Tag Archives: south china sea

Commentary— Wake Up– China is Awake!

At a family dinner this week, the conversation turned first from domestic politics to fear and then to the Mid-East. I suddenly felt very much in the minority. We were becoming myopic in our view of the world’s present and potential disasters. As much as I tried to steer the conversation from Mid-East to the West and Asia, I was rebuffed on all sides. We have such an emotional and intellectual investment in the Mid-East that we are losing sight of a very dangerous geographic confrontation that is quietly playing itself out on the far side of the Pacific Ocean and what may morph into a dangerous confrontation in that part of the world.

The most recent news that bombards us from ISIS is their latest video released online touting a shari’a school that attempts to instill in its very young pupils the desire of martyrdom—“the cubs of the Caliphate” . The voice-over video announces that it is these children who will be the vanguard of a new army who will conquer Rome, Jerusalem, and Baghdad among other major cities.

It is not easy, after so many years of focus, to move away from those types of threats and focus on a different part of the world, but we must or suffer the consequences. We have done just that in the past. Let us not repeat that error again.

If you look at your map and find the southern tip of Japan, the Philippine Islands is to the south-east, then move in a circular clock-wise direction to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and finally China you will notice these nations form a large oblong circle, some miles 1,400,000 square miles creating the South China Sea (SCS). This Sea, and its mostly uninhabited islands, have been subject to competing claims of sovereignty for decades by several countries for a number of strategic reasons. Among them: one-third of the worlds shipping ply thru its water, and there are huge oil and gas reserves in its sea beds.

If you google “China” the first thing that will pop-up is that there is a new home buying boom and all the banks in China are in hot pursuit of those new customers. What does not receive the attention it deserves is that China is once again creating new islands out of old coral reefs. That is not a typo– these man-made large islands, sitting upon coral reef, are not being advertised as the new tropical island tourist attraction for those tired of the Caribbean. China is building a major, powerful war machine far from its mainland to control that part of the world.

As we passively watched Europe in 1938, 39 and 40, we are once again almost passively watching the growth of a powerful armed threat against the sovereignty of a number of nations in the South Pacific that will have a direct impact on the economics of world trade and security. If nothing else, remember that one third of the world’s commerce flows thru this area.

Thanks to a series of excellent articles including one by Steve Mollman, we gain additional insight into the present military importance of this area, which we are ignoring at our peril. In the past, I wrote about the Spratly Islands in the SCS, where China, through massive dredging of more than 2,000 acres at three main reefs (reefs!), created a substantial military base of operation. This military complex has sea port facilities, military buildings, and multiple high density airstrips. China then unilaterally announced that it had indisputable sovereignty over the reef/islands and its nearby waters—12 nautical miles. All this announced in clear violation of settled international maritime law. And then the leaders in Beijing angrily called the world’s arbitration court process a “farce” for rejecting its claim.

To the north west of the Spratly Islands and about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam lies the Paracel Islands. Here too, the Chinese have claimed ownership of disputed territory and then, thru the massive reclamation by dredging, have greatly expanding their acreage. On several of these islands, intelligence photos reveal the building of military garrisons, radar domes, and on one of the islands in the group, a concrete manufacturing plant with an enlarged sea port with reinforced seawalls. What appears to be developing along with new island acquisition, which I will note in the next paragraph, is that an anti-submarine(ASW) helicopter base of operation is being developed that could morph into an enormous ability for massive surveillance without the necessity of supply and surveillance support from main land China.

How that vast area is quickly moving under controlled by China is evidenced by their present illegal adventures to annex the Scarborough Shoal, a large coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon. It encompasses 58 square miles and lies less than 150 miles from the Philippine coast.   If you take that next look at the map of the South Asia Sea you will notice that these three sets of islands (the Spratly Island and Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel Islands) form a formidable strategic triangle that covers just under a million and half square miles and provides China with a superior air dense identification zone. In effect, China controls the air space over this international and vital portion of the world—where more than five trillion dollars’ worth of trade pies its waters each year and is the main passage for Mid-East oil to Japan and South Korea.

