Tag Archives: Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute

Communist China’s Approach to Force: 1962 Lessons for the Senkaku Islands?

By Alex Calvo

Given the continued tensions in the East and South China Seas, and the constant speculation on whether Beijing may choose to escalate, it can be useful to have a look at how the PRC has traditionally resorted to force, and in particular the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

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Professor Brahma Chellaney wrote an interesting summary of Communist China’s approach to war, based on that conflict, which saw the Chinese Army penetrate deeply into India for 32 days, after which “Beijing announced a unilateral ceasefire, and the war ended as abruptly as it had begun. Ten days later, the Chinese began withdrawing from the areas they had penetrated on India’s eastern flank, between Bhutan and Burma, but they kept their territorial gains in the West—part of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. India had suffered a humiliating rout, and China’s international stature had grown substantially”. The six principles displayed were:

  • Surprise. As already advised by Sun Tzu, who wrote that all warfare was “based on deception”.

  • Concentration, “hitting as fast and as hard as possible”.

  • First Strike.

  • Waiting, and choosing the right moment.

  • Camouflaging offence as defence, engaging in “defensive counterattacks”.

  • Daring. A tendency to gamble and take risks.

When it comes to the Senkaku Islands, a question is whether these principles may be employed, in the form of an airborne or seaborne landing of troops or a mixed force of military personnel and “activists”, bypassing the Coastguard units shielding them and taking advantage of the lack of land forces.

Aerial view of the Senkaku Islands
Aerial view of the Senkaku Islands

Concerning surprise, we can see a clear distinction between 1962 and this scenario in terms of strategic surprise. Beijing is announcing every day that she wants the Senkaku, and not making any effort at all to pretend that she is only ready to resort to non-violent means. No ambiguity here, therefore no strategic surprise is being sought. At the tactical level, on the other hand, there is no surprise either in the constant harassment at the hands of paramilitary assets or “civilian” expeditions, but this could be a cover behind which to prepare a landing by military or other government personnel. It is here that surprise may lie, since Beijing may try to take advantage of the presumption that it is only unarmed activists who try to land, inserting an armed force, maybe by air.

With regard to concentration, the nature of the islands means that this principle would not be applicable in exactly the same sense as it was in 1962. Rather than hitting “as fast and as hard as possible”, as Chellaney explains China did against India, the goal would be still be to do it as swiftly as possible but not as hard as possible, rather the contrary, since the idea would be to avoid a clash with the Japanese Coast Guard or other government agencies. Beijing’s goal would be to force Tokyo to take the always difficult decision in a democracy to fire the first shot.

When it comes to striking first, again we have to note an essential difference. Beijing would still be interested in surprise, as already noted, that is she would try to make the first move (and by definition she would, since the islands are already in Japanese hands) but not to shoot first. This would be a major difference with 1962 or with the 1979 “lesson” against Vietnam.

The idea that an attack should be launched at the right time, with a view to a favourable worldwide state of affairs, remains as relevant as ever. This is linked to one of Beijing’s imperatives, preventing the US from coming to Japan’s aid. It would also involve other, regional, powers however. China has a need to keep an eye on Russia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India, among others. It must be said, concerning this, that while it is true that Beijing has usually been smart to launch its limited offensives at the right time (this includes the seizure of the Paracel Islands, occupation of Johnson Reef, and capture of Mischief Reef), when it comes to Japan she miscalculated in 2010. Beijing imposed an embargo on rare earths exports in reaction to the arrest of a trawler’s skipper, not only failing to secure any objective beyond his release but unleashing a major effort to implement alternative technologies, recycle, seek new suppliers, and even explore seabed deposits. The result is that Japan has significantly cut down her dependence on Chinese rare earths.

