Posts Tagged ‘Spratlys’

South China Sea: The Philippines Sees A Growing Reality: “We are the ones who are being left behind here.”

May 13, 2018
China holds on to the Islands the Philippines claims it owns. Who is the winner?
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The Philippines says it “owns” Subi Reef — But a huge Chinese military base there might make the Filipinos just dreamers….

 / 05:14 AM May 13, 2018

Malacañang has taken strong exception to a report in this paper, quoting observations by local officials and international experts alike, that the Philippines appears to have been left behind by rival claimant-countries in developing territories it occupies in the South China Sea

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The Philippines says it “owns” Mischief Reef, but there is not one known Filipinos living there. China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines

Carlyle Thayer, a Southeast Asia security expert and professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Defense Force Academy, for instance, noted that the Philippines appears to exercise “a form of self-restraint in allowing some of its facilities to fall into disrepair and in not undertaking new construction to keep China from exerting diplomatic pressure.”

President Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque was quick to dismiss this characterization: “If they’ve overtaken us in asserting their rights and sovereignty, I dispute that,” he said, adding that the Philippines is the only one among the claimants “that can claim sovereignty over the islands that we own” — presumably alluding to the favorable ruling the country had won in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 that invalidated China’s competing claim to waters and features within Philippine territory.

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China’s “Belt and Road” may have bypassed the Philippines — Leaving Filipinos locked on islands China doesn’t want…..

But the observation, in fact, is hardly new. In April 2017, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, along with a few other military officials and Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez, flew to Pag-asa Island — the largest of the nine islands that the Philippines occupies in the Spratlys, known collectively as the Kalayaan Island Group — to announce that the Duterte administration was setting aside P1.6 billion to develop Pag-asa into a tourist attraction and a marine research center.

Each of the other islands would also be allocated P20 million to build structures on them.

Citing China, which had developed Subi Reef — an island 26 kilometers (14 nautical miles) from Pag-asa — into a highly fortified outpost, Lorenzana was quoted as saying: “You’ve seen the other side … You saw Subi Reef. We are the ones who are being left behind here.”

As for Vietnam, it has “also built up [its islands] so we should have done this before.”

What should have been done long before was for Pag-asa and the other Philippine territories to be developed to host permanent, sustainable and thriving habitation, civilian and military, to strengthen the country’s territorial claim on them.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and China have all done extensive work on their own claimed islands. Thus, most of Vietnam’s outposts bristle with artillery, gun emplacements, solar panels and bunkers, while Malaysia has transformed one of its islands into both a naval base and a luxury resort.

The Philippines’ outpost in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, on the other hand, continues to be a desolate, dispiriting picture of the country’s state of commitment to its far-flung territories: The BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting, decrepit World War II ship, was intentionally grounded there by the Philippine Navy in 1999 to serve as the garrison for the few hardy Filipino soldiers stationed on rotation as the bulwark of the country’s territorial claim on the shoal.

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BRP Sierra Madre

Pag-asa does have an airstrip, a watchtower, a naval station, and a community of some 100 civilians. But the 1.3-km airstrip is eroded and too short for big aircraft.

China, meanwhile, has built 3-km airstrips on three Philippine-claimed reefs that it has turned into massive, missile-armed artificial islands.

Pag-asa also doesn’t have a dock, forcing large vessels to anchor far from shore and unload to smaller boats to deliver basic goods to the local community.

Lorenzana’s visit last year carried news that a port, at last, would be constructed. But more than a year later, nothing has been done.

Against that sorry history, “left behind” seems benign a description of the Philippines’ decades-long neglect of its frontiers in the Spratlys. It is a negligence now made even more acute by China’s moist eyes on them.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/113145/dismal-ph-outposts-spratlys#ixzz5FNcvKEKf
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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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Philippine Gov’t ‘neglect’ of PH outposts ‘not fair’ to soldiers

May 9, 2018
By:  – Reporter / @FMangosingINQ
 / 09:37 AM May 09, 2018

The BRP Sierra Madre sits on Ayungin Shoal as a symbol of Philippine presence and claim over the marine feature in the South China Sea. INQUIRER FILE

The lack of significant upgrade on Philippine-held detachments in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is ‘not fair’ to soldiers stationed there, a security expert said Tuesday.

“It is not fair to our AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] in hardship posts in Kalayaan Island Group and Ayungin Shoal that the government is hardly upgrading our facilities there, yielding to China’s objections,” former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told Inquirer.net.

President Rodrigo Duterte has stressed that he was avoiding an armed conflict with China because it could lead to a “massacre” of Filipino soldiers, who are poorly armed compared to their Chinese counterparts.

The Philippines occupies nine features in the Spratly Islands, known locally as the Kalayaan Island Group:  Pagasa Island (Thitu), Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal), Lawak Island (Nanshan), Parola Island (Northeast Cay), Patag Island (Flat), Kota Island (Loaita), Rizal Reef (Commodore), Likas Island (West York), and Panata Island (Lankiam Cay).

Each of the outposts is manned by a small group of Marines, who serve three-to-six-month tours of duty.

The planned P1.6-B development of Pagasa Island had been stalled for over a year over unspecified reasons after it has been announced.

Pagasa has a 1.3-kilometer dilapidated runway that badly needs an upgrade. It also lacks a port for visiting vessels.

The rusting vintage ship, BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, is in a poor condition. The rest of the country’s facilities in the Spratlys also need major improvements.

As China continues to build structures and equip their artificial islands with advanced military capabilities, other claimants like Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia have been upgrading their outposts, although not as massive as the Asian giant. The Philippines lags in making upgrades.

Duterte’s peace overtures with Beijing has also led to greater economic and political cooperation between China and the Philippines.

“It seems we are overdoing our act not to antagonize China by not reinforcing our facilities in the KIG,” Golez said.

Defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio said that the Philippine facilities in a “high tension environment” like the Spratlys must be improved “to allow for greater survivability in matters of stocked supplies, defenses and logistic capabilities” in case of “any eventuality such as hostile incidents or even natural calamities.”

Among the latest major developments in the Spratlys include China’s deployment of missiles in three of its biggest man-made islands in recent weeks, which has raised concerns of several nations like the Philippines and US.

“Now, given that China has upped the ante by deploying missiles to the West Philippine Sea it becomes imperative to increase our defenses as this deployment has run counter to previous Chinese claims of not further militarizing the area,” he said.

“China’s display of bad faith makes it more imperative to be vigilant and to allow our forces the capability to respond to the current and future Chinese intimidation and threats such as blockades,” Custodio added.

‘Resolve in the face of China’s intimidation’

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the improvements in KIG may also serve a “symbolic purpose.”

“[It’s] demonstrating resolve even in the face of China’s intimidation. To do nothing would be to signal that we concede the South China Sea to China,” he said.

He added that an upgrade of the country’s detachments similar to its Southeast Asian neighbors won’t be considered a violation of any agreement. The developments won’t also include reclamation activities.

The government on Tuesday denied that the Philippines is lagging behind its rival claimants in the Spratlys.

“If they’ve overtaken us in asserting their rights and sovereignty, I dispute that,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“From the nature of the islands that we occupy, we are the only ones of all the claimants, except for Taiwan, which occupies Itu Aba, that can claim sovereignty over the islands that we own,” he added.

In April, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that the Philippines is not building up its defenses in the Spratlys because they would rather spend the budget on education or health.

“Of course, we want an aircraft carrier. We want a submarine someday and that’s part of your national security and part of keeping your people safe. But what good is it to have the best military if your people are starving, if your people don’t have jobs. If your people are forced to leave the country and if your people are not safe. So our priority really is building our economy and keeping our people safe,” Cayetano told Filipino reporters in Hong Kong after attending the Boao Forum for Asia in China, last month.

The government is facing criticisms for supposedly being submissive to China in exchange for loans and other economic investments.

“The Duterte administration has chosen to openly side with China and abandon with all the pretensions of protecting Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea area,” Custodio said.

Golez said that Vietnam, which has turned out to be the most vocal of Southeast Asian countries on China’s activities in the disputed waterway, has demonstrated that “a good defense capability build up is not incompatible with a vibrant economy.”

Both China and Vietnam maintain economic ties but the latter remains to be vocal against the Asian superpower’s aggressive activities in the South China Sea.

“The message: Be not timid in facing China,” Golez said. /cbb

Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/166747/news-spratlys-south-china-sea-kalayaan-group-of-islands-west-philippine-sea#ixzz5F0a6RiWs
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Four Powerful Countries Plan Resistance To China in the South China Sea

February 5, 2018
By Ralph Jennings
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U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Navy Vice Adm. David Johnston take part in a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise.

U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, left, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Navy Vice Adm. David Johnston take part in a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise.

