Posts Tagged ‘Strait of Malacca’

An ASEAN Maritime Alliance?

February 25, 2015

The year 2014 brought new tensions to the South China Sea, particularly as Chinese authorities sought to establish a series of island-like structures in the midst of the disputed Spratly Islands. Such provocative actions, however, are unlikely to generate sufficient political will among the other countries of the region to establish a Political-Security Community under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) by the 2015 deadline. But were this collection of ten countries to pool their resources into a security community or even a security alliance, it would be an impressive force and a potential deterrent to aggression in the South China Sea.

In particular, it is worthwhile noting the relative strength of ASEAN coastal defence forces. Some member states, such as Indonesia, possess respectable ‘blue water’ navies, that is to say, they have larger vessels capable of operating in deep waters and engaging in long-range standing battles. Other ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines, have considerable ‘brown water’ navies,  forces consisting of small patrol boats which can cruise inland waterways and the shallow waters that weave between tight-knit island chains. But the varied nature of the waters disputed in the South China Sea particularly requires the flexibility offered by corvettes.

Generally, corvettes fall between the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates and Kingston-class coastal defence vessels in size. But there is much debate as to what constitutes a contemporary corvette. For example, the Royal Omani Navy calls its Khareef-class vessels ‘corvettes’ even though the displacement of each vessel in the class is approximately 2,660 tons. Recent advancements in shipbuilding have also allowed the US Navy to introduce new vessels with substantial displacement but with shallower drafts, meaning the new USS Liberty can approach closer to coastlines than the similarly sized but older Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

Canada’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH 334)

For the purposes of this analysis, only those vessels with a displacement greater than 100 tons but less than 1,700 tons will be considered corvettes. China’s maritime forces, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN),  has a substantial number of vessels in this range deployed to Hong Kong and a network of naval bases off the South China Sea. 12 Jiangdao-class corvettes (1,440 tons) are the workhorses of this maritime presence in the region and China may possibly add 3 more vessels of this class by the end of 2015. Beyond the Jiangdao-class corvettes, PLAN’s southern presence includes six Houjian-class missile boats (520 tons) and approximately 80 other missile boats and gunboats of various classes and ranging in displacement from 200 to 480 tons each. This vastly exceeds the quantity and quality of vessels any individual Southeast Asian country could bring to bear in a conflict. But ASEAN’s combined maritime forces could meet the challenge presented by a limited PLAN offensive.

Brunei in particular has emerged as a promising new maritime actor in the region, even actively participating in the 2014 edition of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The Royal Brunei Navy acquired four specially built Darussalam-class offshore patrol ships (1,625 tonnes) from the German shipbuilder Luerssen-Werft, which replaced Brunei’s previous coastal defence workhorse, the Waspada-class fast attack craft (200 tonnes). The Waspada-class vessels have since been decommissioned and donated to Indonesia to be used for training purposes. The introduction of the Darussalam-class greatly upgrades Brunei’s defence capabilities and it will be of interest for Southeast Asian observers to see how Brunei further pursues the modernization of its forces.

The Republic of Singapore Navy has much in the way of heavier frigates and submarines to defend its unique position by the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s most significant shipping routes. Its corvette-like vessels are also impressive, six Victory-class corvettes (600 tonnes) and 12 Fearless-class offshore patrol ships (500 tonnes), but they are certainly not as new as some of the vessels boasted by Singapore’s neighbours. The Victory-class was acquired in 1990-1991 while the Fearless-class was introduced between 1996 and 1998. Therefore, it will also be of interest to see whether Singapore seeks to obtain any newer vessels which can serve as a bridge in capabilities between the Victory-class corvettes and the heavier Formidable-class frigates.

Singapore Navy’s corvette RSS Vigilance (90) sails along with guided-missile frigate RSS Steadfast (FFG 70) during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore 2010. Image courtesy of U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric J. Cutright/Released.

It is Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia that boast the largest complements of corvettes in the region, however. The Royal Thai Navy’s coastal defence is led by two Tapi-class corvettes (1,200 tons) and two Pattani-class offshore patrol ships (1,460 tons), which are joined by two Ratanakosin-class corvettes (960 tons), three Khamrosin-class corvettes (630 tons), three Hua Hin-class patrol boats (600 tons), six PSMM Mark 5-class patrol boats (300 tons), and 18 smaller patrol boats and fast attack boats of varying capabilities but all rather aged. The Philippines and Indonesia both have vast island chains within their respective territories, requiring corvettes and smaller patrol vessels just as much for counter-trafficking and counter-piracy operations as for countering conventional maritime forces. The Philippine Navy possesses one Pohang-class corvette (1,200 tons), two Rizal-class corvettes (1,250 tons), nine Miguel Malvar-class corvettes (900 tons), and three Emilio Jacinto-class corvettes (700 tons). Indonesia tops out ASEAN’s array of corvettes with three Fatahillah-class corvettes (1,450 tons), 16 Kapitan Patimura-class corvettes (950 tons), and 65 other missile boats and gunboats with a displacement of approximately 100-250 tons.

Yet it is unclear how much of their forces Indonesia or the Philippines would be able to deploy in the midst of a South China Sea conflict. As mentioned previously, many of these vessels have been used practically as inland patrol vessels. There are also some potential weak links in the chain should ASEAN establish some form of formalized maritime alliance. The Royal Malaysian Navy only offers four Laksamana-class corvettes (675 tons) and an array of 16 smaller missile boats and gun boats that could generally only be used to harass Chinese forces. Burma certainly has an impressive force in its own right – consisting of three domestically produced Anawratha-class corvettes (1,100 tons), six Houxin-class missile boats (500 tons), 10 5 Series-class missile boats (500 tons), and 15 Hainan-class gunboats (450 tons), but the military junta has already demonstrated that it will remain aloof from territorial disputes in the South China Sea and generally supports China’s policy toward Southeast Asia.

Malaysia’s Laksamana Class

The Royal Cambodian Navy is in shambles, consisting solely of five outdated Turya-class torpedo boats (250 tons), five Stenka-class patrol boats (250 tons), and a lone Shershen-class fast attack boat (175 tons). But Cambodian authorities would be just as disinclined to engage in defence sharing as their Burmese counterparts. During Cambodia’s 2012 ASEAN chairmanship, Cambodian officials consistently interfered in efforts by other ASEAN member states to reach a common position on the South China Sea’s territorial disputes. Given the understanding on security issues shared between Cambodian and Chinese officials, as well as China’s status as Cambodia’s largest source of foreign investment and aid, it is apparent that Cambodia has relatively no need for the security guarantees ASEAN could provide as a regional counter-balance to China.

Vietnam is the unpredictable factor in the region. The Vietnam People’s Navy has a few corvettes of its own, including a Pauk-class corvette (580 tons), eight Tarantul-class corvettes (540 tons), and 23 patrol ships with displacements ranging from 200 to 375 tons. The Vietnamese government has also ordered two more TT-400TP gunboats (450 tons) from domestic shipbuilders with delivery expected in late 2015 or early 2016. This leaves Vietnam with a force perhaps not as sizable as that of Indonesia or the Philippines but with greater capacity to intervene should China seek to settle territorial disputes with Vietnam by force.

Vietnam Tarantul class

As Malaysia will hold the 2015 Chairmanship of ASEAN, the prospects for a maritime force in support of the bloc’s proposed Political-Security Community will depend to some degree on whether Malaysian officials will be willing to show leadership. If Malaysia looks to acquire new vessels and insists on placing maritime security on the agenda of upcoming ASEAN meetings, some arrangement could be struck by the end of the year. But this will require artful diplomacy, especially in the face of Burmese and Cambodian opposition. With Malaysian officials speaking predominantly about the need for a single market in the region and promoting a conclusion to negotiations regarding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, such a drive for maritime security may not be forthcoming.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

This article can be found in its original form at the  
NATO Council of Canada and was republished by permission.

Small Islands May Hold The Key To Strategic Control of The Indian Ocean

February 24, 2015

Small islands dotting the Indian Ocean are emerging at the center stage of great power politics.

By Darshana M. Baruah
The Diplomat

The rise of China, changing power dynamics, territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, and the U.S. rebalance to Asia have all led to the re-emergence of the Indian Ocean as the center stage for power politics in the Indo-Pacific.

Much has been written about China’s assertive behavior in the South and East China Seas and it remains a cause of concern for all key actors in the region. However, looking beyond these islands in Southeast Asia to the ones in the Indian Ocean, one realizes that Beijing has been working incessantly to secure its strategic interests and strengthen its role as a major player in the Indo-Pacific — alarming other regional powers such as India and the U.S.

The conflict in the South China Sea can be describe as a frozen situation with no dispute resolution in sight. While a number of mechanisms exist, none has been successful in solving the territorial claims. Apart from the occasional confrontation and verbal protests, Beijing seems to be in good control over the South China Sea. Having fairly secured its interests in the Western Pacific, China is now looking to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean.

