Join 3,380 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


With the tropical sun blasting down on it, the ship was ravaged by rust.
October 25, 2013 8:18 AM   Subscribe

In a remote corner of the South China Sea, 105 nautical miles from the Philippines, lies a submerged reef the Filipinos call Ayungin. In most ways it resembles the hundreds of other reefs, islands, rock clusters and cays that collectively are called the Spratly Islands. But Ayungin is different. In the reef’s shallows there sits a forsaken ship, manned by eight Filipino troops whose job is to keep China in check... It was hard to imagine how such a forsaken place could become a flash point in a geopolitical power struggle. Jeff Himmelman (words) and Ashley Gilbertson (images). A Game of Shark and Minnow [SLNYTimes interactive, (calm) autoplaying audio]
posted by Chutzler (21 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Japan is playing a key role here.

Japan is also helping out Vietnam.

This is really independent of US sponsorship, and is in fact a hedge against US sponsorship.

Interesting times.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:35 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really liked the presentation style, but really hated the usual magazine format with a dawdling story that didn't get to the point, mixing human interest with politics.

So I compromised, read half and gave up.
posted by YAMWAK at 8:43 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's pretty though.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:48 AM on October 25, 2013


I recalled something from this past summer or the year before when Chinese and Japanese ships almost came to blows. When looking for information, I found these interesting and topical links instead:

Chinese and Japanese ships cluster around disputed islands (CNN, April 24, 2013)

Are Japan and China really ancient enemies, or is it something much newer? (Washington Post, May 13, 2013)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2013


It is pretty. But, holy shit, if you use Flashblock it's damn near impossible to read. (You have to scroll at just the right speed to see where to turn on each Flash block.)

The layout is too clever by half, unfortunately.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2013


Are Japan and China really ancient enemies, or is it something much newer?

What I've read is that the issue is not whether or not China is "ancient enemies" or whatever with any of its neighbours, but instead that the PLA and government have become decoupled, and the PLA operates as a separate state apparatus. There is no civilian control and oversight of the Chinese military like there is in most other countries.

So all the hard work Chinese diplomats do on the international stage, and the nuanced diplomatic communication they use, is sabotaged by an unsophisticated and bellicose military.

I think it's the major issue confronting global security in the next ten years.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 AM on October 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


With limited control over the military, it's probably only China's limited navel assets that prevent the military from engaging in adventurism. At some point in the future, when China has more of a deep seas capability, they may well decide " Hey, err can totally solve this political dispute through military force". Then things will get ugly throughout the region. Maybe. This is speculation of course.
posted by happyroach at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


“You’ve got the wrong science-fiction movie,” one former highly placed U.S. official later told me, when I described what we saw at Subi, and what it might mean for the guys on Ayungin. “It’s not the Death Star. It’s actually the Borg from ‘Star Trek’: ‘You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.’ ”

The idea that a "formerly highly placed U.S. official" would describe contemporary geopolitics by closely parsing a Star Wars vs. Star Trek metaphor warms my geeky little heart.
posted by googly at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The legal basis for China's territorial claims is pretty much junk. There's a reason they won't submit to arbitration - copied and recopied records from dead empires aren't evidence of modern territorial claims, no more than nine dashes on a self-serving modern survey map are. There is no legal basis to the claim; it's basically "we claim it because we think we can, and none of the other countries involved is strong enough to do anything to stop us."

Thing is, almost none of the Spratleys are "islands" under the Law of the Sea Convention. Possessing them doesn't really do anything important, like creating an EEZ or rights to exploit the continental shelf.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The legal basis for China's territorial claims is pretty much junk.

Military might trumps the law and if anyone thinks rising Chinese military might is going to be deterred by the law I suggest they talk to the Palestinians.
posted by three blind mice at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The legal basis for China's territorial claims is pretty much junk. There's a reason they won't submit to arbitration

That's not how China sees it. The "Law of the Sea" is a recent Western imperialist construct.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:02 AM on October 25, 2013


(according to the Chinese)
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on October 25, 2013


At some point in the future, when China has more of a deep seas capability, they may well decide " Hey, err can totally solve this political dispute through military force". Then things will get ugly throughout the region.

Too many regional powers, some nuclear armed or could be at the drop of a hat, for them to try. This isn't the 60's - India makes better tanks and planes and warships than they do and they share an enormous border with the Russians. It's not a bunch of 3rd-world backwaters squabbling anymore. China talks tough, but they're not spending Superpower money on expanding their military beyond modernization and some modest ambitions for the export market. Unless it involves infantry and lots of it, China's not in a good position to project power abroad, yet they're really unappealing to anyone looking for an easy fight, and I get the impression they're happy with that state of affairs.

Everyone knows that picking a fight with the Philippines is picking a fight with the US, and with the US comes NATO and, with the right party in power, Japan. This is probably about sticking it to Vietnam, whom the Chinese have resented since forever, and Vietnam is in the Spratleys as a way to stick it to both China, who they've resented since forever, and the US by way of sticking it to the US "client", the Philippines.

Remember the time Canada fired warning shots at Spanish fishing vessels? Of course you don't. It's minor-league posturing. I mean look at that rusty piece of crap with eight guys on it. It's there so the Chinese have to blow all that money on their dumb-ass cabbage strategy, which is just posturing and showing off, while Manilla laughs at them while solidifying their real diplomatic strategy. Nobody on either side is actually taking this seriously.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:34 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Canada, there's an analogous problem for the Canadian government as to how to maintain sovereignty over the North. What China and the Philippines are doing may seem silly, but at bottom it makes sense: anywhere your country can't keep boots on the ground is de facto not your country's territory.

A big part of Canada's solution is the Canadian Rangers. They're a volunteer militia whose primary job is "sovereignty patrols" through low-populated areas in our provinces and territories. Their uniform includes a red sweatshirt. Their issued weapon is a Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle, a design more than a century old. ("Canadian Rangers carry the weapon primarily for subsistence and protection against predators rather than with the expectation of engaging an enemy force.") Their only militarily useful weapon is a radio. It is expected that they will provide their own transportation (ATVs, boats, snowmobiles, dogsleds, etc.), though the government will reimburse them for mileage. In short, they're locals who go on long government funded hunting and fishing trips. In exchange, at very little cost, the Canadian government gets surveillance over and a nominal military presence in the most remote parts of the country.

Note to Americans: this is what a well-regulated militia looks like.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


Speaking of Canada's government trying to maintain sovereignty over the North, Denmark has been dealing with the same issue for quite some time when it comes to the icy expanses of it's Greenland colony. The solution has been the creation of the awesome, yet largely unknown, Sirius Sled Patrol. There was a post about this organization on the blue last year.

Apologies for following justsomebody's post and veering off from the South China Sea focus.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 12:12 PM on October 25, 2013


That's not how China sees it. The "Law of the Sea" is a recent Western imperialist construct.

Well yes, of course. But the prior legal order in that part of the world was nominal Chinese tributory relationships with resulting "grants" of the right to rule from the Chinese emperor, so not really compatible with any of the modern concepts of statehood.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:32 PM on October 25, 2013


That's not how China sees it. The "Law of the Sea" is a recent Western imperialist construct.

Keep in mind that the United States has also failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It's a real problem for settling territorial disputes in the arctic.

If one great power behaves badly, others will do the same. The US really needs to start understanding that we don't live in a unipolar world any more.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:17 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US really needs to start understanding that we don't live in a unipolar world any more.

We kinda do. I drove by a Navy stealth drone today. It was parked in the lot of the boat paddock of the Newport Navy base. It's roughly the size and shape of a tank, with "wings" ending in streamlined pontoon things where the treads would be, and a series of missile hatches where the turret would be on an actual tank. No windows or view-slits, just a few shielded cameras and antenna arrays.

They didn't bother to cover it up or conceal it, you can see it right from the public road less than 25 yards away, very clearly. This means it's no longer classified, and therefore old hat, which is why they assigned it to the boat yard at NPT, next to the old minesweeper and the little tenders and launches and inflatable attack craft.

In a non-nuclear clash of powers, we're in a unipolar world. When the nukes are in play, or asymmetrical warfare (terrorism, guerrilla warfare) is introduced, we're fucked. But in the game of "our ship can sink your ship" there's really no-one else operating on this level. China can't even get their second-hand carrier working right.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:46 PM on October 25, 2013


Keep in mind that the United States has also failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It's a real problem for settling territorial disputes in the arctic.

This is disingenuous at best. The U.S. signed UNCLOS and treats it as customary law that is to be respected. Failure to ratify does not = failure to observe. American lack of ratification was due to issues with one small and specific part of the treaty that was overwhelmingly advantageous to certain Communist regimes. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and co., any opposition by the U.S. govt to the treaty evaporated. Ratification is supported by virtually every American political party and entity (Clintons, Bush 1/2, Chamber of Commerce, Big Oil, every major military representative, the Obama administration, etc.); the only opposition to ratification in recent history was by, surprise surprise, Jim "I'm a Prick" Demint immediately before the 2012 election. Even they publicly admitted it was political blustering against Obama and that it's guaranteed to be ratified in the near future. BTW Territorial disputes in the Arctic are incredibly complex because they involve virtually every nation above a certain latitude in the Northern Hemisphere and no one knows the specific details of how climate change is going to alter Arctic geography (i.e. shipping routes). The U.S. ratifying UNCLOS wouldn't alter the consideration of those factors.

If one great power behaves badly, others will do the same. The US really needs to start understanding that we don't live in a unipolar world any more.

In this case it would be more apropos to apply these "statements" to China, which has a long history of manufactured outrage at "perceived slights" and contentious historical/modern relationships with every neighbor. This is a case of unadulterated jingoism designed to distract a restless, unhappy and abused citizenry from the reality that it is Chinese citizens screwing over China and not Japan/Vietnam/Korea/the U.S./the West.

I suspect that this is going to occur more frequently in the next few decades considering the impending demographic catastrophe in the country coupled with the growth of the PLA into what is essentially the world's largest organized crime entity.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 2:50 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Historical Fiction: China’s South China Sea Claims

Absolute pro-read right here. The last time I saw such an evisceration of an opponent's argument was during the peak of the evolution/intelligent design brouhaha a few years ago.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 3:10 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


With ‘Shark and Minnow,’ New York Times tried to keep readers scrolling
posted by Chutzler at 10:14 PM on October 28, 2013


« Older Chinese Provinces and Indian States...  |  On 1st November 1988, ITV disp... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments