Three islands


Luxury golf courses and powdery white sand beaches on secluded islands to lure big-spending tourists from China turn out to be not so innocent world-class vacation paradises.

Lost innocence is the gist of the security alarms raised this week by the defense and military establishment over development plans, involving billions of dollars of Chinese investments, in Fuga Island in Cagayan and Chiquita and Grande islands in Subic Bay, Zambales.

And, as it turns out, security concerns were suspicions that the developments were not so much about welcoming Chinese tourists and businessmen but more about China’s military interests in the region and the country securing its maritime borders.

As far as the Philippine Navy was concerned, Fuga Island and the other islands in the Batanes group are considered “strategic features” because, “it can potentially control access to the Luzon Strait.”

An alarm which must be taken in the context that should the nerve-wracking tensions in the West Philippine Sea boil over and require the use of arms and soldiers, Fuga Island is a key island in the country’s security.

In fact, the Navy, in an ominous reference to recent history, pointed out that Fuga Island was made a jump-off point for American forces to retake Luzon from the Japanese during World War II.

At present, undeveloped Fuga Island is also considered crucially “unique” by the Navy because it also lies above a telecommunications submarine cable which, as the Navy says, “if this (cable system) could not be properly secured this might impact on our capability to get in touch with the rest of the world.”

In one of Fuga’s adjacent islets there is also a private airfield. At the moment, the airfield is nothing out of the ordinary; but any plans to make it into a world-class airport will raise red flags because of suspicions it can accommodate military aircraft.

As for the Grande and Chiquita islands, these sit at the mouth of Subic Bay, one of the country’s few deep harbors which has existing facilities to accommodate large military vessels and ships. Subic Bay is also the only existing large seaport near the West Philippine Sea.

The Americans made the two islands part of Subic’s defense perimeter for the obvious reason that controlling the two will make Subic useless in the event it is turned again into a naval base for our modernizing Navy.

While Grande and Chiquita islands are the current focus of concern, a similar concern, in fact, had been raised over the rise of a large offshore gambling site in Kawit, Cavite.

In the case of Cavite, anyone soon working in the offshore gambling resort on Island Cove Resort can have a good view of the Cavite Naval Yard, another deep-water harbor which the Navy purposely chose as a naval base.

Taking into context what our officials have recently said about their discomforts over the massive influx of Chinese workers of offshore gambling outfits, the existence of the Island Cove Resort is disturbing to the security of the Naval Yard.

At any rate, it should be clear, as Malacañang says, all the island investments are “mere plans” at the moment and that government will wait for the assessment of the defense establishment, with emphasis on concerns China might use the islands to support its geopolitical agenda in the West Philippine Sea and in the Pacific Ocean.

Both the Palace and the defense establishment have not publicly discussed what this so-called geopolitical agenda of China. But military affairs experts often mention the concept of “first island chain.”

As far as I can make out what this “first island chain” is all about, one policy paper has it as “the extensive chain Pacific islands ringing China have been described as wall, a barrier to be breached by an attacker or strengthened by a defender. They are seen as springboards, potential bases for operations to attack or invade others.”

When experts say the “first island chain” they are referring to the first major archipelagos off the East Asian continental mainland, including the Japanese archipelago, Ryuku Islands, Taiwan and the northern Philippines.

American officials in the 1950s came to regard the chain as an important barrier to contain China. As a result of the idea, the United States and its allied countries installed a strong military presence and advanced weaponry at bases strung all along the line of the “first island chain.”

Experts are agreed China had long been chaffing at this American instigated defense perimeter, but was powerless to do anything about it.

But China in recent years has been expanding its regional maritime muscle thanks to gigantic strides in its economy and military capabilities.

In fact, some four years ago China was celebrating its Navy for “fulfilling its long-held dream of breaking through the ‘first island chain blockade’ and gaining access to the Pacific Ocean through various waterways along the route.”

And, as recently as this year, China has also expanded its so-called blue-water reach by sending its first carrier into the Pacific, in what experts say is a “broad-based Chinese effort to become familiar with a variety of different ways to get through the island chains.”

That effort to gain experience could be the reason why a flotilla of Chinese warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in the south the past few months, which the administration protested as the government was not informed of the passage of these warships.

At any rate, what all this all simply means is since we already have enough problems with our porous maritime borders adding more security problems like developing three strategic islands is something we can do without.