Saturday, April 2, 2016

China's Straight Face

You have to admire China’s ability to keep a straight face and not laugh while it delivers its political messages and warnings to the US.  Consider the latest warning to the US, as reported by Defense News website (1).

Beijing’s Defense Ministry on Thursday warned the US Navy to “be careful” in the South China Sea and slammed a newly signed agreement between Washington and the Philippines.”

The Philippines and US recently signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which allows the US greater access to naval bases and further development of the bases.  In particular, the agreement gives the US access to Palawan (Oyster Bay) on the western side of the main Philippine islands and closer to the disputed Spratley Islands where China is building artificial islands and air/naval bases.

“Asked about the deal, Yang [Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun] said: ‘To strengthen military alliances is a reflection of a Cold War mentality.’

‘It is in the opposite direction of the trends of the era for peace, development and cooperation,’ he said, adding bilateral military cooperation should not ‘undermine a third party’s interests.’ ”

Hmmm …  An agreement between two countries outside the South China Sea is opposite the trend for peace but building and militarizing artificial islands somehow promotes peace?  How do you say that with a straight face?

“ ‘Now, the United States has come back, and is reinforcing its military presence in this region and promoting militarization in the South China Sea,’ Yang said.”

So, the US is promoting militarization but China’s artificial islands and newly constructed naval/air bases is not promoting militarization?  Again, do you have to have special training to say that without laughing?

Beijing acknowledges that the facilities on its new islands will have military as well as civilian purposes.”

China would seem to be contradicting its own assertions about its peaceful intents but I guess that doesn’t register on them!

Our politicians and military leaders want to believe that China’s statements are backed by good faith, as ours are.  However, this is clearly not the case.  China will say whatever it needs to in order to achieve its goals and we need to stop ascribing our values and integrity to a country that does not share those values and integrity.  If we see China’s statements for what they are – manipulations in a war – then we can begin to see reality and counter their expansionism.

China continues to aggressively and illegally push its expansionist policies.

“China’s comments came as Malaysia accused ‘a large number’ of Chinese fishing trawlers and a coast guard vessel of entering its waters, understood to be last week.”

This should also serve as a reminder to the US that China’s military and civilian affairs are, ultimately, one and the same.  We need to recognize that there are no civilian actions – civilian actions are directed by the government and serve as a part of the overall military strategy.  China sees no distinction between civilian and military nor between peace and war.  Peace is just a form of war that uses less explosives.

We can counter China now, on our terms, while they are still building their military up to our level or wait and counter them on their terms after their military has achieved parity or superiority.  Waiting will prove far more costly in blood and money.


(1)Defense News website, “China to US: ‘Be Careful’ in South China Sea”,
Agence France-Presse, March 31, 2016,


  1. Does anyone besides me see the parallel to "The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". With this creeping aggression and attitude soon the cause for war will be but a small spark with greater reaction

    The navy doctrine better be prepared for a deep water war

  2. It is plainly obvious by now that China's actions in the SCS is to create strategic depth by (l)changing the facts on the ground; (ii)building the necessary infrastructure to dominate the surrounding air and waters in the SCS; and (iii) to displace US influence.
    Its actions are calibrated to be sufficiently progressive but yet not changing enough US inertial to the situation.

    In my view, China's strength with its current strategy is it in the ambiguity of the nine dash line and the US is playing into it by accepting those imaginary lines. Until China comes clean with the nine dash, the US should just ignore it and treat China's claims as imaginary. This also means that the US need to fully consider that such a move will likely generate a war at least in the SCS if not a full scale one.

    1. You're almost there in terms of grasping the problem, however, your suggestion that the US treat China's nine dash claims as imaginary is a bit off. The US already does not recognize China's claims. That's not the issue. The issue is that while we're busy patting ourselves on the back for not recognizing their claims, China is moving ahead and solidifying their hold on the S/E China Seas, disputed islands, and artificial islands by militarizing them. It doesn't matter whether we recognize the claims or not, China is making the claims real by establishing a strong military presence. We can engage in diplomatic denial all we want but in the meantime the issue is being decided by the presence of Chinese military forces. It's a done deal. We've lost and don't even know it, yet.

