September 10, 2013

China’s historical model for naval strategy

Filed under: China, History, Middle East, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

At The Diplomat, James Holmes explains the odd fact that China is a “good citizen” in their coalition work with other countries fighting piracy away from home, but bullies its neighbours in the waters closer to home:

The analogy is the doctrine of “no peace beyond the line” practiced in late Renaissance Europe. To recap: in a nifty bit of collective doublethink, European rulers struck up a compact whereby nations could remain at peace in Europe, avoiding the hardships of direct conflict, while assailing each other mercilessly beyond a mythical boundary separating Europe from the Americas. In practice this meant they raided each other’s shipping and outposts in the greater Caribbean Sea and its Atlantic approaches.

It feels as though an inverse dynamic is at work in the Indo-Pacific theater. Naval powers cooperate westward of the line traced by the Malay Peninsula, Strait of Malacca, and Indonesian archipelago. Suspicions pockmarked by occasional confrontation predominate east of the South China Sea rim, a physical — rather than imaginary — line dividing over there from home ground.

A non-Renaissance European, Clausewitz, helps explain why seafaring powers can police the Gulf of Aden in harmony while feuding over the law of the sea in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It’s because the mission is apolitical. Counterpiracy is the overriding priority for the nations that have dispatched vessels to the waters off Somalia. Few if any of them have cross-cutting interests or motives that might disrupt the enterprise. It’s easy to work together when the partners bring little baggage to the venture.


You see where I’m going with this. The expedition to the Gulf of Aden is an easy case. It proves a trivial result, namely that rivals can collaborate for mutual gain when they have the same interests in an endeavor. Now plant yourself in East Asia and survey the strategic terrain within the perimeter separating the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. China views the South China Sea, to name one contested expanse, not as a commons but as offshore territory. Indeed, Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty” there.

Such pretensions grate on Southeast Asian states, while the United States hopes to rally coalitions and partnerships to oversee the commons. But if Beijing is serious about the near seas’ constituting “blue national soil” — and our Chinese friends are nothing if not sincere — then outsiders policing these waters must look like invaders. How else would you regard foreign constables or armies roaming your soil — even for praiseworthy reasons — without so much as a by-your-leave?

South China Sea claims

September 4, 2013

Air-Sea Battle as a response to Chinese military expansion

Filed under: China, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:18

The Diplomat‘s Amitai Etzioni looks at the US Air-Sea Battle plan:

On the face of it, the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle plan makes eminently good sense; it is a clear response to a clear challenge. China has been developing a whole slew of weapons (especially anti-ship missiles) over the past two decades that are of great concern to the U.S. military. These weapons, known in Pentagon-speak as anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, could undermine the international right to free passage in China’s surrounding waters or, in the case of a conflict over Taiwan or contested islands in the South and East China Seas, prevent the U.S. from making good on defense commitments to its friends in the region.

In response, the Pentagon developed Air-Sea Battle (ASB), the employment of which entails, according to position papers developed to promote it, a blistering assault on China’s mainland. A report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) gives a detailed account of how an ASB-style war with China would unfold. In the opening “blinding campaign,” the U.S. attacks China’s reconnaissance and command-and-control networks to degrade the PLA’s ability to target U.S. and allied forces. Next, the military takes the fight to the Chinese mainland, striking long-range anti-ship missile launchers. Given that this is where the anti-ship missiles are located, it is only logical that the U.S. would target land-based platforms. And to go after them, one of course needs to take out China’s air defense systems, command control centers, and other anti-access weapons. In short, ASB requires a total war with China.


The main flaw Air-Sea Battle it is not merely that it is a particularly aggressive military response to the anti-access/area-denial challenge. The problem is that ASB is developing in a foreign policy vacuum. If the U.S. were to conduct a thorough review of China’s military capabilities and its regional and global ambitions — and found that the Chinese were planning to forcefully expand their territory or unseat the U.S. as the global power, perhaps Air-Sea Battle might be deemed appropriate.

February 5, 2013

Japan lodges formal protest after Chinese ship targets Japanese ship near Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

Filed under: China, Japan, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:13

The BBC has the details:

“On 30 January, something like fire-control radar was directed at a Japan Self-Defence Maritime escort ship in the East China Sea,” Mr Onodera told reporters on Tuesday.

The minister said Japan’s Yuudachi vessel and the Chinese frigate were about 3km (one mile) [ed: conversion error here, 3km is about 2 miles] apart at the time, Japan’s Kyodo News reports.

Asked about the delay in filing the protest, Mr Onodera said it took the ministry until Tuesday to determine that a fire-control radar had indeed locked on the Japanese ship.

He added that a Japanese military helicopter was also targeted with a similar type of radar by another Chinese frigate on 19 January.

“Directing such radar is very abnormal. We recognise it would create a very dangerous situation if a single misstep occurred,” he said.

Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

December 26, 2012

What we gain in accuracy we lose in romance

Filed under: History, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

What am I talking about? Digital maps:

It’s not often that maps make headlines, but they’ve been doing so with some regularity lately. Last week, tens of millions of iPhone users found that they could suddenly leave their homes again without getting either lost or cross. This was because Google finally released an app containing its own (fairly brilliant) mapping system. Google Maps had been sorely missed for several months, ever since Apple booted it in favor of the company’s own inadequate alternative — a cartographic dud blamed for everything from deleting Shakespeare’s birthplace to stranding Australian travelers in a desolate national park 43 miles away from their actual destination. As one Twitter wag declared: “I wouldn’t trade my Apple Maps for all the tea in Cuba.”

There was one potential bright spot, though: Among the many mistakes found in Apple Maps was a rather elegant solution to the continuing dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku islands. Japan controls them; China claims them. Apple Maps, when released, simply duplicated the islands, with two sets shown side-by-side — one for Japan, one for China. Win-win. (At least until the software update.) Call it diplomacy by digital dunderheadedness.

As some may recall, it was not so long ago that we got around by using maps that folded. Occasionally, if we wanted a truly global picture of our place in the world, we would pull shoulder-dislocating atlases from shelves. The world was bigger back then. Experience and cheaper travel have rendered it small, but nothing has shrunk the world more than digital mapping.

[. . .]

There is something disappointing about the austere potential perfection of the new maps. The satellites above us have seen all there is to see of the world; technically, they have mapped it all. But satellites know nothing of the beauty of hand-drawn maps, with their Spanish galleons and sea monsters, and they cannot comprehend wanderlust and the desire for discovery. Today we can locate the smallest hamlet in sub-Saharan Africa or the Yukon, but can we claim that we know them any better? Do the irregular and unpredictable fancies of the older maps more accurately reflect the strangeness of the world?

The uncertainty that was once an unavoidable part or our relationship with maps has been replaced by a false sense of Wi-Fi-enabled omnipotence. Digital maps are the enemies of wonder. They suppress our urge to experiment and (usually) steer us from error—but what could be more irrepressibly human than those very things?

Update: And the Apple Maps fiasco has them leading most of the tech world’s “Top 10” lists for mis-steps, fumbles, and self-inflicted wounds.

There really could be only one pick for the number-one spot on this list. The Apple Maps fiasco has done more to hurt the company’s image than anything else this year, leaving their reputation — and those of some of its supporters — in the dust.

At the start of the year Apple was riding high. The loss of cofounder Steve Jobs had been handled better than many in the industry had expected, and Tim Cook looked like a safe pair of hands to take the company forward. Apple was on its way to being the most valuable in the world in dollar terms, and was beating the competition like a red-headed stepchild.

[. . .]

When iOS 6 with Apple Maps launched, there was initially little fuss. Apple’s policy of only letting friendly reviewers get advanced access to kit held up well, and virtually none of Cupertino’s chosen few even mentioned the mapping function in their glowing reviews of the new operating system. But then users actually tried it out and the results were plain to see.

Apple’s Maps app simply didn’t work correctly. Sure, it could get you from point to point — just about — but the level of detail included was poor and mapping information was frequently wrong. The list of cock-ups grew day by day as people realized that the application just wasn’t fit in any meaningful way.

Even the Australian police warned against using it for fear of getting lost in the desert.

September 3, 2012

Military-political jockeying in the East China Sea

Filed under: China, Japan, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:26

At sp!ked, James Woudhuysen has a long essay on the many tiny islands in the East China Sea (and South China Sea) that may feature in future shooting wars:

Outside East Asia, very few people know where the Senkaku islands are. But inside East Asia, the Senkaku prompt great bitterness between Japan, China and Taiwan. At stake is the national pride of each country, which believes that it alone owns them. At stake also are each country’s hopes that it might find oil or gas nearby, and its desire to sail round them unimpeded. But there is more. The Senkaku, and islands like them, signify how, among all the continents in the world, Asia’s past century has been the most enduringly explosive — and how its next could follow the same pattern.

Two hundred nautical miles (nm) west of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, 200 nm east of the province of Fujian in the People’s Republic of China, and just 120 nm north-east of Taiwan, there lies an archipelago of five uninhabited islands, covering just seven square kilometres and covered in jungle. Coming from Tokyo, a team of 25 city officials, surveyors and — inevitably — estate agents circled the islands just this weekend, hoping to reinforce Japan’s control over them. In the past, similar moves by both Japan and China have prompted fury, and not a little diplomatic concern elsewhere.

In mid-August, a group of Chinese sailed to the islands in order to uphold Beijing’s claim to them, only to meet with deportation at the hands of Japan. A little later, 150 Japanese nationalists came by in a flotilla and 10 of them swam ashore to raise the Japanese flag. Then, in the latest of a series of tit-for-tat episodes stretching back years, demonstrators in several Chinese cities insisted that Japan get out of the islands. All that’s missing now is that, on top of Tokyo’s rule over what it calls Senkaku and Beijing’s claim over what it calls Diaoyu, is a Taiwanese incursion over what they call the Diaoyutai.

What’s going on? Could all this lead to some kind of fearsome war between Japan, China and Taiwan? And why are there disputes not only in the East China Sea, but also in the South China Sea? There, south-east of Hainan Island (China) and east of Vietnam, China controls the Paracel Islands and resists the complaints of Taiwan and Vietnam about them. There, too, all three parties occupy and are in contention over the myriad Spratly islands, which, lying west of the Philippines and north of Malaysia and Brunei, are also partly controlled and certainly contested by these three nations.

April 15, 2010

Uninhabited islands could be flashpoint in Sino-Japanese conflict

Filed under: China, Japan, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:35

A group of uninhabited islands south of Okinawa have the potential to increase tensions between China and Japan. The Senkaku island group is subject to overlapping claims from China, Taiwan, and Japan:

Japan reports that, for the third time in the past 18 months, Chinese warships have been spotted south of the Japanese Island of Okinawa. This time, it was two Chinese submarines, running on the surface. That had never been seen before, in the area near the Senkaku islands (which are claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan). The Senkakus are eight uninhabited islands, which in the past were only used occasionally by fishermen. The Senkakus are 220 kilometers from Taiwan, 360 kilometers from China and 360 kilometers from Okinawa (which is part of Japan).

[. . .]

Five years ago, a Chinese oil drilling platform, in disputed waters halfway between China and the Japanese island of Okinawa, began producing natural gas, despite ongoing negotiations over who owns what in that patch of ocean. The Chinese spent two years building that platform, in waters claimed by Japan. A second platform was later built, as well as an underwater oil pipeline for both platforms. China regularly sends groups of warships to patrol the area, to underline their belief that this bit of water is under Chinese control. Japan would probably win any naval war with China, but since China has nuclear weapons, and Japan does not (at least not right now), such a war could go seriously against Japan. This has been brought up in Japan before, and it is feared that the issue may lead to Japan secretly, or openly, building nuclear weapons (which it could certainly do, and quite quickly.)

I’m certainly hoping that this is just speculation on the part of Strategy Page (the bit about nuclear weapons), as territorial disputes over islands do have a way of getting out of hand (see Falkland Islands, for example).

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