Reports | 29 April 2016

Shifting waters: China’s new passive assertiveness in Asian maritime security

In this Report, Ashley Townshend and Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Professor Rory Medcalf examine China’s evolving maritime security conduct. They argue that China’s less confrontational but more strategically assertive behaviour has paradoxical implications for regional security, lowering the risks of unintended clashes but making it harder to prevent China from consolidating a new maritime status quo.

This Report is part of a wider research and outreach project on maritime security in Indo-Pacific Asia, supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Photo: Getty Images/DigitalGlobe

  • Ashley Townshend
  • Rory Medcalf

In this Report, Ashley Townshend and Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Professor Rory Medcalf examine China’s evolving maritime security conduct. They argue that China’s less confrontational but more strategically assertive behaviour has paradoxical implications for regional security, lowering the risks of unintended clashes but making it harder to prevent China from consolidating a new maritime status quo.

This Report is part of a wider research and outreach project on maritime security in Indo-Pacific Asia, supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Photo: Getty Images/DigitalGlobe

  • Ashley Townshend
  • Rory Medcalf

Key Findings

  • China has recently dialled back its aggressive maritime conduct and begun to embrace confidence-building measures to avoid dangerous incidents at sea, refocusing instead on passive assertive forms of intimidation.
  • China is using tactical stability to strengthen its strategic position in maritime Asia at lower levels of risk, shifting the burden of escalation to the United States and its regional partners.
  • Responding to China’s passive assertive challenges requires a multidimensional, coordinated, and ongoing international effort to shape its behaviour through indirect costs and incentives linked to China’s reputational, strategic, and economic interests.

Executive Summary

International concern over China’s assertive island-building campaign in the South China Sea overlooks a broader shift in its maritime security conduct. Chinese naval and coastguard forces are taking fewer tactical risks than a few years ago. Beijing now advocates confidence-building measures that until recently it had refused to consider. These developments are helping to lower the risks of maritime incidents, miscalculations, and accidental conflict. However, they are also facilitating China’s increasingly ‘passive assertive’ challenges to Asia’s maritime status quo — notably, its creation and militarisation of disputed islands, its establishment of new zones of military authority, and its conduct of expansive patrols in the East and South China Seas. While these actions are not tactically dangerous, they represent a long-term strategic challenge to the regional order. Other countries must assume a degree of cost and risk to push back against China’s passive assertiveness. Yet, a prudent balance must be struck between signalling tactical resolve and pursuing indirect strategies to shape Chinese behaviour in ways that minimise the risks of escalation. This requires a multidimensional, coordinated, and international effort to impose costs on Beijing, and offer incentives, linked to its reputational, strategic, and economic interests.


China’s maritime security conduct is undergoing a major shift, with paradoxical implications for regional security. Whereas its ‘growing assertiveness’ from 2009 to 2014 was marked by dangerous and aggressive acts of intimidation, Beijing is now recalibrating its strategic challenge to Asia’s maritime order to make it less risky and more sustainable.[1] Today, China’s maritime behaviour displays three interrelated characteristics: Chinese ships and aircraft are behaving more professionally during tactical encounters with foreign vessels; China is embracing maritime confidence-building measures (CBMs) to lower the risks of miscalculation and accidental conflict; and Beijing is turning to what might be termed ‘passive assertive’ forms of intimidation aimed at expanding its strategic maritime influence. These developments are consolidating a new, albeit less volatile, regional status quo that advantages China, particularly in the East and South China Seas.

For countries that do not accept Beijing’s expansive claims or strategic encroachment, the policy problem is complex. No longer is it possible to simply criticise China for risky and destabilising maritime behaviour. That mantra was true a few years ago, but repeating it now is neither accurate nor useful. On the contrary, China is exercising greater tactical restraint in Asian waters, as its navy’s measured reaction to recent US freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) attests.

Beijing’s newly acquired taste for maritime ‘rules of the road’ is lowering the risk of accidental conflict. Yet it masks a new and more troubling strategic challenge. By better managing incidents at sea, Beijing is able to push ahead with island building, establish new zones of military authority and area denial, and expand the scope of military and coastguard patrols. As these actions fall under the threshold of military risk-taking, they make it difficult for others to push back directly without accepting the burden and risks of escalation.

Responding to China’s new passive assertiveness requires a diverse toolkit of policy options. Given the inherent risks of an overly confrontational approach, the United States and its Asian allies and partners must balance prudent resolve at a tactical level with creative ways of imposing indirect costs, and offering incentives, linked to China’s reputational, strategic, and economic interests. Deterring further militarisation in the South China Sea should be a major priority. A multidimensional, coordinated, and international effort is the most effective way to meet this challenge.

This Report concludes a series published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy under a project supported by the MacArthur Foundation on maritime security in Indo-Pacific Asia. It draws on over 50 interviews with officials and analysts conducted between February 2015 and March 2016 in China, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, the United States, and Australia. Interviews were off the record to enable candid discussions on what is a sensitive topic. The Report proceeds in five parts. Parts one to three identify the three key developments in China’s maritime security conduct. Part four presents the implications of these trends for regional security. Part five offers recommendations for policymakers.

 

China’s moderating maritime conduct

On 5 December 2013, a US guided-missile cruiser, the USS Cowpens, was forced to take evasive action when a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warship cut in front of its bow, narrowly avoiding a collision in the South China Sea.[2] Three months later, two China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels in the Spratly Islands used aggressive manoeuvres to block a Filipino government ship from reaching Manila’s shipwreck-turned-outpost on the Second Thomas Shoal.[3] In May 2014, China’s mobile oil rig, HS-981, began drilling in contested waters around the Paracel Islands while an escort armada of 80 Chinese military, law enforcement, and fishing vessels rammed and fired water cannon at the Vietnamese coastguard.[4] Meanwhile, as Japan and China stepped up aerial patrols above the East China Sea, three intercepts were reported in mid-2014 during which PLA Air Force (PLAAF) J-11 fighters flew perilously close to Japanese surveillance aircraft, risking mid-air disaster.[5] In August 2014, a Chinese fighter jet on patrol near Hainan Island came within 9 metres of a US P-8 Poseidon, deliberately flashing its weapons payload before aggressively barrel-rolling over the spy plane.[6]

Over the last 18 months, however, the pattern of Chinese behaviour has changed. Despite ongoing concern over China’s ‘maritime assertiveness’, Beijing has dialled back its more aggressive air and sea operations, eschewing risk-taking in favour of more calculated challenges to Asia’s maritime order.[7] According to Chinese analysts, the main reason for China’s new restraint is that the spate of high-risk incidents in 2013 and 2014 genuinely alarmed the leadership in Beijing about the potential for accidental conflict. These close encounters — particularly those involving the United States and Japan — reportedly led President Xi Jinping to make a “political decision … to prevent escalation” by instructing PLA and CCG forces to moderate their behaviour.[8] Some Chinese analysts also point out that Beijing felt compelled to rein in its aggressive tactical actions due to a realisation that China’s conduct was badly damaging its reputation, destabilising its periphery, and driving its neighbours to deepen security ties with the United States and one another.[9] Although many foreign analysts view the reduction in China’s aggressive actions as little more than a temporary shift to calm regional tensions while it constructs artificial outposts in the South China Sea, China’s safer and more professional tactical conduct has been welcomed by senior US officials and is, for now, lowering the risk of accidental conflict.[10]

The East China Sea

This moderate turn in China’s maritime conduct was first apparent in the East China Sea where signs emerged in late 2013 of more routine and less dangerous behaviour by its law enforcement vessels, warships, and military aircraft. Following Tokyo’s ‘nationalisation’ of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on 11 September 2012, China–Japan relations sharply deteriorated, leading to a freeze in political ties and volatile maritime encounters.[11] For the first time, Beijing deployed large numbers of law enforcement ships inside the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands’ 12 nautical mile (19 km) territorial sea — which Tokyo claims as sovereign waters — and in the adjacent 12 nautical mile ‘contiguous zone’ within international waters. While the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) was highly restrained, CCG vessels engaged in dangerous manoeuvres: chasing and cutting off Japanese fishing boats, and refusing to heed Japanese radio requests to coordinate the passage of opposing ships safely.[12] In January 2013, two Chinese warships operating near, but outside, the disputed territorial waters of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands locked fire-control radars on Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) vessels, heightening the risk of escalation to conflict.[13]

Today the situation is calmer. Since late 2013, Chinese law enforcement vessels have gradually abandoned the sort of provocative actions that characterised their conduct at the beginning of the crisis; and there have been no further reports of overtly aggressive or reckless PLAN activities.[14] On the contrary, over the past 18 months Chinese law enforcement officers have begun to take part in basic bridge-to-bridge communication with their Japanese counterparts. While much of this involves officers presenting their nation’s sovereignty claims and demanding the other side departs ‘their’ waters, Chinese and Japanese sailors are also signalling their navigational intentions and adhering to standards for safe interaction at sea.[15] In fact, officials and analysts on both sides concur that there now exists an “informal understanding” between the two coastguards “to keep a safe distance of approximately 10 nautical miles (16 km), to avoid provocative behaviour, and to radio sovereignty claims before leaving the area.”[16] This tacit code of conduct is based on both countries’ domestic laws and has arisen without formal consultation between coastguards. It has nevertheless been shaped by changed perceptions in Beijing about the need to avoid unintended conflict.

According to Chinese maritime experts, China’s more restrained behaviour around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands can be traced to internal risk reduction guidelines that were issued by the Xi Jinping administration to CCG and PLAN officials. The guidelines reportedly include prohibitions such as: “no military ships or aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the islands”; “no [personnel] landings on the islands”; “no provocative actions”; “no use of force”; and “no steps that risk escalation with Japan.”[17] China’s leaders were also heavily influenced by President Barack Obama’s declaration in April 2014 that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands fall under Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.[18] Whether motivated by caution or deterred by US resolve, or both, China’s more prudent actions around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands have contributed to greater stability on the water despite ongoing tensions.

The frequency of Chinese patrols has also decreased. As far back as late 2013, Beijing began to reduce maritime law enforcement patrols to signal its willingness to de-escalate tensions with Tokyo.[19] According to figures released by the JCG, the average number of Chinese ships entering Japan’s territorial sea around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands each month fell from 17 in 2012, to 13.8 in 2013, 7.3 in 2014, and 7.9 in 2015; with total ship numbers declining from 180 in 2013, to 88 in 2014, and up slightly to 96 in 2015. While more ships operate in the less sensitive contiguous zone, it experienced a similar, albeit slower, downward trend, with monthly averages falling from 101 in 2012, to 68 in 2013, 60 in 2014, and 59 in 2015; and totals declining from 818 in 2013, to 717 in 2014, and 709 in 2015.[20] These figures suggest a top-down attempt by China to stabilise maritime relations with Japan.[21] Beijing’s tactical restraint has not, however, stopped it from deploying more capable coastguard vessels. Since December 2015, China has sent former naval warships as armed CCG vessels to patrol within 12 nautical miles of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, underlining that not all trends are in a positive direction.[22]

While air encounters over the East China Sea still occur at a concerning rate, these too are being conducted responsibly. In response to growing Chinese activity near Japanese airspace, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled its jets a record 464 times against Chinese aircraft between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015 — a more than 10 per cent increase on the previous year and an almost 300 per cent increase since 2011.[23] These numbers remain high with 373 scrambles in the last three quarters of 2015.[24] Japanese intercepts typically involve missions to warn off Chinese aircraft that are approaching Japan’s territorial airspace or operating in the international skies above both countries’ overlapping Air Defence Identification Zones (ADIZs).[25] However, while Beijing’s controversial ADIZ extends over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, China has not made any publicly reported incursions into Japanese airspace since an isolated incident in 2012.[26] In fact, one of the risk reduction guidelines laid out by Beijing is said to explicitly state “no ADIZ enforcement in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands area.”[27] Although the PLAAF has slowly stepped up its own intercept missions in other parts of its ADIZ, these have been few and generally professional since three dangerous fly-bys by Chinese J-11 fighters in mid-2014.[28] The Chinese are still operating their aircraft in close proximity to Japanese aircraft which remains a serious concern in the absence of a bilateral code of conduct for aerial encounters. Yet, as the former US Pacific Air Forces Commander, General Herbert Carlisle, noted in late 2014, China and Japan “have been very good about staying separate and not … risk[ing] miscalculation.”[29]

The South China Sea

In the South China Sea, Beijing has similarly toned down its more aggressive tactical conduct over the past 18 months, though not as comprehensively as in the East China Sea. The clearest indication of this shift is the use of less confrontational tactics by China’s military and maritime law enforcement agencies.[30] From mid-2015, PLA units around China’s artificial islands have used radio transmissions to assert sovereignty claims and warn foreign ships and aircraft away from so-called “military alert zones.”[31] On 20 May 2015, a US P-8 Poseidon near the Spratly Islands received eight such radio messages from the Chinese navy, instructing the aircraft to “please go away quickly … to avoid misunderstanding.”[32] Likewise, since April 2015 Filipino government planes near Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands have regularly picked up radio orders to depart China’s “military area” to avoid “possible ‘misjudgement’.”[33] All are accused of “threatening the security of [China’s] station[s].”[34] Similar warnings are now routinely issued to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) patrols over the South China Sea, while Vietnamese officials report the same interactions involving their aircraft and patrol boats.[35] US warships operating in the area are frequently contacted by the PLAN and CCG which alert them to so-called “Chinese waters” and inquire about their intentions.[36] While such warnings are an illegitimate attempt to deter freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters, they enable China to assert expansive maritime claims without relying on aggressive interdiction.

China has also generally avoided large-scale confrontations in the South China Sea over the past two years. Following the China and Vietnam stand-off over Beijing’s coercive deployment of a mobile oil rig inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in May 2014, there have been no reported incidents involving multiple or coordinated Chinese government vessels in acts of aggression against their Southeast Asian neighbours.[37] In fact, according to Chinese academics, Beijing has been “very cautious to not deploy the rig again in contentious waters,” or in conjunction with constabulary forces.[38] When China announced the HS-981 rig was restarting operations in June 2015, it identified a drilling area significantly closer to Chinese territory.[39] While the rig was deployed in waters that have not been demarcated with Vietnam, its precise location — 75 miles south of Hainan Island and 104 miles east of Vietnam’s coast — put it in an area likely to eventually be considered part of China’s EEZ.[40] Similarly, the rig’s deployment in January 2016 put it just 21.4 miles within the Chinese side of an “assumed median line.”[41] Such a carefully calibrated shift in behaviour suggests Beijing is cautious about triggering another maritime incident over the rig.

Beijing has not entirely abandoned the use of coercive maritime actions in the South China Sea. Chinese vessels continue to surround the Scarborough Shoal — which Beijing wrested from Manila in 2012 — and to blockade Filipino patrol boats around the Second Thomas Shoal.[42] There have also been at least ten, and perhaps more than 20, cases in the past 18 months of Chinese coastguard and naval ships ramming or firing water cannon at fishing boats from the Philippines, Vietnam, and most recently Indonesia; and one allegation of a PLAN vessel blinding a Filipino patrol plane with its searchlight.[43] However, the low-level nature of these maritime incidents, and the fact that most represent China’s use of law enforcement ships to intimidate private — rather than government — vessels, distinguish such incidents from earlier, less restrained forms of aggression.

US–China maritime encounters

China’s military interactions with US forces over the past 18 months have also become safer and more professional. On at least six occasions between 2001 and 2014, US warships were harassed by Chinese vessels during surveillance operations in international waters within China’s EEZs.[44] These incidents involved dangerous shadowing, risky manoeuvres, and efforts to cut in front of US warships by Chinese military, coastguard, and fishing vessels. At least five times in 2014, PLAAF fighters performed high-risk intercepts of US surveillance aircraft around Hainan Island, aiming to intimidate US pilots from collecting intelligence on one of China’s most sensitive naval facilities.[45] These dangerous encounters occurred against the backdrop of ongoing disagreements between Beijing and Washington on the right to conduct military activities inside EEZs — which the United States and a majority of other countries argue is permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Most US–China military encounters are now being safely conducted. As the former Commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, noted in late 2014, dangerous encounters between both countries’ aircraft and ships are “outliers” and mostly stopped following bilateral military talks in August 2014.[46] In fact, there was only one official report of an unprofessional encounter involving the United States and China in 2015, in which a Chinese JH-7 fighter allegedly engaged in unsafe manoeuvres while intercepting a US RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in the Yellow Sea.[47] The Pentagon, however, subsequently stated there was “no indication … [of] a ‘near collision’,” while reports suggest the PLAAF fighter approached no closer than the internationally accepted separation of 500 feet.[48] Acknowledging the moderation in China’s tactical conduct, Commander of Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, recently testified: “We’ve seen very few dangerous activities by the Chinese following [the] August 2014 [barrel-rolling] incident.”[49] While both powers regard each other with growing strategic mistrust and hold incompatible positions on EEZ rights, at a tactical level their maritime encounters are stabilising.

A key indication of China’s new aversion to stoking maritime incidents has been its measured reaction to US FONOPs in the South China Sea. On 27 October 2015, the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial island at Subi Reef; and on 30 January 2016, the USS Curtis Wilbur came within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a Chinese-claimed feature in the Paracel Islands.[50] While Beijing attempted to deter the FONOPs — warning it would “firmly oppose infringement of [its] sovereignty” — it did not live up to its threats.[51] Rather, China’s tactical response was professionally conducted. As the Lassen approached Subi Reef, it was monitored and shadowed at a safe distance by two Chinese warships, and received radio warnings to depart the area.[52] The Curtis Wilbur was also challenged with verbal warnings, though US officials claim no PLAN warships tailed the US destroyer — suggesting a less assertive or less vigilant Chinese reaction.[53] Crucially, at no point during either FONOP did Beijing seize upon Washington’s so-called ‘provocation’ in order to aggressively deploy forces or risk triggering a crisis.

