Tag Archives: China


Blue Economy: An Agenda for the Indian Government

Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India and Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius, during their meeting on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of the former in May 2014 in New Delhi, agreed to increase cooperation in ‘maritime security, renewable energy, and the blue-economy, including development of related infrastructure’. Earlier, Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure had stated that his country was ‘working closely with India on developing the Blue Economy concept’ and that both countries had accorded high priority to issues like ‘maritime pollution and overfishing that impact the Indian Ocean’.

Before going any further, it is important to understand ‘blue economy’. The idea of blue economy was argued during the Rio+20 preparatory meetings, where several Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) observed that ‘Green Economy’ had limited relevance for them; instead, ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’ was a good concept and most suitable for the sustainable development and management of ocean resources.

A number of countries have included blue economy in their national strategy and have published white papers and official documents. For instance, China has long followed this idea and has instituted Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which monitors progress of various marine sectors. China’s State Council has published a White Paper on the subject which notes that the Chinese maritime economy grew at 17 per cent annually in the 1980s, and 20 per cent in the 1990s. In January 2013, China released the 12th Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which notes that the marine economy is expected to grow at 8 per cent annually up to 2015, generate 2.6 million new jobs, and could be about 10 per cent of the national GDP.

Likewise, the European Union has announced its ‘Blue Growth’ strategy for sustainable development of marine and maritime sectors to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is estimated that it would result in nearly 5.4 million jobs and a gross added value of about €500 billion annually and generate sustainable jobs and growth. In the Indian context, the idea of blue economy is yet to develop. There are as many as 17 different agencies whose mandate includes matters maritime/marine; ironically, there is no synergy among them partly due to the absence of an overarching agency to facilitate dialogue among these agencies.

SeychellesDuring his first address to the newly constituted 16th Lok Sabha, President Pranab Mukherjee outlined major policy priorities of the new government over the next five years which included setting up of the National Maritime Authority (NMA), an apex body, to address coastal security concerns. This is a significant initiative and addresses gaps in coastal security and would help prevent terrorist attacks from the sea similar to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008. It is equally important to harness the seas to enhance the maritime power potential of the country. A multi-disciplinary maritime advisory body can help bring together a number of national / state bodies and can help formulate a maritime vision, draw up plans and coordinate economic, environmental and security activities in the maritime domain which can then work to ‘craft a National Maritime Security Policy’. This could then be integrated with the maritime strategy which would automatically ‘reinforce maritime security’.

Taking this argument further, Prime Minister Modi’s announcement to do away with the eight-member Planning Commission and set up a larger think tank that accommodates the states to do the ‘big thinking and thinking for the future’ could explore the possibility of constituting a group of specialists under a maritime think tank to develop a blueprint for growth of blue economy.

Mauritius and Seychelles are important island nations in the Indian Ocean and have made a strong case for blue economy as an important pillar of their national development strategy. As noted earlier, their leaders have passionately argued about their commitment to sustainable exploitation of living and non-living marine resources and deep seabed minerals to enhance food and energy security. However, these countries are constrained by a number of technological and investment limitations for the development of the maritime sector which is critical for their economic growth and look towards India or even China for support.

At another level, the high decibel security discourse in the Indian Ocean centered on asymmetric threats and challenges appears to have swamped the idea of blue economy and pushed it to the back burner. There is no doubt that security is critical for sustainable development of sea based resources, it will be useful for India, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka to jointly promote the idea of blue economy in the Indian Ocean and keep environment and ecology high on the agenda.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com. This article was cross-posted by permission and appeared in its original form at India’s National Maritime Foundation

Sorry, our training only covers military assaults, not sexual ones.

American Strategy in the 21st Century: Maritime Power and China – Part I

American strategic thought should center on war with China, a near-peer competitor who aims to expel U.S. military power from the Western Pacific in order to achieve regional hegemony.[1] U.S. leaders need strategic options on how best to engage, deter and ultimately defeat China. The geography of the region demands a maritime focus, and as policy makers have decided to “pivot” to Asia, it is incumbent on them to decide how best to posture American power. Maritime power will be the deciding factor in this conflict.
This is not to say that a conflict with China is inevitable or desired. Yet the responsibility of policy makers, military planners and national security experts is to consider and plan accordingly for conflict. Not assuming that war will come will mean the fight will be longer, harder and more costly – and more in doubt.

