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Mar 11

U.S and China Scuffle in South China Sea

Written by Allen on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 6:44 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, Analysis, General, News, politics | Tags:, ,
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The U.S. accused China of harassing a U.S. surveillance ship in the South China Seas earlier this week.  According to this CNN report,

During the incident, 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 said in a written statement.

The crew members aboard the vessels, two of which were within 50 feet, waved Chinese flags and told the U.S. ship to leave the area, the statement said.

“Because the vessels’ intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself,” the statement said. “The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.”

After the Impeccable alerted the Chinese ships “in a friendly manner” that it was seeking a safe path to depart the area, two of the Chinese ships stopped “directly ahead of USNS Impeccable, forcing Impeccable to conduct an emergency ‘all stop’ in order to avoid collision,” the statement said.

“They dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable’s path.”

A Pentagon spokesman called the incident “one of the most aggressive actions we’ve seen in some time. We will certainly let Chinese officials know of our displeasure at this reckless and dangerous maneuver.”

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing lodged a protest over the weekend with the Chinese government, a State Department spokesman said Monday.

The Impeccable’s crew is composed primarily of civilians and the ship itself is not armed, the spokesman said.

The 281.5-foot Impeccable is one of six surveillance ships that perform military survey operations, according to the Navy. It is an oceanographic ship that gathers underwater acoustic data, using sonar.

It has a maximum speed of 13 knots — or about 15 mph — but it travels 3 knots, or 3.5 mph, when towing its array of monitoring equipment. It carries a crew of 20 mariners, five technicians and as many as 20 Navy personnel.

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

The Chinese government has responded emphatically that the U.S. ship had violated China’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone under International Law.

According to this WSJ report,

At issue appears to be different views of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This treaty, which has been ratified by China but not by the U.S. — although Washington accepts most provisions as binding — gives countries territorial waters of 12 nautical miles and economic zones of 200 nautical miles. Foreign ships are allowed to operate in the economic zones, but some countries hold that military ships don’t get free passage.

“U.S. warships are not innocent passage; it is doing something damaging to China’s interests,” said Yang Yi, director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at China’s National Defense University, which has close ties to China’s military.

This Time article reported,

“China considers that international law only allows innocent passage for military vessels in its zone, not activities that could be considered to have a military purpose,” said Shen Dingli, director of the Center of American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

That clashes with one of the cardinal principles of America’s doctrine of ocean navigation: the right to unrestricted passage in international waters as long as vessels are not encroaching on the economic interests of the country it is passing.

While the U.S. has offered talks on the issue, neither side appears willing to compromise.

China has recorded at least 200 instances of U.S. vessels collecting intelligence in China’s exclusive economic zone, but generally chose to avoid confrontation, said Guan Jianqiang, an international law expert at Shanghai’s East China University of Politics and Law.

The latest incident had overtones of spycraft, but the U.S. ship is not, strictly speaking, a spy ship. It maps the ocean floor with sonar, compiling information the Navy can use to steer its own submarines or track those of other nations.

Hainan hosts numerous naval and air force installations and is the home of Beijing’s newest submarine base. An overall naval upgrade is adding advanced missile destroyers, diesel electric submarines, and possibly one or more aircraft carriers in coming years.

The U.S. and others are eager to learn more about those programs and their eventual aims, although Beijing has largely dismissed calls for greater transparency. Keeping out prying eyes and ears is a key priority.

“For the foreseeable future, China will continue to test the waters to see to what extent they can dissuade the U.S. from taking such a close interest,” said Ron Huisken of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defense Studies Center.

I decided to dig into the UN Convention on the Law of Seas a little.

According to the Convention, an Exclusive Economic Zone (defined in the section on Exclusive Economic Zone) is “an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State and the rights and freedoms of other States are governed by the relevant provisions of this Convention.”

The concept of “innocent passage” is not defined in the Section on Exclusive Economic Zone, but in Part II of the Convention on “Territorial Sea and Continguous Zone.”

Part II states “Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.”

The “Meaning of innocent passage” is defined as:

1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;

(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;

(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;

(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

Some will argue that the problem here is that the above definition is taken from the section on territorial waters, not exclusive economic zone, and hence does not apply to the use of exclusive economic zones.

While the Section on Exclusive Economic Zone does not explicitly define the notion of “innocent passage,” it does provide a basis for the resolution of conflicts.

Article 59 of that section states that:

In cases where this Convention does not attribute rights or jurisdiction to the coastal State or to other States within the exclusive economic zone, and a conflict arises between the interests of the coastal State and any other State or States, the conflict should be resolved on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances, taking into account the respective importance of the interests involved to the parties as well as to the international community as a whole.

So “on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances,” what do people think the resolution here should be?

I personally think China does legitimately have an interest in not having oceans so close to its land territory – and major naval installation – be the target of routine U.S. surveillance.

The Law of the Sea already prohibits surveillance of any kind in another’s territorial waters.

Looking beyond this case in general, do people think military surveillance should be the kind of activity that should be allowed in another country’s Exclusive Economic Zone?

[Editor's Note: Charles Liu in #50 provided this interesting and informative reference that discusses further some of the legal / political controversies involving the use of Exclusive Economic Zones]


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144 Responses to “U.S and China Scuffle in South China Sea”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    US Naval sonars are known to casue harm to some marine animals.

    Also many nations, including ourselves, have employed EEZ to claim Defense Identification Zone outside the 12-mile territorial space. For example we routinely intercept the Cubans in international space.

  2. FOARP Says:

    I believe the word you are looking for is ‘scuffle’, to ‘scuttle’ would mean that both the Chinese and the Americans had purposefully sunk their own ships!

  3. Allen Says:

    @FOARP – corrected … thanks! ;-)

  4. Allen Says:

    Charles – you are really looking to “all the relevant circumstances”!

  5. Charles Liu Says:

    I just don’t think we should bully the Chinese like this. I mean we are the one sending spyplanes hugging their airspace in order to trigger radar defenses, something we didn’t allow the Russians to do.

    We are the one dispatching warship thousands of miles away to their shores, again I suspect we would not allow others to do. Yet they are the ones harrasing our “sovereign property”?

  6. Raj Says:

    Charles, how did the US stop Russia from conducting patrols around its airspace? It didn’t shoot any aircraft down, did it? What I do know is that Russia does currently conduct patrols around the UK – in some incidents they flew bombers minutes away from British airspace.

    I don’t think you can describe the South China Sea as “their shores”, though the US may be hypocritical if it doesn’t practice what it preaches. But then China would be too given it has sent submarines into Japanese waters (and I believe ships into Japanese EEZs, though I might be wrong on that). It seems to me that neither side has the moral high ground.

  7. Jed Yoong Says:

    Haiyah….USA, the laws are meant to protect them…Everything that they do is OK, but whatever other ppl do is usually “criminal”, “terrorism”, etc.

  8. Chops Says:

    History is repeating itself again.

    When President Bush just started his first term, Chinese jetfighters brushed past the US surveillance propeller plane over the South China Sea near Hainan.

    Now this close encounter during President Obama’s first term.

    There’s a submarine base in Hainan and the Taiwan Strait between Hainan and Taiwan is less than 200 miles, which means the exclusive economic zone goes all the way to the “renegade province.” Presumably this not-quite-secret US surveillance is done to prepare for a defence of Taiwan should it come under attack, but Taiwan’s pro-China government is keeping quiet on this matter.

  9. Bob Says:

    “the Taiwan Strait between Hainan and Taiwan is less than 200 miles”

    Chops, you might want to brush up your geography knowledge before you make a comment on it.

  10. TonyP4 Says:

    About time to boost up Chinese navy or give Chinese an excuse after the incidents with Russia and USA.

    The current navy can barely defend the long coast and escort the merchant ships. China needs to balance the military spending. Too one sided on missiles and submarines.

    It is cost effective (for mutual financial benefits but will not materialize) to buy US old ships that US sank at least one recently to the ocean. They may not be effective for global trotter but effective to defend the coast.

    Jed Yoong, miss you and your interesting posts. I google your incidents with Malaysia police. Hope you’re OK.

  11. FOARP Says:

    You often see China’s EEZ referred to as her ‘sea border’ by official media, but this is not the case. The territorial limit remains 12 miles, as well as the continental shelf (but not the water above it). Nations do not have the right to board or hassle ships simply because they have entered their economic exclusion zone – these exclusion zones are not part of an exclusive national jurisdiction, but areas in which the nation can exclude others from economic activities (eg. fishing, oil extraction) – the freedom of the seas remains. This is especially relevant given the extent of the EEZ claimed by China in the South China Sea, which extends more than 100 miles to the south of Vietnam. Essentially, were China to be allowed to claim the right to stop, board, and search the ships within the EEZ currently claimed, this would gravely threaten the freedom of navigation of all nations whose ships traverse the South China Sea – the main artery for Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Phillipine and Russian trade Southern and Western Asia. Fianlly, please bear in mind that China’s claims in this area are heavily disputed and overlap with the claims of other nations – if China attempts to claim this right, then Chinese-flagged ships will be treated similarly by Vietnam, the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

    As for the necessity of naval forces needed to keep the sea lanes open, the situation in the Malacca Strait and off the Horn of Africa demonstrate all too plainly why a global naval pressence is required to control piracy. Here’s a case in point which a friend of mine is writing his dissertation on – much of the piracy off Somalia takes place in Somalian territorial waters, but the definition of piracy under international law is that it must take place on the high seas (fortunately for the shipping companies the insurers use a broader definition). Somalia is incapable of controlling this activity, so the only way of keeping the sea lanes off her coasts open is for the ships of other nations to patrol the area. Indonesia and Malaysia have also been ineffective in fighting piracy in the Malacca strait – international assistance is required to keep this important economic conduit open.

    The mapping of the ocean floor does have military application, but its civilian applications are also obvious. Trying to characterise the presence of unarmed US Navy ships in this area as aggressive or threatening is mendacious in the extreme. Finally, floor mapping sonar is of quite a different nature to high-frequency sonar, and it is simply nonsense to think that it could pose any great threat to wild life – especially since such data actually helps us to better understand and protect the marine environment.

  12. Chops Says:

    @Bob, right – Taiwan is more than 200 miles away from Hainan.

    But to defend Taiwan, US Navy ships probably have no choice but to enter China’s EEZ.

  13. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu #1 & 5: FOARP is correct, two different kinds of sonar. Your other point refers to airspace, not naval zones. Neither is relevant to this discussion. Your point about “spyplanes” is incorrect on several counts. First of all, they aren’t “spyplanes”, they’re lumbering, slow to maneuver reconaissance planes, two completely different categories. The only recent US “spyplane” was the SR-71 Blackbird, a high altitude supersonic radar resistant jet which has been replaced by satellites so “spyplanes” are basically extinct. Don’t feel bad about confusing the two; most media during that incident used incorrect terminology.

    As far as hugging airspace, we allow the Russians to do so but of course we chaperone them along, just like they do to us. And yes, the Russian and US fighters play “tag” with the recons, they just don’t bump them. You can just as easily say that China was “bullying” the recon aircraft while they were flying in international space. My dad flew in recons when he was in the Navy and told me all kinds of extremely interesting stories. :)

    As to your other point, warships from other nations can sail thousands of miles until they are up to our 12 mile limit. The US has the right to shadow those warships, but not the right to interfere with their passage or harass them. So yes, they are harassing our “sovereign property”, a term I’ve never heard of before. And no, the US nor any other nation engages in the kind of behaviour that China used on this ship. China’s on her own when it comes to this practice.

    @ Raj #6: Yes, China has sent her submarines into Japan’s territorial waters but everyone else tests underwater defenses with their subs. It’s a common practice to see if you can circumvent a country’s undersea net. If caught, the offended nation can sink the submarine but no one ever does because everyone does it. It has a two way purpose; for one nation to see how good its offense is and the other to gauge its defense. When a sub can get in close, the defender learns they need to shore up their defenses. It’s an accepted “cat and mouse” game.

    @ Jed Yoong #7: This isn’t a US law or one only practiced by the US. It’s accepted by every seafaring nation except China, and that includes Malaysia. BTW, hope your situation is getting straightened out. We’re all in your corner!

    @ FOARP: Very informative and accurate post.

    @ Allen: Wasn’t it disingeneous to put the territorial water limitations on there when this didn’t happen in territorial waters? You might have noted that before the rules rather than after. ;)

    Sure, China has an interest, but it doesn’t have any international standing for that interest. Military surveillance IS allowed in a nation’s EEZ, including the United States and everyone else. Should it be? I think so. The more countries know about each other’s military capabilities, the less chance there is for an accidental war to start. Also, in order to change the status quo, other nations would have to be in favor of the change and right now, China’s by itself. So any conclusions we come to on this blog are completely irrelevant.

    The main issue involved with this incident is that in the present state of her Navy, China can barely project naval power beyond her littoral waters. She knows that the accepted international law allows for this ship to be where she was and do what she did but this isn’t in China’s best interests, especially when it concerns a country that is extremely secretive when it comes to military affairs. So China pushes because she wants to test the new administration and most likely, the US will push back because it won’t allow a new precedent to be set that isn’t in the US interest nor most of the rest of the world’s interest. As FOARP mentioned, the US Navy keeps the sea lanes safe operating in waters that comprise many nation’s EEZ. Those sea lanes also protect China’s supply of oil coming from the Middle East.

    I think China was trying to send a message and now the US will send a message back. There’s nothing earth shattering going on here. BTW, I took a course at Villanova on the UN Law of the Sea. My professor was one of the key individuals who drew up the original document. it’s quite complex and covers far more than what we’ve described here. The main reasons for its origin were to control fishing rights and deep sea mineral deposits, including oil. Before that time, a nation had a 3 mile limit and no more. There was no 12 mile limit and no EEZ.

  14. Allen Says:

    @Steve #13,

    You asked “Wasn’t it disingeneous to put the territorial water limitations on there when this didn’t happen in territorial waters? You might have noted that before the rules rather than after.”

    No, no…!

    In the post, I clearly distinguished territorial waters vs. exclusive economic zones. I also clearly made clear that I had to reference a different section – the section on territorial waters – for explicit definitions of “innocent passage.”

    So in fact, rather than being “disingenuous,” I was being excessively upfront about one weakness of a potential argument of the Chinese gov’t!! :-P

    Just to be clear: I do not know or understand the official arguments of the Chinese gov’t. The above was just based on my personal (limited) understanding of the law.

  15. Allen Says:

    @FOARP #11,

    I don’t think the law is as black and white as you try to make it.

    In the same convention, the concept of “innocent passage” (same definition I referenced for territorial waters) is clearly referenced and deemed relevant for archipelago waters and straits between an island and mainland of a nation.

    In my opinion, the letter of the law only builds a loose framework. There is a lot of gray.

    A lot also depends on the customs and norms of the high seas.

    For now – the U.S. – being the dominant super power and naval power – gets to dictate the customs and norms.

    To that extent, I agree with you… But I also think China – legally speaking at least – does have a lot of room to maneuver for its positions. However, since China can’t really back up any military conflict with the U.S. at this time … this will probably remain just legal posturing for a while.

  16. zhihua Says:

    @Jed Yoong

    “Haiyah”

    LOL. I think i figured out what that means.

    Good luck to you, by the way!

  17. Rolf Says:

    They are spying. The ship is mapping the seabed for subs

    http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/surtass.htm

  18. Raj Says:

    Steve, 13

    Yes, China has sent her submarines into Japan’s territorial waters but everyone else tests underwater defenses with their subs.

    Have Japanese and American subs been caught submerged in Chinese waters?

    But assuming it is normal, why then is it a problem to have an unarmed surface vessel conducting surveys in this area? Surely it is more permissible as it is not hidden and presents no immediate threat. As FOARP says, it’s not like this vessel was just off the Chinese coast. It was closer to the edge of the undisputed EEZ than territorial waters.

  19. miaka9383 Says:

    @Rolf
    According to the AP by Pentagon
    They were mapping for mines and torpedoes.

    @Allen
    What bothers me is not the argument of the territorial water vs exclusive economic zone, but the way the Chinese Naval soldier acted. It was completely unprofessional. They shadowed the ship and blocked the path of the vessel to force it to do an emergency stop. After the vessel requested to pass, they throw debris in the water. The vessel was unarmed so they shoot water at the Naval officers to stop their intimidation and the Chinese naval officers just took off their clothes and taunted the ship. These behaviors were extremely unprofessional, and a disgrace to their uniform.

  20. Shane9219 Says:

    @miaka9383 #19

    I don’t think you got the fact right. Just looked those pictures available. Those Chinese involved are not naval officers.

    Secondly, what US ship was doing at the time was hunting submarines just outside of Hainan nuclear submarine base. Operations like this are disgusting to say the least.

  21. miaka9383 Says:

    @Shane
    “The Chinese ships involved were a Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers” They represent the Chinese Government therefore need to act with dignity. That was from up above.

    And sorry I did read the article wrong but here is what it said “The surveillance ship tows a sonar apparatus that scans and listens for foreign threats that also include mines and torpedoes. The sonar array was deployed at the time of the confrontation, and a U.S. account says Chinese mariners tried to snag it with poles.”
    They could have warn the ship to leave the premises when they were on Chinese territory. But they didn’t. No matter how “disgusting” the act is, the reaction should be in a professional manner that represent the country and the organization.

  22. FOARP Says:

    Guys, mapping the sea bed, even for the purpose of allowing submarines to use the information is not ‘spying’ in any way, shape, or form – and the information will be useful to everyone, not just submariners.

    If, as AP say, they were looking for mines and torpedoes, perhaps you should remember that there are still thousands of mines currently unaccounted for from WWII and other conflicts, and that these pose a threat to navigation. This does not constitute ‘spying’. It is not ‘disgusting’, but admirable.

    @Rolf – The system you linked to is a passive towed array – it is not capable of mapping anything. If this system is capable of detecting Chinese submarines – what of it? The submarines also carry sonar.

    @Allen – If you really want to get right down to it, anyone can do anything on the high seas – including piracy. But they should not expect other nations to take this lying down, so expect to see freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. We have no evidence as to where exactly this took place other than that it was not in China’s territorial waters, in fact it may well have been in waters that only China recognises as its own EEZ. The concept of innocent passage counts for national waters only, as there was no accommodation for it in the UN treaty. If China wants to renegotiate this treaty then let her.

    @Miaka – They behaved in this fashion exactly because the ship was not on ‘Chinese territory’ and the Chinese had no right to interfere with their presence. There seems little point commenting on what was done except that it was unacceptable – it seems likely that it was done in a way designed to apply pressure on the Americans at the start of the Obama presidency, just as was done at the start of Bush’s presidency.

  23. Steve Says:

    @ Rolf #17: No Rolf, they weren’t spying. Spying is what you do in secret; reconaissance is what you do in the open. Yes, the ship was mapping the seabed in international waters. Beyond that, China has twelve miles of protected space, better than the old three miles of protected space before the treaty. Just because you want it to be called spying doesn’t make it so.

    @ Raj #18: Not that I’ve been made aware but I’m sure if they were detected, neither side would publicize it. There are numerous accounts of those activities that have been documented after the fact in books about submarine warfare. Like all spying, you do what you can get away with. Normally when caught, the home fleet scares the hell out of the sub’s crew which gets out of there as quickly as possible.

    What is the problem? There IS no problem except to the Chinese government. They are trying to re-interpret the treaty to be more in their best interest. I’d guess the US Navy will send another ship to do exactly the same thing, except this time with an armed escort. Cat & mouse…

    @ Shane: Mapping the seabed is not hunting submarines; in fact, they aren’t even close and use completely different technologies. Beyond that, outside of someone’s territorial waters it’s perfectly fine to “hunt” submarines and that includes China, which does the same thing. This isn’t exactly classified information…

    As for whether you find this “disgusting”, that’s up to you. Do you find China’s extensive spy network inside the United States also disgusting? I don’t; I expect it. But you must if you want to be consistent with your opinions.

  24. wukong Says:

    Hainan hosts important navy and air force bases, many have speculated China hosts her strategic nuclear deterrence submarines there.

    To believe in whatever the western media feeds you and think the spyship is there to find “mines and torpedoes”, is disgustingly laughable. The Impeccable is there to detect and check China’s subs.

    The incident happened a mere 75 miles off Hainan island. Why is necessary to send a spyship halfway around a globe to milling around China’s navy base if not to provoke and show hostility? and why is it necessary to prove China now? are the two countries at war or about to be at war?

    I have a feeling if a Chinese “survey” ship were found near Norfolk or Hawaii nuclear bases, the same media or people here will have the same mass hysteria and uproar, but it will be against the “unscrupulous” and “unprofessional” China.

  25. Allen Says:

    Diplomatically – this incident looks to be just an incident … (see this Time report)

  26. wukong Says:

    Immpecable class is the lastest Surveillance Towed-Array Sensor System (SURTASS) ship.

    http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/surtass.htm
    ============================================
    (SURTASS) … providing mobile detection, tracking, and reporting of submarine contacts at long range, … providing long range detection and cuing for tactical weapons platforms against both diesel and nuclear powered submarines.

    SURTASS has experienced recent passive and active success against diesel submarines operating in shallow water … in a variety of locations around the world, with positive results.
    ==============================================

    Not once does it mention anything about “mines and torpedoes”. To readily accept one AP report with deliberately obfuscating words like “listens for foreign threats that also include mines and torpedoes”, and thus declare the ship is there for “possible” humanitarian reason, is a mind blowing act by itself.

    It’s like saying “U.S. Army successfully executed missions on its way to Baghdad including giving out candies to kids on streets” , thus proclaiming US Army is there to help the children.

    Besides, South China Sea is a traditional fishing field for Chinese fishermen for ages, it’s also one of the most busy ship lanes for oil tanks and container ships carrying Chinese manufactured goods. What’s the last time you heard some ship or any ship got blown up by a mine or torpedo? It’s the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that started the Vietnam War and which turned out to be a US manufactured incident.

    And if there were any mines endangering any commercial ships, why wouldn’t Chinese government step up and clear it by herself? I am sure Chinese Navy has more than enough capability to do it, all it requires is for US to squeak “mine” and Chinese will send a ship there in no time.

    There is so much bull this “mines and torpedoes” story, and to see some people eating it full is just mind boggling to say least.

  27. FOARP Says:

    @Wukong – Your response is pure silliness – 75 miles, in case you haven’t been following the discussion, is still in international waters. As for how the US or the UK would behave, well, foreign vessels (particularly Russian naval vessels) do approach the shores of the USA and the UK very regularly – can you find an instance of them being harassed in this fashion? For that matter, can you find an instance of the Russians harassing naval vessels in this fashion? Despite all the venting that happened on this very website no more than three weeks ago some of the commenters here seem to have learned nothing. At least the New Star was still in Russian territorial waters, and had received fair warning, and was trying to escape legal sanction.

    Really, and people still wonder why it is that the Chinese government is so unpopular when it behaves only marginally better than the North Koreans do on the high seas!

  28. Steve Says:

    The AP story everyone is referring to is here. It says the ship was looking for threats such as submarines and it says the capabilities also include listening for mines and torpedoes. It isn’t a “mines and torpedoes” story and there is nothing in the article about being there for humantarian reasons. It’s also not a “spy” ship or even a warship. It’s operated by a civilian crew.

