischief Reef, which is in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines has an obligation to defend the territory of its citizens, such as maritime territory , so should do that to the best of its ability, including by requesting assistance from the U.S., its treaty ally. This satisfies just war theory’s recognition of the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens and territory.

Defense of an ally upholds international law, defends justice, and has right intentions. The Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally per the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. China occupied Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in 1995. In compliance with the UNCLOS dispute resolution process, the Philippines brought China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2013. This satisfies the last resort requirement of just war theory, as well as the requirement of the Mutual Defense Treaty (Article 1) that,

The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

Contrary to what many commentators said in the press, China can not reasonably claim the U.S.-Philippine blockade, quarantine, or other denial of access of Mischief Reef as an act of war, tantamount to war, or a casus belli (cause for war). Rather, China violated the dignity and sovereignty of the Philippine state when it occupied the reef in 1995 , and a blockade would be a reasonable attempt at enforcing international law. The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration confirmed Philippine sovereignty over the feature in the 2016 findings when it states:

Having found that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged at high tide, form part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China, the Tribunal concluded that the Convention is clear in allocating sovereign rights to the Philippines with respect to sea areas in its exclusive economic zone.”

China refused to recognize or abide by the 2016 international court ruling that its Mischief Reef occupation violated Philippine sovereignty. Following a pattern that stretches back to at least the earliest days of the Chinese Communist state, China is the first and only aggressor here. China’s continued occupation of the Philippines’ Mischief Reef is therefore just cause for a blockade of that feature , at a minimum, and at a maximum, is a casus belli. The Philippine state, having exhausted all means through the courts, now has a duty to its citizens to pursue other means, including activation of the 1951 U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty.

A U.S.-Philippine blockade would be a minimum means through which to satisfy state responsibilities to defend territories and uphold alliance commitments. To argue that such a blockade would be an “act of war” by the U.S. and Philippines and therefore unjustifiable makes no normative sense given China’s aggressor status. Economic sanctions against China would be another minimum means, should be pursued simultaneously, and would be justified by a similar line of argumentation.

War is by no means inevitable. That a U.S. blockade would cause armed clashes is a very small probability. Given armed clashes, the probability of a significant escalation, much less a broader war, is smaller still. The probability that a blockade escalates to a major war is therefore minuscule. China has had near-continuous modern border disputes, with just a few becoming violent. Militarized border disputes with Russia (1969) and Vietnam (1979), for example, did not escalate into nuclear war, despite China and Russia being nuclear powers, and an alliance between Russia and Vietnam.

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Part of a Chinese HQ-9 Air Defense System

The Trump administration vows to get tougher on China’s maritime claims

January 28, 2017

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WHEN Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said during his confirmation hearings that America should deny China access to the bases it had built on disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea, many assumed that he was speaking off the top of his head, perhaps trying to impress the senators by sounding tough. But when, at a press briefing on January 23rd, the new president’s spokesman said something similar, it was not just jumpy Chinese who began wondering whether Mr Trump might deliberately and dramatically escalate military tensions with China.

At the briefing Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s press secretary, was asked if he agreed with Mr Tillerson’s remarks. He replied, “It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then, yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.”

Certainly, there are strong grounds for objecting to China’s ejection of neighbours’ forces from islands and reefs, to its naval build-up and, above all, to its island-building. Last July an international tribunal produced a damning verdict on China’s “historic claims” in the South China Sea, declaring them invalid. It said China’s tongue-shaped “nine-dash line”, which descends over 1,500km from the Chinese coast to encompass nearly all the sea (see map), had no legal standing under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory. The court also dismissed China’s claim to territorial waters around certain rocks, originally visible only at low tide, on which it had built. And it lambasted China for violating the rights of the Philippines, whose 200-nautical-mile (370-km) exclusive economic zone covers some of the rocks in question, and whose vessels China had prevented from fishing and prospecting for oil.

China said flatly that it would ignore the ruling. If anything, it has increased its presence in the sea since. For instance, it has installed hangars for fighter jets on some of the islands, in spite of a pledge not to “militarise” them. In December the Chinese navy briefly seized an underwater drone that had been deployed by an American naval research vessel about 50 nautical miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines. China has long resented America’s (perfectly legal) naval patrols and surveillance operations near its coasts.