 

China is embracing confidence-building measures

China’s attitude towards maritime CBMs has evolved considerably in just a few years. As tools to reduce accidental conflict and military miscalculation, CBMs seek to establish transparency, communication, predictability, and reassurance between potentially opposing forces. These can include direct measures, such as crisis hotlines and agreed upon rules of the road, or indirect measures, such as dialogues, port calls, and joint exercises.[54] Given the acute security tensions between China and Asia’s other maritime players, CBMs in the Indo-Pacific are more about managing tensions than building genuine trust. Until recently, however, Chinese officials and analysts typically argued that CBMs could not be built until a modicum of “strategic trust” was established.[55] This view contrasted sharply with the Western understanding of CBMs, which sees them as necessary to reduce the risk of conflict precisely when trust is lacking.

For Washington and its Asian allies and partners, Beijing’s insistence on ‘trust before CBMs’ was an impassable barrier to the establishment of maritime rules of the road. When strategic relations deteriorated around 2009–2010 due to China’s assertive maritime conduct, Beijing showed little interest in using CBMs to manage rising tensions. Initiatives such as a Japan–China maritime dialogue and a US–China code of conduct linked to the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) languished in the absence of Chinese agreement to pursue them.[56] While Beijing’s opposition to CBMs may have reflected genuine strategic misgivings, to outsiders it looked like a calculated move to enable China’s maritime security forces to use risky behaviour for strategic advantage.[57]

Today, by contrast, Chinese officials and analysts openly support CBMs. The first glimpse of Beijing’s new position came at the US–China Sunnylands Summit in June 2013 when President Xi proposed that both countries restart negotiations on two MMCA initiatives designed to reduce military miscalculation and accidental maritime clashes.[58] Since then, Chinese officials have endorsed the concept of CBMs and crisis management at high-profile international gatherings, such as the Xiangshan Forum and Shangri-La Dialogue, as well as in private.[59] China’s 2015 Defence White Paper specifically notes that the PLA will “strengthen dialogues, exchanges and cooperation” and “improve CBM mechanisms” with US forces “to strengthen mutual trust, prevent risks and manage crises.”[60] In the words of a former Chinese diplomat, while Chinese leaders realise “strategic distrust will remain in US–China and China–Japan relations,” they now believe that “governments can work together towards CBMs … to manage their differences.”[61]

The pursuit of CBMs has thus become a priority for the Xi Jinping administration. This is especially true in relation to major powers, albeit less so with China’s weaker Southeast Asian neighbours which China feels more capable of intimidating with lower levels of risk.[62] According to Chinese analysts and retired military officials, after Xi made the “political decision … [to] pave the way for CBMs” in mid-2013, he issued a “top-down decree” within the PLA urging its leaders to pursue CBM talks with regional militaries.[63] As a result, a number of maritime CBMs have been established or are under negotiation (see Appendix for further details).

Signed in 2014, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is the most inclusive rules-based CBM operating to stabilise Asian maritime relations.[64] It brings together 21 Indo-Pacific navies — including the United States, China, Japan, ASEAN littoral states, India, and Australia — around a set of basic communication, manoeuvring, and safety protocols to prevent accidents and misunderstandings in international waters.[65] While CUES is non-binding, Chinese warships are actively adhering to its regulations during interactions with other vessels.[66] The PLAN has also practised the code with ships from the United States, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.[67] According to US officials, China’s implementation of CUES has contributed to greater operational “professionalism” by PLAN warships across maritime Asia.[68]

Beijing and Washington have also made progress on bilateral CBMs over the past 18 months. A landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Regarding the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters was signed in 2014, and expanded in September 2015 with an annex on air-to-air encounters.[69] The accord builds on CUES and other risk reduction conventions to set out non-binding guidelines for managing US–China military interactions, including manoeuvring, communication, and deconfliction measures. Despite weaknesses in the applicability and enforceability of its rules, they provide a useful framework for both sides to adopt reciprocal actions to bolster transparency and avoid unintended clashes. The recent absence of dangerous air and sea incidents suggests Chinese and US forces are abiding by this agreement.[70]

In late 2014, Beijing and Tokyo recommenced the long-stalled process of negotiating bilateral maritime CBMs. A high-level consultation on maritime affairs is now taking place.[71] More significantly, both countries have also reinvigorated efforts to set up the Japan–China Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism (JCMACM), originally proposed in 2008. Its three components have already been determined: a bilateral hotline for crisis communication; annual working-level meetings; and a decision to adopt CUES-style protocols to regulate air and sea encounters.[72] While sticking points remain over certain issues — such as whether coastguards should be covered by the JCMACM, or whether its rules should apply in territorial waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands — talks have reportedly been constructive, and officials expect the mechanism will soon be concluded.[73]

Unlike negotiations with the United States and Japan, China has moved very slowly on building CBMs with its Southeast Asian neighbours. The unfinished China–ASEAN code of conduct in the South China Sea has limped along in recent years. Although both sides agreed to enter “a new period of negotiating ‘important and complex issues’” in July 2015, concrete progress has not been forthcoming.[74] This has exacerbated Southeast Asian concerns that Beijing is stalling on the code while it expands its influence in the South China Sea.[75] Nevertheless, China has been willing to pursue less comprehensive CBMs with ASEAN nations. Last October, Beijing announced it would practise CUES protocols with ASEAN in 2016;[76] and that these exercises would occur in the South China Sea.[77] It has also committed to establish maritime hotlines with all ASEAN countries, including between foreign ministries for managing naval emergencies.[78] Despite real reservations about both CBMs, they are welcome developments that have the potential to improve maritime interactions and communication in tense regional waters.

Passive assertiveness

While reining in its tactical assertiveness and pursuing CBMs to stabilise its maritime relations, Beijing is continuing to advance its expansive strategic interests in more passive assertive ways. This has involved island building and the militarisation of those islands, the creation of new spheres of military authority, the establishment of an air defence identification zone, and the expansion of ‘grey-zone’ military and coastguard activities. Over the past two years, these tactically non-confrontational but strategically assertive measures have assumed a central role in Beijing’s efforts to reshape Asia’s maritime order. China’s passive assertive conduct — a variation on its ongoing ‘salami-slicing’ strategy — is calculated to strengthen its geostrategic position without provoking clashes that could escalate to conflict.[79]

It appears Beijing’s overall aim is to create a ‘new status quo’ in the East and South China Seas built from the past few years of overtly assertive behaviour. Many Chinese experts privately share this assessment.[80] From 2009 until 2014, assertive behaviour enabled Beijing to challenge the prevailing regional order: seizing territory at Scarborough Shoal, establishing new geographic parameters for military and coastguard patrols, and signalling its willingness to react with force when challenged by its neighbours. Although Beijing wants to minimise the risks that come with prolonged assertiveness, it does not intend to cede the gains it has achieved through previous risk-taking.[81] Accordingly, China has shifted to a more passive assertive approach to consolidate its strategic gains in ways that reduce military risk.

This represents a change in tactics rather than strategy. In the words of a senior Chinese academic, “there has been no change in Beijing’s underlying strategy … to expand its regional maritime influence … and deter others from building or encroaching on its territories.” Rather, Beijing has embarked on a “tactical shift” to pursue maritime assertiveness in a more calculated way.[82] Many Chinese analysts share this assessment, describing Beijing’s maritime conduct over the past five years as a progression from “restraint” to “assertiveness” to “restrained assertiveness.”[83] Although one could question how “restrained” China’s current assertiveness really is — especially in light of the pace and scale of its island-building campaign — it differs from Beijing’s previously aggressive conduct in that it is less likely to provoke a crisis.

This evolution has played out against the background of internal debates on how best to advance China’s maritime interests. Until 2010, President Hu Jintao advocated a cautious maritime security policy that placed a premium on “preserving stability” rather than “safeguarding rights.”[84] When Xi Jinping took power in late 2012, he initially placed greater emphasis on “rights” and assumed an aggressive stance towards maritime disputes — in part as a response to domestic nationalism and the demands of his PLA powerbase.[85] Yet, while Xi remains committed to maritime assertiveness, he has gradually come to emphasise a more prudent balance between “rights” and “stability.”[86]

Island building and militarisation in the South China Sea

The centrepiece of Beijing’s current approach is its construction of artificial islands and militarised outposts on disputed reefs, rocks, and shoals across the South China Sea. Since late 2013, China has reclaimed new ‘territory’ at seven of the eight features it occupies in the Spratly Islands, over which Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan all stake claims.[87] China accelerated dredging and building throughout 2015, and has undertaken similar activities in the Paracel Islands on at least two features contested by Vietnam.[88] According to a Pentagon report released in August 2015, Beijing has constructed more than 2900 acres (1173 hectares) in the Spratly Islands alone, meaning “China has now reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years.”[89] Having expanded Subi and Mischief Reefs, dredging appears to have stopped in the Spratly Islands. But land is still being reclaimed in the Paracel Islands and US naval officers believe that dredging may soon begin at Scarborough Shoal.[90] Construction on top of China’s artificial ‘islands’ is also rapidly continuing.[91]

Building a network of outposts in the South China Sea is a strategically assertive way to tilt the regional military balance in China’s favour. Beijing has outfitted several of its outposts in the Spratly Islands with deep-water ports, gun emplacements, military garrisons, helipads, and communication and surveillance facilities.[92] It is building three military-grade airstrips on the Spratly Islands — one that is now operational on Fiery Cross, and two near completion on Subi and Mischief Reefs — and is renovating its existing Woody Island airstrip on the Paracel Islands.[93] China’s militarisation of Woody Island exacerbated regional concerns in February 2016 when surface-to-air missiles and J-11 fighter jets were simultaneously deployed, representing what many regard as a worrying blueprint for how China will proceed with its Spratly Island facilities.[94]

These strategic outposts will permit Beijing to enhance its power projection capabilities and establish anti-access zones right across the South China Sea.[95] China will be able to extend the range and endurance of military and coastguard patrols; forward deploy air force, navy, and coastguard assets; and conduct aerial patrols over disputed waters, possibly in support of a future ADIZ.[96] A combination of ground-based radars, air defences, anti-ship missiles, and forward-based fighters would facilitate the development of ‘mini denial zones’ extending southwards from Hainan Island.[97] Furthermore, there is speculation these outposts could assist China to lay a network of hydrophone arrays to detect US and other submarines, helping Beijing to establish a sanctuary for its nuclear-armed submarines.[98] Of course, these isolated outposts would be highly vulnerable in the event of a major war, making them ill-suited for high intensity combat operations. Short of this unlikely scenario, however, China’s artificial islands will enable Beijing to exert coercive power far from the mainland. As the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, concluded in February 2016, once these outposts are completed “China will have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region.”[99]

While China’s moves are strategically destabilising and challenge Asia’s rules-based order and the rights of smaller countries, they avoid the risks of dangerous incidents at sea. In this regard, island building epitomises Beijing’s new passive assertive conduct.[100] Provided that other maritime players stay away from China’s self-declared ‘military alert zones’, the actual process of island building will not spark clashes involving military or coastguard forces. Indeed, the existence of militarised ‘islands’ themselves is only likely to lead to confrontation if others directly challenge China’s outposts or if Beijing uses them as staging posts to conduct aggressive operations.

For now, however, Beijing seems content to use its facilities to intimidate others into accepting new and illegitimate maritime boundaries without using force.[101] Chinese forces persistently warn of ‘possible misjudgement’ with implied, but unstated, grave consequences for non-compliance. They track and monitor foreign ships and aircraft as if they were approaching Chinese territorial waters. In this way, Beijing’s new outposts “contribute to a strategy of creeping expansionism, whereby China gradually extends its influence while avoiding major provocations that make retaliation more likely.”[102]

East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone

China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea is another example of its strategically assertive but tactically measured behaviour. Since its establishment in November 2013, the ADIZ has challenged the regional status quo by projecting Chinese domestic laws into international airspace. While there is nothing illegitimate about an ADIZ per se — Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan also have them in the area — China appears to have designed this zone to exert unlawful administrative control over parts of the East China Sea. According to China’s Ministry of National Defense, all foreign military and civilian aircraft, regardless of flight paths, must report flight plans to Chinese authorities or face “defensive emergency measures” by the armed forces.[103] Such rules are not only at odds with other ADIZs, which only require identification from aircraft approaching the host country’s airspace,[104] but they also contravene the principle of freedom of overflight which grants military aircraft the right to operate anywhere outside a state’s 12 nautical mile territorial sea.[105] In this respect, the ADIZ plays an important role in Beijing’s ongoing efforts to reinterpret international laws in order to enhance its control over China’s ‘near seas’ and prevent foreign intelligence gathering within its EEZs. As the ADIZ covers the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and parts of Japan’s ADIZ, it has also been viewed as a calculated move to erode the administrative status quo of Japanese rule on the islands. Analysts and officials across the Asia-Pacific, including in China, characterise the ADIZ as a bid to build “strategic depth” and establish a Chinese “sphere of influence.”[106]

Although the ADIZ is strategically provocative, it does not require aggressive tactical conduct by Chinese pilots. Rather, Beijing is seeking to incrementally reshape the regional status quo by using its ADIZ as a ‘legal’ rationale for stepping up military patrols in the East China Sea — despite the fact ADIZs have no basis in international law. This provides China with a framework to justify its increasing military activity around Japanese territory and the “first island chain,” as well as its opposition to US and Japanese intelligence gathering.[107]

The ADIZ has, for example, enabled Beijing to respond to public Japanese claims of Chinese incursions into Japan’s ADIZ with a counterclaim of its own.[108] Beijing has justified the expanding scope of PLAAF patrols on the grounds that they are needed to “monitor, identify, track, and warn” foreign military aircraft in China’s ADIZ.[109] It has also rebutted Tokyo’s public claims of air force scrambles against the PLAAF by criticising Japan’s “long-term tracking, surveillance, and disturbance of China’s ships and aircraft” in the East China Sea.[110] Such actions normalise China’s military presence in ways that attempt to consolidate Beijing’s imposition of unlawful regulations. Currently, US, Japanese, and other Asian air forces are not adhering to China’s ADIZ rules; nor does the PLAAF appear able, or willing, to fully enforce the zone at this stage. But Beijing probably hopes that sustained and strengthened ADIZ patrols will eventually pressure others into acceding to its new status quo.[111]

Grey-zone military and coastguard activities

China is also consolidating its strategic presence in the East and South China Seas by expanding so-called ‘grey-zone’ coastguard and military activities: the use of low-level coercion that falls short of overt aggression.[112] Over the past ten years, Chinese law enforcement vessels have steadily increased “regular rights defence patrols” to incrementally alter the status quo in both seas by strengthening China’s presence and perceived jurisdictional control.[113] Importantly, Beijing’s rationale for deploying white-hulled coastguard ships is that civilian — as opposed to naval — vessels cannot easily be accused of military intimidation.[114] China has thus expanded maritime patrols while minimising the risk of armed clashes and the likelihood that its neighbours will deploy naval assets in response. It has maintained a permanent fleet of ‘rights defence’ ships in the East China Sea since 2006; and has called upon other regional fleets, since 2012, to surge its law enforcement presence around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Although patrols in the South China Sea started in 2007, China has only recently expanded these to cover the full extent of its ‘nine-dash line’ claim, with patrols over the past three years extending as far south as the disputed James Shoal approximately 50 miles from Malaysia.[115] In both seas, China’s massive fishing fleets and its so-called ‘maritime militias’ have been effective force multipliers for exercising a quasi-official presence in disputed waters, or swarming in support of coastguard and naval operations.[116]

Importantly, the capacity of China’s law enforcement fleet has grown considerably in recent years. The number of large-displacement (greater than 1000 tonnes) vessels at China’s disposal has risen from 21 ships in 2004 to 95 in 2015, bringing its total ship count to 205. By contrast, Japan owns 78 ships, Vietnam has 55, and the Philippines only four.[117] Possessing Asia’s largest coastguard fleet, Beijing can sustain a superior forward presence around virtually all disputed waters.

Many of the CCG’s newest vessels are very large displacement cutters (3000–5000 tonnes) capable of long-range patrols, giving China an outsized capacity to exert influence far from the mainland.[118] These ships easily intimidate the smaller vessels used by Southeast Asian governments. Crucially, a number of the CCG’s more recent acquisitions are refurbished and repainted PLAN warships — boats that were built to robust military specifications and are likely to prevail in rammings or collisions even with powerful opponents such as the JCG.[119] One such ship, CCG 31239, sparked Japanese anxieties in December 2015 when it became the first-ever retrofitted Chinese warship to enter the territorial sea around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.[120] While most of China’s law enforcement vessels are only armed with water cannon, sirens, or light deck weapons, some, such as CCG 31329 and the massive 10 000 tonne CCG 901 series, boast 76 mm rapid-fire guns and other military-grade weapons.[121] So far there have been no reports of CCG ships using lethal force, and there are few reported instances of direct threats being made.[122] While Chinese law enforcement vessels have previously clashed with government ships from Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, China has largely avoided such incidents since mid-2014. Still, the presence of this growing and powerful white-hulled fleet boosts China’s ability to consolidate a new status quo in disputed waters.

Naval forces are also playing a passive assertive role in bolstering China’s strategic influence in the East and South China Seas. Since November 2014, Chinese warships have sailed progressively closer to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, although they have yet to enter Japan’s 12 mile territorial sea. While the PLAN previously kept its ships about 62–75 miles (100–120 km) away from the islands, Japanese officials now report that warships often come as close as 43 miles (70 km).[123] In November 2015, a PLAN intelligence ship passed within 27 miles (44 km) of the islands, marking the closest a Chinese warship has come to the contiguous zone, which extends 12–24 miles (19–39 km) from the islands into international waters.[124] China’s naval deployments tend to coincide with CCG patrols in Japanese territorial waters, suggesting the PLAN is providing over-the-horizon support for ‘rights defence’ missions.[125] Such moves enable Beijing to consolidate its strategic footprint around the islands without escalating tensions by putting naval forces to the front. Indeed, these activities are reminiscent of China’s ‘cabbage’ tactics in the South China Sea, in which warships were deployed as a background deterrent to support coastguard operations during the Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal, and HS-981 incidents.[126]

Although the PLAN has not recently chaperoned Chinese coastguard ships in acts of overt aggression, it conducts exercises to refine and demonstrate China’s burgeoning military power. Over the past year, the PLAN has held more than 20 naval exercises in East Asian waters — including five in the Western Pacific, and at least four each in the East and South China Seas — while the PLAAF has undertaken four high sea training missions in the Western Pacific.[127] Beijing conducted its largest-ever exercise in the South China Sea in July 2015, involving over 100 vessels, dozens of aircraft, and several battalions from the former Second Artillery, the unit responsible for China’s nuclear forces.[128] In the context of rising maritime tensions, these and other assertive shows of force seek to deter the United States and other regional nations without provoking miscalculation or conflict.

