Admiral Harry Harris is considered an adversary by China because of his hardline approach to maritime disputes in the South China Sea. A US Navy commander tipped as the frontrunner to be appointed President Donald Trump's next ambassador to Australia has denounced China as a "disruptive force" in Asia, as the Trump administration ramped up its hawkish stance against Beijing. Harry Harris, a well-known security hardliner on China, issued the fiery assessment at a meeting with counterparts from Australia, Japan and India late last week in New Delhi.
"China is a disruptive, transitional force in the Indo-Pacific," Admiral Harris said, according to the The Times of India. "We must be willing to take tough decisions in 2018 against unilateral ways to change the use of global commons with rule-based freedom of navigation." Separately on Friday the new US defence strategy said great power competition and "growing threats from revisionist powers", China and Russia, had replaced terrorism as the No.1 security risk to the US.Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, poses with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, before a meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo last Thursday. SHIZUO KAMBAYASHI
Confronting China and Russia and staying ahead of their quickly expanding military capabilities are the Pentagon's "principal priorities" and will require "increased and sustained investment," according to an 11-page unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defence Strategy released on Friday. The two US rivals are actively seeking to "co-opt or replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II," according to the report.
To counter that effort, the US will "thwart their use of coercion and intimidation to advance their goals and harm US interests". Meanwhile, the US Trade Representative's annual report laid the ground for a trade war by blasting China for failing to live up to its commitment when it joined the World Trade Organisation to embrace market-oriented economic policies. "Today, almost two decades after it pledged to support the multilateral trading system of the WTO, the Chinese government pursues a wide array of continually evolving interventionist policies and practices aimed at limiting market access for imported goods and services and foreign manufacturers and service suppliers," the USTR report said.
The meeting of the naval chiefs in India, including Australia's Tim Barrett, built on efforts by the four nations to revive the "Quadrilateral" dialogue, a strategic and security initiative intended to counter China's rising dominance in the region. Indonesia, not a Quad member, was also represented by a diplomat.Malcolm Turnbull greets Admiral Harry Harris in New York in May, alongside Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin in May 2017. AP
Raising alarm across the region, Beijing has militarised up to seven islands in the South China Sea by installing large anti-aircraft guns, runways and other facilities in the £US5 trillion (£6.25 trillion) trade corridor through which about two-thirds of Australia's seaborne trade passes. The naval gathering in India coincided with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's visit to see Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo last week.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr Abe outlined an ambitious agenda for a reconvened regional security grouping - the Quad - and envisaged it would provide aid, infrastructure and maritime security across south-east Asia and the Pacific islands. Mr Abe said the group needed to "raise our voices" to ensure freedom of navigation, co-operation and the rule of law prevailed across the region - a clear shot across the bow of rival China.A Chinese Navy frigate and a Russian Navy ship take part in a joint naval drill in the South China Sea. AP
"It is very important to support south-east Asian countries as well as Pacific island countries, coastal nations, so that their maritime enforcement capability can be assisted and enhanced," he said. Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe announced a range of measures to enhance defence and diplomatic co-operation in the region, in what analysts regard as a counterweight to China's rising clout.
Mr Turnbull also appeared to try to mend relations with China, twice praising Beijing for its role in combating North Korea and saying he was now more positive over the resolution of territorial disputes in the region. While China has not formally responded to the strengthening ties between Australia and Japan, local media quoted academics saying any effort to bolster military co-operation between the two countries was bad for the region. Lu Yaodong, the director of Japan studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the quasi-alliance would complicate the security situation in east Asia. "A new factor of Japan and Australia has been added.
This imposes a new threat to the peace and stability of east Asia," he was quoted as saying in the overseas edition of the People's Daily. The newspaper also quoted Meng Xiaoxu, a scholar from China's University of International Relations, who said cooperation between Japan and Australia would have a "significant negative impact" on the region and raise fears that Japan was not a peaceful nation. The Washington Post reported last year that Admiral Harris was a top contender to be the US ambassador in Canberra.
He is currently commander of US Pacific Command in Hawaii, overseeing 375,000 military and civilian personnel, 200 ships and 1100 aircraft in the US Pacific Fleet. The Japanese-born American is considered an adversary by China because of his hardline approach to maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing asked President Trump to fire him from the top navy post, a request that was rebuffed.
A senior adviser on Asia Pacific security at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Andrew Shearer, said: "Admiral Harris' comments reflect a growing consensus - not only at Pacific Command but also in Washington, Tokyo, New Delhi and Canberra - that China's long-term strategic intentions are at odds with maintaining the rules-based order that has underpinned the region's prosperity and are jeopardising regional stability." Admiral Harris told Congress last year: "we cannot turn a blind eye" to China and other adversaries if they "purposely erode the rules-based security order that has served America and this region so well for so long". Admiral Harris is scheduled to step down from the PACOM post in May, potentially paving the way for a move to Canberra.
Career foreign service member James Caruso has stepped up as acting ambassador since President Barack Obama's appointee, John Berry, departed in September 2016.
- ^ frontrunner to be appointed President Donald Trump's next ambassador to Australia (www.afr.com)
- ^ The Times of India (m.timesofindia.com)
- ^ exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review (www.afr.com)
- ^ mend relations with China (www.afr.com)
- ^ told Congress last year (docs.house.gov)
Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to intercept a US vessel which had ‘violated’ its sovereignty by sailing close to a shoal in the disputed South China Sea. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan Island on the night of 17 January without alerting Beijing, the foreign ministry said, referring to the shoal by its Chinese name. Also known as Scarborough Shoal, the ring of reefs lies about 140 miles from the Philippines in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s claims are hotly contested by other nations.
