sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Pivot Toward Asia"

Japan/NORK

Japanese press reported on 9 August that the Defense Ministry is planning to upgrade its national missile defense capability. 

The ministry said it plans to earmark expenditures in the second supplementary budget in fiscal year 2016 for procuring additional ground-based PAC-3 interceptor missiles earlier than scheduled. It will also use part of the budget to buy equipment for Ground Self-Defense Force personnel guarding PAC-3 missiles.

The ministry said it will study the possible adoption of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which South Korea has decided to deploy.

The article identified the splash down area of the Rodong missile that North Korea launched on 3 August as an area about 250 kilometers west of the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture, northern Japan. 

Japan/PR China

Japan Coast Guard officers have warned Chinese ships not to undertake any law enforcement activities inside Japanese waters off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The Coast Guard said five Chinese government ships unloaded small boats to allow crew members to board nearby fishing ships from China. The action took place inside Japan's exclusive economic zone or the contiguous zone just outside territorial waters off Kuba Island in the Senkakus from before noon through night on 9 August.

Coast Guard officers say the crewmembers are likely to have inspected the fishing ships as part of their law enforcement duties.

Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida warned China on 9 August that relations between Japan and China are deteriorating because Chinese government ships repeatedly are entering Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands. Kishida told the Chinese ambassador, "I cannot help saying that because of this, the situation surrounding Japanese-Chinese relations has markedly deteriorated."

The Japan Coast Guard report indicates that the Chinese officials were inspecting Chinese fishing boats in Japanese claimed waters. The next escalation step is inspection of Japanese fishing boats in the same waters.

South China Sea

Provocations by China and North Korea are increasing tension in Northeast Asia. They threaten to make the Abe government testier and more aggressive in retaliation, such as by approving a THAAD system for Japan. 

The behavior of the Chinese in asserting their sovereignty claims by using patrol ships, instead of diplomacy, causes the regional instability that the Chinese political leaders insist they want to prevent. Chinese actions and the lack of restraint on North Korea do not match the words of their leaders. Both countries are agents of instability in Northeast Asia, despite what their leaders say.

Reuters reported on 9 August that Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's reclaimed islets that have runways and military installations.

According to the report, Vietnam has deployed rocket launchers on five of the 21 islands and features it claims and occupies. The report did not identify which islands, but the map shows the proximity of some of the Vietnamese islands to those the Chinese occupy. 

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating.

Foreign officials and military analysts believe the launchers form part of the state-of-art extended range artillery rocket system, or EXTRA, that Vietnam recently acquired from Israel.
According to open sources, EXTRA rounds are highly accurate up to a range of 150 km (93 miles), with different 150 kg (330 lb.) warheads that can carry high explosives or bomblets to attack multiple targets simultaneously. Operated with targeting drones, they could strike both ships and land targets. The graphic below is taken from the EXTRA manufacturer’s web site.

All three islands on which China has constructed airstrips would be within range of one or more Vietnamese islands, if its garrisons were armed with the EXTRA system.

Most media attention focuses on the risk of confrontation between the Chinese and US navies. However, Vietnam and China actually have fought over the Paracels and the Spratlys. 

Vietnam remains a prickly and dangerous threat. Its leaders still lay claim to the Paracels which China seized by force in 1974 and to Johnson South Reef where Chinese naval forces defeated the Vietnamese navy in 1988.

The deployment of the EXTRA system is not confirmed in open sources. The threat of a deployment such as EXTRA exposes the complexity of the security challenges with which the Chinese must cope and the vulnerability of Chinese island investments to threats from their South China Sea neighbors, not just from the US. All of the claims are essentially indefensible once shooting starts.

All the claimants to the South China Sea have militarized their claims to some extent, as a prudent precaution. Some have been more industrious than others.

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