Jumel G. Estrañero |
While China has been making considerable diplomatic and economic inroads in Asia, the US has been reminding the same continent of its Pacific power, working to increase not only its diplomatic and economic investments in the region, but also its strategic and military ones. Within Southeast Asia, the US has treaty alliances with the Philippines and Thailand, as well as important security partnerships with other countries including Singapore and Indonesia.
Within this context, the rise of the South China Sea as a global as well as regional security concern should come as no surprise. Tensions surrounding the South China Sea are not based exclusively on claimant interpretations of history and demands of sovereignty, or contested access to hydrocarbons and fisheries; they also involve concerns of grand strategy in political economy’s sphere.
The United States can take care of its interest. I stand strong that the Philippines’ claim over Scarborough Shoal is recognized under our constitutional law and international law.
As issues such as the impact of China’s naval modernization, or the future of the US forward-deployed presence in the region and the balance of power in Asia are debated, the South China Sea becomes a natural focal point for attention. Tensions here both feed into and reflect the evolution of Asia-Pacific relations, recasting the disputes, as well as ASEAN member states’ abilities to manage them, into a broader strategic framework.
And it is this backdrop that makes the disputes both more volatile and more dangerous with regard to the potential ramifications that could flow from any misjudgment. Recently, the Philippines’ top defense official on Sunday defended an American warship’s sailing near a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea, saying it should not be a cause for concern. “No, for as long as they are on innocent passage.
International law allows innocent passage even in territorial waters,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. Accordingly, the guided missile USS Hopper came within 22 kilometers of Panatag Shoal on Wednesday night, angering China, which seized the resource-rich fishing ground after a two-month maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012. Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag lies 230 km west of Zambales province, well within the Philippines’ 370 km exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea known as West Philippine Sea.
Improvement of existing facilities, such as roads and airstrips, and provision of water and power facilities and communication equipment. We hope that the President will support this effort.
From the perspective of China, they are protesting regarding the warship’s passage near the shoal, saying it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty. The presence of the US warship in the area is legal and that Manila should protest Beijing’s territorial claims. In other words, the presence of US warships in the area is not illegal. USS Hopper was exercising freedom of navigation through the South China Sea.
The Philippines should be concerned about and protest China’s assertion of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, and the alleged threat to China’s security on a reef more than 744 kilometers away from China’s mainland coast. To recall, after China seized Panatag in 2012, Manila took its territorial dispute with Beijing to the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013, challenging China’s claim to almost all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.
In July 2016, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, declaring China’s sweeping claim invalid and saying it violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea. Surprisingly, China, which did not take part in the arbitration, ignored the ruling and continued to claim the West Philippine Sea as part of its territorial waters. Instead of asserting the Philippine victory, President Duterte, who came to power in June 2016, chose to mend fences with China in suing economic diplomacy (i.e. exchange for loans and investments).
The development plans include enhancement of the habitability of the islands, construction of a berthing space for Philippine Navy vessels and other vessels, upgrading of the defense structures of the islands.
Meanwhile, Panatag Shoal is seen as a strategic point among the claimants to territory in the South China Sea because it is within easy striking distance of US forces stationed in the Philippines. A military outpost there could also stop other navies from using a northeast gateway to the area. Strategic point description is the US military presence in the area had to do with partnership with the Philippine military.
This is going to be an unending saga of conflicts of international law and national ideology. China has built seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, topping some of them with runways and military installations, to bolster its claim to the region. On the other hand, the United States does not claim territory in the South China Sea but has declared it has a national interest in ensuring that the territorial disputes there are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law.
I believe that US military personnel partnering with the Armed Forces of the Philippines is a more accurate description of the role of any US military presence here (i.e. The 38th Balikatan Exercise planning happening right now in Command General Staff College (CGSC).
In contrast, the Philippines has been forced to stop construction of thatch and bamboo shelters for fishermen on Sandy Cay, a sandbar not far from the Kalayaan Group, when China protested the activity as a violation of the status quo agreement with ASEAN. What an unfair scenario dazed by power tripping and non-integrative resolution.
In our end as of press time, Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr. spoke about the military’s development plans for the nine Kalayaan islands that would cost P11.6 billion.
Consequently, AFP and DND must coordinate with Malacañang regarding this matter to intensively and comprehensively discuss this sensitive issue as another leveraging from the defense community aside from the House Bill that has already been forwarded. Meanwhile, AFP and DND considers territorial development in the contested area. In our end as of press time, Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr. spoke about the military’s development plans for the nine Kalayaan islands that would cost P11.6 billion.
The development plans include enhancement of the habitability of the islands, construction of a berthing space for Philippine Navy vessels and other vessels, upgrading of the defense structures of the islands, improvement of existing facilities, such as roads and airstrips, and provision of water and power facilities and communication equipment. We hope that the President will support this effort.
In general, I understand that Malacañang does not want to be part of the latest spat between Beijing and Washington or engage to be part of a US-China intramural. The United States can take care of its interest. I stand strong that the Philippines’ claim over Scarborough Shoal is recognized under our constitutional law and international law.