Vice Adm. Yoji Koda, a retired commander-in-chief of Japan’s Self-Defense Fleet, said in answer to a question that Tuesday’s decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, presents Washington and Tokyo with a “fait accompli.”
Militarily, he told an audience at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, if Beijing goes ahead with building up Scarborough Shoal, it “could be a game changer.”
What he was referring to at the Wednesday event was the creation of a triangle of military facilities on artificial islands allowing China to project power to its claimed “nine-dash line,” from its coastal mainland.
“I’m not saying go to war today,” but “you have to be prepared.”
The plan to develop and militarize Scarborough Shoal, however, has set off alarm bells in both the Pentagon and State Department because of the area’s proximity to the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally that recently agreed to enhance defense cooperation in the face of Chinese aggression.
Contrary to China’s claim, the primary purpose of the reclaimed atolls is strategic. The harbors on the manmade islands will enable PLA-Navy and Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels to conduct round-the-clock presence missions in the South China Sea without the need to return to ports in mainland China. Radar and satellite communications systems will significantly enhance China’s maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea. The airfield on Fiery Cross Reef is able to accommodate almost every aircraft in the PLA’s inventory, including heavy transport and combat aircraft.10 As the PLA currently lacks a fully operational aircraft carrier, and has limited in-flight refuelling capabilities, the atolls should enable China’s military to base fighter aircraft in the Spratlys on a permanent basis.
China is calling the construction project for Scarborough Shoal its plan for Huangyan—“Yellow Rock”—Island, where a settlement will be set up.
The shoal is located about 168 miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines, where U.S. warships will be regularly deployed in the future as part of the enhanced defense agreement recently concluded between Washington and Manila.
The website included satellite photographs purportedly based on a construction bid proposed by the “Huangyan Island Township,” a municipality created under what China claims is its regional authority on Sansha Island, located near China’s Hainan Island.
A graphic with one photo outlined the development plan, with three Chinese guided-missile frigates at a wharf at the southern opening of the shoal.
“From this future base the 400-kilometer range YJ-62 can attack targets in most of the Philippine main island of Luzon,” Fisher said. “China could also deploy longer range anti-ship ballistic missiles to this base.”
The US and the Philippines began joint patrols in the South China Sea in March, US defense chief Ash Carter revealed during his latest visit to the region. US forces will also have access to at least eight military bases in the Philippines, with two air bases in Pampanga, 330km from Scarborough Shoal.
The atoll is a potential flashpoint in the disputed South China Sea and is claimed by Beijing, Manila and Taipei. Chinese coastguard ships took control of the area after a tense stand-off with Philippine vessels in 2012.
SOURCES- South China Morning Post, USNI, Eurasia Review