Articles

The Threat Posed by China’s Reclamation Initiatives and the Implication of the 2015 Chinese Defense Strategy

This article is Part 1 of the Mackenzie Institute’s China Series.

“Beijing aims to significantly advance military modernization programs in order to establish the capability to fight and win potential regional conflicts (including those related to Taiwan), protects sea lanes of communication (SLOCs), enforce its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, and defend its national borders.” 

– Carl W. Eikenberry (China’s Place in U.S. Foreign Policy)

The June 2015 weeklong visit to the United States (U.S.) by General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, was a part of a years-long effort to build regular dialogue between U.S. and Chinese senior military leadership. The Chinese aim of the visit was in part to defuse growing tensions to avoid any miscalculations in the Pacific region1 particularly in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS).

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to use large dredgers2 to build manmade islands, known as reclamations,3 in the disputed waters of the South China Seas.4 This has essentially redrawn the regional map according to China’s Nine-Dash Line claim,5 a vague boundary first officially published on a map by China’s Nationalist government in 1947 which has since been included in PRC-issued maps, to the consternation of its neighbors. These Chinese activities have been of growing concern, not only to the U.S. but also the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan,6 in this latter case over the ownership of the Senkakus Islands located in the East China Sea. The PRC also has territorial disputes with North Korea, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei,7 whose respective claims are dismissed by Beijing.8

China’s maritime claim to large swaths of both seas has elicited a serious response from Washington because the claims involve two American treaty allies – the Philippines and South Korea. Furthermore, the claims potentially undermine the principle of freedom of navigation, a strategic security interest9 to the U.S. and other trading nations.

At the June 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security conference in Singapore, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter argued for immediate cessation of land reclamation by those nations in the region and “accused China of being out of step with international rules.”10

The legality of these reclaimed man-made islands that reside in disputed waters is under dispute.11 Moreover, considering the distance from mainland China, these “islands” are not considered by regional nations to be integral to China’s territorial waters. To buttress this political stance, one senior defence official proffered that the U.S. is “considering more military flights and patrols closer to the projects in the South China Sea, to emphasize reclaimed lands are not China’s territorial waters.”12 Interestingly, attempts to address these maritime claims by the United Nations (U.N.) have essentially been scuppered by the PRC who prefers dealing with these maritime/territorial disputes and their claimants bilaterally rather than through the U.N. or the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that reclaimed features built on low tide elevations or rocks are not able to generate any maritime claims.13 Low tide elevations are viewed as not capable of generating claims themselves as they are distinct from islands because they are inundated at high tide.14 As to artificial islands, UNCLOS Article 60 (8) states that: “Artificial islands, installations, and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, or the continental shelf.”15

During the Singapore symposium, Carter stated that, “Turning an under-water rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.”16 Moreover, the Chinese attempt of asserting a 22 km territorial sea limit around these reclaimed islands, reefs and shoals are not recognized by the U.S.17

These comments were founded upon the recent revelations that U.S. surveillance imagery detected military weapons on one of the newly minted Chinese-made artificial islands located in the Spratly Archipelago. These weapons were described as motorized, i.e. self-propelled artillery pieces that were in range of an island claimed by Vietnam.18 The artillery pieces were subsequently reported as having been removed.

Regional Concerns

These new islands are large scale Chinese land reclamation projects that are sparking fear across the Asia-Pacific region. The concern is that the Chinese will use such reclamation to push both their territorial and defence claims, as well as facilitate and broaden China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military control and influence over the SCS waters and regional nations.19

During Carter’s speech, three points of U.S. policy were driven home: “First, the United States wanted a peaceful resolution of all disputes, an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant, and no further militarization of disputed features. Second, he emphasized that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international laws allow – a reference to recent confrontations between Washington and Beijing over freedom of navigation. Third and finally, he noted bluntly that China’s actions in the South China Sea were out of step with international norms and a regional consensus in favor of a non-coercive approach.”20

In response, Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Center on China-America Defense Relations at the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, countered that China’s reclamations were “reasonable and justified.”21

In a visit to Haiphong, Vietnam, Carter argued that China’s reclamation projects were unprecedented in scale. Moreover, he underlined that other nations, including Vietnam,22 Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were undertaking similar but smaller land reclamation projects and they, too, must be stopped. Carter’s concern continues to be focused upon “the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict.”23

Geostrategic Importance of Countering Chinese Reclamation – the American Option

One option to reinforce America’s political position, and support regional players, is to politically clarify the U.S. stance that these artificial islands are not sovereign Chinese territory. The persistent presence of U.S. naval ships patrolling the waters to within 12 miles of the reclamation projects reinforces this message. American surveillance aircraft have persisted in flying within the region, prompting China to file a formal protest.24

The geostrategic importance represented by the South China Sea reclamations requires a robust approach. These waters are a major maritime economic artery for both regional and global nations and their respective markets.25 The region accounts for over a third of the global economic output.26 Therefore China’s aggressive reclamation activities, invasive patrolling and encroachments into waters claimed by other nations, undermine regional and international interests and threaten Asia-Pacific stability. China’s political behaviour, claims and ongoing initiatives ignore the rules and regulations that govern maritime boundaries, and pose a threat to freedom of navigation while usurping any serious opportunities to seek and discuss substantive dispute resolution in good faith. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell reportedly stated, “The South China Sea is not about rocks; it’s about rules.”27 This situation is in itself ambiguous. How does the world’s only superpower deal with a competitive and fast rising China determined to exert its political, economic and military presence both in the region and globally, while ensuring the preservation of their mutually (U.S.-China) beneficial political and economic interests? This is a particularly prickly dilemma as China appears determined to continue its extensive reclamation operations in the South China Sea while concurrently ignoring international law and regional claimants to the waters/territory in question.

