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It's 5am on the Ba Xi channel, and two Chinese J-11 aircrafts have just entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone for routine patrol. This has become a common sight in recent years, but why? What are these aircraft searching for in these waters? And why is such a remote channel between Taiwan and the Philippines located more than 300 miles from Chinese shores the center of such attention? Well, the short answer is that the Ba Xi channel is a critical hotspot for both China and the USA. And there are two main reasons for this. First, in the event of an invasion of Taiwan, the Ba Xi channel would become a crucial point of operations.
Second, it is a vital location for force projection along China's maritime borders. The strategic importance of the Ba Xi channel is further compounded by the fact that it is a major bottleneck for global sea trade and the majority of the underwater internet cables connecting Southeast and South Asia with North America and Japan. All of these factors make the Ba Xi channel one of the most strategic, yet lesser-known choke points in the Indo-Pacific region. Rivaling the Malacca and Taiwan Straits for the title of the most strategic point.
But let's take a step back and take a closer look at the Ba Xi channel's importance in the China-US confrontation in two main areas, the possible invasion of Taiwan and force projection in the South China Sea. When Chinese military leaders prepare for the invasion scenarios of Taiwan, they look at two key geographical features, the towering mountains that divide the island into two halves, and the three choke points that separate Taiwan from the rest of the world. The first choke point is the Yonaguni channel to the north, which spans for around 70 miles and separates the island of Formosa from Japan's westernmost point, Yonaguni Island, where, by the way, Japan will set up cruise missiles for the first time this year.
The second choke point is the Taiwan Strait, which is the most important of the three. At its narrowest, it spans about 100 miles and separates mainland China's Fujian province from Taiwan's west coast. The third and final choke point, and the focus of this analysis, is the Ba Xi channel, which is less than 90 miles wide and separates Taiwan's southern tip from the Philippines island of Amienan, the archipelago's northernmost point. For China, thinking about possible invasion strategies of Taiwan, this channel presents itself as one of the most critical and perhaps lesser-known choke points. And this is for one big reason. Supply lines Taiwan's largest port is Gaoxiong, which sits right close to the Ba Xi channel.
This port is not only ranked as the world's 15th largest container port, but also handles the majority of oil products and bulk cargo on the island. While Taiwan has six other major cargo ports, Gaoxiong alone accounts for 62% of the total cargo volume handled on the island. The capacity to bring in huge volumes of supplies in a short amount of time and to have the real estate to store it is critical during an invasion. Oil products such as fuel for tanks, bulk cargoes like spare engines and machinery, and even refrigerated containers for food supplies are all essential to the operational capability of troops on the ground.
For instance, a 2002 study on the US Army revealed that a brigade combat team of 3 to 5,000 units consumed over 500 tons of supplies per day, with 90% of that being fuel and food. If Chinese troops were to land on Taiwan, they would need to secure Gaoxiong port facilities, and by extension, the Ba Xi channel's sea routes to control their supplies and deny external help to Taiwan. And Chinese strategic planners have perfectly recognized this. At least six live fire drills have been planned around Taiwan in 2022.
Unprecedentedly, two of these have also been scheduled in the south, the largest one just off the coast of Gaoxiong, also trespassing Taiwanese territorial waters, while the other one right on the Ba Xi channel. This marks a significant departure from the 1995 to 1996 exercises that took place closer to the Chinese shores and did not trespass Taiwanese territorial waters. These drills demonstrate that not only is the island of Taiwan itself important, but also the straits north and south of it are. Establishing supply lines and distributing them are both critical factors in the event of an invasion, and this is why PLA aircraft frequently fly over the strait, training how to identify and deal with other forces in the area.
Gaoxiong and the Ba Xi channel are therefore as important for Chinese commanders as they are for US ones. While China would use Gaoxiong as a logistical base in the case of an invasion, America would aim to supply Taiwan's defense from its pre-positioned bases in the Philippines and Japan. In this context, the Ba Xi channel offers ideal conditions for denying access from the Pacific Ocean into the South China Sea, and vice versa. The Ba Xi channel is a crucial international water passage that serves as the only access point larger than 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean into the South China Sea.
This has significant implications for both the United States and China in terms of projecting their military power in the region. Before diving deep into that, let's hear a quick word from our sponsor, Blinkist. Have you ever wished to squeeze the most useful information out of a book or podcast in just 15 minutes? And what if you could do that, while taking a walk in the park or commuting to work? Blinkist is the app for you. With more than 5,500 titles across a wide variety of topics, all this knowledge is right at the tip of your fingers.
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Now, back to the video. If we look at the Bashi channel from a U. S. standpoint, we see that this is an ideal force projection location for two main reasons. First, it connects the Philippines to Taiwan, allowing for shorter supply lines in the event of an invasion. This would enable the U. S. to create pincer supply routes from both the south via the Philippines and from the north via Japan. Second, the Bashi channel provides the opportunity to deny the planned force projection into the open Pacific and, by extension, the southern and Pacific coasts of Taiwan. This significantly reduces the possible landing spots available to the PLA and makes their every move much more predictable.
