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Rebalancing: Implications for Stability in the South China Sea
Carlyle A. Thayer
PLAN Luyang II-class Missile Destroyer Haikou 171 South Sea
Paper to Panel on Militarization and Its Implications 4th International Workshop on the South China Sea co‐sponsored by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, Ho Chi Minh City November 18‐21, 2012
China’s Naval Modernization and U.S. Strategic Rebalancing: Implications for Stability in the South China Sea
Carlyle A. Thayer*
This paper examines whether or not China’s naval modernization and U.S. strategic rebalancing in East Asia will lead to conflict in the South China Sea. This paper is divided into six parts. Part 1 discusses China’s maritime objectives. Part 2 analyses China’s force capability development with a specific focus on the South Sea Fleet and the development of military infrastructure on Hainan Island and the Paracel and Spratly islands. Part 3 discusses the U.S. strategy of rebalancing its military forces in the Asia‐Pacific. Part 4 focuses on specific U.S. initiatives with Southeast Asia’s maritime states including the Philippines and Vietnam. Part five offers a net assessment of future force modernization trends and their impact on regional stability. Part 6, the conclusion, evaluates the prospects for maritime cooperation for regional security by reviewing (a) China‐U.S. bilateral strategic dialogues and (b) current multilateral initiatives by the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, ASEAN Maritime Forum and the East Asia Summit.
Part 1 China’s Maritime Objectives
China’s 2010 Defence White Paper enumerated four national defence objectives: (1) safeguarding national sovereignty, security and interests of national development; (2) maintaining social harmony and stability; (3) accelerating the modernization of national defence and the armed forces; and (4) maintaining world peace and stability.1 China’s military strategy to achieve these objectives is encapsulated in National Military Strategic Guidelines for the New Period that propounds an operational doctrine termed “Active Defence.”2 China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is tasked with three
Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The People’s Republic of China, State Council, Information Office, China’s National Defense in 2010 (Beijing: March 2011).
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Washington, D.C. 2012).
essential missions: defeating invasion from the sea, defending territorial sovereignty, and protecting maritime rights. It primary area of operations are focused on the so‐called first and second island chains. The first island chain refers to the line of islands that runs north– south from the Kuriles, Japan, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The second island chain extends further east of China’s coast and includes a line running north‐south from the Kuriles through Japan, the Bonins, the Marianas, the Carolines, and Indonesia. With respect to China’s maritime domain, China pursues a defence doctrine known as “Offshore Defence” or “Near Seas Defence.”3 The “Near Seas” include the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea and are a PLAN priority. The PLAN is tasked with developing the capability to conduct six offensive/defensive maritime campaigns: blockade, anti‐sea line of communication (SLOC), maritime‐land attack, anti‐ship, protection of maritime transportation, and naval base defence. China’s phenomenal economic growth has been driven by export‐orientated trade. This has increased China’s dependency on maritime routes to export goods and to import natural resources. As a consequence, China has an interest in protecting vital trade routes or SLOCs. Chinese defence analysts have expressed concern about what has been termed the ‘Malacca dilemma’ – the threat to China’s national security by the closure of narrow straits or choke points in Southeast Asia.4 China’s phenomenal economic growth also fueled a rising demand for resources and energy. China claims most of the South China Sea on the basis of historic rights. Chinese officials claim the fish and other aquatic resources, minerals on the deep seabed and hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas). Five points may be drawn from the above discussion:
Nan Li, “The Evolution of China’s Naval Strategy and Capabilities: From ‘Near Coast” and “Near Seas’ to ‘Far Seas’,” in Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 109‐140.
Thomas M. Kane, Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power (London and Portland: Frank Cass, 2002), 127‐ 128.
First, China’s spectacular economic rise has provided the basis for increased defence spending that in turn has led to the transformation and modernization of all military services, including the PLAN (see below).5 In many respects this is a normal development. Second, China places highest priority on Taiwan and national reunification. After the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1995‐96, when Chinese attempts to intimidate Taiwan resulted in U.S. naval intervention, China has sought to forestall future intervention by U.S. carrier forces by extending its naval reach beyond the first to the second island chain by developing what the Pentagon terms anti‐access/area‐denial capabilities. Third, China’s rise has raised the salience of protecting its major SLOCs from the Gulf of Arabia through the South China Sea to its eastern seaboard. Fourth, Chinese resource nationalism has raised the importance of the South China Sea with respect to oil, gas and mineral resources and sovereignty claims. Increasingly PLAN operations have extended into the “far seas” including the South China Sea with a particular focus on the waters adjacent to the Philippines. Fifth, as China becomes a global power with widespread economic and political interests, it will develop a blue water navy to protect its interests much further afield.
Part 2 China’s Force Capability Development
There are nine main elements to China’s naval modernization program: anti‐ship ballistic missiles, anti‐ship cruise missiles, submarines (conventional and nuclear), air craft carriers, surface combatants, amphibious ships, land‐based aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, nuclear and electromagnetic pulse weapons and maritime surveillance and targeting systems.6 Five elements of PLAN modernization are of particular significance to the South Sea Fleet: submarines, aircraft carrier, surface combatants, amphibious ships and maritime
For a discussion of China’s defence spending consult: Joachim Hofbauer, Priscilla Hermann and Sneha Raghavan, Asian Defense Spending, 2000‐2011: A Report of the CSIS Defense‐Industrial Initiatives Group (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic & International Studies, October 2012), 8‐11.
Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities ‐ Background and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, July 31, 2012), 8‐34. See also: Ronald O’Rourke, “PLAN Force Structure: Submarines, Ships, Aircraft,” in Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 141‐174 and Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas S. Yarosh, Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic & International Studies, July 30, 2012, 104‐130.
surveillance and targeting systems. The aircraft carrier, amphibious ships and maritime surveillance and targeting systems are discussed below. In many respects China’s defence transformation may be viewed as part of the normal process of military modernization brought on by technological developments such as the Revolution in Military Affairs and is defensive in orientation.7 For example, China’s nuclear force may be viewed as a deterrent to U.S. nuclear blackmail. Similarly, China’s military build up along its eastern coast may be viewed as a deterrent to prevent the United States from intervening in a Taiwan contingency as it did during the crisis of 1995‐96. And China’s development of blue water navy may be viewed as an effort to ensure the security of SLOCs and to protest China’s growing global interests. The United States, as well as Japan and Australia among other regional states, have voiced concerns that China’s military build up is more than defensive. In the words of Admiral Mullen, the strategic intent behind China’s development of new capabilities “seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world…”8 Strategic analysts argue that China has recently developed power projection capabilities out to the first island chain (Taiwan) and is now seeking to extend their range to the second island chain with a focus on Guam. Several of the factors promoting China’s military modernization intersect with respect to Southeast Asia’s maritime domain and the South China Sea in particular. This is most evident in the modernization of the South Sea Fleet and the construction of a major naval base on Hainan Island on the northern reaches of the South China Sea. South Sea Fleet The PLAN currently operates four new classes of domestically built submarines in addition to the Russian Kilo‐class conventional attack submarine (SS): Jin class or Type 094 nuclear
For nuanced assessments see: Michael D. Swaine, “China’s Regional Military Posture,” and David M. Lampton, “China’s Rise in Asia Need Not Be at America’s Expense,” in David Shambaugh, ed., Power Shift: China and Asia’s New Dynamic (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2005), 266‐285 and 306‐ 326, respectively; Ellis Joffe, “The ‘Right Size’ for China’s Military: To What Ends?,” Asian Policy, 4, July 2007, 57‐60; Michael R. Chambers, “Framing the Problem: China’s Threat Environment,” Asian Policy, 4, July 2007, 61‐66; and David M. Finkelstein, “China’s National Military Strategy: An Overview of the ‘Military strategic Guidelines’,” Asian Policy, 4, July 2007, 67‐72.
