Monday, October 26, 2015

China Naivete

If China’s annexation of the South and East China Seas wasn’t such a serious issue, ComNavOps would have to chuckle at the naiveté of the US political and military leaders.  Not being a political blog, I’m going to address this only to the extent that it impacts the Navy’s actions.  Here’s Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter’s latest comment on the subject (1).

“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features. We all know there is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes. Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on a finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and the interests of all.”

That’s hilarious!  No military solution??!  I’ve got news for Sec. Carter, the Chinese are militarily annexing the area and quite successfully!  There certainly is a military solution – China is applying it and we’re watching it.  We can continue to issue statements from now until the annexation is complete but that won’t change what’s happening. 

I’ve said it before, if we don’t want China to claim the South and East China Seas as their own sovereign territory we need to act now and that means the Navy needs to get into the fight.  Among other actions,

  • we need to stop honoring the completely illegal 12 mile territorial claim China is making on the manufactured islands

  • we need to aggressively exercise our rights of passage

  • we need to harass illegal Chinese reclamation efforts

  • we need to start providing combat escorts to our surveillance aircraft and ships

More humor …  We need to find a solution that “protects the rights and interest of all”??!  Again, that’s funny because, you know, China is all about the protecting the rights and interests of all.  China cares about one set of interests, only, and that’s theirs.  They’ve made that as abundantly clear as possible.  They’ve thumbed their nose at international adjudication of territorial disputes and engaged in systematic illegal annexation.  What could possibly make American leaders think that China has any interest in the rights of other parties?

Not absurd enough for you yet?  How about this one reported by USNI website,

“Instead Rear Adm. Jeff Harley, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans and Strategy), said that a rapidly modernizing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) could assist U.S. efforts to bolster maritime security in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.” (2)

So, according to this Navy Admiral, not only is China not a threat but China may help us to bolster Pacific security.  If we really believed that we’d be sending them aid instead of conducting a Pacific Pivot.  This is just idiotic fantasy at its best!

The reality is that China is continuing to build 3km long air and naval bases at Subi and Mischief Reefs to add to the completed base on Woody Island.  And what will the Chinese do with these bases?  According to Michael Green (senior vice-president at CSIS and former senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council under President George W Bush),

“Green said Chinese officials have told him in private they intend to militarize the reefs and islands with planes, anti-aircraft weapons and naval vessels. He said that would allow their air force to have ‘overlapping air control over the South China Sea, not just from one airfield but from three.’ “(3)

What was that at the start of the post about “no military solution”?  Again, China sees a military solution and is well along in applying it.  If there’s no military solution for us, it’s only because we lack the will to apply one.  The entire South and East China Seas now belong to China and it’s only a matter of time until they look to expand beyond those.  In the meantime, though, we’ll continue to pursue peace, goodwill, and respect for all.  Someone let me know how that works out.

(2)USNI News, “DSEI: Chinese Expansionism No Threat to U.S., Says Admiral”, Jon Rosamond, September 15, 2015,

(3)The Guardian, “China’s new reef bases add an edge to Xi Jinping’s forthcoming US visit”, Steven Mufson, 15-Sep-2015,


  1. Everyone wants their World to remain that same, but that shows a world that is stagnant. I am sure the Brits wanted the world to remain that same as in 1774, 1913, 1939. The Chinese would love to see the world turn back to 1410 and the Ming Dynasty. The Russian Czars would love to see 1916 again.

    But the world and humanity grow and advance. If the world had remained in 1774, the whole idea of a democratic republic would have never been.

    Whenever the oldsters have tried to restrain or contain the newbies, violent war and destruction occurred.

    I think being the newest political idea on the planet, we should be looking for a new way to deal with the inevitable change that will happen as countries ebb and advance.

    Repeating History with Nucs and Biological agents is not really an option here.

    1. Um, OK ... Do you have a specific point or recommendation?

    2. My point is to give you perspective on your opening statement of China's annexation is a serious issue and lamenting how naïve our leaders are and how there can be a military solution.

