Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | January 4, 2014

Chinese warship arrives off Syria

 

Chinese frigate Yancheng, thrilling the ladies in Cyprus. (Reuters photo.)

Chinese frigate Yancheng, thrilling the ladies in Cyprus. (Reuters photo.)

How many warships does it take to remove chemical weapons from Syria?  One more this week than it took last week, apparently.  If you’re a big, important country with a big, important navy, you want to be involved in the good-citizenship exercise in Syria.

A 31 December deadline for getting some of the chemical stockpile to waiting ships in Latakia was missed, as readers will remember.  But it looks like that will give China a late-arriving opportunity to join in the maritime leg of the effort, by providing a warship to escort the Norwegian and Danish ships transporting the chemical cargo.

On 1 January, Defense News correspondent Chris Cavas tweeted that Chinese frigate Yancheng, which had deployed 30 November for antipiracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden, was headed northward through the Suez Canal.  (Interestingly, according to Chinese reporting, Yancheng had participated with her sister ship, the frigate Luoyang, in a live-fire exercise in the Gulf of Aden, the day before her Suez transit.  Quite feasible, but a reminder that today’s People’s Liberation Army Navy is well capable of a relatively high “optempo,” or operational tempo – at least in waters where it has now spent five straight years gaining far-flung, at-sea experience.)

The official PLAN notification of Yancheng’s task was made public the next day (2 January).  And on Saturday, 4 January, Yancheng arrived in Limassol, Cyprus for a port visit ahead of her escort duties.  Chinese nationals in Cyprus turned out to give the frigate a big welcome.

The other nation providing a warship escort for the transport of Syrian chemical weapons is Russia.  The materials will be moved to Italy, where M/V Cape Ray (T-AKR-9679), operated by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Military Sealift Command, will take custody of them for destruction.

The warship escorts are overkill, of course.  The warships being provided by Norway and Denmark are more than enough, and there is zero likelihood of a piratical attempt on the chemical convoy between Syria and Italy.  All the danger in transport is confined to the war-ravaged territory of Syria.  (If there are unanticipated maritime-transport problems, the convoy’s transit path will be within reach of Turkish, Greek, and Italian rescue assets the entire way.  Regardless of what the warship escorts do, it’s the rescue assets that will have to respond if there are mechanical failures or maritime accidents.)

Participating in this transit as an additional escort is a show-the-flag operation.  Hey, nothing wrong with that.  Except that the underlying political structure and intentions of the two providing nations, Russia and China, are nothing like the good-citizen, peace-on-the-seas posture of the Pax-era United States, Norway, or Denmark.  Russia’s and China’s influence on the high seas are not politically interchangeable with those of NATO or the British Commonwealth navies.

The multilateral organization of the antipiracy effort off Somalia, combined with the recession of the U.S. Navy from its Pax-era posture overseas, has been setting us up for this shift for half a decade now.  (I wrote about this in 2009 and 2010, and specifically about the first visits by operational Chinese naval task forces to the Mediterranean, in an article in 2012.)  Navies are one of the best ways to expand your overseas influence: not just to “be there,” but to put down markers, drive stakes, signify national interest.

That’s what Russia and China are doing, and their interest goes far beyond Syria.  They are in a competition to establish themselves as power brokers in the Eastern Mediterranean, which, as I have noted before, functions as the world’s “Great Crossroads.”  Every global interest intersects there, and no one’s interest goes unaffected by what happens there.

Prescient observers back in early September, seeing the likelihood of Chinese interest in the possibilities of the Syria situation, ran with uncorroborated blog speculation that a Chinese warship had moved into the Eastern Med, during Obama’s lead-from-behind episode with the “red line” on Syria.*  Although I don’t assess that a Chinese warship ever entered the Med back at that time, I do concur with the other observers’ overall expectations.  At some point, depending on how the situation developed, China was likely to want a representative naval presence in it.  With the neatly packaged, Nobel-ready “resolution” stumbled on by John Kerry, the Syria situation gained an overlay of orderliness that China could participate in, without having to be overextended, or unduly exposed to surprise.

