Monday, March 09, 2009

China Plays Chicken With US Forces, Again

A temple outside Fengyuan.

So there's a new administration in office in the US. It ardently wants good relations with China. It even sends the new Secretary of State there on her first major foreign trip, to emphasize the importance of Asia and China. They are so pathetically eager to please that lots of observers think if China comes up sweet, they will tie Taiwan up in a neat ribbon for delivery to Beijing.

It probably wouldn't be a good idea to dangerously harass a US navy ship in international waters, then. Wouldn't now be a good time to take it easy. I mean, why give ammunition to the panda bashers....?
Defense officials in the Obama administration said the incident Sunday followed several days of "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships in the region. The incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

U.S. officials said a protest was to be delivered to Beijing's military attache at a Pentagon meeting Monday.

The USNS Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. Despite the force of the water, Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and continued closing within 25 feet, the Defense Department said.

"On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters," the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

"The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50 feet, waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," officials said in the statement.

"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," the Defense statement said. "The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet."

Impeccable crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.

But shortly afterward, two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable, forcing it to an emergency stop to avoid collision because the Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable's path.
The Chinese have harassed other US naval vessels in international waters, such as the USS Bowditch in 2001 and 2002, which were in all probability on listening missions. Of course, everyone remembers the infamous Hainan Island incident in which a Chinese fighter jockey misjudged his approach to a US surveillance aircraft, which was forced to land in Chinese territory -- in the first year of the Bush Administration, just as this comes early in Obama's tenure. More of the same, but hopefully it will serve as a timely reminder to the Obama Administration.....

UPDATE: FAS and other sources are indicating it is part of a larger cat-and-mouse game over subs. D'oh. It is irrelevant. The level of risk taking here is unacceptable -- it is one thing to track each other's subs, quite another to risk a serious incident.

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Dan tdaxp said...

Interesting post!

I recall from Rise of the Vulcans that SecState Rice publicly hoped for a confrontation with China in the first 100 days (to get it over with, essentially), and the Hainan Island accident occurred... 96 days in?

This is quicker, and fortunately far less fatal (unlike the Russian sinking of the New Star). I assume the timing is also helped by the National People's Congress.

Anonymous said...

Pretty nuts. That kind of behavior is going to cause trouble for Chinese vessels in international waters down the road.

Anonymous said...

Oh you silly China bashers. Don't you know anything?

Those Chinese sailors only intent was to welcome the Americans to their proud and mysterious country and were merely attempting to deliver flowers and a cellophane-wrapped panda basket. Those brutish-American-imperialist -barbarians overreacted with violence, which we Chinese abhor.

STOP Ma said...

This may be a stupid question, but why did they disrobe to their underwear?

Thomas said...

This "chicken" game just seems odd to me though. Unlike the case a few years ago where the Chinese sub surfaced next to the USS Kitty Hawk a few years ago, this shows nothing about Chinese military prowess. It is just a petty provocation, and for what? It can only hurt right now.

I initially thought this had something to do with a claim to the South China Sea. But why would the Chinese get all hot under the collar about that right now? It is a claim that they have no chance in hell of defending at least for a few more years.

And what of the undies: New navy battle attire?

angry sealor said...

China said a U.S. naval vessel was conducting illegal surveying activities off its southern island of Hainan, a Hong Kong television website reported on Tuesday, after the Pentagon said Chinese ships had harassed the vessel in international waters.

"The U.S. navy vessel concerned has been in China's special economic zone conducting illegal surveying activities," said a statement from the Chinese embassy in Washington, reported by the website of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television (

"China cannot accept these baseless accusations. China demands that the United States halt all illegal surveying activities," said the statement.

can someone translate this chinese shit for me;
1: how at the fuck are 120 km away from chinese border became "chinas spezial economic zone"? why and when at the fuck became international waters "Chinas"?
2:what at the fucking yellow monkey shit is so "spezial" there? and how the fuck is it "economic"?

3:why(if it was accord chink TV so fucking "legal" to atack forign ships there) at the fuck send chinks own spy- and fisher ships instead to use own legal costal quard then?

4: why is this "zone" not in international sea maps?

Anonymous said...

The Obama administration needs to overhaul China-Taiwan-US policy. They can start by putting together a team to study the whole issue. They seem pretty clueless about Taiwan, and they need to learn and start reviewing US policy.

Anonymous said...

Last Anon,

The problem may be the Obama administration stuffing the relevant post with "experts" who "know" the field.

Because China is regarded as such a "mystery" by so many people in powerful places, they run to people who are thought to have some type of insight into the issues, as if their opinion is indisputable fact.

Those who get into those positions realize they are regarded as something akin to spirit mediums in dealing with China and continue to convince their bosses that there is no other thinking on the matter. It is a closed cycle of thought.

Anonymous said...

