China’s interest in Philippine Rise

 

After what happened in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where China claimed practically the whole of it, including what belongs to us in the context of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), only to convert it into militarized zone by turning reefs, atolls and other protrusions into islands complete with troops, airstrips and armaments of all kinds, would you blame the Filipino people now if most will question China’s interest in the Philippine Rise?

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be rich in maritime resources. The United Nations in 2012 recognized the Philippines’ exclusive economic rights to it as part of its continental shelf.

It is for this reason that I wrote a series of blogs about this new-found wealth of the country, which prompted me to say in one of the pieces, upon knowing that we own it, thus:  ‘I may never see it explored and developed in my generation, but it feels good heading towards the sunset years of my life that the succeeding generations faces a brighter future.’

You can open the following links for more information, if only to have an idea of what I am talking about:

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/philippines-pin-hopes-on-benham-rise/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/thank-god-for-benham-rise-part-ii/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/benham-rise/

What I am trying to say here now is that after China’s scientific study/exploration in the resource-rich Philippine Rise, which included the giving of Chinese names to some features it has discovered, that it should not further its interest in and of the area.

At most it is very reassuring that President Rodrigo Duterte has calmed the concern and anxiety of the nation by telling the public not to be alarmed over China’s move to name features in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), even as he stressed Manila’s sovereign rights over the resource-rich waters.

“Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino. We will claim exclusive ownership of the economic zones — 200 nautical miles,” Duterte said.

“Let me be very clear about this: The Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration.”

Well said, but does this mean that we have to put our guards down just because it is coupled with the heartening words of Duterte?

I believe in Duterte’s ardor in protecting the interests of the country and the Filipino people, and he could not be corrupted.

But what happens when he is gone and the one succeeding does not have the political will and leadership capability that Duterte has in stopping China’s aggression, especially that the latter is  now at our own backyard in the West Philippine Sea?

This is the price we get for having China as our closest neighbor now, even honoring every which way their presence.

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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!

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.

Useless diplomatic protest against China

 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

I am talking of course about Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement that the defense department will file a diplomatic protest against China if it can be established that there is indeed militarization over the Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) in the South China Sea (SCS).

Lorenzana should not have acted so naïve even if the Chinese government had promised other claimant nations not to militarize their man-made islands.

Note that the Kagitingan Reef is also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Lorenzana, by virtue of his position, should be the first one to know that when China took over the reef and made it into a huge island, that it was not for the purpose of making it a tourist destination.

Like any other Chinese-fortified reclaimed islands in the SCS, the Kagitingan Reef has been transformed into a Chinese military base, which features a 3,125-meter runway for H-6K strategic bombers and equip with a hospital and military facilities, including early warning radars and close-proximity weapons systems. According to reports, over 200 Chinese soldiers are stationed on the artificial island.

Instead of showing total obeisance to China it would have been apt if Lorenzana just been forthright in saying that the protest was a matter of formality it being a threat to peace and security.

What makes the threat real is because the Kagitingan Reef is one of the islands subject to the arbitral tribunal decision that it is within the Philippine economic zone.

But what makes the diplomatic protest useless just the same is China’s disrespect and disregard for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and more so for the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), that area of coastal water and seabed within a certain distance of a country’s coastline, to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities.

The fact that China ‘walk the talk’, after claiming that practically the whole of SCS is theirs and built fortified bases out of the protruding reefs, and not even the greatest nation on Earth, the USA, could do anything about it, makes the diplomatic protest not only useless but absurd as well.

 

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?

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.