Fishing moratorium

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

It not only boggles my mind, but I am also disappointed, as all Filipinos should be, that the outspoken Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr did not chime in to support Hanoi’s opposition against Beijing’s imposition of its annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, which also includes the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This after the Chinese agricultural ministry announced the start of the annual fishing ban on May 1 and will last until August 16.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry condemned China’s unilateral fishing ban, pointing out that it violates Hanoi’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and contradicts the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Vietnam opposes and resolutely rejects China’s unilateral fishing ban decision,” Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said.

But since China does not honor the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) nor does it respect the July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea then I would suppose that this fishing ban will be imposed strictly.

What is even unconscionable here is that the unilateral fishing ban also violates the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations.

So in the same manner that Vietnamese fishermen are prevented from fishing in what it considers as its own territory, the Paracel Islands, Filipino fishermen has also to observe the fishing moratorium decreed by China in our country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), most especially in the rich fishing ground of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).

It is therefore in this context that I wish the tough talking and candid Locsin could have issued a resounding protest echoing that of the Vietnamese government, if only to remind the contemptuous Chinese officials that we are a sovereign nation that respects the rule of law and not their subjects.

It is bad enough that the Filipino fishermen are being harassed and monitored closely by Chinese forces in their own fishing ground, but it is even worse that a despotic unilateral fishing ban is demanded on poor and powerless nation like the Philippines whose daily catches could not compare with the volume of catch per day China’s armada of fishing vessels make in the disputed areas of the WPS.

Not being able to go fishing until August 16 is a long time for folks who rely on this kind of livelihood to take care of their families. But it is never too long for Locsin to come out and lodge his protest.

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What hope?

I understand the continuing concern the opposition has about the impunity over how China developed, occupied and militarized the West Philippine Sea (WPS). This, even after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, overwhelmingly favored the Philippines in its 2016 decision on the disputed waters of the South China Sea, of which the WPS is part of, ruling that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.

The tribunal furthermore found China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in those waters by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration and by constructing artificial islands which are being used now for military purposes.

But if one looks at the events leading to China’s massive development and eventual occupation and militarization of the WPS with an open mind, it must have been and continue to be the concern also of all Filipinos including President Rodrigo Duterte who assumed office while the country waited with bated breath at the PCA’s verdict.

Thus, I find it quite unsavory and unfair that to this day Duterte continues to be at the receiving end of verbal tirades from different parties opposing the president for not doing anything against China’s incursion in the WPS.

Not only that. Now former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and a group of fishermen have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), that also sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, against Chinese President Xi Jinping and some Chinese officials of crimes against humanity for what the PCA described as “severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species”.

As if equating this accusation against Xi to crimes against humanity, which are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population, is not ridiculous enough, now comes Vice President Leni Robredo chiming in, saying, that she appreciated the bold steps taken by del Rosario and Morales “for it added to the hope of Filipinos, that we have the courage to stand up to a giant like China.”

What hope is Robredo talking about?

If the most powerful nation, the U.S.A., and its Western allies, has not been able to rebuke and deter China’s hegemonic ambition in the area and China has no respect for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) nor has it accepted or acknowledged the judgment rendered by the PCA, declaring the ruling in fact as “ill-founded” and “naturally null and void”, what would make Duterte’s critics believe that the ICC has the authority and wherewithal to abrogate China’s predominance in the disputed area when it is not even a member of the organization?

West Philippine Sea Victory Day

Senator Leila de Lima

It is lamentable that progressive and powerful countries in the world advocating strong support or protection for democratic principles have remained silent and noncommittal towards our plight over China’s egregious military build-up in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

But what makes it even more ridiculous now is a bill filed by Senator Leila de Lima seeking to declare July 12 of every year as the “West Philippine Sea Victory Day”.

I mean why call for a yearly moral victory celebration when China has positioned itself intrinsically at will to continue bullying us?

Senate Bill 2201 may be right in describing the arbitral tribunal’s decision on July 12, 2016 as a landmark victory for the country when it favored the country’s sovereign rights in the WPS, as stipulated by the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty which, among other things, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

In effect, the same tribunal invalidated China’s expansive claims ruling that it had no legal basis to claim the area within its nine-dash lines demarcation.

