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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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.

 

China still a winner despite arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling

 

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s pronouncement as ‘a great and resounding victory’ the arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling in our dispute with China on the country’s claim of the West Philippine Sea is, to my mind, ambiguous at best and a sham at worst.

How can the country claim victory when China not only disrespects and dishonors the arbitral body and its decision but more significantly has not move an inch away from our own exclusive economic zone, which the country has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources, whether living or non-living, etc.

What is even disadvantageous is that China has not stop developing and strengthening militarily the disputed area, all to our dismay.

Most wanting yet is that the rich fishing grounds where our fisher folks used to go for a living continues to be off limits to them.

Yes, they call it a historic ruling by the arbitral tribunal but what impact has it made on the foreign powers, most notably the United States?

Nothing! Why? Because there is nothing the Western powers can really do directly about it. That is the long and short of it.

Yet Yasay says, “We are also getting the pressure on the part of the international community to urge China to precisely respect and recognize the decision of the arbitral tribunal. This pressure on the part of the international community is building up.”

If the most powerful country in the world and its allies can’t compel China to honor the decision of the arbitral tribunal, who are we to bulldoze this giant nation?

“We are trying to make China understand, especially when the dust settles, that unless they respect and recognize the arbitral tribunal, they will be the losers at the end of the day on this matter,” Yasay said in a congressional budget hearing.

Losers or is it that China just don’t give a damn and continue to have their aggressive winning ways?

For how else one should interpret what the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said in an interview with reporters on this matter:  “We cannot accept the arbitration award but we do look forward to talk to the Philippines bilaterally of the troubles we have.”

That is the reality we and the rest of the world have to contend with.

Politics derailing implementation of RH Law

RH lawThere is no doubt that politics, or the crucial 2016 presidential election, is causing the derailment of the much needed Reproductive Health (RH) Law in the country.

This could be considered as one of the biggest fallacy of the “tuwid na daan” (straight path) under President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) who, if one remembers, moved heaven and earth for the passage of the law.

It took political will to go against the Catholic Church and many believed that it was the right thing to do, the straight path to follow, if we wanted to see the country progress while at the same time decrease maternal deaths and improve the quality of life of Filipinos, especially the poor, who are the ones miserably affected.

But, afraid of the backlash that could further affect the winnability of PNoy’s presidential bet in the 2016 elections, he succumbed to the political pressure and allowed the paralyzing cut of over P 1-billion in the budget for the implementation of the RH Law.

Could PNoy have done something about it? Damn right, he could have! He could have used his powerful veto prerogative when the budget was signed on Dec 22.

It was reported that the P1 billion went primarily to the purchase of warplanes, which Sen. Loren Legarda said is “timely” given the issue in the West Philippine Sea.

The use of the “timely” statement by Legarda is simply stupid. As if the purchase of the warplanes could make a dent in China’s aggressive occupation and militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

I could only agree with presidential candidate Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago when she issued a statement, saying, “The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of reproductive health services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die. The enemies of reproductive health never sleep. We, too, must not rest in fighting for women’s health.”

And more so that I agree with Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) regional director for Asia and the Pacific, who said that the “failure to sustain this commitment (to fund family planning programs) can swiftly reverse gains and put the country in a more difficult position to achieve its vital development target to reduce maternal deaths.”

“For a country with a large population of young people such as the Philippines, important investments should be made on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including access to contraceptives, to achieve a more educated and healthy population, more productive workforce and growing economy to maximize the potential of the huge population.”

PNoy may not realize it but his politically motivated action may be considered his greatest disservice to the country.

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.

China cries foul over sovereignty issue in the South China Sea

 

The Arbitral Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China.

The Arbitral Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China.

For bringing the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea (SCS) before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the Netherlands, China described the Philippines’ action as foul.

Well, to make it more melodramatic, China portrayed itself as the ‘victim’ of the Philippines’ stance in wanting to solve the territorial dispute in the SCS by arbitration and not by bilateral talks or negotiations and consultations between governments, as China wants it and sees it fit.

For this, the Philippines has irked China terribly prompting the giant nation to call the smaller, weak and poor nation the ‘real trouble-maker and rule-breaker in the region.’

Does the Philippines deserve to be called that just because the country is asking the arbitration tribunal to declare China’s nine-dashed line void and for China to respect instead the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles of sea (the West Philippine Sea) from its coastline, which the country is entitled to have by virtue of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?

Are Filipinos to be called ‘trouble-maker’ in the region just because we are asserting our legal rights over the portion of the SCS, which we call now the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and for that matter purposely grounded a dilapidated WWII-era ship with a handful of Filipino soldiers manning it, aptly describing it as the Philippines’ last line of defense against China’s efforts to control most of the South China Sea?

It must be noted that not only is China contented of claiming 85% of the SCS by virtue of historical grounds, but also wantonly, if not forcefully, still encroaches 80% of the Philippines’ EEZ.

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China has the arrogance and the capability to build artificial islands on disputed reefs, turning it into a military complex – even at your own backyard?

