Member of the United State Senate Dan Sullivan advised against the threats brought about by China’s possibility of building an artificial island on the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Sen. Sullivan revealed that if China’s artificial island will truly be built, it will put Manila at great risk as it will complete a “strategic triangle” of bases that can be advantageous in their quest to dominate the South China Sea.
Showing a map of the region, Sen. Sullivan showed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee the three bases (forming a triangle) that can be used by Chinese fighters in case of an air strike. These bases are the Chinese island of Hainan, the disputed Spratly Islands, and possibly the Scarborough Shoal.
These would give China control not only on almost all the South China Sea but also much of the Philippines, especially in its capital, and Vietnam.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter agreed with Sen. Sullivan. “Your map’s absolutely accurate,” he said, adding that China’s actions are “deeply disturbing to countries in region, which has them all coming to us….We are being increasingly invited to work with countries,” including Australia, Japan, the Philippines, India and Vietnam.
Vietnam has already allowed the US Army to preposition equipment for humanitarian responses while the US is also expanding its relationship with the Philippines via the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement gives the US forces access to five military bases across the Philippines.
Greg Poling, director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also agreed with Sullivan. “Senator Sullivan is right. If China built an artificial island and military base at Scarborough, as it has in the Spratlys and Paracels, it would bring the entire South China Sea within Chinese radar, air, and eventually missile coverage. It would also bing much of the Philippines, including Manila, Clark (air base), Subic (Bay), and at least two of the bases the US is getting access to under EDCA within that Chinese umbrella.”
The only consolation about this issue right now is the report provided by Poling and his CSIS colleague Bonnie Glaser. “In the (satellite) imagery that we have obtained from DigitalGlobe, we have not seen anything,” Glaser said. However, one should also take note that “[they] are not monitoring this 24-7, of course.”
Enshrined in Chinese law
Meanwhile, Dean Cheng, from the conservative Heritage Foundation, points out that this “strategic triangle” is already part of the Chinese law through the prefecture of Sansha or “Three Sands.” This three sands refer to the country’s claimed territories: “South Sands” for the Spratlys; the “West Sands” for the Paracels; and the “Middle Sands” for the Scarborough Reef, Mischief Reef, and other areas off the Philippines.
“The Chinese were telegraphing this years ago,” Cheng said. “Given how quickly the Chinese built the Spratlys, I say we’ve got maybe less than a year before the first runway gets built” on Scarborough, Cheng added.
China Becomes More Active
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Richardson claims that the Chinese have become increasingly active in the region. Rumors have it that dredging vessels are found in the area (though not at the Shoal itself). Furthermore, Philippine paper reports the presence of more Chinese Coast Guard vessels that are far more aggressive than their Chinese navy counterparts.
Strong signals from unnamed sources and websites have also been recorded.
However, a source told Glaser that the island-building on Scarborough is “very, very unlikely”. If it does happen, then it would be a blatant violation of China’s 2015 pledge to stop island-building as well as a breach of its 2002 Declaration of Conduct with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Nonetheless, it is worthy to note that these promises have been broken before.
“A resumption of land reclamation after stating they would stop would make the rest of the region very, very nervous,” Glaser said. “It would also be a signal, not only to the region, but also to the rest of the world that China is going to flout international law.”