Category Archives: Indo-Pacific

Jade Necklace: Naval Dimension of Chinese Engagement with Coastal Nations Across the Oceans

(Published IndraStra Global, 17 Dec 2017; for complete interactive experience visit http://www.indrastra.com/2016/12/FEATURED-Jade-Necklace-Naval-Dimension-of-Chinese-Engagement-with-Coastal-Nations-Across-the-Oceans-002-12-2016-0032.html )

“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”  

 Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Over a period, Chinese analysts have zeroed upon various countries/islands, which they consider inimical by being under the influence of the United States of America due to trade, military or common political goals. These include; countries/islands in Central Asian Region, Mongolia, India, and Diego Garcia in the outer periphery; Hawaii, Singapore, & Vietnam in the next closer circle; followed by Guam, Australia and New Zealand due to vicinity of second island chain; and Philippines (now tilting in favor of China), ROK & Japan within or around the first island chain. The aim of this article is to provide a naval perspective into the Chinese maritime engagements with nations having seacoasts.

Western Pacific Stand-Off Defenses-Carrier Killer DF-21 D and Guam Killer DF-26

In 2010, The US DoD acknowledged that the Dong-Feng 21D (DF-21D) Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of 1450 km had attained an initial operating capability. This missile can target a moving aircraft carrier from land-based mobile launchers and has maneuverable re-entry vehicles (MaRVs) with a terminal guidance system. It is understood that this missile is capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with a single hit. The emergence of DF-21D has led the US Navy to rework the ‘carrier support’ warfare approach with respect to China and recommence building of its ballistic missile defense destroyers.

In 2015, China displayed The Dong-Feng 26 (DF-26). It is an intermediate-range ballistic missile produced by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The DF-26 has a range of 3,000–4,000 km, and is said to have nuclear, conventional, and anti-ship strike variants. It is capable of targeting  American military installations at Guam therefore, it has earned the tag of the “Guam Express” or “Guam Killer”. Guam provides the US a strategic base to target the Asian continent with B-52s, F-35s, and F-22s. It also provides basic operational turnaround facilities for carriers and submarines.

Security Concerns-East China Sea

“China’s long-term goal is to build a real ‘blue’ water navy with global reach” – Song Zhongping, Military Commentator

China has built a pier for warships near a military base site close to the disputed Senkaku Island [2] in the East China Sea. A new 70 to 80-meter long pier for warships has been constructed on one of the islands in the Nanji island chain. It lies close to Wenzhou and is nearer to China than the nearest base of Japan. It is understood that a Coast Guard base is being constructed at Wenzhou, which would lend effective support to vessels for monitoring the Senkaku islands.

Security Concerns-South China Sea and Indian Ocean Region

The naval strategy of countries with large coastlines and hostile maritime neighbors invariably factors in submarines and anti-submarine warfare. A modern submarine is a potent multi-role asset that can carry out ISR, special ops, offensive missions, sea denial, and SLOC protection among others. In case it carries strategic weapons, it acts as an important leg of the nuclear triad. Undersea warfare by deploying submarines and/or other unmanned underwater systems is considered crucial in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments. Considering the offensive capability a submarine bestows upon the nation operating it, there is some merit in also examining the likely basing /sale by China of conventional submarines and its associated high technology in the IOR.

South China Sea (SCS) – In early 2016, Satellite photographs had revealed that China had deployed two batteries of eight HQ-9 surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system, on Woody Island.[3] HQ-9 is a new generation medium-to-long-range, active radar homing, track via missile SAM. Infrastructure for aircraft, runways, and missiles is visible on Subi reef, Fiery Cross reef, and Mischief reef as well. China has continued building a network of artificial islands and turning them into mini military bases.

Submarine Operations: It is understood that complete control of SCS is considered essential by China to provide its expanded submarine fleet unrestricted and unobserved access to the Pacific Ocean from their base in Yulin, Hainan. The underwater channels and straits in SCS facilitate clandestine movement of the submarines through the first and second island chains. It is also understood that China State Shipbuilding is likely to construct the “underwater great wall” a sonar surveillance system with ship and submarine sensors for effective monitoring of foreign vessels in the SCS.

