Beijing: For months, China’s visible construction of artificial islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has alarmed US officials and many of China’s neighbours.
What is happening under the water is also worrisome, several defence and security analysts say.
China has a growing fleet of nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles. The expansion of its claim on the South China Sea may be intended to create a deep-water sanctuary – known in military parlance as a “bastion” – where its submarine fleet could avoid detection.
“The South China Sea would be a good place to hide Chinese submarines,” said Carl Thayer, a US-born security specialist who has taught at the University of New South Wales and other Australian institutions. The sea floor is thousands of metres s deep in places, with underwater canyons where a submarine could easily avoid detection.
Conflicts in the South China Sea are expected to be a major focus of the annual US-Sino talks that begin on Tuesday in Washington, including meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang.
China last week announced that it was winding down its expansion of artificial islands in the South China Sea, but the statement wasn’t warmly received by US officials.