Currently, China occupies seven islets that it reclaimed and built into bigger military installations with airstrips and naval ports to accommodate larger People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces with fighter jets, tanks, missiles, frigates, destroyers, and submarines.
It’s a known fact that these military bases play a role in China’s ambition to dominate the Spratly Islands, which is within the nine-dash line that delineates the West Philippine Sea (WPS), which is within the First Island Chain.
But the Southeast Asian countries have differed in how to counter the Chinese threat. Vietnam and Indonesia increased their defense spending in acquiring fighter jets, missile batteries, naval ships, and submarines to protect their claims and territories against Chinese adventurism in the WPS.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has realigned the country to China in exchange $20 billion in Chinese loans to fund Duterte’s build-build-build infrastructure program, which so far has not materialized yet.
There have been talks that China is eyeing the Philippines as a Chinese vassal or as some politicians have been saying, a “Chinese province.”
With the termination of the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in August 2020, the future of US-Philippine alliance is in limbo and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) becomes virtually useless because the Philippine Constitution bans the stationing of foreign troops on Philippine soil.
With Uncle Sam out of the picture, is Uncle Xi going to fill the void left by America? My guess is probably as good as anybody’s, which is: China will make a move before the end of Duterte’s term in June 2022. And China doesn’t have to fire a single shot. It will be over in a day. This scenario fits exactly into Sun Tzu’s best strategy: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Next on China’s shopping list is to take control of the South China Sea. And with China’s takeover and militarization of seven of the Spratly Islands, China is now poised to complete its encroachment of the South China Sea. And with the Philippines helplessly at the mercy of China, this brings the “J-shaped” First island Chain within China’s outer perimeter, from the southern tip of Japan down to the Western Pacific into the West Philippine Sea via the Bashi Channel in the Luzon Strait and runs down to Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia and across the Strait of Malacca to Vietnam. Coincidentally, this is where China’s nine-dash-line is delineated also.
In my column, “China sets eyes on Benham Rise” (September 30, 2016), I wrote: “In February 2016, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reported that several Chinese ships were seen in the Benham Rise. The following July, China Daily published a report about China’s “secret undersea exploration” in the Benham Rise area. The report said that China discovered massive mineral deposits. It also said that the volume of natural gas deposits in the area was at par with what was discovered in the Spratly Islands.”
The discovery has an immediate effect on China’s territorial expansionist ambitions. I surmised, “If China builds an artificial island on top of Scarborough Shoal (which at 58 square miles is slightly smaller than the area of Quezon City, the capital of the Philippines), she’d be in a position to militarize it. And once militarized – like what she did to the seven artificial islands she built in the Spratlys — she’d be able to control the choke point at the Bashi Channel, which is the gateway to the Philippine Sea… and beyond.”
This dovetails into what I wrote in my column, “China raises the ante” (July 31, 2013), which says, “Last June 27, 2013, an intriguing article appeared in the Want China Times titled, ‘China to take Second Island Chain by 2020.’ It says: ‘Within seven years, China will be able to control the Second Island Chain — a series of island groups that runs north to south from the Japanese archipelago to the Bonin and Marshall islands — now that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Navy commands the nation’s first aircraft carrier, according to the Hangzhou-based Qianjiang Evening News.’
“The article also said: ‘In 1982, Admiral Liu Huaqing, the former commander of the PLA Navy and the mastermind of China’s modern naval strategy, said that it would be necessary for China to control the First and Second Island Chains by 2010 and 2020. The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040. If China is able to dominate the Second Island Chain seven years from now, the East China Sea will become the backyard of the PLA Navy.’ ”
With China’s goal of controlling the vast Western Pacific, which includes the East China Sea (ECS), the South China Sea (SCS), and the Philippine Sea, the entire Western Pacific would be transformed into “Lake Beijing.” The Philippines would be right in the middle of the lake, isolated from the rest of the world.
As things are today, China is behind in her timetable to achieve control over the First Island Chain, which includes the ECS and SCS. However, by militarizing the Spratly archipelago, the Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal, China would be able to establish a “strategic triangle” formed by these three island groups where China could monitor – and control – all the movements in the SCS.
To date, China has not yet militarized the Scarborough Shoal. That would be the next immediate step. After that, China would then declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the entire SCS. With an ADIZ already in place over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the ECS, China would then be ready to break out into the Second Island Chain right up to America’s doorsteps, Guam. And the last – and final — step would be to take full control of the choke point at the Strait of Malacca, and eventually… penetrate the Indian Ocean.
If the U.S. fails to stop China, she might as well kiss the Indo-Asia-Pacific region goodbye and cocoon herself into isolation just like before she entered World War I. But inaction does not guarantee peace either. The “Munich Appeasement” of 1938 did not stop Germany from invading Czechoslovakia. On the contrary, it emboldened Germany to pursue territorial expansion, thinking that the Great Powers – particularly America — wouldn’t intervene. In fact, as Germany continued her conquest of Europe, then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt told the American people in 1940: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Wrong!
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt declared war on Japan the following day. A few days later, Germany declared war on the U.S; thus, bringing the world to war once again for the second time.
Which begs the question: Is appeasement a guarantee for peace or just a momentary stop-gap that would only encourage a rogue country – China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran — to start another world war? Sad to say, if history is the barometer of things to come, the imbroglio in the SCS has all the elements of war in the offing.
US vs. China
Last May 6, Trump threatened to “cut off the whole relationship” with China, in the latest escalation of tensions with Beijing. He blames China for the global spread of the coronavirus. “Is Trump totally insane?” experts asked.
This could be an attempt by Trump to lay the groundwork to blame China for the pandemic. Political pundits believe that this is Trump’s ace card to win re-election in November. However, it may put world peace in a dangerous position.
A few days later, the Pentagon deployed seven nuclear attack submarines to the SCS. The submarine force said the missions were mounted in support of the Pentagon’s “free and open Indo- Pacific” policy aimed at countering China’s operations in the SCS.
Meanwhile, the supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan also left its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan for sea trials in the Western Pacific and eventual deployment at sea. The US Navy has maintained a flotilla of warships in the Western Pacific as a show of force in the region amid soaring tensions with China in the South China Sea. Also docked at Guam is another supercarrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and deployment of four B-1B Lancer stealth bombers capable of carrying nuclear bombs.
As America confronts China and readies itself to go to war, the world teeters on the brink of World War III. America’s maneuver could be met with force by a nervous China, which makes one wonder: Who will strike first: U.S. or China?
Feedback is welcome, email PerryDiaz@gmail.com