Roque’s absurd statement on China’s reclaimed islands in the SCS

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

When President Rodrigo Duterte ditched Ernesto Abella for Rep. Harry Roque as presidential spokesperson, it was all thumbs up for me for there couldn’t have been a better choice than one who is more able to defend the president and articulate enough to speak for and in his behalf.

What really made Roque highly favorable for the position is that, like Duterte, he knows his law and they seem to be on the same wave length, despite the fact that both, too, have seemingly different views on human rights issue.

But knowing the law and making public assertions where the law has nothing to do are two entirely different aspects which could affect the sensitivities of people, especially those who are not dumb.

One does not have to be lawyer to understand what is happening in the South China Sea (SCS). Or to put it bluntly, one does not have to be a lawyer to understand what the Chinese are doing in the SCS or the West Philippine Sea (WPS) for that matter.

Thus, for Roque, therefore, to declare in an interview, “Clearly, eventually, those artificial islands will be ours if we can ask China to leave”, is plain ridiculous and absurd and an insult to our intelligence.

Just because the country is “asserting an independent foreign policy”, as Roque affirmed, that “we have ceased to be a lackey of any other state”.  I suppose Roque was referring to the US. So my question is: What are we now to China?

I could not agree more with Sen. Grace Poe who criticized Roque for saying the Philippines will someday thank China for its artificial islands in the WPS (SCS).

Poe said in a statement, “The WPS will freeze over first before China will even begin toying with the idea of giving us back those islands.”

Truth to tell is that we are at China’s mercy. The Chinese are using us more than we are using them. We are waging war against illegal drugs but in reality the drugs coming in are mostly from China, reports say.

Yes, China may be supplying us with arms and helping us build some of our infrastructure projects, but those are all small tokens in exchange for our peaceful, if not passive attitude towards them for their perpetual dominion in the area.

Talking about uncontested hegemony by China!

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Critics chide Duterte for Chinese militarization in the South China Sea

 

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate

For the life of me I don’t know why political foes of President Rodrigo Duterte keep on blaming him for the militarization of the reclaimed islands in the South China Sea (SCS).

Perhaps this is the umpteenth time that I have also defended Duterte from this seemingly unreasonable disparagement from the opposing party.

Lately,  Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate condemned, yet again,  the alleged “inaction and deafening silence” of the Duterte’s administration, as new photographs bared continuous militarization in seven reefs claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly archipelago. He described it as a “see-no-evil; speak-no-evil; hear-no-evil” attitude and as a “this blatant violation of our sovereignty.”

In the same vein, an opposition party politician, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, said Duterte should not “stand idly by” as Beijing claims disputed islands and completes the militarization of territory.

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan

Pangilinan even sounded melodramatic when he made the following statements: “What makes a country? Aside from the recognition of its neighbors, a country is defined by its territory and the people in that territory, and its ability to defend its territory and people. Thus, it is the government’s sacred core duty to protect its territory on behalf of its people.”

“That’s why we are deeply troubled that instead of expressing outrage, Malacañang displayed a nonchalant attitude in playing down China’s militarization of the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.”

Again, I am asking both Zarate and Pangilinan, and the others who have the politician’s trend of thought, this: what can a third world country like ours do when a giant, militarily powerful and economically super-strong country like China, disregards the existence of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty – the international agreement that defined the limits of the territorial seas of nations and the areas in which they could exploit marine resources, then claims practically the whole of the SCS on the pretext of historical basis and starts reclaiming coral reefs/atolls and other rock protrusion they see and then converting them into garrisons and airfields?

Like I said, the Chinese territory is now in our backyard already and while The Hague ruled in the Philippines’ favor in 2016, when we challenged China’s reclamation of the Spratly Islands in 2013, still China continued with impunity its controversial buildup in the area.

In all of these, was the U.S., the greatest nation on earth, able to deter China from militarizing the SCS? Where is the U.S. in all of these then, especially knowing the decision of the international tribunal at The Hague?

Nowhere, really, because the U.S. main concern is that the freedom of navigation in the area remains unhampered.

So if China was able to show its will, determination and muscle to develop the SCS despite the knowledge of the greatest military power on earth, who are we to stand up against China?

All I am saying here, therefore, is that, like Zarate and Pangilinan, and whoever else that wants to criticize Duterte for his “deafening silence” on the Chinese militarization of the SCS, they should vent their disappointment, nay their ire, at the U.S.

Making enemies of the Chinese who are occupying a mammoth airbase at our backyard with big guns pointing at us is simply a big folly.

East China Sea territorial dispute

 

Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

What do East China Sea and South China Sea have in common?

Obviously, other than the fact that they are both seas, they also bear distinctly the name China, a giant nation now becoming a superpower next only to the USA.

I have written about East China Sea (ECS) before which you can read at this link: https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/east-china-sea/, and the reason why I am writing about it again is because I want these questions to be answered:

  • Will there be a repeat of South China Sea (SCS) in ECS?
  • Unlike the Philippines and its neighboring nations, will Japan allow China to occupy and/or construct islands in the ECS?

