This article, in the Hindustan Times and this in the South China Morning Post, both deal with the same issue: China is trying to wear down Japan’s ability to assert sovereignty over the disputed Senkaku (尖閣諸島 in Japanese) or Diaoyutai (or Diaoyu Islands (釣魚臺列嶼 in Chinese) which are, in reality, little more than a few (eight) uninhabited and uninhabitable rocks (the largest being less than 4.5 km²) that lie between Taiwan and Okinawa.
The islets are important to China for to principle reasons:
- They lie close to China’s coast and close to Taiwan, also, meaning that they have both symbolic and (potential) naval/military operational value; and
- Securing them would humiliate Japan, which is always an important domestic political priority in China.
The Chinese tactic is to keep making incursions into the area forcing the Japanese Air Force “to scramble its fighter jets from dawn till dusk.” The Chinese have the advantage in having a huge, well funded military. Japan is a medium sized (pop: 126 Million) rich nation but with limited military resources. The Japanese Air Self Defence Force has about 250 fist line fighters ~ more than three times the RCAF’s fleet, but nothing like the fleets of ships and aircraft that China can deploy.
This is, of course, part of a larger Chinese strategic programme aimed at securing effective operational control over a huge part of the far Western Pacific, especially the seas that give Japan (and the Philippines) easy access to India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. I have dealt with this, several times, in the past. This is the wrong place to discuss naval strategy, but there is a lot of documentation out there about the important of sea control and the issue of the “narrow seas.”
Well, there is a “so what” for Canada. We are a Pacific nation, no mater how much Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Laurentian Elites might like to believe otherwise. China, in the early 21st century, is trying very hard ~ and succeeding, I daresay, in altering the strategic balance in the Pacific and China’s plans are inimical to Canada’s commercial and political interests and dangerous to those of some of our major allies like America, Australia and Japan and to lesser allies and friends like India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam.
Although our pitifully small Navy is already overstretched in terms of both ships and sailors, Canada should, without weakening, even by one single sea-day, our commitments to the Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres, assign one major warship ~ a frigate, for now ~ to the Western Pacific. That means two fully crewed, combat-ready ships ~ one “on station” and, as often as not, another either sailing out or sailing home and sometimes even a third doing “work-ups.” There are, as far as I know, only five frigates in the Pacific Fleet ~ HMC Ships Vancouver (FFH 331), Calgary (FFH 335), Regina (FFH 334) Winnipeg (FFH 338) and Ottawa (FFH 341). I suspect that my Navy friends will tell me that (as many as three (of only five) ships fully crewed, armed and (almost) ready) is, quite simply, beyond the little fleet’s capacity. If that’s the case then the the “little fleet” simply needs to be bigger, doesn’t it?
Now, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Katie Telford, his brains, and …
… Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will all say that I am overreacting and that we are doing enough, a full and fair share, in the Pacific, and Canadians have other priorities. They will be right about Canadians having other priorities ~ but that’s totally irrelevant. The duty of political leaders, especially those in government, is to protect and promote the country’s vital interests, and Canada has a lot of them in the Pacific.
Canada needs to do the right thing.
The right thing to do is to stretch the current capabilities of the men and women and ships of the Royal Canadian Navy almost to the breaking point, if need be, and make an essentially permanent ~ likely for all of the 2020s and well into an even beyond the 2030s ~ contribution of a major warship and, as often as possible, of supporting aircraft, to our allies in the Pacific. Command and control and logistical support arrangements can be made, on a continuously varying basis, with our American, Australian, British, Japanese and even Filipino friends.
The Canadian strategic aim, which must be made very clear to our allies and friends in the region, and to China, is NOT to threaten China. Nor is it to punish China for its past bullying of Canada. Rather it is to help strengthen allies’ and friends’ resolve to resist Chinese bullying, which I assert, link above, is happening and to contain China’s expansion. Canada, and the world, should welcome China’s rise. Successive Chinese governments have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty and set them on the road to prosperity. Canada, and the wold, should applaud that. Canada should now wish that China will act in a responsible, even friendly manner towards its neighbours and others and that India should rise in the same way.
I continue to assert that China is, amongst the great powers, the least likely to start a shooting war. The Chinese have a very long history of achieving their strategic goals by peaceful means and the current government, for all its quite Trumpian bluster and bullying, seems, to me to be philosophically inclined to seek to achieve its end without resort to force. Even in the current case, in their conflict with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the Chinese are using military muscle to try to wear down that Japanese, not to shoot them down. I still believe that Russia, North Korea and Iran are greater, more compelling threats to peace and that’s why I say that Canada should increase our support in the Pacific without cutting our efforts in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
The right thing to do is rebalance Canada’s entire defence strategy so that the Atlantic, Continental and Pacific theatres are all treated as high priorities. This will require a new mindset in both the Global Affairs and National Defence departments.
The right thing to do is to plan for a Navy that is appropriate for a G7 power which also has the world’s longest coastline. My guess (which hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years) is that the Navy Canada needs (and can afford) looks a bit like this:
- Two, preferably three large (20,000 to 30,000 tonnes displacement) helicopter and troop-carrying vessels;
- 14 to 18 of the planned Type 26 global combat ships ~
- Four to Six air defence ships, and
- 10 to 12 general purpose/anti-submarine ships, which can be fitted with additional systems for task group command and control;
- 12 to 16 corvettes (2,000 to 3,000 tonnes displacement) ~ half fitted for anti-submarine operations and half optimized for fast coastal patrol operations;
- Four large (20,000± tonnes) auxiliary/replenishment ships ~ ‘tankers’ in Navy parlance;
- Eight modern, air-independent propulsion system (most likely nuclear since we want to operate under the Arctic ice) submarines; and
- A fleet of auxiliary and training vessels, including inland/riverine vessels for use by Naval Reserve Divisions.
None of those things are on Justin Trudeau’s reelection promise list, the only list of priorities about which he and Ms Telford care, so the right thing to do is to toss him on to the political trash heap, where he belongs, and to consign the Liberal Party to the opposition benches for a decade or more while it rediscovers its honourable traditions as a great Canadian institution. That means that Canadians have to do the right thing, too, and shake off their fear, fed to them by too much of a left-leaning media, of Conservative politics and elect a new, ethical, principled team led by Erin O’Toole.