Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’

The Hainan Island Incident, Ten Years Later

April 1, 2011
The US Navy EP-3 that landed on Hainan Island ...

Image via Wikipedia

Hard to believe, but today is the 10th anniversary of the 2001 incident in which a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft operating above the waters of the South China Sea was struck by a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) interceptor jet. The U.S. pilot, Shane Osborn (who has gone on to be a successful politician in Nebraska), managed to keep the crippled plane in the air while the crew members hastily tried to destroy as much of the payload as possible – classified equipment and materials related to the aircraft’s surveillance mission. Unfortunately, due to the in extremis situation, the crew was only able to partially complete this task before an emergency landing was made at an airfield on Hainan Island. The crew was taken into custody and the aircraft seized.

The PRC lost the jet pilot who ran into the EP-3, but in the long run they gained a lot more. Writing in the November 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh detailed the take:

The plane carried twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women attached to the Naval Security Group Command, a field component of the National Security Agency. They were repatriated after eleven days; the plane stayed behind. The Pentagon told the press that the crew had followed its protocol, which called for the use of a fire axe, and even hot coffee, to disable the plane’s equipment and software. These included an operating system created and controlled by the N.S.A., and the drivers needed to monitor encrypted Chinese radar, voice, and electronic communications. It was more than two years before the Navy acknowledged that things had not gone so well. “Compromise by the People’s Republic of China of undestroyed classified material . . . is highly probable and cannot be ruled out,” a Navy report issued in September, 2003, said.

The Navy’s experts didn’t believe that China was capable of reverse-engineering the plane’s N.S.A.-supplied operating system, estimated at between thirty and fifty million lines of computer code, according to a former senior intelligence official. Mastering it would give China a road map for decrypting the Navy’s classified intelligence and operational data. “If the operating system was controlling what you’d expect on an intelligence aircraft, it would have a bunch of drivers to capture radar and telemetry,” Whitfield Diffie, a pioneer in the field of encryption, said. “The plane was configured for what it wants to snoop, and the Chinese would want to know what we wanted to know about them—what we could intercept and they could not.” And over the next few years the U.S. intelligence community began to “read the tells” that China had access to sensitive traffic.

The U.S. realized the extent of its exposure only in late 2008. A few weeks after Barack Obama’s election, the Chinese began flooding a group of communications links known to be monitored by the N.S.A. with a barrage of intercepts, two Bush Administration national-security officials and the former senior intelligence official told me. The intercepts included details of planned American naval movements. The Chinese were apparently showing the U.S. their hand. (“The N.S.A. would ask, ‘Can the Chinese be that good?’ ” the former official told me. “My response was that they only invented gunpowder in the tenth century and built the bomb in 1965. I’d say, ‘Can you read Chinese?’ We don’t even know the Chinese pictograph for ‘Happy hour.’ ”)

This incident can be considered as the opening event in a series of clashes that have marked increased tensions between the U.S. and the PRC in the South China Sea. In the next instance of conflict between the two nations, in 2009 an unarmed U.S. ocean surveillance vessel manned by civilians ran into trouble in about the same area of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels harassed the ship and nearly rammed it, while at the same time attempting to snag its towed sonar array. Since then, direct U.S.-China confrontation has been supplanted by amplified pressure between China and other countries surrounding the South China Sea, many of whom have competing claims to land features and territories in the sea such as the Spratly Islands. These tensions came to a head at the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum, where U.S. Secretary of State Clinton declared, as a counter to resurgent PRC claims of the South China Sea as a “core interest”, that the U.S. had “a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”

The final chapter in this dispute has yet to be written.

H/T Cheng-yi Lin

To read more about the Hainan Island Incident, see Shirley A. Kan, et al., China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April 2001: Assessments and Policy Implications, CRS Report to Congress, October 10, 2001.

Links of Interest 03/26/2011

March 26, 2011
SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 6, 2010) Marine amphibiou...

Image via Wikipedia

  • tags: FC China thesis

    • The CASS Asia-Pacific Blue Paper underscored the challenges facing China’s peripheral environment in terms of four types of external trends and threats.  According to the report: First, the “return” of the United States to Asia has made China less appealing to some of its neighbors, through tapping some long existing disputes and incidental security accidents.  Second, instability in Northeast Asia (i.e. North Korea) has become the most serious security challenge to China’s peripheral defense, particularly because of the Cheonon incident and Yeonpyeong artillery shelling.  Third, maritime disputes have become an important source of security tension along China’s periphery.  Fourth, some non-traditional security issues—water security in particular—have affected China’s stability and its regime security, and China’s relations with some neighbors (World Journal, January 13).
    • China’s security environment is increasingly challenged by the United States in that the latter has taken the opportunity presented by regional tensions to shore up its alliance with both South Korea and Japan, as well as through trilateral defense coordination.  If the United States’ “return” to East Asia has not been enough, Washington is also apparently revamping its relations with some Southeast Asian countries and urging these nations to hedge against China’s rise.  In July 2010, Secretary of State Clinton openly challenged China’s position on the South China Sea in her address to the 17th ARF Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi, which was bluntly rebuffed by her Chinese counterpart.
  • tags: FC China missiles Taiwan US thesis jamestown

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Links of Interest 03/03/2011

March 3, 2011
Sunset on the South China Sea off Mui Ne villa...

Image via Wikipedia

  • Asia: A sea of troubles | The EconomistMore on the South China Sea from The Economist (from December 2010; still worth a read if you missed it).

    tags: FC south_china_sea china US

    • Chinese naval influence is extending not just deeper, but farther from China’s shores. In 2010 Sri Lanka opened a Chinese-built port in the south, at Hambantota. Work proceeded on the port at Gwadar in Pakistan. And Chinese warships paid their first call on Myanmar. All of this fuelled Indian suspicions of a “string of pearls” strategy designed to choke its own maritime breathing-space. It is as part of this broader extension of influence that the South China Sea will be a focus of concern.

      Time to prepare for a rainy day

      That concern will be heightened by two particular aspects of China’s military modernisation. One is an unannounced aircraft-carrier programme. The other, of more immediate relevance in 2011, is China’s development of the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, which the Chinese and some foreign newspapers have touted as a “game-changing” carrier-buster.

  • The South China Sea: A sea of disputes | The EconomistWhy the South China Sea is such a thorny issue – nice overview.

    tags: FC south_china_sea china

tags: FC Taiwan China US

  • International Relations theorist Charles Glaser has joined a growing chorus calling for the abandonment of Taiwan. His take on why we should abandon the island is tucked into his “nuanced version of realism” argued on the pages of Foreign Affairs. As do most “abandon Taiwan” arguments, he begins with a “realist” argument for why war between the United States and China is unlikely. Why? Because besides Taiwan, Sino-U.S. interests are compatible.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Still in business

December 17, 2010

R.O.C. Marine band members

Since my last post, I’ve been busy pursuing my hobby (triathlons / triathlon training), made a quick trip back to the U.S., and as of late, been burdened quite heavily writing papers and presenting on them at grad school.  First, I’d like to talk a little bit about this last point, sharing a little bit of what I’ve been researching, writing about, and presenting on.  I’ll also share what remains “in the hopper” – requirements left to be satisfied before the end of the semester about a month from now.  Be warned: there will also be a fair amount of miscellany tossed in for good measure!

