Thursday 28 May 2015

Australian claims of Chinese weapons on artificial islands

Australia, which is arguably reliant on China for its very existence plays its part in the build-up of Sino-western tension in the South China Sea

Australian Media Spies Imaginary Weapons in South China Sea
As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, Australian media outlets are reporting that China has installed weapons on its artificial islands. This despite citing no evidence, and despite the fact that Beijing has consistently stressed that the islands will be used for peaceful purposes.

27 May, 2015

On Tuesday, Japan announced that it would join in the Talisman Sabre, joint military exercises typically conducted by the United States and Australia. The newly formed trifecta of Pacific allies was largely seen as the latest in an attempt to bolster defenses against an alleged Chinese threat.

While Japan’s participation in the drills demonstrated Tokyo’s concern over the Beijing’s construction of islands in the South China Sea, Australia seems to have taken even more of Washington’s bait. A number of Australian media outlets are now reporting that China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands in the South China Sea.

While these claims, if true, would represent a major shift in Chinese policy, and a major escalation in the ever-growing tensions between regional stakeholders, the outlets have not provided any evidence.

Many of these reports could stem from the Australian government’s growing concerns about their own trade routes, as Washington continues to stoke fires about their imagined Chinese threat. While Australia had previously remained neutral in all South China Sea disputes, it appears to be changing its tune.

"Give the size and modernization of China’s military, the use by China of land reclamation for military purposes would be of particular concern," Australia’s top defense official, Dennis Richardson, said during a forum in Sydney.

The Chinese government has repeatedly insisted that the islands lie within its sovereign territory, and that it has every right to build. On Tuesday, Defence Ministry Spokesman Yang Yujun compared the land reclamation efforts to the construction of roads and homes on the mainland.

"From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference," he told reporters. This echoed earlier statements made by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, who emphasized that the islands would help maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection, and navigational security.

"Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs," a Chinese policy document, released on Tuesday, reads. "A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China."

This was taken as reference to the efforts of the United States. Despite the fact that the US has no territorial claims in the region, it has consistently heightened efforts to incite unrest in the sea, staging military exercises with the Philippines and Indonesia, and launching patrol missions over the land reclamation projects.

"China’s actions are bringing countries in the region together in new ways," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a military ceremony on Wednesday. "They’re increasing demand for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific. We’re going to meet it."

"We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come," he added.

With nearly $5 trillion in trade passing through its waters annually, the South China Sea is a hotly contested region. While China lays claim to most of the area, there overlapping claims from Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

China moves weapons on to artificial islands in South China Sea

Reclamation: A satellite image taken in April shows a Chinese airstrip under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.
Reclamation: A satellite image taken in April shows a Chinese airstrip under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

28 May, 2015


China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands that it is building in contested areas of the South China Sea, adding to the risks of a confrontation with the United States and its regional security partners including Australia.

Australian officials are concerned that China could also introduce long-range radar, anti-aircraft guns and regular surveillance flights that will enable it to project military power across a maritime expanse which include some of Australia's busiest trading lanes.

Fairfax understands that these concerns are prompting discussions in senior military circles that could lead to Australian naval officers and air force pilots embarking on "freedom of navigation" missions to demonstrate that Canberra does not accept Beijing's hardening claims.

The options, which include fly-throughs, sail-throughs and exercises involving various regional partners, are expected to crystallise after officials deliver a personal briefing to Prime Minister Tony Abbott during the next fortnight.

Already, diplomats have dropped "talking points" about Australia not taking sides in the multi-layered territorial contest, which Chinese officials have used as evidence of Australian support.More substantially, Australia's intelligence agencies are upgrading the strategic threat assessments which will inform the Abbott government's first Defence White Paper, according to government sources. Late on Wednesday, Australia's top defence official, Dennis Richardson, brought Canberra's growing concerns into public view by telling a Sydney forum that China's "unprecedented" land reclamations raise questions of "intent" and risks of "miscalculation".

"It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation – tourism appears unlikely," said Mr Richardson, delivering the annual Blamey Oration at the New South Wales state Parliament.

"Given the size and modernisation of China's military, the use by China of land reclamation for military purposes would be of particular concern," he said.

The Defence Secretary's comments were the most detailed and forthright from a senior Australian official since China began building its audacious network of airstrips, deep-water ports and other military-capable infrastructure on previously submerged reefs in the Spratly Islands last year.

China says the new sand islands will be used for humanitarian, environmental, fishing and other internationally-minded purposes.

But it warned this week in its own Defence White Paper that it would gradually expand "offshore waters defence" to include "open seas protection", adding that it would not tolerate other countries "meddling".

In Canberra, Fairfax understands that China's frenetic building activity has prompted the Defence Intelligence Organisation and Office of National Assessments to adopt a more hawkish tone since they each delivered major strategic threat assessments to the National Security Committee of Committee (NSC) mid-last year.

Their revised strategic assessments, due to be submitted to the NSC in coming weeks, will show how the reclamations could enable China to greatly amplify threats of coercive force in order to play a gate-keeping role across hotly-contested maritime areas, if left unchecked.

What Australia should do about the challenge is a more difficult question.

Australian military officers and officials have discussed a need to demonstrate that they do not recognise any 12-mile territorial zone or more expansive economic zone that China may unilaterally claim around its freshly-minted islands. But they are grappling with the need to avoid inflaming a potential confrontation Australia's largest trading partner.

Last week the United States demonstrated its position with a flyover by a P-8 surveillance plane, which carried a CNN journalist.

The voice of an Australian can be heard over the aircraft's radio.

Senior officers and officials have speculated that Australia could join a humanitarian or military exercise with the United States or one of several regional partners including Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Such a move has been discussed in Washington and key capitals in the region but no proposal has yet been put to Canberra, it is understood.

It could also dispatch naval vessels or air force planes through a contested area on route to a routine destination.

Officials say that any such "demonstration" is likely to be conducted with minimal publicity, to avoid inflaming China's reaction.

Mr Richardson, in his Sydney address to the Royal United Services Institute, said the area of previously-submerged atolls that China has reclaimed in the past year is nearly four times as large as that which the five other claimant states have achieved over several decades.

And he critiqued the nebulous nature of China's claims which, on some readings, cover more than 80 per cent of the entire South China Sea.

"It is not constructive to give the appearance of seeking to change facts on the ground without any clarification of actual claims," he said.

"It is legitimate to raise such questions and express such concerns because tensions and potential miscalculations are not in anyone's interest."

Going back a few years now (in fact right back to Crossing the Rubicon), Mike Ruppert foresaw that there would be tension (and war) in the area we are seeing it today – in the South China Sea. 

See below.

Mike Ruppert and his dog

Michael Ruppert's economic forecast (transcript)

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