China has set a rapid and high urgency agenda to build a sophisticated naval deployment with supporting structures in the South Asia Sea. They are accomplishing this with sophisticated radar equipment, ASW anti-submarine strength facilities, deep water ports, military grade runways, along with building additional aircraft carriers to increase its naval strength with a support fleet all superimposed upon illegal claims of maritime sovereignty. Within the last week, elements of the Chinese and Russian navies concluded an eight day joint war games exercise in the SCS. And today, amid increased tensions over the disputed territories, Beijing announced it is preparing to launch stealthy UAVs to protect and map the contested islands.

It is clear from all of China’s activities, aside from the naval war games with Russia, that there can be no question regarding its strong commitment to its ever increasing territorial claims and the accelerated building of its armed/naval strength and presence. This has caused both military and diplomatic confrontations with the United States in what a former Japanese admiral has called a “game changer.” We must call China’s behavior what it is –unadorned overt military aggression. We must draw a real line in the sand that will be enforced — not by name calling but by concrete military intervention and economic sanctions. Our message must be conveyed in clear and unambiguous terms to China and the international community.

Silence and inaction is an act of capitulation to an international bully and can only lead to damaging both our economic and direct security interests. With China, from a reef to an island in less than a year, is reality. What next?

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

Commentary: Why Study Madeiran

It is a rainy Saturday afternoon and all my outside chores where put on hold. Time to clean my desk and my computer of saved “stuff”. The mere thought of the process has overwhelmed me.

The mid-East has made the word “nightmare” too mild an adjective. And the headlines take me from the news that there has been the first human head transplant to the announcement that we (our Government) has spent 1 trillion dollars (that’s a lot of zeros) on our homeland security. And as I note to myself that I do not feel any safer by any standard, a family questions pops up. Grandson number 2 is off to college and the question passed around is– should he continue his study of Madeiran as part of his core studies in his first year in college. Most of those polled say: No. Why continue with such a difficult Chinese language. His brother and I say: Yes. I am not sure our reasons are the same.

The Mid-East is a burning inferno with more crossed signals that one could have anticipated. The shifting of allies and the increased intensity of the violence produced by our enemies has created confusion and discouragement simultaneously. Why are we continuing to bother to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people and institutions that are mired in a time-warp in history that cannot be changed by either externally instigated or home inspired civil wars. We cannot impose democracy or regime changes or fight battles with some of those who are motivated by barbaric instinct.

There is yet another layer of conflict, the fight, not merely for control of regional ideologies, but the struggle between the United States and Russia to build powerful buffers for each of its own international self-protection.

With this our sole focus of attention, we miss a greater threat that is blithely and elegantly sailing under the radar and with the tide running in its favor.

Grandson number# 2, I say, continue your studies in Mandarin Chinese because there lies the bomb that is greater than the Mid-East flames. The Mid-East conflict will last another fifty years until all the regional parties will become exhausted and no longer have the ability to pay for the cost of inflicting or being the recipient of violence.

China on the other hand has crumbled its “great wall” of international isolation and seeks to confront the rest of world for what it alone considers its rightful share of this planet. It is not looking for a “hand-out” from the big powers. It ignores them. It has decided unilaterally that it is their prerogative to seize or create (an island out of coral reef) what it believes it is their rightful share of not merely world power and dominance but substantial space on this planet, and has put its military might and its own logic behind that grab.

It all started with the world looking with, and I think I say this accurately, something akin to “what are they trying to do? “ And, parenthetically, there is also a smirk on our faces. If you do not remember the facts, let me refresh your recollection: First if you look at a map of the Philippine islands (there are some 700 that make up the chain) and draw your eye to the West into the lower region of the South China Sea, you will find a slew of small islands and reefs. A reef is a chain of rocks or coral or a ridge of sand at or near the surface of water. In 2014, a rivalry intensified in that area that is best described as a sea of messy territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing the sovereignty of island chains and reefs in the nearby waters.

