Tag Archives: South China Sea

The Royal Navy and Freedom of Navigation Operations

By Pete Barker

In July, two major announcements were made renewing the Royal Navy’s commitment to the principle of freedom of navigation in the coming years. Firstly, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable Michael Fallon, told Reuters that Britain was intending to send a warship to the South China Sea in 2018. The Defence Secretary explicitly stated that, “we have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.” In a direct reference to China, he added, “we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea.” Shortly afterward, the Foreign Secretary, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson, announced that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers (the first of which is currently undergoing sea trials in UK waters) would deploy to the Pacific region to conduct freedom of navigation operations “to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigations through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.” This statement develops remarks made by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador in Washington DC, at the end of last year.

The significance of these declarations by senior government ministers and diplomats should not be underestimated. Indeed, they have provoked a swift reaction from Chinese officials who have warned countries from outside the region from stirring up trouble. In a barely-veiled reference to recent UK military operations, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated pointedly, “Whoever they are, under whatever pretexts and whatever they say, their precedents of interfering in other regions on high-sounding reasons but only leaving behind chaos and humanitarian disaster warrant sharp alert of regional countries and people.” 

Freedom of navigation is not a recently discovered concept for the British. When a Spanish ambassador had the temerity to complain to Queen Elizabeth I about the voyages of Sir Francis Drake in the Pacific Ocean in the sixteenth century, she replied with one of the clearest early statements on the freedom of the seas: “The use of the sea and air is common to all; neither can any title to the ocean belong to any people or private man, for as much as neither nature nor regard of the public use permitteth any possession thereof.”1 Although her successor to the throne, King James I, flirted with the idea of nations having dominion over the oceans (mainly to protect Scottish fishing rights), it was still accepted that prohibiting innocent passage would be contrary to the dictates of humanity.2 By the early seventeenth century, Britain, by then a major maritime power, had recognized the benefits of oceans being open to all and has been a loyal adherent to this policy for the past 350 years. In the twentieth century, this commitment manifested itself during the negotiations which produced the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UK diplomats made significant contributions to the development of some key concepts relating to freedom of navigation, such as the right of transit passage through international straits, later adopted by all the signatory nations.3

Although the UK has supported freedom of navigation as a matter of principle for centuries, its economic and practical impact for a leading world economy should not be ignored. The two are inextricably linked. In a recent address to a multi-national workshop on freedom of navigation and the law of the sea at the U.S. Naval War College, noted University of Virginia professor Ambassador John Norton Moore (ret.), a member of the U.S. 1982 UNCLOS negotiating team, stated that the provisions of the treaty “for freedom of navigation are of the utmost importance in protecting global trade, one of the core mechanisms for global economic growth.” The United Nations estimated that in 2011, nearly half of the world’s annual trade by sea passed through the Malacca Straits and the adjacent South China Sea. The economic arguments for maintaining navigational rights in this region are unassailable, especially as the UK develops new trading relationships with Asian partners following its planned withdrawal from the European Union.

Historically, the UK has not conducted a formal program of freedom of navigation operations in the manner that the U.S. has. Of course, ships of the Royal Navy exercise their legal rights through the waters of the world on a daily basis, whether transiting through key straits or conducting innocent passage through territorial waters of coastal states. Their presence provides security for commercial shipping of all nations that are exercising similar rights. The exercise of these rights is no different to the navy of any other country in the world (Chinese ships recently transited through the Dover Straits on their way to conduct exercises in the Baltic, a practice also seen from Russian ships). However, by highlighting these operations years in advance, the UK has given them added strategic significance. This approach does not form part of the U.S. program. Current U.S. policy seems to be that such operations are only confirmed retrospectively in the annual Department of Defense report. On the basis of announcements to date, the UK seems to be taking a more overt and open approach to the conduct of freedom of navigation tasking. As noted by Dr. Euan Graham, the use of an aircraft carrier would also be a significant change from current U.S. tactics.

The actual operations are unlikely to appear dramatic and will probably be similar to those conducted by U.S. ships under Presidents Obama and Trump. One of the key considerations for the UK will be to clearly articulate what is being challenged by any particular operation to avoid inadvertently strengthening illegitimate claims (as discussed by Professor James Kraska in relation to U.S. operations here). In all likelihood, these operations will consist of straightforward passages possibly coupled with routine exercises such as a man overboard drill although such operational decisions are clearly speculative at this stage. But these actions speak louder than words. They demonstrate the resolve of the UK to maintain the rule of law at sea throughout the world, to support partner nations in the region which are committed to this concept (including countries such as Japan and India), and to continue a historic association with one of the oldest norms of international law. The UK has designated 2017 as the “Year of the Navy” and this commitment to conducting freedom of navigation operations halfway around the world shows both the value that is placed on this right and the resurgent capability of the Royal Navy to take action to preserve these freedoms.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Barker is a serving Royal Navy officer and barrister. He is currently the Associate Director for the Law of Coalition Warfare at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law (@StocktonCenter), part of the U.S. Naval War College.  He can be contacted at peter.barker.uk@usnwc.edu.

This post is written in a personal capacity and the views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the UK Ministry of Defence or the UK government.

