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A Mischief Reef in the making?

By ROMMEL BANLAOI

China has to make its own people accountable for the Amy Douglas Bank incident in the Spratlys

While Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie was enjoying his “goodwill” visit to the Philippines on May 21-25 to “improve” Philippines-China relations, the Philippine military discovered in the same period some Chinese ships unloading construction materials near the unoccupied, but still Philippine controlled, Amy Douglas Bank.

Based on the report of the Philippine military, China has erected an undetermined number of posts, and placed a buoy near the breaker of the Amy Douglas Bank.

To date, the Chinese government has not yet verified the said incident. But it continues to claim sovereignty of all the islands, islets, reefs, shoals, banks and even rocks in the South China Sea. The Philippine government asserts that Amy Douglas Bank falls within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ).

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin expressed disappointment that the incident in the Amy Douglas Bank occurred at the time of the official visit of his Chinese counterpart. The visit aimed to repair Philippines-China bilateral ties that has been recently damaged by renewed security tension in the South China Sea.

In a press conference, Defense Secretary Gazmin lamented, “Somehow I’m really affected because we have shown them our hospitality and we were talking properly. We agreed that all problems could be resolved. And yet while we’re talking, something was afoot elsewhere.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has already released an official statement expressing “its serious concerns over recent actions of the People’s Republic of China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)”. This is a landmark statement for having described that part of the sea as West Philippine Sea. The concept of West Philippine Sea, however, has yet to receive international recognition.

The Amy Douglas Bank incident is just part of the renewed security tension in the South China Sea. The tension started in 2008 when China declared the Vietnamese-claimed Sansha City as an integral part of the Hainan Province. It was also during this year when the Yulin (Sanya) Submarine Base of China was discovered in Hainan Province. Tensions escalated in March 2009 when Chinese ships allegedly harassed the USS Impeccable conducting surveillance activities in the Spratly.

Since then, China has deployed several patrol ships in the South China Sea to defend what it calls an integral part of its “internal waters.” This claim is based on the Nine-Dash Line Map that China submitted to the United Nations on May 7, 2009.

Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have already submitted to the UN their protest to the Chinese claim.

Assertive

But with several Chinese ships patrolling the South China Sea on rotation basis, China has already developed

its muscle to be more assertive in “reclaiming” its “lost territories.” With its growing blue water capability and increasing military

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power supported by sustained economic growth of at least 9 percent annually since 1989, China now has all the means to assert its foreign and security policy in the South China Sea.

For China, the South China Sea is part of its internal lake and an integral aspect of is “ancestoral property.” But China laments this property has been taken away from them at the time of its weakness.

Now that China has regained its strength as the traditional “Middle Kingdom” in Asia, it now has the wherewithal to be more decisive in its claim in the South China Sea. Last year, the South China Sea was declared as part of China’s “core interests” at par with Taiwan and Tibet.

While there is no doubt that China is stronger now than before, its current behavior in the South China Sea is a litmus test of China’s self-proclaimed policy of “peaceful development.”

As an ascendant power, China is trying to convince the world that its rise to global power status will be peaceful and benign. As a rising power, China is telling the whole world that it is a “status quo power,” benign and peaceful and satisfied with its current status.

But its growing assertive behavior in the South China Sea is giving the world a message that China is becoming more of a “revisionist power.” This concept states that major power aspires for more power as it grows stronger.

If China continues to display its growing assertive behavior, its neighbors will view it not as a strong sign of assertiveness but as an utter expression of aggressiveness. Thus, its claim for a benign status will put be in a very strong doubt.

The reported incident in the May Douglas Bank, if proven accurate, is not only an assault against the Philippines. It is also an assault against the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). China and ASEAN signed in 2002 a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). The DOC urges claimants not only to manage their existing disputes peacefully but also to prevent future disputes by not occupying additional features in the contested water.

The delivery of construction materials near the May Douglas Bank by Chinese ships at the same time when Chinese Defense Minister was visiting the Philippines has challenged the sincerity of China as a reliable partner for “peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation” in the South China Sea. The incident has created an impression that while China is talking “sweet” in its neighbors’ house,

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it is acting “bitter” at the backyard.

If China wants to correct this impression, it has to make its own people accountable for the Douglas Bank Incident as it was a clear violation of the DOC. Otherwise, the Douglas Bank Incident can be a Mischief Reef in the making. This is a scenario that can worsen the rising tension in the South China Sea, which can attract other major powers to become inevitably involved.

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  1. International law is about being able to enforce your claim with might. If the Chinese claims a territory to be her own and can back it up with military might you might just as well accept it. Diplomatic protest is simply asking a school bully not to pick on you because you are a wimp. Bullies pick you precisely for that reason. U.N. is for the protection of strong nations and not the weak.

