China soon to establish South China Sea exclusion zone — analyst
China will soon establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, a specialist in international relations said, amid the latest troubling developments in the disputed waterway.
“The Chinese are short of declaring an exclusion zone in South China Sea. I think we are reaching that moment,” analyst Richard Heydarian told Inquirer.net.
Early this month, the US network CNBC reported China’s installation of surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles on its three biggest occupied reefs— Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), and Zamora (Subi). Last April, China also reportedly installed military jamming equipment on Kagitingan and Panganiban.
Panganiban is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone while Zamora is near Philippine-occupied Pagasa Island (Thitu).
“We now have China developing the skeleton of an ADIZ in the Spratly Islands that would give them in the long run an ability to impose an exclusion zone of the area,” the analyst commented on the Asian superpower’s recent deployments and militarization of its facilities.
He said the recent deployments of advanced military assets were definitely a “betrayal” of China’s pledge not to militarize the islands.
“Clearly, all the satellite imagery prove to us that China has acted in bad faith, that is undeniable,” he said.
Soon on China’s bases: Combat aircraft
At a maritime security forum in Manila last week, Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong, the Naval Inspector General of the Philippine Navy, said that China might soon send its combat aircraft in the Spratlys bases following the reported deployment of missiles.
“A few days ago, we were surprised with the reports that the Chinese have embedded nuclear and anti-ship missiles to three critical island features — Subi, Fiery Cross, Mischief,” he said.
“I propound that the logical next step would for the deployment of J-11 maritime strike aircraft. It has a range of 1,500 kilometers. Looking at the map, it can go over the entire Philippine archipelago including critical vulnerabilities in Luzon, as well as Palawan,” he added.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said in a report last week that the deployment of fighter jets only follows a similar deployment in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte had put aside a 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea.
“His acquiescence is not helping the situation. If anything, it’s emboldening China to accelerate its domination of adjacent waters. Ideally, what the Philippines should have done is to make it very clear to the Chinese that it would use the arbitration award….The administration had undermined our own case by downplaying and dismissing the value of the arbitration award,” Heydarian said.
“China has been further emboldened by the acquiescence of the Duterte administration not only in the West Philippine Sea but also in Philippine Rise,” he added.
The Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, was put in the spotlight early this year after the Philippine government allowed a group from Beijing to conduct marine scientific research in the waters.
The analyst also chided the “self-defeating” mindset of the government that the options in the sea dispute are only either war or submission.
“More than any other country in the South China Sea, China doesn’t want war. The bulk of their trade, more than 60 percent of their trade passes through South China Sea. Any war there would affect China’s own interest….War would definitely undermine China’s image across the region and would push smaller countries into United States,” Heydarian said.
“There are also concerns if China’s military is a paper tiger or not as powerful as they try to project in their propaganda,” he added.
There is a third option, where there is a balanced strategy called the hedging strategy, the analyst explained.
“This is to engage when necessary and push back when necessary,” he said, citing Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam as examples. The three countries are resisting China’s aggressiveness, yet at the same time, they are maintaining good economic relations.
Indonesia and Vietnam are rivals with China in South China Sea, while South Korea has a dispute with the regional superpower over the Yellow Sea.
“Other countries in the region have been standing up to China; in the meantime, they also have good economic relationship. With Vietnam, it’s as good as ever, the same with South Korea. Indonesia is also getting investments,” Heydarian said. /je
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