China's military buildup in the South China Sea

China shrugs off report of tropical nuclear sub base

BEIJING, May 6 (Reuters) - China refused to be drawn on Tuesday on a photograph which Jane's Information Group analysts believe is evidence of a new underground nuclear submarine base off the southern tropical island of Hainan.

China's increasing dependence on imported petroleum and mineral resources had contributed to an intensified Chinese concern about defending its access to vital sea lanes, particularly to its south, Jane's said.

It said high-resolution commercially available satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe was independent verification of previous suggestions that China is constructing an underground nuclear submarine base near Sanya on Hainan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang would neither confirm nor deny the report.

"China is going down the road of peaceful development. China's national defence policy is defensive. Other countries have no reason to fear, or make a fuss about it and be prickly," Qin told a regular news conference.

"We have vast coastal areas and territorial seas. Protecting our national security on the seas, protecting our sovereignty on the oceans and our oceanic rights are the sacred responsibilities of our armed forces."

The extent of construction indicated the Sanya base, known as Yulin, could become a key future base for People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carriers and other ships, Jane's said.

The base and the positioning of China's most advanced sub-surface "combatants" at Sanya would have implications for China's control of the South China Sea and the strategically vital straits in the area, Jane's said.

The satellite image suggested the base had been supported by a gradual military build-up in the Paracel islands over the last 20 years and the transformation of the Chinese-held islands in the disputed Spratly chain into assets that could support a range of military operations, it said.

China had pursued the build-up at Sanya with little fanfare, offering no public explanations regarding its plan to base nuclear weapons or advanced naval platforms there, Jane's said.

Bangkok-based Western military expert Robert Karniol said China had at least one other nuclear naval base in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

China defends maritime rights, but silent on nuclear sub base report

Agence France-Presse
6 May 2008

BEIJING - China on Tuesday refused to comment directly on reports it was building a major underground nuclear submarine base, but defended its right to protect its maritime and territorial interests.

"We have a vast territorial sea, and it is the sacred duty of the Chinese army to safeguard our security on the sea, the sovereignty of our territorial waters, and maritime rights and interests," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Tuesday.

He was responding to questions about a report by Jane's Intelligence Review, a respected defense periodical, on Friday that said China was building the base near the holiday resort of Sanya on southern China's Hainan island.

Jane's reported it had confirmed the existence of the base through satellite images.

It said China's plans raised regional and global security concerns, partly because the vessels would be stationed so close to Southeast Asia's sea lanes.

Qin would not confirm nor deny the existence of the base, but insisted that China's military posed no threat to the world.

"There is no need for the Western countries to be worried, or concerned, or make any irresponsible accusations," Qin said.

"China's national defense and military building will not pose a threat to any countries."

Jane's said the base could mean China was preparing to house a large proportion of its nuclear forces, and even operate them from there, which could cause concern to regional powers and others further afield.

The positioning of China's most advanced underwater combatants at Sanya could have implications for China's control of the South China Sea and the strategically vital straits in the area, said Jane's.

"For both regional and extra-regional powers, it will be difficult to ignore that China is now building a major naval base at Sanya and may be preparing to house and protect a large proportion of its nuclear forces here and even operate them from this base," the group said.

"This development so close to the Southeast Asian sea lanes so vital to the economies of Asia can only cause concern far beyond these straits."

Britain's Daily Telegraph also reported on the base and called it a "vast, James Bond-style edifice capable of concealing up to 20 nuclear-powered submarines, which will enable China to project its power across the region."

China's naval secrets

By Richard D. Fisher, Jr.
Wall Street Journal Asia
5 May 2008

Experts attempting to understand the strategic aims behind China's aggressive military expansion have generally focused on Taiwan. But a new naval base points at Beijing's significant and growing interest in projecting power into waters far from the Taiwan Strait. China, in fact, is equipping itself to assert its longstanding and expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea, and this plan could raise tensions well beyond the region.

The new base is near Sanya, a city on the southern tip of Hainan Island. It's an ideal place for a naval base, and a significant expansion compared to the nearby naval base in the port city of Yulin. Sanya features much larger piers for hosting a large fleet of surface warships, a new underground base for submarines and comfortable facilities that would attract technically proficient soldiers and sailors. Its location will allow China to exert greater dominance over disputed territories of the South China Sea; to place a much larger naval force closer to sea lanes crucial to Asia's commercial lifeblood; and to exercise influence over the critical Straits of Malacca.