Then, a little more than 18 months ago, started China’s startling action in a little more than 18 months ago: it has reclaimed –through massive dredging of more than 2,000 acres at three main reefs (reefs!) in the Spratly Island. It unilaterally announced that it had indisputable sovereignty over the reef/islands and its nearby waters—12 nautical miles. With all this in violation of international maritime law, China built a substantial military base with a major runway. And to move fast forward their leaders in Beijing have angrily called the world’s arbitration court process a “farce” for rejecting the legality of its claim to the South China Sea. On top of this, China has three aircraft carriers in either construction or refurbishing placing them at the forefront of its maritime might.

Last, in this very brief summary of China’s surge, is a long article in 20 August WSJ “ China’s Naval Footprint Grows”. I was startled by a map of China’s strategic military port networks from Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya in Africa, Egypt, Turkey and Greece and moving east to Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma). These ports of call are being built or financed or operated by the Chinese navy for the new Chinese navy, not for tourism. This list does not include those ports visited most frequently by the Chinese navy for rest or refiling, nor those being built in the South China Sea as I described above and are being enhanced.

China has ignored an international court; China has ratcheted its aggressive maritime move to ports far beyond it natural maritime boarders, and most important, China shows no hint of slowing down either its rhetoric or is aggressive military expansion. We fly within what they consider their territorial sovereign boarder in the South China Sea, we send ships pushing the 12 nautical mile claim of control and they warn us and we ignore them. That dance cannot continue.

I dare not think of an Obama line in the sand, especially as he is departing the oval office in 5 months. I dare not think what China may do to exacerbate an already contentious presidential United States election. I dare not think how far China is willing to push the expansion envelope with our main focus not west but east.

I do think my number 2 grandson should continue with his studies in Madeiran for the most obvious of all reasons. China is not our ally, not our partner, not our friend.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

Commentary—Politics At Home and Chaos Abroad

We are living in the most unsettling and frightening times in my memory, and I am a senior-senior. Politics in the United States is much more disturbing than I remember, and I remember the McCarthy era all too well.

Today, politics and its vulgarity cut across an uglier path than our traditional concept prescribes. This blog focuses on security, terrorism and counter-terrorism, often brushing the shores of civil rights. The present political scene has a direct negative bearing on our security—national and international. And although I am loath to enter that mine-field, I must.

On the right , never before in my lifetime have I heard and read such vitriolic language to describe long standing economic and security partners, against friends and non-friends in the diplomatic world or more pathetically—each other. Clearly, you do not conduct foreign relations in this century behind a wall or encourage others to build nuclear bombs.

On the other side of the political spectrum we find Bernie Sanders—like Mr. Trump, hides his federal tax returns, decided he was a Democrat only 4 months ago, and his surrogates harass super-delegates. He seeks to be president and commander-in-chief while ignoring that at one time he filed as a “conscientious objector’. How that squares with our national security and control of the black box is beyond my comprehension. When or where does our national security (and frankly, I am thinking about my family’s security) come into play if the Senator believes in non-violence in a very violent world, and most surely he will be required from time-to-time to engage our military in violent confrontation if elected. As our present occupier of the White House, will he draw a line in the sand and then go on to ignore his own threats? How will he handle drones and their use against ISIS, it leaders and those who plot against our military? How does he criticize Israel’s response to Hamas’s attacks and blatantly ignore the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas including their use of civilians as shields? How does a conscientious objector morph into a Commander-in-Chief?

At home we fear ISIS and its allies. Not when but where will they strike. ISIS is losing ground on their home turf but is more than making up for that loss with their savagery abroad. Think Brussels and Paris.

The migrants and their wholescale deportation across the Turkey boarders have deleted the word “humanitarian” from our dictionary. Looking at the rest of the world I see only violent chaos, massive displacement of whole groups of people, killings as random as walking across the street. It appears to me that the world’s governments are paralyzed to stop this brutality although they talk in boasting terms.

In India, nearly 100,000 farmers have committed suicide in 2014. Why and why is India silent?

In Gaza, there is no news from whichever government pretends to be in control, the international press is silent as the Israeli government quietly announced it has expanded the Palestinian fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles. A spokesperson for the Palestinian fishing industry said this would increase their income by at least one hundred thousand dollars annually. President Abbas has been silent, and there have been no comment from London.

Nearly a week after recapturing Palmyra from ISIS, Syrian forces say they have uncovered horrendous evidence of the workings of the terrorist group. Mass graves, some holding 40 bodies—many were women and children, and some show signs of beheading and torture. As Iran remains a steadfast ally of those criminally minded people it has told the American government in a posting today that their missile power is a non-negotiable issue. Warning that they “don’t get permission from anybody” especially from the “imprudence” of the U.S. regarding their own security.

From Steve Emmerson’s group, we are asked to “imagine more of the African continent engulfed in Islamist savagery of Libya and Nigeria. Imagine Jordan and Saudi Arabia undergoing the same turmoil as Iraq and Syria. Imagine a Europe that begins to resemble Lebanon more than its American cousin.” These events could occur in the next few years, and NATO seems blind to this story.

A television clip released by MEMRI shows a Leader of Islamic Movement in Israel preaching: “This land (‘Palestine’) will vomit Israeli occupation like the sea vomits its filth”. I wonder if any person could preach that same gospel in Gaza about Hamas.

Turkey is awash in political upheaval. This once proud democratic nation has fallen victim to not some strong mana’s rule but a neo-Islamist dictator. His crushing of civil rights and the opposition press is not subtle but violent and public, and yet the people vote for him. All this internal power has provided him the upper hand internationally, as Greece with its dire financial conditions and swamping of migrants seeks help. In return for 6 billion euros and some vague promises of free travel, Turkey will take back anyone currently attempting to enter Greece. This week we saw the first boat load of migrants starting the painful route home. And as I write this blog, Turkey has been placed on high alert as our own government warms about credible threats and reports of controlled explosions conducted in Istanbul’s popular square.

And last on my agenda today is the South China Sea where international relations have becomes tenser and potentially moving beyond mere political hostility. Although the New York Times attempts to portray the Unite States as neutral in the area, it is just the opposite. America sails its warships close to the Chinese created military island and compound in defiance of China’s extension of its territorial and nautical rights in that part of the world. All, as the other nations of the area try to forge stronger political and military ties that we have not seen in decades.

I remember sitting in my office when JFK was assassinated, and I fearfully thought what was going to happen to the country. I thought of my very young family waiting for me at home. Obviously, the country has more than merely survived. But today’s political climate is more endemic. The hatreds long contained are being encouraged to be expressed and acted upon. The most base thoughts and actions are encouraged to be displayed and executed freely. Disregard for reality, one note songs repeated over and over in disregard of others; to dismiss what you don’t have merely because you do not possess it. I loathe placing Donald’s name in the same sentence with Bernie, but each in his very own distinct way have a blind eye to international reality and would make us a more isolationist nation. And that would damage our national and international security. Yesterday, a very close relative said to me: I am voting my brain not my heart. And I thought that is a good rule to follow when determining issues involving security.

Richard Allan

The Editor

Connected Unsystematic Thoughts

The U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State began more than a year ago, and then chaos set in. The confusion on the ground and in the air over Syria is only becoming more of a night- mare, caused in part by too many fingers in one pot with no recognition of each other. Two months after Putin’s physical entry to shore up Assad’s regime, there have been too many close calls in the same air space between the fighters and bombers from Russia and the United States. To add to the confusion and disarray is Turkey’s shooting down a Russian bomber that strayed into Turkish air space. The crises continue with questions concerning the Turkish control of its boarders and ISIS. And now the present outcry: which country bombed a friendly Syrian army base? The first accused was the United States, but forced to reveal its evidence, the American intelligence confirms it was Moscow’s “Blackfire” bombers that killed three soldiers, wounding at least 13 and destroying vehicles and equipment. And yesterday, a Turkish fishing vessel came within 1600 feet of a Russian destroyer playing a dangerous game of “two close to call navigation” with Russian firepower used to make a military point and Turkey said its losing patience with the Russia.

