China Caucus Blog

Posted by Alex Gray | February 12, 2016

Joint Naval Patrols Meant To Dial Down South China Sea Tensions: US Admiral. “Joint naval patrols by the United States and other countries in the disputed South China Sea are meant to decrease tensions, said America’s top military commander for Asia Pacific early yesterday (Wednesday, Hawaii time), adding that the mooted joint patrols between Washington and New Delhi reflect their confluence of interests in the regional maritime domain. “The more patrols we (the US) have, singularly or jointly, not only in the South China Sea but across the region, I think that helps to decrease tensions, and increase stability,” said Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command. He said that these joint patrols reinforce the importance of the principle of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a large swathe of which is claimed by China. When asked about a report this week saying the US and India could be planning joint patrols in the disputed waters by the end of this year, Admiral Harris said: “Our rebalance (towards Asia) and India’s Act East policy kind of comes together in the South China Sea. I think that is a very positive thing.” Washington is challenging Beijing’s claim that much of the South China Sea is China’s sovereign territory. The US has mounted freedom of navigation operations there in recent months to show that American vessels can sail in international waters any time they desire. Admiral Harris, who was speaking to a group of South-east Asian journalists at the US Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, said the South China Sea is international waters, and not the territorial waters of any country. “The South China Sea at large does not belong to any country,” he said, adding that the US welcomes all navies to join the patrols there. Last month, China accused the US of violating its laws and of seeking maritime hegemony after the Pentagon said a Navy destroyer had conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the disputed waters. The warship had sailed within the 12-mile territorial zone of an island that China claims in the South China Sea. The US and its allies have been alarmed in recent months by the speed at which China has enlarged tiny atolls and reefs to become larger islands. The islands are now equipped with military-size runways and the capacity to park fighter jets and berth naval ships. In the past 18 months, China had reclaimed more than 1,200ha to build the artificial islands, compared with 87ha of land reclaimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan in the past 40 years, Admiral Harris said in a recent speech in Washington, adding the US Navy would conduct more freedom of navigation operations. A Reuters report this week cited an unnamed US defence official as saying the US and India had discussed joint patrols, including in the South China Sea, adding that both sides were hopeful of launching them within the year. Admiral Harris yesterday stopped short of confirming the joint patrols. “Whether we do patrols (with India) or not, it is a matter of conjecture and let’s leave it at that,” he said. Neither India nor the US has claims to the South China Sea, but both said they backed freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway when US President Barack Obama visited New Delhi in January last year. More than US$5 trillion (S$6.95 trillion) in shipborne trade moves through the South China Sea each year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway. One main reason the Pentagon has launched freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea is to reinforce existing international rules and norms in the region, including those associated with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said a panel of geopolitical experts from the East-West Center (EWC) in Honolulu yesterday during a forum on US-Asia relations. Dr.  Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the EWC, said the purpose of the joint patrols is to “invite others to make gestures of support for the rules”. “From the US point of view, it is a way of demonstrating that the system of rules has value for most of the countries in the region,” he said. “The more countries that make a tangible demonstration to that effect, it emboldens everyone to speak out more loudly in support of those rules that may come under challenge.” Dr. Roy noted that such naval patrols may inadvertently escalate tensions in the region and make China “unhappy”. But he added: “The question is whether you see anything that makes China unhappy as escalating tensions, or, on the other hand, it is sometimes necessary to signal to China that the Chinese behaviour itself sometimes raises tensions and other countries can push back.”

US To Corral ASEAN Support In South China Sea Spat. “Later this year an obscure international tribunal in The Hague will issue a decision about contested islands in the South China Sea. For the Obama administration, the ruling will be a seminal moment in the fierce disputes about the South China Sea — a test of China’s willingness to follow international law in its dealings with its neighbours. The US also intends to use a summit next week with leaders from Southeast Asia to begin building diplomatic pressure on China over the case. President Barack Obama will encourage other countries in the region to urge Beijing to accept the ruling, which is expected to challenge some of China’s expansive claims. “This [the tribunal ruling] is going to be hugely important,” Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in an interview. “I think it is the acid test of whether China will be seen as a nation that abides by international law or whether China is prepared to be seen as an outlier that flouts international law.” Mr. Obama will host the leaders of Asean, the south-east Asian group, on Monday and Tuesday at Sunnylands — the same California estate where he met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013 for a “shirtsleeves summit”. US officials see the Asean summit as the culmination of a seven-year effort by the administration to improve relations with the region, which has included unprecedented engagement with Myanmar and stepped-up military relationships with Vietnam and the Philippines. The official agenda includes trade, counter-terrorism and what White House officials describe as the occasional “pull-aside” to discuss human rights violations. However, in the background for most of the discussion will be China and, in particular, the disputed islands in the South China Sea. Beijing’s aggressive exercise in land reclamation, including the construction of four airfields with potential military use, has alarmed many of its neighbours and intensified their demands for a stronger US presence in the region. A United Nations tribunal is expected to rule between April and June on a case brought by the Philippines which seeks to invalidate the “nine-dash line” — markings on maps that Beijing uses to claim almost the entire South China Sea. China lost the first round of the case in October when The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which hears disputes related to the UN Law of the Sea, decided that it would accept the case despite protests by Beijing that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction. In the next stage, the court will rule on Chinese claims to territorial seas around certain land features and rocks that it controls as well as the now-infamous “nine-dash line”. The “nine-dash line” has allowed Beijing to make broad maritime claims without ever specifying the extent of the territory it believes it controls. China says it will not recognise the court’s ruling and US officials do not expect it to result in any claims being surrendered. However, the US reckons that by standing together in support of the tribunal, countries in the region can exert diplomatic pressure on China to prevent any military use of the man-made islands. Indeed, some officials believe that the impending court decision is one reason why Chinese construction has been so aggressive in recent months — to create established facts before the verdict comes down. “The Chinese strategy has been one of deliberate ambiguity, but that ambiguity is being steadily eroded by the prospect of the tribunal judgment,” said a senior administration official. The official added: “The verdict is equally binding on China and the Philippines regardless of how it goes. It is in all of our interests to do everything in our power to encourage the Chinese to do what they say they do — which is to adhere to international law.” But Ernest Bower, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that China was “putting massive pressure” on some Asean countries to prevent a common statement at the summit about the South China Sea — particularly Cambodia and Laos, which do not have any territorial disputes with China. Mira Rapp-Hooper, an expert on the South China Sea at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said that the US had “some work to do to maximise the impact of the tribunal decision given that China is not going to comply in the near-term”. A joint message from the US and Asean would, she said, put a reputational cost on China if it failed to comply. She advocated further backing that up via US freedom-of-navigation operations — naval patrols that contest excessive maritime claims.”

China Adds Warheads To Older DF-5s. “China’s military has begun retrofitting single-warhead DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, according to U.S. defense officials. The upgrading of the DF-5 missiles with multiple warheads, known as MIRVs, was detected by U.S. intelligence agencies within the past several months. The addition of three warheads on the long-range missiles marks a significant shift for China’s nuclear arsenal that is increasing in both warheads and missile systems under a major buildup. Analysts say the warhead upgrades could affect U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence strategy by requiring a boost in U.S. warheads in the future. Strategic Command spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell declined to comment on the impact of the MIRVed Chinese missiles. Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the Strategic Command, confirmed last month that China is making “significant investments” to both nuclear and conventional forces, including the addition of MIRVed missiles. “China is re-engineering its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple nuclear warheads,” Adm. Haney said Jan. 22 in a speech. Additionally, China recently showed off a new DF-26 intermediate-range missile that Beijing said can be armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads. The Chinese also conducted six successful tests of a hypersonic glide vehicle. The four-star admiral said Chinese secrecy and the nuclear buildup are raising questions about the Chinese policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in conflict, while undermining stability. “While China periodically reminds us of its ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, these developments — coupled with the Chinese intentional lack of transparency on nuclear issues, such as force, disposition and size — can impact regional and strategic stability,” Adm. Haney said. Former Pentagon nuclear forces expert Keith Payne said the Chinese buildup highlights the failure of the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to reduce global nuclear arsenals by cutting U.S. weapons. “If China continues to modernize its nuclear forces, including the MIRVing of its long-range ballistic missiles, it will have demonstrated the utter failure of the theory that the U.S. ‘moral example’ of continued nuclear reductions leads to nuclear reductions globally and, ultimately, to nuclear zero,” Mr. Payne told Inside the Ring. The view that U.S. nuclear cuts promote global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament appears to be a key tenet of U.S. strategic policy for years. “China’s nuclear weapons programs, along with Russia’s, demonstrate as nothing else could the failure of that approach, and that we once again need to place priority on sustaining U.S. capabilities to deter attacks on ourselves and our allies,” Mr. Payne said. “The years of America’s nuclear indolence must now come to an end.” Mark Stokes, a former Air Force officer and China weapons expert, said the DF-5 upgrade and the new MIRV missiles “certainly means a significant growth in the number of nuclear warheads that can reach us here in the greater Washington, D.C., area.” Mr. Stokes, of the Project 2049 Institute, said the multiple-warhead DF-5B, an advanced variant, probably entered service several yeas ago, and that replacing all single-warhead, silo-based DF-5As with the multiple warheads was expected. “Add the new mobile MIRVed ICBM to the mix, [and] this means a pretty significant growth over the next decade or so,” Mr. Stokes said, noting the DF-5s likely are being upgraded from one warhead to three MIRVs. Rick Fisher, a China military analyst, said the uploading of DF-5 warheads means the Chinese probably are deploying additional DF-5s beyond the estimated total number of 20 missiles several years ago. “When you add the possibility of MIRVed DF-5s exceeding 20, to the imminent deployment of the road-mobile and rail-mobile MIRVed DF-41, and the potential for a MIRVed version of the DF-31 called the DF-31B, it becomes possible to consider that China may reach 500 or more ICBM warheads in the next few years,” said Mr. Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “This, combined with China aggressive development of missile defenses, space warfare capabilities and possible non-nuclear prompt global strike missiles, will quickly undermine confidence by U.S. allies in the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent,” he added. The Pentagon should reverse the decision made by the George H.W. Bush administration in the 1990s to unilaterally withdraw U.S. tactical nuclear arms from U.S. ships, submarines and land-based forces in Asia, he said. “This will help to deter China from invading Taiwan as well as help to deter China’s ally, North Korea, from using its nuclear weapons.”

Taiwan’s South China Sea Dilemma. “The speech of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou on Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba, among other names) on January 28 not only demonstrates his view on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but also reveals the dilemma that confronts his successor, President-elect Tsai Ing-wen. With its occupation of some South China Sea islands after the end of the Second World War, and with the publication of the eleven-dash line on its map in 1947, the Republic of China (ROC) regime, despite losing its governance over Mainland China in 1949, has officially maintained substantial territorial claims over the South China Sea. However, the ROC’s isolated international status since the 1970s marginalizes its role in the region, given its inability to participate in related meetings and legal moves. Moreover, in order to maintain unofficial relations with regional countries and keep itself distinct from Beijing, Taipei has rarely highlighted its broader claims. In 2000, Taiwan’s garrison on Taiping was downgraded from the Marine Corps to the Coast Guard in a bid to lower tensions. Since 2008, however, in step with growing cross-strait integration, the Ma administration gradually ramped up its rhetoric on the South China Sea, among other things proposing that Taipei and Beijing organize a joint fleet to patrol the waters. In his recent speech, Ma has gone a step further. The Taiwanese president used the Qing Empire’s naval presence in the 18th century and the ROC’s maps in 1935 and 1947 as evidence of the legitimacy of Chinese sovereign claim over the South China Sea, and insisted that Taiping was an island, rather than a rock or a reef as the Philippines argues in the international tribunal. With highly overlapping sovereign claims of both Taipei and Beijing in the South China Sea, listing historical evidence helps the latter’s sovereign claim, and the island status of Taiping would help the latter’s argument, given associated maritime rights and the exclusive economic zone. Although Ma also mentioned peaceful solutions and joint development, his attitude on the ROC’s sovereignty over the South China Sea is assertive. In fact, Ma had planned his visit to Taiping Island last November, but cancelled in the face of U.S. pressure. The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, again expressed official concern about Ma’s January visit, but on this occasion to no avail. By the standards of normal democracies, the visit was unusual: Lame duck presidents do not typically propose major policies or make such dramatic statements. However, with its unique statehood and clashing national identities, Taiwan is not a normal democracy. From this speech, his efforts to promote cross-strait integration in the past eight years, and his evident delight at meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, Ma’s Chinese identity is obvious. In the context of this identity, it is reasonable for him to bolster China’s claim, whether that be centered in Taipei or Beijing, over the South China Sea. Despite only three months remaining in his presidency, Ma’s speech on Taiping could highlight the dilemma the South China Sea represents for Taiwan and its next government. On the one hand, Taiwanese people with rising local or Taiwanese identity clearly demonstrated in the recent elections a desire to maintain their autonomy, and even pursue independence, from China. On the other hand, given official claims and the potential resources at stake, public opinion in Taiwan is in favor of maintaining control over Taiping and pursuing other sovereign claims in the South China Sea. That is tantamount to stronger links with China. For a leader with a strong Chinese identity, such as Ma, that may not be a problem, but it could be a challenge for Tsai, Ma’s successor. If Tsai keeps her campaign promise of accepting the status quo, then Ma’s emphasis on sovereignty over the South China Sea will impede the new president’s policy of strengthening relations with Southeast Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines. Tsai hopes to develop relations with Southeast Asia as a means of lowering Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, but territorial claims may well get in the way. Moreover, by taking a similar tone on the South China Sea, Taipei may be seen as Beijing’s “partner” or even “subordinate,” reducing the former’s autonomy and potentially placing it at odds with the United States and Japan.”

China’s Military And Maritime Muscle. “China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been undergoing profound transformation since at least the turn of the century. These changes have permeated every facet of the PLA – technological, organisational, and doctrinal. The ongoing reorganisation of the PLA – including the putative reorganisation of its military regions; the creation of joint commands; the strengthening of top-down leadership by the Central Military Commission (CMC); and the establishment of a national Rocket Force – underline the Chinese leadership’s commitment to establishing a modern military system with Chinese characteristics. With Chinese leaders expressing their desire to develop their country into a maritime power, Beijing has also begun to demonstrate its resolve to follow through with its declarations to build a force that is capable of fighting – and winning – “informationised” wars. “Informatisation” (xinxihua) means that information technologies, especially those capabilities relating to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR), are considered paramount to expanding military effectiveness. This entails, among other things, dominating the electromagnetic spectrum through integrated network electronic warfare as well as exploiting technological advances in microelectronics, sensors, propulsion, stealth, and special materials to outfit the PLA with precision-strike weapons, including ballistic and anti-ship or land-attack cruise missiles. In short, the PLA, in its long transition from People’s War to limited local wars under conditions of informatisation, was seeking to move from being a platform-centric to a more network-centric force, or one where the crucial characteristic of the force is the network linkages among platforms, as opposed to the platforms themselves. The most recent stage of Chinese warfighting doctrine was revealed in the PLA’s most recent defence white paper, Chinese Military Strategy, published in May 2015. It places an even greater emphasis on informatisation and makes it central to operational concepts. According to the 2015 white paper, the PLA will continue to de-emphasise land operations, all but abandoning People’s War (except in name and in terms of political propaganda), particularly in favour of giving new stress and importance to sea- and airpower. It states: “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” As a result, it adds, the PLA Navy ‘will gradually shift its focus from ‘offshore waters defence’ to the combination of ‘offshore waters defence’ with ‘open seas protection’ while China’s air force would ‘endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defence to both defence and offense, and build an air-space defense force structure that can meet the requirements of informationised operations.’ It would be premature to argue that China will catch up to the defence-technological state-of-the-art any time soon. For all of its talk of becoming an ‘informationised’ military, the PLA is still a decidedly platform-centric force, albeit one that is still in the process of becoming more network-enabled. The process itself has been evolutionary: old weapons and military equipment were gradually replaced, as they were modified and upgraded, or else supplemented by and subordinated to more technologically advanced systems. Nevertheless, the PLA, backed by the Xi regime, appears to be progressing toward becoming a truly informationised armed force – a long-term strategy, to say the least. At the same time, the domestic political culture in China increasingly emphasises a sense of victimisation and subsequent entitlement. More and more, Chinese foreign policy is driven by a populist nationalism, fueled by an “official narrative of [Western] humiliation.” This perception of national victimhood has spurred Beijing into becoming ever more intransigent in pressing its territorial claims in the adjoining seas, such as its illegal artificial island-building campaign. These dual trends – the modernisation of the PLA in embrace of extremely high-technology warfare, together with an increasingly obdurate and assertive regime in Beijing that believes it is due its place in the sun – denote a China that is less and less willing to support the status quo in the Asia-Pacific. It also implies a regional great power that is increasingly willing to use force or the show of force in support of its national interests. Most of these developments have been remarkably recent, taking place within the past decade or so. This is the challenge that most threatens the current security calculus in the Asia-Pacific. In this regard, Washington’s response – in terms of the rebalance and its FONOPS (freedom of navigation operations) in the South China Sea – are vital markers in messaging Beijing as to how far it should go in its newly aggressive behaviour. In dealing with China, engagement and containment are the conjoined twins of policy; given China’s recent conduct, it might be time for a bit more of the latter.”

What China’s Humiliation By North Korea Means For East Asia. “The great Roman orator Cicero, addressing his political enemy Catiline, once asked: "To what extent will you continue to abuse our patience ... Is there no end to your unbridled audacity?" That question is raised afresh by Pyongyang's remarkable display of insolence to its sole treaty ally, China. Pyongyang's recent nuclear and missile tests were a double humiliation at a time when Beijing was trying to revitalize frayed government and party-to-party ties with Pyongyang. Last October President Xi Jinping dispatched the fifth-ranking member of the Standing Committee, Liu Yunshan, to Pyongyang to participate in the 70th anniversary of the Korean Workers' Party. Over four days, Liu was seen publicly with Kim Jong Un. Rumours circulated in Beijing that amid improving relations, Kim Jong Un might visit Beijing. Then came Pyongyang's 4th nuclear test – the first time Beijing had received no advance warning. Next, just days before the missile test, Xi dispatched his top nuclear negotiator, Wu Dawei, to Pyongyang seeking to prevent another North Korean missile launch. On arrival he was greeted with the announcement that Pyongyang would launch a satellite in early February. Considering that China is North Korea's principal ally, accounting for 90% of its foreign trade and is the chief provider of most of its fuel and food, this was a remarkable display of contempt. What this behavior shows is that Pyongyang has correctly judged that it has license: that however much Beijing wants a denuclearized North Korea, its policy priority remains to assure a stable North Korea and it will endure substantial damage to its strategic interests if necessary. Beyond a nuclear North, the damage to Chinese interests in Northeast Asia is significant. It includes the enhancement of the U.S. "rebalanced" posture in the region, and new levels of U.S.-South Korea-Japan defense cooperation. Many South Koreans were affronted when China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson explained that China's position on missile defense is that "countries when pursuing their own security interests should take into account others." To South Koreans, that formulation suggested that Beijing seemed more opposed to Seoul's effort to defend itself against a North Korean threat than with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile proliferation itself. Now South Korean Defense officials speak of "synergy" between THAAD (a U.S. anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase) and the other layers of Korean missile defense. Strong opposition from Beijing made THAAD a sensitive political and diplomatic issue in Seoul. But now, THAAD deployment as well as an integrated U.S.-South Korea-Japan defense network may soon become a reality. Yet this is the strategic price Beijing appears willing to pay to protect Pyongyang. Even more worrying for Beijing is new enthusiasm in Seoul for South Korea's own need for a nuclear weapon. It's not hard to see where this could lead – to a nuclear-armed Northeast Asia, a frightening prospect given the structural tensions and uncertainties in Sino-Japanese relations. If North Korea's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction continues to grow and poses a threat to U.S. territories and mainland, questions regarding the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence are likely to surface in Japan and South Korea. Of still greater concern to Beijing is the likely impact of its North Korea-first policy on Sino-U.S. relations. Beijing's ties to Washington are already strained by a host of issues – the South China Sea, the East China Sea, cybersecurity, human rights. Now. North Korea, an issue long viewed as a bright spot in U.S.-China cooperation, is becoming a source of confrontation. As the U.S. moves to unilaterally impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang than those authorized by the U.N., Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has made clear that "a principle of China is that we never approve unilateral sanctions in international affairs. This position will not change no matter how the situation varies." In effect, China is saying that it will accept only a limited, token U.N. Security Council resolution. U.S. efforts to design a U.N. resolution that would cut off North Korea's sources of hard currency – for example, coal exports (all to China) have been rejected by Beijing. The U.S. Congress is close to finalizing legislation that would impose "secondary sanctions" – including against Chinese banks dealing with North Korea. The U.S. Treasury has become skilled at targeted financial sanctions. It was the U.S. move to cut off Iran from the use of SWIFT for international financial transactions that was instrumental in creating pressure that led to the Iran nuclear deal.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 11, 2016

U.S. And India Consider Joint Patrols In South China Sea – U.S. Officials. “The United States and India have held talks about conducting joint naval patrols that a U.S. defense official said could include the disputed South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing, which claims most of the waterway. Washington wants its regional allies and other Asian nations to take a more united stance against China over the South China Sea, where tensions have spiked in the wake of Beijing's construction of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago. India and the United States have ramped up military ties in recent years, holding naval exercises in the Indian Ocean that last year involved the Japanese navy. But the Indian navy has never carried out joint patrols with another country and a naval spokesman told Reuters there was no change in the government's policy of only joining an international military effort under the United Nations flag. He pointed to India's refusal to be part of anti-piracy missions involving dozens of countries in the Gulf of Aden and instead carrying out its own operations there since 2008. The U.S. defense official said the two sides had discussed joint patrols, adding that both were hopeful of launching them within the year. The patrols would likely be in the Indian Ocean where the Indian navy is a major player as well as the South China Sea, the official told Reuters in New Delhi on condition of anonymity. The official gave no details on the scale of the proposed patrols. A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, said the United States and India "continue to explore ways to deepen defense cooperation, including in the area of maritime security", but no decisions had been made on joint patrols. There was no immediate comment from China, which is on a week-long holiday for Chinese New Year. China accused Washington this month of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea in late January. The U.S. Navy conducted a similar exercise in October near one of China's artificial islands in the Spratlys. Neither India nor the United States has claims to the South China Sea, but both said they backed freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway when U.S. President Barack Obama visited New Delhi in January 2015. Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed at the time to "identify specific areas for expanding maritime cooperation". More than $5 trillion in world trade moves through the South China Sea each year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway. In December, the issue of joint patrols came up when Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar visited the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, an Indian government source said. "It was a broad discussion, it was about the potential for joint patrols," said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. India has a long-running land border dispute with China and has been careful not to antagonize its more powerful neighbor, instead focusing on building economic ties. But it has stepped up its naval presence far beyond the Indian Ocean, deploying a ship to the South China Sea almost constantly, an Indian navy commander said, noting this was not the practice a few years ago. The commander added that the largest number of Indian naval ship visits in the South China Sea region was to Vietnam, a country rapidly building military muscle for potential conflict with China over the waterway. India has extended a $100 million credit line for Hanoi to buy patrol boats and is training Vietnamese submariners in India, while Hanoi has granted oil exploration blocks to India in waters off Vietnam that are disputed with China. Still, the idea of joining the United States in patrols in the region was a long shot, the Indian officer said. The Philippines has asked the United States to do joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, something a U.S. diplomat said this month was a possibility.”