      We have to think of new ways to integrate and allow the ebb and flow of countries with resorting to the old ways. Just sailing ships into harm's way or convening the existing world order to say keep the world order will not work.

      I don't have a complete answer. If I did I would have the Nobel prize for Peace. My point is we better think of one and remember the alternative.

      As for ideas, ask why does China want access to this area? And don't just give me the old Vietnam BS of they want resources. They are buying Australia one ton at a time. Maybe it is mineral extraction, so setting up multi-national consortiums to extract them could be a way to provide a framework for cooperation.

      Just remember you cannot keep a people or country down if they do not want to be kept down.

    3. I'd be a lot more comfortable with a new arrangement if the Chinese were law abiding, peaceful, international neighbors. However, allowing a country that ignores international law and gets what they want through military intimidation and has eyes on the entire first and second island chains to establish control of that large a region of the world seems like a horrifically bad idea.

      It's like asking people on a street to accommodate the drug dealers that just moved in.

    4. I am sure that when the Monroe Doctrine was published the tizzy in Europe was how dare they? And hearing Manifest Destiny must have really put folks over the top. Both of those just reflected the political and physical realities that were in play. Mexico and Latin America never could not shake off the damage from being Colonized and the US was the vibrant expanding force.

      Just look for different ways to deal with it. China is not acting like Japan and invading to establish its East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Do I want China to establish one? No one complained when the Commonwealth was established or the EU. So let's shape this puppy and not get into a Naval or Land war in Asia.

    5. Monroe Doctrine?? Do you have an example more recent than the early 1800's?

      No one complained when the EU was established??? It was a voluntary organization, freely entered into by its members. That's a world of difference from China forcibly annexing the East and South China Seas through military intimidation and creation of illegal islands in violation of international law and UNCLOS of which they are a signatory.

      You don't accommodate evil, you stop it.

    6. Because you know US Military History so well I was just trying to give examples form our own past as illustrations.

      But to further that example, what did we do when someone challenged our view of our rising power and destiny? Think of the Mexican American war, where Mexico just happened to have clear legal ownership of land in the way of our expansion.

      So we have in our own history a drive to establish ourselves at the expense of others. However today instead of "Give them a little more grape " it could easily turn into make them glow or let's see them deal with this disease.

      Again my point is we need to find a way to integrate China (and influence her evolution) and not rollover or insist that China stay ashore.

    7. When China is ready to be a law abiding, responsible world citizen then we can meet them halfway. Until then, we need to stop them in their tracks.

    8. We haven't even ratified UNCLOS, so how can we legally "stop them in their tracks"?

    9. So you'd like to be a lawyer when you grow up and you want to get some practice in now? OK.

      Here's some relevant UNCLOS articles. Remember, China IS a signatory. That we are not is totally irrelevant!

      Article 192 states that countries have the obligation to protect and preserve marine life. Building massive airstrips using a gazillion tons of seabed is undoutedly destroying the reef habitat and irrevocably altering the marine ecosystem. Thus, the construction on the reefs is prohibited.

      Article 60, Paragraph 7. states that artificial constructs are not allowed if they would interfere with the use of recognized sea lanes.

      Article 123 dictates that countries sharing a semi-enclosed sea (E&S China Seas) shall cooperate in the exercise of their rights and with due regard for the preservation of sea life.

      Of course, multiple articles deal with the non-existence of territorial rights for artificial islands.

      Moving to international law, which I can't cite verbatim, rocks, reefs, and other seafloor features that are below water at high tide cannot be claimed by any country. Therefore, China has no right to construct artificial islands and no ownership to them.

      That should do for starters. If the issue bothers you still, you should seek an international/maritime lawyer for professional help.

    10. "We haven't even ratified UNCLOS, so how can we legally "stop them in their tracks"?"