As we flip to the other side of the world, China continues to pile sand and rocks on reefs to build islands to extend its territorial claims further into the South China Sea and to add its military strength to be piled higher on newly created islands. This is not only an attempt to control so much more of free sea lanes of navigation but to cut heavily into the control and power of China’s many neighbors, especially Japan and the United States’ long reach of its naval might. All this adds up to a new strategic imagery: Japan is moving rapidity away from its post WII pacifism, communist Vietnam is purchasing arms from the United States, and the Philippines is inviting the U.S. Navy back to its ports, some twenty-five years after asking them unceremoniously to leave. And even if you have never visited the tiny island nation Singapore, it is not hard to understand why the United States and Singapore have signed an agreement to provide a launching pad for the United States to monitor the South China Sea. Also, as reported, not only has Malaysia called for the United States to work out of its bases, but I am informed that the United States has added to its aircraft force in the area the P-8 Poseidon thereby putting greater spying know-how ability into play to monitor the Chinese adventures and capabilities in that part of the world.

Two items have become clear since my last comments concerning the Iranian Nuclear deal (JCOP). First, Iran is moving internally further in the direction against the “American Enemy” with greater political movement toward the ideological base of its Supreme Leader and non-adherence to the JCPOA , and, second, my mistrust of Iran’s intentions have become more evident. We have just learned that notwithstanding UN Resolution 2231, which was passed just one day after the nuclear accord was signed and which compels Iran to restrain from any work on ballistic missiles for 8 years, on November 21, in breach of that resolution, a missile known as the Ghadr-110, having a range a little over 1200 miles with the capacity of carrying a nuclear warhead, was tested by the Iranians. So much for international agreements, international resolutions, and international oversight and enforcement.

About three months ago I asked one of my grandsons: What’s the Dark Web? Without hesitation he shot back: “Why? Why do you want to know? You shouldn’t go there!” Since the shooting in San Bernadino with the death of 14 and the injury of scores of others, there is talk of encryption (normal text into code) and the Dark Web. It is on the Dark Web that terrorists communicate, utilizing encrypted messages. The Dark Web is a semi-technical term that refers to a collection of websites that, although they are publicly visible/available, the IP address of the servers that run them is hidden. You and I can utilize the Dark Web with any web browser, but it is more than problematical and ultra-challenging to determine who is behind the sites.

On December 8th the French newspaper, Le Monde, reported that France, not nearly recovered from the ISIS attack last month in Paris, may seek to ban the infamous Tor browser, used to namelessly surf the Dark Web. The French Parliament may also ban use of public Wi-Fi during periods of emergency. But, at this writing, Paris seems to be turning away from those options. The UK has launched a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the Dark Web, with a particular focus on cracking down on serious criminal rings and child pornography. This very week the FBI has admitted that they can determine who is “speaking” to whom, but cannot crack the encrypted messages, so what it hears is “noise”, without understanding. Of course, only one country has been able to successfully block Tor: China, with its great “other” wall, the firewall.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on December 6th that she supports labeling of Israeli settlement products from the disputed territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel had sought Germany’s help in convincing EU member states to reject the implementation of this type of labeling as it has done for many other countries. It refused. So much for a balance, even-handed international policy, and from a person just named TIME’s—Person of the Year in a country synonymous with holocaust.

Each of these random thoughts carries a connecting tissue. The obvious fact being that the United States sits geographically between the conflicts in the east and the west. These conflicts share potentially devastating consequences to its national security not merely abroad but at home, on our own shores. We are also in the midst of a race to the White House in a manner and style never before witnessed, filled with extreme rhetoric and personal vindictive hate. We have seen pictures of foreign parliaments whose member have been moved beyond words to extreme physical conformation. We are not like that; but what have we become?

To live in fear is not acceptable. But to live without care is imprudent and unrealistic. Today, as I write this blog, Americans’ fear of terrorism is as high as immediately after 9/11. Do we cry “ouch “only when we are personally affected? There have so many lessons available to us over the last 75 years, why are we ignoring them and to our peril? What do we teach our children, and why does a grandchild have to become fearful because his grandfather queries about the Dark Web?
Richard Allan
The Editor