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Are You Goin' to Scarborough Shoal?
China Ready to Cross Red Line at Scarborough Shoal

The Chinese are preparing to build infrastructure on Scarborough Shoal, in a potentially game-changing move for the South China Sea. Reuters:

China will begin preparatory work this year for an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, an official said, as two U.S. senators introduced a bill to impose sanctions on its activities in the disputed waterway. […]

This week, Xiao Jie, the mayor of what China calls Sansha City, said China planned to begin preparatory work this year to build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands, including Scarborough Shoal. […]

The monitoring stations, along with docks and other infrastructure, form part of island restoration and erosion prevention efforts planned for 2017, Xiao told the official Hainan Daily in an interview.

Make no mistake, this a big deal. Even President Obama, who let Chinese installations metastasize under his watch, drew a red line at Chinese construction on Scarborough Shoal, and reportedly got Xi to back down from those plans in a private meeting. And the Philippines has recently warned that building on Scarborough would be “unacceptable,” even as it tries to mend fences with Beijing and work on an informal deal to restore Filipino fishing access there.

Scarborough Shoal’s is of critical strategic significance to China. Experts suggest that it forms the third point in a “strategic triangle” with the Parcel Islands and Spratly Islands, which would allow China to expand its operational reach over the entire South China Sea. If China were able to militarize Scarborough Shoal, it would likely move to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the entire region, as it did with the East China Sea. And the shoal is less than 150 miles from the Philippine coast: alarmingly close to the Philippines’ Basa Air Base, where U.S. troops can be stationed under a bilateral military pact.

It may be a long while before China can effectively develop Scarborough Shoal, but the news about preliminary construction suggests that they are putting their toes in the water to see whether the U.S. will push back. The Senate seems awake to the threat, and is introducing legislation to sanction companies involved with China’s buildup. Will the Trump Administration echo that message, and back up Obama’s red line? We may soon have an answer as Rex Tillerson confronts his counterparts in Beijing this weekend.

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  • Dhako

    Obama didn’t stared-down Xi. However what he told President Xi, was that the US would come to “strategical aid” of Philippines if and when the government at the time in the Philippines were to request a help from the US. And since, China didn’t at that time had a comprehensive naval strategy to deal with any American thrust into the South China Sea, it was thought within Beijing leadership, that a prudence is the better part of valorous cause of action in which China should be doing. However, now, the strategical chess-board, is completely different. Particularly in the sense that Philippines seems to be strategical alliance with China, or at any rate, the current Philippines leader, will not be doing what his predecessor did, which was to “call” on the Obama Administration, in the event there is differences of strategical interests between China and the Philippines.

    Hence, that, “game-over-change” in regards to he Philippines strategical “tilt” away from the US and towards to China, effectively means the US has no useful “cover” to which to hide behind, particularly in the form of a would-be “official request” for American assistance from the Philippines. And, finally, even on the ground, the naval configuration of forces as well as the strategical posture on the part of Chinese side, is not also what even a few years ago, when Obama decided to “help” the then Philippines leader to stand tall against China.

    Consequently, when you put these two “factors” together, you will see why China is not that much concern about what Trump and his administration may say about her agenda of shoring up her defenses in South China Sea, and in particularly in Scarborough shoal. So, here is the reason the US’s bark, is even less than what sort of bite it was only few years ago. And it’s the reason the Chinese are extremely confident to proceed on their agenda, regardless of how much bleating and bluster that buffoon in the White-House, who pass himself off as the US president and his government may indulge in, to their heart’s content.

    • Jon Robbins

      So, does Beijing have buy-in from Duterte on construction on Scarborough?

    • Jon Robbins

      What do you think of the hullabaloo in South Korea? Will China be able to stop North Korea from doing something stupid in response to the provocations from the US? What’s China’s game plan from here to 9 May?

    • Josephbleau

      When China can project in as well as project out come and talk to us. You rely on culture and the “Cultural Revolution” to suppress your poor and minorities. They will sting you back. I can’t believe that China does not squash NK like a bug. We expend a large amount of military presence in North Asia only to contain them. Does the Committee need friends so badly that they encourage Japan SK and the US to install advanced defense systems in theatre for self defense that would not be there if NK was not? Pretty dumb if you are on the warpath to claim territory.

  • KremlinKryptonite

    I’ve taken the liberty to assemble a brief history of Chinese Communist Party aggression in the area. It started in January, 1974.

    The unelected CCP first exercised its power in the region in January 1974 when it ejected Vietnam from the Crescent Islands (parcels) and stole them. In March 1988, the CCPs Navy clashed with Vietnamese vessels, which resulted in the CCP gunning down some 100+ Vietnamese coast guardsmen and sailors, ending with CCP occupation of seven islands in the Spratlys.

    In 1995, the CCP occupied Mischief Reef which fell in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. It then began building and reinforcing structures on neighboring reefs.
    In April 2012 China’s clashes with the Philippines continued over Scarborough Shoal, which was eventually occupied by China.
    CCP attention then moved to Second Thomas Shoal.
    In March 2014, Chinese coast guard vessels prevented Philippines cargo vessels from resupplying a contingent of marines stationed in a wrecked vessel there.

    In April 2014 the CCP moved the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig into Vietnamese waters, creating conflict with Vietnam that was only settled when the rig was removed ahead of schedule.

    Since late 2014, the CCP has engaged in extensive reclamation projects in eight locations across the stolen Spratly Islands. Dredging work taking place on Fiery Cross Reef (which was previously under water) has been of notable concern. Chinese dredgers have been piling sand on the reef and others, raising it above the water level to allow for an airfield of 3,000 metres along its length.
    Now, the building continues and militarization of the islands with missiles is coupled with harassment of Filipino fisherman told where they can and can’t fish in their own EEZ

    • Jon Robbins

      The seizure of the Paracels in 1974 from South Vietnam and the naval battle with Vietnam in 1988 in the process of establishing the facilities that have since become the artificial islands in the Spratley’s were both tacitly accepted by the US at the time. Even though South Vietnam was still our ally in 1974, we could see the writing on the wall, and, in the wake of Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, we knew that the choice for the Paracels was either Chinese control or Soviet-backed Communist Vietnamese control. We decided it was best to accept the former. In 1988, we still held a grudge against Vietnam and its Soviet backers, so we averted our gaze while the PLAN had its way with the inferior Vietnamese navy.
      Now, because we are no longer in an anti-Soviet alliance with the PRC and because China is a challenger to our global dominance, these actions retroactively become “aggression.”

      • Suzy Dixon

        Hmm no. Everyone one of these documented cases is aggression. Just because some mealy mouthed old men in DC didn’t say so at the time is more of a fun fact. Has no bearing on what it was and is.

        • Jon Robbins

          Oh, yeah, it was all the fault of some “old men in DC.” Poor Suzy–the reality of the world is a bit painful without anesthesia, isn’t it?

          Does any of this have any bearing on the aggression of our invasion of Iraq in 2003 or our ongoing attempt at regime change in Syria?

          Moral hypocrisy comes naturally to you, doesn’t it, Suzy? Well, back to the dream palace with you. You’ll feel safer there.

          • Suzy Dixon

            Oh, you’re just sad that a woman is smarter than you:) You are the one that made the false insinuation that because old men in DC didn’t condemn Chinese aggression 30 or 40 years ago it wasn’t aggression. You have my pity.

          • Jon Robbins

            You’re a hoot, Suzy!

      • Gary Hemminger

        What happened 40 years ago is history. Who cares. I care about now. Trump better not let the Chinese continue this or there willbe a war. Weakling appeaser obama wasn’t going to do anything but crow…

        • Jon Robbins

          Er, yes, that’s true, what happened 40 years ago is history. That’s quite an astute observation.

          I was simply helping KK to better understand what actually happened in connection with the events he was citing. You don’t object to that, do you?

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      A B-2 bomber can carry 204 GPS Guided Small Diameter Bombs (SDB). These Bombs are designed to penetrate runways, revetments, and other reinforced structures. Using these, and timed detonations as with mining work, these militarized islands can be shivered down below sea level, like a sand castle and an incoming tide.

      Before we get rid of this evidence of Chinese Belligerence however. Trump should use it to negotiate a very favorable to America, Asian economic and defense alliance. Like NATO, but with guarantees against the lessons we’ve learned with NATO so America isn’t taken advantage of again. We should guarantee that we have fair trade, that they spend 2% or more per year on defense, and that we supply most of the defense systems used, for compatibility reasons of course (negotiated, see fair trade guarantee). China’s Belligerence and territorial ambitions should be used to further American strategic interests. “Rule of Law”, Global Trade, Democracy, Reason, Freedom, and the assimilation of all mankind by American Culture (Mankind’s Bleeding Edge Culture, as measured by the National Affluence Rating).

  • Andrew Allison

    More of the Obama legacy.

  • What can the U.S. and the West do if the members of ASEAN themselves are so deeply divided on the South China Sea? They ought to work together in unison to resolve these kinds of disputes, yet they have yet to achieve true unity amongst themselves.

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