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Asia's Game of Thrones
Chinese Islands Could Host Missiles, Say U.S. Officials

China is apparently nearing completion on structures intended to host missiles on its artificial islands. Reuters has the story on the latest sign of escalation in the South China Sea:

China, in an early test of U.S. President Donald Trump, has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters. […]

Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the U.S. officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that’s what they are for,” said a U.S. intelligence official, referring to surface-to-air missiles.

The news about the missile structures is being spun as a test of President Trump, and it will certainly pose a challenge for an administration intent on getting tough in the South China Sea. But it is worth noting that such structures could not have been built overnight as a response to the new President. China got used to making steady gains on its island-building during President Obama’s watch, undeterred by the occasional warning or freedom-of-navigation exercise. A year ago, China even deployed missiles to one island in the South China Sea. The news that Beijing is planning more is just the latest sign of its increasingly confident and aggressive posture.

China’s neighbors seem progressively unnerved by every Chinese step in the South China Sea, but it isn’t clear they can credibly stand up to Beijing. Yesterday ASEAN issued a surprisingly tough statement on China’s militarization of the islands, which may have been occasioned by early intelligence about the missile structures. The Philippines, however, has been vacillating between confronting and appeasing China: After the ASEAN statement, for instance, the Philippine Foreign Secretary said that the South China Sea dispute would not be resolved any time soon, and that diplomatic engagement with Beijing would be more productive than confrontation. Vietnam, by contrast, has taken a more consistently assertive approach, dredging its own reefs and building its own runways in response to China’s aggressive moves.

The Trump Administration, for its part, has signaled a tougher bilateral stance against China, and it seems to be serious about stepping up naval patrols and confronting China over its militarization of the South China Sea. But Washington has not sent coherent signals about how it may work with allies to further that aim, and the Philippine statement yesterday suggested that ASEAN members are eagerly awaiting a clarification from the U.S. side. The Trump team would do well to bring its diplomatic resources to bear on the dispute: Virtually every day brings another reminder why the South China Sea could be one of the most dangerous foreign policy theaters for the new administration.

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  • PCB

    Where’s Hogan’s Hero’s when we need them, or the Dirty Dozen?

  • Psalms564

    I got a fever and the only cure is a 20 paragraph poorly worded refutation using idioms that were old 40 years ago. Dhako, where art thou?

  • CapitalHawk

    I say we nuke the sites from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

    • Psalms564

      What movie is that from?
      Googled. Now I feel edumacated.

      • CapitalHawk

        So, you now know, but it’s Aliens. Best one of the bunch, in my opinion.

    • Andrew Allison

      Appealing, but consider the fallout (in both senses). The islands are small, and conventional heavy ordinance would get the job done.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Not even a lot of conventional ordinance. Missile launchers without radar arrays (and radio antennas) are simply interesting (and very expensive) junk.

        The problem, of course, is not destroying them, but rather the consequences of doing so. Do we really want to get into a shooting war about this? I will give you a hint….we do not.

        The time to have stopped this was 2010 or so, much of the damage is already done.

        • Disappeared4x

          Surely the seas are also rising in the South China Sea? A few more months of climate change … Seriously, of course the artificial islands are not war-worthy. Not least because threats from China are much greater on land, not in the seas. Tibet’s watersheds, and Siberia’s Taiga.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I will have to disagree, to some extent at least. The islands themselves aren’t that big a deal, but since they are being used as the basis for an assertion of sovereignty, they are a VERY big deal. They were probably a reason to take very strong steps (yes, even shooting) 7 years ago (and I said so at the time), but now is far, far too late. Short of a very serious, very ugly war (which even if we won, we would lose) there is little that is going to be done to change this.

            The Chinese are creating facts on the ground, and will slowly ramp up the pressure on others to accept them. Eventually (likely within a very few years, maybe less), they will start creating ‘incidents’ where aircraft are painted by SAM radars, then (shortly thereafter) those same SAM sites will fire at an aircraft. If that isn’t enough, the Chinese coast guard will begin to harass, then seize ships, and shortly thereafter they will take more aggressive steps. Each step will be small, subtlely different from the previous one, and not enough in and of itself to provoke an armed response, but each one will create a new ‘norm’ This is the age old ‘salami slicing’ approach, amusingly illustrated here (starting at about 5:25):

          • Disappeared4x

            Yes, sir! Also a great distraction; keeps the pundits from looking at Tibet as a riparian strategy to dominate South & SE Asia, or Siberia as the node where US + Russian interests over China meet: plus, because the Taiga is the #1 CO2 sink on earth.
            Instead, the pundits worry about wood pellets, not wanting to get distracted by the Taiga.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I believe that this used to be referred to as ‘fiddling while Rome burns’….sigh…

            But hey, those transgender bathrooms are great, aren’t they?

          • Disappeared4x

            New ‘fiddling’: ‘Look: a cow, methane, climate change’. In foreign policy, ‘received wisdom after WW2’ frames the media, or vice versa.
            Transgender bathrooms was the 2016-17 GOTV instead of ‘war on women’. Ironic.

  • If China cannot respect international law…then perhaps it should consider forfeiting its seat on the United Nations Security Council altogether.

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