China’s unilateral attempt to change the status quo is illegal and flies in the face of international law. These actions must elicit measures that would be costly for the Chinese government. The suggestion of deploying U.S. aircraft and ships to confront, and directly contest PRC claims in the South China Sea would clearly demonstrate that the U.S. government does not recognize Chinese claims.28

A more overt initiative would be for Washington to clarify its response to any further Chinese ventures into disputed waters similar to the reassurances given to the Japanese government in their confrontation with China over the Senkakus Island in the ECS. Such a firm political stance, backed up by the U.S. Navy, would reassure friends and allies in the region and clearly warn China as to U.S. policy.29

As with any argument, there is a spectrum of counterarguments. Many posit a more sublime approach, particularly as policymakers and observers are fearful that negative fallout could damage America’s extensive and prized economic relationship with China.

Moreover, China must realize that it cannot continue to undertake actions and initiatives that undermine or subvert regional or U.S. interests and not expect a decisive response.30 It is critical that the U.S. government clearly enunciate those steps that it is fully prepared to support, and undertake, so as to not sully the Obama Administration’s political credibility. This is what happened over Syrian employment of chemical/biological weapons where President Obama said there was ‘a red line’ in their use – U.S. military action pending – but in the end, did nothing.31

Experience of the East China Sea

Concerns have been expressed regarding the Chinese reclamations being the prelude to instituting maritime and aerial navigation restrictions or the enforcement of a possible air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea. In 2013, China officially declared such a zone over the Japanese-held islands located in the East China Sea.32 China contends that its projects constitute sovereign Chinese territory and that the facilities, buildings and airports are built for “public service use and to support fishermen.”33 According to one report, the disputed Fiery Cross reef34 has been “transformed from a speck on the map to a man-made island with a military airstrip, which when complete, will be capable of launching Chinese fighter jets over the South China Sea.”35 This reclamation project is sited near strategic commercial shipping lanes.36 This is of immense naval significance to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) enabling them to regionally dominate the aerial and maritime domains for economic, security and military purposes.

Recent satellite photos have revealed a 3,000 metre runway37 that can service large civil and military aircraft. The report notes there is a runway “apron for parked planes, two helipads, nine docking piers for ships, ten communications antennae and what may be a radar array. At South Johnson reef, east of Fiery Cross reef, satellite photographs appear to show a port, two helipads and three satellite antennae with radar and weapons installations under construction. There is also a lighthouse, and what may be solar panels and wind turbines.”38 The facilities clearly satisfy both civilian and military requirements to monitor39 or interdict sea trade throughout the region, should circumstances necessitate. These reclamation projects are strategically placed “in an area that is crisscrossed by critical shipping lanes.”40 This is of immense naval significance to the PLAN, enabling it to regionally dominate the aerial and maritime domains for economic, security and military purposes.

Such activities and adamant political stance reinforces the perception that China is intent in dominating the disputed waters of the South China Sea, enabling it to project its air and maritime power throughout one of the busiest and most strategically important maritime shipping routes. Notwithstanding China’s political position, Defence Secretary Carter made it clear that the “United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world.” Moreover, he buttressed his remarks that “The United States, its allies, and its partners will exercise ‘the rights of all nations,’ to the fullest.”41

Although the U.S. has reportedly declared neutrality on the ongoing territorial disputes in this region it has announced its determination to protect “freedom of navigation,”42 and intends to send both military aircraft and ships in order to challenge the PRC’s maritime claims.43

China’s Military Strategy – White Paper

Since 1945, the U.S. has dominated the global maritime environment and has guaranteed freedom of the seas. The May 2015 Chinese defence policy entitled “China’s Military Strategy,”44 is most noteworthy as, unlike its eight previous editions, this is the first time that China publicly revealed important aspects of its evolving military strategy. Reportedly, the paper’s title was changed from “China’s National Defense” to the more apt title of “China’s Military Strategy”45 and unlike previous editions this white paper offers details about the PRC’s strategic intentions, as well as future developments in the Chinese military. One Chinese military official proffered that the “greater transparency of the new white paper was a sign of a more confident China.”46 Notwithstanding, many of the revelations are not new to political and military observers. The white paper features China’s traditional active defense strategy, which posits that “China would always remain strategically defensive – though perhaps not so at the operational or tactical levels.”47