While Beijing has the capabilities to venture out into the Indian Ocean, alarming a host of other nations in the region, it does not have the means to sustain its presence, especially in the event of a conflict. What China now seeks to do is court and improve relations with the small island nations in the India Ocean to facilitate its increasing presence in those waters. Beijing is thus using commercial initiatives to achieve its security and strategic aims in the region. In turn, New Delhi and Washington too are scrambling to strengthen relationships with their friends and allies and re-assert their influence over the small island nations. This essay looks at the geo-strategic competition unfolding between China, the U.S., India, and their friends in the Indian Ocean.

The Malacca Dilemma

China is well aware of its challenges in projecting power in the Indian Ocean. Beijing has always been concerned about the security of its oil and gas imports from the Middle East and Africa transiting through the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca. What is emerging as a greater concern is the reliance on American forces to secure the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) and chokepoints along the route. With no sustainable presence in the Indian Ocean, Beijing’s energy imports are highly vulnerable in the event of a military standoff with New Delhi or Washington. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao talked of the “Malacca Dilemma” and the need to secure China’s strategic and economic interests in the region. For China, the debate boils down to two key points — either they find a way to reduce their dependency on the Malacca Strait or they maintain a credible presence in the Indian Ocean to equally secure the SLOCs. This is perhaps one of the driving factors behind China’s aggressive pursuit of good relations with the island nations in the Indian Ocean. In an effort to moderate its strategy and avoid attracting attention, Beijing is relying more on economic initiatives to strengthen its ties with small but critical islands in the Indian Ocean.

Kyauckpyu, Myanmar

Kyauckpyu is a small port town in Myanmar and possibly Beijing’s answer to its “Malacca Dilemma.” The Chinese presence in Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal is too close for comfort for policymakers in New Delhi. However, undeterred by Indian concerns, China has continued to invest in Myanmar, resulting in two gas and oil pipelines ferrying Chinese energy imports straight from the Indian Ocean without crossing the Straits of Malacca. The first project to materialize was the gas pipeline connecting Kyauckpyu to Kunming in 2013. The pipeline enables Beijing to completely avoid using the Malacca Strait and tap directly into Myanmar’s offshore gas fields. The second project is an oil pipeline starting from Maday Island in Kyauckpyu and transiting to China’s Yunnan province. The oil pipeline entered its operational stage as recently as January 2015. This oil pipeline runs parallel to the gas pipeline, directly transferring Beijing’s oil imports from West Asia and Africa. The gas and oil pipelines help solve China’s “Malacca Dilemma,” increasing its energy security tremendously.  While the pipelines have great economic benefits for Myanmar as well, the underlying strategic dimension of the project cannot be overstated.

Coco Islands

Geographically a part of the Andaman group of islands, Great Coco Island and Little Coco Island are controlled by Myanmar. Since the early 1990s, there have been frequent reports of China using those islands for military and naval purposes but there is no certain proof of whether the islands are actually under Chinese control. Thus, Chinese presence on the Coco Islands, developing intelligence systems and other naval facilities, is unnerving for nearby India. While it is yet not certain whether the Great Coco island hosts Chinese intelligence systems, there is greater acknowledgement on the building of runways and other connectivity infrastructure on the Cocos.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI), controlled by India, are located southwest of the Cocos, closer to Indonesia and to the busy sea lanes of the Malacca Strait. The islands give India a strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean Region — perhaps why New Delhi established there its first and only tri-command (Army, Navy and Air Force) service in 2001. India’s control over the islands has proved instrumental in collaborating with the navies of the region and carrying out critical exercises such as MILAN and MALABAR. Chinese control of the Coco Islands in Myanmar would mean that Beijing would have the advantage of monitoring the Indian Navy in close proximity.

With growing Chinese investments in Myanmar and developing ties between the two nations, Beijing’s military presence in the Cocos is definitely a possibility over time, if not an overnight development. A military presence in the Coco Islands,if truly established, would give China the edge to monitor India’s naval activities with other powers in the region. It will also affect other regional powers such as Australia and the U.S. and strengthen China’s foothold in the Indian Ocean.

In February 2014, China carried out naval exercises through the Lombok Strait near Indonesia, deploying its largest landing ship, the Changbaishan. The drill was closely watched by countries like India, Australia, and the U.S., as it underlines China’s ability to project power beyond its shores. While as of now China is only projecting into the Indian Ocean, Beijing’s growing ties with the island nations of the Indian Ocean will allow the PLA Navy to maintain a more sustainable presence in the IOR.

China’s amphibious landing ship 长白山 / Changbai Shan  ”Changbai  Mountains” (hull number 989) reportedly landed Chinese troops on James Island during a naval exercise in 2014. She also sailed through the Indonesian straits along with two destroyers, according to several news services.

Conscious of Beijing’s Indian Ocean strategy, the Indian government under Prime Minister Modi is paying a considerable amount of attention to maritime security and to strengthening ties with the IOR islands and littorals. With a new government coming into power in Sri Lanka, India is eagerly looking to step up its security ties with the island nation. Chinese infrastructure and development projects such as the Hambantota port and the frequent docking of Beijing’s submarines at Colombo for “re-fueling and refreshment” is a growing concern for India. Capitalizing on the new opportunity extended by the Maithripala Sirisena government (India was the destination of Sirisena’s maiden overseas visit), Modi is scheduled to travel to Colombo in March to discuss key issues of interest and concern between the two countries. Modi will also travel to the Maldives and Seychelles during the same leg of the trip, strengthening New Delhi’s Indian Ocean act. While India cannot block Beijing’s entry into the Indian Ocean game, New Delhi is in dire need of strengthening its own.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an Australian Indian Ocean territory and an area of strategic importance given the critical SLOCs that pass through the region. While at present there are no military establishments in the islands, the Cocos could serve as a U.S. military base in the future as a result of competition for strategic space in the Indian Ocean. According to Australian Defense analyst Ross Babbage, the Cocos (keeling) Islands can “extend Australia’s reach into the surrounding region for surveillance, air defense, and maritime and ground strike operations. The islands could, in effect, serve as unsinkable aircraft carriers and resupply ships.” These islands could prove critical to Australia and its allies during a time of emergence in the Indian Ocean.

The Small Islands Holding the Key to the Indian Ocean
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal in February this year, Washington is looking to expand its maritime ties with Australia and India and hence is looking for a feasible Australian port and base to function out of. The report quotes U.S. Chief of Navy Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert as saying “We’re doing a study… to see what might be feasible for naval cooperation in and around Australia, which might include basing ships.” The U.S. military presence in a base outside of Darwin is already set to increase, given Obama’s announcement in 2011 that the U.S. will deploy 2,500 marines at the base on a rotational basis. As a part of the U.S. rebalance strategy and growing defense ties with Canberra, American presence in the Indian Ocean will only increase, especially in the face of a stronger China.

Small islands dotting the Indian Ocean are emerging at the center stage of great power politics unfolding in the Indian Ocean Region. These islands are critical in sustaining credible presence in the vast Indian Ocean outreach, encompassing the key SLOCs forming the backbone of the global economy. Control and authority over the Indian Ocean will help a nation emerge as true maritime power. Access to and control of islands (through military and commercial initiatives) seems to be a key part of China’s strategy to establish itself as a maritime power.

However, unlike in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean cannot be controlled by one particular nation because of the sheer vastness of the area and the presence of multiple regional powers (or, as one may say, middle powers). What the Indo-Pacific region needs is a security architecture that can contain the territorial disputes in the Western Pacific and stop the hostility from spilling over to the other side of the Malacca strait.

The author has written a companion piece on the topic of Indian Ocean security architecture, which can be accessed here.

Darshana M. Baruah is a Junior Fellow at the New Delhi based think tank the Observer Research Foundation.

Russian Sanctions, China, and the Arctic

January 5, 2015

Russia’s souring relations with the West have given China an Arctic opening.

By Andreas Kuersten

Russian Arctic offshore energy efforts are in a period of unwelcome pause, and the flight of Western companies in the face of sanctions imposed by their home countries has left the future of these efforts up in the air. But this state is unlikely to last for long. Western firms have left incredible opportunity in their wake, and China is in the perfect position to benefit.

Over the past 10-15 years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has systematically increased its activity in the high north through various avenues. Russia’s current relations with the West are likely to substantially boost this enterprise, which should concern the international community given the importance that the Arctic will play in the years to come. The region’s massive resource reserves, China’s growing presence, Chinese challenges to regional Arctic governance, and the current standoff between Russia and the West are a potentially potent combination. This situation should be recognized and efforts should be made to mitigate possible negative consequences.