    Let’s stick to what actually happened. The lead line in the story was “The U.S. Navy ship that got into a scrape with five Chinese vessels last weekend in the South China Sea was looking for threats such as submarines — presumably Chinese — in waters that China claims as its own, defense officials acknowledged Tuesday.”

  29. FOARP Says:

    @Wukong –

    “if there were any mines endangering any commercial ships, why wouldn’t Chinese government step up and clear it by herself? I am sure Chinese Navy has more than enough capability to do it”

    Laughably, tragically, wrong. Mine warfare is one of the most specialised fields out there, requiring extremely hi-tech gear and training, even the USN and RN combined were stretched to respond to the mining of the Persian Gulf by the Iranians – China doesn’t have nearly that kind of capability yet. And at what point are they supposed to ‘squeak “mine”‘ – when the mine hits them?

    “South China Sea is a traditional fishing field for Chinese fishermen for ages”

    So this grants China the right to harass ships there? By this standard, the UK has the right to mess around with any ship in the North Atlantic, Japan owns the Pacific, Italy and Greece get the Mediterranean, and the Iranians get the entire Persian Gulf as well as the Indian Ocean . Pure stupidity – exactly the kind of idiocy which leads to instances like this. Here’s a pop quiz for you hot-shot: what if they try this with an armed ship? What if they provoke them into responding with armed force? Because that will be the inevitable result of this kind of childish behaviour.

    “it’s also one of the most busy ship lanes for oil tanks and container ships carrying Chinese manufactured goods”

    The high seas represent an good held in common by all the peoples of the world, it is exactly for that reason that it is in everyone’s interest that freedom of navigation is maintained – China’s as much as anyone else’s. When one nation starts to claim special exclusive rights over water used by many different countries, the resulting conflict causes all the countries to suffer. It is exactly because of the fact that large amounts of Chinese shipping use these waters that it is in Chinese interests to allow freedom of navigation.

  30. foobar Says:

    So this grants China the right to harass ships there? By this standard, the UK has the right to mess around with any ship in the North Atlantic, Japan owns the Pacific, Italy and Greece get the Mediterranean, and the Iranians get the entire Persian Gulf as well as the Indian Ocean . Pure stupidity

    I don’t think the original contention was that fishing activities are the justifications of the ‘harassment’. I may have misunderstood wukong but I seriously doubt that.

    Actually the Chinese officials justified the ‘harassment’ for entire different set of reasons. And by that standard, it only gives the UK the right to mess around with a PRC Navy ship (or any other countries navy ship for that matter) that is hunting for British subs near a British nuke sub base and within the UK 200 nautical miles EEZ. Maybe a little more than that, but not a whole lot more. With the amount of stretching you are making, it is indeed pure stupidity.

    The AP article, given below and already linked by Steve, quoting US defense officials, specifically said the navy ship was looking for submarines. It only mentioned its ability to detect mines and torpedoes in passing. To say that it was there for such purpose, I’m not sure how to assign purity to that stupidity.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090310/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_china_incident

  31. Oli Says:

    Actually, according to the Chinese account they didn’t throw any wood into the water or it could have been just flotsam for all I know.

    As for the sonar buoy, they can be used not only to map the underwater seabed, but also track submarines. Depending on the sonar’s sensitivity, the manufacturing precision and pattern of the submarine’s propellers, the sub’s overall profile and surface coating it may even be possible to identify and tag specific class, variant, even individual submarines from the acoustic signature created by its cavitation.

    With such information it is simply a matter of inference to gauge not only a nation’s military capabilities, track a submarine’s international passage, but also infer a nation’s military-industrial complex’ technological level and manufacturing capabilities, especially when it can be compared and contrasted with one’s own. Often it is even possible to endow each class or piece of precision engineering machinery that were originally intended for civilian usage with a signature so that it can be tracked should it be turned to military application.

    Consequently, what the USNS was doing south of Hainan is definitively nothing other than spying and tracking PLAN traffic and level of technology. As for it being manned by a civilian crew, does CIA or NSA count as “civilian”?

    As for military disclosure and knowledge of each other’s capabilities to prevent mishaps, it is a non-starter unless there is a certain level of parity in the balance of tactical and strategic power among a whole host of other pre-requisites (Specifically see Game Theory & Prisoner’s Dilemma). One of the major reasons why the doctrine of MAD worked during the Cold War was precisely because there was strategic parity between the former USSR and the USA/NATO. Whilst tactically the former had numerical advantages while the latter had geographical advantages, such that it was mutual interest to clarify each other’s intentions. However, no party ever tolerated each other’s physical military spying and reconnaissance.

    As regarding mine clearance and deployment, actually the technique and technology involved is fairly well known and have long been established and evolving since WWI and China itself has a number of newer and older dedicated surface combatants that fulfil precisely such a role. The only major issue is that maritime mine clearance, like its earthbound counterpart, is extremely tedious and time consuming and one hundred times more so than landmines clearance. Consequently, during conflict where time is of the essence, most surface combatants place mine detection and avoidance as a priority over actual disposal, which is either left to dedicated ships (esp. re floating mines) or left until post conflict (static mines or those not released from their anchorage).

    Furthermore, it would be highly irresponsible, not to mention futile and counter-productive, for any country to release or place mines anywhere near shipping lanes during peace times, particularly when they themselves make heavy use of the same shipping lanes or risk such mines falling into unscrupulous hands. Consequently, the USN’s claim that they were searching for mines is something that only somebody with absolutely no prior military training or knowledge can believe, ie Joe public.

    To people in the know it is the USN who have been caught with their pants down and ought to count themselves lucky that the Chinese didn’t burst a few eardrums whilst the USN ship was listening in. As for publicising the incident, I believe that it has less to do with China and the US sending each other messages, but actually more to do with the US defence establishment sending the Obama administration a message. Especially considering that it was I believe the Pentagon who broke the story first. Now see how fast both governments try to play the incident down. LOL.

  32. Shane9219 Says:

    @Miaka9383

    US Navy carries this type of missions many times every year, so does the confrontation. It is a cat-mouse game that is nothing new. Pentagon usually don’t publicize them. There is a speculation around Washington however that Pentagon chose to do so this time is to put pressure on President Obama and to take a stronger position in his newly formed China policy.

    There were several shadowing actions against USNS Impeccable in prior weeks (you may read recent news articles). Typical “professional” treatment from China include shining a search light, or overhead flights using a small coastal airplane. If you regard those actions “professional”, then they are “professional”. The truth is that there is no such term as “professional” when there is a confrontation.

    “mapping mines and torpedoes”
    Can you explain why USS Impeccable needs to got so close (75miles) to Hainan’s submarine base to map mines? Why China needs to lay mines during peace time? How do you map “torpedoes”? What is your reaction if similar mission carried outside San Diego or Norfolk?

    @Steve

    USNS Impeccable is equipped with the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), a passive linear underwater surveillance array attached to a tow cable. SURTASS was developed as a floating submarine detection system for deep waters, and the Navy wants to add an active Low Frequency Array (LFA) to improve long-range detection of submarines in shallow waters. LFA is the only equipment that can US Navy can detect quiet submarines.

  33. Allen Says:

    I found this article from Justin Raimondo very informative.

    I’ve been a fan of Justin for a while (not only on China related issues). Take a look if you have time…!

  34. Cissy Says:

    How significant is the Chinese submarine base in the Hainan area that US is so interested in? Was that incident in 2001 also for that?

  35. miaka9383 Says:

    @Shane
    You misunderstood. I said I misread the article and I quoted the article to you where I misread. Steve has helped me clarify things. Please re read it.

  36. Ted Says:

    @Steve and Oli: I sometimes wonder about your actual professions :)

    Oli said: “As for publicising the incident, I believe that it has less to do with China and the US sending each other messages, but actually more to do with the US defence establishment sending the Obama administration a message. Especially considering that it was I believe the Pentagon who broke the story first. Now see how fast both governments try to play the incident down. LOL.”

    That sounds about right to me. Everyone is pressing each other’s buttons. It also seems the US and China have adopted non-intersecting positions on the issue. I’m guessing the experts are way ahead of us in setting out an irreconcilable argument that either could cite should the need arise down the road.

    Re: Nude Crewmen. Didn’t the Chinese strip after the water hose? I thought the crew were taking a shower :)

  37. Steve Says:

    @ foobar #30: Thanks for clarifying again that they were looking for subs and not mines or torpedoes. There are no mines where they were, nor talk of mines except possibly by uninformed reporters. I also suspect they were mapping the ocean floor for submarine passages in and out of the area. Subs take underwater trenches to avoid detection. Think of the tiefighters in Star Wars attacking the death star. :)

    @ OIi #31: I was with you until you called it “spying”. It wasn’t spying. You can call it surveillance, you can call it reconaissance but you can’t call it spying. Spying is when they don’t know you are doing it. Spying is when you are inside their territory, and the EEZ is not considered territorial waters. I think this ship is large enough that everyone knew it was there.

    The Soviets tolerated our reconaissance as we tolerated theirs. They sent “fishing trawlers” near our coast but outside the three mile limit and later twelve mile limit. My dad flew recon for the Navy during the Cold War so I’m pretty informed as to what went on. We shadowed them as they shadowed us. As for military spying, you are correct. They shot down Gary Powers’ U-2 which was in their airspace and totally within their rights.

    No one was caught with their pants down nor was the Pentagon trying to “strong arm” Obama. As Shane said, it is “speculation”. It is also not a good idea for the military to alienate a new President since that same President is their boss and can replace whoever made that decision. As Shane also said, missions like this have been done many times before and precisely because China is so secretive about its military capabilities. They will happen again, except next time I’d expect a US warship as an escort.

    @ Shane: Makes sense. The newest Chinese nuclear and diesel subs are pretty quiet. The object is to keep track of each other’s submarine fleets. This had been going on with the Soviets for 40 years. In defense of miaka, the original CNN article that Allen referenced wasn’t very accurate and the later AP has much more detail.

    @ Allen: Justin Raimondo might be very informative in general but his take on this incident is filled with factual errors and speculation. He certainly hasn’t done his homework as both Oli and Shane have. The photos were nice, though.

    @ Cissy #34: To answer your question, very significant. China carved out a large submarine base with an underwater entrance and tried to keep the construction secret (of course) but eventually word got out. It is similar to Russia’s two submarine bases in Murmansk and Vladivostok.

    This isn’t really that big of a deal, it didn’t embarrass anyone and it won’t be the last time it happens. Per Allen #25, it’s already being put to bed. As Shane said, cat & mouse and nothing new or unusual. Certainly nothing to get excited about. Let’s save the excitement for Tibet. ;)

  38. Allen Says:

    @Steve #37,

    Can you point out why Justin’s “take on this incident is filled with factual errors and speculation”?

    Give me say 3-4 if you have time…! ;-)

  39. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #37

    “They will happen again, except next time I’d expect a US warship as an escort. ”

    Then you are talking about a military mission, not current good old “civilian” operations.

  40. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: Sure, a response to a response. It’ll probably go from surveillance to surveillance with military escort. I believe that is called a “ratcheted response”. :P

  41. Oli Says:

    Btw as regarding the locating and clearing of mines from the Persian Gulf, the issue was neither technological or specialised training, but rather concerns the constraints placed on such operations because of the geography and the nature of human usage in the form of very heavy shipping in the Gulf and the natural choke point that is the Strait of Hormuz.

    Under those conditions the use of sonar to locate mines are extremely difficult and more often than not merchant and naval ships and helicopters have to resort to human eyeballs or unspecific low scanning surface radar to spot floating mines which in turn places immense pressure on operational duration and viability.

  42. Oli Says:

    @Steve

    I’m not going to argue terminology with you, for how many inches does a knife need to be before it can be call a sword? Irrespective of the terms you wish to use, what matter is what that ship was doing there.

    As for the US military establishment not wanting to “stong arm” a new president, well, I have to say that it depends on how many friends the US military-industrial complex has in Congress and how many “enemies” China has in the self-same Congress. Judging by the pork barrel politics that goes on there come the annual defence budget review, I would say that the Pentagon will likely gain lots of new friends there, especially in the current economic climate.

    Besides, who exactly is Obama going to replace when the whole “snafu” can be played down by the Pentagon to an “unfortunate” timing of press releases or an “administrative” failure to give the White House prior notice? Some unfortunate Lt. no doubt. Also, ever heard of the concept institutional resistance and obstruction? All I can say is good luck to Obama and I hope he survives his presidency, both literally and politically.

  43. Oli Says:

    Btw Steve, out of curiosity, when you said:

    “Spying is when they don’t know you are doing it.”

    Did you intend kowledge of one’s spying to be subjectively or objectively based before it can objectively or subjectively be termed “spying”?

    ;)

  44. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve, #37

    “China is so secretive about its military capabilities.”

    Should China tell US Admiral Keating where exactly those subs locate, so he can send subs to do whatever GB did to French nuclear sub? There is a speculation that GB is quite upset about French decision to rejoin NATO and put a squeeze on their power.

    China’s current military goal is for self-defense, such as 1) to safe-guard her territories and trade operations, and 2) to deter various external threats.

  45. Steve Says:

    Hi Allen~

    Outside of the endless hyperbole, here are a few examples from Justin Raimondo’s post:

    “As John Stossel would put it: Give me a break! These are the ships that supposedly aggressively maneuvered” around the Impeccable – as the Pentagon put it – “in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters”?”

    Factual error: This ship is about as slow and lumbering as they come. It has no ability to “aggressively maneuver” anywhere. It’d take five minutes to make a turn. So yes, the Chinese ships can “aggressively maneuver” in a coordinated effort around the Impeccable to harass it while it was conducting routine operations in international waters. Surveillance happens to be a routine operation for a surveillance ship and they operate in international waters rather than territorial waters. And yes, the US routinely spies on China except this isn’t spying. And China routinely spies… yes, the real spying, inside the US. Welcome to the real world.

    “In the self-referential parlance of Washington, however, it’s all about a “test” for President Obama.”

    Since the same basic event happened at the start of Bush’s administration, doesn’t it make sense to speculate the Chinese are testing or sounding out the new Obama administration? No one is calling this a fact. How is this self-referential? He also seems to have “quotitis”, the strange disease of putting every other word in “quotes”, except he uses one word “quotes” that have no meaning since they are taken out of “context”.

    “Imagine if Chinese military vessels appeared 75 miles off the coast of, say, southern California, for the quite obvious purpose of tracking our submarine defenses and conducting surveillance of our San Diego naval base. It would be bombs away, pronto, and no questions asked.”

    Err, how ‘cum we never did “bombs away” (which linked to a nuclear detonation video on YouTube, BTW) to the Soviets when THEIR military vessels appeared 75 miles off the coast of, say, southern California? What we did was send vessels to cover them and used electronic equipment to interfere with their readings. My uncle used to run the electronic warfare laboratory for the US Army and now a lot of that old information is declassified so I’ve also heard some pretty good stories. It seems everyone in my family is really smart except for me. :(

    “U.S. officials routinely note that the UN law, while granting China sovereignty over its “exclusive economic zone,” would have been violated only if the Impeccable was on a commercial expedition, and yet the clear concern on the part of the Chinese is that this was a military mission.”

    US officials never noted that China has sovereignty over its EEZ. It has economic ownership of the seabed and fishing resources (it’s in the treaty) but full sovereignty over the 12 mile zone. He also got his terms mixed up, since a military mission would bother the Chinese a lot more than a commercial mission. I also seem to recall that the US Seventh Fleet sailed down the Taiwan Strait in 1996 after China shot a few missiles close to Taiwan before their presidential election. Since the Taiwan Strait is less than 100 miles wide in some areas, I’d say THAT was a military mission. The Seventh Fleet could sail twenty miles off the coast of China if they wanted, but I doubt they’d be making port in Hong Kong anytime soon.

    “Other nations, however, are not entitled to a Monroe Doctrine of their own: China, Russia, and Iran have no corresponding prerogative to their own spheres of influence, as granted by geography, tradition, and the military necessities of a credible defense.”

    I’d say North Korea, Sudan and Myanmar are in China’s sphere of influence along with other African countries they’ve built up good relations with. Right now I’d say China has more influence with Venezuela than the US. What used to be referred to as “Eastern Europe” was in the Soviet sphere and when Russia sent troops into Georgia recently, they claimed it was in their “sphere of influence”. Shia Iraq has traditionally been in Iran’s sphere of influence but because the other countries surrounding Iran are mostly Sunni, they have been in the Arabic sphere. Why he would bring Iran into the equation is beyond me. It’s not the first country I think of when a world power comes to mind.

    “For decades, the Taiwan lobby has bought and manipulated U.S. politicians and succeeded in passing legislation that requires the U.S. to provide for Taiwan’s security needs, including going to war in case its disputed sovereignty is violated. A huge arms sale under the Bush administration was orchestrated as a result of this unique legislation, which is a monument to the power of foreign lobbyists in the Imperial City.”

    We already did a thread on this in the past where we broke it down to the nth degree on what legislation was passed during the Carter administration, how it was passed and why it was passed. This entire paragraph is nonsense by anyone’s stretch. The recent Bush administration weapons sale isn’t “huge” at all. Since 1990 the US has sold $40 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia. That is huge. This $3 billion sale is the first in many years to Taiwan. And what is China’s announced military budget this year? And what details have they released on the expenditures? And how many missiles are targeted at Taiwan? US policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent since the Carter era; defensive weapons to maintain the quid pro quo with China, no independence and a negotiated, non-violent reunification. China was very appreciative when the Bush administration slammed Chen Shui-bian for flirting with independence.

    “Hey, wait a minute, aren’t we’re supposed to be in a new era here, with the ascension of Obama I to the imperial throne?”

    Oh, now he must have Obama mixed up with Cixi, the Empress Dowager. Allen, and to think you were HAPPY when Obama was elected!

    The rest of it is just a long rant. And to think the Chinese government LIKED working with the Bush administration!! ;)

  46. Steve Says:

    @ Oli #42: I’m not arguing with you about the difficulty of changing the military, but I would point out that during the Bush administration, several key military personnel (as in Generals and Admirals, not Lieutenants) were “retired” and replaced with people that bought into Rumsfeld’s philosophy. You know, the ones that said we didn’t need many troops in Iraq and the surge was a waste of time. *sigh*

    The Pentagon can have all the friends they want in Congress, but Congress does not have the power to change leadership in the military. The military reports directly to the President. Most Presidents don’t interfere much with military matters (with the Bush administration an obvious exception) but to say Obama will be run over roughshod by these guys is a bit premature. Who knows, Oli, you might be right. But I’m willing to wait awhile to see what Obama actually does.

  47. Steve Says:

    @ Shane #44: No, of course not. But countries share military capability in a broad sense so that miscalculations won’t occur. They make public their actual military budgets and expenditures. For instance, China knows exactly what ships the US has, what ships they are planning to have and quite a bit about those ships. Not the details, but the inherent size and shape of the military. The US knows what’s going on with Russia and vice versa. Another reason this is done is so that countries don’t have to engage in sending ships close to other countries to discover their military capabilities, so they can avoid “incidents”.

    China’s STATED current military goal is for self-defense, such as 1) to safe-guard her territories and trade operations, and 2) to deter various external threats. What China’s actual military goal is and will be is a state secret.

  48. Bob Says:

    FOARP and Steve, you two have been liberally using the two interchangeable terms “high seas” and “international waters” when referring to the location of this scuffle. Do you have any friggin idea how these two are defined?

  49. Allen Says:

    @Steve#45,

    You commented: “Allen, and to think you were HAPPY when Obama was elected!”

    I was – though I had no illusions that unlitarism, multilateralism, or what not – Obama is still going to (he has to) look after the interest of the nation first. America isn’t going to be fairer or better – but it was going to do it in a classier style! ;-)

    Domestically, I still have high hopes that Obama will mean that the racially motivated identity based politics will soon be relegated to the dust bins of history…

  50. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, here’s an article from a UH law professor you might want to take a look:

    Military Ships and Planes Operating in the EEZ of Another Country

    As to the classification of the EP-3, it is sigintel reconnisance – in another word spying. You don’t see the Chinese flying giant bombers (could be loaded with camera or bombs) charging towards our territorial space in order to trigger our radar defenses do you?

  51. Steve Says:

    @ Bob #48: “International waters” are waters where ships can sail without permission from another country. Territorial waters are where you need that permission. I don’t believe I used the term “high seas”; that must be one of FOARP’s.

  52. Bob Says:

    To cut to the chase, let me present this exhibit with regard to the definitions of “international waters” or “high seas”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_seas

    Inside the page there is a fairly high resolution image detailing the high seas worldwide. I invite FOARP and Steve to identify the area where Impeccable had scuffle with Chinese vessels and speak in all honesty whether you two, as well as the Pentagon and the US media were all wrong.

    EDIT: Steve, just saw your post. These two terms are interchangeable.

  53. Oli Says:

    @ Steve

    Considering that this incident was not the only such recent incidents, but rather the first one to be publicised by the Pentagon, my immediate thoughts were “why this one and not the others?”, “why now of all times?”, “what has changed?” and ultimately, to quote Cassius, “Cui bono?”.

    Moving on from that, you cannot possibily be seriously compare the timing of a Pentagon press release to a fundamental shift in US military doctrine and posture are you? Particularly one that many younger and more gung-ho military personnel were already in favour of, however misguided. Ditto the body responsible for post-conflict reconstruction. (Sidenote: Colin Powell has my greatest admiration and sympathy. Boy, talk about being royally screwed over by your boss and “colleagues”. Ahh well, its just like in the movies, the token minority is always one of the first to “die”.)

    As for Congressional “friends” of the Pentagon, all I am going to say is “follow the money!” and see who controls the purse strings, irrespective of who gets to hire and fire.

  54. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu #50: Thanks for the paper; it was very interesting. I read through the EP-3 section but skipped the rest since it was long and what you had mentioned had already been covered. It seemed to me that the main thrust is that the EEZ section is a mess and everyone wants to interpret it in their own way. The author mentioned several interpretations from different nations. He also reiterated China’s stance after the EP-3 incident.

    Yes, the EP-3 was a reconnaissance plane as you stated. It is not another word for spy. Reconnaissance means reconnaissance and spying means spying. Why do you try to mix the two?

    Reconnaissance means to inspect, observe, or survey (the enemy, the enemy’s strength or position, a region, etc.) in order to gain information for military purposes. Spying means to observe secretively or furtively with hostile intent.

    As I’ve said in several posts, the operational words are “secretively” and “furtively”. Neither applies in this case. You may want them to apply, you may dream that they apply, but they just don’t apply. You can’t change the meaning of words in order to suit your purposes.

    You can choose to agree with China’s definition of the EEZ and that’s fine. You can choose to agree with the USA’s definition and that’s fine. China’s definition is definitely in the minority based on what I read in the paper. If China manages to change the international definition, good for them. It’d be a very impressive act of diplomacy.

  55. Steve Says:

    @ Bob #52: The map on Wiki is including the EEZ as exclusive from “high seas” since it has economic considerations. The paper that Charles supplied is much more thorough than anything on Wiki.

  56. Steve Says:

    @ Oli: I’m trying to keep up with all these posts as best I can but I’m starting to fade. :P

    First of all, I find we have something in common. When George Bush was running for office, I came to despise him (called him “Biff” since he reminded me of the bully in “Back to the Future”) but after his election, I was ELATED when he brought in Colin Powell for State. I thought his strategy and humanity during Desert Storm were most impressive and his international diplomatic skills even more so.

    Then I watched him make the correct call on every single Bush administration situation, and get rebuffed by the Cheney/Rumsfeld tag team. Of course, Powell was proven correct on everything he said once it had run its course. Then he was lied to about WMD, used his prestige and reputation to make the case to the UN, and later found out he was duped by people who were supposed to be trustworthy. It still makes my blood boil, and I’m normally a pretty mellow guy.

    Your first paragraph raises a VERY interesting political question! We’ll have to see how that plays out over time. Now that Carl Levin chairs the Armed Forces Committee and Dianne Feinstein the Senate Committee on Intelligence, I don’t think the Military-Industrial Complex will have quite the stroke they enjoyed under the Republicans. We haven’t had a fully Democratic government since 1992 and you might recall that the military budget was axed pretty heavily back then, the so-called “peace dividend” which lasted until 911. Since then, it’s been “Katy bar the door” for the MIC. :(

    No, I’m not saying there is a fundamental shift in military policy. The US position has been pretty consistent for a long time on this issue. And now for bed…

  57. Oli Says:

    @Steve

    “You can’t change the meaning of words in order to suit your purposes.”

    Hmmm, yes, but you CAN change the words itself to suit your purpose, like, oh I don’t know, use “rendition” instead of kidnapping maybe? Or how about replacing tortuer with “forceful interrogation”. Better yet change spying to “reconaissance”, then it’ll sound more innocuous and we won’t appear as dastardly (accompanied by Mutly chuckles).

    Fundamentally, I think its pretty much irrelevant whichever words you use, but rather it’s the intention behind the act that is significant, however subjective it may be. And from the Chinese perspective it is the inferred intention that matters.

    Gosh!, poor ol’Steve. No offence, but I almost feel guilty. It’s as if we are all ganging up on him….
    :)

  58. Allen Says:

    Please don’t gang up on Steve. If he leaves, I will probably have to take his place to argue with you all – and you know that wouldn’t be fun! ;-)

  59. FOARP Says:

    “High seas” is a term meaning the same thing as “international waters”, I was thinking of my friend’s dissertation. Here is how it is used in UNCLOS to define piracy:

    ” (a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

    (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

    (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
    (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b)

    Steve is quite right, it is only if you wish to defined all observation as spying that this ship becomes a ‘spy ship’ . If the observation was happening from within China’s territorial waters, then it would be a different thing, but in this case it was not.

    @Charles Liu – You can use the language of violence all you like to describe what the ship was doing, but in truth it was in no way threatening to the Chinese navy, any more than to visually observe an exercise on the high seas would be.

  60. Allen Says:

    @Charles Liu #50,

    Thanks for that interesting link to Van Dyke’s article on the ambiguities of Exclusive Economic Zone.

    As I suspected in #15, there are indeed plenty of ambiguities in the Convention.

    In the end – we know EEZ is not territorial waters – nor are they the high open seas. The rights in the EEZ will be a balance between the needs of freedom of navigation vs. needs of the coastal state. How to balance that is where the “gray” area of ambiguity is…

    But a lot of what we have been discussing above is also outside the law.

    For example – the U.S. navy will not allow another ship to get remotely close near one of its carriers – even though technically it is legal …

    In other words, there are also issues of politics, military, security, etc. involved.

  61. FOARP Says:

    @Allen – By ‘remotely close’ you mean within a mile or two, and, as you know, Chinese submarines have done exactly that – indeed, you would have expected them to try, and well done for getting so close! For myself, I am used to the way in which the UK, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany share the waters around them. The only instances of dispute (Rockall, the Iceland EEZ, Norway’s Arctic islands) were all eventually settled amicably – although there were the ‘Cod Wars’ between the UK and Iceland, and there is the rising dispute over the Arctic Ocean between those countries bordering it. Unilateral declarations of a right to arbitrarily hassle and exclude within the EEZ prevent all such settlements in the South China Sea, and China’s behaviour there infringes not only the rights of the other nations bordering the South China Sea, but also those of any other country exercising freedom of navigation in that area.

  62. S.K. Cheung Says:

    This thread has been interesting, mostly because people have been talking at cross-purposes. Regardless of what the USN ship was doing there, there’s no treaty that is on point in specifically forbidding it. At the same time, there’s nothing specifically allowing it either.

    China’s navy made their point: 5 of their ships can make an American one stop. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail. ONe alternative is that the USN sends a ship next time capable of shooting more than just water. That would not be a pretty thought.

    Besides, by the time the USN gets around to openly mapping something, I wonder if they haven’t already done it with a similar tow-array at the back of an attack sub, or even a missile one. That, in the parlance of this thread, might be called covert recon, or perhaps deep spying.

  63. Chops Says:

    Some points from the UN Law of the Sea

    http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm

    * Coastal States exercise sovereignty over their territorial sea which they have the right to establish its breadth up to a limit not to exceed 12 nautical miles; foreign vessels are allowed “innocent passage” through those waters;
    * Coastal States have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and exercise jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection;
    * All other States have freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZ, as well as freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines;
    * All States enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas; they are obliged to adopt, or cooperate with other States in adopting, measures to manage and conserve living resources;
    * States Parties are obliged to settle by peaceful means their disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention;
    * Disputes can be submitted to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea established under the Convention, to the International Court of Justice, or to arbitration. Conciliation is also available and, in certain circumstances, submission to it would be compulsory. The Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over deep seabed mining disputes.

  64. Rolf Says:

    Can the real purpose of the American activities outside Sanya be to later anchor sonar receptors on the ocean floor to secretly monitor Chinese submarine movements?

  65. FOARP Says:

    @Rolf – If it was, we have no information saying so.

    @SKC –

    “Regardless of what the USN ship was doing there, there’s no treaty that is on point in specifically forbidding it. At the same time, there’s nothing specifically allowing it either.”

    In which case, the presumption surely is that the USN has freedom of the seas, just as all other ships of all other nations do when going about their lawful business. Of course, nations may choose to declare naval exclusion zones during war time – and bear the costs of this. Interference with economic activity is also something which cannot be allowed in an EEZ (otherwise the point of the zone is defeated). However, no-one has accused the USN of doing so. The instance of the North Korean ship which was pursued from Japanese waters into the Chinese-claimed EEZ and sunk there shows us how this would work – the Japanese compensated Chinese fishermen for the conomic loss suffered, this would seem proper.

  66. Stinky Tofu Says:

    There is an interesting map at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7934138.stm indicating the extent of China’s claims in the South China Sea. The map compares the size of China’s claim (i.e., virtually the entirety of the South China Sea) to the size of the boardering nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as stipulated by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Can you guess which is larger?

  67. Stinky Tofu Says:

    Does anyone doubt that China spies on other countries? Just this past year, both Britain and Germany issued reports stating that China was the single biggest intelligence threat to their nations. Likewise, that China conducts widespread military and industrial espionage in the U.S. is no secret. The fact that Chinese naval vessels have not yet encroached into U.S. waters speaks more to China’s lack of capability than a willingness to honor international treaties. After all, China has frequently failed to honor the territorial claims of countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. An embarrassing (for China) episode in November 2004 – i.e., when a Chinese submarine was chased for three days by Japanese Defense Forces ships and airplanes – is suitable proof that China finds it expedient to ignore borders and treaties when it suits them.

    U.S. ships will soon return to the South China Sea – much as U.S. reconaissance aircraft soon resumed their regular flights along China’s coast in 2001. In spite of all the bare bottoms, grappling hooks, and floating wood, China is ultimately still far too weak to do much about it.

  68. Stinky Tofu Says:

    It’s called an Exclusive ECONOMIC Zone for a reason. The U.S. ship was not intruding on China’s rightful economic claims.

  69. yo Says:

    Allen #60
    I think you are right on the money. Both countries were trying to take advantage of grey areas of the law. To argue who was “right” is ridiculous, both countries knew what they were doing.

  70. bob Says:

    @Stinky Tofu
    All countries spy on one another, is this news to you? For me the news here is that the US is publicizing on western yellow press crying that China is hindering it’s spying activities, on none other than China… This is what the US is essentially saying “Stop whatever you are doing, so we can have a better look at your submarine station on Hainan Island.” Lunacy! China have all the rights to employ whichever anti-espionage technique it wants. In fact China should do more to protect itself.

    By the way, EEZ is 200 nautical miles off the coast. The US spy ship was caught 75 miles off Hainan Island, well within the EEZ. The BBC is nothing but bad-news-China. The map it drew differs from UNCLO definitions. But then again, the US never ratified the UNCLO for obvious reasons (so it can continue spying unhindered) . Talking about the EEZ or the UNCLO here is useless. The US is apparently playing by it’s own rules.

  71. Steve Says:

    @ Oli #57: Stop ganging up on me!!!

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

    I rest my case… :P

  72. miaka9383 Says:

    @all
    I decided to use merriam-webster to define words such as surveillance, spy and reconnaissance.

    Here are the definitions:
    ===============================================================
    Main Entry:
    sur·veil·lance Listen to the pronunciation of surveillance
    Pronunciation:
    \sər-ˈvā-lən(t)s also -ˈvāl-yən(t)s or -ˈvā-ən(t)s\
    Function:
    noun
    Etymology:
    French, from surveiller to watch over, from sur- + veiller to watch, from Old French veillier, from Latin vigilare, from vigil watchful — more at vigil
    Date:
    1802

    : close watch kept over someone or something (as by a detective) ; also : supervision

    ===================================================================
    1spy Listen to the pronunciation of 1spy
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈspī\
    Function:
    verb
    Inflected Form(s):
    spied; spy·ing
    Etymology:
    Middle English spien, from Anglo-French espier, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German spehōn to spy; akin to Latin specere to look, look at, Greek skeptesthai & skopein to watch, look at, consider
    Date:
    13th century

    transitive verb 1 : to watch secretly usually for hostile purposes 2 : to catch sight of : see 3 : to search or look for intensively —usually used with out intransitive verb 1 : to observe or search for something : look 2 : to watch secretly as a spy

    ===============================================================================

    reconnaissance
    One entry found.

    Main Entry:
    re·con·nais·sance Listen to the pronunciation of reconnaissance
    Pronunciation:
    \ri-ˈkä-nə-zən(t)s, -sən(t)s\
    Function:
    noun
    Etymology:
    French, literally, recognition, from Middle French reconoissance, from Old French reconoistre to recognize
    Date:
    1810

    : a preliminary survey to gain information ; especially : an exploratory military survey of enemy territory
    —————————————————————————————————————————————————-

    hope this settles the argument of the use of spy vs reconnaissance vs surveillance whichever it maybe

  73. Oli Says:

    @Steve

    HA! Exactomundo! Always enjoyed Lewis Caroll.

    Now try the one about whether knowledge of spying being subjectively or objectively based before it can objectively or subjectively be termed “spying”?

    ;)

  74. Steve Says:

    @ Oli: Since you enjoy Lewis Carroll, here’s one from the Mock Turtle:

    “What is the use of repeating all that stuff, if you don’t explain it as you go on? It’s by far the most confusing thing I ever heard!” :P

  75. admin Says:

    Both Danwei and PKD have good thread discussions on this topic.

    Danwei also has some great photos.

