Category Archives: Asia-Pacific

Analysis relating to USPACOM.

China: Connected Strategic Themes Across Contested Global Commons Pt. 1

Are there connected Chinese strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons (domains) of maritime, space, and cyberspace? If so, what are they and what could the United States do about them?

By Tuan N. Pham

Last November, I wrote an article titled “China’s Maritime Strategy on the Horizon” highlighting a fleeting strategic opportunity for Washington to shape and influence Beijing’s looming and evolving maritime strategy. I posited that Chinese maritime strategists have long called for a maritime strategy; China’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” crucial for its national development, security, and status; and Beijing may be trying to fill domestic legal gaps that it sees as hindering its ability to defend territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), and justify its growing activities in international waters. The latter point is underscored by recent media reports from Beijing considering the revision of its 1984 Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which would allow Chinese authorities to bar some foreign ships from passing through Chinese territorial waters. If passed, this will be another instance of China shaping domestic maritime laws to support its developing and evolving maritime strategy, and part of a larger continuing effort to set its own terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its maritime reach expands.

I then further suggested that Beijing’s forthcoming maritime strategy will shape its comportment and actions in the maritime domain in the near- and far-term, and perhaps extend into the other contested global commons of space and cyberspace as well. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explore this potential cross-domain nexus by examining the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies. In Part 2, I will derive possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the interlinked global commons and discuss how the United States could best respond.   

China’s Space Activities in 2016 White Paper (December 2016)

“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry, and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly.”

On December 27, 2016, China’s Information Office of the State Council published its fourth white paper on space titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016.” The paper and the preceding 2011, 2006, and 2000 papers largely follow a pattern of release, sequenced and synchronized with the governmental cycle of Five-Year Plans that are fundamental to Chinese centralized planning. Last year’s paper provides the customary summary of China’s space accomplishments over the past five years and a roadmap of key activities and milestones for the next five years.

Since the white paper was the first one issued under President Xi Jinping, it is not surprising that the purpose, vision, and principles therein are expressed in terms of his world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Therefore, one should read beyond the altruistic language and examine the paper through the realpolitik lens of the purpose and role of space to the Chinese Dream; the vision of space power as it relates to the Chinese Dream; and principles through which space will play a part in fulfilling the Chinese Dream. Notable areas to consider include Beijing’s intent to provide basic global positioning services to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in 2018; construction of the Belt and Road Initiative Space Information Corridor; strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation that serves the Belt and Road Initiative; and attaching the importance of space cooperation under the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) cooperation mechanism and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Although the white paper is largely framed in terms of China’s civilian space program, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is subtly present throughout the paper in the euphemism of “national security.” The three references in the purpose, vision, and major tasks deliberately understate (or obfuscate) Beijing’s strategic intent to use its rapidly growing space program (largely military space) to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power. In short, China’s space program does not have structures in place that make meaningful separation between military and civil programs, and those technologies and systems developed for supposedly civil purposes can also be applied–and often are–for military purposes.

The white paper highlights concerted efforts to examine extant international laws and develop accompanying national laws to better govern its expanding space program and better regulate its increasing space-related activities. Beijing intends to review, and where necessary, update treaties and reframe international legal principles to accommodate the ever-changing strategic, operational, and tactical landscapes. All in all, China wants to leverage the international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to advance its national interests in space without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of space power may prove more favorable.

China’s National Cyberspace Security Strategy (December 2016)

“China will devote itself to safeguarding the nation’s interests in sovereignty, security, and development in cyberspace.”

On the same day as the issuance of the “China’s Space Activities in 2016” white paper, the Cyberspace Administration of China also released Beijing’s first cyberspace strategy titled “National Cyberspace Security Strategy” to endorse China’s positions and proposals on cyberspace development and security and serve as a roadmap for future cyberspace security activity. The strategy aims to build China into a cyberspace power while promoting an orderly, secure, and open cyberspace, and more importantly, defending its national sovereignty in cyberspace.

The strategy interestingly characterizes cybersecurity as “the nation’s new territory for sovereignty;” highlights as one of its key principles “no infringement of sovereignty in cyberspace will be tolerated;” and states intent to “resolutely defend sovereignty in cyberspace” as a strategic task. All of which reaffirm Xi’s previous statement on the importance of cyberspace sovereignty. At last year’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Xi boldly exclaimed, “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyberspace development, model of cyberspace regulation and Internet public policies, and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing.”

Attendees listen to a speech by China’s President Xi Jinping shown on a screen during the opening ceremony of the third annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China November 16, 2016. (Reuters/Aly Song)

Both the space white paper and cyberspace security strategy reflect Xi’s world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream. The latter’s preamble calls out the strategy as an “important guarantee to realize the Two Centenaries struggle objective and realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Therefore, like the white paper, one should also read beyond the noble sentiments of global interests, global peace and development, and global security, and examine the strategy through the underlying context of the Chinese Dream. What is the purpose and role of cyberspace to national rejuvenation; the vision of cyberspace power as it relates to national rejuvenation; and through which principles will cyberspace play a role in fulfilling national rejuvenation? Promoting the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, raising the international telecommunications interconnection and interaction levels, paving a smooth Information Silk Road, and strengthening the construction of the Chinese online culture are some notable areas to consider.  