There is a good case for standing up to creeping Chinese expansionism. But the Chinese media are surely right when they say that a blockade of the islands would be construed as an act of war. Nor do America’s friends in the region want an escalation. The Philippines has had a change of government since bringing the petition to the tribunal. Its new president, Rodrigo Duterte, has said he will set the ruling aside. Australia, America’s closest military ally in Asia, has distanced itself from the Trump administration’s stance. And, in an abrupt change of course, Vietnam, another once-vocal critic of China’s claims, recently said it would settle its maritime disputes with China bilaterally, as China prefers.

Decades of ideological inculcation have seared the nine-dash line across the hearts of Chinese nationalists. It is there on maps on the wall of nearly every classroom, and is reproduced in all Chinese passports. Facing a blockade, China would not climb down lightly.

It is not clear whether Mr Trump endorses the measures, vague as they are, that Messrs Tillerson and Spicer seem to be sketching out. But it is hard to pretend that there is no change in attitude towards China. Mr Trump has tilted notably towards Taiwan—he has broken the taboo of questioning the “one-China” policy—and he seems bent on picking a fight over trade. It is all starting to sound quite hostile, notwithstanding the deep interdependence of the two powers. Yet if the stern talk on the South China Sea is followed by inaction, America’s credibility will be damaged.

A charitable interpretation of the emerging line, floated by Bill Hayton, an expert on the South China Sea at Chatham House, a think-tank in London, is that the hawkish comments have a narrower aim, of keeping China from building on the Scarborough Shoal, a set of reefs near the Philippines from which the Chinese chased the Philippine navy in 2012. A base there, in addition to ones already built in the Paracel Islands to the west and the Spratly Islands to the south, would allow China to dominate the sea. Last year Barack Obama’s administration is thought to have warned China that America would block any attempt to build on the shoal. Mr Tillerson may therefore simply be restating existing policy more bluntly.

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China H-6K bomber over Scarborough, The Philippines

Will it work? Perhaps. Satellite imagery suggests that China’s island-building stopped months ago. China’s new courtship of the Philippines argues against any provocative building on Scarborough Shoal. Besides, Xi Jinping, China’s president, has declared 2017 to be a year of stability, so he can scarcely afford a crisis in the South China Sea. Still, Mr Trump’s emerging line gives China an excuse to do what it swore not to, and fully fortify the islands it has spent years creating.

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On July 12, 2016, at the Permanent Court of Arbitration said this claim by China was not valid


Chinese bomber flies around contested Spratlys in show of force: U.S. official

January 11, 2017


Wed Jan 11, 2017 | 5:05am EST

A Chinese H-6 strategic bomber flew around the Spratly Islands over the weekend in a new show of force in the contested South China Sea, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

It was the second such flight by a Chinese bomber in the South China Sea this year. The first was on Jan. 1, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The flight could be seen as a show of “strategic force” by the Chinese, the official said.

It comes after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has signaled a tougher approach to China when he takes office on Jan. 20, with tweets criticizing Beijing for its trade practices and accusing it of failing to help rein in nuclear-armed North Korea.

Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said he had no specific comment on China’s recent bomber activities, but added: “we continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region‎.”

In December, China flew an H-6 bomber along the “nine-dash line” it uses to map its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategic global trade route. That flight also went around Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province.

In August, China conducted “combat patrols” near contested islands in the South China Sea.

Trump has enraged Beijing by breaking with decades of U.S. policy and speaking to the Taiwanese president by telephone.

A state-run Chinese newspaper warned Donald Trump on Sunday that China would “take revenge” if he reneged on the U.S. one-China policy, only hours after Taiwan’s president made a controversial stopover in Houston.

Last week China said that a group of Chinese warships led by its sole aircraft carrier was testing weapons and equipment in exercises this week in the South China Sea, where territory is claimed by several regional states.