      Barring an economic collapse, like the Soviet Union, a war with China is inevitable.

    2. The problem is that while the US does not recognise China's claims due to the questionable de jure nature, the US nevertheless had self imposed on itself imaginary lines it will not cross. For example, in the USS Larsen FON on Subi it conducted innocent passage even though Subi is not entitled to any 12 nm territorial sea.
      The US itself does not have any territorial claims in the SCS and that limit its actions and that includes confronting directly China's reclamation efforts. However the US can undermine those excessive maritime claims arising from the reclamation efforts which the US had failed to do as with the USS Larsen FONOP.

  3. Ztev, I've warned you about inaccurate and incomplete statements. I've deleted your atoll comment. Feel free to repost it with accurate statements about how the US acquired DG. Check Wiki for a good summary of the history.

    1. This is from the Toronto Globe and mail about Diego Garcia
      "French colonists had brought the Africans to work on the plantations in the late 18th century, and the islanders fell under British control when Britain seized Mauritius after the Napoleonic Wars. About 2,000 people were living on the Chagos archipelago in the mid-1960s when the British and U.S. governments reached a secret deal to turn Diego Garcia into a massive U.S. base.
      Under the agreement, the Chagos Islands were quietly detached from Mauritius, which was to become independent in 1968. They remained a British territory, and Diego Garcia was leased to the United States in a deal that gave Britain a $14-million discount on its purchase of Polaris nuclear missiles.

      Over the next few years, supplies to the islands were gradually cut off, and any Chagossians who ventured off the islands were prevented from returning...
      Then the remaining inhabitants were forced onto overcrowded cargo ships. After a five-day journey, most were dumped in Mauritius, nearly 2,000 kilometres to the south.

      The forced depopulation of these inhabitants by the UK for the sole benefit of the US as a military base is not in doubt.

      Im not advocating for China in its dispute with those nations, but its essential we dont have stars in our eyes, because this is what big powers do. And Im sure the Chinese are privately saying. "We are only doing what other big nations have done before- take what is in our interest."

    2. If you want to be taken seriously (and allowed to comment) you need to make sure your comments are based on facts and are logical. This version of your original comment is better but still flawed. Here are the points you failed to mention.

      -The US obtained the base legally via lease from the legal owner, the UK.

      -The US had been informed by the UK that the population was in the hundreds, not thousands. This turned out to be incorrect but was the basis of understanding of the US (Wiki).

      -DG never had an indigenous population. This is not a case of displacing a native population.

      The forced displacement was, indeed, very poorly handled. The descriptions in your reference are, however, highly suspect. The article clearly has an extreme bias and the wording is designed to inflame. That makes the statements suspect and they may or may not be accurate (likely not). Wiki covers the same events without any of the emotional overtones.

      Finally, you're attempting to compare and conflate the US actions and China's. There is no valid comparison. The US obtained the base legally as opposed to China's illegal seizures of disputed islands. Further, China's allusions to sovereignty and territorial rights for the artificial islands are in violation of international law (UNCLOS). There is nothing comparable between the two situations.

      You're trying to make a point that is not supported by the facts of the example you have chosen.

      I'll leave your comment up as an example of how not to make a point.