The role of the PLA is likewise carefully understated (or obfuscated) throughout the strategy in the euphemism of “national security.” The 13 references in the introduction, objectives, principles, and strategic tasks quietly underscore the PLA’s imperatives to protect itself (and the nation) against harmful cyberspace attacks and intrusions from state and non-state actors and to extend the law of armed conflict into cyberspace to manage increasing international competition – both of which acknowledge cyberspace as a battlespace that must be contested and defended.   

The strategy also puts high importance on international and domestic legal structures, standards, and norms. Beijing wants to leverage the existing international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to develop accompanying national laws to advance its national interests in cyberspace without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of cyberspace power may become more favorable.

China’s International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation (March 2017)

“Cyberspace is the common space of activities for mankind. The future of cyberspace should be in the hands of all countries. Countries should step up communications, broaden consensus and deepen cooperation to jointly build a community of shared future in cyberspace.”

On March 1, 2017, the Foreign Ministry and State Internet Information Office issued Beijing’s second cyberspace strategy titled “International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation.” The aim of the strategy is to build a community of shared future in cyberspace, notably one that is based on peace, sovereignty, shared governance, and shared benefits. The strategic goals of China’s participation in international cyberspace cooperation include safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security, and interests in cyberspace; securing the orderly flow of information on the Internet; improving global connectivity; maintaining peace, security, and stability in cyberspace; enhancing international rule of law in cyberspace; promoting the global development of the digital economy; and deepening cultural exchange and mutual learning.

The strategy builds on the previously released cyberspace security strategy and trumpets the familiar refrains of national rejuvenation (Chinese Dream); global interests, peace and development, and security; and development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in cyberspace. Special attention was again given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability – “No country should pursue cyberspace hegemony, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, or engage in, condone or support cyberspace activities that undermine other countries’ national security.” The strategy also interestingly calls for the demilitarization of cyberspace just like the white paper does for space despite China’s growing offensive cyberspace and counterspace capabilities and capacities – “The tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust – China always adheres to the principle of the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes the weaponization of or an arms race in outer space.” Incongruously, a paragraph after discouraging cyberspace militarization, the strategy states that China will “expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities in terms of situational awareness, cyber defense, supporting state activities, and participating in international cooperation, to prevent major cyber crises, safeguard cyberspace security, and maintain national security and social stability.”

Conclusion

This concludes the short discourse on the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies and sets the conditions for further discussion. Part 2 examines possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace, and strategic opportunities for the United States. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: June 3, 2013. Assembly of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and the Long March-2F carrier rocket at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province. (Xinhua/Liang Jie) 

Invite: The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia Pacific

Join the CIMSEC DC Chapter and special guest Lyle Morris of RAND (bio below) on Wednesday, April 19th, for an informal discussion on his recent work in the U.S. Naval War College Review, “Blunt Defenders of Sovereignty: The Rise of Coast Guards in East and Southeast Asia.” For more, check out the TL: DR version at CSIS AMTI.

When: Wednesday, April 19th, 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Where: Fuel Pizza, 1606 K Street (Upstairs), Washington, DC.  Farragut North and Farragut West Metro.

RSVPs not required but appreciated at director@cimsec.org.

Lyle J. Morris is a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he focuses on security developments in East and Southeast Asia. He has over ten years of experience researching and leading projects on Asia-Pacific security issues and has published recently on the rise of coast guards in East and Southeast Asia, maritime security in the Asia-Pacific, Chinese military modernization, and Chinese engagement in Africa. His articles have appeared in Naval War College Review, Asia Policy, The Diplomat, The National Interest, The China Brief, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), Asia Pacific Bulletin, and U.S. News and World Report, among others. Prior to joining RAND, Morris was the 2010-11 Next Generation Fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) and a research intern with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). From 2004 to 2008, Morris lived in Beijing, China, where he studied Mandarin Chinese at Peking and Tsinghua Universities and later worked at Dentsu Advertising and the China Economist Journal. Morris received his master’s degree in international affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where he was the recipient of the George C. Marshall Prize in Strategic Studies for his paper on China’s experience with confidence-building measures. He holds a certificate in East Asian Studies from Columbia’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute. He received his bachelor’s degree in international business from Western Washington University.

Scott Cheney-Peters is CIMSEC’s Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Photo: Philippine Coast Guard secures mock pirates during a rescue drill exercise with Japan’s Coast Guard off Manila Bay, Philippines, July 13, 2016 Photo by Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

French Maritime Strategic Thought On the Indo-Pacific

Maritime Security Topic Week

By David Scott 

Introduction

In Europe, France is distinctive in claiming that its boundaries actually extend outside Europe into the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, i.e. the ‘Indo-Pacific,’ through its overseas departments (département d’outre-mer), and overseas territories (territoire d’outre-mer), which are considered integral parts of France, and indeed thereby of the European Union. These Indo-Pacific possessions also have large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). These give France important maritime interests to be maintained, and if need be defended, by the French Navy. French maritime strategy is two-fold. Firstly, locally-based naval ships patrol in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Secondly, regular deployments from metropolitan waters of the Jeanne d’Arc Group; the battle group centered around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and amphibious helicopter carrier Mistral, along with supporting destroyers, frigates, nuclear attack submarines, and air surveillance. As the current Chief of Staff Admiral Prazuck noted “our commitment to freedom of navigation calls for deployments to the Asia-Pacific zone several times each year.” Jeanne D’Arc 2017 consisted of a four-month deployment from March-June 2017 in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, described by France as “Indo-Pacific space … which is admittedly a long way from [metropolitan] France, but not from our territories.”

In the Indian Ocean, France’s possessions of Mayotte (population around 227,000) and Reunion (population around 840,000) in the southwest quadrant, are both considered as an “overseas department” (département d’outre-mer). They operate as “interlocking military stations” (Rogers), together with military facilities in Djibouti. In the southern (Terres Australes) quadrant are the uninhabited Kerguelen, St. Paul & Amsterdam and the Crozet islands which operate as “overseas territories” (territoire d’outre-mer) administered from Reunion. This residency status is why France was a founding member of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) established in 2008. France keeps a permanent naval presence at Reunion. This is further strengthened by regular deployment into the region of the Jeanne d’Arc carrier battle group; eight times during 2001-2017, which has included regular biannual joint exercises with India (Varuna since 1993) and the U.S. (Operation Bois Bellau in 2013).

In the Pacific, France is to be found in New Caledonia (population 270,000), Wallis & Futuna (population 12,000), and French Polynesia (population 270,000). Both New Caledonia and French Polynesia were admitted as full members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in September 2016. French “maritime naval zones” and local naval units are centered on New Caledonia and French Polynesia. It is from New Caledonia that France hosts the biannual Croix du Sud humanitarian and relief exercises. France has participated in a range of Pacific security mechanisms since their foundation; namely the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (1988 onward), with Australia and New Zealand in the FRANZ mechanism (1992 onwards), with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand in the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (1998 onwards), and the South Pacific Defence Ministers mechanism (2013 onward.

Five key documents provide the strategic background to this Indo-Pacific maritime role:

Each of these can be looked at to see the development of this Indo-Pacific maritime role for France.

A national strategy for the sea and for the oceans (2008)

December 2008 witnessed the release by the Prime Minister’s Office of a Blue Paper titled A national strategy for the sea and for the oceans. This represented a call for future action. François Fillon’s ‘Preface’ as Prime Minister, was clear, “France has decided to return to its historic maritime role.” The 2008 Blue Book emphasized France’s overseas possessions and their EEZs:

“France, with its overseas départements and territories, is present in every ocean […] The creation of an economic zone has given France jurisdiction over nearly 11 million square kilometres of maritime space (of which more than 96% surround the overseas possessions), second only to the United States.” (p. 12)

These Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) were of significance for their resources, “many of France’s maritime assets are thus associated with these large overseas economic zones where this country has exclusive rights to resource exploitation” (p. 46), and “most of these zones are in the Pacific (around French Polynesia and New Caledonia) and the Indian Ocean (around the Kerguelen Islands)” (p. 46).

French naval power was stressed; “the French Navy’s wide range of capabilities maintain its [France’s] rank and presence throughout the world’s seas” (p.14). However, French naval assets remained a matter for French sovereignty:

“At the present stage of construction of the European Union, France does not intend to permanently allocate any of its sea-borne capabilities to an EU body or agency. France will continue to provide support for action coordinated by the EU or one of its agencies, by seconding the capabilities it chooses for specific periods of time or tasks” (p. 68).

Within the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Ocean was of immediate maritime importance for France, “the Indian Ocean is consequently well placed for the expression of France’s maritime policy, whether in our regional policy or in the action we promote with Europe, for example, against piracy” (pp. 72-73).

Maritimisation: La France face à la nouvelle géopolitique des océans (2012)

A maritime emphasis was fed into French deliberations by the Information Report from the Senate in July 2012 titled Maritimisation: La France face à la nouvelle géopolitique des océans (‘Maritimisation: France faces new geopolitics of the oceans’).

Continuing structural shifts towards the Indo-Pacific were noted, “the centre of geopolitical gravity is moving eastwards, highlighting the riparian nations of the Indian Ocean and Pacific(p. 205). Given French possessions, “as a result there cannot be a maritime strategy without an overseas strategy (tr. p. 133), and that “the control of the maritime spaces is one of the keys of French power and influence on the international scene (p. 140). Sea lane security across the Western Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Ocean was identified as of first rate importance for France, “more than ever, control of this maritime route between Europe and Asia becomes a major strategic issue” (p. 36)

In part this was a question of criminal activities and piracy, but what was also significant in this document was its repeated noting of Chinese naval growth (pp. 79-81,86,178) in which China’s naval assertiveness in the East China Sea, South China Sea and Indian Ocean (described as China’s ‘string of pearls’) was noted as a growing challenge to French interests, “what is at stake are our interests throughout the Indian Ocean and Pacific (tr. p. 206).