A bloc of four powerful, Western-allied nations, intent on keeping the South China Sea open for international use despite growing Chinese control, will probably issue stern statements, help China’s maritime rivals and hold joint naval exercises near the contested waterway this year, analysts say.

Australia, India, Japan and the United States, a group known as the quad, are most likely to take those measures rather than directly challenging Chinese claims such as its military installations among the sea’s 500 small islets.

“Number one, presence is probably going be driven by the U.S.,” said Stuart Orr, professor of strategic management at Deakin University in Australia. “If I were to take a guess, I would say probably follow that by India, with Japan taking a little bit more of the same role as Australia does, at providing high-level logistical support.”

The quad countries want to keep the 3.5 million-square-kilometer, resource-rich sea open while protecting their own economic ties with Beijing, say experts who follow the issue. Multiple countries ship, fish and explore for oil in the South China Sea today.

Cautionary pronouncements

Heads of state from the four-way alliance met in Manila in November to discuss keeping the sea open. Australia and Japan separately called then for “rules-based order” and “respect for international law” in the sea.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries, including four that compete with China for maritime sovereignty, January 26 that India was committed to working together more on maritime matters.

Expect more statements designed to keep China on guard, analysts say.

“I think the most concrete thing they can do is to issue some statements on the South China Sea dispute, and even then I believe that China might not even be explicitly named in such a statement,” said Ben Ho, senior analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

World leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

World leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

China calls about 90 percent of the sea its own. Chinese expansion since 2010 has irritated rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Those governments, all militarily weaker than Beijing, bristle when China fortifies disputed islets for military use and passes coast guard ships through contested waters.

Beijing says historical records prove its claim to the sea, an argument rejected in 2016 by a world arbitration court.

Joint military exercises

Combinations of the four countries might pass naval vessels through the South China Sea, especially along its perimeters or the coastal waters of smaller countries that want help resisting Chinese vessels, experts say.

The United States, the world’s top military power, has sent naval vessels to the South China Sea five times under President Donald Trump, extending a practice under his predecessor to assert Washington’s view that the sea should allow freedom of navigation.

Japan may follow as it tries to “break out of its self-imposed restraints,” said Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.

Tokyo passed a helicopter carrier through the disputed sea in June 2017. Japan vies with China over tracts of the East China Sea, as well. Leaders are in Tokyo are studying constitutional changes to give the armed forces more power.

“You will see Japan trying to make more frequent port calls and indeed join military exercises, providing training and so on to these nations,” Oh said.

India and Australia would support any military movement aimed at warning China, analysts say. Australia could become a place to monitor “what’s going on” and become a platform for any follow-up, Orr said.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd arrives off the coast of India in preparation for Malabar 2017, a series of exercises between the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and U.S. Navy.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd arrives off the coast of India in preparation for Malabar 2017, a series of exercises between the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and U.S. Navy.

India will make port calls and join any naval patrols with other countries, said Sameer Lalwani, deputy director for U.S. think tank The Stimson Center’s South Asia program. India vies with China for geopolitical control in south and central Asia.

“India could also enhance the number of military exercises, both national and joint with other countries to improve proficiency, enhance cooperation, and signal capabilities,” Lalwani said. “Obviously more visible cooperation with the United States would send an even stronger message.”

Arms supplies

Japan will “continue to bolster the capacities” of allied Asian countries, said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor in politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.

Expect military training, new equipment and two naval destroyer visits this year to Vietnam “as a message that their relations are deepening,” he said.

Vietnam has been the most aggressive South China Sea claimant aside from China. In January 2017 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to provide six patrol boats for Vietnam’s coast guard. The U.S. government is also planning to let one of its aircraft carriers visit the Southeast Asian country this year.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, waves to reporters at a meeting during the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Nov. 13, 2017.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, waves to reporters at a meeting during the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Nov. 13, 2017.

“With the U.S. sending ships as well, Vietnam and other countries are being courted for more security partnerships,” Nagy said.

India has previously helped Vietnam explore the sea for oil. It may look to the quad for chances to grow its economy, technology and foreign relations, experts believe.

Chinese reaction

China is expected to react to the quad one act at a time. If they make statements, China will use words in return, Ho said. If the other countries hold military exercises, China might double down on fortifying the islets it holds now in the Paracel and Spratly chains.

India and Japan are unlikely to push too hard overall as they grapple with their own disputes involving China, Ho said. India and China contest two tracts of their mountainous land border.

China’s chief deterrent for the quad players may be its economic might. Australia, for example, counts China as its No. 1 trade partner, with a 27 percent increase in exports in 2016 and 2017, official Australian data show. A naval drill is unlikely, Ho said.

