Transcript: remarks by Capt. James Fanell, PacFleet

January 31, 2013
U.S. Naval Institute

This is an interesting and informed view of a professional in China intelligence . . . I understand this represents his own views, but they are significant nonetheless




Capt Fanell, USN
Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Information Operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet


January 31, 2013
U.S. Naval Institute
San Diego, CA

USNI Panel: Chinese Navy: Operational Challenge or Potential Partner?

Captain James Fanell: Thanks Jackie, and uh, first of all, good morning everybody, aloha, I’d like to thank the institute and AFCEA for inviting me to speak here at AFCEA West.   My last time speaking here was 2006, and it’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but my topics are very much similar, and I've reviewed what I spoke about then. I’m glad we’re speaking about China again, and I think the developments since 2006 are informative to this discussion.

I’d also say that maybe after you hear my prepared remarks you may not want to invite me back, because they’ll be a little bit more pointed than Jackie’s.

I typically am an 'ad hoc' speaker in my current position as the fleet intelligence officer, but I wanted to present some prepared remarks, so I will read, hopefully not bore you. It will be about 8 minutes.

As the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Officer, I arrive at work every morning around five a.m. and by that time my officers will have prepared a book for me outlining the maritime events over the last twenty-four hours in an area of responsibility that stretches from the West coast of Hawaii to Africa. Or as the fleet commander, Admiral [Cecil D.] Haney said yesterday, “from Hollywood to Bollywood.”

At six, I will take an intelligence briefing, surrounded by the best Asian maritime analysts in the world, submarine specialists, aviation experts, governance specialists, imagery analysts, cryptanalysts and linguists, over two dozen of us as we probe the very latest intelligence and each other with questions and observations from forty-five minutes to an hour, every day.

All countries are included in this analysis, Japan, Russia, North Korea, India, Southeast Asia, we cover all the bases, event by event. That being said, every day, it’s about China.

It’s about a China that’s at the center of virtually every activity and dispute in the maritime domain in the East Asian region.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy is now regularly operating in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and maintains a robust and constant presence around the East and South China Seas, what the Chinese call their “near seas.” In fact, over the last five years, the PLA Navy has moved out beyond the “first island chain," into the Philippine Sea, or what they would call the “distant seas.”

These moves into the “distant seas” would seem inevitable for a nation as large as China. But it goes without saying that this expansion into Blue Waters is largely about countering the Pacific Fleet.

If afforded the time, we could spend several hours or days discussing specific platforms, naval armaments and training that drives me to make this assessment.

Suffice it to say that my assessment is that the PLA Navy has become a very capable fighting force. Much of the intelligence record is classified beyond what we can discuss in this forum, but just to give you one example, in 2012, the PLA Navy sent seven surface actions groups and the largest number of its submarines on deployment into the Philippine Sea in its history – and a significant increase in some areas from the years before, or just the year before.

But as Admiral Haney likes to remind me, it’s not just the “bean-counting” that matters. It’s about WHAT they’re doing when they go to sea. And I can tell you, as the Fleet Intelligence Officer, the PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare. Or, as the PRC state news organization, Xinhua news agency, stated just yesterday as the first surface action group of 2013 deployed just two days ago into the Philippine Sea, they said, “the fleet will carry out more than twenty types of exercises, including naval confrontation, battle drills far out to sea, the protection of maritime rights, and command and control.”

Make no mistake, the PLA Navy is focused on war at sea and about sinking an opposing fleet.

The PLA Navy’s civil proxy, an organization called “China Marine Surveillance,” has escalated a focused campaign since 2008 to gain Chinese control of the near seas, and they now regularly challenge the exclusive economic zone resource rights that South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Vietnam once thought were guaranteed to them by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

If you map out their harassments you will see they form a curved front that has over time expanded out against the coasts of China’s neighbors, becoming the infamous “nine dash line” plus the entire East China Sea.

To put it another way, we do not see incidents or controversies around Chinese platforms off the coast of Guangzhou or Shanghai. No. China is negotiating for control of other nations’ resources off their coasts. “What’s mine is mine, and we’ll negotiate what’s yours.”

China now has eight military installations on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands including one they seized 115 miles off the Philippine Coast.

And China Marine Surveillance cutters now regularly patrol the entire region.