Admiral Michael Mullen, “Remarks and Q & A at the Navy League Sea‐Air‐Space Exposition,” Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center, National Habor, Maryland, May 4, 2009.
powered ballistic missile (SSBN); Shang class or Type 093 nuclear powered (SSN); Yuan class or Type 041 (or Type 039A) SS; and the Song class or Type 039/039G SS.9 These submarines are armed with one or more weapons systems including anti‐ship cruise missiles (ASCM), wire‐guided and wake‐homing torpedoes and mines. The Kilo‐class subs are armed with the S‐N‐27 Sizzler ASCM. By the end of 2010 the PLAN had 31 relatively new modern attack submarines in commission. Given current production rates and life expectancy the PLAN could have a force of 75 modern submarines by 2020‐24.10 China has accorded the South Sea Fleet new priority. The PLAN has redeployed its newest attack SSNs and SSBNs from their traditional port of Qingdao to Hainan Island. The PLAN also deploys five new classes of indigenously build guided missile destroyers (DDG) in addition to the Russian Sovremenny‐class: Luhu (Type 052), Luhai (Type 051B), Luyang (Type 052B), Luyang II (Type 052C) and Louzhou (Type 051C). As of 2012, the PLAN had fourteen of these destroyers under commission; an additional six Luyang II destroyers are currently under construction. Eight destroyers are currently deployed with the South Sea Fleet including the Luyang‐ and Luyang II‐class.11 The PLAN deploys four classes of indigenously build frigates: Jiangwei I (Type 053 H2G), Jiangei II (Type 053H3), Jiangkai I (Type 054) and Jiangkai II (Type 054A).12 The PLAN currently has 28 of these frigates under commission. Forty‐four frigates of all types are currently deployed with the East Sea and South Sea Fleets.13 Of China’s twenty‐eight amphibious ships, 26 are currently deployed with the East Sea and South Sea Fleets. The South Sea Fleet also is home of the largest marine battalion, amphibious platforms and China’s largest hospital ship. According to a recent study:
Somewhat surprisingly, as this text has shown, many of the newest DDGs, frigates, and submarines tend to be based in the South China Sea. This configuration does not necessarily support a Taiwan conflict, but does match a future mission of escorting oil convoys to the Middle East, or asserting greater sovereignty over Chinese claims to the South China Sea. The Luyang
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 10‐15. O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 15.
Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Modernization of Its Naval and Air Power Capabilities,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2012‐13: China’s Military Challenge (Seattle and Washington: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2012), 99.
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 25‐26. Erickson, “China’s Modernization of Its Naval and Air Power Capabilities,” 99.
7 DDGs 168 and 169 and the Luyang DDGs 170 and 171 form the core of two battle group formations based at Yulin for distant operations.14
China commissioned the Varyag aircraft carrier this year.15 The Varyag is an old ship and will be used primarily for training purposes. China has begun training flight crews to take off and land on a carrier using a shore based mock up. The Varyag uses a sky jump to assist take offs. This limits the kinds of aircraft and payloads that can be launched. The Varyag can easily embark helicopters. China is also designing and constructing a special aircraft for the carrier, the J‐15. Even when it is operational it will only have limited capacities. If the Varyag carrier is based at Yulin Naval Base, as is expected, it could be used to exert sea control over the South China Sea. It is unlikely the Varyag will be fully operational until after 2015 with many analysts saying it will take longer. The South Sea Fleet headquarters at Zhanjing, Guangdong province, forms the central hub of a major complex of strategic space and tactical long‐range radars and communications to support operations in the South China Sea. These electronic systems link Woody Island, Fiery Cross Reef and other Chinese‐occupied features with local and fleet commanders. Also, they are augmented by the combat and other electronic systems of PLAN warships, aircraft and paramilitary vessels. Zhanjiang and other ports on China southern coast are equipped with navigation aids as radio beacon navigation differential global positioning system (RBN‐DGPS). The South Sea Fleet HQ at Zhanjiang also maintains a radar and computer vessel traffic service (VTS). Hainan Island Since the 1980s, China has maintained RBN aids at Haikou, Haifou and Sanya on Hainan Island. In 1999, three new RBN‐DGPS systems were activated at Baohujiao, Yangpu and Yulin Naval Base at Yalong Bay near Sanya. In addition, facilities at Dongfang and Haikou also operate radar and computer vessel traffic services (VTS). In 1965, China constructed its first high‐powered low frequency (LF) station on Hainan to support submarine operations. One of China very first high‐powered very low frequency (VLF) stations was built at Yulin Naval Base to communicate with submarine and surface ships. Hainan houses several electronic
James C. Bussert and Bruce A. Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy: Combat Systems Technology, 1949‐ 2000 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 189. A picture of the Luyang DDG 171 is featured on the cover of this paper.
O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization, 17‐18
intelligence (ELINT) stations, including one on a mountaintop in the southwest directed at Vietnam.16 The PLA’s Lingshui Air Base on the southeast coast also operates an ELINT station with an estimated 1,000 signal analysts. The facilities at Yulin Naval Base include piers, docks and underground submarine pens.17 The PLAN stations several major surface combatants, amphibious landing craft, and conventional and nuclear submarines at Yulin. Continued construction indicates that Yalong will be able to accommodate larger advanced surface combatants such as assault ships, attack and ballistic missile submarines, and eventually one or more aircraft carriers. The South Sea Fleet has the important mission of securing the Strait of Qiongzhou to protect southern China and Hainan Island. From this perspective, the development of a naval base at Yalong may be seen as defensive in motivation. However, as two American naval analysts have concluded:
By home‐porting new vessels in southern Hainan, China appears to be carrying out a naval strategy in the South China Sea of exerting regional maritime control incrementally. Extrapolating from the rapid growth of its communications, intelligence gathering, and naval supply structure on Hainan and its island bases in the South China Sea, China appears to have linked these bases with a modern electronic communications network. Many of the islands and reefs occupied in the SCS have a few buildings and a few antennas with a rudimentary pier. The only all‐purpose base including aircraft shelters and support is located on Woody Island. Although crude, such outposts are being improved, if space is available, and could add to the PLAN’s overall mobility and ability to outmaneuver any regional competitors.18
The development of the Yulin Naval Base raises important questions about China’s strategic intent. Continued construction at Yulin Naval Base suggest that it will be a major military base that will provide China with the capacity to surge expeditionary forces into the South China Sea and beyond. The Yulin base will also provide China with a forward presence to protect its SLOCs through the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Nuclear‐Powered Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs) The development of a naval base in Yalong Bay has strategic implications for the balance of power in the Asia‐Pacific. Analysis of construction activities indicates Yulin Naval Base will be capable of housing nuclear submarines capable of launching intercontinental ballistic
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 142.
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Washington, D.C. 2012).
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 180.
missiles. Portions of the base are being built underground to provide facilities that cannot be easily monitored. The hardened underground tunnels, for example, can protect vessels ranging from SSNs up to Luyang‐class DDGs. When these facilities are completed they will provide China with the potential capability to station a substantial proportion of its submarine‐based nuclear deterrent force there. The deployment of nuclear submarines, including ballistic missile submarines, will introduce a new geo‐strategic dimension to the regional balance of power. Chinese nuclear submarine deployments will attract the continuing attention of the U.S. Navy in conducting military survey/intelligence gathering in the waters off Hainan. Satellite imagery has confirmed the presence of a single Chinese Type 094 Jin‐class nuclear submarine at Yalong since late 2007. The Type‐094 is a second‐generation nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and represents China’s most lethal naval strike weapon. This marks the first permanent deployment on an SSBN to China’s South Sea Fleet. Five more Chinese Jin‐class SSBNs are expected to become operational in coming years and Yulin is expected to become their home base. China’s most modern strategic nuclear submarine is not yet fully operational but when it is the submarine is expected to carry twelve Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles. This class of submarine will be even more potent if China succeeds in equipping the missiles with multiple warheads. Chinese nuclear subs will be able to patrol and fire from concealed positions in deep waters off Hainan island if China can develop the necessary operational skills. Naval Exercises China regularly conducts major naval exercises to showcase the growing prowess of the PLAN. In 2010 China conducted three major naval exercises. The first exercise was held in early April 2010 and involved the long‐range deployment of sixteen warships from the PLAN drawn from the North Sea, East Sea and South Sea Fleets. The PLAN flotilla conducted live firing exercises north of the Philippines before steaming toward the Malacca Straits. Up until this exercise China’s South Sea Fleet was the only fleet to operate in the South China Sea. The second naval exercise was conducted in late July 2010. It was the largest of its kind and involved twelve of China’s most modern warships from each of its fleets. This exercise was
notable for the Chinese media coverage of live missile firings and the presence of senior commanders from the Central Military Commission and the PLA Chief of Staff, General Chen Bingde.19 In November 2010 the PLA Marine Corps held the third major exercise in the South China Sea involving more than 100 ships, submarines and aircraft and 1,800 marines. In July 2011, China conducted anti‐submarine exercises off Hainan involving surface combatants and landing craft.20 In November 2011, China conducted naval exercises in the Western Pacific.21 In May 2012, the PLAN conducted tactical formation exercises and helicopter training missions involving two destroyers, two frigates and a Landing Platform Dock (LPD). The Type 071 LPD is one of the largest combat vessels in the PLAN and can embark a reinforced battalion of marines as well as landing craft and medium helicopters. The exercises was held about mid‐way between Taiwan’s southeast coast and Luzon in the northern Philippines.22 Chinese naval exercises in the East China Sea in October 2012 involved PLAN warships exercising with the paramilitary vessels from the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) and the Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC). A total of eleven ships and eight aircraft took part.23 A statement issued by the PLAN East Sea Fleet noted, “This exercise will simulate a situation where foreign law enforcement vessels obstruct and interfere with our maritime surveillance and fisheries administration vessels on a mission to safeguard maritime rights and enforce the law.” In this exercise the East Sea Fleet responded by dispatching a frigate, hospital ship, tugboat and advanced fighters and helicopters “for support, cover and emergency rescue.”24 Although this particular exercise was held in the shadow of dispute over Senkaku Island it holds implications for the Philippines and Vietnam as well. PLAN exercises can be viewed as a demonstration by China that it is now capable of deploying beyond the first island chain to the second. The implications are clear: China is
19 20 21 22 23 24
Xinhua, 29 July 2010. “China: naval exercises in South China Sea,” All Voices, June 17, 2011. The Economic Times, November 23, 2011. J. Michael Cole, “Taiwan monitors Chinese naval moves,” Taipei Times, May 10, 2012. “East China Sea tension: China conducts naval exercises,” BBC News Asia, October 19, 2012.
Ariel Zirulnick, “China’s naval exercises in East China Sea send warning to regional rivals,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 2012.
developing the capacity to sustain larger naval deployments in the Spratly archipelago and further south for longer periods. Combat Ready Patrols On June 28, 2012, Geng Yangsheng, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Defence, revealed that China had commenced combat‐ready patrols in disputed waters in the South China Sea. In reply to a question about Vietnam’s recent air patrols over the Spratly islands, Geng stated “the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat‐ready patrol system in seas under our control to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests.”25 In an embarrassing incident for China, one of its frigates on routine patrol ran aground near Half Moon Shoal near Palawan island on July 11, 2012.26 The frigate reportedly had been intimidating Philippine fishing craft found in the area. Six PLAN ships and smaller utility boats came to the frigate’s rescue and refloated it four days later. The frigate left the area.27 This is a significant development because up to now the PLAN has played a relatively low‐ key behind‐the‐scenes role in South China Sea incidents. China’s surveillance patrols have been mainly conducted by ships belonging to the CMS force or the FLEC. Paracel Islands Developments on Hainan have been paralleled by China’s construction activities in the Paracel islands. In 1990, China constructed 1,200 foot runway on Woody island that has been extended twice to it present length of 7,874 feet. The airstrip on Woody Island can accommodate fighter aircraft such as the Su‐27 and Su‐30MKKs, H‐6 bombers and large supply transport aircraft. The facilities adjacent to the runway include four hangers. Air traffic is controlled by a Type 791 X‐band precision‐approach radar. Other military infrastructure on Woody Island includes naval docks capable of accommodating frigates and
Quoted in Zhao Shengnan and Zhang Yunbi, “China Pledges to protect maritime sovereignty,” China Daily, June 29, 2012 and Sutirtho Patranobis, “China to set up new military base in south China sea,” Hindustan Times, June 28, 2012.
Agence France‐Presse,”China navy ship “stranded’ in disputed waters,” July 13, 2012.
Manuel Mogato and Ben Blanchard, “China frigate heads home, averts S. China Sea standoff,” Reuters, July 15, 2012; Jim Gomez, Associated Press, “China removes grounded warship, easing sea tensions,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 15, 2012; and Edward Wong, “Freed From Shoals, Warship Heads Back to China,” The New York Times, July 16, 2012.
destroyers and a fuel depot. PLA soldiers are based on Woody island to protect the runway and other military facilities. China has also built military‐related facilities elsewhere in the Paracels. A weather station has been built on Pattle Island, while Robert Island houses a radio beacon, the only beacon south of Hainan. The docks on Duncan Island are being expanded. A Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) station has been operating on Rocky Island, the highest premonitory, since 1995.28 This station could provide air or surface warning and support air missions or ship targeting. Open sources report that China may have stationed the HY‐2 anti‐ship cruise missile on Woody Island.29 On July 19, 2012, China’s Central Military Commission officially decided to establish a military command in Sansha City after its elevation to prefecture‐level administrative status. The garrison was placed under the PLA Hainan provincial sub‐command within the Guangzhou Military Command. The Sansha military garrison has been assigned responsibility for national defence mobilization, military operations and reserves. According to Defence Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng, “China may set up local military command organs in the city [Sansha] according to relevant regulations.”30 Senior Colonel Cai Xihong was appointed commander of the Sansha garrison and Senior Colonel Liao Chaoyi was named Political Commissar.31 According to a Japanese source, China’s decision to establish a “security area” in Sansha “is considered preparation for full‐scale military action in the South China Sea.”32 This view is disputed by retired U.S. Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt who argues that a military garrison in Sansha will not affect the military balance or signal imminent hostilities. McDevitt points out that any major military operations in the South China Sea would be mounted from Hainan where the PLA has major bases. According to McDevitt, “putting garrisons on Woody Island
28 29 30
J. Michael Cole, “China Deploying “Military Garrison; to South China Sea?,” The Diplomat, July 23, 2012 Bill Geertz, “Woody Island Missiles,” The Washington Times, June 15, 2001.
Xinhua, “Chinese military may establish presence in Sansha: defense spokesperson,” Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China, June 28, 2012. http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Press/2012‐ 06/29/content_4381230.htm.