“I think Canberra has too much at stake in terms of economic links with Beijing to take such a drastic measure,” he said. “After all China is Australia’s top trading partner, both in terms of imports and exports, and Canberra will not do anything drastic to damage its relationship.”

https://www.voanews.com/a/countries-push-for-joint-naval-exercises-in-south-china-sea/4239171.html

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Philippines government on China buildup on PH reef: What do you want us to do? — Malacañang portrays itself as helpless in the face of China — Not a violation of China’s “good faith commitment.” — Really? — Something is fishy…

February 5, 2018

(UPDATED) Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque again downplays continued militarization by China of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea

Published 3:05 PM, February 05, 2018
Updated 3:39 PM, February 05, 2018

DUTERTE AND CHINA. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is given a tour inside the Chinese Navy vessel Chang Chun where he was able to see the armaments, the deck, the bridge navigation system, and operations room command and control system. Malacañang file photo

DUTERTE AND CHINA. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is given a tour inside the Chinese Navy vessel Chang Chun where he was able to see the armaments, the deck, the bridge navigation system, and operations room command and control system. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang, on Monday, February 5, portrayed itself as helpless in the face of China’s continued construction on Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), a reef that belongs to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what do they want us to do?” asked Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque during a Palace news briefing.

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 Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

He was asked what the Philippine government intends to do about the new structures built by China on the reef located in the Spratlys which the Permanent Court of Arbitration, through a landmark ruling, affirmed belongs to the Philippines.

Photos show the reclaimed reef now has a concrete runway, two radomes for radar equipment, two hangars, and a control tower.

Roque said the reclamation of the reefs in the Spratlys began during the administration of Benigno Aquino III and that the government had already known then of China’s plan to build military structures on them.

“I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases. So, what do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” said President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman.

Asked if the Philippines intends to file a diplomatic protest against China, Roque was evasive.

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China’s man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea, shows Chinese military construction

“In the first place, it did not happen overnight. I think the previous administration must have filed also a protest, when it became apparent that they were going to be used as military bases,” he said.

Roque insisted that the only red flag for Malacañang is if China creates more artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

This despite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saying a month ago that even just military buildup on existing artificial islands is a violation of China’s promise.

“I know for a fact that the Chinese government said some time ago that they are not going to militarize those reclaimed islands,” said Lorenzana last January 8.

If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and weapons, then it will be a violation of what they said,” he added.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between his remarks and that of the defense chief, Roque said he can only speak for Duterte and not for other Cabinet members.

Options outside of war

This is the second time Roque has downplayed new Chinese construction in the West Philippine Sea. In early January, he also said the transformation of Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) into a Chinese air base was not a violation of China’s “good faith commitment.”

During the Monday briefing, Roque wondered out loud what else the Duterte administration could do in the face of China’s continued construction on reclaimed reefs. He even asked reporters present for suggestions since declaring war against China is “impossible.”

Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had previously outlined 5 steps the Duterte administration could take to deter China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea without going to war.

One of these steps is to file a diplomatic protest. Another is to send the Philippine Navy to patrol features in the EEZ.

Carpio also said the Philippines could ask for the assistance of the United States, possibly in the form of joint naval patrols. He also advised the government to avoid any act or statement that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Why Justice Carpio wants China to read his e-book)

Asked about Carpio’s criticism of the Duterte administration’s decision to trust China’s word on its activities in the West Philippine Sea, Roque said it would be better for Carpio to write a relevant court decision or to run for a post in government.

“He could run [for] an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government,” said Roque. – Rappler.com

https://www.rappler.com/nation/195287-malacanang-china-buildup-mischief-reef-west-philippine-sea

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

China to bring 4G+ telecom services on man-made islands in South China Sea

February 3, 2018
Aerial photos aired by China Central Television show the completed construction of facilities on Fiery Cross Reef, one of Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands. CCTV via Asia Times

MANILA, Philippines — China’s navy and telecommunication corporations are reportedly working to improve communications system in Chinese-occupied features in the disputed South China Sea by bringing 4G+ services in the area.

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

On Friday, state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the Chinese navy has signed an agreement with Beijing’s three largest telecom operators to “comprehensively upgrade” civil communication system on Chinese reefs in Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) islands.

The project is targeted to be completed in May.

“The project will greatly increase the number of telecommunication base stations on some islands and reefs, such as Yongxing (Woody), Yongshu (Kagitingan), and Meiji (Panganiban),” Xinhua reported.

