What if China attacks bases used by America?

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Should you be scared if you live near bases to be used by American forces?

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Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the United States has chosen five Philippine facilities for US forces rotating in the country: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

The first three bases are right next to airports serving Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro (CDO), and Metro Cebu. Basa is about 40 km from Angeles and San Fernando, Pampanga. Fort Magsaysay is 25 km from Cabanatuan City — less than the distance from Elliptical Road in Quezon City to Alabang.

Since they would support American forces potentially hostile to China, these facilities would be among potential targets of the People’s Liberation Army’s ballistic missiles. The PLA has hundreds of rocket batteries along the Chinese coast, including dozens of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) whichcan strike anywhere in the Philippines and the South China Sea with nuclear or conventional warheads.

Within the 10t-year life of EDCA, which can be extended by mutual agreement, conflict between America and China may happen not only over South China Sea frictions, but also the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing; war on the Korean Peninsula, and Chinese invasion or intimidation of Taiwan, among others.

Hence, even if the Philippines has no vital interests in Taiwan, Korea or the Senkakus, the country could be dragged into battles over those flashpoints because five of our bases host and support US forces which may be deployed against China. So if the PLA attacks those bases in retaliation or pre-emptive action, the Philippines cannot claim it is a neutral nation which should be spared from war.

So what should communities and businesses near the bases worry about?

The nightmare of nuclear attack
The biggest fear, of course, is nuclear attack. A small nuke like the Hiroshima bomb, with its explosive force of 15,000 tons of dynamite (15 kilotons), would totally devastate the main facilities of these bases, with structures collapsed and severe burns inflicted as far as two kilometers from the blast site, according to the NukeMap simulation by nuclearsecrecy.org.

That means the Puerto Princesa, CDO and Mactan civilian airports and runways next to air bases would be destroyed, along with buildings and homes within the 2-km radius. Radioactive contamination would reach many times farther, especially if detonation is close to the ground, and strong winds blow debris over long distances.

That swathe of radioactivity would add to the casualties of the blast itself. The contamination would also render vast city and countryside areas uninhabitable, and its waters and industrial and agricultural production dangerous for thousands of years.

Would China fire nukes? Not if it has enough conventional warheads to get through anti-missile defenses and destroy the bases. But the PLA may be able to use use only a limited number of MRBMs on Philippine bases, due to countless other targets elsewhere. Then the Chinese may use nukes, so that even if just a few rocket get through, it would be enough to neutralize the bases.

The other consideration would be the threat of nuclear retaliation if Beijing unleashes atomic weapons against Philippine bases used by US forces. This is thankfully uncharted territory in warfare. Still, one can assume that America’s President and Commander-in-Chief would think a thousand times before allowing nuclear attack on military targets in the Philippines escalate into a nuclear exchange with China.

Or as Japanese strategists wondered during the Cold War: Would the US endanger Los Angeles by retaliating against a Russian or Chinese nuclear attack on Tokyo? If such doubts trouble the Japanese, they should be even more worrisome for Filipinos asking if the US would risk LA for CDO.

The effect on travel, trade and security
Even if nukes were not in the picture, the threat of conventional attack is fearsome enough. Add to that the economic and business impact due to the elevated risk ascribed to the five bases.

Whenever Beijing and Washington rattle sabers for whatever reason, war fears would flare up, and with it the concerns both in the country and across the globe over possible military action against American forces and the facilities they use in the Philippines.

For instance, if Beijing blockades or seizes the Senkakus (Diaoyutai to the Chinese), depending on the intensity of American and Japanese reaction, the perceived risk to aircraft serving Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Puerto Princesa may rise.

That could lead to reduced travel, diversion of trade to alternative shipment points, and higher insurance rates. If this happens quite frequently, foreign buyers may consider buying goods from other places, or moving their factories there.

Repeatedly rising risk perceptions would also impact property values, especially in areas facing high probability of damage if bases are bombed.