U.S. warships conducted what they call “freedom of navigation” patrols through the South China Sea over the past year amid growing concern about Chinese construction of air strips and docks on disputed reefs and islands.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)


  (January 10, 2017)

China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conducts first live-fire drill as Beijing shows off military might

China H-6 bomber Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines

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A combined task force of Chinese and Russian warships exercised together in the western Pacific in 2016 and 2014. Reuters photo

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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.


China aircraft carrier enters Taiwan Strait, Taiwan scrambles jet fighters — Looming presence of China’s powerful military

January 11, 2017

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China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying warships in the South China Sea. Reuters photo

TAIPEI, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships on Wednesday as a group of Chinese warships, led by its sole aircraft carrier, sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the latest sign of heightened tension between Beijing and the self-ruled island.

China’s Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier, returning from exercises in the South China Sea, was not encroaching in Taiwan’s territorial waters but entered its air defense identification zone in the southwest, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.

As a result, Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships to “surveil and control” the passage of the Chinese ships north through the body of water separating Taiwan and China, Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.

Taiwan military aircraft and ships have been deployed to follow the carrier group, which is sailing up the west side of the median line of the strait, he said.

Taiwan’s top policymaker for China affairs urged Beijing to resume dialog, after official communication channels were suspended by Beijing from June.

“I want to emphasize our government has sufficient capability to protect our national security. It’s not necessary to overly panic,” said Chang Hsiao-yueh, minister for Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, during a news briefing in response to reporters’ questions on the Liaoning.

“On the other hand, any threats would not benefit cross-Strait ties,” she said.

China has said the Liaoning was on an exercise to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and its movements complied with international law.

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A combined task force of Chinese and Russian warships exercised together in the western Pacific in 2016 and 2014. Reuters photo

On the weekend, a Chinese bomber flew around the Spratly Islands in a show of “strategic force,” a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The latest Chinese exercises have unnerved Beijing’s neighbors, especially Taiwan which Beijing claims as its own, given long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said China’s ships “couldn’t always remain in port” and the navy had to hone its capabilities.

“The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway shared between the mainland and Taiwan. So, it is normal for the Liaoning to go back and forth through the Taiwan Strait in the course of training, and it won’t have any impact on cross-Strait relations,” Liu said at a briefing on Asia-Pacific security.

A Chinese military plane H-6 bomber © Reuters

China claims most of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

China distrusts Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and has stepped up pressure on her after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump broke years of diplomatic protocol and took a congratulatory call last month from her.

Trump then riled China by casting doubt on the “one China” policy that Beijing regards as the basis of U.S.-Chinese relations.

Tsai drew anger from China again when she met senior U.S. Republican lawmakers in Houston on Sunday en route to Central America, in a transit stop that Beijing had asked the United States to not allow.

Beijing suspects Tsai wants to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for the mainland, which has never renounced the use of force to bring what it deems a renegade province under its control.

Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.


  (January 10, 2017)

China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conducts first live-fire drill as Beijing shows off military might

China H-6 bomber Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines

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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.

China’s proliferation of South China Sea runways looks impressive, but air power has limits

January 8, 2017

By  Ben Blackledge
Hong Kong Free Press

It’s no secret what the mainland is doing in the South China Sea. No one is surprised when they hear of another dredging operation to reclaim an island, or when another runway pops up on satellite imagery where before there were only idyllic, turquoise waters.

The recent arrival of fighter aircraft along with evidence of anti-aircraft reinforcements is meant as a clear statement of intent. But there remains a very pertinent question which has had little attention – what can they achieve with this collection of runways?

On the face of it, the answer seems clear – to project air power in the region. China’s political goal is to claim vast swathes of the South China Sea marked out by the ‘nine-dash line’, a border of questionable historic merit. This claim would allow exploitation of the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) established around sovereign territory as well as establishing China as the dominant force in the region.

south china sea

Photo: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

China wants to maintain a presence on these islands to reinforce the legitimacy of its claims while filling them with aircraft in order to defend them. The problem is that, historically speaking, air power has a very poor record of achieving wider strategic goals.

Going back to World War II, the first example of total warfare, and the Royal Air Force bombing of targets in Germany – leaders such as Bomber Command’s Arthur Harris called for comprehensive bombing of German cities to “break the will of the people”. Results were anything but, many observers recalling that the attacks galvanised communities instead of breaking them. Political and strategic effect, nil.

