By: Elena Grace Flores
Vietnam has discreetly equipped its islands in the disputed South China Sea with state of the art mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations in the reclaimed islads. The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and soon to be armed, but could already operate with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days. Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh initially denied its existences but said; “It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory,” he said.
This is Vietnam’s way of silently counter-acting China’s build-up on its seven reclaimed islands which are now turned into military bases in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam’s military strategists fear that the building runways, radars and other military installations on those areas have resulted to Vietnam’s both southern and island defenses increasingly vulnerable. Hanoi put the launchers in place while anticipating tensions to rise in the wake of the international court ruling against China in an arbitration case brought by the Philippines.
The United States is also monitoring developments closely since China never accepted the ruling and keeps on insisting that they have sovereignty in almost all areas in the South China sea including the Spratys. “We continue to call on all South China Sea claimants to avoid actions that raise tensions, take practical steps to build confidence, and intensify efforts to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to disputes,” a US official said.
Trevor Hollingsbee, a former naval intelligence analyst with the British defense ministry, believed that the deployment definitely had a political factor, partly undermining the fear created by the prospect of large Chinese bases probably deep in maritime Southeast Asia. “It introduces a potential vulnerability where they was none before – it is a sudden new complication in an arena that China was dominating,” he said.