Home > Analysis, Foreign Relations, General > Military Surveillance under “Freedom of Navigation”, China can outdo US too. (Be careful what you wish for).

Military Surveillance under “Freedom of Navigation”, China can outdo US too. (Be careful what you wish for).

In follow up to Allen’s question, http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2015/10/29/u-s-s-china-sea-provocation-what-next/, I thought it only appropriate to show what is already happening.

US, by claiming the right of conducting military surveillance under “freedom of navigation”, escalated the provocation by essentially the logic of “We are here with guns, what are you going to do about it?”

Yet, already after, US defense experts and policy makers are already answering their own question:  China is arming fishing boats and turning them into Militia Navy, in a strategy US is calling the “Little Blue Men”.  http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/little-blue-men-doing-chinas-dirty-work-in-the-south-china-sea/

The extent of implementation of China’s new strategy is not clear.  US experts are only speculating that China has “200,000 vessels” of fishing fleet with 14 million workers (Not actual number of sailors), that can be armed.

They also speculate that China’s fleet may be similarly fitted with surveillance equipment, and used to relay information all over the south China Sea.

US experts neglected to mention that this speculative scenario depends solely upon US’s own interpretation of Law of Sea, that “freedom of navigation” allowed US to conduct military surveillance.

Because by US’s precedence, China would have no legal problems with arming its fishing fleets and let them perform interdiction/interception missions.  Why not?  Afterall, US says it’s legal to do so.  So what if 0.2 million armed fishing boats are roaming around in SCS instead of a couple of destroyers?

Hey, Chinese fishing boats are just protecting their own “freedom of navigation”.


As with many issues of disputes with China, sooner or later, it comes down to numbers.  And sooner or later, China will have more.

And when it comes to SCS, it’s a big ocean, not a small pond.  Numbers matter.

If US didn’t want to play that game, it shouldn’t have opened that can of worms with its continual military surveillance against China.

Because if China really did/does arm 0.2 million fishing boats to do what US does in the name of “freedom of navigation”, they would be tracking and watching the US Fleets from Hawaii to Japan.

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  1. November 5th, 2015 at 13:10 | #1

    Fishing in Troubled Waters: the U.S. “Pushback” Against China’s Claims in the South China Sea

  2. November 5th, 2015 at 21:41 | #2

    I don’t quite understand this post. According to the linked diplomat article, there are no signs that the U.S. somehow fears these “little blue men.” In fact, the article says that the more these “little blue men” shows their face, the more is known about them, the less effective they become since they themselves profess little capabilities, and it’s only the element of surprise that gives them value.

    So what’s there to be “careful” about?

  3. Zack
    November 6th, 2015 at 03:26 | #3

    because now the PLA now has a valid reason to militarise those installations on those reefs under the same pretext that the US Navy conducted its own little stunt. In fact, more astute observers would note that China had already ‘inoculated’ itself from this stunt with its own Aleutian Islands patrol earlier this year, but the US Navy’s insistence on militarising the SCS means that China has all the reason in the world to militarise its installations in that region.

    oh and btw, with the exception of the slavish comprador elites in charge of the Philipines, the rest of ASEAN condemned the US Navy’s maneuvre, most notable, Indonesia.

  4. November 6th, 2015 at 08:19 | #4

    Link to reports that says most of ASEAN countries condemns recent U.S. maneuver?

  5. Black Pheonix
    November 6th, 2015 at 13:25 | #5

    Of course Diplomat wouldn’t admit the fear on US side. But it’s a sure sign of fear, when their PR department starts using boogieman labels like “Little Blue Men” to compare China to Russia.

    And saying knowledge of this some how prepares them for it, sounds more like “we have no counter strategy, but we made a label for it, so we win.”

    The problem is, for US, they have no counter for the number game with China in SCS. And that’s the reason why Diplomat is complaining about it as if China is playing unfair.

  6. Black Pheonix
    November 6th, 2015 at 13:30 | #6

    ” it’s only the element of surprise that gives them value.”

    I disagree about this. China arming its 0.2 million fishing fleet is not for “surprise”. On the contrary, it’s to openly conduct “freedom of navigation” operations in SCS, US style, in order to boost China’s claim further.

    Possession is 9/10th of the law. And possession with armed ships is 9.9/10th of the law of sea, according to US and Japan.

  7. Zack
    November 7th, 2015 at 00:58 | #7

    ASEAN either had those who condemned or those who chose to be neutral; off the top of my head, indonesia condemned the sail through and vietnam chose a neutral stance.
    So why do i say that ASEAN condemned the recent US maneuver? because they refused and resisted US pressure to issue a statement condemning Chinese installations in the SCS; south east asians aren’t stupid-they know that the sail through was dangerously provocative and unnecessary when China is out and about making deals and increasing linkages. The fact that the British and other europeans are integrating themselves with China shows that they’re not going to become a part of the containment project against China.
    as one former indian diplmat once put it:
    [BLOCKQUOTE]With the passage of time in the post-cold war era, with the growing trend toward polycentrism in the international system, the advantage seems to lie with China. It is no small matter that Indonesia has disapproved the US’ abrasive patrolling in the vicinity of China’s reclaimed islands in the South China Sea. (In fact, the South China Morning Post reported that China’s neighbors are “wary of taking sides” in the Sino-US dispute in the South China Sea.) Which only goes to show that in the strategic competition with the US, China may not after all need military allies in a near-term scenario to maintain political balance in Asia-Pacific so long as it is able to shape a favorable regional environment.

    Arguably, China would know fully well that it is only going to play into the hands of the US, given the latter’s unassailable military superiority for the foreseeable future, if it were to adopt an alliance strategy of its own. Indeed, an alliance network can only stimulate the necessary conditions for a Cold War between China and the US, which do not exist today. There is no ideological rivalry involved here to rally like-minded countries, either. Both China and the US keep fostering their interdependency, which, in fact, reduces the chance of a Cold War between them. Nor is it a great-power rivalry where either side is itching for a military confrontation ensuing out of a scramble for colonies or wealth accumulation.

    All in all, therefore, while the perpetuation of the alliance system is an imperative need for the US to remain ‘embedded’ in the Asian region, China enjoys a free hand to whittle down the raison d’etre of the US-led alliance system. China keeps making overtures to the regional countries in this direction. Some of these overtures may gain traction in the short term, some may not, but then, China is playing the long game.[/BLOCKQUOTE]

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