The whole world now knows what China has done in the SCS. It not only claimed practically the whole of the SCS, but it is now made up of militarized man-made islands – a conglomerate of garrisons if you want to call it that.

What is even worse is that some of this fortified islands are located at the Philippine’s ‘backyard’.

The reason why China acted with impunity in our part of the world is because China does not respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty, the international agreement that defined the limits of the territorial seas of nations and the areas in which they could exploit marine resources.

But what made China pursue its evil scheme is that America, despite knowing what  was going on in the SCS, did not give a hoot and was just interested in making sure that the rules for the use of the high seas for international navigation are to be respected.

So if the greatest military in the world was not able to restrain China from militarizing the SCS, at the expense of the poor nations in the region, what power has the Philippines to stop China from developing islands in our own territorial waters?

Thus, the questions are being asked above. What I am just trying to point out here is that China’s aggressive presence in the SCS will never result to an ugly conflict because any which way one looks at it the Philippines can never win against China.

But the same cannot be said of China and Japan in the ECS because the latter has the military power to fight China and therefore cannot just be bullied like it has done to the Philippines.

It will be remembered that both China and Japan lay claim to a set of islands in the East China Sea that cover around 81,000 square miles. Called Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu in Beijing, the area is near major shipping routes and rich in energy reserves.

In 2012, Tokyo’s decision to purchase three of the five disputed islands from their private owner triggered violent anti-Japanese protests in China, forcing Japanese firms to shut down businesses on the mainland. The following year, Tokyo lodged a protest following Beijing’s declaration of a formal Air Defense Identification Zone over parts of the East China Sea.

According to Ryan Hass, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at Brooking’s foreign policy program,  “the frequency of close encounters between Chinese and Japanese ships and aircraft in the East China Sea is intensifying” and will likely continue as both countries look to improve their respective air and maritime capabilities in the zone.

The SCS territorial dispute may have caught the attention of the whole world, but the ECS, described to be a lesser-known hotbed of tensions, might be more likely to trigger an international conflict.

 

China and its ‘magic island-maker’ dredging vessel

 

The Tiankun dredger: China’s massive island-maker.

What am I talking about here and what is its significance?

Well, amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the controversial island-building frenzy China has been undertaking thereat, it has been reported lately that this economic giant of a nation continues to flex its maritime muscles, this time with the launching of an equally giant island-building vessel considered to be the most powerful vessel of its type in Asia.

Named the Tiankun, the vessel, more aptly described as “a magic island maker”, is the best of its kind in Asia, according to the ship’s designer, the Marine Design and Research Institute in Shanghai, and “can be used to conduct coastal/channel dredging and land reclamation operations even in bad weather at sea.”

The vessel, with a deck as long as five basketball courts, 140 meters, and a full displacement of 17,000 metric tons, can smash underwater rocks and then suck out sand, water, and mud, and transfer the substance up to 15 kilometers away. It can dredge up to 6,000 cubic meters (around two and half Olympic swimming pools) an hour from a depth of up to 35 meters.

The Tiankun is the same kind of vessel as its sister, the Tianjin, the largest currently operating dredger used to create several China-held militarized islets in the disputed seas including those close to our shores in the West Philippine Sea.

The fortification of these Chinese-made islands with military-grade airfields and weapons systems was referred to later as China’s “great wall of sand,” by U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris in 2015.

The Philippines government is said to be wary about the giant dredger especially that international security observers have expressed alarm that it might be deployed to the region again, this time to reclaim Scarborough Shoal.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that government is monitoring the dredger especially in the light of the statement issued by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, saying, “The President recognizes the principle of good faith in international relations. China has told the President they do not intend to reclaim Scarborough and we leave it at that.”

But who are we really to stop what China has already began in what it claims as their territory historically?

Good faith?

As the poor, aggrieved country we can only rely on our faith. The question, however, is: Will China give in to faith as it extends its influence in Asia and across the globe?

Duterte’s first year in office

 

I have lived long enough to see presidents come and go in this country but I have never seen the likes of President Rodrigo Duterte who hit the ground running at a considerable speed upon assumption of office.

While Duterte may have been ready with his administration’s 10-point socio-economic agenda that included among other things the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to enable especially poor couples to make informed choices and family planning, he, however, entrusted the execution of all these to his social and economic mangers while he took it upon himself to lead his much vaunted campaign promise to fight the proliferation of illegal drugs , corruption and criminality.

As an unconventional politician whose approach to solving problem has been described as ‘out-of-the-box’, not to mention the colorful language he uses especially when piqued, is what has endeared him to the Filipinos which is why he was overwhelmingly voted to the presidency.