These efforts, however, should not be directed at preventing Chinese Arctic activity. China’s wealth and capital make it an important partner for Arctic nations in developing the high north, and it holds legitimate interests in the region. Rather, China’s entry into the Arctic must be managed responsibly through international channels to mitigate or prevent any harmful effects. Doing so may also create a rare avenue through which the West can seek common ground and understanding with Russia that can be built upon.

China’s Interest in the Arctic

China consumes energy on an unmatched scale, and its hunger is only forecast to grow. This makes the Arctic a natural area of Chinese concern. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Arctic accounts for 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas, and 20 percent of its undiscovered natural gas liquids. These percentages respectively equate to roughly 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

Beyond raw numbers, the Arctic offers China diversity, security and savings. Despite significant inroads with Russia, China is largely dependent on oil imports from the volatile Middle East that must pass through the chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. In 2011, approximately 85 percent of China’s oil imports transited this passage. The source and travel path for these resources, and China’s current lack of alternatives, are not ideal. Arctic energy sources and shipping lanes provide attractive diversity and security.

Arctic shipping would also substantially reduce transport costs. The distance from Shanghai to Hamburg along the Northern Sea Route over Russia is approximately 30 percent shorter than the comparable route through the Suez Canal. Such a reduction in shipping time and distance will yield large savings on fuel and increase China’s export potential to Europe. In 2013, 71 vessels sailed the Northern Sea Route, moving 1,355,897 tons. This is a substantial increase over the four vessels that did so in 2010. China hopes to send 15 percent of its international shipping through the Arctic by 2020.

China’s Pivot North

In pursuit of northern opportunities, China has taken substantial steps toward establishing a financial and physical presence in the Arctic and placing itself in the conversation on Arctic affairs. China is spending approximately $60 million annually on polar research (more than the U.S., which actually controls Arctic territory), runs the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, opened the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai in late 2013, and plans to dramatically increase its Arctic research staff.

China’s physical presence in the Arctic has also increased considerably in the past decade. In 2003, it completed the Arctic Yellow River Station, a permanent research facility on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island. China also currently possesses one icebreaker directed toward Arctic operations, with another to be completed by 2016. Despite being a non-Arctic nation, it will soon have the same number of Arctic icebreakers as Arctic littoral states Norway and the U.S.

In the realm of international organizations and politics, China has joined a litany of international Arctic scientific groups. In 2013, it also became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council – the eight-member intergovernmental forum that is the center of international Arctic policy formulation.

Similarly, with respect to bilateral relations, the PRC has actively courted northern states, and made substantial progress with both Iceland and Denmark. Following Iceland’s 2008 economic crash, China provided it with large aid packages. In 2012, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began his tour of Europe in the small country, and a Chinese-Icelandic free trade agreement was inked in 2013. China is also aggressively seeking energy projects in Greenland and courting Danish leaders.

The targeting of small countries in great need of capital, investment and labor allows China to use its wealth and resources to cultivate economic entanglement and, ultimately, degrees of dependence. As a result, Iceland and Denmark have become very supportive of China having a louder voice in Arctic affairs and policy. Now, something similar is developing between China and Russia.

Russia’s Pivot East

The Arctic has always been a vital interest to Russia. It did not open up northern sea routes or energy resource opportunities to outsiders until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when it was desperate for international investment.

As Arctic forums and frameworks developed, Russia was quick to assert control over its share of the region. Along with the four other Arctic littoral states (the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Norway), Russia signed the Ilulissat Declaration in 2008 asserting regional state predominance in Arctic affairs. Russia also traditionally showed a clear preference for cooperation in Arctic energy development with Western energy firms over those from China and elsewhere.

Even prior to the 2014 sanctions, tensions between Russia and the West altered Russian calculations. Given disagreements over the handling of international situations (the Libyan intervention and the Syrian Civil War, for instance) and Western condemnation of Russian actions (such as its 2008 invasion of Georgia and tainted 2012 elections), Moscow found it prudent to diversify its energy partner and customer base beyond a strong reliance on Europe and the West. Energy-hungry China is a natural partner for that diversification.

While energy trade between Russia and China has been steadily advancing since the mid-2000s, early 2013 saw the first major Arctic cooperative deal between the countries. The China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) contracted with Rosneft to survey three areas of the Arctic in the Pechora and Barents Seas. Later that same year, CNPC announced it would partner with Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer, and take a 20 percent stake in the Yamal Project tapping the resource rich Arctic South Tambey gas field.

Although Russia’s turn east has thus far been largely on its terms, this year’s sanctions are changing the dynamic. Compared to smaller countries, Russia has traditionally not been as susceptible to foreign influence. Yet the sanctions are taking a significant toll and severely limiting its potential Arctic partners, leaving Russia with few places to turn. When it comes to its needs and bargaining stature with China on Arctic issues, Russia is progressively finding itself in an even weaker position than that which Iceland and Denmark occupy: in need of capital and funding but severely limited in partner choice.

Western Sanctions as Chinese Arctic Opportunity

While initial Western sanctions avoided Russia’s economically important energy industry, later measures have targeted this area robustly, with express focus on Arctic energy procurement. As a result, Western firms such as Exxon, Eni and Statoil have pulled out of operations in northern Russia, leaving Russian firms in need of financial and technological partners.

Absent Western companies, there are a limited number of places to turn for the financing and technology necessary for Arctic resource ventures. There is, quite frankly, no replacement for the technological expertise of Western firms. Yet Russia has demonstrated its willingness to lease or buy necessary technologies from any source it can, reuse old Soviet technology, or simply prevent Western companies from taking their equipment so it can operate them itself. In terms of financing, Russia has a ready and established partner in China, a country not above using Russia’s isolation to its advantage.

The resource rich Kara Sea is likely the first place where Western sanctions will significantly benefit China. Exxon and Rosneft jointly discovered a massive reserve in the region estimated to contain 11.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 750 million barrels of oil. After completing the much more complex tasks of exploration and drilling but before pumping any gas or oil, Exxon was forced to pull out. Now, Russia is faced with an expensive undertaking that necessitates a partner – and China is in an excellent position to assume Exxon’s stake in the resource operation for several reasons.

For one, Russia has already begun talks with China to sail rigs from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean to replace exiting Western installations. Rosneft, which is currently studying Arctic offshore cooperative offers from Asia, has also contracted to sell a 10 percent percent stake in one of Russia’s largest oil fields and “Rosneft’s biggest production asset” to China, evidencing its readiness to partner with China on nationally important projects to ease sanctions-related burdens. In addition, Chinese prospecting areas in the Pechora and Barents Seas in the Russian Arctic directly abut the Kara Sea.

While assuredly not negating the impacts of Western sanctions, partnership with China in the face of these measures offers Russia much of what it needs: convenience, capital, financial backing, and a ready customer. It gives Russia an outlet as Western pressure mounts in response to its aggressive regional actions. As such, Sino-Russo partnership in the Arctic sustains and reinforces a cooperative framework that stands in opposition to Western international initiatives.

Just as with Iceland and Denmark, China will slowly increase its trade and Arctic partnerships with Russia to substantial levels. This will breed a level of economic dependence. Trade between Russia and China was already trending upward before Western sanctions were levied; these measures will serve to speed up this process. Russia’s lack of alternative partners gives China a distinct advantage in any negotiations, and the PRC has displayed this new dynamic by driving hard bargains in energy deals reached with Russia since the Ukrainian crisis began.

Concerns Over a Chinese Arctic

What is concerning about the impact of Western sanctions on China’s entry into the Arctic is not the PRC potentially “locking up” a substantial portion of the Earth’s untapped resources. Rather, the issue is the introduction of a large, assertive, and potentially combative actor into already tense Arctic relations where Arctic states have a host of conflicting claims to the region that will likely only be exacerbated as global warming opens it up.

China declares itself to be a “near Arctic state” and an “Arctic stakeholder,” even though its northernmost territory lies more than 1,000 miles south of the Arctic Circle. As the most populous country in the world, China claims that it should have a say in Arctic policy and disagrees with Arctic issues being decided by Arctic states alone. More broadly, given the region’s resource reserves, shipping lanes, and implications for global warming, China argues that Arctic state interests and claims must be balanced against international interests in the seas and resources of the region.

Very prominent and influential Chinese scholars and officials push this rhetoric. For example, the head of the European department of the China Institute for International Studies recently pronounced: “Countries closer to the Arctic, such as Iceland, Russia, Canada, and a few other European countries may tend to wish the Arctic were private or that they had priority to develop it, but China insists that the Arctic belongs to everyone just like the Moon.” Similarly, the director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration has stated that “Arctic resources…will be allocated according to the needs of the world, not only owned by certain countries.” And in response to Russian Arctic territorial claims, Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo declared that “the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.”

