Following President Obama opening up arms trading with Vietnam, China is now poised to send submarines armed with nuclear missiles into the South China Sea. Chinese military officials have not commented on if this has any connection with the dissolution of the arms trade embargo between the United States and Vietnam, but this possibly aggressive action will do nothing to decrease the tension in that waterway.
China had been working on making ballistic submarines a reality for nearly three decades, but their deployment has been consistently delayed for various political and technological reasons. They cite the construction of Thaad anti-ballistic interceptors in South Korea by the United States, built in response to North Korea’s 4th nuclear test, as the reason why they are finally deploying the submarines. China, as well as Moscow, say that they are feeling threatened by the expansion of U.S. missile defenses, no matter how many times they are reassured that the missiles are only there to act as a deterrent.
There is no reason to believe that the Chinese submarines would ever get near enough to the Continental United States to be a threat. Wu Riqiang, an associate professor at Renmin University of China whose research focuses on missiles defenses, states that the submarines are far too noisy to get past the first island chain off China’s coast without being picked up by American defenses.
Yet the Chinese submarines could still be a threat to its neighbors in the South China Sea. Tempers have been flaring for the last year or so over who owns the oil and natural gas rich body of water, with many countries building islands and military bases in it to assert their dominance. On Tuesday, Obama vocalized his support for Vietnam in her dispute over the area with China. This flies in the face of China’s claim of almost the entire body of water. The addition of nuclear submarines to the mix will do very little to help assuage the tension between the countries of the area.