Reef by reef, shoal by shoal, outcrop by rocky outcrop, China is fulfilling its grand design to take over the entire West Philippine Sea. It is, for Chinese officials, nothing short of a sacred mission, this singleminded effort to own the vast sea, and woe to anyone who stands in their way.
Beijing has firmly asserted that the West Philippine Sea has always been Chinese territory, and that gives it the right to do anything it wants in those waters.
That is the gist of the message the Chinese foreign ministry issued yesterday. The ministry said the activities in the West Philippine Sea, including in Cuarteron (Calderon) and Gaven (Gavin) Reefs, are of no concern to the Philippines because China is merely exercising its “indisputable sovereignty” over the region.
Last week, President Benigno Aquino 3rd revealed that Chinese ships were apparently bringing construction materials to the two reefs.
Earlier, there were reports that the Chinese were doing reclamation work in the Mabini Shoal in preparation for building an airstrip there.
The ownership of all three areas, which are deep within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and hundreds of kilometers from the Chinese mainland, has long been a sensitive subject between Manila and Beijing.
Now the Chinese are insisting that they have free rein in those reefs because it is part of their realm.
A United Nations arbitration court has asked China to answer to the memorial of the Philippines contesting its claim to the West Philippine Sea, but China has predictably chosen to ignore the request.
The Philippines is also rallying its neighbors to take a more resolute stand against the Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea.
At recent high-level meetings in Myanmar of the Asean, Asean Plus Three, East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan Garcia denounced the “provocative” and “unilateral” actions of China as an infringement of the rights of the Philippines and other countries under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and of the 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC).
The undersecretary pointed to several incidents, including the firing of water cannons at Filipino fishermen by Chinese maritime security ships, that “raise the level of tensions to a new high and undermine the spirit of good neighborly ties and mutual confidence necessary for the region to move forward and decisively to implement the DOC fully and effectively.”
He stressed the need for Asean and China to conclude a “substantive and legally-binding” Code of Conduct for the West Philippine Sea.
We can bring our case against China to all the forums that are willing to listen, but that doesn’t stop Beijing from carrying out its plan to rule all of the West Philippine Sea.
Diplomacy has not prevented the building activity in Cuarteron and Gaven. It did not protect our fishermen from the intimidation and abuse of Chinese government ships.
A bully is loose in the region, and we are helpless against it.
Not even the US, our avowed ally, is willing to stick its neck out for us. Washington has issued statement after statement that it will not tolerate acts that could stir up conflict in the West Philippine Sea, yet it has not made any clear commitment to directly confront China. The US is fully aware of the economic ramifications of such a confrontation, and deems it prudent not to risk one.
So who will stand up against the bully?