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Manila Predicts Beijing Will Build Base On Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal. NASA Photo

Scarborough Shoal. NASA Photo

This week the Philippine defense secretary predicted China would start building an artificial island on the bones of Scarborough Shoal.

If unopposed, China would likely attempt to build an installation like the several bases Beijing has constructed in the Spratly Island chain to the south of Scarborough, Delfin Lorenzana said in a Tuesday interview with AFP.

“If we allow them, they will build,” he told the wire.
“That’s very, very disturbing. Very much (more) disturbing than Fiery Cross because this is so close to us.”

Unlike the other installations in the Spratlys, Scarborough is less than 200 miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon and within striking distance of several facilities that hosts rotational American forces. The Chinese have been in de facto control of the feature since 2012 and have intermittently patrolled the shoal with Chinese Coast Guard cutters and boats.

“That could be their strategy, to counter any superpower that would encroach on South China Sea because they believe South China Sea is – that’s like their lake to them – theirs,” Lorenzana said.
“They occupied three islands there, plus they are trying to get Scarborough. So to us that is unacceptable”.

According to the report, Lorenzana didn’t give a time frame to when the Chinese might make an attempt to rebuild the island. A U.S. defense official told USNI News on Thursday there was no evidence China was moving land reclamation assets into the region near Scarborough Shoal.

People's Liberation Army troops patrol an island in the South China Sea. PLA Photo

People’s Liberation Army troops patrol an island in the South China Sea. PLA Photo

Still, there is concern that expansion of the shoal could include infrastructure to either project Chinese power close to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or an intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) network that could route information on U.S. forces operating at local installations. The position of the Chinese at Scarborough prompted the government of former Philippine president Benigno Aquino to seek U.N. arbitration for the seizure, which invalidated many of China’s claims to the South China Sea.

“A modern Scarborough airfield with radar and other modern ISR facilities so close to Philippine bases where U.S. has been granted rotational access by the Philippine government possess obvious strategic issues,” retired Rear Adm. Mike McDevitt, a senior fellow with CNA in Arlington, Va., told USNI News on Thursday.

He said Lorenzana’s comments could be a trial balloon to gauge U.S. reaction in intervening if China made a move at Scarborough following Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ assurance to the Japanese that the U.S. would protect the Senkaku Islands under the existing mutual defense treaty.

“But by its actions last year, the Obama Administration gave every indication that it considered Scarborough as very important and by implication might be willing to change the ‘take no position’ policy when it came to Scarborough,” McDeviit said.
“Why not see if Washington would be willing to send the same deterrent signal regarding Scarborough?”

  • FelixA9

    Of course they will. Until somebody stops them they will continue to do what they want.

  • Duane

    Virtually every new US president is presented with one or more national security challenges within the first few months of their administration. Trump has talked and tweeted very aggressively about China, with his SecState making statements that the USA will prevent China from making any further encroachments in the SCS. So this certainly provides China an opportunity to test Trump’s resolve. Perhaps Trump’s talk will discourage them from acting as the Philippines worries they will. Or maybe China will do this and see if Trump is all talk.

    Complicating matters is the loose cannon Duterte, who has been very belligerent when it comes to talking about the USA and military cooperation .. all the while his government is still entering into basing agreements with the USA, and Duterte is also suggesting a new detente with China. It’s really difficult to tell reality from bluster, between Duterte and Trump.

    • Curtis Conway

      “Virtually every new US president is presented with one or more national security challenges within the first few months of their administration.”

      Therefore Russian is attacking Ukraine (again) while claiming otherwise, China is on the move in the South China Sea, and North Korea is launching missiles again. Thanks to the last administration we are less ready than we have been since before WWII.

      • Duane

        Actually, contrary to common misperception, it’s the Congress that determines defense budgets and specific appropriations for forces, platforms (ships, aircraft, etc.), weapons, logistics and sustainment, etc. If our military is less capable it’s because of Congress, and Republicans have been in charge for the last several years, yet they refuse to end the 2011 sequester.

        I’m not an Obama fan, but you have to understand how our government functions before blame can be assessed.

        Right now Trump is talking big about greatly strengthening our military capabilities … but he has no power to appropriate even one dollar for defense, or any other purpose – only the Congress can do that under our Constitution.

        When Congress appropriates, it has to determine whether to gore this guy’s ox, or that guy’s ox, or to gore the national debt. It is a choice that has to be made by the 535 members of Congress … and therefore the choosing part becomes an act of politics. The Administration, no matter who is President, is just a bystander. It’s sole power is to propose a budget, and to veto the defense authorization bill.

        • Curtis Conway

          So . . . your saying the BHO had nothing to do with Sequester?

          • Duane

            BHO had some input or influence over his fellow majority Democrats in the Senate, but no control. No President controls appropriations except by the power to veto an appropriations bill – that’s it.

          • Stephen

            The Sequester was supposed to be a motivator. It failed miserably. We had/have a Congress Hell-bent on doing nothing. Meanwhile, enjoying a 3-day work week, 3-weeks/month & a quarterly vacation that can’t be matched… The combination of Tea-party & true obstructionists ensured a shrinking military budget… Their pay-raise had to come from somewhere.

  • Curtis Conway

    Don’t think Trump is ‘all talk’, and no action. However, the entire article does not seem to even approach the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, which is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982, of which both the Philippines and China are signatory. The United States has never ratified the Convention, but enforces UNCLOS around the globe as an agent of peace & order, particularly the Freedom Of Navigation, observance of International Waters, and Economic Exclusion Zones, of which this story is dead centered around. Scarborough Shoal is very definitely within the Philippine EEZ, and for the United States to take a position of defending the Philippine’s claim, and support in attempted enforcement, is not beyond the pale, and well within the purview of USPACFLT and/or COMSEVENTHFLT.

    • old guy

      As usual, you are right on. If China refuses, fund the Philippines to occupy and build their own base there.

  • Mr. Barbera

    It appears that Sec. Tillerson will be very busy. One option is to set up a collective maritime security agreement with China, making them more responsible for the area. If they are not interested, we could increase A2/AD capabilities of allies in the region.

    • Curtis Conway

      Another approach is to set up an International Maritime Operations Center (IMOC) system to which all ASEAN countries provide support to, and coordinate between. Maintaining the sea lines of communications and protecting each others fisheries is their mission. For the forthright and unpretentious this is strait forward and uncomplicated. To those who play on the strife in the region, this is their worst nightmare. Surveillance and patrol operations gathering intelligence and disseminating the situational awareness is the mission for all.

      • Stephen

        Can you imagine a Philippine fishing vessel being denied access to local fishing grounds? Followed by Philippine Coast Guard turned away by PLAN…

        • Curtis Conway

          This has already happened, and now the Chinese Coast Guard has two 10,000 ton Cutters to further intimidate the fishing vessels.

          • Stephen

            We sat on our hands & watched. They promised no militarization. Launchers, aircraft, personnel & ships. A 1000 miles from China?

          • Curtis Conway

            Yeah . . . That’s right, and BHO IGNORED IT! We have to live with the consequences.

  • Uhu

    Time for us to start building a couple of islands of our own.

    • Stephen

      Even more interesting; find some endangered species & restore shoals to original condition…

      • 6JimBob

        Because there are thousands of well armed Chinese marines sitting on them.

      • old guy

        Great idea, But the only endangered species that they recognize, are PANDAS and Communism.

    • 6JimBob

      That’s the only feasible response at this point. Build and maintain a facility on Scarborough Shoal

  • 6JimBob

    Why doesn’t Greenpeace show some real guts and protest the wholesale destruction of thousands of square kilometers of pristine reef around those shoals? Rainbow Warrior vs. the Chinese Navy? Fat chance of that ever happening, and if it does it’ll only happen once.

  • tteng

    China thinks big, and you need to think what China might do to out-do its man-made islands this time around.

    Instead of repeating what it did couple years ago- given that now the PH government is much China friendly, given that China will be investing/working on the PH infrastructure builds, given that China might not want to ‘offend’ the PH on Scarborough Shoal, given China might want to be ecological sound to win the PR, given no further tripping of UNCLOS, and given that there is already a ‘co-basing’ model of Djibouti..

    China might be ‘entertaining’ the PH the idea of a commercial/naval base on the western shore of Luzon island. Strictly speculation on my part.

  • Ctrot

    The Philippines should build a base there first and the US should finance it.

    • El_Sid

      Nah – do the exact opposite. Dynamite it. China can’t legally claim a feature that’s underwater – and let’s face it, they have the military might to claim any above-sea-level feature in the SCS. Should have happened already to the Spratlys.