Lorenzana: US stopped China from building in Scarborough Shoal
China planned to start reclamation in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag) in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) last year but it was stopped by the United States, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed on Thursday.
“There was a plan by the Chinese in June to reclaim Scarborough Shoal. In fact, we received reports from the Americans that there were barges loaded with soil and construction materials going to Scarborough but I think the Americans told the Chinese, ‘Don’t do it.’ For some reason, the Chinese stopped,” he said in a forum at the National Defense College of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo.
China has built seven artificial islands in the disputed waters, which has been a source of tension with the US and neighboring countries. This is despite the international tribunal in July that rejected China’s massive claims to the South China Sea.
While the Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, it was declared as a common traditional fishing ground for neighboring countries in the international court ruling.
The same shoal was a site of a standoff between the Philippines and China in 2012 when the Philippine Navy tried to arrest Chinese poachers in the area.
Late last year, the Philippine government had expressed concern over China’s increasing number of boats present in the Scarborough Shoal South China Sea.
Red line for US and the Philippines
Lorenzana said that reclaiming Scarborough Shoal is a “red line” for both the United States and the Philippines.
“This is the red line according to the US…and the President also stated it’s a red line. Once the Chinese start exploring and putting rigs, we will talk to them,” he said.
The Scarborough Shoal has been guarded by the Chinese Coast Guard since the standoff in 2012, but warmer ties with China have allowed Filipinos to fish freely there again last year.
Reclaiming Scarborough part of a “long-term grand design”
How important is the Scarborough Shoal to China? Supreme Court Associate Justice has repeatedly said in his previous speaking engagements that the disputed shoal is a strategic location for the Chinese.
If a military base is built in the Scarborough Shoal, they could control the Bashi Channel and allow its submarines based in Hainan to have access to the Pacific Ocean, Carpio said.
Land reclamation in Scarborough will allow China to have a triangle of airbases that will enforce an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, he added. JE