Fast forward to the brutal bombing campaign in Vietnam carried out by the United States Air Force through Rolling Thunder. The main political aim of the operation was to persuade the North Vietnamese to quit the war, or at least entice them to the negotiating table. Despite dropping 643,000 tonnes of munitions on North Vietnam, littering the land with unexploded ordinance and threats for years to come, the operation failed to reach its goals.

Disputed islands in the South China Sea

Disputed islands in the South China Sea. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Some might think that the advent of precision weaponry, that is laser and GPS guided weapons, the effects could be more accurately directed to achieve a specific result. Looking at the Kosovo conflict would reveal otherwise.

A NATO bombing campaign commenced in March 1999 with the political goal of forcing Milosevic to withdraw Serbian troops from the Kosovo region. Initially the strike list consisted of hard military targets but, as the results disappointed, was expanded to infrastructure such as power stations and radio stations.

After four months of intensive bombing, the turning point came only when the U.S expanded its options to include a land force, a line which Serbia’s ally, Russia, would not cross.

Some examples where it has worked well consist of military campaigns where strike aircraft are used in the close air support role working with ground troops to attack specific targets. The evidence seems to suggest then that air power is most effective in the tactical or operational spheres and less so in the strategic.

Ultimately, previous air power campaigns failed either because leaders didn’t appreciate the galvanising effect cold and remote attacks can have on a civilian population, or because an air force cannot be omnipresent and, once clear, the enemy has calmly continued their work.

south china sea naval ships

Warships in the South China sea. Photo: Wikicommons.

On the first point, China has already tested the waters by sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat last year, resulting in a major diplomatic backlash and growing anger amongst Vietnamese people. The majority of popular opinion has strengthened against China, which may have further implications for the regional power, especially if other claimants can cooperate and channel their demands through ASEAN.

China already finds international opinion against it after the U.N. last July ruled in favour of the Philippines in a case questioning the legitimacy of the nine-dash claim.

The second point relates to the practical considerations about what China can actually do with the aircraft stationed on the islands and how far it is prepared to go.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently stationed Shenyang J-11 aircraft on the main airstrip protecting the Paracel Islands, known as Woody Island or Yongzing. The J-11 is an air superiority fighter with a combat radius of 1,500km putting most of the South China Sea in its crosshairs. Its primary function is to clear an airspace of the enemy but doing so is a means, not an end. They are most likely the start of a military build-up in the area which will include ground attack and reconnaissance planes.

south china sea disputed

Photo: GoogleMaps.

In peacetime, these aircraft will do little to deter infractions. China’s Coastguard may feel confident harassing and ramming fishing boats, but an air force does not drop bombs lightly. Air strikes are a much stronger statement tantamount to war, incapable of being used with the light touch required to navigate regional tension.

China will back up its claims until the point where others would be forced to defend their interests and, as the biggest player, the United States has made its position very clear. The U.S. Air Force and Navy regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises undermining the integrity of the claim. Despite the Chinese Navy seizing an unmanned underwater vehicle last month, real resistance to these exercises has been meek, consisting of verbal warnings over radio.

Fighters are sometimes scrambled to guide away reconnaissance aircraft but these have taken on a benign familiarity, much like the games Russian surveillance aircraft play with European air forces. Clearly no bombs have been dropped on inquisitive ships.

Should the situation escalate, even with more advanced technology, air power would struggle to produce effective results. With the claimed islands being so close to other countries and the defensive precautions that entails, it’s unlikely that even with air superiority and a high volume of ground attacks, the “enemy” could be inhibited or coerced into a political compromise. Remember that even with the might of NATO brought to bear against one of Europe’s less developed countries, it could not force Milosevic’s hand by air power alone.


NATO. Photo: Wikicommons.

In the event of all-out war, these outposts and runways are dangerously exposed. Despite bordering nations not having the firepower of China, they would take significant resources to defend.