    3. The well documented court actions by the local population to return and Mauritius's similar actions to reclaim what was part of its pre colonial territory dont really support the idea that it was all 'legal'. Certainly the US obtained the usage via the British doing the dirty work for them, but as UK was shedding responsibility for these sort of flyspeck places, it only went to these lengths precisely because US wanted the atoll.
      The UNLOS was supposed to be a mechanism for these sort of disputes but of course the US isnt bound by its protocols exactly because they dont want to be found in breach ( there would be other reasons as well)
      As for the people not being indigenous enough, you are on weak ground, and the fact was that they were there and wanted to stay. Its like saying americans arent indigenous and dont count because they do dont go back far enough.
      Im not singling out the US, as Im aware Australia and India have scooped up distant atolls that were not theirs but in their strategic interest to do so.
      I like your blog as you have an informed view on the US Navy, their incompetence, the two faced policies, and illegality of the contracting process, but offer constructive criticism.
      In this situation , reasonable numbers were removed from their homes, in a dubious process and yet the US government has been blameless ? In a world with many problems its a small one. That world isnt black and white as this situation shows.
      The chinese have taken some reefs, displacing only the albatrosses. Is this right. Of course not but there are other places were it wasnt right either.
      Not everyone sees it that way of course but i just hope it adds to the big picture.
      ( sorry for the poor writing, its tricky with just a small box designed for brief comments

    4. Please do not pick and choose facts or distort them to fit your view. The UK purchased the land in the mid-1960's, legally. The US and UK then entered into a lease agreement, legally. This is in marked contrast to China's unilateral seizure and occupation of disputed islands in violation of the UNCLOS treaty to which China is a signatory. I know you want to paint a picture of the US as being just as illegal as China but the facts do not support your claim. Stick to the facts.

    5. The UK has ongoing court battles which indicate the legality is still contested. The Chagossian people have a high hill to climb to get back to the island they were expelled from, and Mauritius has to live with the fact these islands will be returned to their sovereignty when it suits the UK.( The dismemberment was a breach of international law, some claim) under
      UN Charter Article 73.

      One of the means the UK is keeping the Chagos people out is creating a Marine reserve.On 18 March 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously held that the marine protected area (MPA) which the United Kingdom declared around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 was created in violation of international law.
      These Chagossians are now pursuing their claims before the European Court of Human Rights , where their claims are still pending.
      Its very clear that the legality is highly contested.
      Of course that doesnt make Chinas action legal either.
      But what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    6. Correction the European Court hasnt upheld the Chagos case. However the UK foreign Secretary made these comments
      "The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said:

      We welcome the end of this legal process, which has taken many years. We have made clear our regret for the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over forty years ago. Nevertheless, it was right for the Government to defend itself against this action.
      ...There are fundamental difficulties with resettlement in BIOT ( Diego Garcia).- William Hague
      We know what those difficulties are , dont we.

  4. "Peace is just a form of war that uses less explosives."

    Brilliant. Gotta be quote of the year! love it.

    This is defiantly a reasonable assessment of the situation. And it’s a novel solution to their problem of wanting to control the SCS.

    Thru the creation of tiny bits of china, out at sea, they will eventually in the long term gain defacto control of that sea and an EEZ to match I have no doubt. Plus the obvious military advantages.

    The onus is now on us to remove the islands, which WOULD constitute an act of war, and we aren’t going to do that.

    The islands don’t initially present any offensive potential (beyond Asia), and I do tend to believe right now it’s a cordon and nothing more.

    However with 2 more carriers on the way, and global influence \ investments growing. This does make a strong statement about China’s intent. And it is worrying.

    As you say though, they would rather buy the world, than bomb it.

    If we were serious about them of course NATO could simple Tax their good or embargo China, they WOULD implode ( as you suggest ) fairly quickly. But somehow I cant see us doing that either ?

    There is just no commitment to the belief that China is some massive threat.

    1. Feel free to quote me. Your friends will find you more interesting and you'll undoubtedly be invited to more parties!

  5. A war with China would be devastating for the global economy. Just the act of shutting down the SCS trade routes would be bad. War with them would on a strategic level be bad for us, win or lose; as its unlikely to be a convincing, one sided victory.

    I believe we should try as hard as we can to both deter them and avoid a shooting war.