In the last half of the 20th Century, American maritime power was the centerpiece in a policy of containment against Communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union left the U.S. Navy as the uncontested power on the world’s oceans. [2] Power projection and unrestricted use of the sea lanes enabled the U.S. to fight two sustained land wars for more than ten years. Our pivot toward Asia, demands we build our future maritime power capabilities and platforms around our strategy.

War with China must be an immediate concern. The stage is already set for America to be drawn into conflict now, while she is underprepared. Consider the following scenario:

Late 2014
The conclusion of the 18th Chinese Party Congress in November 2012 did not soothe growing ethnic and economic tensions in China.[3] A stalled world economic recovery reduced demand for Chinese-made goods, creating an unemployment crisis in a country where employment is “guaranteed.” Ethnic tensions spilled over in many western and rural provinces and the state security and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) wavered between accommodating and cracking down. Sensing the Communist Party was losing its “Mandate from Heaven”,[4] it initiated a series of territorial disputes with Asian neighbors in the hopes of spurring nationalism. In late 2014, PRC law enforcement vessels of the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) agency placed water barriers around Scarborough Reef, a disputed shoal claimed by the Philippines and the PRC. An amphibious craft over the horizon with prefabricated construction materials set up a small “Maritime Surveillance Outpost” on pylons manned by marines and “fishery law enforcement” officers. Lacking a meaningful navy, and the stomach to fight, the Philippine government filed protests at the United Nations (UN) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The U.S. ignored quiet feelers put out by the Philippine government about military support for a response, and the PRC noted the lack of a forceful U.S. reaction to the aid their treaty ally.
After a brief “high” from their triumph, the economic situation continued to worsen through 2015. The Communist leadership looked closer to home for another diversion. In the East China Sea, just north of Taiwan, the PRC and Japan were locked in a territorial dispute over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. Noting the lack of support Washington gave the Philippines, China waited until the carrier USS George Washington was back in its home port of Yokosuka, Japan undergoing regular maintenance. With the absence of a transiting carrier strike group, hundreds of fishing boats loaded with PLA Navy [PLA(N)] marines come ashore and hastily build a “Maritime Surveillance Outpost” on two of the larger islands. The few Japanese Coast Guard ships could not prevent the landing and soon the islands were occupied with marines and light artillery. Tokyo showed more resolve, and vowed to retake the “home territory.” To the surprise of the American leadership, Japan invoked the mutual defense treaty with the United States, and America’s political leadership faced its worst nightmare: a conflict with China.[5]

Chinese marine forces practice a beach assault during the Mission Action 2013 exercise.
Chinese marine forces practice a beach assault during the Mission Action 2013 exercise.


Strategy and Maritime Power
We begin by making a series of assumptions. First, the policy of the United States is to remain the preeminent world power. Relative decline need not be indicative of retreat from global leadership; America will continue to oppose usurpation by one or more powers whose interests do not largely coincide with our own. A multi-polar world is more dangerous, not less.

Second, America will seek to maintain a qualitative military edge over peer competitors, enabling it to be capable of protecting national security interests worldwide. Finally, American policy will seek to ensure continued global economic integration and will fund a military large and capable enough to secure the global commons.
In order to meet these assumptions, U.S. strategy must navigate a series of challenges in North Africa, the Middle East and Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. All of these are potential flashpoints of military conflict that could escalate, but only one – China – has the ability to fundamentally alter America’s position in the world and take her place as the preeminent power. The ability of America to respond hinges on maritime power.

The nature of American maritime power has evolved over time, as outlined in 1954 by Samuel Huntington. During the Continental Phase, from the founding to 1890, the Navy played a subordinate role, primarily responsible for coastal defense, protecting American commerce and during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, performing blockading functions and amphibious operations. Beginning in 1890 through the end of World War II, the Oceanic Phase, the United States began to project its power and interests overseas. Maritime policy and thinking was largely influenced by Alfred Thayer Mahan. He argued that the “true mission of the navy was acquiring command of the sea through the destruction of the enemy fleet.” To secure command of the sea, the nation required a stronger battle fleet. This doctrine was largely accepted by the Great Powers, including Japan.[6]

The third phase, the Transoceanic Phase, has seen maritime power orient away from the open ocean and toward the littorals. Even Admiral Nimitz would note that the reduction of enemy targets on land “is the basic objective of warfare,” not the destruction of the enemy fleet. The purpose of maritime power since the end of World War II is to “utilize command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land.” In a sense, Mahan has been replaced by Sir Julian Corbett.[7]

Maritime power has distinct advantages for policy makers. It is the most politically viable option to posture military forces and respond to challenges without the need for a large land presence. Foreign powers, coalition partners and allies(and the local populations) prefer regular port visits, exercises and training engagements than the permanent stationing of troops. The American public has also cooled to the idea of large battalions stationed overseas. As the public has also grown more casualty-averse, policy makers need more time to prepare the public for the eventual introduction of land forces and the potentially large number of casualties. The nature of a maritime conflict – slow to escalate – provides the political leadership the most critical of elements in any conflict: time.
Maritime power should not be confused as “Navy-only,” or even “Navy-Air Force-only.” Land forces play a critical role. As Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie[8] noted, “The ultimate determinant in war is the man on the scene with the gun…This is the soldier.” Land operations are critical in a conflict where the littorals play a central role. The hypothetical scenario above is an example.

Space and cyberspace are newer elements of maritime power. Modern navigation, intelligence gathering and communication, including the Internet, rely on satellite technology and architecture. In the mid to late 1990s, the U.S. military began reconfiguring itself for network-centric operations, linking combat platforms and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) assets. At sea, this is critical to Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). The backbone of a networked military is the satellite and cyberspace architecture and is vital to joint operations.

The Dual Nature of War
Before considering conflict with China, we have to consider the nature of war itself. War is dichotomous, being fought principally on land, or with both land and maritime elements.[9] John Arquilla[10] identified that in land wars, skill was the primary factor which determined victory or defeat, while in wars involving land-sea powers, maritime power was the determining factor.

Land powers which initiate wars with land-sea powers tend to lose, often because they inflate their own naval capabilities and lack the requisite experience in naval operations. 16th Century France and 19th-20th Century Germany are two examples. Both were continental powers that began a program of naval expansion with the intent to challenge the British at sea and reach a position of dominance. Both entered conflicts with Britain, only to find that their newly expanded navies did not perform as expected. Their naval bureaucracies retreated from the offensive doctrines in order to protect their new – and very expensive – fleets. Once hostilities commenced, they turned from offensive operations to a guerre de course (commerce raiding), a defensive naval strategy. However, their peacetime advocacy of an offensive naval doctrine made conflict more likely, not less.[11]

About the Author
LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of the United States Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or the U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.


[1] For a more thorough view, see John J. Mearsheimer’s article “Can China Rise Peacefully?” at The National Interest, April 8, 2014, available at: http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/can-china-rise-peacefully-10204.

[2] Peter M. Swartz, Center for Naval Analysis, personal communication, November 8, 2012.

[3] For example, see “China’s Achilles Heel” in The Economist, April 21, 2012: http://www.economist.com/node/21553056 ; “Unrest in China – A dangerous year” also in The Economist, January 28, 2012: http://www.economist.com/node/21543477. Also, see “Uighurs and China’s Xinjiang Region” in Council on Foreign Relations, May 29, 2012: http://www.cfr.org/china/uighurs-chinas-xinjiang-region/p16870.

[4] For more on the concept of the “mandate of heaven,” see Perry, E. J. “Challenging the mandate of heaven: popular protests in modern China.” Critical Asian Studies 33, no. 2 (2001): 163-180.

[5] See “Treaty with Japan covers islets in China spat: U.S. official” (Reuters) September 20, 2012, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/20/us-china-japan-usa-idUSBRE88J1HJ20120920

[6] Huntington, Samuel P. “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy. Proceedings 80 no. 5 (1954).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wylie, J.C. Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1967. Pg. 72.

[9] Air power is a major component of both land and land-sea war and hence, is not treated separately.

[10] Arquilla, John. Dubious Battles: Agression, Defeat and the International System. Washington, DC: Crane Russak, 1992. Pg. 131.

[11] Ibid. pp. 99-129


Base for The P-8? The View from Malaysia

There’s been a fair bit of reporting regarding U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Greenert’s supposed remarks that Malaysia was offering a base in East Malaysia for deploying US Navy P-8s. Despite the U.S. Navy clarifying his remarks and saying they’ve been taken out of a context, the “base offer” seems too good a story for the U.S. media to pass on. Unfortunately many of the reports miss the dynamics of how U.S.-Malaysia military cooperation actually works, as to anyone familiar with such the notion of Malaysia allowing the United States to regularly stage surveillance missions out of its airbases is fairly laughable.

