Chinese oceanographic researcher says this part of an effort to breach the Second Island Chain.Breaching the second island chain? Why?
Andrew Ericson and Joel Wuthnow explain in Why Islands Still Matter in Asia: The Enduring Significance of the Pacific “Island Chains”:
The extensive chains of Pacific islands ringing China have been described as a wall, a barrier to be breached by an attacker or strengthened by a defender. They are seen as springboards, potential bases for operations to attack or invade others in the region. In a territorial sense, they are benchmarks marking the extent of a country’s influence.An excellent discussion of China's island "layers of active defense" at Jon Solomon's Potential Chinese Anti-Ship Capabilities Between the First and Second Island Chains which includes a posting of this U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence graphic:
“It’s truly a case of where you stand. Perspective is shaped by one’s geographic and geostrategic position,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor with the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College.
“Barriers is a very Chinese perspective,” said Erickson. “It reflects a concern that foreign military facilities based on the islands may impede or threaten China’s efforts or influence.” …
The sea lanes in question pass through the waters between the First Island Chain and the line stretching from Hokkaido through the Bonins and Marianas to the Palaus (e.g, the “Second Island Chain”). I’ve recently written about the PLAAF’s effective reach into the Western Pacific, and it’s been widely understood for years that late-generation PLAN submarines possess the technological capability to operate for several weeks in these waters before having to return to port. China would be hard-pressed to achieve localized sea control anywhere within this broad area; its own surface combatants and shipping would be just as vulnerable to attack. It wouldn’t need sea control, though, to achieve its probable campaign-level objectives of bogging down (or outright thwarting) an effective U.S. military response, or perhaps inflicting coercive economic pain upon one or more embattled American allies. The use of PLA submarines and strike aircraft to pressure U.S. and allied sea lines of communications would be entirely sufficient. And as Toshi Yoshihara and Martin Murphy point out in their article in the Summer ‘15 Naval War College Review, these kinds of PLA operations would be consistent with the Mao-derived maritime strategic theory of “sabotage warfare at sea,” albeit at a much greater distance from China’s shores than the theory originally conceived. Such operations have been widely discussed in Chinese strategic literature over the past two decadesThat link regarding the "first island chain" goes to a Wikipedia piece:
The first island chain refers to the first chain of major archipelagos out from the East Asian continental mainland coast. Principally composed of the Kuril Islands, Japanese Archipelago, Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the northern Philippines, and Borneo; from the Kamchatka Peninsula to the Malay Peninsula. Some definitions of the first island chain anchor the northern end on the Russian Far East coast north of Sahkalin Island, with Sahkalin Island being the first link in the chain. However, others consider the Aleutians as the farthest north-eastern first link in the chain. The first island chain forms one of three island chain doctrines within the Island Chain Strategy.The Yoshihara and Martin article (pdf here) notes China's Mao inspired concept of "active defense"
The first island chain has its purpose in Chinese military doctrine. The People's Republic of China views the first island chain as the area it must secure and disable from American bases, aircraft and aircraft-carrier groups, if in defending itself it must tactically unleash a pre-emptive attack against an enemy. The aim of the doctrine is to seal off the Yellow Sea, South China Sea and East China Sea inside an arc running from the Aleutians in the north to Borneo in the south. According to reports by American think tanks CSBA and RAND, by 2020, China will be well on its way to having the means to achieve its first island chain policy.
