Sudan Hostage Crisis: Send in SEAL Team 六

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The Chinese government has sent a working group to Sudan to aid in the rescue of several Chinese nationals who have been abducted in the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

Spokesman Liu Weimin said the working group, which is being led by the ministry and includes officials from the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, or China’s cabinet, departed for Sudan on Monday evening. (Global Times)

Allow me to be deliberately provocative with a quick thought experiment. Instead of sending in a team of diplomatic negotiators to deal with the situation, what if China went with Plan B and sent in a crack group of killers to take out the bad guys? This is what President Obama decided to do with a hostage situation in Somalia last week.

Question: what would be the political fallout and media treatment of a similar Chinese operation? I suspect there would be some outrage, concern trolling, and (last but not least) maybe even some cheer leading by some neocons.

Note that in the case of the Somali operation, the legal basis for the U.S. action is confusing. There are compelling arguments on both sides.

Here’s another one. What if these particular Sudanese bad guys, as part of a negotiated release of the hostages, were allowed to walk? And then what if China waited six months and then smoked their asses like the Mossad did with the Munich Olympics terrorists in the 70s or, assuming for a moment that they had the technological capability, rained destruction down on their heads with aerial drones? (The U.S. has been doing the latter in both Somalia and Afghanistan for some time now. Once again the legal basis for such actions is unclear.)

My point here is that I would expect a great deal of criticism if China did in fact decide to emulate the U.S. I would not be at all surprised if those kinds of actions were condemned on various grounds, including state sovereignty and human rights. Heck, I could even see some sort of condemnation introduced via the United Nations.

And yet, in the case of the U.S., not only are aerial drone attacks and special forces strikes reported on as a matter of course, these actions are lauded and rarely questioned. The chest thumping in the U.S. is expected, but I’ve always found the tacit approval of the foreign press a bit odd. My cursory reading of the British press (here’s a sample) and international wire service reports of the Somali raid has uncovered no discussion of territorial sovereignty, the extent of discussions between the U.S. and Somali government, or international (or U.S. national) law implications.

So if it’s OK for SEAL Team Six to take out Somali “criminals,” (not sneer quotes — that is what they were called by the U.S. government), then I assume everything is fine with China doing the same thing when it develops such capabilities and decides to use them?

14 responses on “Sudan Hostage Crisis: Send in SEAL Team 六

  1. LOLZ

    The US drone assassination program is being questioned by some, but since lives (on the American side) are not lost the American media has generally been supportive. On the one hand you have drones which typically kill not only intended targets but their wives and kids, on the other hand the drones do save lives of the American soldiers. To criticize the drone program means to put the lives of American soldiers over the locals, so you will get only the few very liberal journalist/analyst who are willing to criticize the program. Of course, if the current US prez weren’t Obama but a Republican, then I would expect the liberals to be a lot more active against the drone program.

    Knowing how China operates, it’s a lot more likely that China will simply try to pressure/bribe the local warlords to release the hostages than a daring rescue, then give weapons to groups opposing the kidnappers. But of course China will be condemned by the Western media either way.

    1. Stan Post author

      I don’t see China doing anything like that for a LONG time. Territorial sovereignty issues are a big deal to the PRC for obvious reasons. They can’t afford to play fast and loose with this kind of thing.

      1. S.K. Cheung

        Hypothetically, I would have no problem with China sending assets in to rescue their own citizens, especially if the Sudanese government has proven to be unable to secure their release by other means. As a courtesy, might be nice to notify Sudan of the impending incursion. It is a breach of territorial sovereignty, but a transient and isolated one. Also, to me, a justifiable one. Chinese citizens are in harm’s way. Deferral to Sudanese forces is appropriate for a time, but if that gets nowhere, China’s obligation should be first and foremost to protect her own citizens. Something like this would not invoke any logical comparison to Taiwan or Tibet or any other hot-button territorial topic, since this is a temporary incursion by a small team with a very specific objective, not some long-term “freedom” project.

        Now, whether China has the military capability to carry out something like this might be a different matter.

        On the other hand, i really wonder what they plan to achieve by sending in a bunch of suits. Maybe they’ll try to talk the kidnappers to death. Or maybe they’ll bring duffel bags full of money, which may or may not work to free the current hostages, but would seemingly set the stage for more of these incidents to come.

