Sunday, December 1, 2013

China's Territorial Ambitions (Updated)

Daniel P. Goldman, author of How Civilizations Die, has written that low fecundity is a measure of the health of a society; and noted that dying cultures can choose to go quietly into the night, or may strike out before they become too weak to do so. Goldman has noted that what we are seeing in the Middle-East, particularly with Iran, is a state that is striking out while it still has a chance. I believe what we are seeing in China is also a last effort at expansion before it hits its own demographic cliff. Unfortunately, the United States has responded weakly and ineffectually, which, in the long run, will be more damaging because it will result in a bloody regional war that, more likely than not, will pull the United States into it.

Obviously, the latest flash point is China claiming an "air defense zone" over international airspace--a direct provocation against the United States which has historically followed a policy of free sea (and air) lanes. This could get ugly as Japan, South Korea, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, intend to ignore the demand as to military flights. China reportedly scrambled jets on Friday to intercept and track aircraft that entered the area. However, this response is weaker than it could be--the Administration has advised airlines to comply with China's demands to provide notice of flights.
To this point, a senior official in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration said Friday that commercial airlines are being told to abide by Beijing's call to notify it of plans to traverse the newly declared zone over the East China Sea, even if the U.S. government doesn't recognize it. 
"We ... are advising for safety reasons that they comply with notices to airmen, which FAA always advises," the official said. 
This advice reflects fears that the back-and-forth between the two sides could have unintended consequences involving not just opposing troops, but innocent civilians as well. It's a subtle change from two days earlier, when the State Department said "the U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally" comply with other countries' mandates, rather than directing them to. 
Whatever U.S. carriers do, two major Japanese airlines have refused to comply with China's declaration.
United, Delta, and American Airlines have all indicated that they will comply with China's request.

India has also been poking back a bit:
China on Saturday urged India not to aggravate problems on the border shared by the two nations, a day after the Indian president toured a disputed region and called it an integral part of the country.

The two countries, which fought a brief border war in 1962, only last month signed a pact to ensure that differences on the border do not spark a confrontation.
China has also successfully launched another moon mission.

The Chang'e-3 mission blasted off from Xichang in the south at 01:30 Monday local time (17:30 GMT Sunday).
The Long March rocket's payload includes a landing module and a six-wheeled robotic rover called Yutu (or Jade Rabbit).
The mission should land in the Moon's northern hemisphere in mid-December.
Chinese state TV carried live pictures of the launch of the Chinese-developed Long March 3B rocket carrying the lunar probe.
This will be the third robotic rover mission to land on the lunar surface, but the Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust.
The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour, according to its designer the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.
 This part is interesting, however:
Other details of the mission are sketchy; the rover and lander are powered by solar panels but other sources suggest they also carry radioisotope heating units (RHUs) containing plutonium-238 to keep them warm during the cold lunar night.The US Apollo astronauts Eugene Cernan and "Buzz" Aldrin have also remarked in a recent article that the landing module is substantially bigger than it needs to be to carry the rover, suggesting that it could be precursor technology to a human landing.
... But one unnamed US scientist recently told the magazine Aerospace America: "Except for a ground-penetrating radar on the rover, none of many science instruments on the lander/rover are expected to discover much new on the Moon."
 My concern is that China is investigating the possibility of using the Moon for military purposes. It is a natural progression if China wishes to obtain control of the ultimate "high ground."

Update: Yesterday's Washington Post contained an analysis of China's strategy:

When a half-dozen Chinese patrol vessels entered Japanese waters 14 months ago, Japan’s then-prime minister called an emergency meeting. The Chinese ambassador in Tokyo was summoned for a tongue-lashing. A Japanese government spokesman described the move as an “invasion” of “unprecedented scale.”
The vessels eventually backtracked, but the episode signaled the first stage of China’s fundamental maritime strategy — one in which it forges into new areas, withstands the initial fury, and turns groundbreaking gambits into commonplace activity. In most cases, the strategy has worked. Chinese boats now cut through waters around Japan-administered islands almost weekly, drawing complaints from Tokyo but not alarm.
... Officials here say China continues to push boundaries, sending fighter jets closer to Japanese shores and last week declaring a new air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.
None of China’s moves, by design, has been provocative enough to spark an armed skirmish. That partly explains why deterring China has been so vexing for others in the region.
In the South China Sea, China has backed the Philippines away from several contested reefs and shoals by sending waves of increasingly powerful vessels to the area. Several Japanese officials and security experts say China is now duplicating that strategy in the East China Sea, but with more intensity because of the frequent use of aircraft.
This is the strategy of "boiling the frog" by slowly increasing the temperature so the frog doesn't become alarmed enough to jump out of the pot.

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