12-19: Does the South China Sea Belong to China?

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from the Associated Press’s Christopher Bodeen, “Report: Beijing Adds Weapons to South China Sea Islands.”]

China Building Bases in South China Sea … Why?

According to AP’s Christopher Bodeen,

China appears to have installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea … upping the stakes in what many see as a potential Asian powder keg.

Do you think? The question, of course, is why. Why does behemoth China feel it necessary to bolster their coastal defenses?

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report … that the anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attack have been placed on all seven of China’s newly created islands.

What country would be foolish enough to fire missiles at China, and for what purpose?

The outposts were built in recent years over objections by the U.S. and rival claimants by piling sand on top of coral reefs, followed by the construction of military grade 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) airstrips, barracks, lighthouses, radar stations and other infrastructure.

“… over objections by the U.S. and rival claimants …” How is the U.S. threatened by the existence of these bases? More to the point, I guess, is what U.S. interests are threatened? And, digging deeper, what are U.S. interests in and around the South China Sea?

Appropriate and Legal

In a statement, China’s Defense Ministry [said] that development on the islands was mainly for civilian purposes, but added that defensive measures were “appropriate and legal.”

“For example, were someone to be threatening you with armed force outside your front door, would you not get ready even a slingshot?” the ministry statement said.

Point taken. But who poses such a threat?

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing that he had no information about the reported weaponry, but said such deployments were China’s sovereign right.

The Philippines, which has troops and villagers stationed on some reefs and islands near China’s new artificial islands, expressed concern despite recently improving relations with China.

“If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good.”

China’s new island armaments “show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” Center for Strategic and International Studies experts wrote in the report.

Now I get it.

“Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases,” the report said.

Beijing says the islands are intended to boost maritime safety in the region while downplaying their military utility. They also mark China’s claim to ownership of practically the entire South China Sea.

Dollars, Dollars, Dollars

It hardly seems plausible that America would attack such an important trade partner and debt holder as China.

Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim territory in the waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year, while the U.S. Navy insists on its right to operate throughout the area, including in waters close to China’s new outposts. China has strongly criticized such missions, known as freedom of navigation operations….

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on a visit to the U.S. last year that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of the area … Despite that, China considers it vital to equip the islands with defensive means given their distance — 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) — from the Chinese mainland, together with the nearby presence of forces from rival claimants such as Vietnam, said Yue Gang, a retired colonel and military analyst.

“As the matter of fact, these occupied islands have been armed and fortified for a long time,” Yue said. “No country in the world would only commit to providing civil services without considering its own security safety.”

Looking forward, the nature of China’s new military deployments will likely be calibrated in response to moves taken by the U.S., said the IISS’s Neill.

In or Out?

How do we Americans find ourselves so deeply involved in affairs such as this? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the U.S. Navy’s insistence “on its right to operate throughout the area.” Since WWII, we have established and expanded our military presence in Southeast Asia. After using weapons of mass destruction (the “bomb”) on Hiroshima and Nagasake, we wrote the Japanese Constitution which forbade that nation from rebuilding its military. We, the U.S.A. would instead impose our military in Japan in perpetuity.

Then came the Korean War. More troops, more need for permanent bases in South Korea. Then Vietnam. Air and naval bases in the Philippines. War. War. More war. How appalling it is that we commit our military so liberally and interminably. When it comes to war zones, we’re in.

The question we need to demand our leaders to answer is: How do we get out?


The illustration at the blog’s top corner is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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