Tag Archives: China

Sanctions and Grey on White: Raising the Stakes in the South China Sea

For years, there has been extensive talk of “managing” China’s rise, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and lamenting Beijing’s encroachment in the South China Sea. The US has announced her “Pivot”, Japan has reinterpreted her constitution, the Philippines have initiated international arbitration proceedings, Vietnam has kept rearming, and Russia has kept including tactical nuclear weapons in her Far East “counter-terrorism” exercises, just to name some of the most relevant developments. To no avail, China has followed the same relentless path of territorial expansion, which reached a new plateau last year with the combined deployment of an oil rig supported by myriad fishing and state vessels near Vietnam, and the launch of a major reclamation drive, while naval construction continued apace, supported by the expansion of maritime militias. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, there is some evidence that analysts are ready to consider measures almost unthinkable of until recently. In her recent report titled “Conflict in the South China Sea”, Bonnie S. Glaser (Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies) has sent two significant shots across China’s bow, suggesting sanctions against energy companies involved in the South China Sea, and the use of US Navy warships against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels.

These two proposals may just be suggestions, but they merit careful examination on at least two counts. First of all, because they suggest novel solutions to a long-recognized problem, which current policy does not seem to be having a significant impact on. Second, because they come as some other voices are suggesting withdrawing from the South China Sea, giving up the region and concentrating on the First Island Chain. Such move may prompt a miscalculation by Beijing, and unravel the web of alliances among maritime democracies in the Pacific, including extended deterrence.

Sanctions against Chinese energy corporations

China’s rise rests on a combination of integration into the world economic system and use of limited force to achieve foreign policy goals. While the latter is often lamented, until recently the former has not been questioned. Proposals to deal with China’s rise have failed to contemplate sanctions as a tool to constrict Beijing’s behavior. It is true that, to some extent, a move away from manufacturing in China is already apparent. This seems to be, though, mostly due to economic reasons like rising relative wages and a wish for diversification. However, perhaps some “hidden sanctions” are already in place in the case of, for example, Japan, with some actors understanding that in the current atmosphere it is unwise to keep transferring manufacturing capacity to her neighbor.

Before examining sanctions, perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions. Do we really need China that much? Have many countries become over reliant on the Chinese market and Chinese capital fluxes, prompting Beijing to believe that she is so essential as to be indispensable? Is this one of the underlying causes of China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea? Does Beijing believe that economic factors guarantee a ceiling on any reaction by the maritime democracies, ruling out any meaningful response?

While we shall not try to answer them in detail, it seems clear that Beijing has indeed succeeded over the last three decades in becoming a pillar of the international economic system, as clear from, among others, the country’s significant portion of world manufacturing, her growing presence in many markets, the gradual internationalization of her currency, and her leading role as energy and commodities importer. Some voices doubt the sustainability of Chinese economic growth, but at least for the time being there is little doubt concerning its contribution to Chinese power and influence, as clear from Beijing’s latest move, setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Thus sanctions, even if strictly limited and carefully targeted, should ideally be preceded by a debate on the above points. A debate bringing together specialists in economics and national security, two communities which do not always communicate that well.

Two important aspects of sanctions are their effective impact, and Beijing’s possible counter-sanctions. Concerning the former, it is unlikely at this stage that China would stop exploration and drilling in the South China Sea. Too much is at stake, in terms not only of national prestige and self-image, but also of economic development and national security. Furthermore, any suspicion of weakness in dealing with foreigners may be taken badly by citizens. Many observers stress how the Chinese regime is increasingly relying on nationalism to preserve its legitimacy, but a look at history shows how this has not just been one of the hallmarks of the CCP from day one, but how it runs deeper in contemporary Chinese history. The 100 anniversary of the Great War should serve as a reminder of how the May the 4th Movement erupted following the failure of the young republic to secure anything at Versailles, despite the contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps to the Allied victory. With regard to Chinese counter-sanctions, again this would be nothing new, since Beijing has never been shy over the last three decades in using her economic might to achieve foreign policy goals. Just to mention an example, forcing the Netherlands to stop submarine sales to Taiwan. Thus, any detailed proposal for sanctions should contemplate the different scenarios, their impact, and how to react to them. This does not mean that the shadow of Chinese reprisals should rule out any sanctions policy. This self-defeating view would only embolden Beijing. What it means is that we must recognize that playing the sanctions card demands a re-examination of economic relations with China, something perhaps necessary anyway, given the destabilizing impact of persistent trade surpluses and the accompanying capital flows. Thus, by upping the ante in the South China Sea the maritime democracies may be killing two birds with a stone, making it clear to Beijing that they are not surrendering, and bringing forward a very necessary but much long delayed debate on the place of the Chinese economy in the world.

Grey on white

Glaser argues that “The United States should be prepared to respond to future Chinese coercive acts including using U.S. naval forces to deter China’s continuing use of “white hulled” paramilitary vessels”. Concerning this, it is clear that Washington cannot stand idle as the South China Sea, not only because of its importance in terms of SLOCs (sea lines of communication), but because it would mean an open door to further acts of aggression, the loss of American credibility, and serious doubts about extended deterrence in the Pacific. It is also clear that, since the United States do not have coast guard or equivalent units deployed in theater, or large numbers of trawlers and merchantmen capable of being employed in a dual role, a symmetric national response to China’s tactics is not possible. Does this mean that the US Navy should be employed against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels? It is indeed a possibility, but it raises many questions, and ideally a discussion should be accompanied by a parallel examination of alternative options.

When discussing gray on white, natural caution and fears of escalation militate against this possibility. Yet, at the same time, the question arises why we should play by China’s rules. For years, the mantra that navies only confront navies, has mainly benefited China. There is no much point in reinforcing the US Navy in the Pacific if it is forced to contemplate, impotent, how Beijing achieves her goals using a mixture of other assets, from oil rigs to fishing vessels, including maritime militias and state vessels. Letting the other side lay down the rules is a sure way to defeat. A problem, though, is that conventional naval vessels are designed with lethal force in mind. Thus, other than ramming other ships or blocking their way, the other manners in which they may be employed would involve kinetic means leading to loss of life and a substantial escalation. Concerning ramming and blocking, the United States simply lacks the numbers to respond in this way. There is some quality to quantity, and Chinese numbers are simply impressive.

China knows that other countries do not want to be seen as having fired the first shot in what may soon turn into a regional conflagration. The challenge then is how to avoid firing that first shot, without losing the current limited conflict already taking place in the South China Sea. Escalation may not be an alternative option, but surrender is not either. Glaser’s suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand, and in doctrinal terms could be compared to Russia’s concept of “de-escalation”, raising a confrontation by one notch in order to bring it down. The problem is not doctrinal, but political, since it is doubtful whether maritime democracies are ready to follow this approach. However, there are other alternatives that merit some serious discussion. Just to mention one, a permanent land deployment in disputed islands, before China had the chance to seize them, could exert a stabilizing influence. Such deployments may be carried out by the countries involved, yet with a US rotational presence. This would not only aid in developing the necessary interoperability skills, but would send a powerful signal to Beijing, avoiding any perception that the South China Sea is just home to some far away rocks of little concern for Washington and thus ripe for the taking when the moment is right.

Conclusions: a first step in the right direction.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Contingency Planning Memorandum Update is a step in the right direction, putting on the table two options hitherto considered taboo in discussions on how to deal with the South China Sea conflict. At a time when some other observers are suggesting we scuttle the Pacific, using some to the same words (like “rocks” and “far away”) that history shows prompt miscalculations by would-be aggressors, they make it clear that the game is not over yet. Maritime democracies may lose it, but not without a fight.

Concerning sanctions, they would show Beijing that other countries mean business, and are ready to go beyond posturing. While unlikely, at least in the short term, to change Chinese behavior, their absence from the negotiating table weakens the maritime democracies’ case. Any detailed consideration of this weapon, however, requires not only an examination of the different retaliation scenarios, but a wider reflection of the Chinese economy’s place in the world financial system. An examination that is anyway necessary, and has been unduly delayed, and which is therefore an additional reason to seriously consider Glaser’s words.