  1. I wrote a paper and made a presentation this week entitled “China’s Rise and the South China Sea.”  I find China’s recent aggressiveness over its claims in the South China Sea to be part of their overall trend toward consolidation of territorial claims, both maritime and land-based (for example, the September 2010 row with Japan over the Chinese fishing boat which rammed Japanese patrol vessels near the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands not far from Taiwan in the East China Sea is another example of aggressive behavior over a disputed maritime claim).  While China’s claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea made just after the July ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi made headlines, in fact China has been making the same types of claims about the South China Sea for decades, going back to not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic.  What was significant in China’s rhetoric about the South China Sea this year was the elevation of the area to “core national interest” status, something that heretofore only long-standing PRC irredentist claims such as those involving Taiwan or Tibet were assigned.  Looks to me like China is positioning itself to be more aggressive about the South China Sea, not less.   There is a chance that the paper might be accepted for publication next year in an edited book on topics related to China’s foreign policy produced by my school, National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), so I will refrain from posting it until that situation is sorted out.
  2. I also participated in the creation and delivery of a presentation this week about Japan’s national security strategy under Koizumi (2001 – 2006).  There was no paper for this project, just the presentation.  It was interesting to me to learn about how much the U.S. has pressured Japan to assume a greater and greater security role as the decades passed after World War II, and to see how changes in Japan’s laws governing overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) marching in lock-step with U.S. overseas wars since 1990.  Today, Japan is assuming more and more of a “normal” role in terms of its own security, though a there is still a long way to go until the process is complete.  It will be interesting to see how far the process goes, and whether or not at some point perhaps in the next decade Japan’s people reach enough of a consensus to make changes to or perhaps eliminate altogether Article 9 of their American-authored post-WWII constitution that currently outlaws Japan from possessing “military” forces and bans aggression as a policy choice.  You can see the presentation here. (Google Docs)
  3. Papers I am still working on this semester include an examination of the continuing utility of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that established the current non-official relationship between the United States and Taiwan when the U.S. decided to switch official recognition to the PRC, another on non-traditional security issues in Southeast Asia (probably focusing on pandemic disease threats and response preparation, since this [East Asia]  is the region that suffered the most in the SARS outbreak back in the early 2000s and has also been subject to not a few bird flu scares).  The final paper will deal in with national security / crisis management, and will likely revolve around a case study of one or both of the Quemoy crises in the 1950s.
  4. I talked in a recent post about deliberations over selecting a thesis topic.  I decided that the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) realm is the one I am truly interested in with regard to China’s military modernization, so that will be what my thesis will be on – the effect of China’s development of A2AD capabilities like the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and associated systems on Taiwan Strait security.  At the very least, the Navy guys should be interested in it.
  5. We continue to benefit from NSYSU professors “mining their Rolodexes” when they will be unable to give classes due to international travel or other conflicts.  This week Ambassador Feng Tai (酆邰), formerly Taiwan’s ambassador in Tuvalu and 37-year veteran of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered a talk on crisis management and negotiating skills.  By far the best parts of the talk were when he leavened it with personal anecdotes from some of his own experiences, from hosting the Saudis here in Taiwan in 1990 when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was weighing switching its recognition of Taiwan to the PRC (it ultimately did so) to stories about preparing to negotiate with meticulous and well-prepared Japanese and Chinese delegations on various issues.  Ambassador Feng mentioned that he is weighing retiring from the MOFA next year and going into academia, teaching foreign affairs at a university in Taipei.
  6. Not really related to academic affairs as the rest of this post has been, but interesting nonetheless: last month I traveled to Taipei to attend the U.S. Marine Corps birthday celebration.  The U.S. Marine Corps was established 10 November 1775, and every year about that time Marines pause to remember fondly those who have gone before us.  The interesting part about this year’s celebration here in Taiwan was that it was the first official celebration of any size since the late 1970s when the above-mentioned Taiwan Relations Act was passed.  For decades after the TRA, there were no active-duty U.S. military officers stationed as attaché with AIT.  It was only in 2005 that the first active-duty military folks returned to AIT.  A couple years later, the first post-TRA U.S. Marine attaché came to Taiwan.  Since that time, every year the celebration of the Marine birthday grew a little bit, and now, in 2010, the celebration of the U.S. Marine birthday here in Taiwan (235 years young!) was on par with celebrations held at places with very robust U.S. Marine presences (like Marine bases in the U.S. or Okinawa).  There was one key difference, though – here we were able to celebrate hand-in-hand with out R.O.C. Marine counterparts, who attended in force this year, led by their Commandant, Lieutenant General Hsia Fu-Hwa.  The Taiwan Marines were even gracious enough to offer up their band’s jazz ensemble to provide the music for the event – that’s them in the photo at the top of this post. (Good thing, because we couldn’t make much of a U.S. Marine band here with the two of us, no matter how talented we are!)  I have no doubt that in the future these birthday celebrations will only become more and more like the finer Marine Corps Birthday Balls put on by embassies and equivalent worldwide each November.
  7. Blogroll update: I’m adding the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank that put out a fine report on the future of security in Asia this year, and also China SignPost, an effort by Dr. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabe Collins.  They publish periodic analytical briefs on various aspects of China and the world.  I’ve found especially their report on how China’s dependence on oil imported by sea will only continue to increase, despite efforts at developing overland pipelines.

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