Likely sources of conflict in coming years include unintended interactions between navies, as well as resistance to China’s exploitation of oil and gas within their EEZ. An oil rig constructed to the West of the Paracel Islands stands mockingly close to Vietnamese waters whilst Reed Reef, a source of natural gas and oil within the Philippines, has been repeatedly harassed by Chinese vessels – a land grab Filipinos would regard as the final straw.

Statesmen talk of restraint but, as the world saw with the Turkish downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M last year, sometimes an interaction between two abrasive forces can result in surprising and potentially catastrophic consequences.

At present, we have a stalemate – fourth-generation fighter aircraft parked in the sun, their contribution too large a gesture to bring against minor infractions, their presence symbolic only.


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China H-6 bomber near Scarborough Shoal, The Philippines

Is U.S. Policy in Asia All Washed Up? Can we predict Donald Trump’s policy toward China? — Where is the U.S resolve, U.S. allies wonder?

December 19, 2016

By Tao Wenzhao

It is very difficult to predict Donald Trump’s policy, especially his foreign policy. The president-elect never systematically elaborated it. His speeches were made on the spot. His statements often contradicted each other. As a businessman, he is not familiar with diplomacy. According to his White House chief of staff, getting familiar with diplomacy will be one of four priorities in his first hundred days in office. And we still know little about his aides and staff. But I would like to attempt a prediction of Trump’s China policy on the basis of his few words and ‘first 100 days’ agenda plus the Republican Party’s program and statements and articles of Trump’s advisers.
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It has been 37 years since China and the US normalized their relations. In those years, major changes have taken place in both the international and domestic situations of both countries. However, no matter how the situation changes, the two countries need each other. Cooperation benefits both while fighting harms both. Cooperation has thus been the mainstream of China-US relations. Given the state of the bilateral relationship in the past 37 years and the extensive cooperation between them, we have confidence on this point.
Trump stresses ‘America first’ and prioritizes defense of American interests. He will not seek strategic expansion and may even engage in certain strategic contraction. Actually Obama also practiced strategic contraction globally and expanded only in a priority region (Asia Pacific). Trump is not an ‘isolationist’. We must not magnify some of his more inward-looking statements. Henry Kissinger categorically said that isolationism is not an option for the US. Trump may make some readjustment to America’s alliance relations but he will not fundamentally change the alliance system, which is an all-too-important strategic asset for the US.
In Asia, America’s alliances with Japan and the ROK have existed for over 60 years and are essential to America’s status in the Asia Pacific region, the US-Japan alliance in particular. Strengthening US-Japan relations has been a consistent bipartisan policy of three presidents since the end of the Cold War (Clinton, Bush and Obama). It’s impossible for the alliance relationship to experience drastic changes in Trump’s term. But what Trump often says is to the effect that nobody can take advantage of America. It is completely possible that he may bargain with allies for them to bear more costs. Such a policy will have a direct bearing on China’s surrounding environment. He will not use the Obama administration’s term of ‘rebalancing’ Asia Pacific but may not necessarily reduce American military presence in the region. Trump’s doctrine is ‘peace through strength’. Not satisfied with Obama cutting military expenditure, he said he would rebuild American military, increase naval ships to 350 from the current 274 and make America strong to the extent no one dares to make trouble for the US. In this connection, we must not let down our guard.
However, Trump can also not afford the risk of worsened relations with China. In particular, the US is now experiencing fiscal difficulty and internal division. There is no basis for a policy that would worsen US-China relations.
During the campaign, Trump talked more about trade and about the loss of jobs in the US, sometime using rather high-sounding words. Will a trade war break out between China and the US during Trump’s term? Not very likely. Economic interdependence between the two countries is already rather deep. Last year, two-way trade was over $558 billion. Direct American investment in China was over $70 billion and China has become some companies’ main source of revenue. Chinese investment in the US has also increased rapidly in the past two years, accumulating to more than $46 billion by the end of 2015. Over 70% of China’s 3.1 trillion foreign exchange reserve was in US dollars. China has been the largest overseas holder of US Treasury Bonds for many years and still holds $1.22 trillion. These figures suggest that neither country may do without the other. It is quite impossible for Trump to levy a 45% import tariff on commodities imported from China. As a shrewd businessman, he knows too well that both sides will sustain great losses in a trade war. He has said as much after all. So it will be unlikely for him to do such a thing. Hence economic and trade frictions between the two countries may increase. Levying anti-dumping and countervailing duty over some imports from China is possible, as the Obama Administration has already done. But that will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. China and the US are both WTO members. If the US imposes high duties on China, China may use legal means and complain at WTO. China has gathered some experience in this regard in recent years and many complaints have been successful. Of course we hope to see less friction but it’s only natural to have some friction.
Trump promised in the campaign to rebuild America by constructing infrastructure on a large scale, including airports, railways, bridges and highways, so as to revitalize the economy and create jobs. This actually will produce opportunities for China-US cooperation. China has money, technology and talented people in infrastructure construction. The two countries may well cooperate through some commercial arrangement. Naturally there is a need to exclude political interference.
Trump is a businessman, who values solid interests. He will also focus his attention on domestic affairs rather than having a strong impulse to expand American-style democracy overseas. Human rights pressure on China is likely to decrease.
The Taiwan question remains very sensitive. Trump rarely talked about Taiwan in his campaign except for some casual references to job losses. But Taiwan occurred more prominently in the Republican Party’s campaign program and the basic tone was to upgrade the US-Taiwan relationship. It is hoped that Trump will get familiar with the Taiwan question quickly, understand its ins and outs and its significance to US-China relations and cautiously handle related issues such as arms sales to Taiwan, Taiwan’s international participation and Taiwan officials’ visits to the US. He should not make hasty moves, and should not take detours like the George W. Bush administration, which came to opposing ‘immediate independence’ only after several years of conniving by the DPP authorities.
America is now in transition, not only from the Democratic Obama administration to the Republican administration of Trump. It is also for Trump a period of transition from being a ‘rebel’ to being the ‘authority’. During the campaign, to win votes, he delivered some radical rhetoric and made some obviously unachievable promises. When in power, he will have to face reality. He will need time to familiarize himself with and understand China-US relations before truly exercising his policies. It is hoped that during Trump’s term the relationship will continue moving forward.
Muted U.S. Response to China’s Seizure of Drone Worries Asian Allies

