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.

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/.

Benham Rise to Philippine Rise: what is in a name?

It really blows my mind why we have to change the name Benham Rise to Philippine Rise if all these years we know that it is undeniably ours?

Would the 13 million-hectare underwater region, which is deemed to be rich in mineral, oil and gas resources and confirmed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as part of the country’s continental shelf and territory, be more ours by renaming it to Philippine Rise?

What is in a name, anyway, if the same gives inspiration and hope for a better future for the country and the next generation of Filipinos while respectfully remembering and extolling the memory of an American admiral and geologist, Andrew Benham, who made history by discovering it and by some twist of fate made the Philippines its rightful owner? (http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/05/18/1584439/benham-rise-philippiness-new-territory).

We owe it to the man and I don’t see therefore the importance or significance of changing names now or at any other time in the future. Benham Rise is already part of our history and we could not be more fortunate that it belongs to the Philippines.

If changing Benham Rise to Philippine Rise is “to emphasize Philippine sovereignty rights and jurisdiction over the area”, as claimed, how much absurd can we get!

Is the Duterte government directing this stand against China, as if warning the hegemonic giant country to stay away from his part of the country’s territory facing the Pacific Ocean as it has no right whatsoever claiming this part of our sovereignty, as it blatantly did at the South China Sea side of the Philippines?

That is really wishful thinking and that is what I mean.

Whether it is Benham Rise or Philippine Rise, to China it is the same banana for their picking.

China is so deep inside us now both in land and maritime affairs that driving them out of the country and its maritime territorial limits is next to impossible. Doing this can be interpreted as declaring war and this to us can be likened to a suicidal act which we don’t really want to happened.

It’s the familiar sense of déjà vu we are seeing and feeling at Benham Rise.

In the same manner that China showed no respect at UNCLOS when it made reefs into militarized islands even at our own backyards at the South China Sea, this time at Benham Rise, China also showed nothing but insolence even as UNCLOS approved the submission of the Philippines in 2009 with respect to the limits of its continental shelf in the Benham Rise region, saying, “But it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory”. End of controversy.

It is hard to imagine now the Philippines exploring and developing its own natural resources in and under the sea without China having a part, nay, a greater part of it.

It is bad enough that we are poor and powerless, but it is even worse that President Duterte seemed to have consigned ours and the country’s future and fate to China.

What a lamentable prospect!

 

Panatag Shoal: from fishing ground to solid military ground

 

We all have heard of Panatag Shoal or most commonly known as Scarborough Shoal at the height of the South China Sea (SCS) territorial dispute when China unequivocally closed off the shoal from Filipino fishermen in 2012.

The shoal off the coast of Zambales lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and as such fishermen from this coastal region consider the shoal their fishing ground since time immemorial.

The shoal became even determinedly for the Filipinos when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled the granting of 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 km) EEZ for island nations, which in reality exceeds the distance compared to where Panatag Shoal is which is only 119 nautical miles (approximately 220 km) west of Zambales.

With the ascendancy , however, of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, and especially after he made a state visit to China’s President Xi Jinping in October 2016, the strained relationship between the two countries got better and the Filipino fishermen were allowed access to the rich fishing ground again.

We were hoping that this kind of access to the fishing ground was granted for good and for humanitarian reason especially that Duterte did not and has not in any way agreed or concurred with the international arbitral tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines in its maritime case against China.

Suffice to say that Duterte, like the leadership of China, ignored the arbitral ruling and, in fact, supported China’s continued island building and militarization of the area even as it was being built at our own backyard already.

Seemingly doing China a favor Duterte made it known that he wanted China’s patronage in return to jump-start the development of the country, thus, the pouring in of cash from China today.

But what is disheartening now, if not alarming, is that China has decided to convert Panatag Shoal, yes, the rich fishing ground belonging to the Philippines, into a solid military ground, just like the others, where it plans to build environmental monitoring stations, whatever that means.

If this is not a classic case of ‘giving them a hand and they will take an arm’ or ‘giving them an inch and they will take a mile’, I don’t know what is.

But what is worse is that the military build-up, for how else would one describe it, can be found at our turf!

I had been supportive of Duterte and even in his stand that if the most powerful country in the world was not able to stop China from militarizing the SCS, who are we to halt them?

I hope Duterte this time realizes that our generosity, if not our naivete, is being taken advantaged to the hilt by his more calculating, wily and farsighted Chinese counterpart.

What is disturbing and frightening is that when push comes to shove between two powerful contending nations having a stake in this part of the globe, the Philippines is right there included in the cross-hair of China’s enemy.

There is definitely no if and buts about it.

Benham Rise issue – Part III

 

I have no choice but to designate this article as Part III since I have already written about Benham Rise twice some years back which you can read at this links:

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/

Never had I anticipated writing about it again until I heard the recent alarming and disturbing news that a Chinese survey ship was spotted at the Benham Rise location.

“We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement on Friday, March 10.

“The Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter as we continue to assert our sovereignty over our territory,” he added.

Of course we should, forcefully and explicitly!

The Benham Rise area definitely does not have any stupid Chinese historical claim of any sort like they had been asserting they have at the West Philippine Sea just because it is part of the larger body of water bearing the name South China Sea (SCS).

On the pretext that China was “looking for a place to put submarine”, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was the info he got, the most likely reason would be that they have chosen the area for their oceanographic research because they just want to confirm if indeed the unimaginable wealth and extent in mineral resources and gas deposits found underneath Benham Rise truly exist.

I cannot blame President Rodrigo Duterte for pussyfooting with the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea issue, where even the country’s territorial integrity has been breached with China’s nine- dash line claim.

If the most powerful country and the acclaimed top ‘policeman’ in the world- the US, and the UN, through its agency the UNCLOS, were not able to stop China from expanding and militarizing the SCS, who are we to prevent China’s hegemony of the contested areas?

But what I am just saying here is that we had been hearing Duterte declaring time and again that he will die defending the country and the Filipino people from the enemies that will try to destroy them.

Well this is it!

There has not been and there will never be a greater challenge such as this one in Duterte’s presidency that needs more of his grit, determination and resolve to stand up for his country and people.

Duterte could not afford anymore to be complacent the way he has been pleased and gratified at the financial and technical help China has promised to give for many infrastructure projects for the country.

China may have bamboozled us in the SCS and there was nothing that we can do. In that part of the globe what is China’s is China’s and what is ours is still China’s.

Duterte and those that will follow him should be reminded that at Benham Rise what legally belongs to the Philippines is for the Filipinos and for the generations of Filipinos to come and not to China or any other exploitative country that intends to not only hold us by the balls, but stick it to us as well.

 

No euphoria in the favorable decision of China-Philippines arbitration

 

south china sea“The award is a complete and total victory for the Philippines … a victory for international law and international relations,” said Paul Reichler, lead lawyer for the Philippines.

The lawyer is of course talking about the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)  in The Hague favoring the Philippines in the case it filed against China ruling that the latter has no historic title over the South China Sea, even as it claims rights to the resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line, and that it has in fact breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by disallowing its people to fish and the government to conduct oil and gas exploration.

But is it really and truly a victory for the Philippines or is it just a landmark decision for the world to know and appreciate the legality of it?

How could Filipinos be euphoric of the victory when China has been defiant all along calling the case a farce, thus, boycotting the hearings at the PCA, and now rejecting the ruling, saying, that its people had more than 2,000 years of history in the South China Sea so that sovereignty and maritime interests belong to them and must be militarily defended accordingly?

How could Filipinos be euphoric of the PCA’s favorable decision when nothing will change and the ominous presence of the artificial islands furiously built in record time with military facility flying the China flag will continue to prevail?

Let us not talk anymore about the huge damage inflicted on the ecosystem under the sea when China turned the reefs into islands, for if the international community led by the U.S. has not been able to prevent them from claiming 90 % of the South China Sea with their nine-dash line policy, who are we to drive them out, much less defy?

Surely the decision did not sit well with China as the arbitral court has made them appear as a bully not only to the Philippines but to the other claimant-nation in the region as well, and so what are we to expect next from this piqued giant nation?

Or to put it in another context, what are we to do with China?

Our options, I would like to think, is simply to face realities.

The reality that the U.S. has no other interest in the area but to make sure that the freedom of navigation will continue to be respected by China.

The reality that China has established itself already in the area for better or worse and nothing can be done about it now but to be respected by all nations.

The reality that it is advantageous for the country to continue talking with the devil we know, the Americans, who has been our friend and ally for a long, long time.

The reality that it also imperative that we have to talk with the devil we least know, the Chinese, who we find now too close for comfort at our backyard, for whatever concessions we can get to help the lives of our fisher folks in areas concerned and the safety of our OFWs in China, in particular, and for the country, in general, in terms of having its exclusive economic zone guaranteed and respected as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the country’s exploitation of marine resources.

The reality that the country is weak, helpless and hapless against China, but will never be intimidated as to give up our sovereignty for what is legally ours, thus, the Philippines need the assistance, military or otherwise, of other nations willing to help like Japan and Australia.

It is interesting to know, and the world is watching us, how the Duterte administration is going to resolve this contentious issue of territorial dispute with a win-win result.

For all intents and purposes the PAC awarding the Philippines a favorable decision does not call for euphoric feeling.

More than a victory it is a landmark decision for the world’s consumption.

Hopefully such landmark decision will not turn into a flashpoint. (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/militarization-the-south-china-sea/).

 

China having the last laugh

9-dashedEverything that the Philippines have done so far relative to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) sovereignty issue with China has been reasonable and legal – at least from our own perspective.

Unlike China, which uses the 9-dash line theory of “historical rights” to claim “indisputable sovereignty” over almost the entire South China Sea (SCS), the Philippines has simply followed and complied all these years with the ruling of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) granting the Philippines, a coastal state, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles of sea from its coastline. What this means is that the country has sovereign or exclusive rights to use and develop resources in and from the area.

But, sadly, what this also means is that China’s 9-dash line claim is eating up a good portion of the country’s EEZ, 80% according to experts, including our own WPS.

As if trumping the country’s sovereignty is not bad enough, affecting the livelihood of many Filipino fisher folks and limiting our access to resources underneath, China is even making us and other neighboring claimant countries more helpless with their awesome capability of making sophisticated artificial islands complete with runways out of existing atolls and reefs right at one’s own backyard.

Yet, China’s leader has the arrogance to say that with their presence in the area now, they will not bully their weak and poor neighbors. Rather, China will continue to seek resolution of the disputes on the basis of respect of historical facts and through discussions and negotiations, according to their leader.

Who is China fooling? Perhaps to those who are willing to kowtow to China’s hegemonic intentions, they will opt for bilateral talks to benefit them economically and, perhaps, militarily. But for those, like us, who wants them to respect UNCLOS, which is to say a resolution through multilateral approach, we will always be at the mercy of their veiled threats and aggressive behavior.

The Philippines has already made a bold and defiant step against China by bringing the country’s sovereignty case for resolution before the Arbitral Tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Apparently, the UN-backed arbitral tribunal has unanimously decided that it has the right to hear our case despite China’s utter vehemence of the WPS issue being resolved by arbitration.

The fact that the tribunal has considered the evaluation of the merits of the country’s legal assertion of declaring China’s 9-dash line illegal in the next proceedings, the government officials who presented this maritime sovereignty issue in The Hague hailed the tribunal’s opinion as a victory.

But is it really a victory for us?

For as long as China’s formidable and intimidating presence in the SCS will not disrupt the freedom of navigation and over-flights in the area, China could care less really what the UN-backed tribunal’s initial or final decision would be.

The U.S. can make as many naval patrol operations in the area as they want to, where China is said to have reclaimed approximately 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of land in the Spratly island chain since last year, and is now adding harbors, housing and airstrips, including those found in the WPS, but the fact that China has established impressive structures in the area that may be used for military purposes in the future, no doubt about that, only means that this extension of power and might will be there for good to have control over the rich resources in and underneath the 9-dash line that takes up 85% of the SCS.

It will be at the height of China’s benevolence if it could return to us 80% of the EEZ that has been taken away from us because of the 9-dash line claim. As it is, it will only be wishful thinking on our part.

In the end, everybody will see China having the last laugh because there is just no organization nor a nation in the world today that China fears such that it would give up everything it has started in the SCS for violating maritime laws.

So where does this leave a poor country like the Philippines and the other nations having a stake in the SCS?

I think for better or worse, we just have to start re-understanding the word ‘capitulation’ if we want peace and stability in a place where a fire-breathing dragon is found right at our own backyard.

That is the reality the country is facing with China today in the issue of maritime sovereignty in the WPS.