While construction of this new base has only recently been visible via commercial satellite imagery, since 2002 military and security officials in three Asian governments have conveyed to this analyst details, and at times concerns, about China's construction of a major naval base at Sanya. It's not just a matter of the base's existence, but of what Beijing appears to intend to do with it. Officials in two of these governments have pointed to a unique feature of this base: a large new underground facility designed to house nuclear and non-nuclear submarines. In a conversation at an academic confernece in late 2004, a general in China's People's Liberation Army admitted that Beijing was building a new base on Hainan, but denied there was an underground facility.

New high-resolution satellite imagery, however, appears to belie the general's statement. Acquired by Jane's Information Group from satellites of the DigitalGlobe Corporation, this commercially available imagery shows cave openings around the Sanya base consistent with another known PLA underground submarine base in Jianggezhuang near the Bohai Gulf. Other openings on the opposite side may have facilitated excavation or could serve as weapon- or supply storage areas. The size of the underground submarine facility is unknown, although one Asian military source has suggested it will hold at least eight submarines. There is space in this area for a supported underground structure that could house more than 20 subs.

Sanya will prove crucial to China's strategic nuclear and power projection ambitions. The Bohai Gulf in the north of the country, the location for the base of the first PLA nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), is too shallow to support nuclear deterrent patrols. But with the opening of the Sanya base, China's new Type 094 SSBNs can soon find safer 5,000-meter-deep operating areas south of Hainan Island.

The Pentagon projects that the PLA will build five Type 094 SSBNs. Should the submarine-launched ballistic missiles on these submarines contain multiple warheads, as some Asian military sources suggest, the SSBN fleet based at Sanya could eventually house up to half of the PLA's total nuclear missile warheads.

As such, China is going to invest in the facilities and forces needed to defend these vital strategic assets. Sanya has piers necessary to base a far larger force of surface warships, a new large pier, and many new housing and headquarters buildings in this attractive resort area. Both to protect its SSBNs and to defend China's growing interest in securing sea lanes to critical resources in distant areas like Africa, the Persian Gulf and Australia, Sanya can be expected to host future Chinese aircraft carrier battle groups and naval amphibious projection groups. Some Chinese sources suggest that the PLA could eventually build four to six aircraft carriers.

This concentration of strategic naval forces at Sanya will likely heighten China's longstanding desire to consolidate its control over the South China Sea. In 1974, 1988 and 1995, China used military force to capture Vietnamese- and Philippine-controlled or claimed islands and reefs. Its most recent acquisition, Mischief Reef, located about 200 kilometers off the Philippine island of Palawan, now contains two large concrete structures. The PLA appears to have a constant ship presence in this reef, which is very close to one of Asia's key maritime superhighways.

Now Beijing also has the Sanya base at its disposal. And sure enough, in mid-November 2007, the PLA held major naval and air exercises south of Hainan near the disputed Paracel Islands, prompting protests from Vietnam. Either in conjunction with this exercise or soon after, the first Type 094 SSBN moved to Sanya, where it is today -- as caputured by DigitalGlobe satellite images. The implication is clear: Sanya will serve as a base from which to assert China's dominance in the crowded South China Sea.

China and the U.S. have already tangled around Hainan. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 electronic reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace near Hainan tangled with a PLA Navy jet fighter. The Chinese pilot died, but in the fight, forced the damaged U.S. aircraft to land on Hainan and endure a humiliating disassembly by PLA intelligence services. This is likely a foretaste of the sensitivity China will accord U.S. or other naval forces that seek to monitor China's nuclear naval operations -- aimed in large part at the U.S.
* * *

While conflict with China over this region need not be preordained, there is a clear need to request that Beijing explain the content and purpose of its new large naval base at Sanya. China's potential to base a large force of nuclear weapons so close to the region covered by ASEAN's 1996 nuclear-free-zone treaty would at a minimum appear inconsistent with Beijing's pledge to sign protocols to this treaty. Furthermore, the Philippines' lack of any credible air or naval forces to defend its contiguous sea lanes, upon which much of Asia's commerce depends, creates a dangerous power vacuum.

China's movement of nuclear and future large-scale conventional naval forces to Sanya may fill this vacuum, but the interests of Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, Canberra and Washington will also be engaged. China's buildup in Sanya is a clear illustration of the need for China to respond to calls by Japan, Australia and the U.S. for greater military transparency. The only other prudent alternative is for these countries to increase their cooperation to defend their interests in deterring nuclear threats and threats to maritime safety.

Mr. Fisher is a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. This essay is based on an article in the May issue of Jane's Intelligence Review.

Satellite images of China's secret nuclear naval base

These are recently released photos of the secret nuclear naval base built by China in the South China Sea

Telltale: A satellite view of Sanya reveals signs of a submarine base, the Pentagon says

Formidable: An 094 nuclear submarine like the one apparently seen in satellite imagery of Sanya harbour, which also shows Chinese warships, below, moored alongside a long jetty

One of the photos shows China's latest 094 nuclear submarine at the base. U.S. Defence chiefs estimate China will have five of the 094 subs operational over the next two years, each capable of carrying twelve nuclear warheads.

