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Panel: China Continues to Coerce South China Sea Neighbors with its Maritime Forces

China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. PLA Photo

China persists in employing a variety of tactics to coerce Taiwan, its maritime neighbors and put more pressure on Japan, a panel of experts agreed last week.

Nowhere is that more visible than Beijing’s “persistent and flexible presence” from its maritime militia, Coast Guard and People’s Liberation Army Navy. It is a maritime force that also keeps open the Malacca Straits, a vital passageway for its energy imports, as well as backing up its territorial claims far from its shores and extending its reach into the Indian Ocean and Africa, Bonnie Glaser, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies China Power Project, said on Thursday.

In addition to its maritime forces, China has expanded the capability of its artificial island network in the South China Sea. The installations are now capable of handling patrol aircraft, fighters and strategic bombers as well as anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. The expansion allows the PLA “to develop operating concepts… they could use further north” to intimidate Tokyo and raise new threats to U.S. bases on Guam, she said.

Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said some South East Asian nations, already operating at a quality and numbers disadvantage with China on law enforcement and naval vessels.

They “could not match what China has” when Beijing was only employing its coast guard or maritime militia in these disputes. In a confrontation with the Chinese under those conditions, a South East Asian navy and coast guard would likely “turn tail and run.”

“Modernization is moving at a snail’s pace” in these nations’ coast guards and navies, he said. Because the security needs vary widely, there is little or no coordination among neighbors on buying together, setting common needs, developing interoperable capability and a general reluctance to spend money in this area. They also don’t want to risk provoking China — militarily or economically.

Maritime domain awareness must be the building block in responding to China’s assertiveness, Hideshi Tokuchi, of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, said. Tokyo does not distinguish between Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea or what it is doing in North Asia — from intimidation of civilian fishermen to insisting on specious claims to islands in the East China Sea.

From that point of view and geography, “Taiwan is more important than before” because it is in the connecting position between the two bodies of water. Its security concerns “should not be ignored” with strike aircraft from the mainland constantly circling the island and causing scrambles of fighters and periodic threats of invasion.

Glaser said despite its military moves and sometimes heated rhetoric China was not looking for a war with anyone in the Indo-Pacific.

“There has been some pushback” against China, surprisingly enough it came from Europe,
Richard Heydarian, a fellow at ADR-Stratbase Institute, said

Acknowledging France and Great Britain joining the United States in freedom of navigation operations around the artificial islands was new, he warned that those missions “alone could be counterproductive.” In Beijing, they could be dismissed as “empty tactics” because they “are not robust enough to deter” the Chinese from beefing up their military presence on the reclaimed lands or extending their reach to reefs and rocks further out or to the north.

Complicating matters is the behavior of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “meek” and “humble” approach to China in its territorial dispute, despite an international arbitration panel’s supporting Manila’s claims, he said.

This has caused a split between the country’s military, “with its constitutional responsibility to protect Philippine sovereignty” and the president’s “leaning to China.” Signs of this include his allowing PLAN naval vessels to make port calls and military aircraft to fly into bases without treaty or much formal notice.

Further complicating matters in the Philippines is Duterte’s periodic bashing of the United States, that throws into question American use of naval and air bases. At the same time, the Philippine military has more closely embraced Washington to counter China and is seeking to expand exercises and training assistance.

While a way ahead would include a “negotiated Code of Conduct” for the South China Sea, Heydarian said for the countries in the region to accept such a deal it would have to include a freeze on militarization, reclamation and naval exercises.

“Otherwise, what’s the point,” he said.

  • Dan O’Brian

    All it would take is for POTUS to stop all shipping from China for one month-that’ll crash their economy and stop their bullish behavior, and who knows, they might even stop wrecking the south chine sea by building man made island on top of coral reefs.

    • Duane

      That would be an act of war and would require Congressional authorization … which is highly unlikely absent an aggressive military attack by China.

      • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

        It’s not a blockaid you silly rabbit, we’d simply not allow any chinese ships to enter our ports, we have absolute right to allow or not allow foreign flagged ships into our waters, so how is that an ‘act of war’ oh legal scholar? But we all imagine you prefer the status quo, perhaps you’re now a shill for china too (in addition to Lockheed)?

    • .Hugo.

      see? now you know why china has to enhance its capabilities to counter such threat from the US.

      china can also suspend US trades and businesses in china for one month, let’s see how they will survive.

  • Brian Smith

    It sounds like the Pacific nations being most affected by Chinese actions need to get together and form a Western Pacific version of NATO among themselves. South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and Taiwan all come to mind as likely members. Standardized equipment, operational procedures, and weapons would be the order of the day.

    • Duane

      There used to be one, called SEATO, but it didn’t really take off and was dissolved back in the 70s.

      Today we have a series of either bilateral mutual defense treaties with Japan and ROK, and less formal longstanding alliances with others like Australia and The Philippines, and others with whom we are cooperating on a sort of ad hoc basis (ROC, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc.). The latter are unlikely to join a regional security organization unless and until China actually attacks someone militarily.

      The more aggressively China behaves, the bigger the pushback.

      • WRBaker

        With China “buying” allegiance or, at the very least, silence from neighboring countries (and beyond), it has already proved how imperialistic it really is. Illegally occupying and fortifying the islands of the South China Sea only brought “words” of the world’s distain of its actions (and some freedom of navigation ops by a few ships). Emplacing an airfield in the islands has presented another fait accompli to all, knowing that no one will do anything about it, including the UN (of course). (Just think Tibet, again.)
        An updated SEATO is only worth considering if the countries really mean to prevent China from continuing its expansionist ways.
        So, when China blocs merchant traffic from crossing the area and/o uses its military and naval forces to, say, blockade Taiwan, will we keep ignoring China or will we lead the free world again? Can we afford not to?

        • Steve

          The US didn’t do anything but the “FONOP” to stop China because the US does not have legal basis to do that.

          • WRBaker

            Nor does China have a legal basis for occupying all islands.

          • .Hugo.

            china is an unclos signatory, therefore it has the right to build anything, including islands, in its eez.

          • Steve

            Please do studies before making comments. The US can do nothing just because China has legal basis to claim those islands & reefs.

        • Duane

          The island building has no strategic value in a war … the island infrastructure and aircraft, missiles, etc. will be blasted back into the ocean depths in the first hours of war They mainly serve as propaganda and psyops tools to try and cower their neighbors … but they have created precisely the opposite response … the SEA nations are building up their military forces and cooperating more with the US than they have in the last 40 years, including Vietnam. Even the Philippines, despite the stupid Trump-like bluster of Duterte, are actively cooperating with the US now more than at any time since they overthrew Marcos.

          • WRBaker

            The islands certainly do have value, as part of China’s multiple island chains of power projection and part of the String of Pearls.
            As for your other comments, the Navy (as all the services) have suffered because of Obama’s ignorance and kowtowing.

          • Duane

            No, just propaganda value. They are indefensible in war, and have indefensible supply lines too. Built at just barely above sea level from loose fill, they are worthless if attacked.

            Spare me you Obama drivel . He never committed treason woth our woesr enemy as Trump did, and continues to do today with, Russia. No American President could even have conceived of such treasonous behavior. Trump makes Carter look good.

          • WRBaker

            Done what? If he is so bad, the Dems would have no qualms about bringing him up on charges and there are still a lot of Obama-appointed judges to do it, too.

          • muzzleloader

            Blah blah blah. Please spare us your Obama was wonderful but Trump sucks drivel. If you after almost two years and and at last count $17 million taxpayers money spent by Meuller and his minions and NO evidence of Trump wrong doing and yet you still are harping on that, I have a bridge to sell you.

          • .Hugo.

            sea nations are having exercises with the chinese navy too, and vietnam is the first scs state to maintain a hotline with china to manage scs issues.

        • .Hugo.

          china as an unclos signatory is entitled to build in its eez.

          US military airbases are well within range along the chinese border.

          tibet has been a chinese territory since the 11th century, and the US has never recognized an independent tibet.

          as part of china, taiwan-related affairs are china’s own and the US has no right to interfere.

          • WRBaker

            Signing UN documents or any others doesn’t matter to China when it’s in their own interests. For instance, abiding by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, which ruled on China’s S. China Sea expansion or the Human Rights Convention allowing for freedom of religion, speech, assembly. Closed trials, laogais, state religions, forced abortions, technology-stealing, etc, etc,etc., all reveal China’s communist oligarchy’s true purposes.
            Also, EEZ doesn’t mean it’s an EMZ (Exclusive Military Zone), either.

          • Steve

            1.The so-called arbitration was ruled by a Tribunal that was paid by the Philippines. The Permanent Court of Arbitration merely works as a registry and gives secretarial service while the Tribunal pays the PCA to do that.
            2. The so-called arbitral tribunal’s rule on the South China Sea Case is flawed, biased and absurd. The fact is, according to AMTI CSIS (a US Think Tank), there are only 7 states (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines) that recognize the rules.

          • WRBaker

            The PRC acceded to both founding conventions of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but don’t let facts get in your way.

          • Steve

            The SCS arbitration was not ruled by the PCA. The Arbitral Tribunal does not have the authorities on the South China Sea Case and the so-called rule lacks due process of law. The whole case proceeded with only one-side opinions. The arbitral tribunal did not follow the procedures set up in UNCLOS and violate the Articles in UNCLOS. The tribunal expands it authority to make a ‘law’ and does not respect the earlier precedent also. The case was based on “assumptions” that ends up with an illogical, ridiculous rule. For example, Article 3 of the UNCLOS clearly states that ‘every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea’. Article 56 states that ‘in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has (a) sovereign rights for ………..(b) jurisdiction as provided for …… ‘
            It is very clear that the ‘territorial sea’ and ‘exclusive economic zone’ are attributing to the States, to the Owner State of islands. It’s not to the islands. If, for example, there is an island that no country claim ownership, everyone can sail to the island. There will be no issues of intrusion and violation of territorial seas. In the arbitration on South China Sea case, the tribunal, under the circumstance that the ownership of Spratly Islands is unclear, ruled that those islands do not have EEZ. The rule obviously violates the UNCLOS. That is why before the ruling, there were 41 countries publicly supporting Arbitral Proceedings as Binding; however, after the ruling, only 7 states recognize the rule. Because international societies know the SCS arbitration does not follow the procedures set up in UNCLOS, the tribunal expands its authority to make a ‘law’ and does not respect the earlier precedent. There is no sense for them to recognize this kind of rules.

          • .Hugo.

            and 0 (zero) states have recognized the philippine claim of the chinese scs territory after the arbitration.

          • .Hugo.

            by signing on unclos, china is also being granted full unclos rights, which includes rejecting any form of arbitration based on its ratification upon signing.

            also seems like the philippines are not letting historical facts to get through rather….

          • .Hugo.

            not too correct.

            the pca case was based on unclos, and china has the exact unclos right to reject any form of arbitration and void any further proceeding. the US and other western countries have not abided to the pca or even the more formal icj rulings too.

            freedom of religious practices, speech, and assembly are defined and protected by the constitution. every citizen enjoy such rights within the limit of the law.

            closed trials is not china exclusive.

            tight birth control is critical for a country with a population of 1.3 billion.

            military and law enforcement facilities setup and operations by the coastal state are allowed in unclos, and there is no such thing called emz in the convention.

            and it is still better than the u.s. refusing to sign on it….

      • .Hugo.

        if the rogue states behave, then china won’t be alert and be “aggressive”.

      • Graeme Rymill

        “Today we have a series of either bilateral mutual defense treaties with
        Japan and ROK, and less formal longstanding alliances with others like
        Australia”.

        ANZUS: “The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS or ANZUS Treaty) is the 1951, collective security non-binding agreement between Australia and New Zealand and, separately, Australia and the United States, to co-operate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region, although today the treaty is taken to relate to conflicts worldwide. It provides that an armed attack on any of the three parties would be dangerous to the others, and that each should act to meet the common threat.” [from Wikipedia] The treaty was suspended in the case of New Zealand but is still in force for the US and Australia.

        • Duane

          So being a voluntary not compulsory agreement, it is effectively informal in comparison to NATO Article 5 which is compulsory. We have always allied with Australia, or at least since WW1, with or without treaties that bind.

          • Graeme Rymill

            Non-binding doesn’t mean informal. ANZUS is a formal treaty

    • .Hugo.

      one should first look into the reasons for china to step up its defense and law enforcement capabilities in the surrounding seas, especially when the rogue states have intruded into chinese territories after oil and gas where discovered at least 20 years after modern china announced its maritime border.

  • Steve

    Just change a few words the article still is true.
    The US persists in employing a variety of tactics to coerce North Korea, Iran, its maritime neighbors and put more pressure on China, a panel of experts agreed last week. …….

    • .Hugo.

      exactly.

      • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

        Back at work at your PLAN troll job this week?

        • .Hugo.

          thanks for resorting to the old troll excuse, then i know you are out of valid arguments. 🙂

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            Some of us don’t get paid by our government to troll for al living.

          • .Hugo.

            sure, some don’t, and that includes me too unless you can provide solid proof that i do.

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            Yes, I have my finest agents on it at this very moment.

    • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

      So you are comparing Nork and Iran to Taiwan?

      • Steve

        The subject of the sentence/article is US and China.

        • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

          In other words your post is noise. Thank you.

          • Steve

            The whole article is nonsense.

          • .Hugo.

            not quite right.

            those countries were mentioned with the result of putting more pressure on china (by the u.s.), there’s no mention of taiwan.

  • Ed L

    South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Republic of China, etc threaten by the Chinese communist. Time for The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was an international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia to be Resurrected one with all the military’s in the RIMPAC

    • .Hugo.

      sure, who pays for its expenses and the loss of the chinese market? even taiwanese are now seeking more opportunities in the mainland today.

      • Ed L

        Steal the stuff especially silkworms missiles from the Chinese communist

        • .Hugo.

          no need to steal, there are export versions.

  • coakl

    I wonder how well the Chinese artificial islands will stand up against a typhoon.
    Just another test of ‘Made in China’ product quality…fake vaccines, fake baby food, electronics and appliances failing a day after their brief warranty,
    and probably, artificial islands that will melt back into the sea after the first major storm.

    • .Hugo.

      many storms have passed and islands and the structures are still standing untouched.

      by the way, it is not fake vaccine but untested batches. substandard appliances are ordered by merchandisers for their consumers, they can always order higher tier ones like japan. chinese tourists have even rushed to buy high-end chinese made appliances and brought them back to china.

  • Murray

    History may not repeat but sometimes there are close similarities with past events. China’s recent expansion, including its de-facto annexation of the South China Sea, has clear parallels with Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” of 75-80 years ago. While Japan’s expansion was a conquest led by the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy, China’s expansion has been more subtle. It has used a mixture of soft power, backed by the yuan, to build factories and purchase land for food production in many countries and hard power to develop bases in the South China Sea and threaten neighbouring nations. Lessons learned from history indicate that this is not going to end well for all concerned.

    • .Hugo.

      there’s nothing de-facto, china has owned the 4 major island chains on the scs for centuries, that’s why they’re all included in the maritime border announcement made by modern china in 1947, and the US has never protested at that time.

      china has not acted like japan, it is protecting its own sovereignty when japan tried to destroy other’s.

      globalisation is the trend, only the US is trying to go back to the past.