 

Implications of China’s evolving maritime security conduct

The evolution of China’s maritime security conduct is having profound and somewhat paradoxical implications on regional stability and security policy. On the one hand, the potential for accidental air and sea clashes is considerably lower than a few years ago. On the other hand, China’s calculated and more cautious push to challenge Asia’s maritime status quo is making it harder for other nations to respond. This has four main implications.

Maritime tensions are being better managed, but have not been eliminated

Until recently, China’s confrontational air and sea conduct and Asia’s weak CBM architecture posed a serious threat to regional stability. In the absence of rules of the road for military encounters or effective channels for communication during a crisis, dangerous incidents were steadily rising and carried the potential for miscalculation, escalation, and accidental conflict.[129] Although these risks have by no means disappeared, they are now better managed by Asia’s maritime powers. China’s evolving behaviour has largely brought about this shift. The reduction in aggressive conduct by Chinese naval, air force, and, to a degree, coastguard assets has alleviated, for now, the primary cause of risky air and sea incidents. Beijing’s adherence to rules-based CBMs — such as CUES and the US–China MoU for safe air and sea conduct — is further contributing to the stability of maritime interactions.

Nevertheless, progress has not been made on resolving the maritime disputes that have been the source of dangerous incidents in the past. Beijing, and to a lesser degree Tokyo and Washington, have deliberately avoided CBMs that would require them to compromise on the fundamental interests underlying their maritime disagreements. As a senior Chinese scholar said, “Beijing is pursuing CBMs … [for] crisis prevention and crisis management, but not [as a] path to dispute resolution.”[130] As such, China continues to assert expansive EEZ rights; it refuses to clarify its ’nine-dash line’ claim; it has repeatedly stalled on maritime boundary delimitation with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam;[131] and it has rejected the role of international arbitration in determining the legality of its ‘historical claims’ in the South China Sea.[132] Tokyo, for its part, has refused to discuss the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands during crisis management talks with Beijing; while Washington, rightfully, has not backed away from its position on freedom of navigation and overflight in EEZs and territorial waters. Accordingly, virtually all of the CBMs signed or under negotiation focus on technical details about regulating encounters rather than thorny issues of maritime jurisdiction, legal rights, and sovereignty claims. As these unresolved disagreements lead to opposing patrols in the East and South China Seas, regional militaries and coastguards will continue to interact with growing frequency.

China is using tactical stability to strengthen its strategic position

It is partially because the risks of military miscalculation are falling that Chinese leaders have grown more confident about taking actions such as island building, expanded military and coastguard patrols, and intercepts within China’s claimed waters and airspace. In fact, China is using CBMs and tactical restraint to ensure that its efforts to establish a new status quo do not provoke conflict.[133] Aside from preventing its own ships and aircraft from sparking dangerous incidents, China expects CBMs to guarantee that other countries will also adhere to safe operational practices — regardless of its strategically provocative actions. In the words of a retired senior PLA officer: “Because CBMs make it likely that all sides will control and … prevent encounters from escalating,” officials believe that “China and Japan can continue to send ships and planes to patrol [the East China Sea]; Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese vessels can all be sent to disputed waters; and China can build on disputed islands and keep disrupting US military activities in its EEZs.”[134]

This calculation seems to have been especially influential in shaping China’s decision to construct artificial islands in the South China Sea. Although strategically brazen, the policy is premised on the assumption that Asia’s maritime players, as proponents of CBMs, will not push back with risky military countermeasures. Beijing’s assessment has so far proved accurate. Maritime nations active in the area, such as the United States, Australia, and Vietnam, have been highly professional and risk-averse. Even the US Navy’s most forceful reactions — the FONOPs conducted at the Spratly and Paracel Islands — were executed in the least provocative way, with warships abiding by ‘innocent passage’ protocols while passing within 12 miles of China’s features.[135] Worryingly, the expectation that other nations will not conduct dangerous manoeuvres against Chinese forces appears to be compelling Beijing to pursue bolder strategic aims.

The burden of escalation is shifting to the United States and its partners

Beijing’s tactical restraint poses a serious policy dilemma for Washington and its Asian allies and partners. Whereas China’s aggressive acts of tactical intimidation previously saw it assume the burden of escalation, its passive assertive conduct is unlikely to trigger dangerous incidents unless others react in overly assertive ways. The United States and its regional allies and partners are thus being forced into a difficult position in which they must balance the need to firmly respond to China’s strategic expansion against the risks of destabilising the security situation. It is those nations that oppose China’s maritime expansion that must decide whether or not to raise the stakes.

This is a difficult task. Washington and its regional partners cannot be certain how Beijing will respond to deliberate tests of its new spheres of influence. Relatively modest military measures — such as the US Navy’s recent FONOPs or the RAAF’s surveillance patrols in the South China Sea — are likely to continue to be met with little tactical opposition.[136] But there is no certainty about how China would respond to firmer action. There is also the obvious risk that reacting too firmly could strengthen the hand of PLA hardliners who are seeking grounds to further advance militarisation in the East and South China Seas.[137] Washington and its allies and partners must now carefully weigh the risks of escalation when seeking to blunt Beijing’s strategic encroachment.

A public relations war is unfolding over maritime risk-taking

A corollary of China’s more restrained tactical conduct is that Beijing has stepped up efforts to portray other countries as maritime risk-takers. Indeed, the focus of Beijing’s public relations strategy since early 2015 has been to portray Washington and its security partners as the real culprits behind “militarising” the East and South China Seas.[138] China has condemned US naval and air force patrols as highly “provocative” and “dangerous” acts;[139] it has criticised Japan’s aerial intercepts and maritime surveillance for “compromis[ing] the navigational safety of Chinese ships and aircraft”;[140] and it has dismissed Australia’s 30-year-old aerial surveillance program in the South China Sea as “deliberately complicating” the situation in the region.[141] By contrast, Beijing has tried to depict itself as the more restrained party which “will never recklessly resort to the use of force,” claiming that its warships have “shown restraint” in the face of supposed US aggression.[142]

Nations seeking to oppose China’s strategic encroachment will have to find ways to adjust to being labelled as risk-takers. This may be relatively easy for self-confident allies such as the United States, Japan, and Australia; but it will be more difficult for cautious Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, which are not ready to be publicly associated with a forceful pushback against China.[143] Of course, few will be swayed by Beijing’s media spin. Nevertheless, by consistently portraying the United States and its partners as destabilising forces, China’s public relations campaign could muddy the international narrative about who is actually driving Asia’s maritime tensions. Those opposing Chinese actions will have to balance the desire to resist publicly Beijing’s labels, with the need to follow through on pushing back tactically in spite of them.

 

Policy recommendations

For the United States and its Asian allies and partners there is no simple policy response to China’s passive assertiveness. A multidimensional, coordinated, and ongoing international effort is needed to simultaneously advance crisis management and push back against Chinese coercion. These efforts must uphold existing laws governing maritime freedoms and coastal states’ rights, and involve creative ways for imposing direct and indirect costs to deter China’s violations of these norms. Providing incentives and reciprocal compromises might also prove worthwhile. Any response will need to be prudent: signalling to Beijing a willingness to tolerate a degree of cost and risk, while minimising the proximate risks of escalation or renewed instability. The following are a number of policy elements which together could contribute to a more effective response.

Strengthen and expand rules-based CBMs

Asia’s maritime players should finish the process of building a region-wide network of rules-based CBMs. In recent years, CBMs that stipulate rules of behaviour have proven effective at making China’s maritime encounters safer, more professional, and more predictable. While Beijing is making strategic gains from this growing tactical stability, it remains the case that all regional nations benefit from developing rules to prevent accidental conflict. Rules-based CBMs have the additional advantage of providing agreed-upon lists of behavioural expectations that can be used to ‘shame’ China or others in the event of transgressions. However, the process of establishing such CBMs remains incomplete, with China–Japan and China–ASEAN arrangements lagging behind US–China progress.

Tokyo and Beijing should prioritise concluding the JCMACM this year. Given the growing frequency of naval and air force interactions between the two powers it is imperative this CBM is signed before politics, historical grievances, or another incident raises tensions again.[144] To resolve the impasse over whether to include the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, both sides could adapt the pragmatic language of US–China MoUs to agree that the JCMACM will be “without prejudice to either Side’s policy perspective on military activities in the [Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands’ territorial sea].”[145]

In Southeast Asia, Beijing should abide by its promise to hold combined training on CUES with ASEAN navies in the South China Sea this year. This should become a regular part of China’s annual naval engagement and must involve rival claimants, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. While all have previously agreed to CUES, exercises are needed to operationalise these rules at a working level between potentially opposing navies. More importantly, China should make a genuine effort to complete the code of conduct for the South China Sea in 2016. Although ‘early harvest’ measures, such as hotlines and disaster relief exercises, may have some utility, such efforts will remain hollow and unconvincing until Beijing commits to ASEAN’s demand to establish binding risk reduction rules and dispute settlement procedures. As Chinese warships and coastguard vessels increase their South China Sea presence and as ASEAN edges towards criticising China’s actions with a “single voice,” it is in Beijing’s interests to agree to a code that will add to tactical stability and improve its reputation.[146]

Rules-based CBMs should also be broadened to include coastguards and other civilian maritime law enforcement agencies. Today, most encounters in Asian waters involve coastguard vessels, often from the CCG, meeting other countries’ naval, coastguard, and government ships, or interacting with private fishing vessels. As non-military ships are responsible for the majority of dangerous incidents currently taking place — such as harassing fishing boats or blocking government vessels — it is crucial they be brought into Asia’s CBM architecture. The aim should be to apply operating rules, such as those that exist between navies, to Asian coastguards, which are less accustomed to working outside of their domestic laws.

This policy conversation has already begun. Beijing and Washington should expedite efforts to implement last year’s proposal for a US–China code of conduct for coastguards.[147] While this is a top priority for the US Navy, it is in both nations’ interests. US concerns that unprofessional conduct by CCG vessels could lead to an accidental clash with a US warship are likely to be shared by Chinese leaders who benefit from ongoing tactical stability.[148] Regarding the South China Sea, the United States, Malaysia, and Singapore have suggested expanding CUES to include Southeast Asian coastguards, which China has recently agreed to explore with ASEAN.[149] All sides should take advantage of Singapore’s current role as the country coordinator of China–ASEAN relations — and as a respected non-claimant mediator — to advance this initiative in 2016. Concerning the East China Sea, Tokyo and Beijing need to make every effort to quarantine sovereignty issues in order to bring coastguards into the JCMACM talks, which certain defence stakeholders on both sides broadly support.[150]

While it is important to strengthen effective CBMs, it is also important to ensure Beijing is not earning accolades for participating in CBMs with a negligible real impact on regional stability. This is especially crucial if China is endeavouring to use low-value CBMs as a pretext to stall on more urgent measures. Many ASEAN nations fear this is happening when Beijing announces hotlines and exercises, rather than finishing the code of conduct for the South China Sea. As Chinese forces benefit from exercising with more advanced militaries, it is important these practical gains are proportional to the value of the engagement.

No country should reflexively reject specific CBMs with China. Rather, Australia, the United States, ASEAN, and others should take stock of their security engagement with China to determine whether any activities provide it with reputational or practical benefits without adding to security or reducing mistrust. These might include high-profile port calls by aircraft carriers or major surface vessels, VIP visits on capital ships, or naval exercises in which PLAN ships clandestinely collect intelligence, as occurred during the 2014 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise.[151] Such CBMs should be scaled back to signal concern about China’s broader strategic assertiveness. They could also be used as incentives or rewards to drive Chinese progress on more meaningful initiatives.

This raises a question over crisis management hotlines. Although dedicated real-time communications channels should constitute a practical CBM when tensions are rising, China’s record of using hotlines is not encouraging. During the 2014 oil rig crisis with Vietnam, Chinese operators reportedly failed to respond to calls and used hotlines as conduits for criticism and abuse.[152] Institutional weaknesses in China’s national security bureaucracy compound these problems, meaning hotline operators typically have little authority.[153] Despite these inefficiencies, China seeks reputational kudos for agreeing to set up such channels, most recently presenting its agreement to establish China–ASEAN foreign ministry hotlines as a sign of “significant progress” towards “maintaining peace and stability.”[154]

On balance, maritime players should persist with hotlines due to the possibility, however small, that they may make a difference in preventing escalation or conflict. New hotline initiatives between China–ASEAN and China–Japan should be pursued, and existing ones strengthened between the United States and China. Reforms within China’s Central National Security Commission may boost their effectiveness, and, if so, should lead all parties to lobby for hotlines to be set up at this level.[155] Yet, until Beijing proves its willingness to use hotlines for their proper purpose, these CBMs should be treated as minimal necessary steps and not touted as great accomplishments of Chinese goodwill.

Push back against China’s creeping expansion

To prevent China from revising the UNCLOS norms underwriting Asia’s rules-based order or from illicitly consolidating a new strategic status quo, concerned nations must exercise their rights to operate in newly contentious waters, including within 12 miles of China’s artificial islands and in its 200 mile EEZs. The aim should be to neutralise Chinese attempts to expand its authority when these are inconsistent with international law. While the United States will continue to periodically conduct FONOPs and send military assets through the East and South China Seas, other states must play a supporting role. It is in the whole region’s interest to prevent freedom of navigation from becoming a solely US–China point of friction.[156] This would exacerbate bilateral military tensions and may embolden PLA hawks who believe that Washington will eventually back down without greater regional buy in.

Each nation, however, should contribute to freedom of navigation in its own way. This would satisfy domestic constituencies, particularly in Southeast Asia, that have reservations about taking part in US military operations.[157] It would also signal that other nations’ actions are not part of a US-led initiative, but are an organic response to China’s assertiveness. All operational pushback should strike a prudent balance between showing resolve and exercising caution.

Australia should quietly maintain and increase aerial surveillance in the South China Sea and continue to exercise naval freedom of navigation in line with operational requirements.[158] Japan should consider expanding its own role in the South China Sea. Southeast Asian claimants — which currently patrol their own maritime features with varying degrees of intensity — should step up wider patrols in contentious waters to mark their willingness as ‘resident nations’ to stand up for rights that arguably concern them the most. In the East China Sea, the United States, Japan, and others should continue to ignore China’s ADIZ, but publicly recognise that the PLA’s presence around Japan is legitimate under the same freedom of navigation laws that China is denying elsewhere. Global seafaring powers from further afield, such as Britain, France, and India, should consider exercising freedom of navigation in the South China Sea when their navies are in Asia for routine engagements.

In the South China Sea, operational pushback should focus on China’s militarisation activities. As it is virtually impossible to compel China to roll back its outposts, the current policy imperative — aside from defending freedom of navigation — is to deter further militarisation or the creation of a new ADIZ, particularly in relation to the Spratly Islands. One way to do this might be to use the prospect of more frequent, targeted, or multilateral patrols to dissuade Beijing from pushing ahead. These actions would harm China’s image and domestic sensibilities, making them potentially useful points of leverage.

Australia should commit to joining US patrols or launching its own expanded patrols if Beijing militarises facilities on Subi or Mischief Reefs, or sets up a South China Sea ADIZ. Certain Southeast Asian countries should issue similar warnings, while others, following the Philippines and Singapore, should consider opening more ports and airfields to external powers such as the United States to conduct regular patrols.[159] Washington, for its part, should undertake to increase the tempo of its FONOPs or move beyond ‘innocent passage’ patrols in the event China pushes ahead with militarisation activities. As in any deterrence framework, these intentions would need to be communicated firmly and clearly to Beijing, and should be done so privately to minimise the risk of emboldening domestic hardliners and netizens.[160] This requires ‘militarisation’ to be defined precisely to include the deployment of military aircraft, warships, missiles, and other coercive capabilities. Whereas China’s island building caught the region off guard, a deterrence approach might allow other nations to regain the initiative by drawing red lines to pre-emptively shape Chinese behaviour.

There may also be scope for this approach to work in reverse, providing face-saving ‘off-ramps’ to reduce tensions. In return for positive behaviour by China concerning its outposts — such as removing existing military assets or ceasing to warn foreign vessels away from ‘military alert zones’ — other nations could limit these more provocative patrols. International law does not require this. Yet voluntarily reducing the scale and frequency of patrols could offer a useful way to encourage restrained Chinese conduct. This would be relatively cost-free as tougher patrols could be reinstated were China’s conduct to revert. Crucially, this combination of threats and promises linked to mutual compromises by all sides might help to build patterns of reciprocity in place of what might otherwise become an escalating spiral of US–China competition.

Maritime capacity building should also be expanded to enable all countries to respond to China’s growing strategic presence. As Chinese military and coastguard patrols extend further afield, it is crucial that others have the capacity to monitor China’s activities and sustain credible maritime defences. In Southeast Asia, many countries, particularly the Philippines and Malaysia, are unable to effectively patrol the full extent of their regional waters — including their claimed EEZs — making it easier for China to make strategic inroads.[161] External powers with a stake in the stability of the South China Sea have a responsibility to bolster the capacity of such nations. This should involve transfers of ships, aircraft, surveillance technology, and training, and a focus on enhancing patrol capabilities and domain awareness.[162] The United States, Japan, and India have spearheaded recent efforts with major defence deals and investments.[163] These should continue alongside new joint training initiatives, which could involve a larger role for countries such as Australia.

