Tag Archives: asia pivot

A Pacific Rebalance with Chinese Characteristics

 Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Justin Chock

China’s newest national military strategy provides further insight on the framework that Chinese leaders use for their routinely enigmatic decision-making processes. The current paper builds on previous military white papers, which necessitates a look to previous editions in understanding the most recent one. Comparing the 2013 Defense White Paper with the 2015 strategy shows a great deal of overlap, but more interesting than the party lines consistent over many years are the differences, including the absence of key issues, from the most recent document. A reading of China’s Military Strategy alongside an analysis of contemporary events in the Sino-Japanese relationship illuminates a subtle shift in Chinese strategy since late 2013 from the East China Sea toward the South China Sea in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance centered on the Maritime Silk Road.

Controversial island building by the Chinese and surveillance flights by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander have highlighted the significance of South China Sea relations within the past few months, but the 2015 Chinese Military Strategy further reflects this importance. In the paper, China highlights their “South China Sea Affairs” that encounter the “meddling of other powers,” a point notably lacking from the 2013 White Paper given the long history of the dispute and the degree of scrutiny that decision makers put into these documents.

SouthChinaSeaReclamation-Economist
South China Sea Land Reclamation Efforts by Country, Economist

But observers may question why Chinese planners decided to undertake the hugely provocative project of island building and why the 2015 paper would touch upon it. Part of the reason may deal with the timing of the building with respect to other claimants. Vietnam began its land reclamation around 2010, and the Philippines followed suit with runway construction in 2011.

So China was not the first to engage in island-building activity (although the speed and scale of the projects vastly outweighs the Vietnamese and Philippine efforts); instead China, under the comparatively bolder Xi administration after 2012, decided to run full speed in the race to grow its claims starting in October 2013 when the projects were first spotted. This start date coincided closely with the One Belt One Road announcement in September 2013 and Maritime Silk Road announcement in October 2013, with the latter running directly through the South China Sea and near the disputed areas. Additionally, the October 2013 efforts post date the 2013 White Paper, published on April 16, 2013, allowing time for a strategic shift that was not solidified until after the document’s publication (or was perhaps deliberately omitted).

Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.
Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.

So, for China it appears the importance of island building in the South China Sea lies in ensuring secure maritime lanes for both its current trade and for the heightened flow that will come from the Maritime Silk Road. As a comparison of China’s land and sea economic trading shows, the nation is effectively an economic island, and the vulnerable flow through the South China Sea is the lifeblood of China’s economy. Should the nation lose control of that flow, its economy would be crippled, the consequences of which the Chinese people (and the Chinese Communist Party, which owes a great deal of political legitimacy to its economic growth) do not want to risk. The result: islands to enable enhanced oversight of the sea lanes.

As important as the addition to the 2015 paper, however, are its omissions. The 2013 paper depicts a “Japan (that) is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu islands,” but nowhere in the 2015 version is there an explicit mention of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. The only mention of Japan in the new strategy addresses the “overhauling [of] its military and security policies” (an understandable mention given the recent Japanese Diet bill increasing the scope of Self Defense Force operations) and its potential inclusion with the above South China Sea “meddling powers,” though the latter is not explicitly stated. The decision to remove an explicit mention of the Diaoyu islands dispute mention from the 2015 document is significant. This significant shift is reflected in recent reports of oil rigs in the East China Sea showing that China is choosing to literally not cross the line with Japan in this contentious geography. Statistical anomalies and shifting tactics aside, this is consistent with its deeds and not just its actions. If one is to make comparisons—albeit difficult given the different situations between East and Southeast Asia—a provocative statement toward Japan equivalent to South China Sea island building would be to cross the median line and assert China’s original stance regarding the continental shelf on the Japanese side of the line.

china-japan-us

Instead, China sees the larger picture: the East China Sea is at a stalemate while the South China Sea remains comparatively free to shifts in the status quo. This couples with the decrease in Chinese patrols within Senkaku/Diaoyu waters beginning in October 2013 and coinciding with the beginning of Chinese island-building efforts in the South China Sea. If one were to draw an albeit difficult analogy, a provocation equivalent to island building in the South China Sea would be for China to literally cross the line and assert its original stance on Japanese and Chinese claims to the continental shelf. Yet, it appears that China is taking a holistic strategic view of regional issues and refraining from simultaneous confrontation.