The US vessel ‘violated China’s sovereignty and security interests’ and put the safety of nearby Chinese vessels ‘under grave threat’ according to foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang. China’s defence ministry said in a separate statement that a Chinese frigate ‘immediately took actions to identify and verify the US ship and drove it away’. The USS Hopper recently entered the US Navy’s 7th Fleet area of operations.
News of the encounter follows Friday’s release of a new US national defence strategy that says the country is facing ‘growing threats’ from China and Russia. China is a ‘strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarising features in the South China Sea’, the document says. China’s defence ministry dismissed those claims on 20 January stating that the situation in the South China Sea has ‘steadily stabilised’.
The ministry added: ‘The United States has repeatedly sent warships illegally into the adjacent waters of the South China Sea islands and reefs.’ Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbours and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military aircraft. China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy.
Maritime security is a highly contested concept and encapsulates the state-centric “narrow conception” of maritime security which refers to the traditional interstate maritime territorial disputes. The Secretary General of the UN in his 2008 report, titled “Oceans and the law of the sea,” refers to a broadened human-centric approach and calls states towards a more collective maritime security. He identifies seven specific threats to maritime security and recognises that these evolving threats go beyond the use of force and state boundaries, reflecting the human insecurity conditions ashore.
The first is piracy and armed robbery at sea, which although are not currently evident in the East Med, make the headlines for the last many years in SE Asia, West Africa and the Indian Ocean.
90 percent of the global trade is transported in ships’ hulls, and East Med is a node for international shipping, connecting three major choke points: Gibraltar, the Suez Canal and Bosporus. On the other hand, conflicts in the region have created unstable states (such as e.g. Libya, Syria, etc.) which have created armed groups and ungoverned spaces to potentially act as sanctuaries for wannabe pirates.
With both criteria of “offer and demand” fulfilled, policy makers should not consider the scenario for piracy to return to its birthplace as impossible. Greece in particular is a traditional maritime nation and the sea is inseparable from Greek culture, history, society and existence per se. More than 50% of the global merchant fleet belongs is managed by Greek shipping companies, although the vast majority is registered in other states under “flags of convenience.” Their security should be seen as a significant component of the much needed development in Greece and a mutually accepted formula should be developed between the industry and the state towards this end.
The threat posed by maritime terrorism in the region cannot be overlooked either. Terrorism in the maritime domain is a very minor percentage of the land based equivalent – less than 2 percent of the recorded international terrorist attacks. Yet, the terrorist attacks against UUS Cole and the 158,000-ton super tanker Limburg in 2000 and 2002 respectively, both executed by Al Qaida off the Yemen coast, indicate that they have a significantly high impact.
East Med is a very attractive and popular tourism destination, and tourism is the primary contributor and crutch to the Greek economy as well. The density of cruise ship transits and port visits, for example, raise security concerns in the cruise ship industry, which by no means wants to bring back memories of the infamous hijacking of the Italian MS Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985. Illicit trafficking and smuggling (arms, narcotics, etc.) have been extensively recorded in the region, and even escalated to major political issues within Greece.
The extent and frequency of their occurrence as well as the damage they inflict in societies in all terms are beyond any doubt. Human trafficking and smuggling in particular has reached unprecedented dimensions in the Med during the last decade and claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Again, we can identify the root causes of this plague in regional conflicts (e.g.
Syria, Afghanistan, etc.) and human insecurity conditions across several African states who have created a torrent of migrants and/or refugees seeking for a better life and/or fleeing the violence and conflict respectively. As a result, criminal networks exploit their desperation and put human lives at risk, by offering them false hope and encouraging them to undertake this perilous journey. And they have a huge price to pay – both in financial and human lives’ terms.
These criminal networks again, flourish under the tolerance of sovereign states, and limited inter-state collaboration in this particular area -in our case between e.g. Greece and Turkey due to longstanding disputes and prejudice- only intensifies the phenomenon and increases the death toll. Moving on to IUU fishing, it is a highly overlooked and underestimated security challenge, which poses significant threats to food, economic and environmental security.
The EU estimates that IUU catches count between 11 and 26 million tons – approximately 15 percent of the overall annual marine catches, while in SE Med, more than 40 species of native fish are being threatened with extinction. Focusing on the Aegean Sea, Greek islanders can be seen as vulnerable communities, traditionally dependent on fisheries for their survival and livelihoods, especially during winter months when tourism is in decline. But as my research finds, very often the same fishing boats which commit fisheries management violations are also the (legitimate) cover for other crimes, such as human smuggling and trafficking.
All the discussed maritime insecurities, be they facts or scenarios for preventive and/or protective security policies form the landscape of challenges faced in the East Med region. Juxtaposing these challenges with the UN sustainable development goals (UNSDGs), we can clearly reaffirm that security and development go in hand, as a number of these goals can’t be achieved without minimizing security risks. As the potential for blue growth and ocean development is either overlooked or undervalued in the region, a swift in the policy makers’ focus towards the maritime space is more necessary than ever with a strong element of regional and international cooperation included.
All the above challenges are transnational by nature and cross-border by default. As borders do exist at sea, these challenges can’t be addressed unilaterally. Additionally, we need to better understand the interconnection and interdependence of these challenges as traditional conflicts on land are directly linked to contemporary challenges at sea.
In the contemporary globalized and highly interconnected environment, we can’t afford to consider them as isolated and distinctive cases which take place in a different geographic region.
Instead, a more holistic and comprehensive approach is needed, to acknowledge the inseparable land-sea nexus and acknowledge that as long as peace is challenged on land, security at sea and sustainable development are hard to achieve.
* Dr Ioannis Chapsos is Research Fellow in Maritime Security, Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations (CTPSR), Coventry University, UK.