Indian Ocean Region

Djibouti Naval Base – China’s support facility for PLA Navy at Djibouti about 8 km from the US military base is it’s most ambitious and first of its kind foray in having a military base outside of China. The facility would have ship and helicopter maintenance facilities, weapon stores, and support infrastructure for a small contingent of PLAN personnel [5]. This development is of prime importance for India in view of Djibouti’s vicinity to Gwadar as well as the fact that it has been placed under the Western Theatre Command [6] at Chengdu, which would have integral naval assets as well as assets from the PLA Rocket Force  (which controls strategic assets) of China.

Pakistan – In August this year, it was reported that Pakistan is likely to acquire eight attack submarines [8] from China. They are probably export versions of Type 039 and Type 039A/041 (with Air Independent Propulsion). Primary weapons for these submarines are the 533 mm Yu-4 torpedoes, it is also possible that they can fire the Yu-6 wire-guided torpedoes. The torpedo tubes are capable of firing the YJ-8 anti-ship cruise missile, AScM, with a range of 80 km. The submarine can carry a mix of torpedoes, missiles, and mines. The Type 041’s weapon package includes the YU-6 wire-guided torpedoes, mines, and the YJ-8 AScM. It could in the future field the supersonic YJ-18 missile.

Bangladesh –  First of the two Chinese submarines [9] was delivered to Bangladesh on 14 November 2016. The Type 035G diesel-electric submarines, carry torpedoes and mines and are capable of attacking enemy ships and submarines.

Thailand – The Royal Thai Navy is likely to finalize [10] the purchase of three Chinese submarines after dithering over it for some time.

Malaysia – The Royal Malaysian Navy, RMN is planning to buy up to ten littoral mission ships [11] (patrol craft) from China. It is also likely that Malaysia may consider Chinese submarines as a replacement for its HDW submarines in future. It is expanding the RMN Kota Kinabalu submarine base with workshops and air defense systems [12].

Berthing Facilities for PLA Navy in IOR

Myanmar– Construction of two deep-water ports at Kyaukphyu by a consortium headed by CITIC group of China [13] would provide China access to the Bay of Bengal and hence to the IOR. The government has earmarked 1708 hectares for the Kyaukphyu SEZ, with two deep-sea ports, industrial zone, and a housing project.

Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka is trying to breathe life into the Hambantota port and infrastructure project by handing over controlling interests to a Chinese consortium [14].

Maldives – There are indications that Maldives may let the China build a seaport at Gaadhoo Island [15 in the southern atoll. The location of the island is significant as it sits at the entrance to the one-and-a-half degree SLOC channel.

Pakistan – Gwadar port was inaugurated in November 2016 [16] with 250 containers carrying Chinese goods shipped on Chinese ships to the Middle East and African countries.

Tanzanian and Kenyan Ports – Bagamoyo port of Tanzania will be operated by China Merchant Holdings. Lamu port in Kenya is being developed by the China Communications Construction Company [17], and China Roads and Bridges Company is going to construct a modern port in Kisumu [18], Kenya (Lake Victoria).

Access to IOR of Chinese Mechanized Forces

Maj. Gen Bakshi, a strategic analyst has brought out the following two important facets of CPEC in his recent article [19].

The alignment of the CPEC corridor includes two major loops that come close to the Indian borders in Punjab and Rajasthan where major tank battles had been fought during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. These loops in the CPEC grant a military bias to the otherwise proclaimed trade route.

The Chinese army in its thrust on rapid modernization has mechanized its formations to wheel/track based formations that make them very agile. It also allows them to bring their tremendous firepower to Indo-Pak borders through CPEC in the case of any conflict.

Needless to assert that the same firepower can be transshipped rapidly to Gulf, Europe and African coast if required.

Security Concerns-Elsewhere

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The following table accessed from SIPRI highlights the types of weapon systems exported by China during 2014 and 2015.

TIV of arms exports from China (Weapon Systems)-2014-2015
Generated: 10 December 2016
Figures are SIPRI Trend Indicator Values (TIVs) expressed in US$ m. at constant (1990) prices.
Figures may not add up due to the conventions of rounding.
A ‘0’ indicates that the value of deliveries is less than US$0.5m
For more information, see http://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers/background
Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
2014 2015        Total           
Aircraft 215 409 624
Air defence systems 52 64 116
Armoured vehicles 302 384 686
Artillery 94 27 121
Engines 1 1
Missiles 197 206 403
Sensors 30 10 40
Ships 470 865 1335
Total 1360 1966 3326

The following table accessed from SIPRI provides arms export by China during 2014 and 2015.

