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?

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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.

Duterte’s non-censure of China on SCS dispute hit

 

Long before the Philippines was designated as host for the ASEAN Summit 2017, those instrumental in filing and winning the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague over the country’s maritime territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea (SCS) were hoping that this could be the right opportunity and venue by which the ASEAN bloc, through its chairman, President Rodrigo Duterte, could express condemnation over China’s aggressive build-up of artificial islands and militarization of the same, which are now viewed as a threat to the peace and security of the region.

What gave these people the confidence that this will be realized is the fact that many of the member-nations are, like the Philippines, contesting China’s claim of its own territorial waters.

Unfortunately, the ruling of the PCA came after Duterte got elected president and as we all know he never considered this favorable arbitral tribunal’s ruling a victory of sort for the country as he continued making deals with China.

In fact one would think that Duterte should have kept distance from China after illegally claiming and occupying parts of our sovereignty, but he instead honored the invitation of China’s president to visit him.

But do we really have to blame Duterte if, as chairman of the 30th ASEAN Summit, he failed to censure China over what it has done with impunity in the SCS?

Throughout the summit Duterte said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop the island building, so there was no point discussing it at all.

Duterte was just being practical and realistic for, indeed, the issue in the SCS among claimant nations versus China is no longer about resolving China’s permanent military presence in the area, but rather in trying to manage and make the best out of their presence in the region.

What we and the other ASEAN member-nations are facing now is a developing geopolitical situation which has been arrogantly imposed on us.

This is the price of being an underdeveloped country. Against China we are nothing. If the U.S. was not able to stop China’s military build-up in the SCS, who are we to stop them?

But as people, we just have to make sure that our pride and dignity will not go to the dogs.

We will see how Duterte could protect us and where his independent foreign policy will get us to.

We can’t do nothing but cross our fingers.

Duterte is TIME magazine’s most influential person

 

TIME magazine may have been one of the early international publications that criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless and bloody war on illegal drugs, with a cover article in September titled “Night Falls on the Philippines”, yet the same prestigious magazine will soon be ranking Duterte as its top most influential person for 2017.

Why is this?

Well, TIME has made it clear that its entrants for the annual 100 most influential people selection are recognized for changing the world, regardless of the consequences of their actions. Note that the official TIME 100 lists are chosen by the magazine’s editors.

For one who also landed on the Most Powerful People list of Forbes magazine, Duterte is sure making waves here and abroad.

It simply marks the man’s departure from the conventional style of leadership that Filipinos have been used to – both in words and deeds.

Duterte’s colorful language, his no-nonsense style of governance, his down-to-earth personality and his out-of-the-box thinking and assessment of things, not to mention his fearless show of political will no matter who gets affected for as long as it benefits the country and the greater number of people, is what has endeared him to Filipinos.

Giving Duterte an overwhelming victory during the election was a gamble that made many Filipinos winners, too.

The country has been always plagued with corrupt officials and people thought that this was the single critical reason why we never prosper as a nation.

Until Duterte came along as a candidate promising not only stamping out corruption in government but also waging war against illegal drugs and criminality did we realized how distinctive he was compared to the other presidential candidates.

People trusted Duterte’s persona to deliver his promises and never before have the people been so hopeful of the future. As he was able to make Davao City a livable place for its peace and stability, fingers were crossed that he could do the same to the whole archipelago.

And it looks like things are going the way Duterte has charted the course of the nation’s journey towards growth and respectability.

Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign, which according to reports has killed more than 8,000 people already, has caught the attention of international rights groups and foreign governments over alleged human rights violations and extra-judicial killings, but this has not stop him from forging ahead if only to show the whole world how critical and wide-spread the drug menace in the country is, infiltrating even the police, local government officials and the judiciary, among others.

Equally controversial is his show of belligerence towards the US and the EU for meddling in the affairs of a sovereign country and his shift of friendly relations towards China and Russia.

The Philippines may have won the contentious territorial dispute in the South China Sea as decided by the United Nation (UN) Arbitral, stating that China’s “nine-dash line” is invalid, but Duterte is not minding this at all, to the consternation of those lauding the decision, for the reality is that nobody, and nobody, can forcibly drive away/remove China from their formidable man-made islands turned military bases in the area.

While Duterte’s temperament and antics may displease, antagonize and enrage others, to him it really does not matter for he is just being pragmatic and having the interest of the nation and the welfare of his people foremost in his agenda of governance.

Duterte has not completed even a year yet in his presidency, but the things he has done for the country and the Filipino people is something atypical worthy of being chosen TIME magazine’s most influential person.

Duterte orders occupation of SCS islands belonging to the Philippines

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

It was reported that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands of the Philippines in the South China Sea (SCS) to strengthen the country’s claims to the area.

I would presume these are the islands, reefs, shoals, and other features within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) over which, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. The EEZ stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coast.

Whether or not this is the new code of conduct for the SCS among claimant nations in the region vis-à-vis China, which has laid claim to almost all of SCS simply because it bears its name, one can only surmise that, indeed, this must have the blessing of China leadership.

Obviously China does not want to appear as a despotic neighbor for as long as the small claimant nations let them be where they are now and whatever else it is going to do in the future.

This seems to be a nascent ‘modus vivendi’ approach of China towards some members of the ASEAN, like the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, now that they are well entrenched in the area with their seven man-made militarized islands.

What else can the Philippines do except to take advantage of the ‘benevolent act’ of China giving us the situation and occasion to lay emphatic claim of our own with the following statements by Duterte:

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all these.”

“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant. At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours.”

China knows that it has gotten us by the “cojones” (balls) already. Our subservience to them cannot be denied and this was manifested when Duterte hinted that going to war against China is nothing but a suicidal act. It is simply a classic case of the saying: “if you cannot beat them, join them.” And that is what we are doing with China.

But ours in not the first case of having islands, reefs, shoals and other features occupied.

I am sharing with you this link for better appreciation of the subject:

http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/south-china-sea-who-claims-what-in-the-spratlys/.