As China Fortifies Its Little Islands, PACOM Moves F-22s to Darwin

Yves here. While you were busy watching the MSM scream about Rooskie influence in the hope of swaying electors pledged to vote for Trump, China and the US have been flexing their muscles at each other.

By David Llewellyn-Smith, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of The Diplomat magazine, now the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics website. Originally posted at MacroBusiness

China is fortifying its little islands:

BEIJING’s controversial artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea are now bristling with fortified gun towers, new satellite photographs reveal.

This is despite repeated assurances from Beijing that it would not militarise these outposts.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) first highlighted mysterious hexagonal-shaped structures under construction at the Spratly Island’s Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in August.

A fresh batch of satellite photos taken in November show these are being completed as point-defence fortifications housing radar-guided anti-aircraft and antimissile guns.

This means all seven of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea are now armed.

And the US is fortifying it’s little island, via Domainfax:

The US will begin flying its deadliest fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor, out of northern Australia next year, the most senior American commander in the Pacific has revealed as he warned  of a need to show strength to deter aggression in the region.

During a visit to Sydney on Wednesday, the commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, vowed the US would remain a major player in the region, saying its “enduring interests” would not “change on January 20th” – referring to the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President.

United States Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris issues a firm warning to “an increasingly assertive China” amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Admiral Harris revealed that he had signed a 2017 agreement for Australia to host US military assets including the Raptors, which are feared and revered as the best fighter planes in the world, and will send a strong signal about US military presence in the region.

“I think that’s positive,” Admiral Harris told the Lowy Institute event.

The greater presence of US air power out of Australia follows on from the rotation of US marines as a way to bolster the alliance and the American footprint at the southern edge of Asia – akin to a stationary aircraft carrier.

Strategic analysts widely see northern Australia as vital territory because it is mostly out of range of China’s ballistic missiles and is at the fulcrum of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Euan Graham, the Lowy Institute’s director of international security, described the presence of the F-22s as “pretty high-end coercive signalling to China”.

While the rotation of marines in Darwin got more attention, the stationing of planes was much more strategically significant, he said.

…Admiral Harris, who has been a hawkish voice during the Obama years – coining the famous phrase “Great Wall of Sand” to describe Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea – said along with North Korea and Islamist terrorism, the US and Australia faced “significant challenges . . . posed by a revanchist Russia and an increasingly assertive China”.

Admiral Harris said there was “no room for subtlety” in convincing potential aggressors that their actions would be deterred and said that maintaining a “credible combat power” was vital, along with having the resolve to use it and signalling that resolve.

…”I’ll be blunt in saying that the global operating system that created the Indo-Asia-Pacific economic miracle is coming under pressure from revisionist powers,” he said in an apparent reference to China and Russia.

Admiral Harris said he would like other countries such as Australia to carry out freedom-of-navigation operations – designed to challenge China’s island-building in the South China Sea – but stressed it was up to them.

Based on our present foreign policy we will now sell the F-22s airport to China not at all mindful of this sort of thing.

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  1. integer

    Interesting. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of the CCP. Chinese interests have been buying up a lot of residential property, farmland, and even utilities in Australia. Recently, a deal that was very close to completion, in which a CCP owned entity was going to purchase a large segment of Sydney’s electric grid, was overturned on the grounds of national security. From what I understand, China was/is pretty pissed about the deal being terminated. Here is a somewhat dated article detailing the Chinese investment in the Australian power grid, but I don’t think anything significant has changed since it was published. Note that the once independent Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been politicized by the LNP, so it is probably understating the significance of the issue. It is not often mentioned, but Abbott and his band of fools hastily signed a free trade deal with China that did not seem to me to be in Australia’s best interests. I assume they thought they could have their cake and eat it too as they were expecting the TTP to act as a counterpoint. Abbott and his “Australia is open for business” bs has a lot to answer for imo. Idiot.
    Anyway, definitely something to keep an eye on. Thanks for the heads up!

    1. integer

      counterpoint counterbalance

      Not having much luck today, and what’s worse is that I missed the first day of Aus. vs. Pakistan test cricket game. I have been enjoying a few Coopers Pale Ales though, so I guess I can’t complain.

      1. norm de plume

        Can you arrange to miss our second innings as well? We might avoid collapse twice in a row, rare nowadays.

        Re the Chinese and property, it’s not just residential. I have 3 siblings in Sydney CRE and their big kahuna clients are almost all Chinese billionaires. What with that pressure at the top allied to the thousands of OS students paying top dollar to cram 6 in a small flat, its no wonder it costs $1200 plus to rent a modest 3 bedder 45 mins from town.