TIV of arms exports from China to nations-2014-2015
Generated: 10 December 2016
Figures are SIPRI Trend Indicator Values (TIVs) expressed in US$ m at constant (1990) prices.
Figures may not add up due to the conventions of rounding.
A ‘0’ indicates that the value of deliveries is less than US$ 0.5 m
For more information, see http://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers/background
Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
   2014 2015                     Total
Algeria 68 254 322
Angola 1 1
Bangladesh 245 474 719
Bolivia 20 20
Cameroon 74 74
Djibouti 8 7 14
Egypt 1 1
Ethiopia 2 2
Ghana 13 13
Indonesia 39 33 72
Iran 9 9 19
Iraq 17 17
Jordan 1 1
Kenya 7 10 16
Myanmar 267 288 554
Nigeria 57 58 115
Pakistan 394 565 959
Peru 13 13
Saudi Arabia 8 8
Seychelles 10 10
South Sudan 12 12
Sudan 32 27 59
Syria 5 5
Tanzania 26 20 46
Thailand 8 8
Trinidad and Tobago 16 16
Venezuela 77 147 223
Zambia 8 8
Total 1360 1966 3326

-It is interesting to note from the above table that 24 countries out of the 28 countries to which China has exported Arms and Ammunition have a maritime border!

-Further, the only four land locked countries that receive arms and ammunition from China have contiguous boundaries with Coastal nations, which in turn are beneficiaries of Chinese arms export. (Bolivia-Peru; Ethiopia-Kenya & Djibouti; South Sudan-Kenya; Zambia-Tanzania)

-it can be seen that the list covers nations in Asia, Gulf, both coasts of Africa, and Latin America. This intern implies ease of berthing facilities for Chinese Naval vessels in ports of these nations.

Gateway to Europe 

“The cooperation at Piraeus port is not just an economic collaboration but has strategic characteristics. Greece, via the Piraeus port, can indeed become China’s gateway into Europe to the benefit of China and Greece,”  Pitsiorlas, Chairman of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund privatization agency.

Greece – The ancient Greek port of Piraeus and one of the largest in Europe, located in the Mediterranean basin has been acquired by COSCO Shipping of China after purchasing 51 percent stake in the port [20]. COSCO Shipping is scheduled to construct a second container terminal for Chinese exports to Europe. The sale another Greek port Thessaloniki; which is being eyed by Chinese companies; is currently put on hold.

Turkey – In September 2015, Chinese state-owned shipping, and logistics company COSCO Pacific, along with China Merchants Holdings International and CIC Capital, had acquired a majority stake in one of the largest container terminals of Turkey, namely Kumport at Ambarli coast of Istanbul [21].

Thus, China has established a critical foothold in Europe by acquiring the Piraeus port as well as the Turkish container terminal in Kumport as part of its strategic One Belt One Road strategic initiative.

Chinese Foray into, Antarctica, and the Arctic (Bering Sea)  

“China’s rapid Antarctic…expansion reflects Beijing’s desire to become a maritime, and polar, great power” – Prof Anne-Marie Brady, Antarctic specialist

China is setting up its first Air Squadron [23] in Antarctica to support its ongoing scientific explorations. China is also a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty that bans the military activity in the region, but there are many dual capability missions, which can aid military research and operations in face of contingencies.

In September 2015, in a first of its kind mission five PLAN ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska [24], interestingly, the PLAN ships were in the area during the visit of President Barack Obama to Alaska. With global warming likely to open the Northern Sea Route sooner than later, China is keen to utilize this opportunity as the route cuts down the distance and passage time to Europe. However, since Canada claims sovereignty over the said waterways, this could pose “the biggest direct challenge to Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage,” [25] according to Professor Rob Huebert, of University of Calgary.

Global Outlook of PLAN – Chinese Navy has undertaken modernization of its Naval fleet to meet its Global Navy focus as part of its geopolitical strategy. As analyzed in a Wikistrat report, “Chinese Navy ships have transited the Red Sea and Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Cape of Good Hope, the Bosporus, the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and have made port calls all along both the east and west coasts of Africa, Bulgaria, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Australia. Chinese warships have sailed into American territorial waters near the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea” [26].

