The presence of a flotilla of Chinese fishing ships on the Ayungin Shoals is clearly an affront to Philippine sovereignty. And the fact that these poachers are escorted by warships indicate that China has no respect whatsoever for another country’s borders.
The United States, with whom we regularly hold military exercises, is a friend. Or so that country tells us time and again, but so far all we get is assurance of friendship, mutuality of interests, and such platitudes. Nothing of the sort that will lead us to believe it will come to our defense if push comes to shove, and by shove we mean China firing and sinking vessels that belong to what we laughably calls the Philippine Navy.
It is thus understandable why we, as announced by Abigail Valte on radio the other day, are taking a position of “maximum restraint”—nagpipigil in Tagalog.
We have elevated the case to the United Nations, but China refuses to submit itself to arbitration. And even if an international tribunal takes up the case and returns a judgment in our favor, there is no guarantee that China will respect the verdict.
No way can we fight China. That Asian behemoth has become the third mightiest nation on earth militarily, after the United States and the Russian Federation.
According to military analysts it will take decades before China can reasonably expect to win a shooting war with the U.S., the only remaining superpower left after the Soviet Union’s disintegration. But its military ascendancy over its neighbors in Southeast Asia is a demonstrable fact. And it has no qualms when it comes to asserting its might against any country that dares to cross its path.
In January 1974, in the Paracel Islands, the Chinese Navy blasted a Vietnamese vessel out of the water, killing 53 sailors aboard including the captain, and injuring 16 others.
Just recently, in March this year, a Chinese patrol boat fired at a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the same area, causing it to go up in flames. To a diplomatic protest lodged by Vietnam, the BBC, which reported the story first, quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying: “It is necessary and legitimate for China to take action against a Vietnamese fishing boat that has entered China’s waters for illegal activity.” [underscoring supplied]
China is in effect saying that Vietnam should stay away from waters it has laid claim to, or suffer the consequences. And that warning applies as well to other countries that dare question its sovereignty, specifically the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
Under the so-called Nine-Dash Line, China claims practically all of South China Sea. That encroaches into the 200-Mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the countries mentioned, a principle recognized by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas or UNCLOS, but that does not concern China at all. It wants the entire area for it to exploit and develop, and that’s that.
Of course, China wouldn’t be as ready to engage the U.S. Navy. Not so with its Southeast Asian neighbors, including the Philippines. We’re an easy picking, and the sooner we realize the fact the better for our peace of mind—and our national security.