  2. slim

    Does the PLA have the capabilities in question here? A fiasco would be bad for the PRC.

    I recall an episode in about 2010 when the Russians dealt with Somali pirates they’d captured by simply cutting the prates and their boat adrift on the high seas w/out food and water. If memory serves, while some bloggers blanched at the Ruskies, the overall media commentary tone was more like a slightly uncomfortable “we need to be this ruthless with these pirates.”

    1. Stan Post author

      Whether or not they have a suitably trained commando team and proper transport is kind of academic anyway. That’s why it was a thought experiment as opposed to a policy suggestion.

      1. slim

        Understood. For some folks, the worry might be the PRC’s extraterritorial pursuit of dissidents, Tibetans, Uighurs etc. — which still seems more a priority than manual laborers.

  3. King Tubby

    A Sino Seal response is purely academic as the PLA lack the capacity. Paying the money will only encourage more of the same. If you are a local warlord, this is easy peasy stuff, since Chinese expats live in segregated compounds and get bussed around. On top of that, they are not exactly winning hearts and minds around Africa.

    On the bigger ethical question, think of a drone strike as high tech version of the roadside IED.

    Don’t know if the Russian approach passes the ethical litmus test either. After the US CIA station chief William Buckley was kidnapped and tortured to death by one of the Lebanese militarias (sic) in the late 80’s, they then felt encouraged to take a few shots at Russian intelligence personnel in the field. The Russians reacted with a single-mindedness which would have done Putin proud. After identifying the head perp, they then kidnapped his son, castrated him and returned him to daddy’s doorstep. Problem solved.

    1. slim

      “Don’t know if the Russian approach passes the ethical litmus test either.”

      No question that it does not. My point is maybe the world could turn to states with no evident compunction about such matters to get really dirty but useful tasks done. Send in North Korean commandos to take out the Lord’s Resistance Army. Let Russia take care of Somali pirates.

  4. Anon

    I know that I wouldn’t have any problems with it, personally–not that that really matters. I also don’t think it would be too problematic from the US perspective, officially, though you’re probably right that there would be a certain amount of questioning regarding China’s “rapidly modernizing and increasingly assertive military assets,” etc. I think it would, however, present something of an existential crisis for what China has long claimed to be the foundation of its foreign policy positions…

  5. j vincent nix

    China has the capability, but they prefer to NOT do it the U.S. way. Stan was on the mark when he said territorial issues are a BIG issue for the Chinese. Yup, China would get condemned, and their military leaders realize this.

    Also, China’s president now (and since the ’89 fiasco in Tiananmen) controls the military decisions, totally. We won’t see China’s military going off the handle for any time soon. It will be interesting to see what Xi Jinpeng does with scanarios like this one; since he is vice-controller of the military now, he certainly knows inside-out the true capabilities of China’s military.

    1. Robert Park

      I doubt they have the military capability. After having read history on how the SEAL teams were created, and biographies from former members on the entrance exams and how they operate, I find this difficult to believe. The SEALs are elite of the elite, and Team 6 used to be a total secret and recruited only the best from the other SEAL units, with about half (or was it more than half) failing the entrance exam to get into Team 6. I can’t even imagine how anyone I’ve ever met could survive the training.

      I don’t think China has the necessary military experience to self-develop the required knowledge for even starting a program, let alone successfully operating and sustaining it. They’re only now in recent years starting to flex their military muscle, and no major skirmishes yet, let alone opportunities for SEAL-type units to be deployed. You also have to consider that SEAL units are operational a lot, just that we don’t get to hear about most of their secret missions (though that seems to be changing recently, perhaps in order to sway American public opinion about military activity by showing how bad-ass the SEALs can be).

      1. SilverTea

        Not sure about the Seal. The American Special Forces had some embarrassing moments too. Operantion Eagle Claw in Iran Hostage Crisis, anyone???China couldn’t do any worse than that, could she?

  6. pug_ster

    If China has their own version of Seal Team 6 and rescued a bunch of hostages in Sudan, no doubt that the Western Propaganda would say that China has invaded that country.