In the context of the country’s quest for natural resources, Chinese attitudes toward the Arctic are unprecedented. While it has been aggressive in pursuing resources around the globe, China has also maintained a clear respect for sovereign claims in doing so. Its rhetoric concerning the Arctic diverges from this practice.

Moreover, the PRC has become increasingly bellicose over issues it considers to be “core interests.” Nowhere is this more vivid than in the South China Sea, where Chinese maritime claims go well beyond what can be realistically claimed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which it is a party. China’s growing physical presence in the Arctic, the statements of prominent government officials, and the region’s significant potential benefits encourage the sense that China may label its activity in the region as a core interest. The introduction of such a large actor into Arctic international relations with interests beyond mere investment and trade – i.e., claims and ownership – is a recipe for elevated conflict in a region that already possesses its share of tension due to the often incompatible claims of Arctic littoral states.

Finally, the economic dependence being nurtured between China and certain Arctic nations has the potential to hasten the arrival of the situation noted above. This dependence could give China an amplified voice in northern affairs and an ever-deepening Arctic presence. For Iceland and Denmark, Arctic trade with and investment from China are significantly more important to them than the reverse is for the PRC. This gives those countries a strong incentive to support China’s regional ambitions and, accordingly, affords China significant leverage. As Russia becomes increasingly isolated and its economy suffers due to its actions in Ukraine and resulting sanctions, it will find itself in a similar position in Arctic interactions. Russian support for Chinese Arctic ventures and interests will begin to grow in attractiveness out of a desire to gain investment and trade, and not to offend its sole significant partner.

Managing Developments

The task for the international community, and Arctic states in particular, is not to attempt to prevent Chinese entry into the Arctic, but to minimize the potential negative impacts this may have on regional and international relations. China is coming, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it has the finances and capital to significantly spur northern development and it does possess legitimate interests in the Arctic. But China’s entry must be handled responsibly, and there are several avenues through which this can be pursued.

The most important one is utilization of the Arctic Council, which the U.S. will chair for a two-year term starting 2015. Members of this forum should craft and propose measures and agreements that further solidify regional governance of the Arctic. This action will make it clearer what level of voice Arctic states will accept from outside actors and will hopefully serve to decrease existing tensions in the region by emphasizing Arctic unity. In turn, this will help dissuade and avoid an overly assertive or disruptive Chinese entry.

Similarly, there must be increased effort from Arctic littoral states to address and resolve territorial disputes through multilateral and bilateral means. The frozen state of many contradictory claims to Arctic sovereignty represent failures of regional governance, evince a lack of consensus on the region’s international status, and leave open avenues for non-Arctic states to disruptively assert themselves and increase tensions. Resolution or at least more open discussion and outlining of Arctic territorial disagreements will further solidify littoral state predominance in the region and limit the possibility of disruptive interjections from non-Arctic countries.

In addition, states should not strive to discourage northern countries from seeking and accepting Chinese investment and partnership, but should instead encourage diversity in regional contracting. The benefits of spreading development and other contracts among entities from different countries must be reiterated. Diversification lessens state vulnerability to the actions of a single actor, and also lessens the single actor’s ability to influence Arctic affairs through local investments.

In relation to Russia, the Arctic partner diversification recommendation is applicable largely only in terms of Chinese enterprises, given its current isolation – although Russia has also moved in the direction of partnering with India in the Arctic. Moscow is no doubt aware of the risks of becoming too deeply entangled with a single entity. Furthermore, it may seem as though Russia might welcome another non-Western voice in Arctic discussions, but its history of protectiveness over its northern endowments makes this unlikely. When it comes to determining Arctic policy and claims of interests and resources, fewer voices, not more, are better for Russia. Therefore, measures aimed at reinforcing Arctic state authority and outlining limits to the influence of outside actors in the region through the Arctic Council will be very attractive to Russia. This is likely an area ripe for Russo-Western cooperation that can perhaps, in turn, be expanded upon to further alleviate international tensions.

Although it has always been essential for the international community to address and manage China’s entry into the Arctic, recent Western sanctions against Russia have hastened the need for action. Luckily, there are useful international methods for such undertakings that maintain the correct balance between being too reactive and being overly complacent. China’s increasing Arctic presence has potential positives on numerous fronts, and with the application of prudent policy they are highly attainable.

Andreas Kuersten is a legal fellow with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce. The views expressed here are his own.

Tensions In The South China Sea Explained In 18 Maps

November 19, 2014



The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, partners of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia.

Below are 18 republished maps from their report (and here is the full analysis and methodolgy).

1. A Political Map

The Indo-Pacific region consists of over 20 countries. It spans from Russia in the North to Australia and New Zealand in the South, and from India in the West to Papua New Guinea in the East.

china1The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

2.  Population in Asia

Asia is a vibrant and dynamic region with 4.3 billion inhabitants — 60% of the global population. China is the most populous state in the region with 1.4 billion people. India is projected to pass China’s population in about 15 years, becoming the world’s most populous nation with 1.5 billion inhabitants.

china2The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

3. Trade Routes and Straits

Over half of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the waterways of the Indo-Pacific region. The Strait of Malacca, in particular, is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

The strait links the Indian and Pacific Oceans and carries approximately 25% of all traded goods. It also carries approximately 25% of all oil that travels by sea. At its narrowest point just south of Singapore, the Strait of Malacca is only 1.5 nautical miles wide, making it one of the world’s most noteworthy strategic chokepoints.

china3The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

4. South China Sea LNG Flows

One-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas passes through the Straits of Malacca and into the South China Sea, with the bulk of it originating in the Persian Gulf. LNG also flows into the region from Southeast Asia and Oceania. Much of this imported LNG is bound for Japan and South Korea.


china4The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

5. Natural Resources in the South China Sea

The South China Sea contains significant proved and probable oil reserves, and countries in the region are eager to extract these.

Particularly large quantities lie in the EEZs of Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The East China Sea is also home to a gas field, but the extent of its reserves are unknown.

china5The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

6. Trade Flows In Asia

In addition to providing passage for incoming commodities, the states of Maritime Asia also have deeply interdependent trade relations among themselves.

China and ASEAN (Southeast Asia), China and Japan, and Japan and ASEAN states have robust trade relations. The China-ASEAN trade relationship is especially strong.

chian6The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

7. TPP and RCEP Membership

There are currently two free trade agreements under negotiation in East Asia. At present, Trans Pacific Partnership negotiating partners include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiating partners include Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and all ASEAN member states. These two agreements, and the fact that some countries (Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore) are party to both, illustrates the dense economic interdependence of the region.

chian 7The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

8. Multilateral Memberships

There are numerous multilateral fora in the region, and Asian nations vary substantially in their participation in these organizations. China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are the most participatory states in the region when it comes to multinational fora.

china8The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

9. UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

Most nations in maritime Asia have signed and ratified the 1982 UN Conventional on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for the use of natural resources, the environment, and for commercial affairs. UNCLOS entered into force in 1994.

The United States of America is not a signatory to the treaty, although it follows its provisions as customary international law.

china9The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studie

10. Exclusive Economic Zones

Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states may claim an “Exclusive Economic Zone” of up to 200 nautical miles. States have the sole rights to natural resource extraction within their own EEZs, but must also allow innocent passage through these zones according to UNCLOS. Because of their proximity, some states in maritime Asia claim EEZs that are overlapping.

The South China Sea is the site of several ongoing EEZ disputes between neighbors. Further north, Japan, China and South Korea also have EEZ boundary disputes. In areas shaded in yellow, however, states have agreed to jointly fish or develop an area despite an ongoing EEZ dispute.

china10The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

11. Territorial Controls

The fact that a country claims a particular territory does not, however, mean that it controls it. Some countries have physical control over many of the islands that they claim, while others do not.

Five different countries control some land features in the Spratly Islands, while just one state controls the Kuril Islands, Liancourt Rocks, Senkaku Islands, and Paracel Islands.

china11The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

12. The Nine-Dash Line

One unique claim is China’s Nine-Dash Line, which depicts Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. The map originally contained 11 dashes and was issued by the Nationalist Chinese government in 1947. The Communist government adopted it when it took power in 1949, and later dropped two dashes to allow China and Vietnam to settle their claims in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The Nine-Dash Line encompasses much of the South China Sea, but Beijing has not clarified whether it is making territorial claims on the land features inside this line or whether it is asserting maritime rights as well. In 2014, Beijing released a new map that featured an additional 10th dash to the east of Taiwan. Because it predates UNCLOS by several decades, the Nine-Dash Line is unrelated to an EEZ claim.

nine mapThe Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

13. Air Defense Identification Zones

Several states in Maritime Asia have declared Air Defense Identification Zones. This includes India, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea, and Taiwan. An ADIZ is an identified area of airspace extending beyond a national boundary in which civilian aircraft are required to identify themselves and may be subject to interception for that country’s national security.

There are no international agreements or laws that govern the use of ADIZs: they are zones that individual countries establish for their own safety and security. The United States established the first ADIZ shortly after World War II.

Although ADIZs may generally increase transparency and reduce the risk of accidents, several countries in East Asia have overlapping ADIZs. China’s East China Sea ADIZ, declared in 2013, also includes two pieces of disputed territory. According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, states have sovereignty over the airspace over their territory, including territorial waters. Air Defense Identification Zones do not, however, confer any sovereign rights.

china12The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

14. Maritime Hotspots

In the last several decades there have been multiple interstate incidents—vehicle collisions, armed clashes, close military encounters and other standoffs—in maritime Asia. Incidents have clustered around the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea.

Other hotspots include the Kuril Islands in the Northern Pacific, and the Liancourt Rocks in the Sea of Japan. This raises concern that these could be the sites of serious accidents or potential flashpoints for escalation in the future.

14The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

15. Asian Military Budgets

Asian militaries also vary significantly in terms of spending as a percentage of GDP. According to this metric, Russia and Myanmar are the biggest spenders in the region, spending between four and five percent of GDP on defense.

China, Vietnam, and South Korea are next, spending between three and four percent. Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Malaysia spend just one to two percent of GDP on their militaries, while most of South East Asia spends less than one percent.

militaryThe Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

16. Asian Military Personnel

The strength of the militaries of countries in maritime Asia varies significantly, as demonstrated by the significant disparities in their numbers of army, navy, and air force personnel.

China, India, and North Korea each field over 1 million ground troops, and Russia has nearly that number on its Eastern Front alone. China also has the highest numbers of air force and navy personnel by far.

Brunei, in contrast, boasts the lowest numbers of armed forces with fewer than 5,000 ground troops and approximately 1,000 navy and air force personnel.

personnelThe Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

17. US Military Personnel in East Asia

The US military has long maintained a significant, standing forward presence in the Indo-Pacific and maintains ground, air, naval, and marine assets in many Asian countries. Its most significant troop presence is in South Korea and Japan. It has also recently established a rotational military presence with some Pacific partners, including the Philippines and Australia.

US assets and personnel deployed in Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam, are also devoted to the safety and security of the region.

17The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

18. Trade and Resources in the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is not the site of nearly as many territorial or maritime disputes, but it is nonetheless inseparable Pacific assets and interests.

Eighty percent of Japanese and 39 percent of Chinese oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean en route from the Middle East. Chinese firms also have billions of dollars of investments in East Africa, concentrated primarily in the oil and gas, railways and roads, and other mining sectors.

Screen Shot 2014 11 18 at 11.05.29 AMThe Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Center for Strategic and International Studies

This article originally appeared at Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow Center for Strategic and International Studies on Twitter.

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China’s Submarines Add Nuclear-Strike Capability, Altering Strategic Balance

October 24, 2014


China’s Jin-class Type 94 nuclear ballistic missile submarine

One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters.

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

By Jeremy Page
The Wall Street Journal

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to join the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that can ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attachés again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—this time a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.

China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most significant military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not only bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but also enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.

China is expected to pass another milestone this year when it sets a different type of sub to sea—a “boomer,” carrying fully armed nuclear missiles for the first time—says the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.


China is hardly hiding its new boomers. Tourists could clearly see three of them at a base opposite a resort recently in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were accompanied by guides to make sure riders didn’t stray too close.

These boomers’ missiles have the range to hit Hawaii and Alaska from East Asia and the continental U.S. from the mid-Pacific, the ONI says.

“This is a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified,” China’s navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, wrote of the country’s missile-sub fleet in a Communist Party magazine in December. “It is a strategic force symbolizing great-power status and supporting national security.”

To naval commanders from other countries, the Chinese nuclear sub’s nonstop Indian Ocean voyage was especially striking, proving that it has the endurance to reach the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Hawaii.

“They were very clear with respect to messaging,” says Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, a former submariner who commands the U.S. Seventh Fleet, “to say that, ‘We’re a professional navy, we’re a professional submarine force, and we’re global. We’re no longer just a coastal-water submarine force.’ ”

In recent years, public attention has focused on China’s expanding military arsenal, including its first aircraft carrier and stealth fighter. But subs are more strategically potent weapons: A single one can project power far from China and deter other countries simply by its presence.

China’s nuclear attack subs, in particular, are integral to what Washington sees as an emerging strategy to prevent the U.S. from intervening in a conflict over Taiwan, or with Japan and the Philippines—both U.S. allies locked in territorial disputes with Beijing.

And even a few functional Chinese boomers compel the U.S. to plan for a theoretical Chinese nuclear-missile strike from the sea. China’s boomer patrols will make it one of only three countries—alongside the U.S. and Russia—that can launch atomic weapons from sea, air and land.

“I think they’ve watched the U.S. submarine force and its ability to operate globally for many, many years—and the potential influence that can have in various places around the globe,” says Adm. Thomas, “and they’ve decided to go after that model.”

China’s nuclear-sub deployments, some naval experts say, may become the opening gambits of an undersea contest in Asia that echoes the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Soviet subs during the Cold War—a history popularized by Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October.”

Back then, each side sent boomers to lurk at sea, ready to fire missiles at the other’s territory. Each dispatched nuclear hunter-killers to track the other’s boomers and be ready to destroy them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended that tournament. But today, as China increases its undersea firepower, the U.S. and its allies are boosting their submarine and anti-sub forces in Asia to counter it.

Neither China nor the U.S. wants a Cold War rerun. Their economies are too interdependent, and today’s market-minded China doesn’t seek global revolution or military parity with the U.S.

Chinese officials say their subs don’t threaten other countries and are part of a program to protect China’s territory and expanding global interests. Chinese defense officials told foreign attachés that the subs entering the Indian Ocean would assist antipiracy patrols off Somalia, say people briefed on the meetings.

Asked about those meetings, China’s defense ministry said its navy’s activities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans “comply with international law and practice, and we maintain good communication with all relevant parties.”

Submarines help Beijing fulfill international duties without changing its defense policy, says China’s navy spokesman, Sr. Capt. Liang Yang. “If a soldier originally has a handgun, and you give him an assault rifle, you’ve increased his firepower, but his responsibilities haven’t changed.” He declines to comment on boomer patrols.

Still, the U.S. has moved subs to the forefront of its so-called rebalancing, a strategy of focusing more military and diplomatic resources on Asia. Sixty percent of the U.S. undersea force is in the Pacific, U.S. naval commanders say, compared with half the U.S. surface fleet. The U.S. Navy plans to station a fourth nuclear attack sub in Guam next year, they say.

Since December, the U.S. has positioned six new P-8 anti-submarine aircraft in Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. has also revitalized an undersea microphone system designed to track Soviet subs and is testing new technologies such as underwater drones to search for Chinese subs.

Navy P-8 Poseidon

(Related Article: As China Deploys Nuclear Submarines, U.S. P-8 Poseidon Jets Snoop on Them)

Several nearby countries, including Australia, have said they plan to expand or upgrade their submarine and anti-sub forces. Vietnam, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, has since December received at least two of the six Russian-made attack subs it has ordered.

Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the 12 subs his country is buying to replace its six-strong current fleet would need to operate far afield, potentially in contested areas of the South China Sea. “There are other nations in the area that are building their submarine forces as well,” he said. “The issue for us is to be able to consider that we may need to counter those things.”

Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, the commander of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, says that many more submarines are now operating in the region than during the Cold War. “One of my biggest concerns truthfully is submarine safety,” he says on a recent dive aboard the USS Houston, a nuclear-attack sub based in Hawaii. “The more submarines you put in the same body of water, the higher the probability that they might collide.”

China now has one of the world’s biggest attack-sub fleets, with five nuclear models and at least 50 diesel models. It has four boomers, the ONI says.

Beijing’s quest for a nuclear-sub fleet dates to the 1960s, say Chinese historians. Mao Zedong once declared, “We will build a nuclear submarine even if it takes us 10,000 years!”

China has used diesel subs since the 1950s, but they have proved easy to find because they must surface every few hours. Nuclear subs are faster and can stay submerged for months. China launched its first nuclear sub on Mao’s birthday in 1970 and test-fired its first missile from underwater in 1988, although its first boomer never patrolled carrying armed nuclear missiles, U.S. naval officers say.

Adm. Liu Huaqing, the founder of China’s modern navy, outlined the role of nuclear attack subs in his overall strategy in the 1980s, Chinese historians say. He saw China as constrained by U.S. forces aligned in both a “First Island Chain” stretching from southern Japan to the Philippines and a “Second Island Chain” from northern Japan via Guam to Indonesia. He argued that China should establish naval dominance within the first chain by 2010, within the second chain by 2020 and become a global naval power by 2050.

China officially unveiled its nuclear undersea forces in October 2013 in an unprecedented open day for domestic media at a nuclear-sub base. Its capabilities aren’t close to those of the U.S., which has 14 boomers and 55 nuclear attack subs.

The U.S. concern is how to maintain that edge in Asia when the Navy projects that fiscal constraints will shrink its attack-sub fleet to 41 by 2028.

Beijing isn’t likely to try matching the U.S. sub force, having studied the way the Cold War arms race drained the Soviet Union’s finances. “We’re not that stupid,” says retired Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a former vice president of the People’s Liberation Army Defense Institute.

“But we need enough nuclear submarines to be a credible force—to have some bargaining chips,” he says. “They must go out to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the world.”

China’s hunter-killers pose the immediate challenge to the U.S. and its partners. Adm. Sawyer has tracked them for more than a decade, first as a commander of U.S. subs in Japan and Guam and now from his headquarters in Pearl Harbor.

On his desk is a glass-encased naval chart with white labels marking China’s submarine bases. Drawn on the map are two lines marking “First Island Chain” and “Second Island Chain.”

Over the past few years, Chinese attack subs have broken beyond the first chain to operate regularly in the Philippine Sea and have started patrolling year-round, Adm. Sawyer says. Penetrating the second chain is the next logical step, he adds: “They are not just building more units and more assets, but they’re actually working to get proficient with them and understand how they’d operate in a far-away-from-home environment.”

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether China has sent a sub as far as Hawaii but says the December Indian Ocean expedition shows that it has “the capability and the endurance” to do so.

That was a Shang-class sub, a type naval experts say China first launched in 2002 that can carry torpedoes and cruise missiles. In peacetime, China would probably use these hunter-killers to protect sea lanes, track foreign vessels and gather intelligence, naval experts say. But in a conflict, they would likely try to break through the First Island Chain to threaten approaching vessels and disrupt supply lines.

Still, the two recent sub voyages highlighted a weak point for China. Its subs must use narrow straits to reach the Pacific or Indian Oceans. Those chokepoints—among them, the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, Luzon and Miyako Straits—can be relatively easily monitored or blockaded.

Moreover, China’s anti-sub capabilities remain relatively weak. U.S. subs can track their Chinese counterparts even near China’s shores, where U.S. ships and planes are vulnerable to Chinese aircraft and missiles, American naval officers say.

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether the U.S. tracked the Shang or how close U.S. subs get to China, saying only: “I’m comfortable with the U.S. submarine force’s capability to execute whatever tasking we’re given.”

The USS Houston returned recently from a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific. Its commanding officer, Cmdr. Dearcy P. Davis, declines to say exactly where the sub went but adds, “I can say that we went untracked by anyone. We have the ability to break down the door if someone [else] can’t. That’s not trivial.”

China’s missile-carrying boomers present a longer-term challenge.

From the Lan Sanya beach resort in Hainan, guests can easily make out the matte-black hulls of what naval experts say are three of China’s new boomers, known as the Jin-class, and one Shang-class attack sub. As he threw open a hotel room’s curtains, a bellboy beamed with pride and pointed out the vessels across the bay. “Better not go that way,” joked a Jet Ski guide on a recent ride. “They might shoot at us.”

China hasn’t said when it might launch boomer patrols. But Western naval officers saw the October nuclear-sub event as a signal that the Jin subs and their JL-2 missiles were ready to start.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, a former submariner who is now the U.S. chief of naval operations, says that the U.S. is waiting to see how China will use its new boomers. “Is it an occasional patrol they’re going to choose to do? Is it going to be a continuous patrol? Are they going to try to be sure that this patrol is totally undetected?” he says. “I think that’s all going to be in the equation as to our response.”

Soviet boomers ventured far into the Pacific and Atlantic into the 1970s because their missiles couldn’t reach the U.S. from Soviet waters. As missile ranges increased, Soviet subs retreated to so-called bastions, such as the Sea of Okhotsk. The U.S. deployed hunter-killers around those bastions.

Similar dynamics are at play as China decides whether to send its own boomers into the Pacific. Their JL-2 missiles can travel about 4,600 miles—possibly enough to strike the U.S. West Coast from East Asia, the ONI says. To strike more U.S. targets, they would need to lurk throughout the Pacific.

But China’s boomers probably couldn’t pass undetected through many straits, say U.S. officers and Chinese experts. “The Jin class is too noisy: It’s probably at the level of the Soviets between 1970 and 1980,” says Wu Riqiang, a former missile specialist who studies nuclear strategy at Beijing’s Renmin University. “As long as you are noisy, you won’t even go through the chokepoints.”

Early in the Cold War, the U.S. built a network of seabed microphones to listen at chokepoints leading to the Pacific and Atlantic. In recent years, the U.S. has revitalized parts of that network, called the Sound Surveillance System, or Sosus. The U.S. is also now adding mobile networks of sensors—some on underwater drones—and seeking surveillance data from Asian countries. (Related Article: Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Subs)

Meanwhile, China is trying to replicate Sosus, say several naval experts. A government-backed scientific journal reported last year that China had built a fiber-optic acoustic network in the South China Sea.

Over the short term, Prof. Wu says, China will probably keep its boomers near its coast, possibly in the South China Sea, which is deepest and furthest from U.S. bases. That, say some naval officers, may explain why China keeps its Jin-class subs in Hainan and why it is pressing territorial claims and hindering U.S. surveillance there.

Last November, China declared an “air-defense identification zone” over the East China Sea and warned of measures against aircraft that entered without identifying themselves in advance. Many U.S. officials expect China to do the same over the South China Sea, although Chinese officials say they have no immediate plans for that.

In August, the Pentagon said a Chinese fighter had flown dangerously close to a U.S. P-8 near Hainan. China’s defense ministry publicly said that its pilot flew safely and asked the U.S. to cease such operations.

This is the Chinese J-11 plane accused of “dangerous” operations by the U.S. Navy on August 19, 2014. — Photographed by the crew of a U.S. P-8A Poseidon. U.S. Navy

The problem with confining boomers to the South China Sea is that Beijing fears that missiles fired from there could be neutralized by the next stages of a U.S. regional missile-defense system, Chinese nuclear experts say.

Prof. Wu, who has taken part in nuclear-strategy negotiations with the U.S., predicts that over the next two decades, China will make quieter boomers that can patrol the open sea even as the U.S. pursues a global missile-defense system.

“I hope the U.S. and China can break this cycle,” he says, “but I’m not optimistic.”

—Rob Taylor in Canberra contributed to this article.

Iran to Launch Improved Destroyers, Fateh Submarines Soon — Will China Become a Supplier?

September 24, 2014


TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Iranian Navy official announced the country’s plans to launch Fateh submarines and different Mowj Class destroyers in the near future.

“We will soon launch the Fateh class submarines and the second, third, fourth and fifth version of Mowj class destroyers, and one of them will be unveiled this year,” Head of the Navy’s Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Office General Ali Gholamzadeh said in a press conference in Tehran on Tuesday.

Asked if Iran is capable of building heavier and bigger destroyers than its first home-made destroyer, ‘Jamaran’, he said, “Now that we have acquired the know-how to build destroyers, there is no doubt that we can construct destroyers better than Jamaran.”

Gholamzadeh said Damavand destroyer is more equipped than Jamaran, although Jamaran itself has also been equipped with a number of Damavand’s equipment, including ‘Asr’ radar system.

Pictured: Ir‏an’s Jamaran Moudge Class multi purpose light guided missile frigate

He also announced that the construction of Fateh, a semi-heavy submarine with abundant possibilities, has ended, and the vessel is now under tests.

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari announced last month that the country had gained the capability to launch production line of destroyers, and also announced plans to launch a new submarine in the near future.

“Today, the Navy has acquired the capability to launch the production line of destroyers and our project for building destroyers has started at the order of the Supreme Leader since a while ago and we are witnessing newer and more updated achievements in this project now,” Sayyari told reporters in Tehran.

He said that Iran’s new destroyer named Sahand is 30% more advanced than the country’s first destroyer, Jamaran.

Sayyari also said that Iran would launch its new submarine, Fateh, on the Navy Day (November 28).

In recent years, Iran has made great achievements in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing essential military equipment and systems.

Sayyari in July announced the Iranian Navy’s plans to launch one of its advanced home-made destroyers, named Damavand, in the country’s territorial waters in the near future.

“Destroyer Damavand will join the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy in the near future,” Sayyari told FNA.

Tehran launched an arms development program during the 1980-88 Iraqi imposed war on Iran to compensate for a US weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and fighter planes.

Yet, Iranian officials have always stressed that the country’s military and arms programs serve defensive purposes and should not be perceived as a threat to any other country.

In June 2013, Iran launched its overhauled and modernized destroyer named Bayandor in the Southern waters of the country in the presence of Army Commander Major General Ataollah Salehi and Rear Admiral Sayyari.