      I know you're not serious about this. I know you're arguing for the fun of it. That's OK. Being a keen and sharp-eyed reader, you'll note that I've never said we had a legal mandate to prevent China's actions. I've simply stated that given the illegality of what they're attempting (to establish new territorial waters and EEZ) that we should put a halt to the practice by whatever means necessary. The fact that we have not ratified UNCLOS is irrelevant.

    11. If you really want to argue, consider our founding documents. "We hold these truths to be SELF-EVIDENT..."

      We recognize a higher authority from which our laws and actions spring. We have a sense of obligation to ensure that all men are granted the rights that we have. This foundation justifies many of our "humanitarian" actions to overthrow dictators, prevent massacres, and protect rights. China's infringement on the international laws and rights of neighboring countries is sufficient cause for action, by itself.

      Failing to grasp that, there's always the historically popular "might makes right" philosophy!

    12. As one example of the further illegal aspects of China's creation of artificial islands, the creation at Mischief Reef in the Spratlys is well outside China's 12 mile or even 200 mile EEZ zones, being around 800-1200 miles from China, depending on where one wants to measure from. The Spratlys are claimed by several countries and building artificial structures such is, I'm sure, illegal although I cannot cite actual international law.

      The US has taken it upon itself to police the global commons for the benefit of all mankind - yet another precedent to take action.

      Geez, I could do this all night but it's getting tedious.

    13. NO need to stay awake all night. Wiser heads have looked the 'legal' situation and the breaches by China are not so clear cut

      "How China Maintains Strategic Ambiguity in the South China Sea
      For now, careful Chinese officials have denied opponents specific grounds on which to argue."
      South China Sea: What 12 Nautical Miles Does and Doesn’t Mean

    14. The breaches are clear. The statesmanship and politics, as usual, are not.

      Practitioners of appeasement will always find a way to explain away aggression.

    15. Article 192 - Ok, so they are doing ecological harm. They should be more careful. Still, this doesn't make construction "illegal".

      Article 60, Paragraph 7. How do their islands impact sea lanes? They aren't THAT big.

      Article 123 - All of the claimants in the SCS territorial dispute are to greater or lesser degrees guilty of this.

      All of the above are quibbles. They aren't worthy of picking a fight with China over. We can bring them up in the relevant international bodies.

      CNO said, "Of course, multiple articles deal with the non-existence of territorial rights for artificial islands."

      That they have no territorial rights does not make them illegal to build. We are challenging them here, and they are being deliberately vague in response.

      CNO said, "Moving to international law, which I can't cite verbatim, rocks, reefs, and other seafloor features that are below water at high tide cannot be claimed by any country. Therefore, China has no right to construct artificial islands and no ownership to them."

      I'd like to see these laws. I don't think they exist. ;) IIRC, there are rules around improving islands in disputed areas, but nothing generically that says you can't improve them. I'll be happy to be proven wrong, though.

      Note: International agreements aren't exactly the same as US laws. They are just that - agreements. If countries think they are being violated, they should take them up with an international body like the Hague.

      Note 2: The US has a long history of NOT getting involved in other countries' territorial disputes. We don't typically pick sides. We can (and are) support our allies in the region if they feel they are being bullied, but we need to emphasize to all involved that these disputes should be resolved through negotiation and not coercion.

    16. I know you enjoy a good argument but I've got other posts to write so I'll have to leave this one!

  2. Doesnt China look back at how the US navy came to have its naval bases far from american shores. eg Guam, taken from Spain by conquest after a trumped war, which it holds to this day. Putin too looks at the parallels with the Donetsk Republic and how the Republic of Texas was hived off Mexico, to quickly become part of the larger US.

    1. When it suits the US international law and norms are broken, Iraq invasion being one. US and western nations have odd islands all over the world for military use ( France has a couple not that far off Mexico pacific coast). In Chinas area of interest there are none so its created some.
      As far as International law of the sea, it wasnt ratified by the US Senate so its a bit strange for the US to expect others to scrupulously follow it. Its not a problem for US navy to sail here and there, but theres a lot of things they dont like , so its better to focus on stuff that matters like Taiwan.

