The analytical piece of Stratfor on China’s grand plan to beef up its submarine-based nuclear arsenal shines new light on Beijing’s intentions in the West Philippine Sea.
China has long staked a claim on the small islands, atolls and rocky outcrops that dot the West Philippine Sea (which is how the South China Sea is now referred to by Philippine officialdom). The popular perception is that the Chinese want to tap its vast oil, gas and mineral deposits and rich fishing grounds. But at least four other countries, the Philippines included, also want to partake of the West Philippine Sea’s bounty, and consider China as encroaching in their territory.
The border dispute has churned up a political maelstrom that threatens to engulf the entire region. Lately, China has become more forceful in asserting its claim and has increased its naval presence in the contested zone.
Last week, the New York Times reported that a general in the Chinese army has revealed that Beijing plans to set up a naval blockade around the Panatag Shoal and other disputed areas and starve out the remote outposts of rival claimants.
Stratfor sees China’s aggressiveness as more than just an attempt to help itself to the West Philippine Sea’s resources. The Asian superpower wants to secure the area for its missile-equipped nuclear submarines and eventually provide the subs access to the Pacific Ocean, “to enhance its deterrent potential against other nuclear powers, especially the US, Russia and India,” according to Stratfor.
A recent Reuters report puts China’s “blue-water” expansion into sharper prospective. It quoted Japanese and Western naval experts as saying Chinese shipyards “are turning out new nuclear and conventional submarines, destroyers, missile-armed patrol boats and surface ships at a higher rate than any other country.”
This is a disturbing development for the Philippines. It already has its hands full fending off Chinese incursions into its waters; now it faces the grim prospect of getting caught in the middle of a nuclear conflict between superpowers.
China’s daring designs on the West Philippine Sea come at a time when the United States is shifting 60 percent of its naval forces to the Pacific, a move that many interpret as Washington’s way of blunting Beijing’s seaward thrust.
A key component of the US pivot is the stationing of American troops in the Philippines on a rotating basis and equipping the Armed Forces with coastal radar facilities. With the revelation of the Chinese general, the US will no doubt include aircraft and surface vessels that could detect and destroy submarines.
The US and China may be on a collision course just off our shores, unless a diplomatic balance brings about de-escalation.
But Beijing has gone on a diplomatic offensive as well, trying to win over Asian countries by dangling the economic carrot.
For the moment, Malacanang is treading cautiously, not wanting to be drawn into a new confrontation with Beijing over the Chinese general’s pronouncement. “We won’t comment on that yet because we don’t want to automatically attribute such statement to the Chinese government. It would be better for us not to comment on that matter which is already sensitive as it is,” presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said.
But expect the West Philippine Sea to continue to be a flashpoint in the years to come.