Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Facebook: Digby Parton

@BloggersRUs (Tom Sullivan)

thedigbyblog at gmail
satniteflix at gmail
publius.gaius at gmail
tpostsully at gmail
Spockosbrain at gmail
Richardein at me.com


Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic

Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013 December 2013 January 2014 February 2014 March 2014 April 2014 May 2014 June 2014 July 2014 August 2014 September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 January 2015 February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015 November 2015 December 2015 January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016 November 2016 December 2016 January 2017 February 2017 March 2017 April 2017 May 2017 June 2017 July 2017 August 2017 September 2017 October 2017 November 2017 December 2017 January 2018 February 2018 March 2018 April 2018 May 2018 June 2018 July 2018 August 2018 September 2018 October 2018 November 2018 December 2018


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Saturday, December 19, 2015


Somewhere beyond the sea

by Tom Sullivan

Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships that go sailin'

- from "Beyond the Sea" by Bobby Darin

The Chinese continue their efforts to colonize the South China Sea. Dump sand and concrete atop reefs and atolls in and around the Spratly Islands and — voila! — the 12 miles around their man-made islands magically become sovereign Chinese territory. (Or do they?) Smack dab in the middle of sea lanes that according to reports carry "more than $5 trillion of world trade ships every year, a fifth of it heading to and from U.S. ports."

All of it effectively out of view of the eyes of the world, by the way.

In late October, the United States dispatched the USS Lassen to conduct a "freedom of navigation" cruise in the area to assert that the waters around the new islands are international waters. Foreign Policy reports:

Initially, officials insisted the Lassen carried out a freedom of navigation operation, which could mean the vessel operated sonar, had its helicopters take off from the deck, or lingered in the area. But other officials said they could not confirm it was a freedom of navigation mission and that the ship may have refrained from any helicopter flights or intelligence gathering — and instead simply sailed through without loitering or circumnavigating the area.

Further adding to the confusion, the P-8 surveillance plane accompanying the Lassen appears to have stayed outside the 12-mile range of the man-made island, a boundary that delimits territorial seas and airspace.

The administration’s mixed messaging has played out publicly in recent days on both sides of the Pacific. U.S. officials told Defense News over the weekend that the Lassen had merely made an “innocent passage” close to the artificial island at Subi Reef — a phrase with a specific meaning under maritime law that applies to sailing through other countries’ territorial waters. On Monday, officials repeated the same claim to U.S. Naval Institute News, saying the ship and an accompanying surveillance plane took steps that would signal acquiescence to Beijing’s claims.

Sen. John McCain wants the Pentagon to clarify "the legal intent behind this operation and any future operations of a similar nature." He wants the U.S. to send an unambiguous message.

Just days ago, BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes chartered a Cessna 206 out of the Philippine to have close-up look at China's new outposts. Five people and cameras crammed into a single-engine plane. Here is some of what happened:

Soon, in the distance, a huge yellow crescent appeared below us, the unmistakable shape of Mischief Reef (Meiji in Chinese). The pilots descended to 5,000ft. At 12 nautical miles the warnings began again.

"Foreign military aircraft in north-west of Meiji Reef, this is the Chinese Navy, you are threatening the security of our station!"

Calmly our captain responded: "Chinese Navy, this is Philippine civilian aircraft en route to Palawan, carrying civilian passengers. We are not a military aircraft, we are a civilian single-engine aircraft." It made no difference.

"Foreign military aircraft in north of Meiji Reef, this is the Chinese Navy!" On and on the warnings continued.

But this time our pilots held their nerve. At 12 miles we skirted the north of the huge new island. Below us we could see the lagoon teeming with ships, large and small. On the new land, cement plants and the foundations of new buildings.

Then, as we rounded a cloud, we got the first clear view of the new runway China is building here, just 140 nautical miles from the Philippine coast. I did a quick calculation. A Chinese fighter jet taking off from here could be over the Philippine coast in as little as eight or nine minutes.

Oddly, as the Cessna completed its run, another voice came over the radio, this time from a military aircraft. Just not China's:

"China navy, China navy," the voice said.

"We are an Australian aircraft exercising international freedom of navigation rights in international airspace in accordance with the international civil aviation convention and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — over."

The BBC said it recorded the audio from a RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft on Nov. 25. It said the message was repeated several times but no response was heard from the Chinese.

Various sections of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are at the heart of this controversy. Not only territorial boundary matters, but environmental ones as well (UNCLOS articles 192 and 123). From a June 2015 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

This island construction has so far created over eight million square metres of real estate in the open sea, outstripping other countries’ reclamation activities by far, and shows no sign of abating. Hundreds of millions of tons of sand and coral have been dredged from the seabed and dumped atop fragile coral reefs that are vital components of the maritime ecology. Marine experts expect that the work has already caused disastrous and essentially irreversible environmental impacts.

The newly created and enlarged islands will be infrastructure that facilitates China’s projection of force and assertion of control not just in the disputed Spratlys area but also over most of the South China Sea, deep into the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that by any reasonable interpretation of international laws on maritime delimitation would rightfully belong to other countries. Although conflicting claims have existed over the islands and these EEZs for decades, a precarious balance has endured until now partly because China’s nearest military infrastructure is hundreds of miles further to the north. Defence planners in other claimant countries now have to face a future without this protection by distance.

Another concern is whether China will to use the newly created or enlarged islands to attempt to make new maritime claims. First, China might well claim a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, or some sort of vague “military alert zone”, around each of Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, which would infringe on the international community’s the freedom of navigation and overflight that currently exists these areas. Second, China might assert territorial seas around other newly created or enlarged islands that are close to islands being garrisoned by other countries, which would bring it into direct conflicts with the other claimants. Third, the creation and enlarging of the islands may embolden China in its claim for EEZ for the entire Spratly archipelago, exacerbating the maritime disputes in the region.

By the UNCLOS treaty, artificial structures are entitled only to "safety zones" that "shall not exceed a distance of 500 metres around them." That is how it is supposed to work, anyway. China seems to be challenging that regime. U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Scott Swift warned this week of a possible arms race in the South China Sea:

"My concern is that after many decades of peace and prosperity, we may be seeing the leading edge of a return of "might makes it right" to the region," Swift said on Monday in a speech in Hawaii, according to a copy seen by Reuters.

"Claimants and non-claimants alike are transferring larger shares of national wealth to develop more capable naval forces beyond what is needed merely for self defense," Swift said.

It is the sort of thing that in the 20th century sometimes led to unpleasantness, I wrote back in June. And again at the end of October. Access to commodities and trade routes have provoked wars for centuries. Yet having staked out its claim in what it claims as its historic territory, the Middle Kingdom can be patient. As with commercial and political interests elsewhere, the game in the South China Sea is to step over accepted boundaries and dare anyone to push back. While we fix our gaze on ISIS, the GOP clown show, and the Bernie vs. Hillary contest, somewhere beyond the sea the future is waiting.

Happy Hollandaise everyone. If you care to donate to the holiday fundraiser you can use the buttons provided below or send a donation via the snail mail address in the left sidebar.

And to all those who have signed up for subscriptions or who donate at various time throughout the year, I appreciate this support from the bottom of my heart.