The fact is, except under the ambit of the Five Power Defence Arrangement, every military cooperation activity by Malaysia with a foreign country is agreed to on a case-by-case basis. So the United States would have to ask for approval for, at a minimum, every deployment with no guarantee that Malaysia will approve. It might be hard for those outside the military-defence circle here to accept but military cooperation activities between Malaysia and other countries can often ad-hoc based on opportunities provided by a deployment that takes place close to or in the vicinity of Malaysia. For instance, last year when the U.S.S. Boxer was transiting through the Malacca Straits with no engagement activity or exercises with Malaysia planned, the United States then decided to offer to fly Malaysian military and defence officials via V-22 Ospreys to the ship to see U.S. Marines capabilities onboard and engage in briefings and discussions, an offer which was then accepted. Similarly in June last year, when the French LPD F.N.S. Tonnerre was on a deployment tour in the region, France put in a request to Malaysia’s Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) for an amphibious landing exercise but JFHQ declined, saying it was tied up with the ongoing CARAT 2013 exercise with the United States but referred the French to the Malaysian Army Headquarters who could accommodate the request.

800px-P_8A_touches_down_at_Pax_RiverThese two examples illustrate that Malaysia’s military cooperation activities with other countries are often on an as-and-when basis, rather than occurring as part of a highly formalized arrangement. As Malaysia wishes to preserve its ambit of neutrality, any activity has to be offered in such a manner so that Malaysia can decide whether to allow it based on such criteria and whether the timing is suitable – requests to do something during the fasting month of Ramadan or the Eid Fitri celebration period for instance are typically going to be denied.

Indeed at the Asian Naval Warfare Conference in Kuala Lumpur on September 10, which was open to the media although very little media showed up, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, Commander U.S. 7th Fleet, directly addressed the matter:

“There’s no formal treaty with respect to Malaysia as far as military operations. In fact, we conduct operations with the Malaysian military on a case-by-case basis, when permission is granted. We have a lot of subject matter exchanges including in the maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft area so we’re doing more and more work in that regard, but that is not a formal policy document that says ‘hey, this is what we’re going to do and this is when we’re going to do it,’ this is really Admiral Kamarul [Vice Admiral Kamarulzaman, Deputy Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) Chief who was the senior RMN officer at the conference] and Robert Thomas saying, ‘hey what about this,’ and ‘can we get diplomatic clearance and permission to go work these exercises and this training.’”

And it’s not as if P-8s, or for that matter P-3 Orions, have not flown in and out of RMAF bases in the past in East Malaysia. Check out any Malaysian planespotting forum and you’ll see plenty of evidence, all related to cooperation activity and exercises between Malaysia and the United States. Part of the reason the United States is keen to have the P-8 Poseidon go to Malaysia is to highlight its capabilities to the Malaysian military given that Malaysia has long had an outstanding requirement for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft, and the P-8 could fill it.

Which raises another point, the ready assumption that anything to do with U.S. surveillance aircraft in East Malaysia has to be in regard to China. The fact is that Malaysia also has concerns on the state of security on the east coast of the state of Sabah in East Malaysia, which since last year’s incursion by Sulu separatists has also been plagued by cross-border kidnappings by various groups from the Philippines so a P-8 or P-3 going to East Malaysia may not necessarily be doing surveillance in an area where China operates. It’s not surprising that when the United States offers a chance for Malaysian personnel to fly aboard and see the P-8’s capabilities, Malaysia would opt to use the familiarization flight to gauge how it performs in an area where the country expects to do the bulk of its maritime surveillance mission.

p-8-weapons-bayStill, for some in the media it makes a nice story to say that Malaysia is offering the United States a base to stage P-8 flights as an attempt to counterbalance China and in response to Chinese maneuvers near East Malaysia and its waters. But the reality is that the Malaysian government hasn’t very much changed its position that it can resolve issues diplomatically with China. The New York Times report quoting “a senior Asian diplomat” saying that Malaysia has been in discussion with the United States on such has to be considered in context. There are some Asian countries that might see it as advantageous to draw a wedge between Malaysia and China, and thus tell the media something that may not be true for such a purpose. It also illustrates the danger of relying on a single source to determine the truth.