With regard to gray on white, the current dogma that navies only fight navies is clearly benefiting Beijing and can no longer be merely repeated mantra-like, unless we are ready to lose the battle while some of the most powerful weapons simply look on. However, this does not mean that this is the only option, or that it is one politically acceptable. Thus, the time has come to examine the different possibilities, one being the permanent deployment of land forces on disputed islands, with a rotational US presence.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Working-Papers/Documents/WP1-Calvo.aspx,  can be found at https://nagoya-u.academia.edu/AlexCalvo

China’s Anti-Piracy Flotillas: By the Numbers

On April 3, the 20th anti-piracy flotilla of the People’s Liberation Army Navy got underway for operations off the Horn of Africa.  Since the arrival off Somalia of the first Chinese anti-piracy flotilla in January 2009, approximately three flotillas have successively served annually in that region.  Simple data compiled from open sources on the deployments of these flotillas is provided in the slides below.  Although these only represent anti-piracy flotillas, combined with other studies, they represent a broader pattern of global presence and increased capabilities of the PLA/N.  The following recent articles and studies are offered to provide readers with greater recognition of the issue:

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Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy. @cgberube

Members’ Roundup Part 18

Welcome back to another edition of the Roundup! After a brief hiatus we are back to share with you more of our members’ works. There are plenty of articles to share, ranging from maritime infrastructure development to thoughts on the new maritime strategy.

Back in February Miha Hribernik wrote a piece for The Diplomat regarding piracy in Southeast Asia. Although this presents a significant and worrying problem, it is manageable. Miha presents some suggestions for regional States on how to resolve this issue. You can access the article here. 

To surpass China in Sri Lanka, India needs to pursue proactive and dynamic diplomacy. Nilanthi Samaranayake explains, over at The Diplomat, that the key to reaffirming India’s presence in the region is through infrastructure investment. More specifically, the focus should be on public-private partnership and government to government investment in the maritime domain. You can access Nilanthi’s article here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.53.03 pmJerry Hendrix, from the Center for a New American Security, published a report in February called ‘Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security’. In it, he argues that the United States has strayed from its historic and cultural approach to the world, leaving behind its traditional maritime-focused, technologically innovative, free-trade based strategy. The solution to this, according to Hendrix, is a more clear eyed strategy that seeks to avoid trivia and address the US’ current weaknesses in order to shore up its long term strategic position.

Over at War on the Rocks David Wise shares with us an article titled ‘Blowback as National Policy.’ Many of the current security threats that the Western world faces today are a result of those decisions made in years past. Before making the foray into the geostrategic game, which is more than just a big game of Risk, first have a look at David’s cogent words on what we face today.

Mira Rapp-Hooper writes on the Lawfare Institute’s blog a post examining the impact of China’s increased military spending (and the US’ relative decline in spending) on neighbouring countries. You can access her post here.

Following the trend of AMTI posts, Bryan McGrath shares his analysis on how China might view the United States’ revised Maritime Strategy. Given that Bryan was heavily involved in the development of the 2007 strategy, you will certainly find his views on the matter very insightful. You can access his piece here.

Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the US 7th Fleet, proposed the creation of joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea by ASEAN member nations – this was quickly met with mix reactions. Scott Cheney-Peters provides some solutions to challenge the arguments presented by the ‘nay-sayers’ and suggests that the presence of the “white hulls” of the U.S. Coast Guard could mitigate many of the perceived drawbacks. You can find out more by accessing his article on the AMTI’s website, here.

Harry Kazianis, on The National Interest, shares an analysis of the core reasons behind China’s ‘massive’ military buildup. He explains the historical roots of the Chinese military psyche due to subjugation at the hands of external powers. The solution to this is to employ an asymmetrical strategy  to defeat, in battle, forces that are superior to its own. You can access his article here.

Long range anti-ship missiles contribute to an essential element of China's deterrence.
Anti-Ship Missiles contribute to an essential element of China’s deterrence.

On the National Defense Magazine’s online blog, Sandra Erwin reports that the current pace of shipbuilding and funding will not be able to meet the future demands of the Navy. Given that is an annual obligation of the Navy to tell Congress how many ships it will need and how much they will cost, it should certainly raise some alarm bells for decision-makers in Washington. For more on this, you can access Sandra’s post here.

U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.
U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.

Bringing the theme of this Roundup to the naval profession, Matthew Hipple in a joint article with Dan Follet and James Davenport, remind us the important role of patrol coastal ships in securing the seas. In this edition of Proceedings, the authors suggest that patrol coastal ships are an “incredible platform for both mission execution and cultivating war fighting.” To read more about why this is the case, you can access their article here.

Over at War on the Rocks, CIMSECian Emil Maine (and company) provide some critique of Congressman Mac Thornberry’s ‘Defense Acquisition Reform’ initiative. Defence acquisition is a necessity, but the question is whether political momentum can be sustained long enough to overcome the usual barriers to wholesale reform. More on this topic here.

Finally we conclude this edition with a shameless plug for my own work. The first is an article featured in the March-April edition of the Australian Defence Force Journal. Titled ‘Evolution of the Battlefield’, I examine existing strategic and legal challenges to developing an effective cyber warfare policy for military planners. My second piece is a brief analysis of the Australian Department of Defence’s new First Priniciples Reviewthis will hopefully provide an insight into some of the organisational challenges faced by the ADF and Department of Defence. Perhaps some of the US readers can find some similarities and provide suggestions for the Australian context. You can access each of the above articles here and here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Strategic Insights Arctic Special Issue – Call for Papers

The December 2015 special issue of Strategic Insights magazine will deal with maritime security problems associated with the Arctic. Although international attention in recent months has shifted to places such as Russia/Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, Greece, or the South China Sea, the High North retains its unique position and potential as a future site of conflict and cooperation, disruptive technology, and a major maritime trade shortcut. We are looking for thought-provoking contributions that address challenges and risks in the High North, and provide fresh perspectives for our readers. Whether it is a particularly Canadian, American, Russian, Norwegian, Danish, or any other nation-state view, a discussion of current and future operations, or perspectives on maritime security from your particular point of view, all suggestions are welcome.

It doesn't happen often that an entire ice-breaking fleet is in one picture... but when it does, it's set to be cool.
It doesn’t happen often that an entire ice-breaking fleet is in one picture… but when it does, it’s set to be cool.

Anyone with an interest in writing an article should send a short note Sebastian Bruns, member of the SI editorial board and fellow CIMSECian, at sb@riskintelligence.eu. Please include a short bullet-point list of what you would like to discuss and provide 2-3 sentences on your professional background. If your article is accepted for publication, remuneration is 300.00 € (or – currently – 335.00 USD) per article and will be paid via bank transfer on the first of the month after publication of the respective issue. The deadline for your final article is 15 November 2015.

From Russia with love.
From Russia with love.

Strategic Insights draws on the focus and geographical coverage of Risk Intelligence’s MaRisk maritime security monitor, but takes a wider look at the nature of maritime risk in different threat locations around the world. Each issue goes beyond facts and figures to consider the drivers of maritime security challenges and how these challenges will evolve in the future.
The focus of Strategic Insights is on security threats and political-military developments with a maritime dimension, particularly non-traditional security issues such as piracy, maritime terrorism, insurgency, smuggling, and port security. The journal is read by players in the maritime industry, law enforcement agencies, think tanks and institutions, and inter-governmental regional security bodies. A particular emphasis is placed on articles that offer policy-relevant and operational analysis relevant to the maritime community. The style is a mix of journalism and academic, length about 2,500-3,000 words. Visit the website for more info and to download your complimentary free issue.

Sebastian Bruns is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University where he is responsible for all things maritime. He is also one of the editors for Strategic Insights magazine.

Japan’s Izumo Helicopter Carrier Commissioned

Post by Chris Biggers

This past week, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) commissioned the lead vessel of its new class of helicopter carrier at a ceremony at the Yokusuka naval base less than 10 miles south of Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city.

The Izumo (DDH-183) is the island nation’s largest vessel superseding the Hyūga class, Japan’s first helicopter carrier post World War II. To get a clear sense of size, satellite imagery from March 2014 shows both vessels at the IHI Marine United shipyard. At the time, the 248 meter-long Izumo was still in the fitting out process while the 197 meter-long Hyūga (DDH-181) was located in a nearby dry-dock undergoing routine maintenance.

At 24,000 tons, the fully loaded Izumo is noticeably larger than its 19,000 ton predecessor and more capable.[1] Manned by approximately 470 sailors, the vessel can support up to 14 helicopters — broken up into seven Mitsubishi-built SH-60k ASW helicopters and seven Agusta Westland MCM-101 mine countermeasure helicopters.

According to Jane’s, the carrier is equipped with an OQQ-22 bow-mounted sonar for submarine detection, two Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile SeaRAM launchers and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems for air defense.

“This [vessel] heightens our ability to deal with Chinese submarines that have become more difficult to detect,” an JMSDF officer told the Asahi Shimbum in late March.[2] Downplaying grander ambitions, JMSDF officials have often focused media attention on the ship’s role in undertaking border surveillance and humanitarian assistance missions.

Izumo

Beyond the ship’s standard load, the vessel can also support the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and some have even suggested the vertical landing Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. Although the latter has caused much controversy, putting F-35s on the Izumo seems unlikely given that the advanced fighter was acquired by Japan’s Air Force and not its sea services (to say nothing of the additional retrofit costs that would require of the vessel).

But that hasn’t stopped Chinese assertions and general concerns throughout East Asia of Japanese intent. “The Izumo proves that Japan has the technical capabilities and demand to develop aircraft carriers. It’s also possible that Japan may explore the possibility during the Izumo’s service,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based military commentator, told the Chinese Global Times newspaper. Beyond China, South Korea has also voiced concern.

While no one’s exactly sure how Japan will use the new carrier, its potential for power projection is undeniable. As geopolitical tensions increase, especially with disputed island territories and areas like the South China Sea, it’s not surprising to see Japan push to bolster her navy. With the election of officials like Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, defense spending has gone up and bans on arms exports have been lifted—suggesting Japan is preparing to reinterpret her role on the world stage. What this will ultimately mean for the service is still too early to say.[3]

In the meantime, the USD 1.2 billion Izumo will join JMSDF’s Escort Flotilla 1, based at the Yokosuka naval base, also home of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet.[4] The vessel was initially laid down on 27 January 2012 and launched on 06 August 2013. It will later be joined in 2017 by the second vessel in the series, the DDH-184, currently under construction at IHI Marine United Shipyard.

This post can be found in its original form at offiziere.ch 

Notes
[1] Both measurements refer to the vessels at full load.
[2] In 2013, Japan said it detected Chinese submarines navigating near territorial waters of Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures.
[3] Japan has in recent years participated in amphibious warfare training utilizing the Hyuga class helicopter carrier in concert the US. For Example Dawn Blitz 2013.
[4] Japan has 4 Escort Flotillas with a mix of 7-8 warships each. Bases are located at Yokosuka, Kure,Sasebo, Maizuru, and Moinato. SSKs are organized into 2 Flotillas with bases at Kure and Yokosuka. Remaining Units assigned to 5 regional districts.

The Roles of Navies in the Yemeni Conflict

By Claude Berube, Stephanie Chenault, Louis M-v, Chris Rawley

Although the Saudi-led Operation RESOLUTE STORM (alternately translated as DECISIVE STORM) began with air strikes into Yemen on March 26 and continue as of this writing, the heightened level of regional activity also includes maritime operations. These national and multi-national operations highlight the importance of naval platforms and presence. Yemen is strategically located with the heavily-trafficked Red Sea to its west and the Gulf of Aden along its southern coast. Some twenty thousand ships transit the Gulf of Aden annually. Yemen’s ports have been largely closed to commercial traffic.

yemen_cig_pgn_cimsec 17apr15

Graphic courtesy of CIGeography and Political Geography Now.

Evacuation of Citizens

Earlier this year, the US and other nations began pulling out of embassies and recommending their citizens leave Yemen at the earliest opportunity. Once RESOLUTE STORM began, airspace was restricted with limited flights out of the country. Consequently, several countries have been evacuating its citizens via comparatively safer ports such as Aden in the Gulf of Aden and Hodeida situated along the Red Sea. One Pakistan Navy ship got underway from Pakistan on Sunday while a second planned to depart the following day, both for the port of Hodeida where some 600 Pakistani citizens were converging.

India sent five ships to evacuate approximately four thousand nationals from Hodeida. The passenger ships include the M/V Kavaratti and M/V Corals. The Indian Navy ships include the Delhi-class destroyer Mumbai, the Talwar-class frigate Tarkash, and the Saryu-class patrol vessel Sumitra.

