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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

American Admiral flexing muscles


By John Garnaut

The Sydney Morning Herald

Analysis
A photo taken Febuary 25, 2014 by surveillance planes a Chinese vessel is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines. Photo: AP
A photo taken Febuary 25, 2014 by surveillance planes a Chinese vessel is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines. Photo: AP
After United States Admiral Harry Harris took rhetorical aim at the “Great Wall of Sand” that he said China was erecting across disputed waters in the South China Sea, in his remarkably blunt speech against Chinese “provocations” on Tuesday night, he began the much harder task of working out what to do about it.
The US Pacific Fleet commander flew to Adelaide on Wednesday to inspect the next generation of Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers which, he hinted, might form part of a more muscular solution.
Publicly available surveillance photos show China has been moving at remarkable speed to build airstrips, harbours, roads, container depots and even cement plants on what were submerged coral atolls only one year ago.
Chinese-reclamation-projects-photo
The new artificial islands are spread across the vast Spratly Islands archipelago which is home to multiple overlapping territorial claims.
The dredging, bulldozing and building has proceeded at such pace over the past 12 months that some informed Western military sources worry in private that China is “winning hands down” in its bid to create defacto control over contested waters and may be on its way to creating “South Chinese Lake”.
While such talk may be premature, and there are many rounds of regional diplomacy to go, Admiral Harris’ senior colleagues are already calling for members of ASEAN to form joint maritime patrols.
“If ASEAN members were to take the lead in organising something along those lines, trust me, the US 7th Fleet would be ready to support,” said the commander of the 7th Fleet of the Pacific Fleet Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas.
Chinese-reclamation-projects-map
And it’s no longer far-fetched to think that Australian participation in such hypothetical patrols might be on the discussion agenda.
Admiral Harris said the Hobart-class AEGIS-equipped Air Warfare Destroyers that he inspected in Adelaide – ” these beauties” – will greatly increase interoperability and collaboration between the two navies.
And his colleague, Rear Admiral Christopher Paul, the deputy commander of the US Pacific surface fleet, went much further.
He told the same Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference that Australia should consider deploying the new warships in US-led “hunter-killer” patrol groups.
Those warships, together with Australian missile destroyers, amphibious ships and frigates, could fit a new doctrine that he calls “distributed lethality”.
Although military conflict seems far from anyone’s radar, leading military strategists in Australia, South-East Asia and the United States are clearly worried about what could go wrong.
“As we like to say in navy circles, hope is not a strategy,” as Admiral Harris told the dinner gathering in Canberra on Tuesday night.

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