Recent news of four new U. S. bases on northern Luzon Island further improves U. S. deterrence capabilities in the South China Sea, particularly in terms of having air superiority. While the U. S. Navy can maintain its vessels in the area for months at a time, air superiority fighter jets can only sustain operations for a few hours and require extensive maintenance facilities. Therefore, either the base follows along with the aircraft, like in the case of an aircraft carrier, or a land base within the operational range of the jets is essential. As such, the new bases in northern Luzon are crucial in obtaining air superiority over the South China Sea.
In March 2023, F-22s were deployed in the Philippines for the first time, where they conducted joint exercises with the Philippines Air Force. This deployment has added unprecedented air coverage of air superiority jets over the SCS, which, before this point, was mostly visited by long-range surveillance aircraft, like P-8 or the Global Hawk. This development helps in creating air superiority deterrent, especially against the PLAAF long-range bombers. From the Chinese perspective, the recent establishment of U. S. bases in the Philippines is a cause for concern for two primary reasons. First, Chinese planners will have to allocate substantially more resources in the event of a landing on Taiwan and to maintain control of the Baishi Channel and the South China Sea.
Second, the proximity of these bases means that not only northern Chinese cities, but also the majority of southern ones, are now within 600 miles from U. S. bases. From a strategic perspective, China lacks what Chairman Mao often used during the Civil War – strategic space. This lack of strategic space is a significant issue for China, as it leaves them vulnerable to attack. In the north, U. S. bases in South Korea and Japan are less than 600 miles from major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Previously, the South China Sea could have been considered China's lake, with the PLAA holding control over its air and sea spaces. However, the establishment of U. S.
bases in Luzon has substantially reduced its strategic space, leaving major economic and military hubs such as Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Jiangjiang within 600 miles of potential attack. This situation puts the majority of the Chinese population and industries at risk of being within Tomahawk Range, greatly shifting the balance of power in the region. China's maritime border security is further destabilized by the lack of access points larger than 200 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The first island chain from China's perspective presents a significant issue, as there are only six international water corridors, with four along the Nanshe Shoto and the other two north and south of Taiwan.
However, only two passages are larger than 50 miles, namely the Miyako Channel between the island of Miyako and Okinawa and the Bashi Channel. These choke points are critical in allowing connection between China's shores and the open ocean. To better understand China's strategic situation, let's imagine a similar situation, closer to the American perspective. If we consider a first island chain running from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico all the way up to the Bahamas, the island of Cuba could be Taiwan, and the two straits north and south of it would be Yonaguni and the Bashi Channel, respectively.
If China had tens of thousands of troops deployed there, along with stealthy jets, destroyers, and long-range ballistic missiles, just a few hundred miles from US mainland, it could theoretically block sea-lane routes running from the Gulf of Mexico out to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The last time something similar happened was in 1962, and the world came a hair's breadth away from a nuclear war. From this perspective, it becomes clear why the Bashi Channel is such a strategic point for Beijing. The Philippines and the Bashi Channel are essential in allowing the control of the main door from the Pacific Ocean into the south of China.
Therefore, it is crucial for China to maintain control over this area to ensure its strategic space and maritime border security. This door is not only important for China's strategic projection, but also serves as a major conduit for global data traffic. In fact, an astounding 97 to 99% of all data passes through the submarine cable network, the Bashi Channel serving as a primary bottleneck for data transmission between Asia and North America. This underwater cable network is responsible for transmitting a vast array of information, including files, photos, military and industrial secrets, and more. As tensions between the US and China continue to escalate, new cables are being laid on the seafloor in anticipation of potential conflicts.
However, the cutting of these cables can have devastating consequences. As demonstrated by the cutting of two internet cables connecting Matsu Islands with Taiwan in early March 2023, the disruption of communication can be a powerful tool in modern warfare. By creating a smoke screen that delays the response to a military attack, the cutting of these cables can have significant impact on the first phases of conflict. The Northern Philippines and Bashi Channel have become a crucial hotspot in the ongoing US-China confrontation. This is due to their strategic location in close proximity to two key areas, the South China Sea and Taiwan. However, it is important to consider the power dynamics at play in Manila.
Undoubtedly, the Marcos administration played a pivotal role in facilitating a permanent and structured logistical presence of the US in the South China Sea and to the south of Taiwan. But the question remains, how long will the US be allowed to maintain its presence on the archipelago? Beijing is determined to deny this strategic advantage to Washington and remains to be seen what will happen in the next presidential elections.
If a new deterrent were to gain office, what would happen to the balance of power created on the Marcos? Would US troops still be permitted to remain? The divergent positions between both presidents indicate that a political U-turn is likely to occur after the next presidential elections, and this is the weak link in the first island chain. However, regardless of political shifts, geography is a constant factor that will continue to play a critical role in the US-China confrontation for generations to come. The Bashi Channel in the Philippines will remain essential players in this ongoing power struggle. I really hope you enjoyed this video as much as I did, and thank you so much for watching.
Hope to see you at the next one. Bye. .