        Re the ABC, its taken a while but the fate of the BBC is now beckoning, with that ex-Goldmanite in charge. What with the SMH having turned into an uneasy marriage between Hello magazine and a high-end property brochure, there’s really no mainstream refuge for independent thought.

        1. integer

          Can you arrange to miss our second innings as well?

          The cricket season has just started and Australia just won the Aus. vs. NZ ODI series so I’m not sure what you are talking about, though of course I do remember the Aus. vs. SA test series, which wasn’t our finest moment. In any case, Australia’s first innings is not finished yet.

          1. herkie1

            I forgot about cricket, I am leaving for Australia on a one way ticket in mid January, I am told the tedium of the game is second only to baseball.

  2. The Trumpening

    A couple points. Admiral Harris does not make policy – he implements it. In other words he follows orders from the Commander-in-Chief. He is being very bold here to start dictating to the new President what his Asian/Pacific policy will be.

    The Lowy Institute is a typical purveyor of globalist policy. They desperately want a hegemonic America to patrol the world’s shipping routes to protect their investments by making sure the current globalist economic order stays in place.

    This quote was special:

    ”I’ll be blunt in saying that the global operating system that created the Indo-Asia-Pacific economic miracle is coming under pressure from revisionist powers,” he said in an apparent reference to China and Russia.

    Guess what Admiral – you can add Trump’s America to that list since surely there are people within the Trump Administration who realize the best way to destroy globalization is for America to stop patrolling the world’s shipping lanes. A Trump Administration should actually want to put the “Indo-Asia-Pacific economic miracle” under some pressure to force companies to move plant back to America.

    Now such a bold move by the Trump Administration to undermine globalization would take subtlety and you wouldn’t just come out and announce your intentions loudly and proudly. There are trillions of dollars on the line for globalist oligarchs like Frank Lowry, who runs the Lowry Institute. The true logic of a nationalist, America First policy would have the US withdraw from much of the world and limiting itself to being the regional hegemon of North and South America. This wouldn’t happen overnight by any means but this sort of retreat would be the guiding line of US foreign policy moving forward. And no, this will not be good for the globalists and their investments. Which gives Trump leverage in any discussion with them.

    1. Waldenpond

      Trump manufactures his products wherever he can most readily exploit labor. The only way he would abandon patrolling the oceans is if he can first import cheap labor. Likely exempt from the minimum wage to do jobs lazy (the elites favorite lie) USians won’t. I just don’t see it happening as the vast majority of spying and force has nothing to do with some phony ‘security’ and everything to do with profit.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Someone needs to look at a map. Darwin may be ‘out of range of China’s ballistic missiles’, but it is also 3000 miles from any of the disputed islands and the F-22 has a combat radius of 500 miles, making it pretty much useless unless the Papua New Guinneans decide to invade Australia. F-22’s are already based in Okinawa, which is far closer to China and disputed areas of the Pacific.

    This deployment has probably more to do with patting the heads of the Aussies and telling them how important they are than any China issue.

    1. Cry Shop


      Ten years ago, this would have been signaling to the CIA’s favorite terrorist regime in Jakarta that lebnsraum in Oz really was off the table. It’s completely ineffective against Oz selling itself to China.

  4. skippy

    I’ll wait for these static defensive islands to become self powered and navigable before they become interesting….

  5. flora

    The sea lanes in the South China Sea are vital to world trade. Rising tensions are not to be wished. At the same time, I do not think the increasing challenge from China to claim and militarize the Sea can continue unanswered if the sea lanes are to be kept open international waters. This is worrisome. Thanks for the report.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      U.S. military hegemony is dependent on open sea lanes. We don’t have the ability to support deployments without open sea lanes. China knows Obama announced an Asian pivot when he became President which would be unnecessary unless he intended to attack China in some fashion. Tibet was sixty years ago, and any stable government would have out down those raiding theocrats. The Chinese much like the Iranians and Russians are constructing internal trade routes and creating potential choke points to cripple U.S. offensive capability in response. The beauty is they are behaving rationally.

      Take Syria. Putin would not have intervened in Libya. He would have been more active diplomatically, but the Russian people would never go for it. If he didn’t respond in Syria, he would have found himself in the Russian street. All stable governments respond to aggression or fail. An attack on a long term ally is an attack on the allies. It’s always been so. The Russians responded.

      Don’t underestimate the global ramifications of Libya, an announcement that the U.S. didn’t invade Iraq in a moment of madness with the “adults” sideline but that the U.S. was a dangerous, irrational empire with no respect for any kind of international order beyond edicts from DC. Obama’s deranged “American exceptionalism” screeds arent helping. Putin would be remiss if he wasn’t leaking damaging reports on Hillary.

      The U.S. is protected by Oceans and two wastelands. Mexico, where everyone lives, is too distant and Canada is too small. We don’t need to think about defense or even act rationally, hiding behind our borders and mindless hollywood remakes or the next Star Wars. These other countries don’t have that luxury. Moscow and Beijing are not going to back down in the face of naked aggression. They heard Obama announce the end of the war on terror and announce an “Asian pivot” in the same breath. They know Obama didn’t rush to withdraw from Afghanistan. If we continue down this path, more and more people will wake up to what this country is. If you want to go abroad, I suggest reading up on maple syrup production and the rules of hockey.

      1. Vatch

        The Spratly Islands are much closer to both Vietnam and the Philippines than they are to China. China’s claim to the Spratly Islands is very weak. In contrast, the Paracel Islands are fairly close to China, and the Chinese do have a reasonable claim to those islands.

        I’m not sure what your point about Tibet is. What the Chinese did to the Tibetans in 1959 was far bloodier than the Tienanmen massacre in 1989. The Chinese government’s treatment of the Tibetans is very similar to what the U.S. government has done to American Indians, and both governments deserve censure.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          My point is Chinese aggression occurred in the 50’s with understandable reasons. The pivot to Asia was an announcement the U.S. would move to hamper a peacefully growing China. Beijing would see Obama as doing nothing other than engaging in aggression, and they are moving to respond. They need to choke certain sea lanes to prevent resupply.

          The Chinese are worried about defense not backwards claims.

          1. Vatch

            Genocide or ethnic cleansing are often understandable, unfortunately. What is understandable is not necessarily morally justifiable. And the ethnic cleansing in Tibet (and Xinjiang, too) continues.

            It’s not clear to me that the “pivot to Asia” is purely military. There is an economic aspect, such as encouraging investment and offshoring to China. In that sense, the “pivot” is quite bad for most Americans, so I’m not disagreeing with your opposition to the pivot. But disagreement with bad U.S. policy doesn’t equate to agreement with bad Chinese policy, such as the seizure of the clearly non-Chinese Spratly islands.

      2. rd

        Invading Canada is almost like invading Russia. On the west coast, you have to cross multiple mountain ranges with bad roads. To the north, you are cut off from shipping half the year and have to cross a couple of thousand miles of frozen tundra before there is anything to occupy. In the east, your army would never get past the bars and strip clubs in Montreal.

  6. nah

    China is wealthy they live in the same world we do, I like China they are an incredible people
    Building islands in the south China sea is one step below conquering a nation in some context
    They are seeking another precedent beyond the 7 Gorges Damn and the Great Wall of China
    Pretty remarkable and well organized people indeed a strong nation with a seat on the UN security council
    Donald Trump intimidates them by taking phone calls lol

    1. Vatch

      It’s the 3 Gorges Dam, not the 7 Gorges Dam. More than a million people were displaced by the dam’s construction, and numerous hairline cracks were found before construction was even finished. Large projects can be very troublesome in any country.

  7. Jeremy Grimm

    Yesterday evening NPR [WHYY] reported [or repeated their report?] of Obama asserting the U.S. would retaliate for Russia’s hacking activities during our recent election. NPR also reported the U.S. was increasing the size and stepping up the time table for troop deployments into Poland, Romania and other former Soviet buffer zone countries.

  8. blert

    1) Darwin is at the northern edge of Australia. Hence it’s ideally situated for F-22 influence.

    2) The PLAN ‘project’ will blow over when the next hurricane// cyclone blows through.

    Indeed, a cyclone would figure to de-sand the Chinese in a few hours.

    The purpose for this entire scheme is to build out PLAN assets — which need a ‘training sea’ for their crews.

    The CCP has fantasies that the South China Sea is atop a staggering pool of oil.

    It also dreams that one fine day the PLAN could destroy Japan’s oceanic trade.

    Such a fantasy is for naught: the USN will always be able to interdict OPEC shipments — with a phone call. Atomic submarines don’t need local bases, of course.

    China is critically dependent upon phosphate fertilizer imports. Her domestic food supply will crash without them… taking the CCP down at the same time.

    The PLAN is actually going ‘off script’ as this grand scheme is a strategic gaff of the fist magnitude. This error is due to provincial military politics. The PLAN is not thinking through what the impact must be on the PLA and the CCP.

  9. blert

    “Based on our present foreign policy we will now sell the F-22s airport to China not at all mindful of this sort of thing.”

    I can’t parse this.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Australia has been selling infrastructure like crazy.

      He is pointing out the inconsistency between the government policy on infrastructure deals and its dependence on the US for defense.

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