Posts Tagged ‘Spratlys’

China in talks with Philippines on recovery of grounded frigate amid sea feud

September 1, 2018

China on Friday said it is in talks with the Philippines on matters related to the retrieval of a Philippine navy frigate that ran aground in the contested South China Sea.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar ran aground during a routine patrol Wednesday night in the vicinity of Half Moon Shoal, which is called Hasa Hasa in the Philippines, the Philippine military said, adding that its crew was unhurt.

In this photo provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Navy ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar is seen after it ran aground during a routine patrol Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in the vicinity of Half Moon Shoal, which is called Hasa Hasa in the Philippines, off the disputed Spratlys Group of islands in the South China Sea the military said. Two officials say Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, the Philippines has notified China about a Philippine navy frigate that ran aground in the South China Sea to avoid any misunderstanding because the incident happened near a hotly disputed region. The barren shoal is on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly archipelago.

Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP

The barren shoal is on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly archipelago, where tensions have run high in recent years after China transformed seven disputed reefs into islands, including three with runways, and reportedly installed missile defense system.

“China has learned of the relevant situation. China Coast Guard vessels are already at the scene. ‘Nanhaijiu 115,’ specialized in maritime search and rescue, is also in nearby waters,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference.

“China is discussing with the Philippines on the relevant search and rescue matters,” Hua added.

The United States and Asian governments which have claims in the region, including the Philippines, raised alarms over China’s island building and militarization of the strategic territory.

Greg Poling, director of Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, warned that China may take advantage of the situation by offering assistance to the Philippines.

Noting that Beijing closed Jackson Atoll in 2016 to remove a foreign vessel, Poling said China might do the same to the Philippines.

“Worse, China could unilaterally act to ‘assist’ the ship stranded on what China calls Banyue Jiao [and] prevent [Philippine] ships from intervening,” Poling said on Twitter.

The Philippines earlier was one of the most vocal critics of China’s assertive moves in the disputed waters. In 2016 it largely won a complaint it lodged before an international tribunal, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, took steps to revive once-frosty ties with China after he took office in 2016 as he sought infrastructure funding and more trade and investment from Beijing.

Three Philippine officials said China was informed of the accident through its military attache at its embassy in Manila to avoid any misunderstanding because the incident happened near a hotly disputed region. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

‘Philippines can handle it’

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said China offered to help deal with the problem but that the Philippines can handle it.

“It was not intentional,” military spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said about the grounding, in which he said the frigate hit a shallow stretch of coral outcrop sideways.

Two Philippine tugboats were en route to extricate the frigate, Detoyato said, adding that the military deployed an aircraft to monitor the stalled ship.

A Chinese frigate ran aground on the shoal in 2012 and was pulled away by Chinese military ships.

Half Moon Shoal lies about 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the southern tip of the western Philippine island of Palawan and south of Second Thomas Shoal, where a Philippine navy transport ship was intentionally grounded in 1999 and has since served as a Philippine military outpost.

China has repeatedly demanded the removal of the now rusty BRP Sierra Madre from Second Thomas Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines and China.

A military report seen by The Associated Press said the propellers of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which has more than 100 crewmembers, were damaged by the grounding. The crew checked the frigate after it ran aground and reported that it was not taking in water.

Detoyato said the frigate had minimal hull damage and its engine was running.

The frigate is one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters which were acquired by the Philippine military from the United States and now are the Philippines’ largest warships. — Ian Nicolas Cigaral with The Associated Press



China sends coastguard vessels after Philippine warship runs aground in South China Sea

September 1, 2018

Philippine Navy frigate is stranded on a shoal on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratlys

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 9:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 11:28pm

China has sent coastguard and rescue vessels to help with efforts to retrieve a Philippine Navy warship that ran aground on a shoal in contested waters in the South China Sea.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar has been stranded on Half Moon Shoal, on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly Islands, since Wednesday evening.

The reef is claimed by both China and the Philippines, and analysts said the situation may pose a dilemma for Beijing because it could be a reminder of how Manila stepped up its military presence on the Second Thomas Shoal – also in the Spratlys – nearly 20 years ago.

Chinese coastguard vessels are already at the shoal, while a search-and-rescue ship, Nan Hai Jiu 115, is also on standby in nearby waters, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday.

“We are discussing with the Philippine side how we can provide assistance,” Hua said.

The Philippines’ largest naval ship ran aground while on a routine patrol in the region, its Armed Forces said on Thursday.

The propellers were damaged when the ship was “grounded from bow to midship” but no one was injured in the incident, local media said, citing a military report. There were 117 crew members on board at the time.

