Monday, May 19, 2014

Power Play In Pacific As China Creates 'Mobile National Territory'

So not only do we have the constant "rumors of war" from the Middle East and Ukraine dominating the news - now we have China making provocative territory grabs in the South China Sea. Just add it to the list in the category of "wars and rumors of war": 

Pacific Power Play Begins As China Moves Its 'Mobile National Territory' Near Vietnam

The American debacles in the Middle East and Ukraine appear to have motivated China to jump start its power play on the maritime chessboard of the South China sea (and its vast energy resources).
Vietnam is the beta test site. If China prevails there it will try to assert its dominance over the Philippines, Japan and the rest of the surrounding nations. China seems to have calculated that as long as Obama is at the helm and the Pentagon has not completed relocating  its assets to the region, they can act swiftly and decisively to determine the new rules of the game. 

China has built an offshore oil drilling rig, numbered HD-981, specifically for the purpose invalidating other nations’ claims to seabed they thought was theirs.  There is no doubt about the purpose of the rig given that a Chinese state oil company official once called it “our mobile national territory.”  Its primary purpose isn’t commercial.  If China can drill an oil well on some other country’s seabed, they can then claim that it was China’s territory all along.  The rig is having its first outing to that purpose off the coast of Vietnam, accompanied by 86 Chinese vessels including a submarine.  Vietnam responded by sending 30 coastguard vessels to interfere with the Chinese drilling rig.  Ramming of Vietnamese vessels by the Chinese ones has been reported.
Miscalculation might not lead to war because there is nothing miscalculated about what China is doing.  China intends to start a war.  
Most probably China wants Vietnam to attack its drilling operation so that it can play the injured party and launch a retaliatory strike.  Not so much against forces on the Vietnamese mainland but against the Vietnamese island bases further south in the Spratly Islands.  Vietnam has a number of bases centred on Union Bank, with the main base being Sin Cowe Island.  At least one of these looks like a medieval fortress with firing slots, suggesting that the Vietnamese expect it to take some shelling and an assault across the reef.
The Vietnamese base that would annoy the Chinese most is the one on an islet on South Johnson Reef just seven kilometres north of where the Chinese are now purportedly building an airstrip.  The scale of the operation, including a large dredge, suggests that’s what its purpose is.  There are other airfields in the Spratlys — Taiwan has one on Taiping Island and the Philippines one on Thitu Island.  China was late to this part of the South China Sea and, with no natural islands left, has to dredge up all the coral needed to make its artificial island.
China declared an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the Senkaku Islands late last year, which upset the Japanese who own the islands.  China has also indicated that at some stage it will also declare an ADIZ over the 90% of the South China Sea that it claims.  That claim goes as far south as James Shoal, just 4° north of the Equator.  James Shoal is 1,500 km south of the nearest Chinese air base on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.  That leads to the question of how such an ADIZ would be enforced.  That question is answered by the air base under construction on South Johnson Reef.  China already has an elevated radome further north on Subi Reef, also in the Spratlys, so it is already capable of tracking the air traffic in the region.
Chinese state media has already stated that “Chinese troops to seize Zhongye Island back from the Philippines in 2014”.  From the China Daily Mail of 11th January, 2014:
“Relying on US support, the Philippines is so arrogant as to announce in the New Year that it will increase its navy and air force deployment at Zhongye Island, a Chinese island that it has illegally occupied for years.

Zhongye Island is the Chinese name for Thitu Island.  The Philippines has a mutual defense treaty with the United States; Vietnam does not.  That is the advantage for China in starting with Vietnam first.  If the United States, and perhaps Japan, does not assist Vietnam in its coming war with China, then China is likely to decide that it can scrape the Filipino bases off their islands with impunity.
Vietnam understands what is at stake in the South China Sea.  China claims 90% of the South China Sea as part of its city of Sansha.  Once enforcement is established, ships and aircraft wanting to cross the South China Sea would have to ask China’s permission first.  Vietnamese ships sailing from Haiphong would have to hug the Vietnamese coast almost all the way down to the equator before heading east to avoid the zone.  It would add 3,500 km to the shipping distance between Haiphong and Japan, for instance.  What was open ocean to their east will become a Chinese lake.  It will be a great insult and impediment to the Vietnamese people.  That is the precise intention.

After Vietnam will most likely come Japan.  Rig HD-981, China’s “mobile national territory,” will be moved to a site in Japan’s EEZ north of the Senkakus, equidistant between the Chinese Shuimen airbase and the Japanese and US airbases on Okinawa.  This will be an intolerable insult to the Japanese, but a certain US president might decide that, as no land area is involved, the United States-Japan mutual defense treaty does not apply.   China will wear down the Japanese forces and then invade the Senakaku and Yaeyama Islands.  If successful in taking them, China will then extend its ADIZ to at least 300 km east of the Yaeyama Islands, isolating Japan from the rest of Asia.
All the countries of East Asia know that once Vietnam is defeated, their turn will come.  They will effectively become vassal states under the Chinese jackboot.
What can be done?  The best solution is to break the sequential Chinese battle plan.  Japan and Vietnam would be well advised to have their own mutual defense treaty so that China is taking on everybody at once instead of one at a time.  For Japan that means fighting China sometime later this year perhaps instead of in 2015 or 2016.  Nevertheless, taking on China and keeping East Asia free is best done as a joint effort.  By 2015 there may not be anyone left to fight alongside them.

Earlier today, Putin did his usual "we are pulling our forces away from the Ukraine border" gambit (sure he is... and is replacing them with a massive airforce drill), and as usual the algos fell for it, after European stocks suddenly surged out of nowhere on the now quite generic bounce catalyst (Update: RASMUSSEN: NO SIGN OF RUSSIAN TROOP PULLBACK FROM NEAR UKRAINE - what a surprise), but what is shaping up as a far more dangerous escalation is what China is doing next to its border with Vietnam, where as reported previouslyprotesters destroyed Chinese factories and killed Chinese civilians in retaliation over yet another maritime territorial spat. According to the Epoch Times"troops, tanks, trucks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers of China’s military were seen heading to the Vietnamese border on May 16 and 17, according to photographs taken by by residents near the border."

Why is China doing this? Simple: "One netizen, with the username Zhiyuan0703, echoed a common sentiment on the Chinese social media site, “Conflict between China and Vietnam is imminent.

And just in case the US gets any ideas to support its one time foe, China has already taken measures:

Fang Fenghui, the Chinese military’s chief of the general staff, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon on May 15, alongside U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Fang defended China’s oil drilling in disputed waters with Vietnam. He also warned the United States on taking sides, saying through a Chinese translator “there is possibility that these issues could affect or disturb the relationship between the two countries and two militaries.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the U.S. stance on China’s oil rig, however, during a May 15 press briefing.

He said China’s oil rig, which the Chinese regime has accompanied with “numerous government vessels” is a “provocative act and it raises tensions in the region, and by raising tensions makes it more difficult to resolve claims over disputed territory in a manner that supports peace and stability in the region.”

Carney said the United States takes no position on the territorial claims, but, “We do take a position on the conduct of the claimants who must resolve their disputes peacefully, without intimidation, without coercion, and in accordance with international law.”

Regarding China’s oil rig and the tensions that have formed around it, Carney said, “We consider that act provocative and we consider it one that undermines the goal that we share, which is a peaceful resolution of these disputes and general stability in the region.”

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