I am not going to discuss here Duterte’s defining moments individually which includes among other things his running after and eventually putting Sen. Leila de Lima in police custody for using drug money to finance her senatorial bid, his alleged killings and human rights violation stemming from his bloody war on drugs that has been harshly criticize here and abroad by international human rights agencies and advocates, his antagonistic stance towards the U.S., his shift from a U.S. dictated foreign policy to an independent foreign policy, his open arms policy towards China despite the latter’s incursion and militarization of the West Philippine Sea, his diplomatic sortie to Russia, and last but not least of his controversial decisions is the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

For me what is important in Duterte’s 365 days in office is putting into context how the country and the Filipino people are today having Duterte as our president.

I do not know about you, but it makes me wonder, if not guessing, how it would have been for the Philippines and the Filipinos had we had Roxas, Poe or Binay as the president.

Knowing what we know now about the wide-ranging prevalence and gravity of illegal drug use in the country, could any of the other presidential aspirants, had they won, had the political will or the gumption to declare war against it, as Duterte has done, knowing that you are up against ruffians and monsters?

Could they have had the guts to discover and say that we are now a narco-political country?

Would talking to just the MILF, passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law and establishing a new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, prevented the Islamic State-inspired Maute group from storming and creating havoc in Marawi City.

Would they have the potency to declare martial law?

Perhaps Divine Providence determined the course that Duterte be president, warts and all, for he has what it takes to lead and fight for the Filipinos in preserving the integrity of the country and having it respected.

This in essence is what is Duterte’s presidency about one year after and in the next 5 years, God willing.

 

A “bully” is an apt description of China in the SCS

 

U.S. Senator John McCain (photo by Reuters)

It surprises me no end hearing highly respected Republican U.S. Senator John McCain describing China as behaving like a “bully” with its militarization of islands in the South China Sea.

Of course that is what it is or it won’t be called and acknowledged the second most powerful nation on Earth today, and fast catching up to surpass the U.S.

What I am saying is that when China started getting economically strong and used it in building its military might to be able to do what it wanted with impunity, like claiming most of the resource-rich South China Sea, it was simply making a statement not only to the other claimant nations in the region, but more so to the western world, especially the U.S., that it is there to stay and not even an international body like the United Nations (UN) could drive it out.

Like the rest of our neighbor-nations we also knew what we were up against when China started reclaiming and converting atolls and reefs into militarily equipped islands.

But what was even worse was when it included in their build-up the country’s exclusive economic zone, a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles and over which the country has special rights to explore and exploit its marine resources in the water and beneath.

Thus, China, which does not respect the UNCLOS, prevented our own fishermen from catching fish in our own territorial waters.

If this is not bullying in the real sense of the word, I do not know what is.

By claiming almost the entire of SCS China was already bullying the world and if only the U.S. reacted to this claim sooner and challenged China’s hegemony in the area it would have not gotten to a point where the SCS, through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, could be a potential flash point.

Now to counter the perceived Chinese aggression in the area, the U.S. has been conducting so-called freedom-of-navigation exercises, the most recent of which was conducted by a U.S navy warship near Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Yes, McCain is right in describing China as a “bully”, but he and the rest of the American politicians could have prevented China from becoming one in the SCS had they decidedly choose to confront China much, much earlier.

War with China not an option

 

President Rodrigo Duterte with China President Xi Jinping

Much have been said about whether or not China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, had really warned the Philippine government not to rock the boat over the country’s maritime dispute with them at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or else  there will be war.

Some politicians and political pundits are saying this is bullying in its highest form to keep us silent, and the best remedy, as they suggested, is to bring the matter up again to the UN tribunal, the same body that declared China’s build-up in the WPS as illegal.

Again I have to ask: what for?

Even Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Chinese leader’s threat, if true, is a gross violation of the United Nations (UN) charter. Then he cited Article 2, Section 4 of the UN Charter that states “all members shall refrain in their institutional relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.”

While this may serve as basis for another related complaint we will be raising against China before the UN tribunal, what good will it do the country if China do not give a hoot about what the arbitral court says?

Like I said many times before, what China has claimed at the South China Sea is China’s and what belongs to the Philippines at the WPS is still China’s and if the most powerful nation on Earth, the US, was not able to prevent China from its military build-up in the area and the UN tribunal’s decision favoring the Philippine’s claim of its own territory just brazenly and utterly disregarded and disrespected by China, then who are we to think, much less believe, that elevating the war threat against us by China will stop China from doing what they are there for – militarizing the area.

President Rodrigo Duterte knows very well that war with China is not an option, but he is intelligent enough to understand that if he plays his cards well he can make the most out for the country and the Filipino people.

We are in a new geopolitical situation forced upon a third world country and we just have to be thankful that Duterte is one leader who thinks out of the box, has political will and has the support of the people to make things happen for the interest of the country.

Duterte is left with no other alternative but to make deals and pacts with China to benefit the country, like when sought closer ties with Beijing to win billions of dollars of Chinese investments and loans.

Duterte is doing the same thing with Russia now finally putting into practice his serious shift in foreign policy that all these years have been dictated and dominated by the US government.