Conclusion 

“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A global strategic net has been cast by China by creating fundamental structures for sea trade and commerce. China has been carrying out calibrated development of its maritime capability in mercantile shipping, fishing, undersea exploration & exploitation, and the Navy. It is likely that by 2025 the world would have to come to terms with the global maritime status of China as also the blue water capability of PLAN. The attendant security issues and concerns would follow.

It is no longer a string of pearls in the IOR, it is a studded ‘Jade Necklace Across the Oceans’ that stares at the developed world in defiance today.

Options: 

  • Preclude confrontation given the precarious global economic situation and nuclear deterrence
  • Preclude submission given the dispositions of the existing and emerging power centers
  • Preclude peaceful co-existence, as it is utopian under the existing circumstances where national interests have prevented even an internationally acceptable definition of terrorism
  • Could include rapid building up of a robust coalition to create two distinct power centers, provided the United States is able to synergize its economic might with those of the like-minded nations and tamper the perception that it is a global hegemon.

Time to act is now!

 “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”  – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

  Publication Details:

Kulshrestha, Sanatan. “FEATURED | Jade Necklace: Naval Dimension of Chinese Engagement with Coastal Nations Across the Oceans” IndraStra Global 02, no. 12 (2016) 0032 | http://www.indrastra.com/2016/12/FEATURED-Jade-Necklace-Naval-Dimension-of-Chinese-Engagement-with-Coastal-Nations-Across-the-Oceans-002-12-2016-0032.html | ISSN 2381-3652|

Endnotes:

[1]http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Staff%20Report_China’s%20Expanding%20Ability%20to%20Conduct%20Conventional%20Missile%20Strikes%20on%20Guam.pdf

[2] https://sputniknews.com/world/201608201044449726-china-pier-for-warships/  

[3] http://www.news.com.au/world/ongoing-escalations-in-the-south-and-east-china-seas-has-some-analysts-daring-to-wonder-who-would-win-a-war/news-story/20da5034d2b32ff31d35242cee26b656  

[4] http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/1993754/south-china-sea-air-strips-main-role-defend-hainan   

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-builds-first-overseas-military-outpost-1471622690   

[6] http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2016-02/02/content_7160686.htm   

[7]http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2016-01/01/content_6839967.htm   

[8] http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/pak-to-acquire-8-attack-submarines-from-china-for-4-billion-report-1452729   

[9]http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/Bangladesh-buys-two-submarines-from-China/articleshow/55415904.cms   

[10] http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/is-thailand-now-serious-about-submarines-from-china/

[11] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-china-defence-idUSKCN12S0WA   

[12]http://thediplomat.com/2015/01/malaysia-eyes-submarine-base-expansion-near-south-china-sea/

[13] http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-moves-to-revive-its-sway-in-myanmar-1456697644   

[14] http://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2016/10/28/sold-sri-lankas-hambantota-port-and-the-worlds-emptiest-airport-go-to-the-chinese/#1d473d1716d8    

[15]http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/China-may-build-port-in-southern-Maldives/articleshow/51771171.cms 

[16]http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2016/nov/13/pakistans-strategic-gwadar-port-opens-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-1538139.html   

[17] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36458946  

[18]http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Chinese-firm-to-build-Sh14bn-Kisumu-port/1248928-3130106-4m9purz/index.html

   [19] http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/2016/nov/26/india-needs-to-seek-alliance-partners-who-are-prepared-to-contain-the-chinese-aggression-1542281–1.html   

[20] https://www.rt.com/business/355523-cosco-stake-greek-port/   

[21]http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/infocenter/news/Pages/280915-cosco-pacific-buys-turkish-kumport.aspx   

[22] https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/considering-chinas-strategic-interests-in-antarctica/   

[23] http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/china-to-establish-antarctic-air-squadron-in-2016/

[24] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-military-idUSKCN0R22DN20150902   

[25] http://time.com/4302882/china-arctic-shipping-northwest-passage/

[26]http://wikistrat.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Wikistrat-The-Chinese-Navy.pdf
 

Tonga and the Third Island Chain

( Published in IndraStra Global on 25 Feb 2016, ISSN 2381-3652 )

“The ongoing disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea mean that Japan’s top foreign policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons. Japan is a mature maritime democracy and choice of close partners should reflect that fact. I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US State of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons starting from the Indian Ocean Region to the Western Pacific. I am prepared to invest the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in the security diamond”

Shinzo Abe, 2013

Interestingly, John Foster Dulles of the US of A propounded the Island Chain Concept, comprising of three island chains, in 1951 for strategic containment of USSR and China. The key component of the First Island Chain was Taiwan (it was thereafter christened as one of the Unsinkable Aircraft Carriers); it extended from northern Philippines & Borneo, up to Kuril islands. The second line of defense was from Mariana Island to Islands of Japan. The Third Chain’s key component was Hawaii; it began at Aleutians and ended in Oceania. Now that the breakdown of USSR has taken place, the Chinese believe that this concept would be used to contain China.

