Three Ohio-class nuclear submarines — heavily armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles — are now making a show of US military power closer than usual to China, the Taipei Times reports. The paper quotes US defense analysts, speaking on the condition of anonymity as saying that the move was made to reassure nervous allies in the region, and that moving the submarines into the Pacific Ocean in part reflected US “concern” at China’s failure to reduce the missiles aimed at Taiwan despite a major reduction in tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Time wrote on Thursday that the submarines usually carried Trident nuclear missiles, but that four of the Ohio-class subs had been refitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles, with three of them now in the region. Each of these submarine could hold a capacity of 154 of these, capable of hitting anything within 1,000 miles with non-nuclear warheads. The three submarines in the region are currently stationed in Subic Bay (Philippines), Pusan (South Korea), and Diego Garcia, a coral atoll and the largest island in terms of land area, of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
In all, writes Time,
the Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 new Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood. “There’s been a decision to bolster our forces in the Pacific,” says Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There is no doubt that China will stand up and take notice.”
U.S. officials deny that any message is being directed at Beijing, saying the Tomahawk triple play was a coincidence. But they did make sure that news of the deployments appeared in the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post — on July 4, no less. The Chinese took notice quietly. “At present, common aspirations of countries in the Asian and Pacific regions are seeking for peace, stability and regional security,” Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Wednesday. “We hope the relevant U.S. military activities will serve for the regional peace, stability and security, and not the contrary.”
Australia, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam had all been urging the US to “push back against what they see as China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea”, the Taipei Times quotes Time.
Taiwan’s ruling KMT arranged for a smooth passage of ECFA, the controversial Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China, in a legislative yuan session on Wednesday that turned violent. President Ma Ying-jeou‘s KMT has a comfortable majority there which helps not only winning votes, but also choosing the path of least resistance in the review procedure of treaties and bills.
The news about the three submarines comes along with news about two multi-national naval exercises in the region in the near future, plus an – unconfirmed so far – one by the US and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. On June 26, Japan reportedly extended its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) near Taiwan in the East China Sea without consulting Taiwan’s government in advance. Taiwan’s opposition interpreted Japan’s move as an expression of Japanese distrust of Tawain’s incumbent government.
According to the Asia Times, independent observers don’t share the opposition’s opinion (see details there).
But there are other indicators that might support the opposition’s view that Taiwan’s government isn’t trusted. President Ma asked Washington to clear sales of weapons to Taiwan which are apparently stalled. Ma’s public emphasis is on arms supplies from America, rather than on American protection. In an interview with CNN earlier this year, he added that “we will never ask the Americans to fight for Taiwan”.
It may be the case that Beijing successfully discourages American F-16C/D fighter planes supplies to Taiwan. But recent military trends could also be interpreted as an American and a Japanese preference for taking care of the regional status quo by themselves.