Fri, Jul 24, 2015 - Page 1 News List

China could use islands against Taiwan: CSIS adviser

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

A photograph taken through a glass window of a military plane on May 11 shows China’s alleged reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Photo: AP

China could use militarized islands in the South China Sea to stop the US from helping Taiwan in a crisis, a Washington conference was told.

The US is “quite concerned” the islands will increase China’s anti-access area-denial and general power-projection capabilities, said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“This, of course, depends what equipment, what platforms China deploys,” Glaser said.

Glaser said that potentially there could be surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, manual and automatic aircraft and surface combatants.

She said runways would support refueling operations that would substantially extend the operational ranges of Chinese aircraft.

They could provide the capability to hold US forces at risk at a further distance than at present,” Glaser said.

A consultant for the US government on East Asia, she said US access to the region could be hindered if the US were seeking to defend Taiwan in a crisis.

“US ability to maneuver within the region would be potentially affected,” she told the fifth annual CSIS South China Sea Conference this week.

Glaser said that the most “prominent and problematic” development in the South China Sea over the past year had been China’s transformation of submerged or semi-submerged rocks and reefs into artificial islands.

She said the first Chinese objective was to assert sovereignty and administrative control.

Satellite imagery shows an “enormous amount of construction” and a good deal of it potentially for military facilities, Glaser said.

“This includes harbors, the very long runway — more than 3,000m — on Fiery Cross Reef [Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁], potentially hangers for aircraft — although I don’t think we have seen that yet — radars, other capabilities that will enable China to increase the size and the scope of its maritime presence.”

Taiwan also claims the reef.

Glaser said that China had about eight coast guard ships generally operating in the South China Sea at any given time and had limited capability to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

However, “these would increase substantially with the use of these artificial islands, including electronic eavesdropping, potentially operating AWACS [Airborne early warning and control],” she added.

There is also the potential for China to establish an air defense identification zone, as it has done in the East China Sea, she said.

“It’s possible that, in order to monitor and enforce such a zone effectively, that China might really need more than one runway,” Glaser said. “Now it has one in the Paracels [Paracel Islands, Xisha Islands, 西沙群島] and will soon have one operational in the Spratlys [Spratly Islands, Nansha Islands, 南沙群島]. The satellite imagery of Subi Reef [Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁, in the Spratlys] shows the potential for building another runway there.”

Taiwan also claims the Spratlys and Paracels.

She said that some people dismiss the military value of the artificial islands, because the islands would be vulnerable to attack in wartime.

However, “of course, in peacetime as well as in crisis, they do have potential value,” Glaser said.

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