North’s Rocket Launch Frays South Korea’s Ties With China. “When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visited America’s firm ally South Korea in 2014, it seemed to be the beginning of a promising courtship. His host, President Park Geun-hye, returned the favor by coming to Beijing last year for an important military parade that other American allies boycotted, a gesture that Mr. Xi may have believed could lead to weaning her away from Washington. For her part, Ms. Park hoped that her new friend in Beijing – South Korea’s No. 1 economic partner – would tamp down the relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons by the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. But the prospect of a friendly new era between China and South Korea seemed to collapse this week. After North Korea, China’s treaty ally, launched a rocket, apparently to test ballistic missile technology, South Korea embraced what China had been trying to prevent: an American antimissile defense system that will be deployed on China’s doorstep. Ms. Park’s government said it was entering talks with the Obama administration regarding the deployment of the American system, and the Pentagon said the installation, paid for by the United States, would take place as quickly as possible. South Korea acted after China’s response to the North’s recent nuclear tests turned out to be more tepid than Ms. Park had expected after nearly two years of Mr. Xi’s wooing, South Korean analysts say. The system, known as THAAD, for Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, would offer South Korea, and the nearly 30,000 American soldiers stationed there, superior protection against the North’s growing nuclear challenge than Seoul’s current inadequate missile defenses, those analysts say. “President Park was very disappointed and upset with Xi’s inaction and silence against North Korea when she desperately needed Xi’s help,” said Kim Heung-kyu, director of the China Policy Institute at Ajou University in Suwon, South Korea. Mr. Xi was then embarrassed domestically by Ms. Park’s rush to accept the American defense system, Mr. Kim said. “Xi Jinping’s efforts to enlist President Park as a friend have not gone as well as he hoped,” he said, “and she was certainly disappointed in his efforts to control Kim Jong-un.” After the rocket launch on Sunday, China expressed “regrets” and argued vigorously at the United Nations against sweeping new sanctions. In contrast, China said it was “deeply concerned” about South Korea’s decision to allow the deployment of the missile defense system. It warned that “every country must not undermine the security interest of other countries while pursuing its own security interests,” clearly implying that the missile system was aimed at solidifying Washington’s network of alliances in Northeast Asia rather than offering protection against North Korea. To demonstrate its annoyance, the Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the South Korean ambassador in Beijing, Kim Jang-soo, to protest the talks between Seoul and Washington on the missile defense system. (In a nod to even-handedness, the Chinese also called in the North Korean ambassador, Ji Jae-ryong, over the rocket launch.) China’s anger at the imminence of an American missile system so close to its borders stems from two propositions, said Chu Shulong, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. First, many in the Chinese government do not believe that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons, Mr. Chu said. Second, the belief that deploying the THAAD system is aimed principally at solidifying America’s position in Northeast Asia is widespread in Beijing, where officials fear the ultimate goal is to contain China. “North Korea is a bad regime, yes, everyone agrees on that,” Mr. Chu said. “Is North Korea going to use its weapons? Perhaps not. They are not seen as an immediate threat.” That judgment differs sharply from testimony to Congress on Tuesday by the United States’ national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., who put North Korea at the top of what Washington views as nuclear- and proliferation-related threats. Of more concern to the Chinese than the North’s nuclear weapons, Mr. Chu said, is the notion that THAAD would knit South Korea and Japan, two American allies that have their own deep squabbles, more tightly under a United States umbrella. “THAAD will bring South Korea and Japan closer to the U.S. defense system, making much more of a military bloc that is targeting China and Russia,” he said. South Korea and Japan have taken other retaliatory actions in response to the North Korea rocket launch. On Wednesday, the South said it was closing an industrial park it runs jointly with the North, and Japan imposed sanctions including stricter limits on North Korean money transfers. But the expedited THAAD deployment appeared to be the most serious response. Chinese experts contend that THAAD has a radar range capable of reaching into China and threatening its own missile deterrence system.”

Great Power Pivot: U.S. Shifts Focus To War With China And Russia. “President Barack Obama’s 2017 defense budget proposal refocuses the Pentagon on great power conflict—or in other words, Russia and China. Both nations are becoming more aggressive along their peripheries, which means that even as the United States continues to cooperate on certain issues with both countries, Washington must be prepared to compete with Moscow and Beijing over the next twenty-five years. “The most significant shift in the future security environment—and that is a return to an era of great power competition,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said during a press conference at the Pentagon on February 9. “Today, we are faced by a resurgent, revanchist Russia and a rising China. Both are nuclear-armed powers. Both are fielding advanced capabilities at a rapid rate. Both are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and both take issue with some aspects of the principled international order that has preserved stability and enabled the peaceful pursuit of prosperity for decades.” As such, the administration is requesting a total of $582.7 billion—$523.9 billion in the base budget and $58.8 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO). The total conforms to the Congressional Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) that was reached in 2015. According to Work, the United States—as directed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter—will focus on three items to address the challenges. “First, we should prioritize strengthening our conventional deterrent against the most advanced potential adversaries. When doing so, he didn't expect us to match advanced adversary capabilities, either numerically or symmetrically,” Work said. “He instead told us to offset their strengths using new technological, operational and organizational constructs to achieve a lasting advantage and to strengthen deterrence.” Moreover, the Pentagon will focus on the quality and capability of its forces rather than the size of those forces. As Work explained: “Second, with respect to the services, the secretary [of defense] asked us to focus far more on shape than size. He asked us to try to achieve the best balance of capacity, modernization, and readiness within the existing budget level—seek that balance.  And in terms of readiness, he expected us to focus on reconstituting full spectrum readiness.” One example Work cited was the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program: “LCS is a perfect example of what the secretary [of defense] meant by focusing more on shape rather than size. The requirement for the U.S. Navy is a battle force of 308 ships. In that 308 ships there's a requirement for eighty-eight large surface combatants like a Ticonderoga-class cruiser or an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer. And there was a requirement for fifty-two LCSs for a total of 140 surface combatants. “If you take a look at last year's plan, the Navy was going to build up to 321 ships and then come down.  And we asked ourselves, what can't we buy because we're going from 308 to 321?  We said, well we can't buy a lot of capability. And so it was a very—and this is not an indictment against the LCS.  If we didn't like the ship we would stop buying it.  But those twelve ships would take us from 321 to 309 ships.  And it allowed us to put more money into torpedoes, more money into P-8s, more money into advanced munitions, more money into tactical aviation.” But readiness, training and the most modern weapons of the moment aren’t everything, the United States will need to invest heavily to maintain its technological edge into the future. “Third,  [Carter] asked us to seek game changing technologies and make more discreet technological bets that exploit our advantages as well as adversary weaknesses,” Work said. The new budget will have an immediate impact on the services. “For the Army, it supports the ongoing transition back to high-end combat and full-spectrum capabilities,” said vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva. “[The budget] invests in the Navy's lethality through improvements in surface capability, tactical aircraft and investments in advanced undersea capabilities. It maintains the Marine Corps' preeminent role as the Nation's most capable expeditionary response force," Selva said. He added that "for the Air Force this budget invests in high-end capabilities across the range of domains that we expect our Air Force to respond in, while attempting to improve readiness through training for the high-end fight.” However, while the Bipartisan Budget Agreement brings much needed stability to the defense budget after a number of tumultuous years, some sacrifices had to be made. Modernization accounts took the brunt of the hit—but the Pentagon has tried to be smart about what it cut. “We went to the modernization account, which tends to be the most volatile. And that's where we had to take some risk, both—so you'll see, for example, twenty-four less Black Hawks, five less Joint Strike Fighters for the Air Force; fewer V-22s. The aircraft procurement accounts, in total $4 billion less; less money for shipbuilding,” said Pentagon comptroller Mike McChord. “These are all not—you know, these are not maybe things that we love to do, certainly, but as we talked about protecting readiness recovery, that people are our most important asset, and with the kind of inadvisability of trying to make a rapid change in force structure based on a fairly short-term budget signal of a two-year deal, this is where we had to go.”

Why Aircraft Carriers Still Matter (To China). “Question: Which statement most accurately describes China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning? 1.     It is an important symbol of national pride to Chinese citizens. 2.     It is a small training carrier that poses little or no threat to US carrier strike groups in the Pacific. 3.     The Liaoning can exert strong coercive pressure on other countries in the region like the Philippines and Vietnam. 4.     All of the above. There is no question China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, poses no direct danger to the United States.   It is a relatively small carrier with little in the way of advanced electronics or weaponry; and, because of its short flight deck, it is launching under-equipped planes. That said, many experts who have dismissed the carrier as nothing more than a symbol of national pride may be significantly underestimating its training value as China constructs several much larger and quite modern carriers.  These same experts also are missing the role of the Liaoning as a coercive tool as China seeks to resolve many outstanding territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas in its favor. In fact, the story of the Liaoning reveals as much about Chinese deception as it does about China’s global military intentions.  It is a long and twisting tale that begins on December 4th, 1988 – the day the Soviet Union launched a brand new aircraft carrier called the Riga. Exactly a decade later and seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, that aircraft carrier, by then renamed the Varyag, sat as a rusting hull stripped of its engine and rudder wasting away in a Ukrainian shipyard.  That’s when a group of former Chinese military officers purchased the carrier for the alleged purpose of turning it into a floating casino berthed in Macao. Of course, this casino ruse hardly fooled the US State Department.  A similar Chinese front company had purchased the Australian carrier HMS Melbourne allegedly for scrap just a few years earlier, but the flight deck was kept intact to train pilots to in carrier takeoffs and landings. To stop China from getting its first operational aircraft carrier back to a Chinese shipyard for renovation, US officials quietly pressured Turkey to block the towing of the carrier through the Bosporus Strait. However, a cash-strapped Turkey eventually succumbed to the lure of Chinese inducements, and the ship was freed. After a perilous journey back to China – at one point the towed ship broke free in high winds and heavy seas – the carrier was refurbished and refitted in a Dalian, China shipyard; and it would complete its first sea trial in August of 2011. Today, the Liaoning is indeed a great source of pride to the Chinese people.  Its picture is everywhere, and everyone from little children to senior citizens love to mimic the iconic deckhand or “shooter” pose that signals each plane’s takeoff.   This is light years away from the 1970s when one Chinese official famously remarked: “China will never build an aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are tools of imperialism, and they’re like sitting ducks waiting to be shot.” Today, the Liaoning is also a great source of fear to nations like the Philippines and Vietnam – both of which are involved in contentious maritime disputes with China.  As Heritage Foundation scholar Dean Cheng has noted: When you look at the South China Sea and when you look at where various countries have their airfields and their air forces, what you can very quickly see is that much of the South China Sea is very far from land.  So, as a result, if you put even a small aircraft carrier there, what you can create is something like an air defense bubble; and one of the lessons the Chinese have taken away from the wars of the past twenty years – Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the Balkans, Afghanistan – is that air superiority is essential to winning modern wars.  You may not win with air superiority, but you will certainly lose without it; and so the ability to deploy an aircraft carrier, even if it is just to keep three or four modern aircraft overhead, is a huge advantage when everybody else in the area really can’t put any aircraft overhead for any sustained period of time. As for the Liaoning’s broader strategic value, it is true that the carrier lacks the sophisticated avionics and flight control software of an American carrier.  In addition, because it is a full football field in length shorter than American carriers, the planes that take off from its deck also cannot carry the full complement of weapons that American planes can. That said, China looks to be playing the long game when it comes to establishing hegemony.  That’s because as a training carrier, the Liaoning fits in quite well with Admiral Liu Huaqing’s original vision of global force projection by the Chinese navy by 2050.”

U.S.-India Patrols In The South China Sea? Maybe Not Just Yet. “Early on Wednesday, Reuters published an interesting exclusive, suggesting that the United States and Indian navies are considering the idea of jointly conducting patrols in the South China Sea. It isn’t explicit if the idea under consideration is a bilateral U.S.-India freedom of navigation patrol, which would require Indian and U.S. vessels to challenge excessive maritime claims, or simply a bilateral passing exercise or other less contentious patrol. Both India and the United States support freedom of navigation, globally and in the South China Sea. In recent years, as I’ve noted at The Diplomat, New Delhi has grown more accustomed to emphasizing the principle in its official statements. Last January, when Obama was in India for a state visit, he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed the importance of freedom of navigation. Just this past weekend, Modi, speaking before the 2016 International Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam, reiterated Indian support for freedom of navigation. It’s not surprising that U.S. and Indian officials are talking about the South China Sea. Overall bilateral strategic and defense ties between Washington and New Delhi have been on a steady track of convergence over the past decade and the South China Sea has risen on both their radars in the meantime. India is seeking to “Act East” these days and has pursued a more active sort of diplomacy with ASEAN and its constituent member states. What’s more, India’s 2015 Maritime Security Strategy document and 2009 Maritime Doctrine have classified the South China Sea as a “secondary zone of interest” for the Indian Navy. Per Reuters, no decision has been made on U.S.-India bilateral joint patrols. If they do take place, the report notes, they’ll happen later this year and will occur in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. If I were to prognosticate, I wouldn’t say it’s likely we’ll see these patrols take place soon – at least in the South China Sea. I’d be entirely skeptical of the idea that New Delhi would entertain undertaking freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea with the United States. The Indian military, as a matter of policy, generally only joins bilateral or multilateral efforts outside of its immediate region as part of a United Nations-sanctioned mission. As the Reuters exclusive further noted, “the Indian navy has never carried out joint patrols with another country.” What’s interesting about this report is what it suggests about how Washington sees New Delhi’s role in the South China Sea. So far, the United States has sought support from its regional allies, including Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, as it has intensified its presence in the South China Sea. Following the October 2015 and January 2016 freedom of navigation patrols in the Spratlys and Paracels respectively, there have been varying calls for multilateralizing these operations going forward. Bringing India into the fold in the South China Sea would serve the U.S. goal of bringing allies and partners together against China’s excessive maritime claims in the area. New Delhi is certainly interested in preserving the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, but its interests remain subtly different from U.S. interests in important ways. For instance, India and Vietnam are cooperating on hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea. Additionally, any Indian involvement in patrols in the South China Sea would draw a negative reaction from China. India has to consider the idea in terms of its broader bilateral relationship with China. India and China are expanding their cooperation at this time, but their unresolved land border disputes will require any diplomatic capital that New Delhi would otherwise be willing to spend in the South China Sea. So, what’s the bottom line on all this? If the U.S. and India do begin bilateral naval patrols this year, it’s far more likely they’ll happen in the Indian Ocean than in the South China Sea at first. If they do take place in the South China Sea, we’ll have witnessed a big change in how India conceives of its role in East Asia, the purpose of its naval power, and its cooperation with the United States there.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 10, 2016

Disputes Over South China Sea Must Not Involve ‘Bullying’: White House. “President Barack Obama will deliver a tough message to China during a summit with Southeast Asian countries next week that disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and not with a big nation “bullying” smaller neighbors, the White House said on Tuesday. Obama will also address North Korea’s “provocations,” a nuclear test last month and a rocket launch over the weekend, when he hosts the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in California on Monday and Tuesday, aides said. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the president will reiterate that territorial disputes over the area, where China and several Southeast Asian states have conflicting and overlapping claims, must be handled through negotiations and consistent with international norms. Though China will not be represented, Obama’s aides made clear that Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, where it has proceeded with island building that U.S. officials suspect could be turned to military use, will be one of the focal points of the summit at the Sunnylands estate near Palm Springs, California. “The president will call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction of new facilities and to carry out no militarization of outposts in the South China Sea,” Dan Kritenbrink, Obama’s top Asia adviser, told reporters on a conference call previewing the ASEAN talks. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. Rhodes said part of Obama’s message at the summit will be the need “to avoid efforts to resolve those disputes through one nation, bigger nation, bullying a smaller one,” uphold freedom of navigation and avoid “inadvertent and unnecessary" military action in the South China Sea. A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea in late January to counter what Washington deems unacceptable efforts to limit freedom of navigation, prompting an angry reaction from Beijing. It was the second such U.S. military exercise carried out last year. Obama will specifically discuss with Southeast Asian leaders his concerns about China’s recent test flights on a newly constructed runway on the Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, Rhodes said. But even as Obama seeks to reassure Southeast Asian leaders of his resolve, he is expected to face divisions within the 10-nation bloc on how far they are willing to go in angering China. The Philippines and Vietnam have taken a harder line while Cambodia and Laos are more reluctant to confront Beijing. U.S. officials insist the summit is not about targeting China but about bolstering economic and security ties with Southeast Asia, a region Obama has focused on as part of his signature “rebalance” toward Asia-Pacific. At the same time, Obama will update Southeast Asian leaders on efforts to increase international sanctions pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, a process that the U.S. officials said China had every reason to assist. “We approach China on the basis that we have a shared interest in the principle of denuclearization and avoiding an escalation on the Korean peninsula,” Rhodes said. But China and the United States have not entirely seen eye to eye on how strong the response should be to North Korea, with Washington urging harsh punitive measures and Beijing stressing the need for dialogue.”

China’s Territorial Ambitions Driving Up Asia’s Defense Spending. “Asia was the only region in the world to see increased military spending in 2015, largely due to solid expansion of China's military budget, according to the Military Balance 2016 report. The latest edition of the annual publication on global defense capabilities and economics was released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a U.K. think tank. It shows that overall defense spending around the globe declined 4.2% in 2015. Bucking the trend, military expenditures in Asia went up, led by an 11% rise in China's military budget. The Philippines, which has been experiencing rising tensions with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, also recorded a solid increase at 10%. But China dominated the region's military spending, with its roughly $356 billion budget accounting for some 40% of the total for Asia. Beijing has continued to systematically upgrade the country's military hardware to higher-performance varieties, and its army, air force and navy have been operating energetically, according to the report's analysis. Military Balance 2016 also mentioned China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea in 2015, suggesting that those dredged islands, equipped with runways and radar towers, may be used for air defense in the future. In addition, it referred to China's repeated incursions into waters near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands – claimed by China as the Diaoyu – in the East China Sea, pointing out that "the military dimension of the Asia-Pacific's international politics was as prominent as ever" in 2015. Another focus of the annual report is the fight against terrorism – in particular, the Islamic State militant group. Bringing up the Paris terrorist attacks and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula, it noted that sharp growth in terrorism has exacerbated critical situations, such as the refugee crisis in Europe, and regional conflicts. At the same time, the report pointed out insufficient financial resources at many countries to fight terrorism. Military spending in Europe fell 12% in 2015. Just four members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent 2% or more of their gross domestic product for defense, a measure prescribed by the organization. The U.S. will continue its pivot toward Asia, and its Department of Defense may seek to bolster the country's defense capabilities by utilizing big data analysis, robotics and other technologies through closer cooperation with information technology firms, in the face of continuing modernization of the Chinese military, the report says. Russia's defense spending dropped 20% in 2015, the report states.”

China’s Diplomatic Language Towards Koreas Cause Stir. “When North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, South Korea announced it would begin formal talks with the United States to deploy an advanced U.S. missile shield to South Korea to better defend itself from the North's growing threats of nuclear and missile capabilities. North Korea's rocket launch, widely viewed as a covert ballistic missile test, was seen as another slap in the face of China, which had dispatched its chief nuclear envoy to Pyongyang days before the launch. South Korea's decision to start talks on the possible deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery came as China has been lukewarm about imposing tougher sanctions against the North's latest nuclear test. China, a key ally of North Korea, has long opposed the deployment of the THAAD battery to South Korea. In a rare move, China's foreign ministry called in both North Korean and South Korean ambassadors on Sunday evening. To the North Korean ambassador, Ji Jae-ryong, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin conveyed the country's "principled position" about the North's rocket launch. To the South Korean ambassador, Kim Jang-soo, Liu expressed the country's "solemn position" about the possible deployment of the U.S. missile defense system. It remains unclear why the Chinese ministry used such different words, but diplomatic sources said China took the issue of the THAAD as serious as North Korea's defiant launch of a long-range rocket. A diplomatic source in Beijing said China might have used a stronger term for South Korea's decision about the THAAD than North Korea's launch. Analysts say China's top priority is to maintain stability in North Korea, rather than denuclearizing the isolated ally. China, North Korea's diplomatic and economic lifeline, has resisted calls to hand down crippling economic sanctions on North Korea following its latest nuclear test. China's leadership is reluctant to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea because a sudden collapse of the regime could spark a refugee crisis at its border and lead to a pro-U.S., democratic Korea on its doorstep, analysts say.”

U.S. & India Consider Joint Patrols In South China Sea – U.S. Official. “The United States and India have held talks about conducting joint naval patrols that a U.S. defense official said could include the disputed South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing, which claims most of the waterway. Washington wants its regional allies and other Asian nations to take a more united stance against China over the South China Sea, where tensions have spiked in the wake of Beijing's construction of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago. India and the United States have ramped up military ties in recent years, holding naval exercises in the Indian Ocean that last year involved the Japanese navy. But the Indian navy has never carried out joint patrols with another country and a naval spokesman told Reuters there was no change in the government's policy of only joining an international military effort under the United Nations flag. He pointed to India's refusal to be part of anti-piracy missions involving dozens of countries in the Gulf of Aden and instead carrying out its own operations there since 2008. The U.S. defense official said the two sides had discussed joint patrols, adding that both were hopeful of launching them within the year. The patrols would likely be in the Indian Ocean where the Indian navy is a major player as well as the South China Sea, the official told Reuters in New Delhi on condition of anonymity. The official gave no details on the scale of the proposed patrols. There was no immediate comment from China, which is on a week-long holiday for Chinese New Year. China accused Washington this month of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea in late January. The U.S. Navy conducted a similar exercise in October near one of China's artificial islands in the Spratlys. Neither India nor the United States has claims to the South China Sea, but both said they backed freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway when U.S. President Barack Obama visited New Delhi in January 2015. Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed at the time to "identify specific areas for expanding maritime cooperation.” More than $5 trillion in world trade moves through the South China Sea each year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway. In December, the issue of joint patrols came up when Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar visited the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, an Indian government source said. "It was a broad discussion, it was about the potential for joint patrols," said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. India has a long-running land border dispute with China and has been careful not to antagonize its more powerful neighbor, instead focusing on building economic ties. But it has stepped up its naval presence far beyond the Indian Ocean, deploying a ship to the South China Sea almost constantly, an Indian navy commander said, noting this wasn't the practice a few years ago. The commander added that the largest number of Indian naval ship visits in the South China Sea region was to Vietnam, a country rapidly building military muscle for potential conflict with China over the waterway. Still, the idea of joining the United States in patrols in the region was a long shot, the officer added. The Philippines has asked the United States to do joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, something a U.S. diplomat said this month was a possibility.”

Why Is China Buying Russian Fighter Jets? “Russia recently sent several Su-35 fighter jets to the Khmeimim air base in Syria, marking the first time that the aircraft have been deployed to a combat zone. In the coming years, the Su-35 will not only be critical to Russian aerial campaigns in the Middle East, but may also affect the balance of power in East Asia: Russia is set to deliver 24 Su-35s to China over the next two years. Last fall, in the second major Russo-Chinese arms deal since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Russia agreed to sell two dozen Su-35s to China for $2 billion. In 2014, Russia and China signed a contract for S-400 surface-to-air missile systems that was estimated to be worth at least $1.9 billion. However, neither deal should be seen as a consequence of the Ukraine crisis: negotiations on both deals began before the EuroMaidan Revolution, and most points of contention were resolved by 2014. Before the Su-35 contract was signed, Russian arms export to China had been barely growing, staying in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year. The arms trade between the two countries can soon be expected to return to the “golden age” of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it reached $2.7 billion per year. The contract has already been a political success for Moscow, highlighting Beijing’s reliance on Russian defense equipment despite its frequent claims of military independence. The deal has also been an economic success for Russia, in part because of the continued devaluation of the ruble. Since the ruble lost half of its value in late 2014, it has become much more profitable to export weapons, which are manufactured almost exclusively with Russian parts and materials. The deal may substantially improve the financial standing of the United Aircraft Corporation and the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KNAAPO), the largest and most important manufacturer of aircraft in Russia. The sale may also lead to contracts for systems and components to be used in new Chinese fighter jets, as well as agreements on technology transfers or research and development. Lastly, the sale improves the prospects for sales of Su-35s to other countries. Indonesia is expected to be the next state to order the jet. Beijing’s rationale for buying Su-35s is less straightforward. China has demonstrated that it can independently design and produce 4++ generation fighter jets, and is now working on two fifth-generation aircraft, the J-20 and the J-31. As China’s domestic production capabilities have increased, nationalist elements of the Chinese government have grown louder in their opposition to the purchase of foreign military equipment. What’s more, the sale of the Su-35s will not significantly boost the combat capability of the Chinese air force, as 24 jets will only be enough for one regiment. Some have suggested that the Chinese bought the jets in order to reverse engineer them, but this is highly unlikely. The Su-35’s engines and avionics, including its powerful Irbis radar system, cannot be reverse engineered in any reasonable amount of time. The purchase is part of a larger Chinese push to develop its air force. Of the two Chinese aircraft being developed—the J-20 and the J-31—only the J-20 can be considered a true fifth-generation fighter. The J-31 uses stealth technology, but its main systems and components are borrowed from 4+ generation aircraft, including the J-10B, J-16, and FC-1. As for the J-20—the pinnacle of Chinese aviation engineering—it is unclear if and when it will be ready for combat, if the experience of the United States and other countries working on fifth-generation jets is any guide. Over the next ten to fifteen years, fighter jets based on the Su-27, such as the J-11B, J-11BS, J-15, and J-16, will constitute the core of Chinese air power. China is already working on upgrading them. It is currently testing the revamped J-11D, which is equipped with an active phased array radar and other enhancements. The Su-35, Russia’s most advanced variant of the Su-27, will allow the Chinese air force to gauge its success in developing the J-11, become familiar with Russian solutions to technical problems, and plot a course for further action. Though the sale is relatively small, it may have a considerable impact on regional security: even a single regiment of Su-35s may be enough to affect the balance of power in Taiwan. Irbis radar systems can detect airborne targets at a range of up to 400 kilometers, which will allow Beijing to monitor Taiwanese airspace from Mainland China.”

