Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Of grazers, yaks and a few fishermen

My article Of grazers, yaks and a few fishermen appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

China is satisfied to have ‘stabilised’ the situation in the South China Sea; Beijing got what it wanted, ie an extension of its territory far away from the coastal line of the Middle Kingdom. The next stage is the Pacific

Recently, this writer read an article in the Taipei-based WantChinaTimes, which said, “China is equipping its maritime militia, with more armed fishing boats bolstering its muscle in the disputed South China Sea.” This reminded the writer of an interview with an MP from Ladakh. The writer was explained the various tactics used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to intrude into the Indian territory in the mountainous region. “The easiest way”, said the MP, “was to push Tibetan ‘herders’ with their yaks into Indian grazing grounds and then watch. If no immediate response was forthcoming from the Indian side, the territory de facto became Chinese”.Sending ‘grazers’ and yaks in the Himalaya or pushing ‘fishermen’ onto the South China Sea or in the Pacific is on the same page of Sun Tzu’s Art of War; it is the easiest way to conquer territory.
The Taiwanese publication quotes Zhang Hongzhou, a researcher from the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, “Equipped with armed civilian fishing boats, China’s maritime militia is one of the less studied agencies in the exercise of Chinese maritime power,” said Zhang during a two-day conference held at the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia, US.
Zhang cited a report by the Tokyo-based diplomat, “They are usually deployed by the Chinese Government to carry out various types of missions in disputed waters, from rescuing stranded vessels to conducting controversial island landings. To enhance their activities, Beijing is for the first time considering the formation of the country’s first fishing fleet.”
According to the same report, President Xi Jinping recently told the maritime militia that their mission is “not only to lead fishery activities in the region but also to collect oceanic information and support the construction of artificial islands and reefs.”
In other words, China can expand its territory using a state-owned fishing boat fleet. This applies to the Pacific too. On the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (August 1), the official PLA daily stated that the challenges facing China are extremely severe and there is a risk of chaos and war.
According to the mouthpiece of the Chinese Army, there are growing risks along its sea and land borders. The PLA paper believed that although China says it is a threat to nobody, “(it) needs to update equipment and has to be able to defend what is now the world’s second-largest economy.”
The front-page article added, “The situation surrounding our country is generally stable, but the risks and challenges are extremely severe, and the possibility of chaos and war on our doorstep has increased. …The maritime security environment is more complicated, and the undercurrents in the East and South China seas have been gushing up.”
Around the same time, China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan affirmed that “the nation was committed to being a force for peace, but would not compromise on core principles like Taiwan”. He added, “We will uphold the principle that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family and go down the path of peaceful development of relations, (but will) resolutely oppose and hold back the plots of Taiwan independence separatists.”
But Taiwan is not really the priority today, Beijing has other plans. For the moment, China is satisfied to ‘have stabilised the situation’ in the South China Sea; Beijing got what it wanted, ie an extension of its territory far away from the coastal line of the Middle Kingdom, and this, without much objection/opposition from the US and weaker neighbours.
On the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum, Foreign Minister Wang Yi could declare with a straight face that China has stopped reclamation work in the South China Sea. Even if Southeast Asian nations expressed their fear that China’s construction will destabilise the region, Mr Wang affirmed, “China has already stopped.” He said, “You look, who is building? Take a plane and look for yourself.”
With the South China Sea’s phase ‘completed’, the next stage is clearly the Pacific. A report, prepared in November 2014, by the Air Force Command Academy (a Beijing-based think tank for the PLAAF) said that “China’s Air Force needs to broaden its air surveillance and attack capabilities in the western Pacific including the area near Japan to ensure its command of the skies.”
According to The South China Morning Post, the report also “stressed the need to develop and enhance nine types of ‘strategic equipment’ with an eye specifically towards the United States and its pivot to Asia.”
Though not officially released, the think-tank’s study set the vision for China’s air strategy till 2030. It lists the US, Japan, Taiwan, India and Vietnam as ‘threats’ in military airspace.
It recommends “broadening Beijing’s scope of surveillance from the so-called ‘first island chain’ (linking Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines) to the ‘second island chain’ (which includes Japan’s Izu Island chain, Guam and New Guinea).”
The report suggests that Beijing “should enhance the ability to attack US bases within the ‘second island chain’ with a new type of strategic bomber and ‘deter US military intervention’ in the event of a defence operation involving Chinese islands.”
For this, new equipment is required. The report cites terminal high altitude area defence ground-based interceptor system, a high-speed air-launched cruise missile, a large transport plane, an airship that moves in the upper atmosphere, a next generation fighter, unmanned attack aircraft, Air Force satellites and precision-guided bombs.
The report also mentions “the ability to attack US bases on the China side of the second archipelago line with strategic bombers and deter US military intervention in the event of a defence operation involving Chinese islands.”
Vassily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, citing The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, also asserts that the PLAAF intends to expand its ‘area of control’ to the western Pacific.
The Global Times asserted that the aims mentioned in the report are realisable, “The PLA’s Navy and Air Force have been increasingly active in the area between what the Chinese military call the ‘first island chain’ and the ‘second island chain’.”
It is said that China is in the process of setting up an effective observation system for the area between the first and second island chains, including surveillance satellites, manned aircraft or drones, as well as warships and submarines.
Without waiting for sophisticated new equipment, fishermen can be extremely useful to Beijing to fulfill its new aims. The good old ways!

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