An examination of Robert Kaplan's thesis that "the South China Sea is the future of conflict"j in five par...
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Th outh Chin S a: The N w Cruclbl US-Ch n latlon ?
Chaired by Eric Hyer, Brigham Young University Ch inese Assertiveness and U .S. Rebalancing : Confrontat ion in the South Ch ina Sea? Carlyle A . Thayer, University of New South Wale s Un it ed St ates' New Leverage in the South Ch ina Sea? Cu rrent Trends amid a New Asia-Pacific Str ategy When th e Eagle and Dragon Dan ce Will the Rice Sta lks Get Trampled?: Major Pow er Dynamics and ASEAN Julio Santiago Amador III, Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies Into the Maritime Labyrinth: A Prologue f or Peac e or Armed Conflict?
- As ciall n f rAsian SlUdi s
Chinese Assertiveness and U.S. Rebalancing: Confrontation in the South China Sea? Carlyle A. Thayer
People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 056 Stealth Frigate
Paper to Panel on The South China Sea: The New Crucible in US‐China Relations? Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, San Diego March 22, 2013
Chinese Assertiveness and U.S. Rebalancing: Confrontation in the South China Sea? Carlyle A. Thayer* Introduction In 2011 Robert Kaplan wrote an article with the provocative title, “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict.”1 Kaplan noted that China was expanding its navy and would emerge as a maritime power. He forecast that East Asia would become the centre for the struggle for naval primacy between China and the United States. According to Kaplan, the South China Sea will be of critical strategic importance due to its geographic location and energy resources. Rising regional energy demand will “make the South China Sea the ever more central guarantor of the region’s economic strength” and is “an obvious arena for the projection of Chinese power.”2 Kaplan offered this net assessment: Just as German soil constituted the military front line of the Cold War, the waters of the South China Sea may constitute the military front line of the coming decades. As China’s navy becomes stronger and as China’s claim on the South China Sea contradicts those of other littoral states, these other states will be forced to further develop their naval capacities. They will also balance against China by relying increasingly on the U.S. Navy, whose strength has probably peaked in relative terms… Worldwide multipolarity is already a feature of diplomacy and economics, but the South China Sea could show us what multipolarity 3 in a military sense actually looks like.
Kaplan concluded his article by asking rhetorically: “can conflict in the South China Sea be properly controlled?” To which he answered: “my argument thus far presupposes that major warfare will not break out in the area and that instead countries will be content to jockey for position with their warships on the high seas.”4 Kaplan further argued that regional states would modernize their armed forces at the same time as the United States
Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Email: [email protected]
Robert Kaplan, “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict,” Foreign Policy, 188, September/October 2011, 76‐85. 2
adjusted to the emergence of China’s blue water navy. Stability in East Asia, he concluded, will rest on a balance of power rather than Chinese or U.S. hegemony.5 This paper is a case study of Sino‐American strategic rivalry in the South China Sea. The paper is divided into five parts. Part 1 considers the maritime dimensions of China’s rise and whether or not the South China Sea is a “core interest.” Particular emphasis is given to the modernization of China’s South Sea Fleet, the development of the Ya Long Naval Base on Hainan Island, and the expansion of China’s paramilitary fleets. Part 2 identifies U.S. national interests in the South China Sea–freedom of navigation and over flight, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes and continued naval supremacy. Part 3 considers the U.S. policy of rebalancing in the Asia‐Pacific and its implications for Southeast Asia’s maritime domain. Part 4 examines the varied responses by regional states to increased Chinese assertiveness in advancing its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Part 5 explores three possible outcomes: armed conflict, a modus vivendi between China and the United States, and continued cooperation and friction.
Part 1 China’s Core Interests and Maritime Objectives China’s Core Interests In 2010 speculation arose that China had declared the South China Sea a “core interest” along with Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. In April 2010, The New York Times reported: In March, Chinese officials told two visiting senior Obama administration officials, Jeffrey A. Bader and James B. Steinberg, that China would not tolerate any interference in the South China Sea, now part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, said an American official involved in China policy. It was the first time the Chinese labeled the South China Sea a core interest, on par with Taiwan and Tibet, the official 6 said.
There was media confusion over which Chinese official spoke to the visiting American officials. The Washington Post reported: In March, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai told two senior U.S. officials that China now views its claims to the 1.3 million‐square‐mile sea on par with its claims to Tibet and Taiwan, an island that 7 China says belongs to Beijing.
Jeffrey Bader, in a subsequent account, elided this point; he wrote: 5
Edward Wong, “Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power,” The New York Times, April 23, 2010. Bader was senior director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Council; Steinberg is the Deputy Secretary of State. 7
John Pomfret, “U.S. takes a tougher line with China,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2010.
4 I recalled the increasingly strong articulation of China’s “indisputable claims” in the area that I had heard during my visit to Beijing with Steinberg in February 2010 [sic], as well as occasional assertions by military 8 and midranking civilian officials to the effect that these waters were of “core interest” to China.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disclosed that at the 2nd U.S.‐China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing (May 24‐25, 2010) State Councillor Dai Bingguo stated China viewed the South China Sea as a core interest. According to Clinton: And when China first told us at a meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that they viewed the South China Sea as a core interest, I immediately responded and said, ‘We don't agree with that’. So they were on notice that if they were – Question: Was that Dai Bingguo that said that to you? Yes, yeah. So if they were in the process of extending their efforts to claim and control to the detriment of international law, freedom of navigation, maritime security, the claims of their neighbours, that was a concerning matter. And therefore, we worked with a lot of the ASEAN countries who are directly impacted and 12 of us raised it a the ASEAN Regional Forum last July to make it clear that issues like that have to be 9 resolved in accordance with the rule of law.
A review of Chinese academic and media commentary on this question published in August 2010 concluded: While no Chinese official has spoken about what “core national interests” means, there is a growing chorus from within the country for the People’s Liberation Army to defend these core interests in the disputed region. Recent news coverage has brought the term “core national interests” into the same spotlight as “national sovereignty: and “territorial integrity” and raises the issue of how China defines the 10 term and what it covers.
In October 2010, a U.S. official noted that there was an internal debate in China about the “core interest” issue. “They now, in at least some of our interactions with them, appear to have backed away from the core interest argument and seem to be seeking other ways to articulate their approach to these issues,” he said.11 Since 2010, Chinese officials have been ambiguous about whether or not the South China Sea has been raised officially in internal
Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2012), 105. 9
“Interview with Greg Sheridan of The Australian,” Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, Melbourne, Australia, November 8, 2010. 10
Cary Huang, “A bolder China asserts ‘core’ interests – but will it act?,” South China Morning Post, August 12, 2010. For an example of Chinese media dissimulation see: Le Hongmei, “Unwise to elevate ‘South China Sea’ to be core interest?,” People’s Daily Online, August 27, 2010. For a detailed critical examination of the “core interest” issue see: Michael D. Swaine, “China’s Assertive Behavior, Part One: On ‘Core Interests’,” China Leadership Monitor No. 34, 2011, 1‐25. 11
Quoted in Phil Stewart and John Ruwitch, “U.S. see crisis fear easing over South China Sea,” Reuters, October 13, 2010. A high‐ranking U.S. official is cited as making the same point in Kazuto Tsukamoto, Yusuke Murayama and Kenji Minemura, “At key meet, Beijing tones down stance on South China Sea,” The Asahi Shibun, October 14, 2010.
policy documents to a “core interest” or “core national interest.”12 The Chinese media, regional specialists and popular nationalists, however, continue to refer to the South China Sea as a “core interest.” For example, The Global Times stated in July 2012, “As to China, it is not interested in being involved in frequent wrangles with Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea, which is merely one of its core interests.”13 If the South China Sea is not officially one of China’s “core interests,” China nevertheless does have major interests. These include regional stability, secure sea‐lanes, access to fisheries and other natural resources (oil and gas), and unresolved territorial claims. According to Xinhua, China plans to conduct forty naval exercises in 2013 “to hone its combat skills and help troops ready themselves for battle with an emphasis on China’s ‘core security‐related interests’.”14
Maritime Objectives China’s 2010 Defence White Paper enumerated four national defence objectives: (1) safeguarding national sovereignty, security and interests of national development; (2) maintaining social harmony and stability; (3) accelerating the modernization of national defence and the armed forces; and (4) maintaining world peace and stability.15 China’s military strategy to achieve these objectives is encapsulated in National Military Strategic Guidelines for the New Period that propounds an operational doctrine termed “Active Defence.”16 China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is tasked with three essential missions: defeating invasion from the sea, defending territorial sovereignty, and protecting maritime rights. Its primary area of operation is focused on the so‐called first and second island chains. The first island chain refers to the line of islands that runs north–south from the Kuriles, Japan, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The second island 12
Edward Wong, “China Hedges Over Whether South China Sea Is a ‘Core Interest’ Worth War,” The New York Times, March 30, 2011. 13
“China patient, not reckless, over islands,” Global Times, July 1, 2012.