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China has the imperiousness to impose its will and ignore any ruling by the arbitration tribunal concerning the maritime case raised by the Philippines before it?

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China continues to have the swagger, rudeness and barbarity to order the Philippines to remove the grounded, decaying vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre, on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the WPS upon learning that it is being repaired to prevent it from falling apart?

The Philippines considers Ayungin Shoal, which lies 105 nautical miles (195 kilometers) southwest of Palawan, as being within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

“China once again urges the Philippines to immediately stop all illegal activities that infringe upon China’s sovereignty and maritime rights, and honor its commitment of towing away the vessel. China reserves the right to take further actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

Doesn’t sound to me like a ‘victim’, but more like a consistent big bully, which China is in all manner, shape and form.

Why doesn’t China just ask the Filipino fishermen who are the real victims?

The Torre de Manila and West Philippine Sea controversies

 

Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

I understand that the Torre de Manila (TdM) issue and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute with China are two separate and distinct controversies hounding the nation today.

Separate and distinct in the sense that the TdM has become controversial because of its alleged illegal construction which has been described by many as ‘photobombing’ the grandeur of the Rizal monument at the Luneta Park, while the WPS, where, even the country’s exclusive economic zone (a sea zone 200 nautical miles from its coast) prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities, is now being claimed by China as part of its nine-dash map claiming practically the whole of the south China Sea.

If the subjects are two separate and distinct issues, then why am I bringing them up together instead of alienating one another?

Well, my intention is simply to point out how similar, yet dismal has been government’s approach in treating that which has now become controversial issues.

Take for instance the TdM issue. Why was the construction company given all the permits by the city of Manila to build it in a place where its monstrosity, at the end, will only destroy the vista or the visual corridors of the Rizal Monument in Luneta?

If the agencies providing the permits did not realize this at the beginning, at least the city government or the national government, for that matter, should have noticed that when the building started rising up, there were already signs that it was going to destroy the aesthetic landscape of the park, yet construction was allowed to go on, adding more floors, before deciding to stop it. And it was not even government that initiated the stoppage of the project.

Now the project is at standstill, while authorities and the stakeholders are locking horns as to how to proceed. Not only are politicians blaming each other, but one even ridiculously suggested to let the TdM stay and for Rizal to make an about-face.

Lack of concern, commitment, determination or political will, if you may, by authorities is simply the culprit. Once acts and decisions are corrupted it could have adverse effects on how our government leaders approach issues that could later turn controversial.

Local government’s delay, nay lackadaisical reaction towards the TdM condominium construction cannot really be alienated from the equally lethargic and passive approach taken by the national government towards China’s civilian-turned-military build-up in the South China Sea (SCS) that started to encroach in the WPS.

What I am simply saying is that our government, whether local or national, has always the propensity and habit of deploring and protesting violations of existing laws only when it is too late already.

China's nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

In the case of the WPS, despite the seemingly permanent structures built here and there and around the SCS by China all these years, supposedly to assist and give shelter to Chinese fishermen caught in inclement weather, we did not only have the foresight that years later the Chinese will start coming near our shores bullying our own fisher folks and, worst still, making islands out of atolls, but our leaders were more interested in our brand of politics that only made the nation poorer and weaker.

Not until we saw these man-made islands turn into airfields and military complexes that our leaders started making a lot of noise and moving mountains, looking for help. Certainly, we could not do it on our own, not having the capacity and the capability to prevent China from encroaching in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which China is claiming as theirs, too.

Sad to say that as China awaken, with the whole world seeing its succession of leaders turning around the giant nation with an enormous population into both economic and military power to rival the US and seek its own world dominion, the Philippines continued to wallow in poverty with its corrupt leaders and their allies putting their selfish interest ahead of the nation’s and it’s people’s well being.

If the US, the greatest and most powerful nation in the world, has not been able to stop China’s military build-up in the SCS and, most importantly, from imposing China’s nine-dash map that includes our own territorial waters, thus making China the sole claimant of the vast resources in and underneath the SCS, who are we to mount an offensive militarily against them?

What the Philippines has been exercising instead is verbal offensive, for that is all we can do, and for this reason the country is sending a delegation to the UN tribunal at The Hague, headed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, to argue the country’s position against China’s claim over most of the resource-rich SCS.

But, China has been saying all along that it won’t participate in any arbitration proceedings now or in the future.

Suffice to say that no matter how many arbitration proceedings there will be and how articulate our delegates/advocates are, or whether or not the UN tribunal will rule in our favor, the fact remains that nobody can undo what China has done already at the SCS, including that which is in our own EEZ at the WPS, much less contest and drive them away from what the giant nation claims as their historical domain.

As we find the local government in Manila in quandary searching for solutions as to how to proceed resolving the TdM controversy, so are we looking at the national government alarmingly and desperately trying to keep what belongs to us in the country’s territorial dispute with China at the WPS.

The way I look at it, and I hope I am wrong, is that the steps taken by both governments are all exercise in futility.

Needless to say, we have to live and co-exist with whatever is there, on land and at sea, no matter what the consequences will be.