What's Happening Between The U.S., China, Taiwan And Japan In The West Pacific?
This article represents the opinion of the author, EconMatters.
There have been several interesting and significant events taking place in the West Pacific region since the last update about an island row between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and a semi-sub rig of CNOOC Ltd (NYSE: CEO) in South China Sea rubbing several neighboring countries the wrong way.
China's Artificial Island Expansion
According to the Wall Street Journal, new satellite images released in February show China has built an artificial island covering 75,000 square yards—about 14 football fields on disputed South China Sea reefs. According to experts who have studied the pictures, the structure seems to include two piers, a cement plant and a helipad, at a land formation called Hughes Reef.
The reef, above water only at low tide, lies about 210 miles from the Philippines and 660 miles from China.
The pictures also show that China is building similar infrastructure in two other places, Johnson South Reef and Gaven Reefs.
This naturally put the U.S. at extreme unease. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence has just published its first report on the Chinese navy since 2009, and says that China "appears to be building much larger facilities that could eventually support both maritime law enforcement and naval operations."
China's New Long Range H-6 Bombers Can Hit Guam
On March 30, China announced that its new H-6 strategic bombers have carried out its first military drills flying over the Bashi Canal, which is between a Taiwanese island and a Philippines island.
Flying nuclear-capable bombers so close to Taiwan looks like a déjà vu of the 3rd Taiwan Strait Crisis about 20 years ago.
U.S. Marine F-18 Landed At Taiwan
On April 1, just two days after the H-6 bomber drill, a pair of U.S. Marine F-18 Hornet aircrafts did a 'precautionary landing' (i.e., no immediate emergency) at Tainan air force base in southern Taiwan and left after 48 hours.
This has lead to many discussions because of several factors:
- No U.S. military aircraft has ever touched ground in Taiwan for almost 30 years due to the sensitive nature of the island's political status.
- F-18 Hornet is considered one of the more advanced warplanes currently deployed by the U.S. with movement and whereabouts typically on a very low 'classified' profile.
- Taiwan is probably the most conspicuous option for a 'precautionary landing.'
- The two F-18 could have made landing at a less-controversial location such as the Japanese airfield at Shimoji island, just 120 miles east of Taiwan.
- Military analysts noted that the presence of F-18 typically means electronic warfare EA-6B Prowler plane and a carrier vessel or group are nearby.
- April 1 also marked the 14-year anniversary of Hainan Island incident when a U.S. Navy intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese interceptor fighter jet.
- The Tainan air base where the two F-18s landed has a long history dating back to WW II with deep ties with CIA, a known fact among people in Taiwan.
Worth noting, this is a fertile ground for many conspiracy theories. Washington Times thinks the F-18 fighter jet landings, while may well be unintended, appear to be Pentagon sending a message to China of U.S. resolve two days after China signaling a threat to U.S. Guam.
Taiwan's military analysts were all excited to actually see F-18s 'parked locally,' and speculate that since Taiwan has long been interested in purchasing F-18s, this unusual landing after a 30-year absence could mean the U.S. is warming up to the idea. In addition, this also seems to signal U.S. 're-pivoting' to Taiwan's geographic and strategic significance in U.S. West Pacific military layer.
China Nuclear Subs In The Indian Ocean
Diplomat reported on April 12 a Chinese nuclear submarine –- presumably a Type 093 Shang-class –- as part of the anti-piracy patrol of two ships and a supply vessel was operating off the Gulf of Aden.
Submarines are not exactly appropriate for dealing with pirates, and analysts are still trying to decipher the enormous implications of such a strategically significant move while setting alarm bells ringing in the Indian Navy.
U.S. Re-acquainting With Taiwan?
According to experts who have studied the satellite images released in February, China "appears to be building a network of island fortresses to help enforce control of most of the South China Sea—one of the world's busiest shipping routes—and potentially of the airspace above."
The U.S. has been in high anxiety over China's increasing military and financial (i.e. AIIB) expansion and blatant ambition over the region.
The U.S. currently has a significant military 'pocket' surrounding China in Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Singapore, leaving a gaping hole exposing Guam, Hawaii, even the U.S. West Coast.
For now, the U.S. can only make declaratory protests (leading to Xinhua calling U.S. a butt and fishing for trouble), and China will almost always ignore these protests. A more 'pro-active' counter-measure by using U.S. naval warships would be an escalation and carry risks.
This leaves Taiwan the only friendly suitable and more effective response to China plugging that hole.
While things are still shifting and unraveling awfully fast in the region, one observation most can agree with is this:
"Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests."
The following article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.