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Thayer South China Sea: Five Hypothetical Conflict Scenarios

Thayer South China Sea: Five Hypothetical Conflict Scenarios

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
This paper sets out five possible scenarios under which the currrent standoff between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea could be aggravated.
This paper sets out five possible scenarios under which the currrent standoff between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea could be aggravated.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Apr 26, 2012
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05/02/2012

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Background Briefing:South China Sea: FiveScenarios Leading to ConflictCarlyle A. ThayerApril 24, 2012
[client
 
name
 
deleted]
 
What
 
in
 
your
 
opinion
 
are
 
plausible
 
scenarios
 
where
 
the
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal
 
might
 
spin
 
out
 
of 
 
control
 
and
 
escalate?
 
And
 
is
 
the
 
main
 
problem
 
the
 
various
 
agencies
 
China
 
has
 
now
 
to
 
monitor
 
and
 
police
 
maritime
 
areas?
 
There
 
are
 
something
 
like
 
11
 
agencies
 
involved.
 
ANSWER:
 
I
 
refer
 
you
 
to
 
the
 
report
 
 just
 
released
 
by
 
the
 
International
 
Crisis
 
Group
 
on
 
entitled,
 
Stirring
 
Up
 
the
 
South
 
China
 
Sea
.
 
They
 
identified
 
9
 
dragons
 
or
 
nine
 
independent
 
state
 
agencies.
 
The
 
report
 
may
 
be
 
found
 
at:
 
http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/north
east
asia/223
stirring
up
the
south
china
sea
i.pdf .
 
 
As
 
for
 
scenarios:
 
since
 
each
 
of 
 
the
 
nine
 
dragons
 
sets
 
it
 
own
 
agenda,
 
especially
 
the
 
Fishery
 
Law
 
Enforcement
 
Command
 
(FLEC)
 
and
 
the
 
China
 
Marine
 
Surveillance
 
Force
 
(CMS).
 
Both
 
have
 
been
 
responsible
 
for
 
nearly
 
all
 
the
 
major
 
incidents
 
in
 
recent
 
years.
 
Scenario
 
1.
 
Chinese
 
fishing
 
boats
 
continue
 
to
 
fish
 
in
 
the
 
Philippines'
 
Exclusive
 
Economic
 
Zone.
 
Given
 
the
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal
 
the
 
Philippine
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
attempts
 
to
 
apprehend
 
them.
 
The
 
crew
 
of 
 
the
 
boats
 
display
 
automatic
 
weapons
 
and
 
call
 
for
 
assistance.
 
Chinese
 
surveillance
 
ships
 
intervene
 
and
 
move
 
aggressively
 
to
 
force
 
the
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
vessel
 
away.
 
One
 
Chinese
 
hothead
 
fisherman
 
fires
 
at
 
the
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
vessel
 
with
 
an
 
assault
 
rifle,
 
the
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
vessel
 
fires
 
warning
 
shots.
 
This
 
is
 
misinterpreted
 
by
 
one
 
of 
 
the
 
Chinese
 
surveillance
 
ships
 
which
 
rams
 
the
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
vessel.
 
The
 
crews
 
on
 
both
 
vessels
 
engage
 
in
 
a
 
brief 
 
firefight
 
leading
 
to
 
fatalities
 
before
 
calm
 
is
 
restored.
 
Scenario
 
2.
 
Chinese
 
officials
 
in
 
the
 
FLEC
 
grow
 
tired
 
of 
 
Foreign
 
Affairs
 
dilly
 
dallying
 
and
 
the
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal.
 
At
 
night
 
an
 
armed
 
party
 
from
 
the
 
FLEC
 
ship
 
boards
 
and
 
takes
 
over
 
the
 
Philippine
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
cutter
 
on
 
the
 
pretext
 
of 
 
detaining
 
a
 
vessel
 
operating
 
illegally
 
in
 
Chinese
 
waters.
 
If 
 
you
 
accept
 
that
 
China
 
has
 
sovereignty
 
over
 
the
 
rocks
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal
 
and
 
these
 
are
 
entitled
 
to
 
a
 
12
 
nautical
 
mile
 
territorial
 
sea,
 
China
 
could
 
argue
 
a
 
stationery
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
cutter
 
is
 
not
 
engaged
 
in
 
innocent
 
passage.
 
Scenario
 
3.
 
While
 
the
 
Philippines
 
is
 
engaged
 
in
 
the
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal,
 
China
 
dispatches
 
a
 
FLEC
 
ship
 
into
 
the
 
Spratly
 
waters
 
claimed
 
by
 
the
 
Philippines
 
to
 
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
 
2
assist
 
Chinese
 
fishermen
 
who
 
claim
 
they
 
are
 
being
 
harassed
 
by
 
Filipino
 
fishermen.
 
The
 
Philippines
 
does
 
not
 
have
 
any
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
ships
 
available
 
and
 
so
 
dispatches
 
the
 
navy
 
frigate
 
BRP
 
Gregorio
 
del
 
Pilar
 
(the
 
former
 
US
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
Hamilton
 
class
 
cutter).
 
Both
 
sides
 
refuse
 
to
 
stand
 
down
 
and
 
when
 
the
 
FLEC
 
ships
 
maneuvers
 
dangerously
 
the
 
frigate
 
fires
 
warning
 
shots.
 
