Calling the bluff of bully China in the West Philippine Sea

By: Edgar Mana-ay

THE West Philippine Sea (WPS) is the eastern part of South China Sea (SCS) which are INCLUDED in the Philippine Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). It includes Luzon Sea, the Kalayaan Group of Islands in Palawan and the Panatag Shoal, internationally called as the Scarborough Shoal and Huangyen Islands by China.

Panatag Shoal’s old Spanish name was Bajo de Masinloc, meaning lower Masinloc. Shoal means a shallow portion of the sea. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales in the SCS (hence within the 200 nautical miles sovereignty limit set by Unclos).The shoal made up of a triangular chain of rocks and coral reefs is a very fertile fishing ground.

In 1947, with the use of a pencil, (the pentel pen was not common at that time) China made ELEVEN dashes in the map of South China Sea, encircling almost ALL of SCS and claiming ownership of everything inside the 11-dash line for the flimsy reason of HISTORIC RIGHTS. These lines have NO COORDINATES hence no specific locations, just the whimsical stroke of the pencil. But in 1950, China removed 2 dashes to exclude the Gulf of Tonkin of Vietnam without any explanation, thus the infamous 9-DASH LINE being maintained by China in its official maps.

China claims “INDISPUTABLE SOVEREIGNTY” over all the islands and waters enclosed by the 9 U-shaped lines, which is about 85.7% of the entire SCS. This is equivalent to 3 million sq. km. out of the 3.5 million sq. km. surface of the sea. If we use the askew and reckless theory of China, then the Atis can claim the entire Panay island for themselves just for historical reasons!

Maritime disputes then started between China on one side and on the other side the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia as these countries resisted and protested China’s 9-dash line because it ENCROACHES OR OVERLAPS ON THEIR RESPECTIVE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE (EEZ).

These countries’ irrefutable basis is the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) of which China is also among the167 nations signatories. The UNCLOS clearly provides that each country will have its own exclusive sovereign rights on the seas 200 nautical miles from its landmass. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled in 2016 that China’s nine-dash line and historic rights claim are invalid but China refused to acknowledge the ruling.

The 9-dash line started the first bullying act of China. In 2012 China took control of Scarborough shoal which is only 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Zambales.

After seizing it by force, it then prohibited Masinloc fishermen from fishing in the area in defiance of the UNCLOS’ EEZ provision. It’s just like a far away neighbor went inside your yard and announced that henceforth you cannot harvest the tomatoes you planted for it now belongs to him!

China also built artificial islands by reclamation process in the Fiery Cross Reef, called Kagitingan Reef by the Philippines. After reclamation to widen the island it has captured, China now began installing military equipment ostensibly for defensive purposes but is easily transformed to offensive capability.

China is committed to blocking any unilateral oil and gas exploitation by its neighbors anywhere within its nine-dash line. But if offered a joint venture, China is willing to listen.

In Vietnam, China sent a survey ship with an armed escort to harass in a threatening manner a Vietnamese oil rig in its own offshore oil block. Vietnam stood its ground on the bully and drove the Chinese away from their own oil block. Vietnam was fearless because it was the Russian state oil firm, Rosneft who was operating the oil drill.

By the way in my previous article, energy areas for exploration, whether on land or sea, are divided into blocks at 10 sq. km. per block then awarded to a qualified developer. Even the U.S. State Department rebuked China for “bullying behavior and provocative and destabilizing activities.”

A similar situation exists between China and Malaysia near an oil and gas block in Laconia shoals in Malaysia. A Chinese coast guard tried to prevent an ongoing drilling operation in the area which lies within the Malaysian continental shelf.

The Malaysians stood their ground and the Chinese BACKED OFF. We have to learn from Vietnam and Malaysia, who despite their size will bravely stand up against China.

True to its nature as a bully, China now concentrates its bullying to the Philippines maybe because we are easily intimidated or due to the sycophancy of our leaders or both. Is it because our President became a servile, self-seeking flatterer of President Xi Jinping because of the many economic aids and concessions China has recently given us (of course with strings attached). The “verbal” fishing agreement to fish at our own Panatag shoal is a classic example of servile capitulation to bully China. We don’t even have enough galunggong to feed our people and yet we are sharing it with a very rich nation!

Foreign affairs experts believe that war is not yet a policy option of China and this writer fully agrees. It is more concerned with its global image, for if it uses military force, it will undermine its desire to play a role as a global leader and will invite the involvement of superpowers like the US, UN, UK in the SCS.

The Chinese prefer bullying by intimidation in order to gain more territories. As shown by the actions of Vietnam and Malaysia, China will back off if strongly confronted with its aggressive moves. Besides, our Mutual Defense Treaty with the US would come into play in case of an armed attack by China. So why oh why should we not stand up against bully China?