The white paper also notes that “the Chinese military’s primary aim: to prepare itself to fight ‘local wars under conditions of informationization’ (sic) – in other words, regional conflicts in which command, control, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (C4ISR) would play major roles.”48 The PLA’s appreciation of these important enablers has not gone unnoticed, but at the same time was hardly a revelation. What is articulated quite clearly in the strategy white paper is that China is focusing its force development in four strategic domains. The PLA intends to boost its cyber warfare capabilities,49 expand its space program to defend its national interests, even though it is opposed to militarization of space, provide a reliable nuclear force that incorporates a second strike capability and further expand the PLAN, shifting and extending the range of its maritime operations from offshore waters defence to that of open ocean protection.50

The white paper argues that China’s growing overseas interests has essentially shifted the national focus from that of a continental land power to that of an emerging maritime power. This realization has led China to prioritize the Navy as an integral and important part of its military modernization program. We are witnessing a dramatic evolution – a sea change in strategic view from that of a powerful continental military to an emerging, and seemingly muscular, maritime power.51

China’s Strategic Context and Timing

The timing and publication of this white paper is partly in response to the U.S. Asia Pivot. The document makes references to the U.S. rebalancing strategy and Washington’s effort to enhance its military presence and political influence in the Pacific region.52 The white paper underlines that other nations could potentially pose a threat to Chinese interests and that specifically Japan and Taiwan, offshore neighbors, external countries and separatist movements, pose regional challenges to the PRC.53

China’s Global Engagement

Global economic and political engagement, albeit cautious and limited, has become an integral part of PRC foreign policy. In recent times, the PRC has committed forces to the UN Peacekeeping Mission South Sudan54 with the aim of resolving the ongoing conflict. Chinese troops are serving under UN command, specifically due to Chinese national interests of ensuring the security of its citizens working in Africa, as well as protecting the substantial Chinese investments.55 According to reports, the Sudanese Civil War has severed Chinese strategic oil production by one third and the PRC are concerned with protecting its trade with Africa, estimated at $200 billion per year.56

Chinese strategic energy interests eclipsed its historical principle of “non-interference” in 2013 when Beijing sent troops to Mali57 with the intention that the country’s violence did not spill into neighboring Algeria and Libya, whose oil exports were important to China’s continuing economic expansion. In December 2014, China offered Baghdad military support to combat the Islamic State (IS) in the form of air strikes. This offer was subsequently declined.58 On the home front, PRC officials have engaged with the Taliban on a number of occasions, in part to establish a regional forum for reconciliation in Afghanistan.59 This border initiative is likely two-fold: to facilitate peace along the Afghan-China border, but also to pre-empt the threat of militant Islamists fomenting problems within China’s Muslim populace.

As with many nations, it is important to appreciate that China’s foreign-policy and military strategy cannot be analyzed in isolation. China’s appetite for natural resources has increased dramatically and is dependent on the importation of a spectrum of strategic resources such as coal, metals, and oil drawn from areas, particularly Africa and the Middle East, which are prone to political turbulence.

China’s strategic interests are in lockstep with China’s economic and political influence in the world. In particular, more than 80% of Beijing’s oil transits one of the world’s global chokepoints in the Strait of Malacca.60 This channel narrows to less than two miles wide and handles more than 15 million barrels of oil shipments a day.61 This maritime channel, known as the “Malacca dilemma,”62 poses the fear that certain powers such as the U.S. could sever China’s strategically vital energy route. Therefore, Chinese foreign-policy must constantly consider the unimpeded access to global consumers and financial markets while concomitantly ensuring an unimpeded flow of raw resources, along with energy in the form of oil and gas, to its home industries.63

This strategic situation is not dissimilar from that of other regional actors. For example, it is estimated that 85 to 90% of Japan’s energy supplies flow through the South China Sea,64 so any existential threat to the maritime trade routes is of strategic concern to Japan, as well as others in the region. Japan’s strategic interest in the South China Sea has brought about joint military exercises with Filipino forces65 who are also contending with Chinese encroachment upon its claim to islands and the surrounding territorial waters.

China’s Global Engagement: A Two-Edged Sword

On a number of occasions, the U.S. has engaged PRC leadership to pull Chinese political and economic weight internationally. The Obama Administration has complained that China has been a free rider for a number of decades, enjoying the benefits of secure sea routes and freedom of navigation, enabling China’s growing appetite for energy to be secured by U.S. naval dominance. China’s peacekeeping activities in Africa and its participation in antipiracy patrols have been welcomed by the U.S. and, according to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, China has become a  “responsible stakeholder,” within the international system.66

As China’s influence grows and becomes more engaged on the international scene, there can be a downside. As recent events have demonstrated, the PRC will likely throw its political, economic and military weight, particularly in the areas of the East China and South China Seas, challenging many of its less powerful neighbours. Of future concern is that China, once the PLAN becomes globally capable, could undertake maritime operations around the waters of the Middle East67 where the U.S. could see its freedom to operate freely, challenged by a large and capable Chinese maritime force. As one observer noted, “Granted, that’s not going to happen overnight. Unlike the United States, China doesn’t have formal alliances in the Middle East or air and naval bases nearby – not yet, anyway.”68 Notwithstanding, China`s naval evolution poses a direct challenge to America’s naval forces in both regional and global terms.

