Vietnam should be on guard against China’s possible air-defense zone: major general

By Hoang Thuy   May 23, 2018 | 10:30 pm PT
Vietnam should be on guard against China’s possible air-defense zone: major general
Satellite photo shows an island in the Paracel archipelago, September 2017. Photo by Planet Labs/via Reuters
China can use the air-defense zone to enforce its claim in the South China Sea, he warned.

With recent landing and taking off drills carried out by Chinese bombers on the Paracel Islands, a Vietnamese major general said Vietnam should be on high alert for a possible establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) by China in the South China Sea.

China’s activities have reflected its attempts to turn a “Chinese dream” of becoming a world power into reality. China is already using its Belt and Road Initiative to influence the region and control the waters, said major general, professor Nguyen Hong Quan, former deputy head of the Military Strategy Institute under the Ministry of National Defense.

The Chinese air force announced on May 18 that several of its bombers, including the long-range, nuclear strike capable H-6K, had carried out landing and taking off drills at an island airfield in the Paracel Islands for the first time.

The base H-6 aircraft’s combat radius of nearly 1,000 nautical miles means China’s basic bombers taking off from Woody Island could cover the entire South China Sea, according to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers including Manila and all five Philippine military bases earmarked for development under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, it said.

China has wanted to control the vast water area for a long time and its recent actions to strengthen military forces on the Paracel Islands are the latest moves to take control over the sea step by step, Quan told VnExpress in an interview.

“I think China will not stop there and will take bolder moves in the future,” he said.

China already unilaterally established its ADIZ over two-thirds of the East China Sea in 2013, despite strong opposition from nations in the region.

Quan said China will not set up an ADIZ in the South China Sea right now but in the long run, Vietnam should always be cautious. Vietnam calls the waters the East Sea and has repeated declared its sovereign rights over the waters as well as the Paracel and Spraty Islands.

“If China establishes an ADIZ in the East Sea, it will force airlines to seek permission to fly over that area in the name of aviation security. Then China will use that as an excuse to claim ‘sovereignty’ over the waters because some country will have already asked for its permission to fly over the area,” he said.

“In short, by setting up an ADIZ in the East Sea, China will force other countries to accept its claim over the waters.”

It will definitely trigger a diplomatic conflict among related parties, raising questions over ADIZs’ legitimacy where disputed areas overlap with a flight information region (FIR) of another country. This, Quan explained, will jeopardize the ASEAN-China negotiations for the Code of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea (COC), which the latter is trying to tilt the scale in its favor.

He said that even without an ADIZ, China will still bring combat aircraft, military communication systems and early-warning radars to its existing seaports, warehouses, and houses on artificial islands in the waters and facilitate its gain of regional ownership of the area and escalate the ongoing tensions.

“The runways on the artificial islands have already allowed Chinese bombers to land and take off, which means China is now ready to use the airport on artificial islands for military purposes. This is a sign of what might be happening in the Spratly Islands in the future,” he said.

China's activities are of great strategic significance, allowing it to be present at the center of the South China Sea and significantly reducing the travel time between the Spratly Islands and mainland China. These actions are a source of concern for other countries that China may be able to take control over the waters and this will affect freedom of navigation and overflight as well as trade routes, said Quan.

Major general Nguyen Hong Quan. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Chinh

Major general Nguyen Hong Quan. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Chinh

He said Vietnam should be well-prepared, raise its voice to strongly oppose China’s activities and keep its citizens informed, enhance cooperation with other countries, bring the waters dispute to international and regional summits and forums, as well as negotiate and sign the COC.

Vietnam has to prepare for the worst case scenario, invest in defense programs, promote fishing activities in the Spratly Islands, he proposed.

Vietnam's foreign ministry on Monday denounced the operations of Chinese bombers on the Paracel Islands as a serious violation of Vietnam's sovereignty. The move has increased tensions and caused destabilization in the region, it said.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has since been illegally occupying the islands. In July 2012, China established a so-called "Sansha City" with Vietnam's Woody (Phu Lam) Island in the Paracels as its seat. The so-called city also covers a number of reefs in Vietnam's Spratly Islands that China seized by force in 1988 and the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines.

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