The Philippines and the United States are putting up a defensive line meant to prevent China from punching through to the Pacific and threatening American military real estate in Guam, analysts say.
The US will be able to use at least eight military bases in the Philippines where it can rotate its troops, planes and ships, under a 10-year defense pact signed in April last year.
Two of these bases will give the US rapid access to the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, where China is digging in with a chain of island-fortresses.
The other bases are listening posts and staging areas for the US to monitor and limit China’s movements.
Plans are being drawn up in Washington to directly contest – with warships and aircraft – Beijing’s territorial claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, and deter China’s military from crossing to the Pacific, analysts say.
China has created over 800ha of land since last year on seven reefs in the Spratlys in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.
“The Americans know they are the ultimate goal here. Once the Chinese consolidate in the Spratlys and they punch through, then they’ll go to the second island chain: Guam,” Jose Custodio, a consultant of the Philippine military and a former adviser to a US defense company working for the US Pacific Command, told The Straits Times.
Guam is the home port of a US submarine squadron and a strategic base of the US Seventh Fleet operating in the Pacific.