Expanding Requirements and Regional Concerns

In geopolitical terms, China’s requirement for energy and other natural resources has grown dramatically over the recent years. In concert with this dependence is a realization by the PRC that the regions that provide these resources have become increasingly volatile, potentially compromising China’s economic growth and security. Hence, China understands it must be prepared to protect its domestic and foreign economic interests through an uninterrupted supply of resources69 to the homeland. Hence, the strategic importance of securing its sea lanes of communication (SLOCs), which are the primary maritime routes between ports used for trade, logistics and naval forces, to facilitate and expand China’s economic growth and international trade.

Amongst other issues of concern, the Chinese defence white paper cited concerns that Japan was “overhauling its military and security policies.”70 Unfortunately, this document does not address the fears and perceptions that abound regionally regarding Chinese reclamations.71 The white paper notes that Japan’s political and military policies had provoked, “grave concerns among other countries in the region.”72 This remark may have been an attempt at resurfacing the harsh memories of Japan’s World War II military expansion and occupation of large parts of the region. Notwithstanding, the tensions brought about by China’s reclamation efforts and the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea continue to force these two countries closer.73

In addition to these regional concerns, the white paper charges that China’s “offshore neighbors take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied.”74 The strategy document identifies these intra-Asian political and territorial issues, while encompassing the interests of the U.S., which appear to be revitalizing not only its military presence, but also its regional alliances.75 The document further cites that some nations, i.e. the U. S., are “busy meddling in South China Sea affairs; a tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China.”76

Regional Considerations

China’s supposedly benign reclamation activities have reportedly “filled in enough of the South China Sea to create 2,000 acres of artificial islands in just the last 18 months.”77

American and Filipino governments have continued to express their concerns over the large-scale reclamations78 that persist unabated on at least half a dozen features in the South China Sea. Some of these reclamations could be used for positioning military, naval and aviation assets to intimidate other regional claimants, while reinforcing China’s brazen claims-the traditional 9- dash line (see map) over virtually the entire South China Sea.79 Such claims also threaten the freedom of maritime navigation in one of the globe’s busiest and economically strategic shipping lanes through which an estimated $5 trillion in shipborne trade transits each year80 and five times more oil tanker traffic than the Panama Canal.81 As well, five of the world’s 10 busiest shipping ports are located in this region.82 Should China ever seek to control access to this region it could easily disrupt the trade and oil shipments to all of East and Southeast Asia, which in turn would paralyze those nations that reside in the region.

(Photo source)

In terms of raw resources, the South China Sea represents a region of strategic significance. There exist substantial untapped oil and natural gas reserves, as well as vital fisheries providing food and jobs for millions of people who reside there.83

America’s Military Response — Testing China

A June 2015 PRC Foreign Ministry statement said that reclamation projects “do not affect the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in accordance with international law in the South China Sea.”84

Notwithstanding this claim, a U.S. Navy aircraft approached one of the artificial islands and was ordered by the Chinese military to depart the area.85 A Philippine patrol aircraft in a separate incident was also ordered by the Chinese Navy to depart one of the reclamation sites.86 These incidents have raised fears that the PRC will announce and enforce a defense identification zone over the South China Sea. This is similar to what occurred in 2013 over a disputed Japanese-held island in the East China Sea.87

Some observers have opined that these reclamations will not counter U.S. military superiority in the region, which has been buttressed by a security pact signed by the U.S. and Philippine governments last year, allowing a greater U.S. military presence on Filipino soil, including expanded military bases.88 Nevertheless, the building of ports, fuel storage depots and what are believed to be two airstrips on reclaimed land89 would enable the PLA to project military power through the region provoking concerns that their intention is to militarize90 such reclamations that now reside in disputed maritime territory. Recent history is replete with other similar incidents. In 2012-13 China had a standoff over fishing rights over the triangle of reefs called the Scarborough Shoal. Both parties agreed to withdraw warships after U.S. mediation. China subsequently reneged on the agreement and now the area is fished exclusively by Chinese fishermen and patrolled by PRC vessels.91 China provoked further tensions with Vietnam in May of 2014, by placing an oil rig near the contested waters of the Paracel Islands 400 km off Vietnam’s coast.92 Woody Island in the Paracels has been occupied by China since 1956. Satellite images taken March 2015, noted a major expansion of its runway and airport facilities. A 2,920 meter airstrip has been completed, along with a new taxiway, runway aprons with adjacent large buildings under construction on Duncan Island 80 km southwest of Woody seized by China from Vietnam in 1974. Satellite photos clearly show that the size of the island has been increased by over 50% since April 2014.93 Known as Chenhang Dao in Chinese and Dao Quang Hoa in Vietnamese, the island is home to a military garrison, four radar domes, a concrete plant and a port that has been expanded via a coral cutting and dredging operation. The UNCLOS does not allow for reclaimed land to be used to demarcate 12 nautical mile territorial zones. It is the contention of some officials that China will not feel obliged to follow the terms of this convention and will seek to keep foreign navies from passing close by.94