Quoted in Agence France‐Presse, “China navy gets new ‘stealth frigate’: state media,” February 27, 2013.
The People’s Republic of China, State Council, Information Office, China’s National Defense in 2010 (Beijing: March 2011). 16
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Washington, D.C. 2012).
chain extends further east of China’s coast and includes a line running north‐south from the Kuriles through Japan, the Bonins, the Marianas, the Carolines, and Indonesia. With respect to China’s maritime domain, China pursues a defence doctrine known as “Offshore Defence” or “Near Seas Defence.”17 The “Near Seas” include the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea and are a PLAN priority. China’s phenomenal economic growth has been driven by export‐orientated trade. This has increased China’s dependency on maritime routes to export goods and to import natural resources. As a consequence, China has an interest in protecting vital trade routes or sea lines of communication (SLOCs). Chinese defence analysts have expressed concern about what has been termed the ‘Malacca dilemma’ – the threat to China’s national security by the closure of narrow straits or choke points in Southeast Asia.18 China’s economic growth also has fueled a rising demand for fish and other aquatic resources, minerals on the deep seabed and hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas). China claims most of the South China Sea on the basis of historic rights. The PLAN is tasked with developing the capability to conduct six offensive/defensive maritime campaigns: blockade, anti‐sea line of communication (SLOC), maritime‐land attack, anti‐ship, protection of maritime transportation, and naval base defence. Five points may be drawn from the above discussion: First, China’s spectacular economic rise has provided the basis for increased defence spending that in turn has led to the transformation and modernization of all military services, including the PLAN (see below).19 At the March 2013 session of the National People’s Congress China raised official defence spending by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion
Nan Li, “The Evolution of China’s Naval Strategy and Capabilities: From ‘Near Coast’ and ‘Near Seas’ to ‘Far Seas’,” in Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 109‐140. 18
Thomas M. Kane, Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power (London and Portland: Frank Cass, 2002), 127‐ 128. 19
For a discussion of China’s defence spending consult: Joachim Hofbauer, Priscilla Hermann and Sneha Raghavan, Asian Defense Spending, 2000‐2011: A Report of the CSIS Defense‐Industrial Initiatives Group (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic & International Studies, October 2012), 8‐11.
yuan or US $115.7 billion.20 China’s defence modernisation is in many respects a normal development. Second, China places highest priority on Taiwan and national reunification. After the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1995‐96, when Chinese attempts to intimidate Taiwan resulted in U.S. naval intervention, China has sought to forestall future intervention by U.S. carrier forces by extending its naval reach beyond the first to the second island chain by developing counter intervention capabilities or what the Pentagon terms anti‐access/area‐denial capabilities. Third, China’s rise has raised the salience of protecting its major SLOCs from the Gulf of Arabia through the South China Sea to its eastern seaboard. Fourth, Chinese resource nationalism has raised the importance of the South China Sea with respect to oil, gas, mineral resources and sovereignty claims. Increasingly PLAN operations have extended into the South China Sea with a particular focus on the waters adjacent to the Philippines. Fifth, as China becomes a global power with widespread economic and political interests, it will develop a blue water navy to protect its interests much further afield. China’s Force Capability Development
There are nine main elements to China’s naval modernization program: anti‐ship ballistic missiles, anti‐ship cruise missiles, submarines (conventional and nuclear), air craft carriers,21 surface combatants, amphibious ships, land‐based aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, nuclear and electromagnetic pulse weapons and maritime surveillance and targeting systems.22 Five elements of PLAN modernization are of particular significance to the South 20
Xinhua, “China’s 2013 draft budget report,” China National People’s Congress, March 5, 2013 and Andrew Erickson, “China’s Military Budget Bump: What it Means,” The Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2013. 21
In 2012, China commissioned the Liaoning (formerly Varyag) aircraft carrier and promptly conducted its first landings and takeoffs by J‐15 fighters. The Liaoning is an old ship and will be used primarily for training purposes. The Liaoning uses a sky jump to assist take offs that limit the kinds of aircraft and payloads that can be launched. The Liaoning will also embark helicopters. It is unlikely the Liaoning will be fully operational until after 2015 at the earliest. The Liaoning has been home ported in Qingdao with the North Sea Fleet; see: “Why China sent its aircraft carrier to Qingdao,” IISS Voices, March 7, 2013. China is now researching the development and construction of its first nuclear‐power carrier; see: Angus Grigg, “China makes plans for nuclear navy,” The Australian Financial Review, February 25, 2013. 22
Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities ‐ Background and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, July 31, 2012), 8‐34. See also: Ronald O’Rourke, “PLAN Force Structure: Submarines, Ships, Aircraft,” in Phillip C. Saunders,
Sea Fleet: submarines, aircraft carrier, surface combatants, amphibious ships and maritime surveillance and targeting systems. Several of the factors promoting China’s military modernization intersect with respect to Southeast Asia’s maritime domain and the South China Sea in particular. This is most evident in the modernization of the South Sea Fleet and the construction of a major naval base on Hainan Island on the northern reaches of the South China Sea. South Sea Fleet
The PLAN currently operates four new classes of domestically built submarines in addition to the Russian Kilo‐class conventional attack submarine (SS): Jin class or Type 094 nuclear powered ballistic missile (SSBN); Shang class or Type 093 nuclear powered (SSN); Yuan class or Type 041 (or Type 039A) SS; and the Song class or Type 039/039G SS.23 These submarines are armed with one or more weapons systems including anti‐ship cruise missiles (ASCM), wire‐guided and wake‐homing torpedoes and mines. The Kilo‐class subs are armed with the S‐N‐27 Sizzler ASCM. By the end of 2010 the PLAN had 31 relatively new modern attack submarines in commission. Given current production rates and life expectancy the PLAN could have a force of 75 modern submarines by 2020‐24.24 China has accorded the South Sea Fleet new priority. The PLAN has redeployed its newest attack SSNs and SSBNs from their traditional port of Qingdao to Hainan Island. The PLAN also deploys five new classes of indigenously build guided missile destroyers (DDG) in addition to the Russian Sovremenny‐class: Luhu (Type 052), Luhai (Type 051B), Luyang (Type 052B), Luyang II (Type 052C) and Louzhou (Type 051C). As of 2012, the PLAN had fourteen of these destroyers under commission; an additional six Luyang II destroyers
Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 141‐174 and Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas S. Yarosh, Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic & International Studies, July 30, 2012, 104‐130. 23
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 10‐15.
