Several Asian and Western reports indicate that the Philippines and Vietnam are making acquisitions to counter the recent hostility in the South China Sea from China. China is using her military might to maintain Beijing’s position that China, based on ancient occupancy, has historical rights to the plentiful petroleum and mineral reserves beneath the waters of that region.
Among vessels newly acquired by Vietnam, one of many nations of the South China Sea which dispute Beijing’s claim, is a Gepard class frigate (photo), which was delivered August 29 at the Cam Ranh Bay naval port; the new frigate will become the most capable of their fleet. Vietnamese Navy Commander Nguyen Van Hien said the modern warship marked “A new development in combative strength as well as the capability of managing and defending [Vietnam's] sea sovereignty.”
The following day, August 30th, the Philippine Navy took possession of a decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutter, formerly the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, in the Philippine effort to respond to tensions with China, particularly in the Spratly and Paracel Islands area.
China is and has been adding advanced submarines, some equipped with nuclear weapons, as well as new destroyers and amphibious assault ships. The Chinese coast guard and fishery surveillance sectors, too, are receiving new vessels and greater funding.
In meetings of the ten member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the U.S. being represented, the disagreements in the South China Sea have been addressed; the members are working on a formal code of behavior for the waters, reefs, and atolls in the disputed waters. China however, rejects this formal mechanism and will deal with individual countries. China’s defense budget, $91.5 billion, last year, is second in the world, surpassed only by that of the United States.
China holds on to the claim that its preparations and intimidations, which have included cable cuttings, pursuits, and some shots fired, are strictly defensive. Nonetheless the nations involved are intimidated, and continue to look to the United States for support.
Retired Philippine Navy Commodore and analyst Rex Robles concedes, “Even if we are three times more prepared than we are now, we [would be] defeated because China…can blow us out of the water easily.” But, he insists, a war with China would be costly to all involved, “If war breaks out there, China’s development will also be stunted,” he told reporters, “China’s resources are quite huge, but maybe not enough to sustain a war there.”
Vietnam will be prepared for a drawn out war, having additionally placed an order for six diesel-electric “Project 636″ Varshavyanka submarines, for a total of $2 billion; the submarine delivery is expected in about three years.