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PH blah-blahs over Spratlys claims; Vietnam builds artificial islands and fortresses

You are currently viewing PH blah-blahs over Spratlys claims; Vietnam builds artificial islands and fortresses

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WHAT a country. Congress is spending P10 billion for its new building at the Bonifacio Global City — close of course to the swankiest restaurants and shops there. The Aquino 3rd government spent P1 billion for an “arbitration” suit against China that turned out to be useless except as a propaganda campaign tool.

We will allocate P125 billion for a Maharlika Investment Fund that most investment bankers who aren’t with the government are shaking their heads over.

Yet we spent and will spend almost very little in order to defend the islands we occupy in the Spratlys, by fortifying them. We just blah-blah about it, fooling ourselves that calling the sea there the West Philippine Sea establishes our ownership of everything there.

Top, Vietnamese military outpost in SCS; below, a Philippine outpost (a grounded WW2 ship). SOURCE: VNEXPRESS.NET AND NAVY PHOTO

Vietnam, a nation ravaged by war for decades, shames us. Since 2016, it has spent considerable amounts — at least $200 million by one estimate — to turn the islands and reefs they occupy into formidable fortifications, to ensure their defense against an aggressor. Following close on China’s heels, it has reclaimed 300 hectares to enlarge the small islands they control. It plans to spend another $500 million for such purposes in the next few years, according to exclusive articles by this newspaper’s reporter. It certainly hasn’t been only China that has reclaimed land in the Spratlys to transform them into artificial islands complete with infrastructure.

Panel

Right after the arbitration panel handed down its useless “award” in 2016 and seeing that even the US has been powerless to stop China’s massive island building, Vietnam has done the same, albeit on a smaller scale that it could afford, in order to, as that geopolitical aphorism puts it, “establish facts” (sovereignty) on the ground.

While Aquino 3rd, del Rosario and our political elite were shouting to the world to force China to comply with the arbitration (even as the tribunal didn’t actually order it to do anything), Vietnam, the other major claimant in the Spratlys was quiet, but wasn’t sitting idly by.

By 2021, Vietnam had built on the 29 features it occupies in the Spratlys one airport (on Spratly islands), 13 artificial islands, 38 helipads, 49 reef forts, four radar stations and 28 “rigs.” Vietnam’s outposts in the South China Sea fall into three categories: occupied islets, concrete buildings atop reefs (called “pillboxes”) and isolated platforms constructed on undersea banks, the so-called DK1 rigs.

These rigs (called DK1 by the Vietnamese) constitute Vietnam’s unique strategy to assert its sovereignty in the Spratlys at much lesser cost than that incurred by the Chinese with their artificial islands. The structures are engineered after offshore oil rigs, and 29 of these have been built on nine submerged banks and shoals from 1997 to 2016.

DK1 rigs

“Together with guardian vessels, these ‘DK1’ rigs could monitor and expel foreign fishing vessels away from nearby waters and accommodate injured or sick Vietnamese fishermen for treatment, creating favorable conditions for helicopters to pick up and rescue the sick and the ‘wounded,'” a detailed study on Vietnam’s recent expansion and military deployment explained.

Vietnam, in fact, boasts that its DK1 rigs are a huge accomplishment in its defense of its Spratly possessions that its newspapers have run articles praising the architect of these rigs and hailing the heroism of soldiers stationed on these rigs for months.

Vietnam doesn’t hide the fact that the features it occupies are military installations. An article in the Vietnamese media Vinexpress was headlined: “The military outposts guarding Vietnam’s southern continental shelf, a look back.” Instead of being managed as a civilian entity, as part of a province as in the case of China and the Philippines, the Vietnamese-occupied features on the Spratly islands are supervised by military commands: the Naval Regions 2 and 4 of the Vietnamese Navy.

In February 2021, the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), which has been an anti-China propaganda venue for the South China Sea disputes, published an article that detailed Vietnam’s accelerated militarization of its facilities in the Spratlys. It claimed that it was “Hanoi’s continuing focus on making its bases more resilient to invasion or blockade and strengthening deterrence by ensuring it can strike Chinese facilities.”

Weapons

The article significantly pointed out: “Vietnam also reportedly has newer, longer-range weapons systems on its outposts. Reuters reported in 2016 that Hanoi had deployed Extra (extended-range artillery) systems recently acquired from Israel to five of the Spratlys. The small size of these systems would make them easy to quickly deploy and conceal. They require minimal supporting infrastructure and could be fired from any of the pads identified above, and probably from any other reasonably flat, hard surface. That means they could easily be present at any, or all, of Vietnam’s 10 largest islets … With a range of 150 kilometers (80 nautical miles), Vietnamese Extra systems could already be capable of striking all of China’s Spratly bases.”

Then in July 2022, the AMTI reported:

“Vietnam has accelerated and expanded dredging and landfill work at several of its outposts in the Spratly Islands in the second half of 2022, creating roughly 420 acres of new land this year and bringing its total in the last 10 years to 540 acres. The work includes expanded landfill work at four features identified by AMTI earlier this year and new dredging at five additional features. The scale of the landfill work, while still falling far short of the more than 3,200 acres of land created by China from 2013 to 2016, is significantly larger than previous efforts from Vietnam and represents a major move toward reinforcing its position in the Spratlys.”

Then on July 16 and 27, Manila Times reporter Franco Jose Baroña wrote exclusive articles which disclosed the contents of documents from the top levels of the Vietnamese government detailing plans for transforming three of its reefs it has occupied since 1988 — Hizon (Pearson) Reef, Pigeon (Tennent) Reef and Maskardo (Barque Canada) Reef — into artificial-island fortresses, including a port which would accommodate frigate-class warships, that could rival those of China.

Civilian

Unlike the Chinese artificial-island fortresses but like our Pag-asa island, Vietnam will populate these fortifications with a civilian population. “They think that building military and civilian constructions, and sending people to live on the island will prove that those islands belong to them,” the Manila Times reporter quoted his source.

The document was entitled “Planning of Construction Projects on Pearson Reef and Pigeon Reef in Spratly Islands,” signed by Rear Admiral Tran Thanh Nghiem, commander of the Vietnam People’s Navy, and dated March 27, 2023. It was based on meetings of “working groups of the Ministry of National Defense and Vietnam People’s Navy presided over by Chief of General Staff Nguyen Tan Cuong.”

Weep

Read the two articles (“Vietnam beefs up militarization in WPS,” July 16; and “Vietnam builds more facilities in Spratlys,” July 27) and weep — or get very mad at our leaders. The airstrip on Pag-asa Island, which was crumbling into the sea, was repaired only in 2018, at the specific order of President Rodrigo Duterte, and our “facility” to mark our sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal is a rusty World War 2-vintage LST, full of rust, gradually sinking into the sea. Neither Congress nor the Defense department has plans at all how we can fortify our posts in the Spratlys.

The Times reporter wrote that Vietnam’s land-reclamation and fortification projects in the Spratlys will cost P29 billion.

If we can afford P10 billion for a new Senate building, and immediately allocate P75 billion to capitalize a Maharlika Investment Fund, P29 billion is peanuts to defend our territories and EEZ (exclusive economic zone).

Or has it all been just blah-blah, the only purpose of which is to demonize China?


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    As earlier published, the “wisdom” our leaders have adopted is US-dictated which many “educated” Filipinos imitate like parrots. Our claims over Spratlys etc. will remain all talk and we are proud to let the world know about it. Pathetic.

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