“China steps up claims over world’s most disputed waters,” National Post, July 27, 2012. “China’s hard‐line stance cause for grave concern,” The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2012.
or elsewhere in the Paracels would effectively maroon these guys, so the only advantage would be just showing the flag ‐ to say, ‘We are serious’.”33 According to regional security specialists, the standing up of a military garrison command on Woody Island does not represent an attempt to build a base for forward deployment into the South China Sea.34 In their view, the Sansha military garrison is merely an administrative response to the upgrading of Sansha to a prefecture‐level city. Military garrisons do not command PLA main force combat units, PLA Navy for PLA Air Force units. South China Sea China has also consolidated its military presence in the South China Sea by construction on several of the features it currently occupies.35 China occupied Mischief Reef in 1995 and built its first structures in the South China Sea. These were expanded in October 1998 with the addition of three octagon‐shaped wooden structures and two two‐story concrete towers one at each end. The towers bristle with SATCOMM and HF antennae for communications. The towers are thought to house ELINT and radars. The facilities on Mischief Reef has since been upgraded with the construction of two new piers, a helicopter pad, a navy navigation radar, several anti‐aircraft guns and an anti‐ship cruise missile system (either the HY‐2 or C‐801). A 200‐foot long concrete building was constructed on Fiery Cross Reef. It houses a naval High Frequency (HF) yagi radar antenna (Bean Sticks), two Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) radomes, and several whip communication and mast antennas. The various antenna support different requirements, such as radio signal surveillance and Long Range (LR) communications. The facilities on Fiery Cross Reef also include satellite communication (SATCOMM) and meteorological dishes.
Kirk Spitzer, “New Garrison, Old Troubles In The South China Seas,” Battlefield, July 26, 2012. http://battlefield.blogs.time.com/2012/07/26/new‐garrison‐old‐troubles‐in‐the‐south‐china‐sea. Another analysts argues, “the Sansha garrison has minimal operational value barring a significant upgrade in naval and air infrastructure to enable sustained operations” and is mainly an example of Chinese coercive diplomacy. See: Oriana Skylar Mastro, “The Sansha Garrison: China’s Deliberate Escalation in the South China Sea,” Center for a New American Security, East and South China Sea Bulletin no. 5, September 2012.
Dennis J. Blasko and M. Taylor Fravel, “Much Ado About The Sansha Garrison,” The Diplomat, August 23, 2012.
John J. Tkacik, “Investigating the Chinese Threat, Part One: Military and Economic Aggression,” Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 28, 2012, 14‐18.
Chinese facilities on Johnson South Reef include four octagon‐shaped huts and a rectangular two story building on a concrete base supporting two towers. One SATCOMM and three mast head antennas are mounted on the roof. Chigua Reef contains an identical building structure plus a wooden barracks. Subi Reef hosts a wooden barracks, a two story building with a SATCOMM antenna and a helicopter landing pad. In summary, Chinese facilities in the South China Sea will give the PLAN an enhanced capability to exercise its sovereignty claims over this area. According to naval specialists, “Although small in size, if necessary these facilities could support future Chinese expansion throughout the area, and could perhaps even support a limited naval conflict in this congested region.”36 China’s Paramilitary Fleets China’s maritime surveillance fleet is estimated at more than 300 vessels only two of which, the Haixun 11 and Haixun 31, weighed more than 3,000 tons. In October 2010, China announced it would build thirty‐six new CMS vessels for maritime law enforcement over the next five years. In May 2011, the CMS announced it would recruit 1,000 more law enforcement officials, bringing its total to over 10,000 personnel. And in June 2011, China announced plans to expand its maritime surveillance force to sixteen aircraft and a total of 350 vessels by 2015. China’s objective of enforcing its jurisdiction in the South China Sea through an increasingly modern civilian enforcement fleet was highlighted in late July 2012 with the launching of the Haixun 01.37 The Haixun 01 weighs in at 5,418 tons and its largest and most capable ship in China’s maritime surveillance fleet. It can travel 18,500 km without refuelling and reach a top speed of 37 km per hour. The Haixun 01 is capable of supporting helicopter operations. Also, it can berth 200 passengers and comes equipped with an emergency medical surgery. In sum, China has developed an enhanced capability to exercise its sovereignty claims over the South China Sea and protect its vital SLOCs through the Malacca and Singapore Straits as well as the capacity to surge expeditionary forces into the South China Sea from these bases
Bussert and Elleman, People’s Liberation Army Navy, 145.
“China Launches the Country’s Largest and Most Advanced Patrol Vessel,” The Maritime Executive, July 30, 2012.
with a considerably shortened logistics tail. By extension, China will also have the capacity to interdict the same SLOCs on which Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are dependent. These developments portend a greater Chinese capacity to assert regional influence and to challenge U.S. naval supremacy.
Part 3 U.S. Strategy of Rebalancing
When the Obama Administration took office in 2009, it quickly asserted that “the United States is back in Asia.” The United States promptly acceded to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, appointed a permanent ambassador to the ASEAN Secretariat and revived the annual ASEAN‐United States leaders meeting. When Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea raised regional security concerns, both the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense used visits to the region to declare that the United States had a national interest in safety of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea. In direct response to Chinese naval modernization, the U.S. deployed thirty‐one of its fifty‐ three fast attack submarines to the Pacific and stepped up its anti‐submarine warfare program. Eighteen of the U.S. subs are home‐ported in Pearl Harbor; the others are based in Guam.38 In late June‐early July 2010, in a calculated demonstration of naval power, the USS Florida, USS Michigan, and USS Ohio submarines, simultaneously surfaced in Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean), Busan (South Korea) and Subic Bay (the Philippines), respectively.39 Each of these submarines has been modified to carry 154 conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles. All of the above development took place before the formal announcement that the United States would rebalance its forces. This year the United States announced that with its withdrawal from Iraq and eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, it will “rebalance” its force posture and quarantine defence cuts in the Asia‐Pacific. The heightened importance of the Asia‐Pacific was underscored in January 2012 with the release of a new national defense strategy, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. This document stated:
U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to
Navy Times, July 21, 2010. The Chosun Ilbo, July 8, 2010 and Time Magazine, July 8, 2010.
16 contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia‐Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia‐ Pacific security. We will expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia‐Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests [emphasis in original].40
The United States also is developing an air‐sea battle concept to counter China’s development of area‐denial/anti‐access capabilities. The air‐sea battle concept is being drawn up to enable the United States to prevail in conflicts where area‐denial/anti‐access capabilities are well developed. According to the new U.S. defense strategy one of the ten main missions for U.S. armed forces is to “project power despite anti‐access/area denial challenges.”41 In response to China’s use of asymmetric capabilities, including electronic and cyber warfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defences, mining and other methods, “to complicate our operational calculus,” the U.S. military
will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti‐access and area denial (A2/AD) environments. This will include implementing the Joint Operational Access Concept, sustaining our undersea capabilities, developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defenses, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space‐ based capabilities [emphasis in original].42
New developments in U.S. military technology will see the introduction of more sophisticated undersea drones and unmanned systems for intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and surveillance such as Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance Systems.43 According to Mark Valencia, the deployment of these new systems “will generate tensions and “more frequent crises; they will produce defensive reactions and escalatory dynamics; and they will lead to less stability in the most affected regions, especially in Asia.”44
40 41 42 43
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21 Century Defense (January 2012), 2. Ibid., 4. Ibid., 4‐5.
In October 2012, the U.S. Navy successfully fired six Rafael Spike missiles from an unmanned surface st precision module (USV PEM) in the first demonstration of this capability. “Navy Demonstrates 1 launch of Spike Missiles from Unmanned Surface Vehicles,” NAVSEA Office of Corporate Communications, October 26, 2012.
Mark J. Valencia, “The South China Sea, Military Activities and the Law of the Sea,” Paper presented to the International Conference on Major Law and Policy Issues in the South China Sea: European and American Perspectives, co‐sponsored by the Institute of European and American Studies and the Center for Asia‐Pacific Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, October 7‐8, 2011.