Ironically the opposite has happened because even as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was resolving the issue of sovereign rights over the disputed waters, China was busy developing the man-made islands into military bases with deep water ports and airports, after which all sorts of armaments were installed.

So while China would consider the area within the nine-dash line its territory, other countries were assured, if not pacified, that they would still have freedom of navigation,

How could de Lima, therefore, say it is a victory worth commemorating every July 12th when it is hollow and ineffectual, to say the least? Let us not fool ourselves.

What I am saying is that for as long as China stays militarily and permanently entrenched in our territorial waters and has claimed the rights to activities ranging from fishing to prospecting and mining for energy or mineral resources, while nobody in the world can admonish its hegemonic ambitions in the area, then one can never declare himself victorious in the true sense of the word.

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China’s maritime rescue center

 

SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

Aside from the expanding militarization of the artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), what got the attention lately of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is the news that China had constructed what it called a “maritime rescue center” in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), which is a disputed territory.

Carpio’s concern is that the Duterte’s government should not just let this pass, meaning that it should file a protest so that it cannot be said that we have consented to China’s act of putting up a maritime rescue center, whatever it means, or else it might be interpreted that we are recognizing China’s right to occupy and use Fiery Cross Reef when it is the Philippines that has the exclusive rights over it.

There is no doubt that Carpio’s legal advice is worth heeding for it is strengthening and upholding the country’s claim of the WPS according to the rules established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Carpio’s recommendation also seeks to give credence to the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration declaring, among other things, that China violated its obligations under UNCLOS with its island-building activities on several features, including Kagitingan Reef. Also, that China’s nine-dash lines had no legal basis for maritime claims.

But what good would Carpio’s proposition really do when China has established her dominion in the WPS with impunity, does not give a hoot about UNCLOS and simply brushes off the decision of the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal?

Needless to say that China is staying in the WPS forever and nobody, not even the US nor the UN, can stop their continuing military build-up in the disputed waters. The strategic importance of the place, both for military and economic purposes, cannot be overemphasized and China can only gloat for the success it has attained in having the vast area under its control today.

Had the Duterte government protested when China started building the now existing maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, and a national environmental and air quality monitoring station, all on the pretext that it was built for humanitarian reasons?

How about when China quietly installed defensive missile systems and military jamming equipment, which disrupts communications and radar systems?

It never did.

The fact is that protesting against a superpower like China whose formidable military presence can be felt in our backyard is not only dispiriting, but is in itself an exercise in futility. We are on our own and the best way forward is not to antagonize but rather focus on economic cooperation while maintaining our self-respect.

Finger pointing

 

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

There is no disputing anymore that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has been turned into a militarized zone by China. Much has been written about it and photos will prove the extent of the military build-up in the area.

But I just want to give my two cents’ on a recent news report where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was quoted, when interviewed on ANC, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s really fair to point a finger at the United States because we’re not doing anything. It’s China that’s taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area.”

This has reference of course to a remark made by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime this year that it is the US who should be blamed for the reclamation activities done by Beijing in the WPS.

What Duterte simply meant is that had the US, as the acknowledged leader of the free world, intervened early on by calling upon China to respect and adhere with the rulings of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aggression and expansionism by China, using its historic claims of “Nine-Dash Line” could not have happened in the SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

Note that UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans; it establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Because of UNCLOS, the Philippines made a unilateral move to sue China before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 due to China’s aggression and incursions in the WPS which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We all know by now that the Philippines won the case against China in July 2016 when the UN court junked China’s nine-dash line claim on the entire South China Sea.

Duterte therefore was right in putting the onus on the US which, unfortunately Kim willfully ignored and refrained from disproving it.

The truth of the matter is that while the US participated in the negotiations of modifications to the treaty in the early 1990s, before it came into force in 1994, and continues to recognize the significance of UNCLOS, it has, however, failed to ratify it to this day, thus, compromising its ability to peacefully resolve SCS disputes by its non-party status to UNCLOS.