    2. You are glossing over and distorting a lot of things. The islands that the US and other countries own, they legally own. China is trying to unilaterally claim disputed islands. Those are the actions of reprehensible people.

      As far as international maritime law, China is a signatory to UNCLOS. Creation of artificial islands is expressly forbidden under international law. That the US has not ratified the treaty does not relieve China of its treaty obligations.

      China is violating laws and treaties it has signed. The US is not.

    3. CNO,

      Where is creating artificial islands forbidden under international law? AFAIK, it's not.

      Artificial islands are not allowed to claim territorial waters around them, and the Chinese are building them in areas with disputed territorial claims. But then again, other countries have outposts in the area too. Granted they aren't building as much on them.

    4. Creating and claiming territorial status.

    5. claiming territorial status, sure. But i don't think creating is forbidden.

    6. Heard of Texas Towers, they were 3 'artificially constructed' radar warning sites constructed off US east coast in mid 1950s.
      Since they didnt have a reef to build on they just plonked down in the ocean with a type of platform used for oil drilling.

      Was it illegal ? not when the US does it

    7. "... i don't think creating is forbidden."

      See above comment.

    8. Look here for why China "isnt claiming territorial waters"

      "The Chinese government’s first detailed response came from Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Lu Kang. Lu asserted that the U.S. ship had “illegally entered waters near” features in the South China Sea. For “waters near” he did not use the Chinese term for territorial sea, but instead referred to línjìn hǎiyù, literally “nearby” or “neighboring” waters. Lu said the U.S. activity “threatened (wēixié) China’s sovereignty and security interests,” but he did not say those interests were violated or infringed. Later in the statement, Lu asserted Chinese sovereignty over the “Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters (fùjìn hǎiyù),” pointedly using a different Chinese term from the one the U.S. was said to have entered.

    9. Ztev, if you want to comment, please do so objectively, with logic and facts.

      The radar installations were not artificially constructed islands such as China has constructed. They were temporary platforms (ships, in a sense) much like an oil rig. Some have been removed, I seem to recall. They were never claimed to possess territorial characteristics. They were extremely small (they were platforms, after all). They did not adversely impact marine life.

      In short, they bear no relevant similarity to what the Chinese are doing.

    10. Well they are facts. That they were poorly built and one collapsed, another was wrecked when a hurricane passed over, is beside the point. The US , when it suited them, put military installations beyond its territorial water. Would you think they let Soviet intelligence ships come right close ? Its so long ago but it would have caused a ruckus no doubt.

      The real point is The Chinese are acting like a super power, a path set out by the US.
      When the US signs the UNCLOS then they can talk about what others should be doing.

    11. Let me say this as clearly as I can. Temporary radar towers are not even remotely the same as permanent artificial islands. To compare the two is absurd. A radar tower is closer to a ship than an island.

      China is acting like a super power but an irresponsible and reckless one and needs to be stopped.

      Perhaps you should be less concerned with apologizing for China and more concerned with the illegality of what they're attempting and the impact on peaceful, law-abiding countries if they succeed.

  3. I don't think the US should be so confrontational, it is one thing to have a strong national security, but trying to move NATO to the border of Russia, and deploying Half the USN at the first Island chain, that is just too much.

    1. So you're good with China being confrontational to the point of violating international law and flight/navigation safety but the US is too confrontational? That seems a bit unilateral.

  4. "we need to stop honoring the completely illegal 12 mile territorial claim China is making on the manufactured islands

    we need to aggressively exercise our rights of passage


    1. Well, that's a tiny, tiny baby step in the right direction assuming it was even done properly. If it was done as an innocent passage then it only makes the situation worse by legitimizing China's claims. What we should have done was dropped anchor as close as possible and sat on the reef.

    2. I'm fine with peaceful, random, freedom of navigation exercises. No need to escalate tensions. We need to be calm, but firm.

      We said we would pursue similar activities with other countries making similar claims. We should, to show we aren't singling the Chinese out.

    3. You do realize that the specific "innocent passage" procedure legitimizes China's claims because innocent passage applies specifically to territorial waters? By conducting an innocent passage exercise we confirm that the waters are Chinese territory.

      Few details have been released about the exercise but the impression seems to be that we conducted an innocent passage. I hope not.


      "Per UNCLOS, these features are entitled to no special consideration for a maritime exclusion zone outside of a 500 meter navigational safety zone. The Journal‘s report specifies that the Lassen did not conform to “innocent passage” standards under UNCLOS as doing so could imply de facto recognition of Chinese territorial waters, defeating the purpose of the FONOP."

    5. That's a relief. What the US should actually do is ring round the CEOs of American fast food chains, till they find one which isn't attempting a Chinese presence, then offer support and shipping to open a White Castle, or whatever, on each of these islands. A White Castle brimming with radars and barracks, but still one which serves food to the Chinese construction workers. I mean it's not as if these 'islands' really belong to anyone.

      Than or simply turn up in Amphibs, gas and non lethally subdue the builders, and return them to taiwan with passage paid to the mainland. Then destroy the 'islands', with the Massive Ordanance Penetrator, till they're below the original (below sea level) level before building.

  5. ComNav

    Off topic, but just finished a big series on the Royal Navy's Type 26 Frigate if you get a few minutes

    Would be interesting to see a US perspective on the ship, especially in comparison with the all new LCS Frigate, they are not a million miles apart in cost terms

  6. TD, thanks for the link. As usual, a great writeup! I envy you the Type 26 as compared to the LCS. There are two key differences between the two vessels.

    The first, which you identified, is that the LCS modules and seaframe are not integrated. This means that when operating in ASW mode, for instance, the LCS is not a good ASW vessel. It is extremely noisy, has no acoustical isolation for the machinery, can't have a hull mounted sonar, lacks any organic ASW weapons, and so on. You can put an ASW module on a vessel and call it an ASW ship but that doesn't make it an effective ASW ship. We got so caught up with modularity that we came to believe that the seaframe contributed nothing worthwhile to the mission, that the module could do it all alone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    The second, which you pointed out about the Type 26 but did not directly compare to the LCS, is the degree of technological risk. The LCS was largely non-existent technology when the program began. Almost none of the module technology existed and now, years later, still doesn't. We've had to dumb down the modules to existing technology (such as the Thales VDS) just to get some kind of functional module into service. Unfortunately, the promised magical capabilities never materialized and the cost, relative to the now mundane capabilities, is out of whack.

    The capabilities per cost (the "value" of the ship) of the Type 26 are solid and enviable compared to the LCS.

    The US solution to all problems is technology. Indeed, the Navy has committed to a future of lasers, rail guns, networks, etc. Your Type 26 writeup, conversely suggests a realistic focus on practical "explosiveness" versus the USN focus on digital victory - a questionable concept, at best.

    Regarding the two ships, you got it right and we got it wrong!

    Love your work. Salute to you!

  7. Cheers ComNav

    I still like modularity as a concept and think LCS has 'queered the pitch' on that front but the key to effective modularity seems to be you have to understand what makes sense in a module, and what doesn't.

    That is the critical difference

    By the way, if you look at Part 1 of the series you will see that the RN and USN collaborated on trimaran designs in the late nineties but we didn't progress the idea whilst you chaps did.

    1. No doubt due to insularity of RN. Its hard to believe but during WW2 the RN prohibited additives to feed water to reduce scale in boilers while the USN of course had regularized its use. It maybe overstating it, but the regular time in port for boiler cleaning fitted very well with officers leave schedules.

  8. China's activities in the South China sea are like some kind of sick joke, Mischief Reef for goodness sake! Why we are not just deconstructing them as they build them is beyond me. The Chinese bully and control 1.4 billion of their own people and think they can do the same to everyone else! Absolutely pathetic that the rest of the world is letting them get away with this blatant behaviour.

    1. Under what responsibility would you do that ? The US has its hands full in the ME with stuff that goes beyond the bounds of international law.


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