Direct Challenge to American Global Maritime Dominance and Regional Nations

China is acknowledged to have the fastest growing economy and has reportedly raised the defence budget by more than 10% a year for most of the past 25 years95. In its defence white paper, China has clearly announced that the PRC will be expanding its Navy to respond to threats in the South China Sea. The PLAN already has a substantial submarine fleet and will be adding submarines armed with nuclear missiles with a range of 4,500 miles. By the end of this decade, it is expected that the PLAN will be able to deploy 342 submarines and missile firing warships compared to the U.S. Navy’s fleet of 243 ships and submarines.96 To augment its maritime capabilities, China commissioned its first aircraft carrier in 2012 and is reportedly going to finish two more by the end of 2015.97 According to PRC spokesman Colonel Wang Jin, “China’s Navy needs to react to protect its rights globally.”98

Strategic Policy and Lack of Clarity

Notwithstanding the posturing of the U.S. Secretary of Defense over Chinese reclamations, the recent Senate confirmation of Admiral John Richardson for Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) underlined a growing disparity of opinion between the Obama Administration and the Capitol Hill Republicans as to how best to handle the Chinese challenge. Senator Tom Cotton asked Admiral Richardson, ‘Admiral, is China an adversary? Richardson replied, ‘Many of the things they’re doing have an adversarial nature to them,’ notably, the construction of pseudo-islands in the South China Sea.99

Richardson noted that China’s island building program was “destabilizing” but did not clarify  the Administration’s plans to address the issue. The crucial question is whether to fly or sail within the 12 nautical miles of the new Chinese made islands. The U.S. considers these reclamations as artificial and temporary structures, “which under international law means that they have no legal impact on other nations’ rights of passage in the surrounding seas or airspace.”100 In contrast, the PRC has “made it clear they think that flying or sailing within 12 nautical miles of these structures would be an unmistakable challenge to their claims.”101

The ability to sail unhindered inside the 12 nautical miles is a key component to any freedom of navigation initiative and excising this would clearly send a message rejecting China’s claims to these man-made islands. As noted previously, Secretary of Defense Carter’s speech in Singapore clearly challenged China’s position. Carter stated “’we will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international laws allow (and that) turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air and maritime transit. However, PACOM (PACIFIC COMMAND) Commander [Harry] Harris just two weeks ago at the Aspen Security Forum stated it is U.S. policy to afford a 12-(mile) limit around all (features) in the South China Sea… to include islands and formations.’”102

Admiral Richardson noted, “’It’s absolutely important that the Navy continued to be present in that region,’” but, “’we do have to respect the legitimately claimed territorial boundaries.’”103 He further noted, “’It’s a dynamic situation there (South China Sea). There are competing claims down there… We need to get down there, understand the truth, and make that very clear.’”104

The foregoing underlines a lack of solid policy direction from Washington as to how best to handle this ongoing situation. It remains absolutely important, in strategic terms, that the U.S. Navy continue its presence in that region. To do so bolsters America’s credibility with its friends and allies in the region, and contains any Chinese political or military moves that could increase regional tensions. This lack of policy clarity is sadly reminiscent of Obama’s threatened ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons,105 which continues to dog American political and military credibility.

Conclusion

Canada is a maritime nation with three oceans bordering its landmass. As such, Canada has a responsibility to defend its maritime sovereignty. As a maritime nation, Canada is morally bound to partake in ensuring the free flow of oceanic commerce and freedom of the seas on the global common. To do so enables international peace and stability, and protects global trade routes that are strategically vital to the economic prosperity of Canada and all trading nations. As of 2014, Canada’s trade with China had an overall value of over $77 billion (Cdn).106 Hence, Canada has a substantive vested economic and political interest in the continued peace within this region.

Unfortunately, Canada is not positioned with its current naval capacity, to address the issue. Despite Canada’s territorial size and the length of its coastline, Canada has “allowed our Navy to rot so badly, it is now ranked as less capable than the maritime forces of Bangladesh.”107 This poses a serious strategic, economic and military concern for Canada, as well as its allies.

The white paper provides indicators of what is to be expected from China and its maritime interests, including China’s interest to transit Canada’s Northwest Passage.108 While the paper does not include a comprehensive naval strategy, the potential nexus with Canadian interests warrants the close attention to and participation by Canada in addressing this white paper with the U.S. and our regional partners.

China’s reclamation efforts, undoubtedly to maximize Chinese political and military influence, will likely be followed by a broad range of exploration and exploitation of the strategic oil, gas and fishing resources that lie near these reclamation projects and the inherent economic exploitation zone (EEZ).

China’s audacious and well-planned reclamation initiatives have so far met with little or no resistance. Despite an open violation of UNCLOS, China’s determined attempts to transform submerged rocks and reefs into islands to stake out exclusive economic zones has not been strongly challenged.

The U.S. and others nations continue to insist that China has no sovereign claims over these man-made islands and the U.S. has continued to request that the PRC cease its reclamation initiatives. China refuses to do so. America is concentrating on reassuring its regional friends and allies, making it clear that the U.S. will protect freedom of navigation.109

With the 2015 white paper “China’s Military Strategy”, the PLA has sublimely thrown down the gauntlet. This challenge needs to be addressed in a united and comprehensive manner by all interested Pacific and Pacific Rim actors, including Canada. The Chinese maritime challenge in the South China Sea could, if not successfully countered, permanently change the economic and security parameters of the region, posing a multifaceted political, territorial and military threat that will challenge the safety and security of the region at large. The PRC’s political stance will fuel the military and political tensions that now permeate the region, and sow further distrust of China’s regional and indeed global intentions.

With support from all strategically concerned nations, the June 2015 U.S. proposal for a voluntary halt to land reclamation could progress into a formal code of conduct.110 Canada could leverage the successful November 2014 visit of its Prime Minister, and the extensive new Canada-China trade agreements, to put added pressure on China to resolve this potential threat to Canada’s own prosperity and security as well as regional friends and allies.

References


  1. AFP, “Top Chinese officer pays visit to US: Pentagon,” Yahoo News, 8 June 2015.
  2. Leo Lewis, “Dredger shores up Chinese claims to disputed islands,” The Times, 12 September 2014.
  3. To undertake these reclamations, China has designed, built and deployed large dredgers, some described as the size of skyscrapers. These are capable of moving 4,000 cubic meters of sand and rock every hour. The vessels dredge out deep water harbors, designed to accept large ships and dump massive amounts of sand onto the reefs. Reportedly, 2000 acres of new land have been formed and China is not wasting any time in creating a supporting infrastructure as well as populating these new islands. As noted in this article, two of the islands appear to have been built to incorporate airstrips. See also, Leo Lewis, “Dredger shores up Chinese claims to disputed islands,” The Times, 12 September 2014. Also Derek Watkins, “What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea,” New York Times, 31 July 2015.
  4. AFP, “Top Chinese officer pays visit to US: Pentagon,” Yahoo News, 8 June 2015.
  5. Zachary Keck, “China’s ‘Nine –Dash Line’ is Dangerous,’ The Diplomat, 19 February 2014. See also, Sourabh Gupta, “The Nine Dash Line and Its Basis in International Law,” China US Focus, 19 January 2015.
  6. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015. The article notes, “China and Japan have their own dispute over the Senkakus – known in China as the Diaoyu Islands – in the East China Sea. And although Japan does not claim any islands in the South China Sea it wants to make sure the area is not controlled by Beijing.”
  7. Karl W. Eikenberry, “China's place in U.S. Foreign-policy,” The American Interest, July/August 2015, p.13.
  8. Sonia Elks, “China denounces ’provocative’ US and Japan comments over territory disputes,” The Times, 1 June 2014.
  9. David Rankin, “US warns China to stop land reclamations in South China Sea,” The Times, 31 May 2015.
  10. AFP, “Top Chinese officer pays visit to US: Pentagon,” Yahoo News, 8 June 2015.
  11. To garner an appreciation of the legalities of China's reclamation initiatives, see Huy Duong, “Massive Island-Building and International Law,” Asia Maritime Transportation Initiative, 15 June 2015, also Zheng Zhihua, “Why Does China's Maritime Claim Remain Ambiguous?” Asia Maritime Transportation Initiative, 12 June 2015, and Peter Dutton, “China Claims Are Unambiguously Ambiguous,” Asia Maritime Transportation Initiative, 16 June 2015.
  12. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  13. Prashanth Parameswaran, “How Would the US Challenge China in the South China Sea?” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  14. Prashanth Parameswaran, “How Would the US Challenge China in the South China Sea?” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  15. Prashanth Parameswaran, “How Would the US Challenge China in the South China Sea?” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015 and Steve Herman, `Chinese Admiral Calls Island –Building `Justified , Legitimate, Reasonable,`` VOA News, 31 May 2015.
  16. David Rankin, “US warns China to stop land reclamations in South China Sea,” The Times, 31 May 2015.
  17. Steve Herman, “Chinese Admiral Calls Island-Building Justified, Legitimate, Reasonable,” VOA NEWS, 31 May 2015.
  18. David Rankin, “US warns China to stop land reclamations in South China Sea,” The Times, 31 May 2015. See also Steve Herman, “Chinese Admiral Calls Island-Building Justified, Legitimate, Reasonable,” VOA NEWS, 31 May 2015.
  19. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  20. Prashanth Parameswaran, “US Launches New Maritime Security Initiative at Shangri-La Dialogue 2015,” The Diplomat, 2 June 2015.
  21. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  22. Lolita C. Baldor, “SecDef Carter to ask Vietnam to end land reclamation,” Military Times, 31 May 2015. The article states, “Carter said that all the claimants in the South's China Sea must halt their reclamation and any further militarization of the sites. Those would include Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.”
  23. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015. See also David Rankin, “US warns China to stop land reclamations in South China Sea,” The Times, 31 May 2015. This latter article notes, “Mr. Carter was most critical of China, but said that other reclamation projects by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan must also come to an end.”
  24. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  25. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  26. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  27. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  28. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  29. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  30. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015.
