Cheng Xiaonong: From the East China Sea to the Indian Ocean, China and the U.S. step up offense and defense

Recently, the United States is stepping up cooperation with its allies to form a new defense system in the face of the growing maritime threat from the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese Communist Party is also rapidly advancing its aggressive Indo-Pacific strategy, showing traces of its military expansion everywhere from the Diaoyu Islands and the Taiwan Sea in the north to the Java Sea in Indonesia and the East Indian Ocean in the south, thus causing no part of the aforementioned vast maritime area to remain calm.

I. U.S. Concern for Taiwan’s Security

Recently, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command will be replaced by Admiral John Aquilino after the current commander, Admiral Davidson, steps down. The transition between the two generals comes as they display a unanimous judgment on the defense of the Taiwan Strait.

Retired Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, who served as the Trump administration’s national security adviser, recently said Taiwan is “the most important flashpoint right now that could lead to a major war. During a Senate hearing on General Aquilino’s appointment, General Aquilino said he agreed with McMaster’s assessment of the threat posed by a possible Chinese seizure of Taiwan. Gen. Aquilino said, “A force that can respond quickly, not just our forces …… but also the forces of our allies and partners combined, will give us a stronger deterrent.” Aquilino added that with regard to estimates of the timing of a Communist attack on Taiwan, the U.S. military “has a lot of numbers, and I know Davidson said six years (in), spanning from today to 2045. My opinion is that this is closer than most people think. We have to stay the course and deploy deterrence capabilities with urgency in the short term.”

Aquilino also addressed the issue of Taiwan’s defense capabilities. He noted that Taiwan’s investment in Harpoon missile systems could help bolster defense capabilities. He said, “The resources they have require that they be used in the right way to respond most effectively to possible threats. I’m encouraged by the fact that they’ve purchased some of these capabilities.”

Meanwhile, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly establish a Maritime Patrol Working Group at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei on March 26. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Taiwan Coast Guard will cooperate further in the future.

Last December, the U.S. Navy completed a special report on multi-service defense at sea entitled “Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power”. The report discusses the integration of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard forces to maintain U.S. maritime superiority over China. The Navy would be dominated by the fleet and submarines; the Marines, based in Okinawa, would be transported by helicopters from the medium-sized aircraft carrier USS America to form a mobile sea-based strike force; and the Coast Guard would be responsible for a range of maritime patrol and security missions.

The U.S. Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but cooperation with the Pentagon has been increasing in recent years. Previously, the U.S. Coast Guard primarily protected the maritime borders of the United States, but also engaged in support activities for the Navy. prior to 2019, Coast Guard missions in support of the Navy averaged 50 to 100 days per year; in 2019, however, 326 days were spent engaged in support of the Navy, with all of its deployments focused on the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. Coast Guard has recently deployed two state-of-the-art patrol ships to its base in Guam, and will send another patrol ship to Guam in recent months.

Taiwan’s Marine Patrol Administration’s maritime vessels and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Coast Guard are often seen as a “second navy. In fact, the Taiwan and U.S. maritime patrol departments have interacted frequently in the past, with annual combat technology exchanges, and the U.S. sending special duty instructors to Taiwan to coach maritime boarding and inspection, and Taiwan sending people to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Coast Guard Academy and its basic units for training and internships.

China began implementing the Maritime Police Law in February, which allows its maritime police force to use weapons against foreign vessels. Its maritime police vessels patrolled the waters of the Diaoyu Islands on Feb. 18, heightening tensions in the East China Sea. The Republic of China’s Executive President Su Tseng-chang said on March 26 that the Chinese Communist Party unilaterally enacted the Maritime Police Law and used force, causing tension and pressure on neighboring countries; Taiwan and the United States work together to maintain peace from all sides based on the common conceptual value of maintaining regional peace and stability.

Now it seems that the U.S. and Taiwan may begin to collaborate on maritime patrols and maritime search and rescue, which is not only an extension of their previous “paramilitary cooperation” but also a countermeasure to China’s move to send large maritime police vessels to threaten Taiwan’s waters in the name of the Maritime Police Act.

Second, Japan is prepared to assist in the defense of Taiwan

The U.S. and Japan have recently reached a consensus that Japan is prepared to participate in the defense of Taiwan. According to Kyodo News, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently raised the issue of the Chinese Communist Party’s military threat to Taiwan during a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in Tokyo, and the two sides agreed to work closely together in the event of a military conflict between China and Taiwan.

Japan’s traditional foreign and defense policy on cross-Strait relations has long been to “encourage dialogue to resolve cross-Strait tensions in a peaceful manner” in an attempt to maintain some balance between China and the United States. However, after the Chinese Communist Party ignited the Cold War between China and the United States, Japan is very concerned about the tensions in East Asia, especially on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Tensions in this region directly threaten the security of maritime transportation, which is the lifeline of Japan’s economy, and even more so, the impact on Japan’s national defense.

During Austin’s meeting with Nobuo Kishi on March 16, Kishi mentioned the recent increase in the number of Chinese Communist Party military aircraft crossing the center line of the Taiwan Strait. He also talked about the need for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to examine how they can work with U.S. forces to defend Taiwan when the Chinese Communist Party attacks the country. A joint statement issued by U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin and Secretary of State Blinken after a meeting with their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo said, “China’s actions pose political, economic, military and technological challenges to both allies and the international community in ways that are inconsistent with the prevailing international order.”

For Japan to consider the international situation as it does now would have been unthinkable in the past. But the situation has now changed, and Japan is well aware that the threat to regional security from the Chinese Communist Party is growing and danger is looming. The Japan Defense Research Institute, a think tank of the Ministry of Defense, has collected information on security issues around Japan in 2020 and compiled the East Asian Strategic Review 2021 (EASR 2021). The summary of the report was released on March 26 and is general in nature. But according to The Japanese media, which saw more of the report, it states that China’s military capability to block U.S. aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific has “effectively increased” and that China’s development of anti-ship missiles has disturbed the balance of U.S. and Chinese military power in the first island chain. The report further argues that Japan should continue to take tough measures in the East China Sea and South China Sea in response to China’s military basing in the international waters of the South China Sea and the repeated visits of its maritime police vessels to Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in China).

Third, the future of Japan and the United States how to collaborate defense

In mid-March, at a meeting of U.S. and Japanese defense ministers, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi proposed that “it is necessary to explore what assistance the Self-Defense Forces can provide to U.S. forces supporting Taiwan in the future. This is the first Time since World War II that the Japanese government has explicitly stated its support for U.S. involvement in the cross-strait war and its readiness to provide assistance. The defense ministers’ meeting also confirmed “close cooperation in the event of a contingency in Taiwan.”

As early as April 27, 2015, the U.S. and Japan announced the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation. This document clearly states that “in the event of a forceful attack on the United States or a third country with which Japan has close ties that could threaten the security of Japan and endanger the lives of Japanese nationals and their constitutional right to pursue freedom and happiness, the Self-Defense Forces will exercise force in an ‘appropriate’ manner to respond to such a forceful attack. In addition, the U.S. and Japan will cooperate closely in an ‘appropriate’ manner or with a third country under attack in an ‘appropriate’ manner to respond to an armed attack and to de-escalate the situation.” At that time, the “third country with close relations with Japan is attacked by force”, of course, including Taiwan, but then not named. This year, the U.S. and Japan have directly proposed that they will “work closely together in the event of a contingency in Taiwan,” making the 2015 reference explicit and public, with the intention of warning the Chinese Communist Party.

The above-mentioned “Cooperation Guidelines” list the “appropriate” ways for Japan to cooperate with the U.S. military in the event of a crisis in Taiwan, including five types of military cooperation programs, namely armament protection, search and rescue, maritime operations, anti-missile and logistical support. In other words, Japan’s future involvement in the Taiwan Strait war, the specific deployment may be: to provide Taiwan’s national army wartime war preservation operations cover; for Taiwan’s aircraft, naval vessels to provide search and rescue assistance; Taiwan’s military aircraft, naval vessels can be transferred to Japan’s nearby islands in the event of a communist attack; Japan’s Land Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force deployed on Miyako Island range of up to 400 kilometers of anti-ship missiles, can provide cover for the national army. In addition, the U.S. and Japan actively cooperate in the development of maritime anti-missile systems, its naval phase array radar and Standard 3 naval anti-missile system, is currently the world’s top-ranked maritime high-altitude anti-missile system. Once something happens in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S.-Japanese cooperative maritime anti-missile system could potentially provide Taiwan with some sort of anti-missile umbrella. The U.S. and Japanese technologies for intercepting the Communist Party’s medium- and long-range missiles and extremely fast missiles are quite mature and can provide Taiwan with anti-missile protection outside the atmosphere.

China’s island-building plan in the South China Sea threatens the Philippines

China has used its fishing vessels, coast guard forces, and navy to coordinate operations to forcibly build islands and establish several new military bases in international waters in the South China Sea. Beginning in July 2013, the CCP has used large engineering machinery and construction armies to massively blow sand and reclaim land on seven reefs in international waters in the South China Sea, creating a total of more than 10 million square meters of land, and has now built a total of seven islands and reefs, including the first three with larger areas: Meiji Island, Zhubi Island, Yongxia Island, Huayang Island, Nanxun Island, Chigua Island, and Dongmen Island. The status of these artificial islands was disclosed by China’s Military Technology magazine in April last year. After the reclamation, Meiji Island, Zhubi Island and Yongxia Island have become islands of huge size, with desalination facilities and living facilities built respectively, and airports have been built on all three islands, where military aircraft of the navy and air force can take off and land in addition to transport planes for delivering supplies. These 3 large artificial islands have been built with permanent hangars for military use, which can accommodate 24 fighter planes and 4 large planes (such as reconnaissance planes, transport planes, refueling planes or bombers) respectively. In addition to these 3 large artificial islands, 4 smaller artificial islands, such as Hwayang, Nanhuen, Chigua, and Dongmen, have also been built with piers, barracks, lighthouses, radar stations, power stations, desalination plants, and signal towers. After these man-made islands became military bases, the communist army has begun a long-term garrison.

On February 1 this year, the official media of the Chinese Communist Party, “Multi-dimensional News”, published an article with the headline “A large number of engineering ships have appeared in Nanyue Reef in the Spratly Islands, China may build another island”, disclosing that the Communist army has started to build another island in Nanyue Reef, which is located in the center of the South China Sea. It is located southwest of Manila, close to Brunei and within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. It is a key point in the southbound waterway for the Chinese Communist Party’s strategic nuclear submarines heading south to Australia, and building a naval base here would facilitate the Communist Party’s blockade of international waters in the South China Sea. It appears that the Chinese government is preparing to build a new, larger maritime military base on Niuyu Reef.

The Chinese Communist Party has long assembled a large number of engineering and communications vessels near Niu Yoke Reef, and it was not until March 7 that the Philippines discovered some 220 large Chinese iron-hulled boats moored in Niu Yoke Reef waters, berthing in dense groups of several dozen each, with the boats spread out next to each other in the waters, and the lights of each boat wide open at night, shining into the water. It is assumed that these fishing boats were moored there on the water both to provide night lighting for the underwater construction and to cover the water to prevent the satellite from seeing the construction to cover the underwater construction.

The Philippines then became nervous and sent fishing boats to take pictures and launch aerial reconnaissance in succession. Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. protested to China on March 21. The same day, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana demanded that the Chinese vessels leave Bull Yoke Reef immediately. But the Chinese Communist Party simply ignored it, and the Philippine military revealed on March 22 that there are still 183 Chinese vessels on Bull Yoke Reef. The Chinese Communist Party falsely claimed that the ships were there for shelter; however, the Philippine side said that there was no shelter at all. Apparently, soon this artificial island will be built and from there control the underwater passage from the nuclear submarine base on Hainan Island to the south, into the Java Sea of Indonesia. The Philippines is powerless to stop the Chinese Communist Party’s maritime hegemony, and its future island-building activities may further extend to the Malaysian offshore.

Five, China and the United States to compete in the southern hemisphere

The southern exit of the South China Sea is located at the equator, and south of the equator is the southern hemisphere. The scope of the CCP’s Indo-Pacific strategy is not limited to the northern hemisphere, it has actually entered the vast waters of the southern hemisphere from the South China Sea.

According to official Chinese media, the CCP has continued to advance into the South and Central Pacific, and its navy has established positions in island nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu. Kiribati is a small archipelagic nation in the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Those who have read memoirs of the Pacific War may remember Tarawa Atoll, then a key defensive fortress for the Imperial Japanese Navy, with commander Yuki Shibasaki arrogantly declaring that “American forces could not attack this fortress in a hundred years. When the U.S. Marines captured this atoll that year, they paid for the first time with huge casualties. This atoll is where the capital of the country of Kiribati is now located, and its geographical importance in the Pacific Ocean is evident from the history of Pacific warfare. Tuvalu is also a small island nation, located halfway between Kiribati and Australia.

The Chinese Communist Party has now built naval bases behind the flanks of U.S. forces in Japan and Guam, and in the future it intends to build a large submarine base and naval city in Australia’s immediate northern neighbor, Papua New Guinea. The ambition of the CCP’s Indo-Pacific strategy is clear: to control the South Pacific, cut off the shipping routes between Australia and the United States, and finally threaten Australia.

In addition to extending from the South China Sea to the Java Sea in Indonesia in the southern hemisphere, the Chinese Communist Party’s maritime preparedness activities extend westward into the waters of the eastern Indian Ocean. According to a March 23 report on the U.S. Navy’s official website, China is collecting data on the Indian Ocean’s seabed. Satellite photos show two Chinese oceanographic survey vessels operating in Indonesia’s Java Sea and Eastern Indian Ocean, possibly with the aim of enabling Chinese submarines to gain access to underwater navigation in these waters. Previously, Indonesia fished out several Chinese underwater unmanned aerial vehicles, which were released by the marine survey vessels, off its coast in the Java Sea. The report on the Navy’s official website also noted that in January this year, the Chinese marine survey vessel “traveled undercover” in Indonesian waters. The so-called “covert movement” means that the ship deliberately turned off the ship’s position signal and sneakily moved there. The two oceanographic survey ships, both new to the industry and commissioned in 2016, have been active in the Java Sea area, where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, and in the Indian Ocean to the west. A report on the U.S. Navy’s official website suggests that the scope of their activities is closely linked to submarine operations.

The United States has never launched carrier formation patrols in the Indian Ocean maritime zone south of Indonesia since World War II because there is no foreign naval activity in that zone that would threaten regional security. However, as the Chinese Communist Navy has become more active in that area since last year, the U.S. Navy has also begun implementing the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy in response to the Chinese Communist Navy’s move into the southern hemisphere. The U.S. Navy’s USS Roosevelt carrier group has been conducting exercises in the waters southwest of Taiwan and in the southern South China Sea this year, before entering the eastern Philippines and now sailing to the sea area northwest of Australia and south of Indonesia to conduct targeted preventive patrols.

In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 15 that the U.S. Coast Guard is steadily increasing its activities in the Western Pacific in recent years. For the first time, the U.S. Coast Guard has posted one officer to the U.S. Embassy in Australia, and another officer will travel to Singapore. In early December last year, a U.S. Coast Guard fast response patrol ship was sent to Palau, a Pacific island nation east of the Philippines, in response to eastbound operations by Chinese nuclear submarines. The ship is located 6,600 miles from the U.S. mainland and 750 miles from its Home port in Guam.

Now, there are signs of Chinese military expansion everywhere from the Diaoyu Islands and the Taiwan Sea in the north to the Java Sea in Indonesia and the Eastern Indian Ocean in the south, and no part of the vast sea area mentioned above remains calm. The so-called “rise” of the Chinese Communist Party is following in the footsteps of the Imperial Japanese Military Department.