REPORTS last week of China’s latest move on the Philippine Rise (aka Benham Rise), which was officially recognized by the UN as part of our continental shelf in 2012, revealed Beijing’s true intentions–and direction of its foreign policy—in relation to us—and Asean.
The Philippine Rise is a plateau under the Pacific Ocean, on our northeastern seaboard off the coasts of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Aurora. Most of it is within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) internationally recognized under the UN Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) convention as exclusively ours to explore, exploit and develop for Philippine economic benefit.
It must be noted that the UNCLOS’ primary purpose is to at least reduce the world’s extreme poverty by 2015. But it has failed to achieve that and the timeline has been moved to another two decades.
The 13-million hectare submerged area is a rich fishing ground and part of the twin tuna lanes that merged east of Taiwan (after breeding in the Philippine Sulu Sea) and go around the Asia-Pacific region. It is also believed to hold shale oil, natural gas and minerals.
The Arroyo administration delayed filing the Philippine territorial limits and EEZ claims with the UN before 2000 and almost missed the deadline.
China signed the UNCLOS. But it ignores all protests and condemnation of its reclamation, building naval and air force facilities—and even rocket silos—on the Spratly islands in the South China Sea and coral reefs and atolls in the West Philippine Sea.
In the same breath, Beijing says it is building these military facilities for its own “defense” without naming its enemies but implies in its state-controlled media and propaganda campaign that it is the US and its Asia-Pacific allies.
China said it allows the presence of shipping in the South China Sea, but defines “freedom of navigation” as free passage for cargo and cruise vessels only. It considers “passage” of naval ships of any other countries in the South China Sea as acts of aggression.
This will be tested when the British anti-submarine frigate HMS Sutherland, scheduled to leave Australia next month, will “assert” its “freedom of navigation rights” in the South China Sea. The British Defense Department has announced it.
Beijing had sent warnings and flown its jet fighter planes close to American and Japanese military jet planes and naval ships passing through the airspace and waters close to the 12-mile territorial limits of China in the last four years. But there has been no shooting incident in the tension-filled situations that I can recall.
Beijing does not recognize the UNCLOS territories of its neighbors because it also claims China is a “civilization state,” which the Chinese communist dictatorship defines loosely as older than its neighbors and self-classified as separate from the sovereign states of the world under the Treaty of Westphalia.
The Philippines and the nine other members of Asean must deal, in this age of information and communication technologies, with China always with cynicism and a critical eye. Their culture and history molded them to say one thing nicely and diplomatically but do exactly the opposite and secretly.
Common sense should tell any analyst that China could not have been, from the very beginning of its history, a large country. They were tribes with varied cultures and languages, which fought for domination of each other endlessly finally the harsh Mongols united them as one big country under the Hans.
They were ruled and enslaved by their emperors, colonized by Imperial Japan, targeted by Russia to be a ally against in Moscow’s ideological struggle and the Cold War, and divided by a civil war which the communist leadership under Mao Zedong won.
Thus, for survival and dominance “to restore the old glory of China as the Middle Kingdom” they adopted the principles of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, their philosophers’ value of patience and the rewards of diplomatic diversion, propaganda and deception/bribery.
This is apparently their foreign policy direction in this age.
Take the Philippine Rise case Secretly and about the same time that China started its reclamation work on the reefs and atolls in the West Philippine Sea, they sent their scientific research vessels to the area and started their studies without seeking Manila’s permission.
The Chinese took advantage of the fact that the Philippines does not have sufficient civilian or patrol boats to watch over our territorial waters and EEZ. And they had worked with the UN in mapping the globe’s ocean floors; the Philippines has not.
That was the same procedure they followed when their reclamation work on the West Philippine Sea atolls and reefs were started. Reliable observers even suspected the Chinese smuggled some of the landfills from Palawan’s western shorelines.
President Duterte made the right move, in reaction to the latest Chinese move on the Philippine Rise, suspending any further scientific research in the area without Manila’s permission; and for the Philippine Navy to blast out of the water any foreigners fishing or extracting resources from the area.
In the past, Chinese mainland fishermen had been arrested in the Sulu Sea with endangered species of turtles, ornamental fish, and pelagic fish they poached in the Sulu Sea and in the UN heritage site of the Tubattaha Reef between Panay and Palawan. They were deported by way of Hong Kong after their trial and sentencing.
To assert our sovereign and prevent any Chinese domination/control on our regional resources, the Asean as individual sovereign states and as a group will greatly benefit by pushing firmly the early and fast agreement of China on a binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
Beijing is actually delaying agreement on the code as much as it can until it completes the total military facilities it is finishing in the South China Sea so it can have the negotiating (armed and military) leverage, and effectively impose an economic control over the 650 million (and still growing) Asean population.
Our region will not be the fastest growing economic cluster of the globe in the next quarter century if we let China become predominant or control us as a creditor. True, this is easier said than done. But the alternative is disastrous if we procrastinate.
Let us start multi-alliances and expand our markets on to other horizons with more combined purchasing powers for our exports. Get as much market information and educate our Asean young generations for the multi-level skills that industries need in this century.
Vietnam showed the world how to do it in 1979 when Chinese troops crossed their common border and invaded Vietnamese soil. They did it again less than four years ago when the Chinese brought their oil rig off Vietnam’s coast to dig for oil. They succeeded in driving the Chinese back.
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