Q. And A.: Yan Xuetong Urges China To Adopt A More Assertive Foreign Policy. “Yan Xuetong, the director of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, argues for a more assertive foreign policy for China in his latest book, “The Transition of World Power: Political Leadership and Strategic Competition.” In the book, which the Chinese state news media has reviewed favorably, he advocates what he calls moral realism as a rising China challenges the United States for world leadership. This approach would combine a greater emphasis on forging military partnerships abroad while building a more humane society at home. Mr. Yan, 64, holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2008 was listed among the world’s top 100 public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine. In an interview, he explained why it is time for China to cut back on economic aid to other countries, why North Korea is not China’s ally and why he sees rivalry but not war with the United States: Q. You say that China should establish military alliances, like the United States does. China already provides military assistance to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and some members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and is building a naval support installation in Djibouti. Should China have military bases in these countries? A. For its own interests, China should consider having military bases in countries it considers allies. Unfortunately, the Chinese government insists on a nonalliance principle. It’s too early to say where China would build military bases, since China now has only one real ally, Pakistan. Q. You say that North Korea is not an ally despite the alliance treaty signed between the two countries in 1961. Why? A. In 2013, China publicly denied that it had an alliance with North Korea and declared that the two simply had “normal relations.” The two countries’ leaders haven’t met for years, and that’s not how allies behave. China’s relations with North Korea are worse than those with South Korea, which is an ally of the United States. Q. What’s holding China back from forming alliances? A: Some believe it’s due to a lack of military might, but I think it comes from not seeking truth from facts. The nonalliance principle adopted by the Chinese government in 1982 was the right strategy when China was a very weak power and served the country’s interests well for two decades. But since then China has become the world’s second-largest power, and the nonalliance principle no longer serves its interests. The major obstacle to China abandoning its nonalliance principle is years of propaganda criticizing alliances as part of a Cold War mentality. Q. How can China acquire more allies? Provide more economic and military aid? A. It’s impossible to change the nature of China’s relations with other countries with just economic assistance or loans. So I don’t think China’s One Belt, One Road initiative for economic development across Eurasia can fundamentally change the nature of the relations. Q. You said recently that China should reduce its economic assistance to other countries. Why? A. I think China should limit its economic assistance, including outright aid and loans, to 1 percent of its annual foreign reserves, which amounted to about $35 billion in 2015. The current amount has been way too high given China’s capabilities. In most cases, loans to underdeveloped countries end up being written off rather than repaid. We should scale back this economic assistance and switch to military aid. Military aid should be given to friendly countries to improve strategic cooperation and secure political support. But China should be very cautious about participating in military conflicts in the Middle East. China should learn a lesson from Russia’s military involvement in Syria. Q. How would China abandoning its nonalliance policy change the dynamics between China and United States? A. Any change would only be positive. The more allies China makes, the more balanced and stable the relationship will be. The more China shies away from alliances, the greater the chance that Washington will contain China, therefore resulting in an unstable relationship. There won’t be a direct war between the two sides, because they’re both armed with nuclear weapons. The problem now is that the two are not willing to admit that they’re in competition. They’re still pretending to be friends. During U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to China in 2011, Xi Jinping suggested the idea of “healthy competition” between China and the United States, and this was well received by Biden. When both sides define the nature of their relationship as competition rather than cooperation, they have lower expectations of the other’s friendly actions and higher tolerance of the other’s hostile actions. Thus both sides will be cautious about provoking the other side and will avoid allowing conflicts to escalate to disaster. Unfortunately, “healthy competition” was later replaced by a “new type of great power relations” [Mr. Xi’s proposal of a relationship between equals based on cooperation and avoiding confrontation] and the chance for stabilizing bilateral relations perished.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 09, 2016

Beijing Plans S. China Sea Buildup After US Warship Makes Second Pass Near Island. “China toned down vitriolic rhetoric in response to the recent passage of a US warship near a disputed island in the South China Sea. Chinese government-controlled media outlets, however, seized on the transit of the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur on Jan. 30 within 12 miles of Triton Island in the Paracels archipelago with stepped up threats to deploy missiles and warplanes on some of its 3,200 acres of newly-created islands. Analysis of official Chinese statements after the unannounced warship transit shows Beijing backed off from more threatening rhetoric used after an earlier warship passage in October. Official PRC spokesmen pointedly failed to use the same level of pitched criticism that followed the destroyer USS Lassen’s 12-nautical mile sail near Subi Reef in the Spratlys during the second incident. China denounced the Subi Reef passage, where China is building an airstrip for potential military use, by asserting Beijing’s “resolute opposition,” “solemn representations,” and “solemn warning” to the United States. Those terms were absent in response to what the Pentagon called a routine freedom of navigation operation designed to challenge the island maritime claims of China, Vietnam and Taiwan – all of whom assert sovereignty over the Parcels, known by China as the Xisha chain. Official denunciations instead came mainly from the Defense Ministry that described the action as a “deliberate provocation” with “extremely dangerous consequences.” The Foreign Ministry said the warship operation was “detrimental to peace and stability.” Analysts say the relatively subdued Chinese response this time indicates Beijing wants to avoid a confrontation with the United States. But the restraint may come with a cost: China is now showing signs that the two warship visits are likely to speed up plans to militarize the South China Sea islands. The People’s Liberation Army signaled its military buildup plans for the South China Sea in two communist party-affiliated news outlets on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2. PLA Sr. Col. Liang Fang of the National Defense University wrote in the Global Times that the Wilbur’s passage appeared aimed at gaining Vietnamese backing for US policies challenging China South China Sea control. Liang blamed the stepped up activity on US Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris, who has taken a tougher line on Chinese encroachment than his predecessor. Liang urged the PLA to step up “military deployments” to both the Spratlys and Parcels “as soon as possible,” by dredging deep-water ports, and building airstrips. Additionally, China should now declare an air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, over the sea, he stated. China unilaterally announced an ADIZ over the East China Sea in 2013 as part of its dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands. US defense officials said if China declares an ADIZ over the South China Sea it would further increase tensions in the area. The United States and other states in the region assert emphatically that the South China Sea is an international waterway not subject to any country’s controls. China claims 90% of the sea as its maritime domain. Liang said the US warships visits were “hegemonic provocation” and urged the PLA to use naval and air forces to force US ships out of the region, by “ramming them, and firing warning shots” if necessary. “Moreover, we should be fully prepared for crises to escalate,” he wrote. A separate PLA article revealed plans to deploy combat aircraft on rotational shifts, along with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and air defense missiles that would threaten both surface ships and aircraft in the sea. The article quotes PLA naval chief Wu Shengli telling the American chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson, during a recent teleconference that China would defend the islands. “The quantity of defense facilities will be completely decided by the degree of threats we are subjected to,” Wu was quoted as telling the Navy chief, according to the Jan. 26 article on the Global Times website. Specific Chinese military items being considered, in addition to anti-ship and air defense missiles, included enhanced military communications and reconnaissance equipment, and strengthened military logistics. For the U.S. Navy, the most lethal arms that could be deployed are the YJ-8 and YJ-62 anti-ship missiles. The YJ-8 has a range of 65 nautical miles and the YJ-62 can hit targets up to 120 nautical miles. Air defenses likely will include HQ-7, HQ-9, HQ-12, or HQ-16 missiles, and 35 millimeter towed or self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. Russian-made S-300s also could be deployed on some of the larger islands. As for warships, the relatively small islands of the Spratlys and Paracels will be unable to accommodate large warships, so small and medium-sized PLA navy ships will be called on to conduct regular patrols. “In the future we can also dispatch aircraft to carry out regular patrols,” the report said, adding that “in peace time it is necessary to deploy a certain number of combat aircraft on islands and reefs where conditions permit.” US freedom of navigation operations within 12 miles of disputed islands were halted in the region around 2012 under then-US Pacific Command commander Adm. Samuel Locklear, who backed off the operations in seeking closer military ties to Beijing. Harris, the current Pacific Command chief, has said China has no more claim to the South China Sea than the United States does to the Gulf of Mexico. Days before the USS Wilbur’s transit, the four-star admiral gave no indication of the upcoming maneuver. But in a speech in Washington he voiced his concerns about the militarization of the Chinese islands and called Beijing’s claims “provocative.””

U.S. Responses To N. Korea Nuke, Missile Tests Will Upset China. “North Korean nuclear and rocket tests are drawing quick responses from the U.S. that will upset a supposed partner against Pyongyang's weapons development - China. New efforts to toughen missile defense in South Korea and sanctions legislation moving swiftly through Congress could both hurt Chinese interests. The Chinese are concerned the missile defense system could be used against them, and the U.S. sanctions could hit Chinese companies that trade with North Korea. The U.S. and China both oppose North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and have characterized it as an issue they cooperate on, even though China is an old ally of the North. But a Jan. 6 underground nuclear explosion and Sunday's rocket launch that world leaders called a test of ballistic missile technology have exposed stark differences between Washington and Beijing on how to deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's provocations. Beijing is reluctant to impose stiff economic sanctions, fearing a collapse in North Korea's economy and a flight of refugees across the border into China. But even if the U.N. Security Council can't agree on the kind of tough measures that Washington wants, the U.S. can act off its own to pressure Pyongyang. For some time, the U.S. has been nudging its close ally South Korea toward allowing the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system on its soil. Seoul, which hosts 28,500 U.S. forces, has been reluctant to initiate talks on the system that could hurt its improving relations with Beijing. But soon after North Korea on Sunday launched a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite into space, the U.S. and South Korea announced they were looking into a possible THAAD deployment. "We would like to see this move as quickly as possible," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday. He said consultations would begin within days. China was quick to make its displeasure known. In a commentary Monday, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said a deployment could trigger a regional arms race. "It would be unwise for the United States to act arbitrarily in disregard of international opposition just to serve its own interests of carrying out its 'Pivot to Asia' strategy," the commentary said, referring to President Barack Obama's effort to increase the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific, in part to counter the rise of China. Cook said a THAAD deployment would be directed solely at North Korea and no other country should be concerned. But critics including Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have said the system could help U.S. radar spot missiles from China. On the economic front, the U.S. sanctions legislation could also cause discomfort in Beijing, which is North Korea's main trading partner and source of economic support. The Senate is expected to pass Wednesday the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act that aims to expand and tighten economic restrictions to block the Kim regime's access to hard currency, targeting both North Korean entities and companies in other countries like China that deal with them. The House last month passed a version of the bill amid frustration that U.S. policy has failed to stop Pyongyang's progress toward having a nuclear-tipped missile that could hit America. The bill has strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The legislation requires an investigation and then imposition of sanctions on any person that "knowingly" engages in prohibited activities, ranging from importing weapons technology to "cyber terrorism." In the Senate version, trading precious metals or coal that is linked to North Korea's ruling party or armed forces is also forbidden. Marcus Noland, an expert on North Korea at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that measure could implicate state-owned Chinese companies which trade with North Korea. He said such companies may not do a lot of business in the U.S., but blacklisting would cause diplomatic problems with China. He said that China might even try to challenge such an action by the U.S. at the World Trade Organization. Joseph DeThomas, a former senior State Department official who advised on Iran and North Korea, played down expectations that new U.S. sanctions would have a dramatic impact. The secretive nature of North Korea's business dealings and its isolation from the world economy means that good evidence of sanctions violations is infrequent, and the evidence must then pass a rigorous, internal U.S. government review, he said. The executive branch would also have some discretion over implementation of the legislation if it is ultimately signed into law by Obama. Still, the legislation would elevate the stakes, as the U.S. and China, which fought on oppose sides in the 1950-53 Korean War, grapple with a North Korea which appears impervious to diplomatic pressure and intent on building a bigger nuclear arsenal. "There are a lot of Chinese chips on the table here," said DeThomas, now professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. "Is there a way for the U.S. and China to act together to deal with the North Korea problem or are we heading toward a parting of the ways which will pose a lot of risks to both sides?" he asked.”

After North Korea Rocket Launch, China Pushes Back Against THAAD. “North Korea conducted a rocket launch on February 7, a day before the beginning of the February 8-25 timeframe it had originally provided for the launch. With diplomats from around the world scrambling to come up with a unified response, South Korea and the United States have already decided on one bilateral move: formally beginning talks over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. That, in turn, has reignited hand wringing in China about the threat THAAD poses to Chinese national security. In fact, official statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on THAAD deployment were more severe than its statements responding to the North Korean launch. Spokesperson Hua Chunying said China had “noted” and “regrets” the launch; meanwhile, in a separate statement, Hua said China was “deeply concerned” about the start of THAAD talks. Deploying THAAD in South Korea “will not help maintain regional peace and stability, nor will it lead to a proper settlement of the current situation,” Hua cautioned. As a sign of China’s concern, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin lodged representations over the issue with South Korea’s ambassador to China, Kim Jang-soo. Liu also summoned North Korea’s ambassador to lodge China’s protest over the rocket launch, implying once again that China sees THAAD as at least as threatening to Beijing’s interests as North Korea’s actions. China’s Spring Festival began on Monday, and with most of the country on holiday, official responses will be muted for the next week. However, Chinese state-owned media is filling in the gap with its own arguments against THAAD deployment, which were raised repeatedly last year. Beijing believes that deploying THAAD in neighboring South Korea means the system would be aimed at China as much as at North Korea, constraining China’s military options in the event of a conflict. Its repeated response to the THAAD question has been, as Hua said on Saturday, that “no country shall undermine other countries’ security interests while pursuing its own.” That argument – effectively that South Korea should sacrifice its own national security for China’s – didn’t sit well with South Korean officials; last March, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said pointedly that “a neighboring country ... should not try to influence our security policy.” This week, commentaries in Chinese media are taking a slightly different approach to criticizing THAAD deployment. An English-language commentary published online by Xinhua takes the position that deploying THAAD “does more harm than good.” “The likely THAAD deployment ... is detrimental to the efforts to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula as it is likely to trigger an arms race in the troubled region,” authors Hu Yao and Zhong Cuihua argue. The piece argues that “hostile U.S. policies” are “a major contributor to the regional predicament,” and thus that THAAD deployment would only spark “a vicious cycle on the Korean Peninsula.” Instead, Hu and Zhong argue for “sincere talks and well-intended negotiations.” Global Times offered a similar argument in its piece on the THAAD talks, saying the announcement “further complicates” the security situation in Northeast Asia. The piece claims that “nearly all military experts” believe THAAD is aimed just as much at China as it is at North Korea, “and thereby constitutes a potential harm to China’s security” (the piece dismissed Seoul’s claims to the contrary as “wan”). Global Times argues that the current rush toward THAAD, sparked by North Korea’s long-range rocket test, lacks strategic foresight: Seoul is “taking an impetuous action for the sake of its own security, without thinking about what further strategic effects it will cause and what is means over the long term.” Like Xinhua (and China’s Foreign Ministry), Global Times argues that THAAD deployment would backfire by making the Korean Peninsula more unstable. The article also warns that, if things on the Korean Peninsula do get out of hand, China will first be concerned with taking care of itself – by making “adequate military arrangement” to counter THAAD (Global Times suggests both increasing the number of Chinese missiles and improving their ability to evade defense systems). Meanwhile, China Youth Daily, in an article published before North Korea’s rocket launch, takes that logic a step farther. Author Li Dunqiu, a Korean studies scholar at Zhejiang University, argues that, by deploying THAAD on its soil, South Korea would be “hijacked” by the U.S. “rebalance to Asia” strategy. In other words, THAAD really benefits the United States, with Seoul acting as an unwitting pawn. Li begins by pointing out all South Korea stands to lose by deploying THAAD and angering China, noting that in the fourth quarter of 2015, South Korea passed Japan for the first time to become China’s second-largest trading partner. Li suggests, as Chinese scholars often do, that the Cold War-era alliance with the United States might no longer be in South Korea’s best interests. In fact, Li makes the claim that South Korea doesn’t need to worry all that much about the North, saying that the Korean Peninsula doesn’t have the “soil” necessary to spark war. With that context in mind, the article goes on to say Seoul is excessively reliant on the United States, and thus has been “hijacked” by U.S. strategy. “America’s Korean policy has never been designed for South Korean interests, but is one link in its global strategy,” Li argues. “Right now, it serves the ‘rebalance to Asia’ strategy.” Li’s piece goes the farthest in arguing against THAAD; instead of dwelling on the threat to China (as Global Times did), Li wants to make the case against the missile defense system solely from South Korea’s perspective. But in the wake of another nuclear test and rocket launch by Pyongyang, Li’s argument that Seoul shouldn’t worry too much about Pyongayng – based on little more than quotes from North Korea media – isn’t likely to convince anyone responsible for South Korea’s defense. Meanwhile, none of the responses from China offer much in the way of constructive suggestions on how South Korea can ensure its own security without deploying THAAD – especially given that Beijing isn’t all that interested in punishing North Korea for its continued defiance of UN sanctions.”

U.S. Ambiguity Strengthens Beijing In The South China Sea. “Are the United States and China collaborating to rewrite the international law of the sea? If so, it would be an odd but potent combination with ominous global implications. China is a member of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, but regularly violates its provisions. The United States has not ratified UNCLOS, but has been its chief enforcer on behalf of freedom of navigation and world commerce. They would seem to be on opposite sides of the international legal regime. Beijing pushes the envelope almost every day by asserting sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, making unprecedented maritime claims and building and using artificial islands to claim further rights to newly created “territorial seas.” In the face of Beijing’s constant overreaching, American officials have repeatedly put forth traditional arguments defending freedom of navigation and overflight under UNCLOS and customary international law. But rhetoric aside, for years Washington has been relatively passive as China builds facts on the ground and on the water. In the face of mounting Congressional and expert pressure, the United States finally began taking steps to assert its navigational and overflight rights. Unfortunately, Washington’s ambiguous, confusing and contradictory response has raised new questions about U.S. seriousness and commitment. When China unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea last year, Washington dispatched two unarmed B-52s to the zone to assert freedom of overflight. But unlike Japan, it also directed U.S. commercial aircraft to comply with China’s notification “requirements.” Last fall, after months of verbal protestations without action, it finally sent the USS Lassen into the twelve-mile area claimed by China around one of its manmade islands. But U.S. officials then gave a series of conflicting accounts on whether it was a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) or innocent passage (IP). The distinction matters because a FONOP is conducted in normal operating mode and concedes nothing on sovereignty to the unlawful claimant. The IP, by contrast, acknowledges that it is passing through the claimant’s territorial waters and does so in a non-challenging posture—e.g., with weapons and radar systems deactivated. The confusion generated by that episode was compounded by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s evasive testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee. As a result, Chairman John McCain demanded a fuller, written explanation of what exactly the Navy was doing. Carter’s response offered a novel and startling resolution of the FONOP-IP dichotomy: the Lassen transit was doing both! “The FONOP involved a continuous and expeditious transit that is consistent with both the right of innocent passage, which only applies in a territorial sea, and with the high seas freedom of navigation that applies beyond any territorial sea.” The statement is not consistent with UNCLOS or customary international law, and it is not grounded in logic—the ship was either transiting in normal operational mode or it was not. Yet, that is the Obama administration’s story and it is sticking to it; indeed, it is doubling down. Just days ago, the Defense Department announced that the USS Curtis Wilbur, “conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea” by passing within twelve nautical miles of Triton Island, administered by China (but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam). DOD explained that the transit, like all FONOPS, was intended to challenge China’s claims that “are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.” Fine so far. But then the DOD statement says: “During the operation, the USS Curtis Wilbur transited in innocent passage.” So, once again, the U.S. Navy is describing a ship passage as simultaneously both a FONOP and an IP, an operational impossibility. (Again, a FONOP challenges a claim to territorial seas; an IP concedes and respects it.) This can no longer be attributed to a communications glitch or an individual’s misstatement. There is clearly a concerted administration policy to create a hybrid maritime concept that it can use to satisfy critics of its earlier passivity without challenging China in the conventional manner. It appears that Washington and Beijing have reached some kind of modus vivendi, whereby both can claim to have achieved their essential goals. On the surface, such an accommodation would seem conveniently consistent with the balanced approach espoused by Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command in recent remarks in Beijing: “While we certainly disagree on some topics—the most public being China’s claims in the South China Sea and our activities there—there are many areas where we have common ground.” If an arrangement is in place, Washington has conceded too much to Beijing. It would effectively legitimize China’s expanding claims and encourage more of the same, with far-reaching consequences for other adversaries in other parts of the world. This would be a perverse form of strategic partnership between the United States and China. Even more disturbing is the possibility that this wink-and-nod precedent may already have been set, even if not publicly until now. Could it be that the Navy’s FONOPS in the Taiwan Strait, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere have actually been occurring as disguised IP operations?”

80 Percent Of Zero: China’s Phantom South China Sea Claims. “Baudelaire said the devil’s best trick was convincing us he did not exist. China’s best trick might be convincing us its claims over the South China Sea do exist. Official rhetoric about its “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands” certainly sounds like a definitive Chinese position. And, of course, China occupies many islands in the area, its Coast Guard chases off foreign fishing vessels, and massive Chinese land reclamation projects provide new, persistent regional presence. But with the notable exception of the Paracel islands between Hainan Island and Vietnam, China has made no valid legal claim over the South China Sea. Instead, China’s official ambiguity appears carefully calibrated to produce international media coverage that proselytizes far more expansive claims than really exist. That popular narrative (like the perennial “fact” that it claims 80 percent of the South China Sea) helps China legitimate its increasingly assertive activity in the region without having to expand its legal positions in kind. Without those formal legal stakes, China has so far skillfully avoided painting itself into a strategic corner over the South China Sea with no need to militarily defend claims it has not actually made. But the limits of this strategy are showing. The extraordinary media coverage leading up to the USS Lassen’s Freedom of Navigation (FON) operation through the Spratly islands in October of last year focused unprecedented front-page attention on the territorial, legal, and strategic issues in the South China Sea. That public pressure strained China’s ability to respond in a way that balanced the constraints of its official legal positions with its need to maintain the popular global impressions it has cultivated and placate the expectations of its own nationalists. While its rhetoric sounds steadfast, China clearly does not want to risk even low-level antagonism with the U.S. military over its South China Sea claims. In the wake of the Lassen transit, coverage featured contradictory posturing over whether the transit was conducted as innocent passage (the U.S. secretary of defense only recently clarified that while it was not explicitly innocent passage, the transit was consistent with innocent passage’s requirements) to analysis based on incorrect geographic features, and even early confusion over which features the Lassen actually transited (Subi Reef but not Mischief Reef). But whatever the particulars, it was generally agreed that the Lassen’s transit was intended as a “challenge to China’s territorial claims” since China “claims most of the South China Sea” as its own. Except that it does not, technically. Reporting that China “claims 80 percent of the South China Sea” is commonly provided as context in news on the region, a “fact” the Chinese government no doubt welcomes and does nothing to explicitly discourage. (For a sense of the statistic’s media saturation, a recent internet search returned almost 2 million results). Coverage of the Lassen’s FON passage also frequently noted that China claims 12 nautical miles (nm) of territorial seas around the Spratlys. When those two ideas appear together in the same reporting (and they often do), it should be clear there is a problem with the popular narrative. For China to claim 80 percent of the South China Sea, it would also have to claim most of the water far beyond 12 nautical miles from any of those islands, artificial or not. So what is China’s claim? Contrary to the impressions it has cultivated in the media, China has not claimed anything near what most accounts ascribe. A few commentators note that there is substantial uncertainty about Chinese claims in the South China Sea because China has not formalized or clarified those claims. Article 16 of the United Nations Law of the Sea requires states to publicize their claimed territorial seas and baselines (boundaries that maritime claims are measured from) and provide them to the UN either on “charts… adequate for ascertaining their position” or in a “list of geographical coordinates of points.” But for all the contentiousness, China’s deposits to the UN contain few such explicit claims. In their 1958 declaration on territorial seas, China claimed a baseline existed around the Spratlys and other islands, but did not identify what it considered the extent of those islands or provide the geographic coordinates of the baselines. The absence of specifics for mariners, cartographers, or lawyers to work with meant that in practice, China’s baselines, and thus its territorial seas, only existed to whatever extent those parties chose to respect. Leaving compliance up to the geographic guesswork of others is not a firm legal foundation, and in 1996 China finally provided the U.N. geographic coordinates for its claimed baselines. This included coordinates around two major contested island chains, the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. But while competing parties at least have something concrete to argue over with respect to the Paracels and Senkakus, the 1996 UN submission did not include references or data for the Spratly islands, or any other groups in the South China Sea. Instead of making a legal claim to the South China Sea, China has sought to build a de facto position, using its construction projects and marine law enforcement to convince others to recognize Chinese control practically if not legally. Perhaps uncertain of how much of the region it can credibly control, China has chosen not to circumscribe what it can get away with by making its legal boundaries and claims explicit. A careful public relations kabuki seeks to make mass media reporting unknowingly complicit in normalizing the idea that China controls, or thinks it should control, the entire region by inducing frequent repetition of that unofficial claim. The infamous Nine-Dash Line (which occasionally appears with ten or even eleven dashes) is probably China’s most successful piece of over-inferred strategic communication to be taken up by the media. It first appeared officially in a note verbale to the UN articulating China’s opposition to a joint claim made by Vietnam and Malaysia. Circumscribing almost the entire South China Sea, it is the likely source of media and commentator assertions that China claims all or most (or “80 percent”) of the region. But notes are informal diplomatic communications, not signed official claims. Further, the map does not meet the standard of geographic specificity required in Article 16 to communicate territorial sea claims.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 08, 2016

China Struggles For Balance In Response To North Korea’s Boldness. “When the veteran Chinese diplomat Wu Dawei left for North Korea last week, he probably knew he had been dispatched on mission impossible: to persuade the country's young leader, Kim Jong-un, to climb down from his threat to launch a rocket as part of his quest to develop ballistic missile technologies. Not only did Mr. Kim ignore China's entreaties, sending Mr. Wu home empty-handed. He did so emphatically, ordering the launch a day earlier than expected so that it fell on one of China's most important holidays, the eve of the Lunar New Year. It is unclear how long President Xi Jinping of China will tolerate what some analysts here are calling the humiliation of his country at the hands of a capricious Mr. Kim. But there are no immediate signs that Beijing will radically change course and turn away from its traditional ally. ''It's a bad result, it's a humiliation,'' said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University. ''I think Kim Jong-un made many mistakes, and this is one of his major mistakes.'' Even so, he added, ''It's hard to say what different approach China will take.'' North Korea said Sunday that the rocket had successfully put a satellite into orbit. South Korea's National Intelligence Service said the launch indicated that North Korea had made some technological advances toward its assumed goal of pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile. The satellite launched Sunday weighed 440 pounds, twice as heavy as a satellite launched in 2012, according to lawmakers who attended a closed briefing by the spy agency on Sunday. The United Nations Security Council, at an emergency meeting Sunday requested by the United States and Japan, issued a statement signaling its intention to stiffen penalties against North Korea, but without saying how or when. A draft Security Council resolution is under negotiation, diplomats said. The key is what China will allow in terms of tightening or broadening sanctions. Hours after the launch, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed ''regret'' and counseled calm and cautious action, a tone that drew immediate ridicule from users of the Chinese social media site, Weibo. In contrast to calls from South Korea, Japan and the United States on Sunday for tougher sanctions against North Korea, China said early dialogue -- meaning the resumption of talks among major powers and North Korea -- was its preferred way to rein in Mr. Kim. Those negotiations, led by China and known as the six-party talks, fell apart in 2009 after North Korea walked out. In response to the Foreign Ministry's statement, one person on Weibo said: ''I feel 'regret' for the Foreign Ministry.'' Another user said: ''I have been racking my head but I simply can't figure out why we have to offend everybody in the world to defend a rogue regime.'' Popular sentiment in China, where Mr. Kim has been maligned online as overweight, bumptious and inexperienced, appears to run against the government's public patience with the North Korean leader. In a poll on Weibo conducted Friday and Saturday, two-thirds of the 8,000 respondents said they supported a strike by the United States to destroy North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Eighteen percent of those interviewed said they were against such a strike, and 16 percent said they were neutral. In a telling signal of official disapproval of the results, Chinese censors had deleted the poll by Sunday afternoon. Despite its frustration with Mr. Kim and frosty personal relations -- Mr. Xi has refused to meet with Mr. Kim -- China will probably continue to put up with his behavior, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. China is afraid of turning its recalcitrant ally into a worrisome enemy, he said. The government has opposed severe sanctions aimed at curtailing the amount of oil that China exports to North Korea and at stopping imports of mineral resources. So far, China has supported only sanctions that limit the transfer or sale of military equipment or other items that would help North Korea's weapons program. ''China thinks more severe sanctions will reduce China's influence in North Korea,'' Mr. Shi said. Most important, China was afraid that hammering North Korea with heavy sanctions would turn it into a hostile country that could ''take action'' against Beijing, Mr. Shi said. Mr. Xi has made the calculation that Mr. Kim, the third generation of the Kim family to rule North Korea, would be an enduring figure, and he sent Liu Yunshan, a member of the powerful Standing Committee of the Communist Party, to a military parade in Pyongyang last October to make a kind of rapprochement, Mr. Shi said. China even appeared to be willing to risk its budding relationship with South Korea, an ally of the United States, by putting up with North Korea's bad behavior. The rocket launch on Sunday, which came after a fourth nuclear test by the North Koreans in early January, showed that China's goal of maintaining good relationships with both North Korea and South Korea was an extremely difficult balancing act, Mr. Cheng said. Mr. Xi has gone out of his way to court the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, by stressing the strong economic relationship between the two countries. China is South Korea's biggest trading partner, and Ms. Park raised eyebrows among Washington officials last September by turning up at a huge military parade on Tiananmen Square in Beijing that was boycotted by Western leaders. In a move sure to displease China, South Korea's Defense Department said hours after the launch Sunday that it would start formal discussions with the United States about the deployment of a missile defense system known as Thaad, for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. China has vigorously opposed the deployment of the system, arguing that it would be used by the United States to interfere with China's defenses and as a tool to contain China. The North Korean rocket launch ''is aimed at advancing its nuclear weapons and their delivery missiles,'' Ms. Park said. ''North Korea poses a grave challenge to the peace of Northeast Asia and the rest of the world by rejecting dialogue and persisting in advancing its missiles for the sake of regime survival.'' Maj. Gen. Kim Yong-hyun, the head of operations at the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that Seoul and Washington had agreed that their annual joint springtime military exercises, code-named Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, would be the largest ever this year.”

China’s North Korean Backfire. “Groundhog Day was last week, but North Korea’s ballistic-missile test on Sunday may have you feeling you’ve seen this one before. First the weeks of rumors, then the launch, next the emergency session at the United Nations—and then nothing. The pattern will continue until the U.S. stops running its North Korea policy through Beijing. Chinese leaders are supposed to be piqued by  Kim Jong Un’s rogue behavior, but they’re as unwilling as ever to impose serious sanctions or cut supplies of fuel, arms, luxury goods and other Kim needs. They also don’t seem too worried that this latest test, which U.S. sources say put a satellite in orbit, means the North is closer to being able to hit the U.S. with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile. Not that the  Obama Administration seems all that serious either. Though President Obama calls North Korea “the most sanctioned” nation on Earth, he’s wrong. The U.S. lists Iran and Burma as countries of primary money-laundering concern, a designation it doesn’t apply to Pyongyang despite its counterfeit-currency racket. The U.S. has applied harsher human-rights sanctions against Congo and Zimbabwe, never mind the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Pyongyang’s labor camps. Treasury Department officials have argued for stronger measures, on the model of the highly effective sanctions the U.S. imposed on Macau’s Banco Delta Asia in 2005 that forced banks to suspend business with Pyongyang. But National Security Adviser Susan Rice has opposed the move for fear of upsetting U.S. relations with Beijing. The House last month overwhelmingly passed the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, mandating action against entities and individuals tied to illicit weapons programs, luxury-goods imports, counterfeiting and drug trafficking. The White House has hinted that it doesn’t oppose the bill, and the President might sign it if it passes the Senate. But the bill’s effectiveness depends on the Administration’s willingness to squeeze North Korean financing by punishing the Chinese banks through which the Kim regime moves its money. The good news is that the launch has finally prompted South Korea to agree to deploy the U.S.-built Thaad missile-defense system, which is a significant upgrade from current anti-missile batteries and will integrate with U.S. and Japanese defenses in the region. Seoul had been reluctant to deploy Thaad because China opposes it. But this is a good example of how Beijing’s refusal to control its client state is backfiring on its strategic goal of pushing the U.S. out of East Asia. China isn’t likely to squeeze its client unless it sees the U.S. and its allies doing more to isolate the North on their own. Such a policy would seek to end the regime through sweeping financial sanctions that prevent the Kim family from financing the tools of their tyranny, from weapons to whiskeys, and that impose stiff penalties on their enablers abroad. The strategy of begging China has been a failure.”

Chinese, Indian Border Troops Hold Joint Disaster Drills. “Chinese and Indian border troops have conducted a joint disaster relief exercise, China's defence ministry said on Monday, signaling warming ties between the two Asian powers as they seek to resolve a long-festering border dispute. Leaders from the two nuclear-armed neighbours pledged last May to cool their border dispute, which dates back to a brief border war in 1962, although a messy territorial disagreement remains. The two armies practised handling scenarios like rescuing trapped herders on Saturday, according to a statement posted on China's Ministry of Defence website. "The exercises are designed to implement the Chinese-India border cooperation agreement, to jointly safeguard peace and stability in these areas," the statement said. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang agreed at a meeting in May to start annual visits between their militaries, expand exchanges between border commanders and start using a military hotline. China lays claim to more than 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) ruled by New Delhi in the eastern sector of the Himalayas. India says China occupies 38,000 sq km (14,600 sq miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west. India is also suspicious of China's support for its arch-rival, Pakistan.”  

Top Five Political-Security Priorities For The Asia-Pacific In 2016. “The Obama Administration’s formulation of American commitments to Asia, the “rebalance” or “pivot,” has had its successes and shortcomings. 2016 should serve as a time for the Obama Administration to deliver as best it can on the unfinished pieces of its Asia policy and thereby set the table for its successor to implement its own energetic formulation. In so doing, the Administration should prioritize the following five issues. Support a Fully Funded Defense Budget. The U.S. is an Asia–Pacific power with territory in the region, as well as military bases and extensive arrangements for the use of others nations’ bases. East Asia, however, is a long way from either California or Hawaii. To remain a leader there, the U.S. needs to ensure that its Navy is technologically sophisticated and large enough to protect American interests, even as it remains fully engaged elsewhere in the world. The Administration should work with Congress not only to meet the Navy’s now “endangered plan” for a 308-ship Navy, but also to set a long-term goal of 350 ships. The defense budget that President Obama signs before he leaves office should give the next Administration all it needs to immediately demonstrate America’s long-term staying power. Support Allies and Partners. President Obama has well maintained American treaty alliances in the Asia–Pacific and expanded on other partnerships of relevance, most notably India and Singapore. U.S.–Australia relations, in particular, look to be in excellent condition. The President lent critical rhetorical support to Japan at the height of its tension with China. Similarly, with South Korea, the Administration has fully supported South Korea in its enduring conflict with communist North Korea. The Administration should do much more to support South Korea, and—not incidentally—address a growing and direct threat to the U.S., by executing new sanctions against North Korea. Regarding other treaty allies, now that the Philippines’s Supreme Court has greenlighted a new agreement to regularly and systematically rotate American military through Philippine bases, the Administration should move forward with deployments in order to set a baseline for its successor. With regard to America’s other Southeast Asian ally, Thailand, the President should limit the damage to the alliance caused by Thailand’s return to autocracy. It can do this by preserving mil-to-mil ties and keeping its counsel to Thai authorities on democracy insistent, but largely private. Expand and Deepen Involvement in Regional Summitry. The most notable facet of President Obama’s rebalance has been its explicit support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the center of regional diplomatic architecture. Consistent engagement of ASEAN is necessary context for fully servicing American interests in the region that fall outside ASEAN’s purview as most of them do. Although the Administration has at times threatened to put more trust in ASEAN-based mechanisms that they can bear, it has established a level of American interaction that can only be diminished by its successor at the cost of demonstrating ambivalence about American interests. In the year ahead, beginning with the February summit with ASEAN leaders at Sunnylands, the President should expand and deepen this engagement and thereby set long-term expectations for American involvement. Lay Groundwork for Future U.S.–China Relations. U.S.–China relations are at their best when Beijing very clearly understands American interests and priorities. The Administration should establish a track record over the next year that will accommodate an early and clear assertion of interests by the next Administration that does not appear too great a departure from precedent.”

Water Wars: U.S. Navy Back For FON In The South China Sea. “On Saturday, the United States Navy conducted its second freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in recent months. This time, the destroyer USS Curtiss Wilbur transited within twelve nautical miles of Triton Island—a PRC-held feature in the Paracels also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. Unlike Subi Reef, which was the focus of the USS Lassen’s FON patrol last October, Triton Island is not one of China’s artificial islands. Another difference from the previous U.S. FONOP was, in the words of Julian Ku, that “the U.S. government has its act together on messaging,” both as to the purpose of and the legal basis for this operation. A statement released by the Office of the Secretary of Defense explained that the “innocent passage” transit was designed to “challenge[] attempts by the three claimants . . . to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas.” The right of innocent passage derives from Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), which allows warships to pass through another nation’s territorial waters, “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state.” The conventional interpretation of this provision is that it does not require advance notice. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who has forcefully advocated for additional FON patrols in the South China Sea, welcomed the move, as did House Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes. However, Senator McCain made clear that such patrols must occur regularly to be effective: “I continue to hope these operations will become so routine that China and other claimants will come to accept them as normal occurrences and releasing press statements to praise them will no longer be necessary.” Unsurprisingly, China was less than enthusiastic about the U.S. FONOP. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying condemned the operation, stating that the American vessel “violated the relevant Chinese law [on innocent passage] and entered China’s territorial sea without authorization.” Her counterpart, Lu Kang, suggested that the operation was nothing more than “the pursuit of maritime hegemony . . . under the cloak of ‘freedom of navigation.’” And least charitable of all, the PRC Defense Ministry described the operation as “very unprofessional [and] irresponsible to the safety of servicemen of both sides.” Elsewhere around the Pacific, the reaction ranged from lukewarm to positive. Taiwan responded to the patrol by simply asserting that it had never obstructed the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Vietnam—which controlled Triton Island until China seized it in 1974—explained that, as a state party to UNCLOS, it “respects the right of innocent passage through its territorial seas conducted in accordance with the relevant rules of the international community.” Australia applauded the FON patrol and said that the U.S. was simply upholding international law.”

Freedom Of Navigation In A Chinese Gulag. “Now Beijing wants to do for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea what it has long done for freedom of speech on mainland China: Suppress, deny, and obliterate it. Beijing’s “closed sea” position as it harasses American warships and planes is this: The 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty established 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Within these EEZs, Beijing insists that foreign shipping – both commercial and military – has restricted access. The Law of the Sea Treaty conveys no such rights, and is very clear on this point. That hasn’t stopped Beijing from using its growing military might to assert its bogus closed sea claims. However, if such a twisted definition of freedom of navigation were adopted, it would effectively close the Asia-Pacific to the U.S. military and constrain two-thirds of global trade routes. The question for this year’s bumper crop of presidential candidates, of course, is this: Should America simply retreat back to Hawaii in the face of Beijing’s pressure and in deference to a Rising China? Alternatively, should the U.S. take all necessary steps to maintain freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific,  thereby increasingly risk a “hot war” with its largest trading partner? The neo-isolationist case for retrenchment back to Hawaii is certainly seductive to a war-weary American public after failed campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan that have squandered billions of dollars and taken thousands of lives. So why expose this nation to unnecessary risk by sailing “freedom of navigation” patrols as America is now doing, thereby antagonizing a country that holds over two trillion dollars of US debt? In fact, I posed this question to experts I interviewed for the Crouching Tiger book and companion documentary film.  Says Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute on the slippery slope of unilateral withdrawal: In 1991-92, we pulled our troops out of the Philippines; and the Philippines were a central part of our Asian strategy. We had troops up in the Northeast in Japan, and we had troops in the Southeast in the Philippines. We had a very balanced strategy but we pulled our troops out. Did America's role in Asia come to an end? No. Did Asia go to war? No. On the other hand, almost immediately we saw the Chinese begin to become much more assertive about their territory; and over the period of 20 years, [they] have moved to a position where they are de facto taking over islands that are disputed with other countries. So we simply have to ask, and maybe we don't know the answer: What's the red line? How far do you want to go before you say, you know what: things have changed. And that's a question we always face. We faced it in Europe in the 1930; we let a ton of territory go before one day we said, this is the red line. Maybe the same thing will happen in Asia. Will it be more difficult because of economic interdependence? Sure. But that's what we also said in 1914. We said the world can't to war. Europe can't go to war; it's too economically interdependent; and then we slaughtered ourselves for four years. And then we did it again twenty years later. On the economic risks of acceding to China’s “closed seas” view of the Asia-Pacific, Princeton’s Aaron Friedberg had this to say: Asia is increasingly the engine of world economic growth, and the United States has enormous economic interests and interests in maintaining its access for purposes of trade and investment. Asia is a major source of resources as well as markets. Increasingly, it's the center for the development of new technologies. If the United States were excluded from Asia and, in particular, if Asia were to be dominated by a country with hostile intentions or with interests that converge dramatically from our own, this would be damaging to our strategic interests as well. In this strategic dimension, the abiding fact here is that we are in an age of supersonic ballistic missiles; and nuclear warheads shot from the silos of China’s Great Underground Wall or from the hills of North Korea can now reach Portland, Minneapolis, or Baltimore in minutes. As Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies reminds us: The Pacific Ocean is not a barrier to threats against us. North Korea is developing nuclear weapons, and they're developing ballistic missiles. Over the next decade, they want to put those nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles; and it's not to hit Europe. It's to hit the West Coast of the United States. To author Gordon Chang, “America’s first line of defense is not Alaska and California but rather South Korea and Japan and Australia and Guam.”  These forward bases play important roles in an early warning matrix that helps the U.S. missile defense system detect incoming threats. For all of these economic and national security reasons, it is important that each of the 2016 presidential candidates weigh in on the freedom of navigation issue. Let the debate now begin.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 05, 2016

U.S.-China Split Over North Korea Casts Pall On Ties. “Conflict between China and the U.S. over how to confront North Korea’s nuclear arms program is spilling out into public view, undermining rare coordination between the two powers on an international trouble spot. The friction has increased in the weeks since Pyongyang violated United Nations resolutions by testing a nuclear bomb on Jan. 6. The event set in motion a flurry of diplomatic negotiations from Washington to New York to Beijing to Seoul that has highlighted long-simmering differences over how to contain the reclusive North Korean regime. The discord also is stymieing efforts to forge a U.N. Security Council resolution in response, diplomats say. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clashed at a news conference in Beijing last week over the U.S. call to harden U.N. sanctions. China frequently calls for negotiations with North Korea, worried about destabilizing a country on its doorstep. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves,” Mr. Wang said. This week, the two sides traded recriminations after Pyongyang further provoked the international community by announcing plans to launch a satellite in February, a move that experts say could provide a pretext for North Korea to test ballistic missile technology in violation of a U.N. prohibition. A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters that such a launch “would be an unmistakable slap in the face to those who argue that you just need to show patience and dialogue with the North Koreans.” A day later, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman retorted that the slap was directed at the U.S. “As for whose face the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea slapped, I think the country itself knows well,” he said. The frustrations over North Korea threaten to end one of the few areas of cooperation between Washington and Beijing on international security and aggravate a relationship that is increasingly marked by rivalry. Adding to tensions are the recent passages by American military ships and planes through and near disputed areas of the South China Sea that Beijing claims as its territory. Informal talks between Washington and Seoul over the possibility of deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea have further rankled Beijing, which sees the system as undermining its security and helped reinforce the idea inside China that U.S. represents the bigger threat. At stake are competing visions over how to deal with North Korea. Washington’s priority is to protect its Asian allies, especially South Korea, and eventually see an end to North Korea’s dictatorship. Beijing’s priority is to avoid North Korea’s collapse, even while showing dismay about dictator Kim Jong Un’s provocations and his disregard for China’s interests. “North Korean nuclear missiles might be a potential threat to China, but not an immediate threat,” said Chu Shulong, an expert in international relations at Tsinghua University. “The immediate threat to China are American ships and planes.” In the past, Washington and Beijing have found common cause over North Korea. Beijing has signed on to previous U.N. sanctions four times: following North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and after a satellite launch in 2012. The Obama administration has for years urged Chinese leaders to leverage their position as North Korea’s main political ally and economic lifeline to raise pressure on Pyongyang and further isolate the regime. “Previously they choose to paper over the differences to emphasize cooperation, or the potential for cooperation,” said Yanmei Xie, a senior China analyst with the International Crisis Group. Pressure is rising not only from Obama administration but also from the U.S. Congress, as both chambers advance legislation that would tighten sanctions against North Korea, in response to North Korea’s nuclear test. In recent months, however, Beijing has begun recalibrating its approach to North Korea to re-engage with Mr. Kim and resist Washington’s appeals, some experts say. China this week responded to North Korea’s plans to launch a satellite by sending a senior official there. Foreign Minister Wang said China needed to maintain crucial contacts with the regime and avoid further stoking tensions. The differences have delayed the Security Council from taking action, said diplomats. Since last month, the U.S. has been negotiating with China for a resolution that would expand the scope of U.N. sanctions to cover a broader swath of North Korea’s economy and target new individuals involved with North Korea’s nuclear program, including intermediaries, the diplomats said.”

Report: China Bolsters State Hacking Powers. “After the US and China inked a landmark agreement not to conduct cyberespionage to steal each other’s trade secrets, American officials wondered if Chinese President Xi Jinping would – or would be able to – keep up his end of the bargain. US officials have long accused hackers from the powerful Chinese military of carrying out attacks on the US government and private companies, and September’s deal, to many experts, appeared overly optimistic. As all eyes remain on President Xi, a new report by American cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike finds new evidence the leader is giving more power over the country's digital operations to the state-run Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). "We’re seeing a mission shift," said Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s vice president of intelligence. The report released Wednesday says the move could be part of a broader effort to put more control over the country’s Internet operations under Xi – and a sign that he is trying to put China's military on a tighter leash.  However, the report found, the shift does not mean China's economic espionage is stopping – but it could mean Xi may have closer oversight over some of the organizations directing it. "Beneath the surface, however, China has not appeared to change its intentions where cyber is concerned," the report said. In the first three weeks after the US and China agreed to halt economic espionage, CrowdStrike in October detected several Chinese attempts to steal intellectual property and trade secrets from American companies in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors – including those by Deep Panda, a hacking group that has been linked with the military. CrowdStrike has now spotted more evidence that the civilian spy and homeland security agencies, Mr. Meyers said, have targeted foreign healthcare and technology firms to benefit the country's economic sector. The CrowdStrike report suggests Chinese hackers are likely to continue targeting industries such as agriculture, healthcare, and alternative energy – where China’s growth has lagged. "Although the majority of MPS' actions aim to counter internal issues and enforce censorship for Chinese citizens, the global activities carried out by the MPS not only demonstrate the Ministry's capability and willingness to support [Communist Party] regulations and objectives, but also its intent to carry out operations on foreign soil," the report added. The agency is also, the report found, developing units within the People’s Public Security University in Beijing – China’s school for elite police training – to train hackers and carry out cyberattacks. MPS, China’s chief homeland security agency, has indeed begun to play a leading role in enforcing new Internet restrictions and digital antiterrorism campaigns – including by arresting alleged online criminals, the CrowdStrike report said. Some of those efforts began last August, when MPS announced the arrests of 15,000 people on charges they had "jeopardized Internet security" – part of a broader campaign described by the Chinese government as a plan to clear the Internet of illegal and harmful material. CrowdStrike also traced massive denial-of-service attacks aimed at the coding website GitHub in April, which had hosted Chinese anticensorship websites, back to China’s Internet backbone, suggesting that high-level government officials may have known of the hack. Now, MPS will step up efforts to assert more control over online messages and content – including by running network security offices at Chinese Internet companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. The consolidation of power to civilian agencies is especially striking since it comes at a time when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plans to lay off 300,000 troops – the largest cuts for the service in almost a decade – and the military revamps under a unified command structure.”   

It’s Complicated, China Says Of Relationship With Taiwan. “A senior Chinese official on Friday described ties with self-ruled Taiwan as "extremely sensitive and complex" and warned of uncertainties ahead, after Taiwan last month elected an independence-leaning opposition leader as its new president. China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese civil war. Since January's landslide win by Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections, China has warned against any moves towards independence and said it will defend the country's sovereignty. Tsai has said she will maintain peace with China, and Chinese state-run media have also noted her pledges to maintain the "status quo" with China. Speaking via a newly installed hotline, Zhang Zhijun, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told Andrew Hsia, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, that the peaceful development of ties over the past eight years could only be maintained by recognising both sides belong to one China. "At present, relations across the Taiwan Strait are extremely sensitive and complex, and uncertainly about the future has increased," Zhang told Hsia, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. Both bodies should increase communication and improve their risk management and do more to benefit people on both sides of the strait, Zhang added. Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, in a statement, said Hsia told Zhang that the peaceful development of relations was the "common factor" for all sides in Taiwan. More interaction was good for mutual trust and understanding and the two needed to think of ways to reduce the risk of confrontation, it quoted Hsia as saying. The past eight years have been marked by calm between China and Taiwan, after the election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as president in 2008, and his subsequent re-election. Ma signed a series of key economic deals with Beijing and held a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November in neutral Singapore. Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive political issues, and a core concern for the Communist Party, trumping even Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.”

The PLAN Commissions Fourth Type 071 LPD. “The People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) fourth Type 071/Yuzhao-class landing platform dock (LPD) vessel was commissioned at the Wusong naval base in Shanghai on 1 February. Yimengshan (pennant number 988) is the first LPD to enter service with the East Sea Fleet, the other ships of the class being allocated to the South Sea Fleet. All four ships have been built at the Hudong Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, with informed sources anticipating that a total of eight ships may be built, although at present there is no evidence of further construction in progress. To date ships of this class have been observed conducting training and operations in the South China Sea as well as undertaking counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Changbaishan (989) visited Portsmouth and other northern European ports in early 2015. The ships are capable of embarking an amphibious force of more than 600 troops and up to four medium-lift helicopters as well as amphibious armoured vehicles such as the ZBD-05 or four Type 726 Yuyi-class hovercraft. Another recent addition to the East Sea Fleet is the Type 903A/Fuchi-class replenishment ship Gaoyouhu (966), which was commissioned on 29 January. The East Sea Fleet now has three Fuchi-class modern replenishment ships and also an older Type 905/Fuqing-class oiler. The Fuchi-class vessels have been used extensively in supporting PLAN ships deployed on counter-piracy operations and have also been observed with ships operating in the western Pacific. The Type 056A/Jiangdao-class corvette Jingmen (506) entered service on 25 January with the South Sea Fleet. The Type 056A is the anti-submarine warfare variant of this 1,500-tonne ship, fitted with towed-array and variable-depth sonars. Six of this variant are now in service, equally allocated to the North, East and South Sea Fleets.”

Securing Taiwan Starts With Overhauling Its Navy. “Torrents of “advice for a new president” buffet newly elected chief executives. Op-eds, learned journal articles and think-tank briefs galore hold forth on matters great and small. Here’s another thimbleful of counsel for the surge gushing Tsai Ing-wen’s way. When it comes to Taiwan’s maritime defense, President-elect Tsai must accentuate the positive things incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou has done. And she must play up the positive while eliminating the negative. Tsai is in a strong position to do so. The Taiwanese electorate awarded her Democratic Progressive Party control of not just the Presidential Office but the Legislative Yuan, the island’s lawmaking body. Electoral triumph thus equips the incoming president to put her imprint on Taiwan’s maritime strategy. If she makes the effort. Contrary to civics classes, even presidents don’t get their way just by issuing edicts to governmental bodies. That’s because institutions are stubborn things. They exhibit distinct preferences and pursue their own interests. Indeed, bureacracies like the Taiwan Navy (a.k.a. the Republic of China Navy, or ROCN) are machinelike institutions designed to perform the same routine tasks, over and over again. Efficiency is their virtue. It’s also their fatal flaw. Machines don’t handle atypical situations well. The people who comprise bureaucracries have their own culture, drummed into them through hiring practices, promotions and awards, and sheer daily repetition of procedures. Culture oftentimes works against change. That’s why Franklin Roosevelt got exasperated at the U.S. Navy: “To change anything in the Navy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching.” If elected officials want to retool bureaucratic machinery for new tasks, escaping from FDR’s conundrum, they may have to instigate a cultural revolution – breaking old attitudes and molding new ones for new realities. That’s no easy feat for any official. Accordingly, presidents must set a few high-priority goals and invest their highly finite personal time and energy to achieving them. Tsai must make maritime-strategic affairs a priority and impose her vision on the naval establishment. Otherwise the ROCN will do what big, largely successful institutions do. It will revert to time-honored habits and methods – methods that are increasingly, and dangerously, out of step with the times. Taiwan’s security against seaborne attack will suffer for it. So the problem confronting Tsai is largely cultural, although it manifests itself in strategy, doctrine and hardware ill-adapted to today’s dangers. Get the culture right and the rest will follow. Since its founding the Taiwan Navy has seen itself as a U.S. Navy in miniature, a force destined to win decisive sea fights and rule the waves. Despite its self-image, though, the ROCN is a modest-sized, modestly capable force on the wrong end of an increasingly lopsided arms race against its deadly foe, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The ROCN’s outlook gave rise to a fleet centered around major surface combatants like guided-missile destroyers, frigates and amphibious transports. Perfectly reasonable in China’s age of marine backwardness, the idea that the Taiwan Navy can command the sea amounts to whimsy these days. Why? Just look at the map, or flip open the CIA World Factbook. China boasts economic and military resources that dwarf Taiwan’s. The mainland overshadows the island, menacing it along many axes. To make matters even worse, the ROCN will square off not just against the PLA Navy but against major segments of China’s army and air force, which deploy an imposing battery of tactical aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles. China’s fleet can cruise under cover of shore-based missiles and aircraft – amplifying its striking power in any sea battle. Even if the rival battle fleets were evenly matched in numbers and battle capability, land-based sea power would constitute a difference-maker for China. Indeed, it’s doubtful in the extreme that major ROCN warships could ride out a combined assault from sea, air and shore, let alone prevail in high-seas combat. And yet President Ma’s administration has announced plans to – in effect – reproduce the existing, big-ship-centric fleet through indigenous shipbuilding as old hulls and armaments wear out. Now, the indigenous part of the administration’s shipbuilding scheme merits cheers. Governments around the world quail at exporting arms to Taiwan for fear of Beijing’s ire. And even Taiwan’s lone close friend, the United States, has shown itself an untrustworthy supplier. Eight diesel submarines the Bush administration offered Taipei in 2001 have yet to materialize, and they probably never will. No American shipyard has constructed diesel boats in decades. More recently, the Obama administration refused Taipei the late-model F-16 fighter jets for which it clamored. Nor is there much reason to expect Washington to prove more steadfast as Beijing’s diplomatic influence mounts.”

Concern Grows In U.S. Over China’s Drive To Make Chips. “China is spending billions of dollars on a major push to make its own microchips, an effort that could bolster its military capabilities as well as its homegrown technology industry. Those ambitions are starting to be noticed in Washington. Worries over China’s chip ambitions were the main reason that United States officials blocked the proposed purchase for as much as $2.9 billion of a controlling stake in a unit of the Dutch electronics company Philips by Chinese investors, according to one expert and a second person involved with the deal discussions. The rare blockage underscores growing concern in Washington about Chinese efforts to acquire the know-how to make the semiconductors that work as the brains of all kinds of sophisticated electronics, including military applications like missile systems. In the case of the Philips deal, the company said late last month that it would terminate a March 2015 agreement to sell a majority stake in its auto and light-emitting diode components business known as Lumileds to a group that included the Chinese investors GO Scale Capital and GSR Ventures. It cited concerns raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews whether foreign investments in the country present a national security risk. Philips said that despite efforts to alleviate concerns, the committee — known as Cfius — did not approve the transaction. “There is a belief in the Cfius community that China has become innately hostile and that these aren’t just business deals anymore,” said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research firm, who speaks to people connected with the committee’s process. Philips did not respond to requests for comment. GSR Ventures, which sponsors GO Scale Capital, declined to comment. Cfius, an interagency body that includes representatives from the Treasury and Justice Departments, declined to comment and does not make its findings public. Cfius reviews have been a growing problem for outbound Chinese deals. According to the most recent data available, in 2012 and 2013 Chinese investment accounted for more committee reviews than money coming from any other country. A 2008 Chinese effort to invest in the network equipment company 3Com was withdrawn while the committee was reviewing it. Recently, the committee found acceptable a number of major Chinese deals, including a takeover of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International and Lenovo’s takeover of IBM’s low-end server unit. In 2012, President Obama ordered a Chinese company to stop building wind farms near an American military installation in Oregon after a negative Cfius review. At the center of the committee’s concerns on the Philips deal, according to Mr. Lewis, was a little known but increasingly important advanced semiconductor material called gallium nitride. Though not a household name like silicon, gallium nitride, often referred to by its abbreviation GaN, could be used to construct a new generation of powerful and versatile microchips. It has been used for decades in the low-energy light sources known as light-emitting diodes, and it features in technology as mundane as Blu-ray Disc players. But its resistance to heat and radiation give it a number of military and space applications. Gallium nitride chips are being used in radar for antiballistic missiles and in an Air Force radar system, called Space Fence, that is used to track space debris. “Gallium nitride makes better-performing semiconductors that were key in upgrading Patriot radar systems,” said Mr. Lewis. “It’s classic dual use, sensitive in that it could be used in other advanced weapons sensors and jamming systems.” Advancing its chip industry has been a major political initiative for Beijing. In recent years, analysts said, Chinese corporate espionage and hacking efforts have been aimed at stealing chip technology, while Chinese firms have used government funds to buy foreign companies and technology and attract engineers.”

This Is The Latest Sign That Xi Jinping Is Consolidating Power. “Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has already been called China's "most powerful leader since Mao," using a far-ranging anticorruption push, crackdowns in restive areas of western China, and an ambitious strategy in the South and East China seas to distinguish himself from his more staid predecessors. His rule has also taken on a more personal character than that of previous post-Mao Chinese leaders, with The Economist noting that he has molded his political persona in a way that suggests his goal is "dismantling the ... system of collective rule." Frequent public appearances, Xi-themed books and artwork, and frequent references to "Papa Xi" in Chinese media and popular culture show how closely the leader has tied Communist Party rule to his own individual image and power. According to a report published by The New York Times on Thursday, he's now taking things a step forward, with "references to Mr. Xi as the 'core' leader" emerging as a "daily occurrence in China's state-run news media." Such epithets are "tokens of power" in Chinese politics. In this case, the "core" leader appellation "carries a warning not to question, let alone challenge, [Xi's] authority as the government navigates turbulent changes," according to The Times. Xi's concerns over consolidating power may be well-grounded. China's stock market woes are ongoing, and there's an increasing sense that China's gaudy annual growth rates are misleading exaggerations of the country's actual economic state. China seems ominously eager to hide any economic weaknesses. In late January, the head of China's National Bureau of Statistics was arrested shortly after giving a speech about how capital outflows threatened the country's economy. Meanwhile, Xi has pursued a significant anticorruption policy that carries a serious risk of political blowback. Over 54,000 officials were investigated for bribery in 2015, while Xi's campaign has brought down prominent military and political figures. In addition, China has suffered a string of crises and disasters in recent months, including the deadly September 2015 explosion of a chemical plant in Tianjin, China's fourth-largest city, and a devastating mudslide in Shenzen that December. Xi has forcefully responded to the country's internal challenges, opting for a heavy-handed treatment of unrest in western China's Xinjiang Province and gradually deepening Beijing's control over Hong Kong. His elevation of himself to "core" leader status suggests that he wants to weather China's current difficulties through a continued policy of centralization and control.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 04, 2016

Chinese Defector Reveals Beijing’s Secrets. “A defector from China has revealed some of the innermost secrets of the Chinese government and military, including details of its nuclear command and control system, according to American intelligence officials. Businessman Ling Wancheng disappeared from public view in California last year shortly after his brother, Ling Jihua, a former high-ranking official in the Communist Party, was arrested in China on corruption charges. Ling Wancheng, the defector, has been undergoing a debrief by FBI, CIA, and other intelligence officials since last fall at a secret location in the United States, said officials familiar with details of the defection who spoke on condition of anonymity. The defector is said to be a target of covert Chinese agents seeking to capture or kill him. Among the information disclosed by Ling are details about the procedures used by Chinese leaders on the use of nuclear weapons, such as the steps taken in preparing nuclear forces for attack and release codes for nuclear arms. Other secrets revealed included details about the Chinese leadership and its facilities, including the compound in Beijing known as Zhongnanhai. That information is said to be valuable for U.S. electronic spies, specifically for cyber intelligence operations targeting the secretive Chinese leadership. Spokesmen for the White House, FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the case. Other officials said Ling defected sometime in the summer of 2015 after his brother, once the senior administrative aide to former Chinese leader Hu Jintao, came under suspicion for leaking state secrets. Intelligence officials said Ling, if confirmed as a legitimate defector in debriefings over the next several months, would have the most privileged information of any defector from China to the United States in more than 30 years. “This is an intelligence windfall,” said one senior official. The events surrounding Ling’s defection and his brother’s arrest appear to be part of a complex internal power struggle in China led by current leader Xi Jinping targeting hundreds of Party leaders and officials. Under the guise of a nationwide anticorruption drive within the Chinese leadership, Xi is said to be systematically removing rivals from previous administrations. Officials said Ling Wancheng is being kept under tight security after U.S. intelligence agencies detected the activity of covert Chinese agents tasked with tracking down Chinese nationals sought by the government. The defection was triggered by the arrest of Ling’s brother, Ling Jihua, a former presidential aide who secretly obtained some 2,700 internal documents from a special Communist Party unit he headed until 2012. The unit was in charge of storing and archiving classified documents. Ling Jihua then gave the documents to his brother, who owns a $2.5 million residence in Loomis, California, near Sacramento. The classified documents were transferred between the brothers as a safety measure: They were intended to be used as leverage to dissuade Chinese authorities from taking action against Ling Jihua. According to the officials, Ling Wancheng, the defector, kept the documents for safekeeping and was directed to release them to U.S. authorities in the event Ling Jihua were arrested. China announced in July it was prosecuting Ling Jihua for disclosing secrets, taking bribes, conducting illicit sexual affairs, and using his position to benefit relatives. The former official is currently undergoing harsh interrogation in China. Ling Jihua reportedly has been a main source for corruption investigations that helped bring down China’s security czar, Zhou Yongkang, as well as two senior military officials. Ling Jihua held the post of chief of the secretariat of the Party’s Political Bureau under Hu Jintao until 2012. The position is equivalent to that of the White House chief of staff, with broad access to the most sensitive details available exclusively to senior Chinese leaders. In August, after the New York Times reported the Chinese government had asked the Obama administration to return Ling Wancheng, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Ling was not suspected of criminal activity. “I’m not aware that he’s suspected of breaking any U.S. laws, but that’s a matter for the FBI or for other domestic law enforcement agencies,” Toner said Aug. 3. Last month, Liu Jianchao, the Chinese official in charge of Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign, told Reuters that Ling was in the United States. “As for the case of Ling Wancheng, the Chinese side is handling it and is communicating with the United States,” Liu said Jan. 14. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Beijing with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi last week and discussed “law-enforcement, pursuit of fugitives and their illicit money,” according to state-run media reports. A State Department official said the Ling case was not discussed during Kerry’s meetings in Beijing.”

How Japan Sees China’s Island-Building ‘Problem.’ “Shinsuke Sugiyama, deputy foreign minister of Japan, said Wednesday that his government views Beijing's seizures and buildup on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as a "problem" for the region. "We see the unilateral change of status quo as not consistent with ... something that a giant and responsible member of the international community should do," Sugiyama said, adding that his government has taken note of China's claims that the islands are not intended for military use. South China Sea tensions have steadily been rising since 2014, when China parked an oil rig near Vietnam and began building a reef into an island featuring a functioning landing strip. Many islands in the region are jointly claimed by some combination of China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Although other countries have built up their own islands in the area, Sugiyama said the establishment of an aircraft-accommodating outpost "is giving us and (neighboring countries) a problem." That problem, however, doesn't warrant threats of force, he said, reiterating his government's calls to solve the disputes through "peaceful dialogue." "We will work to encourage them in that way," he said. Sugiyama was in New York on Wednesday and joined former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a discussion at the Asia Society about Japan's evolving security stance, and Tokyo's considerations about various geopolitical problems. When pressed on China by Rudd, the Japanese diplomat emphasized economic concerns rather than military ones. Beijing is seeking to manage a slowing economy and to maintain internal stability, trying through various means to reduce volatility in its currency and its stock markets. "The current situation of the Chinese economy is not good for anybody," Sugiyama said. "If this kind of trend does continue, it's not a matter only for China: Of course it must be a big headache, it must be, for Chinese leadership, but it's a matter for the international community as a whole." Shinsuke said his government's fundamental focus concerning China is how to "let them be engaged further (with the international community) so that their economy is going to reverse and to get better." China reported in January that its 2015 GDP growth came in at 6.9 percent, but some experts say the actual figure is likely less than 4 percent.”  

RAAF Now Being Routinely Challenged By Beijing In South China Sea. “Australian air force patrols flying over the South China Sea are now being routinely challenged by the Chinese military in a sign of the growing stranglehold Beijing has over the strategically vital waters. The Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, said on Wednesday that Australian surveillance patrol flights over the regional flashpoint had increased "slightly" and the RAAF would continue doing so as was its right under international law. In a wide-ranging interview, Air Marshal Davies also said the RAAF would be stretched if asked to carry out sustained bombing raids in Libya on top of the campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State terror group. Those remarks came after Washington flagged the need to tackle the Islamic State's growing presence in Libya and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she would "listen" to discussions about a possible greater coalition effort in the oil-rich, north African country. But Ms Bishop reiterated that Australia was already making a significant contribution to the fight against Islamic State and it was up to other countries to do more. On the South China Sea, Air Marshal Davies said island-building by Beijing meant the People's Liberation Army had a much greater presence in the area which was being felt by Australian air craft patrolling the area under the long-running Operation Gateway. "Because the Chinese have done the reclamation, there is a greater Chinese presence," he said. "What we're now finding is that there are of course multiple outposts now that are manned, so wherever we go on our normal Gateway patrol, we now find that there is an increasing number of locations where the challenge would occur." The challenges would come in the form of radio broadcasts warning the Australian planes that they were close to Chinese territory and should move away. He stressed this was normal practice by many countries and said the nature of the challenges had not escalated. But he said "nearly all" flight were now challenged – something that had not happened in the past. The increase underscores the fact that China is now actively trying to enforce its claims over wide sections of the vital waters – a source of growing concern to Australian and U.S. defence planners as well as other countries in the region. China is locked in disputes with several other countries over tiny islands throughout the South China Sea and has sought to buttress its claims by building new islands on which it has installed military-grade runways and docking facilities. Air Marshal Davies said there had been a "slight increase" in patrols over the South China Sea but only because there had been more to surveil there than the Indian Ocean, where Gateway also operates. Fairfax Media understands however there has been a deliberate increase to send a signal to China. Meanwhile after a Rome meeting – which included Ms Bishop – discussed the threat of the Islamic State group in Libya, Air Marshal Davies said that the RAAF could carry out limited operations elsewhere on top of its current air strikes in Iraq and Syria. But he added: "What I would have some difficulty in giving assurance to would be another contribution the same [size and nature] in another location that could not get synergy from each other." "If it was a fighter contribution, then that is a tougher ask."

China’s Silk Road: How China Is Building The Biggest Commercial-Military Empire In History. “In the 18th and 19th centuries, the sun famously never set on the British empire. A commanding navy enforced its will, yet all would have been lost if it were not for ports, roads, and railroads. The infrastructure that the British built everywhere they went embedded and enabled their power like bones and veins in a body. Great nations have done this since Rome paved 55,000 miles (89,000 km) of roads and aqueducts in Europe. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russia and the United States established their own imprint, skewering and taming nearby territories with projects like the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Continental railways. Now it’s the turn of the Chinese. Much has been made of Beijing’s “resource grab” in Africa and elsewhere, its construction of militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea and its new strategy to project naval power broadly in the open seas. Yet these profiles of an allegedly grasping and treacherous China tend to consider its ambitions in disconnected pieces. What these pieces add up to is a whole latticework of infrastructure materializing around the world. Combined with the ambitious activities of Chinese companies, they are quickly growing into history’s most extensive global commercial empire. China views almost no place as uncontested. Chinese-financed and -built dams, roads, railroads, natural gas pipelines, ports, and airports are either in place or will be from Samoa to Rio de Janeiro, St. Petersburg to Jakarta, Mombasa to Vanuatu, and from the Arctic to Antarctica. Many are built in service of current and prospective mines, oilfields, and other businesses back to China, and at times to markets abroad. But while this grand picture suggests a deliberate plan devised in Beijing, it also reflects an unbridled commercial frenzy. Chinese companies are venturing out and doing deals lacking any particular order. Mostly, they’re interested in finding growth abroad that is proving difficult to manage at home. This, too, is typical for a fast-growing power. “This is very much in line with what we would expect from other great powers whose military posture follows its economic and diplomatic footprint,” Lyle J. Morris, a China specialist with Rand, told the author. In September 2013, newly anointed Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. He was in town to seal the Chinese purchase of a $5 billion stake in Kashagan, one of the world’s largest oilfields. On that trip, he unveiled a plan ultimately dubbed “One Belt, One Road” — a land-and-sea version of the fabled East-West Silk Road trading route. The idea is audacious in scope. On land, Beijing has in mind a high-speed rail network. It will start in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, and connect with Laos and on into Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Another overland network of roads, rail and energy pipelines will begin in Xi’an in central China and head west as far as Belgium (see dotted brown line in the map above). Beijing has already initiated an 8,011-mile cargo rail route between the Chinese city of Yiwu and Madrid, Spain. Finally, another 1,125-mile-long bullet train will start in Kashgar and punch south through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadur. The thinking behind this rail-driven plan isn’t new — Beijing has been piecing it together for a while. At sea, a companion 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (see dotted blue line in the map above) would connect the South China Sea, and the Indian and South Pacific oceans. China would begin to protect its own sea lanes as well. On May 26, 2015, it disclosed a strategy for expanding its navy into a fleet that not only hugs its own shores, but can wander the open ocean. China does not need to build all of these thousands of miles of railroads and other facilities. Much of the infrastructure already exists; where it does, the trick is to link it all together. Everywhere, new public works will be required. And to make its vision materialize, Beijing must be careful to be seen as generously sharing the big engineering and construction projects. Up to now, such contracts have been treated as rare, big profit opportunities for state-owned Chinese industrial units. These include the China Railway Group, whose already-inflated share prices have often gone up each time another piece of the overseas empire has fallen into place. If local infrastructure companies are excluded from the largesse, there will be push-back on almost every continent. In any case, not all this will necessarily happen. In a recent note to clients, China observer Jonathan Fenby of the research firm Trusted Sources suggested that it may all be too ambitious. China has had a history of announcing and then shelving projects, such as a $3.7 billion railway cancelled by Mexico in February 2015 amid allegations of local nepotism. Meanwhile, Japan has begun to challenge Chinese plans. It has launched rival bids for billion-dollar high-speed rail and other projects in Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere, with relatively low-interest loans and sometimes better technology. But Beijing seems to recognize its own limits. Rather, the world may help to build at least some of the infrastructure through another Chinese creation — the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with its 57 founding members, modelled loosely on the World Bank. Projects backed by the bank are meant to be good for the country where they are built. But given China’s outsize influence in the institution, they are certain to include some that fit into its grand scheme of global infrastructure.”

Future Of Bitter South China Sea Sovereignty Dispute Rests On The Philippines. “The Philippines used to be just one of six governments competing for claims to the South China Sea, a tropical ocean that’s hot because of its resources. That country lags its rivals, especially China, in military might and scope of claim to the ocean that covers 3.5 million square kilometers. It’s not the most aggressive driller for whatever oil and natural gas lurk under the ocean floor, nor is it the major marine shipper. But in 2014 President Benigno Aquino’s government, bolstered by a strong legal claim to eastern parts of the sea and anger over China’s combative presence, asked the United Nations to arbitrate the sovereignty dispute. A U.N. panel agreed in October to do that. The outcome tipped to favor Manila will affect how claimants treat one another for years to come even if they don’t recognize the arbitration process. Here’s how Manila’s U.N. gambit will change the whole maritime dispute. A simple reason first: The other claimants are listening to the Philippines. China, for example, after trying to ignore the U.N. request for arbitration in 2014, fought back in December with a position paper explaining its objections. China believes the U.N. panel isn’t entitled to hear the issue. In another example of attention to the Philippines, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou visited his government’s biggest holding in the ocean for his first time last month to remind the U.N. tribunal that the islet he stood on was a self-sustaining piece of land, not a rock or reef. If the U.N. tribunal rules it a reef, Taiwan could lose grounds for declaring an exclusive economic zone in the fishing-rich waters offshore. Taiwan is not a U.N. member but says it follows international law. On the day of Ma’s visit, the Philippine foreign affairs department asked all claimants to “refrain from actions that can increase tension in the South China Sea.” Now a deeper reason why the Philippines will reshape the maritime dispute — which is Asia’s stickiest with occasional violent clashes since the 1970s: China will re-calibrate. The U.N. arbitration panel in Europe is tipped to favor the Philippines in calling the “nine-dash line” inconsistent with international conventions on maritime rights. China and Taiwan use that line to claim the ocean from their coasts south to Borneo. They cite Han Dynasty maps from more than 2,000 years ago in forming the line. China says it won’t recognize the U.N. body’s decision. But it actually will, or risk being seen increasingly as a bully in Asia. It might start negotiating one-on-one with the Philippines and others, such as ever-angry claimant Vietnam, to shore up a reputation soiled by the landfill expansion of numerous disputed reefs. If China doesn’t attempt amends, Vietnam and the Philippines will ally ever closer to Japan and the United States, threatening China’s maritime claims as well as its big-guy status in Asia. U.S. officials want access to the sea so they can contain China’s rise and protect marine shipping lanes good for American companies. “There is already considerable discussion about how China’s actions are challenging its claim as benevolent neighbor to Southeast Asia,” says Carl Baker, director of programs with the think tank Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies. Another long-term reason for how the Philippine legal action will change things: Support from the U.N. tribunal will empower governments with less aggressive maritime claims to work together and press China harder to sign agreements. Malaysia and Brunei also call parts of the South China Sea their own but seldom speak out. The Southeast Asian players feel frustrated that China won’t agree to strengthen or replace a 14-year-old code of conduct. A new code would be aimed at preventing clashes in an ocean that’s crawling with fishing boats, coast guard vessels and oil rigs. China uses its global clout to stop Taiwan from pursuing regional diplomacy, as well. A favorable U.N. arbitration outcome would strengthen the Philippine “negotiating posture,” says Ramon Casiple, executive director of Philippine advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. Manila, he says, will “aggressively pursue a unified ASEAN (pan-Southeast Asia) China policy, particularly on the maritime claims in the South China Sea.”

Xi’s New Title Highlights China’s Power Struggle. “A push to designate Xi Jinping as the "core" of China’s Communist Party suggests efforts to strengthen the president’s hand in a year of political maneuvering for top party posts. At least seven provincial-level party bosses including the leaders of Jiangsu, Sichuan and Tianjin have in recent weeks publicly proclaimed Xi as the party’s core and pledged to uphold his leadership. The description, which would give Xi a status shared by three prior leaders including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, wasn’t formally bestowed upon his predecessor, Hu Jintao. The semantic change could signal a shift in China’s elite politics, which has for more than three decades stressed collective leadership to avoid the Mao-style personality cult blamed for fueling the social chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Adopting it -- something analysts said could happen as soon as next month’s National People’s Congress in Beijing -- could free Xi’s hand to help shape the party’s leadership during a twice-a-decade reshuffle next year. "If all this is really pointing to the declaration of Xi as the ‘core’ leader, then it suggests there might be some big changes at the 19th Party Congress," said Joseph Fewsmith, a political science professor at Boston University who studies China’s elite politics and wrote “The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China”. The move would "make the 19th Party Congress even more critical in establishing the party leadership." Designating Xi as essential to the party would cap more than three years in power during which he’s taken a leading role in economic planning and embarked on a massive campaign against graft that took down the country’s former security chief. While the practical applications are difficult to gauge, it could potentially make it harder for anyone to question his personnel choices and signal a willingness to break with the established practices for promoting top officials that have governed China’s recent transitions of power. For Xi, “the official adoption of the phrase will likely happen soon," said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing. "The sooner probably the better, because the strengthened mandate will help personnel arrangements in his favor.” While Xi has routinely emphasized his authority since becoming party general secretary in November 2012, the term "core" has only recently been applied, according to an analysis by Wendy Zhou, a research assistant with the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center. Hubei provincial chief Li Hongzhong used it to describe Xi during a Jan. 15 session to discuss the latest guidance from the top leader, according to remarks reported by the official Hubei Daily. At least six other provincial-level leaders have been quoted in state media using similar terminology, often in remarks surrounding the local congress sessions that presage the national gathering. The word has now surfaced in Xi’s own remarks: He told a meeting of the party’s 25-member Politburo on Friday that developing an awareness of the "core" was among the leadership’s focus areas, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The nation’s top legislator, NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang, used a pre-congress meeting on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to "think and act in line with" the central party leadership under Xi. "You’ve seen two forces at work: the provincial leaders are making a good guess on the top’s intention and the local propaganda machine is creating the momentum," said Qiao Mu, a professor of media studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “Also, the center dropped ample hints.” A formal pronouncement -- perhaps at the NPC or a Politburo meeting -- could firm up Xi’s status ahead of next year’s gathering, when as many as five of the seven members of the Politburo’s supreme Standing Committee could be replaced. Such changes to the party’s rigid lexicon are unusual. Mao was often referred to as the party’s "head" or "great helmsman." The "core" concept appears to have been introduced by Deng to anoint then-little-known Jiang Zemin as his successor in the aftermath of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. Just 12 days after troops entered Tiananmen Square, Deng told the Politburo Standing Committee that he and Mao served as the cores of the party’s first and second generations. Jiang, who Deng had plucked from Shanghai to lead the party nationwide, would serve as the "core of the third-generation leadership.” While the term was used to describe Jiang after he became president, it fell out of favor under Hu, according to Zhou’s analysis. There were a few dozen state media references describing Hu as a "core" leader, but they lacked endorsement from the central leadership. He was usually referred to as "general secretary," first among nine equals then on the Standing Committee. Still, the push to give Xi a “core” designation is potentially "a sign of internal opposition and party infighting because a mid-term power transition is around the corner and he felt the need to emphasize something he appears to already have," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and political commentator. "In Chinese politics, what you seek can show what you lack."

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 03, 2016

South China Sea Tensions Complicate Growing U.S.-China Cooperation. “Senior Pentagon and Navy officials regard ongoing disputes with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea as part of a larger, complex relationship between the two countries involving competition and military tensions alongside cooperation, military-to-military exercises, port visits and mutual efforts to fight international maritime piracy. Nonetheless, continued Chinese provocations in the South China Sea increase the risk of disrupting the balance of the U.S.-China relationship away from a broader context of collaboration and pushing it more substantially closer toward a clearly recognizable military rivalry. While the ongoing problems do not appear likely to result in military confrontation, the U.S.-China relationship seems to fall along two distinct, yet interwoven fault lines; one trajectory seems to be leading toward growing disagreements over actions in the South China Sea, and yet this stands in a delicate or precarious balance with fast-growing good-will, port-visits and more military exercises between the two countries. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, seems to indicate that both trajectories could potentially co-exist while, at the same time, expressing strong opposition to China’s territorial assertions in the South China Sea. In recent public remarks, Harris seemed to both address the seriousness of tensions and disagreements over issues in the South China Sea and also indicate areas of U.S.-Chinese partnership. There seems to be a clear hope among U.S. military leaders that South China Sea issues can be resolved without confrontation. A peaceful resolution of some kind could mean that the problems with China in the area do not necessarily have to greatly alter, disrupt or erase the larger calculus of the U.S.-China relationship – which includes growing cooperation. “While we certainly disagree on some topics – the most public being China’s claims in the South China Sea and our activities there – there are many areas where we have common ground,” Harris said recently during remarks at Stanford Center Peking University, Beijing. Harris seemed to suggest the prospect or hope that South China Sea issues could either be resolved, ameliorated or lessened as other areas of mutual cooperation grow. He cited Chinese President Xi and President Obama’s recent pledge to verify the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is naturally of particular relevance in light of North Korea’s recent claim to have tested a Hydrogen bomb. Harris also cited the historic 2014 Chinese participation in the Rim of the Pacific military training exercise and plans to participate again next year. He added that Chinese Navy ships made a port visit to Mayport, Fla., – home of the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet and a Chinese Hospital Ship visited a U.S. Navy port in San Diego. “Later this month, not only will USS Stethem visit Shanghai, so too will Admiral Scott Swift, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. In fact, there are 33 separate military exchanges in the next two weeks from 4-stars to cadets,” Harris said. These instances of growing U.S.-China partnership provide a nuanced or complicated context in which South China Sea disagreements are taking place. Clearly, while areas of evolving cooperation with the Chinese military are an important priority for the Pentagon, they do not preclude the importance of conducting Naval patrols within the 12-mile territorial boundary of waters the Pentagon believes are erroneously claimed by China. A U.S. Navy destroyer again sailed within 12 miles of island territory claimed by China in the South China Sea in a clear effort to refute sovereignty claims made by China and assert what the Pentagon calls “Freedom of Navigation” exercises. The exercise, conducted by the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, took place in the vicinity of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands as a way to challenge excessive maritime claims, a Pentagon statement said. While the Pentagon does not officially take a position regarding the many territorial claims in the contested island areas of the South China Sea, senior Department of Defense officials do not recognize island territories expanded by man-made or artificial structures to represent legitimate or legal territorial expansion. “This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas. The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told Scout Warrior in a statement. Rich in natural resources and located in a strategically significant portion of the Pacific Ocean, island territories in the vicinity are claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and others. All of these countries have outpost in the region, however senior Pentagon officials have taken issue with the massive extend of Chinese artificial-island building or “reclamation.” In fact, Pentagon officials have said the Chinese are building airstrips for military operations and placing weapons on the island such as artillery systems.”

China To Start Work Soon On Naval Base In Djibouti – Guelleh. “China is expected to start work in Djibouti soon on a naval base, Djibouti’s president told Reuters, defending Beijing’s right to build what will be its first foreign military outpost on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal, Djibouti is already home to U.S. and French bases, while other navies often use its port. China said last year it was in talks to build what it describes as naval “support facilities” in the Horn of Africa nation, which has less than a million people but is striving to become an international shipping hub. “The Chinese government has decided to move to this area,” President Ismail Omar Guelleh said in a weekend interview in Addis Ababa. “They have the right to defend their interests, just like everybody else does.” For Djibouti, among Africa’s poorest nations, it adds to its credentials as a global player in shipping as it targets investment of $12.4 billion to create a commercial hub for Africa. “We want to follow the path of Singapore,” Guelleh said. For China, the base reflects the increasing reach of its navy, which has conducted anti-piracy operations in the region, and a greater readiness to respond to threats abroad. President Xi Jinping is reforming the military, with China also becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, and as its navy invests in submarines and aircraft carriers. The West is watching closely. “We understand that some Western countries have worries about maybe the Chinese willingness to have military outposts out of China,” Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said during the president’s interview. But he said the West, which had long had similar bases, should not be concerned. The president did not say when the work would begin or how many personnel would be stationed there. “They are now studying and they will, I guess, start soon,” Guelleh said. The Chinese facilities would be at the $590 million Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port being built in the south of the country in partnership with China Merchants Holdings International. The navy would use one of the berths. It will be close to another port, the Doraleh Container Terminal, run by Dubai’s DP World although the government is locked in a legal arbitration battle over that contract. Djibouti is expanding its port facilities to handle more bulk commodities, containers and other goods. It is also building two new airports to handle more tourists and cargo. It is already the main export and import route for Djibouti’s fast growing neighbour Ethiopia, and the two nations will soon be connected by a new highway and rail links. Djibouti plans investment worth $12.4 billion between 2015 and 2020, with the Chinese providing much of the financing. “They are the biggest investors in our country,” the president said. “They are the ones who were sensitive to what we feel and seek, and our interests are complementary.” Last month, Guelleh signed a deal for a new free trade zone to be built by China. The first phase is to open this year. Others foreigners are also investing, including a German firm building a solar power project and a Qatari company backing a wind energy plant, part of Djibouti’s goal to switch entirely to renewable power sources in five years. The investment has pushed economic growth to 6 percent or more a year, but the International Monetary Fund said it would also drive public and publicly-guaranteed debt to a peak of 80 percent of gross domestic project in 2017 from 60.5 percent in 2014. “Infrastructure always pays off, doesn’t it?” the president said when asked about this debt burden. He said the investment drive would help fight the nation’s “main enemy that is unemployment,” adding that this would be his focus if he secures a fourth presidential term in April. Opponents, who have long said elections are marred by abuses despite official denials, say it is time for the president to quit, echoing increasingly loud calls by Western states for veteran Arab leaders to step aside. Asked for his response to such calls, Guelleh said: “An ambition is legitimate, isn’t it? ... If they beat me in the election, I will leave.”

U.S. Department Of State Seeks To Clarify Meaning Of China’s 9-Dash Line. “This is the third installment in a five-part series summarizing and commenting the 5 December 2014 US Department of State “Limits in the Seas” issue explaining the different ways in which one may interpret Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea. It is a long-standing US policy to try to get China to frame her maritime claims in terms of UNCLOS. Let us move to the three interpretations put forward by the US Department of State. 1: “Dashed Line as Claim to Islands.” This would mean that all Beijing was claiming were the islands within the dashed lines, and that any resulting maritime spaces would be restricted to those recognized under UNCLOS and arising from Chinese sovereignty over these islands. The text notes that “It is not unusual to draw lines at sea on a map as an efficient and practical means to identify a group of islands.” In support of this interpretation one could take the map attached to the 2009 Notes Verbales and the accompanying text, which reads “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof (see attached map).” The text notes that the references in the paragraph above to “sovereignty” over “adjacent” waters” may be interpreted as referring to a 12-nm belt of territorial sea, since international law recognizes territorial waters as being a sovereignty zone. In a similar vein, references to “sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” “relevant waters,” and “seabed and subsoil thereof,” would then be taken to concern the legal regime of the EEZ and the continental shelf, as defined by UNCLOS. As possible evidence for this interpretation, the study cites some Chinese legislation, cartography, and statements. The former includes Article 2 of the 1992 territorial sea law, which claims a 12-nm territorial sea belt around the “Dongsha [Pratas] Islands, Xisha [Paracel] Islands, Nansha (Spratly) Islands and other islands that belong to the People’s Republic of China.” This article reads “The PRC’s territorial sea refers to the waters adjacent to its territorial land. The PRC’s territorial land includes the mainland and its offshore islands, Taiwan and the various affiliated islands including Diaoyu Island, Penghu Islands, Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Nansha (Spratly) Islands and other islands that belong to the People’s Republic of China. The PRC’s internal waters refer to the waters along the baseline of the territorial sea facing the land.” The Department of State also stresses that China’s 2011 Note Verbale states that “China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and Continental Shelf,” without laying down any other maritime claim. Concerning cartography, the study cites as an example the title of “the original 1930s dashed-line map, on which subsequent dashed-line maps were based,” which reads, “Map of the Chinese Islands in the South China Sea” (emphasis in the DOS study). With regard to Chinese statements, the study cites the country’s 1958 declaration on her territorial sea, which reads “and all other islands belonging to China which are separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the high seas” (emphasis in the DOS study). The text argues that this reference to “high seas” means that China could not be claiming the entirety of the South China Sea, since should that have been the case there would have been no international waters between the Chinese mainland and her different islands in the region. This is a conclusion with which it is difficult to disagree, although we should not forget that it was 1958, with China having barely more than a coastal force rather than the present growing navy. Therefore, while the study’s conclusion seems correct, and precedent is indeed important in international law, it is also common to see countries change their stance as their relative power and capabilities evolve. Thus, if China had declared the whole of the South China Sea to be her national territory in 1958 this would have amounted to little more than wishful thinking, given among others the soon to expand US naval presence in the region and extensive basing arrangements. Now, 50 years later, with China developing a blue water navy, and the regional balance of power having evolved despite the US retaining a significant presence, Beijing can harbor greater ambitions. This section ends with the DOS study stating that should this interpretation be correct, then “the maritime claims provided for in China’s domestic laws could generally be interpreted to be consistent with the international law of the sea.” This is subject to two caveats, territorial claims by other coastal states over these islands, and Chinese ambiguity concerning the nature of certain geographical features, Beijing not having “clarified which features in the South China Sea it considers to be ‘islands’ (or, alternatively, submerged features) and also which, if any, ‘islands’ it considers to be ‘rocks’ that are not entitled to an EEZ or a continental shelf under paragraph 3 of Article 121 of the LOS Convention.” Some of these features, Scarborough Reef for example, are part of the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines. 2: “Dashed Line as a National Boundary.” This would mean that Beijing’s intention with the dashed line was to “indicate a national boundary between China and neighboring States.” As supporting evidence for this interpretation, the DOS report explains that “modern Chinese maps and atlases use a boundary symbol to depict the dashed line in the South China Sea,” adding that “the symbology on Chinese maps for land boundaries is the same as the symbology used for the dashes.” Map legends translate boundary symbols as “either ‘national boundary’ or ‘international boundary’ (国界, romanized as guojie).” Chinese maps also employ “another boundary symbol, which is translated as ‘undefined’ national or international boundary (未定国界, weiding guojie)” but this is never employed for the dashed line.”

South China Sea FONOP 2.0: A Step In The Right Direction. “The Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, the southernmost of the Paracel Islands, on January 30 in the second operation in the South China Sea in recent months under the Department of Defense’s Freedom of Navigation Program. And despite significant disappointment in some quarters, the operation was a considerable improvement over the October 26 transit of the USS Lassen near Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. In the wake of the previous Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP), the administration’s top concern appeared to be to downplay the transit in order to prevent upsetting Beijing more than necessary. As a result, no U.S. officials would speak on the record about the operation for days, despite extensive coverage in every major media outlet. This left the door open for unattributed statements and speculation to fill the gap. As should have been expected, the result was significant confusion about what exactly the Lassen was objecting to with its FONOP. In reality, it took nearly two months before a U.S. official fully and publicly explained the operation and its intentions. By contrast, the Department of Defense was ready with a statement on the Curtis Wilbur’s FONOP within hours. Not only did the Pentagon take control of the messaging so it could not spin out of control, as happened following the Lassen’s operation, but it did so with relative clarity. Where did the operation take place? “Within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island.” What did the destroyer do? “Transited in innocent passage.” What excessive maritime claim was it contesting? “Policies [of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam] that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas.” Equally important is that the planning of the recent FONOP seems to have been undertaken with the legal clarity and depoliticized nature typical of the Freedom of Navigation Program. Triton’s status as a legal rock or island (most likely the former) under international law is clear – it is above water at high tide and there are no nearby features whose maritime entitlements could complicate the undertaking or meaning of a FONOP. Subi Reef, by contrast, is a submerged feature that lies within 12 nautical miles of an unoccupied rock, which creates legal ambiguity about whether or not it bumps out the territorial sea of that rock and whether there is a legal requirement for innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of it. The difference in clarity between the two operations is evident in the official explanations of their purposes. Compare the language of the Pentagon statement regarding the Curtis Wilbur’s transit to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s explanation of the Lassen’s operation: Given the factual uncertainty, we conducted the FONOP in a manner that is lawful under all possible scenarios to preserve U.S. options should the factual ambiguities be resolved, disputes settled, and clarity on maritime claims reached. The specific excessive maritime claims challenged in this case are less important than the need to demonstrate that countries cannot restrict navigational rights and freedoms around islands and reclaimed features contrary to international law as reflected in the LOS Convention. The secretary’s explanation of the legal uncertainties surrounding Subi Reef are accurate. But the more important question is left unanswered: Why perform a FONOP there at all? If the United States wanted to challenge restrictions placed by China on innocent passage, there are five Chinese-occupied features in the Spratly Islands that indisputably generate a territorial sea or bump out the territorial sea of a nearby feature. If it wanted to challenge the right of a feature to generate a territorial sea at all, then Mischief Reef is the only Chinese-occupied feature that indisputably does not have one. Instead Subi was presumably chosen, at least in part, because the legal ambiguity surrounding it would allow the administration to avoid explaining exactly what it was objecting to, thereby avoiding undue controversy. Not only did that plan backfire, but it also forced the administration to rationalize the operation in a way that appears inconsistent with the goals of the FON Program. As Commander Jonathan Odom, who formerly had a hand in guiding the program, has explained, U.S. FONOPs are always undertaken with great legal deliberation, and their rationale explained as transparently as possible, to make clear precisely how and why the United States objects to specific excessive maritime claims. Nevertheless, the recent FONOP has many upset that the administration is being overly-cautious. And admittedly, engaging in innocent passage without prior notification amounts to the low-hanging fruit of potential FONOPs in the South China Sea. Passing within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef while engaged in activities that are clearly not consistent with innocent passage and therefore asserting that the United States does not recognize a territorial sea from the formerly-submerged feature would cut to the heart of the matter. It would be a much more effective way to contest China’s attempts to restrict freedom of navigation near its artificial islands. It was a let-down that the Pentagon directed this FONOP toward the Paracels instead of the Spratlys. And some might see it as a disappointment that it merely engaged in innocent passage instead of contesting other claims such as China’s illegal straight baselines around the Paracels. But for the FON Program to be effective, it must eventually contest any and all excessive maritime claims, and it must do so regularly and without becoming overly politicized. If the U.S. government is to follow through on its commitment to undertake FONOPs with increasing frequency in the South China Sea, then a wide range of operations will need to be undertaken, contesting the entire spectrum of excessive claims being made by China and other claimants in the South China Sea. After the criticism it received it the wake of the Lassen’s operation, it should not be all that surprising that the administration looked to the less controversial end of that spectrum for its next FONOP. Compared to its predecessor, this operation was a success. And there will be plenty more FONOPs to come. But if another three months pass and China’s apparent claim of the right to restrict freedom of navigation based on artificial islands remains uncontested, then I will join the chorus of disappointment.”

Strangle China’s Economy: America’s Ultimate Trump Card? “Winston Churchill once famously remarked that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its crib.” In that same spirit, should the United States now seek to strangle China’s economy as a means of deterring its aggression? In fact, “strangling China” is a theme I encountered frequently while interviewing experts for my book and documentary film Crouching Tiger. For example, National Defense University’s T.X. Hammes sees such strangulation as the core concept of his strategy of Offshore Control. As Hammes has argued right on the pages of the National Interest: “China’s imports and exports add up to more than 50 percent of its GDP. A depression, not recession, is often defined as an economic downturn of 10 percent or more. Since the Communist Party’s legitimacy is based on economic growth, major reductions in China’s imports and exports will create major pressure for a solution. Worse, from China’s point of view, is that U.S. control of the seas outside the first island chain means the world economy will begin to rebuild. The longer China maintains the conflict, the harder it will be to recover lost trade relationships. It is hard to see how Chinese leaders will simply ignore this kind of economic damage.” While Hammes wants to play the strangulation card only if China commits an act of aggression, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer sees such strangulation more as a non-kinetic “preemptive strike”—and one certainly preferable to a kinetic “preemptive war” to stop a rising China in its hegemonic tracks. Explains Mearsheimer: “If China continues to grow economically, it will translate that wealth into military might and try to dominate Asia. . . . There's no question preventive [nuclear] war makes no sense at all, but a much more attractive strategy would be to slow down China's economic growth. If China doesn't grow economically, it can't turn that wealth into military might and become a potential hegemon in Asia. What really makes China so scary today is that it has so many people and it's also becoming an incredibly wealthy country. [So] I think it's in America's interest and it's in the interest of China's neighbors to see the Chinese economy slow down because if that happens, it can't become a formidable military power.” U.S.-China Commission members Dan Slane and Pat Mulloy come at the strangulation strategy from a more US-centric perspective. They see China’s unfair trade practices, which include everything from illegal export subsidies, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft to a reliance on sweatshop labor and pollution havens, as non-kinetic weapons of job destruction.  They further insist that a mercantilist China has systematically used such mercantilist weapons to attack America’s manufacturing base and severely erode US military might and defensive readiness. To both Slane and Mulloy—and presidential candidate Donald Trump—a “defensive counterstrike” in the form of countervailing tariffs on Made in China products is a long overdue strategy. To Slane and Mulloy, such tariffs are necessary to not only rebalance the U.S.-China trade relationship but to also level the emerging battlefield as well. Explains Commissioner Slane on the need to play the Donald Trump tariff card: “It is in China's best interest long term to continue to make life difficult for us economically and continue to push us down because they realize that if we're economically weak, then we can't be strong militarily. The Chinese have the opposite situation where they have acquired over three trillion dollars in reserves primarily from trade deficits; and they're using a big chunk of that money to modernize their military. And they are building up their navy and their air force, and their army enormously, and getting to the point where they will eventually rival our military in the very near future.” Former U.S.-China Commissioner Mulloy is no less circumspect: “When you run massive trade deficits with a country, year after year, your economy is getting weaker, their economy is getting stronger. This is a terrific national security problem for the United States.” The question, of course, is what should America do to resolve this national security problem—and it is a question certainly worthy of the highest consideration during this pivotal 2016 presidential campaign. So far we have only heard from Mr. Trump. The remaining candidates need to weigh in on this critical economic and national security issue.”

Can China Be Deterred In Cyber Space? “If we look at the cyber realm, the effectiveness of deterrence depends on who (state or non-state) one tries to deter and which of their behaviors. Ironically, deterring major states like China from acts of force may be easier than deterring non-state actors from actions that do not rise to the level of force. The threat of a bolt from the blue attack by a major state may have been exaggerated. Major state actors are more likely to be entangled in interdependence than are many non-state actors, and American declaratory policy has made clear that deterrence is not limited to cyber against cyber but can be cross domain with any weapons of our choice. Along with punishment and denial, entanglement is an important means of making an actor perceive that the costs of an action will exceed the benefits. Entanglement refers to the existence of interdependences which makes a successful attack simultaneously impose serious costs on the attacker as well as the victim. This is not unique to cyber. For example, in 2009, when the People’s Liberation Army urged the Chinese government to dump some of China’s massive holdings of dollar reserves to punish the United States for selling arms to Taiwan, the Central Bank pointed out that this would impose large costs on China as well and the government decided against it. Similarly, in scenarios which envisage a Chinese cyber attack on the American electric grid imposing great costs on the American economy, the economic interdependence would mean costly damage to China as well. Precision targeting of less sweeping targets might not produce much blowback, but the increasing importance of the Internet to economic growth may increase general incentives for self restraint. At the same time, entanglement might not create significant costs for a state like North Korea which has a low degree of interdependence with the international economic system. Even among major powers, there may be situations, such as August 1914 where various actors believe that the benefits of attack exceed the costs to entanglement. European states were heavily entangled in trade and finance, but still chose to go to war. Most incorrectly envisaged a short war with limited costs, and it is doubtful that the Kaiser, the Czar and the Austro-Hungarian emperor would have made the same decision if they had foreseen the loss of their thrones and dismemberment of their empires. Norman Angell who wrote that war had become too costly because of entanglement was correct in that sense, but miscalculation can affect any type of deterrence. Trade between the U.S. and Japan did not prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but in part that was caused by the American embargo that manipulated the interdependence in a way that led the Japanese to fear that failure to take a risky action would lead to their strangulation. Deterring state actors from attacks that do not reach the level of force is more difficult. For example, deterring China from cyber theft of intellectual property for competitive commercial advantage has proven more difficult than deterring an attack on the electric grid. Yet even here, the American threat of economic sanctions seems to have changed the declaratory policy of Chinese leaders at the time of the September 2015 summit between presidents Xi and Obama. The American indictment of five PLA officers for cyber theft of intellectual property in 2014 initially seemed counter-productive when China used it as a pretext to boycott a previously agreed bilateral cyber committee. But the costs of naming and shaming plus the threat of further economic sanctions seems to have changed Chinese declaratory behavior. Previously, China had not recognized the American distinction of espionage for competitive commercial purposes as a distinct category, but they accepted it in 2015. Whether the threat of sanctions and loss of face will deter actual behavior of the complex organization we summarize as “China” remains to be seen. Skeptics argue that the declaratory policy change did not alter behavior of cyber theft originating from some actors in China. Optimists point out that deterrence requires clarity about what one is trying to deter, and the Chinese president’s declaration at last provides a clear baseline for behavior that China can be held to. If there is no progress, further sanctions with credible consequences could include using the dispute settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organization, but such cross domain deterrence can be problematic if it involves issue-linkage which is resisted by trade bureaucracies and corporate groups that do not wish to see their interests damaged by reprisals. Options such as naming and shaming corrupt officials by disclosing hacked information about their behavior can attack a country’s soft power but it sometimes resisted as over escalatory. The jury is still out on the extent to which China can be deterred in cyber space, but the evidence suggests it would be mistaken to totally discount the possibilities.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 02, 2016

Threats From Russia, China Drive 2017 Defense Budget. “After 25 years of war in the Middle East, the Pentagon’s 2017 budget is the first driven by Russia and China. “The program has been shifted to a more acute focus on the two high-end competitors, Russia and China,” a senior defense official told Sydney in an interview ahead of Secretary Ash Carter’s budget speech this morning. “The secretary feels strongly that we’re at a strategic inflection point,” the official said. “We’re going to have to start thinking differently for the next 25 years than we have been accustomed to in the last 25, and it’s primarily because of the reemergence of great power competition.” We must jettison assumptions like Russia being “a responsible international partner” and US forces going down to zero in Iraq and just 1,000 in Afghanistan. “None of that has come to pass.” In his speech before the Economic Club of Washington, Carter put the case simply. “Two of these challenges reflect a return to great power competition. The first is in Europe, where we’re taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression – we haven’t had to worry about this for 25 years, and while I wish it were otherwise, now we do,” he said. “The second is in the Asia-Pacific, where China is rising, and where we’re continuing our rebalance to maintain the stability in the region that we’ve underwritten for the past 70 years, and that’s allowed so many nations to rise, prosper, and win.” So “what’s different about this budget…a very tight budget?” the first official said. “What [we] needed to do first was refocus the program on the two high-end competitors that we have, great powers [and] let’s start to shift away…from a real heavy focus on counterinsurgency.” “We knew we weren’t going to get any [more] money, ” the first official continued: Last fall’s hard-won budget deal allocated $582.7 billion to the Defense Department, $524 billion in the base budget plus $58.8 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds. Here’s a summary of the top weapons modernization efforts Carter outlines in his speech. Cyber will get “nearly $7 billion dollars in 2017 and almost $35 billion dollars over the next five years.” Undersea capabilities get $8.1 billion dollars in 2017, and more than $40 billion over the next five years for nine Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years. More of them will get “the Virginia Payload Module, which triples each submarine platform’s strike capacity from 12 Tomahawk missiles to 40.” Counterterrorism gets $7.5 billion dollars in 2017 – 50 percent more than 2016. “So instead of arguing a lot, trying to get a bigger force,” the official said, “let’s reshape the force so it can meet these requirements….with a specific emphasis in the program on being able to bolster conventional deterrence against our two high-end adversaries, Russia and China; being able to continue our fight in the Middle East; and making sure that we would be able to respond to Iran and North Korea.” The four states are certainly not equal. While Iran and North Korea have been consistently hostile for a generation, Russia and China have become much more hostile of late, and they were always far more powerful. Despite all their differences, Russia and China pose some very similar threats. They both posses nuclear weapons, cyber/electronic warfare capabilities, increasingly sophisticated naval and air power, and the complex layering of long-range sensors, communications, and missiles — anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and land attack — known as “anti-access/area denial.” “When you’re going up against top-end competitors like Russia and China, you will hear a lot about the A2/AD threat,” the official said. “The advanced capabilities that you might buy are very similar and can be used in both potential theaters of operation,” just with a maritime tilt in the Asia-Pacific and a continental emphasis in Europe. For naval warfare specifically, it’s been widely reported that Carter has ordered the Navy to cut back on the lightweight Littoral Combat Ship to invest more in destroyers, strike aircraft, and missiles. “In the Pacific, a large surface combatant” — such as a destroyer — “is better than a small surface combatant” — such as a Littoral Combat Ship — “because it can do ballistic missile defense, it can do ASW [anti-submarine warfare], it can do all those things.” US naval forces have focused on attacking land targets, not enemy fleets, ever since the first Tomahawk strikes on Iraq in 1991, but that too is changing. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff coming off airplanes and off ships that is going to, we believe, reassert surface dominance,” the official said. “We’re very confident in our undersea dominance.” “We’re probably most stressed right now in the air, against these advanced SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles),” the official went on. “We’re spending a lot of money on the F-35 [Joint Strike Fighter] and the Long-Range [Strike] Bomber, which provide us the stealthy capabilities to go up against these things. Stealth is key. “Compared to the top end competitors that we have, F-35 is better than A-10, because A-10 wouldn’t survive against a Russia or a China,” the official said. “It’s terrific in the counter-ISIL fight.”

Vietnam Backs Latest U.S. Challenge To Beijing’s Sovereignty In South China Sea, Say Analysts. “Washington may claim its latest operation in the South China Sea was aimed at challenging Vietnamese territorial claims in the region as much as China's, but analysts say Hanoi is likely to have viewed the development positively. The USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel archipelago on Saturday, attracting immediate protest from Beijing, which claims and controls the area. But Hanoi, another claimant of the island as well as others in the Paracels, issued a relatively mild response the next day, saying all countries should make a "positive and practical contribution to the peace and stability" of the sea. "As a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Vietnam respects the right of innocent passage through its territorial seas conducted in accordance with the relevant rules of the international community," Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh said in a statement posted on the ministry's website. Like previous patrols under its "freedom of navigation" operations, the U.S. navy said that by sending the destroyer it had sought to challenge attempts by the multiple claimants to restrict navigation rights in the area. Triton Island is claimed by mainland China, Taiwan and Vietnam. But analysts said the U.S. operations mainly targeted China's ambitions and that Vietnam would see them as a positive move. "The fact is that the Paracels are now occupied by China," said Le Hong Hiep, a visiting research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. "From the Vietnamese perspective it's good because it challenges the Chinese claim." The U.S. defence ministry said no claimant had been notified prior to the navy operation. But Hiep said Saturday's operation was likely to have involved a mutual understanding between Washington and Hanoi. Many analysts in China said the latest patrol was an escalation of the freedom of navigation operations, which began when the USS Lassen sailed near Subi Reef in the Spratly islands in October. Some called for a more robust response from Beijing. The Pentagon said no Chinese naval ships were in the area at the time of the operation. China and Vietnam have long been locked in a sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea. Beijing sent a large oil rig to Triton Island in 2014 and later to other areas, sparking the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in decades.”

Powers Jockey For Pacific Island Chain Influence. “The extensive chains of Pacific islands ringing China have been described as a wall, a barrier to be breached by an attacker or strengthened by a defender. They are seen as springboards, potential bases for operations to attack or invade others in the region. In a territorial sense, they are benchmarks marking the extent of a country’s influence. “It’s truly a case of where you stand. Perspective is shaped by one’s geographic and geostrategic position,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor with the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College. “Barriers is a very Chinese perspective,” said Erickson. “It reflects a concern that foreign military facilities based on the islands may impede or threaten China’s efforts or influence.” The springboard concept can work offensively or defensively. “Many Chinese writings express concerns that the chains can be used as springboards for projection and forces against China. But some sources imagine future contingencies where China itself might have growing influence and presence, with Taiwan being most relevant in that regard,” Erickson said. “Benchmarks speak to the idea that as China increasingly engages in blue-water operations and limited forms of power projection, having more ships through the first island chain offers a set of milestones by which the People’s Liberation Army Navy – or PLAN – can measure its growing presence and capabilities.” Senior officials and analysts in the West frequently refer to the first and second island chains ringing China to describe both the region’s geography and predict Chinese intentions. Erickson, in a new paper co-authored with Joel Wuthnow of the National Defense University and published in The China Quarterly, carried out a comprehensive, five-year examination of Chinese literature to determine how mainland China views the chains. He reported that the idea originated in the west during the Cold War – Chinese sources often credit 1950s U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as the concept’s progenitor. But the notion, Erickson pointed out, isn’t new – it derives from the region’s physical characteristics. Still, the chains have risen in political thinking to become benchmarks that in many ways define the field of play as China’s regional maritime power expands. “You won’t find in a single authoritative source a precise official consensus on what the chains mean,” Erickson said. “But if you look at a variety of Chinese sources you see a larger pattern that speaks to Chinese concerns about foreign sources having influence over the region and over outstanding disputes. This is not a figment of China’s geostrategic imagination.” Those concepts play out in numerous fashions, from the weapons China develops to the kinds of exercises and operations the military carries out. “It looks like we’re seeing a broad-based Chinese effort to become familiar with a variety of different ways to get through the island chains,” Erickson noted. “It’s not hard to imagine that China would want to develop experience with as many different ways as possible to get through the chains.” China’s development of short-range ballistic missiles is also related to its thinking about the first island chain, Erickson said. “The vast majority of those weapons appear targeted at Taiwan, which many Chinese authorities see as a key point in the first island chain,” he said. “The vast majority of the missiles I’ve mentioned are designed to target very specific land bases. It’s only very recently that we see a small but growing portion of conventional ballistic missiles developed with the intent of being able to threaten U.S. and perhaps allied naval vessels.” The Chinese Navy, Erickson pointed out, operates the world’s largest conventional submarine missile force. “The vast majority of those missiles having the right range to appear to be targeted at various U.S. and allied military bases in the region, almost all of which are somewhere along the first island chain.” Subtle differences in how the U.S. and China view the chains are evident, Erickson said, in maps produced by the U.S. Defense Department and the Chinese Navy. The Pentagon map, he noted, “doesn’t show South Korea as part of the chain, but the PLAN book very much does show it as belonging to the first island chain.” Another key difference is in how the Chinese depict the chains joining up in Japan, stretching across the Sea of Okhotsk to the southern tip of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula – a feature absent from the U.S. map. The differences indicate different ways of thinking about the chains, Erickson said. “I don’t think the DoD map is the best possible expression about how the Chinese Navy thinks about the chains – the PLAN map is,” he noted. “This is a case of differences in nuance, not in fundamental differences. I don’t think DoD has gotten this wrong, it’s just a different focus.” China’s recently aggressive island-building strategy, Erickson observed, is related to the springboard and barrier concepts. “The chain traditionally has made use of existing geography, but you could argue that China is now making its own island chain – as a springboard for itself and to create a barrier to others,” Erickson said. “I haven’t yet seen Chinese sources that refer to this artificial island construction development as an island chain type thing, but if we look at it conceptually we’re really talking about similar things. That’s one reason I think there’s so much U.S., regional and allied concern about Chinese activities in the South China Sea.”

It’s Official: China’s Military Has 5 New Theater Commands. “China inaugurated five new theater commands of the People’s Liberation Army on Monday, with Chinese President Xi Jinping presenting flags to the new commanders during a ceremony in Beijing. The new theater commands – which replace the seven previously existing military regions – bring another piece of Xi’s ambitious plan for PLA reform into reality. Most of the commanders of the new military regions previously commanded one of China’s seven military regions, based at Shenyang, Beijing, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Lanzhou. However, many were given command of theaters far from their original base of power, ensuring no one commander can maintain a network of personal loyalty that supersedes Party authority. Liu Yuejun, formerly the commander of the Lanzhou Military Region (MR) in northwest China will now command the Eastern Theater. The former commander of the northern Shenyang MR, Wang Jiaocheng, will take over the Southern Theater Command, while Zhao Zongqi of the eastern Jinan MR move to commander of the Western Theater Command. The Beijing MR saw the least displacement for its commanders – and, in fact, a double promotion. Former Beijing MR commander Song Puxuan will head up the Northern Theater Command, while his former deputy commander, Han Weiguo, received a promotion to commander of the Central Theater. On the other end of the scale, three previous MR commanders were left high and dry: Nanjing MR commander Cai Yingting, Guangzhou MR commander Xu Fenglin, and Chengdu MR commander Li Zhocheng. According to Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun, the new military commands are based on the functions and structure of the military regions they will replace, with improved mechanisms for command and logistics. Yang also said the PLA will establish a Transitional Work Office to ensure a smooth transition from the old MRs to the new theater commands. The move to reorganize China’s military commands is a broader part of Xi’s military reform agenda. The overall plan is designed to both strengthen Party control over the military, with centralized control now in the hands of the Central Military Commission, of which Xi is chairman. The reforms are also intended to increase China’s capability to undertake joint operations, crossing service lines. Xi stressed both these points in his remarks to the new commanders as reported by Xinhua. The goal, Xi said, is for joint battle command system to be “absolutely loyal, resourceful in fighting, efficient in commanding and courageous and capable of winning wars.” He also emphasized the need for enhanced training in joint operations “in order to win the initiative in future wars,” as Xinhua put it. As for the details of their operation, figuring out exactly what to do with the new theaters is apparently a work in progress. Part of the new commanders’ jobs will be figuring that out; Xi asked the commanders to “speed up the development of a strategy for theater commands,” according to Xinhua. China Military Online reported that the theater commands would be tasked with “responding to security threats from their strategic directions, maintaining peace, deterring wars and winning battles.”

Why The South China Sea Needs Japan’s Navy. “Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) remains a Cold War navy. As U.S. Naval War College professor James Holmes has argued, the JMSDF has been designed to fill specific niches in partnership with the United States in combating the threats that would have emanated from the Soviet Union; thus, we have seen particularly proficient capabilities like antisubmarine warfare and minesweeping. Is now the time for the JMSDF to change its mind about its goals, fulfilling a new security role in the region and in the world as partners of the United States as spelled out under the Japanese policy of a “Proactive Contribution to Peace”? In the changed conditions of the twenty-first century, the most realistic security approach for the JMSDF will involve more so-called “Non-Combat Military Operation” (NCMO) missions, like Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief and anti-piracy operations in the Asia Pacific region in conjunction with the U.S. Navy. We are already seeing movement on this front. The guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation were revised in April 2015. Bilateral security cooperation is likely to strengthen in the new future. The U.S.-Japan alliance has already been a key element of the regional security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. The future will likely contain a more balanced and robust role for Japan, as well as enhanced security cooperation between Tokyo and other U.S. partners in the region, such as the Philippines and Australia. The U.S. Navy and the JMSDF find themselves on the front lines in the Asia-Pacific region as maritime security challenges increase. China has made dramatic increases in military spending, and is building up its own anti-access/area denial capabilities to deny the U.S. entry in its near seas. It poses a threat to neighboring countries in the East China Sea (ECS) and the South China Sea (SCS). The SCS serves as a major choke point for Chinese naval power projection toward the Indo-Pacific region. As China’s strategic position in these waters has improved, Beijing has been able to act much more assertively throughout the region. This has raised a fundamental question as to whether China will use its growing military and economic power to assert its own national interests without respect to international norms. The South China Sea issue – China’s creation of artificial islands and extending its claims for its maritime zones – represents a typical challenge to “freedom of navigation” based on international rules. China, of course, maintains that its intentions are peaceful and constructive. Beijing defines the SCS as “a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.” Premier Li Keqiang issued a five-pronged proposal to uphold and promote peace and stability in the SCS at the Eighteenth ASEAN-China Summit in Malaysia in November 2015. What is interesting is that it explicitly states that countries from outside the region (e.g., the United States) should undertake to respect and support the efforts by countries in the region to uphold peace and stability in the SCS (that is, the arrangements that China reaches with its neighbors). At this summit, the United States and Japan raised concerns about the SCS, about how key shipping routes would be safeguarded and how the significant oil and gas deposits under its waters might be apportioned. In particular, they brought up the possible threat to freedom of navigation posed by Chinese activities. The countries in the region do not want an aggressive and powerful China pursuing its own interests. They must react assertively to what the Chinese are doing, which means being prepared to vigorously uphold the existing rules about maritime operations, including the rights of vessels to engage in navigating open waters. Some critics say that the United States and Japan ought not to intervene in this regional issue, as putative “outsiders” to the SCS. However, the United States has been a Pacific power promoting regional peace and stability for decades, and the U.S.-Japan relationship has been a pillar of stability throughout the entire region. Increasingly, the JMSDF should be prepared to play a greater role with U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan should look for creative solutions to the challenges we face in the SCS and the JMSDF ought to consider what burdens it can be prepared to assume. We need to take seriously statements made by U.S. leaders, including President Obama, that the United States cannot function as the world’s policeman. The words and deeds of President Xi Jinping are so conspicuous. Xi proposed that China should take the initiative in its neighboring states. PLA has been striving to modernize, preparing for local wars under conditions of informationization. As China rises and becomes increasingly powerful, it will want to dominate the Asia Pacific region. Xi’s vision of “One Belt, One Road” lays out a strategy for China, as a continental power, to consolidate a sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific area, allowing Beijing to take the initiative in defining regional policy. The United States and Japan must address the direct challenges that China poses to regional security. Japan has strengthened its ties with ASEAN nations along with the United States; the rise of Chinese continental power has led to a counterbalancing coalition of Asia-Pacific maritime powers. Japan should make a radical change from strictly limited self-defense to protecting its own islands and territorial waters, in order to fulfill a new security role in assisting other countries in the region. Japan has already taken steps toward this transformation. The JMSDF, for instance, has undertaken an antipiracy mission in waters off Somalia since March 2009. An operation in far-off waters represents a shift in thinking about the JMSDF’s essential mission, from local self-defense to becoming a navy that understands the critical importance of full participation, along with the United States and other alliance and coalition partners, in securing the world’s sea lanes (since the Gulf of Aden connects Europe and Asia via the Suez Canal and is one of the world’s premier shipping routes).”