There are a number of reasons why China might decrease its focus on Japan. Whether China feels secure enough in the region with the November 2013 establishment of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or whether Chinese leadership have taken into account the increasingly interdependent economic relationship, the potential to warm the Sino-Japanese relationship, or too much perceived risk in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, their words and deeds suggest Japan is no longer China’s primary security focus. Instead, China’s military (or at least, its maritime forces, which the National Military Strategy states will be increasingly emphasized) is drawing resources away from the East and toward the Southeast to support the Maritime Silk Road in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance.

For the U.S., this Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance warrants careful consideration of any substantial increase in support of Japan or major shift in Japanese posture (e.g., expanded operational scope for the Japanese Self-Defense Force [JSDF]). Since a shift in the current balance may force China to once again focus on the East China Sea, for both the U.S. and Japan this suggests the wisdom of measures to reassure China. For example, emphasizing that the JSDF’s increased scope does not imply a corresponding increase in hostile intent or the targeting of that scope against China.

With respect to the South China Sea, and extending the analogy between the East and South China Seas, awareness of this rebalance places more decision-making leverage in American hands. Should the U.S. want to deter China in these waters as in the waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, stationing troops in the region, partnering with Southeast Asian allies, or reconciling with states in Southeast Asia and along the Maritime Silk Road are all potentially viable approaches. These approaches will become increasingly important as the Road is further established in the coming years and as China correspondingly shifts its focus to these waters; as China shifts focus to Southeast Asia, the U.S. must shift focus as well.

The new U.S. National Military Strategy falls in line with this thinking, describing how China’s “claims to nearly the entire South China Sea are inconsistent with international law,” and thus are a strategic focus of the U.S. However, conscious efforts must be made to maintain this momentum as China’s Rebalance appears to be a long-term project. This includes, as the Chinese Strategy states, further partnerships with states along the Maritime Silk Road as it expands, the groundwork of which will require diplomatic and political work today in preparation for the Road’s expansion. While other pressing issues (e.g., Russia, ISIL, etc.) top the list in describing the strategic environment in the U.S. Strategy, the American Asia-Pacific Rebalance must endure as the long-term strategy.

China's Martime Silk Road
China’s Maritime Silk Road

This interest in increased U.S. presence along the Maritime Silk Road is reciprocal. For Southeast Asian leaders, China’s rebalance marks the beginning of more vigorous Chinese engagement in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia as a whole. These nations must be prepared for increased Chinese presence and attention, and plan for higher levels of more geopolitical friction. Each nation’s approach will depend on their unique circumstances, but allowing U.S. counterbalancing forces into the region is one of a handful of options for adapting to the changing circumstances.

For all parties, tensions in the South China Sea present a serious challenge to both joint economic growth and regional security. While the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute will remain on China’s agenda, the evolving Chinese military strategy and Chinese actions suggest that South China Sea is the next area of focus for the rising nation. This gives the region and the states within it an increasing strategic priority that cannot be ignored.

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China’s South China Sea Strategy: Simply Brilliant

This article can be found in its original form at ASPI here, and was republished with permission.

In the past 12 months, China has provoked considerable attention with its reclamation activities in the South China Sea, particularly in the Spratlys where it controls seven maritime features.

China’s history of salami-slicing presents a dilemma to regional countries as well as external powers with regional interests: do they escalate an incident each time China slices the salami and risk open conflict, or stand down and allow China to augment its territorial claims.

The million-dollar question remains: who or what will freeze China’s reclamation in the South China Sea? The answer: nothing, really.

It has been proposed, for example, that like-minded states carve out a ‘code of practice’ that would stress the rule of law and mirror the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Another option being considered by the Pentagon is to send US aircraft and ships within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-built reefs in the Spratlys, to challenge its influence there.

While useful, such proposals won’t freeze or rollback China’s attempts to change the facts on the ground (or the high sea). China’s reclamation seeks to pre-empt any decision that would come from the Philippines’ challenge in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over China’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea.

It’s noteworthy that China hasn’t only engaged in salami slicing; it has sought to use the attraction of its economy, trade and aid to offset its high-risk behaviour.

Following the 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident with the Philippines, China launched a charm offensive in 2013, wooing ASEAN with a treaty of friendship and cooperation, stressing that it intended to take China–ASEAN relations from a ‘golden decade’ to a ‘diamond decade’.

