Enter The Dragon – Part 2

Chinese Aircraft Carrier (Asian-Defence.net)20121029-225730.jpg

May I also refer to my previous posting (Enter The Dragon)

On Friday, 26th October, 2012, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun warned Japan over its action at the Diaoyu (called Senkaku by the Japanese) islands.

“We are watching very closely what action Japan might take regarding the Diaoyu islands and their adjacent waters,” Zhang Zhijun said, as reported by Reuters, at an unusual late night news briefing. “The action that Japan might take will shape China’s countermeasures.”

“If Japan continues down its current wrong path and takes more erroneous actions and creates incidents regarding the Diaoyu Islands and challenges China, China will definitely take strong measures to respond to that,” Zhang said.

China’s stance vis-à-vis the East and South China Seas have alarmed regional defence watchers. The Philippines, fresh from a very heavily one-sided standoff with the Chinese navy, mulled the purchase of two Maestrale-class frigates from Italy “as is” in order to boost up its antiquated navy.

Phillipines Defense Undersecretary for Munitions, Installations and Material Fernando Manalo described the frigates as “more lethal” than the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a re-commissioned but stripped down US Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.

He stressed that the frigates would not be stripped down like the Hamilton-class cutters.

“We demanded that we will not accept what is less than what has been installed in the vessel. Nothing will be removed,” Manalo said.

Chinese naval officers of late have been quoting Alfred Thayer Mahan extensively. In expanding her fleet, the Chinese have consistently argued that China now depends on oceanic trade for vital raw materials and for energy. Mahan always saw oceanic trade as the key argument for seapower. And while Mahan’s doctrine is greatly appreciated by the Chinese, the Americans will continue to see a reduction in their naval assets, putting pressure on America’s allies to arm themselves.

The Chinese recently had its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, entered service in September this year in the midst of the Senkaku/Diaoyu fiasco. The former Soviet Varyag will be joined by two other aircraft carriers now being built in China.

The Chinese have also acquired the licence to build Tu-22M3 very potent anti-carrier bombers that gained notoriety during the Cold War in which the US Navy concluded that it was not nearly enough to shoot down anti-ship missiles launched by Backfires simply because the bombers could launch missiles from beyond the horizon, return to base to re-arm, and return for another attack, until the US fleet’s defences were exhausted. It is a popular belief that the Chinese navy would want to acquire the AS-4 anti-ship missiles once carried by Soviet Backfires, now being produced again by the Russians. This missile would give the Chinese a true beyond-the-horizon capability. Otherwise, they can employ their AS-17 rocket-ramjet anti-ship missiles.

Whether or not the East China Sea is the real focus of China remains to be seen. But the acquisition of aircraft carriers and Backfire bombers certainly reinforce China’s adoption of Mahanian ideas – keep the US fleet beyond the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while their real focus is the South China Sea where the stakes may be quite high (oil and fishery, the valuable latter is already proven to be there).

Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea, strengthen by its now blue-water navy and good deterrence provided by the Backfire bombers, would almost certainly force ASEAN member countries to one day accept a considerable degree of Chinese “sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

And Malaysia’s already precarious position as a maritime nation is not helped by myopic politicians who keep questioning defence purchases just for the sake of winning public opinion.