“It is still there and the navy is still assessing damage before pulling it out,” Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

Nan Hai Jiu 115, or “South China Sea Rescue”, was dispatched to the Spratly chain in July. Photo:

China’s Nan Hai Jiu 115, or “South China Sea Rescue”, was dispatched to the Spratlys in July and has since then been permanently stationed at Subi Reef – the second largest of Beijing’s seven man-made outposts and home to a lighthouse and extensive docking facilities. The ship has a displacement of 4,400 tonnes.

The stranded Gregorio del Pilar is a 3,250-tonne Hamilton-class cutter that the Philippine Navy acquired from the US Coast Guard in 2011. It was then converted into a frigate with a helicopter, 25mm auto-cannon, 76mm cannon and machine guns.

Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asia specialist at Jinan University, said the best strategy for China was to “voluntarily provide assistance to pull the vessel out” before the situation changed.

“If China just sits back and watches, there is the possibility this could develop like it did in the case of the BRP Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal,” Zhang said.

He was referring to the Philippine Navy in 1999 deliberately running aground the second world war-era warship on the disputed shoal. The navy has since stationed Filipino marines on the rusting vessel to maintain its military presence in the contested area, despite Chinese protests and attempts to block supplies from getting through.

In March 2016, after a Philippine fishing boat became stranded on Jackson Atoll – which is near a Chinese base on Mischief Reef – seven PLA Navy ships blocked access to the site and a tugboat towed away the vessel. The Chinese ships then denied Filipino fishermen access to the area.

That was a few months before Manila won an arbitration case at an international tribunal in The Hague, which ruled that Beijing’s claims to almost all of the South China Sea had no legal basis – a ruling China rejected. As well as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the resource-rich waterway.

“China can’t react in that kind of hardline way now – instability in the South China Sea would go against Beijing’s interests at a time when tensions are high with the United States, and also while bilateral relations with the [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte administration are positive,” Zhang said.

Half Moon Shoal lies at the intersection of two major sea routes in the eastern part of the South China Sea. A PLA Navy frigate ran aground in the area in 2012 and was rescued by other Chinese vessels 10 days later.

With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific

August 29, 2018

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, at sea in April. First launched by the Soviet Union in 1988, it was sold for $20 million to a Chinese investor who said it would become a floating casino, though he was in reality acting on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.CreditCreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In April, on the 69th anniversary of the founding of China’s Navy, the country’s first domestically built aircraft carrier stirred from its berth in the port city of Dalian on the Bohai Sea, tethered to tugboats for a test of its seaworthiness.

“China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier just moved a bit, and the United States, Japan and India squirmed,” a military news website crowed, referring to the three nations China views as its main rivals.

Not long ago, such boasts would have been dismissed as the bravado of a second-string military. No longer.

A modernization program focused on naval and missile forces has shifted the balance of power in the Pacific in ways the United States and its allies are only beginning to digest.

By Steven Lee Myers
The New York Times

While China lags in projecting firepower on a global scale, it can now challenge American military supremacy in the places that matter most to it: the waters around Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.

That means a growing section of the Pacific Ocean — where the United States has operated unchallenged since the naval battles of World War II — is once again contested territory, with Chinese warships and aircraft regularly bumping up against those of the United States and its allies.

To prevail in these waters, according to officials and analysts who scrutinize Chinese military developments, China does not need a military that can defeat the United States outright but merely one that can make intervention in the region too costly for Washington to contemplate. Many analysts say Beijing has already achieved that goal.

To do so, it has developed “anti-access” capabilities that use radar, satellites and missiles to neutralize the decisive edge that America’s powerful aircraft carrier strike groups have enjoyed. It is also rapidly expanding its naval forces with the goal of deploying a “blue water” navy that would allow it to defend its growing interests beyond its coastal waters.

“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” the new commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, acknowledged in written remarks submitted during his Senate confirmation process in March.

He described China as a “peer competitor” gaining on the United States not by matching its forces weapon by weapon but by building critical “asymmetrical capabilities,” including with anti-ship missiles and in submarine warfare. “There is no guarantee that the United States would win a future conflict with China,” he concluded.

Last year, the Chinese Navy became the world’s largest, with more warships and submarines than the United States, and it continues to build new ships at a stunning rate. Though the American fleet remains superior qualitatively, it is spread much thinner.

“The task of building a powerful navy has never been as urgent as it is today,” President Xi Jinping declared in April as he presided over a naval procession off the southern Chinese island of Hainan that opened exercises involving 48 ships and submarines. The Ministry of National Defense said they were the largest since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949.

Even as the United States wages a trade war against China, Chinese warships and aircraft have picked up the pace of operations in the waters off Japan, Taiwan, and the islands, shoals and reefs it has claimed in the South China Sea over the objections of Vietnam and the Philippines.

When two American warships — the Higgins, a destroyer, and the Antietam, a cruiser — sailed within a few miles of disputed islands in the Paracels in May, Chinese vessels rushed to challenge what Beijing later denounced as “a provocative act.” China did the same to three Australian ships passing through the South China Sea in April.

Only three years ago, Mr. Xi stood beside President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden and promised not to militarize artificial islands it has built farther south in the Spratlys archipelago. Chinese officials have since acknowledged deploying missiles there, but argue that they are necessary because of American “incursions” in Chinese waters.

When Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Beijing in June, Mr. Xi bluntly warned him that China would not yield “even one inch” of territory it claims as its own.

Read the rest:


Image may contain: sky and airplane

Chinese H-6 bomber

Facebook apologizes for map that violates Vietnam’s sovereignty

July 6, 2018
Facebook apologizes for map that violates Vietnam's sovereignty

Facebook said it remains neutral on territorial disputes and thus its map now does not include Paracel and Spratly Islands as either part of China or Vietnam.

Faulty map showing Paracel and Spratly Islands as part of China was stated to be a technical error.

Facebook has issued an apology to its Vietnamese users for an incident involving a wrongful depiction of the country’s sovereignty on a map used by the company.

In a press release issued Thursday, the social networking giant said that the issue with a map used for the Facebook advertising tool was a technical error and a patch to fix it was being deployed globally.

Facebook then apologized for the mistake and said that the company had explained itself to the Vietnamese government and fixed the issue as requested.

The mistake was discovered after Vietnamese users using Facebook’s advertising tool found that the tool’s map did not include Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands as part of Vietnam.

The map however showed the islands as part of China, and a live version of the map displayed the name “Sansha” over the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. “Sansha” is the name of a city China unilaterally established in the disputed waters that includes Vietnam’s Paracel and Spratly Islands, as well as the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines.

These wrongful depictions of Vietnam’s sovereignty reportedly outraged many people in Vietnam, where Facebook is the most popular network with more than 58 million active accounts.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications then issued a request for Facebook to take immediate actions to correct the map last Sunday, prompting the social networking giant to patch it on Monday.

In a statement on the fix issued Tuesday, Facebook said it had removed the wrongful depictions of the islands and the mention of “Sansha.” As the company said it remains neutral on territorial disputes, the islands were completely removed from the map instead of being added to Vietnam.

Facebook also stated that all its maps were provided by third-party companies such as OpenStreetMap and HERE Maps.

Vietnam has consistently affirmed that it has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has been illegally occupying a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands since 1988.


No automatic alt text available.

Chinese military assets in the South China Sea. 


Image may contain: 6 people, outdoor

Vietnamese Anti-China protesters hold placards which read ‘The country will not forget – Johnson South Reef – 14th March, 1988’ during a gathering to mark the 28th anniversary of the Spratly Islands clashes between Vietnam and China at a public park in Hanoi March 14, 2016.


Image may contain: 2 people

Will the South China Sea Become a Chinese Lake?

July 4, 2018

Twelve days at sea on a French warship provide occasion to ponder what lies ahead for the disputed waterway.

Published on: July 3, 2018
Jonas Parello-Plesner is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

No automatic alt text available.

Chinese military assets in the South China Sea. 


Image may contain: 6 people, outdoor

Vietnamese Anti-China protesters hold placards which read ‘The country will not forget – Johnson South Reef – 14th March, 1988’ during a gathering to mark the 28th anniversary of the Spratly Islands clashes between Vietnam and China at a public park in Hanoi March 14, 2016.


Image may contain: 2 people

Vietnam protests Facebook map of South China Sea

July 3, 2018

The Vietnamese government has complained to Facebook after discovering the platform’s ad manager tool provided a map marking disputed South China Sea islands as Chinese, state media reports.

A spokesperson from Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications told the Tuoi Tre newspaper the complaint was lodged when it was shown that the Spratly and Paracel archipelagoes were marked as Chinese territory on Facebook’s Boost Page feature.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

The Paracels, previously controlled by the old South Vietnamese government, were invaded by China in 1974. Control of the Spratlys is divided among Vietnam, China and the Philippines, all of which claim the entire island chain.

Vietnam and China most recently fought over the Spratly islands in 1988, when a naval battle at Johnson Reef left 64 Vietnamese sailors dead and the reef in Chinese hands.

Facebook acknowledged it had used a “wrong” map and would fix the issue, reported Tuoi Tre.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, including waters claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

U.S. weighs more South China Sea patrols to confront ‘new reality’ of China

June 3, 2018

The United States is considering intensified naval patrols in the South China Sea in a bid to challenge China’s growing militarization of the waterway, actions that could further raise the stakes in one of the world’s most volatile areas.

The Pentagon is weighing a more assertive program of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations close to Chinese installations on disputed reefs, two U.S. officials and Western and Asian diplomats close to discussions said.

The officials declined to say how close they were to finalizing a decision.

Such moves could involve longer patrols, ones involving larger numbers of ships or operations involving closer surveillance of Chinese facilities in the area, which now include electronic jamming equipment and advanced military radars.

trict navigation.

A map of the South China Sea showing Chinese claims and disputed islands

U.S. officials are also pushing international allies and partners to increase their own naval deployments through the vital trade route as China strengthens its military capabilities on both the Paracel and Spratly islands, the diplomats said, even if they stopped short of directly challenging Chinese holdings.

“What we have seen in the last few weeks is just the start, significantly more is being planned,” said one Western diplomat, referring to a freedom of navigation patrol late last month that used two U.S. ships for the first time.

“There is a real sense more needs to be done.”

The Pentagon does not comment on future operations but a spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, said “we will continue to work with our friends, partners, and allies to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

A more assertive Pentagon approach already appears to have started. Reuters first reported the patrol last month in which two U.S. Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China, even as President Donald Trump sought Chinese cooperation on North Korea.

While the operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it is believed to be the first time where two U.S. warships have been used for a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon also withdrew an invitation for Chinese forces to join large multi-country exercises off Hawaii later in the year.

Critics have said the patrols have little impact on Chinese behavior and mask the lack of a broader strategy to deal with China’s growing dominance of the area.


U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned in Singapore on Saturday that China’s militarization of the South China Sea was now a “reality” but that Beijing would face unspecified consequences.

Questioned during the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference over whether it was too late to stop China, Mattis said: “Eventually these (actions) do not pay off.”

Last month, China’s air force landed bombers on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel archipelago as part of a training exercise, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines.

Satellite photographs taken on May 12 showed China appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles at Woody, while anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-air missiles were also placed on its largest bases in the Spratlys.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Singapore conference, He Lei, of the PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences, said China had every right to continue to militarize its South China Sea holdings.

“It is China’s sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there. We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs,” He said.

Regional military attaches say they are now bracing for China’s next moves, which some fear could be the first deployment of jet fighters to the Spratlys or an attempt to enforce an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) similar to one Beijing created off its eastern coast in 2013.

Vietnamese military officers say they are particularly concerned by the prospect of an ADIZ, saying it could threaten the integrity of Vietnamese airspace.

Lieutenant General Nguyen Duc Hai, head of the Vietnamese military’s Institute of Strategic Studies, said that while Vietnam had long sought peaceful settlements to disputes, “all options are on the table from our side to safeguard our sovereignty and territory.”

“The ADIZ establishment is one option we have thought of and also have plans to deal with.”

Satellite image of Woody Island

Beijing has been turning islands into military bases. Reuters photo

Vietnam is the most active challengers to China’s sweeping claims to much of the South China Sea, with Hanoi claiming the Paracels and the Spratlys in their entirety.

Malaysia and the Philippines hold some Spratlys features while Brunei claims waters straddled by China’s so-called nine-dash line claim. Taiwan claims the same area as China.

Singapore-based security expert Tim Huxley said while increased pressure might slow China’s militarization efforts, they would be difficult to stop.

“China has created a new reality down there, and it is not going to be rolled back,” Huxley told Reuters.

“They are not doing this to poke America or their neighbors in the eye but they are almost certainly doing this to serve their long-term strategic objectives, whether that is projecting their military power or securing energy supplies.”

Reporting by Greg Torode and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan


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?

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

 Image result for Mischief Reef, china base, photos
The Philippines says it “owns” Mischief Reef, but there is not one known Filipinos living there. Mischief Reef is a gigantic Chinese military base. 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.

No automatic alt text available.

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

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.

Image may contain: ocean, outdoor and water

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:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook


Image may contain: airplane


No automatic alt text available.

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.



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

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:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Four Powerful Countries Plan Resistance To China in the South China Sea

February 5, 2018
By Ralph Jennings
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.”



Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

No automatic alt text available.

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.