Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Do We Have an Option? by Erick San Juan

The recent presentation of some photos by strategic analyst Rommel Banlaoi during his television interview on the structures built by China in the contested areas in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), only proved one thing, that there is no stopping the Chinese on their majority claim of the SCS. They had fortified it with permanent structures through reclamation of mostly submerged shoals.

It is quite obvious that the reclaimed area holds an airstrip (a.k.a. aircraft carrier) in the middle of the hottest contested area in the region which escalated even more the already hot tension among the claimants.

Like what Veeramalla Anjaiah cited in his article – ‘War clouds hanging over the South China Sea’ in The Jakarta Post, China’s rising assertiveness, the firmness of claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam and the big powers’ interest in the region, have led to fears that tensions might escalate into armed conflict between the contumacious China and one or two claimant countries in 2015, said a top US think-tank in a survey recently. The Washington-based Center for Preventive Action (CPA), a research wing of the Council on Foreign Relations, rated South China Sea as one of the top 10 potential conflicts in its Preventive Priorities Survey 2015.

According to the survey, the other nine potential conflicts are Iraq, a large-scale terrorist attack on the US or an ally, North Korea, Israel’s attacks on Iran, the Syrian civil war, Afghanistan, Ukraine, cyber-attacks and Israeli-Palestinian tensions. “One high-priority contingency — an armed confrontation in the South China Sea — was upgraded in likelihood from low to moderate this year,” the CPA said.

And here is another view from David Tweed (Bloomberg), “When it comes to territorial tensions in the South China Sea, it’s more about what goes through it than what lies beneath it.”

When China established its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) setting its airspace control, this time they secured the area where “almost a third of global crude passes through the South China Sea, or 14 million barrels of oil a day," according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"The countries bordering the South China Sea produced about 1.26 million barrels of oil a day in 2011— just 1.4 percent of the 89 million barrels a day the International Energy Agency says is consumed globally.”

This is the reason why Uncle Sam kept saying that they are more concerned with the freedom of navigation in the SCS which also include freedom or free flow of communication and technology.

“The South China Sea dispute is not some struggle for energy,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing and an adviser to China’s State Council. “This is a dispute for maritime territory and there is no compromise over claims.”

China says it is entitled to about four-fifths of the South China Sea, based on a nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map that loops down like a cow’s tongue to a point about 1,800 kilometers (1,119 miles) south from China’s Hainan island. The area overlaps claims from Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.

The HS 981 oil rig episode last year illustrated the tensions. When it was first deployed for exploration work in 2012, CNOOC Ltd. (883) Chairman Wang Yilin described deep-water rigs as “our mobile national territory and strategic weapon for prompting the development of the country’s offshore oil industry.” (Ibid)

There is actually more than meets the eye in the unending tensions in the SCS between China and the other claimants especially the Philippines when we filed a case in February 2013 against China’s claims at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

But China, in a rare move on Dec. 7, 2014 released its position paper on the SCS dispute in which it claimed that the arbitration had no jurisdiction because the dispute was over territorial sovereignty.

Unfortunately, China stood firm on its position that the disputes should be resolve bilaterally among the claimants.

Last week, at the 5th Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held at the Diamond Hotel in Manila, US Asst. Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Defense Asst. Secretary David Shear reiterated that the US government is supporting a peaceful resolution of disputes in SCS. But Asec Russel clarified that US does not support the content of the Philippine claim and they will not take a position on the merits of the case. He concluded that EDCA IS AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE US AND THE PHILIPPINES TO COOPERATE.

Then what? Do we have a choice? Poor Philippines. We are really cannon fodders due to our leaders wrong policies and weak negotiators. Let us wait and see until, maybe, just maybe something good will come up at The Hague?

The world is on the verge of global economic collapse. The rise of conflicts in so many parts of the globe are warning signs that more dangerous scenarios are approaching.

May God help us.

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