Conversely, what the Senate report critiqued was French reductions of overall naval strength, including reductions in planned building of one aircraft carrier rather than two, and eight rather than seventeen Aquitaine-class anti-submarine frigates; which meant that “in other words we have reduced [naval] assets while the threats increased” (tr. p. 209). Consequently, the Senate report observed a future weakening of France’s maritime assets in the southern Indian Ocean (“a sharp deterioration in surveillance and intervention capacities on the high seas, tr. p. 166) and in the southwest Pacific (“major capability disruption, with a strong impact on sovereignty and assistance missions in the national maritime areas […] with the withdrawal from active service of the Guardians of the Pacific in 2015. Years 2015 to 2019 appear to be particularly critical” (tr. pp. 166-167).

Defence and national security (2013)

In April 2013 a White Paper was published titled Defence and national security. The highest defense priority listed by it was simple “protect the national territory and French nationals abroad” (p. 47). While it painted a rosy picture of security in Europe (coming before Russia’s incorporation of the Crimea in 2014), France’s “national territory” of course extended outside Europe into the overseas departments and overseas territories. The 2013 White Paper made a point of highlighting (p. 14) that most of the overseas possessions were in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and came complete with around 1.5 million French nationals and resource-rich EEZs. Consequently it reiterated “France’s commitment as a sovereign power and a player in the security of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific (p. 29).

French Indian Ocean interests were highlighted, in particular the threat to them posed by piracy:

“The security of the Indian Ocean, a maritime access to Asia, is a priority for France and for Europe from this point of view […] The fact that the European Union’s first large-scale naval operation was the Atalanta operation against piracy clearly illustrates the importance of the Indian Ocean, not only for France but for Europe as a whole” (p. 56).

In those waters, a significant developing strategic partnership was highlighted whereby “as a neighbour[hood] power in the Indian Ocean, France plays a particular role here, reinforced by the development of privileged relations with India” (p. 56).

In the 2013 White Paper, China was now appearing as a concern (which it had not been in the 2008 White Paper) for France, given that “the equilibrium of East Asia has been radically transformed by the growing might of China” (p. 57). Conversely, the strategic partnership announced with Australia in 2012 was welcomed as showing their convergence on “regional matters relative to the Pacific and the Indian Ocean,” and more widely “it also confirms a renewed interest in a French presence on the part of countries in the region” (pp. 57-58).

National strategy for security of maritime areas (2015)

In October 2015 the inter-ministerial sea committee approved the National strategy for security of maritime areas. In this document, France’s position as a maritime power was reaffirmed:

“Present in all seas and oceans around the world […] France thus has considerable assets which constitute coveted wealth and help to assert its position as a great maritime power. They give us rights, particularly to preserve our sovereignty and our sovereign economic rights […] our maritime area contributes to our rank as a major world power […] confirming its [France’s] rank as a major maritime power and its intention for economic development through sea” (p. 3).

Maritime threats came explicitly from piracy, but also implicitly from China:

Certain powers […] from East Asia […] are developing significant naval capabilities which could be able to counter our freedom of action at sea, pursue territorial ambitions in disputed maritime areas and thus threaten freedom of navigation in international waters” (pp. 4-5).

The multi-missions destroyer (FREMM) Aquitaine (Marine nationale)

French strategic remedies were internal balancing through “maintenance of a good level of ocean-going projection capacity, mainly provided by the resources of the French navy” (p. 49); and partly external balancing to “strengthen maritime cooperation with third-party States” (p. 42). 

France and security in the Asia-Pacific (2014, 2016)

The Ministry of Defence document France and security in the Asia-Pacific was first released in April 2014 and then updated in June 2016. Whereas the 2014 document referred nowhere to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographic (and geo-strategic/geopolitical) term, the June 2016 version referred to it repeatedly, three times in Le Drian’s ‘Forward’ and five times in the main text.

Internal and external balancing was apparent in Le Drian’s ‘Forward,’ with strategic partners identified in the region:

“As a state of the Indian and of the Pacific Oceans, owing to its territories and its population, France permanently maintains sovereignty and presence forces there in order to defend its interests and to contribute to the stability of the region alongside its partners, primarily Australia, India, Japan and the United States. The long-existing links with the latter are tightening and France will continue to be committed in all aspects of regional security” (2016: p. 1).

The absence of China as a ‘partner’ was noticeable. Conversely, in a shot across the bow for Chinese restrictions in the South China Sea, an item unmentioned in the 2014 profile, Le Drian pledged that “responding to tensions in the South China Sea, France, as a first-rank maritime and naval Power, will continue to uphold freedom of navigation, to contribute to the security of maritime areas” (2016: p. 1).