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 15.
are currently under construction. Eight destroyers are currently deployed with the South Sea Fleet including the Luyang‐ and Luyang II‐class.25 The PLAN deploys five classes of indigenously built frigates: Jiangwei I (Type 053 H2G), Jiangei II (Type 053H3), Jiangkai I (Type 054), Jiangkai II (Type 054A) and the Jiangdao (Type 056) stealth frigate.26 The PLAN currently has 28 of the first four classes of frigates under commission; nine Type 056 frigates have been commissioned with eleven more expected to be produced.27 Forty‐four frigates of all types are currently deployed with the East Sea and South Sea Fleets.28 Of China’s twenty‐eight amphibious ships, 26 are currently deployed with the East Sea and South Sea Fleets. The South Sea Fleet also is home of the largest marine battalion, amphibious platforms and China’s largest hospital ship. According to a recent study: Somewhat surprisingly, as this text has shown, many of the newest DDGs, frigates, and submarines tend to be based in the South China Sea. This configuration does not necessarily support a Taiwan conflict, but does match a future mission of escorting oil convoys to the Middle East, or asserting greater sovereignty over Chinese claims to the South China Sea. The Luyang DDGs 168 and 169 and the Luyang DDGs 170 and 171 forms the core of two battle group formations based at Yulin [Ya Long] for distant operations.29
The South Sea Fleet headquarters at Zhanjing, Guangdong province, forms the central hub of a major complex of strategic space and tactical long‐range radars and communications to support operations in the South China Sea. These electronic systems link Woody Island, Fiery Cross Reef and other Chinese‐occupied features with local and fleet commanders. Also, they are augmented by the combat and other electronic systems of PLAN warships, aircraft and paramilitary vessels. Zhanjiang and other ports on China southern coast are equipped with navigation aids as radio beacon navigation differential global positioning 25
Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Modernization of Its Naval and Air Power Capabilities,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2012‐13: China’s Military Challenge (Seattle and Washington: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2012), 99. 26
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 25‐26; Xinhua, ”PLA Navy takes command of next‐generation frigate,” Global Times, February 26, 2013; “Chinese Navy’s type‐056 frigate makes debut,” People’s Daily Online, February 28, 2013; and Agence France‐Presse, “China bolster navy with ‘stealth frigate’,” Herald Sun (Melbourne), February 26, 2013. 27
Associated Press, “China launches stealth frigate amid ocean tensions,” February 26, 2013.
Erickson, “China’s Modernization of Its Naval and Air Power Capabilities,” 99.
James C. Bussert and Bruce A. Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy: Combat Systems Technology, 1949‐ 2000 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 189.
system (RBN‐DGPS). The South Sea Fleet HQ at Zhanjiang also maintains a radar and computer vessel traffic service (VTS). Hainan Island
Since the 1980s, China has maintained RBN aids at Haikou, Haifou and Sanya on Hainan Island. In 1999, three new RBN‐DGPS systems were activated at Baohujiao, Yangpu and Ya Long Naval Base at Ya Long Bay near Sanya. In addition, facilities at Dongfang and Haikou also operate radar and computer vessel traffic services (VTS). In 1965, China constructed its first high‐powered low frequency (LF) station on Hainan to support submarine operations. One of China very first high‐powered very low frequency (VLF) stations was built at Ya Long Naval Base to communicate with submarine and surface ships. Hainan houses several electronic intelligence (ELINT) stations, including one on a mountaintop in the southwest directed at Vietnam.30 The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Lingshui Air Base on the southeast coast also operates an ELINT station with an estimated 1,000 signal analysts. The facilities at Ya Long Naval Base include piers, docks and underground submarine pens.31 The PLAN stations several major surface combatants, amphibious landing craft, and conventional and nuclear submarines at Ya Long. Continued construction indicates that Ya Long will be able to accommodate larger advanced surface combatants such as assault ships, attack and ballistic missile submarines, and eventually one or more aircraft carriers. The South Sea Fleet has the important mission of securing the Strait of Qiongzhou to protect southern China and Hainan Island. From this perspective, the development of a naval base at Ya Long may be seen as defensive in motivation. However, as two American naval analysts have concluded: By home‐porting new vessels in southern Hainan, China appears to be carrying out a naval strategy in the South China Sea of exerting regional maritime control incrementally. Extrapolating from the rapid growth of its communications, intelligence gathering, and naval supply structure on Hainan and its island bases in the South China Sea, China appears to have linked these bases with a modern electronic communications network. Many of the islands and reefs occupied in the SCS have a few buildings and a few antennas with a rudimentary pier. The only all‐purpose base including aircraft shelters and support is located on Woody Island.
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 142.
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Washington, D.C. 2012).
11 Although crude, such outposts are being improved, if space is available, and could add to the PLAN’s overall mobility and ability to outmaneuver any regional competitors.32
The development of the Ya Long Naval Base raises important questions about China’s strategic intent. Continued construction at Ya Long Naval Base suggest that it will be a major military base that will provide China with the capacity to surge expeditionary forces into the South China Sea and beyond. The Ya Long base will also provide China with a forward presence to protect its SLOCs through the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Nuclear Submarines
The development of a naval base in Ya Long Bay has strategic implications for the balance of power in the Asia‐Pacific. Analysis of construction activities indicates Ya Long Naval Base will be capable of housing nuclear submarines capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles. Portions of the base are being built underground to provide facilities that cannot be easily monitored. The hardened underground tunnels, for example, can protect vessels ranging from SSNs up to Luyang‐class DDGs. When these facilities are completed they will provide China with the potential capability to station a substantial proportion of its submarine‐based nuclear deterrent force there. The deployment of nuclear submarines, including ballistic missile submarines, will introduce a new geo‐strategic dimension to the regional balance of power. Chinese nuclear submarine deployments will attract the continuing attention of the U.S. Navy in conducting military survey/intelligence gathering in the waters off Hainan. Satellite imagery has confirmed the presence of a single Chinese Type 094 Jin‐class nuclear submarine at Ya Long since late 2007. The Type‐094 is a second‐generation nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and represents China’s most lethal naval strike weapon. This marks the first permanent deployment on an SSBN to China’s South Sea Fleet. Five more Chinese Jin‐class SSBNs are expected to become operational in coming years and Ya Long is expected to become their home base. China’s most modern strategic nuclear submarine is not yet fully operational but when it is the submarine is expected to carry twelve Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles. This class of submarine will be even more potent if China succeeds in equipping the missiles with multiple warheads. Chinese nuclear subs will be able to patrol and fire from concealed 32
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 180.
positions in deep waters off Hainan island if China can develop the necessary operational skills. Naval Exercises
China regularly conducts major naval exercises to showcase the growing prowess of the PLAN. In 2010 China conducted three major naval exercises. The first exercise was held in early April 2010 and involved the long‐range deployment of sixteen warships from the PLAN drawn from the North Sea, East Sea and South Sea Fleets. The PLAN flotilla conducted live firing exercises north of the Philippines before steaming toward the Malacca Straits. Up until this exercise China’s South Sea Fleet was the only fleet to operate in the South China Sea. The second naval exercise was conducted in late July 2010. It was the largest of its kind and involved twelve of China’s most modern warships from each of its fleets. This exercise was notable for the Chinese media coverage of live missile firings and the presence of senior commanders from the Central Military Commission and the PLA Chief of Staff, General Chen Bingde.33 In November 2010 the PLA Marine Corps held the third major exercise in the South China Sea involving more than 100 ships, submarines and aircraft and 1,800 marines. In July 2011, China conducted anti‐submarine exercises off Hainan involving surface combatants and landing craft.34 In November 2011, China conducted naval exercises in the Western Pacific.35 In May 2012, the PLAN conducted tactical formation exercises and helicopter training missions involving two destroyers, two frigates and a Landing Platform Dock (LPD). The Type 071 LPD is one of the largest combat vessels in the PLAN and can embark a reinforced battalion of marines as well as landing craft and medium helicopters. The exercise was held about mid‐way between Taiwan’s southeast coast and Luzon in the northern Philippines.36 Chinese naval exercises in the East China Sea in October 2012 involved PLAN warships exercising with the paramilitary vessels from the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) and the Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC). A total of eleven ships and eight aircraft took 33
Xinhua, July 29, 2010.
