Sunday, April 22, 2012

Red line, Blue water: China has a PLAN

Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools
Five long years I thought you were my man
But I found out I'm just a link in your chain
You got me where you want me
I ain't nothing but your fool
You treated me mean oh you treated me cruel
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools

One of these mornings the chain is gonna break
But up until then, yeah, I'm gonna take all I can take
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools
-- Sung by Aretha Franklin

There is a lot to chew on in this post, but not all the meat you need to eat. Guambat reckons you also should read the full linked stories to get all that meat. Bon appetit!

Don't forget clean your plate. The first several items set the stage for the current stories at the end.

Full steam ahead for China's territorial ambitions by Peter Hartcher July 13, 2010
In an assertive redefinition of its place in the world, China has put the South China Sea into its "core national interest" category of non-negotiable territorial claims - in the same league as Taiwan and Tibet. China has drawn a red line down the map of Asia and defies anyone to cross it.

One-third of all commercial shipping in the world passes through the waters now claimed exclusively by China.

Why is China doing this?

Because it needs to, according to one of its top naval officials. Rear-Admiral Zhang Huachen, deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet, told The Straits Times: "With the expansion of the country's economic interests, the navy wants to better protect the country's transportation routes and the safety of our major sea lanes."

China is doing it because it can, according to a retired general, Xu Guangyu. "China's long absence from its exclusive economic waters over the past decades was an abnormal historical accident and now it is just advancing to normal operations," he told the South China Morning Post. "We kept silent about territory disputes with our neighbours in the past because our navy was incapable of defending our economic zones, but now the navy is able to carry out its task."

It is one of several moves this year by Beijing to expand its naval dominion. First, it has declared a newly expansive naval doctrine. Until now, its zone of operations was limited to the so-called First Island Chain, stretching from Japan to the Philippines. But Beijing now proclaims "far-sea defence" reaching to the Second Island Chain, a zone stretching all the way to Guam, Indonesia and Australia.

The head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, said in April: "Of particular concern is that elements of China's military modernisation appear designed to challenge our freedom of action in the region."
China’s Island Chain Defense
One idea that has been on every naval strategist’s mind in recent years is the rise of China and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

The PLAN in recent years has been increasing its naval capacity, building more destroyers, cruisers, and submarines. More importantly, however, is its new tactic known as Area Anti-Access Denial (AAAD). This is the basic strategy of denying operational ability to an enemy in a specific location. China has been bolstering this capability using Anti–Surface to ship Missiles (ASM), Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM), anti-satellite weapons, and advanced submarine warfare. China’s position makes it capable of denying access to any area it deems crucial to its national interest during a time of crisis.

To combat the larger operational capability of the USN, the PLAN has constructed a series of AAAD strategies focused on island chains as defensive perimeters. The first island chain runs through the Japanese Archipelago, Ryukyus Islands, Taiwan, and the Philippine archipelago. The second island chain is less distinctive, running southward from northern Japan through Guam, Micronesia, and terminating near New Guinea. Chinese strategists view these “chains” as defensive perimeters to occupy or, at the very minimum, deny an enemy access to the area they encompass.

South China Sea / "First Island Chain of Defence" - Geostrategic positions
There are two main island groups in the South China Sea: the Paracel Islands are in the northern part, about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam and they are claimed by Vietnam as well as by China. The Spratly islands are spread through the southern part of the South China Sea and include about 100 small islets, sand bars, reefs, and rocks, comprising a total area of no more than 1.8 square miles in a vast ocean. While China claims all the Spratly islands, they are also claimed by Vietnam, which currently occupies 27 of the 100; the Philippines, which occupies 8, Malaysia which occupies 3; Taiwan which occupies 1, while China currently occupies 7 . To date, there has been no definitive international arbitration of these competing claims.

In February 1995, the Philippines revealed that one of the Spratly Islands, named Mischief Reef, which was 150 miles from its island of Pelawan, and nearly 1000 miles from mainland of China, had been occupied by China. In May 1995 the Clinton Administration privately told the Philippines not to invoke the mutual defense treaty. Instead the US urged diplomacy.... That formal pronouncement by the Department of State was ignored by China. In turn, the United States mostly ignored China’s further aggressive actions.