In the main text, clear maritime priorities were flagged up. In a new comment, the 2016 paper stated:

“France has started to rebalance its strategic centre of gravity towards the Indo-Pacific, where it is a neighbour[hood] power […] Our armed forces stationed overseas and our permanent military basing in the Indian and the Pacific oceans confer to France a presence which is unique among European countries” (2016: p. 2)

Both the 2014 and 2016 papers stressed France’s maritime presence in the same wordage:

“France is present in all of the world’s oceans, owing to its overseas territories […] and thanks to its blue-water navy […] France’s primary obligation is to protect its territories and population (500,000 in the Pacific and over one million in the Indian Ocean)” (2016: p. 6).

Both papers used identical wording with regard to the geoeconomic significance (“extensive fishing, mineral and energy resources”) of France’s Exclusive Economic Zones, “located mainly in the Pacific (62%) and Indian Oceans (24%),” for which “France performs its protective mission thanks to its defence and security forces stationed in the region” (2016: p. 6).

A new issue, Chinese “reclamation works and the militarization of contested archipelagos” in the South China Sea were seen to “threaten the security of navigation and overflight,” on which France already “regularly exercises its right of maritime and air navigation in the area” (2016: p. 2). 

Looking Forward

On the domestic front, the envisaged spending cuts of 7 percent for the 2016-2019 period were instead replaced in April 2015 by a 4 percent increase of 3.9 billion euros to underpin stronger oceanic maritime strength and with it a strengthened Indo-Pacific profile. Forward planning (Actualisation de la programme militaire 2014/2019) envisages that France “ will therefore consolidate its political commitment in Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific … through its defense cooperation, an active military presence, [and] the development of strategic partnerships” (p. 6). France’s reassertion of its maritime position was completed with the ratification in February 2017 of the ordinance Espaces maritimes de la République Française (‘Maritime spaces of the French Republic’), which emphasized France’s intention to maintain, and defend its position in both the Indian and Pacific oceans. March 2017 witnessed a $4 billion frigate program being launched by the French defense ministry.

Meanwhile, France is actively pursuing Indo-Pacific maritime avenues. Le Drian remarked on conflict potential in the “Indo-Pacific region” at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2016; such that “France will therefore play its part in our collective responsibility to preserve and strengthen the stability and security of this region,” working with “our partners, in particular India, Australia, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia and even Japan,” with China absent from the listing.

In such a vein, the trip to India by Le Drian in September 2016 was the occasion for him to assert that “France confirms here that it is a credible actor of the Indo-Pacific zone, where – as I have been saying ceaselessly we have a prominent role to play” in the future. France’s strengthening links with India were on show in January 2017 at their Dialogue on maritime cooperation, explained by France as a “significant strengthening of cooperation between our respective navies for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

France’s strengthening links with Australia were on show in March 2017. The Joint Statement drawn up by Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, emphasized defense and security cooperation, especially naval, bilaterally and with third countries – “particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” Given France’s strengthening links with India and Australia it is no surprise to find Le Drian in September 2016 arguing for a France-India-Australia trilateral framework; “we need to think of a three-way partnership that includes India if we want security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The Third Japan-France Foreign and Defense Ministers Meeting in 2017. (F. De la Mure / MAEDI)

France’s strengthening links with Japan were on show in the Franco-Japanese Joint Statement of January 2017 which talked of common Indo-Pacific concerns (“strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific ocean”), and French naval presence (“a regular and visible naval presence in all maritime areas, including in the Indian and Pacific Oceans”). The visit of the Japanese leader to France in March 2017 was the occasion for France to pledge further military cooperation, “especially on the naval plane in the Pacific.” One sign of this will be France’s powerful Mistral amphibious helicopter carrier leading U.S. and Japanese troops in exercises at Tinian in the West Pacific in May 2017 in an implicit message to China. 

Conclusion

Three Indo-Pacific maritime issues await French attention. In April 2016 at the Shangri-La Dialogue the French Defence Minister Le Drian argued since “the situation in the China seas, for example, directly affects the European Union,” so shouldn’t “the European navies, therefore, coordinate to ensure a presence that is as regular and visible as possible” in those waters?” EU responses remain unclear.

Two Indian Ocean related issues remain for French maritime strategy. Firstly, how far will French naval forces based in the Gulf continue operating against Daesh/ISIS forces in the Middle East, and how far there will be wider jihadist backlash in the Indo-Pacific? Secondly, the EU’s anti-piracy ATALANTA operation in the Gulf of Aden, currently renewed until 2018 and to which France has been contributing naval assets, has so far been run from Northwood in the UK. Given that the UK is due to leave the EU by April 2019, it would be logical for France as a resident power in the region and significant naval power to take over the coordination of the ATALANTA operation, if it continues.

Finally, Chinese maritime cooperation with Russia is of some concern to France. China-Russia joint naval exercises carried out in the Western Pacific and South China Sea help China’s maritime assertiveness in Indo-Pacific waters; but conversely the China-Russia joint naval exercises carried out in the Mediterranean and Black Sea help Russian maritime assertiveness in those European-related waters.