The Malaysian government is very much aware of how stretched the Malaysian Armed Forces are to cover the area in question. Allowing the United States to set up in East Malaysia for the purpose of monitoring China would only provoke the Chinese to step up their activities in the area, further taxing the RMN and RMAF, which makes it counter-productive, without mentioning the (domestic) political infeasibility. Unfortunately this type of context is seldom visible to those writing from Washington or New York, leading to narrative displaced from reality.

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defence journalist based in Malaysia and a regular writer on the Malaysian military and defence developments in Malaysia for a number of international defence publications groups including IHS Janes, Shephard Media, Mönch Publishing Group and Ventura Media.


Maritime Silk Road: Through a New Periscope

It was the Maldives’s turn to receive a sermon on the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) from China. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen to participate in the 21st Century MSR, expand cooperation in tourism, trade and infrastructure, and enhance maritime cooperation. Apparently Yameen assured Xi that his country would “respond to the Chinese initiative.” Ali Hameed, former vice foreign minister of the Maldives, too had stated that the MSR was of interest to the Maldives. Earlier, Xi had approached Sri Lanka to consider the MSR, and Colombo indicated that it would actively examine the proposal. The MSR was also raised during Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to China a few months ago.

Unlike in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the MSR has sent the Indian strategic community into a tizzy. A number of articles, commentaries, op eds, discussions and sound bites have concluded that the MSR is nothing but a Chinese ploy to get a naval ‘foothold’ in the Indian Ocean and reflects China’s creeping influence in the region. These reactions are quite natural given that China has aggressively pursued the agenda of building maritime infrastructure in friendly countries such as Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and now the Maldives – that are seen as bases/facilities to support People’s Liberation Army Navy’s future operations in the Indian Ocean and also the Chinese attempt to ‘encircle’ India.

However, it will be useful to examine the MSR through the prism of maritime infrastructure development and explore if India can leverage the MSR to its advantage. China has developed a sophisticated concept of marine economy that has been facilitated by its long coastline. Nearly 40 per cent of the Chinese population, 5 per cent of cities, 70 per cent of GDP, 84 per cent of direct foreign investment and export products are generated within 200 km of coast. In 1998, the Chinese government published a White Paper on marine economy which identified twenty different sectors for the development of the national economy. The China Ocean Information Center announced that the marine output in 2013 grew 7.6 per cent year on year to 5.43 trillion Yuan ($ 876 billion) accounting for 9.5 per cent of the national economy. In essence, the coastal provinces have contributed substantially to the overall national strength in terms of economic growth and play an important role in developing an export-oriented economy.

Today, China figures among the top countries in shipbuilding, ports (particularly container cargo), shipping, development of offshore resources, inland waterways, marine leisure tourism, and not to forget it is one of the top suppliers of human resources who are employed by international shipping companies.

mahinda-rajapakse-backs-chinas-maritime-silk-road-projectChina’s shipbuilding capacity is notable and is supported by plentiful of cheap labour and domestic ancillary industry which is endowed with exceptional engineering skills. Seven of the top ten global container ports are in China and the Chinese shipping fleet of 6,427 vessels ranks second behind Japan with 8,357 ships. Similar successes are seen in China’s fisheries production which is projected to reach about 69 metric tonnes by 2022 and it will continue to be top world exporter with 10 metric tonnes by 2022. Likewise, China ranked third as a tourist destination in 2012. The coastal regions are dotted with marinas, water sport parks and beach resorts and Sanya, Qingdao and Xiamen are home to the growing yacht and luxury boating industry.

These capabilities have been built over the past few decades and has placed China among the major maritime powers of the world and top Asian maritime powers – beating both Japan and South Korea. China is leveraging these capabilities and offering to develop maritime infrastructure in friendly countries that are willing to accept the offer – which at times makes an attractive investment opportunity, and can help these exploit the seas to enhance economic growth, and ensure food and energy security.

There is a sea change in the maritime strategic thinking of China and India. While the former has harnessed the seas to build its power potential, the latter needs to undertake a strategic evaluation of its maritime potential. India needs to make major policy changes to develop maritime infrastructure, offshore resources and exploit these on a sustainable basis. Although India is pursuing the path of building a modern three-dimensional navy with nuclear submarines, a new appreciation of the multifaceted maritime economic activity needs New Delhi’s attention.