At length, in March 1956, the Central Military Commission issued military strategic guidance under the rubric of “active defense, defend the motherland.” “Active defense,” a concept that Mao developed and refined in the 1930s, called for the employment of offensive operations and tactics to achieve strategically defensive goals. The navy’s role was to support the army and the air force against the enemy on land. Under active defense, the PLAN’s missions were to conduct joint counter landing operations with ground and air forces; wreck the enemy’s sea lines of communications, severing the supply of materiel and manpower; weaken and annihilate the enemy’s seaborne transport tools and combat vessels; jointly operate with ground forces in contests over key points and locations along the coast; guarantee the security of our coastal base system and strategic locations; support ground forces in littoral flanking operations; act in concert with ground forces to recover offshore islands and all territories
For years China was not a true naval power, so it turned to the lessons it had learned from the guerrilla war its new leaders had fought and won. The leader of the PLAN, an army general, reached back:
After consulting Mao Zedong’s military writings from the 1920s and 1930s and those of Soviet experts, Xiao articulated the operational concept of “sabotage warfare at sea” (海上破袭战). Confronted with better-armed enemies, he understood that China was in no position to fight them head-on. Drawing on his own battlefield experiences, the admiral reasoned that inferior Chinese forces had to “use suddenness and sabotage and guerilla tactics to unceasingly attack and destroy the enemy, accumulate small victories in place of big wins, fully leverage and bring into play our advantageous conditions, exploit and create unfavorable conditions for the enemy, and implement protracted war.” Mao would have instantly recognized these ideas as his own.This thinking breeds maritime militia, anti-ship ballistic missiles and a rapid expansion of a navy.
Four key features characterized Xiao’s sabotage warfare at sea. First, it called for the use of all available weaponry to deliver all possible types of attacks against the enemy. Second, it emphasized covert action and sudden surprise attacks to overpower unsuspecting or unprepared adversaries, so as to seize the initiative. Third, it required offensive campaigns and tactics to assault unceasingly the effective strength of the enemy. Fourth, it demanded the agile use of troops and combat styles to preserve one’s own forces while annihilating the opponent. Xiao essentially codified what his forces had practiced out of sheer necessity in previous years. In contrast to a “naval strategy” as such, seeking to align available means with larger political aims, the admiral furnished a concept that was largely operational and tactical in nature. Xiao, in essence, identified methods for winning battles
All this being prelude to the bit Ms. Glaser points to in this innocuously titled article,
US spy planes kept eye on Chinese scientists during research expedition near Guam
Xu Kuidong, a lead researcher with the mission who is affiliated with the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, Shandong, said the scientists on board were “well aware” of the area’s sensitivity.So, China - currently through obstensibly peaceful means - seeks to do what the Japanese tried to do before the start of WWII - developing bases on trade routes, expanding their presence, developing what amounts to a clone of the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
“It is all about the Second Island Chain,” he said, referring to a series of archipelagos that stretches from the eastern coast of Japan to the Bonin islands, to the Mariana islands, to Guam and the island country of Palau.
The US-controlled islands initially served as a second line of defence against communist countries in East Asia during the cold war. Today they are regarded as a major constraint on China’s rapidly expanding marine power and influence in the Pacific Ocean.
The team’s findings would be shared with the Chinese military and other interest groups in government, Xu said.
“There are many efforts going on to breach the Second Island Chain, this is part of them,” he said.
According to Tom Matelski, a US Army War College Fellow at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, China was seeking to build a military base in Micronesia.
Micronesia, with a population of about 110,000, has received a large amount of aid and investment from China since 2003. The money helped build some of the nation’s largest farms, schools, bridges and power plants, as well as the residence for the president and other senior government officials.
Since Micronesia lacked its own military, it had “outsourced” its defence to the US since the end of the second world war. But in 2015 Micronesian lawmakers introduced a resolution to end the exclusive partnership with the US as early as 2018.
If the Chinese military got a foothold on a Micronesian island, “the US could potentially lose their access to the strategic lines of communication that connect the Pacific Ocean to the vital traffic of the East and South China Seas”, Matelski wrote in an article published on the website of The Diplomat magazine in February last year.
Possession of portions of the Second Island Chain would give China a “springboard against foreign force projection,” he said.
here by Andrew Ericson:
“Back when imperial Japan was trying to gain control of the first, second and even a third chain – the Aleutians – there was a concern that if Japan didn’t control the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii the Americans would, to Japan’s geostrategic detriment,” said Erickson. “At the outset of World War II, Japan made an extraordinary effort to use part of the chains as a springboard, and they were indeed benchmarks of Japanese military progress. That was only halted then the US turned island-hopping in the other direction.”Not just the "second island chain" either, as James Holmes points out in Island Chains Everywhere: Some Chinese strategists see Hawaii as Asia’s ‘third island chain.’ What does this view say about US-China ties?