China also interrupted the duties of its 19th anti-piracy flotilla off the Horn of Africa to evacuate citizens from Yemen. The PLA/N frigate Weifang was sent to Yemen and evacuated 449 Chinese citizens and others.  Evacuations had taken place at both Aden and Hodeida. Chinese citizens were then taken to Djibouti.

Saudi Arabia’s “Tornado Plan” was employed to transport diplomats in Yemen. The ships included the Al-Riyadh (Lafayette)-class Al-Damman, and a modified Durance-class replenishment ship Yunbou

Maritime Security

Several countries have some concern about the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, approximately 18-20 miles wide at its narrowest point “limiting tanker traffic to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately 3.8 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products transited the Bab el-Mandeb every day in 2013. Although the Iranian-backed Houthis leading the insurgency in Yemen have announced that they would not seek to impact transit through the strait, the more likely threat would be from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In 2013, for example, the Yemeni government reportedly disrupted one AQAP plot to attack ships in the Bab el-Mandeb.

According to Reuters, four ships from the Egyptian Navy transited the Suez Canal to secure the region on the first day of the air strikes.

Search and Rescue

The Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Sterrett (DDG 104) rescued two Saudi Arabian airmen from the Gulf of Aden after their two-seater F-15 fighter jet crashed on the first day of the air strikes.

Naval Gunfire Support

According to one source, Egyptian warships began shelling Houthis outside Aden on March 30.  The Egyptian flotilla includes the U.S. produced Perry-class frigate Alexandria (F911), whose 76 mm OTO-Melara gun can bombard surface targets out to 16 km away.

Analysts’ Assessment

While the majority of Operation RESOLUTE STORM activities have been air strikes with the possibility of a future ground conflict, the domestic instability in Yemen and on-going military operations underscore the importance of naval platforms, presence, and the varied operations that can be conducted by navies. Naval activity in the region by regional and international actors can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future.  Possible future naval missions could include patrols designed to prevent Iran’s resupply of Houthi forces from the sea.  Previous attempts by the Iranians to smuggle modern weapons to Houthi forces, such as the Jeehan 1 in January 2013, were foiled by Yemeni government forces.  It is doubtful such naval capability still exists in non-Houthi Yemeni elements so multi-national forces will need to take on the maritime interdiction role.

The operations also highlight the PLA/N’s increasing capability. China began sending anti-piracy flotillas off the Horn of Africa in 2008 at the height of Somali pirate activity. To date, the PLA/N has sent nineteen flotillas, each comprised of two warships and one supply ship. These uninterrupted operations have enabled the Chinese to become familiar with long-term operations, logistics, and the importance of presence. Without the PLA/N’s experience in the region, it is unknown how or if it could have extracted its citizens from Yemen in a timely fashion.

A new op-ed in a Chinese newspaper on March 30 points out that “China has evacuated hundreds of its nationals from war-torn Yemen by Monday, in demonstrating responsibility and humanistic care toward its citizens. In the era of globalization, coupled with China’s increasing presence in the world, more Chinese nationals are living and working overseas.” Another online commenter on China’s Sina Weibo stated: “The strength of the motherland is not about the visa-free agreements with other countries, but that it could bring you home from danger.” Put simply: The Navy protects you.

One might ask, given budget priorities, have Americans and Europeans forgotten this?

Claude Berube is a history instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author.

Stephanie Chenault is the Chief Operating Officer of Venio Inc. and a Policy & Strategy Consultant for the Department of Defense.

Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter at CIMSEC.org, and the founder of CIGeography, where he post his maps and infographics on various security and defense topics. He is currently studying Geography and Political Science in Lyon, France.

Chris Rawley is an entrepreneur and reserve naval officer. 

China’s Maritime Silk Road Gamble

This is republished from the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute.

Ever since Xi Jinping announced the creation of a Maritime Silk Road in an October 2013 speech to the Indonesian parliament, China’s vision for “one road” running through Southeast and South Asia has driven a significant portion of Chinese foreign policy in its periphery. This has led to both the controversial Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) (announced in the same speech) and complementary investment funds such as the Maritime Silk Road Bank, as well as high-level diplomatic visits by Chinese leaders to countries in the region. In addition, China sees its “Silk Road Economic Belt” among its Central Asian neighbors as indivisible from the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” as seen by China’s slogan 一带一路 (“one belt, one road”) and its public diplomacy effort to promote both policies together. All of this indicates that, like many Chinese foreign policy initiatives, the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” is multi-pronged: it is intended to serve diplomatic, economic, and strategic purposes.