References

1. Camden, Annales, 225 (ed. 1635) quoted on page 107 of Thomas Wemyss Fulton, The Sovereignty of the Sea, William Blackwood and Sons, 1911

2. Ruth Lapidoff, Freedom of Navigation – Its Legal History and Its Normative Basis, 6 J.Mar. L. & Com. 1975, p.268

3. Clyde Sanger, “Ordering the Oceans: The making of the law of the sea”, University of Toronto Press, 1987, page 95

Featured Image: Prime Minister Theresa May visits HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Queen Elizabeth made her first entry into her home port of Portsmouth. The Prime Minister went on board and met with members of the crew and addressed the ship’s company
(Jay Allen)

The Evolution of Chinese National Security Debates on Maritime Policy, Pt. 2

The following two-part series will delve into the evolution of China’s national security debates pertaining to maritime security. Part One focused on changes and trends during Deng Xiaopeng’s administration and the immediate post-Cold War era. Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

By Sherman Xiaogang Lai

Accepting New Players

In the mid-1990s, Chinese researchers suffered from a set of restraints. Among these restraints were China’s censorship, accessible materials, and researchers’ skills. The Chinese government did not want the public to discuss sensitive topics such as Mao Zedong and increased censorship. However, sensitive topics had good audiences. Therefore, publishers and researchers worked closely to find ways to talk on sensitive topics properly. The most difficult barriers at that time was the sources of materials. Materials in Chinese language were limited, and few PLA researchers had foreign language skills. The AMS library had a good collection of Western relevant publications but was not open to the public. Therefore, translation occupied a significant portion in China’s research projects and Western classic were systematically translated. Among the translated classics was the collection of some chapters of Mahan’s works.

While PLA and other Chinese researchers were searching for paradigms beyond Marxism, a group of Chinese PhD graduates of political science returned from the United States. One of the outstanding graduates was Yan Xuetong (Berkley, 1992) who would become a leading scholar in international studies in China. In the meantime, the Chinese government abolished the Soviet system of postsecondary education and began to restore China’s pre-1949 Western-styled university system. As the entire research community in China was restructured and Chinese leaders, including PLA leaders, were willing to listen to ideas beyond Marxist and Maoist paradigms, civilian university scholars began obtaining a voice in the field of national security research. After 9/11, the involvement of civilian universities accelerated because terrorism was a not traditional military threat. In the meantime, PLA leaders altered their bias against officers who graduated from civilian universities. They realized that these officers such as Pi Minyong had much better knowledge and understanding of strategic and defense issues than graduates from PLA universities.

While many of these civilian university graduates were promoted, the Chinese government recognized the value of Chinese diaspora and permitted them to appear in China’s public media either for directing China’s public opinion or for intellectual development. One of the outstanding scholars was Professor Zheng Yongnian at the National University of Singapore. The PLA’s monopoly of China’s national defense research therefore came to an end. Academic diversity occurred not only among civilian researchers but also within PLA universities. One of the factors that contributed to the gradual replacement of the PLA’s monopoly on military and strategic research with more diversity was the fact that China became a net oil-importing country since 1993 and only became increasing dependent on oil importation. Oil security, an issue directly linked with SLOC, led to intensive research and debates.1

Oil Importation, Exploration into Mahan and Debates

Some Chinese researchers called for energy self-sufficiency through liquidizing coals. Some others suggested that overland pipelines be built in order to reduce China’s dependence on SLOC, especially the Malacca Strait. Another group argued that energy self-sufficiency was out of date and overland pipelines could not solve the problem. As China had to depend on the world oil market, the best approach to oil security was to join the world market and protect the SLOC with other countries. As more and more Chinese families began to use automobiles, these debates attracted attention throughout coastal China, even some interior province such as Hunan.2 Because the security of the SLOC was directly linked with seapower, Mahan’s works were systematically translated and published in nine varied versions from 1997 to 2013.3 Together with “Mahan Rush” was the appearance of two opposing school on China’s maritime and naval policies.

The representative of the first school is the INA. Captain Zhang Wei, one of its senior researchers, asked for a Mahanian navy. She reiterated Mahan’s argument that a blue-water navy of capital warships was a symbol of great powers’ glory and strength.4 As China considered itself a great power, it has to have a blue-water navy of capital ships to demonstrate that power. As China’s economy is dependent on the SLOC, China has to have a blue-water navy. In addition, China has a humiliating past: The West and Japan invaded China from the sea. China therefore has to have a powerful navy in order not let it happen again.

The opposite school consists of researchers of various backgrounds. Among the influential scholars are Senior Colonel Xu Qiyu (PhD) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, the University of National Defense, Senior Colonel Ke Chunqiao at the Academy of Military Science, and Dr Wu Zhengyu at Renmin University. Xu pointed out that China’s big power status had nothing to do with its navy and that SLOC protection was an international effort.5 China should therefore participate in international escorting campaigns rather than acting alone. He went further and claimed that if China’s SLOC were in danger, it means that China was at the edge of war against the United States. Xu stated that China had tremendous shared interests with the United States and must do its best to stabilize the bilateral relations. Through reviewing Germany’s experience before World War I, Xu attributed the outbreak of World War I to Germany’s interest groups who advocated for greater sea power.6

Ke reinforced Xu’s view by using the German experience also. He pointed out that one of the principal lessons from that experience was that continental powers should not try to seize the command of sea from a maritime power. Through comparing the experiences of the United States, Germany, and Japan, Ke claimed that the best way was to respect and help preserve the existing international order.  He also reminded the Chinese public of the catastrophic roles that German and Japanese interest groups had played before the two world wars. In July 2014, Ke’s arguments were published in China’s largest newspaper, Cankaoxiaoxi (News for Reference) run by Xinhua News Agency.7 In 2016, Ke re-emphasized the same view in the same newspaper.8

In comparison with Xu and Ke, Wu was straightforward. He claimed that China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) are de-stabilizing.9 He said that China’s naval development should be focusing on large surface warships such as carriers because the United States enjoys overwhelming superiority and would feel comfortable with Chinese carriers. In the meantime, Chinese carriers will increase China’s contribution to the international SLOC protecting campaign and help China improve its international reputation.

Between these opposing schools is the State Oceanic Administration (SOA). In the early 1980s the SOA helped Deng in guiding China back to the international community and complete the shift from an enclosed continental economy to a maritime one based on international trade. It also introduced into China the concept of international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).10 In the meantime, it ardently promoted the concept of “maritime territories” and planted concepts of China’s “maritime territory” in South and East China Seas into the minds of the public. In 2014, it supervised China’s island-making program in Spratly Islands. Perhaps because of its inconsistent roles in China’s efforts in internationalization, the SOA remains silent in the debates over China’s naval policy. Nevertheless, SOA’s South China Sea policy did not go without sharp criticism. Although the criticizers were Chinese diaspora, their sharp criticism was published in China.

