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October, 2014

for Taiwan Security w

ISSN 2227-3646

Vietnam’s Foreign Policy Oil-Rig Crisis Forces Rethink of China Ties Huong Le Thu Warmer Hanoi-Washington Relations Lu Wen-hao Asia-Pacific Flashpoints Yavor Kostadinov

China’s Maritime Territorial Goals A First Step Toward Regional Dominance? Masafumi Iida

Taiwan’s Submarine Acquisition Prospects Jens Kastner Offshore Control Strategy And Taiwan’s SLOCs Michał Pawinski

Sea Lines of Communication


for Taiwan Security


October, 2014

Contents Flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific........................................................4

Yavor Kostadinov

China estabishing regional dominance........................................10

Masafumi Iida

Taiwan’s prospects for submarine aquisition............................... 20

Jens Kastner

Hanoi re-evaluates relations with Beijing..................................... 25

Huong Le Thu

Obstacles to warmer Vietnam-US ties..........................................30

Lu Wen-hao

Offshore control and Taiwan’s SLOCs..........................................36

Michał Pawiński

Submissions: Essays submitted for publication are not to exceed 2,000 words in length, and should conform to the following basic format for each 1200-1600 word essay: 1. Synopsis, 100-200 words; 2. Background description, 100-200 words; 3. Analysis, 800-1,000 words; 4. Policy Recommendations, 200-300 words. Book reviews should not exceed 1,200 words in length. Notes should be formatted as endnotes and should be kept to a minimum. Authors are encouraged to submit essays and reviews as attachments to emails; Microsoft Word documents are preferred. For questions of style and usage, writers should consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Authors of unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged to consult with the executive editor at dkarale.kas@gmail.com before formal submission via email. Manuscripts are subject to copyediting, both mechanical and substantive, as required and according to editorial guidelines. No major alterations may be made by an author once the type has been set. Arrangements for reprints should be made with the editor. Cover photograph of the ROCS Lan Yang taking part in the 2014 Han Kuang military exercises is courtesy of the ROC Ministry of Defense.

Editor Fu-Kuo Liu Executive Editor Dean Karalekas Editorial Board Tiehlin Yen Raviprasad Narayanan Richard Hu James Yuan Laurence Lin Aaron Jensen STRATEGIC VISION For Taiwan Security (ISSN 2227-3646) Special Edition Number 3, October, 2014, published under the auspices of the Center for Security Studies and National Defense University. All editorial correspondence should be mailed to the editor at STRATEGIC VISION, Center for Security Studies in Taiwan. No. 64, Wan Shou Road, Taipei City 11666, Taiwan, ROC. The editors are responsible for the selection and acceptance of articles; responsibility for opinions expressed and accuracy of facts in articles published rests solely with individual authors. The editors are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts; unaccepted manuscripts will be returned if accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Photographs used in this publication are used courtesy of the photographers, or through a creative commons licence. All are attributed appropriately. Any inquiries please contact the Executive Editor directly via email at: dkarale.kas@gmail.com. Or by telephone at: +866 (02) 8237-7228 Online issues and archives can be viewed at our website: www.mcsstw.org. © Copyright 2014 by the Center for Security Studies. Articles in this periodical do not necessarily represent the views of either the MCSS, NDU, or the editors.

From The Editor


e are very pleased to bring you this, our third special issue, highlighting the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in the Asia-Pacific region and the issues that impact the security thereof. As the region’s littoral continues to become embroiled in territorial claims and counterclaims, it is a timely subject of immense importance to Asia-Pacific and cross-strait security, and we are proud to offer a diversity of analysis on the topic from experts throughout the region and the world. We begin with Yavor Kostadinov, a scholar at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, who looks at maritime issues of strategic importance to Taipei, particularly the issue of SLOCs and how they can quickly become flashpoints for potential conflict. Masafumi Iida, a senior research fellow at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, offers an insightful analysis of China’s maritime territorial ambitions and how they may portend Beijing’s first step in establishing political dominance over the countries in the region. Taipei-based journalist Jens Kastner examines the ROC military’s longstanding search to acquire submarine assets and how this would benefit the security of Taiwan’s SLOCs. Dr. Huong Le Thu, who is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, looks at how the recent oil-rig incident in the South China Sea has soured Sino-Vietnam relations and how the Vietnamese government is re-evaluating its relationship with its powerful neighbor. Continuing on the theme of Sino-Vietnam ties, Colonel Lu Wen-hao, deputy director of the Research and Development Office of the ROC National Defense University, looks at how China’s actions have precipitated a budding rapprochement between Hanoi and Washington, although he identifies obstacles to warming ties. Michał Pawiński of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University, provides an examination of the US military’s concept of offshore control, and what are its prospects for success in countering China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial efforts, particularly as regards Taiwan’s vital SLOCs. We truly hope you enjoy this supplemental issue of Strategic Vision, and that you benefit from our coverage of the issues surrounding the security implications regarding the region’s sea lines of communication. Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu Editor Strategic Vision


in the Asia-Pacific Sea Lines of Communication Maritime Issues of Strategic Importance for Taiwan by Yavor Kostadinov


ontrol of vital sea lines of communication (SLOC) is essential for international trade and growth of the regional and world economy. As such, SLOCs play a major role in the development of a nation’s strategy and policy. In particular, the higher the dependence on international seaborne trade, the higher the priority of SLOCs for economic and military security, as in the case of nations such as Japan and the Republic of China (ROC). As Napoleon once said, “The policy of a state lies in its geography. ” In executing maritime policy, the ROC has continuously avoided flexing its military muscle in maritime disputes, preferring to use its coast guard instead. This can be attributed to the emphasis that

photo: Colby Neal

4  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

the administration of ROC President Ma Ying-jeou places on peaceful resolution of maritime disputes and conflicts. However, this soft-power approach could have devastating implications if it were to be misinterpreted as timidity. As former US President Dwight Eisenhower once remarked, “history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. ” With this warning in mind, ROC leaders may need to rethink their strategy. Our planet is made up of 70 percent water, and while we live and stay on the land for most of our lives, maritime transport is the backbone of international

trade and the global economy. Around 80 percent of global trade by volume, and over 70 percent of global trade by value, is shipped by sea. These figures are even higher in the case of most developing countries. Hence, the nation that controls the SLOCs has the power to collect crucial strategic information, to intercept supplies in the event of a crisis, and to predict the rise and fall of the economic and military development of other states.

Major source of conflict There are many strategically important chokepoints and potential flashpoints in the world’s littoral, five of which are located in the Asia-Pacific region. In the South China Sea (SCS), there are the straits of Malacca and Lombok, and the Spratly Islands, and the East China Sea (ECS) is home to the Taiwan Strait and the area around the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands. In the past, continental territorial disputes were typically the main drivers of conflict. Recently however, maritime disputes have increasingly become the major source of potential conflict. In the words of Robert Kaplan, “the seas of the Western Pacific are the future of conflict. ” Moreover, the regional security environment was described by ROC Deputy Minister of National

Defense Andrew Yang with two words: “uncertain” and “escalating. ” The fact that half of the world’s trade, and one third of its oil transit through the Strait of Malacca alone underlies the strategic geopolitical importance of the seas in the region. Furthermore, Taiwan’s geographic location has great strategic value; being situated between the SCS and ECS. It is also located, both geopolitically and ideologically, between authoritarian China and the democratic West. Moreover, the location and distance of friends and enemies across SLOCs could be crucial for survival should a crisis arise. Hence, the strategic regional environment and the interplay between major regional powers and US involvement in the region certainly impact ROC strategy. For the military, SLOCs are maritime instruments of power, and maritime geography becomes the playing field on which naval forces must be deployed. For politicians, SLOCs influence the state of relations be-

Lightning flashes as the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Strait of Malacca.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  5

image: MrDevlar

tween countries which are located along these routes, while economists see them as the shortest and most economical distance between two destinations. There are several threats and opportunities for the ROC to consider as it develops its strategy and policy for SLOC security.