Expand diplomatic and legal efforts to pressure China

Concerned nations across the world should step up diplomatic criticism of China’s activities to target its reputation as a good international citizen. While Beijing has appeared intent on expanding its South and East China Sea presence in spite of rising global concern, its willingness to tolerate criticism is not unlimited. A growing number of official and unofficial voices inside China are worried about the impact of Beijing’s passive assertive maritime conduct on the resurgent ‘China threat’ theory and on its emerging reputation as a regional “rule-breaker.”[164] In an attempt to offset its deteriorating image, Beijing has sought to deepen ties with its closest ASEAN associates and to portray Washington and its global partners as provocateurs that are ‘interfering’ in the South China Sea. This suggests international criticism is having an effect and that the context is ripe to increase coordinated public diplomatic pressure on Beijing.

Greater global condemnation of China’s island building and militarisation would heighten Beijing’s isolation on this issue, and may strengthen the bargaining position of domestic critics who advocate a less provocative approach. It would also make it easier for vulnerable Southeast Asian nations to speak out and act with greater confidence. In this regard, Australia’s increasingly frank high-level criticism over the past year has helped to internationalise the issue, and is being watched by Chinese analysts as a barometer for Beijing’s worsening image problem.[165] Other nations would do well to ratchet up their own criticism. In addition, respected multinational organisations — such as the European Union (EU) or Group of Seven (G7) — and coalitions of responsible regional nations — including Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore — should more firmly present their existing criticisms by specifically naming China for its disproportionately coercive conduct in the South China Sea.[166] Additionally, public diplomacy initiatives that ‘shame’ Beijing by using satellite imagery to draw attention to island building could be complemented by a focus on the environmental toll of China’s activities, leveraging the public relations reach of global activist networks.

Diplomatic support should also be strengthened for the Philippines’ case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Given that Beijing has rejected the proceedings, international backing for the verdict, expected in the middle of 2016, is crucial if it is to have any chance of altering Chinese behaviour. Many expect the court will reject ‘historical rights’ as a basis for China’s ‘nine-dash line’ claim and rule that at least some Chinese-occupied features, such as Mischief and Subi Reefs, are low-tide elevations with no entitlement to territorial seas.[167] The verdict thus carries the potential to undercut the professed legal basis for China’s expanding presence and island building.

Several countries, including Australia, have called for all parties to respect the court’s authority and abide by its binding verdict. Others, including groups such as the EU and G7, should follow suit. Regionally, a caucus of like-minded countries could campaign to get a positive reference to the tribunal into the Chairman’s statements for the next ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit, ASEAN Plus Eight Defence Ministers’ Meeting, or ASEAN Summit. Though a seemingly small step, this would significantly raise the diplomatic costs for Beijing of ignoring the ruling.

Expectations, however, need to be realistic. In light of Beijing’s vehement rejection of the tribunal, it will be politically impossible for Chinese leaders to publicly accept the court’s criticism in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. International pressure should thus be focused on pushing Beijing to indirectly comply with the findings by returning to multilateral negotiation. This must involve an effort by China to clarify its ‘nine-dash line’ in accordance with accepted legal principles, as well as multi-claimant discussions over the geological status of disputed features.[168]

Efforts should be made to strengthen the UNCLOS regime in order to present a more unified consensus on acceptable maritime conduct. Specifically, the United States and its Asian allies and partners should align their interpretations on UNCLOS and EEZ rights. Currently, at least 26 nations — including India, Malaysia, and Thailand — claim the right to limit foreign military activities inside their EEZs, adopting a view of UNCLOS akin to that of Beijing.[169] Although the US partners in question generally support Washington’s push to defend Asia’s rules-based maritime order, this gap must be closed to bolster the overall effort. Furthermore, US credibility and leadership in this domain requires redoubled pressure both within and on Washington for Congress to ratify UNCLOS, even though the United States already supports it in practice.

A regional fact-finding mission should be established with the aim of visiting Beijing’s South China Sea outposts to hold China to account. Chinese leaders have frequently stated that Beijing has “no intention to militarise” the Spratly Islands and is “build[ing] facilities mainly for public good purposes,” such as maritime search and rescue, which will be open to all upon completion.[170] Others should seek to verify these promises. A group of like-minded nations — including Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia — could propose a regular regional fact-finding mission under the ARF, or another ASEAN grouping, that would take China at its word and lobby for access. The mission, which must also include China, should visit other countries’ facilities as a way of building reciprocity and adding pressure on Beijing. The overall aim would be to boost transparency around China’s activities in an attempt to dissuade Beijing from advancing militarisation.

Impose indirect costs on China

One of China’s greatest fears is that the United States’ Asian allies and partners will create a web of interlocking security arrangements. China is thus highly suspicious of burgeoning trilateral partnerships involving two or more US allies.[171] These include the Australia–US–Japan, Australia–Japan–India, and India–US–Japan arrangements, and emerging groupings involving the Philippines or other ASEAN partners. Beijing is even more concerned about the potential for a renewed “quadrilateral” security dialogue between Washington, Canberra, Tokyo, and New Delhi, most recently mooted by Admiral Harris in March 2016.[172]

There are advantages to strengthening Asia’s minilateral partnerships. While these should not actively target Beijing, they offer a useful way for like-minded nations to dilute China’s power and hedge against its provocative maritime conduct without raising risks of confrontation.[173] Minilaterals permit members to coordinate policy towards China, share intelligence, boost interoperability, and transfer technology. In advancing these arrangements, the United States, Australia, Japan, and India should signal that China’s strategic assertiveness is bringing about the very outcome that Beijing does not want — a closer alignment of regional powers worried about China.

At the same time, efforts should be maintained to show Beijing that the region welcomes its constructive role in security affairs and respects its legitimate interests as a maritime power. Parallel low-level maritime security engagements with China, such as Australia’s regular exercises with the PLAN, are useful in this respect. These should both signal that minilaterals are not about excluding China, and hold out prospect of greater Chinese inclusion if Beijing reins in its strategic assertiveness.

Concerned nations should also consider imposing economic costs on China in response to further assertive maritime conduct. Given the escalation risks associated with directly pushing back at a military level, economic statecraft offers a potentially viable alternative for pressuring Beijing’s direct interests. One option might be for regional countries — such as Australia, Japan, Southeast Asian nations, and India — to link their receptiveness to Chinese geoeconomic initiatives to Beijing’s conduct across maritime Asia. Working with the United States, these nations could complicate China’s One Road, One Belt and Maritime Silk Road plans by limiting or exploring alternatives to Chinese-led investment and infrastructure projects.[174] This would place a key pillar of China’s future growth strategy and regional influence at risk. Because it would not terminate existing trade and investment relations, it might also be more palatable for business constituencies. Targeted sanctions represent another option — specifically against the corporations responsible for island building — though they raise a number of difficult coordination problems.[175]

Both strategies would represent a significant escalation of maritime tensions to wider competition, making Chinese economic retaliation a probable and costly drawback. As China is a key trading partner for most of the nations concerned, economic pushback would entail real costs for both sides even in the absence of Chinese retaliation. These options should thus be reserved for worsening Chinese behaviour. Adopting a deterrence framework in which economic threats are privately communicated to Beijing and linked to specific red lines in the East and South China Seas may be the only real way to maximise this leverage in advance.

 

Conclusion

The security landscape in maritime Asia, the Indo-Pacific, has changed significantly over the past five years. Owing to China’s more restrained tactical conduct and growing acceptance of CBMs, maritime encounters in the East and South China Seas are now more likely to be managed without dangerous risk-taking or escalation. Although there is still much to be done to bolster Asia’s risk reduction architecture — such as incorporating coastguards into rules-based CBMs and formalising dedicated China–Japan and China–ASEAN mechanisms — it is fair to conclude that CBMs are working.

However, these positive developments alongside China’s worthy contributions are overshadowed by a more troubling shift. In turning away from tactical aggression, Beijing has refocused on passive assertive actions to consolidate a new status quo in maritime Asia. Paradoxically, China is leveraging greater operational stability to push ahead with island building, militarisation, expansive patrols, and the creation of new zones of military authority. This poses a long-term challenge to Asia’s other maritime players who face a degree of cost and risk when crafting their responses. A combination of prudent tactical resolve and carefully tailored strategies to shape Beijing’s conduct through indirect costs and incentives may be the best way to navigate Asia’s shifting waters.

 

Appendix: Recent progress on confidence-building measures in maritime Asia

 

The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea

At the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, China, in April 2014, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) was set up to regulate the interactions of 21 Asia-Pacific navies, including the United States, China, Japan, India, ASEAN littoral states, and Australia.[176] As the most inclusive rules-based maritime CBM in Asia, CUES lays out basic communication, manoeuvring, and safety protocols to minimise the risk of accidents or misunderstandings between naval ships and aircraft in international waters.[177] Following years of Chinese opposition, the establishment of this code was the first clear dividend of Beijing’s new thinking on CBMs.

In truth, CUES is a modest agreement: its protocols are not legally binding, they do not apply within states’ territorial waters, and they do not cover coastguard vessels, which account for the majority of unsafe encounters in Asian waters.[178] Nor does it prohibit specific acts of military intimidation. Nevertheless, by codifying multilateral naval guidelines CUES marks a milestone towards managing maritime tensions through mutually agreed rules. The fact that it was concluded in China has also reportedly given Beijing a “sense of ownership,” making it possible to use CUES as the foundation for other maritime agreements with the United States and Japan.[179]

Chinese naval forces are adhering to CUES regulations. Although safe maritime encounters generate little public attention, the Pentagon’s 2015 Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy observes that the Chinese navy has implemented CUES standards during its interactions with US vessels.[180] During one encounter captured on video in May 2015, a Chinese warship in the South China Sea was shown tailing the USS Fort Worth at a responsible distance, with both vessels evidently abiding by CUES.[181] According to Japanese, Chinese, and US officials, there is strong support for CUES within the PLAN which has been enthusiastically training its officers in the new protocols.[182] Chinese warships have also practised CUES standards alongside foreign vessels from the United States, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.[183] According to US officials and servicemen, China’s embrace of the CUES agreement has led to a higher degree of “professionalism” among PLAN ships and officers.[184]

US–China CBMs

There has been considerable progress in CBMs between the United States and China. Most importantly, two landmark MoUs on military confidence building were signed in November 2014, a key outcome from the crisis management talks that began in Sunnylands in 2013. One is the Notification of Major Military Activities, in which both powers undertake to inform the other of upcoming defence reports or military exercises.[185] The other is a two-part accord on Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters. It builds on CUES and other international conventions to collate guidelines for managing bilateral military interactions, including navigational, communication, and deconfliction measures.[186] During President Xi’s visit to Washington in September 2015, an annex on air-to-air encounters was added, providing guidelines for military pilots on communication, coordination, and aerial manoeuvring.[187]

There are distinct weaknesses in both CBMs. Above all, the agreements are voluntary and thus do not contain mechanisms to ensure compliance.[188] This distinguishes them from the 1972 US–Soviet Incidents at Sea Agreement — a key forerunner from the Cold War era — which banned, at least theoretically, certain dangerous actions such as simulating attacks.[189] To be sure, the maritime and air-to-air annexes do set out ‘principles’ for operational behaviour. Officers are asked to: actively communicate their identity, intentions, and planned manoeuvres; refrain from uncivil language or unfriendly gestures; maintain a safe separation at all times; and consider potential ramifications before engaging in aggressive conduct. Although these are worthy risk reduction guidelines, it is ultimately left to the “prudent commander” to determine how they will be implemented — granting considerable leeway to individual pilots and sailors.[190] A further weakness in the code of conduct is that its applicability within EEZs is ambiguous.[191] According to one Chinese strategist, during negotiations “the Chinese side emphasised that the MoU was not for military activities within EEZs,” meaning that it “does not address the most contentious issue … in the US–China [maritime] relationship.”[192]

Notwithstanding these limitations, both CBMs provide a useful framework for the United States and China to adopt reciprocal measures that bolster transparency and prevent unintended clashes. The recent absence of air and sea incidents suggests Beijing and Washington are abiding by the MoUs.[193] Indeed, knowledge that both have agreed to common operational standards should help build working-level confidence and predictability at sea. The fact these CBMs were signed amid escalating tensions also reveals a degree of mutual goodwill — at least in terms of a pragmatic commitment to manage military interactions, reduce misperceptions, and avoid accidents that could lead to a conflict neither side wants.

More broadly, Beijing appears to have ceased its destabilising practice of suspending military-to-military dialogues with Washington to signal its opposition to policies such as arms sales to Taiwan. Throughout the 2000s, US officials pointed out that China’s politicisation of the bilateral military relationship undermined trust and made it difficult to guard against military miscalculation.[194] Since 2011, Chinese officials have come around to this view and military exchanges have only rarely been cancelled. There are now over ten high-level US–China military interactions each year, as well as many working-level meetings, officer swaps, and military diplomacy initiatives such as port calls and base visits.[195] According to many Chinese analysts, it is precisely because US–China competition is rising that “China realises it needs to hold discussions on crisis management and strategic stability in a similar way to the United States and Soviet Union.”[196] Despite rising strategic competition, Beijing’s increasingly pragmatic approach to military relations with Washington offers scope to build institutional connections that may help to prevent or defuse accidental clashes.

China–Japan CBMs

China has also restarted the long-stalled process of negotiating CBMs with Japan. Following two years of bitter relations, Beijing and Tokyo reached a Four Point Consensus in November 2014 in which they resolved to gradually rebuild political, diplomatic, and security ties. This political thaw at the leadership level provided a green light for the PLA and Ministry of National Defense (MND) to begin seriously engaging Japan on maritime security.[197] While many PLAN officers already privately agreed with their Japanese counterparts on the need for a crisis management mechanism, such negotiations were not feasible until the “political blockage” had been resolved by President Xi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.[198] This dilemma was probably not lost on Xi, who had to balance the need to prevent an accidental maritime crisis with the demands of hardliners who opposed improving relations with Tokyo. Nevertheless, managing volatile maritime relations in the East China Sea was one of the main imperatives driving both leaders to reset the China–Japan relationship.

Beijing and Tokyo have stepped up efforts to advance two CBMs that have been frozen since 2012. The first is the China–Japan High-Level Consultation on Maritime Affairs, an inter-agency initiative that covers all aspects of maritime policy from security to fisheries. It aims to foster mutual understanding and cooperation on East China Sea issues — including sovereignty disputes — by providing a forum for senior officials to express concerns and propose solutions. During its forth meeting in December 2015 in Xiamen, China, participants agreed to strengthen cooperation on maritime policy, law of the sea, defence, law and order, and maritime economics.[199] Significantly, both sides agreed to enhance mutual trust and understanding between coastguards through information and personnel exchanges; and to work towards the early establishment of a Japan–China Maritime Search and Rescue agreement. While it is too soon to tell whether this forum can resolve difficult issues such as boundary delimitation, joint exploration, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, officials and analysts on both sides are optimistic that it might reduce day-to-day animosity.[200]

The second and, arguably, more pressing CBM is the Japan–China Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism (JCMACM). Originally proposed in 2008, it is now under renewed negotiation between naval, air force, and defence officials who completed their fifth round of talks in June 2015.[201] At a high-level summit in Seoul in November 2015, Abe and Premier Li Keqiang resolved to strengthen mutual efforts towards its early implementation.[202] In light of ongoing tensions in the East China Sea, the mechanism is intended to lower the risk of accidents, misperceptions, and crisis escalation by establishing dialogue channels and rules for communication. Specifically, Beijing and Tokyo have agreed to three elements: a bilateral hotline for crisis communication; annual working-level meetings; and an agreement to adopt CUES-style protocols for platform-to-platform communications during unplanned encounters. Although many details are unresolved — such as the level and location of the hotline — negotiations have clarified the shape of the agreement, and expectations are that it will soon be completed.[203]

It is important to note the likely limitations of this mechanism. As a military-to-military agreement, the JCMACM only applies to military ships and aircraft, and excludes activities taking place in territorial seas and airspace. Given the potential for a collision or exchange of fire between coastguards around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, this is a major weakness. In fact, a key sticking point in negotiations so far has allegedly been China’s insistence that territorial waters and airspace be included, something Japan regards as a ploy to legitimise China’s presence in what it claims as sovereign waters.[204] Similarly, while experts on both sides have called for coastguards to be brought into the CBM, Japanese officials are divided on this point, with some fearing the inclusion of law enforcement agencies would establish a “slippery slope” towards joint management of the islands.[205]

Another problem with the JCMACM is that it will only apply to ‘unintended’ encounters. This has prompted concerns over whether the mechanism would apply during ‘intentional’ encounters, such as aerial intercepts, which are increasingly common and can trigger perilous situations.[206] Furthermore, it is unclear whether a proposed bilateral hotline would be effectively used in a China–Japan crisis. This would depend on the authority of its operators, which ministries it involves, and the tactical circumstances at hand.[207] Indeed, China’s record of using hotlines suggests it may only be employed to convey criticism and demands.[208]

The JCMACM is nonetheless likely to increase maritime stability. By establishing common communication protocols, the mechanism should enable a greater exchange of information about both sides’ intentions and operational manoeuvres. As a major cause of China–Japan tension has been the unannounced passage of PLAN flotillas and PLAAF squadrons within Japan’s EEZs or through nearby strategic waterways such as the Miyako Strait, platform-to-platform communication could reduce suspicion and miscalculation by making it easier for Japanese officials to verify the purpose of Chinese vessels. Agreed to behavioural protocols for intercepts, passes, and other manoeuvres would also establish a degree of predictability. Finally, as the JCMACM will apply within the overlapping portion of Japan and China’s ADIZs, it should help to ensure that encounters involving surveillance planes and fighter jets remain professional.