First and foremost, the Maritime Silk Road is designed to pacify neighboring countries threatened by China’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea. Curiously, China has attempted to both aggravate tensions among its Southeast Asian neighbors and soothe them at the same time, contrary to its normal pattern of swinging back and forth between aggressive brinksmanship and diplomatic rapprochement (such as in China’s relationship with Taiwan or its cutting off and then reestablishing of military to military ties with the United States). Despite the idealistic claims of ‘peaceful economic development absent political strings’ made by Chinese leaders and state media about the Maritime Silk Road, China has continued unabated to strengthen its unilateral claim to vast maritime territory in the South China Sea, turning reefs and other undersea maritime features into full-fledged islands, complete with airstrips that could be used by the People’s Liberation Army.

Conversely, the Maritime Silk Road is also designed to cement relationships with countries that are tacitly friendly to China such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. This will be accomplished primarily through economic incentives like infrastructure development and trade deals. In this sense, the Maritime Silk Road not only stands side by side with the Silk Road Economic Belt, but also as part of a historical continuum that includes China’s past investment in maritime-related infrastructure, which has been referred to by some as a “String of Pearls” policy. If one wants to know what kind of infrastructure projects China will fund in the future, look to what it has done in the past: oil and natural gas links to Myanmar’s port in Sittwe, ports in Sri Lanka such as the Hambantota and Colombo Port City projects, and the Pakistani port in Gwadar. Indeed, China and Malaysia have already announced a joint port project in Malacca. Meanwhile, China, which is already the largest trading partner for most countries in Southeast and South Asia, is also signing new free trade agreements with countries such as Sri Lanka.

Chinese infrastructure investment, intended primarily to strengthen China’s energy security and increase trade between China and its neighbors, will now get a huge boost with the creation of both the AIIB and more specialized investment vehicles such as the Maritime Silk Road Bank and the Silk Road Fund. While the AIIB has had the flashiest rollout with China contributing $50 billion USD to a planned $100 billion USD in capital, the other two funds are no slouches: the Silk Road Fund has plans for $40 billion USD in capital, while the Maritime Silk Road Bank hopes to attract $100 billion RMB in investment.

Finally, unmentioned in authoritative Chinese sources is that the Maritime Silk Road, and especially Chinese infrastructure investment, is implicitly intended to facilitate more frequent People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployments in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The PLAN needs reliable logistics chains across Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) throughout Southeast and South Asia; ships cannot go far without a reliable supply of fuel, food, and armaments. But for the foreseeable future, China is at a serious disadvantage in this regard: the US Navy and allied navies have such a preponderance of force and ability to project power throughout the region that the PLAN is ill-equipped to compete. Given the PLANs current capabilities, China’s logistics capacity would only be dependable during peacetime; they would not survive in a contested environment, particularly if the US decided to close off key chokepoints like the Malacca and Sunda Straits. Therefore, the first step to strengthen the PLAN’s capabilities is to build reliable logistical infrastructure in key friendly states, such as the aforementioned projects in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. These logistical links would still be quite vulnerable in a conflict scenario, given the tenuous relationship China would have with even putatively friendly countries if China went to war. Therefore, the primary benefit for the PLAN is to demonstrate presence in peacetime, and to show that it can operate far from its own shores.

The Maritime Silk Road, along with the attendant Silk Road Economic Belt, is truly a multi-headed dragon, so large that it is difficult to disaggregate its many parts. The most difficult challenge for China, however, will not be building infrastructure and signing trade deals—these are no doubt massive undertakings, but they are fundamentally instrumental tasks that will not receive much opposition from countries in the region. The more difficult objective for China is translating investment and trade into building a coalition of states in the region that align their values and foreign policy goals with those of China, and indeed identify with China at the expense of competitors like the US. China will likely find this kind of bandwagoning hard to pull off—when it comes down to it, the Maritime Silk Road may wash away like sand.

William Yale is the Director of Operations at CIMSEC, an Adjunct Fellow at the American Security Project, and a Research Associate at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute.