Tag Archives: China

China’s Maritime Policies: An Opportunity for Canada

China now regards some of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as part of its “core interests.”

By Joelle Westlund

In some ways overshadowed by events elsewhere in its maritime claims, China added fuel the regional fire that has characterized its relations with neighbouring states for the last several decades on July 10th. This time it did so by launching a naval exercise in the waters near the Zhoushan islands in the East China Sea. The maneuver comes as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) placed a ban on shipping and fishing vessels entering the designated exercise area. The CCP have chosen a heated time to send the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Navy to practice its ability to operate in contested waters. But the timing of this maneuver was far from fortuitous.

The exercise in the Zhoushan has been interpreted as a demonstration of China’s ability to specifically counter the claims on another set of islands in the East China Sea – Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese – that have been at the center of an ongoing row between China, Taiwan, and Japan. The territorial dispute over the islands recently resurfaced when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda offered to purchase the chain of islands from their private owners. University of Tokyo professor Akio Takahara pointed out that the offer was submitted in an attempt to “stabilize the situation […] not to escalate the situation.” Logistically, Japan’s acquisition of the island makes sense, given that its central government rents the three islands and keeps them protected through landing restrictions and access to nearby waters. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded curtly to the proposition by stating, “China’s holy territory is not ‘up for sale’ to anyone.” State-owned news agency, China Daily called for “more aggressive measures to safeguard its territorial integrity […] Should Japan continue to make provocative moves.”

The disputed islands are not the only quarrel in which China finds itself. The Asian superpower is currently locked in a wrangle with Vietnam and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Sovereignty claims to the islands are touchy since the islands are believed to provide rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil and gas reserves. The situation has escalated since the beginning of April when Chinese civilian vessels found themselves in a standoff with the Philippines Coast Guard. Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua stated, “The Chinese side has been urging the Philippine side to take measures to de-escalate the situation.” In response Philippine President Benigno Aquino ordered the withdrawal of its government vessels in “hope[s] this action will help ease the tension.” China, however, has yet to do the same as it still has seven maritime vessels encircling the Shoal and has rejected attempts to resolve the tiff through the employment of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as recommended by officials of Vietnam and the Philippines.

China is well versed in threatening navigational freedom in territorial waters, making countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia weary, since China appears to have set its sights on the Malacca Strait. The Strait is one of the most critical maritime choke points as over 1,000 ships a day pass through its channels that link the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. At the 10th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China’s Minister of Defence Liang Guanglie called for China to take a more active role over the management of the Strait of Malacca. For China, which relies on nearly 80 percent of its crude oil imports from the Middle East and Africa, security of the passage is crucial and military involvement offers the opportunity to mitigate terrorist and insurgency risks in the lanes.

But given China’s aggressive posture adopted towards its neighbours, expansion into the Strait warrants concern and suspicion from regional powers. Exactly how states should tackle China’s multiple squabbles dominated discussion among senior diplomats at ASEAN’s latest meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has continued to look to the United States to increase its role in the area to minimize tension and this year’s gathering echoed a similar appeal. China however, has expressed its distaste for U.S. involvement and “hyping” of the dispute, arguing, “This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and the U.S. because the U.S. doesn’t have claims over the South China Sea.”

A Role for Canada

To many Asian states, Canada represents an affluent and pluralistic country ripe with opportunity. Its diplomatic engagement in the region has predominately played a supportive and capacity-building role in maritime security initiatives. Canada has sought to expand its role in the area militarily and economically, and has done so most recently with Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s trip to Singapore. MacKay spent the weekend in talks with Asian defence ministers regarding the enlargement of a Canadian presence and toured potential sites for a ‘hub’ for Canadian military operations. 1,400 Canadian sailors, soldiers, and air force personnel will also be taking part in the biannual ‘Rim of the Pacific’ military exercises held from June 29 to August 3.

This involvement represents an important opportunity for Canada to demonstrate its commitment to the region, but even still, there needs to be a more concrete diplomatic engagement to secure relations. With announcements like U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s latest statement that 60 percent of the U.S. Navy fleet will be stationed in the Pacific by 2020, Canada must to buff up its presences before it loses out.

The disputes over the South China Sea, the Scarborough Shoal and the potential strain over the Malacca Strait, opens the door for Canada’s involvement. James Manicom of The Globe and Mailargues that Canada can use its status as an impartial dialogue partner to engage in regional track-two diplomacy. If Canada hopes to expand its economic relations in the region, such engagement outlined by Manicom is necessary. Canada currently stands as the ASEAN’s ninth largest investor and 13th largest trading partner, totaling over $1.6 and $9.8 billion, respectively. The Harper government needs to ditch the reluctance that has defined Canada-Asia relations and push for a peaceful resolution of the current disputes with China. Doing so would allow Canada to gain credibility in the region and supplement U.S.-Japanese-Philippine calls for stability. Further, as China continues its somewhat predacious behavior towards its neighbours, Canada can reassert itself as an agent of peace and diplomacy in the region.

Joelle Westlund is an Asia-Pacific Policy Analyst at The Atlantic Council of Canada. She is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Toronto. Joelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Toronto and has studied at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic as well as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only.

Blog cross-posted with our partners at the Atlantic Council of Canada

A Busy Week in the South China Sea

 

South China Sea Claims. The Economist

It’s been a busy week for the South China Sea. For those of you keeping score at home, these are some of the news stories we’ve been following:

 

1.      Post-ASEAN fall-out: After ASEAN failed last week to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years, Cambodia is looking to some in the region like a Chinese proxy playing the role of spoiler. Indonesia managed to salvage a version of the “code of conduct” for the South China Sea, a 6-point declaration to essentially work peacefully to implement existing maritime law and guidelines and avoid military confrontations: making progress by reaffirming the status quo.

 

2.      Beijing announces troop build-up in Paracels: On Monday, China said it would  send troops to guard its newly incorporated city of Sansha. The most likely location is the largest island, Woody Island/Yongxing. Fun fact – according to Chinese reports the city, home to 1,000 across various islands, already has a karaoke parlor up and running. Preparations for hosting the troops may take longer – the announcement and move is more symbolic than practical at this time.

 

3.      The Philippines and Vietnam Protest China’s moves: Manila summoned the Chinese ambassador to complain about the new garrison, while President Benigno Aquino took to the airwaves and decried Chinese provocations in an address to the nation. Meanwhile, Hanoi filed an official diplomatic complaint about the build-up in the Paracels, which it too claims. Both the Philippines and Vietnam however reiterated their desire for a diplomatic solution and stated they would not seek military confrontation.

 

Allies…but in arms?

4.      The International Crisis Group releases report on the SCS: Said the report: “The failure to reduce the risks of conflict, combined with the internal economic and political factors that are pushing claimants toward more assertive behaviour, shows that trends in the South China Sea are moving in the wrong direction.” Interestingly, the report also believes the Philippines made the wrong move in the recent Scarborough Shoal stand-off with China by sending in a naval vessel, thereby giving the Chinese an excuse to escalate, to play up nationalism to their domestic audience. The report also states the U.S. might not be obligated to assist the Philippines in the event of an attack in the South China Sea under the terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, as the U.S. has yet to make a formal statement whether the Spratleys and other disputed maritime areas are covered under the treaty’s terms.

 

5.      Taiwan to ship armament to the Spratleys: Taiwan has confirmed it will send a mix of mortars and artillery to Taiping, the largest of islands and host to a 130-strong Taiwanese force, in August. Fun fact – the total land mass of the 100 Spratley “islands” is less than 2 square miles.

 

6.      The Philippines ratifies a long-languishing Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Australia. “Although the agreement is not a defense pact, its symbolism cannot be lost on China,” President Benigno Arroyo said after the vote. The pact, however, has more to do with pursuing terrorists in the country’s muslim South – primarily the island of Mindanao.

 

No one of these stories points to a looming conflict, but taken together they provide context for what has been the increasing trend of looking towards military power for lack of a diplomatic progress.

While the Cat’s Away…

This is what I get for going on vacation. As always seems to befall the hosts of The Daily Show and Colbert Report, my absence appeared to correspond with a wealth of new material and events. Luckily my friends and colleagues in our blog roll on the right did a pretty decent job of covering most of the angles.

USNS Rappahannock

The shooting was certainly unfortunate, and was undoubtedly an action not taken lightly. But a student of history, the threat level in the region, and common sense cannot find fault with the actions of the crew in the circumstances. Driving at a naval vessel in close quarters and ignoring its warnings is akin to pointing something that looks like a weapon at a police officer and ignoring his warnings to put it down. As a former anti-terrorism officer I can attest that these types of scenarios were the last thing we wanted to encounter, but the rules were clear and the training thorough. While the outcome in this case is tragic, it is also understandable.

Trouble at Sea

Other tragedies struck the maritime community. In the mid-Atlantic, a fire broke out aboard the MSC Flaminia that set off an explosion killing two crew members and injuring more. In an echo of a ferry disaster in September that claimed 200 lives, another ferry sank en route to the Zanzibar archipelago off Tanzania’s coast. The latest count is at least 31 dead.

The Great Wall at Sea

There has been some positive maritime news. A Taiwanese vessel and its international crew (including 13 PRC nationals) have been “freed” (it’s unclear if any ransom was paid) and the crew taken to Tanzania by a Chinese naval vessel on a counter-piracy patrol. The fishing vessel, Shiuh Fu No. 1, has reportedly run aground.

A less fortunate Chinese frigate ran aground on Half Moon Shoal in the Philippine’s EEZ (not to be confused with its territorial waters, which would be a much bigger story) before refloating Sunday.