Different interpretations First and most important, as emphasized by the United States and other major powers, is the unimpeded passage of global commerce over the SLOCs in the region. However, different interpretations among nations of the principle of freedom of navigation could lead to a major conflict. For example, there are many overlapping claims in the SCS over the Spratly Islands, and over Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, the US has not ratified the convention, and the ROC is not a member 6  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

of the United Nations and therefore under no legal compunction to observe UNCLOS (although, as a responsible and democratic nation, the ROC voluntarily abides by this and other international laws). Additionally, the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) set up in November 2013 covering almost the entire East China Sea—including sections that overlap with the EEZs of Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea—has further added to rising tensions in the region. Second, the insecurity which arises from higher dependence on SLOCs prompts rapidly developing nations such as the PRC to boost their surveillance and military presence. By using economic, political, and diplomatic pressure combined with military intimidation, the PRC has strengthened its strategic position in the region in step with its growing capabilities. While there is much debate over the PRC’s intentions, it seems obvious that the PRC’s intentions are deliberately lacking transparency in order to prevent other

regional actors from predicting its future moves. Such subtlety has been a part of Chinese strategy since ancient times, and the Chinese Communist Party has adopted it yet again to hide its intentions and bide its time. Maritime theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan has argued that, through sea power, a state can achieve greatness. This could be applied today especially for big manufacturing export-led economies such as China which must rely on a strong navy to protect commerce and SLOCs. For Mahan, the state of peace is a time when designers of foreign policy look to the direct and indirect effects of far-reaching sea power to a future when war might erupt. The navy, during times of peace, serves as a preventive force that may reassure allies of support, help gain new allies, and deter states without navies. Similarly, by clearing the sea lines of hostile navies, and protecting the waters with friendly ones, a good navy encourages allies to develop commercially by providing them with safe routes to commercial markets. Contrary to Mahan, Julian Corbett saw maritime strategy as suited only to limited national purposes, and he identified some fundamental differences between land warfare and sea warfare, proposing a balanced amphibious strategy. He advocated relative, rather than absolute, command of

the sea. Corbett believed that “the prime object of naval warfare was to secure communication. This was achieved by sea control, not command of the sea. The PRC’s buildup and naval modernization can be justified by the need to secure its increased international commerce, similar to the way that the United States justifies its large naval force.

“If the PRC were to control SLOCs, it would be an immense temptation to harass or inhibit passage of Taiwanregistered cargo containers.” However, weaker countries are reluctant to trust the PRC, or its intentions. For instance, the government of Vietnam states in its foreign policy that there is a threat coming from “peaceful evolution pursued by hostile forces.” The control of the seas by the United States has so far has resulted in prosperity for a number of countries in the region, not the least of which is the ROC: would that be the case if China took control of regional SLOCs? It is no secret that one of the PRC’s “core interests” is isolating Taiwan with the aim of taking over the island. If the PRC were to control SLOCs, it would be an immense temptation to harass or inhibit passage of Taiwan-registered cargo containers

The USS Seawolf, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer JS Oonami and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis steam in the US 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility. Working with its partners, the US Navy has been the security guarantor in the Pacific since the end of World War II.

photo: Walter Wayman Autumn 2014 Special Issue  7

bound for China’s trade competitors, or otherwise link its responsibilities as SLOC security guarantor with Beijing’s foreign-policy goals. Just the fear of this eventuality gives China immense leverage over the ROC, in addition to the significant economic leverage that it has already achieved by integrating Taiwan’s economy with its own. Third, in a world of competitiveness and liberalization of markets, an unprecedented blockage of resources would result in serious damage to the ROC military and Taiwan’s economy. The ROC depends on a constant supply of raw materials to keep its exportled economy alive. The IMF in 2013 ranked Taiwan among the top 20 countries in the world based on GDP (PPP), placing it fifth in the region after China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. Fourth, the region’s many maritime territorial disputes could easily spill over and represent a risk to the SLOCs and threaten the ROC’s sovereignty and

development. The emerging naval buildup of the PRC and the multinational nature of the claims could easily drag the ROC into a conflict, especially considering that Beijing’s expansive claims in the region are by and large mirrored by Taipei’s own. The unstable

“A timely response is vital during periods of crisis or heightened tensions.” diplomatic relationship between the PRC and Japan places the ROC in a difficult position. On the one hand, if Taiwan angers Japan, it risks losing vital supplies for its economy. On the other hand, angering the PRC would close doors for exports since the PRC is Taiwan’s No. 1 export partner. The ROC needs to carefully prioritize. For the ROC, as well as other nations, multilateral cooperation on traditional SLOC security may be

An MH-60S Knight Hawk passes the Arleigh Burke-class guidedmissile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) while delivering supplies to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

8  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

photo: James Evans

Crewmembers on China’s Luhu-class destroyer Qingdao (DDG 113) man the rails as she pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on a trust-building mission.

perceived as an intrusion into national sovereignty. Thus, ensuring sea lane security will require comprehensive strategies encompassing differing perceptions and national interests of concerned states. Therefore, the priority of military application for deterrence and engagement needs to be taken into full consideration.

Stronger presence needed It is recommended that a stronger military presence be initiated at chokepoints and strategic locations, including Taiping Island, inside the Taiwan and Malacca straits, and any areas of overlapping EEZs. Additionally, the ROC should increase its use of soft power tools to reinforce its position on the issue. This, in combination with greater military visibility, will maximize the ROC’s standing on these crucial strategic issues. The ROC’s primary strategic objectives in the SCS and ECS, either alone or with the help of the United

photo: Cynthia Clark

States, are to maintain sovereignty and to secure vital SLOCs, thus ensuring continued security and economic growth. How can the ROC secure Taiping Island if it relies only on the Coast Guard? Due to the PRC’s strategy of biding its time regarding its SCS and ECS disputes, the ROC needs to make sure that its position will not be compromised. Finally, a timely response is vital during periods of crisis or heightened tensions. The government reacted slowly in deploying the military during the confrontation with the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman. This resulted in claims that the ROC government was timid. As one of the world’s top 20 economic and military powers, the ROC can surely take a stronger stand in securing sea lines of control by more skillfully utilizing its hard and soft power resources. b About the author Yavor Kostadinov is a PhD student at Taiwan’s Tamkang University. He can be reached for comment at yavorbg@gmail.com.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  9

China’s maritime territorial ambitions the first step in establishing regional dominance

Empire Building by Masafumi Iida

10  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication


ollowing the purchase by the Japanese government of three of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese citizen in September 2012, the Chinese government has intensified its efforts to erode and discredit Japanese sovereignty and administration over the islands, causing the greatest levels of tension between the two countries since their normalization of diplomatic ties in 1972. One of the tactics employed by leaders in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been to blame Japan for disruption of the international order, established at the end of World War II, through this change of ownership. China’s Ambassador

to the United Nations, Li Baodong, asserted at the UN General Assembly in September 2012 that the purchase of the islands by the Japanese government constituted “an open denial of the outcomes of victory of the world anti-fascist war, and a grave challenge to the post-war international order.” It is not Japan that is challenging the existing international order by making trouble over the Senkaku Islands. That is precisely what China is doing. Indeed, Beijing has profound reasons for seeking to revise the post-war order in East Asia, and it is taking steps to achieve regional predominance through maritime expansion. In recent years, China has accelerated actions designed to intimidate Japan’s valid control over the Senkaku Islands by not only verbally criticizing

“Raising an Army” is a painting depicting the 1759 Battle of Qurman in which the Qing court extended its empire into East Turkestan.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  11

Japan’s position on the Islands but also by intensifying pressure on Japan to make concessions by leveraging its rapidly growing “comprehensive national power,” including in the maritime domain. In December 2008, two patrol vessels of China Marine Surveillance

