Shooting of Taiwanese fisherman to muddy dynamics of China’s sea disputes



The apparent killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard will only muddy the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, giving the mainland Chinese more reason to assert their claims against the Philippines.

A 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng was shot by the PCG on Thursday morning as he operated 304 kim off the southern coast of Taiwan

China’s hard-line Global Times writes:


Beijing’s next step depends primarily on how officials in Taiwan react – whether they have the courage to lift their “concern” to “strong condemnation” and whether they wish for help from the mainland.


Thus far, Taiwan’s attitude has remained warm despite frictions with other stakeholders. If they make representations to the Philippines themselves, this matter will end with nothing definitive, or perhaps at most, compensation from the Philippines.


If it is confirmed the Philippine navy is behind the shooting, the mainland should show its stance by intensifying navy activities in the disputed water between the mainland and Philippines.


Of course, if China can successfully back Taiwan here, it could have implication for the East China Sea, Senkaku-Diaoyu Island dispute, where Taiwan has forged an agreement with Japan over fishing right’s there. Should Taiwan countenance mainland China’s support or pressure, I imagine it would embolden Beijing to take actions to “support” Taiwan if a new dispute ever emerged between Japan and Taiwan.

The same Global Times piece notes:

Most of the analysts from the Chinese mainland speculated that because the Philippines was awed by the might of the Chinese mainland, it had vented its anger on Taiwan …


Freedom from coercion a goal in Australia’s 2013 Defense White Paper

Australia has released its 2013 Defense White Paper, and it’s a subtle and contradictory thing. There has been a lot of discussion about what kind of message the White Paper contains, especially compared to the 2009 White Paper that contained more explicit descriptions of threats to Australia in the Asian-Pacific region.

This time around, all of that alarmist language linked to China has been scrubbed. But a couple things stand out.

In the first paragraph of the section three, entitled Australia’s Strategic Policy Approach, the very first line lays out something I’ve seen little discussion in the media analysis.

“Australia’s national security interests are based on protecting Australia’s sovereignty – which includes freedom from coercion by other states – people and assets, building sustainable security in our region, and shaping a favourable international environment.” (Italics mine.)

That line, to me, would be aimed at China more than any other country. Even a causal observer of what’s going on the South China Sea sees bullying from China. And coercion is by no means limited to China’s dealings with developing countries like the Philippines, Vietnam. A more powerful China takes on more powerful, developed countries like Japan, Britain (if this story is true) and arguably the US with China’s industrial scale cyber theft.


There is every reason to believe China would pursue a similar path with Australia, if it hasn’t already in the detention of China-born Australian citizens, for example.

Second, the much-discussed Future Submarine Program to support the creation of 12 new subs has elements of a sort of ‘moonshot’ effort, from my reading, at least. The paper says it represents “the largest and most complex project ever undertaken in Australia’s history.”

Under a section called “Greater linkages between Industry and the Education Sector” the White Paper notes falling enrollments in science, technology, engineering and math courses undermine defense industry capabilities.

To address the skills shortfall the government in the 2012-13 budget has already devoted $54 million over four years to increase study in those areas. Australia’s government is also sponsoring programs to build skills critical for the success of Future Submarine Program.

Note the implicit dismissal of free-trade in this matter. Similar efforts in the US – from outside the government – are underway now, twinning a need for a secure defense industry with the need of rebuilding industry as a whole.

Australia is – obviously – not gearing up for occasional skirmishes on the seas by adding here and there to its fleet. This isn’t a tactical, but strategic paper. What’s missing, as everyone notes, is money.

But Australian defense planners, using very diplomatic language, are laying the groundwork for a longer-term maritime competition in the region. And with good cause: while Australia’s military tolerates some dependence on global supply chain, should the seas surrounding Australia become contested, the country will be well-served if it can shoulder more of its own naval ship production.

The most diplomatic angle to the document is the reframing of Australia’s region of concern.

Australia calls the Indo-Pacific region, rather than the Asia-Pacific region (used in the title of the 2009 White Paper) as its core area of strategic concern. “Over time, Australia’s security environment will be significantly influenced by how the Indo-Pacific and its architecture evolves,” the paper states. Yet, Australia’s re-focus on the band stretching from Japan to India, sends a subtle message to Beijing that Australia doesn’t place itself in the middle of a Pacific-focused China-US cross current. At the same time, the paper explicitly reaffirms the Australian security alliance/reliance with/on the US. A big contradiction, handled very well in the writing of the paper – which itself is a product of the times.

…More on the cyber defense elements in another post.

(photo: Chinese sailors seeing off an Australian Navy ship. Courtesy


A US warning on the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands

…but delivered with the same strange language Hillary Clinton used.

The US doesn’t have a view on the “ultimate sovereignty” of the islands but it opposes any effect to push Japan away from them. I guess the implication being that one day if a China-Japan sharing arrangement occurred, or if administration were for some reason handed over to a country other than Japan, it would need to happen in the context of a lawful transition, rather than the kind of naval adventures on the seas-approach we’re seeing now.

Defense Sec’y Chuck Hagel was explicit about US opposition to “unilateral or coercive” action.

None of this should come as a surprise to Chinese, who he met with days before.

The question is how is the message is interpreted among the Chinese coast guard patrol ships that make routine visits to the disputed islands.

New Chinese aircraft carriers in the works

On the one hand you would think aircraft carriers would be helpful in China’s many island disputes.

And yet aircraft carriers are to project power usually at great distances.

So you have to wonder if China wants to do this, or is this a prestige decision. And are these aircraft carriers going to be seaborn equivalent of the investment-driven boondoggles on land.