  31. Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Case for a Bolder US South China Sea Policy,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2015. See also CNN Wire Service “Obama warns Syria not to cross ‘red line,’” 21 August 2012 and Glenn Kessler, “President Obama and the ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons,” Washington Post, 6 September 2013.
  32. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  33. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  34. Richard Lloyd Parry, “Tensions rise as China's new island nears completion,” The Times, 3 July 2015.
  35. Richard Lloyd Parry, “Tensions rise as China's new island nears completion,” The Times, 3 July 2015.
  36. Leo Lewis, “Dredger shores up Chinese claims to disputed islands,” The Times, 12 September 2014.
  37. Richard Lloyd Parry, “Tensions rise as China's new island nears completion,” The Times, 3 July 2015.
  38. Richard Lloyd Parry, “Tensions rise as China's new island nears completion,” The Times, 3 July 2015.
  39. Simon Denyer, “See China's rapid island-building strategy and action,” Washington Post, 1 July 2015.
  40. Leo Lewis, “Dredger shores up Chinese claims to disputed islands,” The Times, 12 September 2014.
  41. James Holmes, “The Two Words That Explain China's Assertive Naval Strategy,” Foreign Policy, 3 June 2015.
  42. Eric Baculinao and Julia Zhou, “U.S., China Clash over South China Sea Disputes,” NBC News, 17 May 2015.
  43. Eric Baculinao and Julia Zhou, “U.S., China Clash over South China Sea Disputes,” NBC News, 17 May 2015.
  44. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015.
  45. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.
  46. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.See alsoLolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  47. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.
  48. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.
  49. The PRC’s capabilities in this field of cyberspace/cyber warfare appear to be extremely advanced, considering recent media coverage. See Ellen Nakashima, “Chinese hack of U.S. network compromised security files,” Washington Post, 12 June 2015 and the Associated Press, “Cybertheft Adds to US-China Tensions Ahead of Upcoming Talks,” New York Times, 20 June 2015. See also “U.S. Data hack grows,” The Week, 3 July 2015. This article notes, ”Federal officials said this week that a suspected Chinese cyber-attack targeting U.S. government workers may have been far worse than first acknowledged, with as many as 18 million personnel records compromised over the past year – four times the number given in an early estimate. Hackers reportedly accessed confidential information on current, former, and prospective government employees in two separate breaches of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) files, swiping data like social security numbers, addresses, and birth dates, as well as security clearance forms that reveal information about the family, friends, and medical histories of military and intelligence personnel.” See also Calum MacLeod, “China's tough new military stance fuels fears of clash with America,” The Times, 27 May 2015. The article notes, “China's Army will develop a cyber-force to tackle ‘grave security threats to its cyber infrastructure.’ Col. Wang added; ‘as the biggest victim of hackers worldwide, China will build an appropriate size of cyberspace defense force’-a remark that will be greeted with skepticism in Washington, which is long accused the Chinese military of cyberattacks on the US.”
  50. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.
  51. Felix K. Chang, Strategic Intentions: China's Military White Paper, Foreign-Policy Research Institute, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, May 2015.
  52. Salman Rafi Sheikh, “The missed nuances of China's military ‘White Paper’” Asia Times, 9 June 2015.
  53. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015.
  54. Phoebe Weston and Sam Dodge, “Mapped: Where are international military servicemen in Africa?” Telegraph, 24 July 2015.
  55. Salman Rafi Sheikh, “The missed nuances of China's military ‘White Paper’” Asia Times, 9 June 2015.
  56. Phoebe Weston and Sam Dodge, “Mapped: Where are international military servicemen in Africa? Telegraph, 24 July 2015.
  57. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015.
  58. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst for oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy” op. cit.
  59. Dr. Sudha Ramachandran “China's Role in Stabilizing Afghanistan,” Central Asia-Caucuses Analyst, 22 January 2015.
  60. Salman Rafi Sheikh, “The missed nuances of China's military ‘White Paper’” Asia Times, 9 June 2015.
  61. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst: Oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy. Can the United States handle the consequences?” Foreign Policy, March/April 2015, p.77.
  62. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst: Oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy. Can the United States handle the consequences?” Foreign Policy, March/April 2015, p.77.
  63. Salman Rafi Sheikh, “The missed nuances of China's military ‘White Paper’” Asia Times, 9 June 2015.
  64. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015.
  65. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015.
  66. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst: Oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy. Can the United States handle the consequences?” Foreign Policy, March/April 2015.
  67. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst: Oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy. Can the United States handle the consequences?” Foreign Policy, March/April 2015.
  68. Keith Johnson, “China's thirst: Oil is transforming the country's foreign-policy. Can the United States handle the consequences?” Foreign Policy, March/April 2015.
  69. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015. See also, “Japan Rethinks Its Pacifism,” New York Times, International Weekly, 25-26 July 2015.
  70. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015.
  71. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015. Shannon Tiezzi, “Revealed: China's Reasons for Island-Building in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 10 April 2015.
  72. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015. Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  73. William Sposato, “Why Is China Playing Nice With Japan? Foreign Policy, 4 August 2015 and Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015.
  74. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015 and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  75. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015 and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  76. Ministry of National Defense the People's Republic of China, “China's Military Strategy, Section 1, National Security Situation,” 26 May 2015 and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Pennington, “Pentagon chief criticizes Beijing's South China Sea moves,” AP, 30 May 2015.
  77. CBS/AP, “Philippine official: China island-building in full swing,” CBS News, 26, June 2015. For another view of China's reclamation initiatives see Shannon Tiezzi, “Revealed: China's Reasons for Island-Building in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 10 April 2015.
  78. CBS/AP, “Philippine official: China island-building in full swing,” CBS News, 26 June 2015.
  79. CBS/AP, “Philippine official: China island-building in full swing,” CBS News, 26 June 2015.
  80. Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, “China mounts detailed defense of South China Sea reclamation,” Reuters, 9 April 2015. See also Paul Koring, ``Tension rising in South China Sea``, Globe and Mail, 15 April 2015.
  81. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  82. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  83. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  84. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  85. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  86. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  87. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015 and “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  88. Oliver Holmes, “Former foes reunite over China: Japan, Philippines and U S launch military drills: Beijing territory claims fuel regional tensions,” The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2015.
  89. Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, “China mounts detailed defense of South China Sea reclamation,” Reuters, 9 April 2015.
  90. Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, “China mounts detailed defense of South China Sea reclamation,” Reuters, 9 April 2015.
  91. “China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.See also Feng Zhang, “Beijing's Master Plan for the South China Sea,” Foreign Policy, 23 June 2015.
  92. Feng Zhang, “Beijing's Master Plan for the South China Sea,” Foreign Policy, 23 June 2015.
  93. Victor Robert Lee, “South China Sea: China Is Building on the Paracel Islands As Well: It's not just the Spratlys, China is constructing military facilities on the Paracel Islands too.” The Diplomat, 14 April 2015.
  94. Hoang Dinh Nam , `` China mounts detailed defence of South China Sea reclamation,`` Asia –Pacific News, 9 April 2015 and AFP, “China Defends land reclamation on disputed islands,” Defense News, 9 April 2015.
  95. China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.See also AFP, “China Defends land reclamation on disputed islands,” Defense News, 9 April 2015.
  96. China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  97. China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.
  98. China's territory grab: China is aggressively laying claim to most of the South China Sea. What's at stake?” The Week, 26 June 2015.See also AFP, “China Defends land reclamation on disputed islands,” Defense News, 9 April 2015.
  99. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  100. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  101. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  102. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  103. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  104. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. “Adm. Richardson D SASC Questions On China,” Breaking Defense,” 30 July 2015.
  105. See “Obama warns Syria not to cross’ red line,’” CNN Wire, 21 August 2012.
  106. “Canada's Bilateral Trade with Asia Pacific,” Asia Pacific Foundation.
  107. Scott Gilmore, “The sinking of the Canadian Navy: Responding to a Russian icebreaker? Cracking down on illegal fishing? Stopping people smugglers? Not our Navy. How a once-proud maritime force fell into such an embarrassing state of disrepair,” Maclean’s Magazine, 10 August 2015.
  108. See Frederic Lasserre, “China and the Arctic: Threat or Cooperation Potential for Canada,” China Papers No.11, Canadian International Council, 2010. See also Richard Desgagnes and Andrew Godfrey, “Canadian or carrier makes historic journey to China via Northwest passage,” Canadian Mining Journal, 1 January 2015 and Nathan Vanderklippe, “For China, North is a new way to go west,” Globe and Mail, 19 January 2014. The root to China via the Canadian Northwest passage is some 40% shorter than the traditional Panama Canal route and therefore reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,300 tons. See “First Arctic Cargo Shipped Through The Northwest Passage,” FEDNAV, 19 September 2014.
  109. Peter Foster, “US Navy prepared to ramp up Pacific presence to deter China,” Telegraph, 17 July 2015.
  110. Shannon Tiezzi, “South East Asian Countries, Warm to US-Proposed Freeze on South China Sea, Land Reclamation: A proposal first aired in 2014 is gaining new traction as tensions rise in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 5 August 2015.See also Aaron Mehta, ``Carter: China Isolating Itself in Pacific, `Defense News, 27 May 2015.
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Dr. J. Paul de B. Taillon
Dr. Taillon is a professor at the Royal Military College in Canada, where he specializes in courses on special operations, intelligence and irregular warfare. He is a Senior Fellow at the Joint Special Operations University (USSOCOM) and adjunct faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. From 2006-2013, he was the Counter-Insurgency/Strategic Advisor to the Commander Canadian Army, a position from which he retired in May 2013.