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Fumio Ota

【#300】Environment Groups Remain Silent over China’s Reclamation

Fumio Ota / 2015.05.20 (Wed)

May 18, 2015

     The U.S. Department of Defense has recently announced that China has expanded its land reclamation in the South China Sea to about 8 square kilometers (equivalent to the size of 170 Tokyo Domes), a four-fold increase in four months since the end of last December. In the process, China has destroyed vast coral reefs with dynamite.
     Nevertheless, Green Peace and other environment protection groups have never voiced protest or opposition against the Chinese reclamation. However, these groups have raised opposition to the planned construction of a new military base on a reclaimed land off Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, as a replacement for the U.S. Marines Futenma Air Station, complaining that the construction would destroy corals after concrete blocks thrown into waters off Henoko for fixing buoys in preparation for the construction touched corals. I feel these environment protection groups are hypocritical.
     The U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies has launched the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI, http://amti.csis.org), displaying time-sequenced satellite/air photos of China’s gradual land reclamation in the South China Sea. The AMTI website has recently carried a Philippine scholar’s article warning that the land reclamation would destroy fish eco-systems.
     China is also about to inflict irretrievable damage on eco-systems including endangered species through its Nicaragua canal construction project in Central America.

Impacts on Japan’s national security
     The problems are not limited to environmental destruction. China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea can have great impacts on Japan’s national security for the following reasons:
     First, key sea lanes for Japan are close to the Johnson South Reef and other reefs subject to China’s land reclamation, and the Scarborough Reef that China snatched from the Philippines in 2012. Base construction on these reefs will pose great threats to the sea-lanes for Japan.
     Second, the Chinese air operations could cover the whole of the South China Sea as China expands its territories and exclusive economic zone through the land reclamation. China could establish her Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, as seen in the East China Sea, affecting the freedom of navigation and over flight.
     Third, China could turn a triangle linking the Scarborough Reef, the Johnson South Reef and others, and Woody Island that has been under China’s effective control since 1974 into a strategic bastion, as did the then Soviet Union in the Sea of Okhotsk. If China deploys in the strategic bastion nuclear submarine with the JL-3, next-generation Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, the United States may hesitate to use nuclear force against China in the event of an escalating Japan-China conflict.

Japan-U.S. joint patrol should be conducted in South China Sea
     The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has participated in naval exercises led by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea. At the October-November 2014 exercise, both Navies started operational exercises including Anti-Air, Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfares. This is because Japan has national interests in the South China Sea.
     The MSDF owns many patrol aircraft that are capable of patrolling along with U.S. Navy patrol aircraft in the South China Sea launching from the former U.S. air bases in the Philippines. Such Japan-U.S. joint patrol may be required for defending Japan’s national interests and enhancing the Japan-U.S. alliance. If Japan abandon such option as provoking China, Beijing would immediately conclude that they have won.

Fumio Ota, Ph.D., is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.