Only Direct Diplomatic and Military Action will Halt Chinese Ambitions to the South China Sea, Taiwa
In our 5 February post “Is Scarborough Shoal the Next to Fall to Beijing's South China Sea 'Salami Tactics'?” we warned that China’s next move in the South China Sea is the seizure of Scarborough Shoal and it appears Beijing is one step closer with the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte claiming that China has agreed not to ‘fortify’ the islets where Philippine fisherman are ‘allowed’ to fish under the ever-vigilant watch of the Chinese Coast Guard. This new agreement followed reports that Beijing would construct an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal.
Not surprisingly, the South China Sea appears to be increasingly just that, a South China Sea, with only scattered US-and allied freedom of navigation patrols to suggest otherwise. It was reported recently that China has installed the 295-mile range YJ-12B Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM) and HQ-9B Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) with a range of 160-nautical miles to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. These recent deployments give Beijing almost continuous coverage of the Eastern approaches to the South China Sea. By controlling three disputed Island chains in the contested sea, the Paracels, Spratlys, and Scarborough Shoal, China gains air, communications and intelligence coverage of the entire maritime region, the so-called “nine-dash line,” which outlines China’s historic claim to about 90 per cent of the South China Sea.
To the North of the South China Sea, Beijing has an existing airfield on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel chain, seized from Vietnam, along with mobile HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles. As well, Triton Island in the Paracels saw construction of new buildings this year, including two large radar towers. Woody Island is China’s military headquarters in the disputed region and developments at Woody are usually a precursor to those at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs. Woody has seen the deployment of J-10 and recently J-11B fighter planes meaning a deployment of fighter aircraft to the Spratlys is almost a certainty in the coming months. To the South, the Peoples Liberation Army is putting the finishing touches on its fortification of Fiery Cross, Cuarteron, Gaven, Johnson South, Mischief, Subi and Hughes Reef in the dispute Spratly Islands. The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and China all have overlapping claims on the Spratly Island chain, but Beijing has been the most aggressive at protecting and advancing its strategic interests.
As previously reported runways for fighter aircraft, maritime patrol, and transport aircraft have been finished on the three biggest islands, Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reef. Additionally, Lighthouses, radar domes, hangars and multi-story buildings have been built on them along with tunnels and structures that might house anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile systems. On Cuarteron, Gaven, Hughes, and Johnson South Reef helipads, wind turbines, observation and communication towers have been erected. The Fiery Cross Reef features a three-kilometer-long runway and at least one missile system, likely the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile. The new runway facilities have concrete hangers for up to 24 fighter aircraft and five larger aircraft. A single-barrel 100 mm gun has reportedly been spotted on Gavin Reef. Now It has been reported that China has deployed the YJ-12B ASCM and HQ-9B SAMs to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef.
It should be noted that since 2009, China has claimed territory out to the so-called “Nine-Dash Line” that originated with the Chinese Nationalists in the 1940s to claim the entire South China Sea despite countervailing claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. In 2013, China extended its territorial claims with a modified “Ten-Dash line” map that extends to the east of Taiwan, outside of the South China Sea. China has refused to accept and ignored a 2016 ruling by the International Court of Arbitration that its occupation and fortification of the South China Sea was illegal. China’s construction of its own domestically-produced aircraft carrier now undergoing sea trials and its modernization of an existing Soviet-Era aircraft carrier will only serve to bolster Chinese power out to the Ten-Dash-Line and beyond.