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Nice little air force you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything happened to it

Posted December 17, 2015 into Politics by John Birmingham

The BBC recently sent reporter to overfly the reefs and shoals China has been building up into artifical islands in the South China Sea. They got short shrift.

Our plan was simple, if daunting. From Palawan we would fly directly to Pagasa, land and refuel. Then we would fly south-west and circle the Chinese-controlled reef called Fiery Cross, where China appears to be building a major air and naval base. We would return to Pagasa and refuel again. Finally we'd fly back to Palawan via Mischief Reef. This is another Chinese-controlled reef, very close to the Philippines, where land reclamation has been going on this year on a huge scale.

Our objective was two-fold. To get as close as possible to the new Chinese-controlled islands in order to film the construction work going on. And just as important, to see how the Chinese would react.


As our little plane bounced down the gravel runway on Pagasa my heart was beating fast, excited and nervous. Half an hour's flight south of the island I saw a yellow patch of land out of the window. On top of it was a large white blockhouse. I recognised it immediately from satellite photos.

"That's Gaven Reef!" I shouted to Jiro over the din of the engine. "Remember we sailed past it last year. They'd just started construction then."

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than a loud and aggressive voice came over the radio.

"Unidentified military aircraft in west of Nanxun Reef, this is the Chinese Navy. You are threatening the security of our station! In order to prevent miscalculation leave this area immediately!"

The pilots of our far-from-military Cessna banked away to the west. But the warnings continued, over and over, in Chinese and in English, getting louder and more agitated.

The Beeb was chased all over the area before managing to get a few pics of Meiji Reef which had been turned into something closely resembling a military airfield. It would put PLA war planes eight minutes away from the Philippine coast. As they were leaving with Chinese warnings loud in their ears they picked up an exchange between the PLA forces who'd just shooed them away and the crew of an Australian Orion aircraft.

Then over the radio came a very different voice, with a different accent.

"China Navy, China Navy," the voice said. "We are an Australian aircraft exercising international freedom of navigation rights, in international airspace in accordance with the international civil aviation convention, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - over."

The US has done several high profile freedom-of-navigation flights and sailings through the South China Sea in recent months, including one by B-52 bombers. But Australia has never publicly announced that it is doing the same - so this felt like a bit of scoop.

We heard the Australian message being repeated several times, but did not catch any response from the Chinese side.

The response, such as it was, came shortly after the story went public. A state owned Chinese newspaper, The Global Times, editorialised that the RAAF had no role to play in the dispute and "It would be shame if a plane fell from the sky".

The ABC has a nice report, which some very droll lines from the Chinese side.

11 Responses to ‘Nice little air force you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything happened to it’

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted December 17, 2015

Yeah, if push came to shove, bags not being within coee.

SWMBO was watching Madame Secretary the other night, in one scene the Sec of State called in the PRC's consul to ask if a hack originated from China. He responded with words along the lines of "When we come for you it wont be with hacks or guns, we'll just repossess you."

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DarrenBloomfield mumbles...

Posted December 17, 2015
I love the understatement.
But nothing beats the Japanese Emperor's speech of surrender in WWII (not that the word ever got used). The best bit - the observation that the war in the Pacific had turned out "... not necessarily to Japan's advantage... "
"Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.
"But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest."

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HAVOCK21 is gonna tell you...

Posted December 17, 2015
be a fkn SHAME if they hit a mysterious GAS pocket and the reef blew the fk up!....2000 pounder style......

Halwes puts forth...

Posted December 17, 2015
It's OK. They can just move the whole thing to the new Chinese province of port Darwin.

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Murphy_of_Missouri reckons...

Posted December 17, 2015
Hey, won't global climate change simply wash those islands way?

NBlob would have you know...

Posted December 20, 2015
Fascinating podcast recently (I'll see if I can hunt up the link) comparing a command economy's capacity to respond to a *Situation* as compared to Whitebread democracy. It avoided the usual platitudes and dug into case histories, comparing Katrina & Deep Water Horizon VS the Shen Geng (sp?) earthquake. The take home for me was: overall response was similar in efficacy, the PRC was more faster better in the first fortnight, but then pretty much left the locals to it. As a result people are still living under tarps 2 winters later. The USA took longer to mobilise, did a deeper, longer response, then gave the dissatisfied ( & people are perpetually dissatisfied) a megaphone to slam those that came to their aid.
Then the podcast extrapolated to slower evolving crises- pollution, global warming etc. it suggested that while the PRC has greater theoretical capacity for concrete decisive action, having no equivalent of a Senate for grandstanding, filibuster etc, nor pesky civil society NGOs, both systems are So beholden to interested parties that the actual tangible response are equally ineffective.

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Steve mumbles...

Posted December 20, 2015
NBlob: "When we come for you it wont be with hacks or guns, we'll just repossess you."
US govt debt owed to China is a much bigger from for the Chinese than it is for the Americans. The Americans have already spent the money. The Chinese need to get it back.
US govt bonds are China's single largest financial asset - an asset that can become worthless overnight if the US govt decides to default on bonds held by China. Think of what that would do to China.
When you owe the bank a million dollars and can't pay it back, you have a problem. When you owe the bank a trillion dollars and won't pay it back, the bank has a problem.

NBlob reckons...

Posted December 20, 2015
Absolutely agree Steve, but I doubt the US would be prepared to cop the blowback that would come with defaulting or a 'haircut." Ask the Greeks how popular their T Bills are at the moment. Last I heard they were cheaper than two ply bog roll.
We need the Sausage King's input. Frellman paging Abe Frellman, please pick up a white courtesy phone. Knowledge trumps guesses.

NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted December 20, 2015
In total, China owns about 8 percent of publicly held U.S. debt. Of all the holders of U.S. debt China is the third-largest, behind only the Social Security Trust Fund's holdings of nearly $3 trillion and the Federal Reserve's nearly $2 trillion holdings in Treasury investments, purchased as part of its quantitative easing program to boost the economy.<font color="#191919" face="Helvetica Neue, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif">

w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted December 20, 2015
China sold about 15% of their U.S. bonds this year because they needed the money. The bond market didn't blink and most of the bonds were snapped up by domestic investors. There is a lot of confidence in U.S. bonds and a upwardly moving U.S. market.

NBlob reckons...

Posted December 21, 2015
Give that man a gold star.

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