June 10, 2022- Stealth War 91: Dangerous Encounters in International Air Space between Chinese and Australian, U.S. Planes; China Nears Completion of Space Station; China, Cambodia Break Ground on New Naval Facility; Three U.S. Companies Sanctioned for Tech Trading with China; Japan Dispatches New Carrier as Part of Indo-Pacific Task Force

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri June, 2022, Age: 12 months


June 10, 2022

Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s website, stealth-war-org.cdn-pi.com. To continue to receive this weekly collection, click the button below to subscribe. 

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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch26 

Days in May that the front page of the People’s Daily featured General Secretary Xi Jinping (China Media Project). Despite rumors that Xi’s political position has weakened due to fallout from the zero-COVID policy and China’s economic struggles, his presence continues to dominate state media. 

This Week: 

* Dangerous Encounters in International Air Space between Chinese and Australian, Canadian, U.S. Planes

* China Nears Completion of Space Station

* China, Cambodia Break Ground on New Naval Facility 

* Three U.S. Companies Sanctioned for Technology Trading with China

* Japan Dispatches New Carrier to Indo-Pacific deployment

Top Stories

(source: Global Times)

Dangerous Encounters in International Air Space between Chinese and Australian, Canadian, U.S. Planes 

On May 26, while conducting routine surveillance of North Korea from international air space as part of a United Nations mission, an Australian P-8 aircraft was aggressively intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter jet. The Chinese jet flew very close to the front of the Australian aircraft and released flares and chaff (small pieces of aluminum) in its flight path, which have the potential to destroy a plane’s engines. China responded caustically to Australia’s concern over the incident stating that it felt its sovereignty was “severely threatened,” that the Australian vessel’s electronic warfare devices triggered the J-16’s flares, that the J-16’s actions were safe and professional, that Australian pilots are inexperienced and should not “cry like a baby,” and that this and over 60 similar incidents since late 2021 are all part of a U.S. orchestrated effort to force China to act and to make it look bad. Canada and the U.S. have reported similar incidents, with Chinese planes regularly flying as close as 20 feet away.

These risky aerial encounters make a repeat of the 2001 Hainan Island incident, when a U.S. EP-3 spy plane collided in mid-air with a PLA Navy interceptor increasingly likely. The EP-3 and its 24-person crew were forced to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island, and were subsequently detained by China for several months. However, the crew was unable to destroy all the sensitive documents, let alone technology, on board the aircraft, which allowed Beijing to capitalize on valuable intelligence, such as ciphers and technical capabilities (e.g. the ability to intercept Chinese submarine communications). The damage from the EP-3’s downing was initially considered relatively minimal, but over the next two decades, it appears that the Chinese gleaned more than the U.S. had initially assessed.  U.S. and allied country intelligence units are better prepared for such an incident today, but another capture would be a significant propaganda and intelligence win for Beijing.

(source: Wikimedia)

China Nears Completion of Space Station

On June 5, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft took off carrying three crew members (“taikonauts”) and the components to complete the basic structure of the nation’s Tianhe Space Station (TSS), the first piece of which was put into low earth orbit (LEO) in 2021. For the PRC’s manned space program, which began in 1992, this is a significant milestone. The PRC intends to build a base on the moon in cooperation with Russia by 2027, and aims to become a major space power by 2030. The craft docked with the components already in orbit later the same day. In the course of their six-month mission, the crew will oversee “nine modifications of the space station combination, with five rendezvous and dockings, three separations and two module relocations, which makes it the most complicated in-orbit mission to date,” according to a senior engineer with the program. These additions include two laboratories for biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering research, and two robotic arms for work outside the space station.

Aside from domestic and international prestige, the TSS is significant for several reasons. From a strategic standpoint, LEO is perhaps the most critical realm of space. LEO satellites are the primary means of enabling and enhancing high-speed global communications and remote sensing for commercial, military, and humanitarian purposes. In this context, the PRC fears that if it fails to accelerate its space program to stake its LEO claim, it will forfeit a major military and economic advantage to the U.S. Second, research undertaken through launching satellites and craft into space, as well as the experience gained in developing a space station, will contribute to scientific development that serves both commercial and military purposes. As the PRC has been banned from the International Space Station (ISS) since 2011, and from virtually all collaboration with U.S. space programs due to security concerns, this will allow the PRC to carry out it its own sustained, manned, research in space for the first time. Third, the first module of the ISS entered orbit in 1998 and is scheduled to be decommissioned some time between 2028 and 2030. However, concerns about the ISS’s longevity persist, as do fears that its replacement will not be ready by the time it goes out of service. In this case, some worry that the PRC will have the only space station available for other nations to use, and could seek to leverage this capability accordingly.