Professor Bing Ling at the University of Sydney termed the behaviors of the Chinese government over the case of South China Sea Arbitration as “stupid” and “brutal.”11 It damaged China’s national interests and China’s international image contrary to international trends, thereby undermining China’s position in the territorial disputes there.

Professor Zheng Yongnian at the National University of Singapore linked China’s South China Seas policy and the resulting Sino-American tension with North Korea. He pointed out that North Korea superbly exploited the tension by testing its rockets and nuclear devices, trying to persuade China and the United States to acknowledge its nuclear status.12 It goes without saying that a nuclear North Korea is a severe menace to China’s national security. Because the Chinese government could not hide from the public the North Korea’s nuclear menace, it permits the public to discuss the North Korea issue. The discussions show that Chinese society is highly divided over North Korea.13

The division over North Korea among the Chinese public is a reflection of China’s multiple challenges in foreign affairs. Professor Wang Yizhou, the Dean of College of International Relations, Beijing University, attributed these challenges to China’s outdated governmental organization.14 Wang stated that China’s efforts to seek bigger roles in international affairs is justified, but as China is a beneficiary of the current international order, Wang proposed the idea of “creative engagements in international affairs.”15 In order to achieve this goal, Wang went further by saying that China had to start a campaign of social and political reforms in order to fit into the international community. This is a daunting task, Wang claimed, due to China’s vastness and social diversity, as well as its political institution that was established through revolutionary wars. “Most Chinese provinces are as large as mid-sized countries in the world while the gap between the coastal areas and the inland is as large as that between the West and the underdeveloped countries….This situation makes the national governance extraordinarily difficult. Outsiders are impressed by China’s rapid economic growth, China’s rise to the world second largest economy and staggering landscape changes in metropolitan areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. But few of them realized the simultaneous existences of three worlds in China and understand their pressure on China’s national leaders.”16 Dr. Li Cheng at the Brookings Institution had a similar observation. He stated that the Chinese leaders are playing a “great game”, trying to use their “achievements in foreign affairs to start reforms and new policies in order to alter the unsatisfactory domestic situation.”17

Conclusion

In conclusion, contrary to the diplomatic success that Li Cheng mentioned, China in 2016 suffered significant diplomatic setbacks over the issues of the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear program. Nevertheless, the history of Chinese Communist Party shows that Chinese Communist leaders are more willing to reform in the aftermath of setbacks. Deng Xiaoping’s reform came from Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution. His success lay in his leadership that guided toward China returning to the international community. This means that the SLOC is essential to Chinese economy. The combination of Chinese leaders’ insufficient comprehension of seapower with the issues of Taiwan and South China Sea resulted in the PLAN’s blue-water navy program. They did not realize the potential impacts of its blue-water navy on international politics and China’s domestic situation until its maritime neighbors felt threatened. China’s international position is therefore rapidly deteriorating. This situation is not serving China’s long-term national interests. A reform is necessary. The recent debates on China’s naval and maritime policy illustrate Chinese researchers’ efforts to help their national leaders find solutions to the unprecedented challenges to national security. In addition to the wild card of North Korea, among these challenges are the dilemmas of China’s dependence on SLOC without command of the sea, the uneasy compromise between capitalism with authoritarianism, and the fragile links in-between.

The COTS (Concept of Total Security), the theme of Xi’s speech on national security on 17 February 2017, is a synthesis of various concerns. Through his elaborated words, he addressed his priority of concerns in the year of 2017 while encouraging all the competing schools to continue their ongoing debates on China’s maritime and naval policies. As its history shows, the PRC’s survival is dependent on the subtle balance of its maritime and continental interest and the least costly approach to reaching a balance is through debates.

Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai is an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). Before he immigrated to Canada in 2000, he served as a frontline foot soldier in China’s war against Vietnam, UN military observer, and researcher in history and military strategy in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during 1987-1997. The views expressed in this article are his own.

References

1. Sergei Troush, “China’s Changing Oil Strategy and its Foreign Policy Implications,” Brookings, 1 September 1999 (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/chinas-changing-oil-strategy-and-its-foreign-policy-implications/); National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, “Considerations on the strategy of China’s oil security,” (关于中国石油安全战略的思考), 11 September 2003  (http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjzs/tjsj/tjcb/zggqgl/200309/t20030911_37418.html)An Qiyuan (安启元), “An Urgent Task: Establishing a Strategy Reserve System of Oil,” (构建石油战略储备体系迫在眉睫), 2003 (http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper2515/9528/880782.html); Zhang Wenmu (张文木), “China needs a powerful navy to protect its oil security,” (中国需要强大海军护卫石油安全), Liaowang Weekly 18 December 2003 ( http://www.china.com.cn/chinese/zhuanti/xxsb/547804.htm); Zhu Xingshan (朱兴珊), “War tests China’s oil security,” (战争考验中国石油安全), 2003 (http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper81/9347/866466.html); Zhu Xingshan, “South Asia is Shocked: China will step aside Malacca Strait through constructing a canal through Thailand (中国撇开马六甲开凿泰运河将震动南亚), Zhou Yonggang (周勇刚),”Experts Analysis and Appeals: the Caspian Setback, Sino-Russian Deal and Adjustment of China’s Oil Strategy,” (专家析里海折戟与中俄突破 吁调整中国石油战略), 14 November 2003 (http://auto.sohu.com/73/84/article215608473.shtml).

2. “Full Expectations for Sin-Russian Cooperation in Energy,” (充满期待中的中俄能源合作),Radio Hunan (湖南广播在线), 27 April 2006.

