I spy again
April 11, 2001 7:30 PM   Subscribe

I spy again As that great American icon says in her song: oophs, I did it again. America to send another spy plane to cruise the Chinese coast. Jesse, keep your bag packed.
posted by Postroad (28 comments total)
"...the spy plane was...Navy P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft."

See, they were just trying to stop ourselves from hitting fishing boats.

(Apologies, I know this is bad.)
posted by benjh at 7:38 PM on April 11, 2001

"hit me there, i'll hit you back..."
posted by owillis at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2001

Why in the hell do we need to spy on a super power? Hello! WWIII anyone.. Republicians love to start wars, becuase war is money..
posted by ellis at 8:54 PM on April 11, 2001

Ellis, spying is critical to avoiding wars. Especially spying on non-democratic scary totalitarian nations.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:00 PM on April 11, 2001

OK, as much as I dislike Republicans, that's just blatant trolling. America hasn't made a territorial land grab since WWII; China is actively attempting to seize mineral rich islands from several of it's neighbors. And I should hope I don't need to elaborate on Taiwan. The Chinese government is one of the most aggressive on the planet right now, and has actively trumpeted in its major newspapers that its soldiers are "willing to die" in a way that ours are not.

And by the way... many of the major news media have pointed out that the Chinese have been aggressively following these flights since well back into the Clinton administration. That means Bill started the flights.

To summarize: go away, troll. Yes, the Republicans have a lot of flaws. By all means slag them for when a flaw is pointed out. Responding to a Chinese aggression that is very real is not one of them; It is neither a flaw nor exclusively Republican.
posted by louie at 9:05 PM on April 11, 2001

It's not really like that. Espionage isn't a hostile act. Right now the Germans and French and British are spying on us, and we're spying on them. A well-run intelligence community tries to accumulate information about everyone, friend and foe alike.

Equally the war plans division. Somewhere, deep inside the Pentagon, in a file cabinet, is a plan for the invasion of Canada. Not that anyone expects to have to do it, but if it becomes necessary the outline of the process is already in place. Equally, there's a plan somewhere for the invasion of Mexico, and Brazil, and the UK, and... And every few years, they haul them out, blow off the dust, and update them.

We're monitoring the Chinese simply because we're monitoring everyone. It has nothing to do with which party is in office, nor with the Chinese as such.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:30 PM on April 11, 2001

Of course we're going to do this again soon, and we're going to do it openly and brazenly. We cannot strategically allow China to keep us out of international waters.

Of course, now that the Chinese have had an opportunity to study our plane, we have to wonder. One of the purposes here is going to be noting what kinds of transmissions the surveillance now fails to pick up. At the same time, we have to be wary, and hope the Chinese have not read Cryptonomicon: some of what remains may be deliberate.
posted by dhartung at 10:25 PM on April 11, 2001

> Right now the Germans and French and British are
> spying on us...

Certainly. Listening. Sending a few people walking about. Everyone does that, the US more than the rest.

But are the Chinese flying military spy planes down the coast of the United States? Purposely bumping into US Navy ships off the coast the California?
posted by pracowity at 11:44 PM on April 11, 2001

we need to be viligent!!!!
posted by hennessyml at 1:01 AM on April 12, 2001

we need to learn how to spell vigilant!!!! (is viligent the bastard child of vigilant + diligent?)
posted by lia at 1:32 AM on April 12, 2001

pracowity, your analogy is off. But the Chinese most definitely do spy. They can't project air and naval power as we do -- no bases, no aircraft carriers (not until 2003). But they do annoy their neighbors (and our allies) with spy boats. The Republicans also put together a self-serving report on Chinese spying in America that fudged timelines to make as much of it as possible seem the fault of the Clinton administration, when a more objective approach would have yielded a more useful report for the long run.

I'm not an alarmist by any means. China is simply asserting itself in the world and gaining confidence in its international role, and just as we have, they would like to protect their interests across their trade region. It's probably not militarily significant, for example, that the Hutchison-Wampaugh company (a pet investment of the People's Liberation Army) has taken over management of the Panama Canal. But it clearly reflects that China believes it has a trade interest in the canal and the region. We know they spy on us; they obtained advanced warhead technology under the Reagan and Bush presidencies, although somewhat less significant data also got to them under Clinton's watch. Wen Ho Lee was probably railroaded, but only because they knew there had been a breach and they needed a scapegoat.

And unlike the Russians, they have no problem using immigrants to spy. (Famously, when Nixon went to China, he suggested allowing Chinese immigration, on the model of offering safe harbor to Soviet emigres. The response was, "How many tens of millions do you want?" whereupon the Americans dropped the subject.

We don't need to be paranoid, but we should be aware. Today's Robert Philip Hanssen will look instead to spy for China.

I just don't subscribe to this outdated "gentlemen don't spy on each other" folderol. Of course we should; it's essential to know the enemy in order to assess your options, diplomatic, military, or economic. Spying, like spy satellites, help maintain transparency in arms treaties. And no matter what China asserts, they don't own the air or water 12 miles off their beaches.
posted by dhartung at 1:34 AM on April 12, 2001

When Moses was on the outskirts of the Promised Land, after leaving the pyramid building efforts in Egypt, he sent a spy or two to check out the Canaanites: how many, how strong, what were the babes like. And ever since there has been intelligence and counter intelligence...risky work but provides work for those tired of the office routine.
posted by Postroad at 4:39 AM on April 12, 2001

Hey, can we tone down on the we bit a little? Us non-Yanquis would appreciate it muchly. Thanks.

The way these threads have been going it makes me wonder whether the Americans have only just discovered that China is sitting there on the other side of the Pacific staring back at them.

For those who weren't formerly aware, China is a very large country with a very, very long history. It has a population four times the size of the United States and is the second largest economy in the world.

China has had a traumatic recent past particularly dating from their defeats during the Opium Wars, unfair concessions made to Western powers, revolution, invasion by Japan, civil war, revolution, unparalleled political chaos, reconstruction and subsequent economic boom. If you want to understand their foreign policy you have to look at it through the mirror of their history. To them the outside world is not a friendly place.

Yes, China poses a significant threat to the United States. That's because the US is at the height of its power and prosperity but in the long term has no where else to go. The rise of China is inevitable, containment is not an option.

It's time for the US to learn to share a little.

p.s. it's a long story but Taiwan actually is part of China. I know, it's complicated.
posted by lagado at 4:55 AM on April 12, 2001

I have no problem with nations spying on each other. Even when it's between (supposed) allies such as the United States and the European Union.

However, the idea of flying spyplanes just off the coast of China strikes me as provocative. Technically, these might be international waters. Somehow I can't imagine the hawks close to Dubya being too impressed were the Chinese to fly planes just off the coast of California.
posted by salmacis at 5:41 AM on April 12, 2001

The Chinese aren't going to learn a great deal from the plane. There is a standard drill involved in destroying all classified equipment on the plane which the crew practice, and they will have put it into effect before landing. For instance, the crypto and radar equipment will, of course, be based on semiconductors and it would be trivially easy to rig a big red button which, when pressed, dumped 200 volts onto the power supply lines of all the classified electronics and instantly fried all the silicon. That wouldn't destroy disk drives, though there are other ways that can be done, but even if the disk drives were captured the info on them would have been seriously encrypted (by some of that destroyed silicon) and reading them wouldn't tell the Chinese anything. By the time the plane landed, there was nothing except the plane itself to study, and that's no big deal.

Which is why US diplomacy heavily emphasized getting back the crew, but didn't really sweat the plane. They've written it off already, and it doesn't matter. The only risk would have been if the crew didn't successfully execute the destruction drill, and they did. (Notice that US demands for the return of the plane vanished immediately after the first time the crew met with US diplomats? That's because the first thing they would have asked was "Did you destroy everything?" Once they learned that the answer was "yes" then the plane ceased to matter.)

As to China being a "significant threat" to the US, looking at it from a strictly military standpoint the only threat they have is their missiles, and our defense against that (such as it is) is the threat of massive retaliation. Absent that, the only other way the Chinese could threaten the US militarily is with terrorism. They have a huge army but no way to deliver it anywhere (and more importantly, to supply it).

The US, on the other hand, doesn't have the ability to actually invade and conquer China (without a nuclear strike) but does have the ability to use its military to seriously impede China. For instance, the US has the ability to shut down all commercial shipping intended for Chinese ports through mining and submarine blockade. The Chinese Navy is a joke, and it certainly doesn't have the ability to keep the waters along its entire thousands of miles of coastline clear of LA-class submarines (let alone SeaWolf). An LA-class sub can sink a ship from a range of more than 5 miles with a torpedo, and more than a hundred miles with a missile.

If the US announced that all ships headed for Chinese ports would be destroyed without warning, the Chinese economy would collapse. (However, there's a nontrivial chance that such a move by the US would precipitate a nuclear exchange.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:03 AM on April 12, 2001

By the way, Lagado, technically the US is part of Great Britain -- if you look at history. Equally, historically speaking Gdansk ("Danzig"), in modern Poland, is part of Germany, and Istanbul ("Constantinople") is part of Italy.

Of course, times change.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:24 AM on April 12, 2001

> They can't project air and naval power as we do
> -- no bases, no aircraft carriers (not until 2003).

Perhaps they don't have such power, but they will soon. When that day comes--2003 or whenever--what will you say about Chinese military aircraft and ships constantly cruising the coasts of your country? Don't they have an equal right to "keep the international shipping lanes safe for mankind" or whatever excuse the US is using these days for lurking off the Chinese coast?
posted by pracowity at 6:35 AM on April 12, 2001

Sure, why not? Pracowity, is this a little micro-troll you're running, hoping some ugly American will step up and say "we won't have no dang Chinee off our coasts, nosireebob"? The Soviets did it for decades, and aside from an occasional flareup when one side or the other probed too hard, it was accepted as part of (a minor part of) the intelligence chess game.

Now China's not likely to have bases near our coastlines, due to our geographical isolation and shrewd planning ahead during the Monroe administration, but they very well may soon have carrier-based forces. Carriers, as both sides discovered in WWII, are vulnerable as hell without a large support apparatus. If they're willing to risk projecting that force all the way across the Pacific without the supply chain the US has had in place since WWII (Taiwan, Subic Bay, Guam, Saipan, Samoa, Okinawa, Korea, etc.), so be it. I can't see it, myself, and I think it will be many years if not decades before China becomes a significant naval power. More likely domestic spying, space-based surveillance and sigint will be the way they'll go. It's way more cost effective; spy planes are already a sideshow, and in the era of satelllite intelligence and strong encryption, increasingly so.

So, sure, let 'em cruise the coasts. Why not? I recommend Big Sur, it's real pretty there.
posted by rodii at 7:23 AM on April 12, 2001

I think the Chinese military has every right to behave in international waters just as the American military would. If they want to set up electronic intelligence flights, let them go to it. If they want to set up casino-boat cruises, let them go to it. If they want to host Bob Hope deckboard specials, let them go to it. (Although apparently the twelve-mile rule only applies to civilian ships/flights.)

Rodii, is China's space program capable of putting up a few satellites a year?
posted by snarkout at 8:44 AM on April 12, 2001

As long as there might be a threat to our interests (being vague on purpose) I think we have to spy on them. I don't see the problem with that. I also assume that China is spying on us.

Neither side has to be happy about it. But that is the way the world works. Do you really expect us to only spy on nations that won't get upset over it?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:47 AM on April 12, 2001

Liberia's probably OK. Or Belize. The rum drinks are good there too.

Snarkout--I don't know. I think it's becoming easier to *buy* satellite intelligence, though (like, say, from Russia). Why?
posted by rodii at 10:14 AM on April 12, 2001

We all spy on our neighbours, from the state level down to your own street. (To the point of twitching the net curtains.) The aim, of course, is to make sure that relations stay cordial enough for this mundane surveillance not to provoke a reaction.
posted by holgate at 10:45 AM on April 12, 2001

Question: what did the recently released crew ask for when they were given lunch upon their release? chinese takeout.
posted by Postroad at 10:49 AM on April 12, 2001

Snarkout--I don't know. I think it's becoming easier to *buy* satellite intelligence, though (like, say, from Russia). Why?

Just curious as to the feasability of China going largely to satellite intelligence. (If they're buying the info, though, I imagine that we'll know what they know, which decreases the value of the information to them.)
posted by snarkout at 11:05 AM on April 12, 2001

The Chinese space capability is fairly advanced. They have a variety of rocketry (mostly under the name Long March), and launch several satellites a year. For a short period in the 90s they were approved for launching US communications satellites (e.g. Iridium), when everyone was desperate for launch windows, but that was withdrawn after the Loral business. The last couple of years they have been experimenting with crew-capability vehicles based on Russian Soyuz craft, with a couple of (apparently) successful test flights. They could launch taikonauts into space anytime in the next 1-5 years.

Russia and China are returning to a period of more cordial relations (they are immediate neighbors, after all), but China is anxious to develop its own capabilities.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2001

By the way, Lagado, technically the US is part of Great Britain -- if you look at history.

Wrong Steven, Taiwan has never officially declared independence from China (unlike your fine land). The moment they do please let me know.

The status of Taiwan is complicated, Taiwan held China's seat in the UN until October 1971. While there are certainly pro-independence tendencies within the government, no one there is quite willing to bite that bullet and face the consequences (certainly least of all the United States).

I've been there a couple of times and apart from thinking that they honestly should be independent, one thing I noticed in conversations with people was that the Taiwanese are deeply ambivalent and divided about their status and ultimately of being anything other than citizens of China.
posted by lagado at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2001

Lagado, I suppose it depends on your point of view. I don't really care too much about formal announcements, and de facto Taiwan has been a separate country since the Nationalists lost the civil war. They have a separate government, a separate currency, a separate legal system, a separate military and a separate economy. They're also diplomatically treated as separate by nearly everyone on Earth.

A formal announcement is just words on a piece of paper -- but then, apparently the mainland Chinese put a great deal of stock on exactly what words are on various pieces of paper.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:13 PM on April 12, 2001

They're also diplomatically treated as separate by nearly everyone on Earth.

Actually, diplomatically they are not dealt with at all. They are dealt with informally through so-called "trade delegations".

Look, I don't want to engage in a hair-splitting exercise here, I am simply making the point that Taiwan is not comparable to the US declaration of independence from Great Britain (which required a couple of wars to settle btw).

Taiwan is far from independent and exists soley due to the patronage of the US government and China's own economic self-interest.

Long term, that it's highly likely that Taiwan will go the way of South Vietnam, East Germany or Hong Kong.
posted by lagado at 7:34 PM on April 12, 2001

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