China–ASEAN CBMs

In contrast to negotiations with the United States and Japan, Beijing has moved very slowly on building dedicated CBMs with its Southeast Asian neighbours. Progress towards the long overdue China-ASEAN code of conduct in the South China Sea has continued to limp along. The code of conduct — an agreed to aspiration since 2002 — is intended to set up binding rules, behavioural guidelines, and dispute resolution mechanisms to maintain peace and stability throughout the South China Sea, particularly between China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and the other claimants of the region’s disputed rocks, reefs, and islands.[209] Yet, after China’s 2013 decision to seek “gradual progress” via “consultations” and “consensus,” ASEAN nations have grown increasingly wary of Beijing’s “step-by-step” approach and delaying tactics.[210]

Today, Southeast Asian officials and analysts broadly concur that Beijing is stalling the negotiation of a code of conduct to buy time to alter the strategic status quo in the South China Sea.[211] Although China and ASEAN agreed last July to enter “a new period of negotiating ‘important and complex issues’” and to “work towards the early establishment” of the code, concrete progress has not followed.[212] Indeed, the main “achievements” of last year’s talks were a decision to draw up a Second List of Commonalities and establish an Eminent Persons and Expert Group.[213] These incremental and highly procedural outcomes reinforce perceptions that China is not serious about rules that would constrain its behaviour vis-à-vis ASEAN nations.

Beijing has been somewhat more willing to negotiate less comprehensive CBMs with its Southeast Asian counterparts. At the inaugural China–ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Informal Meeting in October 2015, Beijing announced it would hold joint training on CUES protocols, as well as search and rescue and disaster relief drills, with ASEAN countries in 2016;[214] and that these exercises would occur in the South China Sea.[215] During meetings with Singapore in March 2016, Beijing agreed to look into ways to include coastguards in CUES training.[216] These are indeed welcome developments that have the potential to solidify better working-level practices for basic maritime conduct. Nevertheless, the narrow scope of the prospective exercises, and the fact coastguards are not yet lined up to be included, means the initiatives, if delivered, will be limited in their existing form.[217]

China has also recently agreed to establish two maritime hotlines to lower tensions with ASEAN: one concerning search and rescue at sea; the other between foreign ministries for managing naval and maritime emergencies.[218] If completed, these will be the first multilateral hotlines enabling real-time coordination between China and ASEAN. However, Southeast Asian officials remain doubtful that Beijing will move quickly on the hotlines, and many regard the announcement as an attempt to deflect attention from the glacial code of conduct process.[219] Vietnamese analysts also point out that Beijing’s poor record of using hotlines in a crisis raises serious questions about their value. During the HS-981 stand-off in 2014 Hanoi used its Party-to-Party and maritime hotlines with China at least 30 times, but received only silence or abuse from Chinese phone operators.[220] Such experiences highlight the fact that prospective China–ASEAN hotlines, despite being potentially useful, will not be a panacea for managing South China Sea tensions.

 


Notes

 

[1] For a range of perspectives on China’s “maritime assertiveness” during this period, see Carlyle Thayer, “China’s New Wave of Aggressive Assertiveness in the South China Sea,” paper presented at the Conference on Maritime Security in the South China Sea, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, June 20–21, 2011; Michael D Swaine and M Taylor Fravel, “China’s Assertive Behaviour, Part Two: The Maritime Periphery,” China Leadership Monitor, No 35 (Summer 2011); M Taylor Fravel, “China’s Strategy in the South China Sea,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 33, No 3 (December 2011), 292–319; International Crisis Group, Stirring Up the South China Sea (1) and (2), Asia Report Nos 223 and 229 (Beijing/Brussels: April and July 2012); International Crisis Group, Dangerous Waters: China–Japan Relations on the Rocks, Asia Report No 245 (Beijing/Brussels: April 2013); Alastair Iain Johnston, “How New and Assertive is China’s New Assertiveness?,” International Security 37, No 4 (Spring 2013), 7–48; and Yasuhiro Matsuda, “How to Understand China’s Assertiveness since 2009: Hypotheses and Policy Implications,” Strategic Japan, Center for Strategic and International Studies (April 2014), http://csis.org/files/publication/140422_Matsuda_ChinasAssertiveness.pdf.

[2] David Alexander and Pete Sweeney, “US, Chinese Warships Narrowly Avoid Collision in South China Sea,” Reuters, 14 December 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/14/us-usa-china-ships-idUSBRE9BC0T520131214; and Jon Harper, “Hagel Calls Chinese Actions Toward USS Cowpens ‘Irresponsible’,” Stars and Stripes, 19 December 2013, http://www.stripes.com/news/us/hagel-calls-chinese-actions-toward-uss-cowpens-irresponsible-1.258458.

[3] “Philippine Ship Dodges China Blockade to Reach South China Sea Outpost,” ABC News, 31 March 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-30/an-south-china-sea/5355154. On the establishment of the blockade earlier in March, see Donald K Emmerson, “China Challenges Philippines in the South China Sea,” The Strategist (blog), Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 19 March 2014, http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/china-challenges-philippines-in-the-south-china-sea/.

[4] “Video Shows Vietnam Fishing Boat Sink after Collision with Chinese Vessel,” Reuters, 5 June 2014, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-southchinasea-vietnam-idUKKBN0EG0X420140605.

[5] Martin Fackler, “Chinese Flybys Alarm Japan as Tensions Escalate,” New York Times, 25 May 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/world/asia/japan-east-china-sea.html?_r=0; and Isabel Reynolds and Takashi Hirokawa, “Japan Lodges ‘Strong’ Protest on China Fighter Jet Incident,” Bloomberg, 12 June 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-06-11/japan-urges-china-to-withdraw-un-application-on-war-documents.

[6] John Kirby, “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” US Department of Defense, 22 August 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=5493; and Tony Capaccio and Angela Greiling Keane, “Chinese Jet Barrel-Rolls over US Plane Bringing Protest,” Bloomberg, 23 August 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-22/chinese-jet-barrel-rolls-over-u-s-plane-bringing-protest.

[7] For recent media concern over China’s aggressive conduct, see, for example, Arthur Herman and Lewis Libby, “Beijing’s Next Gambit, the East China Sea,” Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/beijings-next-gambit-the-east-china-sea-1453745380; Joseph A Bosco, “China’s Military Reforms and Risk Escalation,” The Diplomat, 10 December 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/12/the-danger-chinas-military-reforms/; Gordon G Chang, “China’s Dangerous War Talk about the South China Sea,” The Daily Beast, 2 November 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/02/china-s-dangerous-war-talk-about-the-south-china-sea.html; and Jeff Smith, “The US–China South China Sea Showdown,” The Diplomat, 21 October 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/the-us-china-south-china-sea-showdown/.

[8] Interviews with Chinese think tank analysts, former diplomats, retired military officers, a senior maritime strategist, and senior scholars, Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, March and December 2015.

[9] Interviews with Chinese think tank analysts, retired military officers, and senior strategists, Sydney, Beijing, and Shanghai, February and March 2015; and with senior scholars, Shanghai, March 2016.

[10] Interviews with US analysts and former officials, Washington DC, June 2015, and Sydney, September 2015. See also The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: Achieving US National Security Objectives in a Changing Environment (Washington DC: US Department of Defense, August 2015), 14–15, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/NDAA%20A-P_Maritime_SecuritY_Strategy-08142015-1300-FINALFORMAT.PDF.

[11] Jane Perlez, “China Accuses Japan of Stealing after Purchase of Group of Disputed Islands,” New York Times, 11 September 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/world/asia/china-accuses-japan-of-stealing-disputed-islands.html?_r=0.

[12] Interviews with foreign officials, Beijing, March 2015. See also International Crisis Group, Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions, Asia Report No 258 (Beijing/Tokyo/Brussels: July 2014), 26; and 羽生次郎 [Jiro Hanyu] and 朱锋 [Zhu Fang], 日中海上航行安全对话报告 [Report on Japan–China Maritime Navigation Safety Dialogue], (Tokyo, Nanjing, Beijing: 日本笹川和平财团 [The Sasakawa Peace Foundation], 南京大学中国南海研究协同创新中心 [China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea at Nanjing University], and 北京大学国际关系学院 [School of International Studies at Peking University], October 2014), 64.

[13] Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki, “Chinese Target-Locked MSDF Ship, Chopper,” The Japan Times, 6 February 2013, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/02/06/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-says-chinese-warships-locked-weapons-radar-on-msdf/#.VRzEpJOUdR4.

[14] International Crisis Group, Old Scores and New Grudges, 26–27.

[15] Interviews with officials and analysts, Tokyo and Beijing, February and March 2015; and foreign analysts, officials, and scholars, Singapore and Washington DC, May/June 2015.

[16] Interviews with senior advisers, officials, strategists, and scholars, Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai, February and March 2015. See also Oliver Bräuner, Joanne Chan and Fleur Huijskens, “Confrontation and Cooperation in the East China Sea: Chinese Perspectives,” SIPRI Policy Brief, February 2015, 4, http://books.sipri.org/files/misc/SIPRIPB1502a.pdf; and Zhang Tuosheng, “Building Trust Between China and Japan: Lessons Learned from Bilateral Interactions in the East China Sea,” SIPRI Policy Brief, February 2015, 5 http://books.sipri.org/files/misc/SIPRIPB1502c.pdf.

[17] Interviews with Japanese analysts, Tokyo, February 2015; and Chinese think tank analysts, strategists, a senior advisor, and senior scholars, Beijing and Shanghai, March 2015.

[18] Ankit Panda, “Obama: Senkakus Covered under US–Japan Security Treaty,” The Diplomat, 24 April 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/obama-senkakus-covered-under-us-japan-security-treaty/.

[19] M Taylor Fravel and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Chinese Signaling in the East China Sea?,” Washington Post, 12 April 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/12/chinese-signaling-in-the-east-china-sea/.

[20] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Trends in Chinese Government and Other Vessels in the Waters Surrounding the Senkaku Islands, and Japan’s Response,” updated monthly with information from the JCG, last accessed on 7 March 2016, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/page23e_000021.html.

[21] Interviews with senior Chinese scholars, think tank analysts, and a senior advisor, Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, March 2015.

[22] Associated Press, “Armed Chinese Ship Infiltrates Waters off Disputed Senkaku Islands, Japan Coast Guard Says,” The Japan Times, 27 December 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/12/27/national/armed-chinese-ship-infiltrates-off-disputed-senkaku-islands-japan-coast-guard-says/#.Vq8aLlN957o.

[23] Japanese Ministry of Defense, “Statistics on Scrambles through Fiscal Year 2014,” Joint Staff Press Release, 22 May 2015, http://www.mod.go.jp/js/Press/press2015/press_pdf/p20150522_01.pdf.

[24] Japanese Ministry of Defense, “平成27年度3四半期までの緊急発進実施状況について[Statistics on Air Scrambles up to Third Quarter of 2015],” Joint Staff Press Release, 22 January 2016, http://www.mod.go.jp/js/Press/press2016/press_pdf/p20160122_01.pdf.

[25] Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese think tank analysts, Beijing, March 2015; and Isabel Reynolds, “Chasing Chinese Planes 400 Times a Year Is Wearing Out Japan’s Top Guns,” Bloomberg, 6 March 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/chasing-chinese-planes-400-times-a-year-stretches-japan-top-guns.

[26] During the December 2012 incident, a Y-12 aircraft from the State Oceanic Administration flew within 12 nautical miles of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese think tank analysts and retired military officials , Beijing, March 2015. See also Eric Heginbotham, “The Foreign Policy Essay: China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea,” Lawfare (blog), 24 August 2014, http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/08/the-foreign-policy-essay-chinas-adiz-in-the-east-china-sea/; and Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Scrambles Jets in Islands Dispute With China,” New York Times, 13 December 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/world/asia/japan-scrambles-jets-in-island-dispute-with-china.html?_r=0.

[27] Interviews with Japanese analysts, Tokyo, February 2015, Chinese scholars and a former official, Shanghai, March 2015, and a senior strategist, Beijing, March 2015.

[28] Interview with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese strategists, Beijing, March 2015.

[29] Audrey McAvoy, “US General: Most East China Sea Interactions Safe,” The Jakarta Post, 10 October 2014, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/10/10/us-general-most-east-china-sea-interactions-safe.html.

[30] Discussions with Vietnamese think tank analysts, officials, and former officials, Hanoi and Sydney, March and September 2015, and Southeast Asian officials and analysts, Singapore, May 2015, and Shanghai, December 2015 and March 2016.

[31] David Cenciotti, “Audio and Video of the US P-8A Aircraft Defying China’s Navy Warnings to Leave Airspace Over Disputed Islands,” The Aviationist (blog), 22 May 2015, http://theaviationist.com/2015/05/22/audio-and-video-of-the-u-s-p-8a-aircraft-defying-chinas-navy-warnings-to-leave-airspace-over-disputed-islands/; and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Rebalance in the South China Sea,” Center for a New American Security, testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on “China and the US Rebalance to Asia”, 31 March 2016, http://www.cnas.org/sites/default/files/publications-pdf/CNAS_Testimony_Rapp-Hooper-USCC-03312016.pdf.

[32] Jim Sciutto, “Exclusive: China Warns US Surveillance Plane,” CNN, 15 September 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/20/politics/south-china-sea-navy-flight/.

[33] Prashanth Parameswaran, “China Enforcing Quasi-ADIZ in South China Sea: Philippine Justice,” The Diplomat, 13 October 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/china-enforcing-quasi-adiz-in-south-china-sea-philippine-justice/; and “Philippines Alarmed over China Aircraft Challenges in Disputed Sea”, Daily Mail, 7 May 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3071955/Philippines-alarmed-China-aircraft-challenges-disputed-sea.html.

[34] “Philippine Plane Warned by ‘Chinese Navy’ in South China Sea,” Asia Times, 18 January 2016, http://atimes.com/2016/01/philippines-plans-tracking-system-for-civilian-flights-over-south-china-sea/.

[35] Andrew Greene, “RAAF Patrols Over Disputed South China Sea Facing More Regular Resistance from Chinese Military,” ABC News, 3 February 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-03/raaf-patrol-flights-facing-more-regular-resistance-from-chinese/7138100; and discussions with Vietnamese think tank analysts, officials, and former officials, Hanoi and Sydney, March and September 2015.

[36] Interviews and correspondence with US officials, May and December 2015. See also Yeganeh Torbati, “‘Hope to see you again’: China Warship to US Destroyer after South China Sea Patrol,” Reuters, 6 November 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-southchinasea-usa-warship-idUKKCN0SV06I20151106.

[37] Interview with former Vietnamese official, Sydney, September 2015.

[38] Interview with senior Chinese scholars, Shanghai and Nanjing, March 2015.

[39] Ben Blanchard, Adam Rose and Greg Torode, “China Moves Controversial Oil Rig Back towards Vietnam Coast,” Reuters, 26 June 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/26/us-southchinasea-china-vietnam-idUSKBN0P60X320150626.

[40] Interview with Vietnamese think tank analysts and former officials, Sydney, September 2015.

[41] Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Remarks by MOFA Spokesperson Le Hai Binh on activities of China’s HYSY 981 Oil Rig Outside Mouth of Gulf of Tonkin,” 19 January 2016, http://www.mofa.gov.vn/en/tt_baochi/pbnfn/ns160120090515.

[42] Franz-Stefan Gady, “Philippines Asks for US Military Assistance in South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 31 August 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/philippines-asks-for-us-military-assistance-in-south-china-sea/; and Alexis Romero, “Military: China Puts Philippines in a ‘Very Difficult Situation’,” The Philippine Star, 20 April 2015, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/04/20/1445955/military-china-puts-philippines-very-difficult-situation.

[43] These include incidents reported in the following articles: Vu Trong Khanh, “Vietnam–China Tensions Renewed on Maritime Incident,” Wall Street Journal, 10 September 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/vietnam-china-tensions-renewed-on-accusation-over-maritime-incident-1410327443; Manuel Mogato, “Philippines Says Chinese Ship Rammed Fishing Boats in Scarborough Shoal,” Reuters, 4 February 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/04/us-philippines-china-idUSKBN0L81IM20150204; Manuel Mogato, “Chinese Warship Warns Philippine Patrol Plane in Disputed Sea,” Reuters, 23 April 2015, http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/04/23/philippines-southchinasea-idINKBN0NE1OD20150423; “Philippines Says China Using Aggressive Tactics Against it in South China Sea,” The Japan Times, 25 April 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/25/asia-pacific/philippines-says-china-using-aggressive-tactics-against-it-in-south-china-sea/ - .Vx8h12eJgok; “Vietnamese Fisherman Accuse China of Attacking them in South China Sea,” The Guardian, 17 June 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/17/vietnamese-fisherman-accuse-china-of-attacking-them-in-south-china-sea; Ankit Panda, “China Steps Up Harassment of Vietnamese Fishermen,” The Diplomat, 13 July 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/china-steps-up-harassment-of-vietnamese-fishermen/; Sam LaGrone, “Report: Chinese Navy Warship Rammed Two Vietnamese Fishing Vessels,” USNI News, 7 August 2015, http://news.usni.org/2015/08/07/report-chinese-navy-warship-likely-rammed-two-vietnamese-fishing-vessels; Hien Cu, “Another Vietnamese Fishing Boat Attacked by Chinese off Paracels,” Thanh Nien News, 13 October 2015, http://www.thanhniennews.com/politics/another-vietnamese-fishing-boat-attacked-by-chinese-off-paracels-52400.html; Mac Lam and Gia Minh, “Chinese Boats Cause Thousands of Dollars in Damage to Vietnamese Fishermen’s Nets,” Radio Free Asia, 18 November 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/chinese-boats-cause-thousands-of-dollars-in-damage-to-vietnamese-fishermens-nets-11182015161046.html; “Chinese Vessel Sinks Vietnamese Fishing Boat in Vietnam’s Waters,” Tuoi Tre News, 3 January 2016, http://tuoitrenews.vn/society/32564/chinese-vessel-sinks-vietnamese-fishing-boat-in-vietnams-waters; and Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Ben Blanchard, “South China Sea: Indonesia, Chinese Ships in ‘Stand-Off’ Over Natuna Fishing Row,” Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/world/south-china-sea-indonesia-chinese-ships-in-stand-off-over-natuna-fishing-row-20160321-gnn0so.html.