As for domestic security, the bases and nearby areas would likely see increased Chinese intelligence-gathering activity, by satellite imaging, cyber-snooping, and agents on the ground. In the event of Sino-American hostilities, saboteurs may join the fray.

The Philippine government would need to consider and cover the cost of adverse economic repercussions from allowing US forces to use the five bases, and the additional security and counter-intelligence measures likely to be needed.

Come June, the next President would need to ponder these inherited security issues, which could get even more intense if a hawkish leader like Donald Trump wins the US elections in November.

Also thinking hard would be Filipinos living, working and doing business in Cebu, CDO, Puerto Princesa, Cabanatuan, Angeles and San Fernando, and nearby areas.

The overarching question: Will America’s ships, subs, planes and troops in the country and near five major urban centers, make the Philippines safer and more secure?

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37 Comments

  1. This article has no basis, all speculation. Why would China use its nuclear weapons on Philippines over a few rocks in the South China seas. Chinese leaders are not stupid. They are not interested in a war. They have so much to lose in a war with USA or Japan. The only time they went on a major war was against the USA in the Korean War when the American forces crossed the Yalu river and China felt threatened. Since then, there was some border skirmishes with Indian and Vietnam but nothing serious. So, I see no reason why they will risk a world war and see their country get ruined.

  2. What a moronic topic! Do you think China is that dumb to make such a first-strike? Even if the U.S. will not use arm in retaliation by just ‘FREEZING’ all China’s assets in the U.S. China is back to eating lugaw!

    • Many thanks to everyone for all the comments. Clearly, a good number of readers saw value in the topic, enough to give both positive and negative views. It may be good to also ask residents of Metro Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro, and other areas near the bases if they think the topic is lacking in importance and intelligence.
      Regarding first strike, the article does not envision an unprovoked attack by China. Rather, it cites possible Sino-American hostilities over Taiwan, Korea, or the Senkakus. If they flare up, the Philippines, though having no vital interests in those conflicts, would be involved because of the bases used by U.S. forces. If those bases were not used by America, we would not be subject to Chinese attack in such battles.
      Of course, we already face Chinese encroachments in the Spratlys, with no U.S. support at all in our confrontations. Since America does not help with our territorial disputes, what should we do? My answer is in the following linked article. In sum, the Philippines needs to acquire anti-access/area denial weaponry, like anti-ship missiles and submarines (which Vietnam is buying).

      http://www.manilatimes.net/briefing-on-security-dealing-with-china-3/217100/

      With P35 billion — less than the cost of trainer jets and other military hardware acquired by the Aquino administration but no deterrent against China — we can deploy 200 supersonic mobile BrahMos anti-ship missiles, jointly developed by Russia and India. With a range of more than 300 km, the BrahMos can deter ships violating the 200-nautical-mile Philippine exclusive economic zone.

      Thank you.

  3. Mr. Saludo’s thinking is pre WW2 scenario. If China attack the Philippines without U.S. citizens or armed forces affected, the probablity is correct. However, with American casualties, the U.S will react. It has so many secret weapons of tremendous lethal destruction China would wish it never engage America. China will be pulverized and it will bring him back to stone ages. That’s for sure.

  4. Federico Lojo on

    If all of us would be taken over by fear and do nothing to protect and defend our rights as citizens of a sovereign nation, then it is not only China that will take advantage of us but any other country that will see thru the weakness of a despondent nation. A nation or even a small community of people who would rather be safe in fear than face risk in defense of rights has no right to exist. Fear will never beget respect.

  5. tsaynah can never risk a nuclear war. Even before their first nuke comes out of their territory, the first US missile will already be on the way. Surely, the US already knows where each and every missile of tsaynah is. These tsaynish posturing are all part of their saber rattling to gain a political edge and project an image of power. In more recent history, they have no combat experience and their hardware have never been proven in any real combat. The lack of combat experience of Fabian cost them the presidency. Note that historically, tsaynah has been raped several times and now, they want to show to the world that the are a “superpower” even if the metallurgy of their tanks, planes and personnel carrier leaves much to be desired. They still suffer from a deep seated feeling of insecurity and now, they want to show off. Has anyone been to a household in tsaynah – note the make, design, materials and feel of the house and you can feel that the interior design is all a joke. Surely, it will be the same in all their military hardware.

  6. Atapang Indi Atakbo on

    Do you really think it is much safer without the US in our bases? Currently China is slowly invading the Philippines using the cabbage strategy and deception. If you have not read the art of war then read it. China has started its invasion when our senators evicted the US out of our bases.

    As an ally of the US, the Philippines has to take side with the US if a war should happen. And when that happen I am very sure you will not enlist in the military and will not be surprised if you hide under your mother’s skirt.

  7. We always managed to shot ourselves in the foot , China and Japan are our two top trading partners in the world and then you bring in a nation
    Who hardly trade with us ( USA ) in the equation , who do you think gets screwed ?

  8. Frank A. Tucker on

    Hmmm, ALL of the responses were better than Ricardo Saludo’s above article.
    Ricardo, your testicles must be nearly invisible, if in fact, you have any at all.

  9. Even if China will attack or NOT the US bases in the Philippines, anyway China will get the islands of the Philippines ! And the poor Filipinos are just sitting and watching those Chinese occupying the Philippines. Mouthwide open (NGANGA).

  10. Well Shanghai and Beijing are also risk of being bomb if any US base came under attack!

  11. If China is on suicide then they will fire all their assets just to get hold of the whole west philippine sea and I can foresee the US will also reciprocate. But it seems that the suicidal culture is not present in Chinese blood. So there is nothing to fear.

  12. and if China want to declare war on America, it will do it whether or not the US has bases in the Philippines.

  13. China will not risk to attack those bases, they will not risk their economic status. What if this allied nation will retaliate in the heart of China, Boooom, tapos ang ekonomiya lets start again.

  14. The writer missed a very important target in case of a full blown thermonuclear war. And that is the JUSMAG in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. Headquarters of US operations in the country, and the US Embassies in Roxas Blvd, Pasay City, heavily fortified both as US centers of overt and covert operations in the Asia Pacific Region.

    A modern thermonuclear bomb hit in those targets could obliterate the entire Metro Manila in seconds, together with all of its infrastructures(roads, bridges and flyovers) water, electricity, telecommunications,) banks, hospitals, markets. And of course, instantly kill, burn, and maim all of the people residing in Metro Manila and nearby areas.

  15. If we follow your logic, our balls will shrink. Think instead of mutual destruction.. The US will not hesitate to retaliate. The US was the first to use nuclear in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    • Believe me, you and I, together with our families would have a slim chance of survival. Because our country was designed by the US to be a battlefield buffer before fireworks reaches the mainland USA. If you wonder what it would look like, try to see Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. You are right on US possible first strike. Perhaps even emanating from nuclear missiles coming from US bases in the Philippines. But unlike us, China for the last half a century is prepared to retaliate with all their might, complete with underground cities, nuclear silos, and anti-satellite weapons, programmed to pulverized hostile targets like where you and I are sleeping. A war could break out, oh yes, not because of us. But because we harbor a colonizer not contented with our own wealth as nation. But seeks to colonized other peoples as well like the Chinese. But unlike us, they exist to remain a free and sovereign China, ready to die to protect their own country from US, while uplifting their people from destitution.

    • The case in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is of very different circumstances: The bomb was dropped to force Japan to surrender and in effect save perhaps millions of lives and spare Japan from the devastating invasion. Saving more lives from both sides in the process, many many times more than the casualties in Nagasaki/Hiroshima.

  16. The last time an american base was attacked was in 1942 when Japan made a surprise attacked on the american naval base in Hawaii. It caused the United States to join World War 11 which ended with Japan’s defeat and surrender. I doubt if China will make the same mistake. Even during the cold war period in history Russia was careful about considering a nuclear attack against U.S.A. mainland or any of its bases around the world because the result will be catastrophic for both countries and the whole word.I think having nuclear weapons can be a neutralizer.

    • Russia and China then was at odds with each other. Today they are “strategic partners”. And China is no longer as poor as the Philippines and has become a global economic and military power complete with high tech military technology, nuclear weapons, and anti-satellites.

  17. Fred Pescador on

    I will be really scared eventhough I live far away or near the American bases. If that happens it means China is not only declaring war against the americans but also to the Philippines as a whole. We all know the consequences of war. I just hope that this war will not happen.

  18. The inherent danger for people living near those bases comes with same feeling of security because they are there. We can not have best of both worlds, it’s the same attitude that some people have when rubbish dumps or electricity generating plants are being built near where they live. We all have this “not in my backyard” attitude, but we all need those services one way or another. If we don’t want to live with the risk then maybe it’s time to die because only then there will be no more risks,danger,hunger and everything else that comes with the joy of living.

  19. Roy Lester David on

    Thats a definite yes. All nuclear ICBMs are poised at ALL the US and NATO bases around the world. With US and NATO forces numbering around 300 bases all over the world and the combined russian and Chinese ICBMs numbering more than 10,000, There is a lot more to spare to destroy these bases multiple times. And considering that the modern atomic weapons are around 1.2 megatons capacity which is roughly 80 times the Hiroshima 15 kilotons capacity, we can be sure that maybe a radius of about 300 kilometers from ground zero will be a radioactive death zone for the next thousand of years. Good for those countries which DO NOT have any superpower basing its military in their soil. However, I think we are just fulfilling Edgar Cayces prophecy regarding the Philippines about 80 years ago that the whole eastern seaboard would be wiped out in the years to come, and I think this would not be far off since according to St Malachys vision more than a thousand years ago that this current pope would be the last . Ponder this = why would this be the last Poe? What events (worldwide) would trigger such a highly unusual outcome. St Malachys vision is unerringly accurate regarding the last Pope

  20. Mark Laperal on

    Granting that you are not in favor of asking help from the USA, what is your alternative. Now that China is openly occupying the islands once considered Philippines territories and are threatening to occupy more islands, shall we just sit down and watch what will happen next. It is but normal to ask help from another country be it US, Japan or even Israel since our militarily defense is hopeless and inadequate to protect our own country. Better to ask help from other countries rather than letting China occupy our own territory while we are watching defenselessly and in awe.

    • The Author will not give you an answer, since this man is a puppet of PRC, He only carries a Filipino name, this man should be deported.

    • Hijo, that will be the test for the political leadership. One stop-gap measure is for all lawmakers to sacrifice their pork barrel for the first year and use thereof for the purchase of hardware that we need badly to put up a credible defense posture. Since, we have the proven capability to plant an ILOVEU virus, we need all our top-notch hackers to circumvent those programs so that the missiles will instead go to their own cities. There is already a precedent when the US sent those trojans, malware and viruses so that they set back the Iran timetable for a nuclear bomb. With Filipino ingenuity, I am sure they can always create something for national security.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Laperal. Please note that the U.S. has never helped the Philippines when we lost Mischief Reef and Panatag Shoal, and President Obama would not give a categorical pledge of support when asked twice by Palace reporters what America would do if Sino-Philippine territorial frictions turned violent.

      Since America does not help with our territorial disputes, what should we do? My answer is in the following linked article addressing your question. In sum, the Philippines needs to acquire anti-access/area denial weaponry, like anti-ship missiles and submarines (which Vietnam is buying).

      http://www.manilatimes.net/briefing-on-security-dealing-with-china-3/217100/

      With P35 billion — less than the cost of trainer jets and other military hardware acquired by the Aquino administration but no deterrent against China —
      we can deploy 200 supersonic mobile BrahMos anti-ship missiles, jointly developed by Russia and India. With a range of more than 300 km, the BrahMos can guard the entire Philippine exclusive economic zone.

      Thank you.

  21. silvino sarga on

    The overarching question: Will America’s ships, subs, planes and troops in the country and near five major urban centers, make the Philippines safer and more secure?

    Yes, America’s presence serves as deterrent to attacks from outside the country. Without the US hardware in the Phil, we would be defenseless in the high-tech wars: we can’t fight the China’s military with armed bancas, tora-tora and cafgus. Our young men have nil training in military formation and discipline with the abolition of the ROTC. Our acquisition of two frigates + trainer jets is not enough. China is building their own aircraft carriers and stealth fighters, cloning US technology.

    China is not crazy to nuke/bomb the five military bases. With advanced warning system : AWACS, Drones and snooping SONAR and communication detection, the defense can foil the planning and detection of such imminent attack and can make counter-measures. The odds + retaliation + world opinion will be against them.

    Let us not worry about China attacking Japan, S. Korea or Taiwan because these first world countries can take care of their own defenses; no thanks to Philippine blah, blah, blah.

  22. You have bigger things to worry about if China is attacking any bases within your own islands.

  23. Rita de Dios on

    Lets not forget EDCA was deemed by Aquino’s Supreme Court as an executive agreement, not a treaty to circumvent the Constitution. That being the case, then it is only politically valid and the next president can abrogate it. We must abrogate it and keep the country safe from China’s missiles. If the U.S. wants to go to war with China, it should do so by itself and not have military bases in the country. We are being used as a pawn by the U.S. when we ourselves do not have military power to fend off an attack against China. Worse, the U.S. Congress has refused to increase the budget of the Navy or fund a U.S. pivot to Asia. No wonder there is no massive deployment of troops and attack aircraft and vessels to the Philippines.If one cant see that, one does not understand strategic affairs.

  24. Nuryn Baliwag on

    A very good legal point. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago had a valid point in opposing EDCA . The territorial dispute with China has changed with U.S. military bases – they are now LEGITIMATE TARGETS UNDER THE LAWS OF WAR. China has accused the U.S. of provocations and vice-versa. Let no one be surprised what huge danger having foreign military bases in the country bring. It would have been different if the country is not in conflict with China. But both the Philippines and the US are in conflict with China, and the territorial dispute has led to militarization of the sea. Only AQUINO’s administration is stupid enough to host military bases against a powerful enemy – China, which has missiles with military-grade landing fields at sea, missiles with multiple warheads, radars, nuclear submarines, and bombers ready to attack at any time. This administration has a huge reservoir of gargantuan stupidity. Worse, the next administration has to remedy all this caused by Aquino.

    • ben victoria on

      Not such stupid idea to have american bases here. china may have such huge military capability but no war experience compared to america which from time immemorial been our protector, so let china get into a war with america and watch china annihilated quickly.

  25. And what if China will take Palawan an the whole Philippines without the Americans as what happened to Scarborough Shoal (without a fight)? If that happens, majority of the Filipinos will lineup to the embassy to get a visa including those hypocrites like senators, Tiglao, Binay, government officials, nationalists etc.

    • The bases, maybe not now, but will soon be a major security risk because of the several flash points involved: Taiwan, Senkaku and the Korean peninsula.

      The first thing to do is to acquire defensive weapons for the PH army ASAP, if you have money then in a decades time, PH will have a modernized army than can shoot down ballistic missiles and can torpedo submarines and warships.

      A credible defense posture is needed, not foreign bases.

    • Ichinose Kotomi on

      Lol, baseless accusations. Point of the fact about the Article is that Philippine would be the one to suffer the most if some idiot from US or China (or perhaps even the Philippines) pulled the Trigger. We’re just freaking cannon fodders to them. And let me remind you, there are other places and countries you can go to that doesn’t require VISA.