Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has warned that China may soon start reclaiming land on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to house a military base that would be made to oversee the Bashi Channel, a waterway off Batanes which is also being claimed by Taiwan.
Speaking in a forum on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) issue in Camp Aguinaldo (Quezon City) on Wednesday, Carpio said China needs to secure control of the Bashi Channel to enable its submarines based in Hainan to access the Pacific Ocean.
The channel is also significant to communication networks because a number of undersea cables that carry data and telephone traffic between Asian countries pass through it.
“They have to protect this [Bashi] because the nuclear submarines of China [and]their missiles have a range of only 7,500 kilometers, they have to fire [them]in the mid-Pacific to reach the continental USA. They must cross the Bashi Channel. Maybe 10 years from now, the range of their missiles in their submarines will be longer and they can fire [them]from the South China Sea. But as of now, they cannot do that, so they have really have to protect this,” Carpio said.
“That’s why I think China will soon reclaim Scarborough Shoal also to put up an air and naval base to protect their outlet in the Bashi Channel, that is their only outlet,” he added.
Both the Philippines and Taiwan dispute ownership of the Bashi Channel, which overlaps the two countries’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The waterway hogged the headlines in 2013 when a Philippine Coast Guard patrol fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing one.
China’s defense ministry in June announced that Chinese warships and aircraft managed to pass through the Bashi Channel and carried out exercises in the Western Pacific.
It was also in June when a Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat had a standoff with a Taiwanese Coast Guard ship in the same waterway.
Carpio said China at present has an air base on Woody Island with a 2,700-meter runway, another one in the Spratlys and also in Subi Reef and Fiery Cross Reef.
“They will put one in Scarborough Shoal, that’s my assessment so they will have three airbases, triangle of airbases, they will enforce an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea,” Carpio said.
He noted that China’s grand design is to control the South China Sea for economic and military purposes.
“China wants all the fisheries, oil, gas and mineral resources within the nine-dash lines. China is the largest fishing fleet in the world with 70,000 boats… the South China Sea is small for them so they have been going even to the coast of Africa. China is the largest net importer of petroleum in the world, they have to get petroleum,” according to Carpio.