[44] Ronald O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 22 December 2015), 12–13, http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42784.pdf.

[45] Greg Torode and Megha Rajagopalan, “Chinese Interceptions of US Military Planes Could Intensify Due to Submarine Base,” Reuters, 28 August 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/28/us-china-usa-military-idUSKBN0GS2MZ20140828.

[46] Nick Simeone, “Pacom Commander Discusses US–China Military Encounters,” DoD News, US Department of Defense, 25 September 2014, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=123264; and Shannon Tiezzi, “US General: Our Aerial Encounters with China Largely Safe,” The Diplomat, 11 October 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/us-general-our-aerial-encounters-with-china-largely-safe/.

[47] There was also an unofficial report of a close encounter between a Chinese attack submarine and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan off the coast of Japan in October 2015. Leaked comments by defence officials to The Washington Free Beacon claim the Chinese submarine stalked the US carrier at a very close distance, though no details were revealed about how close it came. US Navy officials declined to comment of the alleged incident. See Bill Gertz, “Chinese Submarine Stalked US Aircraft Carrier,” The Washington Free Beacon, 3 November 2015, http://freebeacon.com/national-security/chinese-submarine-stalked-us-aircraft-carrier/.

[48] Colin Clark, “Rivet Joint Crew Reports ‘Unsafe’ Move By Chinese Jet; McCain Weighs In,” Breaking Defense, 22 September 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2015/09/rivet-joint-crew-reports-unsafe-move-by-chinese-jet-mccain-weighs-in/; and “Intercept Procedures,” US Federal Aviation Administration, October 2010, https://www.faasafety.gov/files/notices/2010/Oct/Intercept_Procedures.pdf.

[49] Harry Harris and David Shear, “US Military Strategy in Asia,” C-SPAN, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 17 September 2015, http://www.c-span.org/video/?328185-1/hearing-us-maritime-security-strategy-asiapacific.

[50] Euan Graham, “US Launches FoNOPS in the South China Sea: Better Late Than Never?,” The Interpreter, 27 October 2015, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/10/27/US-Launches-FoNOPS-in-the-South-China-Sea-Better-Late-than-Never.aspx; Demetri Sevastopulo and Charles Clover, “China Accuses US Navy of Illegal Incursion in South China Sea,” The Financial Times, 27 October 2015, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8a05582e-7c18-11e5-98fb-5a6d4728f74e.html#axzz3pjFKPBVN; and Sam LaGrone, “US Destroyer Challenges More Chinese South China Sea Claims in New Freedom of Navigation Operation,” USNI News, 30 January 2016, http://news.usni.org/2016/01/30/u-s-destroyer-challenges-more-chinese-south-china-sea-claims-in-new-freedom-of-navigation-operation.

[51] “Beijing Warns Washington against South China Sea Move,” The Brunei Times, 16 October 2015, http://m.bt.com.bn/frontpage-news-national/2015/10/16/beijing-warns-washington-against-south-china-sea-move.

[52] Ben Blanchard and Andrea Shalal, “Angry China Shadows US Warship Near Man-Made Islands,” Reuters, 28 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-usa-idUSKCN0SK2AC20151028.

[53] Phil Stewart and Nathaniel Taplin, “US Warship Sails Near Island Claimed by China in South China Sea,” Reuters, 30 January 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-southchinasea-china-idUSKCN0V8093; and Xinhua, “China Urges US Not to Undermine Mutual Trust,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 30 January 2016, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/TopNews/2016-01/30/content_4638198.htm.

[54] For a more thorough discussion on maritime CBMs, see Rory Medcalf, Raoul Heinrichs and Justin Jones, Crisis and Confidence: Major Powers and Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific Asia (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, June 2011), 26–31, http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/crisis-and-confidence-major-powers-and-maritime-security-indo-pacific-asia.

[55] Medcalf, Heinrichs and Jones, Crisis and Confidence, 39–40; and Rory Medcalf, “A 2015 Resolution for Risk Reduction,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 23 December 2014, http://amti.csis.org/a-2015-resolution-for-risk-reduction/. This view is actually articulated in China’s 2010 Defence White Paper: see “IX. Military Confidence-Building,” in Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense in 2010, 2 April 2011, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Database/WhitePapers/2011-04/02/content_4442739.htm.

[56] The MMCA, signed in 1998, was an agreement between the defence departments of the United States and China to facilitate consultations “for the purpose of promoting common understandings regarding activities undertaken by their respective maritime and air forces when operating in accordance with international law …”: see MMCA, 19 January 1998, https://fas.org/nuke/control/sea/text/us-china.pdf .

[57] Rory Medcalf, “China’s Challenge to the Global Order: Taking the ‘Careful’ Approach?,” The National Interest, 30 November 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-challenge-the-global-order-taking-the-careful-11758; Andrew Erickson, “Watch This Space: China’s New Air Defense Zone,” China Realtime (blog), Wall Street Journal, 25 November 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2013/11/25/watch-this-space-chinas-new-air-defense-zone/; Patrick M Cronin, Ely Ratner, Elbridge Colby, Zachary M Hosford and Alexander Sullivan, Tailored Coercion: Competition and Risk in Maritime Asia (Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, March 2014), 5–7, http://www.cnas.org/sites/default/files/publications-pdf/CNAS_TailoredCoercion_report.pdf; and Bonnie S Glaser, “People’s Republic of China Maritime Disputes,” testimony at the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Asia Pacific, 14 January 2014, http://csis.org/files/attachments/ts140114_glaser.pdf.

[58] Bonnie Glaser and Jacqueline Vitello, “US–China Relations: Summit Provides Renewed Momentum for Better Ties,” Comparative Connections (January 2015), 6–7, http://csis.org/files/publication/1403qus_china.pdf.

[59] Interview with senior Chinese strategist, Beijing, March 2015. See, for example, Sun Jianguo, “Jointly Safeguard Peace and Build a Secure Asia-Pacific Region,” speech at the 14th Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, 31 May 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/TopNews/2015-05/31/content_4587686.htm.

[60] See section “VI. Military and Security Cooperation,” in Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, China's Military Strategy 2015, 26 May 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Database/WhitePapers/2015-05/26/content_4586715.htm.

[61] Interviews with a former Chinese diplomat and senior advisor, Shanghai and Beijing, March 2015.

[62] This, however, may be changing. Some Chinese analysts are growing concerned that certain Southeast Asian nations might be backed by the United States in the event of a skirmish with China, making it important to build CBMs with these smaller countries as well. Interviews with senior scholars, Shanghai, March 2016.

[63] Interviews with former military officials, a senior maritime strategist, and senior scholars, Beijing and Shanghai, March 2015.

[64] “Document: Conduct for Unplanned Encounters at Sea,” USNI News, 17 June 2014, http://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea.

[65] Specifically, CUES recommends what steps a commanding officer should take when faced with heavy traffic, foreign naval convoys, or during exercises with submarines; and specifies the language, call signs, radio frequencies, and signals that should be used to establish contact between vessels.

[66] Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 15, 30; and discussions with US officials, May and December 2015. See also David B Shear, testimony before the Senate Armer Services Committee Hearing on the Defense Department’s Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 17 September 2015, 5, http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Shear_09-17-15.pdf. During one encounter captured on video in May 2015, a Chinese warship in the South China Sea was shown tailing the USS Forth Worth at a responsible distance, with both vessels evidently abiding by CUES. See AiirSource Military, “Chinese Frigate Stalking US Navy Warship in South China Sea,” YouTube, 14 May 2015, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BFT1rsmRM_8.

[67] Chen Weihua, “US Navy Chief: Surveillance will Continue,” China Daily, 9 September 2014, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2014-09/09/content_18565270.htm; China Military Online, “Chinese Training Ship Taskforce Wraps Up Visit to Indonesia,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 9 June 2014, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/DefenseNews/2014-06/09/content_4514963.htm; Lauryn Dempsey, “USS Fort Worth Conducts CUES with Chinese Navy,” US Pacific Fleet, 25 February 2015, http://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/030520; Kevin V Cunningham, “Stethem Joins with PLA(N) to Conduct Exercise,” US Navy, 23 November 2015, http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ddg63/Pages/Stethem-Joins-with-PLAN-to-Conduct-Exercise.aspx#.Vqs31ceapo4; Jonathan Williams, “Task Group Re-Forms in South China Sea,” Navy Daily, Royal Australian Navy, 17 November 2015, http://news.navy.gov.au/en/Nov2015/Fleet/2490/Task-group-re-forms-in-South-China-Sea.htm#.Vqs7XVN97EY; and “Pacific Ocean-China-Australia Drill,” CCTV, 2 January 2016, http://newscontent.cctv.com/NewJsp/news.jsp?fileId=334535.

[68] Discussions with US officials May and December 2015. See also Yeganeh Torbati, “Despite Agreements, Risks Linger of US–China Naval Mishaps,” Reuters, 30 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-usa-communications-idUSKCN0SO0E220151030.

[69] “Memorandum of Understanding between the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” November 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/US-CHINA_AIR_ENCOUNTERS_ANNEX_SEP_2015.pdf; and “Supplement to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China,” September 2015, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/US-CHINA_AIR_ENCOUNTERS_ANNEX_SEP_2015.pdf.

[70] The inclusion of a confidentiality clause into the MoUs means that implementation and compliance cannot be publicly disclosed, making it difficult to know for certain whether guidelines are being followed. See Mira Rapp-Hooper and Bonnie Glaser, “In Confidence: Will We Know if US–China CBMs Are Working?,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/in-confidence-will-we-know-if-us-china-cbms-are-working/.

[71] See Zhu Feng, “De-escalating Territorial Conflict between China and Japan,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/de-escalating-territorial-conflict-between-china-and-japan/; and Tetsuo Kotani, “Positive Signs for Crisis Management in the East China Sea,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/positive-signs-for-crisis-management-in-the-east-china-sea/.

[72] Kyodo, “Japan, China Eye May talks on Maritime Crisis Management Mechanism,” The Japan Times, 14 March 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/14/national/japan-china-eye-may-talks-on-maritime-crisis-management-mechanism/#.VdMZpxOqqNL; and Bräuner, Chan and Huijskens, “Confrontation and Cooperation in the East China Sea,” 6.

[73] Discussions with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015 and February 2016, and Chinese think tank analysts and scholars, Beijing and Nanjing, March 2015. See also, 羽生 [Jiro] and 朱 [Zhu], 日中海上航行安全对话报告 [Report on Japan–China Maritime Navigation Safety Dialogue], 72–73; “Talks on Japan-China Maritime Liaison Mechanism Deadlock,” Chicago Tribune, 5 October 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-wp-japan-china-1da1e190-6b63-11e5-9bfe-e59f5e244f92-20151005-story.html; and “Japan, China Break Defense Deadlock, Seek Crisis Management Mechanism,” Asahi Shimbun, 5 November 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201511050064.

[74] “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” Chairman’s statement of the 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 6 August 2015, http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000094509.pdf; and Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made in Implementing DOC and Pushing Forward Negotiation of COC,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 3 August 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1286517.shtml.

[75] Interviews with former Vietnamese officials, Hanoi and Sydney, March and September 2015; discussions with analysts and officials, Washington DC, May 2015; discussions with regional officials, Singapore and Shanghai, May and December 2015, and March 2016. See also Ankit Panda, “For the ASEAN–China South China Sea Code of Conduct, Ninth Time Isn’t the Charm,” The Diplomat, 1 August 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/for-the-asean-china-south-china-sea-code-of-conduct-ninth-time-isnt-the-charm/.

[76] “China–ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting Kicks Off in Beijing,” China Military Online, 16 October 2015, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2015-10/16/content_6726730.htm.

[77] Hua Chunying, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on October 16, 2015,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 16 October 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1306709.shtml.

[78] Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made,” and Hong Lei, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference on June 5, 2015,” Consulate General of China in Sydney, 5 June 2015, http://sydney.chineseconsulate.org/eng/fyrth/t1270836.htm.

[79] China’s ‘passive assertiveness’ is a subset of its ‘salami-slicing’ strategy. Salami-slicing refers to a “progression of small steps, none of which by itself is a casus belli, [through which] Beijing seeks to gradually change the status quo in its favor.” It thus includes both tactically aggressive and strategically provocative actions. By contrast, passive assertiveness only refers to strategically provocative measures that are tactically non-confrontational by nature. In so doing, it separates out aggressive actions — such as dangerous fly-bys and risky manoeuvres — in order to gauge the shift in Chinese conduct away from these types of overtly risky activities. On salami-slicing, see Bonnie Glaser, “People’s Republic of China Maritime Disputes,” statement before the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Asia Pacific, 14 January 2014, 3, http://csis.org/files/attachments/ts140114_glaser.pdf.

[80] Interviews with senior advisers, retired military officials, senior scholars, and think tank analysts, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, March 2015, and senior scholars, Shanghai, December 2016.

[81] Interview with senior advisor, Beijing, March 2015.

[82] Interview with senior scholar, Shanghai, March 2015.

[83] Interviews with senior advisers, strategists, retired military officials, scholars, and think tank analysts, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, March and November 2015, and senior scholars, March 2016.

[84] See Linda Jakobson, “China Has Too Many Hands Steering its Maritime Policy,” South China Morning Post, 29 December 2014, available at http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/china-has-too-many-hands-steering-its-maritime-policy; and Bates Gil, “From Peaceful Rise to Assertiveness? Explaining Change in China’s Foreign and Security Policy Under Hu Jintao,” paper presented at conference “The Hu Jintao Decade in China’s Foreign and Security Policy (2002–12): Assessments and Implications,” SIPRI, Stockholm, 18–19 April 2013, http://books.sipri.org/files/misc/SIPRI-Hu%20Gill.pdf.

[85] Interviews with Chinese scholars, Beijing and Shanghai, March 2015.

[86] Interview with a senior strategist, Beijing, March 2015. See also M Taylor Fravel, “Xi Jinping’s Overlooked Revelation on China’s Maritime Disputes,” The Diplomat, 15 August 2013, http://thediplomat.com/2013/08/xi-jinpings-overlooked-revelation-on-chinas-maritime-disputes/; “Xi Eyes More Enabling Int’l Environment for China’s Peaceful Development,” Xinhua, 30 November 2014, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-11/30/c_133822694_4.htm; Ryan D Martinson, “Jinglue Haiyang: The Naval Implications of Xi Jinping’s New Strategic Concept,” China Brief 15, Issue 1 (January 2015), http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43375&cHash=5717d3667effcc4216b825313bd9b0a7#.VhOLMhOqqko; and Michael D Swaine, “Xi Jinping’s Address to the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs: Assessing and Advancing Major Power Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics,” China Leadership Monitor 46 (Winter 2015).

[87] While Brunei and Malaysia also claim features in the Spratly Islands that fall within China’s ‘nine-dash line’, China has not occupied or built on these countries’ features, the majority of which are currently controlled by Vietnam. See “Island Tracker,” AMTI (website), Center for Strategic and International Studies, http://amti.csis.org/island-tracker/.

[88] Victor Robert Lee, “South China Sea: China Is Building on the Paracels As Well,” The Diplomat, 14 April 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/south-china-sea-china-is-building-on-the-paracels-as-well/.

[89] The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 16.

[90] Victor Robert Lee, “Satellite Images: China Manufactures Land at New Sites in the Paracel Islands,” The Diplomat, 13 February 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/satellite-images-china-manufactures-land-at-new-sites-in-the-paracel-islands/; and David Brunnstrom and Andrea Shalal, “Exclusive: US Sees New Chinese Activity Around South China Sea Shoal,” Reuters, 19 March 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-china-scarborough-exclu-idUSKCN0WK01B.

[91] “Airstrips Near Completion,” AMTI (website), Center for Strategic and International Studies, http://amti.csis.org/airstrips-near-completion/.

[92] “Island Tracker,” AMTI (website).

[93] “Airstrips Near Completion,” AMTI (website); “New Imagery Release,” AMTI (website), Center for Strategic and International Studies, http://amti.csis.org/new-imagery-release/; and Lee, “South China Sea: China Is Building on the Paracels As Well.”

[94] Ashley Townshend, “The Strategic Significance of China’s Woody Island Power Play,” The Interpreter, 1 March 2016, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/03/01/The-strategic-significance-of-Chinas-Woody-Island-power-play.aspx.

[95] Michael Green, Bonnie Glaser and Zack Cooper, “Seeing the Forest Through the SAMs on Woody Island,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 18 February 2016, http://amti.csis.org/seeing-the-forest-through-the-sams-on-woody-island/. It should be noted that Beijing has repeatedly denied it is “militarising” its South China Sea outposts, which it claims will be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief purposes. However, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin acknowledged last November that the outposts will have a defensive component. In his words: “As the islands and reefs are far from China’s mainland, it is necessary to build and maintain military facilities … This is necessitated by China’s national defense purpose and to protect those islands and reefs.” See Ben Bland, “China and US Clash Over South China Sea,” The Financial Times, 22 November 2015, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/59156934-9108-11e5-bd82-c1fb87bef7af.html#axzz3ykEADkqh; and David Tweed, “China Says South China Sea Construction Is Protecting Distant Reefs,” Bloomberg, 23 November 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-22/china-says-far-away-south-china-sea-reefs-need-its-protection.

[96] Elbridge Colby, “Changing Tides in South China Sea,” Center for a New American Security, 25 August 2015, http://www.cnas.org/opinion/changing-tides-in-south-china-sea#.VhOY8hOqqko; Andrew S Erickson, “Runway to the Danger Zone? Lengthening Chinese Airstrips May Pave Way for South China Sea ADIZ,” China Analysis from Original Sources (blog), 24 April 2015, http://www.andrewerickson.com/2015/04/runway-to-the-danger-zone-lengthening-chinese-airstrips-may-pave-way-for-south-china-sea-adiz-2/; Christine E Wormuth, Samuel J Locklear III and Curtis Scaparrotti, “House Committee on Armed Services Holds a Hearing on Military Technology Superiority,” PACOM House Armed Services Committee Testimony, 15 April 2015, http://www.pacom.mil/Media/SpeechesTestimony/tabid/6706/Article/585188/pacom-house-armed-services-committee-testimony.aspx; Kevin Baron, “China’s New Islands Are Clearly Military, US Pacific Chief Says,” Defense One, 24 July 2015, http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2015/07/chinas-new-islands-are-clearly-military/118591/; James Stavridis, “China’s 3,000-Acre Aircraft Carriers Could Change the Balance of Power in the Pacific,” Foreign Policy, 1 October 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/01/china_south_china_sea_aggression/.

[97] Colby, “Changing Tides in South China Sea.”

[98] Brendan Thomas-Noone and Rory Medcalf, Nuclear-Armed Submarines in Indo-Pacific Asia: Stabiliser or Menace? (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, September 2015), 12, http://www.lowyinstitute.org/files/nuclear-armed-submarines-in-indo-pacific-asia-stabiliser-or-menace_0.pdf.

[99] James Clapper, “Document: DNI Clapper Assessment of Chinese Militarization, Reclamation in South China Sea,” USNI News, 8 March 2016, http://news.usni.org/2016/03/08/document-dni-assessment-of-chinese-militarization-reclamation-in-south-china-sea.

[100] A related facet of China’s passive assertiveness is the establishment of Communist Party and government sub-branches on South China Sea islands. Beijing has commenced this administrative creep by establishing Sansha municipality on Woody Island. See Jakobson, China’s Unpredictable Maritime Security Actors, 33–35.

[101] Some observers believe China is effectively beginning to implement a quasi-ADIZ around its South China Sea outposts, given that its forces are systematically demanding identification from approaching ships and aircraft, and warning them to depart Chinese waters. See Prashanth Parameswaran, “China Enforcing Quasi-ADIZ in South China Sea: Philippine Justice,” The Diplomat, 13 October 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/china-enforcing-quasi-adiz-in-south-china-sea-philippine-justice/.

[102] Colby, “Changing Tides in South China Sea.”

[103] “Announcement of the Aircraft Identification Rules for the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone of the PRC,” Xinhua, 23 November 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-11/23/c_132911634.htm.

[104] Kimberly Hsu, “Air Defense Identification Zone Intended to Provide China Greater Flexibility to Enforce East China Sea Claims,” US–China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Report, January 2014, 1, http://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/China%20ADIZ%20Staff%20Report.pdf; and Erickson, “Runway to the Danger Zone?”.

[105] Peter A Dutton, “China’s Maritime Disputes in the East and South China Seas,” testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing, 14 January 2014, 7–8, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20140114/101612/HHRG-113-AS28-Wstate-DuttonP-20140114.pdf; and Tetsuo Kotani, “Reviewing the First Year of China’s ADIZ: A Japanese Perspective,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 25 November 2014, http://amti.csis.org/reviewing-the-first-year-of-chinas-adiz-a-japanese-perspective/.

[106] Interviews with analysts and officials in Tokyo, February 2015, Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, March 2015, Sydney and Singapore, May 2015, and Washington DC, June 2015. See also, Kurt Campbell, “China is Treading on Thin Ice in the Pacific,” The Financial Times, 2 December 2013, http://www.cnas.org/content/china-treading-thin-ice-pacific - .VhcalhOqqko; and Feng Zhang, “Should Beijing Establish an Air Defense Identification Zone Over the South China Sea?,” Foreign Policy, 4 June 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/04/should-beijing-establish-an-air-defense-identification-zone-over-the-south-china-sea/.

[107] Dutton, “China’s Maritime Disputes in the East and South China Seas.”

[108] Heginbotham, “The Foreign Policy Essay: China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea”; and Kyodo News, “Japanese Fighter Scrambles Against Foreign Aircraft Hit Record High,” Global Post, 24 August 2014, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/140709/japanese-fighter-scrambles-against-foreign-aircraft-hi.

[109] “Expert: China capable of defending East China Sea ADIZ,” China Military Online, 2 December 2015, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2015-12/02/content_6796532.htm; “空军轰-6K等多型飞机分赴西太平洋和东海防空识别区 [PLAAF Deploys H-6K Bombers and Other Aircraft to the Western Pacific and East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone]”,人民网 [People’s Daily Online], 27 November 2015, http://military.people.com.cn/n/2015/1127/c1011-27865052.html; Xinhua, “Chinese Military Planes Regularly Patrol ADIZ: Spokesman,” People’s Daily Online, 23 January 2014, http://en.people.cn/90786/8520802.html; and Xinhua, “Int’l Airlines’ Activities in China’s ADIZ Undisturbed,” People’s Daily Online, 31 December 2014, http://en.people.cn/n/2014/1231/c90786-8830043.html.

[110] Yang Yujun, “Defense Ministry’s Regular Press Conference on October 29,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 29 October 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Press/2015-10/29/content_4626549.htm.

[111] Interviews with former military officials and senior scholars, Beijing and Shanghai, March 2015, and discussions with current and former officials, Washington DC, May 2015. See also Glaser, “People’s Republic of China Maritime Disputes”; and Ian E Rinehart and Bart Elias, China’s Air Defense Identification Zone (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 30 January 2015), 26–28, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43894.pdf.

[112] On ‘grey-zone’ activities, see Zack Cooper, “The Visibility-Vulnerability Dilemma and Defense,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 7 January 2015, http://amti.csis.org/the-visibility-vulnerability-dilemma-and-the-defense-debate/; and Patrick Cronin, “Retaining America’s Balance in the Asia-Pacific: Countering Chinese Coercion in Southeast Asia,” prepared statement of testimony before the US–China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s Relations with Southeast Asia, 13 May 2015, 2–3, http://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Cronin_Written Testimony_5.13.2015.pdf.

[113] Andrew Chubb, “The South China Sea: Defining the ‘Status Quo’,” The Diplomat, 11 June 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/the-south-china-sea-defining-the-status-quo/; and State Oceanic Administration, 12th Five Year Plan for China’s Maritime Development (2011–2015), unofficial translation, ChinaAbout.net, https://www.chinaabout.net/12th-five-year-plan-national-oceanic-development-china/.

[114] Ryan D Martinson, “East Asian Security in the Age of the Chinese Mega-Cutter,” ISN, 13 July 2015, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?id=192132.

[115] Andrew Chubb, “China’s Expansion of ‘Regular Rights Defense Patrols’ in the South China Sea: A Map, Courtesy of CCTV,” South Sea Conversations (blog), 4 September 2014, https://southseaconversations.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/chinas-expansion-of-regular-rights-defense-patrols-in-the-south-china-sea-a-map-courtesy-of-cctv/. On China’s patrols within Malaysia’s EEZ, see Ryan D Martinson, “China’s Second Navy,” Proceedings Magazine, Vol 141/4/1, 346 (April 2015), fn 19; Sui-Lee Wee, “Chinese Ships Patrol Area Contested by Malaysia,” Reuters, 26 January 2014, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/01/26/uk-china-malaysia-idUKBREA0P06X20140126; and Yantoultra Ngui and Sui-Lee Wee, “World, Malaysia to Protest Over Chinese Coast Guard ‘intruders’,” Reuters, 9 June 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/09/us-southchinasea-malaysia-china-idUSKBN0OP06120150609.

[116] See Andrew S Erickson and Conor M Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia,” CNA Corporation, 7 March 2016, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/Chinas-Maritime-Militia.pdf.

[117] The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century (Washington DC: Office of Naval Intelligence, April 2015), 41–42.

[118] Ryan Martinson, “Here Comes China’s Great White Fleet,” The National Interest, 1 October 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/here-comes-china%E2%80%99s-great-white-fleet-11383.

[119] “China Transfers 11 PLA Navy Warships to Marine Surveillance,” China Defense Mashup (blog), 1 January 2013, http://www.china-defense-mashup.com/china-transfers-11-pla-navy-warships-to-marine-surveillance.html; and Ryan D Martinson, “Deciphering China’s Armed Intrusion Near the Senkaku Islands,” The Diplomat, 11 January 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/deciphering-chinas-armed-intrusion-near-the-senkaku/.

[120] Robin Harding and Charles Clover, “China Steps Up Incursions Around Disputed Senkaku Islands,” Financial Times, 21 January 2016, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/adf159d0-c007-11e5-846f-79b0e3d20eaf.html#axzz3ykEADkqh; and “Armed Chinese Ship Infiltrates Waters Off Disputed Senkaku Islands, Japan Coast Guard Says,” The Japan Times, 27 December 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/12/27/national/armed-chinese-ship-infiltrates-off-disputed-senkaku-islands-japan-coast-guard-says/ - .Vq8aLlN957o.

[121] Martinson, “East Asian Security in the Age of the Chinese Mega-Cutter”; and Franz-Stefan Gady, “Beijing Builds ‘Monster’ Ship for Patrolling the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 13 January 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/beijing-builds-monster-ship-for-patrolling-the-south-china-sea/; and David Tweed, “China’s Giant New Coast Guard Ship to Carry Machine Guns, Shells,” Bloomberg, 12 January 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-12/china-s-giant-new-coast-guard-ship-to-carry-machine-guns-shells.

[122] Scott Bentley, “Mapping the Nine-Dash Line: Recent Incidents Involving Indonesia in the South China Sea,” The Strategist (blog), Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 29 October 2013, http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/mapping-the-nine-dash-line-recent-incidents-involving-indonesia-in-the-south-china-sea/.

[123] Hiroyuki Akita, “China Is Being Warlike and Peaceful,” Nikkei Asian Review, 27 March 2015, http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/China-being-warlike-and-peaceful.

[124] “Defense Ministry: Chinese Navy Gathered Intelligence Near Senkaku Islands,” Asahi Shimbun, 13 November 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201511130056.

[125] Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and analysts, Washington DC, June 2015.

[126] Bonnie Glaser, “China’s Maritime Actors: China’s Maritime Actors: Coordinated and Directed from the Top,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 14 January 2015, http://amti.csis.org/chinas-maritime-actors-coordinated-and-directed-from-the-top/.

[127] “Military Exercises,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (website), http://eng.mod.gov.cn/MilitaryExercises/index.htm.

[128] “Chinese Navy Conducts Live Firing Drill in South China Sea,” Xinhua, 28 July 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/28/c_134456370.htm; Franz-Stefan Gady, “China’s Navy Tests ‘Maritime Combat Ability’ in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 30 July 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/chinas-navy-tests-maritime-combat-ability-in-the-south-china-sea/.

[129] Medcalf, Heinrichs and Jones, Crisis and Confidence, 3–25.

[130] Interview with a senior scholar, Shanghai, March 2015. Similar comments were articulated by other Chinese scholars, advisers, and former military officials, Beijing and Shanghai, March and December 2015.

[131] Interviews with officials and analysts, Tokyo, Hanoi, and Singapore, February, May and December 2015. See also Nicholas Szechenyi, “China and Japan: A Resource Showdown in the East China Sea?,” The National Interest, 10 August 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/china-japan-resource-showdown-the-east-china-sea-13540; and Ramses Amer and Li Jianwei, “China and Vietnam Require More Meaningful Efforts to Manage Disputes,” China US Focus, 12 February 2015, http://www.chinausfocus.com/peace-security/china-and-vietnam-require-more-meaningful-efforts-to-manage-disputes-in-the-south-china-sea/.

[132] “China Reiterates to Resolve Territorial Disputes via Bilateral Negotiations,” Xinhua, 26 April 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-04/26/c_132343314.htm.

[133] According to one former military official, “maritime activities [such as island building, expanded patrols, and new military zones] are creating a new status quo” which Chinese leaders think “can be managed … by China’s promotion of CBMs.” Interview with a former military official, Beijing, March 2015. Similar comments were made by senior advisers, scholars, and some think tank analysts, Beijing and Shanghai, March and December 2015.

[134] Interview with former military official, Beijing, March 2015.

[135] Euan Graham, “Innocent Passage: Did the US Just Fumble its South China Sea Strategy,” The Interpreter, 4 November 2015, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/11/04/Innocent-passage-Did-the-US-just-fumbled-its-South-China-Sea-strategy.aspx.

[136] David Wroe and Philip Wen, “South China Sea: Australia Steps Up Air Patrols in Defiance of Beijing,” Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/south-china-sea-australia-steps-up-air-patrols-in-defiance-of-beijing-20151215-gloc2e.html.

[137] Interviews with retired military official and senior scholars, Beijing and Shanghai, March and December 2015 and March 2016; discussions with US analysts, Washington DC, May 2015. See also Ashley Townshend, “Assertive US Policies Won’t Solve the South China Sea Challenge,” Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/assertive-us-policies-wont-solve-the-south-china-sea-challenge-20150813-giycws.html; and Zhang, “Should Beijing Establish an Air Defense Identification Zone Over the South China Sea?”. It is noteworthy that in the wake of the USS Lassen’s FONOP in October 2015, Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Lu Kang stated: “… if relevant parties insist on creating tensions in the region and making trouble out of nothing, it may force China to draw the conclusion that we need to strengthen and hasten the buildup of our relevant capabilities. I advise the US not to create such a self-fulfilling prophecy.” See Jim Sciutto and Katie Hunt, “China Says it Warned and Tracked US Warship in South China Sea,” CNN, 28 October 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/27/asia/us-china-south-china-sea/.

[138] “Beijing Accuses Washington of Militarising South China Sea,” The Straits Times, 31 July 2015, http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/beijing-accuses-washington-of-militarising-south-china-sea; and James Glenday, “China Lashes Australia and US for ‘Adding Fuel to the Flames’ on South China Sea,” ABC News, 14 October 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-14/australia,-us-announce-naval-cooperation-deal/6853400.

[139] See Ben Blanchard and Andrea Shalal, “China Naval Chief Says Minor Incident Could Spark War in South China Sea,” Reuters, 30 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-usa-china-navy-idUSKCN0SO05320151030; Hong Lei, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Remarks on the US Military Aircraft Flying Near the Nansha Islands,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 20 December 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1326137.shtml; and Sui-Lee Wee, “China Lodges Complaint with US Over Spy Plane Flight,” Reuters, 25 May 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-china-usa-complaint-idUSKBN0OA0DY20150525.

[140] Xinhua, “China Slams Japan Over Record Air Force Confrontations,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 29 October 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/TopNews/2015-10/29/content_4626573.htm.

[141] Primrose Riordan, “Defence Claims RAAF South China Sea Flight is ‘Routine’,” Australian Financial Review, 15 December 2015, http://www.afr.com/news/defence-claims-raaf-south-china-sea-flight-is-routine-20151215-glo9qo.

[142] China Daily, “China ‘Will Never Recklessly Resort to the Use of Force’,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 19 October 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/TopNews/2015-10/19/content_4624919.htm; and Su Xiaohui, “China Will Never Compromise to ‘Paper Tigers’,” People's Daily Online, 2 February 2016, http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2016-02/02/content_37716993.htm.

[143] Interviews with regional official and analysts, Singapore, Hanoi, and Shanghai, May and December 2015, and March 2016.

[144] Although China and Japan made it through the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War without any major disturbances, there are signs in early 2016 that bilateral relations may be hardening. Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement, on 9 March, that he “[doesn’t] see any grounds for optimism” and believes that “[Japan is] making trouble for China at every turn” is a case in point. See “Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets the press,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 9 March 2016, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1346238.shtml.

[145] This language is adapted from the US–China maritime code of conduct. See “Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” 3.

[146] See Qi Huaigao, “Three New Developments in the South China Sea Disputes and China’s Strategy,” in Old Order and New Normal: Fudan International Strategic Report 2015, Wu Xinbo ed (Shanghai: Fudan University, March 2016), 100.

[147] On the agreement between the United States and China to form a coastguard mechanism, see “Factsheet: President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States,” White House, 25 September 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states.

[148] Correspondence with a US official, December 2015. See also Prashanth Parameswaran, “US Wants Expanded Naval Protocol Amid China’s South China Sea Assertiveness,” The Diplomat, 18 February 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/us-wants-expanded-naval-protocol-amid-chinas-south-china-sea-assertiveness/.

[149] Kor, “China, Asean Agree to Examine S’pore Proposal on South China Sea.”

[150] Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015 and February 2016, and Chinese scholars and think tank analysts, Nanjing, Beijing, and Shanghai, March and December 2015.

[151] Some of these CBMs have already been undertaken or discussed. See Sam LaGrone, “Pentagon: US Won’t Send Carrier to Mainland China This Year,” USNI News, 6 February 2015, http://news.usni.org/2015/02/06/pentagon-u-s-wont-send-carrier-mainland-china-year; “US Navy Delegation Visits Chinese Carrier Amid Maritime Tensions,” Reuters, 21 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-defence-idUSKCN0SF0AR20151021; and Andrew S Erickson and Emily de La Bruyère, “China’s RIMPAC Maritime-Surveillance Gambit,” The National Interest, 29 July 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/china’s-rimpac-maritime-surveillance-gambit-10970.

[152] Interviews with former Vietnamese officials and academics, Hanoi, March 2015.

[153] A key problem for establishing effective hotlines with China is that authority for real-time crisis management decisions is both diffused among the non-specialist Politburo Standing Committee or, in the case of frontline decisions, within PLA leaderships, but also centralised in the hands of President Xi himself, who is necessarily preoccupied with other issues. See Erickson and Liff, “Installing a Safety on the ‘Loaded Gun’?,” 197–215.

[154] Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made in Implementing DOC and Pushing Forward Negotiation of COC.”

[155] See Erickson and Liff, “Installing a Safety on the ‘Loaded Gun’?,” 212–214; and Robert A Pape, “Establishing a Workable US–China Hotline (CHILINK),” University of Chicago, 30 April 2014, http://d3qi0qp55mx5f5.cloudfront.net/cpost/i/docs/Pape_Policy_Memo.pdf.

[156] See Kristen Gelineau, “Navy Commander: South China Sea Not a US-Versus-China Battle,” Military.com, 22 February 2016, http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/02/22/navy-commander-south-china-sea-not-a-us-versus-china-battle.html.

[157] Interviews with officials and analysts, Hanoi, Shanghai, and Singapore, March, May and December 2015, and Shanghai, March 2016.