This year, when concerns about China’s reclamation have intensified, China has offered a carrot: US and other countries would be welcome to use civilian facilities it’s building in the South China Sea for search and rescue and weather forecasting, when ‘conditions are right’.

China has also used its economic weight to deftly tilt the balance (of influence, at least) in its favor. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is attracting long-standing American allies such as Great Britain, Australia and South Korea. China has stolen a march on the US in the battle to win friends and influence people.

And the economic offensive doesn’t end with the AIIB. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—a free trade agreement that would involve ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea—is seen as a rival to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. China’s Silk Road Economic Belt is also another lure for peripheral countries keen on leveraging on China’s economic ascent.

Concerted and effective opposition to China’s fait accompli in the South China Sea requires an astute mix of diplomacy and deterrence. It might take the form of a regional effort to get China to clarify its nine-dashed line claims based on UNCLOS principles, an ASEAN ultimatum for China to at least freeze its reclamation activities, and joint ASEAN–US patrols near the reefs being reclaimed by China. This looks unlikely to emerge anytime soon.

ASEAN was damaged in 2012, when it failed—for the first time in its 45-year history—to issue a communiqué due to differing views over the South China Sea. ASEAN has recently upped its game by underscoring the dangers of China’s reclamation, but there’s little the group can do apart from pushing for a formal Code of Conduct. A successful conclusion of the code isn’t assured; China dangles the carrot of code negotiations to buy time even as its carries out reclamation.

For all its rhetoric about the need to uphold international law and the freedom of navigation, the US is conflicted when it comes to China. It all boils down to this: will the US risk its extensive relationship with China over a few rocks in the South China Sea? As Hillary Clinton once said: how does the US ‘deal toughly’ toward its banker?

To get a sense of the effect of China’s creeping invasion of the South China Sea, one only need look at Vietnam. Faced with China’s challenge to its claims to the Paracel Islands, Vietnam has purchased Kilo-class submarines, reportedly armed with sub-launched land-attack Klub missiles that could threaten Chinese coastal targets. But Vietnam didn’t fire a shot when China towed a US$1b oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam last year. On a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnamese scholars told me that Vietnamese military officers urged sterner action, such as firing on Chinese ships, but senior leaders vetoed them, instead deciding to sit back and let China incur ‘reputational damage’.

Not many people in Asia would agree with what China is doing in the South China Sea. But as it stands, China’s strategy—salami slicing, using offsets to soften risky behavior and accelerating its reclamation activities in the absence of significant opposition—can be summed up in two words: simply brilliant.

William Choong is a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Royal Thai Navy: Where to Post-Coup?

Guest Post by Paul Pryce 

With a coup d’état in May 2014 and the appointment of General Prayut Chan-o-cha as Prime Minister, 2014 proved to be a tumultuous year in Thai politics. Still faced with a deeply divided society, it is difficult for the Thai authorities to articulate foreign policy priorities or a grand strategy for the country. Even so, the Royal Thai Navy may soon have important tools available with which Thailand can make its presence felt internationally

Although often overlooked by most reports in favor of the contributions made by the Chinese and the Russians in years since, Thailand was an important player in counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. In response to an increase in Somali-based piracy, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 was established in January 2009 to secure freedom of navigation along international shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Although comprised largely of vessels and crews from NATO member states, Thailand deployed a Pattani-class off-shore patrol vessel and a supply ship to join the force in 2010-2011.

This was an unprecedented move. For the first time, Thailand deployed military assets abroad to defend its interests. HTMS Pattani and HTMS Similan, the supply ship, did not simply serve in token roles: Thai forces engaged in combat against pirates in two separate incidents on October 23rd, 2010. Beyond hosting ASEAN-related events, such as the 8th ASEAN Navy Chiefs’ Meeting in 2014, the Royal Thai Navy has since adopted a much more subdued posture, however. This can in part be attributed to the political dominance of the Royal Thai Army through last year’s coup.

Were there to be need for Thai participation in a similar multinational operation in Southeast Asia or elsewhere in the world, it is doubtful that the Thai authorities would find the political will to deploy any assets in the near future. But the Royal Thai Navy will soon see its capabilities bolstered. If national unity can be preserved in some way, Thailand could see its international image raised considerably. It has commissioned two stealth-capable corvettes based on the design of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyers. With a displacement of approximately 3,900 tons, these would be among the largest vessels in Thailand’s arsenal, second only in size to the Royal Thai Navy’s two American-made Knox-class frigates.

Although it is currently unclear when Thailand expects delivery of its two Gawnggaeto the Great variants, the eventual addition of these vessels to the fleet will greatly enhance its capacity to project power in the Gulf of Thailand, South China Sea, and beyond. Thailand has no maritime disputes with China; tensions over territory exist only in relation to the land borders with Cambodia and Laos. As such, it is a reasonable assumption that the previous government intended to employ the new vessels not to exert Thai sovereignty, but to appease military elites and to attain international prestige through contributions to future multinational maritime operations. That the current junta has not cancelled this procurement suggests that it too shares these goals.

Of course, achieving the political stability necessary to engage in expeditionary missions will be a tall order, especially as legal action against Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s former Prime Minister who was ousted in the May 2014 coup, is ongoing. Until such issues can be resolved and civilian oversight of the military is adequately restored, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, pictured below, may represent the future of the Royal Thai Navy.

The Royal Thai Naval vessel HTMS CHAKRINARUEBET (CVH 911) in the South China Sea.
HTMS CHAKRINARUEBET  in the South China Sea.

This vessel, which serves as Thailand’s flagship and is based on the design of the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias, spends much of its time docked at Sattahip naval base. No longer able to accommodate Harrier airframes, the Chakri Naruebet can now carry a small complement of helicopters and occasionally serves as a royal yacht. The two stealth corvettes may suffer a similar fate if Bangkok’s palace politics persist.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) – the Heart of Surface Warfare

By Captain Charlie Williams, U.S. Navy 

Since the end of the Cold War, the Surface Navy has supported contingency operations around the globe, and done so exceptionally. Even so, some would argue that these operations have drawn us away from our basic warfighting skills – skills that have defined the United States as the world’s elite Surface Navy over the past 70 years.

In the area of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community must recapture that professionalism and intensity that drove us to become the premier ASW force in the 1970s and ‘80s — demonstrated time and again against the Soviet threat. We must dominate our Inner Screen while also correctly expanding our reach in the undersea domain.

Honed by years of experience and technological leaps, first in World War II and then again during the Cold War, ASW tactics and technology aligned with Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) as the focus of the destroyer force. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the submarine threat diminished and the Surface Warfare community shifted our focus from ASW to support other emerging mission areas. The Surface force created VBSS boarding teams and manned crew-served weapons out of hide, and also honed our ability to execute Tomahawk strike missions to a fine and precision art form, while other nations instead determined to field a credible undersea force invested in capability and capacity.  

As a result, our ASW proficiency suffered, as our ASW experience-based knowledge dwindled to the point where the Navy would have been challenged against a modern-day subsurface threat. We lost our foil and also our operational training opportunities that presented themselves every time our ships got underway. We no longer had the opportunity to train in real world track and trail events against a YANKEE, NOVEMBER, or VICTOR Class Submarine from the moment we left the sea buoy. Those opportunities were especially important in maintaining our complex skills required in the ASW arena, such as passive target motion analysis and active Convergence Zone (CZ) search and detection.

Today, with our renewed emphasis and shift to the Pacific, the Surface Navy must reclaim the ASW battle space if we are going to be successful in this new era.

The Evolving Threat

Recognizing the disruptive challenge submarines pose to our aircraft carriers and other high value assets, China, North Korea, and Iran have invested in a significant undersea capability and capacity. Real world events in the Western Pacific and in the Persian Gulf serve as regular examples as to why the United States must maintain the resolve to invest in our Surface Navy to maintain a preeminent ASW capability. From the Surface ASW perspective, quieter submarines, emerging submarine tactics, and advanced weapons are potential challenges to our Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) operational concepts – and to the Surface force’s ability to own the Inner Screen and defend the Strike Group. To meet this evolving threat and maintain our naval dominance — We Must Adapt.

Surface ASW Response

Recognizing the need to counter the emerging threat, the Surface Navy began using a method similar to the commercial sector allowing for timely and affordable modernization of our ASW capability with Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware systems and Open Architecture (OA) software. We recognize our ASW operators require the best and most advanced tools available – and we have invested heavily in every aspect of that ASW kill chain.

