Back on December 3, 2013, I did a blog post about the dueling ADIZ in the South China Seas. Since then, several events have transpired that reinforced that posting, and demonstrated just how complicated things can be in that part of the world. The first event took place on December 5, 2013, just two days after my posting, when a PLN or Chinese Navy vessel almost collided with the USS Cowpens (CG 63). The USS Cowpens, or CG, is a Guided Missile Cruiser and clearly an armed warship. The smaller PLN vessel (also an armed warship) was attempting to “Stop” the USS Cowpens in what should be international waters. This is posturing and we’ve seen it before, but make no mistake, this is very dangerous posturing. The last time this happened, back in 2009, there was an attempt by several armed PLN ships to stop the USNS (United States Naval Ship) Impeccable. The USNS Impeccable was an unarmed research ship, so the PLN’s attempts to stop it clearly did not require the same courage of this latest incident. This one took some guts, since the USS Cowpens will employ not only great seamanship to get out of the way, but she also packs a pretty good wallop if threatened. This is just one of what I’m afraid will be even more incidents arising from the Chinese unilateral expansion of the ADIZ into International Water.
Then, in a completely unrelated incident on December 12, 2013, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, had his very powerful Uncle, Jang Song Thaek, tried and executed. Ostensibly, he was killed for “Crimes against the state,” but his “real” crimes were related to his negotiations and extremely close ties to the Chinese Government. Despite the execution, the very next day, December 13, 2013, it was reported that the North Korean and Chinese Governments entered into an agreement to build a high speed rail line between Beijing to Kaesong via Pyongyang. When was this Agreement signed? On the same day as the execution of Jang Song Thaek. Now, if you are wondering what all this means, I can only say that right now things are fluid. Most experts will say that this is Kim Jong Un eliminating any threat to his power base, and that he is consolidating his position as the “head cheese.” This makes sense, because North Korea’s economy is beyond awful, and the leadership transition between the old regime of Kim Jong ll, into the much younger Kim Jong Un, is creating a real dangerous landscape internally in North Korea. It also makes sense for Kim Jong Un to make a deal with the Chinese the day of the execution, if nothing else to demonstrate “friendship” and that there is a new guy in town. This calms the waters with the Chinese, while still showing them “who is boss.”
Now then, what is next? My guess is that we’re about to see even more dangerous encounters in the South China Sea. Whether they are the result of China flexing muscle into their unilaterally declared ADIZ, or if they are a result of internal turmoil in North Korea, the potential for some sort of negative event in that part of the world is probably pretty high. If it is a Chinese incident, then it most likely will be in the form of an encounter at sea, or a significant incident involving a commercial aircraft. North Korea, on the other hand, loves to lash outside their borders when they need to “demonstrate” their resolve in holding onto the reins of power domestically. I personally am waiting on either another missile test, or more nuclear reactor activity, or maybe just a good old fashioned torpedo attack on an unsuspecting US or South Korean vessel. Then again, they can always fire more artillery rounds at an island somewhere in what they claim are disputed waters. Regardless, keep an eye on that part of the world, since there will be no shortage of potential problems. ~ Michael S. Pauley