Saturday, March 21, 2015

China’s creeping invasion

By Danilo Suarez
Amid the continuing inconsistencies and scandals under this administration, recent news reports have brought back our national attention to China’s brazen acts to occupy and control more of Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Under what has been commonly recognized as China’s “creeping invasion”, China has aggressively pursued its claims to sovereign rights to nearly all of the sea, including waters and territories much closer to other countries and thousands of kilometers from the Chinese coast as being within its controversial “9 dash line”. 
Its aggressive posturing and brazen acts of encroachment in the WPS have made the area one of Asia’s potential flashpoints for military conflict, something which I already predicted during my time in Congress because of the confirmed fossil fuel deposits in the area. Additionally, the WPS is a bottleneck of global sea routes with more than half the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passing through these choke points. The oil transported through the South China Sea is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and about 80 percent of China’s crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea. Control of the area therefore is of great military, political, and economic strategic value and China’s creeping invasion is heavily motivated by this.
In 1909, China seized some islands in Xisha (the Paracels). In 1946, it seized Itu Aba (in the Spratlys) and Phu Lan Island (in the Paracels). In the 1950’s, China seized additional Hoang Sa (Paracels) islands, which it forcibly repeated in 1974 taking over islands in the Paracels occupied by South Vietnamese armed forces. Then they occupied Mischief Reef early in 1995 which is only 130 nautical miles from the western part of Palawan province and well within the Philippines 200 nautical miles EEZ. Since then China has sent naval vessels into the area and constructed buildings depicted as “military structures” with radar and communication systems, multi-story buildings and support facilities.
Up until now the Philippine action has achieved very little, having been limited to diplomatic  protests and legal initiatives before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the arbitration body created by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to which China has categorically refused to submit to.
In the absence of an effective regional approach to the ongoing territorial disputes, we may be running out of diplomatic options. Moreover if China’s creeping invasion is not stopped, it will pave the way for their effective occupation and administration over the reefs that they have occupied and intend to occupy in the WPS. If this happens, they gain a stronger legal ground to support their alleged sovereignty over all the formations in the WPS and its surrounding waters.
My unsolicited advice to this administration is for the government to enter into a joint venture with the Americans to explore and develop this area. Let us not be so naïve to the point of being impractical. Let us not put all our eggs in one basket which is our arbitration case. Even if we win that case, enforcing it would be an entirely different ballgame. And notwithstanding the opposition of leftists nationalists, the only way we could develop this area is if we do it with the USA and its vaunted economic and military might.

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