Improvements include hardware and software upgrades to kinetic weapons such as the advanced Mk 54 Lightweight Torpedo that integrates with the MH-60R multi-mission helicopter; sensors, such as the Multi-Function Towed Array and the SPQ-9B Periscope Detection and Discrimination kit; advanced processing and display capabilities to increase operator recognition while leveraging the skill sets already developed in our Sailors; as well as the high fidelity trainers being delivered to the fleet today.

Today, 30 SQQ-89 A(V)15 ASW Combat Systems have reached the fleet and by 2020 there will be 64.   That steady increase in capacity requires an equally steady application of financial resources, through which the Surface community has approached development of the ASW Combat System in a similar fashion to the continuous development and improvement of the AEGIS Combat System.

With the emergence of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the fleet, ASW operations will expand beyond the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG) and Ticonderoga-class Cruiser (CG) in both an individual and additive manner. LCS, well suited to succeed in challenging littoral environments with its ASW Mission Package, will also support ASW escort missions. The combination of LCS and CRUDES ASW capabilities will significantly expand the reach of the ASW force, allowing it to operate in distinctly different environs in the open ocean and littorals while also enabling the DDG or CG to engage in other mission areas without sacrificing an ASW asset. The ASW capability realized by combining a Variable Depth Sonar with a Multi-Function Towed Array, plus the processing and display functionality of the A(V)15 system and the engagement capability of the onboard helo, provides a return on investment many times over.

Providing the US Navy with ASW capability takes more than hardware and software. Essential to successful ASW is the shipboard team that can exploit the capability being delivered as well as understand the environment affecting their system. This has always been true – but given the technologies being employed in today’s systems, and the threat we face at sea, our Sailors must be more technically and operationally savvy than ever before.

This requirement demands more time, both in port and at sea, to train in the skillsets unique to ASW. High fidelity unit level and shore based trainers delivered to the fleet facilitate this training, and add an element of at-sea realism to challenge even the most experienced operators. For the first time, the Navy can conduct high quality training both underway and in-port thru the A(V)15’s high fidelity Surface ASW Synthetic Trainer (SAST). SAST is also being integrated into a new shore based trainer to allow realistic watch team in-port training tailored to the specific skillset needed.

Understanding how the environment impacts your craft is critical to successful employment of your systems. Our schoolhouse training is being tailored to more effectively deliver basic and advanced operator and employment training. The Navy is also reinvigorating the Afloat Training Groups (ATG) with knowledgeable experts – they will be the key enablers, helping our young operators translate the schoolhouse training into operational experience with the necessary skills of this core competency.

ASW Command & Control and Today’s Inner Screen

An important element of owning the inner screen has been our partnering with other communities in the more distant ASW fight. The DESRON Sea Combat Commander embarked in the aircraft carrier (CVN) owns the Strike Group ASW problem, and they work that challenge in company with the Theater ASW Commander to coordinate what has become a broader definition of that inner screen’s boundary. Previously defined by the torpedo danger zone and our own acoustic detection ability, today’s inner screen has expanded based on the evolved submarine and longer range threats, and also a more diverse and more capable portfolio of our own CSG assets. This theater level of coordination requires a modernized set of tools including the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS), and also a more agile and ready surface ASW force. Surface Navy’s continued investment in ASW is integral to furthering that coordination and enabling our success at sea.

Conclusion

Tactical ASW superiority is a critical enabler to maintain Forward Presence and Sea Control, and support Power Projection and Deterrence. This begins with owning the CSG’s Inner Screen, and enabling the broader ASW environment through coordinated operations with the Theater ASW Commander. Surface Warfare is perfectly postured to lead, plan and execute that Inner Screen, and use our capacity, on-station time, and command and control ability as enablers in the larger, theater ASW fight. Our investments in systems, training, and people have positioned us to reassert our mastery of this critical warfighting capability. The time is now for the Surface force to rededicate itself to this most central of missions. After all, the world’s most lethal power projection Navy cannot do its job if the water it operates in is threatened from below.

Captain Charlie Williams is the Deputy for Weapons and Sensors, Surface Warfare Directorate (N96). He commanded USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), USS STETHEM (DDG 63) and Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15). As the Commodore in CDS-15, he served as the GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group Sea Combat Commander and Strike Force ASW Commander, and subsequently served as the Seventh Fleet Chief of Staff.