The day will come when China doesn’t perceive a need for such favorable conditions for her far-flung naval ventures.  Meanwhile, nations never change their naval orders of battle or operating profiles because they are satisfied with the status quo.  Today’s conditions have similarities to the periods before both world wars of the last century: as before World War I, the sense of a comprehensive break with the past, overlaid with a sort of brittle complacency; and as before World War II, the sense of foreboding, a gathering storm, and unfinished business.

Both periods saw a significant increase in maritime posturing and naval activity by the anti-status quo powers.  Such activity often looks limited at the time, and seems to be easily explained by narrow, contingent purposes.  But in hindsight, it was always a signal of something bigger and more dangerous.  Neither Russia nor China has made a global-citizenship move by volunteering for the Syrian chemical convoy.  There’s no high school principal setting the rules now; this isn’t a student-council community project.  The post-Pax Americana power game is on.

 

* Regarding the specifics about the movements of Chinese amphibious ship Jinggangshan, routine Chinese reporting about where she was during the period in question reflected her operating in the Gulf of Aden (GOA).  The original report that Jinggangshan was off Syria, from a Russian opinion blog, was picked up by Western bloggers on 5 September.  The ship was in the GOA on 28 August; was scheduled for convoy escorts through the GOA between 3 September and 30 September; and was in the GOA on 11 September.

There have been no reports that Jinggangshan went through the Suez Canal at all during her deployment with China’s 15th naval task force, whereas all other Suez Canal transits by Chinese warships have been reported on.  Note: Jinggangshan and her sister ship, the frigate Hengshui, departed station in December, when the 16th task force with frigates Yancheng and Luoyang arrived in the GOA.  The 15th naval task force completed a port visit in Tanzania on 1 January.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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Responses

  1. That the post-Pax Americana power game is now fully engaged is undeniable. Besides the obvious desire to be the inheritor of US regional influence, one must ask what strategic advantage either Russia or China foresee in deeper involvement in the M.E. Once that is answered, then the tactical means to achieve that strategic goal come under consideration.

    Consideration of the strategic advantage envisioned by Russia is most likely the deepening of international relations and allegiances, sufficient to gain Russia access to warm water ports. That has ever been Russia’s dream, for without warm water ports she can never achieve the naval presence necessary to global dominance. In China’s case, I suspect the primary rationale and strategic consideration for China’s deeper involvement in the M.E. is the long-term securing of stable oil supplies and pricing.

    Both Russia and China’s historical roots lie in xenophobia and a nation’s historical roots are the formative experiences that shape a nation’s ‘psyche’. In the modern world of intercontinental ballistic missiles, globe spanning navies and future military applications in space, xenophobic concerns as to national security have to be globally oriented. This translates to an attitude that Russia nor China can never be truly ‘safe’ unless globally dominant and without rivals.

    if this assessment is essentially accurate, then tactical consideration of how to achieve Russia and China’s M.E. goals become of great interest.

    The truism, “politics make(s) [for] strange bedfellows” applies but Russia and China’s mere presence is tactically insufficient as “familiarity breeds contempt” thus ensuring that Russia and China are certain to ‘wear out their welcome’ without something more ‘connective’ in place.

    When considering what could create a binding alliance, nothing could make Middle Eastern nations more ‘appreciative’ nor cement an alliance more deeply, than undeniable and irreplaceable assistance in destroying Israel. Not necessarily directly but through intimidation that fatally restricts Israel’s options in responding to Islamic aggression. Whatever the specifics, Israel is the key to Russia or China achieving a binding alliance with any Muslim nation and the more jihadist the regime, the more certain that Israel is the key consideration.

  2. That’s it. Keep feeding the Dragon guys…

    Repeat after me.

    Gimme that ole free trade religion…X3..

  3. […] they’re both there and all.  It will be interesting to see where they hold the exercise.  Presumably they will steer clear […]


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