It is in this context that China took advantage of the seeming absence of the US in strongly promoting rules-based approach to governance in SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

The seeming US nonchalance also failed to stop China’s impunity to increase its control and extend its authority in the region at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

A new twist in Phil-China relationship

 

This is a new twist in the Phil-China relationship that I surely welcome and so should the rest of the Filipino people who feels aggrieved, bullied and disadvantaged over China’s wanton aggression and utter disregard 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 defines the limits of the territorial seas of nations and the areas in which they could exploit marine resources.

It is now history at what China has done and accomplished in the South China Sea (SCS), of which the West Phil Sea is part of it, and for a little insight you may open this link, among the other pieces I wrote about these controversial seas:  https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/eez/.

If it is of any consolation at least President Rodrigo Duterte has finally found the courage and the aggressiveness to chide China, calling it wrong the latter’s claim of the airspace over their militarized artificial islands in the SCS.

“That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea,” Duterte said in a speech before an audience that included foreign guests.

“You cannot create an island, it’s man-made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours,” the president also said.

The logic of this statement is simply profound and, indeed, incontrovertible.

This rebuke from Duterte came in the wake of a repeated warning radioed by the Chinese military to a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon plane to “leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding” while the reconnaissance aircraft flew close to some of the man-made islands.

On this, Duterte said, “I hope that China would temper … its behavior.”

This observation and comments by Duterte did not sit well with Beijing, however, as it ignored Duterte’s chiding, saying and asserting instead that where the man-made islands are in the SCS all are China’s inherent territory and, thus, it has the right to react to foreign ships or aircraft that get close to its islands.

Perhaps piqued by China’s continued arrogance in asserting its supremacy of the airspace over the militarized man-made islands, which for timeless occasions even our own military aircraft patrolling the area receives Chinese radio warnings, Duterte could only issue another relative statement, saying, “You cannot create islands there and claim the sea. That is not an island, artificial islands are not true, are prohibited in the middle sea. ‘Yan nga ang rule diyan eh (That’s the rule there).

Another frustration vented? You bet!

I only hope that in this new twist in Phil-China relationship Duterte will be able to see a lot more to it than meets the eye.

It’s never too late.

China’s bomber plane has landed

 

China’s H-6K bomber plane

But of course, and where else but in the South China Sea (SCS), where China is establishing military control over the disputed sea.

Surprised? Anxious?

Well, this should not surprise us for it was bound to happen sooner or later and there was nothing we can do really.

If the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia policy did not stop China’s militarization in disputed islands in the SCS, would you think that a third world country like us will have the audacity or the bluster, if you may, to stand up against this world power and derail the Chinese hegemony in the area of which the West Philippine Sea is part of?

Because the SCS may be the most strategically important waterway of the 21st century, many nations, including the Philippines, have urged Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets maritime zones of control based on coastlines, but to no avail.

Nobody seems to have resisted China’s insistence in its “nine-dash line” claim that encircles as much as 90 percent of the contested waters. Beijing maintains it owns any land or features contained within the line based on what it calls China’s “historical territory since ancient times.”

Thus, China disaffirms UNCLOS and its function viewing it instead as an instrument of Western hegemony designed to undercut China’s expanding influence as a world power.

One wonders now if the Trump administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, where all nations are “free from coercion” and can pursue paths forward in a sovereign manner. will ably replace the Obama era of “rebalancing” toward Asia and make a difference. Open sea lines of communication and open airways are said to be a vital part of this thinking. Or has it come too late already, too?

So, should we be anxious or fearful of China’s brazen occupation in the SCS?

Of course we should!

The fact that China’s H-6K bomber has landed on Woody Island, Beijing’s largest military outpost in in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, after already having deployed in the Spratlys J-11 fighters, HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles, and other military apparatus there, is indeed a reason for grieve apprehension.

Admiral Philip Davidson, incoming chief of the US Pacific Command, warned that China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in “all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

With American bases in the country, what this means is that we find ourselves now in a precarious situation caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and can be likened to iron files that is easily drawn to the magnet of war between these two military giants, if ever, God forbids.