Japanese air patrol over the Senkaku Islands
Japanese air patrol over the Senkaku Islands

The tendency to carry out “defensive counterattacks” seems to be a constant in Chinese behaviour, which Chellaney reminds his readers had already been noted by the Pentagon in its 2010 report on “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” to Congress. This report lists a number of instances where Beijing chose to seize the initiative, while framing her actions in a “response” narrative. In a way this is already been happening in the Senkaku Islands, since after each incident Beijing not only rejects Japanese protests but actually issues her own, saying that they are part of her territory and that therefore it is Japanese units which are trespassing. The text also points out how Chinese doctrine calls for waiting for the enemy to strike first, while defining that first strike in political, not necessarily military, terms. Thus it is fine to be the first to resort to force in reaction to a political offensive. The report quotes from “the authoritative work, Science of Military Strategy,” to explain that “Striking only after the enemy has struck does not mean waiting for the enemy’s strike passively.… It doesn’t mean to give up the ‘advantageous chances’ in campaign or tactical operations, for the ‘first shot’ on the plane of politics must be differentiated from the ‘first shot’ on that of tactics… if any country or organization violates the other country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the other side will have the right to ‘fire the first shot’ on the plane of tactics.'”

Would this doctrine be compatible with a sneak landing on the Senkaku Islands? It could fit with it if we expanded it to comprise three, as opposed to two planes. The first one would still be the political, with Beijing claiming (as she does) that the islands are hers and that therefore the Japanese are invaders, a position made much easier to sustain by Tokyo’s reluctance to develop the islands, thus contradicting her claims that not only do they belong to the country but that there is no territorial dispute. The second one, where Beijing would be taking the initiative, would be the “tactical-cold” one, that is the employment of force (in the sense of deploying military or paramilitary personnel in violation of Japan’s borders but without inflicting casualties). Finally, the third would be the “tactical-hot,” that is the actual employment of weapons with live fire, where China would rather have Japan be the first to shoot, in the knowledge that it is difficult for democracies to take such decisions and thus in the hope that Tokyo would refrain from doing it or that, if she did, this could be used to Beijing’s advantage on the propaganda and diplomacy fronts.

Finally, with regard to China’s tendency to gamble and take risks, Chellaney notes that this could be furthered by her “second-strike nuclear capability and unprecedented economic and conventional military strength.” In addition to these two powerful factors, we could perhaps mention two additional ones, whose impact is less clear cut but which may nevertheless have some influence: a possible economic crisis and popular demand for the seizing of the Islands. Concerning a crisis, a growing number of voices are alerting about the possibility that the country’s uninterrupted economic growth may sooner or later be brought to a halt. Whether that would prompt a more cautious foreign policy or on the contrary whet Beijing’s appetite for adventures is open to debate. With regard to her domestic public opinion, Beijing is playing a dangerous game by pushing so hard for the Senkaku Islands and thus risking becoming a prisoner of her own narrative. This brings to mind Hugh Bicheno’s comment, in his unofficial history of the Falklands War, that territorial conflicts may be useful to “distract the masses,” but that this “creates an issue others will exploit to question the Nationalist credentials of whoever is refraining from recovering the lost lands.”

We can thus conclude that Communist China’s traditional approach to force, as exemplified by the 1962 War, means a clear danger that Beijing will try to seize the Senkaku Islands by inserting forces and daring Tokyo to be the first to open fire.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan) focusing on security and defence policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. A member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank, he is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. He tweets @Alex__Calvo and his work can be found here.

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No Deadliest Catch 10th Season: Returns as Somali Spin-Off

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here

 

DeadliestSILVER SPRING, MD—After a series of logistical challenges filming Deadliest Catch in the South China Sea, the Discovery Channel announced a new spin-off series set off the Somali coast to replace the show for 2014 in what would have been the show’s 10th season.

Sources say that Bill Goodwyn, Discovery’s President of Domestic Distribution and Enterprises labeled the most recent season of Deadliest Catch a “goddamn shipwreck” after the series filmed the 9th season in the South China Sea. Despite Discovery’s vision, Deadliest Catch faced a series of hurdles including clashes with Japanese nationalists near the Senkaku Islands, and most recently, the loss of an aerial camera drone in China’s Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ.

Discovery hopes to rejuvenate the successful ten-year-old franchise with a new spin-off series set in Somalia. Tentatively titled “Deadliest Catch: Somali Waters,” renowned producer Todd Stanley is attached to serve as the showrunner for this new series, slated to air in early 2014. Richard Phillips and Abduwali Muse are also named as associate producers.