    Deterrence, IMHO, comes from treating them like the regional, highly aggressive hegemon they are, and coming up with realistic plans to both deter them now, and in the future.

    The islands are a fait accompli, I think. We cannnot remove them short of war, and they aren't worth war.

    We can develop weapons systems to threaten the hell out of them if we need to do so. We can build a Navy capable of dealing with the A2/AD zone they represent. (LCS with the surface warfare module isn't going to do that...)

    We can continue to foster alliances in the area, even with former competitors like Vietnam. We should continue to sail, and encourage others to sail, freedom of the seas operations. We might consider signing UNCLOS, as they have, so that we might have more international backing from other signatories.

    To me a healthy China policy is one that recognizes the reality: They are, and will continue to be, a regional hegemon. But we should counter balance them with regional alliances and a Navy designed to realistically deal with their threats.

    That's going to be alot of work on our end as we try to swing our own Navy from presence, humanitarian, and non peer competitor work to being able to deal with a real peer adversary.

    Now we have a lax or slow foreign policy, it seems, and a Navy that's not lined up to deal with the threat China poses if we ever have to fight in the SCS.

  6. I wouldn't count on a Chinese economy collapse,. However the country may change its leadership styles.

    With Europe losing its economic influence and having an unstable economy that is hampered by a welfare state the tide of power will shift to China in 15-20 years.

    Under that assumption with a recognition of their growing economic and military influence containing their land and seas grab now is easier at this juncture than it will be in two decades where these issues will still exist due to inaction.

    Our navy is not ready to fight fight between the Philippines and the mainland Chinese territory

    To me this looks like the proportion for war with Taiwan. They have now effectively sealed of the island both in a strategic, theater and local sense and when our navy needs to fight through to relieve their military it will be costly and maybe not possible with today's doctrines

    1. "To me this looks like the proportion [preparation?] for war with Taiwan. They have now effectively sealed of the island both in a strategic, theater and local sense and when our navy needs to fight through to relieve their military it will be costly and maybe not possible with today's doctrines."

      Excellent observation and comment. I think you're on the money. At some point, China can simply inform Taiwan that they are taking over and there's not a thing Taiwan or the US will be able to do about it.

      Are you familiar with the game, Go? They've encircled Taiwan and can remove the pieces from the board any time they choose. We were completely outmaneuvered.

    2. "I wouldn't count on a Chinese economy collapse,. However the country may change its leadership styles. "

      China does have some significant economic challenges coming up. THey have lots of cash, but their internal situation isn't great, and they are having a very hard time converting to internal consumption for their economy.

      Worse, their demographic situation is horrible. They have a male, older skewed population. This will have significant impacts on their economy in the next 15-20 years.

      As to leadership, Xi is probably the most powerful leader since Mao. But he's having problems with greatly increased resistance to his changes to limit the hated corruption. Its too fast for those who benefited from corruption, and not fast enough for the population.

      This isn't to say they will collapse, but it might precipitate military action that doesn't necessarily look rational from an outside perspective.

      If the CCP ever gets in real trouble, they could play the foreign threat/nationalism card to help out.

  7. China's antic aside, my question is why is America signing agreements with the Philippines when not 20 years earlier they successfully lobbied to have the US expelled from the region?

    1. Yes, one is sorely tempted to point out that they made their bed and now they can lie in it. On the other hand, having bases in the Philippines is in our strategic interest so there's the rationale. I would, however, like to see us pressure Philippines into paying a significant amount for the support and security we're providing.

    2. I agree a base in the Philippines would serve America's strategic interests if they remain unchanged. The issue is of course that everyone wants US security, but no one is interested in paying for it.

    3. You're right, although the real issue is that the US wants strategic basing and if the host country is unwilling to pay for it then we're left with a choice of paying ourselves or not having it. What I'm saying is that we may have more interest in Philippines security (meaning strategic bases for us) than they do. We can lament their lack of financial support but, in the end, if we want the basing bad enough, we have to pay for it. The other option is that we forego the base. Neither choice is particular palatable.

