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June 20, 2024
Notes from the Pentagon

China ramps up aggressive action against Philippine supply boats

By Bill Gertz
China’s coast guard this week took the most aggressive action to date against Philippine supply boats attempting to provide goods to a grounded navy vessel at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

In the latest incident Monday, Chinese coast guard vessels forced a Philippine supply boat near the shoal to yield. Its crew had their guns confiscated by the Chinese.

The Biden administration’s policy of not offering warship protection or helicopters to its ally for use in the supply missions remained unchanged after the latest maritime aggression.

Instead, the administration’s response has been limited to verbal assurances that so far have failed to deter the Chinese aggression near the shoal.

The Chinese used double-hulled cutters, larger motorboats and special operations rigid-hull inflatable boats to block supply vessels. At least one Philippine sailor was seriously injured.

Chinese warships were also nearby. They included a 45,000-ton Type 075 amphibious assault carrier, a 25,000-ton Type 071 amphibious landing dock ship and three Type 055 cruisers, each equipped with 112 launchers for surface-to-air and supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.

Military analysts say the Indo-Pacific Command should immediately begin conducting vertical replenishment operations, called VERTREP, using helicopters that would bring needed goods to the Philippine navy ship Sierra Madre.

The grounded ship is being used as a military outpost on Second Thomas Shoal.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, former director of intelligence for the Pacific Fleet, said Monday’s incident was the most aggressive action seen by the Chinese in trying to block supplies to the grounded ship.

“The concern at this stage of the development is that Beijing is now confident enough to increase the amount of force required to physically displace the Philippines from holdings such as Second Thomas Shoal or Sabina Reef,” he said.

“That trend line makes it clear that Beijing is ready, willing and able to use force against the Philippines, up to and including deadly force.”

Mr. Fanell said to avoid loss of life and show support for a treaty ally, the U.S. should use helicopters from the Navy’s 7th Fleet to conduct vertical replenishment operations.

The operations would safely and securely deliver supplies and bypass increasing threats posed by the Chinese military to a treaty ally, he said.

The State Department on Monday said the U.S. “condemns the escalatory and irresponsible actions” by the Chinese.

It was at least the ninth time that an official statement of condemnation was issued over China’s actions in the shoal.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the latest incident followed earlier aggressive encounters.

According to the State Department statement, Chinese vessels have used water cannons and dangerous maneuvers over the past year in violation of international law.

China’s claims to sovereignty over Second Thomas Shoal were denied in 2016 by a ruling of an international tribunal, Mr. Miller said.

The statement repeated earlier invocations of Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

The article extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft — including those of its coast guard — anywhere in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that the Philippine supply vessels ignored “dissuasion” near the shoal, which China still claims as its territory, despite the 2016 ruling.

“The law enforcement action taken by the China coast guard on the scene was professional and restrained and aimed at stopping the illegal resupply mission,” Mr. Lin said.

An Indo-Pacific command legal report from March states that China is increasing its aggressive actions near the shoal.

China “continues to exhibit coercive, dangerous, and unlawful behavior toward Philippine vessels and personnel” conducting rotational resupply of the Sierra Madre, a navy transport ship that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

A spokeswoman for the Indo-Pacific Command quoted Adm. Sam Paparo, the commander, as having said in the past that the U.S. military is “ready to come to the Philippines’ assistance, in their exercise of their sovereign rights.”

“The Philippines has so far not requested support but we stand ready,” Adm. Paparo said. “The U.S. has provided intelligence to the Philippine side to assist in the resupply efforts for the Sierra Madre.”

Former White House adviser urges return to ‘peace through strength’ under Trump
Former White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien stated in a journal article published Tuesday that the United States needs to return to the “peace through strength” foreign policy championed by former President Donald Trump.

Mr. O’Brien, writing in Foreign Affairs, said that critics of the former president are wrong in claiming that Mr. Trump was “purely transaction” or an isolationist hostile to alliances.

“Trump thinks highly of his predecessor Andrew Jackson and Jackson’s approach to foreign policy: Be focused and forceful when compelled to action but wary of overreach,” said Mr. O’Brien, who served in the Trump administration.

“A second Trump term would see the return of realism with a Jacksonian flavor. Washington’s friends would be more secure and more self-reliant, and its foes would once again fear American power. The United States would be strong, and there would be peace.”

China, in particular, has grown more hostile and dangerous since the 1990s and routinely threatens Taiwan and is engaged in low-intensity conflict with the Philippines that threatens to set off a wider war in the South China Sea, Mr. O’Brien said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has become “China’s most dangerous leader since the murderous Mao Zedong, and China has yet to be held to account for the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan,” he said.

The open border and influx of Chinese fentanyl from Mexico also pose major national security threats to the U.S., he added.

“This morass of American weakness and failure cries out for a Trumpian restoration of peace through strength,” Mr. O’Brien said.

“Nowhere is that need more urgent than in the contest with China.”

President Biden, he said, has sent mixed messages on the threat from China by seeking closer ties with Beijing through meetings and summits that have produced few achievements.

Instead of continued economic integration, the United States must decouple from China and strengthen tariffs until China is ready for normal trade ties, he said.

Mr. Trump disinvited China’s military from the Pacific military exercises known as Rim of the Pacific in 2018 and Mr. Biden has refused to invite Taiwan to the drills, he said, adding that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster that weakened U.S. statecraft and led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He argued that the U.S. military has deteriorated under Mr. Biden, with recruiting shortfalls reflecting a lack of confidence among young Americans in an increasingly politicized military.

On alliances, the Biden administration has failed to support allied democracies against rival autocracies by questioning the democratic bona fides of allies such as Brazil, Hungary, Israel and Poland.

The Biden administration appears uninterested in fostering good relations with real-world democratic allies and instead seeks to defend fictional abstractions such as the rules-based international order.

“Such rhetoric reflects a globalist, liberal elitism that masquerades as support for democratic ideals,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Citing U.S. advancements in the decade after the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan, Mr. O’Brien predicted a divided America could be turned around.

“In November, the American people will have the opportunity to return to office a president who restored peace through strength — and who can do it again,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Chinese triads linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel
The Justice Department on Wednesday released a federal indictment outlining the ties between Chinese organized crime groups and Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel.

The 10-count indictment identifies Sinaloa drug operatives in Los Angeles linked to money laundering with Chinese crime groups.

As part of a conspiracy, the Mexicans and Chinese moved more than $50 million in drug proceeds in underground fund exchanges, the department said in a statement.

The multiyear probe, “Operation Fortune Runner,” resulted in drug and money-laundering charges against 24 people.

The main player in the indictment was identified as Edgar Joel Martinez-Reyes, 45, of East Los Angeles. Twenty of those named in the indictment are expected to be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles in the coming weeks.

“Dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine are destroying people’s lives but drug traffickers only care about their profits,” said Martin Estrada, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

“To protect our community, therefore, it is essential that we go after the sophisticated, international criminal syndicates that launder the drug money.”

Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram said: “This DEA investigation uncovered a partnership between Sinaloa Cartel associates and a Chinese criminal syndicate operating in Los Angeles and China to launder drug money.”

Law enforcement officials seized approximately $5 million in drug proceeds, 302 pounds of cocaine, 92 pounds of methamphetamine, 3,000 ecstasy pills, 44 pounds of psilocybin or “magic mushrooms,” numerous ounces of ketamine, three semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines and eight semiautomatic handguns.

The money laundering involved “many wealthy Chinese” who sought to transfer assets to the United States that are barred under Chinese law. Beijing limits cash transfers to $50,000 a year.

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