Land Reclamation on Scarborough Shoal, China’s Stupidest Move

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd R) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (3rd L) attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd R) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (3rd L) attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

An artificial island on Scarborough Shoal is of great strategic significance due to its location near the Philippines. Subic Bay naval base is well within the range of China’s rocket artillery. China has developed rocket artillery with the longest range of 400 km, but Subic Bay is less than 200 km away from Scarborough Shoal.

Rocket artillery differs from missiles in its great fire power and low costs. It can destroy everything in a quite large area. That is why the US regards the construction of artificial island on the shoal as a red line that the US will take serious actions if China has crossed.

For China, not only the geographical location but also the potential for the construction of a large artificial island on the shoal is very attractive. The island will be an ideal tourist resort for people to enjoy their honeymoon and month-long annual leave. Moreover, a visit to the island can be included in a relatively cheap tourist scheme to visit the Philippines.

There is rich fishery resource in the sea area around the shoal; therefore, an artificial island on the shoal may be ideal for fish farming.

Building an artificial island is very expensive, but the island may bring much return from tourism and fish farming to the investment. Why then has China failed to include the shoal in its plan to build seven artificial islands in the South China Sea?

That is because building an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal is the stupidest thing for China to do.

China’s first priority is to conclude a binding South China Sea Code of Conduct with ASEAN to prevent others from building artificial islands on the reefs occupied by them but claimed by China in the South China Sea.

Reuters says in its report today titled “China says interests outweigh differences with Vietnam” that according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, which tracks the arms trade over five-year periods, Vietnam has increased its budget for defense procurements by almost 700%. Still, Vietnam knows that however much it spends, its military is no match to China’s huge military with the support of a huge budget.

That is why Vietnam’s prime minister is now visiting China to mend ties.

What if Vietnam spend the fund in building artificial island like China’s instead of weapon purchase? It will make much more difficult China’s recovery of the reefs occupied by Vietnam but claimed by China.

If China’s artificial islands have turned out to be profitable, the Philippines may set up joint ventures with enterprises from other countries to build artificial islands on the reefs it occupies but claimed by China in the South China Sea. Certainly, at present the Philippines dare not even think about that. It would rather have a binding code of conduct that forbids further land reclamation as an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal will be too great a threat to the Philippines. Just imagine, even Manila is within the range of rocket artillery deployed on the shoal.

On September 9, I had a post titled “China’s Dominance of South China Sea Undisputable Now” based on Obama’s inability to have ASEAN urge China to respect Hague arbitration ruling and US flinching at China’s military challenge. But China shall not want such dominance. In fact, China is stupid if it wants such dominance.

Before US began to interfere with China’s disputes with its neighbors, China had never tried to use force to resolve the disputes. It had always asked other claimant to hold bilateral talks for joint exploitation of resources without ever mentioning the use of force. The US and Philippines must have the common sense that a country shall not give up its historical rights and interests for whatever reason even the defeat in war, let alone court or arbitration ruling.

It is especially so for China. Qing Dynasty was overthrown and Chiang Kai-shek lost the civil war precisely because of that. Now Xi has told Chinese people to share his Chinese dream for recovery of China’s past glory and avoid being bullied by foreign powers. He would have lost his popularity and his party would have collapsed if he had not had the courage to fight a war to defend China’s historical rights and interests no matter whether he wins or loses the war.

If he wins, he will be regarded as a great hero in Chinese history. Even if he loses, he will still be a hero in Chinese people’s hearts. He and his party will remain popular in China.

He is fortunate that his predecessors have made great efforts to modernize the PLA to enable him to win the war after his purge of corrupted officers and reorganization of PLA to make it more combat effective.

The timing is good for US to fight China. If it fights China later, China will have grown much stronger and the US will be entirely unable to win. If the US cannot successfully attack Chinese homeland, it can at least cut China’s trade lifelines. However, US people do not want to fight a war for other countries’ rights and interests, especially Vietnam, their old communist enemy, and the Philippines that previously drove US troops away when it did not need US help.

Obama has no way out but to urge China not to flex its muscle, but China and even ASEAN simply disregarded his urge. He had to refrain from even mentioning Hague arbitration ruling after he met Chinese and ASEAN leaders.

Obama must have the common sense at the very beginning that a country will fight for its historical rights and interests no matter what means others adopt to deprive it of the rights and interests. He simply should not have begun his interference if he had not decided to fight.

Now, his inability to fight in face of China’s flexing of muscle reveals America’s weakness and has ended up in China’s dominance that China does not pursue.

I hope China shall act wisely and continue its efforts to resolve the disputes peacefully through bilateral negotiation. It shall not take the stupidest action of land reclamation on Scarborough Shoal.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ previous reports that he has reblogged and the report today, full text of which can be viewed at


12 Comments on “Land Reclamation on Scarborough Shoal, China’s Stupidest Move”

  1. Joseph says:

    Vietnam has increased its defense budget by 700%? And the West makes a big deal for China for increasing its budget by nearly 100%? So where have those budgets gone. Vietnam must be very shamelessly corrupt like the American defense infustry, or Vietnam must be very lousy at accounting. The third probability is the usual lousy journalism by Reuters.


