James R. Holmes on the change in China’s approach to the disputed South China Sea region:
Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen chooses his words well in a story on China’s latest bid to rule offshore waters. Beijing, he writes, is augmenting its “police powers” in the South China Sea. That’s legalese for enforcing domestic law within certain lines inscribed on the map, or in this case nautical chart.
The Hainan provincial legislature, that is, issued a directive last November requiring foreign fishermen to obtain permission before plying their trade within some two-thirds of the sea. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beaconsupplies a map depicting the affected zone. It’s worth pointing out that the zone doesn’t span the entire waterspace within the nine-dashed line, where Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty.”
China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon
A few quick thoughts as this story develops. One, regional and extraregional observers shouldn’t be too shocked at this turn of events. China’s claims to the South China Sea reach back decades. The map bearing the nine-dashed line, for instance, predates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It may go back a century. Nor are these idle fancies. Chinese forces pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the Paracels in 1974. Sporadic encounters with neighboring maritime forces — sometime violent, more often not — have continued to this day. (See Shoal, Scarborough.) Only the pace has quickened.
Henry Kissinger notes that custodians and beneficiaries of the status quo find it hard to believe that revolutionaries really want what they say they want. Memo to Manila, Hanoi & Co.: Beijing really wants what it says it wants.
Sir Humphrey on how the UK still manages to project force around the world in the wake of the most recent set of budget cuts:
While the numbers may be smaller than in the past, reading the twitter feed [@NavyLookout]and looking at the images of modern vessels, one is left with a genuine sense that the RN remains an immensely capable force by any reasonable standard. The ability to deploy this force globally, and to meet a wide range of missions is extremely impressive. One of the centre pieces of the SDSR was the restructuring of the RN to provide the so-called ‘Response Force Task Group’ (RFTG) which has since establishment proven to be a superb means of deploying a worked up task group around the world and reacting to events.
In this year alone the Royal Navy has been engaged in operations across the globe, and been able to not only rely on warship deployments, but also highlight the value of its wider basing and command and control capabilities. As the year draws to a close, there are by the authors reckoning three 1* command groups deployed out there co-coordinating both UK and Multi-national operations. The facility in Sembewang has once again highlighted its importance to the RN (and the wider UK) as a useful foothold in a region that the RN hasn’t frequented for some years, and HMS DARING and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS have helped restore hope to thousands of people affected by the dreadful events in the Philippines.
While many wish to be downbeat about the RN, given the pace at which it is operating globally, and the way in which it is able to respond so rapidly to so many events, it is hard to see it as a navy in decline. Yes it is smaller, but so are most Navies these days. But to judge a Navy purely by hulls and not by output is misguided — the RN today remains one of the most capable on the planet, and the events of this year have gone to show that it continues to meet the task placed on it with aplomb.
China never ceases to amaze. Not only has the leadership done away with a promising soft-power campaign that was years in the making. It razed its own soft-power edifice to the ground, and salted the ruins so nothing can take root again. Why remains a mystery.
The latest trouble sign came after Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine Islands over the weekend, claiming at least more than 1,800 lives so far. Professor Mead posted an item marveling at the paltry sum Beijing committed to Philippine disaster relief. Upon reading it, I was sure Mead had omitted two or three zeroes. But sure enough, cross-checking his commentary against a Reuters report shows he had the figure right: US$100,000 in direct aid, and another US$100,000 through the Red Cross. Such token amounts give tokenism a bad name.
Forget smile diplomacy. This is sneer diplomacy. Many observers, myself included, ascribed Chinese inaction following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to immature capability. The PLA hadn’t yet fielded the expeditionary capabilities necessary to render assistance far from Chinese shores. Beijing did little because it could do little. Chinese forces, however, now own disaster-relief assets such as the hospital ship Peace Ark. Yet they remain idle. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Beijing is withholding help out of pique. Manila, after all, has the temerity to insist that its exclusive economic zone is, well, its exclusive economic zone. Seems political tit-for-tat trumps alleviating human suffering.
There’s an upside to this from an American standpoint: China has made itself look small and petty, like a skinflint rather than a magnanimous power worthy of regional leadership. This is self-defeating conduct of a high order. Far be it from me to interfere with a strategic competitor intent on shooting himself in the foot. Fire!
John Donovan linked to this interesting New York Times Magazine feature about the Spratly Islands and the geopolitical standoff between China and pretty much all of the other nations bordering the South China Sea:
Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.
To understand how Ayungin (known to the Western world as Second Thomas Shoal) could become contested ground is to confront, in miniature, both the rise of China and the potential future of U.S. foreign policy. It is also to enter into a morass of competing historical, territorial and even moral claims in an area where defining what is true or fair may be no easier than it has proved to be in the Middle East.
The Spratly Islands sprawl over roughly 160,000 square miles in the waters of the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China — all of whom claim part of the islands.
The US Navy has decided that the best course of action is to break up the minesweeper USS Guardian after it ran solidly aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea:
“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.
It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.
Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.
The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.
The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”
No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.
Update, 8 February: A bit more information about the salvage operations which are supposed to have started on February 4th.
I posted an item last month about the stand-off between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Philippine ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar (a former USCG cutter) in the Scarborough Shoal. Now there’s a report from Hong Kong’s largest English-language newspaper that China is sending another flotilla to the area:
China has sent five warships to the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the west coast of the Philippines with the warning that Beijing is ready for “any escalation” of the conflict.
That comes as the outgunned Philippines looks to the United States for naval support in South China Sea territory that may be rich in energy sources.
The five warships are said to be among the most advanced vessels in the Chinese fleet.
They include ships with state-of-the-art systems against attack from the sky, while one is an assault ship that carries 20 amphibious tanks and specialized fighting teams among 800 personnel.
Japanese surveillance aircraft saw the flotilla west of Okinawa and sailing south on Sunday.
Without American support, the Philippine navy is completely out-classed by the PLAN (aside from a large number of in-shore patrol craft, there are only 14 combat-capable ships). And it’s not clear that the US will want to escalate tension at this moment, especially over something like the Scarborough Shoal.
China’s view of its borders in the South China Sea clashes wildly with those of its neighbours and the international community:
In a statement, the Philippines said that its navy boarded the Chinese fishing vessels on Tuesday and found a large amount of illegally-caught fish and coral.
Two Chinese surveillance ships then apparently arrived in the area, placing themselves between the warship and the fishing vessels, preventing the navy from making arrests.
The Philippines summoned Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing on Wednesday to lodge a protest over the incident. However, China maintained it had sovereign rights over the area and asked that the Philippine warship leave the waters.
Strategy Page, on the Philippines’ financial and strategic problems:
The Philippines is asking the U.S. for some used F-16 jet fighters. The Philippines is broke, so the proposed deal is for free F-16s, with the Philippines paying for any upgrades or modifications needed for service in the Philippines Air Force. Normally, the Philippines has no practical need for a jet fighter force. But this has changed because of possible clashes with China, the Filipinos are being practical. China is claiming Filipino territorial waters, including places where the Philippines authorized drilling for oil and gas. The Philippines could never afford to buy, or even just maintain warplanes sufficient to deal with a Chinese air threat. The Philippines depends on its friendship with the United States for protection. American warplanes provide better protection than any jet fighters the Philippines could put in the air. But the Philippines would like a dozen or so F-16s just so they can chase away Chinese warplanes that increasingly fly into Filipino air space.
Six years ago, the Philippines removed from service its eight F-5 fighters. These 1960s era aircraft were not much of a match for more recent warplanes, and were expensive to maintain. In the meantime, the Philippines has been using armed trainer aircraft for strikes against Moslem and communist rebels.
I’m not a karaoke fan, but even I think that this is a bit of over-reaction to bad singing:
The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”
The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?
Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.
Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.