by WorldTribune Staff, May 10, 2021
China’s ongoing military expansion continues to seek out valuable real estate around the world. The Asian communist superpower is planning to refurbish an old World War II airstrip on a remote island located in the very heart of the South Pacific, providing an ideal site for operations targeted at Australia or Hawaii.
“The plans, which have not been made public, involve construction on the tiny island of Kanton (also spelled Canton), a coral atoll strategically located midway between Asia and the Americas,” Reuters reported May 6.
“Despite being small, Kiribati, a nation of 120,000 residents, controls one of the biggest exclusive economic zones in the world, covering more than [2.17 million square miles] of the Pacific,” the wire service notes.
Related: Taiwan’s diplomatic loss could be China’s military gain, September 24, 2019
“Any significant build-up on Kanton, located [1,864 miles] southwest of Hawaii and U.S. military bases there, would offer a foothold to China deep into territory that had been firmly aligned to the U.S. and its allies since World War Two,” Reuters states.
“The island would be a fixed aircraft carrier,” an “adviser to Pacific governments, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the project,” told the news outlet.
The airstrip would also be only 2,858 miles northeast of the eastern Australian port city of Brisbane, placing that nation in a potentially dangerous range as well.
“Australia has reacted to the PRC’s growing role with increasing alarm,” Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific director John Bradford told News.com Australia. “The prospect of the region being militarized brings potentially serious consequences.”
“The PRC’s attention will have been drawn to the route through the South Pacific as an alternative to that through an increasingly contested Southeast Asia for its energy supplies from the Gulf,” Bradford added. “But this new route would require protection with its own naval presence.”
“The location of the airstrip would be especially useful for surveillance aircraft flights, including those by long-endurance unmanned aircraft, extending reach toward both Hawaii in one direction, and Australia and New Zealand in the other,” website TheDrive.com states.
“Persistent intelligence-gathering, sea control, and long-range maritime targeting would all be of interest for the People’s Liberation Army in this region.”
“The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a paper last year that Chinese facilities on Kiribati would be positioned across major sea lanes between North America, and Australia and New Zealand,” Reuters reported.
Jamie Seidel at News.com Australia reports China “insists it has no military interest in the South Pacific. Instead, its growing presence is a natural consequence of its economic growth.”
However, Seidel points out, “Beijing’s ‘military-civil fusion’ policy insists that all overseas facilities it builds must have ‘dual-use’ capability – essentially meaning they must be capable of accommodating China’s military assets.”
“Amid it all looms the specter of World War II,” Seidel writes. “Blocking the major shipping lanes between North America, Australia and New Zealand was the objective of Japan’s Coral Sea and Guadalcanal campaigns.”