An underwater tug-of-war is intensifying among countries such as China, Russia and the United States in the seas around Japan.
Vietnamese Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh, who comes from Vietnam’s army, requested an inspection of a Maritime Self-Defence Force submarine when he visited Japan in October.
He visited the Makishio, a main submarine of the MSDF Submarine Flotilla 1, in the city of Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture. Made in Japan, the state-of-the-art submarine boasts a displacement capacity of 2,750 tonnes and is 82 metres in length. It can travel underwater silently and has stealth capabilities.
The Vietnamese defence minister paid close attention to the Makishio’s interior. It was rare for the MSDF to show the military leader of a non-allied country the craft’s interior, which is full of secrets.
The commander of the Vietnamese Navy also visited Japan in December.
Vietnam’s military leaders visited Japan and contacted the MSDF in succession because the country is now rapidly trying to build its own submarine fleet. The first of six Kilo-class Russian-made submarines Vietnam purchased in 2009 will be delivered in two years.
Because it can travel silently underwater, a submarine is a strategic weapon. It has the offensive capability to destroy enemy ships and disrupt their transportation routes. It also has spying capabilities and can collect intelligence right under an enemy’s nose. The very existence of a submarine can restrict an enemy’s moves.
Vietnam will employ submarines to deal with territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. A Vietnamese source said the nation has begun receiving assistance from Russia and India to train its submarine crew members.
“We’ve already made a request to Japan to help us operate submarines and train crew members,” he said.
When the Vietnamese defence minister visited Japan, Tokyo and Hanoi confirmed a multilateral cooperation security policy out of concern for China’s ambitions to increase its influence in the South and East China seas. The two governments also signed a memorandum to promote mutual defence exchanges.
Submarines would also help counter Beijing’s strategy of denying the US Navy access to and intervention in seas close to China.
Beijing possesses more than 70 submarines, including state-of-the-art Jin-class nuclear submarines that can launch ballistic missiles. They have reportedly been deployed to China’s Hainan Island, where the nation’s largest submarine base is located.
Hong Kong media have reported that Beijing has an ambitious project to build 30 new submarines by 2020. This suggests China, the world’s second-largest economic power, is seriously considering a “private” plan to divide the Pacific Ocean into two and control one of the halves. The United States would control the other half, with Hawaii at its border. A high-ranking officer of the Chinese Navy revealed the plan’s existence to the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command in China as a “private proposal” in 2007.
This plan, however, is a grave challenge to the United States and runs counter to the very idea of freedom of navigation in international waters being part of its national credo.
“China’s emergence as a regional power has the potential to affect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways,” according to a defence strategy report released by US President Barack Obama’s administration on January 5.
It declared the US military will abandon its conventional strategy to prepare for large-scale wars in two regions at the same time, and “will of necessity rebalance (efforts) toward the Asia-Pacific region.”
The US submarine fleet, the strongest in the world, would head toward the west in the Pacific Ocean. Washington is planning to deploy 60 per cent of its aircraft carriers and submarines in the Asia-Pacific region. Attack submarines would be deployed forward to hunt enemies and protect US aircraft carriers from surprise attacks by Chinese submarines.
According to a report issued by the US Congressional Research Service, the US Navy has deployed three attack nuclear-powered submarines in waters near Guam. The report also says three others of the same type and two cruise-missile submarines have been deployed in waters off the US mainland’s west coast. A US nuclear submarine is also planned to visit the western part of Australia.
A 21st-century version of the “Great Game” has begun between the United States and China under the western Pacific. With Vietnam joining the link between the United States and its allies, a loose but broad coalition is forming against China. In the northern part of the Pacific, Russian nuclear submarines, meanwhile, are observing the United States and China’s moves.