    Chinese sailors moon U.S. spy ship
    http://www.danwei.org/breaking_news/chinese_sailors_moon_us_spy_sh.php

    China, the next big enemy?
    http://www.pekingduck.org/2009/03/china-the-next-big-enemy/

  76. Oli Says:

    @ Steve

    (Chuckles) I get your drift, now consider this:

    —————————————-

    “When we were little,” the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, “we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—”

    “Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?” Alice asked.

    “We called him Tortoise because he taught us,” said the Mock Turtle angrily. “Really you are very dull!”

    ———————————–

    “Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,” the Mock Turtle replied; “and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

    “I never heard of ’Uglification,’” Alice ventured to say. “What is it?”

    The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. “Never heard of uglifying!” it exclaimed. “You know what to beautify is, I suppose?”

    “Yes,” said Alice doubtfully: “it means—to—make—anything—prettier.”

    “Well, then,” the Gryphon went on, “if you don’t know what to uglify is, you are a simpleton.”

    ———————————–

    Shall we continue with our waltz, Stevie dearest? ;)

  77. Steve Says:

    @ Oli#76: I tried to work the Reeling and Writhing in there but I just couldn’t make it fit, ha ha. Have you ever considered that most of the comment sections go from Ambition to Distraction to Uglification to Derision? Well, at least where you and Raj are concerned. :D

    We’ve probably bored everyone else by now with our Jefferson Airplane references so I’ll leave you with one that I’m sure you and a few others will enjoy:

    All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. –Friedrich Nietzsche

    Damn! I think I just shot myself in the foot!! ;)

  78. Oli Says:

    @ Steve

    HA! Actually with the Ambition to Distraction to Uglification to Derision and all the rest, I was thinking more about American Neocon foreign policy, but LOL I see what you mean. As in life so on this forum. :)

    As you’ve shot yourself in the foot,
    I shall let you off the hook.

    Till anon,
    I shall leave you to find another,

    For a dance of vines,
    To while away the times.

    ;)

  79. Allen Says:

    @Oli,

    I wouldn’t let Steve off so easily. He only shot one foot – and still got the other…!

  80. Steve Says:

    @ Oli & Allen~

    Ol’ Steve is retiring from the fray

    So he can live to blog another day~

    Now, where did I put those crutches??

  81. Allen Says:

    @Stinky Tofu #68,

    You wrote

    It’s called an Exclusive ECONOMIC Zone for a reason. The U.S. ship was not intruding on China’s rightful economic claims.

    The Convention defined EEZ as

    an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State and the rights and freedoms of other States are governed by the relevant provisions of this Convention.

    It is an area adjacent to the territorial sea.

    One attribute of this area is economic exclusivity – hence the term economic exclusive zone.

    However, this is not the only purpose of the area. That is why in case of conflict, the convention provides that

    In cases where this Convention does not attribute rights or jurisdiction to the coastal State or to other States within the exclusive economic zone, and a conflict arises between the interests of the coastal State and any other State or States, the conflict should be resolved on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances, taking into account the respective importance of the interests involved to the parties as well as to the international community as a whole.

    So in some sense – the EEZ is a misnomer. Yes the area does provide for a zone of exclusive economic use for the coast state, but nowhere in the convention is it stated that the the exclusive purpose of the EEZ is economic exclusivity only. Other interests (such as security and sovereignty) also play a role.

    The article Charles Liu provided in #50 explains some of these in much more detail than I can at this time.

  82. Chops Says:

    Secretary Clinton and her Chinese counterpart have “agreed that we should work to ensure that such incidents do not happen again in the future.”

    http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/03/120284.htm

  83. Shane9219 Says:

    @Allen #58

    Article 56 of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives the coastal state the following rights in EEZ

    1. sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the sea-bed and of the sea-bed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;

    2. jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
    2.1 the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
    2.2 marine scientific research;
    2.3 the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

    3. other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

    The gray area involves the definition of marine scientific research (MSR), since some countries conduct covert military activities under the cover of MSR with civilian-operated research and survey ships, such as USNS Impeccable.

    Tim Daniel offered a very detailed discussion on the legal aspects of this issue.

    http://www.gmat.unsw.edu.au/ablos/ABLOS05Folder/DanielPaper.pdf

    Although UNCLOS does not define what constitute bona fide MSR activities (e.g. peaceful purpose), it clearly gives the coastal state, China in this case, the legal right to regulate MSR in those EEZ.

    Japan requires countries to submit application and subject to Japanese approval before any such activies can be conducted in their EEZ. Check out one example application here.

    http://shipsked.ucsd.edu/Schedules/2009/2009-MV-lee02/Japan-MSRForm2009.pdf

    Just image what Japanese or Korean will do if confronted with operations similar to USNS Impeccable. My guess is that those people would go to nearby US embassy and throw a strong protest…

  84. stone Says:

    What do you think if a hostile person using high sensitivity surveillance equipments listening in your house all the time from a public place near you?

  85. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Stone #84:
    “What do you think if a hostile person using high sensitivity surveillance equipments listening in your house all the time from a public place near you?” – I imagine you wouldn’t like it. And I imagine the legal recourse would be to grin and bear it. Or I suppose you could always go outside and moon them.

    To Bob #70:
    “The US spy ship was caught 75 miles off Hainan Island, well within the EEZ. ” – and well outside Chinese territorial waters. In fact, that ship could’ve been 12 miles 1 inch away from the coast, and legally it would’ve made no difference.

    “The US is apparently playing by it’s own rules.” – I love statements like these. Replace “US” with “China”, and the statement still holds.

  86. Steve Says:

    @ Shane #83: You wrote, “Although UNCLOS does not define what constitute bona fide MSR activities (e.g. peaceful purpose), it clearly gives the coastal state, China in this case, the legal right to regulate MSR in those EEZ.”

    In Tim Daniel’s paper was this section:

    “The concept of peaceful purposes is a cornerstone in the philosophy underlying the
    Convention, particularly MSR. Nonetheless, this key principle has never been
    comprehensively defined. It is to be found in Articles 240/246(3) of Part XIII, but owing to the
    reluctance of maritime nations to control their armament and nuclear capabilities, a
    comprehensive formula was never settled upon.

    The concept was introduced in relation to MSR to appease territorialists, keen to control
    military manoeuvres, exercises and testing in EEZs. Its scope was however, never
    determined due to the view of maritime nations who advocated an approach that stated that
    peaceful military activities were not, prima facie banned by international law.

    The interpretation of “any peaceful purposes” in the Convention has led to inconsistencies in
    interpretation. Vukas argues that the prohibition of all military activity could not have been
    envisaged by those drafting UNCLOS since coastal states regularly conduct military activities
    in their EEZ and ‘many of them count on the sea as an area of warfare’.12 He suggests that
    the drafters envisaged the restriction of military activities to those undertaken by warships or
    commercial services, the purpose of which is to increase the readiness of a state for war.
    This interpretation of the ambit of military activities has, of course, led to considerable debate
    due to interpretation of Article 58 and the uncertain development of state practice with
    respect to residual rights in the EEZ.

    Activities such as military testing of military devices and military exercises have proved
    particularly contentious. One school of thought takes the view that such activity would lead to
    endangering the proper advancement of MSR and the marine environment, whilst those of
    the opposing view claim the Convention has no jurisdiction to restrict any military activity that
    does not amount to a “threat or use of force” in accordance with the UN charter under Article
    2(4). Clearly this is a difficulty.”

    How did you go from this to China “clearly” having a legal right? Seems like it’s up in the air to me.

    @ stone: What do you think if a hostile person using high resolution surveillance equipment viewed your house all the time using a satellite in outer space? What do you think if a foreign country attacked your computers systems and tried to extract classified information without your permission? What’s the difference between that and your scenario?

  87. FOARP Says:

    @Stone – Since you are living in China,why don’t you take that up with the government? China is the only place I have ever lived in where the government bugged my telephone conversations – I only found this out because the people in charge of okaying our visas told us as much, and no, they weren’t joking. All foreigners who worked at this institution were treated similarly – it was standard procedure and I certainly did not let it worry me too much. The institution I was working in also did reverse engineering on technology which it is hard to imagine how they could have come by other than through espionage – the stealth coating from the F-117 being a specific example. I know this, because the doctorate student who was working on it told me – yes, I know, but they didn’t seem to think there was anything risky in saying as much.

    Anyway, a submarine is not a private person, it does not have a right to privacy, in fact it generates noise of the kind which can be heard for miles around. Listening in using passive sonar is no crime, and not illegal or aggressive. The only way China can avoid it is if they start making their submarines quieter.

  88. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #86

    “How did you go from this to China “clearly” having a legal right? Seems like it’s up in the air to me.”

    I mentioned China can regulate MSR in EEZ under UNCLOS, just read UNCLOS again. US may claim that it did not ractify UNCLOS, so there goes arguments head-to-head.

    Also note that UCSD application for accessing Japanese EEZ describe part of their mission involves sonar operations in and out Japanese waters.

  89. FOARP Says:

    @Shane – But it then says that there is no clear definition of MSR. The Impeccable was not tagging whales or drilling for oil. Your ‘disgusting’ remains unsubstantiated.

  90. Shane9219 Says:

    @FOARP

    “I only found this out because the people in charge of okaying our visas told us as much,”

    What you said does not make any sense. First of all, does FBI listen to phone as well? Secondly. two kinds of activities belong to two different agency functions. How does State Department know a secrete operation by FBI? If FBI wants, they can be very well looking at your home computer while you are away working/studying.

  91. Shane9219 Says:

    @FOARP #89

    MSR covers sonar operations. The question remains what constitute legitimate scientific operations v.s. covert ones for military purpose. You should read those laws and reports before making any superficial argument.

  92. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: I’m not following you here. The military application that the Impeccable was engaged in is covered in the paragraphs I copied. The conclusion was that there is no clearcut legal right. How do you come up with the conclusion that there is? You’ll have to be more specific. I read through it again and saw what I saw the first time. Can you paste in the appropriate sections to illustrate your point?

  93. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #92

    The part of Tim Daniel legal analysis you mentioned mainly covers what kind of MSR actitivies are permissible and legitimate, and showed there are different schools of thoughts. It did not dispute China’s legal right to regulate MSR in EEZ, that is clearly given under UNCLOS. Again, the typical position from US is that 1) US did not ractify UNCLOS, and 2) US ships can navigate EEZ waters. The truth is that USNS Impeccable was not merely passing or navigating the waters, it was towing a LFA sonar device to hunt subs.

  94. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: Could you copy and paste exactly where it is “clearly defined” in UNCLOS? That’s what I could not locate.

  95. FOARP Says:

    @Shane – The PSB is in charge of this within China – at least they were the ones who took my passport. The PSB maintain records on all foreign residents – this is probably how they knew. As to why they would do it, well, the institute was run by the Commission of Defence Science, Technology, and Industry – they may have been worried about spies.

  96. Allen Says:

    @Shane #83,

    You wrote

    Article 56 of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives the coastal state the following rights in EEZ

    1. sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the sea-bed and of the sea-bed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;

    2. jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
    2.1 the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
    2.2 marine scientific research;
    2.3 the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

    3. other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

    The gray area involves the definition of marine scientific research (MSR), since some countries conduct covert military activities under the cover of MSR with civilian-operated research and survey ships, such as USNS Impeccable.

    Tim Daniel offered a very detailed discussion on the legal aspects of this issue.

    http://www.gmat.unsw.edu.au/ablos/ABLOS05Folder/DanielPaper.pdf

    Although UNCLOS does not define what constitute bona fide MSR activities (e.g. peaceful purpose), it clearly gives the coastal state, China in this case, the legal right to regulate MSR in those EEZ.

    Japan requires countries to submit application and subject to Japanese approval before any such activies can be conducted in their EEZ. Check out one example application here.

