SINO-VIETNAMESE CONFRONTATION IN SPRATLYS UNLIKELY FOR NOW

Created: 8/8/1988

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

Oclul Mbi" Apr,

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DIRECTORATE OF INTELLICENCF

8 August

Sjno-VliInim*M- Conironurticgi in SpiaJIyii For Now

Summitry

Chinese and Vietnamese forces fought one battle over the Sprailys early this year, and their continued kncktring could lead to further clashes. We believe the likelihoodajor Sino-Vittnamese confrontation has. however, diminished because of the arrival of seasonal storms that lash the low lying Islands during the summer and fall. Beijing has been keeping its forceshort trash to preclude another incident, and with constructionermanent base on fiery Cross Reef and small outpostt on five other islets completed. Chinese navel activity has slackened. Chinds military moves thus far have failed to cow ihr Vtetnomesr. who have responded diplomatically and militarily to ihe Chinese Challenge by portraying themselves as innocent victims of Chinese aggression, while reinforcing their Spratly outposts and occupying additional reefs Vietnam is most likely toefensive posture in the Sprotlys. but we would not ruleietnamese attack on Chinese ships or bases should China resume its provocative actions in the islands I

SI

AFFROVID FOR RELEASE DATUM ZIO!

A Sino-Vr-lnames* ProtHrm

Beijing hu been exlicmcly successful, io our view, ai limiting Ihe political rcperciistioos of itt move into Ibe disputed Sprntly Islands by making ilroblem only between Chioa and Vlernam. The Chinese press, for instance, has consistently blamed Hanoi lor tensions In the islandt because of its occupation nf many of the disputed islets, aod Chinese A'psomalic activity In Ihc UN bas sought lo reinforce that view. Beijing probably calculated from ihe ouisci thai aof singling oui Vietnam could help contain adverse icgioaal reaction and isolate Hanoi The Chinese have, in addition, actedssure Manila. Kula Lumpur, and Taipei thai China's aciions are noi directed against them. China's military activity in the area has reinforced ils public posturing that Vietnam is Beijing's main concern*

rrpojw ccetrpy reefs and iii worships mainly parol near Vietnamese-held iilandr in ihe archipelago and only Infrequently approach the Phitipplrut. Muloyiian. and Teiwanheld litandi

Source/ indicate rear between February and April Chinese worships harassed Vietnamese supply ships in tke Spratlys on at lean thee occasions, while retupply miuiont from Malaysia and Taiwan were unhindered.

-Jo Chime frigate patrolled ihe northern Gulfeijing has not conducted patrols against the other

In our judgment, China's naval operations io (he South China Sea and construction of permanent bases in (he Spratlys are panong-icim Cliioese strategy lo reaaeri its sovereignly and gel ihe other parties lo abandoo iheir claims or negoiiale selllementt favorable to CfaioaDBcijlng probably chose lo act Ibis spiing in part because il realized tbai international aitcniion was beginning Io focus onambodian settlement and wished tolaim io ihe Spratlys priorelaxation ol ASEANs tension with Vietnam. | |

Beijing's Impressive Naval Show

China's unprecedented naval deployment lo ihe Sprailys demonslraics the evolution of China's Navyorce capable ol projecting and snsiaining military power beyond its coastalhe stx-monlh operation is (be mosi extensive ever mounted by Ihc Navy, wilhombatants from all three fleets participaiing. Tbe South Sea Fleet proved Ibal i: Is Ibe mot! eorabai-ready elemenl lo the Chinese Navy. Ii effectively managed ihc entire operation and rotated its ships to ensure thai every major combatant in ihe. fleet saw duty in lite SpraHya The operational experience and firsi-hand knowledge of the Spratlys

gained would be caircmcly valuable to China's military planners if Beijing optsursueaggressive policy against lhe Vieinameie held

our judgment, (be

eHaotrslimen:ermanent naval nation ai Fiery Cross ewiso erably enhancesapabilily to piojeec power in the region:

i Fiery C'row COM houu troops. storerrth small tambo;anti and

outposts, nomroi of any future

i fated boots and helicopters bated there could kelp guard Clauds Vutnames* military activates, ond prcide iwWfVgenre critical to Clones* military optrotio* agalna the Vietnamese.

a Wish fewer autitiarits needed to support Chinese noxol actions. Bet ling could assemble aMainly of combatants, which could qaicily move south and strike lhe Sprallysor no

With Fiery Cross operational and seasonal slormn beginning to Inih Ihe iilands. Beipag it reducing its naval forces in lhe Spratly Islands. The Chinese, having decitivcly dcfcaied Vietnansese oaval vessels ai Johnson Reef onrobably calculateaval confrontation with Ihe Vietnamese is unlikely for now. Beijing may alio believe Hanoi Is unlikely to attack Chinese ouiposw, while It is busy consolidating its hold over the reels its troops have occupied since February. | |

The Chinese Navy may believe that its ability to deploy warship* rapidly to (he Spratlys will also deter (he Vietnamese, and wc believe the Chinese may further reduce the number of warships operating in (he archipelago by keeping individual ships On station for longer periods of lime than in the past to reduce operating expenses:

CMnrtr .Van) Aetivitt in Sprullii

JhT

The CKineie end VtrtnamrtriniMarch IMS met lehitton HrefChinese landing pant xinv ashore

uaettugttd reef 10 conduct nntyr. obit'ia/ion pavi end "ret eflag. Vietnaawr Dipcft it*pi monffaWofkmese oeintty. rractrd by

unti'f temptikeu/metl

attd in am Jpiwfi-wii ihrt Mr Chinese onetnrkaaa Fahe-mt thm eihmett- an?n'> armed -ah aotarfaii -

rw cw c' iV

TV

aiiie litvtoai ant used

ma nXniB urn*ml gtmt to tngmgf thr Nmht- ana" a ormer

rtm) hemdy damaging tht hmeranoi 1 blamed 'he Ch-nett ft* msttfoiing iht

priori *ti/ announced ihoi the VWriOwruffered

iii.iiiVi'i. including mo killed and more then

ining Chiao'i xwshipi itpeirttdh suffered liiile

demote outeUilts

Vietnam'seipMur

Hanoi bat responded aggressively lo Chinai challenge wiih diplomatic andOf tta own, and we believe the Chinese may have been surpriied byVielnam'i diplomatic effort apparently ia designed to piessurc Chinathe dispute peacefully through negotiations Vietnamese propagandaChina an the aggressorhreat to regional peace and stability,urging Beijing to use diplomacy lo settle rhe sovereigntyanoiibe Sprailysal the United Nations in anul bid lor UN helpChins io tbe negotiating table. Vietnam has also sought support in the regicr.peaceful "lotion to the problem byateral talks on tbe Spratly,andpine officials. Viernam rcpo.tedly has made progressenf over exploitation of resources in the archifttUg

Althougheaceful lettlement. the Vietnamese probably recognize thai that is unlikely under curieni circumstances, In view of Chinas naval superioritv its establishment of permanent bases in thei, and iu oft-staied ibreat lo retake the ulanas at on ippropnaie time, Hanoi has prudently prepared for further fighting Vielnams increased military prcparedr.cn includes

> "bring -reaps ana weapons pdtfitiotn/hit* beefing up defenses al etistwg bates by deploying tanks, areveea^imeles. anillery. early warning radars, and shewldrr bunched SA-7surfoctioair eusilles.

naval combaianis ond supply ships, and amphibious mining.

forward command headguarim as Cam Haiti, Bay. mobiliiing

on aim. art! ini/nsifying naval

ong-range strike capability by deploying Rung and using ihe aircraft so conductr

These action, enhance Vietnamese defense* andimited capability lor projecting power in the Spratlyn In our judgment, however. Vietnams Navy remainserious disadvantage against China's far larger and belter equipped naval forces and would have ehff iculty reinforcing or reapplying Viet oasis outpostsonflict. Hanoi* effort to overcome chronic maintenance and equipment problems have probab but frequent shipboard equipment failures aad remrrlog ship groundings P

kiodcrscore the overall pool condition of Vietnamese ships, i

SBwai.iT.r

"MHIIHi cT

By mobilizingresource* and movingar fooiing, Hanoi appears to be signaling Ileijing ol iu intention lo defend Vietnam* Make in the Sprailys even at the risk of another confllci with China Hanoi may calculate lhat it can dissuade Beijing from optingilitary solution lo Ihe Spiatlys problem by making il inerewinelv costly for China to forcibly expel the Vietnamese. The Vlcinarncin may also believe lhat il tho icinforced outposts arc at acked_they COuW hold out long enough for diplomatic pressure to force Beijing to desist f

More of the Same for Hanoi?

For now, we expect the Vietnamese to continue strengthening their of fchore defenses, while they work on developing iheir ASW and long-range ground attack capabilities to counter Chinas naval power. When the weather improve* in (he fall. Hanoi may attempt to extend its control in (he Spratly* by establishing additional outposts to block further Chinese occupation. The Vietnamese almost certainly recognize that their isolated garrison* remain vulnerablehinese naval blockade or amphibious assault but may calculate that by fortifying their outposts and providing tactical air cover, they can deter China hornirect assault.

While we believe the Vietnamese are most likely toefensive posture, we would not ruleietnamese attack on Chinese ship, or outposts should China resume us provocative naval patrols or attempt to grab additional islets in the Spiatlys. Hanoi probacy relieves time it on its side and that diplomatic pressure will eventually force China into negotiating an agreement that rccogniies Vietnam's claim to sotae of Ihe Bland, it occupier.

Negotiated Settlement Unlikely

Hanoi may be overly optimistic about the prospectsiplomatic solution. foiling has consistently refused lo negotiate the mius of Ihe Spratly Islands wiih Vietnam, and we tee little likeKboodeaceful resolution of their dispute. On the contrary, we believe thai China* decision to occupy reef*Vietnamese garrisons increases Ibe long-term prospects lhat Beijing will optilitary solution. For now. we expect both side* loaval presence in the island, to they can defend against territorial infringements and also monitor each others activities. Wiih both sides militarily active in the islands, the chance of another incident remains relatively high.f-

he Spiatiys to it Asian neighbors. In reasaeiting its Spratly* claim end sending its Navy south, lleijiog appaienily sought to mollify hfalaysia, the Philippines, and other regional states by alleging that it. purpose was to establish an "oceanographk research station" in the Ulandi under the aegis of Ihe UN. Chinese officials subsequently

I P 9 L

reassured Kuala Lumpur and Manilahina's naval nciions posed no threat to them and hinted ihaiifferences over lhe Sprallyt could be resolved ihrough diplomatic meant.

'alrnotf certainly calculate lhai getting Vietnam Oul of the Spratlys it ilie'kenJSvine the dispute Beijing probably also believes that once Vietnam is gone it will be able to lesolv quickly its difiereoees with Malaysia and the Philippine, without resorting to fore-

Oliver Claimants Remain Wary

Southeast Asian slates have noi reacted strongly iu China's move to assert itself :nAlthough the other claimants have expressed concern over the increasedin the disputed territory, tbey have refrained from joining Vietnam infor establishing bases in the islands. Officials in Kuala Lumpur and Manilathat thearch clash did not escalateider Sino-Vietnamesecould threaten their Spratlyave urged lhe Vietnamese and Chinesetheir differences through negotiations.Lumpur

and Manila remain wary ol both the Chinese and Vietnamese and are currently reexamining their options io the Spratlys:

^Philippine President Aquino considered niihelramng from ihr

On puled iilatdi. bui hrr advlirrt cominerd her notemove I't Philippine garrisons become of ike possibility of disco-trine oil deposits in lhe islands

elegation of Malaysianncluding Prime Minister Mahathir, reportedly visited Swallow Reef in early June imat partact finding missionormulate government

policy on the SpratlysLumpur would probaU, breai

diplomatic relations wish Chinanacted rAV three Mdoysian-htld iritis

and Kuala Lumpur see the current dispute as

ilateral istue for Beijing and Hanoi to resolve In rmr judgment, neither party sees any immediate danger to their garrisons and both are likely ro keep troops In the Spratlys as long as that perception boldsP Both will be watching to see what China and Vietnam do twit We suspect both parties would withdraw their troops and abandon their claims rather thanooiroDtation with China or Vietnam. Taiwan has announced that itport Beijing if thereioo-VietDasnese conflict over the disputedids.

MaliytM tut eroopslee.nd SwmUo-. lulu.

Kr.sti.ta. TUla tad Westbt-ukvu-JCart, tadRtte.

Original document.

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