“The operators also promised more affordable service packages for users,” it added.

“In addition to improvements in the living conditions for civilians and military on the islands and reefs, the upgrade is also expected to provide support for fishery, emergency response, maritime search and rescue, and humanitarian relief efforts in nearby waters.”

In a report dated December 14, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s CSIS identified all permanent facilities that can be used for military purposes that China completed or began work since the start of 2017.

AMTI said Beijing had done “smaller scale” construction at its bases in the Paracel islands, which are claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Although there was no substantial new construction at the island last year, Woody island, China’s military and administrative headquarters in the disputed sea, saw two first-time air deployments that “hint at things to come at the three Spratly Island airbases farther south.”

READ: Analyst: China continues expansion in South China Sea as int’l focus ‘shifts away’

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who courted the Asian power for billion dollars’ worth of investments.

RELATED: US think tank expert: South China Sea diplomatic breakthrough ‘unlikely’

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/03/1784227/china-bring-4g-telecom-services-man-made-islands-south-china-sea

China exploration of Benham Rise: Trust, but verify — Philippines assisting China in future submarine war? –Could the “China Dream” become a Philippine Nightmare?

February 1, 2018
Technical divers went down to a maximum depth of 63 meters, with a bottom time of 30 minutes during the 2016 Benham Rise expedition. Oceana

“Trust, but verify.” This was one of the most poignant quotes from former American president Ronald Reagan, specifically in the context of geopolitics. Ironically, it was originally a Russian proverb, which the American president deftly deployed to deal with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

Those were, however, more than just wise words, but instead a valuable strategic dictum, which served as the foundation of Reagan’s years-long chess-like negotiations with his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.

Reagan believed in cooperation and confidence-building measures with even the most bitter and existential rivals – but, crucially, from a position of strength and with eyes wide-open. In many ways, the Philippines faces a similar dilemma vis-à-vis China, particularly in the South China Sea and over the past year or so in the Benham Rise.

Most Filipinos are somehow familiar with the nature of the disputes in the South China Sea and more specifically, the West Philippine Sea, which pertains to areas that fall within our Exclusive Economic Zone in the area.

Yet, it behooves us to understand what is at stake in the Behnam Rise, which falls in the Western Pacific and within the Philippine Sea. We have to keep in mind that what we are talking about here is neither an island, rock nor a low-tide elevation similar to the land features we claim and occupy in the South China Sea, but instead a volcanic ridge, which is part of our extended continental shelf.

Thus, in the Benham Rise we do have “sovereign rights”— rather than “sovereignty,” since we’re not talking about a full-fledged island or land formation — based on Article 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which makes it clear that a coastal state has sovereign rights over its continental shelf for the purpose of “exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.”

Crucially, those rights are “exclusive,” meaning other states can only do so with our express permission. The distinction between “sovereign rights” and “sovereignty” is not a major categorical difference. They are both manifestations of exclusive rights of a coastal state along a broad spectrum of jurisdictional regime.

Yes, we can’t claim the whole body of water above the ridge as our “territory” per se, but we have full and exclusive sovereign rights over “mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species” in the area. This was affirmed by a 2012 United Nations ruling, which, per UNCLOS Art. 76 no. 8, is “final” and “binding” on all signatories to the Convention.

Other states are certainly correct to emphasize their rights to freedom of navigation (FON) and overflight (FOO) in the area per UNCLOS, but that’s very rich when it comes from a country like China, which rejects an UNCLOS-based arbitration ruling as a “piece of trash paper” and claims the whole South China Sea as its own “blue nation soil” — not to mention impedes FON and FOO through massive reclamation and militarization in the Spratlys and Paracels.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with allowing other countries to conduct Maritime Scientific Research (MSR) in the Benham Rise so long as they meet our qualification criteria. And we should indeed cooperate with neighboring states such as China for confidence-building purposes as well as absolute gains of cooperation with better-endowed nations. Flatly rejecting any form of scientific cooperation with China is shortsighted.

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Chinese ocean research ship Ke Xue

Much has been said about the Philippines’ collaboration with institutions from the United States, Japan and other countries in the Benham Rise, which is rich in seabed resources, but any MSR agreement with a country like China stands out precisely because of the fact that the emerging superpower has a long-term strategy of dominating its adjacent waters.

Under its own version of the so-called “Island Chain Strategy,” China seeks naval dominance in both the East and South China Seas, part of the so-called “first island chain,” as well as the Western Pacific, specifically parts of the so-called “second island chain.”