  8. Don't shoot the messenger! but why should we care who controls SCS? There are trillions of dollars of commerce going back and forth,yes true but China has as much to lose or even more if traffic is impeded. Why would China start a war or impede commerce that benefits it?!?

    If China controls SCS, instead of USA, what's the difference? Will China stop civilian cargo ships? Stop tankers? Stop trade? Why? Will insurance rates for shipping go thru the roof? What would China gain or lose by going to war over SCS?

    Everybody says Taiwan but considering how much business they do with mainland, why would Beijing bother taking hard complete control of Taiwan when you have pretty much soft control?

    Not trying to be an asshole and I'm not an idiot, just curious to hear answers and WHY everyone is so sure there's going to be a war between China and USA over SCS?

    1. Your comment is reasonable and worthy of a considered reply. Unfortunately, this is not a political blog so I won't go very far down this path. That said, here's a quick reply.

      If China would control the SCS and stop there, you might have an argument to make for allowing it. However, Chinese writings indicate that they also believe they have ownership claims on the second island chain which encompasses the Philippines, Indonesia, the Marianas, and others. Given the lawless and ruthless nature of their expansion through the first island chain, there is no reason to believe that they will stop there and giving China control of half the Pacific Ocean is a non-starter.

      Giving a country as devoid of ethics, morality, and respect for international law as China control over any area is a bad idea.

      China takes the long view. Short term economic disruption is completely acceptable, in their view, if it gains them their ultimate goals. This approach completely negates your "why would China start a war" argument.

      China is not just occupying a few uninhabited islands. China is actively attempting to annex surrounding countries via govt controlled emigration, forceful intrusion into other country's territorial waters, seizure of other country's fishing grounds, etc. These are not the actions of a benign and peaceful world neighbor.

      If China gains control over major shipping routes there is absolutely no reason to believe they won't abuse the power and attempt to impose enormous "fees" for the privilege of passing through "their" waters.

      China has illegally claimed powers and rights for its EEZ that are not granted by international laws and norms.

      I can go on but you get the idea.

      Why would Hitler want to start a war with Germany's world wide trading partners?

    2. Thanks for your reasoned response. It's just too often this country, I mean the USA, has started, gotten into or stayed way too long in wars because of "national security" or "national interests" and sadly enough, they really were never properly defined or none existent.

      I think the one I agree the most of if China controls SCS shipping lanes, would they eventually impose a fee or disallow passage to cargo or countries they disagree with? I think you would have to believe that the possibility exists and China would do it.

  9. People forget if you control Taiwan you control the South China sea

    You control the Philippines you control the central and western Pacific ocean

    You control Indonesia and Malaysia aka the straights of Malacca then you control the majority of the world shopping

    So the question of why had to do with positioning and alignment. The navy is central to their long term goals of controlling Asia

    1. Meant to say shipping in paragraph 3

    2. But there is more, Cocos Is. Ever heard of it?

      "The maritime reconnaissance and electronic intelligence station on Great Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal, some 300 kms south of the Burmese mainland, is the most important Chinese electronic intelligence installation in Myanmar [Burma]. The Chinese Army is also building a base on Small Coco Island in the Alexandra Channel between the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea north of India's Andaman Islands. These two islands, which have been leased to China since 1994, are located at a crucial point in traffic routes between the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca. The Coco Islands are thus an ideal location for for monitoring Indian naval and missile launch facilities in Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the south and movements of the Indian Navy and other navies throughout the eastern Indian Ocean.
      Construction of the Great Coco Island station began in late 1992 with the emplacement of a 45-50m antenna tower, radar sites and other electronic facilities forming a comprehensive SIGINT collection facility. In mid-1993, some of the 70 Chinese naval personnel began operating the new radar equipment, and by the summer of 1994 the the PLA the radar and SIGINT facilities were complete and ready for use.


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