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The other threat in the South China Sea: Vietnam

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WHILE President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his military brass have been on overdrive to condemn China’s alleged aggressiveness in the Spratly Islands, another claimant, Vietnam, has been on an island-building spree, doubling its hectarage of reclaimed land in the disputed areas in the first five months of this year. Prodigious anti-China basher, former justice Antonio Carpio, who is married to a Vietnamese, has never ever criticized Vietnam for ignoring our claims in the Spratlys. Vietnam is the only claimant that got to grab in 1975 an island, Pugad Island (Southwest Cay), from us, although by subterfuge.

Vietnam has occupied the most features in the Spratlys — four islands and 29 reefs. The Philippines occupies eight islands and two reefs. China occupies seven reefs, which it transformed into artificial islands from 2012 to 2013, and three shoals, including Bajo de Masinloc, which the Philippines abandoned in the 2012 Scarborough stand-off.

As sure as the sun rises in the East, if China vacates its occupied artificial islands in the South China Sea, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will be landing its troops on each and every island, and it has been preparing to do so for a decade.

While Vietnam has been spending resources to expand its artificial islands in the South China Sea, our government has instead chosen to spend billions of money on other useless infrastructure, such as the new Senate offices, at a cost of P10 billion. We have improved Pag-asa, our biggest island in the Spratlys, but only repairing the airstrip there and constructing a small building for its communication facilities. President Marcos Jr. appears to rely totally on the Americans to defend us in the Spratlys through their nine “rotational” bases.

Vietnam’s new artificial islands in the Spratlys.

I’m sure Marcos’ national security adviser, defense secretary and, of course, that really clueless Philippine Coast Guard spokesman have never heard of the Vietnam threat, as they have never ever said a word about it but instead have quite stupidly pointed out this other danger to us as Chinese propaganda meant to distract the country’s attention away from China’s “bullying.”

What a country!

Following is a June 7, 2024 article on Vietnam’s expansion of its artificial islands on the website of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a US-funded outfit set up initially in 2012 (when the Philippines filed its arbitration suit against China) as an anti-China propaganda machine.

AMTI article

“‘Hanoi in high gear: Vietnam’s Spratly expansion accelerates’

Vietnam has significantly accelerated the expansion of its outposts in the Spratly Islands over the last six months, creating almost as much new land as it had in the previous two years combined and putting Hanoi on pace for a record year of island building in 2024.

Since AMTI’s last update in November of 2023, Vietnam has created 692 new acres of land across a total of 10 features, compared to 404 acres created in the first 11 months of 2023 and 342 acres in 2022. This brings the total of Vietnam’s overall dredging and landfill (including both landfill and harbor/channel dredging) in disputed areas of the South China Sea to approximately 2,360 acres — roughly half of China’s 4,650 acres. This is a major change from just three years ago, when the total amount of Vietnamese dredging and landfill was just 329 acres — less than one-tenth of China’s total.

Spratlys and occupiers: Vietnam, China: red flag; the Philippines: PH flag

The scale of Vietnam’s activity can also be seen in a look at the largest outposts in the Spratly Islands by land area. While China’s ‘big three’ outposts (Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross reefs) remain the largest, the next four largest outposts are all newly expanded Vietnamese reefs.

Barque Canada Reef remains Vietnam’s largest outpost, nearly doubling over the last six months from 238 to 412 acres.

The feature now measures 4,318 meters in length, which makes it the only Vietnamese outpost so far with the potential to host a 3,000-meter runway like those that China has at Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs. Currently, Vietnam’s only airstrip in the Spratly Islands is a 1,300-meter runway on the eponymous Spratly Island. While that runway is large enough for most Vietnamese military aircraft, a 3,000-meter runway would be required for larger military transport, surveillance or bomber aircraft to take off and land.

Other features have also undergone significant landfill since November: 102 acres of new land have been created at Discovery Great Reef, 52 acres at South Reef, 41 acres at Namyit Island, and 37 acres at Pearson Reef.

Dredging activities at Pearson have expanded beyond the main outpost in the northeast to new areas on the southern end of the reef, creating new land around preexisting pillbox structures and wider channels for ships to pass through.

Vietnam has continued implementing a mix of cutter-suction and clamshell dredging to complete these expansions, with the former being used heavily at large areas of landfill such as Barque Canada Reef.

Along with the accelerated landfill, Vietnam has begun preliminary construction of some new facilities across its outposts. Notable developments include the completion of a boat ramp.

Trenches and coastal defense emplacements typical of Vietnam’s Spratly outposts can be seen underway in several features. And temporary helipads have appeared across many of the expanding features, including Discovery Great Reef, Ladd Reef, Tennent Reef and South Reef.”

[Among the 11 articles that I’ve written on the Vietnam threat are the following: “Vietnam: The more serious threat?,” “Vietnam’s militarization of the Spratlys (Kalayaan),” and “The lie-low but dangerous claimant in the South China Sea.”]

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

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My website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

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