“We will verify the information that you asked.”
That was the answer of the spokeswoman Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Le Thi Thu Hang, at an online press conference on the afternoon of February 4 about a question related to a number of information showing that there is China’s surface-to-air missiles being completed, only about 20 km from the Vietnam-China border.
Many Vietnamese people expressed dissatisfaction on social media about Ms. Hang’s response. A journalist wrote on his personal Facebook that a whole anti-aircraft missile base and an airport were built for many days, but Vietnam’s authorities have not been awarded and go to verify after foreign media covered it?
As an East Sea (South China Sea) researcher, Master Hoang Viet said that the answer of Ms. Hang is reasonable in a diplomatic capacity. He further explained:
“In my opinion, this information comes from only one source, the South China Sea Project. This is just a non-governmental organization. Some media have emailed this place to ask about the information and coordinates of this battlefield, but the South China Sea Project has not yet answered. So I think the Vietnamese government also needs to clearly verify if there is this military project and what it is like. Currently, there is no information from major news agencies.”
Researcher Dinh Kim Phuc, an author of many studies on Vietnam’s maritime and island sovereignty, commented:
“When I heard Ms. Le Thi Thu Hang responded to the press like this, I came up with a question that Vietnam launched the Vinasat 1 and Vinasat 2 satellite. And at that time, then Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung declared that, from that time, Vietnam owns the space. How are the images and news for defense against the country Vietnam’s satellite provides? What is the role of satellites in Vietnam?
In retrospect, maps of the illegally occupied Chinese military bases on the Truong Sa (Spratlys) as well as the Hoang Sa (Paracels) were taken by satellite, all from foreign news sites. Is Vietnam not having enough means or is it because of the Vietnam-China traditional friendship that Vietnam ignores this information?”
On February 3, 2021, on the South China Sea Project website, a research project funded by several Western countries, posted satellite images showing a surface-to-air missile base under construction in Ninh Minh district of Guangxi province, China, about 20 kilometers from the Vietnamese border. Another construction suspected of being a helipad is also under construction about 60 kilometers from the Vietnamese border. Construction of the base was also indicated around mid-2019, the data indicated.
Such a surface-to-air missile base allows China to deploy military operations in extreme terrain and weather conditions. According to an analysis by the South China Sea Project, the position of air-to-air missiles also allows intercepting air attacks.
Former Army Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Duc Long evaluated this information as well as the response of Ms. Hang:
“Diplomatically, people say that is wise. It would be not wise if Vietnam confirmed. They have to say in a way so they could withdraw.
As for the technical aspect, it is not sure if this is a military base or a mock one. In principle, if I want to confirm, I must have other evidence besides what I heard. That is only indirect evidence. Not to mention that techniques can be very good in photoshop. And if it is true, then this is mainly a threat, it is only manipulating each other. Because with today’s missile technology, they shoot anywhere in the world, 20km doesn’t say anything.”
Stunning and manipulating another country is what China usually does when the US has a new president. This is what Professor Carl Thayer of the Australian National Defense Academy has repeatedly told RFA.
At the end of 2020, Mr. Carl Thayer predicted that, by 2021, China will continue to take actions as usual to assert its sovereignty and some coastal states still keep quiet. One noteworthy point is whether Chinese President Xi Jinping has presented any provocative actions to “test” the Biden administration before Biden is officially inaugurated.
With China’s air defense missile project nearing completion in the Ninh Minh district of Guangxi province, the South China Sea Project considers that the model near the Vietnamese border is much smaller than the model that China has deployed along the border with India and the former Tibetan Plateau.
A satellite photo of the site is believed to have a Chinese missile base near the border with Vietnam in early 2021 (South China Sea News)
Mr. Dinh Kim Phuc said that this base was only tactical, aimed at threatening Vietnam. He analyzed:
“Currently, with the strategic and tactical missile forces of China also ranked first or second in the world they are located deep in their mainland. It is the area of Shandong province as well as the desert area bordering Xinjiang.
No one is placing a strategic missile base next to a former enemy nation even though it is now called a comrade. Therefore, I evaluate the missile base in the Ninh Minh district of Guangxi province as just a tactical base.
China established this missile base to deter Vietnam’s attitudes in recent times, especially on the South China Sea issue. Vietnam is getting tougher in its views over the sovereignty of the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa and hot spots in the South China Sea. Vietnam is diversifying and multilateralizing with all countries to ensure regional security in the South China Sea, Southeast Asia, and the Asia Pacific.”
In recent years, the US has made strong moves in the South China Sea to warn China of bullying small countries in the region.
In December 2020, the American destroyer USS John S. McCain approached Spratlys to conduct free navigation operations in the South China Sea. The US navy’s press release states that China’s illegal and far-reaching maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to freedom at sea, including freedom of navigation and overflight, free and unobstructed trade, and free economic opportunities for the South China Sea coastal states.
Just on 5 February 2021, the destroyer USS John McCain continued to enter the waters of the Paracels to assert freedom of navigation in accordance with international law. This is the first exercise of freedom of navigation by the US Navy in the South China Sea under the new President Joe Biden.
Most recently, during a conversation between newly-appointed US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh, the two ministers also discussed their shared commitment to peace and prosperity for the region, free and open Indo-Pacific, as well as protecting and maintaining an area of the South China Sea based on the law.
The Communist Party of Vietnam and the government of Hanoi put defense information in top-secret forms. Almost after the international media announced, much new news was announced by the state-controlled media, but it also had to follow the direction of the party’s Central Commission on Propaganda and Education. If there are citizens who question or want to participate in expressing their opinions, the authorities ask them to “let the Party and the state take care about.”