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Asian Geopolitics
Vietnam Continues Buildup in South China Sea

Vietnam continues its efforts to build up muscle in the South China Sea, with new images revealing that Hanoi has begun preliminary dredging work on Ladd Reef. Reuters:

Vietnam has begun dredging work on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, satellite imagery shows, the latest move by the Communist state to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway. 

Activity visible on Ladd Reef in the Spratly Islands could anger Hanoi’s main South China Sea rival, Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the group and most of the resource-rich sea. […] 

While the purpose of the activity cannot be determined for certain, analysts say similar dredging work has been the precursor to more extensive construction on other reefs.

“We can see that, in this environment, Vietnam’s strategic mistrust is total … and they are rapidly improving their defences,” said Trevor Hollingsbee, a retired naval intelligence analyst with Britain’s defence ministry.

Ladd Reef is situated just to the west of Spratly Island, where Vietnam has lately been extending a runway that will allow for the deployment of maritime spy aircraft. The early work on Ladd Reef—already home to a Vietnamese lighthouse and housing for a small contingent of soldiers—could be aimed at defending that nearby outpost.

In any case, Vietnam is taking no chances when it comes to China. Hanoi has been taking a hard-line stance against Beijing’s claims for some time now, boosting military spending and carrying out its own reclamation in the South China Sea. The current climate of uncertainty in Asia could exacerbate the trend.

The Obama administration’s legalistic, “rules-based” approach to the South China Sea has clearly failed: China never recognized the ruling of the international Hague tribunal that rejected its extensive claims, and the Philippines’ surprise pivot to Beijing has only undermined that ruling’s credibility. Faced with an increasingly assertive Beijing, it is no surprise that countries like Vietnam would take unilateral steps to fortify their own positions and maximize their advantages.

And Vietnam’s play, apart from its value in establishing facts on the ground, could easily also be a bid for the incoming President’s attention. Donald Trump has already thrust himself into political controversy in Asia, by taking a call from the Taiwanese president and endorsing Duterte’s anti-drug policies—both assertive moves that have given Obama Administration veterans the vapors. Team Trump clearly sees China as a major geopolitical rival to the United States, with only ISIS being a more pressing concern. A strong move by Hanoi in the South China Sea, then, may well prove to be smart politics.

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  • Blackbeard

    We should open discussions with Vietnam on selling them some high end jet fighters. That will show China we’re serious.

  • Disappeared4x

    China is turning Fiery Cross Reef into a stationary aircraft carrier. The climate change activists should be protesting in the Spratly archipelago instead of Standing Rock. Adding a map because this geography does matter.

    • ImperiumVita

      Speaking of climate change. Let China build all the low elevation “reclaimed” islands it wants. Sea levels are rising, how do you think these fake islands are going to fair?

      • Disappeared4x

        The path to Chinese political leadership is in hydrological engineering. As such, rising sea levels in the South China Sea represents either an opportunity in water desalination to pipeline to the mainland, or waging engineered-tsunami warfare on the Philippines.

  • Vietnam should work with the rest of ASEAN to bring a case before the United Nations. The international community should vote on this issue just like they did on Crimea.

  • Dhako

    On the contrary, in fact, I would say. In other words, again. the geniuses here at TAI and the rest of the Geo-political theoreticians of this self-regarding intellectual parish don’t seem to know this much. But the fact of the matter is that, Vietnam’s pro-China faction won the political struggle recently, and then they reaffirmed non-alignment & no foreign bases. Moreover, they gave the Chinese’s Navy (i.e., PLAN) the same visiting rights given to the Russian & U.S. Navy. And, Thailand is on board with One Belt, One Road (i.e., OBOR) and is buying Chinese submarines & tanks, just in case you are wondering what the Generals who call the shots there are up to ever since the US-Thailand relationship went south for both parties.

    Furthermore, the end of the TPP (from the American’s side), effectively, ended the the political credibility of Vietnamese’s faction that had any hope of “diplomatic dalliance” with Uncle Sam (i.e., USA). Which means, the coast is clear, politically for China, to engineer a decent rapprochement with the Vietnam, since now the faction that where already “leaning” towards China (as a big brother) have won the political ascendancy. Also since Philippine have effectively indicated that their political dependency” on Uncle Sam has ended the with volte-face change of direction of President Duterte, then it means, their hope of “band-wagoning” with others in the region against China is also over. Hence the reason the Vietnamese had already send “warm feelers” to Beijing, which in effect indicated to let the bygones be bygones. And, this information which is widely in circulation within the region, is also another facts the denizens of this parish are as ever a clueless about it.

    And, finally, what the Vietnamese are doing is actually call “increasing” the value of your eventual acceptance of China, as the rightful leader of the region, now that US has indicated (through her economical action, that she is no longer a Geo-Economical competitor with China for the right to influence the region in her direction). And this means, since the Philippine didn’t have any navy or a facts on the grounds against China, in which she can alone enforced it, then in effect the once the US had indicated that they will not fight for Philippines behalf against China on Scarborough Shoal (say for example) then the Philippines have no reason to believe the Chinese will pay attention to the Hague’s ruling against China. And this in turn means, that Philippines has nothing else to do other than to politically surrender to Chinese’s whims, provided, there is a sufficient face-saving formula for the Philippines from China.

    Consequently, to Vietnam, they know, their moment of “come-to-Jesus” is fast approaching where China’s rightful leadership of the region will have to be acknowledge by the Vietnamese themselves. Hence, to go into that gentle night while making a good show of upholding your honor, is what these is about, in so far as the Vietnamese are concern. Which means, these acts of peeving up and dredging up this disputed shoals, is the way of Vietnam to “increase” the price the Chinese will have to pay in purchasing the leadership of this region. in other words, in Philippines acceptance of China’s preeminent role in the region was at certain cost to China, then, the Vietnamese are looking a higher price from China.

    And this late activities on the part of Vietnam, is essentially, a way to say to say to China: we may be forced to accept you are undisputed leader of this region (now in particularly that Uncle Sam had lost the plot) but the price we will exact for our “hand” in political and diplomatic matrimony in your favor, will be lot higher than what you have paid for that political concubine of yours, namely, Mr Duterte’s Philippines. This is what is going on in this region, not sending some alleged “sweet-kisses” through the air to Mr Trump, who could be rely on, not to know, where one ASEAN’s state ends and other one begins.

    • sirselby

      It must be nice to have such a dizzying intellect to so confidently predict the future. What was it that Yogi Berra said?

      • Disappeared4x

        Yogi Berra said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”. That said, at least Dhako here is maybe offering actual insights into Chinese policy, or not. Better than trying to read his fake news insights into American history and politics.

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