The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday and today that Chinese naval vessels were found in US territorial waters off of Alaska. Does this indicate a shift in Chinese military stance? I believe it is significant in its timing as noted in the articles.1, 2
There are five principle timing events to keep in mind: President Obama was visiting Alaska, the Chinese military was celebrating 70 years since the end of WWII with an enormous parade (which coincidentally included Vladimir Putin as a guest), US military pivot to the Pacific, and US Naval challenge of the “freedom of the seas” in the Spratly Islands, and Chinese cyberwarfare against US government agencies and military.
The first seems to be a passive-aggressive issue where the Chinese are putting ships in an area where a US president is visiting. It is a technique we use to project force worldwide. Our typical stance is to send a carrier group to an area as a show of force. This seems on the surface to be the same thing. It is worth noting that while President Obama and Vladimir Putin were exchanging a phone conversation in July to celebrate Independence Day, the Russians sent bombers to Alaska and California. In both cases, I think we are expected to see the force projection.3
The Chinese sent invitations for the US to attend the 70th Anniversary of end of WWII celebrations which included an outlandish military parade 4, 5 reminiscent of Soviet military parades during the Cold War. The parade included the current militaristic dictator of Russia who I may conjecture knew of the Chinese vessels in Alaskan waters. Since previous to this event, they were engaged in military exercises with the Russians.
The US military pivot to the Pacific is old news, but it is significant in the Chinese eyes that they see the US as a threat to their agenda. One in which old adversaries of the US (Russia/China) play a strategic partnership to advance a thinly veiled expansion agenda.
The Chinese have been advancing their agenda in the South China Sea with the construction of artificial islands much to the chagrin of their neighbors. These islands include one which has a military air strip and radar installations. They have also threatened the US Navy with violations of their territorial waters, though in the case of the Spratly Islands in question, international law says otherwise. The tit-for-tat approach of the Chinese Navy in undisputed US territorial waters is a taunt to say “What is the US going to do about it?” The US military says that they are free to operate with the “freedom of the seas” carefully tossed back in our faces.
All of this occurs with the backdrop of the Chinese military spying on the US government and engaging in Cyber warfare. The Obama administration has emasculated the military and engaged in military bravado speeches about a pivot, and “freedom of the seas”. The US Navy is in such a declined state, we can’t effectively project force, and we must “pivot”. Once upon a time, the US had a 600 ship navy second to none. Today, that navy is reduced to 236 commissioned ships and 417 if you count non-commissioned (USNS) and Ready Reserve Fleet. The 236 includes non-combatant vessels.6
If the US wants to continue to be a dominant military, this must change. The Russians and Chinese have figured out we are starting to soften, and are pushing in on the edges toward the center.
The only pivot I see here is at the waist of the military leaders who may also know it as BOHICA.