3.  In addition to the publication of a collection of Mahan’s articles and book chapters in 1997 mentioned above, the following is the chronology of the publication of Mahan’s works in China.

  • The influence of sea power upon history (海权对历史的影响) (Beijing: Jiefangjun chubanshe, 1998 and reprint in 2014)
  • The Problem of Asia: Its Effect Upon International Politics (亚洲问题及其对国际政治的影响) (Shanghai: Sanlian shudian. 2007).
  • Naval Strategy (海军战略) (Beijing: Shangwu yingshuguan, 2009).
  • Big Power and Seapower (大国海权) (Nanchang: Jiangxi renmin chubanshe, 2011).
  • On Seapower (海权论) (Beijing: Tongxing chubanshe, 2012).
  • On Seapower (海权论) (Beijing: Dianzi gongye chubanshe, 2013).
  • Sea power in its relations to the war of 1812 (海权与1812年战争的关系) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013).
  • Influence of sea power upon the French revolution and empire (海权对法国大革命和帝国的影响) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013)
  • Influence of sea power upon history (1660-1783) (海权对历史的影响) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013).

4. Zhang Wei (张炜), A Short Introduction of Alfred T Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783 (影响历史的海权论: 马汉 海权对历史的影响(1660-1783)浅说) (Beijing: Junshikexue chubanshe, 2000); Zhang Wei, Big Powers’ Statecraft (大国之道) (Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2011); Zhang Wei, “The Use of Beiyang Navy and China’s Traditional Strategic Culture,” (北洋海军的运用与中国战略文化传统), 4 March 2014, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, (http://cn-www.mediaresearch.cn/zt/zt_xkzt/zt_lsxzt/lsxzt_jwj/jw_jsp/jspyt/201403/t20140304_1018814_2.shtml)

5. Xu Qiyu (徐弃郁), “Reflections on Some Misleading Aspects of Seapower” (“海权的误区与反思”), Strategy and Management (战略与管理) 5 (2003): 17.

6. Xu Qiyu, “A Study of the Dilemmas of Big Powers during their Rises,” PhD dissertation, Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Science, 2007, 112.

7. Ke Cunqiao (柯春桥), “Five Major Lessons in Germany’s Strategy Transition prior to 1914” (“一战前德国战略调整五大教训”), Cankao xiaoxi (News for Reference) (8 July 2014): 13.

8. Ke Cunqiao, “Big Powers should learn from the lesson of ‘Syndrodom of Rising Power’.” (大国应对 “崛起综合征”经验教训), Cankao xiaoxi, 25 August 2016 (http://www.cankaoxiaoxi.com/world/20160825/1281068.shtml)

9. Wu Zhengyu (吴征宇), “Combined Powers of Seapower and Landpower” (“海权与陆海复合型强国”), World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) 2 (2012): 49–50. 

10. Sherman Xiaogang Lai and Joel J. Sokolsky, “A New Dimension in Sino-American Security: Chinese and United States Interests in the Arctic.” Bulletin on the International Studies on the Arctic Regions 3, No.3 (2014): 8-26.

11. Lin Bing (凌兵), “Why Does China’s Rebuke of the International Tribunal on the South China Sea Damage Its Own Interests?” (为什么中国拒绝南海仲裁有损中国的权益?), Talks in Shanghai in December 2015, https://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/letscorp_archive/archives/107426

12. Zhong Yongnian (郑永年), “North Korea: China’s Thorn in Flesh,” (中国的朝鲜半岛之痛), Veritas, 9 September 2016.  (http://dxw.ifeng.com/dongtai/340/1.shtml); Zheng Yongnian, “China cannot let North Korea Hold its Nose toward Catastrophe,” (中国不能被朝鲜牵着鼻子拖入灾难), 20 September 2016 (http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MzA4Nzk2NzEwNA==&mid=2651875583&idx=1&sn=db37730d7151dc7ca85c072e16e54a8a#rd)

13. “The Six Divergent Opinions on North Korea’s Nuclear Program in the Chinese Academia and their Controversies,” (中国学界关于朝核问题的六种看法极其争论), 8 January 2016, WIC ( http://www.siciwi.com/Item/Show.asp?m=1&d=5493); Du Baiyu (杜白羽), “Facing North Korea’s Program: Dialogues Work Better than Sanctions,” (应对朝核问题:需要制裁更需对话), Asia Pacific Daily, 19 September 2016 (https://read01.com/An5DDP.html); Wen Jing and Guo Qi (文晶and 郭琪), “Our Major Misunderstanding of North Korea: An Interview of Dean Jiang Qingguo (贾庆国) of the College of International Studies, Beijing University, “(我们认识朝鲜的三大误区),  Sina Xinwenzhongxing, 27 August 2016 (http://news.sina.com.cn/w/2016-08-27/doc-ifxvixer7324757.shtml); “Increasing numbers of Chinese people regard North Korea as a bad neighbor,” (越来越多中国人正在转变对朝鲜看法), Opinion Huanqiu, 15 February 2016 (http://opinion.huanqiu.com/editorial/2016-02/8536686.html); Shi Yinghong (时殷弘), “How could China balance its core interests in Korea Peninsula?” (中国如何平衡朝鲜半岛局势各项核心利益?) Zhengzhixue yu guoji guanxi luntan (Forum of Politics and International Relations), 20 July 2016 (http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MjM5NDMzNTk2MA==&mid=2659702589&idx=5&sn=bc0754fe63e3ec827c14ba6697d406f5&scene=0#wechat_redirect)

14. Wang Yizhou (王逸舟), “Challenges in coordination from programs of international assistance to emergent evacuation: What could we do?” (从援外到撤侨屡遇部门协调新难题, 怎么破?), The Paper, 28 December 2015 (http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1414113); Wang Yizhou, “Four Key Words of Social Restructure to Redefine China’s Diplomacy in Transition,”(社会构造四大关键词重新定义中国转型期外交), The Paper, 24 December 2015 (http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1412185)   

15. Wang Yizhou (王逸舟), Creative Engagements: China’s Diplomacy in Transition (创造性介入: 中国外交的转型) (Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2015).

16. Wang, “Four Key Words of Social Restructure to Redefine China’s Diplomacy in Transition,” http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1412185

17. Li Chen (李成), “China’s Strategy in 2015: Double Game and Great Game,” (中国策:双盘棋局、宏图略展), 25 December 2015, Brookings, (https://www.brookings.edu/zh-cn/opinions/2015%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%AD%96%EF%BC%9A%E5%8F%8C%E7%9B%98%E6%A3%8B%E5%B1%80%E3%80%81%E5%AE%8F%E5%9B%BE%E7%95%A5%E5%B1%95/)

Featured Image: The Chinese Navy replenishment ship Qinghaihu in front of the frigates Hengshan (rear L) and Huangshan (rear R) in Valletta’s Grand Harbor, March 26, 2013. (Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

The Evolution of Chinese National Security Debates on Maritime Policy, Pt. 1

The following two-part series will delve into the evolution of China’s national security debates pertaining to maritime security. Part One will focus on changes and trends during Deng Xiaopeng’s administration and the immediate post-Cold War era. Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

By Sherman Xiaogang Lai

In his recent speech on China’s security policy on 17 February 2017, Xi Jinping, the General-Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) reiterates his Concept of Total Security (COTS, Zongti anquan guan) that he announced for the first time in April 2014.1 The COTS is a call for a kind of balanced approach to China’s post-Cold War security dilemmas that comes out of the country’s varied domestic and international security interests. On the top of Xi’s priority list is the balance between China’s continental and maritime interests, an ongoing intensive subject of debates involving a wide range of Chinese agencies from the military to civilian universities.2 At one end of the debates are rhetorical nationalistic outcries while at the other end are well-considered proposals. These polarized arguments came from fundamental socio-economic changes from when Deng Xiaoping started his market-oriented reforms at the end of the 1970s. They reflect a series of challenges that the Chinese government is facing. A review of these debates could help us identify not only the changes to Chinese national leaders’ priorities but also some of their underlying reasons. As Chinese research institutions are behind the changes, a review of the evolution of debates reveals some dynamics and developments within China’s research institutions. It would therefore help us understand China’s current security dilemma in maritime affairs and Chinese researchers’ intellectual restraints in finding solutions to the dilemma. As Deng’s reforms was the seed of this dilemma, it is necessary to review the impacts of Deng’s reform on China’s national security first.   

Deng’s Reforms, the Security Dilemma and the Ban Lift

Deng’s reforms saved the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the same fate of the Soviet Union through re-entering the international community and the world market. Thirty years after the start of the reforms, the People’s Republic has become the world’s second largest economy in 2010. In the meantime, however, Chinese leaders find that their country is falling into a security dilemma.3 On the one hand, China’s well-being is dependent on its overseas trade. This means that China has shared interests with the United States and other countries in the security of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). And it serves China’s interests for China to develop a blue-water navy in order to contribute more to the international naval campaign of SLOC protection. But on the other hand, some legacies of China’s imperial and revolutionary past are pushing the country toward confrontation against its maritime neighbors and the United States. Among these outstanding legacies are the issues of Taiwan4 and China’s territorial disputes with countries around the South China Sea.5 Many of these countries are dependent on the presence of the United States to negotiate with China. Because Japan’s SLOC go through the South China Sea and close to Taiwan, these issues concern Japan’s security. Japan reinforces its ties with South China Sea countries with the tacit support of the United States. A formidable maritime coalition is therefore formed. To make the situation worse is the wild card of North Korea. Although China saved North Korea in 1950 and has been the latter’s quiet patron, Pyongyang does not trust Beijing, especially after China established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1993.6 North Korea’s nuclear program not only poses a direct threat to China’s Northeast, but also led to the deployment of the American THAAD system that undermines the credibility of China’s missiles forces against Taiwan and the U.S. forces that might come to its rescue.

Facing these unprecedented and complicated security issues, the Chinese government quietly lifted its ban on discussions on national security among the Chinese public. This lift resulted in a flood of publications. Many of them came from government-funded research projects.7 A few are from the Chinese diaspora. The Chinese public’s involvement in the discussion of China’s national security added a group of new players in the process of policymaking and implementation. Until this quiet lift of the ban in the mid-1990s, the discussions were restricted within the military and the relevant government agencies. Because the Chinese government altered research institutions after the Cold War, a brief review of China’s institutional evolution and historiography on maritime and naval affairs would help understand the reasons of this change and this change’s relations with current debates. 

The pre-1992 Research Institution in China

China did not have a public community of defense and security thinkers until the mid-1990s.8 Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had their institutes of research and enjoyed support from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, these highly bureaucratized institutes were extensions of the executive branches of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Few researchers questioned CCP leaders’ decisions. The PLA monopolized strategic and military studies and was indulged in its victory over the Nationalists and its achievements during the Korean War. Few PLA researchers had incentives to do independent research. Nor did they have necessary skills such as foreign language skills. Because the PLA was modeling the Soviet Red Army, the Academy of Military Science (AMS), the PLA’s principal research institute, had more researchers with Russian language skills instead of English until the early 1990s.9 Therefore, China’s defense study had been a hybrid discourse of the Soviet military doctrines and Maoist doctrines of revolutionary warfare. Soviet military publications were the PLA’s principal intellectual source. As Russia/Soviet Union was a land power and had few mentionable naval victories, it was not surprising that seapower was downplayed. The same situation occurred in China. Although Admiral Sergei Gorshkov’s works were translated almost immediately into Chinese after they were published in the 1970s,10 it was not until 1978 when some of Alfred T. Mahan’s views were introduced into China in Maoist discourse.11 In the same year, Deng started his market-oriented reforms and altered the dynamics of PLA’s naval studies. In April 1979, Deng appointed General Ye Fei as the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In addition to the daunting task to cleaning-up the devastating factional struggles within the PLAN, Deng asked Ye to consider China’s naval strategy. He told him that he did not want a blue-water navy, which always reminded him of the West’s invasions.12