    I agree with you that the UNCLOS does give coastal nations the right to regulate MSR in EEZ. But the big question is what is the scope of MSR? Is military surveillance included? Or just surveillance relating to commercial exploitation?

    I am not sure what exactly can or cannot be done on the Japanese coast. If the Japanese position is that all surveillance activities within its EEZ must be conducted with its permission under its regulation – that may be a good precedence for China to strengthen.

    But my problem is this: in this instance – I feel the main problem is over the fact that the U.S. has the capability to carry out surveillance near China while China does not have the capability to do it in return – not necessarily that the law on EEZ must be strengthened / clarified.

    I think we should all take a step back and see that strengthening the EEZ is a two-edge sword. If a country like China want to strengthen / clarify EEZ rights – fine – but it should understand that by gaining some rights it also loses its rights in all other EEZ’s not belonging to it.

    We know China’s navy will only become stronger in the future. Does China really want to go down a path that will hamper its freedom to operate in the high seas in the future?

  97. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #94

    2. jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:

    2.1 the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;

    2.2 marine scientific research; <== MSR

    2.3 the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

  98. FOARP Says:

    @Shane – The mere operation of sonar is not ‘research’ – this is not a superficial argument. All ships on the highs seas use radar and other detection devices – does this constitute ‘research’ as well?

  99. Shane9219 Says:

    @FOARP #95

    No. PSB is an agency for public order and border security. Ministry of State Security (MSS) does other stuff you was talking about :-)

  100. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: The provisions you cited relate to areas of research that the host country can control under the EEZ. The mission of the Impeccable did not establish or use artificial islands, installations or structures, it was not MSR and it did not affect the marine environment. Sonar is a type of instrumentation, not a mission, and does not fall under any of these categories. There’s no “clearly defined” legal right here at all.

  101. Shane9219 Says:

    @Allen #96

    Both Japanese and Korean are much more hypersensitive than China, and you can almost expect a much stronger reaction from them.

    The bottomline: US operations outside Hainan sub base is no ordinary mission, it like poking the eyes of a giant. Pentagon basically wants a confrontation, so it did get one.

  102. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #100

    You certainly read the law differently then me. That, I guess, is one reason to cause such kind of confrontation in the first place.

    Another article below may provide details of two POVs.


    According to the 1982 UN Convention Law of the Sea, marine scientific research in a foreign EEZ can only be undertaken with the consent of the coastal state. This is because such research and activities may have direct bearing on the exploration, exploitation, conservation or management of the coastal state’s living and non-living resources, he notes.

    The research must also be for peaceful purposes only. China has ratified this Convention, he points out.
    “The US has not — although it maintains that most of it is binding customary law.

    “China maintains that what the US is doing comes under the marine scientific provisions of the Convention and that it did not give the required consent to the US.

    However, the US distinguishes between marine scientific research which requires consent and hydrographic and military surveys which are mentioned separately in the Convention.

    The US maintains that the latter do not require consent and that they are an exercise of the freedom of navigation and “other internationally lawful uses of the sea” protected by the Convention.

    Critics of this position point out that collection of data even expressly for military purposes may also unintentionally or otherwise shed light on resources in the area.

    They also argue that a country that has not ratified the Convention does not have much credibility interpreting it to its advantage.

    http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/269087

  103. Steve Says:

    @ Shane #102: Good post. I think we’ve about covered every possible interpretation imaginable. :)

    In the final analysis, China says “There are no loopholes in the agreement.”
    The US says, “There’s a loophole big enough to drive a surveillance ship through.”

  104. LM Says:

    This is only a game.
    A game by US navy to extract money from American taxpayers.
    A game by US navy to remind the new President of the “China Threat” so Obama will be doubly cautious if he tries to cut the defense spending.
    Only China can give them the justification of ever newer military toys.
    Spy plane was used at the beginning of the Bush administration and proved to be quite dangerous. So this time around they used unsinkable spy ship called “impeccable”. They intended to create an incident just big enough to arouse the perception of “China threat ” for the Congress and the new president to see.
    The main purpose of the spy ship has nothing to do with collecting intelligence.

  105. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #103

    Obama is a lawyer. It’s my guess he understands the law. He is having a meeting with China’s FM in Whitehouse, at mean time, Pentagon promises they will continue to conduct such type mission. As matter of fact, it just sent a destroyer to China’s coast.

    Here we go again the weird US-China relationship.

  106. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Steve #103:
    that sounds about right.

    To LM:
    “The main purpose of the spy ship has nothing to do with collecting intelligence.” – a big slow ship that is unable to elude detection and unable to elude a blockade. Yes, if I was to design a “spy ship”, those would be my exact specifications.

  107. Oli Says:

    LOL! LOL! LOL!

    Re How China may have acquired F117 technology

    (Major Yawn) Firstly, this is such an old topic and I simply can’t be bothered to write it all out here. Interested readers can google the term “F117 + Yugoslavia”. In fact, the Chinese and Russian military had long since the first Gulf War, when the F117A was first deployed, known that stealth tech. is not fool proof and is susceptible to detection by each respective nation’s radar technology and detection technique.

    Secondly, since the first deployment of radar during WWII, it has long been known that certain materials can absorb/deflect microwaves, as used in domestic microwave ovens’ insulation, and that certain design/angles can help deflect the same waves. None of this is remarkable, rather the trick is to miniaturise and incorporate all such characteristics/technology (which is not really rocket science, but rather and engineering one) onto an aeronuatical platform that can fly and be piloted. Consequently, the key enabler here is in fact fly-by-wire technology and raw computer processing power.

    Thirdly, simply knowing that something is possible already means that approx. 1/4 of the research and engineering process is already done. As a result stealth technology is today pretty much in the public domain to those in the know, which is why the F117 was retired around mid-2008. In contrast, fifth generation air superiority fighters’ stealth technology is based on a very different philosophical approach to that of fourth generation stealth fighters such as the F117.

    Fourthly, the criticality is really not about research and engineering, but about manufacturing and rollout deployment to frontline units, which ultimately as with almost everything can be boiled down to a function of economics as well as perceived military requirement and political will.

    So in conclusion, welcome to the real world rather than the la la lands. LOL!

  108. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, with all due respect:

    1) The EP-3 is classified as a SIGINT system, as in “singal intelligence”.

    2) According to military/intelligence literature, the EP-3 is a “spy plane

    Agree with LM @ 105, perhaps this has little to do with spying, rather, provocation – by both sides.

    Oli @ 107, seems Russia-China jont developing stealth technology was reported back in 2000

  109. Shane9219 Says:

    《联合早报》 自相矛盾的对华政策

    由此也可以看出,对于海上对峙事件,美国国务院和五角大楼的处理手法是有所不同的,这反映出奥巴马政府的对华政策有明显的自相矛盾之处。而正是这个原因,使得中国政府和民众对美国的战略意图始终怀有深刻的疑虑和不信任感。美国一边要求中国继续购买美国国债,要求中国承担振兴世界经济的责任;一边却不顾中国的感受,高调批评其人权状况,指责北京对待西藏的政策,在中国沿海地区及其上空频繁地进行军事侦察。

      美国的这两个面孔和两种行为,既削弱了对华政策的信誉,又强化了中国民间的反美情绪。目前在中国,就如同在美国一样,民间情绪是可以影响外交决策的。对此,美国的决策者有必要予以重视。

      中美此次海上对峙并非是很严重的事件,但其象征性却很明显。美国百多年前从大洋彼岸向西扩张,并最后占领了菲律宾,此后就一直是太平洋地区的主导者或主宰者。现在,雄心勃勃的中国正在快速冒起,原有的均衡状态迟早会被打破,美国经常对此作出一些自相矛盾的反应,甚至习惯性地露出帝国心态,一点都不奇怪。若认识到这一点,中国在面对类似事件时,也许就更有耐心和智慧。

    http://www.zaobao.com/yl/yl090313_502_1.shtml

  110. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Shane,
    not at all familiar with this publication. But I imagine there’s nothing like picking up the morning news, and reading that as Chinese, you should view the US with suspicion and distrust, and that Chinese should foster their anti US sentiments in response to American actions. Well, let’s hope the author is right, and that in the future, China will handle such incidents with more patience and intelligence.

  111. Shane9219 Says:

    Zaobao is a renown newspaper published in Singapore

  112. FOARP Says:

    @Oli – I am not at all surprised that such research goes on, mainly just surprised that she told me.

    @Shane – “PSB is an agency for public order and border security.”

    As such the PSB does maintain quite detailed files on foreign residents, and, as I said before, this was said to be routine at the institute I worked at – I only know that it happened, not who did it.

  113. vmoore55 Says:

    Just like to say, if you brown nose around all over the world expect your nose to get bloodied once in awhile.

    Hey are the US looking for oil in the South China Seas?

  114. FOARP Says:

    @vmoore55 – To ‘brown nose’ means to ingratiate yourself with people, I haven’t noticed America doing much of this over the past eight years though.

  115. Stinky Tofu Says:

    Thanks to Allen for directing me to the UH law professor’s essay. Thanks also to bob (#70) for reminding me that “All nations spy on each other.”

    It seems to me that there is no definitive legal understanding regarding the kinds of activities that USNS Impeccable was engaged in. UNCLOS is vague at best. In the end, what does the phrase “peaceful military activities” mean? Was the Impeccable, an unarmed vessel operated by non-navy personnel, engaged in non-peaceful activites simply because the Chinese feel threatened? Or should sonar mapping (as opposed to dropping bombs) be considered peaceful? How about “preparing the battlefield” for a potential future conflict? If UNCLOS allows for foreign nations to lay submarine pipe in another nation’s EEZ, doesn’t that imply that preliminary mapping of the seabed is also allowed? If so, where is the legal justification for prohibiting the Impeccable from operating in the South China Sea? (I concede China’s strategic/tactical military reasons for wanting to prohibit such activities.) If UNCLOS is vague on the issue, then China’s assertions/interpretations regarding the illegality of “peaceful” foreign military activity in its EEZ amount to little more than “signing statements” – i.e., an idiosyncratic, nation-specific understanding of the treaty that other nations may or may not agree with. The United States’ long-standing opposition to certain provisions of the treaty only complicates an already very complicated situation.

    In short, I am unimpressed with legal arguments that prohibit the kinds of activity that USNS Impeccable was engaged in. The relevant international treaties are simply too open to different interpretations, and the U.S. is not obligated to recognize China’s own domestic laws. To be fair, this situation would be true, I think, if the situation was reversed (i.e., the PLAN was engaged in similar activities in the U.S. EEZ).

    I can respect that the Chinese have certain valid national security concerns. However, so too does the U.S. That being the case, in the absence of a definitive legal argument, I’m inclined to side with the U.S. One problem, it seems to me, is that China’s navy lacks many of the capabilities that the U.S. navy possesses. Where China does have the capability to engage in spycraft (military or industrial), it demonstrates no concern for domestic and/or international laws. Sure, the U.S. spies on China, but China generally gives as good as it gets.

  116. Oli Says:

    Re F117 stealth technology

    @29
    “Mine warfare is one of the most specialised fields out there, requiring extremely hi-tech gear and training, even the USN and RN combined were stretched to respond to the mining of the Persian Gulf by the Iranians – China doesn’t have nearly that kind of capability yet.”

    (Cough!…major bovine excrement…see @31)

    @87
    “The institution I was working in also did reverse engineering on technology which it is hard to imagine how they could have come by other than through espionage – the stealth coating from the F-117 being a specific example.”

    (Cough!….even more bovine excrement…see @107)

    @112
    “I am not at all surprised that such research goes on, mainly just surprised that she told me.”