    I am calling all our myopic nationalists who kicked the U.S. Military Bases in the country out to form a huge human barricade in Spratley Islands to repel this Chinese agression.

  2. At least the U.S. would not want specks of islands down mischief reefs. She has huge realties in the mainland U.S and some parts of the globe already and Filipinos already know how to speak English. Guys, its time to learn Mandarin and other Chinese dialects because soon, the entire RP will become a province of China.

  3. The Spratly is indeed a difficult issue in Philippines-China relations. But how can we strengthen our military if the procurement in the AFP is marred by corruption and irregularities. We has huge money from bases conversation. Where is the money now? I think we need to learn lessons from Pakistan and Thailand. Both countries how to relate with the US and China to advance their countries national interests. I heard the author delivering lecture in UP on the Spratlys. FOIC was there and several senior officers of the AFP. They agreed with Prof Banlaoi but the representative from DFA disagreed on some issues. I think the DND and the DFA need to work closer on the issue and settle their difference so they can pool their resources together to advance our interest in the Spratly. I disagree with the author that the May Douglas Bank incident will be a Mischief Reef in the making. The AFP will not allow that to happen anymore.

  4. The Patriot says:

    Jay, can you correct your grammar before you post. Para kang Chinese mag-English. Mag Tagalog ka na lang

  5. The Pedestrian says:

    To Newsbreak: There’s a typo in the third to the last paragraph. “Amy Douglas Bank” became “May Douglas Bank.”

  6. THE HISTORY AND THE UNCLOS ARE THE BASES OF THE CLAIMS OF EACH COUNTRY

    The Sultanate State of Sulu is the legal owner of the Spratlys Archipelago but since the Sultan Kiram turnover his territorial and proprietary rights of the State to the Republic of the Philippines including the Palawan and the Spratlys in 1960’s, then legally it belongs to the Philippines.

    Archipelagic Bases

    Under the UN International Laws of Sea, despite the opposition of maritime powers, the Philippines and four other states (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Bahamas) got the approval in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea held in Jamaica last December 10, 1982. They were qualified as archipelagic states.
    The Spratlys is within Philippines proximity and connected in the Philippines’ archipelago with just few kilometres from the province of Palawan of the Philippines, this boost the claim of the Philippines. Other claimants are not archipelagic states and they are far from beyond the limit of the UNCLOS of 200 nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone. The Philippines as an archipelagic country & within proximity, it counts merit in administering the Spratlys.

    UN Convention – International Law of Sea (UNCLOS) bases

    China argued that there is no word proximity mentioned in the UNCLOS so they insisted that they could claim the Spratlys. Though there is no “proximity” mentioned, the UNCLOS clearly explain the 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is more clear explanation than proximity. Proximity is just to say near but the measurement of 200 Nautical Miles from the base line of the Philippines is not just synonym to proximity but a clear measurement of distance.

    Under the UNCLOS, it guarantees 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive economic Zone which most part of the Spratlys is just within 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. This is the strongest bases of the Philippines to say “We owned the West Philippines Sea”. Even China is a signatory in these and they even agree with this together with the United Nations.

    The History as bases of claim

    Back to Majapahit and Sri Vijaya Empire in year 7000 or 7th century (The ancient kingdom in Indonesia and Malay Archipelago) the territory is extended from the North Borneo, Palawan, and the Spratlys of the Philippines’ territory.

    The Sultanate State of Sulu was established during that regime which area includes Part of Mindanao (Cotabato, Lanao, Zamboanga Peninsula), Basilan, Sulu Sea, and Sulu.

    During the 14 century or year 1400 the King /Sultan of Brunei give as gift to his cousin Sultan of Sultanate of Sulu the “North Borneo, Palawan and the Spratlys” for helping him to win a battle. The China recognized the Sultanate State of Sulu that includes the North Borneo, Palawan and the Spratlys archipelago.
    When the Spain invaded the Philippines in year 1621, the sultanate state of Sulu remains un-conquered but portion of the territory was controlled by Spain including the whole Island of Mindanao, and Palawan.

    When the Britain gives independence to Malaysia, North Borneo is under a lease agreement which is until now is recognized by Malaysia was illegally included reason why the Sultan of Sulu calling the Malaysian Governmet to stop controlling his land “North Borneo” (Sabah) which is also link to Spratlys.

    The Sultan of Sulu turnover his territorial and proprietary rights of the State to the Republic of the Philippines including the Palawan and the Spratlys in 1960’s.

    The History, the UNCLOS law of Sea, the archipelagic states theory says “The Spratlys is belonged to the Philippines.

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