Waters scrambled for – observations on the situation on the oceans 2017 (part 2)

Bruno-Günter Hofbauer


The South China Sea as an important maritime area is surrounded by Taiwan in the north, the Philippines in the east and southeast, Borneo, which is separated between Malaysia and Indonesia, in the south, and the Malaya peninsula, which belongs to Malaysia, and Vietnam in the west. Singapore asserts the southwest sortie position along the shortest distance to the Indian Ocean. Due to its strategic position at the south entry into the Straits of Malacca this city state dominates the way into the Indian Ocean. The connection towards south to Australia goes through the Sunda Straits between the islands Sumatra and Java. Thus, the South China Sea offers China a southern and eastern sortie, whereas most of the raw materials importations flow through this Sea into Cathay, from the Arabian region, Australia or Africa. The logical consequence is a high Chinese interest in controlling this region. From a military point of view one can notice that there is a balance between the actors in the northern region. China considers itself confronted by Japan, South Korea and the USA. The question of the Korea peninsula and the cushioning effect of the North Korean regime take over a determining role. Especially the possible confrontation between the two Koreas leads to a dominance of the land and sea forces, the latter primarily taking up a supporting role. The Chinese sea forces are organised in three fleets (South, East and North). On the whole one has to bear in mind that the USA as an ally of important East Asian states take effect in this region. With the appearance of adversaries, whose capabilities increasingly match those of Western sea forces, and who are willing to strike out in a new direction concerning mission control, using all possibilities below the threshold of open conflict, the orientation of the sea force of Western Europe, the USA and its allies in the Asian-Pacific region must change swiftly. It will be necessary to shift the focus of mission completion in the framework of surveillance and projection missions to the core area of sea control and its procedures and capabilities, as well as to increase the operational readiness of the deployed detachments, and to strengthen the arsenals. The procurements of Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and Germany, for instance, are proof of the fact that the naval armament spiral has begun to turn dynamically in the West. The establishment of hard facts, using surprise, well-timed actions from a position of relative – even timely limited – strength, will presumably be detected in the West Pacific, but also in the European marginal zones, during the following years. The consequences will have global dimensions.