Friday, June 05, 2015

Did “China” Say “War” With the United States is “Inevitable”?


Spoiler: No.

It would seem a certain amount of foreign affairs reporting starts out as pabulum fed by the government and its loyal allies to available journos, who further if incompletely digest it and then crap it out on the digital pages of various newspapers, magazines, and think tank white papers for the delectation of a somewhat undiscriminating public.

In other words, the media is often just the messenger, and there’s no point in getting aggravated about crappy coverage and blaming the messenger when the real problem is crappy policy.

But sometimes, especially in the runup to a big foreign policy show—which the U.S. South China Sea gambit certainly has become—the evolution and devolution of media coverage provides useful insights into who’s pushing what and why.

I currently have a piece up at Asia Times, “China Hawks crosshair Obama on South China Sea” on a rather important example.  It extensively fisks an interesting and rather ugly op-ed by Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin, which seems to represent only the most recent iteration of sustained a campaign by China hawks to ensure that President Obama has no political alternative but to greenlight a yearned-for act of escalation: a US Navy Freedom of Navigation sail-by within 12 miles of one of the PRC’s reclaimed “island” features in the South China Sea.

I might add that the PRC’s views on the 12 mile limit in the SCS are rather ambiguous since it claims everything down there, water as well as land, under the Nine Dash Line formula.  When the US military surveillance plane did its flyby with CNN on board in late May (which was labeled as “a challenge” even though the report makes it clear these flights go on continually and the only difference was this time a news crew was on board to publicize them), the PRC apparently accosted it on the grounds that it was approaching a “military alert zone”, not specifically because it was violating a 12-mile limit.  So whether the PRC will decide to treat a close-in sailby as a unique outrage remains to be seen.

The Western media fully engaged on multiple fronts to make the case for the China threat to provide the suitable atmospherics for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Shangri La Dialogue appearance.

If your news or twitter feed coughs up China-related stuff, you might have seen this from Reuters on May 25:



Reuters (and subsequently the Western media en masse) was making hay with a laboriously parsed op-ed in China’s Global Times that purported to lay out the PRC bottom line-- that the PRC was totally committed to the island expansion program and there would be trouble, localized but uglier than we've been used to, if the United States was totally committed to stopping it--so that US planners and the global audience would be fully aware of the PRC's position and dangerous misunderstandings and nasty clashes could be avoided.

Mission unaccomplished on the "misunderstanding" end at least, as we shall see.

The English language version of the GT op-ed stated:

For China, one bottom line is that the reclamation of these islands must be finished no matter what. If the US sets its bottom line on the condition that China must stop its construction work, then military confrontation will start sooner or later.

For understandable reasons, Reuters decided to run with the more detailed and somewhat more menacing Chinese language version:

如果美国的底线就是中国必须停工,那么中美南海一战将无可避免而且冲突的烈度会高于人们通常理解的摩擦

If the US bottom line is that China must stop construction, then a clash between US & PRC is unavoidable and the degree of severity of the conflict will be higher than what people usually understand as "friction". 

A 100% accurate, boring, and convoluted rendering of this paragraph as a headline might be PRC state-affiliated newspaper warns clashes ‘more than friction’ unavoidable if US insists PRC back down on island construction.

Instead, Reuters reduced and pureed these lumpy sentiments into the easy-to-digest China state paper warns of war over South China Sea unless U.S. backs down

An outlet that takes the Reuter feed improved it to War inevitable unless the US backs down – China state media

Not to be outdone, Quartz went with China Warns of ‘Inevitable’ War with US Over South China Sea 

Huffington Post:

China-US War ‘Inevitable’, According to State-Run Newspaper

And a little further down the food chain:

China Warns of World War 3 Unless the US Backs Down on South China Sea

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour  offered the reading “If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea” in order to get into PRC ambassador Cui Tiankai’s grill during her show, and showed the sentence over the Global Times logo as if it were a direct quote.   [3 minute mark]

For extra credit points, Amanpour also confounded an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) with, first an “air defense zone” and then an “exclusion zone”.

But what really took the biscuit was Amanpour’s statement that a US military reconnaissance plane “had to turn back when they were challenged”.  The point of the whole exercise was that the US did not “turn back”, indeed it flies and sails wherever it wants to, as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had declared in Honolulu.

And the US commitment to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea for US military equipment, anyway, was carefully documented by putting a CNN reporter on the flight so that America’s unwavering resolve in the face of PRC threats could be instantaneously conveyed, if not to Amanpour and her fellow toilers in the CNN vineyard, at least to the rest of the world.

Maybe chalk up the “inevitable war” furor to the desperate quest for clickbait by Western outlets who know on what side their access, advertising, and readership bread is buttered (hint: it’s not the China side, at least not…mostly…yet).

I dunno.  But worth documenting.  The original Reuters story disappeared from the feed of the reporter who first generated it (not implying anything sinister here; the story was updated and rewritten so maybe it ends up somewhere else), so I have put the text of the two versions of the Reuters story and the Chinese and English version of the Global Times op-ed below the fold for the sake of an indifferent posterity.

The US government subsequently stepped up and gave outlets an opportunity to do more to hype the China threat than fiddle with boring op-eds.

Just before Carter’s appearance at Shangri La, the US backgrounded that surveillance equipment had spotted two self-propelled guns on a Chinese-controlled island in the South China Sea …drum roll, maestro, if you please…

 “The artillery was spotted by satellites and surveillance aircraft about a month ago on one of the new islands China has built, and the two vehicles have since either been hidden or removed, according to another American official who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity.

That’s per the New York Times.

The Pentagon didn’t release any photos even though it had  previously agreed to declassify other surveillance aircraft video and radio traffic for the CNN crew for their report on the end-May overflight.


However, Asia now apparently has its own Bellingcat, an Indian gentleperson who tweets under the handle @rajfortyseven and posts and parses commercial satellite imagery.

On the basis of this:


@rajfortyseven apparently divined the presence this: two units of the self-propelled LC-09 howitzer.



It should be noted that the US and PLA navies both operate routinely in the South China Sea, so the easiest way to put the onus on the PRC for “escalating tensions” by further militarizing the region is to claim they have started to put weapons on the islands, and not just in the water.

I grant it is possible that for some reason the PRC decided that two howitzers (which I believe are the business of the PLA Ground Forces artillery people and would be of little practical use to the PLA Navy, which is in charge of the actual defense of the islands and would be expected to rely on its shipboard armament) should be exhibited to ubiquitous US surveillance and provide the US with grounds to condemn the PRC for militarizing the islands.

I also think it’s possible that there were two truck-mounted construction cranes out there, maybe with tarps on them to reduce corrosion from the salty air, and the dialogue at the Pentagon went like this:


“Ya know, those things, I think they’re cranes but they look a lot like howitzers.”  “I heard you say ‘howitzers’.  Tell the journos it looks like they’ve got howitzers on that island.”

I guess I have a longer memory than most, because I vividly remember how the US and British papers occasionally engaged in unquestioning stenography during the Iraq War.  The immortal example was non-stop reporting on the capture of Saddam’s purported mobile bioweapons labs which, as the Anglophone establishment knew very well, were portable hydrogen generators used to inflate weather balloons for artillery practice.

How did they know, do you ask?

Because the units had been sold to Iraq in the first place by Britain’s Marconi Command & Control.  And the US Army had identical units in its own inventory  [see pp. 24-25]

In fact, the US approach to the SCS public relations campaign reminds me eerily of the runup to the Iraq War.  There’s the energetic campaign run out of the Defense Department with only grudging help from the State Department to manufacture a plausible pretext for US action (WMD for Iraq, FoN for SCS); the reliance on the “threat” narrative to overcome an embarrassing shortage of overtly hostile acts by the target; sudden spates of advantageous but perhaps not quite truthful leaks that get reported, misreported, and misunderstood…

…and the exploitation of obliging media in an allied country to float, feedback, and amplify allegations leaked by the United States.

In 2002-3, this role was loyally filled by media outlets in the United Kingdom.  This time around, it looks like Australia, at least a part of it, is auditioning for the job of America’s Poodle in the Pacific (hereinafter APP).

The “gun” story seems to have appeared first in Australia, in the Sydney Morning Herald (hereinafter SMH), courtesy of John Garnaut (whose journalistic motto may well be “My Transom Is Always Open to My Friends and to Enemies of the PRC”), with the explosive headline & lede:


China moves weapons on to artificial islands in South China Sea 


China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands that it is building in contested areas of the South China Sea, adding to the risks of a confrontation with the United States and its regional security partners including Australia.

That’s it.  No detail, no sourcing, no documentation.  

The subsequent New York Times story makes it clear there were supposed to be two guns (though a tantalizing Philippine report indicated that the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies had claimed its analysts detected guns on two reefs claimed by the Philippines, Kagitingan and Burgos); the source was the Pentagon, the documentation (which the Pentagon has declined to release) surveillance photos.  And that the official story was that the guns were no longer there.

Maybe the SMH got a garbled version through the milsec jungle telegraph; maybe it was given the story with the understanding it would be deployed as table-setter for Shangri La, wanted to scoop the world, & broke the embargo but in a half-assed kinda-sorta way by not revealing the US sourcing.

On a less salubrious note, I believe there are significant divisions within the Australian establishment concerning the advisability of joining the US to yank China’s chain in the SCS, given the shortage of genuine Australian skin in the game.  So it is possible that the revelation was informally backchanneled from the US down to Australia to wrongfoot troublesome China doves and smooth the way for China hawks, who I believe are well-represented in the Australian and US defense establishments. 

And, in fact, one of the things I think we can look forward to is tagteaming between mil-sec China hawks in the US, Philippines, Australia, and Japan to direct events & massage the media in order to neutralize public opposition and box in less aggressive civilian leadership, a tactic I believe was illustrated by the Josh Rogin piece I parsed over at Asia Times.  

There are arguably good reasons to resist the PRC in the SCS.  One is to succor the Philippines, whose access to hydrocarbon and fisheries resources within what can reasonably be construed as its 200-mile EEZ is blocked by the PRC.  Another is to escalate tensions so that the US can bolster its local presence (and threaten the PRC’s sea lines of communication and its submarine assets on Hainan in case the Big One i.e. WW3 actually does roll around) and strengthen the China-containment alliance.  

But none of them relate to the stated concern with freedom of navigation and the steps the US and its allies are taking in order to, ostensibly, ensure it.

Which means the South China Sea movie has to get, you know, scary and emotional, so that the US can fast-forward over the awkward, boring, and contradictory or illogical parts and keep the audience from walking out of the show.

And, rest assured, the media is here to help.

Below the break, texts of the various op eds and news articles referenced.




The Global Times editorial (English) May 24, 2015   


Rows between China and the US are simmering since the latter sent a surveillance plane to watch over a few China-controlled islands which are under construction in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon remained stiff after the incident and claimed that it might deploy military troops within 12 nautical miles of the disputed islands. Concerns have grown with many scholars, experts and policymakers starting to talk about the odds of a military confrontation between China and the US, and the conditions under which it will be waged.

The US is raising the risk of physical confrontation with China recently. Both sides are unwilling to compromise in strategic purposes, then tactically, Washington will draw closer to a tipping point. The trend will lead to a dangerous outcome if China does not and will not allow excessive concessions. Thus, it is essential that both sides should show their bottom lines to each other, and see if one can respect the other on these.

For China, one bottom line is that the reclamation of these islands must be finished no matter what. If the US sets its bottom line on the condition that China must stop its construction work, then military confrontation will start sooner or later.

China has another bottom line, which is asking the US to respect its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea while the US has clearly expressed that freedom of navigation is its key interest in this region. In this regard, both sides still have leeway to maneuver.

The US is still vague about its real purpose in the South China Sea. If it is only for some sabre-rattling or harassment purposes, China will exercise self-restraint in general terms, which will hardly trigger physical competition. But if the US wants to teach China a lesson by provoking and humiliating and even disregards the outcome of physical confrontation, China will have no choice but to engage.

Washington should give enough space to China's peaceful rise, and China should share US concerns about the rise. As long as both sides are unwilling to move toward a showdown, risks are still under control. Both sides are able to deal with any emergencies peacefully and effectively under this consensus.

The South China Sea is not everything in Sino-US relations, but their bilateral cooperation will more or less be hampered by the Pentagon's aggression. Washington should be aware that it does not have real advantages in the face of China's determination and perseverance to protect its sovereignty. When the Chinese say something is a "paper tiger," this is it.
The Global Times editorial (Chinese) May 25, 2015



 美国派侦察机于上周飞临中国正在扩建的南沙岛礁上空,遭到中国海军的反复警告。美表示今后可能派出力量进入这些岛礁的12海里范围,从而引起战略界和舆论界对中美可能在南海爆发军事冲突的担心。
  那么这种军事冲突实际发生的可能性有多大,以及它们会在什么样的情况下发生呢?还有,一旦发生,它们的烈度会有多高呢?
  首先要看到,随着美军从间接支持菲越到直接向中国在建岛礁发出挑衅,中美两军发生冲突的可能性的确比过去大了。两国在战略上无法释怀,美军在战术上逐渐制造两军摩擦的临界点,除非中国无限退让,否则这种趋势的结果将是危险的。
  中国不可能无限退让。那么就要看中美将如何设置各自在此轮南海博弈的底线,以及双方是否能够清楚、尊重对方的底线。
  中国最重要的底线显然是要把岛礁建设继续下去,直到它们完工。如果美国的底线就是中国必须停工,那么中美南海一战将无可避免,而且冲突的烈度会高于人们通常理解的摩擦
  此外中国还有一个底线,那就是美国要尊重中国在南海的领土主权和海洋权益。美国这 方面有一条公开的底线,即美在南海享有航行自由。中美的这两条底线对应了各自的原则,但实际操作中双方有一定回旋余地。中美是否会因此而冲突起来,既 取决于一些战略考虑,也会受战术上的临时性因素影响。
  如果美军是想骚扰一下中国,向地区展示美国力量在南海的存在,并因不想真打起来而对自己的挑衅行为保持一定克制的话,那么中方的反制也会大体有所克制,双方酿成实际军事冲突的可能性就不大。
  一旦美军有教训一下中国的狂妄企图,其挑衅行为带有公开的羞辱性,并且为达此目的已经有在南海打一仗的腹稿,将意味着冲突很难避免。中国军队将会为尊严而战。
  可以看出,中国完成岛礁扩建的决心非常清晰、坚定。美方的战略目标是什么相对模糊。南海是保持和平还是发生战斗,责任主要在美国一方。
  美国需要给和平崛起的中国一些空间,我们也要对美方面对中国崛起重大影响而产生的严重心理不适应予以照顾。只要双方都没有在南海走向摊牌的意愿,尤其是美方保持战略上起码的分寸感,局势的危险度就将是有限的。
  在这种情况下,中美军机或军舰即使发生了摩擦,两国和两军也会将它作为意外事件来处理,各种应急机制将会启动,如果美军就是要为南海局势的无底线恶化制造事端,就像美在当年越战全面爆发之前炮制出北部湾事件那样,情况将另当别论。
  中国现在最需要的是战略定力和坦然。我们不希望与美军事冲突,但如果这一冲突必须 要来,我们就应接受它。在保持对美外交稳定性的同时,我们需要对有可能突发的中美南海冲突做认真准备。中方的这种准备既不应高调,也不应低调,要防止 华盛顿形成中国很可能不惜代价对美避战的误判。
  南海问题毕竟不是中美关系的全部,中美合作的广阔领域不可避免地会对五角大楼在南海冒进形成牵制。美军在南海看似嚣张,但其背后的政治和社会支持肯定没有中方对其反制时背后的支持强大、持久。想必美军上下对此是清楚的,中国人常说纸老虎,其实指的就是这种情况。
责编:张

The first version of the Reuters article, May 25, 2015

World | Mon May 25, 2015 10:41am IST

China state paper warns of war over South China Sea unless U.S. backs down

 A Chinese state-owned newspaper said on Monday that "war is inevitable" between China and the United States over the South China Sea unless Washington stops demanding Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in the disputed waterway.
The Global Times, an influential nationalist tabloid owned by the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper the People's Daily, said in an editorial that China was determined to finish its construction work, calling it the country's "most important bottom line".
The editorial comes amid rising tensions over China's land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea. China last week said it was "strongly dissatisfied" after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs, with both sides accusing each other of stoking instability.
China should "carefully prepare" for the possibility of a conflict with the United States, the newspaper said.
"If the United States' bottomline is that China has to halt its activities, then a U.S.-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea," the newspaper said. "The intensity of the conflict will be higher than what people usually think of as 'friction'."
Such commentaries are not official policy statements, but are sometimes read as a reflection of government thinking. The Global Times is among China's most nationalist newspapers.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
The United States has routinely called on all claimants to halt reclamation in the Spratlys, but accuses China of carrying out work on a scale that far outstrips any other country.
Washington has also vowed to keep up air and sea patrols in the South China Sea amid concerns among security experts that China might impose air and sea restrictions in the Spratlys once it completes work on its seven artificial islands.
China has said it had every right to set up an Air Defence Identification Zone in the South China Sea but that current conditions did not warrant one.
The Global Times said "risks are still under control" if Washington takes into account China's peaceful rise.
"We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we have to accept it," the newspaper said.
….
The updated version of the Reuters article, May 25, 2015

China lodges complaint with U.S. over spy plane flight


China said it had lodged a complaint with the United States over a U.S. spy plane that flew over parts of the disputed South China Sea in a diplomatic row that has fuelled tension between the world's two largest economies.
Friction in the region has grown over China's land reclamation in the Spratly islands. China last week said it was "strongly dissatisfied" after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs, with both sides accusing each other of stoking instability.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday China had lodged a complaint and that it opposed "provocative behaviour" by the United States.
"We urge the U.S. to correct its error, remain rational and stop all irresponsible words and deeds," she said. "Freedom of navigation and overflight by no means mean that foreign countries' warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation."
China had noted "ear-piercing voices" from many in the U.S. about China's construction on the islands and reefs.
The nationalist Global Times, a tabloid owned by the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, said war was "inevitable" between China and the United States unless Washington stopped demanding Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in the disputed waterway.
It said China was determined to finish its construction work, calling it the country's "most important bottom line".
Such commentaries are not official policy statements, but are sometimes read as a reflection of government thinking.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
The United States has routinely called on all claimants to halt reclamation in the Spratlys, but accuses China of carrying out work on a scale that far outstrips any other country.
Washington has also vowed to keep up air and sea patrols in the South China Sea amid concerns among security experts that China might impose air and sea restrictions in the Spratlys once it completes work on its seven artificial islands.
China has said it has every right to set up an Air Defence Identification Zone in the South China Sea but that current conditions did not warrant one.
The Global Times said "risks are still under control" if Washington takes into account China's peaceful rise.
"We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we have to accept it," the newspaper said.
China's state media has stepped up its rhetoric against the United States, warning that the row over the South China Sea could hurt broader relations. But there appears to be little popular anger among the Chinese population so far, judging from sentiment expressed on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11 comments:

Xinxi said...

Might there bee a closing window when it comes to Australia? There are scores of new Chinese & Malaysian-Chinese immigrants and the Anglo-Australian national sentiment might change rather quickly within a few years.

Fred Zimmerman said...

If US sails within 12 miles of one of these reefs, and China shoots first, that's CHina starting a war.

denk said...

fz

is it what u've been doing in scs, goading and baiting china to lose its cool so u can have a go at the pla ?

what the hell is the world champ fon buster doing in scs...*enforcing* said fon anyway ?

denk said...

isnt

Fred Zimmerman said...

Denk - exactly. You get baited into shooting first, you're at fault. It's not fair, but that's the way it is.

denk said...

fz

its your fav pastime innit, igniting sparks all over the world ?

Khan said...

Sadly, the way things are going, it becomes less and less clear whether "who shoots first" matters.
The extent at which the MSM continues to running dog US interests just keeps getting worse.
Fortunately the astroturf method of news-speak doesn't seem to actually work in terms of mobilizing the populace. Its primary effectiveness lies in keeping the American people fat. dumb and happy.

Fred Zimmerman said...

Who shoots first matters to me, and to a lot of people. There's just always a fundamental difference between not pulling the trigger and pulling the trigger. That's why people who "provoke" murders are treated differently than people who actually *do* murders.

denk said...

fz

how many times have the unitedsnake committed industrial scale murder like this ?

http://www.uruknet.de/?p=m18007

Su Su said...

Thank you! I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this site.I really hope to check out the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now !
barbie games| barbiegames| barbie| shooting games| shootinggames| shooting| dora games| doragames| dora
fighting games| fightinggames| fighting| kissing games| kissinggames| kissing| christmas games| christmasgames| christmas

Mai Doan said...

head soccer unblocked is the main game in our website. To head soccer soccer heads will be played the famous game about Big Head Soccer . Big Head Football or big head basketball games as well as our favorite