Protest Against China’s Blatant Intrusion

Ever since my last posting on China’s hegemonic role in the South China Sea I was told that China has agreed to not station its coast guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals while Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Shahidan Kassim, announced in Parliament that there has been an increase in operational presence by the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency at the South Luconia Shoals from 269 days in 2014 to 345 days this year. It is believed that Malaysia’s continuous diplomatic stance that is seen as friendly by China as opposed to holding demonstrations as held in other claimant countries is the reason for the one step back taken by China at the Luconia Shoals. However, the Chinese coast guard continues to loiter in the South China Sea.

  
However this morning (18th December 2015) a group of about 16 people calling themselves the Sarawak Association for People’s Aspiration or SAPA, headed by Lina Soo as its President, held a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Kuching, Sarawak.

The protest which began at about 9am kicked off by the submission of a protest note at 9.28am to the personal assistant for Mr Liu Quan by SAPA, followed by shouts in Hokkien saying “Get out and don’t return” by the SAPA members.

  
Although small, this protest is significant as it displays a growing awareness amongst Malaysians on the blatant incursions by the Chinese navy as well coast guard.

China has been aggressive in creating ad hoc ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) around its man-made islands, warning off other military aircraft and vessels that got too near. Four days ago the BBC filed a story on how one of its journalist flying in a Cessna 206 was asked to leave the area to avoid miscalculations.

Last month a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft was told by the Chinese to leave and that “it would be a shame if a plane fell from the sky.”

Things are not going to get better as China continues to claim the South China Sea as its territorial waters whereas two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea. Even Indonesia, a non-claimant, has begun to reinforce its military presence in the Natuna islands to face the Chinese.

It will be a matter of time, sooner rather than later, that we will see aggressive flying by PLAAF aircraft that will be stationed at China’s South China Sea airstrips when intercepting other military aircraft. The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint Malaysian cannot ignore nor take lightly.

Paradise Won

A flight of B-52 bombers from the USAF flew around Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef in the Spratlys and were quickly challenged by Chinese Air Traffic Controller during the weekend of the 8th and 9th November 2015.

US PACAF released the transcript of the exchange between the bombers and the Chinese ATC and was reproduced by Alert 5 and are as follows:

Chinese ATC: “You have violated my reef. Change your course to avoid misjudgement.”

Chinese ATC: “You have violated the security of my reef. Change course to avoid misjudgment.”

Reply from the B-52: “I’m a United States military aircraft conducting lawful activities in international waters, and exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law. In exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard to the right and duties of all states.”

China has been making de facto claims on the Spratlys by doing reclamation works on reefs that include the construction of airfields and enforcing its “Nine-Dash Line” policy all the way into Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone. Being the sole regional Big Brother China has been flexing its muscle against its smaller neighbours economically and militarily. China’s runway at Fiery Cross reef has a runway that could land a H-6G bomber that could operate 5,700 kilometres from a home base, not to mention Shenyang J-11 fighters that could operate within a radius of 1,400 kilometres. Malaysia is now within a 45-minute strike distance.

As if that is not enough, the threat if asymmetric warfare from Sulu in the southern Philippines is also a clear and present danger. On the 15th November 2015, the Abu Sayyaf was reported to have met with elements from the IS to conduct terrorist attacks in Malaysia. The Abu Sayyaf is also notorious fir the kidnappings of westerners and Malaysians alike.

 

RMAF assets involved in Ex Paradise 2/15 – photo by Marhalim Abas
 
With the above in mind, the Royal Malaysian Air Force conducted and concluded Exercise Paradise 2/15 from the 9th until the 20th November 2015. With the objective to test its combat readiness and capabilities in the Second Air Region, the RMAF deployed assets such as the F/A-18D Hornet, Su-30MKM Flanker, BAe Hawk, 108/208, C-130H-30 transport aircraft, KC-130 tankers, CN-235 transport aircraft, helos such as the Sikorsky S61A4 Nuri and the Eurocopter EC725 and also involved the RMAF Special Forces regiment. The Malaysian Army’s 10th Brigade (Para) provided a team of air despatchers.

 

A RMAF F/A-18D Hornet from No.18 Squadron – pic by Capt Rahmat
 
Up until the 18th November 2015, a total of 198 air sorties had been flown. During the Field Training Exercise (FTX) RMAF assets successfully conducted Air to Ground firing exercises as well as Air Drop operations and insertion of special forces elements to support ground operations.

During the War Exercise (WAREX), the assets were then combined for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), High-Value Air Asset Protection (HVAAP), Combined Air Operations (COMAO), Mixed Fighter Force Operation (MFFO) and Large Force Employment (LFE).

According to Exercise Chairman, Major General Dato’ Mohd Shabre bin Haji Hussein RMAF, the exercise achieved more than 90 percent of its objectives in accordance with the Scenarios of Exercise (SOE) and was a success.

The media was also invited to witness the exercise in a bid by the Ministry of Defence as well as the RMAF in educating the media, and in turn the public, on the capabilities of the RMAF and the importance of public support towards the Malaysian Armed Forces in general.

Members of media had the privilege to take part in a Aircraft Force Down exercise involving fighter and transport assets.

 

Members of the media experiencing aircraft force down procedures in a side-exercise – photo by Fadzli Hafiz
 
In an observation by this writer, the Ministry of Defence has to seriously look at beefing up the assets of both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy. The Chinese government gets away with murder in the South China Sea simply because Malaysia lacks effective deterrence. The RMAF for example should be equipped with AWACS aircraft as well as the still-elusive MRCA.

 

A KC-130 tanker leading a formation of F/A-18Ds, Su-30MKMs and Bae Hawks – photo by MINDEF
 
This writer opines that in line with the principles of force projection, MRCAs should also be based in Labuan in sufficient numbers to deter the advance of PLAAF and PLAN assets, while the Hawks concentrate especially in providing air support for the ESSZONE by having forward operating bases in Tawau and Lahad Datu or Sandakan. Without strong deterrence, Malaysia will never be able to have diplomatic bargainjng power against any larger forces in the region.