“China: naval exercises in South China Sea,” All Voices, June 17, 2011.
The Economic Times, November 23, 2011.
J. Michael Cole, “Taiwan monitors Chinese naval moves,” Taipei Times, May 10, 2012.
part.37 A statement issued by the PLAN East Sea Fleet noted, “This exercise will simulate a situation where foreign law enforcement vessels obstruct and interfere with our maritime surveillance and fisheries administration vessels on a mission to safeguard maritime rights and enforce the law.” In this exercise the East Sea Fleet responded by dispatching a frigate, hospital ship, tugboat and advanced fighters and helicopters “for support, cover and emergency rescue.”38 Although this particular exercise was held in the shadow of dispute over Senkaku Island it holds implications for the Philippines and Vietnam as well. PLAN exercises can be viewed as a demonstration by China that it is now capable of deploying beyond the first island chain to the second. The implications are clear: China is developing the capacity to sustain larger naval deployments in the Spratly archipelago and further south for longer periods. Combat Ready Patrols
On June 28, 2012, Geng Yangsheng, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Defence, revealed that China had commenced combat‐ready patrols in disputed waters in the South China Sea. In reply to a question about Vietnam’s recent air patrols over the Spratly islands, Geng stated “the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat‐ready patrol system in seas under our control to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests.”39 In an embarrassing incident for China, one of its frigates on routine patrol ran aground near Half Moon Shoal near Palawan island on July 11, 2012.40 The frigate reportedly had been intimidating Philippine fishing craft found in the area. Six PLAN ships and smaller utility boats came to the frigate’s rescue and refloated it four days later. The frigate left the area.41 37
“East China Sea tension: China conducts naval exercises,” BBC News Asia, October 19, 2012.
Ariel Zirulnick, “China’s naval exercises in East China Sea send warning to regional rivals,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 2012. 39
Quoted in Zhao Shengnan and Zhang Yunbi, “China Pledges to protect maritime sovereignty,” China Daily, June 29, 2012 and Sutirtho Patranobis, “China to set up new military base in south China sea,” Hindustan Times, June 28, 2012. 40
Agence France‐Presse,”China navy ship “stranded’ in disputed waters,” July 13, 2012.
Manuel Mogato and Ben Blanchard, “China frigate heads home, averts S. China Sea standoff,” Reuters, July 15, 2012; Jim Gomez, Associated Press, “China removes grounded warship, easing sea tensions,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 15, 2012; and Edward Wong, “Freed From Shoals, Warship Heads Back to China,” The New York Times, July 16, 2012.
This is a significant development because up to now the PLAN has played a relatively low‐ key behind‐the‐scenes role in South China Sea incidents. Ships belonging to the CMS force or the FLEC have mainly conducted China’s surveillance patrols. Paracel Islands
Developments on Hainan have been paralleled by China’s construction activities in the Paracel islands. In 1990, China constructed 1,200 foot runway on Woody island that has been extended twice to it present length of 7,874 feet. The airstrip on Woody Island can accommodate fighter aircraft such as the Su‐27 and Su‐30MKKs, H‐6 bombers and large supply transport aircraft. The facilities adjacent to the runway include four hangers. Air traffic is controlled by Type 791 X‐band precision‐approach radar. Other military infrastructure on Woody Island includes naval docks capable of accommodating frigates and destroyers and a fuel depot. PLA soldiers are based on Woody island to protect the runway and other military facilities. China has also built military‐related facilities elsewhere in the Paracels. A weather station has been built on Pattle Island, while Robert Island houses a radio beacon, the only beacon south of Hainan. The docks on Duncan Island are being expanded. A Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) station has been operating on Rocky Island, the highest premonitory, since 1995.42 This station could provide air or surface warning and support air missions or ship targeting. Open sources report that China may have stationed the HY‐2 anti‐ship cruise missile on Woody Island.43 On July 19, 2012, China’s Central Military Commission officially decided to establish a military command in Sansha City after its elevation to prefecture‐level administrative status. The garrison was placed under the PLA Hainan provincial sub‐command within the Guangzhou Military Command. The Sansha military garrison has been assigned responsibility for national defence mobilization, military operations and reserves. According to Defence Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng, “China may set up local military command organs in the city [Sansha] according to relevant regulations.”44 Senior Colonel Cai 42
J. Michael Cole, “China Deploying “Military Garrison; to South China Sea?,” The Diplomat, July 23, 2012
Bill Geertz, “Woody Island Missiles,” The Washington Times, June 15, 2001.
Xinhua, “Chinese military may establish presence in Sansha: defense spokesperson,” Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China, June 28, 2012.
Xihong was appointed commander of the Sansha garrison and Senior Colonel Liao Chaoyi was named Political Commissar.45 According to a Japanese source, China’s decision to establish a “security area” in Sansha “is considered preparation for full‐scale military action in the South China Sea.”46 This view is disputed by retired U.S. Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt who argues that a military garrison in Sansha will not affect the military balance or signal imminent hostilities. McDevitt points out that any major military operations in the South China Sea would be mounted from Hainan where the PLA has major bases. According to McDevitt, “putting garrisons on Woody Island or elsewhere in the Paracels would effectively maroon these guys, so the only advantage would be just showing the flag ‐ to say, ‘We are serious’.”47 According to regional security specialists, the standing up of a military garrison command on Woody Island does not represent an attempt to build a base for forward deployment into the South China Sea.48 In their view, the Sansha military garrison is merely an administrative response to the upgrading of Sansha to a prefecture‐level city. Military garrisons do not command PLA main force combat units, PLA Navy for PLA Air Force units. South China Sea
China has also consolidated its military presence in the South China Sea by construction on several of the features it currently occupies.49 China occupied Mischief Reef in 1995 and built its first structures in the South China Sea. These were expanded in October 1998 with the addition of three octagon‐shaped wooden structures and two two‐story concrete towers one at each end. The towers bristle with SATCOMM and HF antennae for communications. The towers are thought to house ELINT and radars. The facilities on 45
“China steps up claims over world’s most disputed waters,” National Post, July 27, 2012.
“China’s hard‐line stance cause for grave concern,” The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2012.
Kirk Spitzer, “New Garrison, Old Troubles In The South China Seas,” Battlefield, July 26, 2012. http://battlefield.blogs.time.com/2012/07/26/new‐garrison‐old‐troubles‐in‐the‐south‐china‐sea. Another analyst argues, “the Sansha garrison has minimal operational value barring a significant upgrade in naval and air infrastructure to enable sustained operations” and is mainly an example of Chinese coercive diplomacy. See: Oriana Skylar Mastro, “The Sansha Garrison: China’s Deliberate Escalation in the South China Sea,” Center for a New American Security, East and South China Sea Bulletin no. 5, September 2012. 48
Dennis J. Blasko and M. Taylor Fravel, “Much Ado About The Sansha Garrison,” The Diplomat, August 23, 2012. 49
John J. Tkacik, “Investigating the Chinese Threat, Part One: Military and Economic Aggression,” Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 28, 2012, 14‐18.