[158] Australian aerial patrols have been conducted under Operation Gateway for approximately the past three decades, though have “slightly” increased in recent months. See Andrew Greene, “RAAF Patrols Over Disputed South China Sea Facing More Regular Resistance from Chinese Military,” ABC News, 3 February 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-03/raaf-patrol-flights-facing-more-regular-resistance-from-chinese/7138100. Australian naval vessels exercise freedom of navigation in line with navigational and operational needs, but do not conduct dedicated FONOPs to test excessive maritime claims.

[159] Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the US has been granted access to five air force bases in the Philippines and has begun conducting aerial patrols from these locations. Singapore permits US surveillance activities to be conducted from its territory, while Malaysia hosts the RAAF under Operation Gateway. A growing number of voices in Malaysian defence circles want to allow the United States to conduct South China Sea flights from Malaysia as well. Identifying this as a clear Malaysian response to future Chinese militarisation would be a useful starting point. For more on Malaysia, see Tang Siew Mun, “Why Malaysia is Adopting a Tougher South China Sea Stance,” Malay Mail Online, 21 March 2016, https://themalaymailonline.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/why-malaysia-is-adopting-a-tougher-south-china-sea-stance/.

[160] Ashley Townshend, “South China Sea: Reconciling Washington’s Policy Debate with Effective Responses,” The Interpreter, 18 April 2016, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/04/18/South-China-Sea-Reconciling-Washingtons-policy-debate-with-effective-responses.aspx.

[161] On the plight of weaker Southeast Asian militaries, see International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016 (London: Routledge, 2016), 212–214; and Michael Green, Kathleen Hicks, Mark Cancian, et al., Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships (Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016), 74–75, 96.

[162] The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 25–29.

[163] These include capacity-building efforts under the Pentagon’s 2015 Southeast Asian Maritime Security Initiative, Washington and Manila’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Tokyo’s burgeoning defence relations with Manila, and New Delhi’s Joint Vision Statement on defence ties with Hanoi.

[164] Interviews with Chinese scholars and think tank analysts, Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, March 2015, and Shanghai, December 2015 and March 2016. A recent indication of growing concern among CCP members was the publication of an open letter by “loyal Party members” on Wujie News urging President Xi to resign, in part for his counterproductive deviation from Deng Xiaoping’s “hide your strength, bide your time” policy. See “Loyal Party Members Urge Xi Jinping to Resign,” republished letter, China Digital Times, 4 March 2016, http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2016/03/open-letter-devoted-party-members-urge-xis-resignation/.

[165] Interviews with senior Chinese scholars, Shanghai, March 2016.

[166] Ashley Townshend, “China May Fear Reputation Damage More Than Military Threats Over South China Sea,” The Guardian, 28 August 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/29/china-may-fear-reputation-damage-more-than-military-threats-over-south-china-sea. Although the EU and G7 have both opposed the use of intimidation, coercion, force, or unilateral actions, neither group has explicitly named China.

[167] Bonnie Glaser, “High Stakes for Australia in Limiting China’s South China Sea Incursions,” Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/high-stakes-for-australia-in-limiting-chinas-south-china-sea-incursions-20150521-gh6nwv.html.

[168] Ashley Townshend, “Narrow Court Ruling May Offer Room for Diplomacy on South China Sea Claims,” Yale Global, 13 October 2015, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/narrow-ruling-against-china-international-court-may-offer-room-diplomacy-over-south-china-se.

[169] O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China, 11–12.

[170] The statements include high-level promises by President Xi and Foreign Minister Wang. See, for example, Wang Yi, “Wang Yi on the South China Sea Issue at the ASEAN Regional Forum,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 6 August 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1287277.shtml; David Brunnstorm and Michael Martina, “Xi Denies Turning Artificial Islands into Military Bases,” Reuters, 25 September 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-pacific-idUSKCN0RP1ZH20150925; and Hong Lei, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 16 February 2016, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1340925.shtml.

[171] Interviews with Chinese think tank analysts, scholars, strategists, and advisers, Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, March and December 2015, and February and March 2016. See also Qi, “Three New Developments in the South China Sea Disputes and China’s Strategy,” 101–103; and Yuan Jingdong, A Rising Power Looks Downunder: Chinese Perspectives on Australia (Canberra: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 2014), Chapter 5. On the evolving web of the United States’ Asian alliances, see Elsina Wainwight, Australia and the US Asian Alliance Network (Sydney: United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, March 2016).

[172] Harry B Harris, “Let’s Be Ambitious Together,” speech presented at the Raisina Dialogue, New Delhi, India, 2 March 2016, http://www.pacom.mil/Media/SpeechesTestimony/tabid/6706/Article/683842/raisina-dialogue-remarks-lets-be-ambitious-together.aspx; and Ananth Krishnan, “China Frets as US Admiral Calls for Four-Way Maritime Security Dialogue Between US, India, Japan and Australia,” Daily Mail India, 3 March 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-3475245/China-frets-Admiral-calls-four-way-maritime-security-dialogue-India-Japan-Australia.html#ixzz43SfCua4X.

[173] Rory Medcalf, “The ‘Q’ Word: US Pacific Commander Defies Diplomatic Niceties in New Delhi,” The Interpreter, 4 March 2016, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/03/04/The-q-word-US-Pacific-commander-defies-diplomatic-niceties-in-New-Delhi.aspx.

[174] Townshend, “China May Fear Reputation Damage More Than Military Threats Over South China Sea.”

[175] Zack Cooper and Eric Lorber, “Sanctioning the Dragon: Using Statecraft to Shape Chinese Behavior,” Lawfare (blog), 13 March 2016, https://www.lawfareblog.com/sanctioning-dragon-using-statecraft-shape-chinese-behavior.

[176] “Document: Conduct for Unplanned Encounters at Sea,” USNI News, 17 June 2014, http://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea.

[177] Specifically, CUES recommends what steps a commanding officer should take when faced with heavy traffic, foreign naval convoys, or during exercises with submarines; and specifies the language, call signs, radio frequencies, and signals that should be used to establish contact between vessels.

[178] Megha Rajagopalan, “China Won’t Swallow ‘Bitter Pill’ of Ceding Sovereign Rights: Military Official,” Reuters, 23 April 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/23/us-china-military-idUSBREA3M0YY20140423; and Christian Le Mière, “Managing Unplanned Encounters at Sea,” Military Balance (blog), International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1 May 2014, http://www.iiss.org/en/militarybalanceblog/blogsections/2014-3bea/april-7347/managing-unplanned-encounters-at-sea-087b.

[179] Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese think tank analysts, Beijing and Shanghai, March 2015.

[180] Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 15, 30; and discussions with US officials, May and December 2015. See also David B Shear, testimony before the Senate Armer Services Committee Hearing on the Defense Department’s Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, 17 September 2015, 5, http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Shear_09-17-15.pdf.

[181] Sharon Chen, “US Navy Ship Met Chinese Vessel on South China Sea Patrol,” Bloomberg, 20 May 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-19/u-s-says-navy-ship-met-chinese-vessel-on-south-china-sea-patrol; AiirSource Military, “Chinese Frigate Stalking US Navy Warship in South China Sea,” YouTube, 14 May 2015, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BFT1rsmRM_8; and Wendell Minnick, “Complex US–China Relations Seen at IMDEX,” Defense News, 24 May 2015, http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/naval/navy/2015/05/24/imdex-singapore-china-us-warship-stabilize-islands-reclamation-south-sea-east/27712207/.

[182] Interviews with Japanese officials and think tank analysts, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese think tank analysts and a senior strategist, Beijing, March 2015; and discussions with US officials, November and December 2015.

[183] Chen Weihua, “US Navy Chief: Surveillance will Continue,” China Daily, 9 September 2014, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2014-09/09/content_18565270.htm; China Military Online, “Chinese Training Ship Taskforce Wraps Up Visit to Indonesia,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 9 June 2014, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/DefenseNews/2014-06/09/content_4514963.htm; Lauryn Dempsey, “USS Fort Worth Conducts CUES with Chinese Navy,” US Pacific Fleet, 25 February 2015, http://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/030520; Kevin V Cunningham, “Stethem Joins with PLA(N) to Conduct Exercise,” US Navy, 23 November 2015, http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ddg63/Pages/Stethem-Joins-with-PLAN-to-Conduct-Exercise.aspx#.Vqs31ceapo4; Jonathan Williams, “Task Group Re-Forms in South China Sea,” Navy Daily, Royal Australian Navy, 17 November 2015, http://news.navy.gov.au/en/Nov2015/Fleet/2490/Task-group-re-forms-in-South-China-Sea.htm#.Vqs7XVN97EY; and “Pacific Ocean-China-Australia Drill,” CCTV, 2 January 2016, http://newscontent.cctv.com/NewJsp/news.jsp?fileId=334535.

[184] Discussions with US officials, May and December 2015. See also Yeganeh Torbati, “Despite Agreements, Risks Linger of US–China Naval Mishaps,” Reuters, 30 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-usa-communications-idUSKCN0SO0E220151030.

[185] “Memorandum of Understanding between the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China on Notification of Major Military Activities Confidence-Building Measures Mechanism,” October/November 2014, http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/141112_MemorandumOfUnderstandingOnNotification.pdf.

[186] “Memorandum of Understanding between the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” November 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/US-CHINA_AIR_ENCOUNTERS_ANNEX_SEP_2015.pdf

[187] “Supplement to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China,” September 2015, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/US-CHINA_AIR_ENCOUNTERS_ANNEX_SEP_2015.pdf.

[188] Mira Rapp-Hooper and Bonnie Glaser, “In Confidence: Will We Know if US–China CBMs Are Working?,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/in-confidence-will-we-know-if-us-china-cbms-are-working/.

[189] “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” 25 May 1972, http://www.state.gov/t/isn/4791.htm.

[190] Bonnie S Glaser, “Obama-Xi Summit Produces Landmark Deal to Reduce Dangerous Military Encounters,” The Interpreter, 29 September 2015, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/09/29/Obama-Xi-summit-produces-landmark-deal-to-reduce-dangerous-military-encounters.aspx.

[191] “MoU on Rules of Behavior,” 3; and Peter A Dutton, “MOUs: The Secret Sauce to Avoiding a US–China Disaster?,” The National Interest, 30 January 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/mous-the-secret-sauce-avoiding-us-china-disaster-12154.

[192] Interview with a senior Chinese strategist, Beijing, March 2015.

[193] The inclusion of a confidentiality clause into the MoUs means that implementation and compliance cannot be publicly disclosed, making it difficult to know for certain whether guidelines are being followed. See Rapp-Hooper and Glaser, “In Confidence.”

[194] Shirley A Kan, US–China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 27 October 2014), 3–6, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32496.pdf; and Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010 (Washington DC: US Department of Defense, 2010), 54.

[195] Kedar Pavgi, “Here’s One Way the US–China Relationship Is Improving,” Defense One, 4 August 2015, http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/08/heres-one-way-us-china-relationship-improving/118865/. Interestingly, the latest military dialogue to be established between the United States and China was an army-to-army dialogue mechanism, set up in June in the midst of the diplomatic stand-off over China’s island building in the South China Sea. See “Carter, Chinese Official Discuss Military Relationship,” DoD News, US Department of Defence, 11 June 2015, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=129029.

[196] Interviews with a senior strategist, retired military officers, and think tank analysts, Beijing, March 2015.

[197] Interviews with Japanese officials and analysts, Tokyo, February 2015, and with Chinese think tank analysts, a retired military official, and a senior strategist, Beijing, March 2015.

[198] Interview with a Japanese official, February 2015, Tokyo.

[199] “日中高級事務レベル海洋協議第4回会議(結果)[The Results of the Fourth High Level Meeting between Japan and China on Maritime Issues],” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 8 December 2015, http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/press/release/press4_002758.html.

[200] Interviews with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese think tank analysts and senior scholars, Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, March 2015. See also Zhu Feng “De-escalating Territorial Conflict between China and Japan,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/de-escalating-territorial-conflict-between-china-and-japan/; Tetsuo Kotani, “Positive Signs for Crisis Management in the East China Sea,” AMTI (blog), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 February 2015, http://amti.csis.org/positive-signs-for-crisis-management-in-the-east-china-sea/; and Bräuner, Chan and Huijskens, “Confrontation and Cooperation in the East China Sea,” 7.

[201] Yang Yujun, “Defense Ministry’s Regular Press Conference,” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 25 June 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Press/2015-06/25/content_4591733.htm.

[202] “Japan–China Summit Meeting and Foreign Ministers Meeting,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 1 November 2015, http://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/c_m1/cn/page3e_000404.html.

[203] Kyodo, “Japan, China Eye May talks on Maritime Crisis Management Mechanism,” The Japan Times, 14 March 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/14/national/japan-china-eye-may-talks-on-maritime-crisis-management-mechanism/ - .VdMZpxOqqNL; and Bräuner, Chan and Huijskens, “Confrontation and Cooperation in the East China Sea,” 6.

[204] “Talks on Japan–China Maritime Liaison Mechanism Deadlock,” Chicago Tribune, 5 October 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-wp-japan-china-1da1e190-6b63-11e5-9bfe-e59f5e244f92-20151005-story.html; and “Japan, China Break Defense Deadlock, Seek Crisis Management Mechanism,” Asahi Shimbun, 5 November 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201511050064.

[205] Discussions with Japanese officials, Tokyo, February 2015 and February 2016, and Chinese think tank analysts and scholars, Beijing and Nanjing, March 2015. See also, 羽生 [Jiro] and 朱 [Zhu], “日中海上航行安全对话报告 [Report on Japan–China Maritime Navigation Safety Dialogue],” 72–73. It is important to note that there are also bureaucratic obstacles to including coastguards in the JCMACM. Whereas the JCG is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport, the CCG — since the consolidation of China’s maritime agencies in March 2013 — probably takes its orders from the State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Public Security, and is possibly also overseen by the CMC. It is possible the CCG is more institutionally connected to China’s navy than the JCG is to Japan’s, making coordination between the two difficult. At the same time, the lack of clear channels of authority within the CCG itself poses a bureaucratic problem for engaging any regional coastguards. See Linda Jakobson, China’s Unpredictable Maritime Security Actors (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, December 2014), 17.

[206] Interviews with a Japanese official, Tokyo, February 2015, and Chinese strategist, Beijing, March 2015.

[207] A potential concern with the hotline under negotiation is that it may only be established at the foreign ministry level. As China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a weak institution, particularly for coordinating crisis management, a hotline within this institution is unlikely to have much authority. See Andrew S Erickson and Adam P Liff, “Installing a Safety on the ‘Loaded Gun’? China’s Institutional Reforms, National Security Commission and Sino-Japanese Crisis (In)stability,” Journal of Contemporary China 25, No 98 (2016), 205–206.

[208] Interview with former Vietnamese diplomat, Hanoi, March 2015. See also, Euan Graham, Maritime Hotlines in East Asia (Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, May 2014), http://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/RSIS_RFQ_Maritime-Hotlines-in-East-Asia_160514_Web.pdf.

[209] Mark J Valencia, “Navigating Differences: What the ‘Zero Draft’ Code of Conduct for the South China Sea Says (and Doesn’t Say),” Global Asia 8, No 1, (Spring 2013), http://www.globalasia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/43.pdf.

[210] Wang Yi, “Foreign Minister Wang Yi On Process of ‘Code of Conduct in the South China Sea’,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 5 August 2013, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjb_663304/wjbz_663308/activities_663312/t1064869.shtml; and Carlyle A Thayer, “New Commitment to a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea?,” The National Bureau of Asian Research, 9 October 2013, http://nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=360.

[211] Interviews with former Vietnamese officials, Hanoi and Sydney, March and September 2015; discussions with analysts and officials, Washington DC, May 2015; discussions with regional officials, Singapore and Shanghai, May and December 2015, and March 2016. See also Ankit Panda, “For the ASEAN–China South China Sea Code of Conduct, Ninth Time Isn’t the Charm,” The Diplomat, 1 August 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/for-the-asean-china-south-china-sea-code-of-conduct-ninth-time-isnt-the-charm/.

[212] “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” Chairman’s statement of the 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 6 August 2015, http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000094509.pdf; and Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made in Implementing DOC and Pushing Forward Negotiation of COC,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 3 August 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1286517.shtml.

[213] “Tenth Senior Officials Meeting On the Implementation of the Declaration On the Conduct of the Parties In the South China Sea Held in Chengdu,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 20 October 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjbxw/t1307573.shtml; and Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made.”

[214] “China–ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting Kicks Off in Beijing,” China Military Online, 16 October 2015, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2015-10/16/content_6726730.htm.

[215] Hua Chunying, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on October 16, 2015,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 16 October 2015, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1306709.shtml.

[216] Kor Kian Bang, “China, Asean Agree to Examine S’pore Proposal on South China Sea,” The Straits Times, 2 March 2016, http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/china-asean-agree-to-examine-spore-proposal-on-south-china-sea.

[217] Prashanth Parameswaran, “The Truth About China’s New South China Sea Drill Proposal with ASEAN,” The Diplomat, 17 October 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/the-truth-about-chinas-new-south-china-sea-drill-proposal-with-asean/.

[218] Wang Yi, “Wang Yi: Significant Progress Made,” and Hong Lei, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference on June 5, 2015,” Consulate General of China in Sydney, 5 June 2015, http://sydney.chineseconsulate.org/eng/fyrth/t1270836.htm.

[219] Interviews with regional analysts and officials, Singapore, May 2015; Reuters, “China, ASEAN Agree on Hotline for South China Sea Emergencies,” GMA Network, 31 July 2015, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/531122/news/nation/china-asean-agree-on-hotline-for-south-china-sea-emergencies.

[220] Interview with former Vietnamese officials and senior scholars, Hanoi, March 2015. It is worth noting that China and Vietnam have used hotlines more amicably in the past, though not necessarily in crisis situations. The two have a navy-to-navy hotline which applies to the Gulf of Tonkin, and has been used during joint patrols in that localised area. See Graham, Maritime Hotlines in East Asia, 5.