Needed: PH-Japan defense treaty
IN 1986, China shifted its naval strategy from “coastal defense” to “offshore defense” in order to control its maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea. If China closes the Strait of Taiwan with mines in a move to prevent US or Japanese naval forces from threatening its “naval movements,” vital oil ships en route to Japan will be forced to use the last option, the Luzon Strait. It is critical for Japan and the United States to defend the Luzon Strait.
Japan has been working hard to defend this last choke point. In 2013, it deployed surface-to-ship missiles to Miyako Island to choke any China naval breakout to the East China Sea. In 2014, it built a radar station on Yonaguni Island to monitor the disputed Senkaku Islands. It also passed a Cabinet resolution to reinterpret its postwar pacifist constitution that paved the way for the concept of “global military cooperation.” Japan can now come to the aid of foreign forces under attack outside its territory.
A PH-Japan mutual defense treaty is therefore critical. Japan, in desperation, will be willing to pour money into an expensive sophisticated defense system (radars, missiles, sonar detectors, etc.) in Batanes, particularly in the strategic Bashi Channel, if a treaty with the Philippines would permit it. The United States is also interested in a naval base in Batanes, but historically there has been resistance to US bases, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) may be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The Edca identifies eight US defense points in America’s “pivot to Asia” program—Subic, Clark, Laoag airport, Batanes, two points in Cebu, and two in Palawan. America feels that the absence of these eight points will cripple the “encirclement” of China.
A broader alliance among Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Brunei versus China would form the first Asian version of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization or Nato—perhaps an Asia Pacific Treaty Organization. But that’s a tall order.
Let us take a look at the last three decades. The flash point was the Strait of Taiwan. When China conducted missile tests and military exercises there in 1996, the United States sent two aircraft carriers to the area to remind China of its vast superiority, a “deterrence” to China’s aggressive posture to regain Taiwan. The move backfired. Instead of “deterring,” it forced China to embark on a long-term weapons program.
Today, America cannot just pooh-pooh the Chinese arsenal. More than half of China’s Air Force is in the mountains, neutralizing any US first-strike option. It has developed the “carrier-killer” Dongfeng 21D missile, with the speed of Mach 10 and the range of 1,200 kilometers, which can theoretically take out an aircraft carrier surrounded by dozens of warships in minutes before the fleet can react. America is developing its own Mach 10 prototype. Five simultaneous Dongfengs may theoretically take out an entire fleet. China has developed a light mobile twin-hulled mini-aircraft carrier prototype, which can be built overnight, and which can carry dozens of deadly attack drones. It has littered its mainland shores with thousands of submarine detectors.
China’s scheme involved sophisticated but low-cost weapons, such as “anti-ship missiles, short and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, stealth submarines, and cyber and space arms.” The Pentagon called these “asymmetric weapons,” meaning cheap mega-bullets threatening expensive tanks. The Pentagon saw threats against its fixed bases in Japan and Guam, and mobile carriers. When a Song-class Chinese sub appeared undetected beside the Kitty Hawk carrier during a US Pacific war game, the US Navy panicked. Six decades before then, the United States had “unrivaled naval and air power.” Now, America can be denied access to Taiwan waters by antiship missiles.
The Pentagon labels China’s latest moves as an “anti-access/anti-denial” (A2/AD) capability. The US response is the air/sea battle (ASB). A US Air Force simulation war game called Pacific Vision in October 2008 triggered the conceptualization of the ASB. The ASB is a massive air-sea assault that can execute in-depth attacks to destroy the A2/AD, a quick blinding preemptive first strike before China can react.
The Pentagon’s ASB has four problems. First, a massive attack deep into Chinese territory will trigger a nuclear response. The ASB presumes a nuclear risk. Second, China knows about the ASB and is getting ready for it. Hence it is no longer preemptive. Third, an ASB all-out attack can be implemented only in a crisis situation, a last-resort option, not in a non-nuclear or gray-area confrontation. Fourth, the civilian government frowns upon this military adventurism. The White House fears that a trigger-happy ASB general can trigger World War III.
Bernie V. Lopez ([email protected]) has been writing political commentary in the last 20 years. He is also a radio-TV broadcaster, a documentary producer-director, and a former Ateneo professor.
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