THE military bases that two Philippine administrations have authorized the United States armed forces to use are crucial to America’s military superiority in Southeast Asia, Gregory Poling, a top American strategist on the South China Sea issue claimed in his most recent book Dangerous Ground.
As a result, however, various recent simulations of a US-China war show that the Philippines has been raised as among the top targets of a Chinese missile strike, at the level of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and the Andersen Air Base in Guam, two of the US Air Force’s biggest facilities in the world.
Revealingly subtitled America’s Century in the South China Sea, Poling’s book surveys US hegemony in Asia, and the emergence of the territorial and maritime-disputes in that sea.
Poling explained that the EDCA really represents the US move — most likely to fail though — to counter China’s artificial island-fortresses built from 2014 and 2015. He explained:
“China has four airbases [built 2014 and 2015 on its artificial islands in the Spratlys], not counting those along its coast. It could deploy combat aircraft to the islands for short tours of duty at the drop of a hat. Given the current force structure, China would have control over the airspace above the South China Sea during the early stages of any conflict. And its considerable advantage in missile forces would turn the South China Sea into a shooting gallery.
“The United States probably could neutralize China’s artificial island bases and establish dominance over the sea and airspace of the South China Sea. But the effort would be costly, time-consuming, and uncertain.
“It would quickly become clear that the United States couldn’t protect surface combatants operating in the area. China’s radar and signals intelligence capabilities in the islands are extensive and, most important, redundant.
“They couldn’t be easily blinded; China would see US forces coming. And thanks to their surface-to-air, anti-ship, jamming, and point defense systems, the islands are more defensible than often believed.
“Sheer size also presents complications — Pearl Harbor Naval Base could fit inside the lagoon at Subi, and Mischief Reef is roughly the size of the I-495 Beltway around Washington, D.C. Plus, much of their military infrastructure has been buried or hardened against attack. Neutralizing the bases could require hundreds of missiles. And Pacific Command doesn’t have the magazine capacity to spare, especially when any Sino-US conflict is unlikely to be limited to the South China Sea.
“Anything thrown against the Spratlys would have to be taken away from the defense of Tokyo or Taipei. The math is brutal and getting worse. It increasingly looks like the United States would have little choice but to cede the South China Sea in the opening stages of a conflict.”
Poling raises a point the Marcos administration should ponder:
“US forward presence rests on the access provided by partners. Along the South China Sea, that means Singapore and the Philippines, though US surveillance flights also quietly operate out of Malaysia.
“Those partners increasingly wonder what they’re getting in exchange for that access. The US Navy might be free to sail the South China Sea, but Southeast Asians are being excluded from their own waters. The more Chinese pressure builds, the more support for the United States seems like a bad bet — one that disproportionately benefits America but not its partners. The most vital and abiding US interests in the South China Sea are freedom of the seas and America’s alliance commitment to the Philippines, both of which support its ability to operate in the region. Pacific Command can’t project power in the Indo-Pacific without free seas and willing allies.
“Those allies won’t stick around if the United States defends its freedom but not theirs. And acceptance of Chinese claims would unravel both. There are of course other issues at play, but they need to be put into proper context.”
That certainly is a very good question. What do we get from the EDCA anyway? I can’t believe it is what the US ambassador and our Armed Forces officials often say: “For speedier disaster relief?’ But why are several of these EDCAs in distant areas, like Balabac island in Palawan, and Osias Base in Cagayan?”
Deterrence? Against China?
But simple common sense says that in a war, China will just launch missiles — from hidden facilities in their artificial islands in the Spratlys, Poling says — to wipe out these EDCA bases. Hopefully these are not tipped with tactical nuclear bombs.
If that would be the case, millions of Filipinos living in the following cities where EDCA sites are or adjacent to would be killed instantaneously or in days, for the sake of US continued hegemony: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa; Benito Ebuen in Mactan-Cebu; Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City. OK, never mind the smaller cities.
But Americans are as intelligent as they are sneaky. My suspicion is that without asking permission from Marcos they’ll be deploying their missiles that could reach China’s island-fortresses in the Spratlys, claiming that the Chinese already have theirs there.
The EDCA site in Balabac island in Palawan which Marcos gave the US this year is just 260 kilometers to China’s Mischief island fortress, shorter than the 350 kilometers from the EDCA site Antonio Bautista Air Base that Aquino granted in 2014.
More importantly the US Airforce bases in Kadena, Okinawa and in Guam are 764 kilometers and 2,820 km from Taiwan, much farther than the two EDCA sites in Cagayan province 450 km away.
After all, the EDCA document says: “The Philippines hereby authorizes United States forces to pre-position and store defense equipment, supplies, and materiel at the EDCA sites. (Itals mine).
Clever indeed, as the definition of “defense equipment” includes of course military weapons, including missile systems.
Why, these EDCA sites are perfect for American missile systems to target the Chinese fortresses in the Spratlys and their warships invading Taiwan. The US surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile System has a 165 to 300 km range while the Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile has a 90 to 240-km range.
That’s why EDCA is crucial to US hegemony.
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