Ominous: A tunnel entrance thought to lead to caverns that could hide many submarines

A 2005 picture shows engineering and excavation barges working at the same spot
Source: Daily Mail, UK (2 May 2008)

The entrance to a tunnel built into the hillside (The Telegraph, UK)

China builds a massive warship base

Jonathan Manthorpe,

Vancouver Sun

Friday, May 02, 2008

The maritime arms race in Asia has crossed another threshold with the publication of satellite pictures of a massive Chinese underground submarine and warship base giving it a significant tactical advantage in the strategically important South China Sea.

The naval base has been constructed by tunnelling into the mountainous shoreline of China's southern Hainan Island near a place called Sanya.
The entrance is so large it will allow vessels from China's growing fleet of over 50 conventional and nuclear-powered submarines to enter and leave the base without being spotted by the West's spy satellites.The first ship assigned to the base last December was the first of China's new Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, which carry 16 JL-2 ballistic missiles, each with a range of 8,000 kilometres. The missiles could reach about four-fifths of North America if fired from a submerged Type 094 stationed just off the coast of China.

Western intelligence organizations believe the base will accommodate up to 20 of China's nuclear powered submarines and probably several surface ships, including aircraft carriers, as well.

Chinese military planners have for years been debating whether to build aircraft carriers, which are an enormously complex element of a navy to use effectively.
For several years the noises from China suggested the planners had abandoned the idea of carriers in favour of cheaper, more simple and effective weapons such as missiles.

But the political judgement that aircraft carriers are an important way of demonstrating power to neighbouring and competing countries appears to have won the day.

Latest reports suggest Beijing may order the construction of up to six aircraft carriers and their supporting battle groups within the next few years.

It has been known for over six years that China was constructing the base as part of its effort to challenge United States naval dominance in the Pacific Ocean and Asia, and to be able to project Beijing's power throughout the region and beyond.

But interest in the development was revived two weeks ago when the British-based publication Janes Intelligence Review published photographs of the entrance to the base obtained from the commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe.

China's determination to be able to project power in Asia is a strong concern to the U.S. Navy, which already judges Beijing's submarine fleet a deterrent to Washington being able to sail to the aid of Taiwan if the island nation is invaded by China.

But China's maritime ambitions are of special concern to India, which is already a significant naval power and sees its regional supremacy being challenged by Beijing.

In part in response to China's Sanya base the Indian navy is building a similar underground base at Rambilli in the south-central state of Andra Pradesh.
The Indian base is due to be completed by 2011 and will serve as the depot for the country's entire fleet of submarines, currently 16, but due to grow significantly in coming years with the construction of a class of domestically designed nuclear powered boats euphemistically called Advanced Tactical Vessels.

Like China's Sanya base, Rambilli will allow submarines to enter and leave the facility while submerged and therefore away from the prying eyes of spy satellites.

Rambilli is very much a response to China's extension of its naval reach, which has seen Beijing make a pact with Islamabad to use a Pakistan naval base at Gwadar and another with Burma to establish an electronic eavesdropping centre on the Coco Islands to keep tabs on the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal.
It has now become a published element in India's naval doctrine that a central task is to be able to deter navies from outside the region -- for which read China -- from operating freely in South Asian waters.

China's dramatic expansion and modernization of its navy in recent years has been driven by the need to give reality to Beijing's threats to invade Taiwan, the island nation of 23 million people which China claims to own.

But because domestic American legislation requires the U.S. to aid in Taiwan's defence if the island is invaded, Beijing has had to acquire enough power to deter the U.S. Navy in order to make its threat credible.

Beijing has done that by concentrating on development of its submarine fleet and by acquiring, initially from Russia, the most modern anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles obtainable.

Within recent months Chinese submarines have demonstrated their capabilities by suddenly appearing off the important American forces bases at Okinawa in Japan and the Pacific island of Guam without being previously detected.
Last November a Chinese submarine surfaced in the middle of a U.S. Navy battlegroup led by the aircraft carrier Forrestal. The boat had not been detected.

But as China's economy has grown by leaps and bounds, so has Beijing's concerns about keeping sealanes open for the delivery of resources and the export of manufactured goods.

The South China Sea is of special concern to Beijing because it is the transit route for many imported resources, especially oil and minerals, and because China has territorial disputes in the region will all the countries of Southeast Asia bordering the sea.

Most recently those disputes have boiled over with Hanoi after Beijing announced it was establishing an administration over islands in the Paracel group that are claimed by Vietnam.


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