What this study has shown is that French maritime discussions have explicitly rediscovered the geo-economic and geopolitical significance of France’s possessions and strategic interests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. France has become more active in deploying maritime assets and developing maritime partnerships in the region. This represents a structural shift in France’s maritime focus. Any change of administration, following the French Presidential Elections in April-May 2017, is likely to maintain this self proclaimed “rebalance” to the Indo-Pacific.

David Scott is an independent analyst on Asia-Pacific international relations and maritime geopolitics, a prolific writer, a regular presenter at the NATO Defence College in Rome since 2006 and the Baltic Defence College in Tallinn in 2017, and the Managing Editor of European Geostrategy. He can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

Featured Image: France’s Mistral amphibious helicopter carrier ship docks on the Neva River in St. Petersburg November 23, 2009. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk)

The Asia Pacific and Europe’s Maritime Security Strategy

European Maritime Security Topic Week

By Dave Andre

In the aftermath of the July 2016 ruling by the United Nation’s Permanent Court of Arbitration that broadly found China’s demarcation claims in the South China Sea to be without legal merit, it became apparent that legal decisions alone would do little to influence the status quo. Considering The Hague’s ruling against the strategic backdrop of power politics in the Asia Pacific, the need for a global maritime presence became clear. This presence connotes a significant maritime challenge for the European Union (EU), which remains a peripheral actor in the maritime security of the Asia-Pacific as several major powers oversee the geopolitical reordering of this critical region. The importance of the region for European trade and business, global economic stability, and international maritime security necessitates that the EU maintain more than just an economic and diplomatic presence in the region. Adding a dedicated maritime presence to the region will involve a balancing act between the competing interests of individual EU members while advancing a comprehensive and unified stance—this goes beyond simple matters of naval capability and capacity. As such, it is important that the international maritime community not treat this presence as a fait accompli, merely awaiting an executable maritime framework.

As the European Council on Foreign Relations summed up in 2013 in reference to Asia, the EU “does not have an automatic seat at the table and therefore must work all the harder to secure its own self-interests.”1 Since then little has changed, as China has increasingly expanded its territorial footprint, the EU has executed an uneven approach to maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region. This ineffectual response leaves Europe open to maritime security threats from afar.

The European Union’s Maritime Domain: A Unique Challenge

Given Europe’s long maritime history it is no surprise that the legal principle for freedom of the seas originated with a European—a Dutch lawyer to be specific—by the name of Hugo Grotius, who in the early seventeenth century wrote, ”Navigation was free to all and no one country could lay claim to the seas on the basis that their navigators were the first to sail on it.”2 Today, that principle exists within the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which details provisions for navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, EEZs, territorial waters, and settlement of disputes. Today, the European Union faces a dynamic maritime environment with challenges ranging from border security to renewable resources and combating piracy. Of the EUs 28 member states, 22 have a combined coastline that extends 65,993 km encompassing the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.3 The length and breadth of this dynamic maritime environment, when coupled with the competing priorities of member states and coordination with non-member states, makes the EU’s maritime security strategy a unique challenge amongst maritime powers.

The EU addresses this complexity in the European Union’s Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS), which recognizes the importance of protecting maritime interests worldwide while simultaneously recognizing that success depends on the ability to collaborate across regional and national levels.4 However, since the 2014 adoption of EUMSS, the EU has struggled to balance the myriad regional maritime issues with international maritime issues, showing that a unified maritime strategy for the global maritime domain is still far off. The unfolding situation in the South China Sea is perhaps the best example of the fissures and shortfalls inherent with the EU’s maritime strategy. The EU has so far remained outside the fray, issuing a tepid statement after the UN tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines in July 2016.5 While many see this strategy as a case of prioritizing domestic issues over international issues, the issue is far more complex. The ever-evolving transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe, the economic influence of China on Europe via initiatives like the One-Belt-One Road framework, and the declining naval power of European navies, all factor into Europe’s support of the maritime order in the Asia-Pacific.

Europe and Asia: A Complex Relationship

As a region, the Asia-Pacific is as dynamic as they come. Militarily, disputed islands, paramilitary forces, and militarization characterize the operating environment. Politically, Chinese realpolitik clashes with liberalism, pitting international governance against the rise of a regional hegemon. Meanwhile, from an economic standpoint the region is home to three of the world’s biggest economies, while over $5 trillion in global trade passes through the seas each year. This geo-political environment, coupled with the complex maritime geography of straits, archipelagic waters, and overlapping maritime claims means that international law is critical to maintaining an orderly system.6 Within this complex milieu lays the maritime challenge—protecting the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) critical to global economic prosperity.

This region holds significant interest for the European Union, but exactly what those interests are differs from member to member. These differences present difficulties for the EU’s development of a unified and actionable strategy in the South China Sea and the Southeast Asia region. China is the EU’s second largest trading partner, as a region ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner, and South Korea, Japan, and India all place within the top ten. Collectively, this trade amounts to almost a trillion euros annually. Furthermore, there are more than 10,000 European companies operating within the Southeast Asia region.

The economic considerations are not solely defined by Europe looking east of the Suez; they are also largely influenced by China’s Eurasian ambitions. China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative promises significant investment in Europe, especially the struggling economies of the South and East. Likewise, investments by companies such as the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), which is upgrading the port in Piraeus, Greece, illustrate that this economic influence extends past mere business ventures.7 While the One-Belt-One-Road initiative is unlikely to radically alter the geography of trade routes and investment in port upgrades will not alter Greece’s naval posture, these activities do have the potential of altering and influencing the economic interdependence of EU member states. This creates scenarios where Europe needs to tread lightly as they balance economic and diplomatic interests against security interests, while simultaneously recognizing that the preferred balance will be different depending on the individual country.

European Diplomatic Efforts in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Domain

The divisions are not limited to economics. Politically, the EU has struggled to speak with one voice regarding issues within the Asia-Pacific. The EU’s presence in the Asia-Pacific is a complex web of arrangements, policies, dialogues, and statements that seek to balance the competing interests of individual members while advancing a comprehensive and unified stance. Starting in 2007, there have been a number of policy developments pertaining to the EU’s development of a comprehensive maritime strategy. In 2007, the adoption of the Blue Book, an Integrated Maritime Policy laid the groundwork for operational cooperation among member states. While not specifically addressing security concerns, the focus on trade and fisheries provided a template for future maritime security initiatives.A series of initiatives followed—Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008) and the Limassol Declaration (2012)—that recognized the significance of dialogue and cooperation within the regional and international maritime realm as well as the importance of the legal framework laid out by UNCLOS. These policy trends expanded and in 2012, the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia proffered guidelines for resolving disputes within the framework of UNCLOS and stresses the importance of freedom of navigation.9 The policy also notes the economic interdependence between the EU and East Asia, the potentially negative impact of competitive nationalism represented by the South China Sea issues, and the complexity of trans-Atlantic relations with the United States and extra-regional partners like Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and India.10 Furthermore, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), which the EU signed in July 2012, provides the framework for peaceful interactions in the region. Taken together these policies clearly articulate that EU interests are closely tied to those of the Asia-Pacific and the international maritime legal framework.

May 31, 2015 – 14th Asia Security Summit, Singapore– High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini gives a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue. ( Frédérick Moulin 2015 – EU2015 – EEAS)

Beyond policies, the EU maintains a public dialogue—albeit uneven—that further emphasizes and recognizes the importance of the Asia-Pacific and an international maritime framework. It was at the 2013 Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore that the EU was represented as a whole for the first time by High Representative Catherine Ashton. During the dialogues, she referred to the EU’s long-term security plans and comprehensive approach in Asia. Missing from the 2014 dialogues, the EU’s message was one that prioritized concerns in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa over those in far off Asia. While this prioritization of time and resources is notable, even wise, it did little to assuage Asian nations that may be looking to the EU as a model of multilateralism and an alternative to the United States. A notably different tone was struck in the 2015 dialogues, as EU High Representative Federica Mogherini discussed the EU’s, “strong interest in global security.”11 Representative Mogherini made specific mention of freedom of navigation, SLOCs, international law and the importance of promoting cooperation of confrontation and the need for “everyone to play by the same rules.”12

In addition to the Shangri-La dialogues, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, and U.K. signed the G-7 Foreign Ministers’ Declaration on Maritime Security which declares their commitment to “freedoms of navigation and over flight” and to an “international maritime order based upon the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in UNCLOS.”13 At the 2016 G7 Summit in Japan, members reiterated concern “about the situation in the East and South China Seas” and emphasized “the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes.”14 Unsurprisingly, the 2016 Shangri-La dialogues a month later discussed “China’s continued land reclamation and military build-up in the strategic maritime area” at length.i Within this context, the French Defense Minister made clear that joint EU patrols were forthcoming.15 However, a month later, the UN tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines saw the EU struggle to issue a joint statement. And to say the resulting statement was benign is an understatement; among other things it failed to make any mention of sovereignty. Since then, the EU has been notably silent regarding the South China Sea despite growing evidence of China’s continued militarization of a number of islands.

European Presence in the Asia Pacific

Despite the attempts at providing a unified response under a common defense policy, the most active aspects of Europe’s involvement in the Asia Pacific come in bilateral terms. France has made numerous overtures toward supporting FONOPs in the South China Sea. The UK’s Royal Navy has perhaps the largest and most codified presence in the Asia-Pacific, though it is a shadow of the presence that it was until the waning years of the last century. The Five Power Defense Arrangement, the most notable European-Asian arrangement, is a multilateral agreement between the Commonwealth counties of U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia whereby all powers will consult one another in the event of an attack (actual or threatened) against Malaysia or Singapore. This consultation brings no promise of military action or support, but nonetheless is pertinent for its formal acknowledgement of European-Asian mutual interests. Furthermore, four European countries—Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and the U.K.—are members of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).16 ReCAAP, a multilateral counter-piracy operation that stretches from the Gulf of Aden to the East China Sea illustrates the naval capability of some European powers.17 Additionally, in 2016 Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and the U.K. participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime warfare exercise, signaling their support for Asian maritime security.18 Additionally, there are multilateral examples of EU maritime involvement: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, the Fukushima tsunami that occurred in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2014 all saw EU involvement.

In Conclusion: It’s Time to Grab a Seat at the Table

Despite policies, dialogues, and statements, the EU lacks a consistent presence in the region, which undermines their ability to influence political and economic events as they unfold. Alongside the 2016 UN tribunal ruling and discussions for a South China Sea Code of Conduct, the EU is losing its seat at the table as the maritime picture takes shape. If the EU expects to maintain influence in the Asia-Pacific it must accept that the geopolitical instability that defines the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific region requires a naval presence to manage risk, promote international order, and decrease the chances of armed conflict.

Setting aside EU institutional politics, there are a number of EU members who have navies capable of global power projection—France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and Spain. While some members may need to operate in a coalition due to refueling limitations, the capability remains. Overall, the European picture reveals a maritime mindset more focused on the near than the far. This is shortsighted in terms of politics, economics, and military capabilities. Not least because any significant rebalance toward Asia without a corresponding increase in shipbuilding would require a considerable shift in resource allocation. Reversing the current decline in shipbuilding across Europe will take significant and immediate initiative. The EU should take advantage of their long-standing relationship with the U.S. concerning maritime security and their experience working alongside global partners to engender a workable maritime strategy in the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific. With the U.S. increasing its presence in the Europe, there is opportunity for Europe to reinvigorate the Transatlantic Partnership that has defined U.S.-European relations for decades.

Politically, no entity is better poised than the EU to understand the power dynamics and challenges that a regional organization faces when countering the influence of a rising—or in the case of Russia—resurgent hegemonic power. There are relevant lessons to be drawn from the territorial aggression that Russia exhibited in the annexation of the Ukraine. Most notably, that a nation that feels compelled to assume power in a region that they historically view as theirs will not be thwarted by politics alone. Reactionary policies are no substitute for proactive plans. The European Union’s hodgepodge of arrangements, policies, dialogues, and statements regarding the South China Sea, coupled with Chinese economic influence, declining naval power, and an inability to speak and act with one voice are eroding European influence at a time when a new regional order is taking shape in the Asia-Pacific region. To counter this erosion of influence the EU needs a strategy that moves past mere statements that support international norms and the rules laid out in UNCLOS and establish a maritime presence that protects SLOCs throughout the Asia-Pacific.

LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He can be reached at dma.usn@gmail.com.

The views expressed above are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

References

1. “What is Europe’s role in Asia-Pacific?” European Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_what_is_europes_role_in_asia_pacific

2. Bruce Farthing, Farthing on International Shipping, Business of Shipping Series, LLP, London Hong Kong, 1997, p. 7.

3. In comparison, the United States has 19,924 km of coastline, while Russia has 37,653 km.

4. European Commission, “European Union Maritime Security Strategy: Responding Together to Global Challenges,” https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/policy/maritime-security_en

5. “Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the Award rendered in the Arbitration between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China,” European Council, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/07/15-south-china-sea-arbitration/

6. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Policy paper. Good Order at Sea. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/PR090427_Good_Order_at_Sea_in_SEA.pdf

7. Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael Policy Paper. China’s Maritime Silk Roadhttps://www.clingendael.nl/sites/default/files/China_Maritime_Silk_Road.pdf.

8. Internaitonal Maritime Security Law by James Kraska, Raul Pedrozo, p. 62.

9. EU-Asia Centre, “South China Sea: Background Note,” http://www.eu-asiacentre.eu/documents/uploads/pub_112_south_china_sea_background_note.pdf.

10. “Guidelines on the EU’S Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia”, Council of European Unionhttp://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/asia/docs/guidelines_eu_foreign_sec_pol_east_asia_en.pdf

11. Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2015 https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/6254_en

12. Ibid.

13. G7 Foreign Ministers’ Declaration on Maritime Security in Lübeck, 15 April 2015, Federal Foreign Office, http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2015/150415_G7_Maritime_Security.html?nn=479796.

14. Whitehouse, “G7 Ise-Shima Leaders’ Declaration,” https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/05/27/g7-ise-shima-leaders-declaration.

15. Kelvin Wong: Reflections on the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue, https://www.iiss.org/en/shangri-la%20voices/blogsections/2016-588c/kelvin-wong—reflections-on-the-2016-shangri-la-dialogue-2789.

16. Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), http://www.recaap.org/AboutReCAAPISC.aspx.

17. “Bridging Asia and Europe Through Maritime Connectivity China’s Maritime Silk Road and Indonesia’s Maritime Axis” European Institute for Asian Studies. March 2015. http://www.eias.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Bridging_Asia_Europe_2015.pdf

Featured Image: Members of the welcoming ceremony band play as British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Daring arrives at a port area of Huangpu River in Shanghai December 10, 2013. (Photo by Yang Yi/Asianewsphoto)