Defense Transparency And Collaboration Will Help Asia Avoid War. “We are at the start of a dangerous arms race in Asia as nations in the region respond to rising and more assertive military power in China and growing instability on the Korea Peninsula. And the American "Pacific pivot" is failing to gain traction in the face of crises in Syria, threats from the Islamic State group, and ongoing tension with Russia over Ukraine. China (which has the world's second largest defense budget) is on track to double its military spending by 2020. The Chinese are buying and building large aircraft carriers and are rapidly improving their offensive cyber capability. Other Asian nations are responding. Japan has not only increased its defense budget but also passed legislation that will allow for offensive Japanese military action to defend allies under attack. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and virtually every other nation in the region are increasing defense spending. On average, East Asian nations are spending at least 5% a year more on defense. And we should remember that the U.S. and Russia, the first and third largest defense spenders in the world (and the two largest arms exporters), are also Pacific powers. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, we saw less public strain between Asian leaders than in the past. But two years ago at Davos, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the Chinese-Japanese relationship as reminiscent of the antagonism between Great Britain and Imperial Germany on the cusp of World War I – hardly a reassuring thought. Since then, the two leaders – Prime Minister Abe and President Xi – have appeared together at several events and there seems to be less overt tension. But from conversations with senior military and political leaders over the past few months, it is clear that there remains significant competition and indeed the potential for conflict. Several nations involved in territorial disputes with China are moving closer to the U.S.. These include Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Vietnam. The completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which does not include China) will further align the signatories with the U.S. On the Chinese side, in addition to a rapidly increasing defense budget, the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea coupled with continued claims of essentially sovereign control over most of the South China Sea (an area roughly the size of Europe) have other Asian nations rattled. Chinese actions over the contested Senkaku islands, known in China as the Diaoyu, that are in significant dispute between China and Japan are also alarming, as is the political rhetoric out of Beijing on both Taiwan and Hong Kong. Then there is the "North Korean problem." The North Koreans are armed with a small arsenal of nuclear weapons; led by an inexperienced, unstable, emotional, and medically challenged dictator; possessing technologically advanced ballistic missiles; and in a virtual state of war with their closest neighbor, South Korea. India has historically stood apart from East Asian politics, reasoning that it has enormous internal challenges. But increasingly we are seeing India under dynamic Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaging in increased military and security cooperation with the U.S. and Japan, including the recently completed Malabar exercise.  It appears unlikely that there will be any significant reduction in tensions or in defense spending over the next decade. What should the international community be doing to help create stability? First, at the tactical level, the nations in the region should encourage military-to-military direct contact. This can lead to defined protocols to minimize the chances of accidental ship and aircraft collisions, misunderstandings that escalate into shooting incidents, and even prevention of cyber attacks on military command and control systems, which are particularly dangerous. Such military-to-military contact can be done bilaterally between the military staffs or organized in parallel to regional conferences. When such regional gatherings do occur – for example the Association of Southeast Asia Nations annual convocation – having high level and candid political conversations about security can create a higher level of confidence. Alongside such governmental conferences, so-called "track two" events like the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore are excellent venues for the exchange of views. Third, finding ways for the militaries in the region to collaborate operationally, especially at sea, is important. This can be in simple maritime exercises that focus on noncombat operations – medical diplomacy, disaster relief, and humanitarian operations. It can also include quasi-military training or operations together for events upon which the nations do agree – piracy, for example, or humanitarian evacuations from a disaster zone.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | February 01, 2016

U.S. Warship Sails Near Island Claimed By China. “A U.S. warship conducted a patrol Saturday around an island in the South China Sea claimed by China and two of its neighbors, another in a series of operations challenging Beijing’s recent efforts to enforce maritime and territorial claims in the region. The USS Curtis Wilbur, a destroyer, navigated within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel island chain in the South China Sea, a senior U.S. defense official confirmed. Triton Island is a manned Chinese outpost but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Known as a “freedom of navigation operation,” the patrol represented a challenge not to any territorial claim over Triton, but to what the U.S. sees as excessive restrictions from all three claimants on the waters surrounding the island, U.S. officials said. It was the first such U.S. operation around the Paracels since 2011, they said. China says it has “indisputable sovereignty” over all South China Sea islands and their surrounding waters. It has controlled all the Paracels since seizing them from Vietnam in 1974. The warship traveled within 12 nautical miles of Triton without providing prior notification to any of the three claimants, the U.S. defense official said. That is legally significant because it shows the U.S. exercising its rights to navigation over demands from all three claimants that foreign warships seek permission or give prior notice to transit their territorial seas. China’s foreign ministry and defense ministry both issued statements saying the U.S. vessel had violated a Chinese law requiring foreign warships to seek approval from Beijing to enter its territorial waters. Senior Col. Yang Yujun, a defense ministry spokesman, said Chinese naval forces and troops guarding the island had identified the U.S. ship and warned it to leave the area immediately, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. The U.S. patrol was a “serious offense” and a “deliberately provocative action,” the statement said. “Whatever provocative action the U.S. takes, the Chinese military will take all necessary measures to resolutely protect the nation’s sovereignty and security.” The operation lasted about three hours, the U.S. defense official said, declining to provide more specifics. The defense official also declined to describe any communications or interactions with the Chinese or vessels from other nations. But there was no Chinese navy presence seen in the area, the official said. Patrols in the past have garnered significant attention from the Chinese, who typically send a small flotilla to investigate the arrival of any foreign nation’s ships. “We saw nothing that was unusual in terms of the reaction,” the official said, declining to elaborate further. The U.S. has watched with increasing alarm as China has stepped up activities to enforce claims to islands and other land masses in the South China Sea, including among the Spratly and Paracel island chains. Beijing’s claims in the Spratlys are contested by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines – a U.S. treaty ally. In the last two years, China has built seven artificial islands on the rocks and reefs that it controls in the Spratlys, raising fears among other claimants, and in the U.S., that Beijing will use them to enforce its claims in the area. China has pledged not to “militarize” the islands, but hasn't made clear what that means. In October, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of the Chinese-built artificial islands in what U.S. officials said was the first of several such patrols designed to challenge China’s recent activities. Beijing lodged a formal protest over that and said its navy ships tracked the U.S. vessel, warning it to leave. The U.S. says it doesn’t take a position on who has sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, but is opposed to the restrictions imposed by any country on navigation rights and freedoms around a feature such as Triton. “The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention,” according to a statement. U.S. officials said Saturday’s exercise was conducted on the basis of “innocent passage” – which according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows naval ships to transit another nation’s territorial waters without prior notice if they don’t conduct threatening activity. China and some other nations have long demanded that foreign military vessels request permission before entering their territorial waters. In September, however, a flotilla of five Chinese warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea, a rare foray into U.S. territorial waters that was also done without prior notice and as “innocent passage.”

McCain, Forbes Praise New Navy Challenge To China In Paracel Islands. “Just two days after the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, pledged to push harder on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within the 12 nautical mile limit around Triton Island. Situated in the Paracels, which are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, Triton is one of those islands China seized from what was then South Vietnam in a 1974 offensive that left at least 70 Vietnamese dead. Today, the Paracels are a potential flashpoint in ongoing disputes over the potential oil and gas wealth of the South China Sea. (It’s also worth noting that they’re real, natural islands rather than the artificial constructions of Chinese engineers). Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain and House seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes, who have criticized the Obama Administration for letting China run roughshod over our friends and allies in the South Pacific, praised the operation – somewhat grudgingly in McCain’s case. “I am encouraged to hear that the U.S. Navy has conducted a freedom of navigation operation near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea,” Sen. McCain said. “This operation challenged excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and other nations under international law. I continue to hope these operations will become so routine that China and other claimants will come to accept them as normal occurrences and releasing press statements to praise them will no longer be necessary.” “By sailing within the disputed waters around Triton Island,” said Rep. Forbes, “the men and women of the USS Curtis Wilbur have sent a strong signal of America’s enduring commitment to Asia and the rule of law. While the ownership of these islands may be in dispute, the right to freely fly, sail, and operate in the surrounding waters is not. I am pleased that we seem to have resumed exercising and demonstrating that right on a routine basis. I urge the administration to continue conducting freedom of navigation operations, and I call on other maritime nations to stand up for our shared rights and join us in freely exercising them.” What’s the backstory at which McCain and Forbes are hinting? While the U.S. emphatically takes no position on who owns what islet, rock, or reef in the South China Sea, it does dispute Chinese claims to a “territorial sea” extending 12 nautical miles from various natural features and artificial islets that Beijing considers its sovereign territory. But the Pentagon admitted last year that it had stopped sending ships and aircraft within the 12-mile limit in 2012. Last fall, after months of public statements, confusion, and delay, the destroyer USS Lassen ended the three-year hiatus in such “Freedom Of Navigation Operations” by cruising within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed Subi Reef. It did so without giving notice to or asking permission of Beijing, violating the Chinese interpretation of international law. However, by most interpretations of international law, Lassen simply conducted an “innocent passage” – sailing straight through the contested waters without engaging in specifically military operations – which warships of one country may freely do in the territorial waters of another. What is forbidden in another country’s territorial sea is specifically military activities – even something as simple as launching a helicopter or turning on a targeting radar. Critics say that only conducting such military operations within the 12-mile limit would constitute an unequivocal statement that, as far as the U.S. is concerned, these are not Chinese territorial waters but part of the “high seas” on which any nation may do as it likes. The Pentagon said in a statement that “the USS Curtis Wilbur, (DDG 54) transited in innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island” – which means it did not conduct military activities. So how serious a challenge was the operation to China’s claims? Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific director at the Center for a New American Security, told me that “the U.S. is compounding the problem by making China think the U.S. is not serious.” “The U.S. isn’t really challenging any Chinese maritime claims, and in fact is helping to support them by conducting an innocent passage, which is allowed within 12 miles of someone else’s territory,” said Bryan Clark, a former top aide to the Chief of Naval Operations. “If the U.S. wanted to challenge China’s and other’s claims, the ship would conduct ‘military operations’ such as running radars or conducting helo ops. It did not do this.”

Australia Knew Of U.S. Patrol Of South China Sea. “Australia was warned in advance of the United States' challenge to Beijing with the calculated sailing of a guided-missile destroyer close to a South China Sea island claimed as territory by China. After the U.S. navy warship the Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island – part of the Paracel Island chain – on Saturday Defence Minister Marise Payne stated Australia's support for the American manoeuvre, which sparked an angry response from Beijing. The deliberate sailing so close to the disputed island territory – the second time the U.S. has done this in recent months – is meant to head off any attempt by Beijing to curb freedom of navigation and overflight through the strategic waters. "The United States has publicly declared its policy of conducting freedom of navigation operations globally, consistent with international law," Senator Payne said. "It is important to recognise that all states have a right under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea. Australia strongly supports these rights. "Australia continues to co-operate closely with the United States and other regional partners on maritime security. “Triton Island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. And while the U.S. stated that its gesture was aimed at all three claimants, it is being widely interpreted as a signal to China, which has lately stepped up its efforts to exert control over the South China Sea, including by building artificial islands complete with military-grade airstrips and ports. Senator Payne said that Australian ships and planes would "continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea.” Fairfax Media understands that while Australia played no support role to the U.S. in the freedom-of-navigation patrol, Canberra was forewarned by the U.S. that it was planning the exercise, underscoring the close co-operation between the allies on the issue. Senator Payne said that with 60 per cent of Australian exports passing through the South China Sea, Australia had a "legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight" in the waters. An Australian P-3 Orion flew through over sensitive air space in the South China Sea late last year in a move the federal government described as routine but which was widely interpreted as a signal to Beijing that Australia means to continue operating in the regional flashpoint. It is understood such flights by the RAAF have been stepped up in the past 18 months in a deliberate gesture to Beijing. Reuters quoted China's foreign ministry as blasting the latest U.S. move as "intentionally provocative" and "irresponsible and extremely dangerous.” "The American warship has violated relevant Chinese laws by entering Chinese territorial waters without prior permission, and the Chinese side has taken relevant measures including monitoring and admonishments," China's foreign ministry said. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said no ships from China's military were in the vicinity of the USS Curtis Wilbur when it passed near Triton Island. "This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants – China, Taiwan and Vietnam – to restrict navigation rights and freedoms," he said, according to Reuters.”

This Is China’s Master Plan To Destroy The U.S. Navy In Battle. “When Chinese officers go to bed at night, what do they fear most? Despite all the hard work, all the billions of dollars spent, no Chinese sailor wants to tangle with the U.S. Navy. As one retired Chinese senior defense official told me in late 2014: “The 3 A.M. crisis ‘call’ I feared the most is that we were at war with your navy.” While such a statement surely tickles the hearts of Pentagon officials, know this: Fear, when focused properly, can make the mind – and the collective power of nations – help craft solutions to complex military challenges that might at one time have seemed nearly impossible. For example, during the 1995-1996 Taiwan Crisis, Beijing’s ‘nightmares’ were nearly realized. When faced with a superior military power that could deploy massive amounts of advanced naval assets and project power from multiple domains like no other nation in history, China simply could not compete. Chinese leaders, especially President Jiang Zemin, would fear the power of American Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) and their ability to negate what little military might Beijing could bring to bear on Taipei. At one point, there is strong evidence to suggest China could not even find the location of U.S. Carriers – a big problem for sure. The crisis would clearly shape Beijing’s thinking on the development of weapons that could provide an asymmetric edge. So what weapons would China use against the U.S. Navy if combat did ever commence? Some of these weapons, and I am talking to you National Interest readers, you know – and know well. Others, such as one or two of the three platforms I would like to focus on for this blog post, are not as well known, and yet, could give the U.S. Navy the greatest of fits. In a Taiwan crisis scenario – a scenario in which Beijing to this day still sees as the greatest possible military challenge – the following listed below are platforms U.S. strategic thinkers truly fear (and arguably don’t have exact solutions to mitigate at the moment): Sea Mines (Lots of Sea Mines) A not-so-fun fact you may not know: China has the world’s largest collection of sea mines. Just how many you ask? Estimates vary; however, some see Beijing holding 80,000-100,000 sea mines. Now, to be fair, China does not have the capability to deploy all of these mines at once, and would have to be fairly creative in deploying them in contested seas around say Taiwan or in the South China Sea – like using civilian vessels in small numbers to ensure a lower probability of detection. Yet, as history shows us, it does not take an advanced mine or a lot of them to do tremendous damage, and Beijing knows that history all too well, as TNI author Lyle Goldstein reminds us: “A fascinating interview appeared several years ago in the Chinese military magazine [Ordnance Science and Technology] ... The professor goes on to cite [the] example of a U.S. Navy ship, the frigate Samuel B. Roberts, holed by an Iranian mine back in 1988.” The mine, by the way, was “a cheap, Russian-designed Iranian mine” that “shattered the keel and knocked out the power. Within 90 seconds, the frigate had taken on nearly half its total displacement in water – two main spaces completely flooded.” Yikes. Missiles (Lots Of Missiles): Let’s not go down the road of gushing over various Chinese missiles with their ranges and capabilities. While important, it’s the amount of missiles that could be aimed at the U.S. Navy in a Taiwan scenario that is the real threat. Even the best missile defenses in the world, which the United States holds in its possession (and I am a big supporter of), might just not be enough. The challenge itself is not an easy one to overcome. All China would have to do is send out a massive barrage of missiles – and forget for a moment the type (cruise or ballistic) or domain they are launched from (land, sea or air) – with the goal of overwhelming U.S. naval defenses. Even assuming American missile defenses could stop every single one it could engage, the number of available interceptors on ship to respond to such an attack would be fixed and is easily known – and easy to overwhelm. Put another way, as noted for The Diplomat a few years back (and have opined on several occasions now), simple math is the problem here: “Think about it – could we someday see a scenario where American forces at sea with a fixed amount of defensive countermeasures facing an enemy with large numbers of cruise and ballistic weapons that have the potential to simply overwhelm them? Could a potential adversary fire off older weapons that are not as accurate, causing a defensive response that exhausts all available missile interceptors so more advanced weapons with better accuracy can deliver the crushing blow? Simply put: does math win?” Ok, so to be fair, this topic – China possibly using anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons on U.S. assets – is getting a lot more attention thanks to outlets like 60 Minutes and others bringing the topic to light. And it would not just impact the U.S. Navy for sure. However, imagine for a second if China unleashed its missiles skyward, attacking and destroying American satellites in orbit. Could America really wage an effective counter attack without modern systems such as GPS and communications to guide a counter-strike? This why so many people are commenting about the danger of Chinese anti-satellite weapons. While America also has such a capability, it creates for an interesting escalation dynamic: what happens if tensions are rising, say in a Taiwan scenario, and a decisive advantage is gained by striking your adversaries satellites in space. At what point is the risk of conflict great enough that you attack? What is the tipping point for China or America? How will your foe, potentially being dealt a devastating blow, respond? Keep in mind; China and America both have nuclear weapons.”

To Fix The South China Sea, Look To Taiwan. “Outgoing Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou’s controversial trip to Itu Aba—the only island Taiwan controls in the South China Sea—has drawn a sharp rebuke from Washington. The spokeswoman for the American Institute in Taiwan, the unofficial U.S. embassy, expressed disappointment following the announcement of the visit, condemning it as “extremely unhelpful.” While the State Department may be right to suggest that the visit “does not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea,” the Obama administration should take care to consider how we arrived at such a point. Ma Ying-jeou, of course, knew the White House would read his day trip as an act of defiance. Taipei reportedly alerted Washington only a few days prior to the visit and the public announcement came just twenty-four hours in advance, ensuring that Washington would not have time to mount sufficient pressure to dissuade Taiwan’s president from his intended course. Dissuasion may have been difficult in any case, for Taiwan has been backed into a corner. Setting aside the merits of Taiwan’s South China Sea claims, its status as a claimant is no more or less legitimate than that of the other disputants. But following the Southeast Asian claimants’ lead, Washington has essentially ignored Taiwan’s role in the sea. Taiwan has been treated not as a coequal claimant, but as a complication, despite the fact that Ma is perhaps the only leader to have put forth a thoughtful—if difficult to enact—peace plan for the region’s troubled waters. When asked about Ma’s South China Sea Peace Initiative after he proposed it last May, a State Department spokesman issued a supportive but anodyne statement expressing lukewarm appreciation. In reality, it seems that the United States does not truly welcome any action from Taiwan on the South China Sea. Washington wants Taipei both to abide by international maritime law (as the United States understands it) and to refrain from differentiating its claims from those of the mainland, which could lead to cross-Strait tension and reveal America’s one-China policy as divorced from reality. That’s a difficult and frustrating tightrope for Taiwan to walk. Taiwan, effectively, can do no right when it comes to the disputes. Recent events, moreover, have heightened Taiwan’s isolation and deepened its distrust of an international order from which it is largely excluded and in which Taipei finds it difficult to defend its interests. Particularly frustrating for Taiwan has been the Philippines’ arbitration, vocally supported by the United States, filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) regarding the legality of Beijing’s South China Sea claims. As part of the court case, the Philippines has asserted that Itu Aba is a rock rather than an island—a dubious claim and one designed to maximize the Philippines’ potential exclusive economic zone. That assertion has certainly angered Taiwan, but not nearly so much as the PCA’s refusal to accept submission of any Taiwanese documentation arguing the contrary or even to allow Taiwan to observe the proceedings. In other words, Taiwan has increasingly felt as if it is shouting into the wind. The international community has pointed its collective TV remote at the island and pressed the mute button, and done so at a time when China presents an ever greater threat to Taiwan’s survival, and when the United States is enhancing security ties with all of its Asian partners except Taipei, from which Washington has distanced itself. Taiwan can be excused for feeling somewhat insecure. No country, of course, can sit idly by while its sovereignty and territorial integrity are challenged. And so Taiwan determined that if it would not be heard, it would surely be seen. Is Ma’s visit “disappointing”? Sure. Is it “extremely unhelpful”? That’s overstating things. The hullabaloo over the visit seems likely to subside fairly quickly, and the other claimants will almost certainly revert to essentially ignoring Taiwan. The fact is that when it comes to the South China Sea disputes, Taiwan—or rather, the nature of Taiwan’s future relationship with China—is a complicating factor. It is the elephant in the room, and nobody wants to poke it.”

Incentivizing Multilateralism In The South China Sea. “Considering the multiple overlapping claims in the South China Sea, bilateral talks alone cannot yield a lasting solution. However, engaging in more inclusive dialogue will prove difficult for as long China – whose claims in these waters bring it into conflict with all the other claimants – remains averse to multilateral talks. Part of the aversion likely stems from Beijing’s growing confidence in the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s strength relative to its maritime neighbors. With this perceived advantage, rather than multilateral talks – which could give China worse odds of getting all of what it claims in the region – Beijing seems confident that maintaining a preference for bilateral talks, while engaging in incremental island reclamation, more frequent patrols, as well as something occasionally more dramatic, will prove the more effective strategy, eventually forcing the other claimants to reconsider what they are willing to stake to realize their interests in the SCS. However, with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and even non-claimant states like Indonesia and Singapore fast upgrading their navies, while building closer ties with each other – as well as with the United States, Australia and India further away, China is likely to find its military advantage in these waters less clear cut. And rather than spooking the other claimants into conforming to its wishes, Beijing’s assertiveness in the SCS will more frequently provoke responses in kind. For the countries involved in these disputes, for those further away, and perhaps most importantly, for the 500 million people who live within 100 miles of the SCS coastline, the prevailing status quo, which leaves plenty of room for potentially devastating miscalculation, is far from ideal. And in a tense environment, continued obstinacy towards multilateral talks will likely come at a high cost. The good news however is that there are a few ways to make multilateral talks more appealing. Perhaps the most effective approach would be to raise the cost of using force by establishing a multinational naval coalition that would focus on ensuring freedom of navigation in the SCS. In doing so, this coalition will likely make China and the other claimants less confident of their military advantage in the region, rendering unilateral provocative actions far less appealing. Such a maritime coalition would probably be most effective if it included the U.S. Navy, and would be most legitimate if membership were extended to all those involved in the SCS disputes. Of course, putting together a strong coalition that can deter any claimant from using force in the SCS will prove tricky, especially considering China’s interest in such a maritime force is far from clear. Fortunately, there are a few easier ways to incentivize multilateral talks. One straightforward way would be to remind the PRC that it has engaged in multilateral talks in the not too distant past. In 2005, China, the Philippines and Vietnam signed a proposal to map seismic zones in the SCS. That the Chinese leadership has shown faith in multilateralism to explore the SCS provides much-needed ground to encourage further talks. And though more talks aimed at joint exploration alone might do little to resolve the thorny questions of sovereignty, they will provide a welcome opportunity for collective engagement and help build trust among the claimants. It would also be useful to highlight China’s own aspirations for ocean-related industrial economic activities to account for 13 percent of its GDP by 2020. Being more open to multilateral negotiations could result in a more permissive maritime environment, making it easier for China to realize some of its economic goals in these waters. Finally, if claimants like Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines who are more inclined to multilateral talks can come together to discuss a solution, it could hasten the process of settlement. More than bringing about resolution by itself, coming together would convey a sense of urgency and resolve, which could make Beijing more amenable to inclusive dialogue – especially considering that by remaining aloof, China would risk taking a significant portion of the blame for the failure of multilateralism in the SCS. However, far more than any of these measures, the success of multilateralism will depend on whether the six countries involved in these disputes recognize that control over the South China Sea at the cost of strategic hostility with each other, as well as with important economic partners further away, will prove a pyrrhic victory. Clearly, betting on such reasoning prevailing anytime soon would require a level of optimism that’s perhaps best kept out of statecraft. However, as tensions escalate, and the possibility of a wider conflict grows, it is perhaps a recognition of the costs of any conflict which, more than any other factor, could persuade the claimants to give multilateralism a chance. The worrying question then is this: Just how much worse will things have to get before multilateralism starts to look appealing in these waters?”

The New Taiwan Crisis. “For the past few years, the South and East China Seas have been at the centre of Beijing's security calculus. Since 2009, China has pursued its maritime claims in adjacent waters with particular ferocity, dispatching an armada of paramilitary vessels to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while more aggressively disrupting Vietnamese and Filipino energy exploration activities within their respective waters in the South China Sea. By 2012, after weeks of tense standoff, China managed to wrest control of the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal, which lies within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone but is 900km away from China's southernmost province of Hainan. Having consolidated its control over the Vietnamese-claimed Paracel chain of islands in the northern portion of the South China Sea, Beijing has spent the past two years building a sprawling network of dual-purpose bases across artificially augmented disputed features in the Spratly chain of islands. The sheer scale and speed of China's maritime assertiveness in the area has provoked a largely dovish Obama administration to more aggressively conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations close to Chinese-occupied land features in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the constitutionally pacifist Japan has stepped up to the challenge by augmenting its defensive position in the East China Sea, recently approving its biggest ever defence budget to counter Chinese maritime ambitions. The landslide election victory of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in the latest Taiwanese parliamentary and presidential elections, however, could dramatically shift Beijing's strategic focus to what it considers as a renegade province. Taiwan is once again at the centre of the global geopolitical chessboard, with both Beijing and Washington carefully considering their options. Though the majority of Taiwan's population are of mainland Chinese descent, particularly from southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, the island nation has historically preserved a distinct identity. For the past centuries, it has experienced Chinese suzerainty, European colonisation, Japanese occupation, and a short-lived period of formal independence under the former rulers of China, the Kuomintang. But Taiwan, which hosts much of China's greatest treasures, never entirely severed its umbilical cord with the mainland. If anything, it actually played a key role in China's industrialisation in the past three decades. Taiwanese foreign direct investments in the mainland exponentially increased from only few million dollars in the 1980s to as much as $9.9bn in 1993. Three years later, the figure reached a whopping $40bn, tantamount to 5 percent of Taiwan's gross domestic product. Nonetheless, as a prosperous and democratic nation, Taiwan never felt fully comfortable with the idea of integrating into a Beijing-led Greater China. Amid a blossoming economic relationship with China, Taiwanese leaders began to agitate for formal independence, culminating in the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, which saw Beijing openly threatening Taipei with military invasion - but no actual invasion or attack was planned. Bound by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which compels Washington to aid Taiwan against threats from the mainland, the United States responded by dispatching two aircraft carriers to keep China at bay. Recognising its military inferiority, Beijing backed down in momentary humiliation, but spent the next two decades obsessively honing its conventional and asymmetrical military capabilities. The whole episode was a poignant reminder of the delicate nature of cross-strait relations. Worried about the prospects of conflict, the Taiwanese electorate opted for a more calibrated cross-strait diplomacy, represented by President Ma Ying-jeou, who oversaw a golden age of Taiwan-China relations, paving the way for a dramatic increase in bilateral trade, investments, and people-to-people interaction. It didn't take long, however, before the Taiwanese electorate, particularly the youth, began to oppose what they saw as a scandalously cosy relationship between the Ma administration and autocratic China. Gradually, people came to worry about the growing Chinese economic grip on Taiwan, which became dangerously dependent on the mainland market. In 2013, China absorbed as much as 40 percent of Taiwan's exports, amounting to $121bn. Things came to a head the next year, when ongoing negotiations over the controversial Cross Strait Services Trade Agreement sparked massive protests, giving birth to the "sunflower movement". Beyond the concern over corruption, growing inequality and the prospects of Taiwan being entirely sucked into the Chinese economic sphere, the protests were fundamentally about reassertion of Taiwanese identity.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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