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China builds new military facilities on South China Sea islands (Reuters)

Grey Havoc

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http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-china-islands-idUSKBN19L02J
 

Grey Havoc

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Never see any environmental protests wonder why?
Indeed.

It’s supposed to be an international airport. It’s supposed to be part of a large-scale holiday resort on a pristine piece of Cambodian coastline. But it’s not.

Some 45,000 hectares of an unspoilt national park is being ripped up to build it. Deep-water channels are being dredged through the clear waters.
Little wonder the Koh Kong Beachside Resort has failed to attract visitors to its casino and hotel facilities.
Work on the $US3.8 billion tourism development appears to have stalled, which is why military analysts have been pouring over satellite photographs tracking the enormous airfield’s continued construction.

They’ve noted a few peculiar points.

Many of the aircraft turning bays are too small for large commercial airliners. Instead, they’re just right for fighter jets. And exactly why it needs to be 3400m long is uncertain.

That’s far larger than even the largest civilian airliners require to land or take off. There is no significant nearby population or industrial centre. And its enormous scale goes far beyond the needs of the languishing Koh Kong resort nearby.

It wouldn’t be the first time Beijing has engaged in major military infrastructure projects under the guise of building a casino.

Its first aircraft carrier, the ex-soviet Riga, was bought from Ukraine in 1998 under the pretence of being turned into a floating betting facility and hotel. In 2012, it emerged as the fully armed and operational combat ship – the Liaoning.

Indications are it is a similar story at Dara Sakor.
While Beijing claims the entirety of the South China Sea, it only borders the northernmost edge. China’s controversial artificial island fortresses have secured its presence in the sea’s middle regions. But it has nothing imposing control over the extreme south, which is likely why the enormous muddy scar is being gouged out of Cambodia’s forest landscape.

An air and naval base at Dara Sakor would give the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and navy (PLAN) easy access to waters contested by Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. And the strategically vital narrow shipping lane of Malacca Strait.

“This will allow China to project its air power through the region, and it changes the whole game,” political scientist Sophal Ear told the New York Times.
“The Pilot Zone’s planned hospitals and recreational areas could theoretically host People’s Liberation Army Navy crews on patrol in the Gulf of Thailand and on the eastern side of the Malacca Strait,” the C4ADS Harbored Ambitions report reads.

“Its proposed future industrial capacity could also theoretically provide logistic support to Chinese warships in line with strategies proposed by China’s analysts.”

The deal – under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative international infrastructure investment program – appears particularly dodgy. Union Development Group has secured exclusive access to almost a quarter of Cambodia’s coastline for 99 years. According to This Week In Asia, it is getting the lot for just $US1 million each year in rent.

This is despite such a deal being against Cambodian law.

But wait, there’s more.

China recently sealed an exclusive deal to rebuild and expand Cambodia’s main Ream naval base at Sihanoukville. According to the Wall Street Journal, Beijing and Phnom Penh signed the secret agreement last year. It will allow China’s navy access for the next 30 years.
 

Foo Fighter

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So, what tactics are there to counter this expansion?
 

UpForce

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Never see any environmental protests wonder why?
Ignoring the ironic dimensions of your comment and taking it on pure face value, there's a h*lluva lot to worry about and act on these days. A target rich environment, one might say. But rest assured I'm against this Chinese beachhead on all counts. I'm not very well up to pace about goings on in Cambodia. While sometimes environmental campaigns also help in countering emerging hard security concerns, on this instance I very much suspect leading with such an approach would be as ineffective and counterproductive as to be inadvisable.

So, what tactics are there to counter this expansion?
Strong, enduring, deeper than merely transactional regional alliances with suitable partners would go a long way in formulating and enforcing a comprehensive response. Sadly such predictability (as far as our own capability to maintain commitments and lead is concerned) is currently in short supply all around and worse, this perilous state is proving to be rather indefinite in duration and haphazard in trajectory. The Chinese leadership is finding many open doors to push upon and the response to each unique challenge (as it pertains to the viability of a competing rules and freedoms based governance) is random at best. Xi and the PLA are consequently moving fast to establish facts on the ground, maybe even uncharacteristically so.

The mere reduction of these considerations to a question about "tactics" gives lie to the fact that there remains much of a strategy (or a vision) behind any wider Pacific/Asian coalition of democratic states. There's of course the possibility that this Cambodia project is an overreach as it really requires a hard power presence and not merely the potential thereof to be adequately coercive in all its dimensions. This is not a good look for the purveyors of a supposedly mutually beneficial "Belt and Road" project. Nonetheless I doubt the Chinese leadership has totally rolled the dice on an investment and commitment of this size. Can Hun Sen truly trust the Cambodian army to allow themselves to become in effect a vassal force?.

All I know this has the makings of something ugly and that any constructive (read: not catastrophic) approach very decidedly looks like a decadal project. For anyone willing and capable to take it, that is.
 
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Foo Fighter

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It looks to me like a very aggressive expansion and likely end to autonomy of a certain island state. War basically.
 

UpForce

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It looks to me like a very aggressive expansion and likely end to autonomy of a certain island state. War basically.
Hard to tell. China (and Russia) in their current doctrines do not consider "war" and "peace" a dichotomy, but a sliding scale.

Thus "winning" and "losing" also doesn't conform to a complete victory of one system or ruling class over another. Their internal discussions leak into their external actions and as such it is variably more or less appropriate to attribute these actions their respective grand strategies or wider intentions. They're constantly weighing the PPP (purchasing power parity) of commercial ties, corruption, coercion and such. By this I'm not only referring to financial gain but appraisal of value by any standard they choose.

The latest Cambodia development seems to have the makings of a focal point, for the variables are many and seemingly in large part unpredictable. Since there's currently little resistance (indeed the stance toward China has only grown more confused and ineffective recently) one thing's for sure - a lot less will be unthinkable for unscrupulous totalitarian leaders and the potential for the rest of us having to react hastily at some point only increases if we can't get our collective acts together.
 

Foo Fighter

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I get it, also a sliding scale of cost to benefit ratio of how far can we push them UNTIL they get their collective backsides moving, which could be a very long way. The single state/party will always have an advantage over a highly disorganised collection of multi party states who could not decide on tea or coffee at breakfast/conference table.
 

UpForce

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I get it, also a sliding scale of cost to benefit ratio of how far can we push them UNTIL they get their collective backsides moving, which could be a very long way. The single state/party will always have an advantage over a highly disorganised collection of multi party states who could not decide on tea or coffee at breakfast/conference table.
I quickly read up on the current state of Cambodia - not much beyond updating my understanding of the basic facts. While I've kept myself better appraised of the wider general developments concerning China and the worldwide confluences of illiberalism, understanding this context goes only so far in specific cases without acute local knowledge.

It never ceases to amaze me how little self respect and sense of worth strongmen like Hun Sen have when it comes to selling their nations and peoples for parts, especially given what lengths they go to in otherwise demanding (forcing) unquestioning respect and loyalty. The direct rewards in the case of China's de facto bases are meager for the state to say the least, so I have to suspect the parties have other more indirect/unconventional ways to compensate each other. On the face of it it doesn't seem like Hun Sen's hand was in any sense forced. The Cambodian army, navy and air force though certainly aren't much to look at and would be a poor direct match for any modern "visiting" force (this is partly by design, Hun Sen's personal guard, or "Royal Gendarmerie", has to match up to any internal challenge).

While I can certainly see that a proficient autocrat, especially having diligently built a capability to concentrate and direct (coercive) force, may have some advantages in nimbleness I hope this theme won't get as overplayed as it has been. It's become a sort of a meme. The totalitarian "power verticals" don't really have institutions as we understand them and no discernible peaceful power succession mechanisms to ordered democratic ones. There's a reason, after all, that regimes such as Russia's and China's still need to invest huge corruptive, disinformative and deceptive resources to divide and tear the democratic world down enough to gain regionally. They need us to stoop to that level or close to it. Too bad they're having so much success in doing so. Realistically, given human nature, all democracies have actors who are in some circumstances willing to play along with dictators for personal gain. Evidently safeguards and incentives against that have to be considerably more imaginative, up to date and effective. The likes of Hun Sen might seem like easy pickings for Chinese powers that be but given recent events we can ill afford to be haughty about egregious examples such as his either.

We face a very different containment problem from the cold war and are operating in a vastly more overlapping information sphere and economy with people who hold a very different view to us of what profit and power are. Imperial zero sum conquest versus belief in true betterment of the overall human condition etc. We keep a certain readiness for conflict but generally are not conflict minded while our autocratic adversaries have long traditions in considering how anything and everything can be, in effect, weaponized. There's a certain art to "red teaming" most of the emerging threats while still being able to chart a way for ourselves with respect to human rights and their accompanying ethics. In the case of Cambodia, there need not be huge investment to make a big difference for the country as a whole. Xi and his regime have been able to be very stingy thanks to Hun Sen's corruption. Maybe there's an opening there, but given how things stand we here can likely keep discussing this over for a quite a while. A concentrated, executable strategy to counter China's is unlikely to emerge in the near term, whether it comes to Cambodia specifically or not.

A Wikipedia article (yep, I resorted to that as well) mentions environmental activists - to go back to my original comment here - among groups of people who have been targeted for killings under Hun Sen's rule. It is somewhat presumptuous of course to "game" strategy through a governmental focal point, with an emphasis on hard force but given the nature of the countries involved it's hard to avoid the conclusion that state power is necessary, whatever the mitigating and corrective developments might be. I have nothing directly to do with Cambodia and my interest, as evident, rests on my wider interest in inoculating ourselves against the emerging, pervasive and corrupting forms of autocracy. But many do and are able to think much more laterally and concretely about this specific issue than me. Here's hoping we can yet effectively play to our strengths.
 
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sferrin

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So, what tactics are there to counter this expansion?
That's like asking what's the best way to lock the barn door when the horse is 20 miles down the road and owned by another farmer.
 

Foo Fighter

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So, what tactics are there to counter this expansion?
That's like asking what's the best way to lock the barn door when the horse is 20 miles down the road and owned by another farmer.
I think you mean 'possessed', owned would require some form of purchase agreement, cash, barter or whatever. BTW, no it's not.
 
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Grey Havoc

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Depends on the legal system one is operating under. ;)
 

sferrin

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Foo Fighter

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You will note I said 'counter' rather than 'stop'. That would be accurate to the example you mentioned.
 

sferrin

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You will note I said 'counter' rather than 'stop'. That would be accurate to the example you mentioned.
If you didn't stop it can it be said you countered anything?
 

Foo Fighter

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You will note I said 'counter' rather than 'stop'. That would be accurate to the example you mentioned.
If you didn't stop it can it be said you countered anything?
Yes, expansion like this cannot be turned back to zero but can be countered to reduce further expansion/make it too expensive to continue.
 
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