(National Sentinel)Â National Security: In a development that is sure to cause new friction between Washington and Beijing, the Pentagon says that China, nearing completion in building infrastructure on its manmade islands in the South China Sea, appears to be adding warplane hangers and defensive weapons.
As reported byÂ Defense One, the Defense Department, in its annual assessment of the Chinese military, said that once the additions are completed, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force will base three regiments of combat aircraft there.
â€œAlthough its land reclamation and artificial islands do not strengthen Chinaâ€™s territorial claims as a legal matter or create any new territorial sea entitlements, China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea and improve Chinaâ€™s ability to control the features and nearby maritime space,â€ the reportÂ said.
In last year’s assessment, the Pentagon noted that Beijing had completed its reclamation work on the islands under construction. Previous, news reports had noted that China had placed defensive weapons – anti-air missile systems – on some of the islands, but the Pentagon had not, until now, noted that development in its annual assessments.
â€œChinaâ€™s actions in the South China Sea in 2016, particularly its construction of airfields and other infrastructure on features in the Spratly Islands, enhanced Chinaâ€™s ability to control disputed areas in the South China Sea and caused regional concern over Chinaâ€™s longterm intentions,â€ the reportÂ noted.
Defense One noted further:
China has stopped expanding the reefs and is now working to add military infrastructure to them, the report states. New installations include airfields with runways of at least 8,800 feet, water and fuel storage, large port facilities, 24 fighter-sized hangars, communications facilities, fixed-weapons positions, barracks and administrationÂ buildings.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report in March stating that China was completing island reclamation.
â€œChinaâ€™s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracels will allow Chinese military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea,â€ it said. â€œThe same is true of Chinaâ€™s radar coverage, made possible by advanced surveillance/early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilitiesÂ elsewhere.â€
The Pentagon’s report also noted that China may have two new stealth fighters – the J-20 and the FC-31 – based at the islands when they are ready to deploy next year.
This is turning into the biggest foreign policy challenge for the U.S. since the Cold War, and a major reason why President Donald J. Trump must commit to recapitalizing and rebuilding the U.S. Navy.
As noted byÂ The New York Observer, the high seas are the one area both China and Russia will seek to challenge the U.S. globally:
It is time for the United States to respond strongly to aggressions upon the high seas and demonstrate its continued command of the oceans. American resolve will deter aggression and miscalculation by the increasingly assertive China and Russia. The most important step America can take in this regard is fulfilling President Donald Trumpâ€™s promise to rebuild the United States fleet to 350 warships.
Sir Walter Raleigh famously said, â€œWhosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world and consequently the world itself.â€ By winning the Battle of Midway 75 years ago, the United States ensured that no hostile power would command the seas for the three generations that have followed. Freedom of navigation through the worldâ€™s oceans ensured by the United States Navy has led to unprecedented economic growth for the entire world.
Now a power hostile to the international norms that govern the seas has emerged. China has sought to cordon off the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in international trade passes each year, treating a vast swath of the Pacific as a territorial lake. China also eyes naval bases as far afield as the South Atlantic to support its expanding naval forces. Its massive shipbuilding program provides the ships to realize its maritime ambitions. At the same time, Russia has signaled its return to the Atlantic with nuclear submarine patrols not seen since the Cold War.
China is making its move; Russia is following. The U.S. abdicates its responsibilities and commitments to ensuring freedom of navigation at the world’s peril.