India lacks maritime infrastructure and technology to exploit offshore marine organic, mineral and hydrocarbon resources that are critical to ensure sustained economic growth – which is high on the current government’s agenda. It would therefore be prudent to understand the MSR through the prism of an opportunity.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com. This article was cross-posted by permission and appeared in its original form at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies


Sea Control 50 – Japan’s Defense Policy

seacontrol2Get ready to hear two Asia Pacific analysts share their views on Japan’s remilitarisation and its implications for regional security. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, interviews Dr Tomohiko Satake, a fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo and visiting fellow at ASPI, and Dr Benjamin Schreer, a senior analyst in defence strategy at ASPI. Both analysts discuss the drivers behind the recent decision to reinterpret Japan’s constitution, the implications of Japan’s new white paper, and relations with China and Australia.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 50 – Japan’s Defense Policy

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Playing Wild Cards in the SCS

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a South China Sea simulation held by the International Peace and Security Institute at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Over at the ASPI’s The Strategist I detail some lessons from the simulated negotiations over developing a joint communique. In the run-up to the exercise I asked colleagues on Twitter and in the CIMSEC Facebook group to suggest “wild cards” that could be played to shake-up the talks. Unfortunately many of these turned out to be outside my bounds as a country representative from Vietnam (or really any country’s representative) to enact.  

But, not one to let their creative thinking go to waste, I thought I’d take a moment to assess their likelihood of impacting and altering the negotiations in a fundamental way. These are not judgments on the likelihood of whether such a scenario will occur – many are rather improbable, but they are after all called “wild” cards for a reason.

China’s South China Sea claim near the Natunas becomes a “pricklier” issue for Indonesia
Impact: Medium: A shift in Indonesia’s public position on whether it has an official dispute would add to the moral “weight” of those similarly embroiled, but it’s unclear China would alter its focus on bilateral negotiations as a result. Indonesia would lose something of its mantle of an impartial regional moderator. Taking it a step further and filing a case (or threatening to) with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) would potentially be more impactful as leverage.  

China “discovers” a link between Uighur and Moro terrorists in the Philippines
Impact: Low: If it doesn’t move beyond rhetoric or international arrest warrants, but China could use such a claim to spook the Philippines (and counter-insurgency American military advisors) into thinking it the link may be used as pretext for unilateral action in defense of its interests.

China instigates a coup in the Philippines, followed by pro-Chinese government
Impact: High: A pro-Chinese government would potentially seek accommodation on disputed areas and be more willing to cede claims – whether territorial or for resource exploitation. 

Wild CardChina tries to split claimants by making deal with Philippines but pressing Vietnam
Impact: Medium: While the opposite is probably more likely, if China settled its claims with the Philippines it could try to isolate Vietnam and exert greater leverage for concessions in an ultimate deal over resources and/or sovereignty. Unlike the Philippines, Vietnam sits outside of American treaty obligations and de-linking the issue from an American treaty could also remove some of the incentives for the United States to be as actively involved in resolution of the dispute.  

Chinese PLA hackers hold NYSE hostage
Impact: Low: The stock exchange has tools to suspend trading and minimize the impacts of a disruption while fixing the breaches. Public outcry could force the United States into a tougher negotiating posture.

Algae bloom wipes out fishing stocks and forces fishing fleets into others’ EEZs
Impact: Low: What would be the resultant effects and actions are essentially already ongoing.

ITLOS decides in favor of Philippines
Impact: Medium: Unlikely to alter China’s negotiating position, but would add to moral authority of other claimants and could cause outside parties to back the Philippines or file their own ITLOS claims.

Philippines attempts to ground another ship while China attempts to stop them
Impact: Medium: Depends on the outcome of these attempts and any casualties, but would alter focus of the negotiations and potentially provide Philippines leverage to get China to stop its own construction. 

Vietnamese vessels attack a Chinese rig / Chinese attack and sink a Philippines rig
Impact: Medium: Although Vietnam and Chinese non-naval vessels have tangled in limited engagements over China’s placement of a rig this summer, the destruction of a rig or a large number of casualties would greatly increase tensions. If these were followed by ultimatums they could back negotiators into corners, although the difference in outcome would still likely not be much different from the above scenario.