Incidentally, unlike U.S. coast guard cutters, Chinese marine surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims. Mundane maritime government tasks like search-and-rescue, regulating fisheries, ice breaking and criminal law enforcement are handled by other agencies.

China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organization, and they are still building their large cutters at an astonishing rate. By their own count, China Maritime Surveillance has tripled its patrols in the South China Sea since 2008.

I’ve just used the words “expand” and “expansive” and I know that’s controversial for some in this room. And it even feeds the caricature of Department of Defense promotion of the quote-unquote “China Threat Theory.”

But for those of us who have watched this on a daily basis over the last decade, there’s no better description for what China’s been doing.

The People’s Republic of China’s presence in the southern China sea prior to 1988 was nearly zero.

Now, in 2013, they literally dominate it. They are taking control of maritime areas that have never before been administered or controlled in the last 5,000 years by any regime called “China”. And the PRC is now doing it in an area up to 900 miles from the Mainland, and up to dozens of miles off the coasts of other nations.

In my opinion, China is knowingly, operationally and incrementally seizing maritime rights of its neighbors under the rubric of a maritime history that is not only contested in the international community, but has largely been fabricated by Chinese government propaganda bureaus in order to quote-unquote “educate” the populace about China’s “rich maritime history” clearly as a tool to help sustain the Party’s control.

Last year’s Scarborough Shoals seizure typifies the confrontations that China is having with its neighbors. It’s one that exhibited all the common characteristics of China’s aggression. First, they are initiated by the egregious conduct of China’s actors – sometimes the Chinese government, sometimes private entities. At Scarborough Reef, Chinese fishermen were excavating live coral and harvesting endangered species, including giant clams.

Second, Chinese official spokesmen will issue fabricated stories to explain the incidents; in the case of Scarborough, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the “Chinese fishermen were seeking refuge from storms.”

Simply not true.

You can Google the weather that day: winds 5-10 knots, seas less than two feet, sunny, there were no thunderstorms.

Third, China bullies its adversaries, linking it to a variety of unconnected trade and economic issues while insisting it remain bilateral.

Fourth, China states a claim that is unsupported by documentation, leaves out evidence, and ignores other narratives.

Fifth, and increasingly problematic, the PLA Navy is always looming in the background, just over the horizon, ready for combat, if any of China’s adversaries are foolish enough to offer it. The PLA Navy is now active throughout the South and East China Seas, 365 days a year.

Predictably, China’s conduct is destabilizing the East Asia maritime environment. As we witness the concerns of China’s neighbors reflected in their responses and interactions with the US Pacific Fleet, it was like someone had flipped the diplomatic switch.

Before that, in 2007, we weren’t particularly popular in East Asia, we had trouble getting port calls for our ships or landing permission for our aircraft.

Beijing’s conduct at sea over the past couple of years has turned that around 180 degrees. East Asia now remembers why they liked America.

Let me be clear. Nobody wants another Cold War with the U.S. leading an anti-China coalition and forcing every nation to take sides. But they definitely want us there and supporting them as they try to defend their rights. We now have more places on our ships than we have ships to send them. And I have more invitations to meet with my counterparts in East Asia than our pre-continuous resolution-impacted travel budget can afford.

It feels good to be loved, but we don’t need this kind of influence. We need a China that is a trusted guarantor of East Asia maritime security, not the mistrusted principal threat it has become. We need China to act like a great nation and a responsible stakeholder. But that’s not the China I’ve watched every day for the past decade.

One of the panelists questions as Jackie mentioned earlier is “what is the impact that PLA Navy modernization is having on other nations in the Asia-Pacific Region. And I would add “what does the rebalancing strategy mean in terms of U.S. involvement in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas.”

My foreign naval counterparts answer this directly to me all the time. They want us to stand up firmly for international norms of peaceful discourse. Most of East Asia outside of China is enjoying the fruits of liberal democracy and prosperity in a world of laws. Even autocratic Vietnam is prospering under this existing world order. They like it, and they don’t want it encroached upon or taken away by a hegemonic China. They want us to be supportive of multilateralism without assertively leading it, and they want us to be capable in the region without being inflammatory. They want to be able to rely upon our word, our treaties as well as our military strength which has been the stabilizing force for the past seven decades.

In the simplest of terms, they want us there on the high seas protecting freedom of navigation and free access to markets.

Thanks for your time.




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