Speaking of China, the mainland managed to check off another country on its “maritime disputes with neighbors” punch card. Following similar disputes this year with Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and even North Korea, China is embroiled in fishing-fueled spat with Russia after 2 of its fishing vessels and 36 crewmembers were detained by Russia’s coast guard. One of the ships was taken in dramatic fashion, as the vessel was fired on and rammed by the Russians after its crewmembers resisted arrest for fishing in Russia’s EEZ. Whether China applies the same intense diplomatic pressure it did following Japan’s seizure of a Chinese fishing boat captain in 2010 remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Philippine’s government is apparently confused whether a flotilla of another 30 Chinese fishing boats under government escort is in fact in its territory, or not.

The Sinews of War

Fleet Admiral King – probably thinking about the challenge of getting from A to B.

I don’t know what the hell this “logistics” is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it.

– Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King to a Staff Officer, 1942

Carting around beans and bullets has never much interested me until recently. Of course, the Military Sealift Command has been on my mind due to the recent engagement of a suspicious vessel by the USNS Rappahannock. I’ve also been reading more about the Falklands War after my conversation with Scott Cheney-Peters on TheRiskyShift.com‘s “Debrief” and recently found an out-of-print book from the 1960s titled Conflict and Defense: A General Theory with a lot of smart things to say about military might. Finally, Undersecretary of the Navy The Honorable Bob Work has been weighing in on forward basing of ships over at Information Dissemination. Though they seem unconnected, all of this has led me to the following conclusions:

  1. You can’t claim to be a Navalist without having an interest in logistics. When we talk about future fleet composition, we’re not spending enough time talking about how we will support our combat ships and how many/what types of replenishment and pre-positioning ships we need.
  2. If you’re looking for a single measure of national power, the size of a country’s merchant marine is a good place to start, but:
  3. The globalization of the shipping industry both affects this last measure and may make large conventional wars less likely.

The Falklands War is a clear example of what Scott calls “The Tyranny of Distance.” The further a state has to go to get to the fight, the less combat power they will be able to apply in that fight. Part of the reason Argentina decided to invade the Falklands in the first place was that they believed that they were so far away from Britain, whose military power (and some would argue, national power) was on the decline. Few believed the British could sustain military operations so far from home – and with good reason. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) could only muster 22 ships with around 120,000 tons combined displacement to sustain a naval task force, a brigade of Royal Marines, an army brigade, and other ground, air, and special operations forces.

The famous RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 converted for wartime service under “Operation Corporate.” Photo: Andy Shaw.

One of the reasons for Britain’s success was the rapid signing of the Requisition of Ships Order of 1982 and the launch of “Operation Corporate” – the rapid conversion of civilian ships to aid the RFA. Virtually overnight, Britain quintupled its replenishment and sealift tonnage. These ships were indispensable to the war effort, allowing the British to concentrate far more military strength in the Falklands theater than many outside observers anticipated. This is why I think a country’s merchant marine is a critical measure of national power – military forces rarely invest enough in logistics capabilities during peacetime. Once a crisis erupts, countries with robust merchant fleets can quickly convert them for wartime use. Great powers need to respond globally, and sometimes that will require surging logistics forces during a crisis.

The United States operates under the tyranny of distance every day. Perhaps that’s why we’ve become insensitive to our logistics forces – we rely on them so often. And we have such a professional and robust force in the Military Sealift Command that the merchant marine becomes an afterthought. But our merchant marine has shrunk drastically since the 1940s. It’s telling that the United States lost 733 merchant ships greater than 1,000 tons displacement in World War II – our current merchant marine stands at only 393 ships according to the CIA World Factbook. I’m not advocating for a return to a 6,000 ship merchant marine, but this historical perspective should spur us to ask the question: do we need more sealift capability in reserve? What kinds of policies might increase our merchant fleet? And comparatively, when we talk about China, we rarely note that it has the largest merchant marine of any great power at 2030 ships.

Going down the rabbit hole further, I find it interesting that our National Defense Reserve Fleet – the ships in “mothballs” – is shrinking significantly. According to a report published in May, the US Maritime Administration is planning to dispose of 34 of 142 ships, with the potential for more down the road. Most of the vessels being disposed of are some kind of bulk carrier or tanker.

Forward basing definitely mitigates some logistics challenges. According to Conflict and Defense by Kenneth Boulding, a Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, forward bases can actually reverse the tyranny of distance – so powerful is their influence. Students of Mahan know this argument well. Forward basing is also the sensible posture to assume in times of austerity, allowing more operational use to be had from a smaller number of ships without completely burning out equipment or people. But we must consider the future of our logistics capability, particularly the reserves from which we might surge during a crisis.

Finally, a thought on globalization: with the rise of multinational shipping companies and the prevalence of flags of convenience, I think that conventional wars between great powers – particularly invasions across the seas – might be far less likely. In this sense, the decline of national merchant marines might offer some security advantages. Famed international relations theorist John Mearsheimer coined the term “the stopping power of water.” With countries less able to mobilize the logistics capability to transport large numbers of ground troops, great powers (like, perhaps, the United States and China) will be less able to invade one another.

What do you think: does the United States need more logistics forces? Should the United States seek to grow its merchant marine? How? What does China’s large merchant marine say about its national ambitions? This is a conversation worth having…

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. 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.