Taking a break from our series on 3D printing’s potential impact on the world’s fleets, I thought today a graphic would be in order.
The South China Sea is and will be in the news for the foreseeable future. However, if you’re a visual person like me it’s hard to keep straight the Paracels from the Spratleys without a good visual guide. Luckily The Economistdeveloped a nice graphic complete with the various maritime neighbors’ layer cake of competing territorial claims.
The at-times silliness of these claims is brought home when you see that most of the exclusive economic zone (out to 200nm) of Brunei on the island of Borneo is claimed by China (Malaysia’s claim should not overlap Brunei’s as they resolved their maritime border disputein 2009 and further clarified it the next year).
So keep this in your pocket (or perhaps more practically saved away on your desktop somewhere), it’ll likely come in handy in the future for following the news.
North Korea’s official press yesterday warned it will soon launch “unprecedented peculiar attacks” against its enemies in the South. The nature of this threat appears to distinguish it from the nuclear test that may or may not happen in the wake of the North’s failed missile launch earlier this month.
Could this foretell of another incident like the attack on the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) corvette Cheonan (PCC-772) in March 2010? The Cheonan was sunk 75 miles away from joint U.S. Navy-ROKN anti-submarine warfare maneuvers as part of the annual exercise Foal Eagle. Earlier in the month in response to the upcoming American/South Korea exercise the North’s news agency, KCNA, quoted its military high command as saying “The units of the three services of the KPA (Korean People’s Army) should keep themselves fully ready to go into action in order to blow up the citadel of aggressors once the order is issued.” Poetic language as always.
While analysts can be forgiven for ignoring these earlier warning as typical North Korean background noise, this week’s words are interesting in both their language and list of specific “targets” in addition to the South’s President Lee Myung-Bak, and for promising non-conditional action:
“In the meantime, paid conservative media which had long been reduced to a waiting maid of the group of traitors, worked with blood-shot eyes to build up public opinion in favor of the rats’ group.
Involved in the campaign were Dong-A Ilbo situated in the downtown Seoul as well as KBS, MBC, YTN and other media institutions…
The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors…
Their targets are the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors, the arch criminals, and the group of rat-like elements including conservative media destroying the mainstay of the fair public opinion.
Once the above-said special actions kick off, they will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.”
Does this mean that the ROKN can breathe easy? I’d say yes, that as analysts have suggested we’re more likely to see the North carry out hacking, and perhaps even terrorist acts. Plus, the North hasn’t exactly been known to keep its promises. But then again it’s North Korea, so who knows?
Reading last week about the joint Russian-Chinese naval exercise “Maritime Cooperation 2012” in the Yellow Sea, I was interested to learn that the Russians insistedbridge-to-bridge and exercise communications be conducted solely in Russian. This is further indication that the exercise, the largest for the two navies since 2005, is a sign of normalizing ties rather than of a burgeoning alliance. The pair had at first agreed to use both Chinese and Russian, but interestingly the Chinese acquiesced to Russian demands. Perhaps it was a simple lack of Mandarin speakers in the Russian fleet, but this seems unlikely given the effort each side takes to monitor the other’s activities. I was also curious, but not surprised, that neither side pushed for a compromise use of English.
English – or rather “Maritime English” – is, after all, the language of both maritime and air operations. British and then American naval and commercial power originally spread its use on the seas, but it was only in 1995 that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) codified English as the official language of mariners. This, however, built on prior agreements and was followed in 2001 by the adoption of the Standard Marine Communication Phrases to standardize safety terms and phrases such as the gem: “I am sinking. Please proceed to my assistance. What is your ETA at our distress position?”
Having a common language at sea is important (just ask the passengers on the Costa Concordia who couldn’t understand the crew’s Italian instructions, or for that matter the crewmembers who didn’t speak Italian). Like any accepted set of standards a common language facilitates safe interaction and commerce. The website of Maritime Tests of Language, a testing company, cites IMO statistics stating “80% of accidents taking place at sea are caused by human error, with half due to poor communication.”
Undoubtedly some of these mishaps are due to language comprehension difficulties – not a surprise if you can imagine trying to understand a heavily accented, non-native speaker trying to communicate something in a panic. The IMO has studied requiring a standardized Maritime English-language competency test as an amendment to its 1978 Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchstanding, but so far has only posted guidelines.
Despite the growth of Chinese naval and commercial shipping prowess, I don’t foresee China pushing for Mandarin to rival or replace English as an official maritime language in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, I do expect the PLAN to become more insistent on Mandarin’s use in joint exercises when its partner speaks a similarly non-English tongue.