Guam Think Tank: Hope that Trump Takes More Aggressive Stance On South China Sea

'Pivot to Asia-Pacific' undermined by defense spending cutbacks

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, December 18, 2016) – The head of a lobbying group that advocates for U.S. military expansion in Guam hopes President-elect Donald Trump will toughen the United States’ stance and push back China’s territorial assertions in the South China Sea.

“Trump’s apparent character at hitting back at those who attack him might suggest that he will change the ‘go softly, go lightly’ posture the U.S. has been taking in the South China Sea for the last several years, including the way it characterizes the pivot/rebalance,” said attorney John Thomas Brown, of the Guam-U.S.-Asia Security Alliance.

China’s expansion in the South China Sea, particularly its development of artificial islands in the Spratlys, has evolved, according to a think tank’s new report.

Some of those man-made islands now have capabilities to host anti-aircraft guns and weapons systems against missiles and aircraft, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, in a Dec. 13 report.

The report was based in part on analyses of satellite images, including of structures on Johnson Reef, which the Philippines claims is part of its 200-mile exclusive economic zone and calls Mabini Reef. It's within the Spratly Islands group.

“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” according to the think tank, which released satellite images showing the construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures, domes, a tower and other infrastructure.

Pivot undermined

Under President Obama, the expansion of military facilities in Guam, including the proposed Marine Corps base, has been called part of the broader U.S. “pivot” to increase military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

But that pivot to Asia, or “rebalance” of U.S. forces to shift more focus to Asia, has been undermined by defense spending cutbacks, also called sequestration, Brown and other experts have said.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a report in May that certain developments in China pose an increasing security risk to Guam that eclipses failure-prone North Korean missile launches. U.S. military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region have prompted Beijing to develop missile capabilities to target U.S. military facilities, on Guam in particular, the commission stated in a May report.

China’s DF-26 missile’s range “would cover U.S. military installations on Guam, roughly … 1,800 miles from the Chinese mainland, prompting some analysts and netizens to refer to the missile as the ‘Guam Express,’ or ‘Guam Killer,’” the report stated.

The report recommends fortifying military facilities in Guam.

Several of the analysts the Brown’s lobby group consults with have expressed hope that the U.S. will more assertively push back against China's moves in the region, he said.

This issue affects Guam and “as well as the territories of friends and allies in both the first and second island chain,” Brown said.

Pacific Daily News
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