The effect of continuing acquiescence in these Chinese claims and actions could be to cede China de facto control over the islands in the South China Sea. China could then use the sovereign rights under international law over waters extending to twelve miles from land boundaries and the economic exclusion zone of 200 miles from the land border recognized under the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea in order to essentially establish large domains of sovereign control from the many Spratly islands and Paracel islands that might in effect give it operational or economic control over much of the South China Sea.

Such a coercive use of control over the South China Sea would be consistent with the new Chinese geopolitical doctrine of the “first island chain of defense”. This was advanced as a strategic concept in the 1990’s by General Liu Huaqing, a close associate of Deng Xiaoping, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission and member of the Politburo elite until his retirement in 1997. The first island chain of defense doctrine holds that to be secure China needs to control the entire region off its shores in a line from Japan to Taiwan and the Philippines.

People's Liberation Navy - Offshore Defense
In 1985, the CMC approved a PLAN component of the "Active Defense" strategic guidelines known as "Offshore Defense". The PLAN also refers to this concept as the "Offshore Defense Strategy."

Operationally, "Offshore Defense" adheres to the following basic tenets of "Active Defense":

"Overall, our military strategy is defensive. We attack only after being attacked. But our operations are offensive."
"Space or time will not limit our counteroffensive."
"We will not put boundaries on the limits of our offensives."
"We will wait for the time and conditions that favor our forces when we do initiate offensive operations."
"We will focus on the opposing force's weaknesses."
"We will use our own forces to eliminate the enemy's forces"
"Offensive operations against the enemy and defensive operations for our own force protection will be conducted simultaneously"

When the "Offshore Defense" concept was first being formulated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and for some time after its formal adoption in 1985, the PLAN engaged in a good deal of debate and produced a good number of studies on the issue of how far offshore "Offshore Defense" should be.

As a result, with the promulgation of "Offshore Defense" in 1985, the PLAN's strategic orientation was redirected-out to sea.

Adm. Liu Huaqing was chief of the PLAN (1982-88) and later vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (1989-97). Liu and others defined [Memoirs of Liu Huaqing] (Beijing: People's Liberation Army, 2004)] the First Island Chain, or current limit of most PLAN operations, as comprising Japan and its northern and southern archipelagos (the latter disputed by China), South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The Second Island Chain, which Liu envisioned as being fully within the scope of future PLAN activities, ranges from the Japanese archipelago south to the Bonin and Marshall islands, including Guam.

Initially, China would seek to be able to control over the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The three seas are all located within the "first island chain" of the Pacific Ocean, including the Philippines and the Ryukyu Islands. Some Chinese analysts writing publicly include Diego Garcia, the key US military base in the Indian Ocean, as an element in the geostrategic belt enveloping China's coasts. Writing in Guofang Bao [Jiang Hong and Wei Yuejiang, "100,000 US Troops in the Asia-Pacific Look for 'New Homes,'" Guofang Bao, June 10, 2003, 1, FBIS-CPP20030611000068], Jiang Hong and Wei Yuejiang depicted the first island chain as sweeping all the way through the Indonesian archipelago to Diego Garcia in a single, unbroken arc. That is, in this conception the "first island chain" are the sea lines of communication between China and the oil fields of South West Asia.

The waterways within the "second island chain" including the Japan Sea, the Philippines Sea and Indonesia Sea, covering Kuriles, Kokkaido, and Marianas and Palau Islands in the south. To prevent deployment of naval forces into western Pacific waters, PLA planners are focused on targeting surface ships at long ranges. US DOD analyses of current and projected force structure improvements suggested as of 2007 that in the near term, China was seeking the capacity to hold surface ships at risk through a layered defense that reaches out to the "second island chain" (i.e., the islands extending south and east from Japan, to and beyond Guam in the western Pacific Ocean). One area of apparent investment emphasis involves a combination of medium-range ballistic missiles, C4ISR for geo-location of targets, and onboard guidance systems for terminal homing to strike surface ships on the high seas or their onshore support infrastructure. Other analysts believe that if China truly intends to expand its regional control to the "second island chain," they will have to build or acquire aircraft carriers to achieve this capability.