  2. HanjianWatcher says:

    Hanjian will be hanjian.
    Fight now, fight later, both will be ugly.
    Fight now, China will use nukes first.
    Fight later, USA will use nukes first.
    Just like it Europe.
    In the past, NATO would use nukes first against the Warsaw Pact
    Now, Russia has to use nukes first against NATO.

    Hanjian will be Hanjian and repeat what his paymaster wants.


    • Joseph says:

      Aren’t you a little bit nuke-obsessed? Why would China need to nuke anyone over SCS? China is already won. All China should do now is to savour the moment of victory. Nuking anyone at this time would only turn the China-friendly region into resentment. It is exactly what the American wants. After all they’ve been barking mad like a barking dog. And what do we do with barking dog? Ignore it. Otherwise we will be seen as its kindred as well, a dog.


  3. Steve says:

    However, should the US instigate FONOPs again and encourage the Duterte govt. to be relentless in its pursuit to claims in the SCS and continue to militarise the five to eight military bases in the PH, I believe that Huangyan island is not off China’s menu. Huangyan island is a good bargaining chip for China’s strategy in the SCS. China may even exchange the island for something more strategically viable.


  4. alking1957 says:

    I agree with the author. No need to act aggressive on Scarborough Shaol. The USA empire is slowly losing more and more control. In another ten years, her power n influence in Asia will be completely eclipsed. No need to fight any war that way, no need bloody conflicts, unlike the actions of the West. It will show the world a whole new order of real peace through strength without bloodshed, led by the Chinese civilization!


  5. Simon says:

    Lot of “stupid” being mentyioned. The only “stupid” thing that China did was to behave passively like they did in the past because other countries thinks China is weak and afraid. I take the oppsing view, other countries will only respect you if you show your teeth and show who is boss.


    • Steve says:

      Because in the past China was at the bottom of the food chain. China was militarily weak, economically poor, lack of infrastructure, poverty, corruption and so forth. Think about it, if China did not participate and provided logistics to the Vietnamese during US occupation and invasion of Vietnam, the US would have conquered Vietnam in 12 months and used the Vietnamese base as counter offensive into mainland China. Since Vietnam is just a colony, the US would have launched air and sea offensive against a weak China. China had no choice, but to safeguard its sovereignty, it had to participate in the Vietnam war against the US for fear of being the next US colony. The US had hoodwinked many allies then, in support of the shameful Vietnam war.

      But, China is now economically, politically and militarily strong. Does it mean that China should be head strong and behave in a hegemonic manner and do whatever it likes in the SCS.? China only started air combat patrols when All options has been exhausted against the US. So far China won without firing a single shot. Its pure stratagem.

      China still has tremendous pressure from foreign powers due to its past history and isolation.
      With Japan its the Diaoyu islands and Japanese ADIZ before China established it’s own. Boundary demarcation with India and All littoral states claimant in the SCS. Add in the US intervention, the problems China is facing is unprecedented. Meantime China has to Modernise its military, maintain its economy prowess, education, infrastructure, science and technology, etc etc etc.and lots more. China cannot afford collateral damage especially to civilian casualties as a result of unpredictable military action. China is doing very well in the SCS with 7 engineered islands and as long as China has brought Huangyan island under its ‘jurisdiction’ and surrounding waters, China is still holding the trump card.


      • Simon says:

        Patrolling in South China Sea does not show China is a hegemon but only patrolling territories that are historically Chinese. The outcome of China’s show of military strength bought ASEAN and America to its knees and rejected the illegal PCA. To show military capability and not afraid to fight a awar with anybody won China new respect. Don’t forget a few centuries ago all of East and SE Asia were client states of China and one day they will all become Chinese client states.


        • Steve says:

          Patrolling the 9 dash line is correct, but the ASEAN decision of not respecting the Hague arbitration and to avoid discussion at the meeting has a lot to do with diplomacy, economy and awareness that playing into US strategy would have grave repercussions for the entire region of Asia. ASEAN leaders are aware of US gunboat diplomacy to stoke up tensions with China over the SCS. The entire Asian region would spiral into an abyss of war, fire and destruction. The Hague ruling has support of only 7 states including Philippines. By memory, China has 71 state support against the ruling. And ASEAN are aware that the US is a fading superpower and Asian countries are now pivoting towards Uncle HAN. The whole of Asia today are fast becoming client states of China. It’s a question of extending the partnership to both political and military alliances as what Russia and China are intending.

          Chinese civilisation cannot be overtaken, its the only surviving civilisation on earth and China’s CCP will do well to avoid All forms of military confrontation unless All channels of communication are fully exhausted.


      • Simon says:

        China can afford collatoral damage far more than America. If there was a war and both countries wiped out 25% of the its people and resources China can start all over again but America will be finished. Each year China has many natural disasters and overcome. Something on the scale of the Sichuan earthquake could quite easily cause America to collapse. Much of China is still poor and poverty is still a recent memory. I have no doubt China does not fear collatoral damage as much as America or anyone else for that matter.
        Believe it or not there are Chinese economists who thinks it might even be beneficial for China to start all over again and would entertain a war with America.


        • Steve says:

          Incredible Logical deduction and those economists must be either sons of demons or gods. I supposed if we are All still fighting with spears, bows and arrows and bamboo sticks, your concept of war is profitable.