All posts in “South China Sea”

PLA Navy, Recruiting and Strategic Communications

Recently – earlier this week in fact, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLAN, released a new recruiting video as part of a larger push begun in early August by the PLA for more recruits – and especially those with degrees.  Pushed to YouTube and other social media, it is at once slick and highlights the latest in the PLAN and PLANAF’s inventory (or at least the best CGI can bring):

Liaoning
Full length video here.

The video itself is broken into four defined segments – and here is where it gets interesting. The four segments: ‘Our Dream,’ ‘Call to Duty,’ ‘Honor of Gene'(sic), and ‘Seeking Blue Dream’ are also the only segments with English subtitles, save for the ending frames, and we will see why that is particularly intriguing and cautionary in a few.  I’ve taken the liberty to excise two of the segments – ‘Call to Duty’ and ‘Honor of Gene’ (let’s just agree to call it ‘Gene of Honor’… – SJS) for a little more detailed breakdown.

But first some background.

Our (remaining) stalwart readers will recall our calling attention some five years ago to the the importance of the South China Sea (and East China Sea too) and some particularly aggressive moves and statements made by the civilian Chinese researchers and explorers at the time.  Since then – especially in the past 4-6 months, the frenetic island building campaign by the Chinese in the Spratlys and elsewhere in the SCS has (finally) started to garner world attention.  While there are any number of articles, posts, etc. available on the web and elsewhere, the single best “go to” resource I have found and strongly recommend is the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.  As described at their website:

The maritime environment in East Asia contains both promise and peril. The Indo-Pacific region is host to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, facilitates huge volumes of regional trade, and boasts abundant natural resources. Competing territorial claims, incidents between neighboring countries, and increasing militarization, however, raise the possibility that an isolated event at sea could become a geopolitical catastrophe. This is all occurring against a backdrop of relative opaqueness. Geography makes it difficult to monitor events as they occur, and there is no public, reliable authority for information on maritime developments.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative seeks to change this. AMTI was conceived of and designed by CSIS. It is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia. AMTI aims to promote transparency in the Indo-Pacific to dissuade assertive behavior and conflict and generate opportunities for cooperation and confidence building. Because AMTI aims to provide an objective platform for exchange, AMTI and CSIS take no position on territorial or maritime claims. For consistency, all geographic locations are identified using the naming conventions of the United States Government as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. – AMTI, 8 Aug 2015

Among the very useful resources at the site is the interactive timeline covering over 175 years of history in the Asian maritime domain.  For a relatively quick (ok, a good afternoon’s worth of time) survey of the history of the region is necessary to understand the complex relationships between overlapping claims, recognitions and the blood spilled over dashed lines on the chart.  Which brings me back to the topic at hand — the recruiting video.  See, while watching there were a couple of scenes that grabbed my attention for their placement within a recruiting video.  About 0:45 into the first clip below, following an extended sequence showing a fair bit of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) footage there is a cut to a sequence of islands – prominently featuring the Senkaku () Islands (Japan) or Diaoyu (钓鱼附属岛屿) Islands as they are called on mainland China:

Senkaku
Senkaku Islands

Additional imagery from what may well be the Paracel islands (in conflict with Vietnam) and Spratlys (in conflict with pretty much the rest of the SCS littoral) is followed by an orgy of ordnance from the modern day PLAN to underscore the point about capability and capacity of the PLAN.  But lest there be any doubt about China’s intent; be it prospective recruits with shaky patriotism or lesser nations and their hegemonic/interloper supporters, then the first few seconds of the second video should remove that doubt – at least that appears to be the intent.  Here is the key image:

JohnsonReef2

 

What are you viewing?  This is a reconstruction of the naval clash that took place on 14 Mar 1988 on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys between Vietnam and China.  Accounts will vary depending on if you follow the Chinese or Vietnamese version – but PLAN film footage that surfaced around 2009 seems to validate the Vietnamese version.  In summary:

The 1988 clash at Johnson Reef saw Chinese naval frigates sink two Vietnamese ships, leaving 64 sailors dead – some shot while standing on a reef – and remains a point of friction between the two nations. But its broader significance lies in the strategic nature of the operation.

The battle’s aftermath saw China take and secure its first six holdings in the Spratlys – fortifications that remain important today, with one at Fiery Cross reef housing an early warning radar. Fourteen years earlier the PLA navy had routed the South Vietnamese navy to complete its occupation of the Paracels to the north – islands being built up into a formidable military base.
– Source: SCMP, Mar 2013

Here is a screen capture of the mostly unarmed Vietnamese workers holding their position, waist deep in water on the reef, as Chinese marines approached to move them off.

JohnsonReef3

The video clip below (source) tells the rest of the story:

Sixty-four lightly and unarmed Vietnamese cut down and two transports sunk.  Hardly the heroic warship – to – warship slugfest the PLAN video made Johnson Reef out to be.  Indeed, this clip provides significant insight into the Chinese character and approach to conflict (and deterrence), especially when viewed in other engagements with India and Russia.  For those that think we can pull the Cold War playbook down off the bookshelf and use the same deterrence models – I would urge caution and a deeper study of what Kissinger called the Chinese “Offensive Deterrence” in his work, On China.

