MANILA, Philippines — China’s People’s Liberation Army might be encouraged to take control of the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, as well as parts of the Spratly Islands, as the country grows its missile arsenal, according to an Australia-based think tank.
The United States Studies Centre (USSC) at the University of Sydney warned that Beijing’s growing arsenal of long-range missiles poses a major threat to the US and its allies, including the Philippines.
Just last month, China reportedly tested multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles from its military outposts in the South China Sea.
According to the USSC, aside from testing specialized anti-ship ballistic missile DF-21D, China is also rolling out various sea- and air-launched missiles.
“Looking to the future, China may well be ahead of the United States and its allies in developing advanced hypersonic missiles that would significantly worsen this threat environment,” the USSC report titled “Averting Crisis: American Strategy, Military Spending and Collective Defence in the Indo-Pacific” read.
With its growing missile threat to US bases and regional partners, Beijing might seize smaller targets such as Philippines-controlled Scarborough Shoal and parts of the Spratly Islands.
The Chinese military might also take interest in Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or the Ryukyu Islands.
“In all these scenarios, Beijing’s aim would be to strike first to secure longstanding political goals or strategically valuable objectives before the United States can do anything to stop it,” the think tank said.
The USSC warned that China might attempt to reunify Taiwan by force in an attempt to strengthen its military force.
Beijing’s military outposts in the South China Sea has given the country a “coercive leverage,” establishing a fait accompli in the region.
“The broader ramifications of a Chinese fait accompli would be devastating for the Indo-Pacific balance of power and the stability of America’s alliance and partner network,” the report read.
According to the USSC report, the US would probably win in an extended war that would be costly and dangerous but the security of its allies are “fundamentally secondary” to its own.
“At the diplomatic level, the failure to prevent a Chinese attack on allied territory would exacerbate rising concerns about America’s capacity and willingness to act as a security guarantor in the region,” the USSC said.
When he visited Manila in March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that any armed attack on Filipino forces in the West Philippine Sea would trigger the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on the other hand, has been advocating for a review of the provisions of the defense treaty as tensions in the West Philippine Sea escalate.
At the celebration of the anniversary of the PLA last month, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua insisted that his country will follow a path of “peaceful development.”
“China adopts a military strategy of active defense which adheres to the principle of defense, self-defense and post-strike response. Meaning we will not take the first shot,” Zhao said.
Following the pronouncements of the Chinese envoy, the military confirmed that Chinese warships have been spotted passing through Sibutu Strait at least four times since February.
Aside from the warships, Chinese survey ships have also been located operating in Philippine exclusive economic zone.
Lorenzana had asked the Philippine government to ask the Chinese Embassy to explain the presence of Chinese warships and survey ships in Philippine waters. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. responded to this by announcing that he would file a diplomatic protest.