BY RICHARD JAVAD HEYDARIAN
A specter is haunting Asia—the specter of full Chinese domination in the South China Sea. Latest reports suggest that China could soon move ahead with building military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, a contested land feature it has occupied since 2012. This would allow China, according to a Mainland source, to “further perfect” its aerial superiority across the contested waters. By building a sprawling network of dual-purposes facilities, and more recently deploying advanced military assets to its artificially created islands, China is inching closer to establishing a de facto Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area. Integrating the Scarborough Shoal into its burgeoning defensive perimeter across the South China Sea will not only give it an upper hand in the contested waters, but also allow China to place the Philippines’ capital and industrialized regions within its strategic reach.
This is nothing short of a nightmare for the Philippines, which is already struggling to protect its supply lines in the Spratly chain of islands due to growing Chinese military assertiveness in contested waters. Unlike most of Chinese occupied features, which lie well beyond the immediate shores of other claimant states, the Scarborough Shoal is located just about 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines, well within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—and also its continental shelf. To put things into perspective, the shoal lies nine hundred kilometers away from the closest Chinese coastline. For Manila, the contested land feature is arguably what James Shoal is to Malaysia and Hainan is to Mainland China.
Manila lost control over the shoal after a tense standoff with Chinese coast guard forces in the middle of 2012. But for more than a century, the Philippines has treated Scarborough Shoal as its northernmost outpost in the South China Sea. In fact, as far back as the Spanish colonial era, the Southeast Asian country has treated the shoal as the natural extension of its national territory. During Cold War years, it was a gunnery range and regular area of naval exercises for American forces, which accessed military bases in the Philippines. Read more