China's Underground Submarine Base Scrutinized An underground nuclear submarine base on China's Hainan Island is drawing scrutiny from the United States and India. According to satellite imagery on the Web sites of Jane's Intelligence Review and the Federation of American Scientists, the base has a sea entrance wide enough to allow submarines to enter the underground facilities. The photograph reveals what appears to be a ballistic missile submarine moored to one of the piers outside.

China's Underground Submarine Base Scrutinized

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As China rises to great power status at an astonishing pace, its neighbors in Asia and the United States are looking for clues to its intentions. Among them, China has built an unusual naval base that has rattled nerves across Asia. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.


U: (Chinese spoken)

JACKIE NORTHAM: A tourism video of China's Hainan Island presents an idyllic oasis in the South China Sea. Beautiful women greet visitors, waves crash onto a pristine beach, palm trees sway in the wind.

U: ...enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of ...

NORTHAM: Kurt Campbell, with the Center for a New American Security, says the Sanya base reminds him of "The Spy Who Loved Me."


MONTAGNE: The idea of an underground secret submarine base being put together by China is right out of a James Bond movie. The aspect of this that is - stoked concern is the fact that it's hidden and underground.

NORTHAM: Rumors of a nuclear submarine base have been swirling for years. Campbell says the satellite photographs confirm those suspicions and have created anxiety in the region about China's strategic capabilities and its intentions.

MONTAGNE: The reports of this secret facility have really shook a lot of Chinese neighbors, most particularly India, but also other countries in Southeast Asia have expressed considerable anxiety about just what the Chinese are up to.

NORTHAM: India's naval chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, said the base was, quote, "a cause for security concern." India and China have a rivalry that goes back decades. Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the base but said China's military policies are defensive.

MONTAGNE: (Through translator) There's no need for other nations to express worries about this or make baseless accusations or inappropriate comments.

NORTHAM: Taylor Fravel, with the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the base and the submarines are part of a larger nuclear program.

MONTAGNE: The deployment of the ballistic missile submarines will strengthen China's deterrent and take it closer to achieving a second strike capability. But this does not mean that China is developing or on the road towards developing the large nuclear force along the lines of the United States or Russia.

NORTHAM: Bud Cole, a professor at the National War College and the author of a book on China's military, says adding some sea-based nuclear weapons will not make China the dominant force in the region. Cole says the U.S. has an overwhelming military edge when it comes to nuclear weapons. But, he says, the underground base in China is significant.

P: It's something that the United States Navy should be aware of and attempt to prepare for in our long-range planning but I don't think it's a cause for alarm.

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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