Preparing for Conflict Chinese Communist Party Suspected of Building Missile Base Near China-Vietnam Border

The battlefield at Liangshan on Feb. 23, 1979

Observers say the Chinese Communist Party is apparently building a surface-to-air missile base 20 kilometers from the Sino-Vietnamese border as a long-term precaution and short-term warning to neighboring countries, a move that has alerted the Vietnamese government.

Vietnamese news website VnExpress International quoted a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Feb. 4 that the Vietnamese government would “verify” whether the Communist Party had built a missile base in the Guangxi region near the border with China and Vietnam.

Satellite photos released by the NGO South China Sea News show the base and another one 70 kilometers from the Sino-Vietnamese border. One of the photos shows a military runway with surface-to-air missiles, radar and six launchers.

Preparing for conflict

Analysts say the Chinese Communist Party aims to bolster its defenses in areas bordering countries that have clashed with it in recent years, such as Vietnam. A land war broke out between China and Vietnam in the 1970s. The two countries have also clashed in disputed South China waters, including the 1974 Xisha naval battle and a ship collision seven years ago.

“This is a signal that the Chinese Communist Party is preparing for a border war.” Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Hawaii-based Daniel K. Inouye Center for Asia-Pacific Security Studies, said, “Maybe not today, not tomorrow, but for the long term.”

Border clashes with India occurred last year after the Chinese Communist Party increased its military presence. Also last year, naval warships from China’s rival superpower, the United States, sailed into waters near China 10 times. Wu Weng said the potential “competition” with the United States would involve other Asian countries.

Last October, Communist Party President Xi Jinping urged the military to prepare for war.

Wuong said “potential conflict” along the Sino-Vietnamese border is more likely because of its proximity to the disputed South China Sea coast.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are all claimants to the South China Sea. The Chinese government claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometers of water under its jurisdiction, citing historical use records to support its position. The South China Sea is favored for its fisheries, submarine fuel reserves and sea lanes.

Over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party has consolidated its maritime sovereignty assertion by reclaiming land and building small islands for military use.

Warning to Southeast Asia

Collin Koh, a maritime security researcher at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said PetroVietnam is proposing a new gas exploration project in the South China Sea, so a nearby missile base could be “a warning from the Chinese Communist Party.”

Hong Kong‘s South China Morning Post reported in January that Vietnamese officials plan to explore the disputed sea with The Japanese company despite a project between PetroVietnam and Russian oil giant Rosneft that collapsed in July after its rig confronted a Chinese Communist Party maritime police vessel.

By deploying the missiles, Gorellian said, “they want to pre-empt and, if necessary, prevent other claimants to the South China Sea from carrying out offshore exploration projects within the territory claimed by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Unlike other claimants to the South China Sea, Vietnam is openly opposed to the Communist Party and receives less Chinese investment than its neighbors. Vuong said the missile base would increase Vietnam’s suspicion of the Chinese Communist Party and prompt Vietnamese leaders to strengthen military defenses.

He also said Vietnamese leaders may quietly raise the issue of the missile bases with the Communist Party in an effort to stabilize broader relations. The two countries often settle disputes between political parties.

Alan Chong, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Vietnam will not set aside military issues in favor of investment ties with China. Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines have avoided pressuring the Chinese Communist Party over sovereignty claims because all three countries receive investment funds from China.

He said:-“Vietnam is the only country that is holding out, and national security issues seem to be their main concern.”