(source: Wikipedia)

China, Cambodia Break Ground on New Naval Facility 

On June 7, Chinese and Cambodian officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for a port expansion project at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base. The Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Wang Weitian noted that the project, which will be funded by China, demonstrates the ironclad partnership between the two countries. The groundbreaking followed a Washington Post report, which cited Western intelligence sources, who verified earlier reports that China is building a naval facility for its sole use at Ream Naval Base “and is taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation.” For example, PLA personnel allegedly visited the base disguised as their Cambodian counterparts. The port expansion will include a new dry dock for ship repairs, a hospital, a workshop, and a reception building. Dredging has already commenced that will allow larger ships to access the port.

U.S. officials have criticized the lack of transparency surrounding the project
Both China and Cambodia have pushed back vigorously on Western  reports that Ream is being overhauled to serve as a Chinese naval base. Cambodia’s constitution forbids foreign powers from operating military bases on its soil. In response to international concerns about a potential Chinese military presence in Cambodia, Defense Minister Tea Banh claimed that the facility is too small for military vessels. Chinese officials responded more sharply to U.S. allegations. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian predictably castigated U.S. criticism as hypocritical, stating that with 800 overseas US military bases around the globe Washington had no right to criticize the project.

The establishment of a naval port in Cambodia would be a significant milestone for the PLA and its efforts to develop an overseas basing presence. Hitherto, the PLA Navy has relied largely on access to civilian port facilities for resupply and refit during overseas missions. This began to change in 2017, when the PLA opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, but seven other countries also operate bases in the small Horn of Africa nation. By contrast, China is the sole foreign occupant at Ream Naval Base. Furthermore, the base’s location on the Gulf of Thailand on the western flank of the South China Sea is also strategically more salient for China. A permanent presence on the coast of southeastern Cambodia enhances the PLA’s ability to project force into the South China Sea and helps Beijing to further consolidate its increasingly predominant position in the region.

(source: Xinhua)

 Three U.S. Companies Sanctioned for Technology Trading with China

On Wednesday, the Department of Commerce alleged that three U.S. companies sent blueprints and technical drawings of satellites and rocket technology to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). More specifically, these companies are accused of sending files for satellite and rocket technology specifications, and prototypes for 3D printing, possibly to enable the Chinese government to reduce expenditures and increase its efficiency in producing these technologies. The accusation does not state whether the blueprints are being exploited by the PRC, only that the actions of Quicksilver Manufacturing Inc., Rapid Cut LLC, and U.S. Prototype Inc, gravely endangered U.S. national security.

The three companies in question provide 3D printing services to customers, which include professional manufacturing companies of space and defense technology. As a result of their actions, the Commerce Department barred the three companies from exporting to foreign countries for 180 days, a punishment known as a temporary denial order, which is one of the severest sanctions available to the U.S. Commerce Department. According to the department, customers would send blueprints and drawings to the three accused companies that they needed printed, and the companies would then turn these plans over to China, to cut manufacturing costs for the materials. A transaction of this type normally requires U.S. authorization, but the companies in question never requested any. The Commerce Department used company customers from all three corporations to cross check records to ensure that intellectual property was not compromised in the transactions. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for export enforcement Matthew Axelrod stated that by “sending their customers’ technical drawings and blueprints to China, these companies may have saved a few bucks – but they did so at the collective expense of protecting U.S. military technology.” 

(source: USNI)

Japan Dispatches New Carrier as Part of Indo-Pacific Task Force

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) recently announced the force composition of its annual Indo-Pacific deployment. The task force consists of destroyers JS Takanami and JS Kirisame, an unnamed submarine, and most notably, the recently retrofitted aircraft carrier JS Izumo. Originally an anti-submarine helicopter carrier, the Izumo has been converted to operate fixed wing aircraft, specifically the American F-35B strike fighter. Notably, the converted vessel is the first Japanese carrier to operate fixed winged aircraft since the end of World War II.  Although operation of aircraft carriers was precluded for decades by Japan’s post-World War II pacifist stance, security concerns resulting from China’s rapid military modernization prompted the Izumo’s conversion.

The JMSDF Indo-Pacific task force plans to make visits to ports in Australia, Fiji, French New Caledonia, India, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, the United States, Vanuatu, and Vietnam. These stops include participation in several naval exercises: RIMPAC 2022, Pacific Partnership 2022, PACIFIC VANGUARD 22, JIMEX, KAKADU 2022,  and Exercise SAMASAMA/LUMBAS. The RIMPAC exercise, which the task force will join, will be a show of force involving 25,000 personnel from 26 countries including all four members of the QUAD.

Part of the JMSDF’s objectives behind deploying the task force is to strengthen cooperation with the navies of partner countries, and to counter China’s growing naval power across the region. In particular, the March 31 security agreement between the Solomon islands and China has caused alarm for the Japanese Defense ministry. The projection of JMSDF blue-water capabilities indicates Japan’s willingness to work with like-minded partners to counter China.



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