Thursday, February 18, 2016

#SouthChinaSea: Opening the Yongxing Dao Missile Flap

Fears over China's continued leveraging of Taiwan, along with commercial imagery, make this "revelation" a bit late

First, nobody talked about them; now everyone is "shocked" that they're there. Every since the story broke, China's response has been rather oblique: "We believe this is an attempt by certain western media to create news stories," etc. Apparently, Chinese missiles have been there "for years."

Well, probably not that many years. China seized Yongxing/Đảo Phú Lâm in 1956. But other Paracel islands, claimed by Vietnam, were seized in later years. And military-capable construction has been going on there since early 2015, with terraforming somewhat earlier.

Let's face it: if you're going to build an airbase on a disputed island so close to a nation with whom you've had a number of shooting confrontations over similar claims in the past, deployment of anti-aircraft missiles makes sense.

It's likely that the US, Taiwan and Vietnam were aware of the missiles earlier. The Hongqi-9 (HQ-9) is a long range weapon system with a large footprint and comparable logistic trail. It's not like China sent along some MANPADS just in case. Moreover, at least one news outlet has been using commercial imagery to confirm the system's presence on the island. Given the interest and capability of especially USG reconnaissance infrastructure, claiming surprise strains credibility.

So why now? And why not before?

Most likely, this aggressive positioning by China is finally being called out to put them on the defensive, in light of their obvious displeasure over the outcome of elections in Taiwan. The transition to the new government is a long process, and provides any number of opportunities for the Mainland to disrupt things.

Unless, of course, you preemptively leverage them back.

No comments: