U.S. Navy destroyers stalk China's claims in South China Sea

Discussion in 'East Asia & The Pacific' started by F-22, Jul 7, 2016.

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  1. F-22

    F-22 2nd Lieutenant

    Oct 7, 2015
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    U.S. Navy destroyers have been quietly stalking some of China's man-made islands and claims in recent weeks ahead of a ruling on contested claims in the South China Sea.

    Over the past two weeks, the destroyers Stethem, Spruance and Momsen have all patrolled near Chinese-claimed features at Scarborough Shoal and in the Spratly Islands, according to two defense officials.

    “We have been regularly patrolling within the 14 to 20 nautical mile range of these features,” one official said, who asked for anonymity to discuss diplomatically-sensitive operations.

    The distance is important because if the ships patrolled within 12 miles, the Navy would handle it as a freedom of navigation operation that asserts U.S. rights to freely operate in waters claimed by other countries.

    Those FONOPS patrols must be approved at very high levels, but these close patrols outside of 12 miles are in international waters. Experts say the tactic serves as a message of resolve to the Chinese and U.S. allies in the region and is a deliberate show of force ahead of a major international ruling on the legality of some of China’s claims; Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, setting up conflicts with its neighbors and the U.S.

    A spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet said the patrols were part of the Navy’s “routine presence” in the region.

    “Patrols by U.S. Navy destroyers like Spruance, Momsen and Stethem — as well as the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group — are part of our regular and routine presence throughout the western Pacific. U.S. Navy forces have flown, sailed and operated in this region for decades and will continue to do so,” said Lt. Clint Ramsden.

    Pacific Fleet declined to discuss the patrols and what message they were trying to send with them, citing security concerns.

    “We won't discuss tactics, specific locations in the South China Sea or future operations anywhere in the region due to operational security,” Ramsden said. “All of these patrols are conducted in accordance with international law and all are consistent with routine Pacific Fleet presence throughout the western Pacific.”

    The carrier Ronald Reagan has also moved into the South China Sea along with her escorts, the second carrier group to be dispatched to the region this year. The carrier John C. Stennis spent the bulk of its planned seven-month deployment patrolling the South China Sea, spending nearly three months there before leaving June 5.

    On Wednesday, the Navy had seven ships in the region including Reagan, two cruisers and four destroyers, a Navy official said. The Virginia-class submarine Mississippi is also patrolling in the western Pacific, according to a recent press release announcing a port visit to Busan, South Korea, but the Navy does not comment on the location or movements of its submarines.

    'No sail zone'

    The heavy show of Navy hardware in the South China Sea, which includes a carrier air wing and hundreds of missile tubes on the destroyers and cruisers, is likely part of both the Navy’s continuing presence operations in the area and an anticipation of the international Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the legality of China’s claims in the South China Sea, said Jerry Hendrix, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security.

    The Philippines brought China to court after its 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal, which is located within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Chinese vessels have been spotted surveying the area, activity that was a precursor to previous island-building projects; no construction is believed to have been started to date.

    The case will likely rule on the legality of China’s claims surrounding artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, built atop of rocky outcroppings and reefs, and will also take up what exactly China is owed under the international laws of the sea.

    China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its territorial waters and has embarked on the island building project to bolster its claims.

    The ruling from the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to be released July 12.

    “The Navy is trying to very strongly assert freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas,” said Hendrix, who is a retired Navy captain. “There is also, I think, some anticipation of The Hague’s ruling on China’s claims.

    “I anticipate that China will take additional actions after the Hague tribunal, and I think there is a desire to show that after that happens there is not going to be a ramp-up of U.S. forces in the region: that they are already there.”

    The U.S. has not taken a formal position on the Chinese claims but has said it will abide by the Hague’s ruling. China has dismissed the case as irrelevant and has said the court does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

    The Chinese have taken proactive steps ahead of the ruling, including declaring a 38,000-square-mile “no-sail zone” near its Hainan Island while it conducts military exercises between July 5 and 11, the day before the ruling.

    Significantly the Chinese no-sail zone includes the Paracel Islands chain, where in January the destroyer Curtis Wilbur conducted a freedom-of-navigation patrol. DefenseOne first reported the no-sail zone, which was posted on a Chinese government website.

    Boosted presence

    The stepped-up patrols of Chinese islands, as well as the persistent presence of a U.S. carrier strike group in the region, is part of an enhanced U.S. presence in the South China Sea, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

    Glaser said U.S. ships spent more than 700 days in the South China Sea in 2015 and are on track to spend more than 1,000 days there in 2016.

    “On any given day you are seeing two or more ships operating in the South China Sea,” said Glaser, who directs the China Power Project at CSIS.

    Glaser said the increased presence in the South China Sea is an indication that fleet leaders, including U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris, have been successful in pushing a more comprehensive strategy for presence in the area.

    In April, Navy Times reported that Harris was pushing for a more assertive approach in the South China Sea that aimed to stop China's island-building and bullying of its neighbors. Leaders in the White House were cautious about that approach, seeking to get Beijing’s cooperation on a host of other policy priorities, including the recently signed Iran nuclear deal and a major trade agenda the Obama administration has been pressing.

    A congressional staffer familiar with the regional issues said the Navy’s increased presence operations were welcome on Capitol Hill.

    "The enhanced level of maritime and aviation presence in the South China Sea over the last three months is a welcomed development on the Hill where there has been a sustained skepticism that the administration was willing to create any type of real friction in the relationship that might actually deter Beijing,” the staffer said in an email.

    Hendrix, the CNAS analyst, said the Navy has been leading the discussion on how to approach China’s claims in the South China Sea.

    “This has been a situation of the Navy leading the policy discussion because of the level of persistence they’ve shown in the area,” Hendrix said. “I still believe there is hesitance on the part of the political leadership but the operational leadership is taking the opportunity to show its interest in the region.”


    The US Navy isn't playing around in the SCS!
    AMDR, Pathfinder and Cossack25A1 like this.
  2. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

    Dec 17, 2015
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    The thing with these FON ops is that we are essential telling China: "Ok, if this is your territory then protect it, if you can't protect it then it isn't yours."

    Unfortunately if one day the Chinese decide to "do something" then we have a serious issue on our plates. But it is a risk that must be taken as massive amounts of trade go through that region and because we need to show the world that we truly control the seas. If we can deny China Taiwan and the SCS then they can be kept at their current non super power level, however if they get what they want they will eventually be able to break into our league.
    Cossack25A1 likes this.
  3. Cossack25A1

    Cossack25A1 1st Lieutenant

    Oct 22, 2015
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    Collecting Waifus.
    Remember those historical "Robber barons" particularly those near the Rhine river? Just enlarge it and you will have an idea why China wants to control the East China Sea and South China Sea.

    Given the economic slump China is experiencing today, what would be a better way than to have some sort of control over a major shipping lane?