How Beijing may use South China Sea to create submarine haven

Beijing: For months, China’s visible construction of artificial islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has alarmed  US officials and many of China’s neighbours.

What is happening under the water is also worrisome,  several defence and security analysts say.

China has a growing fleet of nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles. The expansion of its claim on the South China Sea may be intended to create a deep-water sanctuary – known in military parlance as a “bastion” – where its submarine fleet could avoid detection.

“The South China Sea would be a good place to hide Chinese submarines,” said Carl Thayer, a US-born security specialist who has taught at the University of New South Wales and other Australian institutions. The sea floor is thousands of metres s deep in places, with underwater canyons where a submarine could easily avoid detection.

Conflicts in the South China Sea are expected to be a major focus of the annual US-Sino talks that begin on Tuesday in Washington, including meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang.

Daniel Russel, assistant US secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, noted that China continues to build facilities on the islands, including military installations, a move he said was “troubling”.

According to Thayer, Beijing sees the South China Sea as a strategic asset because it guards China’s southern flank, including a submarine base in Sanya, on China’s Hainan island. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has built underwater tunnels there to quietly dock some of its submarines, including those that carry ballistic missiles.

In an April media briefing in Washington, a top US Navy official said the Pentagon was watching China’s ballistic submarines “very carefully”.

“Any time a nation has developed nuclear weapons and delivery platforms that can range the homeland, it’s a concern of mine,” said  Admiral William Gortney, the commander of the US Northern Command.  He said China has a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, “which gives me a little bit of a good news picture there”.

Full article: How Beijing may use South China Sea to create submarine haven (Sydney Morning Herald)

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