In China’s view, the best way to defend itself from external threats, particularly the U.S., is through domination of adjacent waters – creating a maritime buffer zone as a perimeter of defense, especially for its own burgeoning maritime interests and naval capabilities, including state-of-the-art submarine bases in Hainan.

Year after year, Chinese applications for MSR in the Benham Rise have been rejected, precisely because they have refused to even accommodate, per our requirements, a single Filipino scientist to do onboard monitoring during their research. We simply don’t know the exact nature of their reported presence in the area in recent years.

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This year, they have reportedly fulfilled our requirements (though it seems not in the case of a far more reputable French institution). The MSR between Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, its local partner, is supposed to focus on studying climate-driving ocean currents. This looks all fine and innocuous, if not commendable.

But the question remains: What is the ultimate goal of China? Many defense experts fear that MSRs are just a convenient cover for more robust security goals, namely monitoring of American naval assets in the area through placement of sensors and other surveillance equipment.  We will never know for sure what are China’s intentions, but it’s important for us to cooperate yet with eyes wide open. As Reagan put it, trust but verify.

RELATED: China: Philippines can’t claim Benham Rise | China: We respect Philippines’ rights over Benham Rise

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http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/2018/02/01/1783535/china-exploration-benham-rise-trust-verify

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Philippines: Proposed federal gov’t set-up wants Sabah included in Philippine territory

January 30, 2018
 
“There should be a way that is acceptable under international laws to assert our claim to Sabah.” Bing Maps

MANILA, Philippines — A member of a consultative committee that President Rodrigo Duterte appointed to review the 1987 Constitution said he would propose the inclusion of Sabah in the Philippine territory as part of the country’s shift to a federal system of government.

“There should be a way that is acceptable under international laws to assert our claim to Sabah,” former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said in an interview with ANC.

“I think we can defer it a little bit more but to say that we stop doing it is not in the context of my proposal,” he added.

The switch to a federal system was one of the key planks of Duterte’s election campaign. The country currently employs a unitary form of government with much of the power emerging from the central government.

RELATED: Controversial features of proposed federal charter by House sub-committee

Under Pimentel’s proposal for a new federal government, as reported by ANC, the Philippines will be divided into 12 federal states: Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Minparom, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and Bangsamoro.

Metro Manila will be the “federal capital,” Pimentel said, adding that Sabah could be the 13th federal state.

“Eventually once we have asserted our sovereignty and rights over Sabah, we should include Sabah. Not only Sabah, but also Scarborough, Benham Rise, and Spratlys,” Pimentel said.

The Sulu sultanate used to rule over parts of southern Philippines and Sabah. In 1963, the British government transferred Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia.

The Philippines claims that Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co. The heirs of the sultan of Sulu continue to receive lease payments for Sabah.

Malaysia, however, maintains that the international community has been recognizing Sabah as part of its territory since the formation of the federation in 1963.

The dispute over Sabah landed on the headlines again in 2013 after shootouts sparked between armed members of a Filipino faction staking an ancient claim on Sabah state and Malaysian authorities.

READ: Duterte to pursue Sabah claim

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/01/30/1782857/proposed-federal-govt-set-wants-sabah-included-philippine-territory

China seen using its muscle and money to push states to withdraw South China Sea claims — Other countries might ‘give in’ like Philippines did

January 10, 2018
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) – January 10, 2018 – 3:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing might keep other claimant states away from the South China Sea as it seeks greater control over the region in the long run, maritime security analysts said.

Experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said China may have a different goal than when they first started their island-building activities in the South China Sea a few years back.

“We see a much more confident China now than we did just five years ago… My guess is that China wants greater control in the South China Sea, I don’t think that’s surprised anyone,” CSIS expert Zack Cooper said in a podcast hosted by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Cooper, however, said China might try to exclude other countries from conducting freedom of navigation and overflight in the region as that would pose a threat to Beijing’s trade in the region.

Over the long term, Beijing might use its artificial islands, which have been installed with military facilities, in the Spratlys and Paracels to “press other countries out of the region.”

“I wouldn’t be shocked at all if we see China trying to stop fishing in portions of the South China Sea or pushing other claimants off of their claims in the region… I think we have to expect that if China grows stronger that is quite likely to have much more expansive aims that it has now,” Cooper said.

‘China will expect countries to advance its interests’

Agreeing with Cooper, CSIS expert Bonnie Glaser said that China’s policies will be driven by their capabilities and how other countries see them.

“The Chinese, I think, want every country in the region to avoid taking steps that would take Chinese interests and maybe in the future that will progress to a point where China will expect countries to implement some policies in order to help, expand and advance Chinese interests,” Glaser said in the podcast.

Glaser also expressed concern over the remarks of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China last October, where he highlighted the “steady progress” of construction in the disputed waters.

“‘Steady progress’ in Chinese, as well as in English and other languages, implies to me that China has not yet achieved its goal, that it’s continuing down this path it is making gains and it is going to continue to work on ways to advance its objective,” Glaser said.

She added that Beijing’s goals in the future might include establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone and maybe even dredging in the South China Sea.

Other countries might ‘give in’ like Philippines did

Cooper, on the other hand, warned that other claimant states might readily give up their claims when faced with China’s overwhelming strength given its maritime militia.

“We’ll see other countries in the region do what… the Philippines has done which is try and think through… if they’re gonna lose some of these claims anyway, maybe they can get something for it,” Cooper said.

One tactic for Beijing would be paying a certain amount or offering assistance to smaller claimant states to the point that they would withdraw from their claims.

“I think that’s a real danger unless we can stop the momentum that we’ve seen in the last few years,” Cooper added.

AMTI director Gregory Poling, meanwhile, noted that tensions in the disputed South China Sea have cooled down since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump.

‘Win-win’ and delaying tactics

The Chinese have resorted to two possible strategies — reaching out diplomatically to Southeast Asian nations to reach a “win-win” solution or employing delaying tactics such as the negotiations in on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

“The continued construction, for instance, the military facilities in the Spratlys implies that China has an access to change anything about its fundamental goals. All it’s doing is tactically reaching out in the hopes that it has in fact suggested to some Southeast Asians on the side to cut and run, which is true,” Poling said.

Despite insisting that they will not give up a single inch of the country’s territory, the Philippine government appears to be doing otherwise.

Following reports that China had transformed Fiery Cross or Kagitingin Reef into a fortified airbase, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the government continues to rely on Beijing’s commitment of “good faith” that they will not embark on new reclamation activities.

“From the very beginning China, we knew, was militarizing the area by reclaiming these areas and by using them as military bases so the fact that they are actually using it now as military bases, as far as I am concerned, is not new,” Roque said in a televised press briefing.

RELATED: Palace defends China’s ‘good faith’ in South China Sea

 

Read more at http://beta.philstar.com/headlines/2018/01/10/1776457/china-seen-push-states-withdraw-south-china-sea-claims#ciQXyJ3bdpEiVJBf.99

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

While focus is on North Korea, China continues South China Sea buildup: think tank

December 15, 2017

By David Brunnstrom

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters

December 14, 2017

China has built more infrastructure on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea in the past year, including underground tunnels and radar installations, even as it has sought to repair relations with other claimants, according to an analysis of fresh satellite images.

Beijing’s construction of the seven islands in the Spratlys archipelago since 2014 has raised deep concern in the U.S. and much of Asia that China could use them to try to enforce its claims to almost all the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

China completed land reclamation in the Spratlys in early 2016, but continued such work to expand outposts in the Paracel Islands until mid-2017, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, or AMTI, which released the images.

China also continued construction work designed to transform the three larger Spratly outposts into fully functional joint air and naval bases, and to upgrade at least three more Paracel outposts that could be used to bolster its control of the South China Sea, AMTI said.

The continued Chinese construction suggests that, even as regional tensions are focused on North Korea, Beijing remains determined to enhance its ability to defend its territorial claims, and to hamper U.S. military intervention in the South China Sea.

AMTI, which is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, shared the images and its analysis exclusively with The Wall Street Journal. China’s foreign and defense ministries didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Fiery Cross Reef

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

Fiery Cross saw the most construction over 2017, with work on facilities covering 27 acres and including hangars by the airstrip, radar installations and fortified shelters for missile platforms, AMTI said.

Fiery Cross is one of the seven fortified islands China has built in the Spratlys, where Beijing’s claims overlap with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

In the last several months, China has also built what appears to be a high-frequency radar installation at the north end of Fiery Cross, according to AMTI. That consists of a field of upright poles, next to a large complex of communication or sensor equipment in white dome-shaped structures, it said.

While the range and precise purpose of such equipment can’t be established from such images, it will enhance China’s ability to monitor any activity by ships or aircraft in the surrounding area, says AMTI’s director Gregory Poling.