In the conception of Jiang Hong and Wei Yuejiang, the second island chain runs through Guam - another forward redoubt for US forces - and ends at Australia. Other analysts see Guam as in a "third island chain." Some unofficial Chinese publications refer to a "Third Island Chain" centered on America's Hawaiian bases, viewed as a "strategic rear area" for the US military.

China's 'Third Island' Strategy
Analysts have long wondered if the Chinese navy (PLAN) had a third island chain strategy, beyond the publicly declared strategies for the first island chain (centered on Taiwan) and second island chain (extending from Japan to Indonesia). Many American commentators believed that such a strategy would refer to the ability to project power capable of reaching America's bases in Hawaii.

However, China's recent maritime activities -- such as its extended counterpiracy patrols in the Horn of Africa and its involvement in a number of port development projects in Indian Ocean littorals (dubbed the "string of pearls") -- have raised the suspicion in Indian defense circles that the third island chain lies in the Indian Ocean, and specifically refers to the waters surrounding the Indian Andaman and Nicobar islands.

[Shipping Lanes Map source: China: Its geostrategy and energy needs, Testimony presented to: The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission By Dr. Constantine C. Menges Senior Fellow Hudson Institute October 30, 2003]

As China's dependence on Middle Eastern energy sources has grown, so has its concern over protecting its sea lines of communication for those energy imports.

The chief and most immediate area of concern for the PLAN is the six-degree channel that lies between India's Great Nicobar Island and Indonesia's Sumatra Island, where China's shipping is especially vulnerable to Indian and other forces. Indeed, one of the key aims of India's own impressive naval build-up as well as the accretion of assets to its Andaman- and Nicobar-based tri-services command is to "surveillance seed" the Lumbok and Sunda straits as a non-lethal demonstration of Indian capabilities -- in much the same way the U.S. Navy is building up Guam. In this context, China's recent provocations and overall aggressive stance along the disputed Sino-Indian border in the Himalayas could be seen as an attempt to make India spend more on its army and air force, thereby leaving less for India's emerging blue-water navy.

US in 'denial' over China's Pacific strategy
the Pentagon seems too enamored with the doctrine of "access denial", the belief that China is intent on blocking US access to the region

"Starting from almost no live surveillance capability 10 years ago, today the PLA has likely equaled the US's ability to observe targets from space for some real-time operations," two of the institute's China researchers, Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, wrote in the analysis, as seen and reported by Reuters.

"The most immediate and strategically disquieting application is a targeting and tracking capability in support of the anti-ship ballistic missile, which could hit US carrier groups ... With space as the backbone, China will be able to expand the range of its ability to apply force while preserving its policy of not establishing foreign military bases," Reuters reported.

The impetus for the advances in monitoring systems likely derived from major embarrassments for the PLA, such as the US deployments of two carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk, to Taiwan in 1996. That affront to Chinese sovereignty is seen as a turning point in post-Cold War US-China relations and in the formation of the East Asian regional order.

The access denial theory envisions the PLA acting quickly in similar scenario to neutralize US infrastructure in the region in the event of a conflict, to prevent deployment of vastly superior US follow-on forces. By striking hard, Beijing could convince the US and its allies that the cost of entry in blood and treasure would be prohibitive, despite the gaping disparities in firepower and strength between the US and Chinese militaries.

While the Western media may be exaggerating China's technological advances, a second look at how Chinese military strategy is evolving offers further counterpoints to the access denial theory. Rather than preparing for a counterstrike, it is more likely that the PLA is sticking to its "active defense" strategy and building on "space deterrence".

The PLA can achieve this by building up a formidable reconnaissance and strike capability while adopting a new tack of using political victories and psychological warfare to chip away at the US's standing in Asia. Active Defense is said to feature "defensive operations, self-defense and striking and getting the better of the enemy only after the enemy has started an attack".

Chinese military bases are about more than just naval supplies and protecting trade routes
China will be setting up its first military base abroad in Seychelles to "seek supplies and recuperate" facilities for its navy.

The Indian Ocean island nation has defended its decision by suggesting that it has invited China to set up a military base to tackle piracy off its coast and Beijing has played it down by underlining that it is standard global practice for naval fleets to re-supply at the closest port of a nearby state during long-distance missions.

But there should be no ambiguity for the rest of the world: Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean has gotten bigger and will continue to get bigger in the coming years. Shen Dingli, an influential professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, asserted two years ago that "it is wrong for us [China] to believe that we have no right to set up bases abroad." He argues that it is not terrorism or piracy that's the real threat to China; it's the ability of other states to block China's trade routes that poses the greatest threat.

To prevent this from happening, China, according to Dingli, needs not only a blue-water navy but also "overseas military bases to cut the supply costs."

Whilst most of the stories above have been published during the last 2 years, the following are current.

China military warns of confrontation over seas
China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.

"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.

"Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability."

"The United States' intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full," said the newspaper.

Major General Luo Yuan, a retired PLA researcher well-known for his hawkish views, amplified the warnings from Beijing issued through state media.

"China has already shown enough restraint and patience over this incident," Luo said of the friction with Manila, according to an interview published on Chinese state television's website (

If the Philippines "takes irrational actions, then the current confrontation could intensify, and the Chinese navy will certainly not stand idly by," he added.

In past patches of tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also risen, only to be later reined in by the government. The same could be true this time.

US Worried As China And Russia Prepare To Hold Historic Joint Naval Exercises
China and Russia are making military history this weekend with the first bilateral naval exercises the two governments have ever conducted together.

Last August, after almost 10 years of fanfare in China and a decade of anxious observation by the U.S. and Japan, the Chinese government finally conceded that the newly painted, newly renovated warship that sat in Dalian harbor would indeed become China's ticket into the very small club of nations that have aircraft carriers.

China's aircraft carrier remains largely unmanned, and no planes have ever lifted off from or landed onto its flight deck, but observers are wondering whether that will happen during the coming sea trials. That would raise China's capabilities for sea warfare to a new level.

As for the Russian Navy's Varyag, it was built during the Cold War to target major U.S. assets in the Pacific, and it would have used its fast supersonic missiles to sink large American ships in case of a breakout of hostilities during that period.

Including a ship purpose-built to hunt U.S. carriers may lead some to think the Sino-Russian exercises are really directed at America -- and its closest ally in the region, Japan.

Over the past decade, the People's Liberation Army Navy has demonstrated that it can build large, technically complex ships, armed with advanced sensors and powerful weapons.

The U.S. Navy is particularly concerned about the combination of quiet submarines, potent anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, anti-satellite weapons, and modern airpower that China can now deploy against its forces in the Western Pacific. The Pentagon has noted in the past that if hostilities emerged between the two countries, China could leverage these "asymmetric capabilities" to deny the U.S. access to maritime zones in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the Chinese navy is also demonstrating that it can construct larger ships, train for more complicated missions (including humanitarian assistance), and operate farther away from home shores than ever before. China's recent deployment in an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden includes the largest warship the country has ever constructed, a 20,000-ton amphibious-warfare ship. Last year, when China evacuated 30,000 of its citizens from Libya, it sent destroyers into the Mediterranean Sea to escort them.

As for the exercises beginning Sunday, China said they will "deepen the strategic and cooperative relationship [with Russia]." The aim of the exercises is to "improve abilities to respond together to new challenges and new threats," and "protect the Asia-Pacific region and world peace and stability." The official statement names no countries, but there is little ambiguity as to which one China means in the reference to "new challenges and new threats."

The U.S. Defense Department has crafted a new doctrine for its forces, the "Air-Sea Battle Concept," to better deploy technologically advanced naval and air forces in a comprehensive way against a well-prepared, well-defended, industrialized state opponent.

The doctrine marks a major strategic redirection away from fighting small, stateless armed groups, which was the predominant concern of the Pentagon during the past decade -- and that is a fact not lost on the Chinese.

A Chinese defense-ministry representative, Col. Geng Yansheng, called the Air-Sea Battle Concept "a manifestation of Cold War mentality." And Rear Adm. Yang Yi (ret.) called it a means to "undermine peace, stability, and prosperity" in the Asia-Pacific region. "To understanding people, it is clearly targeted at China's military modernization," said the former Chinese naval officer.

If you're still hungry or just want some desert, Guambat suggests you might want to peruse "The Maritime Strategy of China in the Asia-Pacific Region: Origins, Development and Impact" By PAUL AN-HAO HUANG, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, August 2009, School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne, link here to download pdf.

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