    (Cough!…furious back pedaling…coupled with a statement of 少见多怪…see explanation @107)

  117. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu #108: Yep, sure enough that site called it a spy plane. So I googled the EP-3 and went through about a dozen sites to see what else they said. Surveillance was by far the most common description, then reconnaissance, and I was able to find another site that also used the word “spy”. So the two sites that used the word used it once and no one else used it at all.

    However, the reporter in me decided to pursue this further. My uncle ran the Electronic Warfare Laboratory for many, many years so he’d know! I emailed him and he said that no one used the word “spy plane” with any aircraft, not even the SR-71 (IMHO, the coolest looking aircraft ever built) or U-2. They always used “reconnaissance”. They thought of spies as people who were undercover.

    Because of the confusion, I’ll still go back to the dictionary definitions we posted earlier. But you are correct; term usage is certainly not cut and dried.

  118. ecodelta Says:

    I still do not understand quite right the origin of the incident from Chinese side or why it has been allowed.

    By doing such provocative action they were risking a reaction that would put them further away from keeping the Americans to continue gathering information around military installations.

    Was the chinese action planned by the central authorities or was it a decision at a lower or more local level in the PLA? What is the evaluation of the actions and its results at higher govt levels?

    If the intention was to prevent, disturb information gathering of the ship or just to make clear to the US Navy that they were no welcome into the area, they just could shadow the US ship, sometimes close enough to be a nuisance but keeping within a save distance, and may be even disturb its sensors with their sonars.

    They could be even subtler and, by planing the possible routes of the US ship, reach and informal agreement with local fishers to direct their fishing operations to places that would hinder the US ship, and be an encumbrance to their measurements, while at the same time US ship is being shadowed by CH Navy/coast guard ships. (plus from time to time the loss fishing net that could get tangle on the US ship measurements sonar array…)

    The way the CH side has done it just shows a worrying luck of professionalism and finesse in dealing with these incidents.

  119. ecodelta Says:

    Oops worrying lack … should I say

  120. shel Says:

    To the naive american, soon they will tie a yellow arm band for such stupid provocation. I have never seen such brainwashed or worst, determined group to continue showing their ugly side to the world.

  121. ecodelta Says:

    @shel

    Are you talking to me? Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not American.

  122. FOARP Says:

    @Oli – You can use the phrase “bovine excrement” if you want, especially since I’m not going to say who it was who told me these things and where it happened, but they did happen. There isn’t really much more I can add except that they happened back at the start of 2003, that I had no idea who ran the place before I started working there but should have known. All I can say is that, yes, government agencies in China do ‘spy’ on foreign residents working at sensitive facilities in as much as they tapped their phone calls in 2003, and does have reverse engineering projects running on sensitive US military technology. Cases involving spying in other countries crop up all the time – and I’m sure that foreign governments are trying to do the same back.

  123. Oli Says:

    少(小)见多怪,牛头不对马嘴,狗屁不通,一排胡涂,面皮如牛皮的无知之徒,睡覺吧.

    :)

  124. FOARP Says:

    @Oli – Perhaps you would care to translate those last two Chengyu for everyone?

    As for the rest, well, what I said about mine sweeping is exactly what it said in an article I read a while back – so you have your opinion and Jane’s have their own. Likewise, stealth coatings may be in the public domain – I don’t really know when they came into the public domain, but the people I spoke to didn’t seem to know it.

  125. huaren Says:

    Folks,

    I skimmed through the comments here, and Stone, #84, nailed it for me:

    “What do you think if a hostile person using high sensitivity surveillance equipments listening in your house all the time from a public place near you?”

    China can’t do anything about it, because the U.S. is simply much stronger. That’s kinda how this world works right now. I expect Chinese military and U.S. military are going to have more confrontations in the future. The leaders on both sides are going to pull their respective leashes from time to time, and they will put in place rules comensurate with respective might on both sides. Capitalistic media are going to get their few dollars worth on these kind of stories. I think that’s bout it.

    But, the cool thing is – if you like to find the morally deficient scums, its easy. You simply see if they understand this very simple point by Stone.

    These scums can scream the loudest when it comes to human rights, democracy, basic human decency, etc, etc.. But you can always count on them to fail the simple morality test.

    Case in point, look at #85.

    I guess my message to the activist scums on this forum – you are only fooling yourselves. :)

  126. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To huaren:
    so let me get this straight. How do you apply your “simple morality test”? Based on what someone “should” or “shouldn’t” do? Even though it’s legal, this “hostile person” “shouldn’t” listen in on your house cuz it’s not nice? Even though there’s no law/treaty that forbids it, the US shouldn’t listen in on China cuz it might get China’s knickers in a twist?

    Interesting. How much time do you have, in order to go through the list of things China “should” and “shouldn’t” do? Where would you like to start? Would any one of human rights, democracy, or basic human decency work for ya? Or is your morality test a unidirectional one?

    Hey, I’ve got news for you. That’s why we have laws. Understandably, China’s a little behind on this front. Tack that onto her to-to list.

  127. Shane9219 Says:

    @S.K. Cheung #126

    I think we can put any “morality test” aside for this confrontation. It is purely driven by self-interests .

    One thing should be aware is that the operation of very same US Navy sonar devices was chellenged in US court for potential demage to marine lives, so that is nothing wrong for China to ask US to stop operating those devices while going through China’s EEZ.

  128. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Shane:
    “It is purely driven by self-interests” – agreed. That, to me, would be a simple test, and morality has nothing to do with it.

    If what the US is doing is harming marine life, that to me would be a far more compelling argument for her to cease and desist than worrying about dueling treaties.

  129. Shane9219 Says:

    @S.K. Cheung

    “If what the US is doing is harming marine life, that to me would be a far more compelling argument for her to cease and desist than worrying about dueling treaties.”

    That is why China sent a big administrative fishery ship to South China Sea. In comparison, US determined to have a show of force by sending its most advanced destroyer to South China Sea, But that is too small a stick to China.

    Premier Wen only needed to raise a slight concern about China’s huge US treasure holdings to keep Obama chill.

  130. huaren Says:

    @SKC, #126

    LOL. This morality test is very simple. Would you ride your bike in front of your neighbor’s house and video their activities on a regular basis? Canadian laws may actually allow you to do it, but do you do such thing to your neighbor?

    If you care about human rights, about how China conducts itself, then you ought to be consistent in applying that view to all nations and to all people. If not, I tend to think your types are racist or something of that sort.

    So, the morality test is simple:
    1. Whether you can demonstrated basic understanding for what is “right” or “wrong” in any given event.
    2. Whether you apply such understanding impartially.

    LOL. Scum activists usually can’t get #1 and #2 right. I rest my case, because other readers can judge for themselves.

    Btw, I am through with you in this thread. My main purpose is to expose the activist scums.

  131. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Shane,
    if concern for marine life was China’s motivation, then that’s what she should have said to begin with. No need for the dueling treaties/EEZ non-sense. I suppose in the prism of marine preservation, China pulled a Greenpeace.

    To Huaren:
    “Would you ride your bike in front of your neighbor’s house and video their activities on a regular basis? Canadian laws may actually allow you to do it, but do you do such thing to your neighbor?” – again, the answer is simple. See Shane #127. If it was in my best self-interest to do so, then yeah, of course I would. And BTW, within the confines of the law, I get to decide what’s in my best self-interest. And if my neighbour felt it in his/her best interest to film my house, that’s his/her prerogative. And that’s what the US did.

    Your point about human rights is correct. Likewise, my point about “morality” is that it applies both ways. So if you complain about the “morality” of what the US is doing, then you should also voice displeasure at the morality, or lack thereof, in how China conducts herself as the case may be.

    I’d be curious to see you applying your own standards to China. Somehow, I think you’ll fall painfully and pathetically short.

    As for being through, hey, that’s your call. As I always say, whatever floats your boat/turns your crank etc etc. I’ll just happily continue on. Let me know when you get through Chinese government moral quandaries…that should take a while.

  132. Shane9219 Says:

    @SKC #131

    ” I suppose in the prism of marine preservation, China pulled a Greenpeace.”

    Not true. Look at those pictures again, you would find Chinese ships confronting USNS Impeccable are fishing trawlers.

  133. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Shane:
    I don’t think I understand your point here, or perhaps you don’t understand mine. I made reference to Greenpeace in that they use their ships to block people who, in their opinion, are doing harm to marine animals eg. Japanese whaling vessels. Similarly, it seems you’re claiming that the Chinese vessels blocked the US boat for a comparable reason.

    However, if you’re saying that in this case, it was a couple of fishing boats doing the blocking, then were they acting on behalf of the Chinese government, or were they “rogue” fisherman getting their jollies at the potential expense of causing an international incident?

    BTW, my understanding was that some of the Chinese boats were definitely government vessels. And going back to #129, I don’t think the Impeccable is a destroyer. It’s a navy ship, but I don’t think it’s a navy warship. Besides, if a US navy warship was being threatened in international waters, I think the response would be more substantial than shooting water.

  134. Shane9219 Says:

    @SKC

    “Chinese boats were definitely government vessels”

    Yes and all of them. Those directly involved belong to Chinese Fishery Administration.

    You are also correct that Chinese government did take a page out of Greenpeace’s playbook.

  135. Shane9219 Says:

    US Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates had called off the deployment of a navy destroyer, and replaced Adm Keating from Pacific Command

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gDDjIDKuWxw9IpJVQIgctvYVSsKw

    http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=news/news_show.php&id=31305

  136. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: Just to be clear here, the two incidents aren’t related. Commands are rotated on a regular basis and especially with an incoming president.

  137. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #136

    You may interprete however you wanted. Making a significant adjustment little noticable is exactly the goal here for US at this moment.

    Adm Keating is a renown hawk towards China. He didn’t and won’t help Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton much on that.

  138. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve

    In US, it’s the President and his senior staff who set the tone on foreign policy, not the military. However, senior generals with strong ego may get too involved sometimes, became a lightning rod to a sitting president. We can find two examples well-known in the past history:

    1) President Truman vs General MacArthur
    2) President Clinton vs. General Clark

  139. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: Could be, but isn’t it just speculation? It is normal for Keating to change command at this time as all command posts are revolving. Is there a possibility it is political? Sure, there’s always a possibility but that’s just guesswork. Gates had the same job under Bush so I doubt his philosophy has changed, and Obama is busy on the economy. Interpretation needs to have some fact to back it up and outside the fact that there is a change in command, the rest is complete assumption.

    MacArthur vs. Truman was a completely different situation. MacArthur went public with his criticism of Truman. Clark was fired by Cohen for bombing without permission and being a publicity hog. Those are completely different circumstances and both were played out in the public eye. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

  140. Shane9219 Says:

    @steve #139

    General MacArthur and General Clark, with due respect to their talent on military commanding, were both strong-headed generals with big ego and ambition. Adm Keating is not there yet. He did just made a bunch of his usual tough remarks in the Senate again.

  141. Steve Says:

    @ Shane: Could you define “tough remarks”?

    Note on MacArthur: Until Desert Storm, MacArthur was able to capture more enemy territory with less troop casualties than any American general in history. Even in Korea, most of the American casualties occurred after his dismissal. As a general, MacArthur was superb; Clark was competent. I hate to see both their names in the same sentence.

  142. TonyP4 Says:

    The stealth technology in Chinese submarine is stolen from US. Obviously, they still have to be digested, refined and adopted.

    The more of these conflicts, the harder for Chinese to get high tech technology from US and the west. Israel passed some technology (some is transferred to Israel from US originally) to China for profit and US is not to happy on that.

  143. Steve Says:

    @ TonyP4: Stolen? That doesn’t pass Huaren’s morality test, does it?

  144. Annamarie Ovesen Says:

    Congratulations. To create so many insightful posts that are both enjoyable and informative is a tremendous achievement.

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