The
 
Chinese
 
return
 
fire
 
hitting
 
the
 
frigate
 
and
 
killing
 
several
 
crew
 
members.
 
Scenario
 
4.
 
During
 
the
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal
 
both
 
sides
 
plant
 
flags
 
and
 
other
 
markers
 
on
 
the
 
rocks
 
signifying
 
sovereignty.
 
One
 
day
 
two
 
landing
 
parties
 
confront
 
each
 
other
 
and
 
shooting
 
breaks
 
out
 
when
 
one
 
side
 
attempts
 
to
 
stop
 
the
 
other
 
from
 
removing
 
its
 
national
 
flag
 
and
 
destroying
 
its
 
marker.
 
An
 
armed
 
Chinese
 
vessel
 
makes
 
its
 
appearance
 
and
 
provides
 
covering
 
fire.
 
Several
 
Filipino
 
troops
 
are
 
killed.
 
The
 
Philippines
 
requests
 
consultations
 
with
 
the
 
United
 
States
 
under
 
the
 
terms
 
of 
 
the
 
Mutual
 
Defense
 
Treaty.
 
Scenario
 
5.
 
The
 
standoff 
 
at
 
Scarborough
 
Shoal
 
ends
 
when
 
the
 
Philippines
 
withdraws
 
its
 
Coast
 
Guard
 
cutter.
 
China
 
promptly
 
sends
 
in
 
personnel
 
to
 
occupy
 
the
 
rocks
 
and
 
erect
 
structures
 
on
 
them.
 
A
 
PLAN
 
warship
 
is
 
posted
 
nearby
 
to
 
deter
 
a
 
Filipino
 
response.
 
ASEAN
 
falls
 
into
 
complete
 
disarray
 
over
 
how
 
to
 
respond,
 
so
 
it
 
does
 
nothing.
 
The
 
Philippines
 
calls
 
for
 
consultations
 
with
 
the
 
United
 
States
 
under
 
the
 
terms
 
of 
 
the
 
Mutual
 
Defense
 
Treaty
 
arguing
 
the
 
loss
 
of 
 
territory
 
due
 
to
 
external
 
armed
 
intervention.
 
US
 
credibility
 
is
 
put
 
on
 
the
 
line.
 
China
 
begins
 
to
 
renew
 
its
 
harassment
 
of 
 
USNS
 
surveillance
 
ships
 
and
 
surveillance
 
aircraft
 
operating
 
in
 
its
 
EEZ
 
off 
 
Hainan
 
Island
 
and
 
China's
 
east
 
coast
 
as
 
a
 
signal
 
to
 
the
 
US
 
to
 
back
 
off.
 
The
 
US
 
provides
 
armed
 
escorts
 
for
 
its
 
USNS
 
surveillance
 
ships
 
and
 
surveillance
 
aircraft.
 
Tensions
 
increase
 
dramatically.
 
 
Defense News04/30/2012Dispute Simmers
 
Five Scenarios for Renewed China-Philippines ConflictTAIPEI — The standoff between China and the Philippines over Chinese fishing boatspoaching in the Scarborough Shoal that began April 8 appears to be easing. Butdefense analysts point to Beijing’s continued failure to ignore regional exclusive
 
economic zones (EEZs) and rein in competitive maritime enforcement agencies. A new report, issued April 23 by the International Crisis Group (ICG), blames China’sdisjointed and competitive maritime patrol agencies fighting over budgets and turf.The ICG report — titled “Stirring Up The South China Sea” — identifies four “dragons” 
 
as the main culprits: Maritime Safety Administration, China Marine Surveillance (CMS),Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) and provincial government maritimeenforcement units operating from Guangdong and Hainan.
 
Part of the problem is transparency about how the overlapping agencies function, saidIan Storey, a specialist at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “It is also
 
unclear what the lines of communication are between these various agencies and thePLA [People’s Liberation Army] and central government.” Each of the agencies sets its own agenda, said Carlyle Thayer, a professor at Universityof New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, “especially FLEC andCMS, both have been responsible for nearly all the major incidents in recent years.” 
 
Thayer identified five potential scenarios that could play out in a future dispute betweenChina and the Philippines.
 
Scenario 1:
Chinese fishing boats continue to fish in the Philippines’ EEZ. In thisscenario, the Philippine Coast Guard attempts to arrest fishermen at Scarborough Shoal.
 
The fishermen display automatic weapons and call for assistance. Chinese surveillanceships intervene and move aggressively to force the Coast Guard vessel away. OneChinese fisherman fires at the Coast Guard vessel with an assault rifle; the Coast Guard
 
vessel fires warning shots. This is misinterpreted by one of the Chinese surveillanceships, which rams the Coast Guard vessel. The crews on both vessels engage in a brief firefight leading to fatalities before calm is restored.This scenario is both the “most likely and the most troubling,” said retired U.S. Navy
 
 Adm. Walter Doran, former commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet. “I am sure the Chinese

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Carlyle Alan Thayer added this note
This has been updated to include comments on my 5 scenarios by security analysts including a regired US Navy admiral and two respected regional security analysts.

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