(CMS), a paramilitary organization under the State Oceanic Administration, intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus. This was the first-ever incursion by a Chinese-government ship into the Islands’ territorial seas. After a Chinese fishing boat intentionally map: VOA collided with two Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessels within the Japanese waters of the Senkakus (prompting the arrest of the captain) in September 2010, patrol vessels of the Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) of China’s Ministry of Agriculture joined the CMS vessels to intrude into the Japanese

Uotsuri Island is the largest of the five Senkaku Islands.

photo: Al Jazeera 12  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

seas around the Senkakus on the pretext of protecting Chinese fishermen. Since the Japanese government acquired ownership of three of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012, China has drastically increased use of its maritime strength to intimidate Japan. CMS, FLEC, and, following its creation in March 2013, the China Coast Guard (CCG) have regularly dispatched patrol vessels to the Senkakus, maintaining a continuous presence in the area. In 2013, Chinese government ships intruded into the territorial waters of the islands more than 50 times. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also has intensified provocative actions against Japan in the East China Sea. In October and December of 2012, a PLA Navy (PLAN) flotilla passed through Japanese contiguous waters of the Nansei Shoto Islands— also known as the Ryukyu Islands—and sailed for the Senkakus.

A well-worn ensign adorns a Japanese coast guard vessel on patrol near the Senkaku Islands.

Provocative actions In January 2013, PLAN frigates directed fire control radar at a destroyer and a helicopter of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in the East China Sea. In May of the same year, PLAN submarines conducted submerged passages in contiguous waters of the Ryukyu Islands at least three times. Even in the airspace over the East China Sea, China has steadily increased pressure on Japan, sending a patrol aircraft in December 2012 to intrude into Japanese airspace over the Senkaku Islands. A year later, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) allegedly operated by the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) flew near the Senkakus. Most recently, in November 2013, China declared a new air defense identification zone

photo: Al Jazeera

(ADIZ) over the East China Sea. The ADIZ includes the airspace over the Senkaku Islands. China’s provocative behavior in the East China Sea can be interpreted as an insight into Beijing’s intentions of leverage its growing sea power to alter the existing order in favor of Chinese interests. Clearly, it is not Japan but China that has an interest in changing Autumn 2014 Special Issue  13

the status quo of Japanese territorial jurisdiction over the Senkakus, which is in accordance with the postwar regional order. The National Security Strategy of Japan, published in December 2013, pointedly notes, “China has taken actions that can be regarded as attempts to change the status quo through coercion.” This recently published strategic document clearly shows Tokyo’s resolve to take measures in the coming years to protect Japan’s legally and historically wellestablished sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, and to reject any attempts by China to change the status quo in the region by coercive measures. China’s ambition to expand its territorial and economic interests by force has been much more apparent in the South China Sea than in the East China Sea. Since the mid 1970s, the region has witnessed China


14  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

steadily expand its control over islands in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains through intimidation and/ or use of force. In January 1974, the PLAN attacked naval assets of South Vietnam, which at the time

“Vessels belonging to the PLAN and Chinese law enforcement agencies often show an attitude inconsistent with regional rules and norms, including safety and freedom of navigation.” controlled some of the Paracel Islands. Eventually the PLAN defeated the South Vietnamese navy and established full control over the Paracels. In March 1988, the PLAN again attacked the Vietnamese Navy in an area near the Spratly Islands’ Johnson South Reef, causing severe damage to the Vietnamese side and ultimately leading to occupation of some islands that had previously been administered by Vietnam. In March 1995, China constructed guard posts on Mischief Reef (claimed by the Philippines) and coerced Manila into accepting Beijing’s occupation of the Reef by sending PLAN warships into the area. In retrospect, China is the only nation among the six claimants in the South China Sea to have taken control of islands from rival claimants through intimidation and force.

In 2012, China deployed its growing maritime power to wrest the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. A Philippine patrol aircraft spotted some Chinese fishing boats in the waters around the shoal, and upon subsequent investigation by a frigate of the Philippine Navy it was discovered that these vessels had been engaged in illegal fishing operations. When the Philippines side tried to arrest the Chinese fishermen, CMS vessels maneuvered into the area and prevented the Philippine authorities from conducting law enforcement activities. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Standoff at sea This incident sparked a two-month standoff between Chinese patrol vessels of the CMS and FLEC and Filipino Coast Guard patrol vessels. Ultimately, the Chinese side expelled the Philippine vessels from the area and established Chinese control over the Scarborough Shoal. This is the latest manifestation of China’s persistent territorial ambition in the South China Sea and Beijing’s apparent violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, which stipulates

Landsat imagery of Scarborough Shoal

that the parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities including, inter alia, refraining from action of inhabiting the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, and cays. While still serving as vice minister, PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi signed this document in 2002 on behalf of his government, as did his counterparts from the member states of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Vessels belonging to the PLAN and Chinese law enforcement agencies often show an attitude inconsistent with regional rules photo: Wikimedia commons and norms, including safety and freedom of navigation. In recent years, the CMS and FLEC have intensified their activities aimed at claiming sovereignty and maritime rights in the Autumn 2014 Special Issue  15

South China Sea. In April 2010, for instance, a large FLEC patrol ship sailed close to Swallow Reef, controlled by Malaysia, causing an 18-hour standoff with a Malaysian missile boat and patrol aircraft. In May 2011, a CMS vessel obstructed navigation of the Binh Minh 02, a PetroVietnam survey ship, off the coast of Central Vietnam, reportedly using specialized cablecutting devices to damage the equipment being towed by the Vietnamese survey ship. Indeed, the region is still feeling the fallout of the PRC’s placement of an oil rig within the boundaries of Vietnam’s EEZ, and the clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels that followed.

ternational waters south of Hainan Island, was harassed in a dangerous and unprofessional manner by PLAAF aircraft as well as five Chinese ships, among them vessels of the PLAN, CMS, and FLEC, and two trawlers.

“It is extremely difficult for China to expand its control over these islands through peaceful negotiation because other parties to the disputes have no intention of giving up their own sovereignty.”

Targeting the US

In December 2013, while observing an exercise by the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in international waters in the South China Sea, the USS Cowpens was

China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea is directed not only at the Southeast Asian countries but at the United States as well. In March 2009, the US surveillance ship USNS Impeccable, operating in in-

forced to stop to avoid a collision with a PLAN’s ship that manoeuvred dangerously in front of it. These actions on the part of China’s military and law enforcement agencies are inconsistent with the principles of

In an apparently coordinated effort, Chinese trawlers stop directly in front of the unarmed ocean surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable, forcing the ship to conduct an emergency all-stop to avoid collision.

photo: US Navy

16  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

freedom of navigation and raise concerns about the safety of navigation in the South China Sea. Why has China engaged in increasingly assertive behavior in its surrounding waters? What does China seek to achieve by exercising its growing might? It is fairly clear that China aims to establish exclusive con-

ests. This firm stance in pursuing territorial integrity is enthusiastically supported by a nationalistic portion of Chinese society, and contributes to enhancing the CCP’s political legitimacy. Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult for China to expand its control over these islands through peacephoto: Paul Kelly

The guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) pulls into port in Saipan.

trol over Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands, and the Spratly Islands, which they perceive to be “lost territories.” Just after his appointment as secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping pledged to realize a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” This “Chinese dream” can hardly be realized without annexing territories in the East and South China seas. The State Council Information Office released September 2011 an official document on Chinese foreign policy strategy, euphemistically titled “China’s Peaceful Development,” that defines territorial integrity and national reunification as the state’s “core interests.” At a study group session of the CCP Central Committee Political Bureau in January 2013, Xi declared that China will never sacrifice core interests, and that no country should presume that China will be willing to consider trades involving its core inter-

ful negotiation because other parties to the disputes have no intention of giving up their own sovereignty to China. The existing international mechanisms for resolving territorial disputes might not be helpful for China because the legal foundation of China’s claims over many of these islands is far from ironclad. The

“As China seeks to maximize the effect of its coercion of rival states, its major obstacle remains the US military presence in the region.” Philippines has included China’s recent actions on Mabini Reef, where Beijing appears to be building an airstrip, in its appeal to the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. China rejects such international arbitration, holding firm to its “nine-dash line” Autumn 2014 Special Issue  17

photo: Jonathan Chen

interpretation to justify its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. Clearly, since Beijing is averse to a negotiated settlement to its many disputed territorial claims, it is prone to rely on its growing maritime power to compel rival countries to concede. As China seeks to maximize the effect of its coercion of rival states, its major obstacle remains the US military presence in the region, because Washington is committed—often by force of treaty—to the security of many parties to the disputes.

US support The United States supports the security of Taiwan by many means including the sale of defensive weapons to Taipei, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act. Japan is a security ally of the United States and the US government has reaffirmed that the Senkaku 18  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

An AH-64E Apache helicopter sold to Taiwan by the United States, as provided for in the Taiwan Relations Act.

Islands fall under the treaty obligation of America. The United States signed a security treaty with the Philippines and supports Manila as it seeks to enhance its defensive capabilities. In recent years the United States has also made significant efforts to strengthen defense cooperation with new partners in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore and Vietnam. As long as the United States maintains a military presence sufficient to meet its security commitments and support other countries in the region, there is little chance for China to make tangible achievements from its coercive behavior against the contested countries. However, China presently stops short of overtly challenging the US presence in this region because it is incapable of doing so for the time being. China currently pursues an indirect approach to eroding the regional foundation for supporting

the US military presence. Without credible support and cooperation from regional allies and partners based on their trust and confidence in US security commitments, Washington will find it extremely difficult to maintain an effective military presence in the Asia Pacific.

Coercive behavior China strives to diminish the credibility of US security commitments to regional partners by engaging in coercive behavior that is not so provocative as to invite US intervention. For instance, China wrested the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, but the United States did not take effective action to compel China to withdraw from the shoal for the sake of its ally. China expects that a continuation of this sort of non-militarized pressure will induce US partners in the region to gradually lose their confidence in the US security guarantee, which will in turn undermine regional support for the US military presence.

The CCP, furthermore, regards the US presence around China as a major threat to the continuation of its authoritarian political regime. The CCP is deeply suspicious of the US intention to support “peaceful evolution” away from communist rule. According to analyst Edward Friedman, from the CCP’s point of view, the American promotion of human rights and democracy is the No. 1 threat that the CCP regime has to defeat. In order to realize the Chinese dream and to enable the one-party state to endure, the CCP has to make every effort to weaken US influence in East Asia, and that means China must ascend to dominance in the region, replacing the existing USled regional order. China’s maritime expansion into the East and South China seas and the Western Pacific should be understood as the first step in the CCP’s long-term strategy to establish Chinese domination in the region. b About the author Masafumi Iida is a senior research fellow at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies and can be reached for comment at masafumi@nids.go.jp.

The sun sets on Swallow Reef, of the disputed Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.

photo: Matthew Lee

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  19

The Diving Dragon BY JENS KASTNER Taiwan’s sea lines of communication

and prospects for submarine aquisition


f one were to ask a diversity of strategists if they could agree on the one weapon system that has what it takes to safeguard Taiwan’s sea lines of communication (SLOCs), that system would surely be submarines. A small fleet of diesel-electric submarines would be extremely useful in a number of

calls a “Focused Lifeline” between the United States and the island, which produces less than 1 percent of its primary energy supply, and imports virtually all corn and soybeans needed to feed its livestock. Moreover, if the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would effectively continue to accept the status quo,

scenarios that the Republic of China (ROC) may be facing in the future. Beijing appears to be fed up after decades of waiting for unification, yet it does not want to launch an ugly, all-out war to annex Taiwan. If it were to blockade Taiwan, ROC submarines could facilitate what East Asia defense expert Alex Bellah

the subs would bring about much more firepower that would allow the ROC to join the increasingly rude elbowing for regional energy reserves in the region’s seas. Even if the Taiwanese opt to form a union with China—one allowing them to maintain their own armed forces—the subs would still prove useful: They

20  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

image: Andromega Volaire

would act as a disincentive for China’s future leaders from drastically backpedaling on whatever concessions their predecessors may have made to Taiwan. These leaders would know that, apart from undermining a blockade, the boats could be deployed in the Taiwan Strait just off the key passageways out from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) naval bases and commercial ports, conducting mining operations, and posing real threats to anything that sails

submarines, agreed to by the administration of US President George W. Bush in April 2001, will never materialize. For one thing, the United States can no longer build diesel-electric subs—it produces only nuclear-powered ones—and the European countries that have the capability would be unlikely to risk messing up their lucrative business relationships with China.

by, including the major surface combatants of the PLA Navy (PLAN). That said, where will these boats come from? There are recurring reports that Taiwan wants to build its own subs. Such reports have emerged since it became clear that the sale of eight diesel-electric

Made in Taiwan One solution that initially suggested itself was that Taiwan build its own boats. During the tenure of ROC President Chen Shui-bian, talk emerged of the Diving Dragon: a project that envisioned the possiAutumn 2014 Special Issue  21

The nuclear-powered attack submarine Virginia while under construction.

bility for Taiwan’s China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) to built boats in Taiwan using technology transfers. However, neither the ROC Navy nor the Ministry of National Defense (MND) was convinced, due largely to the high cost projections, likely schedule delays, and problems with quality standards that could potentially result from local construction. These doubts were compounded by the fact that building a submarine is by no means a small engineering feat, and that CSBC has so far welded together container and bulk carriers that are basically big steel boxes, very much unlike modern submarines, which are highly compartmented and require sophisticated sensors and combat systems, hulls optimized to avoid flow noise and air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems as well as fuel cells which enable the boats to stay underwater weeks at a time. CSBC was warned that it would find it difficult to use someone else’s design while trying to obtain all the subsystems from the original vendors, and Taiwan hands have predicted that the Diving Dragon would inevitably 22  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

photo: US Navy

run into profound difficulties as soon as CSBC started altering the original design, or having to find replacement vendors for subsystems. In other words, the critics said, if Taipei were to start a submarine program using foreign blueprints—or even its own—to-

“Japan might consider selling Taiwan some of its mothballed submarines if Sino-Japanese relations continue to deteriorate.” day, it would take well over a decade and a whopping US$15 billion before an ROC submarine fleet could possibly take to the sea. But now it appears as if the Diving Dragon could be alive and kicking sooner, and for less money. In April, President Ma Ying-jeou told the US Center for Strategic and International Studies of a new “consensus in Taiwan” to build the submarines domestically. A few days later, Defense Minister Yen Ming tes-

A Hai Lung class submarine surfaces during an ROC naval exercise.

tified to the Legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee that the United States “is willing to help us build the submarines together.” Although such talk by ROC government officials has more or less been consistently heard for years, without discernible progress made on the issue, the first promising sign that the Diving Dragon might indeed be lingering just around the corner came in late May.

It was then that ROC Navy Command Headquarters confirmed that the CSBC and the Ship and Ocean Industries Research and Development Center (SOIC) have been appointed to weld a new section of pressure hull onto Taiwan’s two 70-year-old Tench/ Guppy-II class submarines. The old boats are used in anti-submarine warfare exercises simulating PLAN boats, but do not actually dive, owing to the obvious danger to the crew. And as the new welding job will not really change photo: ROC Navy this, given that metal fatigue will still plague the rest of the boats, the local media found it worthwhile to speculate that the partial hull replacement is meant as welding practice for CSBC and SOIC. According to this school of thought, such practicing with the Guppies in combination with the reverse-engineering of Taiwan’s other two boats, the combat-capable Zwaardvis-class boats acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s, will facilitate the birth of the Diving Dragon, making the possibility significantly less costly and some-

The secret base at Sanya on Hainan Island could house up to 20 of the latest 094 Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

photo: Wapster

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  23

what faster than previously predicted. In terms of its shipbuilding capacity and experience with marine engineering, South Korea is certainly ahead of Taiwan, and yet it had three brand new boats out of service for much of 2010 because its engineers did not get some minor bolts right. The Koreans had to swallow their pride and eventually call in German technicians—a safety net that will not be available to the ROC should it encounter technical difficulties with any future sub fleet. According to political scientist Chen ChingChang, a professor at Japan’s Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, given these problems, Taiwan might as well wait for the day that foreign-built boats will be released. According to Chen, Japan might consider selling Taiwan some of its mothballed submarines if Sino-Japanese relations continue to deteriorate, and if the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang loses power in

USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is moored near the ROKS Son Won-il (SS 072) at Busan Naval Base, South Korea.

photo: Lou Rosales

Taiwan’s 2016 presidential elections. These Japanese conventional subs are very quiet, AIP-equipped, relatively new, and some can launch anti-ship missiles, making them an attractive option for Taiwan as it faces a leadership cadre in Beijing that is growing impatient with the slow pace of cross-strait unification armed with a quickly modernizing PLA fleet. b About the author Jens Kastner is a Taipei-based journalist who covers security and military topics. He can be reached for comment at kenslastner@googlemail.com.

Royal Navy Trafalgar Class submarine HMS Triumph is silhouetted against the Middle Eastern sun.

photo: Abbie Gadd

24  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

Oil and Water

Oil rig incident forces Hanoi to re-evaluate relationship with Beijing By Huong Le Thu


here is a longstanding habit in Chinese foreign policy to count and label things, concepts such as the “four goods” (good neighbors, good friends, good comrades and good partners) and the “16 golden words” (which include long-term stability, future-oriented, and comprehensive cooperative relations), both of which have been used to promote Sino-Vietnamese relations.

normalization of ties in 1991. Certainly, what was heretofore considered a positive relationship has been seriously challenged, and it behooves the Vietnamese government to re-examine its attitude toward China, as well as the entire foundations of its foreign policy and defense policy strategy. A period of political isolation that followed years of war impacted Vietnamese political thinking. In order

Yet despite these rosy enumerations, this summer’s oil rig crisis—sparked when Beijing placed an oil rig ostensibly for exploratory operations squarely within the waters of Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—proved to have been one of the most destabilizing incidents in bilateral relations since the

to promote development and growth, Hanoi viewed it as being in Vietnam’s best interests to maintain a peaceful environment in the region, and so a nonalignment defense strategy was adopted, stipulating no military alliances, no foreign bases on Vietnamese territory, and no intervention from third countries.

A statue Ho ChiArmy Min outside the offices of image:ofU.S. RDECOM CERDEC Communist Party of Vietnam. photo: Jason Tabarias

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  25

This strategy, coupled with a foreign policy predicated on being “friends with everyone,” represented Vietnam’s commitment to peace. Diplomacy was supposed to be the means by which Hanoi would build and maintain an effective security net.

International support By and large, this tack worked. Until May 2014, Hanoi was able to boast about its accomplishments on the diplomatic front. Vietnam had become an active member of regional and trans-regional fora, and its dense network of bilateral ties expanded, including comprehensive, strategic, and strategic-cooperative partnerships with 15 nations, all of which provided Hanoi with the assurance of international support. Vietnam’s successful multilateral diplomacy had resulted in earning the country a good reputation as a responsible member of the international community of nations.

These strategies and policies, however, were shown to be insufficient, as they did not deter the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) from deploying its oil rig HYSY-981 just 120 nautical miles off Vietnam’s coast, seemingly without fear or concern for any repercussions for the incursion. Thus China clearly proved that the cooperative strategic partnerships—supposedly the strongest partnership type based on a long-term stable relationship—that Hanoi had forged with Beijing and Moscow were not the guarantees of peaceful existence that they were supposed to have been, but were worth little more than the paper they were printed on. Not only did the cooperative strategic partnership fail to prevent China from its aggressive actions toward Vietnam, but a similar pact with Moscow failed to constrain Russia from taking advantage of Vietnam’s predicament. This blatant Chinese disregard for sovereignty is seen by the Vietnamese as Beijing attaching a low importance to the good comradeship, good partner-

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Chinese Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore May 31, 2014.

photo: Aaron Hostutler

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ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta

ship, and the other pair in the “four goods” that the two communist-controlled neighboring governments were supposed to have valued. Not all previous diplomatic efforts of Vietnam turned out in vain. Consistency in promoting nonconfrontation, respect for international law and commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes has given Hanoi a credible image of a responsible member of the international community. Such an attitude is supported by regional actors, including Japan, the United States, Australia, and others. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has repeatedly called for restraint in such matters, in order to preserve regional stability. In fact, Vietnam has been an active promoter of ASEAN’s role in the region. Obviously, Hanoi would prefer it if ASEAN took a stronger stand in this case, as Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged at the 25th ASEAN Summit that took place in Naypyidaw, Burma, just a few days after the oil rig was deployed. However, ASEAN is caught between wanting to be faithful to its non-interference principle and staying relevant in the region, and the body

photo: Gunawan Kartapranata

only went so far as to issue a statement expressing “strong concern,” without even naming the transgressor by name. But because ASEAN has shown in its history that it is capable of speaking with one, strong voice in addressing extraordinary events threatening regional peace—a category to which this situation clearly belongs—there are reasons for Hanoi to remain hopeful. For one thing, even ASEAN’s tepid reaction means that this crisis is no longer a bilateral issue between Vietnam and China: its implications will affect the peace of the entire region. Moreover, there are now

“Even ASEAN’s tepid reaction means that this crisis is no longer a bilateral issue between Vietnam and China: its implications will affect the peace of the entire region.” two ASEAN member states that are suffering from the same instability caused by China. In view of the origin of the Association, the common threat that brought the region together, and its continued need Autumn 2014 Special Issue  27

to stay relevant, it is in ASEAN’s best interests not to in the region, is the Japan/US dispute with China. become sidelined. Leaders in Vietnam seem unsure how to leverRepresentatives from Japan and age such clear diplomatic support the United States used strong from two of the more crucial aclanguage at the 2014 Shangri-La tors in the region. A speech givDialogue in Singapore, condemnen by the Vietnamese Defense ing Beijing’s unilateralist attitude. Minister sent mixed signals, reJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo questing that China remove the Abe’s keynote speech and comoil rig, while at the same time emments by US Secretary of Defense phasizing Vietnam’s “good relaChuck Hagel elevated the bilattionship” with its neighbor to the eral dispute between Hanoi and north. This contradictory message Beijing to a global level. The oil signaled to the international comrig crisis has hence created a new munity that, internally, the leadphoto: Aaron Hostutler Vietnam’s Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh balance of disputes. There are two ership in Hanoi had not reached sets of disputes: bilaterally between a consensus regarding how to China and the Philippines, and between China and respond to the crisis. Vietnam. There is hence room for Hanoi and Manila The question remains: What is next for Vietnamese to have closer consultative exchanges. The other set foreign and defense policy? At the World Economic of disputes, given the US and Japanese engagement Forum in Manila in late May, Prime Minister Dung

Members of the Japanese Self Defense Force take part in exercise Dawn Blitz 2013. 28  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

photo: Jonathan Waldman

conveyed to the international media his determination to bring the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), though this course of action was initially slow to receive public backing from the president and the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. After the visit of PRC State Councilor Yang Jiechi to Hanoi in June 2014—the first high-level communication since the crisis— the pursuit of international legal mechanisms were hardly mentioned again. At the moment, with a reciprocal visit from Vietnam to China, both sides claim to be working on mending the relationship. Yet, worries remain over when Beijing might send another oil rig, as well as over the development of an artificial island that the PRC is building in the disputed waters, preventing Hanoi from feeling secure.

Catalyst for change However difficult the disturbance of the status quo in the South China Sea is, there may be opportunities for turning crisis into a catalyst for change. Both Tokyo and Washington are keen to have defense cooperation talks with Hanoi. For Japan, Vietnam is an important player in its intention to revise collective self-defense. Given the fact that Japan has consistently been one of the top foreign investors and the biggest donor of aid in Vietnam, the trust between the countries is strong. The United States, meanwhile, has recognized Vietnam’s strategic importance in the region, particularly for its rebalancing strategy. Hanoi and Washington have been gradually tightening cooperation, as seen from high-level visits in 2013, which resulted in the inking of a comprehensive partnership pact.

map: Astore international

One of the reasons that Hanoi has been cautious about implementing closer ties with Washington has been the fear of agitating China, but given current events, this fear must also be revised. Other sensitive issues on the domestic side of Vietnamese politics may prove to be obstacles to closer WashingtonHanoi relations, and will take longer to address. Another possible ally comes from ASEAN: particularly the Philippines, which would no doubt welcome Vietnam on its side at the ITLOS. For a country that bears a colossal asymmetry with its northern neighbor, and which unlike the Philippines does not have any alliances with another giant that can protect it from aggression, Vietnam is in a situation of very limited choices. A hard-line reaction to China’s assertiveness would have strong economic and political repercussions. Incautious maneuvering may push Hanoi into the direction of “mending fences” with China in a manner dictated by Beijing. However, increased talks with the other great power in the region—the United States—suggests that Vietnam is getting over its disillusionment and putting more of its eggs in another basket. b About the author Dr. Huong Le Thu is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. She can be reached for comment at lethu@iseas.edu.sg.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  29

Trying to Heal Old Wounds As ertswhile enemies the United States and Vietnam strive to develop a new friendship, Washington and Hanoi may find the going more difficult than anticipated.

By Lu Wen-hao

30  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication


n a sign of the growing relationship between the United States and Vietnam, it was reported on October 2 that Washington would at least partially lift its longstanding ban on the sale of weapons to Hanoi in order to support Vietnam’s efforts to increase its maritime security capabilities. Arms sales can now include potentially lethal systems for both air and sea assets to aid in Vietnam’s security and surveillance efforts. Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh was informed of the decision by US Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Washington. Even discussions about lifting the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam has caused consternation in Beijing,

which would interpret the move as America meddling in China’s backyard. Leaders at Zhongnanhai value their party-to-party relations with the ruling party in Vietnam, and already interpret Washington’s rapprochement with Hanoi as taking sides against Beijing in its territorial dispute with Vietnam.

Instigating a crisis On May 1, 2014, China made international headlines by moving its giant indigenous oil rig into the South China Sea. The location, just 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s shores, was well within Vietnam’s continental shelf and its Exclusive Economic Zone. This move greatly escalated the tension between China and Vietnam in disputed waters and both sides subsequently engaged in a stand-off near the Chinese oil rig. An official from China’s Foreign Ministry subsequently accused Vietnam of ramming Chinese ships, claiming that Vietnamese boats had rammed Chinese vessels 171 times and insisting that China’s ships in the area were all civilian, while Vietnam had sent armed vessels. In response, the Vietnamese

Government showed reporters video evidence of the ramming by Chinese ships. Additionally, Vietnam also accused China of using its navy to support the activity of their civilian vessels. Tensions have escalated while anti-Chinese sentiment in Vietnam has produced significant rioting that killed at least three Chinese citizens and injured hundreds more. The United States immediately demonstrated its support of Vietnam by criticizing the move by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). A US State Department spokeswoman told reporters, “Given the recent history of tensions in the South China Sea, China’s decision to operate its oil rig in disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful for the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.” In contrast, the United States showed reluctance to condemn the Vietnam government over the destruction by antiChinese rioters of foreign-owned factories. It is obvious that Washington is taking sides in the territorial dispute between Beijing and Hanoi. Likewise, US President Barack Obama’s moves in Japan and the Philippines during his Asian tour USNS Mercy makes a Pacific Partnership 2012 visit to Vietnam.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  31

photo: Sara Csurilla

A Vietnamese child looks through her new glasses for the first time after being treated by eye specialists from the US military and Vietnam People’s Armed Forces during Operation Pacific Angel 2013 in Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province.

have similarly demonstrated his siding with those countries in their respective maritime disputes with China. The United States has demonstrated its intent to strengthen ties with Vietnam, relying on Hanoi to help make its pivot to Asia a reality. In this case, Beijing seems to be making a strategic mistake by pushing Hanoi into Washington’s arms, thereby helping to creating a potential anti-China coalition in East Asia, which would include Japan, the Philippines, and maybe others. Despite recent developments, however, it may not be an easy task for the United States to recruit Vietnam as an ally against China.

Re-engaging in Asia Since taking office, Obama has expended considerable energy and political capital in pursuit of stronger ties in Southeast Asia. After eight years that saw Washington disengaged and distracted from the region, Obama moved quickly to increase US engagement with this important region. Since the beginning of the Obama presidency, US engagement with Vietnam has grown particularly fast—though admittedly starting from a low base—to a level not seen since the heady days when President Bill Clinton visited Hanoi in 2000 and delivered the first-ever 32  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

speech by a foreign leader to be broadcast live across Vietnam. Vietnam and the United States exchanged a series of high-ranking official delegations in 2012, when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited the country to meet with top leaders. Optimism surrounding the potential Vietnam-US strategic partnership was riding high after Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran and key player in the bilateral diplomatic relationship, became US Secretary of State in February 2013. That same year, a July meeting at the White House between Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang further strengthened the US-Vietnam relationship. During their meeting, the two presidents affirmed their commitment to opening a new phase of bilateral relations based on mutual respect and issues of common interest. Sang’s visit came at an important time for both nations, reflecting a shared desire to build a forwardlooking relationship between the two countries. Human rights issues are perhaps the biggest obstacle to lifting the ban on lethal weapons sales and generally improving Vietnam-US ties. American officials have consistently raised their concerns about human rights violations by the government of Vietnam. They even publicly stated that an improvement in the

human rights situation would be a precondition to warmer military ties. The United States has voiced its concern over the recent harassment, arrest and detention of bloggers, dissidents and anti-PRC demonstrators. Kerry has been called on to put pressure on Vietnam for its human rights record. Washington has candidly told Hanoi that it will not sell it weapons until its human rights record improves. This stands in sharp contrast to US policy toward other countries, such as its allies in the Middle East. Indeed, Washington only briefly suspended arms sales to Bahrain after the Arab Spring, and resumed them despite the government’s continued crackdown on its Shiite population. Part of the reason Vietnam is treated differently is undoubtedly driven by America’s domestic politics. Civil society groups in the United States, some led by Vietnamese Americans, have long cited Hanoi’s human rights abuses in arguments against stronger bilateral ties. Most of the Vietnamese-American population of approximately 1.8 million fled to the

United States after the Vietnam War, and they remain concerned with the communist government’s lack of respect for human rights and basic freedoms in their former homeland. Most recently, anti-Vietnam groups in the United States have seized upon

“Vietnam, like Japan and the Philippines, has been dragged into territorial disputes by China in recent years.” Hanoi’s recent arrests and prosecutions of dissidents and bloggers to press the Obama administration to refrain from upgrading the bilateral relationship. The PRC has been Vietnam’s biggest trading partner for the past decade. Bilateral trade in 2013 reached US$65.5 billion, a year-on-year increase of 30 percent. Some 28 percent of Vietnam’s total imports are from China, while exports to China make up 10 percent of its total exports. By comparison, Vietnam’s imports and exports form only a fraction of China’s total.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visits Hanoi June 3, 2012.

photo: Erin Kirk-Cuomo

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  33

A rational Vietnam would not want to jeopardize this important trading relationship. Moreover, the anti-Chinese riots and the destruction and looting of Chinese factories, as well as those of other nations including Taiwan and South Korea, have only hurt Vietnam’s international image as a good place to do business. This would be bad for Vietnam when its big projects desperately need foreign capital: China is a huge source of that capital, with Chinese foreign direct investment having increased sharply in 2013. Vietnam, like Japan and the Philippines, has been dragged into territorial disputes by China in recent years. Yet Vietnam’s status is different from these others due to its economic subordination to China. Although China and Japan rely on each other for imports and exports, it would be a catastrophe if the second- and third-largest economies of the world engaged in a serious trade war. Moreover, countries such as the Philippines have insulation from pressure by the PRC because their trade relationships and economies are more diversified, and thus they are less economically reliant on China. Vietnam has less President Barack Obama, right, holds a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House.

White House photo

34  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

leverage with China because its economic development heavily depends on Chinese capital. Hanoi will not cavalierly jeopardize its economic development to seek limited cooperation with the United States. It must be remembered that Vietnam is still a socialist regime dominated by the Communist party with a

“It will not be easy for the United States to establish a relationship with Vietnam.” strong, historical suspicion of the United States. Many in Vietnam are suspicious about America’s goals in their country, believing that the United States still aims to topple the Communist regime through some kind of color revolution. The constant criticism of Vietnam’s human rights record by the United States only makes things worse for the bilateral relationship. Thus, so long as the Vietnamese Communist Party remains in power, there will not be a fundamental change in the political relationship between Vietnam

US soldiers rest on March 13, 1968, in Quang Tri, South Vietnam in front of Viet Cong propaganda that conveys much the same message as today’s politicians. photo: tommy japan

and the United States. The Vietnam Communist Party might lose face in confrontations with China, but it could jeopardize its very existence if it gets too close to the United States.

Obstacles remain Vietnam and the United States have progressed from being wartime enemies to having a relationship characterized by warming ties. However, it is too early to proclaim that they will build a strategic partnership. There will always be obstacles in the US-Vietnam relationship. It will not be easy for the United States to establish a relationship with Vietnam like the one it has with Japan or the Philippines. Human rights and Vietnam’s one-party dictatorship are still strongly criticized in the US congress. Suspicion remains among the Vietnamese leadership of the notion that Washington seeks to orchestrate a “peaceful evolution” away from one-party rule by the Vietnamese Communist Party. Meanwhile, China still holds the position of Vietnam’s most important trading partner. Hanoi will not damage this in order to develop a strong

partnership with America. This is a good explanation for why President Sang characterized the relationship as a “comprehensive partnership” instead of a “strategic partnership” during his meeting with Obama. Unlike Japan and the Philippines, which are overwhelmingly pro-American and have entered into mutual defense treaties, Vietnam distrusts both the United States and China due to the scars of war with both nations. Though the Chinese oil rig incursion raised the ire of Vietnamese citizens, this was an emotional reaction, and from a purely economic perspective, it would be foolish for Hanoi to drift too far out of Beijing’s orbit. Indeed, the true purpose of the US rebalancing policy is to seek win-win situations on issues of economic development. If the dispute between China and Vietnam continues to escalate, Hanoi may find that the United States has only limited practical aid to offer Hanoi. Vietnam, which has little trust in superpowers, is not likely to align itself with the United States and risk additional volatility. b About the author Colonel Lu Wen-hao is deputy director of the Research and Development Office of the ROC National Defense University. He can be reached for comment at luwenhao73@gmail.com.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  35

Drawing Lines Offshore Control and Taiwan’s Sea Lines of Communication By Michał Pawiński At first glance, the proposed strategy of Offshore Control to counter Chinese Anti-Access/AreaDenial looks like an attractive option for political and military decision makers. It would not precipitate an offensive war, and it would seem to present a soft military response via a distant blockade of the sea lines of communication essential to China, and hence it offers the achievement of political aims without the burden of high costs connected with the more offensive Air-Sea Battle plan. There remain many challenges, however, that undermine the potential effectiveness and chances of success with implementation of Offshore Control. What is more, it does not offer attractive future prospects for Taiwan, as it would leave the island inside the inner ring of a distant blockade, and in the hands of People’s Republic of China.


hroughout history, the ability to influence the passage of trade has been the goal of those nations that have built large navies. Control of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) meant the free and unconstrained flow of one’s goods and the ability to hinder those of rivals. The great

by the stunning increase in global shipping market, dependency on SLOCs and modernization of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Therefore, the assumptions underlining American Offshore Control (OC), a proposed counterstrategy for Chinese AntiAccess/Area-Denial (A2/AD), seems to correspond

powers of the past—ranging from the Persians and the Romans to the Dutch and British—recognized the importance of the sea, and hence decided to shift from land to sea power. Contemporary China is no different, and its turn toward the sea is now very much a reality, confirmed

to the geostrategic nature of the Asia-Pacific region. However, its effectiveness and feasibility, especially given the concerns of Taipei, remain to be seen. According to T. X. Hammes, a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, OC is an alternative to Air-Sea Battle that aims to provide a strategy

36  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

photo: Walter Wayman Autumn 2014 Special Issue  37

An aviation ordnanceman attaches a satchel charge to a mine.

alternative routes, the United States and allied forces would also have to supervise such passages as the Strait of Hormuz, Tsugaru Strait, and Makassar Strait. A distant maritime blockade might be a very attractive option to civilian policy makers and military planners preparing for conflict with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). If successful, such a course might achieve political objectives with very low levels of violence. In addition, currently, the PLAN has limited means of countering such a distant blockade. Nonetheless, if an outer blockade could effectively cut off commerce to China via large ships and tankers, it is likely that a delivery through smaller, more difficult-to-control vessels would commence. In response blockading states would be forced to consider an inner blockade ring. photo: Andrew Mckaskle

for conflict termination with China on terms acceptable to the United States and its allies. It establishes a set of concentric rings that denies China the use of the sea inside the first island chain, defends the sea and air space of the first island chain, and dominates the air and maritime space outside the island chain. In other words, OC establishes an inner and outer ring blockade aimed at disrupting oil flow and economic sea commerce to China. The outer ring blockade, or distant blockade, would focus on the main choke points through which SLOCs are passing. This includes three vital straits, namely, the straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok. What is more, due to

Dangerous escalation

A close blockade would mean placing surface warships in close proximity to China’s coastline, at important trading ports like Hong Kong or Dalian. Such a step could prove dangerously escalatory, prompting the PRC to respond even more aggressively than it would in the case of a distant blockade. One of the most successful examples of a naval blockade was the US maritime warfare against Japan during World

photo: Hervé Cozanet 38  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

image: DoD

War II. Japan was defeated primarily because of the destruction of its merchant fleet through submarines and naval mines, gradually shutting off the oil and raw materials necessary to expand and sustain its industry and war machine. What the case of Japan and other historical blockades show us is that the success of any economic blockade depends on factors that vary with the domestic resources and the geographic location of the nation against which it is directed, as well as the military might at the disposal of the initiating nation. Three factors must be considered, the first of which is that the economy of the blockaded power must be vulnerable. It is hard to imagine that any kind of blockade would work against the United States, mainly due to its geography. On the other hand,

China’s economy is dependent upon seaborne trade, and the PRC has never in its history had to contend with the effects of such a blockade. Second, the blockading nation must have sufficient military power to take control of sea and land routes that connect the enemy with other nations. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will soon have, if it does not possess it yet, sufficient capabilities to execute an air and naval blockade of Taiwan. The third factor involves the blockading power’s ability to secure the cooperation of neutral powers that might be able to supply the blockaded country from oversees. The United States will not be able to blockade China without support from allies such as Japan or Australia. Washington will have to do a much better job securing support from third countries than it has in the case of the economic sanctions imposed against Russia and Syria, for example. In both cases, sanctions have had a minimal effect in starving those economies and forcing the respective governments to comply with international norms.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  39

In addition to securing cooperation, there are other challenges threatening the effectiveness of an OC strategy against China. For one thing, Beijing has taken major steps toward preparing to survive and oppose a maritime blockade as long as possible, such as by stockpiling petroleum reserves. Moreover, cargoes can be sold between the ports of embarkation and destination; some oil cargoes are resold on the spot market for as high as 30 times the original value while still in tankers out at sea. Thus, oil destined for South Korea, for example, could conceivably be purchased by China after having passed inspection. Using the OC approach, an allied blockade of China and a Chinese blockade of Taiwan would be radically different operations, both in terms of scope and difficulty. For one thing, China would have to focus solely on the traffic to Taiwan’s ports—a close-in operation that would benefit from the concentration of China’s many naval and paramilitary vessels—whereas the United States would have to supervise and control farflung passages including the aforementioned straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok. To execute such

an enormous operation the US Navy would have to rationally allocate its limited resources between the blockade and other ongoing operations. According to estimates by analysts Gabriel Collins and William Murray, at least 10 surface warships and

“Taiwan is the vital ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ of East Asia; a democratic country with a population of 23 million, a vibrant economy, and in China’s eyes, a gateway to the Pacific Ocean.” two replenishment vessels would be required to establish an effective distant blockade at the Strait of Malacca. This number would increase proportionally for the Lombok Strait and Sunda Strait, not to mention other possible routes which would require additional surface ships.

Lessons of history Again, one can look to historical examples for insight into the projected effectiveness of such an operation. During so-called Tanker War of 1987-1988 between Iraq and Iran, the US interest was to ensure that only non-belligerent ships moving oil to the West were given safe passage. The relatively small size of the Persian Gulf, especially in the Straits of Hormuz, made the situation ripe for the use of mines, forcing the tankers to head convoys by acting as crude minesweepers in order to protect the smaller US warships that trailed behind. During the eight-year war, 543 ships were attacked, 200 merchant sailors were killed, and 53 American lives were lost. Over 80 ships were sunk, resulting in over US$2 billion in direct losses to cargo and hulls. The total cost to the world economy was projected by some to exceed US$200 billion. Despite these high costs, the Tanker War was a limited conflict which did not pit great powers against each other. In a

40  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

blockade against the PRC, the cost in lives and economic losses would likely be much greater. Taiwan is the vital “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of East Asia; a democratic country with a population of 23 million, a vibrant economy, and in China’s eyes, a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. What OC proposes is opportunity and invitation, rather than constraint and deterrence of China’s yen to annex Taiwan. In the near future, the PLA will be able to impose effective sea control over the first island chain, denying access to US and allied forces. The Chinese economy could survive long enough to coerce Taiwan into capitulation, while US forces would A CH-53E helicopter tows a MK-105 magnetic-influence minesweeping sled. photo: Jenna Blais struggle with the enormous challenges of a disbuildup.” In fact, there is no single universal strategy tant blockade. Therefore, American planners may which can address all the potential challenges in the ultimately find OC an unattractive strategy in a conAsia-Pacific Region. There are too many scenarios, flict involving Taiwan. too many complexities, and too many countries inIn contrast, Air-Sea Battle might be better suited to volved to produce a one-size-fits-all strategy to counsuch a scenario. Detractors point out that this stratter PRC A2/AD initiatives. egy would result in little more than a Pyrrhic victory after a struggle between two great powers, while those who support Air-Sea Battle see it (according to a publication of the US Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments) as the best way to offset “the PLA’s unprovoked and unwarranted military

Nevertheless, given geopolitical realities, and Beijing’s national objectives, a potential naval and air blockade of Taiwan is still a future possibility. Therefore, Taiwan should take necessary steps to deal with this threat and take necessary steps to facilitate the execution of OC. Autumn 2014 Special Issue  41

In particular, Taipei should prepare to take actions inside an inner-ring blockade. Taiwan’s economic vulnerability, particularly in energy security, limits its options. Taiwan mandates that the oil industry and government maintain strategic reserves totaling no less than 30 days of reserves. However, whether the law is respected and the stockpiles maintained remains unclear. For instance, in March 2008 the media reported that the oil stocks had fallen to only 20 days. It is worth noting that the minimum safe threshold for OECD countries is deemed to be 90 days of supply. Establishing a strategic oil reserve threshold of 90 days or longer should be the immediate aim of the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou—this would exceed China’s current reserve supply of 46 days and allow the Republic of China (ROC) to hold out for a longer period of time in the event of hostilities. The PLA is not a flawless machine; it has many potential weaknesses that can be exploited by weaker opponents. One significant shortcoming is a lack of practical battlefield experience since the SinoVietnam War of 1979. More relevant to Taiwan is the

PLA’s lack of proficiency in conducting air and naval blockades. Rather than matching China ship for ship and plane for plane, Taiwan should field asymmetrical systems and strategies which can imperil China’s ability to operate in the Taiwan Strait. One such measure to help Taiwan facilitate an inner

“Taiwan’s decision makers should underline the importance of the island by pointing out that unification would lead to a stronger and more assertive China.” ring blockade would be to beef up the country’s minelaying, minesweeping, and mine-hunting capabilities. Mines are particularly effective weapons as they are simple, cheap (an important factor due to Taiwan’s defense budget constraints), reliable, and persistent. A quick glance at naval history shows that mines have often taken a significant toll against advanced and more powerful naval forces. Moreover, modern mines are difficult to find and remove, and can be easily deployed by ships, submarines, and aircraft. US servicemen lift an unmanned underwater vehicle out of the water.

photo: Gary Keen

42  Strategic Vision Sea Lines of Communication

A cargo container operated by the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co.

photo: Bert Knot

Submarines are another potent option against the PLA, and they could conduct a wide variety of defensive operations during a Chinese blockade. They can also lay mines near PRC ports, as envisioned in OC. [A more detailed examination of Taiwan’s submarine options is provided in the article on page 20. –Ed.]

Potential allies Finally, the last factor which could help counter a PRC blockade are Taiwan’s allies. Japan especially has proved to be a potential security ally to Taiwan, offering to include the island in its theater missile defense program, and discussing the possibility of enacting a Japanese Taiwan Relations Act. The ROC government should pursue closer, security-related ties with Japan now, not just to secure aid in the event of a future Chinese attack, but as a more immediate means to improve Taipei’s bargaining power in dealings with Beijing. The PRC respects strength, and the ROC would gain far more concessions from China in terms of securing international diplomatic space and equitable trade relations if it had a stronger hand in cross-strait talks. Due to its geographic location and close proximity to Taiwan, Japan would be able to facilitate imple-

mentation of inner ring blockade operations. What is more, Taiwan’s decision makers should underline the importance of the island by pointing out that unification would lead to a stronger and more assertive China; a China without the burden of Taiwan as a separate entity. As a result, the PRC would be able to focus its political objectives on other territorial ambitions. This prospect alone should help Taiwan find allies as it seeks to secure its continued existence under a Chinese blockade. b About the author Michał Pawiński is a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. He can be reached for comment at m_pawinski@op.pl.

photo: Richard Doolin A Mineman at work aboard mine counter-measures ship USS Defender.

Autumn 2014 Special Issue  43

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Strategic Vision, Special Issue 3  

Strategic Vision is a magazine put out by NCCU's Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provides analysis...

Strategic Vision, Special Issue 3  

Strategic Vision is a magazine put out by NCCU's Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provides analysis...

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