“Today, Japan is concerned about Chinese attempts to influence and control areas and to develop weapon systems vis-a-vis these island chains,” Erickson added. “And there’s a lot of Japanese concern about ongoing Chinese efforts to penetrate the chains using increasingly powerful and complex groups of naval vessels. I think Japan feels very much connected to these island chains. As China looks to the chains and aspires to do things, I think Japan feels very targeted by that, it feels it very acutely.” …
“Many Chinese sources emphasize their view of Taiwan’s status as a key node on the first island chain,” Erickson said. “Some Chinese sources see this not only as a springboard against mainland China, but a number of sources express aspirations of eventually [bringing the island] under mainland control, perhaps in a very robust fashion that would allow for some form of Chinese-controlled military facilities. We see discussion of ports, particularly on the east coast of Taiwan, allowing for China to conclusively break out of the confines of the first island chain once and for all.”
“I see no other part of an island chain that is really in the category of what some Chinese strategists ultimately aspire to control and own themselves,” Erickson said. “That definitely sets Taiwan apart.”
And while most attention is focused on the first island chain running south along the eastern edge of the South China Sea, the significance of the second chain, which includes the US territory of Guam, could grow.
“A number of Chinese sources see this as a rear staging area for US and allied forces,” Erickson said.
“But the second island chain will grow in China’s geostrategic thinking. As China continues to send naval forces afield, it will be a benchmark.”
Over time, he added, “China can do more to hold Guam and other parts of the second island chain at risk.”
At least some Chinese strategists think of Hawaii as an appendage of Asia rather than a geographic feature of the Pacific Ocean, placed closer to the Americas than to the Chinese coastline. The concept of first and second island chains is familiar to Asia specialists, but the concept of a third island chain, positioned only 2,400 miles from San Francisco, is a novel one. It appears on a map of the Pacific found in a recent translation of Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783—the same translation whose front cover blares, ‘Does China Need an Aircraft Carrier?’The game is afoot.
For Hawaii to fit the island chain template, however, it would need to be (1) a very long series of islands that (2) runs north-south fairly close to Asian shores, (3) encloses the Asian mainland, and (4) is inhabited by a prospective rival or rivals of China able to project military power seaward. Hawaii meets the last test but fails the first three miserably. We may as well describe the Americas as Asia’s fourth island chain. That the island chain metaphor sounds outlandish to American ears when applied to Hawaii, while many Chinese take it seriously, nonetheless reveals something discomfiting about US-China relations.
As Chinese naval proponents see it, the first and second island chains complicate their nation’s nautical destiny so long as they remain in potentially hostile hands—as they will in the case of Japan, to take the most obvious example. Japan’s combination of geographic position, multiple seaports suitable for military shipping and resources makes it a permanent factor in Chinese strategy. Forces stationed along the island chains can encumber the Chinese navy’s free access to the Western Pacific while inhibiting north-south movement along the Asian seaboard. How to surmount or work around these immovable obstacles understandably preoccupies scholars and practitioners of naval affairs in China.
But what about Hawaii? That the archipelago commands enormous strategic value for the United States has been axiomatic for American strategists for over a century. For example, Mahan—whom the Timesof London colorfully dubbed the United States' ‘Copernicus’ of sea power—lauded its geopolitical worth. Unlike their forebears from the age of sail, steamships could defy winds and currents, but they also demanded fuel in bulk to make long voyages. Accordingly, he exhorted a United States with commercial interests at stake in Asia to forge a ‘chain’ of island bases to support the transpacific journeys of steam-propelled merchantmen and their guardians, armoured men-of-war.
Taken to extremes, Beijing’s habit of appraising Pacific and Indian Ocean geography through the island chain lens—that is, seeing geographic features as an adversary’s defense perimeter that must be punctured, or a wall that must be fortified for defense—could misshape Chinese maritime strategy. Prodded by such conceptions, the Chinese leadership could take an unduly pessimistic view of the strategic surroundings, needlessly straining relations with the many seafaring powers that ply the Western Pacific and China’s near seas.
It's why we have a Navy to limit this before it gets out of hand. But we need a bigger force, one well thought out to insure international trade routes stay free.