Sanya Nuclear Submarine Base Shakes Asian Neighbors

Photo: DigitalGlobe

On April 21, commercial satellite images on DigitalGlobe confirmed reports that China is building a major underground nuclear submarine base near Sanya, the southernmost city of Hainan Island, which is located on China’s southeastern coast (DigitalGlobe). Digital images taken of the base in December 2007 also identified the presence of a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 094 second-generation nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) deployed at the base one month after the PLAN organized a secretive military exercise in the vicinity of Hainan Island. The military exercise, which combined elite battalions from PLA Air Force (PLAAF) units under the Guangzhou and the Nanjing Military Regions, as well as the East and South China Sea Fleets, were believed to have simulated a “pincer attack” on Taiwan as well as a naval blockade on strategic sea lanes (China Brief, November 29, 2007). Revelations that China is building a new naval base on Hainan is not a new development according to Asian military analysts, knowledge of the base has been circulated since 2002 (Stnn.cc, April 22). Western analysts have written about Chinese plans to build a naval base on Hainan for many years, but details about the underground facility are a new major development in Chinese naval planning in the South China Sea. Since then, the emergence of satellite images of the underground facility and its revelation of China’s capability to conceal up to 20 nuclear submarines, along with the existence of a network of 11 tunnels reflects the existence of a major underground facility that enhances China’s presence in the region (Taipei Times, May 3; Indian Express, May 3). It also underscores Chinese plans for a major blue water submarine presence beyond the South China Sea, possibly extending into the Indian Ocean and safeguarding Chinese energy sea lines of communications (SLOCs) to the Middle East.