Part 4 U.S. Initiatives in Southeast Asia
China’s increased military prowess also has implications for the South China Sea where Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have conflicting territorial and maritime disputes with China. China’s increasing assertiveness has raised regional security concerns about China’s strategic intentions and its challenge to U.S. primacy. Several Southeast Asian states have sought reassurance from the United States that it will continue to remain engaged in the region. The United States has responded to these concerns by declaring it has a national interest in the freedom and safety of navigation and over flight in the maritime commons and unimpeded commerce. The United States has responded to China’s naval build‐up and development of anti‐ access/area denial capabilities by strengthening its posture on Guam, stepping up weapons and equipment sales to the Philippines, negotiating new arrangements with Australia giving the U.S. greater access to training facilities near Darwin, and basing Combat Littoral Ships in Singapore.45 The Philippines Chinese assertiveness in waters claimed by the Philippines led President Benigno Aquino to take steps to revitalize its alliance with the United States and to seek clarification of whether or not their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) would apply in the case of conflict with China in the South China Sea. The Philippines’ policy of revitalizing its alliance with the U.S. has been reinforced by the Obama Administration’s new defence policy of rebalancing towards the Asia‐Pacific. U.S. defence officials view support to improve the Philippines’ maritime capabilities as part of the strategic rebalancing policy. According to Deputy Secretary for Defense Ashton Carter, “We are focused on building the Philippines’ maritime security presence and capabilities, and strengthening their maritime domain awareness.”46 This has already resulted in a step up in U.S. access to the Philippines. For example, between May and October 2012, four U.S. Navy nuclear submarines (SSNs) have made port calls: USS
Craig Whitlock, “Navy’s next stop in Asia will set China on edge,” Checkpoint Washington, November 18, 2011
Remarks by Deputy Secretary for Defense [Ashton] Carter at the Woodrow Wilson Center, October 2, 2012.
North Carolina (May), USS Louisville (June), USS Hawaii (September) and USS Olympia (October). Vietnam The United States and Vietnam have stepped up modest defence cooperation activities to include fly outs to U.S. aircraft carriers transiting the South China Sea, ship repairs, a new senior leaders’ dialogue, signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on defence cooperation and the initiation of low‐level naval exchange activities. In 2009, Vietnamese defence officials began making high‐publicity fly outs to U.S. aircraft carriers transiting the South China Sea off Vietnam’s eastern seaboard. The first took place in April 2009 when Vietnamese officials landed on the USS John D. Stennis. This was followed by fly‐outs to the USS George Washington in August 2010, August 2011 and October 2012. In addition, in December 2009 Vietnam’s Defence Minister stopped off in Hawii enroute to Washington, D.C. He was photographed peering through the periscope of the USS Florida (SSGN), a nuclear attack submarine. In August 2010, Vietnamese diplomatic officials visited the newest U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush at Norfolk, to mark the fifteenth anniversary of diplomatic relations. This visit coincided with the fly out to the USS George Washington, half a world away. In 2009, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung dramatically announced that the commercial repair facilities at Cam Ranh Bay would be open to all navies of the world. The U.S. was the first country to take up the offer. The following year the United States and Vietnam signed a contract for the minor maintenance and repair of U.S. Navy Maritime Sealift Command ships. Five ships were subsequently repaired: the USNS Richard E. Byrd underwent voyage repairs in February‐March 2010, August 2011, and June 2012; the USNS Walter S. Diehl in October 2011 and the USNS Rappahannock in February 2012. The three most recent repairs were carried out at commercial facilities in Cam Ranh Bay. In August 2010, the US‐Vietnam defense dialogue was upgraded to a Defense Policy Dialogue between officials at deputy minister level. The first meeting was held in Hanoi. Vietnam was represented by Deputy Minister of National Defence Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh and the U.S. was represented by Robert Scher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia. The two sides agreed to cooperate in military exchanges and
training and collaboration in search and rescue and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The U.S. and Vietnam signed their first formal military agreement, a Statement of Intent on Military Medical Cooperation on August 1, 2011;47 and the Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet visited Hanoi four days later. These developments took place immediately prior to the 2nd U.S.‐Vietnam Defence Policy Dialogue held in Washington on September 19, 2011. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Robert Scher and Vice Minister of National Defence Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh signed the first formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on defence cooperation. The MOU included five priority areas: the establishment of a regular high‐level dialogue between defence ministries; maritime security; search and rescue; studying and exchanging experiences on United Nations peacekeeping; and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. In June 2012, Vietnam hosted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.48 Prior to his arrival in Hanoi, Secretary Panetta unexpectedly ‐ and symbolically ‐ stopped in Cam Ranh Bay to meet with the crew of the USNS Richard E. Byrd undergoing minor voyage repairs. Panetta’s visit led to speculation that the United States Navy might return to Cam Ranh. The meeting between the two defence ministers focused on the implementation of the 2010 MOU. Vietnam’s National Defence Minister General Phung Quang Thanh flagged future cooperation in addressing non‐traditional security issues such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and search and rescue. He also noted a long‐standing Vietnamese concern to elicit further support from the U.S. to address legacies from the Vietnam War (eg. Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance disposal). He also repeated a request that he made during his first visit to Washington in December 2009 for the U.S. to lift its restrictions on military sales to Vietnam
Part 5 Force Modernization Trends: A New Assessment
China’s military modernisation and transformation, especially naval modernisation, coupled with increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, has created a security dilemma
The Statement of Intent to cooperate in health is a precursor for exchanges and research collaboration in military medicine.
Carlyle A. Thayer, “Hanoi and the Pentagon: A Budding Courtship,” U.S. Naval Institute, June 11, 2012. http://news.usni.org/news-analysis/hanoi-and-pentagon-budding-courtship.
for Southeast Asia’s states.49 China’s efforts to safeguard its security by developing what it considers a reasonable force structure to deter the United States has created insecurity in several ASEAN states due to China’s lack of transparency. ASEAN states have been circumspect in public statements but their concerns can be discerned by the significant rise in defence expenditures and the kinds of weapon systems and platforms that they have acquired. Several regional states are developing their own anti‐access/area‐denial capabilities.50 In addition, Southeast Asia’s arms procurements go beyond force modernisation and include the introduction of new capabilities that can be operated at extended ranges. It should be recognized, however, that not all of these new capabilities have been acquired in response to China’s military build up. The sub‐sections below reviews force modernization developments in the Philippines, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region. The Philippines In 2011, in response to Chinese assertiveness in its EEZ and Kalayaan Island Group, the Philippines drew up a new defence strategy focused on both internal security operations and external territorial defence. The Aquino Administration allocated P11 billion to support force modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In March 2011, AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Oban announced plans to upgrade the airfield on Pag‐Asa island. Two months later a Philippine navy study recommended the acquisition of submarines as a “deterrent against future potential conflicts.”51 In September 2011, President Aquino announced that 4.95 billion pesos would be allocated to top up the defence budget.52 These funds were earmarked for the purchase a naval patrol vessel, six helicopters and other military equipment in order to secure the Malampaya oil and gas project. In 2012, the Philippine government began implementation of a five‐year modernization program totalling P40 billion. In July 2012, the Philippines
For a recent appreciation see: Andrew Shearer, “Southeast Asia and Australia: Case Studies in Responding to China’s Military Power,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2012‐13: China’s Military Challenge (Seattle and Washington: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2012), 241‐275.
Robert Karniol, “Vietnam prepares to better protect its S. China Sea claims,” The Straits Times, January 10, 2012.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 17, 2001. Agence France‐Presse, September 7, 2011.
announced a U.S. $1.8 billion fund to purchase a refurbished frigate, C‐130 aircraft, utility and combat helicopters as well as other defence equipment.53 In 2011‐12, the Philippines took delivery of two former U.S. Coast Guard Weather Endurance Cutters. The first cutter has been assigned to operate in waters off Palawan in Western Command with the mission of protecting the Philippines’ EEZ. The Philippines also expects to take delivery of three new Taiwan‐manufactured Multi‐Purpose Attack Craft and procure a third U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton‐class Cutter.54 The Philippines has signed an agreement with Italy’s Defence Ministry to acquire military equipment, possibly including frigates and aircraft. The Philippines has presented the Pentagon with a “wish list” of new equipment including: coastal radar, long‐range patrol aircraft, strategic sea lift vessels, three off‐shore patrol boats, two to five naval helicopters, air defence radar, six jet trainers, surface attack aircraft, anti‐ship missiles, and a submarine.55 The Philippines has also reached out to Japan, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom for defence acquisitions. In September 2011, during President Aquino’s visit to Tokyo, he and Prime Minister Noda agreed to strengthen maritime security ties by holding frequent high‐level defence discussions and by stepping up cooperation between their Coast Guards and “defence‐related authorities.” Prime Minister Noda agreed to increase the involvement of Japan’s Coast Guard in training their Filipino counterparts.56 Following a visit by South Korea’s President Lee Myung‐bak to Manila in November 2011, President Aquino announced that the Philippines would purchase military equipment form Seoul. The Department of National Defense was reported to be drawing up a list including aircraft, helicopters, boats and other military equipment. Vietnam In 2009, in a major development, Vietnam announced that it would procure six conventional
53 54 55
Manuel Mogato, “Philippines Refuses to Budge on South China Sea Row,” Reuters, July 23, 2012. Reuters, April 13, 2011 and AFP, September 3, 2011.
The Philippine Star, August 24, 2011. For a discussion of U.S. arms sales and transfers to the Philippines consult: Ronald O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, October 22, 2012), 40‐42.
The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2011.
diesel powered Kilo‐class submarines from Russia. These are scheduled to be delivered in 2014. The Kilo‐class submarines are likely to be equipped with sea‐skimming 3M‐54 Klub anti‐ship missiles with a range of 300 kilometres. In 2011, Vietnam stepped up its force modernization program when it took delivery of four additional Su‐30MK2 multi‐role jet fighters. These are expected to be equipped with the Kh‐ 59MK anti‐ship cruise missile with a range of 115 km. Vietnam currently has on order sixteen more Su‐30MK2 jet fighters.57 Also in 2011, Vietnam also took delivery of two Gephard‐class guided missile stealth frigates armed with Kh‐35E anti‐ship missiles with a range of 130 km and two Svetlyak class missile Patrol Boats.58 In addition, Vietnam launched its first indigenously built Ocean Patrol Vessel and troop transport.59 In October, while on a tour of the Netherlands, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung gave his approval for the purchase of four Sigma‐class corvettes, two of which are slated for construction in Vietnam.60 In 2011, Vietnam beefed up its coastal defences by acquiring its second Bastion land‐based anti‐ship ballistic missile system. Vietnam reportedly has acquired Israeli Extended Range Artillery Munitions ‐ ballistic missiles effective beyond 150 km. In October 2011, President Truong Tan Sang made a state visit to India and requested Indian assistance in four areas: submarine training, conversion training for pilots to fly Sukhoi‐30s, transfer of medium sized patrol boats, and modernization of port facilities at Nha Trang.61 The local media reported that India was considering whether or not to sell Vietnam its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.62 In February 2012, Russia announced it will co‐produce the Uran anti‐ship missile (SS‐N‐25 Switchblade) with Vietnam.63 In November 2011, Vietnam announced a $3.3 billion defence budget for 2012, a reported rise of 35% over 2010. According to IHS Jane’s Vietnam’s annual naval procurement budget
Thanh Nien News, July 3, 2011.
The Voice of Russia, June 22, 2011; BBC Vietnamese Service, August 24, 2011 and October 25, 2011; and Interfax‐AVN, October 11, 2011.
59 60 61 62 63
BBC Vietnamese Service, October 3, 2011. BBC Vietnamese Service, October 18, 2011. The Hindu, November 9, 2011. Business Insider, September 20, 2011. RIA Novosti, February 15, 2012.
has increased by 150% since 2008 to US $276 million in 2011. The naval budget is projected to rise to $400 million by 2015.64 Vietnam is seeking to develop an anti‐submarine warfare capability by acquiring either the U.S. P‐3 Orion of the Spanish Airbus Military C295.65 Regional66 According to one noted regional security analyst, naval acquisitions in Asia “have become especially disturbing, with undeniable signs of action‐reaction dynamics” and Northeast Asia in particular is witnessing an “emerging naval arms race.”67 Defence analysts estimate that 86 submarines will be added to the fleets in the Asia‐Pacific by 2020 of which 30 will be Chinese.68 China currently has the largest submarine fleet and most extensive plans to expand its numbers including the Type 095 nuclear attack submarine (SSN) and Type 094 Jin‐class SSBN. China is expected to base both attack and ballistic missile submarines at Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island. This prospect has led Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States to step up investment in their anti‐submarine warfare capabilities. Security analysts warn that the proliferation of submarine fleets may be destabilizing in times of tensions and crises due to the complexities of command and control. In Southeast Asia the conventional submarine has become the new hallmark of naval acquisitions. Vietnam’s purchase of Kilo‐class submarines is part of a regional trend.69 Indonesia, the first country in Southeast Asia to acquire submarines, has indicated it will replace them with newer South Korean models. Indonesia reportedly will boost defence spending by 35% in 2012.70 Singapore has upgraded its submarine fleet by taking delivery of
64 65 66
Quoted in The Economic Times, November 14, 2011. Aviation Week, February 17, 2012.
Richard A. Bitzinger, “Recent Developments in Naval and Maritime Modernization in the Asia‐Pacific: Implications for Regional Security,” in Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine and Andrew Nien‐Dzu Yang, eds., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), 23‐40 and Richard A. Bitzinger, “Military Modernization in the Asia‐Pacific: Assessing New Capabilities,” in Strategic Asia 2010‐11: Asia’s Rising Power and America’s Continued Purpose (Seattle and Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2010), 79‐111.
Desmond Ball, “Asia’s Naval Arms Race,” Paper presented to the 25 Asia‐Pacific Roundtable, ISIS Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 29 May ‐ 1 June 2011.
68 69 70
Business Week, November 25, 2011. Aviation Week, February 17, 2012. Al Jazeera.net, November 7, 2011.
two Archer‐class submarines in 2011.71 Singapore reportedly is in the market for four or five P‐3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.72 Malaysia has acquired two Scorpene‐class submarines. Both the Singaporean and Malaysian submarines are equipped with Air Independent Propulsion systems. Thailand and the Philippines are currently considering acquiring their own conventional submarines. Regional force modernization has and will continue to result in the introduction of increased numbers of warships equipped with new technologies and weapons systems. A recent review of regional force modernization over the last decade highlights the introduction of new capabilities such as “stand‐off precision‐strike, long‐range airborne and undersea attack, stealth, mobility and expeditionary warfare and, above all, new capacities when it comes to greatly improved command, control communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) networks.”73 This review concludes, “new types of armaments promise to significantly upgrade and modernize the manner of war fighting in the region… [and] fundamentally change the concept and conduct of warfare.”74 In summary, Southeast Asia’s arms buying spree, although largely intended for defensive purposes, may have a destabilising impact on regional security. According to Vice Admiral Scott Swift, Commander U.S. Seventh Fleet, his prime concern is not the outbreak of a major conflict but “any tactical trigger with strategic implications… I do have concerns about a specific brushup that could result in a tactical miscalculation…”75 So far there have been few if any indications that this issue is being effectively addressed by ASEAN‐centric multilateral organizations.
Part 6 Prospects for Cooperation for Regional Security
The major challenge to Southeast Asia’s strategic interests is the potential for great power rivalry to undermine ASEAN centrality and regional autonomy and contribute to regional
71 72 73
The Straits Times, December 3, 2011. Flight Global, December 15, 2011.
Richard A. Bitzinger, “A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, 31(1), April 2010, 63‐64.
Bitzinger, “A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions,” 64.
Quoted by Stephen Coates, “US Pacific commander warns of tactical errors,” The China Post, November 10, 2011. Admiral Smith also noted that he expected diplomacy to prevail in the event of a brushup and “compromise to prevail.”
instability. Major power rivalry could impact directly on regional security in one of three ways: a conflict between the major powers, a conflict between a major power and a littoral state, and a conflict between a major power and a littoral state that draws in the other major power. Major power rivalry could impact indirectly on regional security by spilling over and affecting ASEAN cohesion resulting in individual members calculating whether alignment with a major power is a better guarantee of their national security than ASEAN multilateralism. ASEAN states currently prefer a balance among the major powers and do no want to become involved in a dispute between them or be forced to choose sides. The sub‐sections below consider whether China and the United States will be able to manage their relationship peacefully and the prospects for multilateral institutions in promoting maritime cooperation for regional security (a) U.S.‐China Strategic Defence Dialogues U.S. diplomatic intervention in the South China Sea issue coupled with its newly announced policy of rebalancing its global force posture has provoked a negative if not hostile reaction by China. China views the U.S. as an outside power whose intervention will only complicate matters. At a recent conference hosted by the Australian Chief of Army, PLA Lt. Gen. Ren Haiquan offered this blunt assessment:
Some countries pursue strategies such as ‘rebalance to the Asia‐Pacific’ and ‘looking East’ and are increasing their strategic investment. Several countries do not let go the Cold War mentality. They are consolidating military alliance system in Asia Pacific and strengthening their military presence and military deterrence capability.76
The United States has repeatedly called on China to be more open about its military modernization and has repeatedly sought open military‐to‐military defence contacts to manage their relations. The Obama Administration’s new defense strategy states with respect to China:
Over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways. Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.77
Quoted by Brendan Nicholson, “Chinese top brass bags US influence in the region,” The Australian, October 31, 2012.
The U.S. and China currently have nearly sixty mechanisms for coordination and collaboration on strategic policy issues. The Obama Administration has sought to manage its relations with China through new mechanisms such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue S&ED) and Consultations on Asia‐Pacific Affairs. Military representatives are included both as part of the S&ED process and the separate Strategic Security Dialogue within the S&ED. The Pentagon consistently has sought to keep channels of communication open with China through various bilateral dialogue mechanisms. A review of three key mechanisms – Defense Consultative Talks (DCT), the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) and the Special Policy Dialogue/Defense Policy Coordination Talks (SPD/DPCT) ‐ demonstrates that it has been very difficult to isolate purely military‐to‐military contacts from their political and strategic settings. For example, continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. intelligence gathering in China’s EEZ have caused China to suspend scheduled meetings in protest. What does a balance sheet on the performance of these multilateral mechanisms tell us about U.S.‐China military relations? On the plus side the following accomplishments can be noted: (1) exchange visits by high‐level defense officials (defense ministers and chiefs of defense forces); (2) regular Defense Consultation Talks; (3) continuing working level discussions under the MMCA (4) agreement on the 7‐point consensus;78 (5) no serious naval incidents since the 2009 USNS Impeccable affair; (6) continuing exchange visits by senior officers (7) the initiation of a Strategic Security Dialogue as part of the S&ED process; (8) agreement to hold meetings between Coast Guards and (9) agreement on a new working group to draft principles establishing a framework for military‐to‐military cooperation.79 On the negative side it must be noted first that U.S.‐China military‐to‐military contacts have gone through cycles of cooperation and suspension. In 2009 a U.S. diplomatic cable reported a senior PLA official as observing, “the defense relationship lags behind other aspects of the overall bilateral relationship and it is often caught in a vicious cycle of
The “7 point consensus” was reached in October 2009 between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and by General Xu Caihou, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Committee, in Washington, D.C. in October 2009.
Carlyle A. Thayer, “Enhancing Transparency? U.S.‐China Military‐to‐Military Contacts and Strategic Dialogues,” Presentation to International Conference on The U.S. and China in Regional Security: Implications for Asia and Europe, co‐sponsored by Stiftung Wissenshaft und Politik and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany, June 18‐19, 2012, 21‐22.
‘progress and suspension’.”80 The senior PLA official noted that with two exceptions all other suspensions in military‐to‐military relations were the result of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Shirley Kan notes that China promotes repeated cycles of suspending contacts and then leverages the timing of their resumption.81 U.S. defense officials view this as the politicization of military‐to‐military contacts. Second, since military‐to‐military contacts were first initiated in 1980 until the present, the U.S. and China have only been able to reach one military‐to‐military agreement, the MMCA. An evaluation of the health of this agreement is not good. A senior PLA official offered this evaluation, “We signed the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) in 1998… but over the past 11 years the mechanism failed to play an effective role.”82 A review of the MMCA written by the U.S. principal negotiator, argued that it “remains the only mil‐to‐mil agreement between these two nations and is of only limited effectiveness because it is held hostage by China over U.S. actions in carrying out our stated obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.83 Third, there is not much evidence that military‐to‐military contacts and strategic dialogue have reduced strategic mistrust and raised transparency.84 Chinese officials repeatedly raise “three obstacles” to bilateral defence cooperation in their discussions with the United States: continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, U.S. intelligence gathering in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act restrictions on military interaction with the PLA. U.S. policy towards the South China Sea policy represents an addition major irritant. In weighing up the pluses and negatives in the bilateral relationship the bottom line is that despite the deficits the United States and China will persist in engaging with each other.
“2009 U.S.‐China Defense Consultative Talks (DCT), Session 1: Military‐to‐Military Relations,” U.S. Embassy, Beijing, July 1, 2009.
Shirley A. Kan, U.S.‐China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, February 10, 2012, 4.
“2009 U.S.‐China Defense Consultative Talks (DCT) Small Group Session,” U.S. Embassy, Beijing, July 1, 2009.
Bruce Lemkin, “U.S.‐Taiwan Relations Are No Threat to China,” Defense News, November 8, 2012. Lemkin was Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force (International Affairs) from 2003‐10
See the sobering review offered by Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi, Addressing U.S.‐China Strategic Distrust, John L. Thornton China Center Monograph Series No. 4, Washington, DC: The John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, March 2012, 7‐33.
Both sides understand that military‐to‐military contacts are a critical component of bilateral engagement. Without such interaction there is a risk that mistrust between the two militaries could spill over and have a major negative impact on bilateral relations in general. It is likely that strategic mistrust will persist through lack of greater transparency and military‐to‐military relations will continue to exhibit elements of cooperation and contention. When incidents and disputes arise between the two militaries, the civilian leadership will intervene, as it has in the past, to reset bilateral relations. (b) Current Multilateral Initiatives The East Asian security architecture is currently evolving as a result of the expansion of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2011 to include the United States and Russian Federation. At the 2011 EAS informal leaders’ retreat, sixteen of its eighteen members raised concerns over maritime security issues. China was the only country to argue that the EAS was not an appropriate venue for such discussions. Nevertheless, the EAS Chair’s concluding summary noted that maritime security has been established as a legitimate agenda item. For the new regional security architecture to be effective there must be some streamlining of policy advice to the EAS from other multilateral arrangements currently considering maritime security issues. There are a number of overlapping arrangements under the auspices of ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum charged with maritime security and South China Sea issues: ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM). The ASEAN Defence Ministers met for the first time in May 2006 and began the process of institutionalizing defence cooperation on a regional basis. The ASEAN Defence Ministers are now sectoral members of the ASEAN Political Security Council established under ASEAN’s Charter. The ADMM brought under its umbrella what had been separate informal meetings of the ASEAN service chiefs (army, navy and air and military intelligence) that had been conducted outside the official ASEAN framework. At the 4th ADMM in May 2010, in a first step to address maritime security issues, it was agreed that ASEAN navies would cooperate to patrol their maritime boundaries. ASEAN Navy Chiefs Meeting (ANCM). Maritime security issues fall under the purview of the ANCM. The prospect of practical cooperation among ASEAN navies does not appear
good. At the ANCM‐5 in Vietnam in 2011 there was disagreement over a number of issues including the formal name of the meeting, how often it should meet, conducting joint patrols, and a proposal for an ASEAN communications protocol when navy ships passed each other at sea. ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus). The ADMM was expanded in October 2010 to include eight of ASEAN’s dialogue partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States. At this meeting it was agreed that the ADMM Plus would meet every three years with the second meeting scheduled for Brunei in 2013. It has since been decided that the ADMM Plus will now meet every two years from 2013. The inaugural ADMM Plus meeting set up the ASEAN Defence Seniors Meeting Plus (ADSOM Plus) and five Expert Working Groups (maritime security, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, peacekeeping, military medicine and counter‐terrorism). ADMM Plus Expert Working Group on Maritime Security (EWG on MS). The EWG on MS is scheduled to meet twice a year and report its deliberations to the ADSOM Plus. The ADMM Plus EWG on MS is co‐chaired by Malaysia and Australia. It held its first meeting in Perth in July 2011 and discussed information sharing. The terms of reference for EWG on MS were approved in October 2011. In February 2012, Malaysia hosted the second EWG on MS that focused on specific initiatives for practical cooperation and capacity building. Malaysia tabled a Concept Paper on establishing a mechanism to support the work and implement the decisions of the EWG on MS. ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF). ASEAN established the AMF in 2010 under the terms of the ASEAN Political Security Community Blueprint.85 The second meeting of the AMF was held in Thailand in August 2011 and proposed expanding its membership to include dialogue partners in a separate meeting (AMF Plus). The AMF is focused on a comprehensive approach to maritime issues and has so far not dealt with South China Sea issues in detail.86 The AMF held an expanded meeting in 2012 with the inclusion of the “plus eight” dialogue partners.
“Hanoi Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN Regional Forum Vision Statement,” May 20, 2010, Point 3.
“Chair’s Statement of the 19 ASEAN Summit, Bali, 17 November 2011,” Points 14‐17 (Maritime Cooperation).
ARF Inter‐Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security (ARF ISM on Maritime Security). In 2009, the ASEAN Regional Forum established the ARF ISM on MS and later approved its Work Plan at the at the 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 2011.87 The ISM on Maritime Security focuses on information sharing, capacity building, and training rather than practical activities such as South China Sea CBMs.
The evolution of the regional security architecture is at a nascent stage and it is unclear how an expanded EAS will relate to the already existing multilateral security institutions. On the one hand, the current evolution of the regional security architecture may be viewed as a positive development since it brings together all the major actors, including the U.S. and China at head of state/government level. On the other hand, if China feels that the other external powers are ganging up on it, the EAS process may become deadlocked. Of the eight dialogue partners, five are either allies or close strategic partners (U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand).
What are the prospects for future cooperation over maritime security and South China Sea issues? The future security environment of the South China Sea region will be influenced by five major overlapping trends. These trends contain both stabilizing and destabilizing elements. The five trends are: • • • • • U.S.‐China strategic rivalry Regional force modernization Increased regional maritime enforcement capabilities Evolution of the regional security architecture China‐ASEAN discussions on the South China Sea
China (and possibly the United States) is undergoing a power shift as a new generation of leaders takes office. In the short‐term, strategic mistrust will continue to influence their bilateral relations and any maritime security incident could be viewed as a challenge to the new leadership. Over the longer term, however, the top leaders of China and the United
ASEAN Regional Forum, “Draft Outline of a Work Plan on Maritime Security: A Template for Discussion,” 2 ARF ISM on Maritime Security, Auckland, 29‐31 March 2010; “Co‐Chairs’ Summary of the Third ARF Inter‐ th th Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security, Tokyo, Japan, 14‐15 February 2011”; and “44 AM/PMC/18 ARF, th Indonesia 2011, Chair’s Statement, 18 ASEAN Regional Forum, 23 July 2011, Bali, Indonesia,” Point 41.
States can be expected to meet and set objectives and priorities for their relationship. Major power relations will continue to reflect contention and cooperation. Chinese and regional force modernization programs, coupled with the increase in maritime enforcement capabilities by China and regional states, represent potentially destabilising trends. China’s growing naval power will not eliminate Southeast Asia’s security dilemma. The most disturbing trend is China’s increased reliance on citizen fishing fleets and state paramilitary forces to concentrate in a disputed area in order to assert Chinese jurisdiction. Recent joint exercises between the PLAN and CMS/FLEC vessels are particularly unsettling. Chinese assertiveness has provoked the U.S. to rebalance its force posture and increase its presence in the South China Sea. The South China Sea’s contested waters will become increasingly congested raising the possibility of an accidental mishap. In the short‐term it is unlikely that the evolving regional security architecture will be able to effectively manage challenges to maritime security. The ASEAN‐centric regional security architecture is an inchoate mixture of multilateral mechanisms with overlapping responsibilities. ASEAN Defence Ministers have not been particularly proactive in addressing maritime security issues. The ASEAN Regional Forum can only promote confidence‐building measures; preventive diplomacy is barely on the horizon. The ADMM Plus process shows some signs of progress, but it is proceeding at too slow a pace. It remains to be seen how the defence ministers will respond to proposals from their Expert Working Groups. The ADMM Plus must meet annually and report to the EAS to be effective. Since the EAS works on the basis of consensus, it will take some time before agreement is reached on whether or how to streamline the region’s existing multilateral security institutions. Strategic distrust between China and the United States is likely to hamstring the EAS and prevent it from taking effective action. Finally, ASEAN‐China discussions on a Code of Conduct appear as elusive as ever. ASEAN and China are presently focused on implementing the DOC Guidelines. They have yet to initiate a single cooperative project, and even if they do, there is no guarantee that confidence‐ building measures will spill over an effect practical measures to address maritime security issues. Rising Chinese domestic nationalism has become particularly jingoistic and is likely to scuttle any diplomatic effort that is perceived as undermining China’s “indisputable
sovereignty” over the South China Sea. Domestic nationalists have a natural ally in the PLA.88 In sum, Southeast Asia is “ripe for rivalry” ‐ but not armed conflict ‐ due to strategic mistrust between a rising and increasingly militarily powerful China and a United States committed to maintaining the present balance of power. These two powers will continue both to cooperate and contend. Tensions in their relations will be transmitted to Southeast Asia and pose challenges to ASEAN as its seeks to become a more cohesive and unified political‐ security community. The security environment in Southeast Asia will continue to be characterised by intractable sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, rising resource nationalism, and potentially destabilizing regional force modernization programs. As a result, regional sea lanes are set to become more “crowded, contested and vulnerable to armed strife.”89
Willy Lam, “China’s Hawks in Command,” The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2012; Michael Sheridan, “Control of PLA at heart of China’s power struggle,” The Australian, July 2, 2012; David Lague, Reuters, “China’s Hawks Gaining Sway in South China Sea Dispute,” Jakarta Globe, July 26, 2012; Yohanes Sulaiman, “China Puts On a Show of Strength, But One‐Party System Showing Weaknesses,” Jakarta Globe, August 1, 2012; “China military strength put on display,” Sky News, August 2, 2012; and Michael Sainsbury, “Hu sets in motion train of succession,” The Weekend Australian, August 4‐5, 2012.
Rory Medcalf and Raoul Heinrichs, Crisis and Confidence: Major Powers and Maritime Security in Indo‐Pacific Asia (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, June 2011), 3.
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