Mischief Reef has since been upgraded with the construction of two new piers, a helicopter pad, a navy navigation radar, several anti‐aircraft guns and an anti‐ship cruise missile system (either the HY‐2 or C‐801). A 200‐foot long concrete building was constructed on Fiery Cross Reef. It houses a naval High Frequency (HF) yagi radar antenna (Bean Sticks), two Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) radomes, and several whip communication and mast antennas. The various antenna support different requirements, such as radio signal surveillance and Long Range (LR) communications. The facilities on Fiery Cross Reef also include satellite communication (SATCOMM) and meteorological dishes. Chinese facilities on Johnson South Reef include four octagon‐shaped huts and a rectangular two story building on a concrete base supporting two towers. One SATCOMM and three masthead antennas are mounted on the roof. Chigua Reef contains an identical building structure plus a wooden barracks. Subi Reef hosts a wooden barracks, a two story building with a SATCOMM antenna and a helicopter‐landing pad. In summary, Chinese facilities in the South China Sea will give the PLAN an enhanced capability to exercise its sovereignty claims over this area. According to naval specialists, “Although small in size, if necessary these facilities could support future Chinese expansion throughout the area, and could perhaps even support a limited naval conflict in this congested region.”50 China’s Paramilitary Fleets
China’s maritime surveillance fleet is estimated at more than 300 vessels only two of which, the Haixun 11 and Haixun 31, weighed more than 3,000 tons. In October 2010, China announced it would build thirty‐six new CMS vessels for maritime law enforcement over the next five years. In May 2011, the CMS announced it would recruit 1,000 more law enforcement officials, bringing its total to over 10,000 personnel. And in June 2011, China announced plans to expand its maritime surveillance force to sixteen aircraft and a total of 350 vessels by 2015. China’s objective of enforcing its jurisdiction in the South China Sea through an increasingly modern civilian enforcement fleet was highlighted in late July 2012 with the launching of 50
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 145.
the Haixun 01.51 The Haixun 01 weighs in at 5,418 tons and its largest and most capable ship in China’s maritime surveillance fleet. It can travel 18,500 km without refuelling and reach a top speed of 37 km per hour. The Haixun 01 is capable of supporting helicopter operations. Also, it can berth 200 passengers and comes equipped with an emergency medical surgery. In sum, China has developed an enhanced capability to exercise its sovereignty claims over the South China Sea and protect its vital SLOCs through the Malacca and Singapore Straits as well as the capacity to surge expeditionary forces into the South China Sea from these bases with a considerably shortened logistics tail. By extension, China will also have the capacity to interdict the same SLOCs on which Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are dependent. These developments portend a greater Chinese capacity to assert regional influence and to challenge U.S. naval supremacy.
Part 2 U.S. National Interests in the South China Sea When the Obama Administration took office in 2009, it quickly asserted, “the United States is back in Asia.” The United States promptly acceded to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, appointed a permanent ambassador to the ASEAN Secretariat and revived the annual ASEAN‐United States leaders meeting. In early 2010 Jeffrey Bader and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell convened an interagency group to review U.S. policy towards the South China Sea. Up to then U.S. policy had been limited to not taking sides on territorial claims. The interagency group reviewed intelligence that Chinese naval deployments to the South China Sea had increased markedly since 2000, along with a rise in incidents between China and claimant states and Chinese intimidation of companies seeking contracts with Vietnam to explore for oil and gas. Interagency discussions resulted in a “new, more comprehensive articulation of U.S. policy.” Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and his staff drafted a statement of U.S. policy on the South China Sea for delivery by the Secretary of State at the seventeenth meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum to be held in Hanoi in July 2010. Bader and Campbell contacted
“China Launches the Country’s Largest and Most Advanced Patrol Vessel,” The Maritime Executive, July 30, 2012.
other delegations scheduled to attend the ARF meeting and urged them to speak out about international rights in the South China Sea.52 The first public articulation of the new U.S. policy was made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the ninth Shangri‐La Dialogue held in Singapore from June 4th‐6th. In his presentation Secretary Gates called for “open, transparent, and equal access to the global common,” including the maritime commons, “for security, for trade and commerce, and free passage.” He then directed his remarks to the South China Sea: In this respect, the South China Sea is an area of growing concern. This sea is not only vital to those directly bordering it, but to all nations with economic and security interests in Asia. Our policy is clear: it is essential that stability, freedom of navigation, and free and unhindered economic development be maintained. We do not take sides on any competing sovereignty claims, but we do oppose the use of force and actions that hinder freedom of navigation. We object to any effort to intimidate U.S. corporations or those of any nation engaged in legitimate economic activity. All parties must work together to resolve differences through peaceful, multilateral efforts consistent with customary international law. The 2002 Declaration of Conduct [sic] was an important step in this direction and we 53 hope that concrete implementation of this agreement will continue.
The next month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally delivered the new U.S. policy on the South China Sea to a closed session of the ASEAN Regional Forum. A dozen other countries also spoke on this issue.54 She later presented the main points to a press conference. Secretary Clinton stated: The United States, like every other nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea. We share these interests with not only ASEAN members and ASEAN Regional Forum participants but with other maritime nations and the broader international community. The United States supports a collaborative, diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claim and the company [sic] and rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features. The U.S. supports the 2002 ASEAN‐China declaration on conduct of parties in the South China Sea. We encourage the parties to reach agreement on a full code of conduct. The U.S. is prepared to facilitate initiatives and confidence building measures consistent with the declaration. Because it is in the interest of all claimants and the broader international community for unimpeded commerce to proceed under lawful conditions. Respect for the interests of the international community and responsible efforts to
Bader, Obama and China’s Rise, 104‐105.
Dr. Robert M. Gates. Secretary of Defence, United States, “Strengthening Security Partnerships in the Asia‐ th Pacific,” Presentation to the First Plenary Session, the 9 IISS Asian Security Summit, The Shangri‐La Dialogue, Singapore, June 5, 2010. IISS is an acronym for International Institute of Strategic Studies. 54
Bader, Obama and China’s Rise, 105.
19 address these unresolved claims and help create the conditions for resolution of the disputes and a 55 lowering of regional tensions.
Clinton concluded by noting that resolving South China Sea disputes was “pivotal to regional stability.” In sum, if in 2010 Chinese assertions that the South China Sea was a “core interest,” the United States responded by proclaiming that it had a “national interest” in the South China Sea.
Part 3 U.S. Strategy of Rebalancing When Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea raised U.S. and regional security concerns, the U.S. Navy deployed thirty‐one of its fifty‐three fast attack submarines to the Pacific and stepped up its anti‐submarine warfare program. Eighteen of the U.S. subs are home‐ported in Pearl Harbor; the others are based in Guam.56 In late June‐early July 2010, in a calculated demonstration of naval power, the USS Florida, USS Michigan, and USS Ohio submarines, simultaneously surfaced in Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean), Busan (South Korea) and Subic Bay (the Philippines), respectively.57 All of these developments took place before the formal announcement that the United States would rebalance its forces in the Asia‐ Pacific. The heightened importance of the Asia‐Pacific was underscored in January 2012 with the release of a new national defense strategy, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. This document stated: U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia‐Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia‐ Pacific security. We will expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia‐Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests [emphasis in original].58
Hillary Rodman Clinton, Secretary of State, Remarks at Press Availability, National Convention Center, Hanoi, July 23, 2010. 56
Navy Times, July 21, 2010.
The Chosun Ilbo, July 8, 2010 and Time Magazine, July 8, 2010. Each of these submarines has been modified to carry 154 conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles. 58
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21 Century Defense (January 2012), 2.