Army officials said the Iranian Navy’s power of safeguarding the country’s territorial waters as well as maintaining security in regional and international waters will increase after the launch of Bayandor.

Overhauling the main engines, heat exchangers and fuel and oil systems as well as optimizing the monitoring control systems are among the measures adopted before launching the destroyer.

Navy experts have also mounted a fire control system for the destroyer’s weapons, a 76-mm and a 40-mm canons and a surface-to-surface Nour (Light) missile system on the destroyer.

Iran’s first home-made destroyer, Jamaran, was launched in late February 2010. The Mowdge Class vessel has a displacement of around 14,000 tons and is equipped with modern radars and electronic warfare capabilities and is armed with a variety of anti-ship, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles.


Will China Sell More Military Equipment to Iran?


Changchun destroyer of the 17th Chinese escort naval fleet arrives at southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Sept. 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

China’s navy enters Strait of Hormuz

By John Kemp

(Reuters) – Bandar Abbas, home of Iran‘s navy and the main port in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, is currently hosting two Chinese naval vessels on a five-day goodwill visit, underlining the increasingly warm relationship between the two countries.

It is the first such port call to Iran by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and highlights the efforts both China and Iran are making to counterbalance the power of the United States in the Middle East and along the sea lanes connecting the oil fields of the Gulf with major energy-consuming centres in Asia.

The firepower of the guided missile destroyer Changchun and guided missile frigate Changzhou of the PLAN’s 17th escort taskforce is dwarfed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquartered in Bahrain. But the port call marks the first time China’s navy has entered the waters of the Gulf and the symbolism has not been lost on anyone.

For Iran, the visit is part of a strategy which aims to break out of the isolation being imposed by U.S. and European sanctions by developing closer relationships with China and Russia. In theory, China and Russia remain members of the P5+1 nuclear negotiating team which presents a unified position. In practice, both have clearly indicated their desire to strengthen relations with Iran notwithstanding unresolved issues about the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran hopes to exploit the rivalry between the United States on the one hand and China and Russia on the other to secure a more favourable deal in the nuclear negotiations as well as other outstanding issues with the United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies.

For China, on the other hand, the visit is one element in a comprehensive strategy which aims to protect the long and vulnerable sea lanes along which more than 20 percent of its oil consumption comes – from countries in the Middle East across the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea via the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca (“Asia’s Oil Supply: Risks and Pragmatic Opportunities” May 2014).


China’s naval forces remain comparatively small and mostly suited to operations off the country’s eastern and southern coast lines, where their objective is to secure the sea areas out to the first island chain. But in recent years the PLAN has made small deployments into the Indian Ocean, for example anti-piracy activities off the coast of Somalia, as the navy practices longer range operations.

China is still a long way from being able to project enough power to keep the sea lanes across the high seas and through the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca open against a determined and capable opponent – which is never named but is understood by all sides to be the United States.

Many Western political and military analysts doubt whether China could acquire the capability seriously to challenge U.S. control of the seas within a meaningful timeframe. The country currently has only one, second-hand aircraft carrier, renamed the Liaoning, compared with the ten carriers operated by the United States.

Western analysts play down the idea of naval competition to control the transit routes between the Middle East and East Asia. But there is no doubt that protecting vital supply and trade routes, as well as countering U.S. influence in Asia and the Middle East, is uppermost in the thinking of China’s top military and political leaders.

China’s President Xi Jinping has just returned from a tour to Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India on which he promoted his ideas, first articulated in 2013, about the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”.

All four countries on Xi’s recent trip are “pivot points” on the “One Belt and One Road”, according to People’s Daily, the flagship publication of China’s Communist Party (“Xi’s four-nation tour highlights sincerity of China’s neighbourhood policy” Sep 22).

Xi pledged to cooperate with the Maldives and Sri Lanka on “peace, stability and prosperity” as well as “port construction and operation, maritime economy and security, and the construction of a maritime transportation centre in the Indian Ocean” according to People’s Daily.

In plainer language, China is seeking to build infrastructure and alliances along the trade routes which connect it to the Middle East.


More broadly, China and the United States are engaged in strategic competition for influence and power across the wider Asian region.

In August, General Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer, paid a high-profile visit to Vietnam, the first time a chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has been to the country since 1971 (“Dempsey building trust in Vietnam visit” Aug 15).

In its official statement, the U.S. Defense Department noted Vietnam’s “geostrategic position” between China and Southeast Asia.” Vietnam “probably (has) more influence on the South China Sea and how it evolves than any other country,” Dempsey said.

The United States has also been strengthening its alliances with Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines to counter Chinese influence, and has spoken out strongly against what it calls China’s “destabilising” activities in the South China Sea.

Both rivals are courting India, the biggest prize of all, with the largest military forces, a shared land border with China and dominating the Indian Ocean from its position athwart the major sea lanes.

On his recent trip, Xi promised his Indian hosts more investment in infrastructure and industrial, as well as to increase imports of pharmaceuticals and agricultural products, and talked about a vision of shared prosperity on both sides of the Himalayas.

The PLAN’s port call to Bandar Abbas is just one element in an increasingly intense but undeclared competition between the United States and China for regional influence and control of the trade routes in Asia.

The two sides even use the same, carefully coded, language. The commanding officer of China’s 17th escort taskforce described the purpose of the port call as “promoting peace and amity, strengthening mutual understanding and mutual trust, and deepening friendly relations,” according to the PLA’s news service (“Chinese naval taskforce visits Iran” Sep 22).

Dempsey highlighted the importance of “trust” on his own visit to Vietnam and trying to build a relationship on the basis of common interests. The United States would step up its contacts with Vietnam’s military, he said, especially on maritime security and law enforcement. “It occurred to me that often adversaries in the past can become our closest friends,” Dempsey told his Vietnamese hosts.

For the moment, the balance of forces in Asia and along the transit routes remains overwhelmingly in favour of the United States. But the increasingly fierce if unacknowledged competition between the two powers will be severely destabilising if it is not managed carefully. (Editing by William Hardy)

South China Sea: Chinese Occupation Is A “Real Threat” to Indonesia, Others

September 22, 2014

on September 22, 2014
International Business Times

A police coast guard vessel patrols the shipping lanes off the coast of Singapore, March 4, 2010. Reuters/Vivek Prakash

Indonesia has labeled Chinese claims to the hotly disputed South China Sea waters as a “real threat.” Vice Admiral Desi Albert Mamahit, who heads Indonesia’s Sea Security Coordinating Agency, told a maritime security focus group that the waters surrounding several of the country’s islands were in jeopardy from an encroaching Chinese presence.

The Jakarta Post reported the maritime areas surrounding the Natuna Islands on the southern part of the Strait of Malacca technically do not lie within China’s proposed territorial claims thus far, but it added China has not clarified its position on Indonesia’s exclusive economic maritime zone. The Strait of Malacca is recognized as a prime strategic location, particularly for military observance of the South China waters.

“This is clearly a real threat for Indonesia,” said Desi, who is also a dean at the Defense University. Desi said Indonesia would need to prepare for moves China may make to further expand its claims in the area.

The forum aimed to establish Bakamla, a sea security organization, in the area to help support a warning system and military coordination in the event of confrontation.

Indonesia’s caution follows faceoffs between China and several Southeast Asian nations involving military ships, fishing boats and oil rigs in disputed waters. “This becomes complicated as there are conflicts between fellow ASEAN member countries and China. It will be difficult to speak in one voice, although so far ASEAN solidarity has always been maintained,” Desi added.

Countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei have been engaged in an ongoing geopolitical power struggle as China focuses on expanding its occupation of the area. Earlier this summer, China and Vietnam faced off about the location of a Chinese oil rig, prompting a standoff between Vietnamese and Chinese ships that led to collisions. Ashore in Vietnam, the oil rig dispute triggered anti-Chinese rioting and violence, driving out thousands of Chinese expats.

China is basing its claims on the resource-rich areas based on what they consider to be historical demarcations as proposed by ancient maps of Asia, despite being thousands of miles from Hainan, China’s southernmost province. The Philippines has been the most vocal in rebuking China’s claims in the disputed waters recently. The Philippines Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs posted a series of ancient maps refuting claims of China’s “historical ownership” of the area.

Chinese Navy Flotilla in Iran For Joint Naval Exercises in the Persian Gulf

September 22, 2014


Two Chinese destroyers have arrived at Iran’s Gulf port of Bandar Abbas, in an unprecedented visit attesting to a new rapprochement between the two countries, Iranian media reported Sunday.

The four-day visit is the first time a Chinese naval vessel has called at a port in the Islamic republic, across the Gulf from Bahrain where the US Fifth Fleet is based.

The two navies will conduct joint search and rescue exercises and training for maritime accidents, according to Admiral Hossein Azad, a senior commander of the Iranian navy, quoted by media.

Iran’s navy has boosted its international presence over the past few years, in particular to help guard commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden against pirate attacks.

Ships from Iran’s navy have called at Chinese ports in the past.

Iran and China have greatly enhanced their trade and economic relations in recent years.

China has become Iran’s largest trading partner.

Trade between them is this year expected to exceed $45 billion, despite the economic and banking sanctions against Iran because of its controversial nuclear programme.

China is among so-called P5+1 states (the United States, Russia, China, France, UK and Germany) negotiating with Tehran in the hope of ending more than a decade of crisis over the nuclear issue.


Changchun destroyer of the 17th Chinese escort naval fleet arrives at southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Sept. 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior provincial official hailed the satisfactory cooperation between the Iranian and Chinese navies as a sign of growing solidarity between the two nations.

“The presence of a Chinese navy flotilla in Iran’s Southern port of Bandar Abbas is indicative of solidarity between the two nations and armies,” Hormuzgan Governor General Jassem Jadari said in a meeting with the commanders and crew members of the Chinese navy flotilla in Bandar Abbas on Sunday.

Chinese naval soldiers play music as they arrive at southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Sept. 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

He noted that Iran and China have closely cooperated in combat against pirates in the high seas in recent years, and said, “Hormuzgan province is of particular importance due to its strategic status and its location near the Strait of Hormuz and also the presence of flotillas of different countries in there.”

The commander of the Chinese flotilla, for his part, said that his warships berthed at Bandar Abbas at the end of their mission for protecting trade ships against pirate attacks in a move to consolidate the friendly ties between the Chinese and Iranian nations and navies.

A detachment of China’s fleet of warships docked in Iran’s territorial waters in Bandar Abbas on Saturday.

Commander of the 17th Chinese escort naval fleet Huang Xinjian (R front) shakes hands with an Iranian navy officer in southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Sept. 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

It is the first time that a Chinese flotilla has sailed and berthed in Iran’s territorial waters.

An Iranian flotilla was in the Sea of China last year to deliver Iran’s message of peace and friendship to the Chinese.

In May, 2013, the Iranian warships docked in Zhangjiagang after a 13,000-kilometer voyage in 40 days as part of their mission to convey Iran’s message of peace and friendship to the East Asian states.

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said then that presence in the Indian and Pacific oceans and the China Sea, patrolling Southeast Asia’s strategic Strait of Malacca, crossing the Equator, docking at China’s port city of Zhangjiagang port and identifying 370 surface and subsurface vessel units were among the important tasks carried out by the fleet.

 The visit by the Chinese Navy ships also came a few days after the timely presence and action of the Iranian Navy’s 31st Flotilla thwarted an attack by eight pirate speed boats, equipped with various light and semi-heavy weapons, on a Chinese container-carrier ship in the waters of the Gulf of Aden, and forced the pirates to flee the scene.

The Chinese ship was traveling en route from Singapore to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, before it came under pirates’ attack.

The Chinese ship continued its voyage after it was rescued by the Iranian Navy.

The 31st Fleet of the Iranian Navy, comprised of Bayandor destroyer and Bandar Abbas logistic warship, was dispatched to the Gulf of Aden and the high seas late July to protect the country’s cargo ships and oil tankers against pirates.

The fleet of warships has escorted 670 military and cargo ships by now and has identified and traced trans-regional vessels and aircraft.

Iran’s 30th flotilla of warships ended its mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and returned home in July.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship, MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen.

According to UN Security Council resolutions, different countries can send their warships to the Gulf of Aden and coastal waters of Somalia against the pirates and even with prior notice to Somali government enter the territorial waters of that country in pursuit of Somali sea pirates.

The Gulf of Aden – which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea – is an important energy corridor, particularly because Persian Gulf oil is shipped to the West via the Suez Canal.

Changchun destroyer of the 17th Chinese escort naval fleet arrives at southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Sept. 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)


From The New York Times

TEHRAN — Two Chinese warships have docked at Iran’s principal naval port for the first time in history, Iranian admirals told state television on Sunday, adding that both countries would conduct four days of joint naval exercises.

On Sunday, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported that Chinese Navy ships involved in protecting shipping in the Gulf of Aden stopped at an Iranian port on Saturday for a “friendly visit.” One of the vessels was the Changchun, a guided-missile destroyer, the report said.

The news agency posted images of one of the destroyers docking in the port of Bandar Abbas, where it was given a military welcome.

The Iranian and Chinese Navies were scheduled to start joint exercises on Monday, focusing on rescue missions, Iranian news media reported. China has been expanding the areas where its navy operates, most recently joining the effort to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

Read the rest:


PLA’s new destroyer could bring down F-35 stealth fighter

The US fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter can be detected by the radar system installed aboard the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s new Type 052D destroyers, according to the Moscow-based Voice of Russia, citing military experts.

Vladimir Evseev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Social and Political Studies, told the Russian broadcaster that details of China’s radar project, including the amount spent on its development, remain unknown, however it is a great leap forward in regards to the nation’s military modernization program.

China has encountered a lot of obstacles in its attempts to develop its own radar system, but it has managed to overcome these issues with Russian help, Voice of Russia said, citing Konstantin Sivkov, director of the Russian Academy for Geopolitical Issues.

Sivkov said that the most crucial part of China’s success is that the PLA Navy finally knows how to handle active electronically scanned array radar systems. With this technology, Chinese destroyers are able to track and shoot down F-35 fighters from a distance of 350 kilometers.

Meanwhile, Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy head of Institute for USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that the Chinese warship not only has the ability to locate the US stealth fighter but can also deploy countermeasures against the fighter’s electronic interference capability.

The new system will gradually increase the combat capability of the PLA Navy in Western Pacific region, Voice of Russia said.

Source : Want China Times

South China Sea: China’s reef expansion threatens Vietnam, Taiwan, US, Philippines

September 5, 2014


Reclamation and construction work on Johnson South Reef, which China calls Chigua Reef. (Internet photo)

China’s land reclamation on Johnson South Reef in the Spratly islands poses a serious threat to Vietnam, Taiwan and US forces operating in the region, according to Kanwa Defense Review, a magazine run by Canadian military analyst Andrei Chang, also known as Pinkov.

The article said China is constructing an artificial island on the reef 5,000 meters long and 400 meters wide. This island will not only strengthen China’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea but will also make it possible to monitor US naval activity. The island could serve as a radar station or listening post for the People’s Liberation Army, and could also be considered a potential forward operation base for the Chinese navy.

Kanwa said China is constructing a 2,000-meter runway on the reclaimed island so that advanced fighters of the PLA Air Force such as the Su-30, the J-11 and the J-10 can be deployed to the South China Sea. This would allow China to conduct aerial operations over the entire Strait of Malacca, posing a threat to Vietnam and other claimant parties in the region. As Johnson South Reef is only 72 kilometers away from the largest of the Spratlys, Taiping Island or Itu Aba, which is under Taiwanese control, the land reclamation project may also pose a critical threat to Taipei, the article said.

Since February, China has been busy sending construction teams to various reefs in the Spratlys, the most contested group of islands in the South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are also claimants. Sources have revealed that six of the reefs–Johnson South, Gaven, Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Hughes and Eldad–have been transformed into islets, with all but Eldad Reef given specific “birthdays” in July by Chinese authorities.

New US deal makes Australia a threat to China: Global Times

August 15, 2014


Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment was the first US Marine Corps unit to arrive at RAAF Base Darwin in April 2012. (Photo/US Army)

Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment was the first US Marine Corps unit to arrive at RAAF Base Darwin in April 2012. (Photo/US Army)

Washington and Canberra have signed a 25-year agreement on Aug. 12 to allow American airmen and marines to train in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, according to China’s nationalistic tabloid Global Times.

David Johnston, the Australian minister of defense, said that about 1,200 US marines and air force personnel were already rotating into Darwin after President Barack Obama declared Australia part of his Asia Pivot strategy. The new agreement signed on Aug. 12 allows the United States to increase the number of its troops in Australia to 2,500. Chuck Hagel, the US secretary of defense, said the agreement underscored the “rebalancing” of the US Asia-Pacific strategy.

“We are not going anywhere,” Hagel said. “Our partnerships are here, our treaty obligations are here and are important to us.” Hagel said the US has 200 ships and more than 360,000 personnel in the Pacific region.

Rear Admiral Li Jie of the People’s Liberation Army Navy said Australia could add significant pressure to China’s maritime supply lines through the Strait of Malacca in the event of conflict over the South China Sea.

With bases in Guam, Japan and South Korea, the United States is capable to contain China from several different directions, Li said. If there were a war between China and Vietnam or the Philippines over maritime disputes in the South China Sea, US submarines and aircraft could be deployed from Australia to attack a Chinese fleet, an expert told the Global Times.

Australia is therefore likely to become a threat to China’s national security, the report said.


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