Vietnam is arming its expanding submarine fleet with land attack missiles that could be capable of reaching Chinese coastal cities, a choice of weapon likely to be seen as provocative by China in the ongoing South China Sea dispute.
Regional military attaches and analysts see the missiles as a further sign of Vietnam’s determination to counter the rise of China’s military and part of a broader trend of Asian countries re-arming amid rising territorial tensions.
The choice of weapon is a more assertive one than the anti-shipping missiles Vietnam was expected to obtain.
While those would potentially target Chinese ships and submarines in the South China Sea, the land attack weapons are capable of precision strikes at a range of 300 kilometres, making China’s coastal cities potential targets in any conflict.
Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam’s military at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the move was a “massive shift” beyond more routine anti-ship tactics.
“They’ve given themselves a much more powerful deterrent that complicates China’s strategic calculations,” he said, adding he was surprised by the move.
Vietnam is the first Southeast Asian nation to arm its submarine fleet with a land attack missile.
While communist parties rule both Vietnam and China, Hanoi has long been wary of China, especially over Beijing’s claims to most of the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.
Beijing’s placement of an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam last year sparked riots in Vietnam and infuriated Hanoi’s leadership. Its coast guard ships and fishing boats were routinely chased away by larger Chinese ships during the stand-off.
The two navies routinely eye each other over disputed holdings in the sea’s Spratly islands, which straddle some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Trevor Hollingsbee, a former naval intelligence analyst with Britain’s defence ministry, said Vietnam was creating China’s biggest strategic headache in the South China Sea.
“All indications are that they are surmounting the submarine learning curve quite rapidly…this is a very real problem for China,” he said.
If anyone is wondering why I post this stuff on China, its because I want NZers to be aware of just how fragile any of our agreements with China could be, and how things could turn nasty very easily. When they do, NZ will have to pick sides, and thats a lot more complicated too after recent immigration policies.