There is a very interesting article in the South China Morning Post which says that “While the eyes of the world have been on the strategic tussle between Beijing and Washington in the South China Sea, Chinese scientists, with the help of the Canadian authorities, have succeeded in positioning four monitoring devices in waters just 300km (186 miles) off the United States’ Pacific coast.” The article goes on to explain that “The instruments, which use hi-tech sensors to monitor the underwater environment, are connected to the Ocean Network Canada (ONC), a grid of marine observatories stretching from the northeast Pacific to the Arctic. While the network is operated by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, its four new additions are the property of the Sanya Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering, a unit of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which also developed and built them.“
So the Chinese sensors, which are part of a peaceful, friendly Canadian (University of Victoria) oceanographic and environmental research project (Oceans Net Canada), are connected, directly, to a Chinese government lab. Those four Chinese sensors, the article says, are located just and the end of the “choke point” (Puget Sound) through which the US Navy warships at the Kitsap Naval Base (at least one aircraft carrier and over a dozen submarines) must pass to enter and leave home port. Notwithstanding what the University of Victoria’s intention might have been, the end effect, it seems to me, is that Canada appears to have given the Chinese Navy a ‘picquet,’ a sort of electronic sentry, even a spy, just outside a key US Navy base.
Now, it may be that the University of Victoria went to the Americans in Bremerton and said “Hey, guys, we’re doing underwater research off the coast of Vancouver Island and we’re teaming up with a Chinese research institute …” but, according to the Article the US State Department “said it had “nothing to say” on the matter.” That sounds, to me, like they were caught flat footed.
The article goes on to discuss three key issues:
- The importance that naval forces, especially, attach to any technology that can detect and track submarines. I can guarantee you, from experience, that any technology that can detect and track submarines is carefully guarded and governments take pains to keep submarine movements secret;
- The ongoing, escalating Sino-American trade war which might be turning into Cold War 2.0; and
- The ongoing spat between Canada and the USA.
I wonder how the last one will be impacted by this.
I am quite certain that the whole Trump administration ~ not just the president, himself, but also the ‘grownups’ like Defense Secretary James Mattis ~ will see this as an unfriendly act.
How China and our friends in Asia, like India, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore see it is another matter and I’m not sure I see a great many policy advantages in giving China the capacity to use our oceanographic network to ~ potentially ~ spy on the United States Navy. But I’m not sure that the Canadian Foreign Affairs or Defence Departments knew about this. I’m sure we will hear and read that this is all about tracking porpoises and orcas and ocean currents … I doubt James Mattis sees it that way and that does worry me.