Just my two cents here. Recently it was discovered that the Chinese have built a very large submarine base on the Southern tip capable of housing their latest subs. Seeing as the news reported that the ship was close or inside the Chinese economic zone, there is no doubt that the USS Impeccable was conducting an intel mission. This ship is supposedly equipped with all sort of high tech sonar / sub detecting devices. From it's wiki page "The mission of Impeccable is to directly support the Navy by using SURTASS passive and active low frequency sonar arrays to detect and track undersea threats." In other words it can track the new/quiet diesel subs that China has recently based on Hainan. Remember the Chinese diesel sub that happened to pop up in the middle of the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group a little while ago? If you look at the picture of the USS Impeccable on it's wikipedia page you will see that it has a catamaran type hull. It tows the sonar equipment underneath the ship which would explain why the Chinese were dumping wood and trash into the path of the ship. The Chinese were trying disrupt the sonar/detection equipment.

Thomas said...

"1: how at the fuck are 120 km away from chinese border became "chinas spezial economic zone"? "

It isn't an SEZ, it is an EEZ, and EEZs can extend for up to 200 miles from the coast of a country. The US ship was supposedly within 100 miles of Hainan, and there are no other conflicting claims in that area, so yes, the US ship could be in China's EEZ. However, international waters begin at 12 miles from a country's coast. So whether the ship was in an EEZ or not, it was still in international waters, meaning the Chinese had no right to harrass the ship and force it to leave.

The EEZ only means that China has rights to take advantage of resources in that area, which is why they can claim that surveying would be illegal. However, something tells me that the US vessel was not looking to exploit the resources of the sea, but was gathering intelligence. Regardless of the reason, it is out of bounds to approach a ship in a dangerous fashion in international waters and impede its departure by getting in its path and dropping pieces of wood overboard. If they had a legitimate complaint, and that is a big IF, it becomes irrelevant in my mind once they put the safety of the crew on the other vessel in jeaopardy.

Anonymous said...

Let's see...

We have the harassment by Chinese ships, the threat by North Korea, and the 50th anniversary of Tibet's uprising all occurring at the same time.

We have old-time Maoists calling for democracy (apparently). And we have the Tiananmen aniversary coming up soon.

Also, the International Criminal Court has called for the arrest one of China's staunchest African allies. And Colombia is threatening to attack Venezuela.

Bombs are exploding in China's northern provinces. Who knows what meltdown is actually occurring in the Chinese economy.

The communist world is on alert.

I'm sure the US was looking for China subs, which have technology to make them stealthier to radar. Perhaps the US was closing in on something it wasn't supposed to see (isn't there an undersea sub dock being built on/near Hainan?)

And let's not forget that China's aim for controlling Taiwan is to control the seas, Freeman be damned.

My thoughts for the day.

Dixteel said...

Hmm...I don't know about this one. Maybe the Chinese wants to provide the US navy with some hot wet strip tease. It's just the US sailors have been on the sea for too long and fail to recognize the abstract and artistic expression of human sexual desires.

Dixteel said... I think of it, on the serious side...could this be related to the submarine base China is building (or already built?) in Hainan? I think I read about it in a report somewhere before. They built a submarine base that's underground, and I remember it's near Hainan. The report even shows a satellite image of the base.

It could be that the US touched on the "senstive" area of China lol. It's good the US tried to have an ocean surveillance going near the area. The info might become very useful in containing Chinese sub forces if it becomes necessary later. Although it's 75 miles south of Haina so I am not sure if it's really military related because that might be a bit far.

By international regulation though indeed Chinese cannot interfere because it's international water. Plus this type of interference is probably useless.

Readin said...

I was surprised by this move. The conventional wisdom that the Chinese wanted to test Obama seems too simple given the circumstances. So far every indication Obama has given the Chinese is that he'll be their lap dog, so why provoke hi?. For example, he's been appointing pro-China people to high positions. He's shown little regard for traditional friends of the United States that share common values (Britain, Poland, Israel - is Taiwan next?). Perhaps most telling, his Secretary of State went to China and she never brought up the subject of human rights as her predecessors habitually did.

On the other hand, Obama is showing signs of being a grudge-holder. In scripted speeches during the campaign, he did a good job of being uplifting and inspirational. But off script, he's been bitterly critical. Even during the inauguration, a speech he is said to have written entirely himself for an event supposed to bring Americans together, he took cheap unfair shots at the Bush administration. The reasons for his shabby treatment of Britain are unclear but it has been speculated that to do with the death of one of his ancestors during an insurrection against British rule.

Given that Obama seemed ready to do the Chinese bidding and his apparent tendency to hold personal grudges, why provoke him early in his term?

I'm truly perplexed by this.

Anonymous said...

Retired diplomat Charles W. Freeman Jr. has put a halt to his nomination to chair the National Intelligence Council.

"Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed," read a statement from Blair's office. "Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret."