China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is expanding at an alarming rate. New frigates, destroyers and submarines are being launched and with the acquisition and renovation of the aircraft carrier, Liaoning, China is flexing its muscle over weaker nations that border the South China Sea.
China is being deliberately provocative in the waters surrounding their traditional area of influence. Japan, the Philippines and even Vietnam have felt their bullying in the last few years. It has resulted in the build-up of naval forces by Japan and other Western Pacific countries. Although, the US Navy has been active in the area, China has deployed their version of an acoustical surveillance system in the China Sea to track shipping (especially submarines) and hasn’t shied away from confronting US Navy forces. In December, a PLAN ship blocked the progress of USS Cowpens in international waters as the cruiser was observing the movement of the Liaoning during her maiden voyage.
China has also taken a confrontational stance over territorial claims with its Pacific neighbors. Whether justifiable or not, China’s PLAN is enforcing her authority over areas that have been independent for the last 30 or more years. These areas include, but are not limited to:
- The waters north of the Natuna Islands between Indonesia, China, and Taiwan.
- The area, including coasts, between Vietnam, China, and Taiwan.
- The area off the coast of central Philippines and Luzon between The Philippines, China, and Taiwan.
- The area north of Borneo between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, and Brunei.
- Islands in the southern part of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands by Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and China.
- Islands in the northern reaches of the South China Sea, this includes the Paracel Islands between Vietnam, China, and Taiwan.
- The Luzon Strait between The Philippines and Taiwan, this includes islands.
- The area claimed by China which covers most of the South China sea and overlaps Economic Exclusion Zones of Brunei, Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam.
The effect this stance will have on US military deployments in the area, including the reopening of Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines and the expansion of the Air Force’s presence on Guam, is now being explored, and is sure to make a difference in the deployment schedules over the next few years. The major US Army presence is in the Korean peninsula and although more bases will be opened in host countries around the area, containing the North Koreans and supporting the government of South Korea will remain its primary function for the foreseeable future.
Our military presence, and most especially our infrastructure, in the area has been allowed to deteriorate and we are unable to fully support forward deployment against potential enemies in the area. Although steps are being taken to fix the current situation, and we are looking at deploying ships, planes and troops to Australia, Thailand and other traditional allies in the region, the US military is unprepared to answer serious threats in the area.