In 1982, Deng replaced Ye of poor health with General Liu Huaqing, a veteran of the CCP’s revolutionary wars and a graduate of a Soviet naval academy. Liu, who was later dubbed as “China’s Gorshkov,”13 continued Ye’s unfinished task of exploring a proper strategy for the PLAN. As early as 1969, Liu served as a PLAN’s deputy chief of staff responsible for shipbuilding affairs. He had recognized that foreign trade was increasingly important to the Chinese economy and China would need a blue-water navy, even aircraft carriers, to protect its SLOC.14 In order to have necessary intellectual support, Liu, with Deng’s approval, established the PLAN’s Institute of Naval Affairs (INA) in 1985. The INA served Liu’s drive for a naval strategy and aircraft carriers. In 1987, Liu and the PLAN submitted a formal proposal for a PLAN strategy to the Central Military Commission (CMC), the commanding agency of China’s armed forces.15 But Deng did not approve the proposal and suspended the discussion on China’s naval strategy. However, in the meantime, he promoted Liu into the CMC and asked him to take charge of the PLA’s equipment affairs. By the time of Liu’s promotion, the Cold War was coming to an end, and the CMC began considering transforming toward the post-Cold War era. But the following discussions were strictly restricted to a few PLA senior officers. In 1991, three years after Liu’s promotion, the First Gulf War broke out and ended with an overwhelming Western victory that surprised the CMC.

General Zhang Zheng’s Reform (1993)

The First Gulf War demonstrated to the Chinese leaders and public that the Soviet and Maoist military doctrines were outdated, and the United States enjoyed comprehensive military superiority over China. The PLA would be in a disadvantageous situation if Taiwan’s efforts for de jure independence led to war. By that time, Chinese leaders had hardly taken into account the prospect of Taiwan’s de jure independence because the Chinese Nationalists were ruling the island. In the meantime, China and the West had a common enemy of the Soviet Union. As Taiwan was in rapid democratization and the Soviet Union no longer existed, the prospect of Taiwan’s independence became imminent. In response to the challenges across the Taiwan Strait, Deng, in 1992, ordered General Zhang Zheng, then 78 years old, to develop a new military strategy.16 The outcome of Zhang’s efforts was the Military Strategic Guideline of the New Era (MSGNE). The PLA’s focus of attention then began shifting from continental defense to a potential war across the Taiwan Strait.

Zhang was open-minded. He acknowledged frankly to the PLA’s entire officer corps in many speeches that the West had left the PLA behind not only in equipment but also in military theories and doctrines. In order to promote research, he ordered the PLA to open its doors to graduates from civilian universities, a practice that was suspended after the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. Zhang’s new policy also encouraged the PLA’s young researchers to work on maritime and naval issues. One of them was Pi Mingyong, the current director of a research department of the AMS. He proved that the Chinese imperial and Republican governments had done their best to protect China’s maritime interests.17 The concept of seapower then began entering into the PLA’s thinking about future conflicts.18 In 1997, a collection of Mahan’s articles and book chapters were translated and published in Beijing.19 These were the first translated publications of Mahan’s works in China.

 While General Zhang encouraged the PLA to develop its intellectual power to meet the post-Gulf War challenges, the Gulf War also provoked Chinese public’s interest in military affairs. Commercial markets for military publications expanded tremendously. Publishers approached AMS researchers for manuscripts. At that time, PLA researchers including those in AMS were underpaid. AMS leaders had been tacitly permitting, even encouraging their researchers to work for extra income.20 The coincidence of General Zhang’s new policy and the market drive therefore altered the dynamics of research inside and outside of the PLA.

Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai is an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). Before he immigrated to Canada in 2000, he served as a frontline foot soldier in China’s war against Vietnam, UN military observer and researcher in history and military strategy in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during 1987-1997. The views expressed in this article are his own.

References

1. “Xi Jinping called and chaired a seminar on national security affairs,” (习近平主持召开国家安全工作座谈会), Xinhua, 17 February 2017 (http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2017-02/17/c_1120486809.htm ); Xi Jinping (习近平:坚持总体国家安全观 走中国特色国家安全道路), 15 April 2014, Xinhua, (http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2014-04/15/c_1110253910.htm); Liu Jianfei, “The Concept of Total Security,”(总体国家安全观:理论指导和根本方法), Xuexi shibao, 3 May 2016, (http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0503/c376186-28319452.html).

2. See: Sherman Xiaogang Lai,  “China’s Post-Cold War Challenges and the Birth of its Current Military Strategy,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 16.4 (2016):183-209; Zhang Li and Ren Linlan (张丽任灵兰), “A Review of the Study of Maritime History in China in the Last Five Years” (“近五年来中国的海洋史研究”), World History (世界历史) 1 (2011): 118–27; Xu Qiyu, “A Study of the Dilemmas of Big Powers during their Rises,” PhD dissertation, Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Science, 2007, p. 112. 98 Wu Zhengyu (吴征宇), “Combined Powers of Seapower and Landpower” (“海权与陆海复合型强国”), World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) 2 (2012): pp. 49–50; Ke Chunqiao (柯春桥), “Historical Lessons of Big Powers’ Responses to ‘Syndromes of Rising,’(大国应对“崛起综合征”经验教训), Cankaoxiaoxi, 25 August 2016, (http://www.cankaoxiaoxi.com/world/20160825/1281068.shtml).

3.  Graham Allison, “Thucydides’s trap has been sprung in the Pacific,” Financial Times 21 (2012); Xi Jinping, “Rising China should avoid Thucydides’s trap,” (习近平:中国崛起应避免陷修昔底德陷阱), Fenghuang1 January 2014 (http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/detail_2014_01/24/33325262_0.shtml)

4. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016, pp. 86-88 (https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2016%20China%20Military%20Power%20Report.pdf)

5. Eric Hyer, The Pragmatic Dragon: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlement (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2015), pp. 237-262.

6. Zhang Tingyan (张庭延), “Kim Il-song’s ominous comments on China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea,” (中韩建交,金日成对中国说出惊人之语), Fenghuang, 10 August 2009 (http://v.ifeng.com/zt/zhongguochaoxianhanguo/)

7. Why does Jingping pay extra attention to the ‘building of new-type think tanks’?”  (习近平为何特别强调“新型智库建设”?), 29 October 2014, Renmin wang (http://theory.people.com.cn/n/2014/1029/c148980-25928251.html)

8. David Shambaugh, “International Relations Studies in China: History, Trends, and Prospects,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Volume 11 (2011), pp. 339–372

9. The author served in this unit during 1987-1997.

10. Ge’ershikefu (戈尔什科夫), Navies in War and Peace (战争与和平时期的海军) (Beijing: Sanlian chudian, 1974); See also: Robert G.Weinland, Robert W. Herrick, Michael MccGwire and James M.McConnell, “Admiral Gorshkov’s ‘Navies in War and Peace,” Survival, Volume 17, No.2 (1975): 54-63.

11. Feng Chengbo and Li Yuanliang (冯承柏, 李元良).  “Alfred Mahan and his Seapower Theory (马汉的海上实力论).” History Studies (历史研究), No.2 (1978):72-83

12. Wu Dian Qing (吴殿卿), “Ye Fei” (“叶飞”), in Leading Generals of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (中国人民解放军高级将领传), Vol. 7 (Beijing: Jiefangjun chubanshe, 2007). See also Sherman Xiaogang Lai, “Ensured Loyalty versus Professionalism at Sea: A Historical Review of the PLA Navy (1949–1982)” (paper presented at the annual meeting of Chinese Military History Society 2016, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 2016).

13. You Ji, The Armed Forces of China (London: I.B. Tauris & C Lit, 1999) from Peter Howarth, China’s Rising Sea Power: The PLA Navy’s Submarine Challenge (London: Routledge, 2006): 126

14. Liu Huaqing’s Memoir (刘华清回忆录) (Beijing: Jiefangjun Chubanshe, 2004), 349.

15. Liu Huaqing’s Memoir, 431 and 439.

16. Lai, “China’s Post-Cold War Challenges and the Birth of its Current Military Strategy,” p.199.

17. Pi Mingyong (皮明勇), “Seapower Concepts and Theories of Naval Development in late-Qing China,” (海权论与清末海军建设理论), Studies of Modern History (近代史研究), No.3 (1994): 37-47; Pi Mingyong, “A Review of Theoretical Exploration to China’s Naval Strategies and Tactics in the early Republican China,” (民国初年中国海军战略战术理论述论), Military History (军事历史研究), No.5 (1994):101-108.

18. Zhang Zongtao (张宗涛). “Alfred Mahan and his Seapower Theory (马汉及其’海权论’). Military History, No.6 (1993): 42-43; Xiao Defang (肖德芳). “Alfred Mahan’s Theory and the Evolution of the Maritime Strategies of the United States and Japan (马汉理论与美日海上战略演变).” Journal of Yibin Teachers College. No. 3 (1993): 70-74; Zhang Xiaolin and Liu Yijian (张晓林 刘一健). “Alfred Mahan and his The Influence of Seapower Upon History (马汉与海上力量对历史的影响).” Military Historical Research, No.3 (1995):121-134; Qi Qizhang (戚其章). “The Command of Sea and the Outcome of the First Sino-Japanese War (从制海权看甲午海战的结局).” Dong Yue Tribune (东岳论丛), No.4 (1996): 91-97;

19. Alfred T Mahan, Haiquan lun (海权论) (Naval Strategy: Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (Beijing: Zhongguo yanshi chubanshe, 1997).

20. The author’s experience. A PLA captain’s monthly salary in 1992 was around RMB 300 while the official exchange between USD and RMC was around 1:5.5. But the exchange rate in black market in Beijing was around 1: 8. A couple of PLA junior officers could not raise their nuclear family of three in Beijing. See: Pi Mingyong reminded the PLA and CCP leaders of the severe impacts of underpaying servicemen by using an example of the late Qing China. See: Pi Mingyong, “An Exploration into Servicemen’s Financial Situation,” (晚清军人的经济状况初探), Studies of Modern History (近代史研究), No.1 (1995): 11-35

Featured Image: PLA Navy warships (Reuters/Stringer)

South China Sea: Continuous U.S. Presence or a New Law of the Sea Treaty

This article originally featured on Divergent Options and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By David Mattingly


National Security Situation:  The United Nations Convention for the Law of Sea (UNCLOS III) has failed to adequately define a nation’s territorial waters and to create a body which can enforce its judgements on nations involved in arbitration.

Date Originally Written:  February 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 6, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  David Mattingly is retired from the U.S. Navy and has sailed with U.S. Navy Carrier Task Groups in the South China Sea (SCS).  He holds a Masters of Arts in National Security Studies where he studied the geopolitics of the SCS and authored “The South China Sea Geopolitics: Controversy and Confrontation.”