After announcing the series on Twitter, Stanley explained “Look, there’s been a lot of maritime activity off the coast of Somalia for years and frankly the clan dynamics stimulate an enormous amount of competition between Somali fishermen—wait till you see the Habar Gidirs take on the Mijurtinis. While the piracy business hasn’t been the cash cow for these guys it once was, with our backing you’ll see some of these guys go out for two or three weeks and come back with a load of Yellowfin Tuna, a dry-bulk carrier, or even a handful of Indian hostages.” Officials at the Discovery quickly pointed out that the show abides by all Somali laws and maritime regulations.

Members of the Digil Coast Guard on patrol
Members of the Digil Coast Guard on patrol

Bilal Eggeh, an elder affiliated with the Saleban clan, expressed his excitement for the show: “This will not only be a great opportunity for the Saleban to glorify their ancestors against the Duduble filth, but will also provide better programming than Al Shabab behadings and Duck Dynasty.” An Al Shabab spokesperson rejected these comments on Twitter and explained that his organization serves as the main maritime law enforcement organization in Kismayo, a coastal town, and that Nielson ratings show the beheadings do well in the coveted 18-34 demographic.

Stanley intends to replicate the filming and production methodology utilized in the Deadliest Catch. Three separate camera crews will follow nominal “fishing” motherships piloted by the Eidagalla, Ajuran, and Ogadeni clans. Additional crews will follow the USS Farragut, on patrol in the Recommended Transit Corridor; the Puntland Maritime Police Force, conducting shore-based operations; and the local coast guard operated by the Digil clan. An additional crew will cover mundane business affairs in the cities of Eyl and Kismayo. Thom Beers will also narrate segments of the series—a staple of the Deadliest Catch franchise.

Despite Discovery’s optimism, the show already faces opposition. The move to the South China Sea triggered a wave of controversy from loyal fans, with one fan claiming that “It sounds un-American.” Captain Brad Cooper of the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) said “At first I thought this was b******t – we finally had this Somali piracy thing mostly licked and now they’re helping get some of these guys back up and running? But anytime I can tell my kids I got to fight pirates they actually know what I’m talking about, unlike forward naval presence ops.’” Khaled Hiyani, a member of Hizbul Islam, issued a statement condemning the show and labeling the producers as infidels. Roelf van Heerden, a South African security consultant with Sterling Corporate Services, briefly said, “These guys are idiots.”

Yet, Discovery remains determined in the spin-off to experiment with the successful formula that other reality shows have used.

Deadliest Catch: Somali Waters is scheduled to premiere on April 15 at 9:00 EST on Discovery.

Losing the Senkakus/Diaoyus Could Win China the 10-Dash Line

LI5229C2F896F4CThe specter of nationalism in the Far East looms over ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.  China and Japan have increased their civilian and military presence around the islands and continue retaliatory actions and declarations.  History in the region has few examples of such situations concluding amicably. 

However realist or idealist one’s perspective, there remains significant room for de-escalation and peaceful resolution.  The path to finding a solution has been the focus of many academics, policy experts, and the media with two scenarios offered in the commentary. 

First is what amounts to a Grand Bargain:  China cedes their claims in the East China Sea to Japan in return for Japan’s support of China’s South China Sea claims.  Those who believe this the most likely outcome are those who give deference to China’s long-view strategies.  While China appears to have the patience and political structure to execute strategies with time horizons far beyond those of the United States, a Grand Bargain would be readily discerned and countered as it ultimately relies on the United States, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and others to concede interests or territorial claims to China.  That makes for a strategy not only with a long time horizon but also with very long odds.

The second scenario is that China succeeds to some degree in pressing its claims with Japan, using the dispute in the East China Sea as a proving ground for strategies in the south.  Winning territorial concessions from Japan, China’s primary regional competitor, would not only validate its strategies, it would also strengthen China’s position when dealing with weaker competitors bordering the 10-dash line in the South China Sea. Those who predict this outcome tend to believe China will not relinquish any claims. This may be a bit too binary.  First, the territorial disputes in the two regions have very different histories, interests, and actors.  Second, a resolution seen as offering China concessions in the East China Sea could counter-productively strengthen the resolve of the actors disputing China’s claims in the South China Sea.

However, there is another possible scenario.  China could exploit customary international law to its advantage, creating a precedent in the East China Sea simplifies the complexities surrounding the 10-dash line in the South China Sea.  The precedent that best serves Chinese interests is that a country with administrative control over disputed islands exercises economic rights surrounding the territory, even if that country is Japan.  With China in a strong position to enforce administrative control over the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal, a precedent connecting administrative control of disputed territory to economic rights would greatly benefit China.

So, what else needs to happen to make this other potential scenario a reality?  Nothing.  If China continues to bluster about the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Japan continues to retain administrative control and enforce fishing laws in what would be the territory’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the precedent is established.  Only time is needed for this version of status quo to be considered customary international law.  Interestingly, this path finds a convergence between the long view and expansionist proponents.  China could get access to a lot more territory and natural resources if it is willing to ‘lose a battle to win the war’.

Ryan Leary is a U.S. naval officer and Federal Executive Fellow at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  His 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, the U.S. Navy, or any command.

The “Mighty Moo” Maneuvers Around Trouble

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.
The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens (GG-63), maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The recent near-collision of a PLA Navy tank landing ship and the missile-guided cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea represents yet another incident in a long line of instances of Chinese gamesmanship with the US Navy extending back to the March 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable and the 2001 downing of an EP-3. In each of these cases, the Chinese took issue with the United State conducting surveillance of Chinese military targets at sea or on the Chinese mainland (in this case, the Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was for the first time conducting exercises in the South China Sea).

All three occurred in the South China Sea, although it is not currently clear from media reports where exactly the most recent confrontation took place. This could prove to be an important distinction. Previously, Beijing justified its escalatory responses to US actions by saying that they interpreted U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to mean that military activities within the Chinese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were prohibited without the consent of China. The EP-3 and Impeccable incidents both occurred near Hainan Island, inside the Chinese EEZ. If this most recent escalatory move occurred outside the EEZ, it will be particularly interesting to see how China justifies itself. Are they expanding their legal interpretation further by claiming that all military activities conducted in waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” must receive Chinese approval? This of course is conjecture—especially given that as of this writing it also appears from a cursory glance of Chinese-language news websites that neither the PLA nor the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet made a statement. At that point this issue will require the analysis of individuals better trained in the vagaries of Chinese territorial legal disputes than I.

Also pertinent to this debate is the recent admission at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue (by a Chinese military officer no less!) that the PLAN was itself already conducting surveillance of U.S. military installations on Guam and Hawaii within U.S. EEZs around those islands. As Rory Medcalf points out, this clearly contradicts the Chinese legal position on the matter. At what point will this hypocrisy actually catch up with the PLA and necessitate a change in China’s legal position?

Last week at an event at the Wilson Center, Oriana Skylar Mastro suggested that China’s recent announcement of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) fits into a pattern of Chinese “coercive diplomacy,” in which China manipulates risk and intentionally raises the risk of an accident, a view echoed by other analysts in an approach known as salami tactics. In this way, China stops just short of further escalation, and achieves its objectives of slowly chipping away at opposing territorial positions and international legal norms. This analysis is clearly simpatico with her earlier published work regarding the Impeccable incident and the most recent confrontation involving the USS Cowpens. In her paper, Dr. Mastro identified a coordinated Chinese media campaign and legal challenge that accompanied the PLA’s military provocation. She also recommended that in order to prevent further Chinese attempts at escalation, the United States should publicize these events, directly challenge the Chinese legal position, and maintain a strong presence in the area, all things which the United States is now doing (specifically in the Cowpens case, the Department of Defense broke the story).

These are sound responses to Chinese attempts to delegitimize lawful operations in international waters. What should the United States not do? In an article published by the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz quotes a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Rick Fisher, who suggests that China in this incident is intentionally “looking for a fight” that will “cow the Americans,” and that the United States and Japan should heavily fortify the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in response. Aside from the fact that China certainly is not “looking for a fight,” fortifying the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands would be a terrible idea. The U.S. government does not even take an official position on the islands’ sovereignty! The U.S. response should certainly be firm in insisting that surveillance within foreign EEZs is completely legitimate and lawful; but turning this issue into about something other than surveillance in international waters would be blowing it out of all proportion. The United States should, in contrast to the ways in which China’s behavior is perceived, proceed carefully but resolutely and stick to its guns.

William Yale is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He has lived in China for two years, and worked at the Naval War College and the U.S. State Department. He tweets @wayale and blogs at williamyale.com.