China Plans Radar Installation on Scarborough Shoal

The Philippines’ Justice Minister, Vitaliano Aguirre, announced Tuesday that Manila will file a “strong” diplomatic protest against China, following its announcement that it would build an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is claimed by China and the Philippines, and is less than 150 miles from a naval base used by the United States. Chinese plans for the station include the construction of a radar array.

The Cipher Take: China seized the shoal from the Philippines in 2012 and denied access to Philippine fishermen until pro-China Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began a rapprochement between Manila and Beijing last year. The success of Duterte’s diplomatic shift toward China, and away from the United States, appears to have been short-lived, as China has reneged on its promise not to build on the shoal. Inaction by Duterte could undermine his credibility. China’s decision to build what it calls an environmental monitoring station is problematic for the U.S. because of its proximity to the naval base, and because it could be the first step down a path toward militarizing the island, as China has done on several other islands and reefs throughout the South China Sea. In January, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said the U.S. will “defend international territories from being taken over by one country.” If what begins as a monitoring station turns into airstrips and anti-aircraft defenses—as we have seen on other islands— the U.S. could have its own regional credibility and security interests undermined.


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