The United States also is developing an air‐sea battle concept to counter China’s development of “counter intervention” or area‐denial/anti‐access capabilities. The air‐sea battle concept is being drawn up to enable the United States to prevail in conflicts where area‐denial/anti‐access capabilities are well developed. According to the new U.S. defense strategy one of the ten main missions for U.S. armed forces is to “project power despite anti‐access/area denial challenges.”59 In response to China’s use of asymmetric capabilities, including electronic and cyber warfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defences, mining and other methods, “to complicate our operational calculus,” the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti‐access and area denial (A2/AD) environments. This will include implementing the Joint Operational Access Concept, sustaining our undersea capabilities, developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defenses, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space‐ based capabilities [emphasis in original].60
The Obama Administration policy of “rebalancing” towards the Asia‐Pacific includes the full spectrum of economic, diplomatic, political and military engagement. The U.S. Pacific Command will continue to reinforce the “four pillars of the rebalance” – partnerships, presence, power projection, and principles (free and open commerce, access to the global commons, rule of law, peaceful settlement of disputes, promotion of democracy and universal human rights).61 Rebalancing will result in some force posture changes in the Asia‐Pacific but will not result in a major build‐up of U.S. forces. For example, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that the number of U.S. Navy ships in the Asia‐Pacific would increase to sixty percent of the total fleet by 2020. At present, the U.S. Navy totals 285 ships of which 157, or fifty‐ five percent, are assigned to the Pacific. The U.S. Navy plans to develop a fleet of 306 ships by 2019. This would mean an additional 23 ships would be deployed with the Pacific Fleet
“The Rebalance: One Year Later,” Remarks by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert at CSIS‐Georgetown‐U.S. Studies Center Conference, February 27, 2013. Cited hereafter as Lippert, “The Rebalance: One Year Later.”
(for a total of 180) if budget restraints do not reduce this number.62 The number of U.S. Air Force planes will be increased by 2017 according to current plans. U.S. priority on the Asia‐Pacific will result in the introduction of new platforms and better capabilities, including the deployment of Virginia class submarines, fifth generation fighters, P‐8 aircraft, cruise missiles and enhanced Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance.63 New developments in U.S. military technology will see the introduction of more sophisticated undersea drones and unmanned systems for intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and surveillance such as Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance Systems.64 U.S. rebalancing also will lead to an increase in the rotation of U.S. naval and air forces to the region, including deployments to Australia, Guam and the Philippines. U.S. Littoral Combat Ships will be rotated through Singapore. Sequestration will impact on the U.S. Pacific Command unless Congress decides otherwise; but overall the U.S. will remain the most powerful naval and air force in the region. It will be more widely dispersed than previously and more capable of intervening if called upon to do so.
Part 4 Responses by Regional States China’s military modernisation and transformation, especially naval modernisation, coupled with increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, has created a security dilemma for Southeast Asia’s states.65 China’s efforts to safeguard its security by developing what it considers a reasonable force structure to deter the United States has created insecurity in several ASEAN states due to China’s lack of transparency. 62
Michael McDevitt, “Critical Military Issues: The Rebalancing Strategy and Naval Operations,” Presentation to New Approaches to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock workshop, Washington, D.C., October 9‐ 10, 2012. 63
Lippert, “The Rebalance: One Year Later.”
Mark J. Valencia, “The South China Sea, Military Activities and the Law of the Sea,” Paperpresented to the International Conference on Major Law and Policy Issues in the South China Sea: European and American Perspectives, co‐sponsored by the Institute of European and American Studies and the Center for Asia‐Pacific Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, October 7‐8, 2011. In October 2012, the U.S. Navy successfully fired six Rafael Spike missiles from an unmanned surface precision module (USV PEM) in the first demonstration of st this capability. “Navy Demonstrates 1 launch of Spike Missiles from Unmanned Surface Vehicles,” NAVSEA Office of Corporate Communications, October 26, 2012. 65
For a recent appreciation see: Andrew Shearer, “Southeast Asia and Australia: Case Studies in Responding to China’s Military Power,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2012‐13: China’s Military Challenge (Seattle and Washington: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2012), 241‐275.
ASEAN states have been circumspect in public statements but their concerns can be discerned by the significant rise in defence expenditures and the kinds of weapon systems and platforms that they have acquired. Several regional states are developing their own anti‐access/area‐denial capabilities.66 In addition, Southeast Asia’s arms procurements go beyond force modernisation and include the introduction of new capabilities that can be operated at extended ranges. It should be recognized, however, that not all of these new capabilities have been acquired in response to China’s military build up. The sub‐sections below reviews force modernization developments in the Philippines, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region.
The Philippines In 2011, in response to Chinese assertiveness in its EEZ and Kalayaan Island Group, the Philippines drew up a new defence strategy focused on both internal security operations and external territorial defence. The Aquino Administration allocated P11 billion to support force modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In March 2011, AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Oban announced plans to upgrade the airfield on Pag‐Asa island. Two months later a Philippine navy study recommended the acquisition of submarines as a “deterrent against future potential conflicts.”67 In September 2011, President Aquino announced that 4.95 billion pesos would be allocated to top up the defence budget.68 These funds were earmarked for the purchase a naval patrol vessel, six helicopters and other military equipment in order to secure the Malampaya oil and gas project. In 2012, the Philippine government began implementation of a five‐year modernization program totalling P40 billion. In July 2012, the Philippines announced a U.S. $1.8 billion fund to purchase a refurbished frigate, C‐130 aircraft, utility and combat helicopters as well as other defence equipment.69 In 2011‐12, the Philippines took delivery of two former U.S. Coast Guard Weather Endurance Cutters. The first cutter has been assigned to operate in waters off Palawan in 66
Robert Karniol, “Vietnam prepares to better protect its S. China Sea claims,” The Straits Times, January 10, 2012. 67
Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 17, 2001.
Agence France‐Presse, September 7, 2011.
Manuel Mogato, “Philippines Refuses to Budge on South China Sea Row,” Reuters, July 23, 2012.
Western Command with the mission of protecting the Philippines’ EEZ. The Philippines also expects to take delivery of three new Taiwan‐manufactured Multi‐Purpose Attack Craft and procure a third U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton‐class Cutter.70 The Philippines has signed an agreement with Italy’s Defence Ministry to acquire military equipment, possibly including frigates and aircraft. The Philippines has presented the Pentagon with a “wish list” of new equipment including: coastal radar, long‐range patrol aircraft, strategic sea lift vessels, three off‐shore patrol boats, two to five naval helicopters, air defence radar, six jet trainers, surface attack aircraft, anti‐ship missiles, and a submarine.71 The Philippines has also reached out to Japan, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom for defence acquisitions. In September 2011, during President Aquino’s visit to Tokyo, he and Prime Minister Noda agreed to strengthen maritime security ties by holding frequent high‐level defence discussions and by stepping up cooperation between their Coast Guards and “defence‐related authorities.” Prime Minister Noda agreed to increase the involvement of Japan’s Coast Guard in training their Filipino counterparts.72 Following a visit by South Korea’s President Lee Myung‐bak to Manila in November 2011, President Aquino announced that the Philippines would purchase military equipment form Seoul. The Department of National Defense was reported to be drawing up a list including aircraft, helicopters, boats and other military equipment.
Vietnam In 2009, in a major development, Vietnam announced that it would procure six conventional diesel powered Kilo‐class submarines from Russia. These are scheduled to be delivered in 2014. The Kilo‐class submarines are likely to be equipped with sea‐skimming 3M‐54 Klub anti‐ship missiles with a range of 300 kilometres. In 2011, Vietnam stepped up its force modernization program when it took delivery of four 70
Reuters, April 13, 2011 and Agence France‐Presse, September 3, 2011.
