World View: China Says Its South China Sea Military Buildup Is a Boon to the World

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea -- through which a third of the world's oil passes -- while several other littoral states have competing claims
AFP/File Soe Than Win

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Philippines to reject US use of its bases for South China Sea patrols
  • China says its South China Sea military buildup is a boon to the world
  • Vietnam and Australia reject China’s claims

Philippines to reject US use of its bases for South China Sea patrols

Chinese army soldiers plant vegetables on Fiery Cross Reef, which China has illegally annexed (Global Times)
Chinese army soldiers plant vegetables on Fiery Cross Reef, which China has illegally annexed (Global Times)

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the country would not allow the US military to use its base in the Philippines for its freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea. In the past, some US aircraft and ships stopped in the Philippines on the way to the South China Sea patrols, but Lorenzana says that the US can now instead use its bases in Guam or Okinawa.

The awkward statement comes from the policy of new Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte. He announced a cutoff of relations with the United States first by calling President Obama the “son of a whore,” and then he traveled to Beijing and sucked up to China’s president Xi Jinping.

China’s claims to the South China Sea were eviscerated by a ruling of United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in July. In particular, the Tribunal said:

[The Tribunal] FINDS that Scarborough Shoal has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities and DECLARES that China has, through the operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully prevented fishermen from the Philippines from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal.

Apparently Duterte ceded the Scarborough Shoal to China in their meeting, but he was rewarded when China graciously decided to allow Philippines fishermen to fish there again, as they had been doing for centuries prior to 2012.

The new announcement by Lorenzana is consistent with Duterte’s policy of submission to China, but it seems unlikely to be popular with the Philippines people who, as I’ve previously reported, have a 92% favorable view of the US, but only a 44% favorable view of China.

The mutual xenophobia between the Chinese and Philippine people is substantial, and it would take just one accident or unpleasant incident to stoke nationalist feelings in one country against the other, and force Duterte to change his submissive policy. As I’ve written many times, from the point of view of Generational Dynamics it’s the masses of people, the generations, not the politicians, who decide a country’s policies. Philippines Star and International Business Times

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China says its South China Sea military buildup is a boon to the world

A Chinese military newspaper says that China’s vast military buildup in the South China Sea is a boon to everyone in the region, and to the whole world. “China’s construction in the South China Sea has turned its islands into the best-equipped, most advanced bases in the region with airports, hospitals, agriculture and 4G mobile signal.” Furthermore, there are more than 20 scientific research projects, dealing with issues such as seawater desalination, refuse disposal, and marine ecology protection.

However, the paper adds, “So this region is advantageous geographically, and when conflict begins, who controls this region will dominate.” It also quotes a Chinese joke: “When the US sends their warships to scare us, we just fill in one or two more islands to make ourselves calm down.” Global Times (Beijing)

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Vietnam and Australia reject China’s claims

The Vietnamese are not buying the message that China’s annexation of the South China Sea is a boon to the world.

Satellite imagery shows that Vietnam has begun dredging operations in Ladd Reef in a corner of the Spratly Islands that China is now annexing, along with the rest of the South China Sea. Although the purpose of the dredging cannot yet be determined, it appears to similar to China’s activities in creating artificial islands and military bases. However, the Vietnamese efforts are minuscule compared China’s vast militarization efforts.

Vietnam has also fortified five of its bases in the Spratly Islands with rocket launchers – a move described in August by China state-run media as “a terrible mistake.”

Vietnam has its own historic claim to the South China Sea. In 1836, the King of Hue began dispatching soldiers once a year to the islands, hunting for pearls, giant clams and salvaged treasure from passing boats, often European, which sank on treacherous reefs. This regal connection is significant. According to a Vietnamese official whose family settled the islands in the 1600s, “Vietnam is the rightful owner of the Paracels and Spratlys.”

Australia is also not buying China’s claim that its vast military expansion in the South China Sea is a boon to the world. According to one Australian analyst:

China has built six large islands — three substantial air bases and three sizeable electronic surveillance installations. With this, China effectively has moved 1100km south towards Australia and deep into the geographic heart of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN].

The new facilities’ size allows China to deploy off northern Borneo an air combat force larger and more capable than any current ASEAN air force. China can easily enforce an air defense identification zone across the South China Sea.

More worryingly, China for the first time poses a realistic air threat to Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and all of Borneo. With these new air bases, China today militarily dominates the central ASEAN region.

The analyst recommends that Australia, the US and ASEAN “build regional resilience to Chinese threats.” Empty words, since no such resilience is possible, short of full-scale war. Australian Broadcasting and The Australian

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, Philippines, South China Sea, Delfin Lorenzana, Rodrigo R. Duterte, Xi Jinping, United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration, Scarborough Shoal, Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Vietnam, Australia, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN
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