U.S. starts reporting SCS naval/civil dispositions to news orgs in real time
Impact: Low: The greater transparency would likely have little impact on the talks, but could provide negotiators a common point of reference (and I for one would enjoy tracking the movements).

Peace suddenly breaks out
Impact: High: Certainly changes everything.

“Three Warfares,” Yankee Style
Impact: Medium: If the United States tries to play to media, psychological, and legal warfare it could encourage the other claimants to make ITLOS cases, sign UNCLOS itself (presuming of course it could pass Congress), and declare that it will actively enforce ITLOS ruling when decided as pertains to treaty ally Philippines. On the media front, popular American television show Deadliest Catch could film its next season in the South China Sea, while a psychological approach could threaten to inundate disputed territory with the sounds of Justin Bieber. Combined, these approaches may make Chinese team more willing to negotiate…or just more resentful.

Thanks to Dan Hartnett, Bryan McGrath, Chris Rawley, Armando Heredia, M. Taylor Fravel, Theresa Fallon, Craig Hooper, Natalie Sambhi, and Doug Gates for their inputs.


Taiwan’s Defense: National Interests over Semantics

The Diplomat has recently brought us a debate on international law – centering on the legality of military intervention on behalf of Taiwan during a conflict with the PRC. Zachary Kech kicked off by proposing that Japan’s recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of their Constitution to permit collective self-defense could allow for Japan defending Taiwan in the event of an attacked from China. This was followed by Julian Ku arguing that intervention by any nation on behalf of Taiwan against the mainland would be illegal since Taiwan is neither definitively recognized as an independent nation nor a United Nations member. Michal Thim quickly refuted those claims in an article, which is followed again by Julian Ku coming back with some clarifications on personal opinions and reiterates the original argument. Finally, Michael Turton and Brian Benedictus co-authored a somewhat convoluted argument that actually Taiwan’s unsettled status as an independent nation makes military intervention acceptable.

With no disrespect meant toward the authors, the merits of discussing this point are mostly academic. Though the debate may be stimulating to those with an interest in the topic and some might learn more about the subject of international law as a result of it, it has little to no bearing on practicality.

One of the key questions present in all of the articles is if Taiwan is an independent nation or an extension of mainland China and how international law views each situation. Clearly arguments can be made in support of both positions or else we would not have so many articles written about it in the past couple of weeks, but does it really matter? Whatever semantics used to describe relationships with Taiwan or China, the U.S. has active relationships with both of them.

Money keeps this machine running
Money keeps this machine running

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China is currently the U.S.’s second largest goods trading partner with $562 billion in total goods trade during 2013 and Taiwan is currently the 12th largest with $64 billion in 2013. Would any of this change if the United Nations passed a resolution stating Taiwan was not an independent nation and officially a part of the larger mainland China? Of course not. Money, and more importantly national interests, will conquer over semantics any day.

Whether the U.S. or Japan would defend Taiwan if China decided to repatriate the island through military force should have nothing to do with semantics and everything to do with strategic interests. The strategic basis for protecting Taiwan or not is neither the subject of this article nor the debate at the Diplomat which inspired it. This article makes no comment as to should or would other nations protect Taiwan, but instead discusses could they.

There is so much talk about international law in the debate. International law, as opposed to simply international norms and conventions, has been in vogue since the fighting of two world wars and the founding of the United Nations. Why? Because law has an absolute and moral feel about it. If you are breaking the law then you are doing something wrong and others have a moral obligation to stop you. If you are following the law then you are doing something right and others have a moral obligation to support you. This grossly oversimplifies the complexities of international relations. Decisions are made to promote strategic national interests and all nations are not necessarily playing by the same moral and ethical code. In the domestic concept of law, you have a like peoples under a recognized government authority with enforcement power. This does not seamlessly translate to the international stage of co-equal governments with differing interests and no central authority with absolute enforcement power.

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If China decided tomorrow to repatriate Taiwan with military force and the U.S. and Japan intervened, would they be protecting a sovereign nation from an invading force or helping to liberate a people from a government they do not want? This semantic difference might matter when deciding what article of the United Nations charter you are going to try to use for propaganda to gain support for your cause or generate opposition for your enemies or what the victor who writes the history will use to justify their actions in the history books. But in all practicality, nations should base their use of force on national strategy and not semantics.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.