The Philippine Star, August 24, 2011. For a discussion of U.S. arms sales and transfers to the Philippines consult: Ronald O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, October 22, 2012), 40‐42. 72
The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2011.
additional Su‐30MK2 multi‐role jet fighters. These are expected to be equipped with the Kh‐ 59MK anti‐ship cruise missile with a range of 115 km. Vietnam currently has on order sixteen more Su‐30MK2 jet fighters.73 Also in 2011, Vietnam also took delivery of two Gephard‐class guided missile stealth frigates armed with Kh‐35E anti‐ship missiles with a range of 130 km and two Svetlyak class missile Patrol Boats.74 In addition, Vietnam launched its first indigenously built Ocean Patrol Vessel and troop transport.75 In October, while on a tour of the Netherlands, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung gave his approval for the purchase of four Sigma‐class corvettes, two of which are slated for construction in Vietnam.76 In 2011, Vietnam beefed up its coastal defences by acquiring its second Bastion land‐based anti‐ship ballistic missile system. Vietnam reportedly has acquired Israeli Extended Range Artillery Munitions ‐ ballistic missiles effective beyond 150 km. In October 2011, President Truong Tan Sang made a state visit to India and requested Indian assistance in four areas: submarine training, conversion training for pilots to fly Sukhoi‐30s, transfer of medium sized patrol boats, and modernization of port facilities at Nha Trang.77 The local media reported that India was considering whether or not to sell Vietnam its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.78 In February 2012, Russia announced it will co‐produce the Uran anti‐ship missile (SS‐N‐25 Switchblade) with Vietnam.79 In November 2011, Vietnam announced a $3.3 billion defence budget for 2012, a reported rise of 35% over 2010. According to IHS Jane’s Vietnam’s annual naval procurement budget has increased by 150% since 2008 to US $276 million in 2011. The naval budget is projected to rise to $400 million by 2015.80 Vietnam is seeking to develop an anti‐submarine warfare
Thanh Nien News, July 3, 2011.
The Voice of Russia, June 22, 2011; BBC Vietnamese Service, August 24, 2011 and October 25, 2011; and Interfax‐AVN, October 11, 2011. 75
BBC Vietnamese Service, October 3, 2011.
BBC Vietnamese Service, October 18, 2011.
The Hindu, November 9, 2011.
Business Insider, September 20, 2011.
RIA Novosti, February 15, 2012.
Quoted in The Economic Times, November 14, 2011.
capability by acquiring either the U.S. P‐3 Orion of the Spanish Airbus Military C295.81
Regional82 According to one noted regional security analyst, naval acquisitions in Asia “have become especially disturbing, with undeniable signs of action‐reaction dynamics” and Northeast Asia in particular is witnessing an “emerging naval arms race.”83 Defence analysts estimate that 86 submarines will be added to the fleets in the Asia‐Pacific by 2020 of which 30 will be Chinese.84 China currently has the largest submarine fleet and most extensive plans to expand its numbers including the Type 095 nuclear attack submarine (SSN) and Type 094 Jin‐class SSBN. China is expected to base both attack and ballistic missile submarines at Ya Long Naval Base on Hainan Island. This prospect has led Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States to step up investment in their anti‐submarine warfare capabilities. Security analysts warn that the proliferation of submarine fleets may be destabilizing in times of tensions and crises due to the complexities of command and control. In Southeast Asia the conventional submarine has become the new hallmark of naval acquisitions. Vietnam’s purchase of Kilo‐class submarines is part of a regional trend.85 Indonesia, the first country in Southeast Asia to acquire submarines, has indicated it will replace them with newer South Korean models. Indonesia reportedly will boost defence spending by 35% in 2012.86 Singapore has upgraded its submarine fleet by taking delivery of two Archer‐class submarines in 2011.87 Singapore reportedly is in the market for four or five
Aviation Week, February 17, 2012.
Richard A. Bitzinger, “Recent Developments in Naval and Maritime Modernization in the Asia‐Pacific: Implications for Regional Security,” in Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 23‐40 and Richard A. Bitzinger, “Military Modernization in the Asia‐Pacific: Assessing New Capabilities,” in Strategic Asia 2010‐11: Asia’s Rising Power and America’s Continued Purpose (Seattle and Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2010), 79‐111. 83
Desmond Ball, “Asia’s Naval Arms Race,” Paper presented to the 25 Asia‐Pacific Roundtable, ISIS Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 29 May ‐ 1 June 2011. 84
Business Week, November 25, 2011.
Aviation Week, February 17, 2012.
Al Jazeera.net, November 7, 2011.
The Straits Times, December 3, 2011.
P‐3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.88 Malaysia has acquired two Scorpene‐class submarines. Both the Singaporean and Malaysian submarines are equipped with Air Independent Propulsion systems. Thailand and the Philippines are currently considering acquiring their own conventional submarines. Regional force modernization has and will continue to result in the introduction of increased numbers of warships equipped with new technologies and weapons systems. A recent review of regional force modernization over the last decade highlights the introduction of new capabilities such as “stand‐off precision‐strike, long‐range airborne and undersea attack, stealth, mobility and expeditionary warfare and, above all, new capacities when it comes to greatly improved command, control communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) networks.”89 This review concludes, “new types of armaments promise to significantly upgrade and modernize the manner of war fighting in the region… [and] fundamentally change the concept and conduct of warfare.”90 In summary, Southeast Asia’s arms buying spree, although largely intended for defensive purposes, may have a destabilising impact on regional security. According to Vice Admiral Scott Swift, Commander U.S. Seventh Fleet, his prime concern is not the outbreak of a major conflict but “any tactical trigger with strategic implications… I do have concerns about a specific brushup that could result in a tactical miscalculation…”91 So far there have been few if any indications that this issue is being effectively addressed by ASEAN‐centric multilateral organizations.
Part 5 SinoAmerican Rivalry: Possible Outcomes This section explores three possible outcomes of Sino‐American naval rivalry in the South China Sea: armed conflict, a modus vivendi between China and the United States, and continued cooperation and friction.
Flight Global, December 15, 2011.
Richard A. Bitzinger, “A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, 31(1), April 2010, 63‐64. 90
Bitzinger, “A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions,” 64.
Quoted by Stephen Coates, “US Pacific commander warns of tactical errors,” The China Post, November 10, 2011. Admiral Smith also noted that he expected diplomacy to prevail in the event of a brushup and “compromise to prevail.”
Armed Conflict China’s increasing assertiveness has raised regional security concerns about China’s strategic intentions and its challenge to U.S. primacy. Several Southeast Asian states have sought reassurance from the United States that it will continue to remain engaged in the region. The United States has responded to China’s naval build‐up by rebalancing its force posture in the Asia‐Pacific by strengthening its presence on Guam, stepping up weapons and equipment sales to the Philippines, negotiating new arrangements with Australia giving the U.S. greater access to training facilities near Darwin, and basing Combat Littoral Ships in Singapore.92 U.S. diplomatic intervention in the South China Sea dispute, coupled with its policy of rebalancing its force posture, has provoked a negative if not hostile reaction by China. China views the U.S. as an outside power whose intervention will only complicate matters. At a conference hosted by the Australian Chief of Army in October 2012, PLA Lt. Gen. Ren Haiquan offered this blunt assessment: Some countries pursue strategies such as ‘rebalance to the Asia‐Pacific’ and ‘looking East’ and are increasing their strategic investment. Several countries do not let go the Cold War mentality. They are consolidating military alliance system in Asia Pacific and strengthening their military presence and military 93 deterrence capability.
These developments, however, do not presage armed conflict between China and the United States. Despite its naval build‐up, the PLAN currently is no match for the U.S. Navy.94 The PLAN has been circumspect in its involvement in South China Sea territorial disputes. The United States has been careful not to become entrapped by regional allies ‐ the Philippines and Japan ‐ in their territorial disputes with China. In sum, armed conflict between China and the United States in the South China Sea appears the least likely of the three scenarios under review. A study by the RAND Corporation of possible conflicts over the next thirty years that could cause a China‐U.S. military clash, including the South China
Craig Whitlock, “Navy’s next stop in Asia will set China on edge,” Checkpoint Washington, November 18, 2011 93
Quoted by Brendan Nicholson, “Chinese top brass bags US influence in the region,” The Australian, October 31, 2012. 94
China, however, will increasingly develop the capabilities to challenge U.S. naval primacy in the Western Pacific. For a balanced assessment consult: Dan Blumenthal, “The Power Projection Balance in Asia,” in st Thomas G. Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21 Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 168‐183.
Sea, concluded, “We do not believe a China‐U.S. military conflict to be probable in any of the cases.”95
SinoAmerican Modus Vivendi The Obama Administration has repeatedly emphasized that its policy of rebalancing is not a policy of containing China. For example, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently stated, “There has also been criticism that the Rebalance is a strategy of containment. This is not the case…it is a strategy of collaboration and cooperation.” This view was reiterated by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert who declared, “the rebalance is not [a] zero‐sum game with Beijing or a contain China strategy. In fact, a strong bilateral relationship with China is an important part of the rebalance.”96 The U.S. and China currently have in place nearly sixty mechanisms for coordination and collaboration on strategic policy issues. The Obama Administration has sought to manage its relations with China through new mechanisms such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and Consultations on Asia‐Pacific Affairs. Military representatives are included both as part of the S&ED process and the separate Strategic Security Dialogue within the S&ED. There is little evidence, however, that military‐to‐military contacts and strategic dialogue have reduced strategic mistrust and raised transparency.97 Chinese officials repeatedly raise “three obstacles” to bilateral defence cooperation in their discussions with the United States: continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, U.S. intelligence gathering in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act restrictions on military interaction with the PLA. U.S. policy towards the South China Sea policy represents an addition major irritant. It is unlikely that China and the United States will reach agreement to collaborate jointly as equals to manage security in the South China Sea. This is because the currents of 95
James Dobbins, David C. Gompert, David A. Shlapak and Andrew Scobell, Conflict with China: Prospects, Consequences, and Strategies for Deterrence, Occasional Paper (Santa Monica and Arlington: The RAND Corporation, 2011), 1. The other cases included North Korea, Taiwan, Cyber‐Space, Japan and India. 96
Lippert, “The Rebalance: One Year Later.”
See the sobering review offered by Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi, Addressing U.S.‐China Strategic Distrust, John L. Thornton China Center Monograph Series No. 4, Washington, DC: The John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, March 2012, 7‐33.
regionalism are growing stronger. It is more likely that China and the United States will work separately through multilateral institutions to secure their interests. The East Asian security architecture is currently evolving as a result of the expansion of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2011 to include the United States and the Russian Federation. At the 2011 EAS informal leaders’ retreat, sixteen of its eighteen members raised concerns over maritime security issues. China was the only country to argue that the EAS was not an appropriate venue for such discussions. Nevertheless, the EAS Chair’s concluding summary noted that maritime security has been established as a legitimate agenda item. President Obama has stated he will raise maritime security at this year’s EAS. In addition to the EAS, two other multilateral institutions may develop and play a role in managing regional security: the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the Enlarged ASEAN Maritime Forum. In sum, the prospects that China and the United States will reach a modus vivendi to collaborate in maintaining security in the South China Sea, while more likely than armed conflict, will not be conflict free due to continued strategic rivalry and mistrust.
Cooperation and Friction At the same time as he Obama Administration has sought to engage and cooperate with China, the U.S. has called on China to be more transparent and open about its military modernization. The new U.S. defense strategy states with respect to China, for example: Over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways. Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to 98 avoid causing friction in the region.
The Pentagon has sought consistently to keep channels of communication open with China through three established bilateral mechanisms: Defense Consultative Talks (DCT), the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), and the Special Policy Dialogue/Defense Policy Coordination Talks (SPD/DPCT). A review of these mechanisms demonstrates that it has been very difficult to isolate purely military‐to‐military contacts from their political and strategic settings.99 98
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21 Century Defense (January 2012), 2.
Carlyle A. Thayer, “Enhancing Transparency? U.S.‐China Military‐to‐Military Contacts and Strategic Dialogues,” Presentation to International Conference on The U.S. and China in Regional Security: Implications
What does a balance sheet on the performance of these multilateral mechanisms tell us about U.S.‐China military relations? On the negative side it must be noted, first, that U.S.‐ China military‐to‐military contacts have gone through cycles of cooperation and suspension. In 2009 a U.S. diplomatic cable reported a senior PLA official as observing, “the defense relationship lags behind other aspects of the overall bilateral relationship and it is often caught in a vicious cycle of ‘progress and suspension’.”100 The senior PLA official noted that with two exceptions all other suspensions in military‐to‐military relations were the result of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. A Congressional study published in 2012 notes that China promotes repeated cycles of suspending contacts and then leverages the timing of their resumption.101 U.S. defense officials characterize this as the politicization of military‐to‐ military contacts. On the plus side the following accomplishments can be noted: (1) exchange visits by high‐ level defense officials (defense ministers and chiefs of defense forces); (2) regular Defense Consultation Talks; (3) continuing working level discussions under the MMCA;(4) agreement on the 7‐point consensus;102 (5) no serious naval incidents since the 2009 USNS Impeccable affair; (6) continuing exchange visits by senior officers (7) the initiation of a Strategic Security Dialogue as part of the S&ED process; (8) agreement to hold meetings between Coast Guards and (9) agreement on a new working group to draft principles establishing a framework for military‐to‐military cooperation.103 Second, since military‐to‐military contacts were first initiated in 1980 until the present, the U.S. and China have only been able to reach one military‐to‐military agreement, the MMCA. for Asia and Europe, co‐sponsored by Stiftung Wissenshaft und Politik and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany, June 18‐19, 2012. 100
“2009 U.S.‐China Defense Consultative Talks (DCT), Session 1: Military‐to‐Military Relations,” U.S. Embassy, Beijing, July 1, 2009. 101
Shirley A. Kan, U.S.‐China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, February 10, 2012, 4. 102
The “7 point consensus” was reached in Washington in October 2009 between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and by General Xu Caihou, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Committee. The seven points include: promoting high‐level visits; enhancing cooperation in the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; deepening military medical cooperation; expanding exchanges between armies of the two nations; enhancing the program of mid‐grade and junior officer exchanges; promoting cultural and sports exchanges between the two militaries; invigorating the existing diplomatic and consultative mechanisms to improve maritime operational safety. 103
Thayer, “Enhancing Transparency? U.S.‐China Military‐to‐Military Contacts and Strategic Dialogues.”
An evaluation of the health of this agreement is not good. A senior PLA official offered this evaluation, “We signed the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) in 1998… but over the past 11 years the mechanism failed to play an effective role.”104 A review of the MMCA written by the U.S. principal negotiator, argued that it “remains the only mil‐to‐mil agreement between these two nations and is of only limited effectiveness because it is held hostage by China over U.S. actions in carrying out our stated obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.105 In weighing up the pluses and negatives in the bilateral relationship the bottom line is that despite the deficits the United States and China will persist in engaging with each other. Both sides understand that military‐to‐military contacts are a critical component of bilateral engagement. Without such interaction there is a risk that mistrust between the two militaries could spill over and have a major negative impact on bilateral relations in general. It is likely that strategic mistrust will persist through lack of greater transparency and military‐to‐military relations will continue to exhibit elements of cooperation and friction. When incidents and disputes arise between the two militaries, the civilian leadership will intervene, as it has in the past, to reset bilateral relations. In sum, Sino‐American relations in the South China Sea are more likely to be characterized by cooperation and friction than the other two scenarios, a modus vivendi and armed conflict. In conclusion, the findings of this paper generally bear out the main argument of Kaplan’s thesis that the struggle for primacy in the Western Pacific will not necessarily involve combat; much of what takes place will happen quietly and over the horizon in blank sea space, at a glacial tempo befitting the slow, steady accommodation to superior economic and military power that states have made throughout history. War is far from inevitable even if competition is a given.
“2009 U.S.‐China Defense Consultative Talks (DCT) Small Group Session,” U.S. Embassy, Beijing, July 1, 2009.
Bruce Lemkin, “U.S.‐Taiwan Relations Are No Threat to China,” Defense News, November 8, 2012. Lemkin was Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force (International Affairs) from 2003‐10 106
Kaplan, “The South China Sea Is the Future of Conflict,” 79.