So – a recruiting video that (a) makes a case for China as a maritime nation (sequences 1 and 4) and reinforces its claims to disputed territory in the ECS/SCS via reconstructed (and retold) historical imagery interposed with images of a modern day PLAN’s range of capabilities.  I would argue it is indeed, less a recruiting video for more bodies and more a piece of educational video (“Why we need a navy”) directed at the larger domestic audience and a quiescently crafted piece of stratcom directed at China’s neighbors and you-know-who lurking over the horizon. An interesting exercise in messaging and filmaking when viewed in a vacuum – but China never does things in a vacuum.  On the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, with attention of the world starting to focus in on the island building campaign in the SCS and direct pushback from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and possible regional cooperation to counter China’s push that is gaining US support and cooperation, one can, I believe, make a strong case that this is the opening fusilade of the social media and communications war to signal China’s intent and determination as the islands reach completion and IOC.

And about that end sequence…

endnote
“Sail on the broad sea and be brave and courageous”

Oh, BTW – anyone remember this from the 2007-2008 timeframe?  Has a familiar, er, tone about it…

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Linking the South China Sea and the Arctic Ocean

When Russia planted a flag on the Arctic Ocean seabed in August 2007, it was in part, political theater meant to cement its claim to the region’s vast natural resources (especially mineral).   Of course, such action served as a shot across the bow of the other states bordering the region, leading, among other actions, to a 2008 joint Canadadian-Danish geologic study that supports Canada’s claim to the Lomonosov Ridge as a natural extension of the North American continent and as such, a significant portion of the Arctic seabed.   While the five nations with competing claims have agreed to work under UNCLOS through the aegis of the Arctic Council (founded in 1996), there has been an increase in military presence (primarily Russian) in recent months and something of an information campaign as well.

All of this is pretext to an event in the South China Sea that occurred earlier this summer – but only recently announced:

A Chinese submarine planted a national flag deep on the floor of the South China Sea during a test dive last month to reinforce China’s territorial claim, the boat’s designer said yesterday.

The State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Science and Technology jointly announced yesterday that a Chinese scientific submarine with three civilian crew members had explored unknown terrain at a depth of more than 3,700 metres at the heart of the South China Sea. Before resurfacing, they planted a Chinese flag on the ocean floor.

The motivation of such as pretty clear:

“We were inspired by the Russians, who put a flag on the floor of the North Pole with their MIR [deep sea submarine],” said Zhao, an engineer at the China Ship Scientific Research Centre, who designed the hull of the submarine. “It might provoke some countries, but we’ll be all right. The South China Sea belongs to China. Let’s see who dares to challenge that.”

Brave words indeed from an engineer associated with the project (but one presumes they would not have made it into circulation without the tacit approval of the Chinese government) – but it doesn’t end there.   Being as how there was nowhere near the Chinese coast to test the deep sea submersible’s operating depth of up to 7,000 meters (greater than the Russian Mir and similar Western subs, as claimed by the Chinese maker), it was tested close to the Philippines:

“The closer to Philippines, the deeper the sea. We will put down national flags all the way until we reach their border,” Zhao said. “And then we will go beyond and aim for the Mariana Trench.”

Oh yes — and one other “small” item all the way at the end of the article:

The Sea Dragon needs the support of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to Zhao. “The navy has escorted all our previous missions and I think they will continue to do so,” he said. “The further we go, the more we need guns to protect ourselves.”

Which itself, brings to mind something we noted in an earlier post

The timing of the announcement and subsequent revelation in the open press (e.g., South China Morning Post – 27 August 2010 (registration/subscription may be required to read))   obviously follows on the heels of China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea.   The rub of it is, however, that in so doing their goal of keeping the US marginalized and the other nations bordering the SCS divided becomes harder to obtain.   The US has already stated that the competing clams over the resources in the sea and on the seabed of the SCS should be handled in a multi-lateral forum – one thinks something similar to the afore-mentioned Arctic Council, which would be anathema to the Chinese who, ironically enough, have obtained observer status on the Arctic Council.   And that item, brings us back to the Arctic where China has asserted a right for access to the mineral wealth on par with the perimeter nations.   Giving substance to the claim is a research station established in Norway and deployment of a Russian-built, nuclear-powered icebreaker on a semi-permanent basis.

So, here’s an observation — Russia has laid clam to a vast amount of the Arctic and may well end up with a majority share of said resources.   Claim, however, is one thing, the ability to access and exploit another — and the current state of Russian industry and technology to exploit the mineral resources of the region is questionable.   The US and Canada have the technological capability, but one wonders about the commitment of the US and the capacity of Canada – which leads us to look at a possible Russo-Chinese joint venture — hard currency for Russia from sales abroad of liquid and mineral resources and guaranteed access to same by a resource hungry China.   All without any expectation of China stepping back from its increasingly aggressive posture in the SCS.

…things that make you go, hmmm…

Update; See also Eagle1 and ‘Phib  posts this subject as well as this weekend’s blogtalk radio’s coverage of the same.