BEIJING — Only a day before a small Chinese boat sidled up to a United States Navy research vessel in waters off the Philippines and audaciously seized an underwater drone from American sailors, the commander of United States military operations in the region told an audience in Australia that America had a winning military formula.

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“Capability times resolve times signaling equals deterrence,” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. told a blue-chip crowd of diplomats and analysts at the prestigious Lowy Institute in Sydney, the leading city in America’s closest ally in the region.

In the eyes of America’s friends in Asia, the brazen maneuver to launch an operation against an American Navy vessel in international waters in the South China Sea about 50 miles from the Philippines, another close American ally, has raised questions about one of the admiral’s crucial words. It was also seen by some as a taunt to President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has challenged the One China policy on Taiwan and has vowed to deal forcefully with Beijing in trade and other issues.

“The weak link is the resolve, and the Chinese are testing that, as well as baiting Trump,” said Euan Graham, the director of international security at the Lowy Institute. “Capability, yes. Signaling, yes, with sending F-22 fighter jets to Australia. But the very muted response means the equation falls down on resolve.”

Across Asia, diplomats and analysts said they were perplexed at the inability of the Obama administration to devise a strong response to China’s challenge. It did not even dispatch an American destroyer to the spot near Subic Bay, a former American Navy base that is still frequented by American ships, some noted.

After discussions at the National Security Council on how to deal with the issue, the Obama administration demanded the return of the drone. On Saturday, China said it would comply with the request but did not indicate when or how the equipment would be sent back.

The end result, analysts said, is that China will be emboldened by having carried out an act that amounted to hybrid warfare, falling just short of provoking conflict, and suffering few noticeable consequences.

“Allies and observers will find it hard not to conclude this represents another diminishment of American authority in the region,” said Douglas H. Paal, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Significantly, the Chinese grabbed the drone not only in international waters but outside even the “nine-dash line” that China uses as a marker for its claims in the South China Sea. In so doing, analysts said, Beijing was making the point that the entire sea was its preserve, even though it is entirely legal for the United States to conduct military operations in waters within 200 miles of the Philippines, an area known as an exclusive economic zone.

In the last dozen years, China has steadily showed off its growing military prowess to the countries around the South China Sea, which carries trillions of dollars of world trade and which China values for its strategic access to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

As China has built up its navy and its submarine fleet in the last decade, it has also emphasized what it calls its “inherent” right to dominate the regional seas, and to challenge the presence of the United States, its allies and partners in Asia.

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South China Sea: What Does China Actually Want? And At What Cost?

October 28, 2016

By Nick Bisley

The complex disputes over islands, rocks and reefs in the South China Sea involve six countries: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. They have a long history, with their origins in the interruption of traditional practices by European and Japanese colonialism, and compounded by the post-WWII conflicts in Southeast Asia. These disputes are among the most vexing issues in the region.

Despite this backstory the tensions associated with contestation have waxed and waned. The current spike in geopolitical temperature dates back to 2009, and in particular to China’s issuing of the decidedly ambiguous “dashed line” map. This map can now be found in passports, on inflight magazines and in every school book in the country. Since then, China has begun to take steps to defend what it portrays as its rights in the sea. Disputed features have been built upon and now boast 3 km runways and deep water ports. Sansha island in the Paracels, population 1200, has city status. And while Beijing is not the only country occupying or building on disputed features, its activities are the most widespread and destabilizing.

Yet in spite of its many activities, it is not clear precisely what it is that China wants. We can see plainly its methods of advancing its interests on a daily basis, but just what its larger strategic objective may be is uncertain. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the dashed line map – it was presented accompanying a note in which China asserted its “indisputable” sovereignty over the islands and the adjacent waters of the Sea. But it lacked specificity about what the dashes meant, where, precisely on the map the lines are located or indeed what meaning they held.

This ambiguity is, in part, deliberate. It provides diplomatic leeway to manage events; it sows confusion in the minds of those who have a stake (however large or small) in the dispute; and, of course, it papers over the fact that Beijing may not be entirely set in its own mind as to what it wants to achieve. But this lack of clarity makes managing the dispute extremely difficult and the process of negotiating some kind of settlement acceptable to all virtually impossible.

There are ultimately three main things that China appears to seek. First, as with all the claimant states, China is a net energy importer. The Sea is thought to be rich in oil and gas, and China wants not only the economic benefit that comes from having sovereign rights over hydrocarbon reserves but also the security of supply that it would entail. Equally, the South China Sea is a significant fishery and as a country which consumes growing volumes of protein this is highly prized.

China also desires security for its maritime approaches. The country is dependent for its economic prosperity on trade flows – energy and commodities inbound and finished goods going to market. But this goes beyond protecting shipping lanes; in the nineteenth century China was brought low by foreign forces that tore the country apart and humiliated its people, at least so goes the Party’s nationalist mythology. The Party’s claim to legitimacy depends on its ability to protect China and it follows from this that it must secure the means through which others approach China. The South China Sea is, in many respects, the country’s front door and it does not want that door to be vulnerable.

Finally and perhaps most crucially the Sea is now presented by the Party-State as a fundamental part of China. It has long argued that China was once a great nation and that only through the tenacity and discipline of the Communists was it able to be made whole and once again sit at the top table in world affairs. The South China Sea thus has a nationalist and identity value above and beyond material resources and questions of strategy, and this value should not be understated given the importance of this matter to the Party’s legitimacy and sense of itself.

The problem is that these three goals make devising a negotiated settlement that involves anything but a maximalist vision of China’s claims over the sea extraordinarily difficult. More significantly, its vision is incompatible with the view that the United States and its allies have for Asia’s future. And it is for this reason that the South China Sea has become such a significant part of the region’s international politics and why the United States and its allies find managing the dispute so vexing.

Nick Bisley is Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Australia.

Image: PLA Navy carrier battle group in formation in the South China Sea. Flickr/Creative Commons/Simon Yang



silk road



   (From July 12, 2016)

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Above Chinese chart shows China’s “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.