Background:  Over the centuries, a few countries with strong navies controlled the world’s oceans.  The outcome of many conflicts fought on land often had a strong maritime element.  Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius first addressed the Law of Sea in his 1609 treatise Mare Liberum in which he established the idea of the freedom of the seas[1].  After  World War II and the emergence of the United Nations, the first Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concluded with four treaties being signed: Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (CTS); Convention on the High Seas (CHS); Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas (CFCLR); and Convention on the Continental Shelf (CCS); as well as the Optional Protocol of Signature concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (OPSD)[2].  UNCLOS II convened in Malta to discuss territorial seas and fishery limits, however, the convention ended without agreeing upon a new treaty[3].  Today, UNCLOS III has been accepted by 167 nations and the European Union, however, although the U.S. has agreed in principle to the convention, it has not been ratified by the U.S.[4].  In the last attempt for ratification in 2012, it failed due to the “breadth and ambiguity” of the treaty and because it was not in the “national interest of the United States” to give sovereignty to an international body.  Ratification was overwhelmingly supported by the Department of Defense and the U.S. shipping industry[5][6].

Traditionally, a nation’s territorial boundary was established as a three-mile belt along its coastline based on the distance that a cannon could shoot a projectile.  All waters beyond the three-mile limit were considered international territory.

Today, the SCS is a possible flash point for confrontation over unresolved issues of the UNCLOS III between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), its neighboring states which have joined to form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the U.S.  The islands in the SCS remained largely uninhabited until the mid-1970s when the PRC began to lay claim to a number islands and shoals which were claimed during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty in 1405 and later claimed by the PRC in what has come to be known as the “Nine-dash line[7].”  A map which was produced after World War II extended the PRC’s territorial waters claim deep into the SCS.  France challenged the PRC’s claim in 1931 by claiming the Parcel Islands and the Spratley Islands as territory of French-Indo China which then passed to the government of Vietnam after the Franco-Indo China War ended in 1954[8].

To understand UNCLOS III, it is important to first understand the definitions of terms such as the differences between an island and a rock.  The PRC began an aggressive land reclamation program where soil was dredged from the ocean bottom to create islands, which have standing under UNCLOS III, unlike rocks and shoals which are not recognized.  The islands created by the PRC can support military garrisons, home porting of both military and fishing ships, and extend the PRC’s territorial limits under the “archipelagos concept[9].”  Within UNCLOS III, this concept furthers a nation’s territorial rights by considering the seas between the mainland and the islands claimed by a nation as a connecting, rather than separating, element.  The PRC could therefore declare an emergency and suspend the “right of innocent passage” for its self-protection.

Significance:  Merchant shipping between Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas transverse the SCS and a PRC declaration of emergency which suspended the “right of innocent passage” would have major impact in global shipping.

Option #1:  The U.S. and coalition naval forces create a continuous presence in the SCS and actively challenge PRC naval activities and construction of and on islands and rocks in dispute.

Risk:  The PRC has openly harassed and attacked ships and aircraft of the U.S. and ASEAN member nations.  The PRC has established the SCS as its home waters and had several years to construct military garrisons on the islands which it created.  It is possible that the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has placed surface to air missiles on the larger islands.  Additionally, the PLAN has aggressively modernized its ships and aircraft to include launching its first aircraft carrier.  As such, Option #1 may increase the possibility of a naval confrontation between the U.S. and the PRC.

Gain:  A naval coalition could provide protection for fishing and merchant shipping in the SCS and shape the narrative that the international community will not idly allow the PRC to control one of the most important sea lines of commerce.

Option #2   The U.S. and other nations could call for UNCLOS IV.  As evidenced by recent events in the SCS, UNCLOS III left many gray areas that are open for arbitration and the decisions lack the power of enforcement.  UNCLOS IV would address these gray areas and establish an enforcement framework.

Risk:  Major powers agreeing to a new UNCLOS could perceive that they have lost sovereign rights.  The UN lacks the ability to enforce treaties unless the major powers are onboard thus the text of a new UNCLOS would have to be carefully worded.

Gain:  In creating an agreement that is recognized by the international community, confrontation between the U.S., the PRC, and ASEAN may be avoided.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.

David Mattingly serves on the board of directors for the Naval Intelligence Professionals and is also a member of the Military Writers Guild. The views reflected are his own and do not represents the United States Government of any of its agencies. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Endnotes:

[1]  Harrison, James. July 5, 2007. Evolution of the law of the sea: developments in law -making in the wake of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

[2]  Treves, Tullio. 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea. United Nations.  http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/gclos/gclos.html

[3]  Second United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 17 March – 26 April 1960 Geneva, Switzerland. , January 8, 2017. Washington School of Law, American University. http://wcl.american.libguides.com/c.php?

[4]  The Convention of the Law of Sea. U.S. Navy Judge Advocate Corps. http://www.jag.navy.mil/organization/code_10_law_of_the_sea.htm

[5]  Patrick, Stewart M, June 10, 2012. (Almost) Everyone Agrees: The U.S. Should Ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty. The Atlantichttps://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/-almost-everyone-agrees-the-us-should-ratify-the-law-of-the-sea-treaty/258301/

[6]  Senators Portman and Ayotte Sink Law of the Sea. July 16, 2012. Portman Senate Office, Washington, DC.

[7]  Tsirbas, Marina. , June 2, 2016. What Does the Nine-Dash Line Actually Mean? The Diplomathttp://thediplomat.com/2016/06/what-does-the-nine-dash-line-actually-mean/

[8]  Bautista, Lowell B. 2011.  Philippine Territorial Boundaries: Internal tensions, colonial baggage, ambivalent conformity.  University of Wollongong. New South Wales, http://jati-dseas.um.edu.my/filebank/published_article/3162/035 053%20Lowell%20B.%20Bautista-
 Philippine%20Territorial,%20JATI%20VOL16,%202011-%20new.pdf

[9]  Katchen, Martin H. 1976. The Spratly Islands and the Law of the Sea: “Dangerous ground” for Asian Peace. Presented at the Association of Asian Studies, Pacific Area Conference.  June.  Revised and published in the Asian Survey.

Featured Image: International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)