Competition in the South China Sea

At its root it is all about resources — protein to supplement meager domestic harvests and oil to drive economies that governments push to unnatural and unsustainable annual growth.   It is about an emergent regional power, poised on the brink of asserting itself as something more, flexing new-found muscle in new domains and deepening suspicion of others in the region. . .   “It” is a body of water, bounded to the west by Indochina,   to the south by Indonesia and the east by the Philippine Islands.   A marginal sea, it is the largest body of water after the world’s five oceans, measuring some 3.5 million square kilometers. Bordered by nearby home for over 270 million people.

Through its passages at Malacca and Taiwan,   pass great streams of commerce — more than half the world’s supertankers and almost half of the world’s tonnage by most counts.   Outward-bound to distant lands with finished products, inbound with the raw wealth drilled, mined, scraped and otherwise pulled from the earth, grist for the shore-bound industries.   From crowded, stinking cities and wave-swept shore, fishermen set to sea to bring its bounty back to a waiting family, village or hungry nation.   They set sail in everything from small boat to vast maritime industrial fleets, so efficient at harvesting but with so little thought of sustainment.   At day’s end, visitor and native alike pause to consider the marvels of a watercolor sky, brushed in deep shades of vermilion and azure from above met by molten gold and dark sapphire from below – merging on the horizon.

Marvelous beauty, marvelous bounty – but alas, one that has seen mighty conflict in its time.   From the early days of vessels powered by muscles and fear, to sail and later, plied by great grey hulking beasts that sought out like kind for battle or hurl anger ashore,   it has seen war in all its stark, naked rage.

The South China Sea.  南海 Nánhǎi.  Biển ĐôngDagat Timog Tsina. Laut China Selatan…  

Click on image to expand

The resources – living and mineral, have been a source of strife among the major regional actors and a look at the multitude of claim/counter-claim lines drawn on a chart, of overlapping claimed sovereignty is to behold a modern Gordian-knot.   The modern-day Alexander in the region, China, has sought to quietly, relentlessly snip away at that knot through bi-lateral negotiations, playing nations off one another and using new-found bluster to attempt to quash any semblance of emergent multi-lateral dialogue.     A 2002 declaration of conduct between ASEAN nations and China wherein all would exercise restraint over claims in the region has begun to unravel.   ASEAN members claim it is meaningless in the face of Chinese naval assertiveness in the region and growing conflicts between fishing fleets and naval forces.   The US, no stranger to these waters from the late-19th century forward, is still a relative newcomer but underscoring its resurgent presence in SE Asia, asserted through SecState Clinton’s surprising (to the Chinese) statement last month at a forum on maritime matters hosted in Hanoi,   that a leading diplomatic priority for the US would be a multilateral approach to resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea while challenging China’s claims to the entirety of the sea.

China’s response wasn’t long in coming.

The Chinese military declared Friday that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea but insisted it would continue to allow others to freely navigate one of the busiest waterways in the world.

The statement by the People’s Liberation Army seemed designed to reiterate China’s claims to the entire 1.3 million-square-mile waterway while calming concerns in Washington and Asian capitals that its policy toward the region had suddenly become significantly more aggressive.

“China has indisputable sovereignty of the South Sea, and China has sufficient historical and legal backing” to support its claims, Senior Col. Geng Yansheng, a Ministry of Defense spokesman, told reporters Friday during a visit to an engineering unit on the outskirts of Beijing.

But he added, “We will, in accordance with the demands of international law, respect the freedom of the passage of ships or aircraft from relevant countries.”

Coming on the heels of competing naval exercises off the Korean peninsula and in the Yellow Sea in July by China (which also began a major round of air exercises today),   the US remarks raised hopes of nations in the region who have expressed increasing concern over China’s growing naval presence.   At home, the Chinese press whipped itself into a veritable froth, taking every opportunity to highlight the naval exercises and declare China’s emergence, something the MoD spokesman quoted above noted later in the same press conference as “not helpful.”

Make no mistake about it — if the US chooses to press ahead in the region militarily and diplomatically there will be substantive challenges and an increased likelihood of a confrontation on the high seas.   China has made no bones about using sharp elbows where it feels its sovereignty is being impinged and with increased capacity and capabilities, will undoubtedly feel it is in a position of greater strength to exercise the same.   On the part of the US, it is the opening act of what a number of writers and strategists are coming to see as at least one major feature of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world – one that requires a naval presence for persistent presence, able to flow forces on short notice that are able to conduct sustained operations from the seabase.   It is the core of the maritime strategy and naval operations concept.

It is also one that demands a navy with wide-ranging capabilities across the spectrum of war and which will not be found in a dwindling force of undermanned ships, aging aircraft and neglected weapons systems.   It will require small combatants, big-deck amphibs, multi-mission destroyers and cruisers, submarines for hunting and deterrence and carriers that bring a revitalized mission of sea control back into a portfolio too-long dominated by strike warfare.   Grey hulls, white hulls.   Sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman.   The need is there — the question – can we afford to build and sustain the necessary force structure to put “paid” to the diplomatic checks being written?

Can we afford not to?

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) maneuvers with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Luyang-class destroyer Guangzhou (DDGHM 168) off the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.