Navy Capt. James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said during a conference in San Diego that the People’s Liberation Army’s large-scale war games last fall showed that the island of Taiwan is no longer Beijing’s lone major target.
“In addition to a longstanding task to restore Taiwan to the mainland, we witnessed the massive amphibious and cross-military region exercise, Mission Action 2013, and concluded that the PLA has been given new task: To be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, followed by what can only be expected [as] a seizure of the Senkakus, or even the southern Ryukus,” he said.
Capt. Fanell, who last year warned that China was escalating its bullying of regional neighbors, said security in the Asia Pacific over the past year has worsened, reaching a nadir in November with China’s imposition of an air defense zone over much of the East China Sea.
Earlier, Chinese coast guard and naval forces had conducted a coordinated series of provocations aimed at intimidating nearby nations, he said.
The provocations included China’s harassment of a U.S. warship. The encounter led to the near-collision between the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese amphibious ship in the South China Sea. Officials said the incident could have triggered a larger conflict between the U.S. and China.
China asserted the Cowpens had violated a defense zone around its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, near Hainan Island. But Capt. Fanell said the U.S. ship was 50 miles away when the Chinese amphibious ship sailed within 100 yards of the Cowpens and stopped in front of it, forcing the U.S. ship to make an emergency turn to avoid collision.
The Chinese also continued “expansionism” throughout the region last year, he said.
“Tensions in the South China and East China seas have deteriorated, with the Chinese coast guard playing the role of antagonist, harassing China’s neighbors, while PLA navy ships, their protectors, conduct port calls throughout the region, promising friendship and cooperation,” Capt. Fanell said at the Feb. 13 conference.
Capt. Fanell also expressed concern about a report published last fall in China’s state-run Global Times that highlighted, with graphics, the effects of submarine-launched nuclear missile attacks on West Coast cities. The article said the JL-2 missile attacks would kill up to 12 million Americans.
“Imagine the outrage if a similar statement had been made by any U.S. media outlet,” he said, noting that China’s first ballistic missile submarine patrols are expected to begin this year.
Capt. Fanell noted that the late Gen. Liu Huaqing, considered the father of the Chinese navy, in 1983 outlined Beijing’s timetable for naval hegemony: By 2010, China will achieve naval supremacy over the what its call the “first island chain” — waters near its coast — and by 2020 will expand to control waters around the “second island chain” located hundreds of miles from China.
Liu predicted that by 2040 “China will have the power to contain the dominance of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans,” Capt. Fanell said, noting that Liu was known for directing forces that killed unarmed protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and engineered the naval attack that killed 70 Vietnamese sailors at the South China Sea’s Johnson South Reef in 1988.
“I think they are ahead of schedule,” Capt. Fanell said.