General Liu Huaqing had articulated a three-tier program for modernizing the PLAN (commonly referred to as Chinese Navy),according to which the Chinese Navy is proceeding to fast pace its modernization efforts. The program essentially comprises of three time lines, namely:

Year 2020- Acquire capability to exert sea control up to the First Island Chain i.e. bracketing the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

Year 2020- The sea control capability would be extended to the Second Island Chain, which amounts to bracketing the Philippines Sea.

Year 2050- The capabilities would extend to operating Carrier battle groups globally.

The phenomenal economic growth followed by upgrading of military capabilities of PLA and the subsequent claims on islands in the South China Sea, probably led Mr. Shizo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, to articulate the “Asian Security Diamond” in 2013. It called upon India, Australia, and Hawaii (US) to form a strategic coalition for safeguarding the maritime commons comprising the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. The Japanese Prime minister has also approached France and United Kingdom to join this Asian Security Diamond keeping in view the significant strategic presence of these two countries in the IOR and the Western Pacific.

The Polynesian Link in the Third Island Chain

The third Island Chain as espoused by Dulles; from the Aleutians to Oceania with Hawaii as a key component; has started to assume relevance with an assertive China militarizing disputed islands. New Zealand –Tonga – Hawaii link within this chain; could play a significant role at least as far as Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is concerned. Whereas, New Zealand and Hawaii may not need any benign assistance, Tonga, with its 177 islands spread over an area of ~700,000 sq km in southern Pacific Ocean, is a different story.

Currently, in the maritime arena, Tonga is grappling with security of its extensive coastline as well as policing of its EEZ of 676,401 sq km. Its remote location, over 2,330 km from New Zealand and over 5000 km from Hawaii make it a fertile region for transnational crime. Tonga has insufficient physical and electronic monitoring resources to remain updated about real time situation in its vast area and is severely constrained as far as MDA is concerned. Tonga with its outlying islands is susceptible to gun running, narcotics, human trafficking and other criminal activities. In addition, unauthorized exploitation of its fisheries and marine wealth in its coastal waters as well as in its EEZ has direct impact on its national economy and security. As regards applicability of MDA to Tonga it would be prudent to take a cue from the definition and scope of MDA, as has been articulated by the US government vide their document National Security Presidential Directive 41, 2004:-

Maritime Domain Awareness is “the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime environment that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of U.S. This is accomplished through the integration of intelligence, surveillance, observation, and navigation systems into one common operating picture (COP) that is accessible throughout the U.S. Government.

Unlike traditional naval operations, it is apparent that the goal of MDA is far more than simply looking for potential maritime enemies poised to attack Tonga. The implications of “Anything associated” with the maritime environment that can affect the security, safety, economy, or environment go far beyond a classic maritime threat. As per the US interpretation, these include smuggling of people or dangerous cargoes, piracy, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), identification and protection of critical maritime infrastructure, oil spills, weather, and environmental concerns among other events. What Tonga needs today is a robust MDA along with a rapid air & sea transportation capability.

An important factor that has to be considered while discussing the Third Island Chain is that Tonga is being aggressively wooed by China, even though there are only about 300 Chinese residents as per some estimates. 

India has been participating in bilateral and multilateral strategic dialogues in the region including those involving Japan, Australia, and the US and the Indian Navy has participated in various naval exercises. However, India has not joined any group, which directly aims at containment of China.

India maintains cordial relations with nations in the Pacific; however, Tonga and other smaller nations in the South Pacific Ocean aspire for more attention from India. India could assist Tonga, benignly, in setting up of its MDA infrastructure. This would not only enhance the potency of the Polynesian Island link in the Third Island Chain, but also strengthen Tonga’s maritime security.