Earlier satellite images also showed a high-frequency radar installation on Cuarteron Reef, another of the Chinese-built islands in the Spratlys. High-frequency radar is often used to track ocean currents and ship movements, among other things.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE (3)

Large underground tunnels on Fiery Cross that were identified in earlier satellite images have now been completed and covered, according to AMTI. It says they are likely for storage of ammunition, and work on underground stores for water and fuel was completed earlier.

Fiery Cross is one of the three Chinese-built Spratlys outposts, along with Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, that have airstrips and big harbors and which Beijing appears to be turning into wholly operational air and naval bases, according to Mr. Poling.

China says its island construction is mainly for civilian ends and military facilities there are principally to protect freedom of navigation and overflight. In an attempt to repair ties with neighbors, it agreed in November to start talks on a long-awaited code of conduct for the South China Sea.

Subi Reef

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

There was also substantial construction on Subi Reef during 2017, with work on buildings covering about 24 acres, according to AMTI. It said this included buried storage facilities, hangars, missile shelters, and radar or communications facilities.

A U.S. naval destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in October 2015, a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged during a state visit to the U.S. not to “militarize” the Spratlys.

U.S. officials have since accused China of violating that pledge. Chinese officials say their upgrades don’t constitute militarization and have repeatedly warned Washington not to interfere in its territorial disputes.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE (2)

Since midyear, China has built what looks like a second “elephant cage” antenna installation, left, on Subi Reef as well as a new array of apparent radar domes, right, AMTI said. The exact function of these “elephant cages” is unclear. The U.S. used similar facilities in the Cold War for signals intelligence—monitoring other countries’ communications.

“The radars and signals intelligence strengthen [China’s] ability to monitor everything the other claimants and outsiders like the U.S. do in the waters and airspace of the South China Sea, which is a necessary step to control it,” said Mr. Poling.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE (3)

New storage tunnels at Subi, as at Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef, were completed and covered over in the past few months, according to AMTI.

“We can’t know for sure, but the construction of these new underground facilities, which are separated from each other and appear reinforced, suggests ammunition storage,” said Mr. Poling.

Mischief Reef

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

Work on Mischief Reef this year was done on facilities covering 17 acres that also included underground ammunition storage, hangars, missile shelters and new radar and communications installations, AMTI said.

In August, a U.S. Navy destroyer conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation near Mischief Reef, accompanied by two U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, according to U.S. officials. Another U.S. destroyer had conducted a similar patrol around Mischief in May in the first such operation under the Trump administration.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

China has started work on a new radar or communications installation on the north side of Mischief Reef, AMTI said.

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
ILLUSTRATION: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE (3)

New storage tunnels on Mischief Reef were completed over the last several months and have been covered, AMTI said.

Tree Island

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

Dredging and reclamation work at Tree Island in the Paracels continued as late as mid-2017, according to AMTI. In total, China built facilities covering about 1.7 acres and including a new helipad, solar installations and wind turbines, AMTI said.

The Paracels, which lie about 350 miles north of the Spratlys, are claimed by both China and Vietnam but have been controlled by Beijing since it seized them from Vietnamese forces in 1974.

North Island

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

China tried to connect North Island to neighboring Middle Island but gave up after the land bridge it created was washed out by a storm in October 2016, according to AMTI. It said China built a retaining wall around the remaining reclaimed land at the southern end of North Island earlier this year.

Triton Island

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

Triton Island saw completion of buildings, including two large radar towers, according to AMTI. They are important as Triton is the outpost farthest southwest in the Paracels and waters around it have been the site of several recent minor clashes between China and Vietnam, as well as multiple U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations, AMTI said.

In July, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer conducted a patrol near Triton, coming to within 12 nautical miles of the island, according to U.S. officials.

Woody Island

As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters
PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI/DIGITALGLOBE

Woody Island is the largest island in the Paracels and serves as China’s military and administrative headquarters in the South China Sea. Developments there have often been precursors for those at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief in the Spratlys, AMTI said.

It said there was no substantial new construction on Woody Island this year, but at the end of October the Chinese military released pictures confirming for the first time that J-11B fighter jets had been deployed there.

Satellite images from November also showed several large planes that appeared to be Y-8 transport aircraft, which can be capable of electronic intelligence gathering, according to AMTI. It said larger hangars by the Spratlys airstrips could also accommodate Y-8s, suggesting such aircraft might be deployed there later.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-china-courts-neighbors-new-images-show-more-building-in-disputed-waters-1513270862